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Microsoft touts gaming engines and advancements for Windows Phone 8

Over the weekend, we wrapped up our ‘How Microsoft can save Xbox games on Windows Phone’ series with a Microsoft video interview that we’d been saving for just such an occasion. That video focused exclusively on the Xbox Windows Phone issues raised in our editorial series, but it didn't exactly put our concerns to rest. All we Xbox enthusiasts can do is keep pushing the editorials and issues with Microsoft until finally the right people realize the need for improvement and start effecting changes.

And while many of those issues have yet to be resolved, I’d be hard-pressed to claim that Windows Phone gaming has not improved since the debut of Windows Phone 8. Game development is easier than ever, and many companies who ignored Windows Phone 8 are now onboard for 8. When we sat down to talk with Microsoft's Larry Lieberman, Senior Product Manager and Casey McGee, Senior Marketing Manager, our first subject of business was all those recent advances that make Windows Phone gaming better than ever.

Head past the break to learn just how things are looking up and see the second part of our video interview!

Native code and Game engines

A huge obstacle to Windows Phone 7 development was the platform’s lack of native code support. This made porting from other platforms to Windows Phone incredibly difficult because games and apps had to be rewritten from their original code languages into C# and XAML. The lack of native code support also made multiplatform game engines incompatible with Windows Phone. Since the vast majority of mobile games are built with multiplatform game engines (especially Unity), a number of games never migrated to Windows Phone 7.

The major theme that Microsoft touted during our meeting was that Windows Phone 8 has removed obstacles like the lack of multiplatform game engine support. They touted support from Unity, Marmalade, and Havok, three of the most important engines in the business.

  • Unity: The most popular mobile gaming engine by far, the Unity SDK for Windows Phone 8 has been in beta for several months now. As a result, a handful of Unity games have recently made it out of the gate: Temple Run, Fling Theory, Orcs Must Survive, and Drift Mania Championship 2. Unity also announced Unity 4 beta support for Windows Phone 8, so developers can begin working with the latest version of the engine and its advanced features.
  • Marmalade: A versatile engine that is used in a variety of popular games on other platforms such as Plants vs. Zombies and Cut the Rope has just advanced to its second beta version for Windows Phone 8. Two Marmalade games are already available on the platform: 6th Planet and Propel Man. Learn more about the beta program at Marmalade’s website.
  • Havok: A huge player in the console field, Havok also has a number of tools in beta status for Windows Phone 8, including the Havok Physics Engine (seen in Modern Combat 4), the Havok Game Engine, and the Project Anarchy suite of tools. We’ll take an in-depth look at Havok’s offerings soon!

Microsoft’s focus on helping to deliver these engines to Windows Phone 8 is definitely great news. In fact, I’d say it’s the only issue we touched on in the ‘How Microsoft can save Xbox games on Windows Phone’ series that has actually been fixed so far. That’s not to say all the important gaming engines have signed on for Windows Phone 8 yet; Epic’s Unreal Engine remains noticeably absent. Hopefully we’ll see Epic come onboard this year as well.

