I love my iPhone. I love games. I play games on my iPhone. But where are the really good iPhone games? Where's the platform defining game? Where's the game that makes someone say "I need to buy an iPod Touch just so I can play that game?"

A lot has been written recently about the size of the iPhone gaming market: TUAW comments on the staggering size of the market, RPS counters that Flash is bigger. Either way there's a lot of iPhone games being sold. But most of them suck. That's OK, we all love our long-tail media. The incredibly low cost of iOS games combined with iOS' relatively low barrier to entry has made for a lot of games.

But where's the great iPhone game? My candidate for best-ever iPhone game is Canabalt because it's beautiful, simple, well tuned, and quick to play. Perfect mobile game, but it's way too simple to be a Great Game. Angry Birds is the iPhone hit with legs, and it's pretty good, but it's derivative and not very compelling. There's nothing like Halo or Final Fantasy or Super Mario to define the iPhone gaming experience.

Maybe there never will be. Maybe iOS will always be an adjunct gaming platform, a device we play games on incidentally rather than something we seek out to game. But I don't think so. Between the touch interface, the environmental sensors, the mobile ubiquity.. there's got to be something there.

  2010-11-21 22:58 Z
My airplane has a choke, just like your grandfather's old Packard. Or as we call it, the mixture knob. One consequence of GA's antique engine technology is the mixture has to be manually adjusted during flight. Getting it wrong has potentially disastrous consequences, yet most pilots have no idea how to set the mixture. There's even a religious debate about it.

The fuel/air mixture in the engine needs to be in the right proportion, roughly 15:1. If there's too much fuel ("too rich") the engine produces less than optimal power, fuel is wasted and you get carbon deposits in the cylinder. If it's way too rich you can flood and kill the engine, like I embarassed myself in Santa Fe once, but fortunately flooding is not really a risk while flying. Conversely if there's too little fuel ("too lean") the engine also produces less power. Worst case, you can starve the engine and have it quit. This is a flight risk, specifically if the pilot forgets to richen up on descent. You won't notice being too lean at idle power but if you decide to go full power to go around you can kill the engine and, soon after, yourself.

The mixture also affects engine cooling. Common pilot wisdom is to fly a little rich of peak because the extra fuel evaporating helps cool the cylinders. If you let the engine get too hot you risk causing detonation or pre-ignition, in which case the engine can run away and get so hot it blows a cylinder. This part's all a little mysterious, particularly in planes without much instrumentation, and mostly we avoid it by trying not to fly over 75% power. The way I was taught to set the mixture was to get to cruise, then lean it out "until the engine runs rough", then nervously push it back in a little bit. High tech!

In the past few years engine monitors have become affordable, little temperature probes stuck in the engine that tell you that the exhaust gas is 1475°F and the cylinder head temperature is 332°F. Now pilots can know exactly how hot the engine is running and set their mixture accordingly. You can run at peak EGT, like the manual says, which is efficient but pretty much as hot as possible. Or you can run 50° rich of peak EGT, the common wisdom, only it turns out that places you most at risk of detonation. Or you can run about 30° lean of peak which seems freaky to old timers but definitely saves gas and may keep the engine cooler and cleaner. There's no consensus on what's best, just a religious war, but the guys with the most advanced understanding seem to prefer lean of peak.

One more complication: each cylinder stands alone, there's four or six little engines all running in parallel. Each with its own temperature and fuel/air mixture. And there's only one mixture control and it's not properly calibrated between the cylinders. No one noticed this before engine monitors became available so the manufacturers got away with it. Our plane is quite out of balance: one of our cylinders peaks about 1gph sooner than the others so there's no way to set the mixture right for everything. I just ordered $700 worth of fancy GAMI balanced fuel injectors to fix this problem.

There's a lot more to say on the topic but I'm out of my depth. The best stuff I've read on engine operation are John Deakin's Pelican's Perch articles. Specifically "Where should I run my engine?" (1, 2, 3, 4). Also Go ahead, abuse your engine!, Mixture magic, and Detonation myths. These articles only present one side, they're the foundational documents of the lean of peak religion, but they're clear and make more sense than anything else I've found.

  2010-11-16 19:20 Z
One of the oldest and most useful features of my blog is my Linkblog. That's it over in the sidebar, you can see it here or subscribe to the RSS. Not much to the HTML view, it's just a delicious page, but really it's a blog. I post several links to it every day and the descriptions are written for an audience, you. These days it's got better content than this main blog of mine.
Next Media
Long profile on the crazy Taiwanese outfit making hilarious animated news interpretations

Chirp n' Chirp
Simple ambient display; tweets are turned into bird chirps

Google's Islamic logo
Nutjobs think the Veteran's day logo is somehow an Islamic thing

Salvaging a PV-2D Harpoon
Mechanic crew finds an old warbird airplane, gets it flying again

Linkblogging is an old blog form, arguably as old as blogging itself with Jorn's pioneering Robot Wisdom. I read several linkblogs every day: Waxy, fakeisthenewreal, Jeremy Zawodny, iamcal, David Carlton, and an aggregation at HotLinks. (Jason Kottke and Anil Dash both used to be masters, but have rolled their links in to their main blogs.)

It strikes me how much linkblogging is like Twitter. A short, informational message you broadcast and then forget. Easy to create, easy to read, information lite. Linkblogs are different from Tweets in that they pivot around the link, a single chosen URL. And they're not really suited for reading on a mobile, usually the linked site is a full web experience. I like linkblogging as a medium, I wish more people did it.

  2010-11-12 14:53 Z
Traveller's Tales' Lego games are platform games that play particularly well in two player co-op. They're fun, casual-friendly, and have great design and successful movie tie-ins. The most recent couple of Lego games have introduced an innovative solution to the problem of two people sharing one screen, a dynamic split-screen mode.
Traditional co-op games have two choices for display; either the entire screen contains a single scene and both players are required to be near each other or the screen is statically split in two and the players have private half-monitors to themselves. Neither are very satisfying.

Lego Harry Potter (and Lego Indiana Jones 2 before it) have a dynamic split-screen. If the players are near each other, they're drawn together in one scene. If they wander apart the screen is sliced, two scenes, each centered on a player. The clever part is the cut angle is dynamic and calculated to keep the players relative position to each other apparent.

It's hard to explain, but you can see it in action here where Harry and Ron separate and here where Harry flies up above Hermione. It feels very natural and smooth in the game. If a bit irritating, I felt some compulsion to stay close to my friend to avoid it. Still, a very clever solution to a hard UI problem.

  2010-11-12 00:20 Z