Apple TV games must support Siri Remote unless they rhyme with Hitar Gero

I missed this a few days ago (9to5Mac), but it turns out Guitar Hero finally showed up on the Apple TV App Store. Announced during the new Apple TV reveal, I wondered how Activision would get the thing working when Apple about-faced on a rule allowing devs to require an external controller for their games. The thought of Guitar Hero on the Siri Remote (which, frankly, isn’t much cop for gaming full-stop) baffled.

The answer is Apple’s seemingly subtly changed its rule that all games must support Siri Remote, by adding in white ink on white paper “unless you happen to be a massive company that already had a huge IP in development that wouldn’t work solely with the Siri Remote, OBV“.

It’s the right decision, of course. Apple blocking Guitar Hero from Apple TV would be stupid. But it’s maddening that other developers are not afforded the same flexibility.

November 16, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Gaming

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Apple TV becomes Wii-lite, as Apple demands games support Siri Remote

Wiimote and Siri Remote

I was today pointed at Benjamin Mayo’s blog post Apple Now Requiring All Apple TV Games To Support Siri Remote Input. As the title suggests, Apple will enforce Siri Remote support for Apple TV games. This is a problem.

On Twitter, I’ve had people argue otherwise, suggesting everything is fine. Developers will just find new methods of control input that work nicely with the Siri Remote. This is more or less what happened on iPhone, when people (including yours truly) initially dismissed it as a games machine, due to its lack of non-traditional controls. In the event, devs worked past perceived limitations, and we ended up with amazing and intuitive titles like Zen Bound and Eliss (most recent versions linked to here — buy them both).

There is a difference, though. iPhone was a blank slate, and developers took — and continue to take — full advantage. The Siri Remote is by design a more conventional input, because you use it to control something on a screen across the room. There isn’t really any comparison between the two, and I fear the Siri Remote’s comparatively basic input options will lead to a glut of iOS games becoming less innovative as a result.

The other angle people are taking is that Apple’s keener on Wii-like gestural input, since the Siri Remote has an accelerometer. Cynics will point out the Wii is a console from 2006 and therefore nearly a decade old, but many of its games are still fun, and gestural input is intuitive. The thing is, Apple’s remote is significantly more restrictive and looks to be more awkward for games than Nintendo’s.

In the initial Apple TV promo video Apple ran at its recent event, someone was shown playing racer Asphalt 8 with said remote (held between two hands), and it looked faintly ridiculous and a little painful. Crossy Road was also demoed, using the remote’s small touchpad as a directional controller. That looked OK, but showcased the kind of title likely to find traction on Apple TV (i.e. very basic casual games), and it still had me thinking of cramp.

But even Wii comparisons don’t really hold up. Nintendo’s controller works fine for browsing menus and app UIs, but flip it on its side and it’s a fairly capable, if slightly basic, games controller. By contrast, flip Apple’s on its side and you see the difference. Buttons are crammed towards the centre, and there’s no physical directional controller. The latter issue can be readily dismissed if you’re not desperate for it to be 1987 all over again, but the former means you’re largely limited to tilt/tap or swiping with your left thumb.

The concern is Apple’s rules will severely limit even remotely complex fare on Apple TV from a control standpoint, or those games will have to figure out an extremely dumbed-down mode specifically designed for the Siri Remote. This will affect more games than you might realise. Games that rely on twin-stick/two-thumb input (commonplace on iOS) will have to revert to single-thumb input, with auto-aim for shooters. Platform games could be very tricky to implement. Flick up to jump? Urgh. And anything requiring directional control and action buttons could be a problem. When your new controller may have trouble supporting games that need anything beyond tilt-and-tap or directional controls alone, that should send alarm bells ringing.

As Andrew Bryant remarked to me on Twitter, it won’t be a surprise if Apple changes tack, on realising a AAA title it wants to bang on about at a keynote cannot come to Apple TV with these restrictions. Additionally, I know plenty of game devs, and they’re often keen to rise to a challenge. I suspect we’ll, despite Apple’s decisions, see at least a reasonable number of innovative titles on Apple TV. Here’s hoping on both counts, because as I recently wrote for Stuff, it would be a crying shame if a piece of hardware that could be broadly transformative for gaming ends up as yet another also-ran.

September 16, 2015. Read more in: Apple, Gaming

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On Atari vs. Jeff Minter

As reported by Eurogamer, Ars Technica, Rob Fearon and others, what currently passes for Atari (essentially a rotting corpse worn by Infogrames) has decided to throw lawyers at game developer Jeff Minter, in an attempt to get rid of the award-winning TxK, which is a bit too Tempesty for Atari’s liking. It’s been interesting to see the reaction online, which seems broadly split between staunch defence of Minter (who’s been making arcade-inspired games since the early 1980s, but not outright clones) and alignment with the idea Atari somehow has to defend its IP.

Rarely is gaming cut and dried. There’s precedent for companies suing others over a game’s mechanics, even if such lawsuits are invariably more often about a big company kicking the shit out of a smaller one with lawyers. But this particular incident is even messier, because TxK borrows from Minter’s own fantastic Tempest 2000, which he developed for Atari.

