If you watched Apple’s 2014 WWDC keynote, you might recall Tim Sweeney of Epic Games being brought on stage to show off his company’s Zen Garden demo, which demonstrated the power of the new Metal API in iOS 8. His demonstration displayed amazing advances in shaders, artificial intelligence, and particle effects.
Now that tech demo, Epic Zen Garden, is available for free in the App Store. It requires iOS 8.0 or later on an iPhone 5s, iPad Air, or iPad mini with Retina display or later, and is a 232 MB download.
In terms of gameplay, Epic Zen Garden doesn’t offer much, but if you just purchased a new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, it’s probably the flashiest way you can show off your new toy to friends.
Epic Zen Garden begins on the outside of a house, with three tappable targets, denoted by white circles. Each target opens a different activity (all screenshots were taken on an iPhone 6):
Chair: Tapping the chair zooms you out to view the floating island that your house was built on. There’s nothing you can do here other than watch birds fly by, but it’s pretty! Tap the white arrow in the upper left to return.
Tree: Tapping the tree takes you to what appears to be a dead tree. But hold your finger over its withered branches, and flowers will bloom. Touch the flowers to make the petals fall, which is a neat demo of Metal’s particle effects. Tap the side arrows to rotate around the tree, the circle in the upper right to reset the tree, or the arrow in the upper left to return to the main view.
Pool: Tapping the pool zooms in on the water, showing a large school of koi. Dragging your finger across the water will cause ripple effects that the koi will follow. From the pool, you can also see three more locations in the distance:
Courtyard: The middle option takes you into a courtyard, where you can visit the Zen garden or the fountain.
Zen Garden: Tapping the sand brings you into the Zen garden. Drag your finger along the sand to rake it.
Fountain: Finally, there’s the fountain. Tap the bamboo to release a swarm of butterflies. Touch the screen to have the butterflies gather at that point.
That’s it. Despite the name, there’s nothing particularly epic here, other than the lush visuals and the promise of things to come. You may remember the open-world Epic Citadel, which demonstrated the prowess of the iPhone 4 and which later evolved into the more constrained, but incredibly popular Infinity Blade (for my review of the third installment, see “FunBITS: Show Off Your New iPad with Infinity Blade III,” 8 November 2013).
Much as the “gameplay” of Epic Citadel was very different than its final commercial release, I don’t expect that whatever the fleshed-out Epic Zen Garden becomes will bear much resemblance to the “gameplay” of its tech demo. But it will be exciting to see what Epic does with the newfound power of Apple’s Metal API.