John Voorhees

2708 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John is MacStories’ Managing Editor and has been writing about Apple and apps since joining the team in 2015. He is also Federico’s business partner and co-hosts two MacStories podcasts: AppStories, which covers the world of apps and MacStories Unwind, which explores the fun differences between American and Italian culture and recommends media to listeners.

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Monument Valley at 10: The Story of the Most Meticulous Puzzle Game Ever Created

Earlier this week, I linked to The Ringer’s profile of Monument Valley on its 10th anniversary, which focused on what’s become of mobile gaming since the game’s release. Today, I have another story about Monument Valley that focuses on the game’s origins and beautiful design.

Jonathan Bell’s article for Wallpaper explores the Monument Valley team’s approach and influences:

The end result had a pixel-perfect axonometric aesthetic that not only went hard on its references to Dutch master artist and printmaker Maurits Cornelis Escher, but also dug deep into classic video game design, going right back to early arcade machines and 8-bit titles. Each of the ten levels is like a piece of fine furniture, built with invisible dovetail joints and inlaid with marquetry, stuffed with secret compartments and little design flourishes. Gray cites the world of theatre and stage design, as well as graphics, as important keystones in the way the levels were constructed. ‘Ken would always talk about flower arranging, and how you frame a silhouette of a level on the screen,’ he says

I love this anecdote about the game’s last minute naming:

The small team was so laser-focused on delivering the best game they could that the name wasn’t even considered until the very end. ‘Right before launch we were going to be interviewed by Edge magazine – the morning of that day we hadn’t picked the name.’ Monument Valley was chosen as being familiar, yet unusual, implying a sense of mystery, grandeur and travel.

Monument Valley is one of the most important indie games ever published on the App Store, so it’s great to see its backstory told in detail by Bell. Be sure to check out the full story, which includes photos of early design sketches of the game’s interface and characters.


Apple Amends App Review Guidelines to Permit Game Emulators and Make Other Changes

Yesterday, Apple announced an update to its App Review Guidelines in a brief post on its developer site. The changes to sections 3.1.1(a) and 4.7 of the guidelines, which apply globally to all apps distributed through Apple’s App Store, address three items:

  • game emulators,
  • super apps, and
  • linking to the web from inside music streaming apps to make purchases outside the App Store

Historically, game emulators were forbidden from the App Store. As a result, an emulator like Delta, which can play games released for Nintendo systems through the N64, could only be used on iPhones through a clever combination of developer tools and a Mail plug-in. In contrast, there are plenty of emulators on the Google Play store for Android users to download.

Revised section 4.7 of the App Review guidelines specifically allows retro gaming emulators:

Mini apps, mini games, streaming games, chatbots, plug-ins, and game emulators

Apps may offer certain software that is not embedded in the binary, specifically HTML5 mini apps and mini games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins. Additionally, retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games.

Presumably, this will allow Delta and other emulators onto the App Store, so they can be used to play game files stored on iPhones.

The change to section 4.7 also says that “mini apps and mini games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins” of the sort found in apps like WeChat must be created with HTML 5, a clarification of the language previously used.

Finally, section 3.1.1(a) of the App Review Guidelines allows music streaming services to link out to the web from their apps so customers can make purchases outside the App Store. The change addresses the anti-steering provisions for which Apple was fined $2 billion by the EU, and Apple has said it will appeal.

MacStories Unwind: I Don’t Believe This Website

This week on MacStories Unwind, cicadas invade Italian TV, John tries an espresso soda, Dragon’s Dogma II, The Creator, and what’s next in our media queues.

  • Show Notes



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Vision Pro App Spotlight: Seasons Weaves Immersive Conditions Into a Comprehensive Weather App

Seasons is the sort of weather app I’d hoped for ever since I ordered my Vision Pro. It’s a unique mix of detailed forecast data combined with an immersive spatial computing experience. There’s a gee-whiz, proof-of-concept aspect to the app, but at its core, Seasons is a serious weather app and a spatial widget that’s a pleasure to incorporate into an everyday Vision Pro workflow.

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Ten Years Later, ‘Monument Valley’ Is a Monument to Mobile Gaming’s Bygone Era

Lewis Gordan, writing for The Ringer, looks back at the 10 years since Monument Valley was released and wonders what has become of premium mobile games:

With such gigantic success, Monument Valley should have become a blueprint for indies on mobile (and it did, for the small cohort of artful titles such as Alto’s Adventure and Old Man’s Journey that followed soon after it). But as the years wore on, it became clear that the game was really more of an aberration. Premium mobile games, that is, those that you pay for, eventually turned into an endangered species, crowded out by free-to-play “forever game” behemoths such as Clash Royale and, most recently, Monopoly Go! (the latter of which is partly bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and spent an eye-watering sum of nearly $500 million on marketing and user acquisition alone). A binary, then (and thus a battle), presents itself, pitting the art game that values people’s time against the commercial product that seeks to exploit it with ever-increasing, capitalistic intensity. “In 2014, it was just the beginning of that battle,” says Orland. “We didn’t have a clear winner.”

