Gridrunner is the latest iOS game from British developer Jeff Minter, also known throughout his long career in game development as Llamasoft_Ox, Yak the Hairy or simply Yak. The game, available now on the App Store as a $0.99 Universal paid app, is a retro-style shoot ’em up based on Minter’s 1982 computer game of the same name. It includes a port of the Commodore 64 original and an all-new modernized take on the game.
Gridrunner is a simple game, similar to the classic arcade game Centipede. Players control a small ship which fires automatically while centipede-like enemies descend from the top of the screen. Hostile guns (affectionately referred to by Minter as “bastard lasers”) move across the X and Y axes of the on-screen grid, firing instant-death bullets and laser beams across and down the screen at regular intervals. Players must destroy all enemies while avoiding the unwanted attentions of the X and Y guns in order to proceed to the next level, at which point they are awarded an extra life and challenged to face a slightly more intense wave of enemies. As the game progresses, new enemy types with different movement and attack patterns start appearing, but the basic mechanics remain the same. The retro and modernized versions play fundamentally almost identically, albeit with different screen orientations — landscape for retro and portrait for modernized.
The modernized version’s main difference is new enemy types and powerups. Minter describes the modernized mode as “in the style of an early 1980s coin-op machine, [but one which] ignores the limitations of such old hardware, borrowing just the style.” The two play styles may be switched between at will by simply rotating the device, though the app treats them as two entirely separate experiences, with progress in one suspended while the other is being played.
Gridrunner is controlled through simple directional touch controls. By sliding their finger in a direction and holding, the player’s ship will move at a constant speed in the direction indicated, while removing their finger will cause it to immediately stop. In effect, the control scheme takes the form of a virtual, invisible joystick centered around wherever the player touched the screen. iOS touchscreen controls are an issue that Minter has very strong views on, noting in a characteristically outspoken and profanity-laden tweet from last year, “there is no need to SEE joysticks… there is no need to PUT THEM IN ONE PLACE.” He has consistently made a point of highlighting his logical, unobtrusive control schemes when promoting his various titles available on the App Store. His games usually also support the popular iCade control cabinet for iPad, and this title is no exception.
Touchscreen controls are not the only mobile gaming issue on which Minter holds strong opinions. He is also opposed to paid apps which offer excessive amounts of microtransactions, tweeting a solemn promise to his fans in December of last year that “when you buy one of my games, you buy the whole f***ing game, NOT some structure embedded with f***ing toll points.” He cites an example of when he was, in his eyes, “charged tier 1 for a f***ing demo version,” noting that he believes if developers feel their game is worth more than tier 1 pricing, they should simply charge more up front rather than make heavy use of in-app purchases.
Minter has also expressed frustration at the difficulty of app discovery for users — he notes “trying to discover games not in the Top 20 is like trying to find the Vogons’ plans to demolish Earth.” Minter makes active use of social media to promote his games, regularly chronicling his progress in development via his Twitter account and providing more in-depth updates on his blog. His games also feature Game Center and OpenFeint integration, allowing for a degree of viral promotion as players check out what their friends have been playing. In the case of Gridrunner, the retro angle could also be seen as a means of promotion — fans of the Commodore 64 original may well be more inclined to check out the new version than younger gamers perhaps unfamiliar with Llamasoft’s past work.