Senior Writer with the 148Apps Network since June 5, 2010
I'm Carter Dotson, freelance writer based out of Chicago. I've been a fan of portable gaming since the days of the black-and-white Game Boy, but now mobile gaming consumes my life. Along with writing about mobile gaming. Which is why you see all these posts below. Also, check out The Portable Podcast, every Tuesday here on 148Apps.
Posted by Carter Dotson on April 29th, 2014 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the beefy turn-based strategy game brought to mobile from its initial PC and console release with just about everything intact, is on sale now for $9.99. This is cheaper than the game’s current price on Steam ($29.99), so it’s a real comparative bargain. As well, the Android launch clocked in $9.99 without any indicators that it was a sale price, so this may be a permanent price drop for the game, and quite possibly one of the best values on mobile.
Pixel Press Floors has a lofty goal: to make it possible to turn sketches of video game levels into ones playable in their platforming game app, done through the magic of augmented reality. Download and print the Floors Sketch Guide and Sketch Sheets, follow the instructions for layouts and objects in the levels, and if properly done, it’ll be turned into a level that can be played in the app. It’s also possible to draw levels in the app itself.
Check out the trailer below, and the PixelPress Vimeo channel for more videos on how it works. Pixel Press Floors will be available on April 30.
Harmonix, creators of the Rock Band series, have soft-launched Record Run on to the Canadian App Store. You will likely not be surprised to learn that it’s a rhythm-based game, but in a mobile-friendly endless runner format. So, I put on my athletic boogie shoes for this edition of It Came From Canada!
The gist of the game is to dodge obstacles and make it to the end of each level, but that’s oversimplifying things. See, each obstacle is meant to be dodged in time, with more points scored and more of a multiplier boost for timing the jumps, slides, and sideways movements properly. Of course everything is set to music, and players can import their own music to listen to while they play, with the game’s levels synchronized to the music. This does tend to work better with tracks that have a consistent tempo to them: the Animals as Leaders tracks I tried didn’t work so well, but electronic tracks worked a lot better.
Essentially, much like Rock Band, Record Run becomes about maintaining success in order to get high scores and the elusive five-star rating. In particular, continued success is necessary: getting and maintaining high multipliers is key. And they can get really high, I’ve seen as high as 10x, so repetition becomes important. Figuring out when to make swipes is harder once the 3x multiplier is reached, because that’s when the world shifts to its extremely-colorful mode – where the main character transforms into a creature of some sort (the first one available transforms into a flaming skeleton), and the world dances to the music. But most importantly, the indicators for when to swipe go away, and players are on their own as for when they have to.
Record Run is monetized through the standard two-tier currency, with records being used for upgrades, and backstage passes as the hard currency used for unlocking additional song slots and additional characters. It will be interesting to see how well the game monetizes: when I spoke with Harmonix at GDC, they gave off the attitude that they were just jumping in feet-first with this sort of free-to-play game, so balancing everything could take some time. I expect some sort of daily challenge incentive to be added as well, along with perhaps an energy system – the game is fairly simple and would be most rewarding perhaps through a system that conditions the game to be played in short bursts. So, before it launches worldwide, it could have a long way to go, and could still change a lot.
Posted by Carter Dotson on April 29th, 2014 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
SimpleRockets has gone free for only the second time in the app’s existence. Normally available in the $0.99-$2.99 range, now players can build rockets, trying to take off from various planets using realistic orbital physics based off of Johannes Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. While the game does have in-app purchases, do not fret: they’re all for rocket skins.
While rocket launches require careful planning, be quick with this one: it could go back to paid at any time.
Limbic Software, creators of Zombie Gunship, decided to celebrate April Fool’s Day the way they usually do: by announcing a fake game. This year, they announced Zombie Gunship Arcade, a 2D pixel-art version of Zombie Gunship where players tap to flap upward, which also shoots a shot at the zombies below. The goal is to kill as many zomibes as possible while trying not to kill any of the humans in the mix, thus ending the game.
