Eric Johnson

Recent Posts by Eric Johnson

Boxing Game Brings HTML5 to the Center Ring and Punch-Out!! to Campaign 2012

In 1987, Ronald Reagan was president, and the arcade game Punch-Out!! made its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System with Mike Tyson’s name tacked on.

A quarter-century later, Barack Obama is president, and people are still playing Punch-Out!!, or something close to it. When I play it, however, it’s on my iPhone. And instead of losing badly to Tyson, I’m losing badly to, um, Barack Obama.

The doppelgänger game in question is camPAIN 2012, officially out in the wild today by way of mobile games company Tylted. And while the game mechanics are more than a little familiar, everything else about camPAIN’s arrival is a lot more interesting.

Superficially, of course, the replacement of Little Mac & Co. with caricatures of Obama and Mitt Romney is a fun gimmick that will doubtless do wonders for the quality of political discourse online. And, naturally, Tylted is counting on social media users to flock to the game as an act of political one-upsmanship over their friends.

But beyond all that, CEO Lon Otremba is pushing the idea that camPAIN 2012 represents a big step forward for HTML5. And he’s (mostly) right.

CamPAIN 2012 on a Nexus 7

CamPAIN is far from perfect, but as a longtime player of similarly casual games, I’m impressed more by the idea than the example. Despite owning more than 20 game apps (and having tried dozens more that I’ve since deleted), I still frequently find myself drawn to “classic” in-browser diversions like Slime Volleyball.

Why? They’re familiar. There is a Slime Volleyball clone game for iOS, but the physics are different (read: worse), and the “feel” just isn’t the same.

HTML5 promises, among other things, a chance to bridge that gap. CamPAIN 2012 is essentially the same game on all browsers, both desktop and mobile, although some devices get bonus features like haptic feedback (as in, your phone may vibrate when you get hit).

And this, Otremba says, is also good for game developers and publishers like Tylted:

“HTML5 is going to be the dominant force in mobile over the next 12 to 24 months. The enormous incentive that developers have to generate one code base for any device is too great to ignore.”

So, rather than scrambling to port a game over from iOS to Android to Windows Phone to God-knows-what-else, a game dev could theoretically make one game in HTML5 and proceed to make fixes and updates in only one place.

But Otremba’s theory falters a bit when you consider the economics of those competing operating systems. The transition to and mass adoption of HTML5, replacing (shock!) HTML4, is still ongoing, 15 years after its predecessor debuted. As the new standard for the whole Web, it has to move slowly and cautiously.

Google and Apple don’t. One could easily drive higher OS adoption rates by giving developers resources or cool capabilities the other guy doesn’t have, and if that happens, the smart devs will rush to jump on the novelty.

Nevertheless, Otremba is optimistic that gaming on the mobile Web “will be superior” to gaming on mobile apps.

“I’m not saying apps are going away,” he says. “But as a real approach to how people play on multiple devices, the mobile Web is a huge thing, and will just be getting bigger and bigger.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to getting my butt kicked by the president.

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