Minecraft has been a full-blown phenomenon for quite some time now and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon. Regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of the sandbox builder, it’s influence is undeniable. Lots of games have tried to replicate its success with varying degrees of success, but what’s interesting is just how different many of them turned out to be. Some are 2D, some are 3D. Some implement more structured gameplay like tower defense elements on top of all the user-defined construction mechanics. A few almost feel like a randomly generated Metroid. Heck, some even incorporate a ecent number of RPG elements.
Honestly, there’s been quite the creative crop of blocky sandbox games on iOS for a while now, and this year was no exception. So naturally we decided to put together a list of some of our favorites.
Minecraft – Pocket Edition was actually a little late to its own party on iOS. When it first arrived it fell far short of expectations, but just like the PC original it’s been steadily improving ever since. What was once a simple 3D block placement exercise has been fleshed out to include enemies, crafting, fishing, and more. Of course since the PC version has continued to grow the iOS port still hasn’t managed to catch up, but it’s made some really incredible strides.
It would be easy to take a look at Junk Jack X and dismiss it as nothing more than a 2D Minecraft, but nope. It’s actually a very well-made 2D adventure with a heavy emphasis on crafting, exploring, and combat. This sequel of sorts also managed to add multiplayer, animals that can be raised, clothing, character customization options, and a whole heck of a lot more. There are numerous planets to explore (and actual incentive to explore in the first place), and your inventory is tied to your character as opposed to the world so you can bring all your stuff with you while you travel.
Initially I expected The Blockheads to be nothing more than a 2D Minecraft (see a pattern emerging?), but oh my goodness I could not have been more wrong. Instead of a rehash minus a dimension, we have an incredibly unique take on sandbox crafting. One that hits all the right world exploring and building notes, while also incorporating sim-like elements as players guide their little Blockheads around the environment. What’s even more awesome is that they’ll continue to perform queued up actions even while the game is turned off! So even if you can only drop into a game for a few minutes it’s still possible to get quite a bit of stuff done.
Terraria was one of the first “It’s like Minecraft, but” games, and just like pretty much everything else on this list it’s definitely not that simple. It’s more of a massive randomly-generated adventure game. Complete with NPCs to buy items off of, rare loot drops, special bosses, dungeons, and more. And this iOS port is no slouch. Some concessions had to be made (because of the touch screen, of course), but it’s been adapted to the new platform quite well.
What’s interesting about Growtopia is that it’s designed to be an MMO of sorts, but with a crafting motif. Well, it’s actually “splicing” and not “crafting.” Players combine items to generate totally new ones, which are then grown from the ground. It’s a little weird and a little different, but you’ve got to admit it’s also pretty intriguing. Just be aware that, as it’s an online game, you’ll have to learn to live with the constant inclusion of other players.
I freaking loveBlock Fortress. It’s this compelling mix of random level generation, resource management, base-building, and wave defense that never fails to entertain. Materials earned from harvesting and fending off waves of enemies can be used to improve your arsenal and bolster your defenses, and there are quite a number of defensive options at your disposal in the first place so you’ll be busy for quite a while. The upgradable everything that players can tweak using resources saved up from their various playthroughs also sweeten the deal significantly.
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.
Hey, all you blockheads out there, Gamasutra has a nice postmortem feature from the creator of The Blockheads. All blockheads can read what David Frampton has to say about the creation process of the game, including what went right with the development process and what went wrong.
“Minecraft did influence the art in The Blockheads. I didn’t directly copy it, and in fact I resisted the urge to ever look at Minecraft’s art directly for inspiration, always coming up with my own idea of how things should look. However what I did take from Minecraft was the rather specific solution of real-life inspired low resolution pixel art on cubes.”
Posted by Rob Rich on October 10th, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
The expansive 2D Minecraft-like that is The Blockheads has just received another major update, bringing the list of features into the realm of the ridiculous.
In addition to all the expected (but still very much welcome) improvements, most of which involve multiplayer stuff like item ownership and player device banning, there have also been quite a few additions. Things like HD textures for newer devices, the ability to warp in up to 5 Blockheads, electric workbenches that are faster and use less fuel, new types of weapons and armors, a few new mysterious enemies, and trains to transport materials (and players) around the world. Seriously, that should be more than enough incentive to check The Blockheads out if you haven’t already.
