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.

Super Monkey Ball for the iPhone

…being the SEGA game transferred to the iPhone platform.

Once again, my total lack of arcade skills tells against me. I cannot prevent my monkey from diving to a watery doom.

I think it’s to do with the fact that the camera angle changes constantly, making the tilt difficult to control because the meaning of your tilt input is also being changed from moment to moment. (And it’s as motion-sick-inducing as The Blair Witch Project.)

What happened here? Is it an unwise combination of tilt input device with camera code developed for a different platform? Or am I just Bad At This?

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.

Continue reading “A Match-3 Game I Don’t Hate”

iPhone IF and CYOA

Two applications in the new iPhone App store caught my attention particularly: an implementation of Advent (already discussed some on RAIF), and what looked like an educational Choose Your Own Adventure book (or similar) called “The Battle of Waterloo” (from TouchTomes, by Graham Perks and Elizabeth Jones).

They’re both seriously disappointing. Advent is, I think, basically a case study in how to do an interactive fiction interface wrong on the iPhone. There’s no scrollback. The background images (of cave interiors, your feet, whatever) are distracting. The creators haven’t leveraged the game dictionary to provide helpful autocomplete for commands — something that should be possible and would make command entry considerably less laborious on this platform. Overall, yuk.

“The Battle of Waterloo” is indeed a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and is as unpredictable and surreal as the original series. Some of the outcomes lead to swift military outcomes (so swift, in fact, that it’s hard to get a clear sense of what is going on in the battle). But there are also inexplicably horror/paranormal outcomes, which make it seem more arbitrary and less like historical re-enactment. Add to that an assortment of typos and punctuation errors, badly written dialogue, maps too tiny to read (but which you can’t zoom into), and a maze for pity’s sake — and what you get is essentially a mess, something that reflects almost none of what we’ve learned in the last several decades about interactive storytelling or multimedia education.

On the positive side: I do find the iPhone screen big enough to read comfortably. There’s room for good stuff to be done for this platform. It just hasn’t happened yet.