Ludis Futurum 1/AUG/11 — Apple Edition

Ludis Futurum — Apple Edition

I called this blog “The Apple Edition” but I think that’s a bit of a misnomer, only because I’m going to blog about Apple more than this one time. I’m not a raging Apple fanboy, but I am indeed a fan of Apple’s products. I mean, they look nice, they’re easy to use, and developer support for them is fantastic.

But I digress. This isn’t a post about how my favourite billion dollar company could beat up your favourite company, because those are stupid and never end well, particularly on the the internet. This is about games, iOS games, to be specific. As Nintendo continues to become less and less relevant in the handheld space, I think it’s worth looking at what could very easily be their successor to the portable gaming throne.

Of course, it wasn’t market forces that brought me to the App Store, it was the variety and the value. Not only was there a whole gamut of games to try, they were surprisingly affordable, and many of them were actually free for one reason or another.

So what did I find that interested me so much? Well, I’ll list off a couple hits:

Battleheart - Mika Mobile

(iPh, iPa, An) (2.99, 2.85)

My current favourite, and with good reason. This game takes various tropes from Dungeons and Dragons-style RPGs and turns them into a surprisingly light, surprisingly fun little game. While at first glance the game might look like it has something beyond fighting, loot and experience, it really doesn’t, and for that reason, it makes a good game to play in short bursts.

Tiny Tower - NimbleBit

(iPh, iPa) (Free)

Holy. Shit. This game is a freemium title, but you almost wouldn’t know from playing it. Unlike games like FarmVille, nothing spoils if you leave your game for weeks on end, the paywall is very fair, and the game itself is super charming. Pixel people run around your tower buying froyo, movie tickets, books and social networking every chance they get. Money comes in the form of rent and sales, and it’s your job to keep the later coming.

I feel like I can’t quite do this game justice, so I’m just going to say this: if you have an iOS device, give this game a chance. It’s really, really fun.

Game Dev Story - Kairosoft

(iPh, An) (.99, 2.83)

You might know this game from Ryan’s editorial review. Like me, he was charmed by its simple but rewarding gameplay and cute graphics. Beyond that, there’s a charming quality to the game’s parody game platforms, some of which you have to be a gamer to fully understand. Definitely worth your time to play this one.

Zenonia - Gamevil

(iPh, An) (.99)

Zenonia is basically an App Store classic at this point, and with good reason. Zenonia plays a lot like Legend of Zelda Link to the Past, maybe without a lot of the light puzzle aspects, and is priced to move besides. There are three classes to play, but the differences are fairly negligible, enough that you wouldn’t want to play the game as each. The game is good for hours of entertainment, but the end got too grindy for my tastes. Other than that, great game for a buck.

Oh, and GTA Chinatown Wars is less than three bucks today. Might want to get on that.


Life Inside a Star-Filled Sky

What follows is some disorganized impressions of my time playing indie game Inside a Star-Filled Sky. If the name alone is enough to draw you in, read on. If you trust me enough that you think it’s worth you’re time to read through my ramblings, by all means. If promises of infinitely recursive two-dimensional shooters pique your interest, you’re in good company. And lastly, if you just want something to read, hopefully you’ve come to the right place.

Anyway, for those of you in the know, I’ll cut right to the chase: this is a Jason Rohrer game, so it’s very clearly not the kind of game you’d find on Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network. As a matter of fact, I can’t even decide if this is a game based on gameplay and mechanics, or if it’s some kind of incidentally interactive media that is supposed to convey a message directly into some part of my brain, but either way, I’ve enjoyed it.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a good game though, at least, not in the way Halo and Crysis are. The almost-dual-stick shooter style controls aren’t entirely action-focused, and the game doesn’t really have an end objective. Instead, there are infinite amounts of levels that you can beat by finding an arrow square and touching it. The first time you try this, in fact, you’ll realize that each level is it’s own guy, and by beating a level, you become the next guy up. To reiterate, you are a guy within a guy within a guy, for as long as 32 bit integers can recurse. You are in Inception’s limbo, and this time, there isn’t a way out at all.

After you get your head around that, it hits you with something even more absurd: when you pick up power-ups, they affect your host, that is, the guy on the level above you, so when you go up a level, you gain the power-ups you obtained in the level before. But this doesn’t just apply to you. You can also go into enemies and change their power-ups to make each level a bit easier, or you can go into power-ups themselves and change what kind they are. You can even go into a power-up within a power-up within an enemy if you really want to.

