The WDN Symbian DevZone... 3D Games - Fathammerís X-Forge
by Richard Bloor, November 18, 2002
The wireless games industry is very much in its infancy but many analysts expect
the revenues to grow dramatically over the next few years. Nokia recently
announced the N-Gage showing that phone manufactures are eager to help fuel
this growth with specialist gaming platforms.
Building good mobile and wireless games however can be an expensive exercise,
particularly with more sophisticated 3D games. A number of tools are starting to
come to market which are designed to help the developer build their 3D
visualizations efficiently and then implement them for a range of games
platforms. This week I am talking to Brian Bruning about Fathammerís
(www.fathammer.com) X-Forge tools and 3D engine that they have
recently released for the Symbian OS. - Printer Friendly Version
WDN: Brian, Fathammer have initially focused on the Symbian OS for this first
release of X-Forge. What are the commercial or technical reasons for doing this?
Brian: X-Forge as you know supports a number of platforms and it was designed
from the ground up with this in mind. So it will be available for Pocket PC,
Smartphone 2002, Mobile Linux and the various Symbian versions.
We have initially focused on Symbian OS mainly for commercial reasons. When
developers use X-Forge they usually do so having already selected their platform
and probably the project they want to develop. Right now most of our customers
see larger potential revenue streams from games for Symbian smartphone
products coming to market than with other platforms. So we released the
product our customers wanted, the one they could see providing immediate
WDN: From a technical perspective has implementing X-Forge for the Symbian
OS been any easier than your other targeted platforms?
Brian: No, in many ways the Symbian OS was probably the most difficult for us
to support. The Symbian OS was not designed from the start as a multi-media
OS. Symbian are doing a lot of good work to address this. However it meant that
we had to do a lot of additional development to deliver the performance and 3D
visualization that we expect from X-Forge.
This has resulted in us developing close a relationship with Symbian and their
licensees. We have consulted closely with Bill Pinnell and others on his team
regarding the 3D graphics and audio APIs they should introduce.
WDN: You were one of the inaugural members of Symbianís Platinum Program
partners, is this part of the reason you have been working so closely with them in
Brian: I think that our involvement is more to do with our technical expertise.
Symbian works with those who they think are smart and can help them, whether
a partner or not. So if we were a Platinum Partner but did not have smart people
working for us then I don't think we would have the same relationship with
WDN: So if the Platinum Program has not been a key to working closely with
Symbian what benefits has it had?
Brian: It has probably been most useful for us in gaining access to Symbian's
licensees and customers. Fortunately X-Forge is such a unique application that
it stands out on its own, but being able to participated in tradeshows and get
customer introductions is always useful.
WDN: You have described X-Forge as unique however I have seen a number of
3D engines emerging for smartphones and PDAs. For a developer evaluating
which one to use what are the key benefits of X-Forge, what makes it unique?
Brian: The first thing that a games developer needs to look at when they evaluate
tools and middleware is whether it is focused on gaming. X-Forge was build by
games developers for games developers; it has been used in developing real games
which are coming to market right now. So that is the first feature, the fact that
its designed for games development.
As I have already mentioned that it is a cross platform tool so it allows the
developer to address lots of different markets. And this is not just for our
announced platforms, we are working with emerging device manufactures to
provide X-Forge support for products that will come to market a year or more
We believe it is easy to use. We have had developers take the tool and get a
working game up and running in a week, perhaps not a fully featured product
but certainly one which allows a game concept to be evaluated. This is because
we have built our tools in such a way that they will be familiar to games
One other factor that a lot of people overlook is the support the company can
provide, how large is the support team, is the documentation solid, is the
company going to be a long term partner. All these are important considerations
that we believe we have addressed.
Many games tools have been created by developers who have built a game and
then think that they can sell the underlying technology to others. Such tools
often have technical limitations, being good for only one style of game for
example. Also these developers can have problems creating a product they can
effectively license. We created X-Forge with the express intention of developing a
tool which would address a wide range of games and could be licensed, so not
only was our technology created with this in mind, the company and products
structures are all designed to facilitate this.
WDN: In architecting X-Forge to provide this wide range support for different
types of games what factors did you have to take into consideration?
Brian: We started by consider what types of games developer will want to build.
One of the traps which people can fall into when creating middleware is
addressing the lowest common denominator. The way you design a first person
shooter game is different from the way you design a racing or sports games. If
you have a generic engine which support all these different types you end up with
slightly lower performance because you can not do everything. What we have
done is build a 3D/2D graphic and audio engine and a set of development tools
that are optimized for specific genres. Whether it be a character or racing game
we optimize within the tools to ensure that the games has the best performance
So X-Forge is not just a series of APIs, yes its got 3D graphics, 2D graphics,
audio, collision detection, physics and everything else but it is also a series of
tools. These include a worlds editor, a protocol editor, the ability to import from
3Studio Max, all these tools which surround the core technology allow us to
optimize for various genres.
WDN: One key issue for all Smartphones and PDA is resource availability,
memory and CPU. What sort of demands does X-Forge make? Is it really
practical on a device like the Nokia 7650?
