Friday, November 20, 2009

Yet another reason Apple's feet are full of bullet holes

This is whale week for the iPhone App Store review process. Rogue Amoeba posted a tale of woe, Paul Graham posted about developer ill-will, and now it looks like Apple is checking for private API usage with less than perfect discrimination.

(All links thanks to Gruber, by the way, because where the hell else would I learn this stuff.)

As our faithful readers know, I've been working on an iPhone game for several months now. (And I have several months of work to go. Definitely a high-end project. Hope you all like it!) I can cope with some of Apple's restrictions: I have never touched undocumented APIs, for example. I have no pictures of iPhones in my game, nor cruel caricatures of Steve Jobs.

But good intentions are no cure for App Store Hypochondria. I lie awake nights worrying that I will do everything right and Apple will still bounce me. Worse: that I will do everything right, my app will be accepted, and then I'll try to push a simple bug fix and Apple will bounce me for something I haven't changed.

That's the nightmare for me, as a developer. Negative progress. The destruction of my reputation because Apple won't let me fix my released game. That's why inconsistent rules are worse than stringent rules.

You think I'm worrying over nothing? Go back to the preview screenshot I posted for my game. On the left side of the screen is a green icon labelled "Mail". That's because the story starts with you receiving some mail. Will Apple punt me for "imitating" their Mail app icon? Or faking mail functionality? I don't think so, but my opinion doesn't count, now does it? The Application Submission Feedback blog mentions a case where Apple rejected a cracked-screen effect; I have a scene in my game where an object cracks apart. Could be rejected. I don't know. I have the App Store Hypochondria bad, man, real bad.

And these aren't user interface issues I can tweak. I'm creating an interactive narrative. I can't change that cracked object to a melting object -- I'd have to redesign some later puzzles, never mind redoing the graphics. Should I change that first scene to a phone call just because Apple dislikes fictional email? (Should an ebook author do that, or a musician, in order to be accepted by iTunes?)

All of this scares developers, which hurts Apple -- indirectly. But that's not the foot-shootingness of it all. Apple is in the same boat. We know the review process is arbitrary and inconsistent; the same UI may pass one month and fail the next. But these are Apple's guidelines! Whatever Apple wants, they're not getting it either. If Apple really, sincerely wants to reject all watch icons, they lose -- their review process is failing to do it consistently. If they want to reject all ebooks with "iPhone" in the title, they lose -- it's not happening.

If they don't want these things, of course, then they're just peeing on randomly-selected developers, and they really lose.

The App Store review process: broken for everybody.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Prisoner: discussion post

Occasionally I co-opt this space to just talk about stuff. Then I figleaf it by raising some spurious connection to the world of games -- which I can always do, because games are connected to everything. I mean, dude.

Today's topic -- and tomorrow's and Wednesday's -- is the new TV remake of The Prisoner. (The figleaf, of course, is the best videogame ever made, which I played along with the IF premieres of Infocom and Scott Adams, back in 1980.)

I have now watched the first part (or first two parts of six, depending on how you count -- just like Tolkien). I want to get some thoughts down on blogpaper before I either read other people's thoughts, or see more of the show. So this will be my comment post. I will update it on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Spoiler-free judgement: good job so far. Ian McKellen is magnificent.

The rest of this post will contain SPOILERS. Comments will also be spoilery, I expect. Continue on if your mind is already contaminated.

EDIT-ADD Tuesday evening: Added comments about part two ("Anvil/Darling"). Spoiler-free judgement: overcompressed but promising.

EDIT-ADD Thursday evening: Added comments about the conclusion ("Schizoid/Checkmate"). Spoiler-free judgement: not awful, but disappointing to Prisoner fans.

(I mean it about the SPOILERS, after the cut.)

IF breaking news

Logged on this morning and found three, three, three vonderful things about IF that I didn't know last night!

Rover's Day Out, by Jack Welch and Ben Collins-Sussman, has won the 2009 IF Competition. Congrats!

Broken Legs (Sarah Morayati) and Snowquest (Eric Eve) took second and third; full results are online. The Gameshelf's own Kevin Jackson-Mead got 21st place with his entry Gleaming the Verb. He is reported to be happy not to be last. :)

Congratulations to everybody.

Jason Scott has achieved his fundraising goal of $25000.

I chose $25000 because that would remove, summarily, any living costs and basic needs I would have while I was working on my projects. The money will go to keeping me floating while I do these projects; If more than this amount comes in, I will not consider this profit, but a mandate to keep going on projects further. My rough estimate is that $25k will keep me going for at least 3-4 months, and probably longer. That's full-time, constant work on saving computer history, speaking, and presenting. --from Jason Scott's Sabbatical page

One of these projects, of course, is his Get Lamp documentary on the history and culture of IF. The "speaking and presenting" parts are likely to including IF-related activity at PAX East, and I'm looking the heck forward to that.

JayIsGames has announced an IF competition for short room-escape games.

Secretly, in between all the real stuff I do in my life. I blow a lot of time playing little Flash web games. Flash room-escape games are my favorite sub-genre of these; they encompass the conventions of graphical adventures without costing twenty bucks or taking three years to construct.

The JayIsGames casual-game site has always tracked these little niblets of immersive fun. They've also occasionally stretched themselves to cover text IF. Looks like they've decided to bring the subjects together: they're sponsoring a design competition for one-room IF games, with the theme of "escape". Entries must be Z-code (for portability reasons -- it's a web-game audience), and the deadline is Jan 31.

JayIsGames is a popular site, and I expect this will bring a lot of energy to the IF world, both in game creation and attention. And yes, I might be entering...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Games in, on, and around our culture

Two quick links today.
  • A Common Nomenclature for Lego Families: That, families (and other households) that play with Lego. What do you call a two-by-two brick? Everybody calls it something. This article charts the nomenclature of four children.

...a "light saber" is a "light saber" no matter where you live or how much Lego you have.

(Thanks nancylebov for the link.)
  • One Book, Many Readings: A patient, detailed, gorgeous discussion of Choose Your Own Adventure books. Analyzes twelve of them in detail, including Edward Packard's original The Cave of Time. And when I say "analyzes", I mean several different data visualizations: the endings, the choice points, the flow graphs. Some are animated (Flash).

Another surprising change over time is the decline in the number of choices in the books. [...] I'd be very curious to know the reason for this progression toward linearity. Presumably the invisible hand was guiding this development, but whether the hunger was for less difficulty in the books or simply for something with more in the way of traditional storytelling is harder to unravel.

My only quibble with this essay is that white-on-black body text is a ravening monster that should have been exterminated at the end of the Dark Ages (1980-1984). But oh well.

(On the other hand -- who knew that Ellen Kushner wrote a CYOA book? Neat!)

(Thanks daringfireball for the link.)