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Gaming in a World of Grown-Ups

Andrew Smale
Posted May 3, 2007

Gamers with JobsEvery gamer thinks about gaming at work. Unless they review video games for a living, and then perhaps they dream about sitting in front of excel spreadsheets all day. The ridiculously absorbing MMORPG formula has players planning out their character’s next level or what equipment to buy, surfing the official forums for hours on end just to feel close to the game. Then there’s the Civilization IV session that had to be cut short, knowing work was just a few hours away. Or a few minutes away, depending on how many times the phrase “just one more turn, and then I’ll go to bed” was uttered.

Within the constraints of the typical office, the standard issue desktops and laptops are only suitable for a certain type of game the less graphically intensive real time strategy classics, any turn based fantasy game, or for the risk-averse, the numerous shockwave and flash distractions that eventually find their way into your inbox thanks to some unproductive wastrel that sits on the 5th floor. Anything other than these diversions would be too obvious to the casual passer by; growling “Die, you fucking whore!” in front of a FPS crippled to its lowest settings would definitely be cause for alarm.

Indeed, laptop computing has made great strides in minimizing its footprint (and screen, to deter curious onlookers), but installing Diablo II on your company-issue laptop at home and expecting to avoid the tendrils of a software auditing system in the office is a never ending battle (believe me, I’ve been there). In large, inescapable business meetings, where everyone is watching the clock, pretending to pay attention, or falling asleep, the wayward gamer with wandering thoughts of slaying darkness incarnate or rallying his army to take the final stronghold has to have options. There must be a device that combines the portability of a GameBoy while still giving the impression that work is being done. And there is.

I joined the ranks of the work-obsessed businessdroids when I received my Palm Treo 650.The Treo is a natural fit for PC gaming the stylus adequately simulates a mouse, and it comes equipped with a complement of shortcut buttons around a well-positioned D-pad for controls and a keyboard for hotkeys. It’s almost as if the hardware designers wanted it to be used for gaming. So how does the Treo stack up as a gaming platform?

Gamers with JobsNot surprisingly, the PalmOS platform is extremely active in terms of game development. Disposable entertainment like card games, puzzlers, and the laughably “re-imagined” arcade classics are prevalent through many online resellers clearly targeted at the undiscerning masses that have a Palm and simply want to play a game on it. For those that are a little more savvy, there are many homebrew console emulators that exist allowing prospective retro gamers to revisit the classics of yesteryear. But is that really enough to satiate the needs of the modern gamer, thrust into the world of endless responsibilities, shortened gaming time and having to associate with the uninitiated? Absolutely not.

Unfortunately, it takes an unnatural amount effort to separate the hastily produced shooters and incessant variations on Sudoku from games developed specifically for the platform, and still provide a relatively unique gaming experience. Lucky for you, Ive done all the legwork.

EDGE (ZaneGames, 2005), or “Extreme Dungeon Game Experience” is the result of one ambitious game developer’s work to bring a PC-styled hack and slash RPG to the Palm. was inspired by the same dark, gothic visuals of the original Diablo, and integrating the character customization, quest acquisition and dialogue trees of Black Isles Baldurs Gate. Action is controlled by the stylus, and bears enough resemblance to the mouse that it doesn’t take long to get used to. It is almost impossible for me to imagine how much work it was to complete especially when there are other isometric RPGs that have attempted similar experiences on the Palm, but come nowhere close to EDGEs level of polish.

It was amazing how effortless SpiffCode made their implementation of Real Time Strategy seem with Warfare Incorporated (Spiffcode, 2004). The story is mostly perfunctory; the game’s art assets and integration with the Palm’s abilities as a mini-PC make it a game easy for RTS veterans to jump into. And once the single player campaign is finished, you can wage war in multiplayer locally or over the internet. Solo players can also download additional map packs or create their own using the freely available editor. For the less click-heavy strategy experience, there’s always Inscenic’s Warring Nations, a stripped down version of the epic strategy formula established by the Total War series.

Of all the shooters I played, Astraware’s Hellfire: Apache vs. Hind combines the simplicity of a standard FPS and puts it behind the flight stick of a helicopter. Goal oriented missions (including rescuing POWs) span a series of countries, with a large complement of weapons to keep it interesting without having to resort to porting PC FPS favorites. Though the three dimensional engine is something that you’d probably see on a PC in 1996. While it is fun, there’s a significant amount of button mashing involved, and for the effort it takes to stealthily play such a title I’d rather just take out my Nintendo DS.

The best part about covert gaming with the Treo is that it easily carries over into day to day activities. A middle-aged man riding the subway that pulls out a PSP or a DS would certainly be labeled a man-child. But what if he unholstered his Palm Pilot? He’s now a busy guy checking his stocks or furiously typing an email to close some inconsequential business deal. Or blowing shit up in Hellfire: Apache vs. Hind. You never can tell.

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