Well, now it’s funny ’cause it’s true: Zombie Gunship Arcade is a real game, and it releases this Thursday, May 1, on the App Store for free.
Posted by Carter Dotson on April 29th, 2014 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Want some remastered Sonic action for cheap? Well, Sega has put Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on sale. Both originally released as emulated versions, then later updated by a team including Christian “Taxman” Whitehead and Simon “Stealth” Thomley, both well-known in the Sonic scene. The remasters include support for high-definition and widescreen displays, tweaks to the original games, and features like characters and levels not playable in the originals (such as the lost Hidden Palace Zone in Sonic 2).
Both games are available for a limited time for $0.99, so be speedy – like a certain blue hedgehog whose name escapes me.
Gear Jack: Black Hole, the endless runner follow-up to 2012′s Gear Jack, is coming to iOS this Thursday, May 1. Published by Crescent Moon Games, players will control the eponymous Jack as he travels through portals, endlessly running forward trying to stay alive through the myriad hazards his alien opponents have laid out. There will be all the standard bullet list features that you expect from an endless runner: missions, power-ups, multiple worlds, even video sharing.
For more on Gear Jack: Black Hole, check out the hands-on video from GDC 2014 below.
Are you angry about the new Comixology app, which removes the ability to buy comics from inside the app itself? If so, you should be just as angry at Apple for their policies making such an absurd situation, where an app can offer the ability to consume the content it sells without actually selling it, as much as you are at Comixology/Amazon for inconveniencing you.
The economics for the change are clear: they were giving 30% of every sale to Apple, as per App Store policies. That’s the way it’s been since the App Store opened – every time money changes hands, Apple takes its 30% cut. When in-app purchases were introduced, Apple kept the rate per transaction the same: 30% on everything. Thus, when Comixology sold a comic for $3.99, they only got ~$2.80 from it, for a book they had to sell for the same price on their site, by Apple policies.
For years, Comixology’s Comics app was one of the top grossing apps on the App Store – especially on the iPad. Source: AppAnnie
So, that 30% fee on transactions that Apple takes is problematically high. Certainly, it can be justified for paid apps: Apple provides approval, storage, bandwidth, tax collection, and a variety of services beyond just taking the money, in order to justify taking such a cut of a developer’s revenue.
You could go to your local comics shop or to a vendor at a convention, and using a Square credit card reader, they can sell you that comic at a 2.75% per swipe fee. So what right does Apple have to be taking 30% on a similar transaction? I think they should be allowed to take a reasonable premium on top of payment processing for the App Store services they provide, but it’s clear that 30% is unreasonable, especially for low-margin fields like the sale of music, movies, and comic books.
And because Apple specifically restricts outside payment systems, there’s no recourse for anyone who wants to offer media or subscription services through an app but to not sell said services in the app itself. It’s why you can’t buy a Netflix, Spotify, or Dropbox subscription from inside their apps at all – because Apple can’t take their steep tax.
Apps like Kindle have to sidestep just why they can’t actually sell you books in the app itself
Why would Apple, a seemingly pro-consumer company in the way that they design their products to be easy to use, do this? Well, they’re not actually a pro-consumer company. They’re a pro-Apple-consumer company. Everything they do is designed explicitly to get you to stay with Apple products. Ever thought about getting an Android or Windows Phone but decided not to because you didn’t want to lose iMessage? Exactly.
Remember that Apple sells music, video, and books of their own (though not comics to the scale that Comixology does); they have a weighted incentive to make it hard for outside sources to provide them on the App Store unless they pay the exorbitant 30% fee. And when people are inconvenienced by app makers because of Apple’s policies they get mad at the app maker, not Apple, which has to cause a chill to run up the spine of anyone struggling with a similar decision as Comixology.
