After Flappy Bird’s surprise success and stunning departure, it seems like a million developers want to make the next Flappy Bird; that next smash viral hit. But too many have taken it literally by making their own Flappy-style games. To make a fun viral hit, it requires many factors to come together perfectly – and not necessarily flapping. Threes is that next Flappy Bird because it nails many of those same factors that make it an effective and successful game.
While Threes comes from Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend, developers far more established than Flappy Bird’s Dong Nguyen was, their game still succeeded in large part in spite of traditional ways of being successful. Threes didn’t have a big marketing campaign, and had a non-prominent feature by Apple. Despite this, the game has peaked in the paid games list at number one on iPhone and number two on iPad, having been sticky in the top five for the past two and a half weeks since its launch. It lost its top rank temporarily on iPhone with the release of Card Wars – Adventure Time, but regained it a few days later. Point is, it’s done enormously well despite it not having much in its favor marketing-wise.
Now, whether or not one considers Flappy Bird to be a ‘good’ game, it was a major hit because it was effective at what it did, and Threes is effective in much the same ways.
Both games are very hard to do exceptionally well at. Flappy Bird has punishing physics and little margin for error. Threes is a much more strategic game: there are a lot of systems in place with the cards all moving simultaneously that require a lot of practice – and a lot of patience – in order to master how they work, just like Flappy Bird’s physics.
Yet, despite the challenge these games present, they’re still exceptionally easy to play. Flappy Bird just requires one tap, and makes it easy to restart. Threes just requires swipes, and its addition-based rules are simple enough to glean once learned.
It’s that classic combination of “easy to learn, difficult to master” that makes them tick. As well, there’s just enough chaos involved in the design to make players feel like they have a shot. All it takes is a good card draw in Threes, or a set of pipes that’s manageable in Flappy Bird, and it’s one step closer to a high score. It’s that mix of “out of control” plus “I know I should be doing better” that makes both games so addictively fun.
But plenty of games can get that mix right. What makes them popular? Part of it is the personality: Flappy Bird‘s used a charming semi-flightless bird protagonist and art styles like the obstacle pipes that resembled retro gaming that were endearing in a specific way. Threes’ characters with their voices forge an emotional connection to the player, and it makes them more than just score objects. As well, it’s an accomplishment to unlock higher card values and new characters.
Also, scoring highly in each game feels like a milestone. Flappy Bird‘s scores are a rather literal representation of progress. Threes’ scores are effectively a bit fudged due to their four-or-five-digit nature, but they still represent a clear indicator of progress. Someone gets a higher score because they created more valuable cards. They did better, there was no fudging why they did better. All it takes is to look at the final board of a player to see how well they did and why they did better. This makes it so that players know just what they need to do in general to get better scores. This makes them very shareable.
And the ease of sharing in each game was a key factor in its virality too. Flappy Bird had a tweet button that was frequently used to share scores before it was removed. Still, it offers easy access to Game Center leaderboards, where friends’ scores can be seen. Threes not only tweets out scores, but it also tweets out the image that sums up the score, what the maximum card was, and the final board. It succinctly shows just what happened. And each high score and each tweet is a call to arms – it temps those with the game to try to beat it. And then they share their successes. And all this talk inevitably snags in more people to play, and it just takes off from there because the games are so effective at getting their hooks into the players.
It’s that mix of effectiveness and emotional connection that has made each game become so popular on their own scales. So while Threes might not involve flapping, it is inextricably linked to Flappy Bird regardless.
Every year, with thousands more apps and games being released on the App Store, it becomes increasingly difficult to single-out just which are the crème de la crème of this ever-growing iOS market – and more specifically, which of them truly set a higher standard in terms of innovation, uniqueness, and individuality. Be it a game designed for the iPhone or iPad, anything developed and released on the iOS market in this day and age has to have that special something to grab our interest and retain it for months to come. In no particular order, here are a selection of the most notable games and apps of 2013 that raised the bar in one way or another.
