Search Results for: casual games

I have not played Echo Bazaar

I have not played Echo Bazaar. But whoo-ee, a whole lot of my friends sure are playing it.

The reasons I'm not playing are as banal as I can possibly make them. I don't want to use my Twitter account that way! I want to play once a night, not once every 70 minutes! I like whining on the Internet!

...I'm busy writing stuff, and I have no time to get hooked on new games. Except for these iPad hidden-object time-wasters! And the new Prince of Persia retread is coming out soon!

...No, look. The truth is that I love this kind of game -- I was an early Kingdom of Loathing fan. Worse, for years I've wanted to write this kind of game. But I only have scraps of filthy sketchwork and insoluble economics diagrams, and those Echo Bazaar people have actually gone ahead and done the thing. And I hear it's awfully cool.

What's even cooler is when a horde of highly literate gamers, designers and interactivity freaks get hold of something like this and start whaling on it in four-part harmony. And suggesting new design ideas. And then the game creators notice and start commenting back.

So, without ullage:

I do not have time, I do not have time...

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Polygonal Fury

Polygonal Fury screenshotPolygonal Fury is a new game by a first-time game maker. In the game info, it acknowledges the influence of Boomshine and Circle Chain. The basic idea is that you click on the screen to try to start a chain reaction to destroy a certain number of the shapes on the screen. Boomshine is not a very deep game (it's mostly luck-based), but it has a really nice atmosphere, mostly provided by its excellent, soothing music. The music in Polygonal Fury isn't quite as noteworthy, but the techno beat of it fits pretty nicely with the look of the game, so it works. What makes Polygonal Fury stand out a bit is its strategy.

There are three different shapes, and each one dies in a different way. Circles explode with a certain radius, squares shoot off in one of the four cardinal directions, and triangles fire off a laser at a random other shape on the screen. The thing that makes Polygonal Fury interesting is that you can upgrade the different shapes to do things like give circles a larger explosion radius, make triangles do more damage, get supershapes that are more powerful, and get extra clicks.

It didn't take me too long to win, but the later levels did require a bit of shuffling of upgrade points and discovering the right strategies for what to click when. Definitely worth playing if you like clicky action games with a bit of strategy.

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Warzone and the Neverending Tower Defense

An example of a maze in Warzone Tower DefenseI found a new tower defense game via JIG, Warzone Tower Defense. It has a standard (but nice) selection of upgradable towers, and it's an open area (like the Desktop Tower Defense games) instead of pre-defined paths (like most every other tower defense game). As the waves go on and the enemies get tougher, you're forced to build mazes (see the image), which I find kind of tedious. Now, you're forced to build mazes in Desktop Tower Defense, too, but at least that ends. Warzone Tower Defense doesn't end, apparently. It just keeps going and going until you die. Now, this is obviously interesting to some people, as their forum is full of people bragging about the levels they reached (before dying or having their browser crash), sometimes with pictures showing the various complicated mazes they've built.

So, the game is definitely fun for a while, but I really do prefer my tower defense games to be winnable, even if it takes a really long time.

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Tower Offense?

Since I've been playing and thinking about tower-defense games recently, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to have a reverse tower-defense game, where you plan out the hordes of monsters that get shot at by towers. Thinking that this was unlikely to have been a completely original thought, I searched around and found Anti-TD, a game that came out two years ago.

(It's part of the Anti Games Series by Sugar-Free Games. It also includes Anti-Match3 (I guess this could be fun if you were a fan of the genre, but it's not my thing. Although it does apparently have a two-player mode, where one person plays the dropper and one person plays the matcher, which is interesting) and Anti-Pacman (you play all four ghosts. When you're not controlling a ghost, it wanders about on its own. When you are controlling a ghost, you move it around with the arrow keys. When a ghost dies, it is gone for good, so you don't have it available for later levels. Jason, you should at least check it out for the art that it shows you between the levels. While researching this, I also ran into the game Pac-Man Vs. for GBA and GameCube, where one person plays Pac-Man and up to four others play the ghosts. They get around the inherent unfairness by letting Pac-Man see the whole board (on the GBA) but letting the ghosts only see the area around themselves (on the TV screen). When a ghost gets Pac-Man, the two players switch places).

