Amid Nintendo's latest piece of kit and the buzz for the next generation of home consoles, a quiet voice is whispering in the consumer's ear: Android, it says. Between dual-analog gamepads, crowd funded hardware and hardcore gaming tablets, Google's mobile OS is gaining ground among gamers. It certainly has Guitar Hero co-creator Charles Huang's attention -- he's teamed up with Matt Crowley and Karl Townsend (who both had a hand in building various Palm devices) to create Green Throttle Games, an outfit that joins the ever-growing legion of firms out to convert your Android device into a full fledged gaming console. How's it work? We dropped by their Santa Clara offices to find out.
Huang sat us down in front of a Kindle Fire HD and an HDTV, handing us the Atlas, Green Throttle's dual-analog gamepad. The setup seems simple: the Atlas connects via Bluetooth to the Kindle Fire, and the tablet pipes out video and audio to the HDTV, but Huang was quick to point out that the configuration is more than a mere wireless gamepad setup -- it's a multiplayer experience. "Android itself doesn't support multiple devices of the same type connecting to it," he explained, "but for game controllers, you would need to have four connected." That's where Green Throttle's Arena app comes in -- it sorts out Bluetooth data from multiple devices and separates them into four definable players, making local simultaneous multiplayer gaming possible on Android. The app works as a game hub too, allowing the user to enter, exit and play games by navigating exclusively with the Atlas controller -- a console front-end, if you will.
Huang showed us a very early (and aesthetically awkward) build of the Arena hub, but all the basic functionality was there, letting us naturally hop into games with the controller's poppy A button, and retreat from an app with the back button. The controller itself feels extremely familiar, unabashedly aping the Xbox 360 gamepad's shape and layout. The Atlas' flattery isn't perfectly executed, however -- the gamepad's shoulder buttons depress with a noticeably loud click and its triggers feel somewhat cheap when directly compared to Microsoft's original levers. Still, the face buttons feel reasonably springy, and its d-pad is no worse than the one it emulates. The lack of vibration motors leaves the Atlas understandably light, but its low weight makes it feel a tad more fragile than it appears to be.
In game, the controllers worked fine, comfortably piloting us through a small collection of titles including a Space Invaders clone, a side-scrolling beat-em 'up dubbed Chrono Blade and a dual-analog shooter called Crystal Swarm. With the exception of Chrono Blade, the titles were very basic, flat looking functionality demos, but the function was there -- simultaneous multiplayer. Even so, the platform needs support -- Green Throttle's multiplayer trick isn't compatible with Android's standard connectivity protocols, and the setup will only work on titles that specifically support it. Huang isn't too phased by the compatibility challenge, however, and is reaching out to developers in hopes of building a strong library for Green Throttle's consumer launch in the spring. "The SDK is already available," he says, and pre-orders for the Atlas controller launched recently. Developers interested in helping the firm live up to its potential can snag a controller for $44.95 on the company's website.