Tag Archives: Phones

Game Dev Story

Game Dev StoryThere 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.

The iPhone 4 Reception Issue

I queued up early in the morning of its release to get my iPhone 4 on day one – the first time I’ve done that for anything. Let that be a measure of how much I wanted this phone, the proper successor to the iPhone 3G that’s become an extension of me over the last two years. I’m an Apple fan in general, typing this on my faithful old MacBook Pro that will probably be replaced with a newer model of the same thing later this year, but I’m not big enough of a fan to drink the Kool-Aid on this one.

There is clearly an issue with the iPhone 4’s antenna design when it comes into contact with human skin, and while it has a negligible effect in places with a strong 3G signal, anywhere that doesn’t show up the full five bars – like, say, my flat, or anywhere that isn’t Cupertino – runs a serious risk of dropping the signal completely.

I was willing to wait on a firmware update that could mitigate the problem somehow, even as the possibility of that looked more remote with each controlled test that demonstrated the problem, and I would have accepted an admission that the design was flawed and a free bumper, but Apple’s head-in-the-sand attitude was taking the piss, and the recent press release on the matter was a joke too far.

Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.

To fix this, we are adopting AT&T’s recently recommended formula for calculating how many bars to display for a given signal strength. The real signal strength remains the same, but the iPhone’s bars will report it far more accurately, providing users a much better indication of the reception they will get in a given area.

Obi-Wan Kenobi would be proud of Apple’s attempt to hand-wave the issue away there. It’s admitting that there’s a problem with the iPhone’s reception and promising a software fix, but ignoring the fact that holding the iPhone 4 in the ‘wrong’ way will still drop the connection if you’re in less than ideal conditions. Whether I’m going from four bars to none or a more accurate two bars to none, I still end up with none. That means no calls, no texts, no email, no Internet, and a pretty crap phone.

But hey! Spend £25 on a ring of plastic – already a significant hike on the $30 US price – and Apple will solve the issue for you. Brilliant…

I know it’s embarrassing, and I know it’s potentially expensive, but this is an unacceptable design flaw that could have been solved without any aesthetic ill-effects with something as simple as a coating of nail polish on the metal parts – and I’m sure that Apple could come up with a less kludgy solution. I like Apple’s products, but I hope that one of the inevitable lawsuits forces it into addressing the fundamental problem with its new phone. The handling of this debacle has been nothing short of appalling, and when word of mouth gets around about how bad the iPhone 4 is at sustaining a workable signal because you had the temerity to touch the outer casing, I hope it does some damage to the iPhone brand. Tough love is apparently the only way that corporations will learn.

I’m going to wait and see for now. It’s under warranty and if there’s a fundamental problem it will come out soon enough. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take as long to be solved as the red ring of death did.

iPhone Game Showcase

I wouldn’t be the first to say that I do a lot of my best thinking on the toilet, and it was in this situation that I found myself convinced of how good the iPhone’s distribution model is. In the time that I was in there, I was able to find a new game, download it, and play a couple of rounds. It’s proper, ubiquitous digital distribution and, I think, a glimpse at how all handheld gaming will be done over the next couple of generations.

But as with anything like this, there’s some real crap on iTunes. For this reason, here are a handful of iPhone games that I think do a particularly good job of playing to the format’s strengths, without trying to shoehorn in traditional, button-reliant gameplay.