Anti-TD is not a very good game beyond the concept. For one thing, it took me about 30 seconds to discover a winning strategy that made the game too simple to care about. Let me explain. You are presented with a board that has paths and towers on it. You can select a type of creature and an entrance, and then send it. Your goal is to get a certain number of creatures to the exit alive. There are about a dozen different creatures, and they come in five different levels each (each one slightly faster or more resistant than the last). The only stats the creatures have, however, are unit type (ground or air), speed, and resistance. In each of the 10 levels, you start with a certain amount of money. I very quickly noticed that when I sent some creatures out, even though they died, I ended up with more money than I started with. I guess you get some money just for having your creatures spend time out there or something. So I picked a fast unit and then just kept sending those out, and my money built and built. Eventually, either that unit would overwhelm the defenses or I could save up enough money to buy a bunch of the top unit and push those through. I won the game in about half an hour.

Besides being absurdly easy, there also isn't much opportunity for strategy in the game. There are different tower types, but you can't click on them to find out anything about them, and there's certainly no indication that different units are affected differently by the different types of towers. And as for picking a path, it's simply a matter of counting the number of towers on each path and picking the one with the least defense. There are also little power-ups that appear and disappear randomly, but they really don't add much to the gameplay.

So, what should a good reverse tower-defense game have? Here are some initial thoughts.

  • It should allow you to see what the towers are. Maybe it doesn't give you the full stats, or at least not until you've had a few units gunned down by that type of tower, but you should at least be able to tell what it does by clicking on it or hovering over it.
  • It should have different creature types have different strengths and weaknesses in relation to the different tower types. This can be done in any of the ways any of the various tower-defense games have done it: associate creatures with different elements, have them walking or flying, give them resistances or susceptibilities to different tower types, etc.
  • It should have some logical (or at least explained) way that you get resources. Maybe you get resources over time. Maybe you get resources for destroying towers or for getting creatures to the end of the board.
  • It should have some kind of upgrade mechanism. In Anti-TD, all of the creature types are available to you from the beginning as long as you can afford them, and you can afford most of them in the first level. Part of the fun of a tower-defense game is being able to upgrade your abilities or at least upgrade the towers. It should work similarly for upgrading monsters.
Anyone have any other ideas?

Asymmetric multiplayer tower defense might also be an interesting challenge to design. In regular tower-defense games, your goal is to slaughter wave after wave of your enemy. In a reverse tower-defense game, your goal would be to overwhelm the defenses. How would this work with one player playing the monsters and one player playing the defender? It would be a challenge to make the game fun for both people, since it's unlikely to be much fun to get all of your guys constantly slaughtered. Also, if there is any kind of planning between stages, the timing would have to be such that it doesn't take one person 10 seconds and another 3 minutes to decide what to do next (I guess a timer could easily solve that). It might be interesting to play a series of matches, where each player gets experience and is upgrading and such as the matches go on, but where the players have totally different roles. Are there games out there like this?

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Balloon Invasion

I was so impressed with GemCraft Chapter Zero that I decided to check out the page of the creators, Game in a Bottle. I found Balloon Invasion there.

For everything outside of the levels, Balloon Invasion uses the same engine as GemCraft Chapter One. So, you still have a side-scrolling map, levels you have to unlock, skills to upgrade, etc., except that it's all themed for an artillery defense against an invasion of hot-air balloons and zeppelins dropping bombs.

