it sucks that the ipad, as a piece of designer technology, is so prohibitively expensive. as a big, flat touch screen, it’s perfect for all sorts of neat two-player games with weird new touch controls. i told my slut / pr executive to find me a free ipad, and she dutifully complied: a friend of ours had an extra one from work (probably it’s better not to disclose his name / company?) and it’s ours now. i immediately sought out all the ipad games i’d wanted to play but never been able to.
michael brough’s glitch tank may be my favorite game on the ipad. two players sit across from each other, pongvaders style, each trying to maneuver a little pixel tank to destroy the other player’s tank. the movement options the players use, though, are shuffled, and the four available at any given time (turn right, turn left, move forward, move back, shoot, drop a mine, etc.) may not be the ideal ones for any given situation. select one, and it’s randomly replaced. many of the attack actions also involve movement – drop a mine while moving forward – meaning that almost every action is multi-purpose, and can fit into a plan multiple ways. the game is about cobbling together the best possible strategy from the hand you’re dealt – it’s a game about planning around chance, occupying a similar space as cactus block.
while the game is clearly informed by a board game tradition – the available moves are cards, clearly, shuffled and randomly replaced on play – the game couldn’t work as a board game. though there’s an included mode where the players take turns, i think it works best when the players are moving and firing in real-time. there’s an element of exponential growth: choosing the “miniature tank” action causes the player’s tank to release a new, smaller tank that moves and fires in synchronicity with it. it also causes all miniature tanks on the screen to multiply, meaning that it’s easy to overrun the screen with lots of player-controlled characters. on a board, this would cause the pace of the game to slow down as players resolved movement for all of these pieces, but it’s the pace of the game that’s so important – the time pressure forces you to integrate less-than-ideal moves into your strategy.
it’s also a perfect touch screen game. at harpy diem last week, we ran the original, pc version of glitch tank. that game is played with the arrow keys, with each arrow key being tied to a specific slot – but not to a specific action. for example, “move right” might not be the right arrow key, but the up or down or even left. so that adds an extra layer of distance between the player and the game: first, decide which action to take; then, figure out which button to press to take it. the ipad removes this layer: just touch the action you want your tank to perform. michael told me it worked so perfectly when he put it on the pad, it was “like it was meant to be on the touchscreen all along.”
alright, game #2: fingle. in an interview with eegra a million years ago, patrick alexander mentioned a shy piano teacher who composed duets in such a way that performing them would bring his hands and those of his students – pretty young ladies – into contact. this conversation sparked the idea that would ultimately become chicanery, my own ipad game. (secret preview: i’m working on another ipad game with pongvaders creator jon beilin that will be a kind of twister game for fingers.)
fingle is descended from the same idea. each player is trying to keep their fingers on a set of buttons that may or may not be moving. invariably, following the motion of these buttons brings the players’ hands into physical contact. in a time when digital games are generally trying to isolate us and make us more asocial, here’s a game that makes people touch. and the game plays up its pornographic tone: against seventies love shack wallpaper, the players are prompted to mime blatantly sexual positions with their fingers. i’ll tell you from my own experience: this game works pretty well at bars.
the game is, unfortunately, clearly designed for people who don’t have fat fingers. while my slut and i were able to get through all of the first “package” together, i’ve had problems fitting my fingers through those of other chubby-fingered folks. thin privilege aside, a really valuable game.