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regular-article-logo Thursday, 29 February 2024

Apple unveils App Store Award winners, the best apps and games of 2023

There is plenty of AI integration in apps and though it’s early days, the technology will continue to evolve

Mathures Paul Published 01.12.23, 06:39 AM
Honkai: Star Rail takes advantage of Apple's cutting-edge hardware

Honkai: Star Rail takes advantage of Apple's cutting-edge hardware

What’s the “trend of the year”? In 2023, generative AI captured users’ collective imagination with its evolution unfolding in real time, says Apple while unveiling App Store Award winners, the best apps and games of 2023. There is plenty of AI integration in apps and though it’s early days, the technology will continue to evolve.

This year’s App Store Award winners include 14 apps and games from developers across the world whose apps provide users with meaningful experiences and inspire cultural change

This year’s App Store Award winners include 14 apps and games from developers across the world whose apps provide users with meaningful experiences and inspire cultural change

For Apple, the App Store, which launched in 2008, continues to be a vibrant app marketplace. It’s currently home to 1.8 million apps and visited by over 650 million average weekly visitors across 175 countries and regions. As a tool for economic growth, it facilitated $1.1 trillion in developer billings and sales in 2022.

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Also, Apple continues to improve its hardware, leaving competition behind by miles. Gaming is a big aspect of Apple devices and we found out more when we spoke to the developers of three gaming titles.

Meet Team Hello Kitty Island Adventure Winner: Apple Arcade Game of the Year

Hello Kitty keeps users playing for hours and is perfect for the entire family

Hello Kitty keeps users playing for hours and is perfect for the entire family

Hello Kitty Island Adventure (from Sunblink) is a social sim that puts emphasis on inclusivity. Since it was released in July, it hit a 4.9 rating out of the gate and has maintained flow; it’s a great game for the entire family. We spoke to the team at Sunblink to find out that only a few dozen people are associated with the company, which is based in Boulder, Colorado, yet the company’s efforts are top-notch.

“We see ourselves up against games like Final Fantasy and Honkai: Star Rail that are made with hundreds and hundreds of folks with ludicrous budgets. I think it just really goes to show the amount of care and quality we were able to put in here, thanks to the fantastic opportunity that Apple gave us with their platform,” said the team over a video call.

The great thing about this social sim is that it features Sanrio’s cast of characters. The game highlights the philosophy “Small gift, big smile”. “That message of spreading kindness is something that we wanted to infuse throughout the game. This goes from our core mechanic, which is giving gifts and exchanging trinkets with friends to build friendship, to the way we tune our events, so that people who might not have time to check in every day and still get all of the benefits of our events, to some of our accessibility options that ensure no matter what your skill level is, you can still make it through all of our core content, and have a fantastic time. We really wanted that idea of kindness to be seen throughout every aspect of the game.”

Julian Farrior, CEO and founder of Sunblink, was all smiles when the conversation moved towards friendship. “The main way that you build up friendship is by giving gifts. So, each character has different preferences. Hello Kitty likes baked goods, fruits and fancy things. At the beginning of the game, you’ll be able to find simple items like apples lying around on the ground that you can run right and collect. And then over time, you’ll unlock different ways to cook and craft to eventually build up fantastic items like the Red Bow Apple Pie and that really lets you level up your friendship with her in a meaningful way.”

Meet Team Honkai: Star Rail Winner: iPhone Game of the Year

One of the best games of the year, the characters of Honkai: Star Rail (from COGNOSPHERE) take control of the scene with their stylish abilities. Everyone gets the chance to play an important role in a particular encounter, meaning there is a varied set of characters and their synergy is great. The player’s main character, the Trailblazer, travels to different planets and discovers new problems of the locals.

“It is a space fantasy RPG, offering different worlds for players to explore. We wanted to try something different compared to our previous action titles. As always, embarking on adventures brings challenges but rest assured, you will meet a lot of characters from different worlds and forces. Currently, we have over 30 playable characters,” said Yang Yu, tech lead of Honkai: Star Rail.