The levels are what make this a completely different game. You are presented a side view, with your main flak gun at the lower right of the screen. Balloons of different shapes, sizes, and speeds come floating from the left to the right. You need to aim your flak gun at the balloons, leading them the appropriate amount. And exactly where you aim is important, as the flak shells need to explode at a certain point in space (so they're not like bullets or lasers, where anywhere along the trajectory is equally good). The key difference here is that you are constantly actively firing, making this game feel much more real-time than GemCraft, where you place towers and gems and then just sit back and let them shoot automatically.

To keep up the excitement and to help you out, you can also place other guns (which come in different types and which fire automatically) and call air strikes. Your other guns usually get destroyed throughout the battle, but you only lose if your main gun gets destroyed. This is the other main difference between Balloon Invasion and GemCraft (and most tower-defense games): it doesn't hurt you if the balloons make it to the other side of the screen. Yes, it hurts you if they drop a bomb on your main gun, but not all of them do (if you have other guns out, they will often drop bombs on the other guns first, and balloons have a limited number of bombs). The balloons somehow magically appear on the left again after going off the screen on the right, but I can forgive this minor unrealistic aspect.

So while Balloon Invasion probably won't keep me playing as long as GemCraft Chapter Zero did, its different gameplay mechanic makes it novel and will keep it interesting for a little while at least.

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GemCraft Chapter Zero: Gem of Eternity

As I mentioned in my last post, I finally won GemCraft Chapter Zero, so I feel like I can post about it now. I'll use headers for organization, since this is going to be long.

GemCraft Chapter Zero is a tower-defense game, a prequel to the original GemCraft Chapter One: The Forgotten. Zero is a vast leap over One in many ways. There are little touches that make life easier, like being able to call multiple waves early with a single click, and being able to combine gems in towers instead of needing to remove them from towers to combine. But there are also more substantive changes, like greatly expanding the number of skills, and introducing nine (well, ten) different ways to play each level.

And for a tower-defense game, there's actually a bit of a story building up over the series. (Slight spoilers ahead, but the story isn't what the game is about.) At the beginning of One, you find out that there is a wizard in the east who has unleashed monsters for some unknown reason. You battle your way across the land, clearing towers of monsters. When you get to the end, you find that something called "The Forgotten" has possessed this other wizard, but it decides that you're a better host, so it kills the other wizard and possesses you. You're then told that it is going to take you to the east, to unleash more havoc.

In Zero, you are a wizard in search of the Gem of Eternity. The wizard council tries to hide information about it and forbid you from finding it, but you ignore them and search out the gem anyway. In the end, you take the gem and realize that its power has been used to imprison an ancient, powerful evil, The Forgotten. It possesses you, and you become the mad wizard in One. You're told that The Forgotten plans to lure another wizard, and that with the power of both wizards combined, it will finally be powerful enough to fully come into the world, which you learn will be picked up in GemCraft Chapter Two.

The story is pretty dark. In both One and Zero, the protagonist ends up possessed by an unspeakable evil; not much of a reward for defeating wave after wave of monsters. But I'm definitely looking forward to Two, both to see what additional improvements are made to the game, and also to see if The Forgotten is finally defeated (and I expect a very difficult final battle).

Tower-Defense Games
Now to go into some more detail about the game. For those who don't know, the tower-defense genre, which has exploded in the past couple of years, involves placing towers in order to kill monsters that try to cross the screen. You get money for killing monsters, which you can use to buy more towers or upgrade existing towers. Key strategy points generally involve where to place the towers, which towers to purchase, and how and when to upgrade the towers.

The GemCraft Games
In the GemCraft games, you build empty towers on the board, and then you build gems, which you place in the towers. The gems fire blasts that damage monsters and that also have different special effects depending on the color of the gem (blue slows, green poisons, red does splash damage, etc.). You can build six different grades of gems, in eight different colors. Each level has from two to eight of the gem colors available, and when you choose a grade of gem to build, the color is randomly selected from those available for the level.