But this leads to a couple problems. For starters, after an hour of playing, you might ask yourself why you are playing this ambitious crazy-person game. Without an end objective, or even a game over screen, the game begins to feel like an acid-tripped screensaver gone interactive. There’s no winning, no losing, not even anything in between. Just you going up, you going down, and you shooting or getting shot. It’s a good way to waste time, but it kind of keeps the game from being anything more than an ambitious distraction.

The other problem is distraction itself. Going into an enemy, then yourself, then a power-up and then another power-up and then into yourself again might make sense while you are doing it, but if you do it enough times, you’ll lose sight of what you’re doing. Like opening too many browser tabs while reading the news or Wikipedia, eventually you stop remembering or understanding why you opened half of them. Same goes with this game.

The game itself costs less than two bucks and however much you want to donate to the artiste behind it. There’s no publisher or middleman to deal with, so almost all of the money actually reaches the actual developer, and he’s a pretty cool dude. So, with all of that said, why not give it a shot?

2010 Quick 3: iPhone Games

For my G of the Y blog, I'll be splitting it up by platform. The first one is for my choices on iOS. 
To me, the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad have firmly planted themselves somewhere between last generation handsets, current generation handheld gaming systems and computers. Though the iPhone and iPod fit easily into a pants or jacket pocket and can be used to Skype or stream or game or whatever, the iPad is the size of a small netbook, even though it is easier to use while standing or moving. 
By now it is common knowledge that the devices don't play well with the so-called "hardcore" genres like shooters, but the things they can do with casual games like racers and puzzles is actually kind of revolutionary. Multitap, whether we like it or not, is here to stay. Anyway, with out further ado, the list:
3. Hook Worlds ($.99) 

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Hook Worlds is a fantastic game that takes a lot of influence from the popular game Canabalt and makes it rock. Anyone who has played a Rocketcat-developed game before knows exactly what to expect, especially since it has "Hook" right there in the title. The game is a run-as-far-as-you-can-before-you-die game, but it also gives you a grappling hook and a special ability entirely dependant on which character's level you decide to play. One character has rocket boots, one character has a revolver, and the other gets the ability to change gravity in a manner befitting Gravity Guy or VVVVVV. Suffice it to say that this is an incredibly addictive, if not shallow title that for a buck, everyone with an iPhone should own. 

2. Real Racing 2 ($9.99) 
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Weighing in as the most expensive entry on the list, Real Racing 2 also looks the best and drains battery the fastest. Taking a few concepts from the Gran Turismo and Forza franchises, this driving sim manages to hold it's ground even when compared to more expensive driving titles like Gran Turismo PSP. Aside from it executing the concept in an incredibly addictive and rewarding fashion, there isn't anything else to say about this game except that it looks about as good as Infinity Blade, and provides a good return-on-investment.

1. Tilt to Live ($2.99 + $.99)
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Funny story, I didn't even remember this game came out in 2010 until I did a brief look back at 2010. 
Tilt to Live is simply the most addictive game I have ever played. You control an arrow using the accelerometer controls, which is actually a lot more accurate than you might think. It's your job to avoid incoming red dots and destroy them using unlockable pickups to gain points. From that basic premise, no less than five game modes exist within the three dollar app, one of which needs to be unlocked with an in-app purchase. 
Aside from being hugely addicting, this game also features crisp retina graphics and a twangy spaghetti western inspired soundtrack and achievements that will keep you busy for hours. Without a doubt, it's the best four dollars you can spend on the app store.

Halo: It's getting increasingly less relevant

 Let me start off by saying this: I like Halo. Like, a lot. One could even say that I love Halo, if they were so inclined. 
Now, Halo has been catching a lot of flack since Halo 2 for being a playground for kids between the ages of eight and fourteen. Collectively, people's opinions about these kids are negative. They are loud and annoying and obnoxious, and that is pretty much a fact. The easiest way to avoid them used to be avoiding Halo, but as time has worn on and Halo has become less popular all around, I think these kids have mostly left for the next big lowest common denominator shooter, Call of Duty. 
Now, I think it's status as being "for whiny kids" etc. is a bit undeserved. I was actually playing Reach today and didn't encounter a single obnoxious person. As a matter of fact, I didn't encounter a lot of people in general. Considering Halo 2 had people hooked right up until the original Xbox's Live service was disconnected, that's a bit alarming. Early this afternoon, some of the gametypes only had a couple hundred people playing them. So what exactly is happening to Halo? 
In my opinion, three interconnected concepts are weighing Halo down. They all have largely to do with the fact that Halo adheres to some outdated, and frankly questionable design choices. Before I list them, I just want to let you all know that I don't want Call of Duty in my Halo, but I think that, by and large, it would convert a non-inconsequential amount of people back from Black Ops. Anyway, in no particualar order, here they are:

One of the problems with Halo is the fact that it's not "going anywhere." People these days all want what the current most popular FPS has, namely iron sights and sprinting that isn't completely fucked. The bigger issue here is that Halo: Reach, despite looking and playing better than it's predecessors, is in fact, almost completely identical to the earlier Halo games. 
Ties in to number one, and personally, this is the one I have the most trouble with- the matchmaking is a harrowing experience. What seemed slick and streamlined back on the original Xbox with Halo 2 is now nightmarish to behold. Searching for games takes way longer than necessary, and for no particular reason. And for whatever reason, Bungie won't let people join matches in progress and almost always penalizes people for quitting early. It's so easy to bring this system up to date! This seems like a huge missed opportunity to me.
The other real issue I can think of is the fact that Halo has mostly run its course as the "cool thing," which is totally understandable. At a certain point, the aliens and humans simply have to stop fighting, because let's face it: constant attacks on earth get boring after a while. It's for this same reason that eventually Call of Duty will get boring, variety being the spice of life and all. 
My point is thus: Halo is a great game and a landmark franchise, but as far as I can tell, the series is having trouble letting go of some of the series' dated concepts.    


Infinity Blade Thus Far

Before I start rambling on about the graphics, I just want to say that the protagonists of this game reminded me of a certain TV family. For whatever reason, every single time someone in their "bloodline" dies, the next one has to try and avenge him. Now I know that this is a six dollar game, but for the amount of money it's going to make (it passed Angry Birds as the top download in less than a day) I think someone could have thought up a more interesting concept. 
Anyway, the game is basically Punch-Out!! with RPG elements. You play as some kind of knight who fights trolls and assassins and such, and for every kill you make money and gain experience. When you have enough money you can get new equipment. When you reach the end of the game, the last boss kills you and you start the game over as Mandlebaum Junior. 
I assume that there is a point where you can kill the level fifty God King if you really stick with it. The game lends itself to being played ad nauseum, and even though it's the same stuff over and over again, it's the loot that keeps you going. There are also branching paths, but they never change the game very much, usually they're just a place to find a high level assassin guarding a chest, so I guess that makes the other paths more of a distraction than anything else. 
Oh, and the game looks great. I don't feel like really getting into it, but suffice to say that it looks better than any PSP game I've played, despite being way shorter. I'm pretty sure all the effects are pre-rendered, judging by how good they look, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the game at all. It has definitely passed Rage HD for the title of best graphics in an iPhone game. 
If bobbing, weaving and slashing are your kind of thing, you should check this game out. It's definitely worth the six bucks.    


Could Apple Ever Make a Good Console?

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Could Apple really make a video game console? I mean, a good one?

A certain VP at EA seems to think that Apple could conceivably do it. Naturally, that got me thinking. Seeing as though they have several billion dollars more than they know what to do with and a pretty robust content delivery system already in place, I think they could. Easily.

Now I know what you detractors are thinking: Apple already tried this before, and the Pippin was probably the worst thing ever. Well that’s true, but Apple is a whole different company now. While living in Microsoft’s shadow, the company constantly tried to break out into new markets, their efforts were usually met with varying degrees of failure.

That is, until they released the product that would put one thousand songs in the pockets of people all over the world: the iPod. Riding high on their new found success, they started pushing many successful products and services out the door: MacBooks, iMacs, iPhones, iTunes and iPads to name a very alliterative few. Right now iOS is one of the most popular mobile operating systems in the world, and the App Store is probably its most important feature, after all, it is the only way to get extra functionality on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad.

That’s where an updated line of Apple TVs would come in. Why not slap some additional storage on it, connect it to an App Store, and call it a day? From there, they could buy up some big names in video games (Why not just buy out EA?) or they could contract some indie developers like Microsoft did with WinMo7 (People love Rovio and HalfBrick) hype the product’s launch, and just get people to buy it. The great part about the App Store is that the success is propagated by its own success. More customers equals more developers equals more customers equals more profit, particularly for Apple who will presumably take at least a 30% cut on everything that goes through the App Store.