Morphopolis – Quite possibly one of the most visually stunning games I’ve seen all year, Morphopolis‘ astounding presentation and imaginative world designs are what truly sets this hidden object puzzle game apart from those of a similar style. The beautiful hand-drawn watercolor hues bring every aspect of the game’s artwork to life, while the folksy ambient soundtrack sets a beautiful and warm tone to suit the mellow and relaxing pace. What is so immensely likeable about the puzzles in Morphopolis is that each of them is original, unique, stylish, and distinctive in nature, with every single one utilizing the environment in some manner to build upon the atmosphere.
It’s easy to look at mobile and see it as a wasteland for content; particularly with all the casual, free-to-play games, and especially the ones that seem to de-emphasize actual gameplay in favor of stronger monetization. That’s only if you’re not paying attention. Serious, core games – some even free-to-play – had a great year on iOS.
Oceanhorn was hyped for a good reason: it was beautiful and ambitious. That ambition didn’t entirely pay off in my opinion, but for the game to have succeeded financially is a huge step forward for gaming on mobile.
It also felt like the barriers between mobile and PC/console games started to blur a bit. Frozen Synapse, Mode 7′s highly acclaimed PC strategy game, landed on iPad at last. Limbo received an excellent port. Leviathan: Warships brought cross-platform online play – and the best trailer of the year. Space Hulk was not perfect, but it made for an exceptional transition.
But perhaps few did it as spectacularly as XCOM: Enemy Unknown. That game proved that it was possible to take a massive console and PC title – a fantastic modern take on one of the greatest strategy games of all time – and put it on mobile without losing any of the experience. Firaxis also absolutely stuck the landing with Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol and its Pacific Skies followup; original games that went to PC later.
2013 has been a great year for apps. We’ve seen both an explosion of productivity apps and a great number of new deeper games. While King and Supercell owned the top grossing charts, hundreds of other apps found place of prominence on the App Store and in our daily lives. As the year winds down, the writers here at 148Apps are taking a look back at the year in apps including what we liked and how we used them to change our lives.
Some Staff Favorite Apps and Games
2013-12-26 – 148Apps’ Staff Discusses Their Favorite Underappreciated Games – It’s easy to list off the best games of 2013, and often such lists contain a lot of crosstalk between different publications. So this year, instead of just giving off another similar list of the best games of the year, our staff has decided to talk about their favorite games of the year that might not have been the best sellers or the most popular. In no particular order, this is our list of some of our favorite under-appreciated games of 2013.
2013-12-27 – Online multiplayer gaming for iOS has come into its own over the years, however it’s not all about playing against random strangers over the internet. Campbell Bird takes a moment to highlight the Top 10 Local Multiplayer Games (mostly) from 2013, and the entries are definitely worth a look.
2013-12-27 – With the increased number of young children getting their hands on iOS devices, it’s only natural to want to call out some notable software that caters to a younger audience. Amy Solomon goes one better and provides a list of Noteworthy Children’s Apps that will entertain, and give worn-out parents a few minutes of peace in an otherwise busy day.
2013-12-30 – Andrew Stevens, on the other hand, recently rediscovered arcade/action games on iOS. Specifically of the shooter and musical variety. Check out his List of Favorite SHMUPS and Rhythm Games, and feel free to weigh in with your own favorites.
2013-12-30 – Minecraft has become a genre all its own at this point. Well it’s faster than saying “open-world sandbox adventure game,” anyway. That’s why Rob Rich went and picked out some of 2013′s best in his selection of The Year’s Best Minecraftlikes.
2014-1-1 – It’s been interesting to watch as iOS developers become more comfortable with the platform and begin to play around with an assortment of mechanics and concepts we probably couldn’t see anywhere else. Lucy Ingram agrees, and has put together a list of The Most Distinct Apps and Games of the Year; apps and games that really stand-out in terms of presentation, functionality, interfaces, and more.
2013-12-27 – Arron Hirst takes a look at the year for Apple. Highs and lows, staff changes, new products, and more. “It’s pretty fair to say that 2013 has been an incredible year for Apple. With the company’s stock price currently reflecting upwards of $550 a share, it’s clear that investors have renewed faith in the firm’s ability to deliver on its mission to create some of the world’s most desirable products.”