No one really likes in-app purchases, do they? Sure, sometimes the flexibility is great when they’re done well, but far too often it all feels a bit cynically done and to the detriment of the player’s bank balance. How good would it be to have a new system that aims to make things much clearer and much fairer? That’s the idea behind Play Nice, a system set up by UK-based developer, Strange Flavour, and set to be a particularly eye catching part of their forthcoming game, Any Landing.
We had a chat with CEO and Lead Coder, Aaron Fothergill, to learn more.
148apps: How did the idea for Play Nice come about? Aaron Fothergill (AF): We dipped our toes in the freemium games market a few years ago with the free version of Flick Fishing, which went on to earn far more than the paid version had when it was at the top of the iPhone games chart, so it was pretty obvious to us just how profitable freemium could be. The problem was, we also saw some of the crazy side of freemium and noticed a trend in other games that was causing the press to start kicking up stories about games designers “deliberately targeting children” or “iPhone gamer gets sudden $3000 bill” and so on.
As with a lot of other game designers, our initial thought was that it’s really a parenting issue. The controls are in place to restrict your children from auto-buying consumable content and Apple even tells you to set the parental controls. However as the issue grew, we realized that we weren’t thinking the ‘Apple way’. Rather than the industry needing to teach players how to work their phones. If we don’t want players to accidentally run up huge bills while still having the benefits of consumable IAP, we need to redesign how we use consumable IAP to suit the way they play.
From that, we first thought of a simple cap, but realized there were issues with that and the way IAP works and then developed it into what we’ve now got for Play Nice where we can set an upper limit we think is a fair amount players can spend on the game, but where any consumable purchases up to that point are actually deducted from the top price, so you don’t lose anything by trying a consumable item first. (Actually, because of the way the IAP system works, you actually save a few pennies by buying the consumables first)
A work in progress example of how the Play Nice system works.
148apps: How long has the system been in development for? AF: On and off for about a year, mostly using our upcoming Any Landing game as a testbed. It was planned for release in June originally, but then I went to WWDC and saw a lot of shiny new code things I wanted to play with and of course that took us back a few more months.
148apps: What challenges have you guys faced in its implementation? AF: The biggest challenge was working out a way to use the current iOS IAP system to get the specific effect we want in a way that’s not confusing to players (the whole point is that it’s meant to be transparent and fair) and not cause issues in approval.
The other issue is actually in balancing the game itself, as when you’ve bought the ‘full’ IAP package, that effectively gives you whatever power ups you want and would drastically change the game’s balance. So a lot of time has gone into making sure that it actually works well as a game.
148apps: Are you concerned about there being any difficulties getting through Apple’s Approval process? AF: We are. The method is a bit of a jumble under the hood and while it’s not doing anything technically bad as far as Apple’s rules are concerned it could look like it’s trying to abuse the system. Because of that I’ve kept Apple support in the loop to check we’re not doing anything that could be construed as dodgy. It still has to go through approval of course, but we’ve done quite a few unusual new features in the past on iOS, so I’m confident that we can keep everything within the rules.
A work in progress screenshot of Any Landing.
148apps: Will the Play Nice system be opened up to other companies interested in doing things differently from the standard in-app purchase way, or will this be a solely in-house endeavor? AF: This is one feature I’d actually be quite happy if other devs copied it. Once the actual workings of it are out there, it’s pretty obvious (if slightly fun to implement) so we’d be happy if other devs wanted to give it a go.
148apps: What’s your opinion of the conventional in-app purchase system? Are there any titles that you think use it well or particularly badly? AF: In itself, it’s a useful system. There’s a lot of confusion about IAP, especially about consumable IAP (which is the one that is easiest to abuse) and non consumable. For instance, if you wanted to do a ‘shareware’ type game on iOS where you unlock the rest of the game after playing demo levels, that’s entirely practical with a non consumable IAP item. (the only rule is you aren’t allowed to call anything a demo, as Apple doesn’t allow demos on the App Store).
