IF and the Mac App Store

Howdy y’all,

In light of certain parties’ efforts to develop and eventually sell IF games as stand-alone iOS apps, I would like to wonder out loud if there’d be value in experimenting with a similar approach using the Mac OS App Store.

Background: the most recent version of Mac OS includes a shiny button on the desktop that summons the Mac App Store, a new thing the mold of the one that the iPhone made famous. It provides a fall-down easy way for users to browse, purchase, and update “apps”, which seems to generally mean stand-alone applications of a modest-or-smaller size. It also lends an interesting and potentially highly visible new channel for developers to distribute their software to Mac users (so long as they can navigate through the limbo of Apple’s also-famous approval process, but let’s call that a separate topic for now).

I’ve been buying games from it – cool little indie titles, for the most part. Inevitably, I started to think about the fact that, gee, y’know, I’ve written a game that runs on Macs, too, sort of…

What would an App Store-friendly IF game look like? Aiming modestly, I figure the bare minimum would include resources like the PR-IF postcard or the Inform first-time-player’s guide under the native Help menu, and the first time it’s launched it could make their presence extra-obvious (or permanently dismissible). But otherwise, the meat of the app would be, not to put too fine a point on it, Zoom. (Or a fork of it, anyway, permanently grafted to a single story file.) No reaching for any ingenious new UX idioms, at least not in the first rev.

Ideally, this app-wrapper would be reusable by other authors, and applicable to any game that Zoom is capable of running. So, it’d end up as something like the iOS framework that Zarf is building, but for Mac OS and – in my current imagining – not nearly as ambitious in introducing any new platform-specific IF play idioms. And, at least in my case, I don’t see myself aiming to make a living off of this! It just strikes me as an unexplored channel for distributing IF to a new audience, and one worth discussion.

Again, I’m just thinking out loud for now, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

I’ve been a Mac user since 1990, Apple user since 1980. In fact I evangelised the platform until 2007 when all of this controlled App Store nonsense started, because I could see the day coming when it would be pushed to the Mac as well, but nobody believed me back then that Apple would try to force the App Store onto the desktop. And yet here we are. They aren’t all the way there yet (you can still install apps outside the App Store, but the user attention climate is going to become very poor for it until there is almost nobody left doing it – that’s when I believe Apple will finally close that escape route for any little-fry developer, i.e. if you are not Adobe – clearly they do not value computing freedom at all and have no moral compunctions about doing so). So I have lost all my respect for Apple as a company and I am fundamentally uninterested in the Mac App Store and regard it as the harbinger of the death of freedom in computing and I will not support it with a single purchase or even a single free download. In fact I am abandoning the Mac as a platform. I never believed I would ever make this decision but here I am having switched to Ubuntu on my laptop and looking for alternatives for things like iTunes and Final Cut Pro and Comic Life for my desktop. So… wait. I guess that that renders my own opinion irrelevant to this thread. But I just had to say it. I already know you don’t agree (from Twitter). I’ll shut up now.


Speaking from total ignorance, definitely a fork. It seems to me that “open this and then run this in it” would be a lot more off-putting than plain old “open this.”

And if you’re going to sell a bundled version of Zoom, I presume you need to conform to the GNU GPL; don’t know what that would entail or how much it allows for commercial use.

Does the app store allow you to make your app free?

(I also have some sympathy with Paul, although it may be an “If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em” situation. Does seem like Apple would be hard pressed to cut off access to applications outside the App store, so I’m not too worried that this would suck the air out of the if-archive or similar things.)

This is a good point that Jmac has also made on his Twitter feed. My reaction to it is twofold (1) It is hard to put anything past Apple these days with the distinct tone-deafness to issues of freedom they display. Censoring, censoring, censoring, even in cultural matters that are classically considering off-limits in a civil society. I simply don’t trust them anymore. They have a serious ongoing PR problem entirely of their own making. (2) Even if they don’t cut off outside access to the marketplace, they can make things very untenable for small developers who can’t or don’t want to distribute via their official channel.

OK I’ll shut up now. XD


Well, what I meant about point (2) was basically that whatever Apple does to make things untenable for small devs doing distribution probably won’t put them in any worse a state than an IF programmer who’s relying on the IF archive or IFDB or whatever. IF players are well used to jumping through hoops to get their fix. :wink: (Of course what I do is usually to get the z-code URL from IFDB and drop it into Parchment, which is probably even more convoluted than usual.)

For the first, I suppose nothing should surprise me, but would they really stop you from downloading some application from the internet and then opening it? Well, I guess nothing should surprise me. I could definitely see them dropping in a series of more and more intrusive pop-up warnings when you do. (“Zoom is an application downloaded from the internet. Are you sure you want to open it?” [OK] “But it’s filthy dirty and unclean! Wouldn’t you like to visit the App store?”)

Windows has way more users anyway (last time I looked it was like 80% Windows vs 10% Mac), so if anyone wants to sell his game, the most lucrative option is to make sure to release for Windows. Given that Apple has a tiny market share compared to MS, I wonder why they decided to charge money for the service in the first place. Maybe in a hope to keep application quality high. But it sure isn’t working; take a look at the “most popular” or “top selling” apps on the Apple Store. Don’t know about you, but I had a good laugh (someone sells a 1080p video of a fireplace that you play at full screen so your Mac looks like an actual fireplace?)