2013-12-27 – With so many weekly releases on the App Store, we’re bound to be some exceptional apps and games. It’s the Law of Averages, really. Chris Kirby takes stock of some of our Highest Rated Apps and Games of 2013, and it’s a fairly robust mix.
2013-12-30 – This year also saw a number of releases that embraced the iOS platform rather than trying to rely on more conventional mechanics adapted for touch screens. Jennifer Allen highlights many of The App Store’s Experimental Gaming Gems of the Year, which makes for quite an impressive collection of atypical games.
2013-12-31 – Lee Hamlet takes a moment to reflect on the state of digital comics and the iPad when he analyzes The Dynamic Duo of Digital Comics and iOS. It’s been an interesting year for comics from major and minor publishers alike, and it looks as though their presence on tablets is only going to get stronger.
2014-1-1 – 2013 was a good year for many developers, but perhaps none so much as Simogo. Carter Dotson examines the unlikely duo of Year Walk and Device 6, and explains why they’re so significant. Aside from just being awesome, of course.
2014-1-1 – What better way to close out our look back at 2013 than with an actual look back at 2013? Chris Kirby highlights a few of 148Apps’ developer spotlights, hardware reviews, and videos of Carter Dotson squaring off against developers in their own games. Our conclusion? It was definitely a good year.
How We Use Apps
2013-12-26 – Documenting Your Year With iOS Photography Apps – For the past two years Jennifer Allen has been recording her with photographs. Every day, she’s taken a photograph with her iPhone before sharing it via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Let’s take a look at how and why she does it.
2013-12-31 – Happy New Year’s Resolution: Fitness Apps for All! – Many, many people ring in the New Year with resolutions, and a lot of those resolutions involve getting into shape or trying to be healthier. Stacy Barnes takes the idea and runs with it (fitness jokes, ha!), giving you a selection of get-in-shape apps from 2013 to get you in the exercising mood.
2013-12-26 – While free to play games grabbed all the headlines, Carter Dotson recaps why core games had such a great year on iOS. “Think mobile is all about free-to-play and casual? Then you haven’t played these games.”
2013-12-26 – Editor Rob Rich weighs in on the remarkable number of quality ports of games to iOS in the last year. He remarks, “as I began to think back on the year one major theme kept popping into my head: the increased power of mobile hardware and the way it’s been used to create some truly impressive adaptations of games from other platforms.”
Whitaker Trebella, now operating under the company name of Fixpoint Productions for his game and music work, is releasing his second full-fledged game, Pivvot. The development of the game was quite like how it plays: a long and winding path that was fraught with obstacles, but with success waiting at the end.
It makes sense because he definitely doesn’t take the easy path through life: he’s a music teacher who also does music for a wide variety of iOS games, becoming one of the most prominent composers on the platform. He was self-started, too – music submissions for Tilt to Live eventually turned into greater attention and more work to start making music for games. Then, he decided to learn how to program in order to make his own games, and he created Polymer, which didn’t make him rich but made significant income for him, was extremely successful for a first release, and was a critical success to boot. He even got married to the love of his life, changing his last name from Blackall to Trebella, a combination combined from his and his wife Dana’s last names. So, what comes next?
That was the one thing he just couldn’t figure out.
A screenshot from the final version of Pivvot. It took a while to get to this point, though.
Trebella says that “I struggled for quite awhile with what kind of game I would like to make next. I probably had at least 20 totally different ideas running around in my head, fighting for attention. I sketched out a bunch on paper, prototyped a few on the device, and showed various people a couple of the ideas I had. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for a long time after releasing Polymer.”
There was one idea that he worked sporadically on at the time, he just never felt all that motivated to work on it because he was struggling to make it work. A talk that Rami Ismail gave, one that wound up influencing fellow Chicago developers such as Dan FitzGerald and Lisa Bromeil of Dog Sled Saga, only helped to sway him toward ditching his idea when he got up to ask about it. His question about whether he should keep pushing with his idea (one he still might pursue in the future) was long-winded, and not exuding much confidence that the idea had a future. “I thought it had potential but it just never struck me. I never had that drive to finish it that I had with Polymer. And because it was a complex idea, it wasn’t even fun to play in the early stages. Eventually, I just scrapped it altogether.”
