Flight Control was one of the reasons I got an iPhone.
Getting an expensive phone I could barely afford because of a $1 app didn’t make a lot of sense then and it doesn’t now. I was a broke student and the money – both the monthly payments on my phone plane and the $1 for the app – could’ve been better spent elsewhere.
But the iPhone was cool and Flight Control was compelling. So I got the phone. And Flight Control was my first app.
You can’t download it on iOS anymore, though.
On a finger and a prayer
Flight Control had a lot going for it.
Elegant touch controls were novel enough to make the idea of directing tiny planes with your fingers seem enticing. The music was infectious and eminently hummable.
The game itself was simple: you direct an every increasing number of planes and helicopters runways across a variety of maps. There was a calm field, an aircraft carrier, runways in the Australian desert.
The more planes you land, the faster they come at you until, finally, they collide mid-air and the game ends. It provided just the right combination of ease and stress to make each round easy to fall into.
But a great game needs more than just a lovely premise.
Please enjoy this tasty sandwich
Mobile games can live or die on personality. Flight Control had personality. It was bright and charming and quietly funny.
Each map had its own flair. Every time you landed an aircraft, a bit of encouragement popped on screen, themed for the location.
You’d get a “jolly good” or “smashing” in the calm – now English – field, an “onya mate” in Australia, an “aloha” in Hawaii. It’s a small thing but, when you’re landing planes, small things matter.
But it was the score cards that won me over. They appeared at the end of a game, recapping your score and inviting you to enjoy, among other things, a “refreshing beverage.”
It tickled me in a way few other games do. I have no idea why. I still think about these invitations occasionally – they’re part of my private mind motions.
I’ll get a drink and say to myself “Please enjoy this refreshing beverage.” I’ll make lunch and invite myself to “please enjoy this tasty sandwich.”
Flight Control was many things. It was an early hit for the iPhone. It was a perfect mix of charm, style and compulsion.
It did make it’s way to the Mac or PC – where it’s still available for download – but Flight Control was the kind of game that could’ve only really taken off on the iPhone. It was perfect for the platform.
iOS remains one of my favourite places for games. There are so many interesting, thoughtful and creative things happening here. The same can be said for any platform for games, of course, but something about iOS appeals to me more than just about anything.
It could be that I always have my phone, it could be the quick bursts of play between bus stops, it could be the fierce competition for attention that leads developers to get a little bit weird.
It could be a lot of things. But I know it all started with Flight Control.