Brian: The X-Forge engine its self is usually around 400 to 450kb and then the
content, music, textures, model data and the game code takes up additional
space. Typically we would be looking at between 700kb and 1.2Mb for a well
featured X-Forge game. We have had people develop games of up to 4Mb for
Pocket PC where you do have more memory. While forthcoming smartphone will
have the ability to add memory, when you look at Nokia 7650 or Sony Ericsson
P800 you definitely want to keep games under 2Mb, but this is more than enough
for a compelling game.
In terms of CPU usage we take all the power we can but we have done a lot of
underlying optimization in order to get what we believe is great performance.
Getting good performance is hard and is why to date you probably won't have
seen too many good 3D games on Series 60 with features like textures, lights and
special effect, all things that X-Forge can do. We have done all this hard work so
the developer can concentrate on the game rather than looking to get an extra
10% out of the CPU to do lens flare.
We do have engines that run on processors as low as the ARM7, as used in the
Nintendo Game Boy Advance. However we typically like to work with devices that
are ARM9 and 50MHz or higher, Series 60 fits within that and most Symbian
licensees are working on products that will provide the necessary power.
WDN: Once a developer has decided that X-Forge is a technically suitable
platform for their project how do they go about arranging licensing?
Brian: X-Forge is targeting the professional games developer. Licensing typically
starts at around $25k per game. We are seeing budgets of X-Forge games in the
region of $75k to $150k dollars so if we can help reduce the time to market by
30% to 50%, when compared to creating 3D routines specific to the game, it
makes economic sense to go with a tools like X-Forge.
Typically we are licensing to games publishing companies who either hire a
developer or use their own in house team to develop the game. In this case there
is usually a flat fee and then royalty percentage on each game sold.
However every deal is different and we are willing to be flexible. This is an
emerging market and the business models are still fluid. So if a great developer
has a 3D game project and wants to use our tools we will work to find a way to
make it happen.
We also can make the tools available for a 45-day evaluation period. This is
somewhat longer than usual but we feel it helps a developer show a publisher
what the tool can do and really determine the feasibility of a game project or
WDN: Earlier you mentioned the importance of support, however I could not find
any obvious support section on your web site. What support do you provide to
developers who are either evaluating or have licensed X-Forge?
Brian: Clearly with a professional tool you should expect professional support
and that's what we provide.
We have a skilled and experienced support team in place and a dedicated private
web site, separate from our commercial site, to support developers. This includes
public and private forums that allows developers to ask a question directly of us
without other developers seeing them ask or ask the entire X-Forge community.
We have direct email and phone support, provide training session run either at
our sites or in-house. We also do a lot of consulting that not only covers the
technical aspects of using our tools but also includes finding business
opportunities for a developers titles.
WDN: Fathammer was formed in 2000, how far do you think you have come in
achieving what you wanted?
Brian: We have spend 2 years on research and development, working with chip
manufactures like Intel, Motorola and ARM as well as the OS guys, Symbian,
Microsoft, Linux, hardware accelerator companies like, NeoMagic and MediaQ
and handset manufacturers like Nokia and Sony Ericsson.
Itís been hard work. We have been working with a dozen developer in Beta and
we are now happy to open up X-Forge to the wider games developer community.
Wireless gaming started with SMS and is now moving to Java. We have not been
impressed with what you can do with Java, X-Forge goes further. And as the
market is young there are significant opportunities for pioneering developers. We
expect you will hear a lot more about our developers and their titles over the next
few weeks and months.
We are also extremely excited about the emergence of gaming-centric devices like
the Nokia N-Gage phone, which makes an ideal platform for X-Forge Powered
In terms of what the tools can achieve, if you look at GeoPod, its doing about 80%
of what can be done on Nokia 7650. As devices with more powerful processor
and hardware graphic accelerators come to market we will be able to make the
experience richer. I believe we are a long way from the upper limit of what can be
WDN: Finally I have to ask, where did such a great name as Fathammer come
Brian: Our founders had been told that putting together two ordinary words in
an extraordinary combination could create good names. In fact they had used
this concept for a PC benchmarking company called MadOnion. At the same
time, back in 2000 the industry was talking a lot about 3G and thin clients, big
data pipes feeding content to lite display software on a device. We knew that 3G
was really some way off and even then that there would still be a place for the fat
client, one that took advantage of the processor power and memory available on
these devices. So we had Fat and we were a tools company and what better tools
than a hammer? So we arrived at Fathammer.
There are a number of games coming to market using X-Forge. I have been able
to take a look at one of these; the GeoPod racing game for the Nokia 7650. The
game offers both single and multi player modes, with multiplayer working over
Bluetooth to connect the players. It also includes a variety of track layouts and
race pods. I have to admit to being no great games player but GeoPod was
certainly impressive. The action was smooth and precise while the games world
well populated with complex structures and dynamic elements such as sweeping
searchlights and light flare. At one point the track dives from one level to another
and you get a great perception of depth. While I was writing this article I also had
my Nokia 7650 upgraded to the latest firmware; both the shop manager at my
dealer and the service engineer wanted to know where they could get a copy of
the game. While a very limited sample I think it shows that this quality of game
for the Symbian OS has significant market potential.
About the WDN Symbian Editor, Richard Bloor:Symbian DevZone Home
Richard Bloor has 16 years experience in the IT industry. His earlier
work was largely in design and development of commercial and
manufacturing systems but more recently has focused on
development and test management of government systems.
Richard Bloor is the Mobile Applications champion at System
Architecture consultancy Equinox of Wellington, New Zealand.
Richard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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