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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August, 2003, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Japan leads mobile game craze
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

Game makers have been offered a glimpse of the latest in games for mobile phones, with insights into the sort of things keeping Japanese thumbs busy.

Using mobile phone
Japanese handsets are years ahead
They include virtual pets which are fed by photos, pronunciation puzzles and games that are the quality of PlayStation One titles.

"The Japanese market is years ahead of Europe and the US," explained David Collier of Namco, one of the most successful Japanese mobile game publishers.

The games currently popular on mobiles in Japan hint at the sort of thing you could be playing on your phone in the future.

He told his audience of industry professionals that the quality of the games was improving all the time, as handsets pack more and more computing power.

One of the games on show was the console racing title, Ridge Racer, which has been adapted for the mobile.

"You now have a PlayStation One game running on a mass market handset in Japan, delivering a fully interactive 3D game," said Mr Collier.

But gamers are being asked to pay a premium for such high quality games. Ridge Racer is being sold in Japan for $11, about double the price of other titles.

Feed me images

Other console games may soon appear on handsets, especially the older arcade type.

"The game mechanics of arcade classics are perfect for mobile phone as they were designed for three-minute plays," explained Mr Collier.

Mobile phone buyer
Tough competition to get people to do more with mobiles
Some of the games available seem designed to appeal to teens. Mr Collier showed off a virtual pet game from Panasonic, which is reminiscent of the tamagotchi craze.

The game uses the handset's camera to create food. When the pet is hungry, it shows a picture of a type of food like an apple.

You then have to take a picture of something red, which the phone interprets as an apple and feeds to your pet.

The game also lets you send food to a friend's pet via an infra-red connection.

Another virtual pet game uses a fingerprint scanner built into a handset to let your animal know that you are going to play with it, sending it into throes of joy.

Other games also make use of the camera on handsets. Mr Collier demonstrated a game which creates a fighting character based on your photo.

It interprets your image to give your character speed and power. You can then send this to a friend's mobile to do battle.

Another game uses a phone's microphone for educational purposes. The game is intended to help children with their pronunciation and works by comparing what they say with a sample on the handset.

Going Japanese

Some of these games may sound typically Japanese, but Mr Collier believes the trend towards doing more with your handset is global.

"Mobile culture is a mass market thing," Mr Collier told the Game Developers Conference being held in London this week.

"It has gone mainstream. Everyone is checking their phones all the time and there is no reason why that should not happen here."

The Game Developers Conference Europe runs at London's Earls Court conference centre until Friday.

It is part of London Games Week, which brings together a range of industry and consumer events around the capital.

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