Thus, Android Comixology users can still buy comics through the app. Those who relied on Google Play credit to buy books will find themselves out of luck. Of course, Google doesn’t have a monopoly over content distribution or an interest on keeping people as tied to Google Play and their own services, but it’s still a better way to operate than the monopolistic way that Apple does. The 30% payment processor fee for in-app purchases is still on the exorbitant side, but the nature of it is a lot more fair.
So, what Apple ultimately has is a situation that’s meant to give off the illusion of consumer-friendliness by making it only possible to spend money through iTunes accounts, when it really restricts the freedom that people have to get the content they want, where they want it from.
If a solution that’s actually friendly to users (and not just to those who buy in to the Apple system) is to happen, it’s going to require public pressure. They could enact the exact same policy that Google Play has, for one. This same policy is the one that allows Starbucks to allow for store credit refills through direct credit card or PayPal payments. It just needs to be expanded to cross-platform media so that users don’t get left out in the cold, or compelled to buy from Apple’s stores. Give them actual choice.
Or Apple needs to make their tax on in-app purchases – these purely digital transactions – a smaller fee, in order for it to be viable for sellers in high-margin transactions involving media. Somewhere from 5 to 10% may be more reasonable than the current 30%. Whatever the solution I believe change needs to happen, because right now, the ultimate loser from Apple policies are ordinary people who have had convenience taken away from them because of corporate politics.
Posted by Carter Dotson on April 28th, 2014 iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
Nutrisystem has announced their new digital weight loss system, NuMi. Designed to allow people to effectively undergo what they call “Responsive Dieting,” this system will adapt to users’ individual needs and preferences. The features include a patent pending behavior modification system, mentoring, integration with a variety of fitness devices and more.
Numi is available now on iTunes, with cross-platform support to the desktop so that fitness can be tracked anywhere.
Posted by Carter Dotson on April 28th, 2014 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Kumobius’ Duet, their artistic take on the minimalist challenge game craze, has a new update out. There’s now voice acting, done by Jojo Petrina with composer Tim Shiel, to add to the narrative and atmosphere of the game.
As well, three new challenging stage packs have been added: Revolution, Quickening, and Resilience, along with the final Transcendence stages, which is no longer the conclusion of the game, but part of the B-Side extra levels. As well, the game is easier to complete now.
You can download the newly-updated Duet from the App Store for $2.99.
Forever Entertainment is resurrecting their presumably-fictional Frederic Chopin with Frederic – Evil Strikes Back. This sequel to 2012′s Best App Ever nominee in the Music Game category, Frederic – Resurrection of Music, has players tapping out tunes on Frederic’s powerful keytar in order to defeat the forces of evil who want to commercialize music. Also, he has a sports car now.
Frederic – Evil Strikes Back releases on May 8 exclusively on the App Store, with other platforms coming later. Check out the teaser trailer.
Sega’s Crazy Taxi City Rush is an interesting game: it takes Crazy Taxi and manages to turn it into a more casual-friendly lane-based auto-runner, akin to Subway Surfers, or even Sonic Dash, developed by the same team. The game is currently out in Canada, and we grabbed our keys and set out to make some crazy money in this edition of It Came From Canada!
While the game is more of an auto-runner now, it still has that Crazy Taxi spirit, and it’s not just straightforward. Players swipe between different lanes, collecting Crazy Throughs for close calls with traffic, drifting around corners and into turns, and even side-swiping cars at high speed. The gear-shifting and braking is gone, as is picking up passengers, which all happens automatically. It rally does manage to feel like a more casual Crazy Taxi while still feeling like, well, Crazy Taxi. There’s even a punk soundtrack, but no Offspring or Bad Religion.
The thing that is a bit concerning with the game is the rigidity. The original game played things very fast and loose, and that was part of the fun. The lane-based gameplay makes weaving in and out of traffic in two lanes a lot harder, and makes more slow-down crashes happen at a much higher rate. Certainly the spirit of chaotic driving is still there, but it isn’t perfectly represented. I certainly understand the simplification, though.