Sure, you might not like the sound of this casual-friendly console, but in a market where the Wii is astoundingly successful, why shouldn’t they give it a shot?   

 Oh, and don't forget that Nintendo is already more afraid of Apple than Microsoft. That's got to count for something.

Merry Christmas: I was one of Steam's Lucky 30 Today


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OK, so let's recap. After bundling $60 worth of quality indie games into $5 packages for the last week or so, Steam gives me five games, kind of my choice, for free. 
I'll be the first to say that these indie packs have been pretty good the last couple of days. Even if you only see one game you want, it's still only five bucks. I mean, some of the Midweek Madness stuff was hard enough to avoid. Men of War, for example, found its way into my library on an impulse buy, as did Killing Floor. And though that might seem all well and good, any indie pack that has And Yet it Moves, Machinarium or World of Goo that costs even less than those games, while they were on sale, is a winner in my book.
OK, so I've been buying a lot of these indie packs. What else? KOTOR for $2.50 seemed like a good deal, Poker Night at the Inventory for a scant $5 (not on sale, but whatever) seemed decent, World of Goo I actually bought ala carte for an incredible $2.50. It's a shame I only jumped on the Steam band wagon only a year or so ago. These deals are almost as good as all the stuff I got for free. 
Now, I didn't do the best job keeping my list organized, so my choices might seem a little strange. Allow me to explain: 
Three things contributed to this list: The fact that my primary computer is a Mac, I kept buying games on my wishlist as they went on sale, so I was constantly replacing things, and I thought I wouldn't win anyway, so why bother.  
But, in essence, I got what I wanted. 

 My email client (Sparrow) apparently comes with an aura of +1 black opacity.
 My email client (Sparrow) apparently comes with an aura of +1 black opacity.
Civilization V was the only one I really wanted, so its good I managed to keep that on the top of the list and, for the love of god, not purchase it before I won the contest.  
Anyway, if you can take anything away from this crazy, scattershot blog, please consider buying games from indie developers. They're usually priced competitively and come with great support, and in the case of games like And Yet it Moves, are innovative as all hell.

Just When I Think I'm Out... They Pull Me Back In


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Well, Black Ops is alright. I mean everything here is so... by-the-numbers. At least, that's what I thought as of 12AM today. What happened just after that was no less than amazing. 
I spent yesterday playing a whole cocktail of game modes. A bit of campaign here, a bit of zombies there and a long stretch of multiplayer in between the two. I tried bots, I tried Xbox Live, I even tried local. Everything was par for the course. I put in the code to get Zork, Five and Dead Ops Arcade, and I thought those were cool additions to the game, even though they're all pretty easter egg-ish. In general, I was having fun, but it was such an average experience. Hadn't I done this exact same thing every year for the last three years? When Treyarch took COD4's engine and some of it's assets, the thing that prevented it from being an entirely stale experience was the addition of a zombie survival mode and a multiplayer rife with flamethrowers, dogs and drum magazines. 
And that's when I fired up multiplayer same as ever, with one difference: instead of player match, I went to wager match. Why? I don't know. I chose the room with the lowest buy-in. (10 COD points to get in, with 30 points going to the winner) I know what you're thinking: that's really stupid, 20 minutes to get AT MOST 20 COD points? That's very obviously a waste of time. Why would you do it? 
Well, it's fun, and the lower betting rooms are safer and less competitive. 
Now, I know I won't win you all over with this blog post, but for anyone who's interest I may have piqued, try Gun Game. More than any other mode, Gun Game gives you a hilarious competitive experience. For those that don't know, players in Gun Game start with revolvers, and for every kill they move up a level, and every new level, they get a new gun. There are no grenades or sidearms, so you have to use gun that you're given. Being killed by a melee attack or suiciding yourself brings you back down a grade. The optimal Gun Game match takes place on Nuketown or WMD, so if you get those levels, vote for them. 
Also, if you have an Xbox 360, get Scott Pilgrim while it's five bucks. PS3 users: it's still $10 bucks on the PS Store, but it's definitely worth that anyway. I'm already rocking the Knives Chau/Dodgeball DLC pack. Great downloadable game, definitely my favourite of the year. Try the demo if you're unsure.
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