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Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

‘Ain’t technology grand?!?’ is my intermittent series on appreciating the little things that technology does for life. In these posts I dwell on how things are cooler now than they were back when I didn’t have gray hair, mouths to feed, creaky knees, and a pill a day pharmaceutical habit.

Okay, first up I’m going to apologize for going for the cheap (and dated) pop culture reference in the title. I couldn’t resist. Plus, that title pops a lot more than any combination of mobile gaming and universal wifi that I could come up with for the title. There really was in-air gaming involved in the inspiration for this post. I promise.

I finally talked a friend into trying Hero Academy and thought I’ve started getting a little burnt out on the game (it has nothing to do with the fact that he constantly beat me so get that smirk off your face), I had a lot of fun with it pre-burnout. This particular friend travels a lot, and he uses Southwest enough to get access to the free in-air wifi. So we were essentially going head to head while I was on a fast moving train and he was on an even faster moving plane. I’d love to go back 25 years and tell my younger self where it was all going to lead as he was excitedly unwrapping his first Gameboy under the Christmas tree.

I was excited to get that Gameboy, but I was never really that into it. There wasn’t much point in having it around since I had a much more powerful, and color, Nintendo system in my bedroom. My parents weren’t really the travelling sort, and my mom was one of those ‘turn off the game and talk to your family’ types before it was cool so the Gameboy didn’t get much play. But here I am today carrying around a phone with more computing power than my Commodore, NES, Gameboy, and eighth grade math teacher all rolled into one.

Mobile computing and wifi are technologys that would have been nearly magical twenty years ago but are practically taken for granted today. I was going to a movie a few days ago, but the ticket line was so long it was spilling into the street. So rather than spend twenty minutes waiting in triple digit heat I ducked inside the lobby, pulled out my phone, and bought a ticket online. (Then I wasted the twenty minutes standing in line at the concession stand. Hopefully I’ll be doing a post about being able to order concessions online soon. Are you listening Regal?)

I think my generation is just the right age for the online explosion we’ve experienced over the last twenty years. Young enough to adapt to new technology, but old enough to remember how it used to be well enough to truly appreciate the advances. It’s amazing to me how easy it is to go for wondrous and impressive to ho-hum and expected.

Barely related viewing (but still recommended): Snakes on a Plane in 30 seconds (reenacted by bunnys)

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It’s easy to complain about technology.  It’s so integrated into our day to day lives that it’s a real pain when something goes wrong.  When something does break and I have to work on getting it fixed it never fails to surprise how much work and behind the scenes effort goes into making sure even the smallest things work right.  At times like that I end up wondering how so much of our world works as well as it does since there are so many moving parts behind the scenes.

The dog thinks Steve Jobs was a genius.

It’s not all complaints though.  Every now and then, for no apparent reason, I get struck by just how cool and useful some of these little technological details are.  I’m going to try and memorialize some of those little things, so I see this as an intermittent ongoing series of posts.  It’s also a good way to put an exclamation point on how old I suddenly am.

Anyway, today’s ‘Ain’t technology grand?!’ moment is video chatting.  More specifically, Apple’s version of video chat, which is called Facetime.  Video phones have been a sci-fi staple as long as I can remember.  The technology has always seemed easily reachable and teenage and twenty-something me often wondered why they weren’t around yet.  (Thirty-something me figures it’s a social or cultural issue.)

I picked up an iPhone back in October when the newest model came out and my dad and brother both ‘went Mac’ around the same time.  So we quickly realized we can use video chat to let the twins talk to their grandparents and their cousins.  They have a lot more interaction with their cousins than I did at their age because they can see them on the little screen.  We used it so I could sit in on bath time last week even though I was three states away and so the twins could talk to their mama at home when I took them to grammy’s for the weekend.

I realize Facetime isn’t really the same thing as a videophone.  It does require an internet connection.  It’s just another version of Skype and the other types of internet video chat that have been around for awhile.  I was never a great believer in those because I didn’t want to be tethered to my desktop or carry a laptop around.  Now that it has slimmed down to the point it can be used in a truly mobile application it’s going to really become common.

You may want to use Facetime with family and close friends though.  The iPhone front facing camera is guaranteed to make into a troglodyte (with the exception of dogs and small children, obviously).

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iPhone Review: Hero Academy

"It's not wise to upset a wookie."