On balance, though, the side I’m taking on this scrap isn’t really for Minter nor for Atari, but for games. Much like in any other medium, individual titles do not exist in a vacuum — they are often influenced by what went before. Many titles are evolved forms of their predecessors. It’s how people learn. It’s how we get amazing mash-ups like Forget-Me-Not, or modern takes on old classics, like Pac-Man: Championship Edition.

This cannot happen when corporations fling lawyers at games in part based on older ones without good reason. And while it’s arguable Atari has some points in its letter to Minter regarding the similarities between TxK and the games that inspired it, the lawyers wilfully obfuscate and confuse, and in some cases offer outright fabrication. This includes the argument TxK includes an “electronic music sound track and sound effects which are indistinguishable from those used in TEMPEST 2000”, despite TxK having an original score. (I ‘look forward’ to Atari now suing every game that uses electronic music, just because.)

Then you delve further. Minter notes he once spoke to the Tempest X developer, who revealed it was changed just enough to enable Atari to not pay Minter any royalties. The game nonetheless remained closer to Tempest 2000 than TxK, showcasing the hypocritical nature of Atari when it comes to this series and business in general. But worse, Minter adds that he made it very clear he’d have been willing to negotiate some sort of licensing agreement. Atari, naturally, wasn’t interested. This is something I’ve heard is always the case with Atari, which is bizarre. Presumably, it’s satisfied with its terrible iOS Tempest, dumbed-down Caterpillar remakes, and using its IP as skins for gambling and casino games.

Of course, Atari’s been here before many times. It’s regularly rampaged about like a spoilt child, demolishing anything vaguely resembling Asteroids or Pong. And when Peter Hirschberg crafted Vector Tanks and the superb Vector Tanks Extreme!, Atari had them removed from the iOS App Store for resembling Battlezone, despite the latter no more being a copy of Battlezone than Space Invaders Infinity Gene is a copy of the original Space Invaders.

The smart move would be for Atari to make these games official. TxK and Vector Tanks Extreme! are both significantly better modern takes on Atari IP than anything the company has managed itself. Instead, the organisation revels in destroying games, angering people who love classic arcade fare, further ruining whatever remains of its tattered reputation; it prefers to bully developers rather than work with them, hiding behind lawyers and bending the truth.

I’ve no time for this, so fuck Atari. Hmm. It appears I did take a side after all.

March 19, 2015. Read more in: Gaming, Opinions

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Internet Arcade: when illegal IP can benefit rights owners

I recently penned a piece for Stuff on Internet Arcade, a part of non-profit site Internet Archive, designed to provide universal access to all manner of digitised content. Internet Arcade is essentially a version of MAME running in a browser, enabling you to play a bunch of classic arcade titles.

At the time I wrote the piece, about 900 games were available. Shortly after my article went live (a few weeks later, due to holiday scheduling), someone helpfully emailed me to say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had been removed from the site, due to a takedown request. I checked through the remaining items just now, and several more I selected have gone. The overall number of titles available, last I looked, was 649.

It’s understandable that IP owners get twitchy with online content such as this, and I’m generally against IP infringement myself. But I can’t help thinking there are differences in the way we experience media and the manner in which lawyers might be able to respond to various kinds of infringements.

Clever though it is, Internet Arcade isn’t the best way to experience these old games; at the most, it’s a reminder of a title you once loved, and a fun way to waste a few minutes during a lunchtime. When I was researching the article, it also reminded me once again of how much I enjoyed specific old games. The net result with me was that I fancied hunting down versions of said titles that would run on my current hardware—legally.

Perhaps that makes me an outlier. As I’ve written elsewhere, we live in an age where younger generations have only grown up with immediate and free access to all content, and so many don’t feel compelled to pay for anything. But I also see organisations making great use of the internet and benefitting from making content freely available: musicians upload entire albums on Soundcloud and report a subsequent uptick in sales; the likes of Image offer comics for peanuts on Humble Bundle and say the knock-on effect has been more people buying new issues of said titles.

I can’t help but think Internet Arcade is something that companies might consider nurturing rather than taking down, if not for the historical aspect—ensuring games of cultural significance remain available to all—then at least as a clever interactive ‘advert’ for when these games appear on commercial services elsewhere.

January 12, 2015. Read more in: Gaming, Opinions, Technology

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No, the App Store is not like Disney

Daring Fireball yesterday commenting on Papers, Please:

So here’s an App Store rejection that many disagree with, but which is easy to understand from Apple’s perspective. Apple tends to err on the side of running the App Store with Disney-esque family values. The company places inordinate value in its family-friendly reputation.

Maybe it’s an American thing to believe this. John Gruber, who writes Daring Fireball, is American, and so is Apple. But from the outside, I don’t see ‘Disney-esque family values’ about the way Apple treats App Store submissions. Either what Apple is actually stating in its rules is a puritanical and largely anti-nutidy/sex stance, or I’ve missed a huge number of apparently family-friendly Disney movies that, for example, feature car-jacking and drugs, running around killing people, and blood-stained horror.

December 13, 2014. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, Opinions

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