Rolling Dice on iOS

This is a quick review of some dice rolling apps on iOS, specifically ones that let you make custom dice.

For this example, I’m recreating dice from Roll Through the Ages, an excellent dice game from Gryphon Games.  It’s a six-sided die (d6) with images on each side. In each app I will use the same 6 images and background to recreate these dice.

Here’s what the dice look like in Roll Through the Ages


The Apps

Dicenomicon ($4.99)

This is a deep program, that offers lots of options.  You can set up dice-rolling equations for the most complex and arcane dice math you could ever need.  However, it has so many features that it’s somewhat confusing to use.  It took reading a tutorial to figure out how to create a custom die. It is also not very stable, especially when creating custom dice.  It took me 10 or so attempts to finally get the dice created (when scaling my images to fit on the die face it would crash). The actual dice rolling works nicely, and has good physics. It requires a couple taps to “hold” a die


Photo Dice ($0.99)

The exact opposite of Dicenomicon is Photo Dice – almost no features, but what it does is very easy to use. Creating a new die (only d6, as opposed to Dicenomicon which can do any number of sides) is a couple taps, and assigning an image to each side is super fast and easy (and no crashes!).  Dice rolling is similar to Dicenomicon, but holding dice and moving them around only requires a single tap, so it’s quicker.


Mach Dice ($1.99)

The next step up from Photo Dice is Mach Dice, by the same developer.  It takes the ease of use of Photo Dice and adds the ability to create more than just d6 dice. It also has 5 playfields, so you can set each playfield with a different background image and dice configuration and switch between them.

Mach Dice does have more of a learning curve than Photo Dice, but nowhere near that of Dicenomicon. You create a custom die with a number of square images, then when you add a new die to a playfield, you specify the image set to use for it. The only difficulty here is that all image sets are square images, if you use those images to create anything other than a d6, the images will be mapped on the die face and masked to that shape, so for example a d8 will use a triangular section of the square image you have set.  Knowing exactly where the image will be cropped for any given die requires a lot of trial and error, this could have been made much easier by providing a template for each die face.

The die rolling area is similar to Dicenomicon – unlike Photo Dice, there is some space taken up by a header bar, so plan image placement accordingly for backgrounds.  Dice rolling itself is great, with the same system for holding and moving as Photo Dice.

Dice Forge ($4.99)

Similar complexity to Mach Dice is Dice Forge.  However, creating custom dice is a multi-step affair that you can’t actually do in the program itself. It will export templates (simple unfolded texture maps) that you then have to edit it Photoshop or your editor of choice, then re-import into Dice Forge. It’s not something you can easily do on the go, so you’re going to need your computer to make new dice. Once you import the texture, you add dice to your dice pool – which is an extra step compared to Dicenomicon or Photo Dice, where you just tap a die to add it directly to the table. The die rolling is lackluster, small dice fly across the screen when you click “roll dice” – rather than using the gyro to allow you to shake the dice like Dicenomicon or Photo Dice, Dice Forge uses a “shake” to simply re-trigger the throw animation, which has nothing to do with how you shake the phone. It makes the dice feel less physical. When you hold dice, instead of anchoring them on the table when you reroll, like the other apps, Dice Forge moves them offscreen to a “held” dice pool, so it’s extra steps if you want to view all the dice after rerolling some. There is also a “flyby” mode where the camera rotates around the table showing your roll. It’s pretty but serves no purpose. Overall, Dice Forge has the least satisfying rolling experience of the three. There’s also no option to change the background image.



Dicenomicon has all the features you could want, however it has a learning curve and hasn’t been updated in a while and has some annoying bugs.

Photo Dice is basic but fun to use and cheap – if all you want are custom 6-sided dice, this is the app you should get.

Mach Dice keeps the ease of Photo Dice but adds different die types. Not as many features as Dicenomicon, but also easier to use. Making dice other than d6 requires a little trial and error to see where the crops will happen, but overall this is my favorite of these dice apps and the one I’d recommend most.

Dice Forge has the flexibility to make custom dice of any type, but little else.  The dice are tiny and the rolling doesn’t “feel” as good. Overall it feels overpriced at $5.


Legend of Grimrock makes the old new again

Back on the Amiga days, one series I spent a lot of time with is Dungeon Master.  I played a ton of Dungeon Master I and II, more of the second one.

Dungeon Master is a tile-based dungeon crawler, where you move a space at a time, and can rotate in 90-degree chunks.  Combat was realtime, with enemies moving around and attacking even if you just stood still.

You control a party of 4 characters, you could choose from a selection to build your party.  Combat is based on the items in each character’s hands, if they are holding a sword you can swing it, etc.

Magic is a system of combining runes, you could find new spells through trial-and-error or find scrolls showing the sequence.  There was a certain logic to the combination of runes, for example, the fire rune + the wings rune would make a fireball.