Combining Gems
You can combine gems to make more powerful gems. Two gems of the same grade can be combined to form a gem of the next higher grade (if you combine gems of different grades, the combined gem is the higher grade, but it's slightly better than the original higher-grade gem). Part of the strategy involves knowing when to combine gems and when to wait to buy higher-grade gems directly (it's cheaper to buy a gem than to buy the two component gems and combine them, but it also takes longer to save up for the higher-grade gem, during which time monsters might be trouncing you). Note that you can combine grade six gems to make grade seven gems, even though you cannot buy grade seven gems directly. The highest gem grade I've made is grade nine. I'm not sure if there is a maximum grade. OK, so I just spent an hour or so making a grade ten gem, so I'm guessing there's no maximum. (A grade ten gem takes 16 grade six gems. The last level requires you to throw seven grade seven gem bombs, which is 14 grade six gems, so I knew that I just had to go a bit beyond what it took to win the last level. Of course, that required gaining a few more experience levels so that I was powerful enough to do that.)

Traps in Zero replace trenches in One. A trench is built along the path, and it slows down the monsters that go over it for a little bit. It's useful to put these near your towers, so that your gems have more time to hit the monsters. Traps in Zero are basically a combination of a trench and a tower. You build them in the path, but by themselves they do nothing. Like a tower, they require a gem to activate. A gem in a trap does much less damage and has much less range than a gem in a tower, but its rate of fire increases and its specials (slow, poison, splash, etc.) are much more powerful. Throughout the game, I didn't find much use for traps, since I always felt that if I had a gem, I wanted to put it into a tower. Maybe I would have gotten through the game faster if I had used traps effectively, but I don't know. They're obviously most effective when you're faced with swarms of weak creatures, which is the case in the Swarm level type.

Gem Bombs
Besides sticking them in towers and traps, another thing you can do with gems is make bombs out of them. This concentrates their power (including their special) into a single large explosion, quite a bit more powerful than a normal blast from the gem. Now, generally, using gem bombs to destroy monsters isn't very cost-effective, since the average gem will do much more damage over its lifetime in a tower than as a gem bomb. Still, there are times when this is useful, such as during the Sudden Death level type (generally, if a monster reaches the end, it costs you some mana to banish it, and it reappears at the beginning (if you run out of mana, you die); in Sudden Death, you die if any monster reaches the end, no matter how much mana you have). However, gem bombs are useful for destroying other things on the field (auxiliary buildings where monsters can also come out, little buildings and rocks and whatnot so that you can place towers in that spot, and beacons, which negatively affect an area of the board by doing things like healing monsters, preventing you from placing towers or traps, and making monsters invulnerable (until they reach the end)). I did have occasion to experiment with an all-gem-bomb strategy a few times, and it is quite fun, but it only works on some of the lower levels.

Shrines are another feature that is present on some of the levels. Each shrine is of a particular type (damage, mana gain, armor reduction, etc.), and they are activated by sacrificing gems to them. A shrine has only a certain number of charges, so there is a limit to how many times it can be activated. They can sometimes be useful, particularly the damage ones near the end of a level (call the rest of the monsters, then kill them all with the damage shrines), and there are some fun degenerate uses of them in the Endurance level type (Endurance keeps sending monsters at you until you die, but the upshot is that you always win (you just sometimes don't get very many points); there is a shrine that gives you three times the points for up to 100 monsters on the field, so you can call all the monsters and sacrifice several gems to get points; this combines very nicely with one particular type of damage shrine; if these shrines are available on a level, it usually results in a higher score than playing the Endurance level like a normal person). However, the big use of these shrines is for the amulets.

For anyone who has spent much time at all playing casual games, amulets will be instantly recognized as equivalent to achievements. Achievements are little metagame tasks for which you get some points (or sometimes nothing at all beyond the satisfaction of getting the achievement). (And I can't pass up this opportunity to mention a fun parody game called Achievement Unlocked, which is nothing but achievements.) However, amulets in Zero are a major source of points (and points increase your level, which gives you skill points, and skill points are how you're able to beat higher levels). It's even possible to get more points from amulets than from killing monsters on some of the levels.