What consumable IAP does well (and where Play Nice aims to improve) is it lets you design a game where the skilled players who like to put a lot of time into their gaming can play through the entire game without paying for anything extra to speed the game up or make it easier, but players who really want to play the game but can’t afford as much time, or aren’t quite as skilled, can purchase upgrades to adapt the game to the way they want to play. This is one reason why freemium is so successful. It doesn’t pitch one game at everyone with specific skill levels and free time, it allows players to choose how they want the game to play. Two of my favorite examples of this are The Blockheads (by Majic Jungle Software) and Nimble Quest (by Nimblebit) which both have an optional non consumable purchase that effectively doubles how fast you play (in The Blockheads it halves the time everything takes to craft and in Nimble Quest it adds red gems that effectively double the rate you collect gems). Both use consumable IAP in a reasonable and entirely optional way that doesn’t force itself on you.
The abusive part is where games focus entirely on being nearly impossible (or actually impossible) to play unless you keep spending money on consumable IAP. They’re effectively targeted at the same people that would be spending a fortune on gambling games, i.e. children and the surprising number of people with compulsive issues.
Any Landing work in progress screenshot.
148apps: Do you think the freemium model is here to stay? AF: Absolutely. Developers can’t make a living on just the paid model and the big developers are making a lot of money on freemium. There’s nothing actually wrong with IAP itself (or freemium for that matter), but some publishers are really going to have to be careful to balance making crazy amounts of money with the risk destroying the system that makes all that money by triggering potential legislation that restricts or bans it if it’s seen as too abusive.
The Play Nice concept has certainly piqued our interest. Anything that helps make things clearer for gamers has to be a good thing. We’ll be keeping a close eye on Strange Flavour’s work and Any Landing’s progress. Thanks to Aaron for taking the time to answer our questions.
David Frampton, the sole proprietor behind Majic Jungle Software, has been on the App Store since day on with his game, Chopper. Ever since then, he’s become one of the first developers to experiment with TV gaming with Chopper 2, and took the open-world crafting genre to a mobile-friendly place with The Blockheads, which recently got a big online multiplayer update. He took some time out to answer our questions about his experiences on the App Store and what he thinks about the future of the store.
148Apps: Why did you get started making apps for the App Store, in particular Chopper?
David Frampton: Before the App Store was announced, I had a day job and was saving towards doing full time indie shareware Mac/PC game development. But then Apple announced the App Store and it seemed like a much better opportunity to survive as an indie, so I decided I had to do my best to have something on there as soon as possible. Chopper was a great fit, given it was a relatively straightforward port and suited the iPhone. So I spent every evening and weekend working on it, right up until the deadline for submitting apps for day one. Boy am I glad I did!
148Apps: You explored TV-based gaming in a significant way with Chopper 2. How did that work out for the game?
Frampton: I think it was great, it did a lot to publicize Chopper 2 before launch, gaining a lot of attention due to the unique wireless control scheme. It was a good fit for the game, and when AirPlay for the Apple TV came out later it was only natural to support that too. I’m not sure that a huge number of people still play Chopper 2 on their TVs, it was and still is a bit of a novelty. But I still think there is great untapped potential in that area.
148Apps: What do you think about future pushes into TV gaming in the market now?
Frampton: I don’t really think that AirPlay in its current form can break out of its niche, and I’m not convinced that a full blown App Store for the Apple TV is the answer either. So it’s a tricky one to predict. If Apple can find a way to make AirPlay far more seamless and accessible it would have a very positive impact. Or if an extremely popular game used TV integration very well it could have the potential to transform the space, too. Also the new iOS controller APIs hint that Apple might be looking towards future developments in the area.
148Apps: You’ve made a push into free-to-play with The Blockheads. How did you feel about making a game with this f2p model?
Frampton: I was hesitant at first, but it’s been a very positive experience. One thing that is really great about it is that there is financial benefit to keeping up on update releases. With Chopper and Chopper 2 I rapidly saw diminishing returns for the effort I was putting into making updates. With The Blockheads, every update sees a significant increase in IAP sales and ad revenue. Given I have lots of ideas for improvements and I want to keep adding to the game for some time, this is great. The other awesome thing is that such an insane number of people are playing it. To date it’s made less money than either Chopper or Chopper 2, but it has had 10x the downloads of either, and has many many more people playing it every day. This makes me really happy. A game needs to make money to pay for development, but seeing lots of people playing and loving the game is the biggest reward.
148Apps: As a solo developer on the App Store, do you think that it will still be viable in the next few years for developers who want to go solo to keep thriving?