MOGA Pro Controller

Windows Phone 8 also offers developers increased access to the hardware, including better Bluetooth support. This in turn has allowed accessory manufacturer Power A to add Windows Phone 8 support to its MOGA Pro Controller. The controller just launched last week and games have to be updated to work with it, so it’ll be a month or two before we start reaping its benefits. But like the game engines mentioned earlier, the MOGA Pro Controller is another component that brings Windows Phone 8 closer to competing with other mobile platforms on the gaming front.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • People buy WP8 over Android coz of features like Notification Center, Volume profiles and Instagram. Games are great attractions, but please add above features as well.
  • Yes. Notification Center,  Volume profiles , instagram , original Facebook and more great apps and games. (with price iOS)
  • Those are wanted features but this article's about gaming.
  • I do not understand this compulsion to "need" a notification centre. I activate my phone and see the 5 most important notifications, or I swipe up and WOAH look at that, the whole UI is a notification centre!
  • This doesn't do us any good without any good games, sorry! I for one am purchasing a MOGA controller so I can use Snes8x on the go but I have no real reason to use it with any WP games right now.
    Sadly we're still way behind in this department :(
  • It's just taking off. Give it a few months to see if some more developers add support. We're behind on a lot of things.
  • Yeah, this is one major step forward for os gaming. I was hoping for.something like this. Way better than using two thumbs to play a game. :D
  • What about the unreal engine?
  • Addressed in the article and skirted past in the video.
  • I believe Unreal Engine 4 will address the mobile gaming industry.
  • Congratulations on the huge effort to build awareness around the gaming issue. IMO, MS could also do with the same treatment on the mess that is Xbox Music!
  • +1
  • All apart, when's Jetpack Joyride coming?? :-\
  • It's stuck in Xbox Live certification right now.
  • Wow, so any idea how long it might take? Hope it's supported by in-app purchases and itself is free, like in Windows 8.
  • It will probably be $2.99 and I wouldn't mind. But if it is free I'll buy the coin doubler. Developers deserve to get paid.
  • $3 is great, I'm in
  • What a surprise.
  • So, Roughly how much longer could it take?
  • It could be anywhere from a couple of weeks to 2-3 more months. Let's hope the former!
  • Thanks, What I don't understand is how low the bar has been set by us WP users.
    We 1st were praying for Temple run to be released, I have been praying for JetPack Joyride to be pushed out asap, why are we not craving for the newest games? 
    If all the users (the ones who have "paid" for the phone & have chosen to own a WP inspite of it being an android / an iPhone / even a BB device) voice our opinions strongly & reflect that with the purchases when the games are released, it will attract more developers.
    We have to also be treated like that when it comes to pricing, I have noticed we have been charged the most premium prices around the handhelds along with BB apps.
  • I'm sure we'd all love timely ports of the latest games. It's just that it takes time for a game to become widely known on iOS, etc. so by the time we're all clamoring for it, that game's already several months old. Besides getting developers to support WP at all, the real problem is the Xbox Live certification process slowing releases down so much. We do need to encourage MS to speed things up, but they seem woefully reluctant to do so.
  • Not all games have to be xbox certified, 10 ton games are not & they are still awesome, they have been around iOS for years & they have been releasing games almost consecutively on iOS & WP.
    I remember Galaxy on fire 2 was ported in 9 hours from iOS for BlackBerry 10.
    If the developers are not sure if their time is worth it, they won't spend a minute to port a game to WP, instead they will start working on their next big iOS title which will take several working hours (as many as 1000 times more than porting)
    Windows Phone has not picked up as a great phone like iPhone did in the 1st few years, though that comparison cannot be accurate, but I thought Microsoft had a better grip on their own xbox game developers & would leverage that into bringing awesome titles (Halo anyone?) onto windows phones which would change a lot of scenerio in the background (No, I did not go through that article with interview about the xbox game) but we need to create a demand in this eco system, even today I read a lot of developers going through several attempts & many weeks of testing of getting a certified update to a previously hit app on the Mac App Store / the App Store.
  • Well read it, ya punk. :P
  • Also, the then RIM provided the developers a huge incentive to hop on to porting shyte onto their app store, I also ended up with a dev alpha bb z10 even without having any app on any other store... they were looking for passionate & potential developers to make their last stand.
    MS has been so lazy that they cannot even leverage what they have to their advantage!?
    Thank you Paul & other WPers for tolerating the truth I blurted out.
  • Then Read that article.
  • Thank you. :)
  • Nov 2012: Bleeding edge platform
    Nov 2013: THE growth platform for early adopters and xBox 720 buyers
    Nov 2014: Mature industry leading product supporting xBOX 720 games and all leading engines. cross platform (desktop to device) publishing unrivaled.
  • i can see this if MS doesn't f*** it up, and keeps pull developers in to the ecosystem.
  • What Microsoft need to do is push developers in the right direction to make console quality games. There's only a hand full of games like that so far. But what they really need is to push the bar on WP hardware. Something in line or more powerful then then playstation vita ( the power increased would mostly be there for the resolution ) so that developers have the power they need to make high end games and then make sure that all these games have moga pro support. I played soul sacrifice on my vita today and thought man this game looks amazing. High quality all around. I would pay 40 bucks for a game like that on my phone with moga support and a 1000 gamerscore to earn ( instead of the normal 200 windows phone gets ) if hardcore games came out for windows phone it would be a great selling point. We just need the hardware and developer support.
  • wow paul, caught him off guard on that last question. He pulled a generic answer out of his ass, then made up the 5 day thing. at least they gave us more good information then in the second part of this video. They pulled up that iron curtain. 
  • As I've said before, its still very early days and im sure IOS and Android did not have this type of support 6 months in. I think Microsoft ate doing a great job and we only have to be patient and stay loyal.
  • 6 months? What are you referring to? Windows phone has existed longer than that.
  • I think he's referring to WP8.
  • Didn't the SDK come out after the phone launch? That's MSFT dropping the ball, which has probably led to the delay of some good games
  • Yeah, they released the SDK simultaneously with the WP8 launch, which resulted in pretty much no new games or apps being ready at launch. Quite a big mistake.
  • Great hurry up and port cs portable already!!!!!
  • Too many problems afflict Xbox on Windows phone... This is only the tip of the iceberg...
  • What kinds of problems are you referring to?
  • Really, such as.....
  • The topics mentioned here were already reported long time ago by you guys. I was hoping for something new :(
  • We actually haven't talked about Marmalade before.
  • Under proper development and support, a Windows Phone 8 phablet could kill the Nintendo or Vita handheld device market. But Xbox games need to get on board. That Xbox handheld device starts right here with Windows Phone.
  • The obsolescence cycle. First we'll see 5" phones and 7" tablets come Black Friday 2013. On Black Friday 2014 we see the convergence devices. I'll be surprised if it happens any quicker.
  • Very happy for this to move forward, I can't wait to see the games that become available for this!
  • Thnx Paul, great stuff. Will you be selling the gaming pad here at MN?
    Any article about Artifex Mundi studio in the works? There supporting WP8 and W8. But how about the newer coming titles?
  • Paul youre my last glimmer of hope for gaming on WP. I just hope your (our) opinions have been heard by the people that need to hear them. Given the state of WP market share I dont understand why Microsoft doesnt hold a ton of Q&A sessions with reporters or a bigger stretch, consumers. That kind of feedback is invaluable considering they are trying to win the consumer. Or even podcasts with engineers to discuss peoples current issues or even why they did it the A way and not the B way.
  • Like I said...never thought gaming on your WP device would be such a big issue and even a pivotal one for some users. Lack of certain game tittles and how many games are offered make people want to ditch WP??? Who would have think?
  • One issue is that Microsoft is not porting their in house games to the phone. It seems like a no brainer, but for some reason it hasn't happened. When one of my friends got his phone he was pretty disappointed not to see certain games in the AP store. It's a bit puzzling. It just seems like Microsoft is always a little slow on some important things, in terms of consumer wants.
  • I don't think it will happen until a phablet makes the scene. A 1080p quad core phablet with a 5"+ screen. Then you'd have a true crossover device for Windows.
  • Mobile gaming is a HUGE and growing industry, dude. Just because you choose to exempt yourself from it doesn't mean everybody does.
  • Every time I see 'Unity' this word, I always remind so many games, just like 'shadow gun' 'dead trigger'... But now only 'drift mania' is available :(