Gordon argues that Monument Valley’s release marked a high water mark and the beginning of the end of artful mobile games. As he recounts, the game was profitable within a week, but just six months later, users were leaving one-star reviews for a $1.99 expansion pack to a game that was only $3.99 to begin with. Gamers had been trained by the Candy Crush Sagas of the world to expect endless free updates.

Adriaan de Jongh, who Federico and I interviewed on AppStories years ago, points to the 2017 redesign of the App Store as another factor in the decline of premium titles:

Before, says de Jongh, Apple “featured” a couple of titles per week, promoting them to anyone across the entire globe who opened the App Store. It was the “single biggest marketing beat” for Hidden Folks, helping the game earn just more than $50,000 on its very first day. Then, with the redesign, the opportunity practically vanished. iPhone users had to navigate to a different tab to see new games. In de Jongh’s view, this was a fundamental and ultimately fatal layer of friction.

Gordon’s story is worth reading in its entirety because it’s one of the best tours of the business of selling iPhone games that I’ve read. At the same time, though, I think Gordon paints a bleaker picture than is justified. There’s no denying that the iPhone gaming universe has changed a lot from the days when games like Monument Valley, Alto’s Adventure, and Hidden Folks were first released. However, it’s also too soon to declare the end of premium iPhone gaming. Few of those titles may break into the top paid games category these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t innovative, artistic games being released on the App Store. You need to work a little harder, cutting through the jungle of free-to-play games to find them, but they’re there.


Ruminate, Episode 181 – A Dusting of Dill

This week on Ruminate, we start with some very old follow up, I have a story about Dominos, we both have a near-miss on being April-fooled, then into a discussion about webmentions, plus a little bit about Arc.

Webmentions | crashthearcade

Mastodon Webmentions and Privacy • Robb Knight

Neatnik Notes · A Fediverse, if you can keep it

A simple explainer on federation, and what it means for Threads users

We Might Not Make It - by The Browser Company

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Apple Releases Spatial Personas Betas to visionOS 1.1 Users

Apple has added Spatial Personas to the Personas beta for all Vision Pro users running visionOS 1.1, the latest public release of the OS.

Spatial Personas are available in FaceTime where users can collaborate using SharePlay. That means you can work with colleagues on a presentation, watch TV with friends and family, play games, and more. According to Apple, Spatial Personas allow you to move around and interact with digital content, providing a greater sense of presence.

Apple says that each user can reposition content to accommodate their own surroundings without affecting the others participating in a SharePlay session. Spatial Personas are available to developers. The Spatial Personas feature also integrates with Spatial Audio, so audio tracks with the position of the other people participating in your FaceTime call.

If you have visionOS 1.1 installed, you may need to reboot your Vision Pro to see a new Spatial Personas button in the FaceTime app, although we’ve tried and don’t see the feature yet. Tapping on a Persona tile during a FaceTime call will also allow you to switch the Spatial Persona of the person you’re calling. Returning to a Persona from a Spatial Persona can be accomplished from the Vision Pro’s Control Center. There’s also a limit of five Spatial Personas per FaceTime call.

AppStories, Episode 377 – Why the DOJ Claims Apple Is a Monopoly

This week on AppStories, we explain what’s going on with the US Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Apple that claims the iPhone-maker is monopolizing the smartphone market.

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The US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Complaint Against Apple

On AppStories+, I explain the research and writing workflow I developed for big projects like covering the DOJ’s lawsuit against Apple.

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Copilot: The Best Money Tracker App [Sponsor]

I’ve been using Copilot for over a year and the reason I’ve stuck with it for monitoring my finances is that it takes so little effort but provides so many valuable insights. That’s been critical to staying on top of my spending because even when I’m busy, I can find a minute or two to check on my latest purchases and make adjustments, keeping my spending under control and monitoring my overall financial health.

Their native iPhone and Mac apps can do it all: you can track your spending, budget, investments, and net worth all in one place, allowing you to drill into the details without losing sight of the big picture.

The secret to Copilot is how easy it is to track everything in your financial life. The app connects securely to your bank and other financial accounts and then reports back whenever a new transaction is detected.

New transactions are listed on Copilot’s Dashboard which analyzes them suggesting AI-powered categories for each. That makes reviewing transactions and applying them to a budget simple. With just a few taps or clicks, you can review everything and update your spending. Copilot’s Dashboard also reports where your spending stands compared to your budget and provides an overview of your budget by category, upcoming recurring expenses, and income.

For a more detailed look at your finances, Copilot includes a detailed Categories tab, more information on recurring expenses, such as subscriptions, and a chronological list of all transactions. The app also tracks the performance of your investments and the balance of each of your bank, investment, credit, and other accounts. With a recent update, Copilot is among the first apps to track Apple Card transactions too.

If you’ve ever struggled with tracking your finances, give Copilot a try today for free. And, for a limited time, MacStories readers can get an extra month as part of their Copilot free trial by using the code MACSTORIES when signing up. Visit their website to learn more and download Copilot from the App Store to get started today.

Our thanks to Copilot for sponsoring MacStories this week.