Frampton: There’s no doubt that the quality of the best games on the App Store just keeps going up, and the bar for any game to get noticed keeps getting higher along with that. But in saying that, throwing more developers at such a problem isn’t usually a good solution. It seems pretty common for even the biggest studios to have small clusters working on each game, often only a handful of people. A small team will have a time and experience advantage over a solo developer, and big companies with many small teams have a better chance of striking it lucky with a particular game. But an experienced solo developer can spend a bit longer and if they’re lucky, still come up with something that competes with multi-billion dollar companies. It’s awesome, and I can’t see it changing significantly any time soon.
148Apps: What is your biggest wish for the App Store in the future?
Frampton: Really I just want to see Apple and the App Store thrive. New hardware and OS features are always exciting, both for the new opportunities they provide to developers, and for the new potential audience they can attract. Already we have hundreds of millions of potential customers out there that can download and pay for our games at the tap of a button. But there is still plenty of room for Apple to expand, both within the confines of iPhone/iPad and into totally new markets. And given its success, wherever Apple does take the App Store, there’s a decent chance that they’ll also take us developers along for the ride.
Thanks to David for his time; it is greatly appreciated.
Posted by Andrew Stevens on June 27th, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
The Blockheads received a new update that focuses on multiplayer. Users can now play in online worlds of up to 32 players when hosting a match through the free Mac app or with up to 5 players locally when hosting a game through their device. Also, the game now supports two player auto-match by using Game Center. The update brings the ability to text chat with others during multiplayer sessions, along with the addition of new items, blocks, and other enhancements. Get to it, Blockheads!
I think Terminator lore might have gotten it wrong. Skynet wasn’t developed by the military, it was the natural progression of cloud gaming and AI functions. Most iOS users already take advantage of wireless data transference between devices, and there are a surprising number of games out there these days that involve very little player feedback. So think about that while taking a look at this list of games you can play without having to devote a lot of time or effort to the process. I mean who knows? Maybe the real Skynet is just a free-to-play sequel away…
Mega Mall Story
Kairosoft is pretty much the reigning champion of high quality (yet accessible) iOS sims. Their entire library is fantastic, as far as I’m concerned, but Mega Mall Story stands out as the least gameplay-intensive of the bunch. Constructing new shops and researching new mall technologies is important, but most of the time players simply have to sit and wait while their mini consumers consume and fill their virtual bank account with millions. Gotta love making money hand-over-fist for doing nothing.
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2011-08-08 :: Category: Games
This surprisingly entertaining mix between Minecraft and The Sims is its own reward, but it’s also pretty low-impact. Once players queue up a large list of actions, ranging from crafting multiple tools to hollowing out an entire cave system, they can just sit back and watch their tiny minion do their thing. Or not, since the latest update now allows the virtual prospectors to finish their actions even when the game is turned off.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2013-01-10 :: Category: Games
Rivals at War
I’m pretty sure I’ll catch a little flak from Carter for including this in the list but I’m willing to take that chance. Rivals at War is about as hands-off as a war game can get. Players construct a team of soldiers using cards, upgrade their abilities, swap them out for better killers when needed, and send them off to battle. Completely automated battles that don’t even have to be viewed if players would rather skip ahead to the results. Aside from occasional team maintenance there’s little player influence, which is great for some quick on-the-go play.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2013-03-06 :: Category: Games
Of course I’ve saved the best example for last. As far as I can tell, iOS games don’t get any more hands-off than this. Players get to name their character, who’s really a pawn that blindly follows their iPhone-toting god, and that’s it. The game does everything else – combat, quests, equipment, guilds, PvP, etc – on its own. Players can stop in and encourage or punish their follower as they see fit, but that’s about all they can do aside from simply checking in to see how things are progressing. It’s the ultimate game for people who don’t have a lot of time to commit to playing games.
Posted by Andrew Stevens on March 12th, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
The Blockheads received a new update adding additional features and a number of fixes. No longer do players need to leave their device running during hours of long crafting times. With this update, players can now exit the app and blockheads will still complete their queued actions, unless they get too exhausted. These changes hope to further improve the experience after users have already accumulated over 1,000 years worth of playtime.