The original Star Wars movie (I still can’t think of it as A New Hope) has a scene when everyone is holed up in the Millennium Falcon for the long trip to Alderan. Two of the characters are playing a vaguely chess-like game with holographic projections of monsters. I like to think of Hero Academy as the closest current technology can get us to that on-screen game.

Hero Academy is a vaguely chess-like game with a fun mix of strategy and tactics. It’s a capture the flag variant played on a chess board. Each player has 1-2 crystals on their side of the board and the idea is to smash your opponent’s crystals before he gets yours or to destroy all her pieces before losing your own. You’re presented with a Scrabble style slate of pieces to use in your attempt at domination.

You can use one of three different teams of pieces based on various fantasy races (Dwarves, Elves, etc…). Abilities of the pieces roughly correspond, but the strengths and weaknesses vary a bit from team to team and it takes a little practice to get familiar with them all. You also have the ability to add armor or offensive power through the use of various power-ups. You start with a random mixture of six pieces and power-ups to put on the board each turn. In the early game the pieces you use are replaced, but supply quickly dries up and you’ll find yourself making a lot of strategic choices about when to use your best stuff. Each turn you and your opponent get five actions which you can use to move a piece, attack your opponent, or use a power-up.

There’s a random match making system to find opponents, but there’s no attempt at equalizing player skills so you can end up facing a veteran of 100 games or a brand new rookie. The app does have a built in hook to Facebook and Twitter so you can recruit friends to play as well. You’re also required to set up a player account with the game developer, but they don’t require any personal info beyond email.

The game uses an asynchronous play style so that both players don’t have to be playing at the same time. It’s your basic ‘play by mail’ set-up. One player makes his moves and the game saves them and sends them for the other player to contemplate at his leisure. This is handy because you can play at your own pace and the game doesn’t need your full attention for an extended game time. Sadly, this is also the biggest drawback because your opponent has the same leisure to take his turn and you could end up waiting a long time if they aren’t paying attention. It also includes an option to cause your pieces to taunt your opponent and a rudimentary chat program for trash talking.

Hero Academy works on the ‘freemium’ business model. The basic game is a free ad-supported download and comes with the Council team enabled. You can pay $1.99 for access to one of the other teams and various cosmetic enhancements. I picked up the Dark Elf team because I spent enough time playing that I felt like the developers had earned some of my money (and it was also a small price to pay to get rid of the ads and the extra load times they caused).

I’ve been really enjoying the game, and for a while I had as many as a dozen games going at a time. My win-loss record was pretty favorable until I convinced a friend to play. Unfortunately, not only was he was a quick study, but he also lets his son ‘help’ so I’m doomed to being trash talked by a four year old who I’m not even allowed to put in time out for no good reason.

I’m always in the market for new opponents, so if you decide to try Hero Academy leave me a note in the comment section and we’ll start a game.

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Autocorrect Oopsie

Some guy in Georgia might be in a bit of trouble thanks to an unfortunate combination of autocorrect and not paying  enough attention to where you send your text messages.

Per the LA Times:

He meant to write “Gunna be at West hall this afternoon,” but the autocorrect function on his phone changed the word “Gunna” to “Gunman.”

On top of that, the guy sent the message sent it to the wrong number, so a random person got this text about a ‘gunman’ at the local high school and reported to the police.  The school was locked down for two hours until it all got sorted out.  I have to wonder what the guy told the police when the tracked him down.  Autocorrect doesn’t work in the obvious way so it’s not exactly uncommon to miss when it changes something, but sending it to the wrong number is a pretty bone headed move.

I’m glad to see autocorrect has finally moved beyond helping people bond over bad sexual innuendo and is taking a more active role in trying to get people locked up.

It’s actually pretty entertaining to see what autocorrect comes up with under certain circumstances.  It will give a  pretty good idea of what our corporate overlords at Apple think of the general population.

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So you’ve already read what I think about Aiko Island for the iPhone.  Just a few days ago IceFlame Studios released twenty-five new holiday themed levels for as a separate free download.  I just wanted to share a few thoughts on Aiko Island: Holidays.  See my previous post if you want a little more detail on the overall game mechanics.

The new levels are just as much fun as the original.  I thought I’d gotten past the need to beat the evil reds after I finished the original 125 levels, but the compulsion to get three cookies for the perfect finish hit me as soon as I dropped my first Aiko down that icy slope into the pit trap.  I grabbed the download while I was at work and what started as  ‘Just one level before I eat lunch’ ended over an hour later when I realized lunch time had been over for ten minutes and the phone was ringing but those smug red Aiko were still smirking at me.