Amulets come in two varieties, those you can only get once and those you can get every level. The ones you can get only once are mostly for reaching certain milestones throughout the whole game (completing a certain number of a certain level type, building a certain number of towers, killing a certain number of monsters, throwing a certain number of gem bombs, etc.). The ones you can get every level include things like winning a battle without doing something (building a tower, throwing a gem bomb, building a trap); building a grade seven, eight, or nine gem; finishing the level with a certain amount of mana; and so on.

The other kind you can get every level are called shrine burst amulets. You get these by sacrificing a grade six or higher pure gem (a gem of only one color; you can combine gems of different colors, and the combined gem takes on attributes of both component gems) at a shrine, and you get one for every time you do this in a level. The points you get for these can be significant, especially in some of the later levels where there are sometimes a lot of shrines. An average base score on a level might be anywhere from 1200 to 2000 points. Each shrine burst amulet is worth 300 points, giving you the ability to sometimes get 1200 or more points just from the shrine burst amulets. As I said above, the points you get from amulets can easily be more than the points you get from simply killing monsters.

One of the most noticeable big changes from One to Zero is the greatly expanded set of skills to improve. In One, you have a set of 12 skills (things like gaining more mana, having gems cost less, getting gems at the start of a level, etc.), and at the beginning of the game, you can only spend points in one skill, having to wait until you are of a certain experience level before you can unlock the next skill.

In Zero, there are 28 different skills (one for each color of gem, three dealing with your mana pool, three dealing with gem bombs, three dealing with traps and towers, etc.), and you can advance in any of them regardless of your experience level (as long as you have the skill points). The first level of a skill costs five points (the number of points you get to spend for each experience level you gain), and they go down as you spend more, costing two points in the middle, and then going back up, costing six points for the tenth level in a skill, for a total of 36 points to get tenth level in a skill. In order to max out, you would need 36 * 28 = 1008 skill points, which you would get with 1008 / 5 = 202 experience levels, or level 203 (you start out at level 1 with no skill points to spend). To give a data point, my character who won the game (and then gained a few levels so I could verify that you can in fact create a grade ten gem) is level 93, with 460 skill points to spend. So let's just assume that no one is going to be able to max out even most of the skills, so choices have to be made.

There are some pretty obvious choices for skills to take all the time once you have the points. Maxing out the skills that allow you to build towers cheaper, to build gems cheaper, and to start a level with more mana will allow you to build a tower and a grade four gem before any monsters start showing up, which gives you a nice safety net for most levels. As you get more points, maxing out the skills that give your gems higher damage, range, and firing rate are pretty key. But there is plenty of room for variation based on the particular layout of the level, the particular level type you are playing, and your particular playing style.

Level Types
The other very noticeable change from One to Zero is the addition of level types. One encourages replay of levels by giving a score to try to beat for a level. If you do, the frame around the level on the map will "glow", and you will have a chance of unlocking a hidden level. In Zero, level types are used to encourage replay of the levels.

When you first play a level, you must play it in the Normal level type. Once you win in Normal, you may play the level in any one of eight other level types, provided you meet the experience level requirement. To play the Sudden Death level type, you must be experience level eight; to play Endurance, you must be level 16; to play Heroic, you must be level 24; and so on through Arcane at level 64. Some levels are too tough to beat on Normal at the experience level you are, so in order to gain some experience levels to be able to advance skills, you frequently need to return to lower levels and play them at different level types.

To give you an idea of the scope of the game, there are 78 different levels. In the game where I've won, only the first 18 levels have been completed in all of the level types, there are five levels where I've only completed Normal, and there are 18 levels where I haven't even completed the Normal level type. There's also a special level type that only becomes available once you've won the game, and it keeps getting tougher and tougher every time you play it for a level.

