For the first time, the iPhone 11 Pro is a phone that I feel entirely comfortable using as my sole snapshot camera. Literally, the only thing it doesn’t do better than my point-and-shoot (which is no slouch) is zoom, which may be an insurmountable problem for the smartphone form factor… or it may not.
I’ve been away twice since I’ve had it, to Berlin and Paris, and it’s been phenomenal, but here I want to showcase its night mode in particular with a few samples. Some of the following shots are lit by little more than a few candles.
It’s uncanny and impressively naturalistic – it almost always looks like a properly exposed night shot rather than an artificial day shot.
My Nikon DSLR will always remain the king, but when I don’t want to carry around a few kilos of camera and lenses, this will do.
I’ve been running for a couple of years now, having started with a C25K programme and working my way up to regular 10Ks, 10 miles, obstacle runs, and several 5Ks a week. I’m doing my first half marathon in April and, assuming that goes well, might do a full one in October. Rain (sometimes) or shine, on a weekday evening I’m a regular somewhere along Bournemouth seafront, where you’ll find me somewhere between Boscombe and Sandbanks.
Until now I’d been tracking my runs with my phone strapped to my arm with Strava, but waking up on Christmas morning to a brand new Apple Watch provided an opportunity to improve my fitness tracking.
Integrating Apple’s Workout app with Strava
Apple’s Workout app is excellent, offering support for tons of different activities and providing lots of lovely stats afterwards. It can track my heart rate during and after a run, syncs with numerous other devices without needing to pay a premium subscription, and doesn’t provide the bafflingly inflated calorie estimates that Strava is known to do.
My problem was that I had several years of runs and a handful of similarly inclined friends on Strava, and I didn’t fancy losing that social aspect, not to mention my PBs on the numerous Strava segments I regularly run.
Strava has its own Apple Watch app, of course, and it’s perfectly functional and capable of depositing its runs into the Activity app alongside any Apple-tracked workouts. In fact, my first run with an Apple Watch, on Boxing Day, was tracked with the Strava app. But it lacks some of the stats, including heart rate recovery (being a native app, Apple’s Workout can keep tracking your heart rate after the run has ended) and those all-important GPS-tagged route maps. And since I was going to be using Activity for tracking weight training and other workouts anyway (Strava is limited to running and cycling), I was keen to streamline things by using one app for all my exercise.
The solution, then, would appear to be liberating my Apple-tracked data and dropping it into Strava. But that’s not always an easy thing to do with Apple.
HealthFit solves the problem
Trying a failing with a few apps, I came across HealthFit, which, wonderfully, does exactly what I need it to and nothing else – the last thing I wanted was to bring a third fitness-tracking service into this. All it does is export your workouts from Apple’s Activity app in the widely supported Garmin .FIT file format, where they can be saved to your iCloud Drive, emailed or automatically uploaded to a number of different services, Strava among them (the others are TrainingPeaks, SportTracks, Final Surge, Selfloops and Dropbox).
A few taps and my run is exported, and it’s a matter of moments before Strava pops up a notification that it’s ready to view in its app, indistinguishable from a Strava-tracked run. Better, in fact, since my exported runs feature heart rate charts – a Strava Premium feature if I used their Apple Watch app.
The only niggle was that, since Strava was installed on my phone and allowed to write its workouts to the Health and Workout apps, anything exported into Strava through HealthFit was appearing twice. That was solved by simply revoking that permission in the Health app (in the Sources menu), giving Strava read-only access.
Were I not into fitness, I’m not sure I’d find the Apple Watch worth it. A timekeeping and notification machine is cool, but a questionable value proposition. However, if you throw in comparable fitness-tracking to the high-end offerings from Fitbit – at the time of writing the only Fitbit with built-in GPS is the Ionic watch, which starts at £299, or only £30 less than the much more flexible Apple Watch Series 3 – and it becomes much more justifiable. The fitness-tracking focus of watchOS 4 suggests that a couple of years on the market has led Apple to a similar conclusion.
The Apple Watch is the absolute definition of a technological luxury item, completely unnecessary but kind of cool when you have one. It’s a fantastic fitness-tracker, though, particularly for outdoor activities, and the sheer omnipresence of iOS means, by proximity, any fitness-focused online service is likely to have some level of support. This comprehensiveness, coupled with the constant nudges to close my rings, is often enough to get me out when the cold weather and post-work fatigue might otherwise tempt me to take an evening off.
It seems so long ago, but there was once a time when iOS and Android heralded the future of games. They were growing while the rest of the market contracted, and the buzz around open microconsoles like the Ouya, based on mobile technology, as they pushed into the traditional console market must have had Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft worried. Phones and tablets were getting exciting new experiences, classic ports, and new properties that looked like they were vying to be the iPhone’s Mario or Halo.
Now, though, I haven’t put serious time into a single mobile game since Super Hexagon. I sold my iPad. I can’t remember the last time I browsed the App Store. I’m still using an iPhone 4, which struggles with anything newer than 2012, yet I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
Maybe it’s caused by the fact that indie developers have carved a niche for themselves in the promised land of consoles and Steam – they don’t need to hamstring themselves with anaemic hardware and touch controls any more. What they’ve left is a wasteland of match three puzzlers – fun, but I used to play those on the SNES and they haven’t moved on since – and frankly depressing revivals of long-dormant franchises as “free-to-play” monstrosities.
It probably says a lot that as soon as I saw headlines for Rollercoaster Tycoon’s revival, I knew it was going to be a F2P mobile game. That mitigated the disappointment, I suppose, but while the execrable Dungeon Keeper was rightly castigated, at least that had the defence of being free. RCT4 charges you for the privilege of being made to wait around, accurately simulating the experience of visiting a theme park.
