By John Gruber
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I’ll bet you have a short list of favorite authors and filmmakers. When you hear that one of them has a new book or movie coming out, you’re buying a ticket before you know the premise. Zach Gage is that type of game designer: Really Bad Chess, Ridiculous Fishing, Flipflop Solitaire and more. They’re great games, exquisitely crafted, with inordinately clever premises and conceits. And no matter how disparate the premises they all share Gage’s distinctive voice and aesthetic. There’s a distinct Gage-yness to a Zach Gage game, in the way that you know, say, a Stephen King novel or Martin Scorsese movie just by the feel of it.
It’s a combination of joy, craftsmanship, and originality. I say craftsmanship because they’re not just good games but they’re good apps. The interactions and feel and flow and simply design of the software as software are all great. If Zach Gage made a utility app instead of game it’d surely be exquisite, in the same way that, again, good novelists often write great non-fiction and good fiction filmmakers make good documentaries.
We don’t have enough auteurs like that in software. I don’t know why that is. But it’s pretty great that we have Zach Gage.
The premise behind Good Sudoku — Gage’s new game out today, made with developer Jack Schlesinger (free download, $4 one-time in-app purchase to unlock everything) — is sort of the inverse of Really Bad Chess. Really Bad Chess messes with standard chess by screwing with all the rules for how many pieces of which kind each side gets. Good Sudoku is just straight-up Sudoku. Where’s the novelty in that? Execution. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of Sudoku video games, and none of them are great (and most of them stink). Good Sudoku is Sudoku with great design, consideration, and craftsmanship. That’s it, and it turns out that’s idea enough.