There are many possible paths through GemCraft Chapter Zero, and I could probably spend as many hours playing it to completion after having won it as I spent to win it. The sheer number of levels, level types, skills, and amulets might make the game seem daunting to some, but I found it a challenging and rewarding game. I'm very much looking forward to the next installment.

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iPhone adventures

The iPhone App Store has opened, and it is time for all game-bloggers of good will to talk about iPhone games.

(The ones of ill will are doing it too, as are those of ill mind, of weak will, and of bad wind. I won't fuss about which of these categories I'm in. Zog knows I can't climb that many flights of stairs without going all anaerobic on my mitochondria.)

I see there are... 219 games as I write this. I haven't found a good way to browse them; the in-phone browser doesn't do subcategories, and iTunes doesn't seem to have complete lists in any category. (At least, this doesn't look like it adds up to 219.) But never mind. I've skimmed through the lists, and seen the expected variety: shoot-up games, tilt-marble games, rhythm-tapping games, and the entire continent of casual puzzle games. (Which consists of the Republic of Rule Mazes, the Sodality of Sudoku, the Mahjongg Concord, the Other Sodality of Solitaire, and so on. All of which are pinched corners around the Grand Imperium of Click On Three Identical Cute Animals. Or jewels or what have you. But usually animals.)

Really, the only reason I post stuff on the Internet is to use the word "sodality" as often as possible. Thank you, Brannon Braga.

But I'm interested in adventure games. Adventures are a gaping hole in the iPhone lineup. Can this be? Surely adventures are common casual gaming fodder! Really -- do any web search on "room escape". Each of these games differs from Myst only in that it is small, indoors, and (usually) visually stylized rather than photorealistic.

It is true that every one of these tiny adventurelets is written in Flash. And the iPhone has no Flash player. But heck -- every shooting, tapping, marbling, mazing, three-animal-clicking games on the Web is in Flash too, and developers had no trouble porting those to Mr. Shiny.

The graphical adventure form needs few changes to run on a touch interface. You don't have the ability to click on tiny details -- but "hunt-the-pixel" was always the reductive failure of graphical adventures (as "guess-the-verb" is for text adventures). It's what happens when the game isn't working. So design your scenes for big hotspots. You don't have a cursor to change to indicate hotspots, either. Maybe dragging your finger around a scene should cause hotspots to flash, to indicate their existence that way. Or maybe you just need really good visual focus.

This is important because graphical adventures normally have two levels of response: one indicates that you can use an item (cursor change), the other is for when you decide to use it (click). And so puzzles can involve a certain amount of "What do I want to do first?" If tapping something activates it, most of your game interactions are going to be accidental. ("Hey, I guess that was a lever!") That's a big rethink of the form.

(Sure, you want to adhere to the "no death, no mistakes" rule -- casual adventuring demands that. But even a benign irreversible action is irritating, if you hit it accidentally. And room escape games have lots of irreversible actions. It's a design convention: when you push the button it stays pushed, when you solve the puzzle it stays solved. Keeps the player's momentum forward.)

Maybe we should roll with the dragging idea: design most of the game elements to require motion rather than tapping. Tapping just causes a quick bounce or jiggle reaction. So if you tap on a cabinet door, it jiggles; that tells you that you can drag it open. I like this idea, actually. Levers everywhere instead of buttons. Drag the carpet back to look under it. Drag found items to your inventory, then drag them back to target hotspots.

I'm not sure whether edge buttons or flick-scrolling is better for turning left and right -- that will require some testing. (If finger dragging gets coopted for one of the above ideas, I guess you're forced to use edge buttons.) Pinch-zoom seems like a clever idea for close inspection of scenes, but I suspect it will work best in moderation -- closeups only.

Text adventures! My character sheet says I'm supposed to talk about text adventures. (In fact I already have; this bit of bloggery is adapted from a couple of posts I made on

The App Store already has a text adventure -- the text adventure.

