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the iPad is also good for…

…games! Oh, yeah. Here are three that I like:

Creating Games: Labyrinth 2
Weeks ago, I wandered into an Apple store to pick up an iPad for the first time. Naturally, I dragged my son along, just to round out the playtesting. He had a great time playing Labyrinth 2, a beautifully-rendered marble-maze game by Illusion Labs. (Labyrinth is also available for the iPhone.) When I got my shiny new iPad, that was the first thing he wanted to play. I liked it too so I got the free one and then eventually bought the game. After we’d taken turns playing a few levels, David said, “I wish I could make a level. That would be COOL!”

Guess what? You can.

On the main screen, there’s a little button labeled “Create.” If you tap it, you get a URL, an ID code, and a password. Put ’em together and you get a drag-and-drop editor that lets you make all the levels you want — and then they magically appear on your iPad! I gather that the gaming community is disappointed that editing can’t be done right on the iPad, and I can see their point, but I was delighted to find out you can make levels at all. David was thrilled and immediately created a very challenging level. I playtested it and he made some adjustments, and now it’s tough but doable.

A Labyrinth level

Conanza, Level 1

He named it “Conanza” (because it’s a bonanza of cannons). I passed it around at Northern Voice last week and mocked my friends as they worked their way through it. I’m so nice. His second level is actually impossible; after painfully making it all the way across the screen, you can’t get the marble into the hole because there are two cannons in the corner that are too close together. This is not immediately obvious, though, because when you trip the laser switch in that corner, a siren blares and the screen starts flashing with red light that makes it hard to see. He claims he’s going to adjust them, but he giggled insanely every time I attempted this level, so I don’t think he’s in a hurry to fix it.

Maybe you can’t create all the same kinds of content on an iPad that you can create on a traditional computer, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe the kinds of content that you can create on (or for) an iPad or similar devices are sometimes things that you couldn’t create on any other kind of platform, like my visual notes or David’s latest Labyrinth 2 level, which was instantly delivered to my iPad all the way up in Vancouver, where I was stuck in the airport for a few hours last Sunday:

Labyrinth level for Mom

the Mom level

Best. Mother’s Day. Card. EVER. How cool is that?

3D Virtual Worlds: Avatar
I found Avatar (the game) while looking for Avatar (the movie) in the iTunes store. Created by Gameloft, it’s an actual 3D world, right there on the iPad. It’s pretty good, and I really admire what they’ve done with the controls given that you have to hold the iPad while you play it so you can really only use your thumbs. There are a few issues, but I expect those will be ironed out quickly. The premise is that you’re controlling an avatar and you have to go on missions. It’s a fancy levels game, kind of like Donkey Kong on steroids, where you run and jump and touch things and fight things.

Avatar game screenshot

Avatar, by Gameloft

The controls are very clever. There’s a thumb pad to move around with, and jump/shoot/other functions are handy buttons under the other thumb. The graphics are quite nice — not as stunning as the movie, but very pleasing — and the motion is smooth. And the fact that something like this can be played on a computer I can hold in my hands just blows my mind.

I do have a few issues with it. First, you can’t turn the camera around, at least not that I’ve seen, so if you have to retrace your steps you have to do it blind. Second, when you’re working on a quest (bring me 8 shrubberies*, for instance), the game doesn’t indicate how many shrubberies you’ve found. And dangit, I want to be able to pick a female avatar. Would that be so hard? And I want her to look like Neytiri, not like Barb Wire, please.

More 3D, plus Flying: Nanosaur II
I have Nanosaur II (by Pangea Software) on my iPhone, but it’s hard to play because the screen is so tiny and visual cues matter a great deal, and also because it chews through the phone battery. It’s much sweeter on the iPad. I can actually see where the little eggs are, and I can at last distinguish between mounted guns (that fire at me) and eye gate switches (that don’t) before getting close enough for an empirical test.

Nanosaur II screenshot

Nanosaur II

In Nanosaur II, you tilt the iPhone/iPad to direct a flying dinosaur equipped with missiles and a rocket pack. Your mission: to rescue stolen Nanosaur eggs. You can’t stop or land, and if you hit the ground, a tree, another dinosaur, the side of a cliff, or anything else, you blow up. It’s very exciting. The world that you fly through is simple but appealing, and it’s always clear how much you have to accomplish before you get to a new level.

There are hundreds of games for the iPad, of course. These are just three that I like. Gameloft makes a whole set of action/adventure games (and others), as do Illusion Labs and Pangea Software. The games that are being developed for in-between devices are going to have qualities not found on games designed for other platforms, either larger or smaller ones. At first, a lot of them will look like games we already play, but gamers and game developers are wonderfully ingenious. Even the three I mention here are beginning to push the boundaries; I can’t wait to see what’s coming in the next several months.


  1. Can you share that Labyrinth game, the one your son made?

    This seems huge: “Maybe the kinds of content that you can create on (or for) an iPad or similar devices are sometimes things that you couldn’t create on any other kind of platform…”

  2. ninmah says:

    If he makes 3 more levels, I can share it — a “levelpack” has to have five levels to be sharable, and he has only put those two into Conanza so far.