He then shared some behind-the-scenes stories about one of the game’s most iconic characters, Jing Yuan. “He is an exceptional, intelligent and powerful warrior serving as the general of the Xianzhou Luofu. But we were also thinking about what else Jing Yuan could possibly be. He is a master at chess.”

The game also takes advantage of Apple’s A17 Pro chipset (iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max). “We have excellent graphics. We’re always trying to offer a better experience. For example, the level of detail when there is water… the refraction and reflection. The rendering quality has improved a lot.”

And there are fun elements, like talking to trash cans that respond with funny jokes. “Our creative intentions have been recognised in the community. We plan to introduce even more amusing storylines. Our strategy is to offer constant updates. Since its official release, we have already provided several version updates with different kinds of gameplay and story content,” said Fish Ling, senior director of global business development.

She said: “It’s very efficient to distribute our product to global audiences through the App Store with just a simple click. The in-app event also helps us tremendously to find the most-related audience and deliver the most suitable content.”

Her company has been exploring Apple’s ecosystem for long. “But not many people know that our very first game was an indie game on App Store called FlyMe2theMoon. With the growing popularity of iPhone and iPads, we were also able to take advantage of the technology and platform to chase our dreams. We’ve been an Apple developer for more than 12 years now. And we will keep challenging mobile gaming boundaries.”

TEAM LIES OF P WINNER: MAC GAME OF THE YEAR

If Tim Burton were to make a playable version of Pinocchio, he would be making something like Lies of P. This is a dark action RPG that has style and oodles of inventiveness. You can spend a long time hitting puppets with a selection of innovative objects and most weapons can be dismantled into blades or reconfigured. “This is an action RPG and the combat might seem a little bit strange at first but it makes for very interesting and natural combinations.

Lies of P highlights the power of Apple silicon driving the Mac

Lies of P highlights the power of Apple silicon driving the Mac

We also wanted to choose something that a Western audience would be familiar with to lower the entry barrier,” said Brian Kang, VP, head of product, Neowiz. Inspired by Carlo Collodi’s novel, the original story has dark layers. And that is not lost on the game. “We decided to put our spin on it and create something truly unique,” said Kang. Pinocchio wakes up in an abandoned train in the city of Krat, where its population of puppets has rebelled against the Grand Covenant and killed most of the human population.

Pinocchio makes his way to Hotel Krat, where some survivors have taken shelter. He is informed that his creator, Geppetto, needs to be rescued and is given a lantern containing a cricket named Gemini to guide him. “We have developed the characters with high fidelity and paid attention to character designs and animations. We have also spent a lot of time on sound design to make sure that the world feels alive,” said Kang. “There is a wide range of environments that are memorable in their own way. We also made sure that they all tie in together.

Given the period (the game is set in), combat is important; it has to be impactful and feel fair at the same time. A key differentiator in our game is the weapon assembly system,” said Jason Park, studio head, Neowiz. Jason said this is an “exciting time for the Mac gaming community”. “While we launched our game just a few months ago, we are far from being done making content. We are constantly developing so you will always have new reasons to explore more and add a significant amount to the total playtime,” said Jason.

2023 APP STORE AWARD WINNERS

APPS

iPhone App of the Year: AllTrails, from AllTrails

iPad App of the Year: Pret-aMakeup, from Prêt-à-Template

Mac App of the Year: Photomator, from UAB Pixelmator Team

Apple TV App of the Year: MUBI, from MUBI

Apple Watch App of the Year: SmartGym, from Mateus Abras

GAMES

iPhone Game of the Year: Honkai: Star Rail, from COGNOSPHERE PTE

iPad Game of the Year: Lost in Play, from Snapbreak Games

Mac Game of the Year: Lies of P, from NEOWIZ

Apple Arcade Game of the Year: Hello Kitty Island Adventure, from Sunblink

CULTURAL IMPACT WINNERS

Pok Pok from Pok Pok

Proloquo from AssistiveWare Too Good To Go from Too Good To Go

Unpacking from Humble Bundle

Finding Hannah from Fein Games

GmbH

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