So it was back to the drawing board. After scrapping his original idea for his second game, he says “I started making a bunch of prototypes. Out of the many prototypes, I decided on one that eventually led to the creation of Pivvot.”
A screen from an early version of the game.
Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon “very much so” influenced Pivvot during its creation. “I just really love the simplistic nature of Super Hexagon‘s gameplay. While it is a VERY hard game, it is VERY easy to understand what to do and how to do it. I wanted to get that same sort of feeling with Pivvot. Someone said to me recently that they enjoyed Pivvot because they knew what to do right away without even playing it. It’s back-to-basics gameplay. I was tempted a number of times to add bells and whistles but I kept thinking back to how awesome Super Hexagon is and how it focuses strictly on that one fun mechanic.” He even has talked to Terry Cavanagh and says “He seemed to think the idea was cool!” when he showed a version of the game to him a couple of months ago.
But curiously, it was also the core technology at work with Pivvot that helped convince him that this was the right idea.”I’m working in Unity with the Futile framework. It took me a long time to really understand how to make cool-looking shapes and objects in Futile. Once I figured that out though, it opened up a ton of options. I was able to create cool-looking obstacles, and maybe even more importantly, I was able to create the winding, pulsating path that is the centerpiece of Pivvot‘s gameplay. Once I had a winding path with some obstacles and some basic collision detection, I was able to play the game and actually have fun.”
“Once I was having fun with the prototype, I knew it had potential.”
He felt like he had nailed the core idea of pivoting around a point traveling along a winding path avoiding obstacles all the while, but making it fun was the biggest challenge. “It took an incredible amount of playtesting on my end. I would create an obstacle, then play the game over and over and over with just that obstacle until I either felt really happy with it or found something that annoyed me about it. For example, if I kept dying on one specific part of an obstacle and it started to feel unfair, I would make that part a bit easier; if a certain part of an obstacle pattern was just way too easy, I would tweak it to make it harder; if an obstacle played well but just didn’t look very cool, I would think about how to make it look better.”
Everything with the game’s art is actually generated through code. Pivvot has a very minimalistic look, consisting mostly of lines and geometric shapes. This wasn’t always the case, though: “the obstacles used to have outlines and other details on them. At first, I thought it looked very cool, but the more I played it, the more I realized the extra details really distracted from the minimalistic look of the game. Having said that, I needed to make sure it looked ‘artfully minimalistic’ rather than just ‘flat.’ ” Continue reading Whitaker Trebella’s Long Voyage to Completing His Second Game, Pivvot »
If you’re looking to buy a new BMW or a Mini, take note. There’s an iOS 4 feature you’ve probably never heard of that you’re going to love.
Car manufacturer BMW has announced that it will be supporting iPod Out in iOS 4. What’s that? You say. Hidden among the many exciting features in Apple’s latest mobile operating system, the relatively obscure iPod Out is a way for iPhone and iPod models to show the iPod interface on a connected display, in this situation, the dashboard of a car.
While many docking stations and other accessories offer this facility already, this is an Apple-endorsed way of showing and controlling the classic iPod screen and album artwork on an external device and should translate very nicely to in-car entertainment. In the case of BMW, the in-built “infotainment” systems will allow control and playback of a connected device through the car’s existing controls and will even allow access to and creation of Genius and custom playlists.
BMW said of its iPod Out support “Future vehicles equipped with this technology will be able to adapt more quickly to the software lifecycles of iPod touch and iPhone”, basically taking the pressure off them to remain compatible with Apple’s mobile devices as they are updated.
BMW refers to “future” vehicles in its press release so existing owners may miss out on this upgrade, however iPod and iPhone owners in the market for a new car should certainly bear a BMW or Mini in mind when on the forecourt.