The game boils down to exploring the dungeon, fighting creatures, and solving puzzles to get past locked doors.

Dungeon Master II came out in 1993, the year I graduated high school.  Fast forward 19 years (really?  ouch.) and enter The Legend of Grimrock by indie studio Almost Human.

Legend of Grimrock IS Dungeon Master, with updated graphics and sound.  The controls, inventory, and magic system are instantly recognizable to people who played Dungeon Master.  This is not a bad thing, this is an homage in its purest form, instead of derivative.  Grimrock is lovingly hand-crafted, with gorgeous graphics and atmospheric sound.  It’s clear these guys loved Dungeon Master, and wanted to bring that experience to a new generation of gamers, as well as a treat for those who played the original.

The plot of Grimrock is pretty basic, your party of 4 are criminals of some sort, exiled by the king to die in the depths of Mount Grimrock.  They dump you in a pit at the top of the mountain, and you have to make your way to the bottom to escape.  I’m only a couple hours in, but it’s looking like there will be a twist or two along the way.

The graphics are crisp, with special attention payed to lighting.  Most of the time it’s lit with torchlight, which flickers in a realistic and pleasing way.  Dungeon Master was 2D, Grimrock has made the jump to 3D but kept the style faithful to the original.

The audio is great too, with moody atmospheric sounds and sounds of monsters moving around gives you a good idea where they are, which helps you get ready for combat or find hidden areas.

Overall it’s great fun, and I look forward to playing it some more.

So far my only complaint is that I have to run Windows to play it, a Mac version would be cool.



Retro Game Challenge

Retro Game Challenge

Last night I started playing “Retro Game Challenge” for the DS.
It’s sort of a… 1980s childhood gaming simulator.

It does a good job of capturing the essence of gaming in the 80s – flipping through gaming magazines, talking about cheat codes, and playing the latest game while a friend cheers you on (his mom even comments every now and then “are you kids still playing that game?” from the next room).

The way it works is fairly straightforward – your friend gets a new game, and you have 4 successively harder challenges to complete in the game. Once you complete the challenges, the next game is unlocked. Your friend also gets gaming magazines in the mail, which you can flip through for tips and cheat codes for the games.

The games are not actually retro games, but invented games that are representative of the types of NES games of the era. I’m only on the third game, but so far they are enjoyable. The first game is a Galaga-like game with some nice touches to add depth, the second game is an odd elevator-action-eqsue platformer, and the game I’m on now is a racing game similar to RC Pro Am.

The game may seem somewhat restrictive, by only doling out games one at a time and making you unlock them, but that too hearkens back to the childhood days of NES gaming, where getting a new game was a big deal, that might involve weeks of saving (or begging). The challenges can also be… challenging, just like the games of the 80s were.

All in all, a good nostalgia kick. If you had an NES growing up, and have a DS now, give it a look.

“I Am not a Paper Cup” redux

Hmm… seems the lid on the ceramic “paper cup” I got is not making as good a seal as I thought, seems leaky now.

Sigh – great design, but looks like the functionality’s not all there.

The quest for a decent cup continues.

I’ve seen some travel mugs that have a cover that flips up on a hinge, I might try one of those next.
The ones that have a cover that slides tend to get gunk under the sliding part, so perhaps the flip-top is the answer…

I am not a paper cup

I had been using a travel mug at work, so when I went down to the caf for a coffee or hot chocolate, I wouldn’t have to waste styrofoam cups.

However, the issue I had was that the travel mugs used moving parts in the plastic lid, which were extremely hard to clean. Gunk would get under the moving parts and add a spoiled milk taste to every sip.

So I got “I am not a paper cup” – a porcelain mug with a silicone lid cleverly designed to look like a paper cup.

I just tried it out, here are my initial thoughts.

I liked:

The design – it’s a pleasing plain white look that feels classic, artistic, and futuristic all at once.

The engineering – the silicone lid snaps on nicely and doesn’t leak. The lid goes above the top of the mug, not down into it like other mug lids, so I can fill the cup to the brim and put on the lid without spilling anything. The mug is double-walled, so holding it is warm but not hot – very comfortable.

I didn’t like:

The capacity – although it looks sizable, the double-wall design means the interior is actually not that big. Filled to the top it holds 12oz. Which isn’t terrible, but 16 would be better. Also, I have a feeling I’ll have to explain the inner/outer size disparity at some point when checking out at the register, since I am holding what appears to be a medium-sized cup, but telling them it’s a small coffee.

The taste – the lid has a slight rubbery tasteto it, as if I am suckling coffee from a baby bottle. It’s not horrible, but it does detract from the experience.

So overall, somewhat mixed. I’ll have to use it awhile and see how it goes.