Text Adventures on the iPhone… or not.

This entry was posted by on Friday, 11 July, 2008 at

As many folks know, I’m a huge fan of Interactive Fiction (text adventures). I’ve been working on a z-machine interpreter for Android, as well one that runs in python.

As of today, my iPhone is able to download ‘legitimate’ apps from the AppStore, and there’s still no z-machine interpreter available. For over a year now, there’s been one which requires a jailbroken iPhone out there, but jailbreaking isn’t an option for me (since Google owns my phone.)

My hopes got up when I discovered that the author of Zoom (the best z-machine app for Mac OS X) is actively working on a legitimate iPhone port. However, something he posted really disturbs me:

“A more serious issue is that Apple’s SDK license prohibits downloading code to interpret: this means that it would be impossible to load any games that were not bundled with the interpreter. I think this is probably a fatal problem: it seems doubtful that many IF authors will be willing to pay the $99 required to get their work onto the iPhone – plus it would mean no Zork, ever.”

While it sure is convenient that iPhone users only have one place to check for apps, this really scares me. I’m guessing that the license is intended to prevent people from distributing generic JVM or CLR machines that can download and run any old code, thereby circumventing Apple’s ability to vet applications. But clearly their Safari web browser already downloads and interprets Javascript apps, right? Where does one draw the line? We’re talking about a VM to play text-adventures — would Apple consider the fetching of text-adventures dangerous?

More and more, it’s clear to me that Apple is just as evil as Microsoft, they’re just not as big and powerful (yet)… and they have better taste. Maybe I should give up on issue and just wait for my Android phone at the end of the year. It will be a truly open OS, and I’ll be able to download and run whatever the heck I want.

11 Responses to “Text Adventures on the iPhone… or not.”

  1. Mark Phippard

    Isn’t this an awfully big leap to lump Apple in with Microsoft and call them evil over something like this? What is their evil motive here? I do not think this is about money. I also think if someone built an app that connected to a web site and could pull in a “game” and run it that would not be a violation. I fail to see how that is any different than the New York Times pulling in content and displaying it. I think the main thing is that Apple does not have an arbitrary way for you to dump any old file on the phone to run it. I suspect this is about them being cautious, as they were with the initial launch and no way to load applications.

    I fail to see how giving more of our lives and power to Google is a better answer. I think overall Google and Apple are very similar. I think the bulk of what each provides is of great benefit to the user and the little bit you have to “give up” is offset by the value you receive. And in each case, there going to be those that want to see demons in the shadows and assume there is evil lurking. There might be, but I just see two companies that are trying to make money by providing great products that people want and derive benefit from.

  2. Couldn’t you just use one of the JavaScript z-machine interpreters?
    Just load it up in Safari?

  3. Well put, Ben. Sitting in an Android talk right now with Romain Guy, and I think you’re right. 🙂

    @Mark: The difference, I believe, is in culture. Apple is obsessed with control, perhaps because they think they know best and they don’t want us to mess up their sublime user experience. Google’s culture is much more open.

    I won’t buy a “smartphone” until I can truly own it. I’m hoping that Android will deliver this to me.

  4. Mark Phippard

    I’d say Apple is obsessed with control in the interests of quality more than profit. And while I would agree that Google is probably more open than Apple, I would not classify them as open in general. If the iPhone did not exist who knows if Android would even be open?

    Plus, while I’d prefer for things I use to be completely open, I am more concerned about the quality and user experience. That is also probably why I do not use Linux.

  5. Alas, there are two javascript z-machines: ‘muttonate’, which is crazy slow, and a brand new one called ‘parchment’ which is fast. (Try it at http://parchment.toolness.com … written by a friend who’s helping me with ZVM!)

    Unfortunately javascript is a weird thing that behaves differently on every system. And iPhone’s Safari is its own weird version as well. Ergo, neither of these interpreters works on iPhone. After upgrading to iPhone OS 2.0, the new one *seems* to run… but I can’t input any commands, because the iPhone only pops up the keyboard when you tap on an html textfield. I’ve pinged my buddy about this… seems like we’re close!

  6. I don’t understand why people bitch about Microsoft being closed but seem to believe that Apple is ok. Why? Because their devices look nice?! I think you’re right Ben, Apple would be just as nasty as Microsoft given half a chance…

  7. CargoCult

    Oh, and one more difference: Apple has never handed over data demanded by some dictatorship or been responsible for some dissident landing in jail, AFAIK.

  8. @CargoCult: When has anybody ever bothered asking Apple for such data? I have also never handed over data demanded by some dictatorship…would you like to buy some of my shit?

  9. Cargo Cult

    What is it they say about “the rule that one should judge talent at its best and character at its worst” ? Being a good boy scout on a good day doesn’t matter. And what’s with all this Apple fanboy rush a couple of years back by all the open source nerds ? They weren’t aware of the real nature of the beast, back then ? really ?

  10. frymaster

    I know this is an old discussion, but I think the point is worth making: Apple is _more_ evil than microsoft in this respect. MS have a closed-source OS and traditionally don’t release specs to allow people to reimplement something the OS already does… but they traditionally don’t restrict what programs you can run, and tend to provide APIs to let your programs use the API features MS won’t let you copy. Bad for interoperability, and implies vendor lock-in, but at least at the end of the day you can install what you damn well want on your own damn device.

    Apple: It’s our way or the high way
    Mircrosoft: We forcefully (and counter-productively) guard our way, but feel free to go write your own way.
    Any OSS project: Here’s our way; use it, alter it, or write your own, whatever 😀


  1. Parchment on the iPhone at Toolness