Saturday, 8 January 2011

Flipping the birds

This week, Mac nerds were in heaven as Apple proudly unveiled its latest App Store - this time offering desktop applications to enhance your home computer. So now there's a funky new symbol added to your Mac dock, which means you can access the latest software and upgrades with a single click of your ergonomically perfect magic mouse.

Take a look at the App Store and you'll see it's just a more cost-effective way of ordering software online, with all the familar products given pride of place in the listings. However, one hold-over from the iPhone and iPad App Stores now making its desktop debut is Angry Birds, the most addictive time-waster since Saturday Kitchen.

Inspired by, of all things, the swine-flu epidemic, Angry Birds cost just $100,000 to develop. And thanks to its low cost (59p for the standard edition game), combined with its publishers' willingness to keep offering free upgrades and enhancements, the game has quickly become one of the most popular titles in history, making its Finnish creators Robio Mobile millions of dollars. After only ten months on release, the game had been downloaded from iTunes 7 million times, with the free limited version shifting a further 11 million copies.

With its bulbous heroes now internationally recognised icons, Robio was quick to investigate the licensing potential. It developed new versions of the software for other mobile platforms, an HD adaptation for iPad, and even began manufacturing plush versions of the avian assassins which are now available from the Angry Birds website. There's even talk of a film and cartoon series based on the game. Well, they can't be any more derivative than The Snorks or Battleship: The Movie.

But what's got people really excited is the forthcoming Angry Birds game by Mattel. Lovingly rendered in chunky, colourful plastic, the game painstakingly recreates the physics of everyone's favourite app in three dimensions.

Simply pick a card, build the structure, load your birds in the catapult, and fire away to score points. There are 56 mission cards to choose from, and the first player to score 1000 points wins. Of course, it lacks the urgency and accessibility of its pixelated counterpart, since every play requires the obstacles to be carefully constructed. It's highly likely that some health and safety-obsessed do-gooder has also put the kibosh on having any exploding birds. Or the triangular species capable of flying at bullet speed.

Clunky moulding and limited playability aside, it's interesting that this is a digital app evolving into an old-fashioned, plastic and paint game. Every new technological innovation scares people into thinking that old-world physicality and interaction will become a thing of the past.

And yet here's a computer game, only a year old, being made into a 'thing of the past' and we can't wait to get our hands on it. I guess the more things change, the more we stay the same. Still, I probably shouldn't hold my breath for the Grand Theft Auto board-game.

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