ORBITAL is a game from , originally released 31st December, 1969

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Orbital Piracy Rampant, Admits Agency

Back when the manufacturing of pirated games literally meant the production of carts with game code on them (or, at least, carts the dodgy guy behind the stall assured you had game code on them), dealing with the sale of illegal copies of titles was less of an issue. Though there are always exceptions to every rule, good games generally sold well, the chaff was pushed to the side, and pirated copies were a very very small thorn in gaming’s side.

Now, with many games being distributed digitally, piracy is a much bigger issue, and one that seems to be gaining an ever greater presence on the iPhone. Following claims from developers that piracy rates can reach as high as 90 per cent, PR outfit Triple Point– responsible for the promotion of the rather excellent Orbital— has made public the problems it’s having getting gamers to download games. Well, legally, anyway.

‘The reviews are unanimous. Orbital is one of the best games on the iPhone,’ Triple Point’s blog declares. ‘This game must have sold like a million units right? The developers must be on a beach somewhere buying Ferraris on eBay and having Scottish castles airlifted to Brazilian mountaintops, right? Not quite.’

The blog continues, ‘Orbital’s sales figures are somewhat more modest than the reviews would suggest. As of this writing the game has still sold far less than 100,000 units. That’s not even a gold record.’

According to Triple Point, piracy is the main reason behind the game’s commercial “failure”, the company going as far as to warn others considering moving into iPhone development of the format’s pitfalls.

‘In its first week on the iTunes App Store, the game saw a piracy rate of 80 per cent,’ the entry continues. ‘Today, the piracy rate is down to 24 per cent because they attached cannons to it. Even so, all those pirates grab the dollar candy, stuff their pockets, and don’t pay. Whether or not that really represents lost revenue depends on if you believe the pirates would have paid in a checkout system with better security guards. 5.8 hours of entertainment is worth two bucks whoever you are, guaranteed.

‘So before you take out that second mortgage, sell your car, and bet it all on iPhone development, keep in mind that even the best apps are no guarantee of commercial success. App Store success isn’t so much about catching lightning in a bottle as it is about when your lightning strikes and what other bolts are coming down at the same time.’

Amongst all this talk of rising iPhone sales and an influx of apps and customers alike to the App Store, it’s somewhat sobering to hear about the problems such games are having, especially when the games in question are rather good.

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Orbital Review

Orbital is a rare gem on the iPhone. It likens itself as the spiritual successor of the free Flash game, Gimme Friction Baby, but adds better physics and a polished shine that the original simply didn’t offer. It has long intrigued us, and even though it took a few rounds for us to figure out exactly what was going on, by the time we got the hang of it, we were hooked.

Each game plays out roughly the same; there are no levels and there is no progression, so to speak. A starry field looms before you, overlaid with a grid, and an idle cannon slowly lurches back and forth like a pendulum at the bottom of the screen, just below a horizontal line. Each blast of the cannon creates a heavenly body with the number three tucked away inside. The goal is to then eliminate each circular body by hitting it three more times. The difficulty lies in the fact that in doing so, you must create a new body which in turn must be destroyed.

Pretty number fireworks.

Timing is everything, as you have no control over the cannon’s sway, only in firing it. Your projectiles bounce across the screen with realistic physical force, but you must not let them ricochet back across the lower horizontal line. Doing so means game over.

Further challenge is added because the closer the projectile stops near a wall or existing body, the smaller the body it creates, making it much harder to target. Sooner rather than later, the grid is filled with these destructible objects and it’s even easier to accidentally send your cannonball back across the death line.

Three modes of play add some variety to the mix, although the basic formula changes only slightly with each one. Pure mode plays out using normal physics, and is the most difficult. Gravity mode adds gravitational pull to the bodies you’ve already created, so when a projectile comes careening toward it, it will pull it in along a gravitational curve. This extra force frequently saves you from virtual death. Lastly, a multiplayer mode (offline only) plays out much like a game of hot potato: passing the device back and forth, the one who sends an object over the line loses.

Space math.

The premise may be simple, giving off a classic arcade vibe, but the presentation is top notch. The stars are always humming by in the background, complemented by gaseous clouds to add some atmosphere (literally). Each projectile leaves behind it a stream of brightly colored particle effects, which show up again when you successfully explode one of the bodies. Neon colors abound, as well, giving the whole package a retro ambiance pleasing to the eye.

The soundtrack is likewise superb. The music sounds like an eclectic mix between the Mass Effect and Mirror’s Edge soundtracks, with soothing yet haunting tunes that have just enough energy to add intensity to every play session.

Orbital really only offers a solitary goal: get the highest score possible (trackable via online leaderboards). There are no experience points, no story, no power-ups, or anything else to clutter the experience. What you see is what you get: an interesting arcade-style game for the iPhone that looks and sounds great and will keep you coming back for more. Seeing as how it’s currently on sale, what are you waiting for?

Orbital Hands-On

Orbital is one of those games that looks a lot better than it needs to. At its heart, Orbital is a basic physics game where you ricochet balls around a small playing field, but from all the laser explosions and starry fields, you’d think you were playing a Star Wars shooter.

In our hands-on time with Orbital, we were originally perplexed by the low-scoring properties of this game. To earn a single point, you have to launch a ball onto the playing field, where it balloons into a larger circle, and then hit that same circle three more times to pop it.

Every ball you launch becomes an obstacle, and these circles will swell until they bump into a wall or another circle. It doesn’t take more than a few volleys to see the playing field lined with pinball bumpers that you placed there yourself by your own actions.

Your cannon moves back and forth automatically, and you simply tap the screen to fire at the right moment. The trick is, if your ball ends up coming back over the line right above your cannon, the game’s over, so you have to take care not to ricochet your shots back down to hit you.

Like we said, the visual style in Orbital is quite impressive for such a simple physics game. The rich, starry background is constantly moving like a Windows screensaver, and the mathematical space grid that overlays the game reminded us of Geometry Wars. On top of these simple layers are dazzling, whizz-bang laser light shows from every shot and burst bubble on the game field.

In addition to Pure Mode, where the direction of your shots is unaffected by the amount of spheres cluttering the screen, there is also a Gravity Mode where these larger obstacles will pull in your shots. Gravity Mode seems to be a bit easier, since your shots are less likely to escape their pull and end your game by coming back down over the line.

We also played a bit of multiplayer, which is pass-and-play only. The goal here is to block your opponent’s side of the field and force them to ricochet back across their own line, and points don’t matter. Facebook leaderboards will also let you brag about your best score, which may, if you’re somewhat skilled, reach the double-digits.

Orbital will be going for a $2.99 asking price in the App Store when it’s available later this summer. From our time with it, it’s looking to be a very smooth, simple physics game with a lot of added polish.