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My Strong APPetite

happy boy working at computer smiling

“iD Tech teaches campers how to make iPad apps, iPhone apps and Android apps.”

When I say this simple sentence at a camp conference, parents go nuts! Apparently I’m not the only one who’s helplessly addicted to my smart phone and the loads of cool interactive toys that can be downloaded for a single buck.

For those that have yet to jump on the respective iPhone or Android bandwagons, an app is simply an application that is downloaded through an easy-to-use app store either on the phone or on a computer to be synced with the device. The majority of apps are free or $1 and many are, unfortunately, useless. Sifting through the hundreds of thousands (literally) programs to find the best ones is no easy task – particularly with the prevalence of fart-based applications.

I am a bit obsessed with playing the greatest gaming apps on my iPhone, so I thought I would share some quick iPhone game reviews. iD teaches game design in multiple forms so my particular slant when evaluating the merit of a game comes from a love of unique and cutting edge game design, and, in some cases, complete simplicity. Also, I believe having a good foundational knowledge of good game design is important when trying to create any new game.

Trainyard

This short puzzle game is entertaining, frustrating and addictive! The player draws tracks on a top-down grid to connect a colored train entrance to the correct exit. The first dozen (or more) stages are fairly simple, but the game complexity really takes off when secondary colors, combining trains, splitting trains (and colors!), track switches and paint buckets are introduced. The game ends too soon, but luckily there is plenty of challenge in the bonus stages waiting to be unlocked.

Trainyard is a great example of how the best puzzle games are very simple concepts with an almost endless array of possibilities. Trainyard is also an inspiring tale of app development for our campers. Check out the tale of how this amazing game started as a scribble on a piece of paper of Matt Rix.

It is worth noting that Matt is from Canada (“Proudly made in Canada” is displayed on the app page) and iD happens to have several Canadian summer camps in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

Game Dev Story

Some simulations are so complex and mesmerizing that the player loses the ability to factor in all of the variables and has to constantly evolve in strategy (Civilization V). Game Dev Story is not one of those games. This guilty-pleasure time-waster makes the player the all-knowing boss of a start-up gaming company. Project and employee selection are the main actions at the player’s disposal, with other options available with more money. The unlockable attributes are cumulative from one play-through to another, so by the second or third attempt to corner the market with Hall of Fame games, the game is mindless and simple.

I liked this game for the fantasy of churning out a random assortment of games, such as a Golf Action game or a Music RPG, but it quickly becomes a formulaic number game, like Lemonade Stand. Our campers can use this as an example of how to frame a simple simulation with an enticing story, even if the experience turns out to be relatively shallow.

Reiner Knivia’s Money

German board-game designer, Reiner Knivia, has multiple entries in the Apple app-store. My personal favorite is Money, a card game similar to Gin Rummy that is an excellent example of a a fluid economy in gaming. The goal of this four-player game is to acquire a couple sets of currency by the end of the game. There are 6 types of currency of varying values to gather, and choosing money from the board goes to the highest bidder. This means that it literally costs money to make money!

I think that any young game designer should be required to play Money. The game teaches how a variable system based on demand allows for incredible depth and multiple strategic pathways.

Osmos

Katamari Damacy was one of the first games that really inspired me to look at gaming critically and appreciate experimentation in the gaming space. The strange story and aesthetics of this classic cult game merged perfectly with the quirky world and gameplay. Osmos has similar gameplay and gives the player the treat of an immersive and captivating universe to explore. The main goal is to navigate a particle through two-dimensional space, absorbing smaller particles to become larger while avoiding larger particles. Movement releases a bit of gas, making the particle smaller, which means the player must constantly strike a balance between momentum and available resources.

Osmos is great for campers that are used to “normal” games as an inspiration to think outside the box. The experience created by the visuals, interactions, music and sound works in perfect harmony and demonstrates the strength of good design.

Every year we strive to teach campers the fundamentals of good game design. The future great app creators will begin their journey at an iD Tech Camp, which is good for me, because perhaps I’ll get a discount!