  • Airport Mania: First Flight (£0.59; Lite version available) – This is a representative of the popular ‘time management’ genre, this time casting you as an air traffic controller. Handle queuing up the aircraft for runways, terminals, repairs and refuelling, making sure not to keep them waiting too long, lest they give up and leave for another airport. It’s fast, makes intuitive use of the touch screen, and it’s only 59p. Quite a reasonable amount of content, too.
  • Flight Control (£0.59) – Another air traffic controller game? Don’t be fooled. They’re not really that similar. Flight Control is more of an old-school arcade game where you try to land as many aircraft as possible by managing their flight paths so that they don’t collide, drawing them with your finger. It gets more complicated as the screen fills with jets of different speeds, and has a nifty leaderboard system that actually uses the phone’s GPS to put you in a local leaderboard. I thought that my high score of 48 was fairly respectable, but someone within a mile of me has somehow managed 194. I’ve got work to do. Oh, and it’s 59p again and has a pretty nice age of flight theme.
  • MotionX Poker (£1.79; Lite version available) – One of the earliest hit iPhone games and now actually has two versions: MotionX Poker and MotionX Poker Quest – they have pretty much identical gameplay, so it’s all down to whether or not you prefer the Chinese or ancient Egypt theming. Use the accelerometer to shake up your dice and aim to create dice poker hands against the computer. It’s got a pile of unlockable dice and achievements, and it’s maddeningly addictive – I’ve clocked up 12 hours across both versions.
  • Rolando 2 (£5.99) – It’s a couple of quid more than its still-excellent predecessor, but I think it’s worth it. The original was more than slightly ‘inspired by’ Sony’s LocoRoco, adding in the tilt controls that that game was really crying out for, but this one outdoes it with 3D environments, a much better difficulty curve, more innovative uses of the iPhone controls, and a lot of game for your money. The original is still getting free updates with bonus levels, so expect to get plenty for your money here.
  • Star Defense (£3.49) – My favourite of the popular tower defence genre, with cutting-edge graphics and connectivity, including day one use of push notifications and ngmoco’s new Xbox Live-esque Plus+ network for challenges. It really does look gorgeous, and it’s a great example of the genre, whether you’re a beginner like I was or an experienced tower defender. Did I mention that it’s really, really pretty?
  • UniWar (£1.79) – It’s described as a cross between StarCraft and Advance Wars, and that pretty much sums it up. It plays very similarly to Nintendo’s turn-based strategy series, with three factions/races that bear more than a resemblance in looks and style to Blizzard’s series. What impressed me the most, however, was the suite of multiplayer options, from the obvious system-sharing style that suits the portable format to the 21st Century equivalent of correspondence chess, where you are notified of a remote opponent’s turn via email, with a link that’ll take you straight back into the game. It’s more expensive than what I paid when it came out, but I still think it’s worth it.
  • WordFu (£0.59) – The third and final ngmoco game on the list, which combines MotionX Poker and Boggle to decent effect. Set out your dice in a world with a slightly incongruous kung-fu theme, and make as many words as you can in 45 seconds. Ideal fare for bite-size gaming on the bus or when you find yourself at a loose end for a few minutes, which is what the iPhone is great for.
  • WordJong (£1.79; Lite version available) – Another word game, but this one is slightly more involved. Create words to clear a board and get a high score, but it gets tricky when you have to completely clear it without any leftovers. There’s a new puzzle every day – not to mention a massive backlog of them by now – so comparing scores is easy if you have friends with the game. But what is it with word games and martial arts themes on the iPhone?
  • Zen Bound (£2.99; Lite version available) – This is probably the most arty game here, but it’s a great demonstration of both the iPhone’s graphics and up there with Star Defense as an example of how multitouch controls work. Wrap a tethered rope around a wooden carving to paint it, getting higher scores for using less rope or covering more of the shape. No time limits or anything like that means it’s a great game to chill out with, boasting a brilliantly mellow soundtrack – free to download when you buy the game, incidentally – that, as one of the opening splash screens suggests, is best experienced with headphones.

All prices are correct at the time of posting. Feel free to let me know any of your recommendations that I might not have spotted and I’ll do a follow-up at some point, because, judging by the variety on offer after only a year, what we have in 12 months could be very exciting.

Rolando: When iPhone Games Came Good?


Let’s face it: phone games have, generally speaking, been completely gash. If you asked me to list the good ones I’d start struggling after Snake and Doom RPG, and as phone hardware has become vastly more capable the quality of the software hasn’t risen at all.

Rolando, however, the first ‘big’ release from dedicated iPhone game developer ngmoco, has blown me away. It doesn’t have the flashy 3D graphics that you’d expect a killer app to have, but it arguably looks better for it. Trying to cram PSP-quality games onto the iPhone is as effective as porting PS2-quality games to the PSP has been, just showing the limitations of the hardware rather than working around them. Rolando doesn’t push the iPhone’s modest 3D capabilities, but you’re not going to be hitting the walls of what it can do and remind yourself that you’re playing on a phone.

