Sims 3 (Mobile version)

imagesLately I’ve been thinking more about emergent narrative — in particular, the idea that a sandbox-style game can produce elements that the player then weaves together into a story that he finds satisfying. The story isn’t really a product of the game, and it’s not necessarily true that anyone else playing the game would perceive the same story. The onus is on the player to determine which of the many otherwise insignificant events contribute to the narrative.

I’m pretty skeptical about this idea. Or rather: I can see that some such thing does happen, in that lots of (say) Sims users construct elaborate stories with their characters, and share movies and narratives. But in general this is not what I would call interactive storytelling; it seems more like handing the user a really complicated dollhouse that happens to have built-in tools for recording and editing the best scenes.

Still, I thought I ought to put a bit more research into this topic before I dismiss the possibilities. It’s been a while since I had (and got tired of the grinding aspects of) the original Sims, so I tried downloading Sims 3 for my iPhone.

Alas, I find it a dead bore.

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Frotz in the iPhone App store

After all the various discussion of whether Apple would or would not allow it: it’s there. Craig Smith has a free-download version of Frotz available, which comes preloaded with a bunch of games (9:05, An Act of Murder, All Roads, Anchorhead, Balances, Being Andrew Plotkin, Bronze, A Change in the Weather, Child’s Play, Christminster, Curses!, Dreamhold, For a Change, Heroes, Jigsaw, Lost Pig, The Meteor, the Stone, and A Long Glass of Sherbet, The Act of Misdirection, Photopia, Slouching Towards Bedlam, Spider and Web, Varicella, Vespers, The Weapon, and Zork (MIT version)).

It also has a button that taps straight into IFDB, and downloading a new game adds it and its cover art to your game collection.

Plays a little slowly with Bronze, but faster than the reports I’ve heard of the game on other PDAs (and Bronze does whacking lots of pathfinding all the time). Older I6 games are faster.

IF cover art looks really nice on the iPhone screen, too.

Aqua Forest review

The iPhone’s Aqua Forest game is another of those inventive rarities that could only exist on this platform. It’s simulation for simulation’s own sake: you draw on the touch screen a configuration of physical substances — from fixed walls and pivoted gears to water and fire and explosive powder — and it all begins interacting. Tilt the screen, and you change the effective direction of gravity. It’s a miniature laboratory with sufficient complexity that you can implement everything from your own marble labyrinth to a mesh of gears to something resembling a steam engine — at least in theory.

It really is pretty jaw-dropping. There are some cute little puzzles that are designed more to teach you the way the simulation works than to stump anyone for very long; it’s clear that the designers mostly wanted you to go out and play in the sandbox yourself.

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A Match-3 Game I Don’t Hate

The opening of Apple’s iPhone App store is a depressing demonstration of how much imagination the assembled developers don’t have. There are lots of re-implementations of old standards like Tetris. There are a gazillion to-do list applications, and a gazillion-plus-one Sudoku collections, which will I guess be handy if the world’s magazine stands and airport bookstores succumb to Dalek invasion. There are half-assed social networking things which will let you broadcast mindnumbing trivia about your day to everyone you know, but only if you get your fifty closest friends to use the same system. There’s even a little application to make it look as though your phone is a glass of beer, and it tilts when you tip it. Ha ha ha. I mean, I suppose if I were a developer for the iPhone I’d probably write some dumb prank applications for it too, but I’d like to think I would then have the sense not to market them. It’s a little sad how high a proportion of the offerings fall into that category.

However. There are also a small handful of items that make me think, the way the Wii did, that I’m encountering a genuinely new set of game possibilities.

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