Chat Via Bottled Messages: Distant Shore for iPhone

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Distant Shore ($0.99, iPhone/iPod Touch) is a profoundly weird application. Is it a game? Is it a chat client? Is it a kind of wish-maker? Well, it's all of these. Let me explain.

Last fall, budding iPhone development powerhouse The Blimp Pilots released Koi Pond, a pond simulator with interactive digital fish. Unexpectedly, it shot to the number 1 spot on the iTunes App Store. A pond simulator as the top iPhone app? Indeed. It was one heck of a pond simulator -- with realistic, soothing water ripples, beautifully animated koi, great sound, and fun features like "finger nibbling" (the fish apparently like to nibble fingers.)

Now, The Blimp Pilots are back with Distant Shore, a kind of "slow chat" application in which you walk along an endless 3D-rendered beach, picking up bottles and reading the messages inside. If you like a message, you can reply to its anonymous sender, creating a little chat thread. You can launch your own messages into the sea, and other people will find them on their own shores. And that's it. You just walk along this beach, picking up and sending messages in bottles.

Here are a few screenshots of walking along the beach:

Your first mission is to look for shells, which appear randomly on the beach. Once you've found five shells, you're granted a fresh bottle which you can use to throw a new message into the ocean. Occasionally you'll run across a bottle with a message in it. You can also find your way to a mailbox which contains replies to your messages. It's all very simple -- you just tap to talk around, tap to pick something up, tap to write a message, and so on. Your bottles and messages are stored in an inventory so you can carry on a bunch of different chats at once.

The messages themselves are of varying quality, of course, as they come from other users around the world. In my testing, I came across people who seemed genuinely interested in reaching out via message-in-a-bottle chat, though it can be hard to think of what to say when you're chatting with a completely anonymous person. Here are some examples of chat messages I received -- on the left is the first message that washed up on my shore; on the right is a chat thread with someone who asked me my age.

Distant Shore chat messages

So there you have it. A strangely peaceful, hard to describe iPhone app. If you're curious what anonymous people have to say, give it a shot -- it only costs one dollar. To buy: Distant Shore ($0.99, iPhone/iPod Touch with wifi), or learn more here (including a gameplay video).

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February 17, 2009 - 4:15am
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