As always, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference introduced new technologies for game developers, and Apple recognized some great games and other amusements in the annual Apple Design Awards. Let’s take a look at this year’s highlights.
New Technologies for Gamers -- Apple introduced a few new game development technologies at WWDC, and while they won’t change the Apple gaming experience overnight, they give game developers powerful new tools.
The first is Metal, which is a new API for game development that bypasses OpenGL entirely, allowing access to the “bare metal” of the A7 processor. Apple claims that Metal will increase draw call rates by 10 times, making more graphically elaborate games possible on iOS.
Apple has been working with game engine developers like EA, which makes the Frostbite engine that powers the Battlefield games, and Epic Games, which produces the popular Unreal engine. EA demoed a Metal-powered version of Frostbite with the upcoming “Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare” that displayed an impressive 1.3 million triangles on screen at once. In turn, Epic showed off a demo called “Zen Garden” that boasted a number of impressive effects, such as drawing 3,500 individual butterflies on screen simultaneously. (Zen Garden will be available for free on the App Store after iOS 8 is released.)
Game developer Brianna Wu, writing for Cult of Mac, expressed her excitement, saying that Metal should bring a number of console-level graphic capabilities to iOS that weren’t possible before, such as specular maps (which can create effects like glistening rocks), transparency, and more onscreen enemies.
Apple is also bringing the SceneKit developer tool to iOS. SceneKit makes it easier for developers to put 3D elements into their games, and they will be able to use it alongside SpriteKit to create 2D games with 3D elements.
But perhaps the most interesting new option for developers is something called Controller Forwarding, which will let a player control a game on an iPad or Mac with an iPhone inside a game controller case (like the Logitech PowerShell), using both the controller’s buttons and the iPhone’s touchscreen and sensors to play the game.
Controller Forwarding allows for some interesting possibilities, but I’m skeptical that developers will take it seriously. There are too many variables involved to be worth implementing.
As a side note, as an Apple TV enthusiast, I’m excited for the possibilities that Metal may bring to Apple TV gaming — if and when games ever arrive on the Apple TV.
Apple Design Awards -- This year, Apple gave its illustrious Apple Design Awards to 12 apps for the Mac and iOS, a couple of which we’ve covered here in FunBITS in the past. Interestingly, most of the award winners were leisure-oriented apps, with not much in the way of productivity. Here’s the full list:
Sky Guide: An astronomy app that’s reminiscent of Star Walk (see “FunBITS: Star Walk for iPhone and iPad,” 5 July 2013), Sky Guide adds further polish to the astronomical app genre. ($1.99, 104 MB, iOS 6+)
Cinemagraph Pro: A Mac tool for creating “living photos,” Cinemagraph Pro can create an otherwise still photograph with some moving parts, such as a fluttering dress, starting from a video (watch the demo!). ($199.99 but currently on sale for $24.99, 5.9 MB, 10.9+)
Threes! — Another FunBITS entry (see “FunBITS: Threes Is Good Company for iPhone and iPad,” 21 February 2014), Threes is a stylish tile-based puzzle game for the iPad and iPhone. Don’t settle for imitations! ($1.99, 48.8 MB, iOS 6+)
Leo’s Fortune — One of iOS’s most graphically impressive games, Leo’s Fortune is a platform game where you play a mustachioed, inflatable furball in search of the thief who stole his fortune. ($2.99, 97.6 MB, iOS 7+)
Day One — A journaling app for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, Day One can automatically import information such as the day’s weather and location, and even publish your journal entries as Web pages. (Mac: $9.99, 13 MB, 10.7.4+. iOS: $4.99, 24.4 MB, iOS 7+.)
Yahoo News Digest — Delivering a digest of the day’s top stories twice a day to your iPhone, Yahoo News Digest is a slick news app that draws in information, quotes, and pictures from a variety of sources. (Free, 19.2 MB, iOS 7+)