John Voorhees

1158 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, who is an editor for MacStories and the Club MacStories newsletters, joined MacStories in 2015. With Federico, he co-hosts AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps, and Dialog, a seasonal podcast about the impact of technology on creativity, society, and culture. John also handles sponsorship sales for MacStories and its podcasts.


This week's sponsor

Airmail Zero

Blazingly-Fast Gmail Triage for the Mac and iPhone

Libratone’s Zipp 2 and Zipp Mini 2 Portable Wireless Speakers: The MacStories Review

I love my two HomePods. One sits in my living room and the other in my studio. When I finish working for the day, I can ask Siri to move my music from the studio to the living room where I continue what I'm listening to as I make dinner and relax. Most of the time, both HomePods are also within earshot for issuing Siri commands to turn lights on and off, add items to my grocery list, and kick off shortcuts.

Here's the thing though: it's summertime. I'm spending time outdoors and going on road trips to visit family. Meanwhile, my HomePods remain tethered to the wall by power cords. They'll be there waiting when I return, but when I'm on the go, my HomePods are useless, which prompted me to start looking at portable speakers that could reach beyond the walls of my home.

My research led me to Libratone’s Zipp 2 and Zipp Mini 2 wireless speakers, two of the only wireless solutions I’ve found that support Apple's AirPlay 2 audio streaming technology. Libratone sent me one of each model for testing, and I’ve spent the past few months using them in different spots around my house, in my backyard, and at the beach. Both speakers deliver on the versatility I was looking for, extending the ways and places I can play music. However, neither of the Zipp speakers was quite as simple to use or reliable as the HomePod. The few issues I ran into are balanced out in no small measure by the versatility of the Zipp speakers though, which depending on your needs makes them a worthy replacement for or supplement to the HomePod.

Read more

Game Day: Minit

Minit is a new-to-iOS indie adventure game by Jan Willem Nijman, the co-founder of Vlambeer, Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann. The game, which was brought to iOS a little over one week ago by Devolver Digital, first debuted in April 2018 and is now available on all major consoles, PCs, and mobile platforms. It’s a fantastic game that benefits from the high-resolution screens and excellent sound available on iOS devices but also suffers a little from onscreen joystick controls. That issue can be remedied with an MFi controller, but even playing with the onscreen controls, Minit has quickly become one of my favorite iOS games of 2019.

Minit's hook is that the hero you control only has a minute to live, a mechanic that's perfect for a mobile game. As you race around the game's map, solving puzzles and discovering items, you have to move fast because when the minute is up, you die and have to start over again.

If that sounds frustrating, it really isn't. You have to start over after you die, but not entirely from the beginning. The ticking clock certainly makes Minit challenging, but it cleverly avoids becoming frustrating by letting your character retain items, powers, and locations even after you die. For example, one of the first items you discover in the game is a cursed sword that is central to the game's story. When you inevitably die and respawn to continue exploring, you don’t need to grab the sword again because it will already be at your side. The same holds true of powers like pushing objects and locations that become your new home, which avoids the monotony of having to restart the game from the same point over and over.

Minit strikes a careful balance with its core mechanic, allowing just enough progress to be made each time you play to keep you coming back for more. It also helps that no matter where I’ve been on the game’s map, I’ve always felt that I had multiple options each time I restarted. That’s an essential element of avoiding frustration because even when I've gotten stuck on a particular quest, I've had the option to set out in a different direction and make progress elsewhere.

The game’s art and sound design are top-notch too. The artwork is entirely black and white with chunky pixel characters and environments that convey a sense of whimsy and fun. Coupled with an excellent soundtrack and sound effects, Minit imbues its world with a personality that brings its simple environment to life in a way that transcends any one aspect of the game.

Minit's controls are just as simple as its artwork. There’s a virtual joystick in the lower left corner of the screen for moving your character and an attack button in the opposite corner. The gameplay is simple enough that the onscreen joystick works reasonably well, but it’s still not as good as a controller with a dedicated thumbstick, especially when lining up your character to attack an enemy. Relatively few iOS gamers have MFi controllers now, but iOS 13 should give games like Minit a boost in the fall when the OS adds support for Bluetooth-based PS4 and Xbox controllers that far more people already own.

Even relying on the onscreen controls though, I've had a blast playing Minit. It took the game with me on a short 4th of July road trip, and it was the perfect companion for the long drive and when I had some time to myself in the evenings. Minit treads some of the same ground as similar retro-style adventure games I've played before, but the combination of the timer mechanic and unique black-and-white world make it stand head and shoulders above similar games.

Minit is available on the App Store for $4.99.

Screenwriting, Novels, Apps, and More with John August (Part 2)

Today on Dialog, we conclude our conversation with screenwriter and author John August.

Although August is a screenwriter and author, he's also been involved in a wide variety of other related projects like the creation of Fountain markup syntax, which is a variant of Markdown designed specifically for screenwriters. He's also the maker of Highland, a text editor for the Mac with special features for screenwriters and novelists, and Weekend Read, an iOS app for reviewing PDF-formatted screenplays. August even commissioned Courier Prime, and open source typeface that fixes many of the deficiencies found in standard Courier fonts.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

Sponsored by:

  • Astropad Studio – Turn your iPad into a professional graphics tablet. Get started today with a 30-day free trial.
  • HabitMinder – Change your habits, change your life! Your healthy habit reminder and tracker.

