Chrome Experiments has debuted two very innovative games this week, suggesting that Google might be in play to break into the casual game market, even taking on the likes of Nintendo and other portable game developers. At first glance that might be a valid assumption, but the shortcomings of these offerings suggest Google might have something different in mind.
While Google’s Chrome is a top-tier browser, the Chrome OS hasn’t exactly found its place. It doesn’t even work with Android, Google’s mobile OS, all that well. As the successor to Google Labs — which brought us Gmail and Google Calendar, among many other products — Chrome Experiments has been focusing on creative Web projects.
The two new games, which are based on the WebSockets platform, build on titles Google introduced earlier this year. Like those previous efforts, these are perhaps more proof of concept than fun to play.
If Google’s intention is to test the waters as a game developer, it won’t find smooth sailing ahead.
On a Roll
Roll It is, in essence, a digital version of skeeball. The concept isn’t all that unique, and we’ve seen plenty of Java and Shockwave versions that let players pitch wooden balls in small holes. What makes this one particularly interesting is that it requires more than just a mouse and keyboard, and it offers a multiscreen experience.
Roll It actually works by transforming a smartphone or tablet into a controlle. The game play is thus instantly reminiscent of the best the Nintendo Wii had to offer. Unlike the Nintendo games, though, Roll It is free and might work with devices players already own.
“Might” is the key word. While this game does require that a WebSockets brower be installed on the computer, it works best with the Chrome browser. The same is true for mobile devices. That means feature phones are excluded, as are older BlackBerrys and even many Android devices.
While Google didn’t intend for Roll It to be an elitist game, it does come off as one since it requires a fairly up-to-date mobile device.
Roll With the Punches
Aside from the annoyance of having to make several tries with several devices just to play the game, it is actually good fun — albeit not nearly as easy as Wii Sports.
The concept is familiar, but there are many nuances to consider before you get going. The mobile device needs to be synced with the computer, and latency does seem to be an issue. Broadband is a must, obviously, and so is a decent mobile connection.
The game is one that takes practice — probably far more practice than is involved in actual skeeball. Players need to determine the ball’s direction on the phone’s interface, while the built-in accelerometer determines the speed. As with games on the Wii, it is about making a similar motion while holding the device.
I tried and tried again, but never hit the holes for good points and more often than not the balls went flying over the target area entirely. That was disappointing, but perhaps it comes down to having the right device.
One key is locking the handset in a portrait mode so as not to switch viewing modes while making a motion. After doing this my aim improved, and I scored 10 points per ball instead of zero. Perhaps with a lot more practice I can earn those virtual tickets.
Unfortunately for Roll It, I needed to move on to Racer, the other new WebSockets game that Chrome Experiments is offering. This one is truly a mobile experience and has no actual interaction with a computer.
Instead, Racer allows up to five players to virtually stitch together a slot car-style racetrack that actually spans multiple devices. The interface is simple: Press the touchscreen to accelerate and release to brake. It sounds simple — and it is.
The key to Racer is finding enough compatible devices to get a race going. On top of that, players need to hold the phones next to one another and somehow not let fingers get in the way. The game is so simple that it loses its appeal rather quickly — probably even more so than slot cars.
In fact, it probably takes a lot longer to get all the phones synced up than any race will last. However, this is really an experiment — it is from Chrome Experiments after all — which shows the potential that WebSockets offers for multiplayer gaming on mobile devices.
As proofs of concept, Roll It and Racer succeed, but they don’t represent any actual attempt on Google’s part to break into the gaming arena.
Though they are nifty little titles, most players likely would give up before making it to the first roll or race.