Friday, July 11, 2008

iPhone Games And What They Could Mean For You!

There are certain restrictions to the things I can and can't say about Apple, and their related products. Some might take this opportunity to decry this admission as a petty sort of bias. To be quite clear, it isn't.

If you know me personally, then you know why I can't go into greater detail here (sorry). But after spending today with the latest iPhone software 2.0, I can't help but express my glee at the wonderful app store, and its amazing potential.

And quite clearly that's all the store is right now: a potential opportunity for interesting and exciting game projects (and apps, too). Take a look around the console side of gaming and you'll find mass budgets, scared publishers, and a rise in the casual games market. These three factors have hamstrung development companies, as they try to leverage projects that can pay the bills with projects that will. No publisher can afford a retail bomb these days, and who can blame them for being anything but cautious, as they plot the future of their companies into the fiscal unknown.

Everyone wants to make money, and that's a fact.

So how does iPhone fit into a publisher's future plans? Its the fastest growing smart phone competitor to R.I.M.'s Blackberry. It runs a native version of everyone's favorite operating system: Mac OS X. It's truly a remarkable lifestyle product that's both cool and hip.

Now, clearly I've never been into anything the hip crowd deems worthy. But I am impressed by their toys every so often, and today is one of those days. I sat down and browsed the App Store today, and downloaded my top five most important applications on my last gen iPhone: 1) AIM 2) Facebook 3) A sports tracking app that forgot the name to 4) Super Monkey Ball 5) NetNewsWire.

So since this is my space where I usually pass judgment on game related products, I'll reflect on my brief time with Super Monkey Ball.

I should point out that I've had very little exposure to the series. Of course, I've heard of it. I think i even played it once or twice. Super Monkey Ball, to me, has always been a sorta cool, but I'll pass thing for me. I got the challenge to it, but the franchise always stuck in my mind as a masochistic gamer's fantasy. The type that person that emphasizes perfection in all movement and is wildly driven by that sort of challenge. It's someone who can enjoy the immense pressure of a clock counting down as you quickly steer a trapped monkey wildly through a wide-open, and deadly maze.

See, even saying that much clearly helps you understand that it aint easy. And you know what, it really isn't.

An iPhone version is pretty impressive, and it earns Sega some props. The levels are fully rendered in 3-D, although the main avatars are not. The developers have a 2-D looking sprite at the center of the screen. As you tilt the phone to steer or monkey friend, the avatar rotates with the camera, to a degree. Its all using the wonderful accelerometer that's built into the iPhone. The action is amazingly responsive, but the game does a terrible job of helping you learn its balancing nuances. There is no proper training level to teach player's a neutral position for the iPhone to keep the ball from rolling.

Could an on screen indicator have helped this? Possibly.

I've spent the majority of this afternoon falling off ledges, getting visibly frustrated, and completely annoyed with my first game-related purchase. Now before I give off the wrong impression, Super Monkey Ball is not a bad game. It's average at best, even for a cell phone game (although its visibly remarkable compared to some other iPhone launch games). But this game is aimed at a market that clearly won't understand it. The consumer mass market that uses iPhone won't know what to do with Monkey Ball. They'll get frustrated and move on because its a really challenging game, even on easy mode.

I hope developers use the iPhone as more than just an opportunity to cash in and provide pretty games with bad controls. A consumers iPhone game experience could segue to other products, or even interest in games in general. Development on iPhone can introduce people to amazing innovation, it can re-introduce them to a former favorite pastime, and most importantly it can make cell phone games relevant, and inspire publishers to pursue smaller budget experiments with mass market success. it resembles the same promise that downloadable games on console seem to be pushing as well.

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