Tag Archives: iPhone

Digital Board Games

One of the regrettable gaps in my nerdish upbringing is that I never got into board games. By the time I was old enough, Dungeons & Dragons seemed old news and far too much like hard work, and dalliances with Games Workshop productions only lasted as long as it took to spend a couple of weeks’ pocket money on a single figure. My experience with board games beyond Monopoly and Mouse Trap therefore stopped with more accessible options like Hero Quest and Operation Aliens.

Neuroshima Hex

As it seemingly has with so many other media, it was the iPad that’s shaken up board gaming. It doesn’t take long for iOS gamers to get beyond the fool’s hope that [insert favourite PC/console game here] will transfer to touchscreen controls and inevitably get into the gateway drugs like Words With Friends, and from there it’s not a massive leap to the harder stuff. For me it was Neuroshima Hex followed by Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer but Ticket To Ride, Catan and Carcassonne all seem to be notably vicious when it comes to digging those claws in. Those are particularly good conversions that show board games and the iPad to be such perfect bedfellows that I’m desperate for some of the more highly regarded big names to make the transition.

Really, it solves all of the problems, mainly logistical, of modern board games. No like-minded friends? Online play solves that. No time to dedicate a few hours to a game? Asynchronous multiplayer with push notifications renders it a non-issue. No shuffling cards. No missing pieces. No setting up and clearing away afterwards. No possibility for mistakes in tracking stats and damage in complicated battles. Purists may decry the lack of physicality, but I’m perfectly happy with a big touchscreen and several games in something the size of a magazine.

Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer

I find myself jealously eyeing up games like the well-regarded Battlestar Galactica tie-in or something different like Arkham Horror, hoping for someone to make the effort to adapt them so that I can get the co-operative experience without having to pay £40 for the box and, you know, find real people to play with. I’ll probably end up murdered in a ditch somewhere if I start inviting randoms round to play.

I’m sure physical gaming has as many purists decrying the proliferation of sub-£5 touchscreen downloadables as video gaming does, but they’re just as wrong. It’s another example of how the digital world is broadening the horizons of once-inaccessible corners of gaming, and it’s a very good thing.

Best of 2011 #7: Tiny Wings

The second iPhone game on this list is probably more typical of the kind of thing that gets all the plaudits in indie circles: a solo developer, gorgeous art, and simply a good idea done extremely well. I adore a bit of score-chasing on the phone, and I found myself losing hours to the hypnotic flow of Tiny Wings, falling into a rhythm that changed with the day’s randomly generated terrain.

Some of the games below this on my list are undoubtedly more substantial, but, looking back, it wouldn’t surprise me if I spent more time with Tiny Wings than the one-playthrough-and-you’re-done action games. It’s beautiful, and as good a time-waster as it is a game of skill, which is more than can be said for that other bafflingly popular iOS game involving birds with questionable flying ability.

I hope the success of iPhone games that are actually built with a touch interface in mind, like this, Infinity Blade and, yes, Angry Birds, will go some way to convincing developers that the middling results when porting ‘proper’ console games aren’t worth the effort when one guy can make a game as effective as this. The iPhone isn’t a 3DS or Vita and never will be, but when its original titles are this good, this addictive, this gorgeous, that’s by no means a criticism.

Best of 2011 #9: League of Evil

Platform games don’t work on a touch screen, right? Anyone who’s played the numerous shoddy 8-bit and 16-bit conversions will likely concur, as did I until I was lucky enough to cross paths with Ravenous Games’ wonderful little iOS platformer.

I’ll admit now that it’s certainly the least well-known game on this list, looking and playing along the lines of a NES Mega Man, but with bite-sized levels and a time attack element that borders on WarioWare in how quickly some of the levels can be romped through in the pursuit of three stars. It’s a perfect format for playing on a phone and is one of a handful of real-time action games that feels both responsive and actually under control when played with on-screen buttons.

In fairness, it’s unlikely to convince people who are already sniffy about iPhone games, but I had more fun with it than many games that cost several times the asking price. To me, it’s an example of why indie devs are enjoying a resurgence, thanks to things like regular free content and functionality updates, and accessible developers that you just don’t get with the EAs and Capcoms. The fact that it’s seemingly done the impossible in making platforming fun with a touch screen is just icing on the cake.

Game Dev Story

Game Dev StoryThere are tons of films about films, and plenty of music about making music, but a conspicuous lack of games about games. The mark of an immature medium or a lack of mainstream interest in the actual making of games? Probably both, but nobody who’s played it can forget the superb gallows humour of Segagaga, and the door’s open for someone to nail it.

So along comes Game Dev Story, an iPhone simulation of the last 25 years of the games industry. You start with a couple of developers, a handful of genres and settings to choose from, and enough money to develop a game. Make it a success and you can plough funds back into new, increasingly complex games, and as you cultivate a following and begin to establish some commercially viable franchises, generating enough money to buy licences to develop for successive consoles that in no way bear a resemblance to the systems of Nintendo, Sega, Sony and Microsoft. Fail to make it, if that’s possible, and you can bide your time by jobbing on translation projects and porting jobs to make a quick buck.

It’s extremely addictive, and if you have the same affection for gaming in the 80s and 90s as I do, it’ll certainly get its claws into you. But what was more interesting is how it forces you to confront some awkward truths about how this industry works.

Follow the game’s prompts and, sooner or later, you’ll be some kind of mega publisher, every game provoking queues around the block and employing the in-game equivalents of Aaron Sorkin and Lady Gaga to script and score your latest release. But it quickly becomes apparent that the quickest way to the top is to make a couple of hits and then exploit them – that sounds somehow familiar – repeatedly. I’d love to see the Sorkin/Gaga collaboration, but when it’s on a game called Dark Ninja XVIII, it’s not as interesting to me as it could be. And where do you go for the most money after that sells 20 million? Why, Dark Ninja XIX, of course.

Is Game Dev Story some kind of secret Activision PR job, then, intended to get us to see things from the dark side? Or, sadly, just an accurate demonstration of how the games industry really works? I think a look at 2011’s lineup of annual sequels and reboots should answer that.

Depressing as it may be, though, it’s a bloody good little game.

Best of 2010 #9: Infinity Blade

Infinity BladeSince the App Store launched, it was only a matter of time before someone got their act together to create the perfect confluence of handheld hardware power and touchscreen-focused game design. Truth be told, there have been a few contenders on iOS this year, but I think this really deserves to be the first.

It is, of course, graphically stunning. Ridiculously so, in fact, on an iPhone 4’s screen, and that it was able to make people forget about Rage within days of id’s game’s release says something. But beyond that it’s a great little RPG lite, designed to be played as you might play a game on a phone – that is to say, for a few minutes, which is enough to get in a few fights – and just as at home if you’re pumping a couple of hours into grinding and mastering every item. Word is that it started out as a concept for Kinect, and although I can see that working, it’s better suited to a portable. Getting me physically tired is probably the quickest way for me to get bored of it.

With more content already arriving and some significant expansions promised, I fully anticipate this being a mainstay of my iPhone for some time, and for more than a graphical showpiece for when I want to show off. Chair has also batted two for two as far as my lists go since the beginning of its relationship with Epic (see: Shadow Complex), and even if its future is in classy short-form downloadable releases while the parent company does the big jobs, it’s rightly cultivating a reputation that makes people sit up and take notice when it unveils a project.

Maybe this year will be the one where iOS devices start getting taken seriously as portable gaming systems, because when put next to my DS and PSP in 2010, in terms of play time it wasn’t even close.