August 13, 2010 | Andy Boxall
It was Tawny Kitaen who first introduced me to the Ouija board. Not her personally you understand, but by way of her role in the mid-80s horror Witchboard, where she rather stupidly decided to use the board on her own, opening herself up to all sorts of problems. At the risk of sounding like I burn a lot of incense, she discovered that the Ouija is anything but a game.
Ghost in the Machine (iTunes link), however, is a game; but before we get into whether it’s any good, here is a little bit of history. Developers Dom & Tom wrote the app in just 24-hours during April’s iPadDevCamp NYC event, where they won the ‘Best Use of an iPad’ award. Judging by the presentation video on their site, the release version of Ghost in the Machine appears to be exactly the same as the app they displayed there.
In case you don’t know, the idea behind a Ouija board is for players to put their fingers on the planchette, ask a question and then watch as an answer is spelled out for you. More often than not, the answer will be gibberish or entirely unrelated, but you would play on just in case something interesting happened.
Ghost in the Machine follows this same principle, but with one very important difference: here, you KNOW the answers you get are pre-programmed and since the iPad can’t hear you, it’s definitely all nonsense. This problem could be avoided by way of a clever, interactive control method, which unfortunately, Ghost in the Machine doesn’t have.
As we mentioned, in reality you place your fingers on the planchette in order to play, but here you can put you fingers anywhere – although we think you’re supposed to put them on the edge of the board – and once the planchette has moved to a letter, it won’t move again until you tap somewhere on the screen. Saying this, we did like the fact that the more fingers on the display, the faster the planchette moved though.
While all the spelling is going on you’re sometimes interrupted by some crows cawing, a puff of green smoke, a flash of lightning or the board bursting into flames. None of this has a purpose, it just happens. As for the messages, you’ll invariably see ‘let me out, ‘smarty pants’, the decidedly non-scary ‘be happy’ and something about monkeys. Once you’ve done this for a while, you’ll realise nothing else is going to happen and give it up.
Clearly, I’m not the target audience for this type of application and while I could perhaps see someone younger having a degree of fun with a crowd of friends, Ghost in the Machine really doesn’t do anything, and it suffers badly from feeling every bit like an app made in 24-hours. The thing is, the idea is good, the design is good and the wooden-look board is excellent, but there just isn’t much innovation to keep players interested.
For example, if the planchette moved only when it was being touched, and you followed it around the screen with your finger, this would make a massive difference to the illusion that the iPad is talking back to you, or if there was some variation in its movement – such as shooting off at speed, making it difficult to keep a finger on the planchette – along with some improved replies that could actually be mistaken for answers to a question likely to be asked, it could be worth its $1.99/£1.19 price tag.
Yes, it’s only supposed to be a bit of fun, but at the moment Ghost in the Machine isn’t even that thanks to a distinct lack of interaction, which is the core attraction of the Ouija board in the first place! We suppose that if you really want a Ouija app for your iPad, this looks the part, but if you’re expecting some spooky fun, we suggest you look elsewhere.