A brief history of click wheel iPod games

Last week, Apple pulled its Texas Hold’em game from the App Store. Ten years after the first iPod game appeared as an Easter Egg on the original 5 GB iPod, Apple has all but stopped producing games for the music devices 1.

As of this writing, Apple has 17 iPod touch/iPhone titles in the App Store, and none of them are games. To think that the App Store we know today started with a nice collection of simple yet fun games for the click wheel iPods. Here’s a look at the history of Apple’s early iPod games, from Brick to Texas Hold’em and everything in between.

Early click wheel iPod games

iPod click wheel games were officially introduced (see Brick below) with iTunes 7 during Apple’s “It’s Showtime” press event in September, 2006 2. Apple’s iPod games typically sold for $4.99, with a few exceptions.

Brick

Shortly after the original iPod was released in October, 2001, users discovered a hidden version of Steve Wozniak’s Breakout. You could launch the game by pressing the click wheel’s center button for a few seconds. A subsequent firmware update added the game as a menu option. Players used the click wheel to ricochet a ball around the screen and destroy several layers of bricks. I spent countless hours playing that simple little game.

Parachute

As the iPod gained functionality and a color screen, Apple added more games. The goal was to shoot helicopters down before they could deploy parachuters who would destroy the gun turrets. It was another simple but fun title and looked nice in color.

Music Quiz

I never got into Music Quiz, though it was rather clever. The game would play one of your songs at random while displaying five possible titles. Your job was to identify the right one. You could wait a bit and Music Quiz would start eliminating incorrect answers. Still stumped? Press the click wheel’s center button to reveal the answer and forfeit the round.

Solitare

Apple’s Solitare (or Klondike) was an electronic version of the single-player card game that’s been gracing electronics devices for about as long as you can imagine.

Brick, Parachute, Music Quiz and Solitare came with the iPod 3G, 4G, 5G, and 5.5G; iPod Nano 1G and 2G; iPod Mini 1G and 2G (Brick was also available on the original and 2nd-generation iPod.)

Later click wheel iPod games

Apple continued to release iPod games during the early 2000’s, including the following.

iQuiz

iQuiz built on top of Music Quiz by adding three other trivia games. These were mostly about pop culture and entertainment, and the music trivia game introduced by Music Quiz was expanded to include questions about albums and artists in addition to song titles.

There were two unique things about iQuiz: it was $0.99 and you could create your own trivia packs to share with other users.

Klondike

Essentially Solitare, Klondike was released by Apple in 2007.

Vortex

Vortex was released by Apple in September, 2006 and is basically a clone of Breakout played from a top-down perspective. Users use the click wheel to move the paddle around the cylinder of bricks and destroy them while avoiding traps. Powerups added to the fun but I always felt the ball moved too slowly. I still play Vortex on my “fat nano.”

It’s notable that Apple initially released a free, two-level version of Vortex.

Maze

The fourth-generation iPod nano brought an accelerometer to the table, and Apple decided to show it off with a game called Maze, which required you to tilt the iPod around and move a ball through a maze.

Klondike and Vortex were re-worked in 2008 to play in portrait mode on the 4th-generation iPod nano. iQuiz, Klondike and Vortex still ship with the iPod Classic.

Chinese Checkers

Released in December 2008, Chinese Checkers sold for $1 and let users customize the background image. Other than that, you used the click wheel to position the marbles and play a game of Chinese Checkers.

Texas Hold’em

This was actually a pretty nice game that came out just as poker tournaments were burning up ESPN. There were several game play and opponent options and even a neat Easter Egg that put heart-shaped cartoon face on the screen.

Interesting notes

In the UK, Apple priced its click wheel games at GB£3.99 (about US$7.40 at the time), causing some customers to complain. A similar thing happened to Australian customers, where games were priced at A$7.49.

Also, games bought with early iPod models could not be synced over to the iPod Classic or 3rd-generation iPod nano. Customers had to either go without or re-purchase the games.

As for the 4th-generation nano and its accelerometer and support for landscape mode, not all games were compatible with the new orientation. Those games were designed for an iPod whose click wheel was below the screen. However, while playing in portrait mode on the 4th-gen nano, the click wheel would be to the right, messing up the location of the various buttons (for example, “Menu” would move from the top, or 12:00 position, to the left, or 9:00 position.) Apple got around this buy presenting a new button layout on the screen before the game began.

  1. Note: three games still ship with the iPod Classic: iQuiz, Klondike and Vortex. But none are distributed via iTunes any more.
  2. Additionally, Apple introduced movie purchases and downloads during the Showtime event (Disney-affiliated movies only), as well as Coverflow, free album art fetching (with an iTunes account), iPod summary information and TV shows upgraded to 640×480 resolution at h264. Finally, the iTunes Music Store was re-branded “iTunes Store.”