Next week, we're going to speak to Carrie Patel, a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment, who has worked on games such as Pillars of Eternity and The Outer Worlds, which is coming this fall. Patel is also the author of the Recoletta trilogy, a Science Fantasy series set in an underground world. In next week's first installment of the interview, we dive deep into the world-building, lore, character dialogue, and other elements of creating the narrative surrounding major video game releases.


Apple Brings Back Texas Hold’em

When the App Store opened for business in 2008, Apple released Texas Hold'em, the company's first and only iOS game and successor to an iPod version that debuted in 2006. The game, which Stephen Hackett profiled for MacStories last year was short-lived, disappearing from the App Store in 2011.

In the eight years since the game's release, Apple has left the iOS game market to third-party developers, with the exception of Warren Buffett's Paper Wizard. Today, however, the company released an updated version, which was spotted by an eagle-eyed 9to5Mac reader. Strangely, the game's description says the release is meant to celebrate the App Store's 10th Anniversary, which occurred last July 10th, not quite 11 years ago today.

In any event, Texas Hold'em is back with new graphics to support the resolution and screen sizes of modern iPhones along with new characters and 'more challenging gameplay.' The app, which originally sold for $4.99, is now free too.

Launching the game for the first time in many years, brought an instant wave of early App Store nostalgia. Even if card games aren't your thing, Texas Hold'em is worth a look because so much of the original feel of one of the earliest iPhone games is preserved in this update.

Texas Hold'em is available as a free download on the App Store.

AppStories, Episode 118 – Reminders in iOS 13

On this week's episode of AppStories, we continue our series of episodes on the new and updated apps coming from Apple in the fall with Reminders.

Sponsored by:

  • Direct Mail – Create and send great-looking email newsletters with Direct Mail, an easy-to-use email marketing app designed exclusively for the Mac.
  • Astropad Studio – Turn your iPad into a professional graphics tablet. Get started today with a 30-day free trial.


Screenwriting, Novels, Apps, and More with John August (Part 1)

Today on Dialog, we published the latest interview of Season 1 featuring screenwriter and author John August.

John August is a screenwriter whose credits include films like Go, Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels, Titan A.E., Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, and Frankenweenie. He also wrote and directed The Nines and is the author of the Arlo Finch series of middle-grade fiction books. John is the co-host of the podcast Scriptnotes, the maker of the Highland text editor for the Mac and Weekend Read for iOS, and commissioned the Courier Prime typeface too.

A common thread across the wide variety of projects August has been involved in is dissatisfaction with the status quo. That's led him beyond writing to projects like app development and commissioning a font. First and foremost though, August is a writer, which is where our conversation begins.

In this week's episode of Dialog, we talk to August all about screenwriting: how he got started, how screenwriting differs from other forms of writing, his process for getting started, dealing with getting stuck, his writing environment, and more. We also talk about Arlo Finch, his middle-grade fiction trilogy and the role of luck, hard work, and privilege in his success.

Next week, we'll cover more about August's podcast, Scriptnotes, his apps, Highland and Weekend Read, as well as Courier Prime, the font he commissioned because he wasn't satisfied with other Courier variants.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

Sponsored by:

  • Astropad Studio – Turn your iPad into a professional graphics tablet. Get started today with a 30-day free trial.
  • Working Copy – Git client for iOS that works well with other apps.

Ars Technica Interviews Apple Representatives and Developers about Catalyst

Samuel Axon spoke to developers and marketing, developer relations, and engineering representatives from Apple in a story for Ars Technica about Catalyst, Apple's project for bringing iPad apps to the Mac.

Prior to WWDC, Apple gave a handful of companies access to Catalyst. Axon spoke to three of them about their experiences so far. Nolan O'Brian of Twitter, which discontinued its Mac app in 2016, had this to say about the experience:

"What Project Catalyst specifically offers is the ability to use our existing codebase, meaning that we don't have to maintain separate code or a separate team to support Twitter for Mac," he went on to say.

O'Brien said it was relatively easy to get going with the new app: "The surprising thing that got us excited about Project Catalyst was how much of our existing iOS codebase was able to just work."

TripIt and Gameloft had similar experiences bringing their apps to the Mac.

Addressing the concern that Catalyst means the end of powerful AppKit-based apps on the Mac, Shaan Pruden, Apple's senior director of partner management and developer relations, explained that there's a place for ground-up AppKit apps as well as Catalyst apps:

"Good developers will know their audience and their users and what they're going to want," she said. "This just opens the door for lots of people to consider coming that wouldn't have even thought about it before. And I think that's more the target for this particular technology as opposed to someone who has a very complicated, big, heavy-lifting kind of creative app."

Todd Benjamin, Apple's senior director of marketing for macOS, elaborated saying that he:

...believes there are fundamentally multiple types of apps, and they're not mutually exclusive with one another on a platform. And this is key to understanding Apple's approach, here. He said:

I think apps on the Mac have always been these large and complex and highly capable apps that are very broad. And I think apps on iOS by nature are a little bit more focused. They're highly designed. They're very much considered in what they do and how they do it. And I think that's changed how people look at apps, right?

The full story, which is full of detailed developer and Apple insights about Catalyst, is worth a read especially since it demonstrates just how nuanced the issues surrounding Catalyst are.