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From OUYA to Project SHIELD: Hawken publisher discusses the path to Android

From OUYA to Project SHIELD: Hawken publisher discusses the path to Android

Bill Wagner is the Chief Product Officer at Meteor Entertainment, the publisher behind Hawken. The Mech game is now in open beta on the PC, and is also serving as one of the killer apps for NVIDIA’s upcoming Project SHIELD handheld. He remembers the first time he saw the game running on the hardware.

“Actually holding it in your hand, looking at the screen, and realizing you’re playing Hawken freaks you out a bit, it’s actually really cool,” he told the Report. It took the team a matter of weeks to get the game running natively on Android, and that includes the time it took to come to grips with the brand-new Tegra 4 hardware. This is how it happened.

It started with the OUYA

It was never about bringing Hawken to Android, it was about bringing Hawken to a new console. And the first new console they looked at was the OUYA.

“The interest was really in different platforms in a consumer sense. Handhelds, mobile, tablets. Android just kind of presented itself as the platform most of the companies we were looking at were using,” Wagner said. “Our original interest was certainly with OUYA, but since it was reliant on Tegra 3 it wouldn’t have feasible. This is about when NVIDIA approached us with Project SHIELD and the Tegra 4.”

This wasn’t the first time NVIDIA has used Hawken to demo its technology. Hawken takes advantage of all the nifty bells and whistles of the GTX 690 graphics card, and the game has been used to demo Gaikai’s streaming service, which takes advantage of NVIDIA hardware. When it comes to showing off new tech, Hawken often seems to be NVIDIA’s first stop.

There was only a short time to code the CES demo, and it took members of Adhesive Games, Hawken’s developer, some help from NVIDIA, and even some outsourced talent to make it happen.

“The demo came together very quickly. It was probably four, maybe five weeks of work,” Wagner said. “Having Unreal Engine 3 already ported to Android made a huge difference in being able to get that done… with a very small amount of time, we were able to come up with a multiplayer demo that was natively running across those devices.”

It’s also a matter of being able to use NVIDIA’s newest hardware. “The Tegra 4 chip is crazy powerful. It’s the only thing we’ve seen so far that we could actually run the game on,” Wagner said. The Android version of Hawken is still a mobile port, and they had to optimize for it, but much of the optimization work they did to fit the game on Project SHIELD helped the game as a whole. “All the work we did for it was work we should have been doing on the PC anyway,” he explained. 

A glimpse into a streaming, portable future

In many ways Hawken may offer a glimpse at how we play games in the future. Wagner remembered a moment at last year’s E3 where they had some players trying the game on smart televisions with a controller, and they were playing against PC gamers in their hotel suite across the street.

Wagner was able to join the game using the same streaming service on an Android tablet with a wired Xbox 360 controller. “I was holding it while my producer was playing the game over WiFi, against two guys on PCs, and two people over on the Samsung TVs,” Wagner remembered. “And it was working. It all worked.” Soon players will be able to join games using the native Android version of the game on Project SHIELD hardware.

There is no set release date for the Android version of Hawken, and there is a question of what maps will included in the Project SHIELD version of the game, and the team is also working on a version of Hawken for the Chinese market. It’s a matter of getting the game out quickly, while still having a product they can be proud of. “We don’t have a set date, we’re in the process of investigating and figuring out when and in what quality we can deliver the game,” Wagner said.

The game will be exclusive to Tegra 4 devices, but Wagner laughed when I asked if it would be exclusive to the Project SHIELD hardware. “Exclusive, what an exciting word,” he said.

“Right now we’re focused on Project SHIELD, we know that device a little bit, and we have some experience developing for it, and that’s where our focus is going to be,” he continued. “We don’t have the bandwidth or the resources to start supporting a ton of different Android devices right away. Project SHIELD is going to be our first foray into handheld or portable gaming, and we’ll see how it goes.”