Two Finger Play

iPhone game development, by a college student with a short attention span

Location: Atlanta, GA, United States

I don't wear shoes. If you see a barefoot kid walking around the Tech campus, say hi.


Over, for now

Well — I've received notice from Apple that they've been contacted by The Tetris® Company about Tris. That, I'm afraid, is essentially game over. Do they have a case? No. Not really. I am convinced that if it went to court, the "copyright" claim would get thrown out completely. The trademark, perhaps not — but if I changed the name, to e.g. “Trys”, that would be much harder for them to argue.

The trouble is, I'm a college student, and not an affluent one, and I simply do not have the time, energy, or resources to fight this battle right now. There's a point at which I am willing to give up and be practical, to let the world have its way with that ever-mistreated little ideal of “principle”. Thus, it's with great sadness that I must announce that I'll be pulling Tris from the App Store on Wednesday, August 27th, to remain in Apple's systems but publicly unavailable until I work out a solution to this.

A few last words on the subject, then. I don't believe The Tetris® Company consider themselves to be acting in bad faith. The lack of protection for the idea of a game is troubling, in that it promotes quick ripoffs of a concept that someone, somewhere, spent a lot of effort on. The Tetris® Company are protecting their own interest; without a name that meant something to license, they would have, as I understand it, no significant assets at all.

That said: the approach they're taking seems to me little more than petty bullying. They have little to no legitimate legal claim, and are, presumably, relying on my being a small developer with insufficient resources to defend myself. And — hey ho — it appears to be working. All I can suggest is that, if you have the slightest interest in playing Tris, you download it while you still can.


To clarify: if Apple had not told me they'd “take action” of their own if I didn't resolve the “dispute”, Tris would be staying up. I don't think this will be permanent; when I have the time and can find a good copyright lawyer, I'll be figuring out exactly what my position is and how I can make Tris available again.


To further clarify: several news sites have taken this to mean I consider Apple at fault here. This is completely and totally untrue, and I have received no form of official legal notice, threats, or anything of the sort — indeed, anything other than polite and helpful communication — from them. Apple, as I see it, are making sure they aren't liable for individual developers' mistakes, and they're doing it the right way. Please don't take this up as an “Apple are being evil corporate jerks” story, because they aren't and it isn't.

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First time for everything, I suppose: now, a cease-and-desist from everyone's good buddies at The Tetris® Company. I won't post the full thing here in case there's some reason I oughtn't, but the gist of it was that they considered my game an infringement on their copyright and wanted it taken down immediately. I'd been forewarned of this possibility, and appraised of some information on The Tetris® Company's activities (thanks, again, to Adam Sissman for that) — long story short, I'm near-certain they have zero case, given that U.S. copyright law doesn't provide any protection for the “idea” of a game. The name “Tris” might possibly be considered an infringement on their trademark, but I think that's a separate issue, and said as much in my response to the C&D.

Anyhow, my apologies for the delay in getting the score system up and running again, and the updates I've mentioned out — had rather a lot on my mind. I'll get back to work as soon as I can.

One more thing: I understand Tris was recently featured on TV — a show called “Infomania”? Fantastic, if so; if anyone's got a link to video, I'd love to see it.

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Score Downtime; Deluxe

Well, Tris has done astonishingly well — download count as of this morning was over half a million. Unfortunately, the amount of traffic from the score system completely and totally overwhelmed the shared hosting my database and script were sitting on. I've talked to the host and am hoping to find some good dedicated hosting soon; for now, though, the global score system is simply dead.

In the time in which I wasn't fiddling with and worrying about the score system, I got a few additions made that I'd seen a lot of requests for. Tris 1.0.2 (I've submitted a 1.0.1 but it's chilling in “In Review” limbo) lets you set the movement sensitivity, whether the sidebar appears on the left or right, and whether pieces rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise. Also, there's a bit more of a delay when a piece lands before it gets locked into place.

There's one or two suggestions I've received in comments here that I'm pretty sure I'll add at some point — all, alas, from "anonymous", so I'm unable to properly credit them. One involves multitouch, and letting the player drag and rotate a piece at the same time by tapping with a second finger while moving the first; the other, simpler if a bit less intuitive, would have a tap on the bottom row or two drop the piece immediately.

Another thing: I'm considering what I can do for a Deluxe version of Tris. The original version will stay free, and get the bugfixes and most features that I add in future, but the non-free one will get some improvements over the original. Mostly these improvements are features I would like to add to the free one but that would be time-consuming to implement. What I've got planned so far:
  • Sound (piece rotation, piece landing, row clearing, possibly music)

  • Row-clearing animation (this will be pretty, I promise)

  • Leaderboard split up by time period (separate top-ten scores for the past day, week, month, and, uh, eternity)

I'd welcome any other suggestions. Is there something you'd absolutely have to see in Tris to pay a buck or two for the Deluxe version? Let me know.

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First Days

So, Tris has been on the App Store for a bit more than two days. In that time, it's become the most popular free app on the Store. I'm absolutely blown away by the attention and positive response this has gotten; according to the iTunes reports, it's been downloaded somewhere between a hundred and two hundred thousand times. The high score system, last I checked, had over a hundred and fifty thousand scores submitted.

That, actually, is turning out to be a problem — my host's server appears to have been eaten by the CPU usage of my score-handling script. I fixed a bug in it this morning that was making it continuously overwrite the high-score file, even when a new score didn't actually change anything; I thought that would resolve the issue, but it seems not. I've contacted the host's support department, and should ideally hear from them in an hour or two. Keep your fingers crossed.

In any case, I want to thank everyone who's downloaded and played Tris; you've made this project more successful than I could possibly have hoped for. I've received a ton of feedback from App Store reviews, blog comments, and emails; I'll be addressing as much of that as I can in my next post here.

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All right. As of now, Tris is submitted to the App Store and "In Review". Look for it, I assume, sometime this weekend or next week.

At the last minute, I had an idea, and I'm glad I took a few minutes to implement it.
Next-piece view
This is done with four image views that the app shuffles around into the right positions to show a piece. The change I made was really simple — literally three lines of code — and made the shuffling animated, over about a fifth of a second. So, whenever the next piece changes, the blocks rearrange themselves from one piece into another. It looks pretty cool.

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All right — for now, I give up on the whole Objective-C / PHP character encoding stuff. As it stands, if you enter a name with funky characters in it, the game will warn you:
Name encoding warning
so you can either save your name with its proper diacritics to the local score list or Anglicize it for the global one.

I'm pretty close to done with this version, I think; probably submit it to the App Store in a few days, which means, of course, that you'll see it there sometime around November. I think I'm joking.

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