A Lament for Unreleased Apps

Unlike movies, music, books, and even AAA games, one of the beauties of the App Store system (for all of its flaws) is that often you don’t know when an app is coming, if it’s coming, or when it’ll be updated. There’s always the prospect that, on any given day, you might learn about something incredible that just materialised, or that one of your favourite apps might get a surprise new feature.

The flip side of that capricious coin is that occasionally you catch talk about an app in advance, and end up waiting in perpetuity for a release that never comes. The buzz persists, the promise is there, but there’s no way to know whether the project will ever see the light of day.

Here are notes on three apps that I’ve had that experience with:

Hexxis

FORMation Alliance was one of the first iOS developers whose sense of style struck me hard enough that I was excited for every new project they released. The minimal, well-organised interfaces of typography-based game Kern, and two-player colour-match contest Eye vs Eye (both outlined in this Coolhunting article) had me hooked; another type-centric offering — Press Check — was smart but flawed, and five-part storytelling experiment Treehouse was an interesting precursor to projects like Simogo’s Device 6.

Of all of FORMation’s projects however, Hexxis was the one I was the most excited about. With each release the studio was getting stronger, making really interesting advances, and the teaser video for this puzzle game looked like the culmination of all of that:

There are many aspects to Hexxis that appeal to me: the neatness of its geometry, its striking colour palate, the seeming simplicity of its ruleset. Before the game saw release however, FORMation ceased to be. Designer Jason Franzen went on to form new studio More Simple, where Hexxis at least lives on as a project page but that ‘Coming Soon’ badge has now been attached to the game for more than four years.

Nizo

It was around the time that Instagram was starting to pick up a lot of traffic that I started to see talk on Twitter about an app named Nizo. The premise was a video app that would bring new life to the 8mm film aesthetic. That sounded cool enough, and then there was the fact that Nizo had simply the best teaser page I’d ever seen. That page still ends with ‘Coming to the App Store’, and a semi-active Twitter account still hints tantalisingly at progress now and again. The big question for Nizo is whether the radical UI changes that came with iOS 7 have meant a re-think of the app. I’m still cautiously optimistic that it may someday see release.

Scoundrel

This is the big one.

Zach Gage (@helvetica) is one of my absolute favourite developers working on iOS: Spelltower alone makes him a rock star, and he also has work like Bit Pilot and the under-appreciated Unify in his extensive back catalogue, as well as great conceptual pieces like Lose/Lose. Alongside Vlambeer he made one of the best iOS game of 2013 in the shape of Ridiculous Fishing - and those are just some select picks from his extensive portfolio (check it out at his site stfj.net- you’ll need to scroll!).

One game missing from that list is Scoundrel: a super-inventive card-based roguelike with a twist. From the first buzz on Scoundrel I’ve been aching to try it out. There have been favourable comparisons to iOS classic Drop7 in terms of sheer addictive appeal, which seemed to be justified on the evidence of a five minute preview video uploaded to Vimeo. It seemed for a while that all of the indie game folks I follow in Twitter were talking about the game; Doug Wilson of Die Gute Fabrik picked an early build of Scoundrel as his favourite game of 2011, all of which had this at the top of my wish list for ages.

As it stands this Hookshot preview in February 2012, is the last news I’ve seen on the game. Gage was wrapped up with Ridiculous Fishing and has since been hard at work on some really interesting tabletop games like Guts of Glory and Grit. The current status of Scoundrel is uncertain. As with Hexxis, my guess — and it is just a guess — is that once the mechanics were in place and working the balancing and building out of the game posed some unforeseen challenges. I’m sure that’s the way of game development as with any creative project, and for whatever reason Gage’s mind turned to other projects.

I’m not quite ready to write off Scoundrel as completely dead just yet. It remains one project among many for a talented and prolific developer who currently has other priorities. All signs pointed to Scoundrel being something really special, and maybe we’ll never find out… but just maybe, someday, we will.