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Apple iPod Classic Games

06 May 2021

The Apple iPod®. Although it has been eclipsed by smartphones, I suspect there is still a sizeable majority that knows what it is - a portable media playing device. It wasn't the first of its kind, but the iPod was extremely successful because it refined existing ideas into a tidy package that really did "just work". Apple used to be good at doing that; putting well-designed technology into everybody's hands in order to improve their lives. Now it's just in it for the money.

Anyway, enough of that waffle. iPod games.

Gaming

When people think of handheld game consoles, the iPod is unlikely to spring to mind. The hardware wasn't really designed for it. The buttons are very firm and clicky, whereas any gamepad uses soft, springy contacts. Furthermore, a circular touchpad rests on top of four of them, so you can't press down without touching the pad as well. Imagine a D-pad where you rest your thumb on a direction to move, or push down to react. Awkward.

When faced with limitations like these, it is interesting to see what developers come up with. It is possible to hold the iPod with both hands, with one thumb on the centre button and the other on the touchpad - so certain ideas can work, but shoot-'em-ups are off the table.

Out of the box, there are four games installed: (Klondike) Solitaire, Breakout, Parachute and Music Quiz.

Photograph of Apple Solitaire running on a 5th generation Apple iPod.

©Apple Computer Inc, 2006. (Best pic I could do.)

Solitaire is very well implemented. You move the hand with the wheel, and use the centre button to pick up or drop a card. When you pick up a card, it only lets you move the hand to valid positions. You can still listen to your music library while playing, and the other buttons work as usual for playback control. Leaving the screen abandons the game.

In Breakout, the centre button launches the ball, and you move the paddle with the wheel. Simple, but effective. The original version of this game was written by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, so its presence on the iPod makes sense. I hate Breakout.

Parachute lets you shoot slow-ass cannonballs at objects falling from the sky. I feel like this is another homage to a classic Apple game, but I can't put my finger on it.

Music Quiz involves you hearing a short audio snippet from a song in your library, and telling it what song is playing out of a list of four choices. Correct answers increase your score. This game will drain the battery very fast, because the iPod's HDD doesn't spin down.

Store

Apple weren't the only developer to create games for the iPod, third parties released some titles too. They could be purchased via the iTunes Store and synced to the iPod in the same manner as Podcasts and music. They typically cost £4.99 each, although sometimes there were offers and bundles.

These purchases were protected with Apple FairPlay DRM, almost the same kind as protected music files used. If you attempted to import an iPod game file that you didn't buy, iTunes would ask you to login with the account that bought it. Even if you forced the file onto the iPod somehow, it would still not load. The main executable binary of the game is encrypted with a master key; buying the game gets you a decryption key.

Lost

Here's the thing. The iPod Games section of the iTunes Store closed over ten years ago. If you didn't buy them when you had the chance, you are out of luck. The use of DRM means that even if you found the game packages on the Internet somewhere, they're still useless without the matching account credentials. The only place left to find working copies of the games are on existing authorised iPods.

That makes these games endangered, if not completely lost already. Shame. I've always wanted to try Aegir's fire; it looks like a good game.

Well, actually... a handful of the games have been saved from doom. Their binaries were decrypted back into their original game blobs, allowing them to be played on an iPod with a modified firmware. However, documentation about the decryption process (for games) seems to be lost to time.

Known Games

I don't know how many games were released in total, but I doubt there are more than 100. Here is some information about the ones I've found, but there are definitely a lot more in existence.

The GUIDs must've been created manually; they just aren't random enough to be computer generated.

PublisherNameVer GUIDDateDecrypted
AppleiQuiz1.0 110022007-04-09Y
AppleTexas Hold'em1.0 333332006-09-08Y
AppleTexas Hold'em1.1 333532007-10-07 
AppleVortex1.0 123452006-09-08Y
DisneyPirates: Aegir's Fire1.0 220002008-02-11 
Electronic ArtsMahjong1.0 777772006-09-08Y
Electronic ArtsMahjong1.1 777702008-04-15 
Electronic ArtsMini Golf1.0 888882006-09-08Y
Electronic ArtsMonopoly1.0 150402008-05-29 
Electronic ArtsRoyal Solitaire1.0 505142006-12-14Y
Electronic ArtsScrabble1.0 150122008-02-25 
Electronic ArtsSudoku1.0 505132006-12-14Y
Electronic ArtsSudoku1.2 505332007-11-14 
Electronic ArtsTetris1.0 666662006-09-08Y
Electronic ArtsTetris1.2 666862007-11-14 
Electronic ArtsThe Sims: Bowling1.0 1500C2007-07-20Y
Electronic ArtsThe Sims: Bowling1.1 150322007-12-12 
Electronic ArtsThe Sims: Pool1.0 1500E2007-08-01Y
Electronic ArtsThe Sims: Pool1.1 150352007-12-12 
Electronic ArtsYahtzee1.1 150142008-04-02 
FreshGamesCubis 21.0 999992007-05-29Y
FreshGamesCubis 21.1 131002008-02-05 
GameloftBlock Breaker Deluxe1.0 210042008-01-07 
GameloftBubble Bash1.0 210082008-02-10 
GameloftChess & Backgammon1.0 210022008-01-25 
GameloftLost1.0 1B2002007-05-22Y
GameloftNaval Battle: Mission Commander1.0 210062008-01-22 
HarmonixPhase1.0 1D0002007-11-04 
HudsonBomberman1.0 200002007-12-12 
KaplanSAT Prep 2008: Reading1.0 110502007-08-09Y
KaplanSAT Prep 2008: Writing1.0 110512007-08-09Y
KaplanSAT Prep 2008: Math1.0 110522007-08-09Y
NamcoPole Position: Remix1.0 140032008-01-15 
NamcoPAC-MAN1.0 AAAAA2006-09-08Y
NamcoPAC-MAN1.1 140202007-12-12 
NamcoMs. PAC-MAN1.0 140042007-02-23Y
NamcoMs. PAC-MAN1.2 140242007-11-14 
PopCapBejeweled1.0 555552006-09-08Y
PopCapBejeweled1.1 121002008-04-08 
PopCapPeggle1.1 121042008-01-22 
PopCapZuma1.0 444442006-09-08Y
PopCapZuma1.1 121022008-03-31 
SegaSonic the Hedgehog1.0 180002007-12-10 
Sony BMGMusika1.0 1C3002007-08-09Y

RockBox & iPod Linux

I have to mention RockBox and iPod Linux. Both of these are third-party firmwares for the iPod, and it is possible to compile programs for these platforms. Programs that can be games, such as the highly portable Doom and Nintendo GameBoy emulators.

They suffer from the same control limitations as the officially licenced games, but hey. It's a bit of fun.

Plea

Do you have any information about iPod classic games that I don't have? Write to me.

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