- No need to leave your device running for long crafting times anymore. Instruct a blockhead to craft 10 ingots, exit the app, come back after enough time has elapsed and it’ll be done! When you exit, time will continue for each blockhead until all queued actions and crafting are completed, or they get too exhausted. Watch out though, while blockheads are busy they will get tired and hungry as usual, and they can even suffer damage.
Posted January 22nd, 2013 by Rob LeFebvre Our Rating: :: GROWS ON YOU
Growtopia takes the now-familiar mining and crafting genre, and turns it into a massively multiplayer grow-your-own-stuff game that unfortunately allows for, and maybe even encourages, griefing and scamming.
We’ve gone off and recapped endlessly what we loved about 2012. But the past is prologue, and on iOS, it’s always about what’s next. So, what is next? What are our intrepid team of writers and editors looking forward to in 2013?
A newer, better iPad Mini
The iPad Mini is one sexy and tantalizing device. The problem is that it’s 2011 hardware. Thus, it was obvious when polling our writers that a better iPad Mini was high on their list. Faster hardware is wanted, of course, but a Retina Display would be a killer addition as well. Me personally? I just want an excuse to finally go and buy one.
Real Racing 3
We thought this was going to be a 2012 title, and even right before the iTunes shutdown there were rumors that it was going to be one final surprise on the 2012 release calendar. Sadly, this got pushed to 2013, but there’s no reason to be any less excited. The game still looks better than anything else out there. It has the innovative asynchronous-yet-interactive online multiplayer. It could be one of the early 2013 game of the year contenders.
Jeff Scott points out that this year’s iOS could be interesting: “Now that the company has been realigned, it will be interesting to see the changes.” These changes include the firing of Scott Forstall and Jony Ive taking over iOS software design: with new leadership at the helm, iOS could be undergoing big changes.
Games Finished in 2012 That Release in 2013
The end of the year is always a weird time, with developers forced to choose between publishing their title when everyone and their mother is releasing a game and putting their other games on sale. Two such titles that are being intentionally released in the new year? Hundreds from Adam Saltsman’s Semi Secret Software and Greg Wohlwend of Solipskier and Gasketball fame, a game that absolutely fascinated me at GDC, and The Blockheads from MajicJungle. Time ain’t nothing but a number, baby.
The Potential of New Licensed Games
Just because the game is licensed doesn’t mean that it has to be bad. Rayman Jungle Run could have been an easy way for Ubisoft to make some quick cash off a familiar name, but it turned out to be one of the best games of 2012. The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire was a fantastic use of the license. What will 2013 bring? Well, Rob Rich says he’s excited about a potential Pacific Rim game, hoping that one is “fashioned after games like Robot Alchemic Drive and Remote Control Dandy. There need to be more Giant Robot Piloting Simulators in the world, and Gigander X just doesn’t cut it.” Rob, you’re a nerd and we love you.
The Shrinking Gap Between Console and Mobile
It seems like the scope of iOS games is increasing, and the gap between platforms is steadily shrinking. The aforementioned Real Racing 3 could push boundaries not yet seen on iOS. Rob LeFebvre points out ex-Bungie founder Alex Seropian’s upcoming game Morning Star as part of this shrinking gulf. As well, Rob Rich is just excited for seeing the gap shrink in general. As more ex-console developers and big-time publishers move on to the platform, the odds that bigger projects will be released seems to only increase.
Infinity Blade: Dungeons
It was weird not playing a new Infinity Blade game in late 2012. Thankfully, we still have the upcoming hack ’n slash entry in the series to look forward to at some point. While news about the game has been sparse about it, we’re all anticipating it like crazy.
Ben Cousins of DeNA’s Shattered Entertainment has an intriguing shooter that promises to be a mobile-friendly experience along with being a free-to-play experience that’s friendly to core gamers. Plus, it promises to have much higher production values than Rage of Bahamut. Ben Cousins has quite the pedigree working on the Battlefield series in particular, so this should be no slouch. Read our first look article from early December for more on this title that should hopefully drop in early 2013.
Hey, half the fun of iOS is that there’s no clue what the next cool thing will be. Some cool game could suddenly release and take over our lives. Or Apple might release a mind-blowing new piece of hardware. Or something else altogether. No one really knows! Of course, we’ll be here for the ride, so stick around and keep us in your sights.