On Wednesday, Spaceteam became one of the first games to launch on Apple TV. A mainstay in the Android and iOS communities since its launch in December 2012, Spaceteam has won numerous awards, including the international "A MAZE." award for the most amazing game of 2013. Now Apple's entry into the television market can get in on the fun, but how well does a mobile game translate to the big screen?
It's a great game on mobile. Each player has a set of controls on their device for a spaceship, and players have to work together to keep the spaceship moving. Each player receives control instructions that don't necessarily correspond to the controls on the player's own screen. That means shouting instructions at each other, trying to work out who has what and getting them to push the right button before the timer runs out. It's fast, frantic, and really good fun.
On Apple TV, Spaceteam has two modes available. The first lets the Apple TV remote join in as an extra player, scrolling to the correct control with the touchpad and hitting it before time runs out. Unfortunately, it's kind of hard to scroll, and not as immediate as being able to tap the right control with your finger.
The other problem is that the players in the room can see what instruction you have, which kind of defeats the purpose. Part of the fun is that nobody knows what instruction each player has, and the franticness is somewhat lost when players can look and see what the TV player's instruction is. It is, however, a nice way to get an extra player without a smartphone involved.
The second mode is an observer mode. The nice thing about this mode is if, for whatever reason, a party is taking it in turns to play rounds, observers aren't completely in the dark about what's going on. Watching a game of Spaceteam played on smartphones can be quite a surreal experience, as people shout nonsense commands at each other -- and you're never sure if the group is winning or not.
Observer mode shows how far from completing the level the team is, and also shows every player's controls. That will help make sense of commands that are being shouted, and give viewers an idea of any problems the team are having. One fear that turned out to be unfounded is that players could look at the TV to see who has what controls, taking away some of the franticness. This is near useless in practice: it's far easier to shout the command than it is to look at the screen, work out who has what control and direct your command at them. There simply isn't enough time.
The observer mode felt like the better use of the Apple TV during testing. Players who don't have a smartphone may be better suited to play on somebody else's device than trying to play along with the Apple TV. With the observer mode, players waiting for their turn feel more included, and the experience feels more like a group activity than standing by idly and watching everyone huddled with their phones.
The base game of Spaceteam is free, and the in-app purchases are not forced on the player at all during gameplay. At that cost, it's worth trying out. Spaceteam won't set the Apple TV world on fire, but it's an interesting expansion to an incredibly fun mobile game.