What hurts the most, though, is to see this shit succeeding, helped along by the proliferation of dreadful mobile review sites that struggle to give anything a lower score than 4/5. And that success is aiding the mechanics in seeping into retail games, with Forza 5 being one of the more egregious examples. Thankfully the backlash there seems to have been heeded somewhat.
Even as something of a gaming traditionalist, keen to preserve consoles and dedicated handhelds alongside newer, more exciting formats, I’m disappointed in what’s happened to what was a promising new gaming landscape. It wasn’t a passing fad, as the numbers playing games like Candy Crush Saga show. But the innovation that once filled the vacuum has moved on, abandoning it to the vultures with shocking rapidity.
One of the regrettable gaps in my nerdish upbringing is that I never got into board games. By the time I was old enough, Dungeons & Dragons seemed old news and far too much like hard work, and dalliances with Games Workshop productions only lasted as long as it took to spend a couple of weeks’ pocket money on a single figure. My experience with board games beyond Monopoly and Mouse Trap therefore stopped with more accessible options like Hero Quest and Operation Aliens.
As it seemingly has with so many other media, it was the iPad that’s shaken up board gaming. It doesn’t take long for iOS gamers to get beyond the fool’s hope that [insert favourite PC/console game here] will transfer to touchscreen controls and inevitably get into the gateway drugs like Words With Friends, and from there it’s not a massive leap to the harder stuff. For me it was Neuroshima Hex followed by Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer but Ticket To Ride, Catan and Carcassonne all seem to be notably vicious when it comes to digging those claws in. Those are particularly good conversions that show board games and the iPad to be such perfect bedfellows that I’m desperate for some of the more highly regarded big names to make the transition.
Really, it solves all of the problems, mainly logistical, of modern board games. No like-minded friends? Online play solves that. No time to dedicate a few hours to a game? Asynchronous multiplayer with push notifications renders it a non-issue. No shuffling cards. No missing pieces. No setting up and clearing away afterwards. No possibility for mistakes in tracking stats and damage in complicated battles. Purists may decry the lack of physicality, but I’m perfectly happy with a big touchscreen and several games in something the size of a magazine.
I find myself jealously eyeing up games like the well-regarded Battlestar Galactica tie-in or something different like Arkham Horror, hoping for someone to make the effort to adapt them so that I can get the co-operative experience without having to pay £40 for the box and, you know, find real people to play with. I’ll probably end up murdered in a ditch somewhere if I start inviting randoms round to play.
I’m sure physical gaming has as many purists decrying the proliferation of sub-£5 touchscreen downloadables as video gaming does, but they’re just as wrong. It’s another example of how the digital world is broadening the horizons of once-inaccessible corners of gaming, and it’s a very good thing.
The second iPhone game on this list is probably more typical of the kind of thing that gets all the plaudits in indie circles: a solo developer, gorgeous art, and simply a good idea done extremely well. I adore a bit of score-chasing on the phone, and I found myself losing hours to the hypnotic flow of Tiny Wings, falling into a rhythm that changed with the day’s randomly generated terrain.
Some of the games below this on my list are undoubtedly more substantial, but, looking back, it wouldn’t surprise me if I spent more time with Tiny Wings than the one-playthrough-and-you’re-done action games. It’s beautiful, and as good a time-waster as it is a game of skill, which is more than can be said for that other bafflingly popular iOS game involving birds with questionable flying ability.
I hope the success of iPhone games that are actually built with a touch interface in mind, like this, Infinity Blade and, yes, Angry Birds, will go some way to convincing developers that the middling results when porting ‘proper’ console games aren’t worth the effort when one guy can make a game as effective as this. The iPhone isn’t a 3DS or Vita and never will be, but when its original titles are this good, this addictive, this gorgeous, that’s by no means a criticism.
There are tons of films about films, and plenty of music about making music, but a conspicuous lack of games about games. The mark of an immature medium or a lack of mainstream interest in the actual making of games? Probably both, but nobody who’s played it can forget the superb gallows humour of Segagaga, and the door’s open for someone to nail it.
So along comes Game Dev Story, an iPhone simulation of the last 25 years of the games industry. You start with a couple of developers, a handful of genres and settings to choose from, and enough money to develop a game. Make it a success and you can plough funds back into new, increasingly complex games, and as you cultivate a following and begin to establish some commercially viable franchises, generating enough money to buy licences to develop for successive consoles that in no way bear a resemblance to the systems of Nintendo, Sega, Sony and Microsoft. Fail to make it, if that’s possible, and you can bide your time by jobbing on translation projects and porting jobs to make a quick buck.
It’s extremely addictive, and if you have the same affection for gaming in the 80s and 90s as I do, it’ll certainly get its claws into you. But what was more interesting is how it forces you to confront some awkward truths about how this industry works.
Follow the game’s prompts and, sooner or later, you’ll be some kind of mega publisher, every game provoking queues around the block and employing the in-game equivalents of Aaron Sorkin and Lady Gaga to script and score your latest release. But it quickly becomes apparent that the quickest way to the top is to make a couple of hits and then exploit them – that sounds somehow familiar – repeatedly. I’d love to see the Sorkin/Gaga collaboration, but when it’s on a game called Dark Ninja XVIII, it’s not as interesting to me as it could be. And where do you go for the most money after that sells 20 million? Why, Dark Ninja XIX, of course.
Is Game Dev Story some kind of secret Activision PR job, then, intended to get us to see things from the dark side? Or, sadly, just an accurate demonstration of how the games industry really works? I think a look at 2011’s lineup of annual sequels and reboots should answer that.
Depressing as it may be, though, it’s a bloody good little game.