This does make it slightly ironic that the game that shouldn’t look like a PSP game does, in fact, look very much like a certain PSP game, but, unlike most knock-offs, this does it better. My main complaint about LocoRoco was that it was crying out for motion controls, and this essentially does it with that and plenty of other gameplay mechanics made possible by the touch screen.

LocoRoco still has the presentational edge, it must be said, with its infectious music and active, multilayered graphics, but when comparing this 25MB download to a pretty full UMD it’s a damn good attempt to imitate it. I have to say that I believe Rolando to be the better game, however. LocoRoco got repetitive fairly early on, but Rolando is constantly throwing new gameplay systems at you all the way through, from bonus levels that require you to rotate the iPhone – or iPod touch, as it works on that as well – through 360 degrees to touch-activated bomb dispensers and ‘draw-bridges’: bridges that you literally draw – get it? – with your finger. Continue reading Rolando: When iPhone Games Came Good?

iPhone 3G Impressions

After a bit over a week spent unlearning eight years of bad phone habits – like having to press buttons to do things – I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what the iPhone 3G is all about. It’s far from perfect and thankfully all of my issues can be fixed in firmware updates, but overall it’s a fantastic device and I love it. Here are my observations and suggestions.

First, a few criticisms and suggestions for the thousands of daily visits I get from Apple’s iPhone team:

Expand the Bluetooth functions. I understand the need to lock down certain aspects of the hardware, but why can’t I send files to and from it over Bluetooth to use the phone as a portable drive? Almost every phone on the market allows that and they have nowhere near 16GB or storage. Also: I can understand the battery concerns of syncing iTunes, but being able to sync my contacts and calendars wirelessly would be nice.

Let me use my own ringtones. Kindly allowing me to pay extra to turn one of a selection of songs on iTunes into a tone is frankly rubbish. Yes, it’s cheaper than the £3 extortion that some official services provide, but very rarely will I have a song as a ringtone that’s ever likely to be on iTunes, and other phones let me stick any old MP3 on there. And what about when the tone I want isn’t actually music, like the codec sound from MGS? Don’t assume that I’m pirating a song for the purposes of a ringtone. Thankfully there’s iToner to avoid this problem, but I shouldn’t need a third-party app to give me such basic functionality.

Interface standardisation? Apple is usually good about creating interface guidelines and it’s a major reason why OS X is so nice to use, but why aren’t the built-in apps on my iPhone uniform? Why is the button to compose a new email in the bottom-right, but the one to compose a new text message is in the top-right? Why can I turn the phone and type on a landscape keyboard for when I occasionally need to enter text on a web page while email has no support for landscape orientation? Just be consistent.

Give me options for how my contacts work. I like the Address Book integration, and the ability to pick someone’s name and have all their contact information – home phone, work phone, mobile, email addresses, etc – available with one tap. However, why doesn’t searching for ‘dad’ bring up my dad’s details when his nickname field is filled in as ‘Dad’? And why does a call from home not just say ‘Home’ – it’s the home number on my personal Address Book entry, after all – rather than ‘Home to Olly Dean and three others’? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Let me charge from my USB hub. I have a hub plugged into the back of my 360, which powers several devices like my HDMI switch. You’d think, given that the iPhone is generally charged over USB, that I could charge it from that without having to leave my laptop on or go hunting for hen’s teeth a free power socket, but no. I’m not entirely sure why, either. Even if it’s slower than sucking the full power from an active computer, at least let me do it. I don’t care if it takes all night rather than an hour, because I’m not using it overnight.

And now, with that out the way, let the gushing begin… Continue reading iPhone 3G Impressions

From My iPhone

Sorry if this is a bit succinct, but I’m posting from my shiny new iPhone 3G and this is a bit more fiddly than your usual QWERTY keyboard.

The activation issues are as bad as people are saying (three hours later and I’m still not completely up and running), but it certainly is a lovely little machine. Photos and proper impressions in a few days when I’ve had a play and am on a proper computer.