Apple has had some of the best 3D games on its iPhone and iPad devices, hands-down. But at Google’s press event today, we could see for ourselves that Android tablets are catching up in their ability to run fast-and-furious 3D games.

The latest Android 3.0 mobile operating system, code-named Honeycomb, is optimized to run 3D and can tap hardware acceleration in chips such as the dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processors in upcoming tablets. The Android 3.0 tablets will likely launch in the coming weeks.

This means that Google could catch up and cash in on the huge mobile game economy that has made the iPad and the iPhone such resounding successes in the market. Up until now, Google’s efforts in this part of the game market have been a joke.

The Android games can run the same 3D content that is used in iPad or PC games, and tap 3D graphics engines such as Unreal Engine 3. Google has also created its own quick-and-dirty 3D graphics engine, called Render Script (see the last video below for an explanation).


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That translates into better-looking 3D animations, faster action, more details in game images, and no slowdown in the rate at which animations flow on the screen. While the Android 3.0 user interface also taps 3D graphics, devices such as the Motorola Xoom (used in all three videos and pictures) have the large screen size and the processing power to play games the way they should be played.

The History Channel’s Great Battles real-time strategy game (pictured below), depicting combat between medieval armies, showed that dozens of soldiers and military units could independently move around the screen at the same time. That game fully uses both cores in the dual-core ARM microprocessor on the Xoom.

Trendy Entertainment’s Dungeon Defender, which is a hit on the iPhone (pictured at top and  depicted in the first video below) showed that a top-down view of a 3D scene works quite well on the Motorola Xoom. The game plays fast and looks beautiful on Android.

Perhaps most important of all, Google has finally figured out how to do in-app purchasing, which allows game developers to use the most lucrative business model of all: microtransactions with virtual goods. With in-app purchases, users play a game for free. But if they want to buy a virtual item, they can do so from within the application itself.

The addition of in-app purchases is what inspired Disney, Ngmoco and other game companies to get off the sidelines and finally launch major games on the Android platform. Android now has the right technology platform and the best business model for games. All Google has to do is attract more developers to its fold.

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