The market share is small in comparison, but on the other hand the market itself is huge. There are about 1 billion personal computers in the world, so the app store reaches somewhere around 100 million potential customers. I think that’s quite enough people to make a good business.

jmac, you might want to consider retitling this post “Debating the Mac App Store” and repost your actual question in another thread…

Anyway, I’m just posting to say that Zoom is only one of your options. Gargoyle is a very nice alternative. More to the point, I know that Ben Cressey has at least had tentative plans in the past to create a packager that would allow you to bundle a game with the interpreter to create executables for both Mac and Windows. I believe that Ben’s current Gargoyle development energies are going toward providing full multimedia support for TADS 3, and I don’t know what he’s thinking about the packager thing right now (sorry if I’m misrepresenting your efforts and plans, Ben!), but it might be more productive to consider building your app-wrapper on Gargoyle. The prospect of full T3 support–in addition to Glulx, Z, and other formats already available through Gargoyle–would be a real plus.

Zoom is, of course, a nice interpreter as well, and uses native OSX technologies, so that’s not a bad idea either, but I wanted to emphasize that it isn’t the only option.


Yup. As far as the user’s concerned, they wouldn’t be running Zoom-which-is-running-CoolGame; they’d be running CoolGame (for Mac). And this would take the appropriate amount on surgery on the Zoom codebase, transforming it from an application into a wrapper that story files slot into in order to become a new application.

Yes, you can make it free.

The GPL doesn’t disallow commercial use. I don’t think that, used this way, the GPL would “infect” the story files the wrapper interacts with. The wrapper itself, the Zoom-fork, would have to remain under the GPL, and I would be fine with that.

I have no way to respond to this line or argument without the risk of this thread red-shifting the hell away into a meow meow computer fight, so instead I will say: I am fine assuming that none of this is a concern. Now let’s talk about doing awesome stuff!

Ah, see, this is why I wanted to wonder about this in public. I didn’t know this about Gargoyle. (Or future-Gargoyle, anyway.)

Yeah, the native Macness does make Zoom attractive for this project.

This would require some custom code work in either case. From the user’s perspective, downloading an App Store app results in a single, executable icon getting squirted onto their dock; there’s no room to ZIP it together with free-floating PDFs or what have you. So, help documents and other feelies would exist as bundled resources, and the app would need to know about these and provide ways to summon them (either on player request or under certain conditions, e.g. the app being run for the first time).

Just to clarify: Gargoyle uses cross-platform libraries, but it is a native app; it’s not running in X11 or anything.


a valid anecdote. Bad timing for Ubuntu and even other well-known Linux distros, as they too are coming up with an App Store of sorts. Though actually just your usual Linux software repository on steroids and certainly not something closed as in Apple land.

BTW, as a recent convert to mobile computing in the form of a Motorola Droid 2, I’m lusting for some kind of portal into IF realm.

Android comes with Google’s own Zippy interpreter for z-code and parchment works fine too, but I’m not really talking about interpreters, but of ease of browsing an IF catalogue akin to the many portals into ebooks. You don’t even need a particular app for that: you go at something like Project Gutemberg and it’s got a nifty page specifically for mobile, leading you directly to a few links listing most populars, authors, subjects and categories. IF truly is in need for something like that. You can browse the web from smartphones, but zooming in is an annoyance if all you want is browse for titles, reviews etc.

IFDB could use something similar. Good time too for another CSS contest for ifarchive I guess.

Plus, some app doing exactly that and specifically showing up in an App Store may go a long way towards publicizing IF.

I certainly haven’t said anything catty — just expressed my opinion. Sorry for the derail and you have no obligation to answer me, but I think your fears are unwarranted. There has been no evidence here of any impending flame war.


I apologize for being jumpy. Let us all embrace our beautiful machines and agree that they are the best machines, and return to talking about cool stuff. :slight_smile:

Yeah I didn’t mean to hijack either, I do feel sorry about that. Thanks and good luck with your plan.


Zoom kinda-sorta gives you that right now, letting you browse IFDB and download games from it from within the app.

But it sounds like what you’re talking about is an IFDB API? Which is actually an intriguing topic, and one worth forking off into its own thread.

The question I’m interested in exploring here is whether the App Store (and similar services on other platforms, sure) gives us enough reason to make a push for releasing IF games as stand-alone “Here is a game! Download and play it!” applications.

It could be that the answer is “No, I looked at the calendar and it still isn’t 1995 any more,” in which case OK let’s just keep focusing on making browser-playable IF awesome.

It could also be that the answer is “Only if you’re willing to make the resulting stand-alone applications incredibly polished and beautiful and tuned to the platforms they respectively run on, c.f. Hadean Lands,” in which case OK, too rich for my blood.

All I know is that “Here is a bunch of games you can play, but you’ll need to download this other thing first, or maybe this thing instead, and maybe go over here and read these things to figure out how to play them” is not an awesome model, and I’m interested in exploring ways to improve on it by way of emerging technologies and services.

I’d say go for it. The download-and-play stuff from the Humble Indie Bundles seems to be successful, and not all of it is super tuned to its platform. Samorost 2 (admittedly a throw-in to the first one) just opens itself up in a web browser. Of course its content is beautiful and polished, but that’s what we ought to be accomplishing with our prose.

it amazes me that Mac users can be touchy to the issue of non native window widgets even to essentially play text adventures with a command prompt… sick.

BTW, I have a feeling the most common computing device in the near future will be mobile devices. Your 80% Windows desktops are fading into irrelevancy as app stores for iPhone/Android/etc get loaded and much many millions more are able to get at very low pricepoints…