This release will be great for veteran players, but releasing it as a separate (free) download gives me the impression that IceFlame is positioning it to attract some new players.  I’m not so sure that is a good idea.  One of the strengths of the original was how it slowly ramped up the difficulty and introduced new elements a little at a time.  The Holiday levels start out simple and have the familiar tutorial, but the skill level jumps quickly and it may be tough for new players to keep up.  I’d love to see more levels down the line so the last thing I want to see is potential new players getting discouraged because it got too hard too soon.

The final verdict……… this one is great for veterans.  If this is your first time with Aiko and you’re discouraged by the difficulty, go grab the original and spend some time with it.  At $0.99 it’s well worth the value.

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iPhone Gaming With Aiko Island

When I got my iPhone back in October, Aiko Island was one of the first games I picked up from the app store.  I’ve been intending to review it for a long time and since they’ve just released a free holiday version, there couldn’t be a better time to actually sit down and do it.  Besides, if the numbers in Game Center are any indication the developers aren’t doing so well and every purchase gets me closer to more levels to play.

As a gaming platform, the iPhone lends itself very well to puzzle games.  I have a hard time getting too deep into RPGs or shooters because of the small screen, but puzzles are perfect for the platform.  I’m really into games like Angry Birds that use physics to solve the puzzles.  Games LIKE Angry Birds, but not Angry Birds itself.  Aiko Island is a fun little physics puzzler.

One well placed shot and they all go down

Aiko are small fuzz creatures that are square, rectangular, or round.  Both red and blue aiko live on Aiko Island, and the evil red aiko have stolen all the happy go-lucky blue aiko’s cookies.  The gamer’s job is to get them back by clearing the red aiko off each board.  You do this by popping them with your finger or taking advantage of gravity to make them fall off the screen.  Fortunately, the blue are touch proof, but they are just as prone to falling as the red so you have to plan ahead carefully.

The colors of the aiko and the environment of the island are very vibrant and great to look at on the iPhone display.  The 126 levels are divided into four geographic areas with distinct appearances and hazards to deal with.  Unfortunately the display eats battery like aiko eat cookies and I found myself draining 50% of my battery life in my more extended play sessions.

The level of difficulty is carefully calibrated and ramps up significantly over the 126 levels in the original release.  The level designers add little environmental elements as you get further and further along. After awhile you find yourself using cannons, snowballs, sliding platforms, and aiko swinging from ropes just to get the job done.  You also have to take into account explosives, and environmental hazards like icy platforms, but each element is added only after you’ve had time to master the previous one and there aren’t many levels you can’t complete if you’re willing to spend a little time learning how the physics of the game work.

Once you find your way around a level you get one cookie back for your friendly blue aiko.  The aiko have facial expressions and I found it surprisingly rewarding when they smiled at me at the end of each level, not to mention the smirks the villainess reds broke out when I screwed up.  If you want to work a little harder there are extra cookies available by completing the level quickly and popping the most efficient number of aiko.  There seemed to be only one way to complete each board so once you get the method down it’s actually pretty simple to get all three cookies on most levels.

I started out playing in small increments on the train commute or during commercials of whatever TV show I was watching, but that quickly changed.  I got to the point where I was constantly telling myself ‘one more level’ and the play sessions stretched out to an entire lunch hour at work.  (Side note, somehow it never did acknowledge the achievements that are supposed to be granted for longer play times.) 

The level map for one of the four areas.

I was playing on an iPhone 4S and the load times were longer than I expected.  I have no experience with the original model 4s, but I read a lot about the processor being upgraded between the models so I was expecting less load time.  Regardless, it wasn’t enough to pull me out of the action.  More like dragging out the anticipation a bit.

I highly recommend Aiko Island.  At the 99 cent price point I probably paid 15-20 cents per hour of play time.  That’s a pretty excellent value, especially compared to the play time in your average PC or console game.  It does occasionally get repetitive, but the challenge level is pretty well calibrated and new tricks show up regularly to keep things interesting.  It’s a stand out in a genre done to death ever since Angry Birds made it big.  

This post has gone on too long, so I’m going to post my take on the FREE holiday version separately.


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