The wireless gaming market is heating up, thanks to a recent product announcement by the wireless intellectual-property (IP) licensing company, TTPCom. Its product, B'ngo, is a console-style gaming device. Yet it's also a fully featured, tri-band (900 MHz, 1800 MHz, and 1900 MHz) GSM/GPRS mobile phone (see figure).
The TTPCom B'ngo mobile-game console, like Nokia's N-Gage, was designed specifically for the mobile gamer. B'ngo is equipped with both Bluetooth and GPRS. For close-proximity, interactive multiplayer gaming with up to eight people, Bluetooth will provide the best connection. The GPRS network can be used for gameplay with the larger and more distant global community.
For network carriers, at least, TTPCom's B'ngo has a potential advantage over Nokia's N-Gage. It is the way in which games are accessed. The B'ngo architecture allows games to be downloaded from the carrier. Nokia's N-Gage, on the other hand, relies on game cartridges. The B'ngo gaming handset will come with embedded games too. But it will also allow users to download up to 100 available games over the air.
Powering the all-important graphics portion of the B'ngo console is TTPCom's Wireless Graphics Engine (WGE). The WGE provides a proprietary API that enables access to all of the mobile-phone resources ranging from the display driver to the Bluetooth protocols. The application programming interface (API) can be addressed through dedicated C++ objects. WGE comes with a complete software development kit (SDK), which includes a hardware simulator, toolkit, and documentation.
One of the major features enabled by the Wireless Graphics Engine is the use of simultaneous key presses. These key presses allow the game player to move and shoot at the same time. This capability is not commonly available today. As a result, it is seen as a keen product differentiator by many game players.
The B'ngo keyboard consists of a pair of shoulder buttons, four game keys, and a jog dial/rotating paddle for additional control options. The handset boasts an integrated digital still camera (DSC), multimedia messaging service (MMS) GPRS class 10, polyphonic ringtones, and predictive text entry. Images are displayed on the unit's color-backlight liquid-crystal display (LCD)—a 176 × 220 TFT with 16-b color depth.
The product also is scalable to any market entry point. The B'ngo design provides mass-market entry-level models featuring C++ games running on an ARM7 processor. High-end models are compatible with emerging operating systems, Java games, and additional processing power. B'ngo's entry-level design is expected to retail in the sub-$200 category before operator subsidies.
The company indicates that the B'ngo architecture can effectively accelerate Java by putting Java through its wireless graphics environment. In fact, implementing Java directly—rather than separately in standalone mode—is part of the roadmap for the WGE.
To get games off and running, B'ngo will ship with six embedded, multiplayer color games. To protect gaming and musical content, the games will have a form of digital-rights-management (DRM) software. Screen savers and wallpaper will also be available.
A unique feature of the B'ngo gaming console is the user interface. The placement and types of keys, buttons, and dials were specially designed to integrate the user interface with the back-end carrier services, such as Vodafone Live Service. Designing the interface this way makes it easy for users to take pictures, send messages, or perform the handset's other functions. By changing the user interface to align with the available and future services of the network, the B'ngo design will make it easy to quickly and efficiently download games, access chat services, and take advantage of other features.
TTPCom's B'ngo gaming platform is available now to a range of manufacturers. This is not the first handset design from TTPCom. The company has also designed a number of other non-gaming wireless platforms for a total of 20 terminal manufacturers that include Panasonic, Sharp, Siemens, and Toshiba. TTPCom provides GPRS platforms as well as EDGE, 3G, and wireless gaming technology.
Melbourn Science Park, Cambridge Rd., Melbourn, Royston, Herts, SG8 6HQ, United Kingdom; +44 (0) 1763 266266, www.ttpcom.com.