Advent Splash

This is a freeware application being distributed by "Pi-Soft Consulting" (which looks like it's the same as Shawn P. Stanley).

A bit of historic neepery which will be of interest to practically nobody: the splash text shown above is misleading. It is taken from Graham Nelson's Inform port of Adventure -- which, as the note says, is adapted from Dave Baggett's TADS version of Don Ekman's Fortran source code.

Which is fine, except that Shawn P. Stanley didn't use Graham Nelson's port. He adapted Jim Gillogly's C source code. This also descends from the Fortran version.

The two versions feel rather different. Were one to play Graham Nelson's version of the game, one would find a refined parser supporting features such as "get all", more synonyms, abbreviations like "x" for "examine", and a long historical introduction. Gillogly's port uses the original, simplistic parser. There are a few gameplay differences as well.

On the other hand, it's the same game. Both versions cover the classic "350-point" Crowther&Woods edition of Adventure, as opposed to any of several extended remixes. I just don't get why Stanley chose to write his credits this way.

(I'm not accusing him of misconduct. Adventure has always been, in hacker tradition, been considered free software. Jim Gillogly's port is explicitly licensed as open-source under the BSD license. And Stanley is distributing iPhone Advent for free.)

On both hands, the dedication to Stephen Bishop is appropriate to any version of Adventure.

Let's take a look at the game itself.

Inside Building

The interface is straightforward. You have an input line. When you tap on it, the usual iPhone tap keyboard appears, and you type your command. Hit Return and see what happens.

Well, perhaps not so straightforward. This implementation only shows the response to your most recent command. There is no scrolling game history, such as IF players are used to. If you type "get lamp" at the prompt above, the visible text changes to the single word "OK" -- poor context at best.

The obvious fix is to move the input line to the bottom of the screen, and show the game history above it. Right?

Wrong. The iPhone really wants the input line near the top of the screen, because the keyboard is always at the bottom. If the input line is at the bottom edge, it'll just slide uphill when the keyboard pops up, and that wouldn't be great.

So I want the input line at the top but a standard IF scrolling pane below it, with commands interspersed in the usual way. (You'd have to ensure that finger-scrolling only affected the text pane, not the entire screen. This is possible -- in fact Advent does it, with long responses such as the "help" output.)

(That model obviates the need for the input line to keep showing the last command, which is confusingly out-of-order.)

What else does the perfect iPhone IF application have? I'll move away from criticizing iPhone Advent, and talk about general features.

I'd like a special button to the right of the input line, which brings up a menu of one-touch common IF commands. A compass rose of movement commands, "look" and "inventory", maybe "undo". (iPhone Advent doesn't support "undo", but modern IF does.)

The splash page should have a "how to play" button. The mainframe-style "Do you want instructions?" when you start is all wrong.

PDA IF traditionally has some kind of "tap a word to paste it" interface. I want that but it's hard to do with a touch-screen, because words are tiny. The ideal solution might be to invisibly mark up the output text with "this word is important" spans. That opens up a certain amount of blind hunt-the-pixel exploration, but if brute force is tedious and generally useless -- ie, if only the obviously important words are marked -- I don't think it would sidetrack players.

Finally, the backgrounds. I rather like Advent's low-contrast cave photos. (Emily Short disagrees.)

Background Map Concept

However, what would be even keener would be a map. (I like drawing my own maps, but mobile IF players probably don't have a sheaf of blank paper handy.) Not a complete map, but one that's filled in as you play. You can see the nearby rooms that's you've already explored.

You wouldn't want text on it -- it is, after all, behind the game text, and text on text is hard to read. But a dynamic room map in unlabelled, simple shapes and low-contrast color would be cool. Highlight the current room (or keep it centered). This image is my quick sketch of the concept. Maybe it works? Maybe I'm nuts? Too bright yellow, for sure, but it's late so that's what you get.

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