As far as the free-to-play aspects go, there is an energy system and the standard two-tier currency: coins for buying common upgrades, rarer gems for things like energy refills. The energy system feels a bit short, allowing for six level plays before having to spend gems. As well, energy seems silly when one could pass the time by going and playing the original Crazy Taxi. But I imagine this is meant to appeal to more of a casual crowd that might find Crazy Taxi hard to pick up. Sonic Dash launched at a premium price point, and I don’t think that it’s a guarantee that Crazy Taxi City Rush will be free-to-play when it goes worldwide, because it certainly feels like it could stand as a ‘paymium’ game. Of course, time will tell just what gets tweaked and what the final decision for the game’s release is.
It’ll be interesting to see what the reaction from the gaming public will be, at least. Dungeon Keeper certainly made people angry, and as a Dreamcast game, Crazy Taxi has a cult fanbase too. A free-to-play game might not go over well, even though the game itself is more a casualification than anything else.
Soccer Rally 2 from IceFlame Games officially releases on Thursday, bringing perhaps the most realistic car soccer action to the App Store since the original released. David Deacon of IceFlame Games will join us on our Twitch channel to talk about the game, how they tried to improve it over the original, and perhaps playing their game in real life with actual cars and giant soccer balls.
Join us at 4:15 PM EDT (3:15 PM CDT, 1:15 PM PDT, 9:15 PM BST) for the live stream. Feel free to watch the embedded live viewer below, or watch on our Twitch page to chat with us and the developers. Be sure to hit that follow button to know when we go live, and to also gain our undying affection.
Missed the live broadcast? Catch the recap with highlights after the show right here.
Cipher Prime’s Inake is coming to iPad on May 1, as exclusively revealed yesterday on our Twitch channel.
This dubstep-fueled action-puzzle game is, according to William Stallwood of Cipher Prime, who joined up for the stream, pretty much a straight-up port of the PC version – in a sense. Some tweaks have been made to the game that will come to the PC version on May 1 as well, but ultimately it’s the same game with the same content. The difference is in the way it’s played: the game supports full multitouch controls on the iPad, so it’s a new approach to a familiar game.
Check out the video below of me going through the first 25 levels, which took some practice to get that far:
Watch some of the special levels, available in Challenge Modes:
At their recent Global Gamers’ Day event, Bandai Namco was largely focused on their console and PC offerings for the upcoming year. However mobile still had a small presence, with some upcoming titles revealed by the company – though few were in a playable state at this time.
Windows screenshot, may not be representative of iOS gameplay
The biggest announcement might just be Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+ coming to mobile later this year. The follow-up to the popular take on Pac-Man, which features dynamic levels that change every time a fruit is collected, will feature new game modes, characters, and level designs to try and survive. But it’s still an eat or get eaten world. Expect this one this fall, though it was not playable at the event. Still, the game’s set up for touch controls already on Windows, so it should be a similar experience.
Outcast Odyssey is another upcoming game, though shown only in trailer form. This one resembles Evilibrium‘s tile-uncovering gameplay, and dungeon-crawling is promised, but few details are known beyond that.
Project Unstoppable (working title) is another game that Namco announced with few details available. Check out the teaser trailer below.
Also on tap for the future from Namco include a game called Soul Calibur: Unbreakable Soul, though no details are available for it at all beyond the name. TNA 2, a head-to-head wrestling game based on the Total Nonstop Action Wrestling organization, is expected later this year.
Additionally, Namco is working with Invictus to bring some casual games to mobile under Namco’s label. Froggy Jump 2, already released, is part of this. Froggy Splash 2, a game similar to Burrito Bison and Jumping Finn Turbo is also in the works. A puzzle-RPG called Jewel Fight is also being created by Invictus for publication by Namco, though this one won’t involve cute frogs but rather warriors battling it out by matching gems by twisting around blocks of four gems, similar to Bejeweled Twist.
While details and playable gameplay were sparse at the event, Namco does appear to have a variety of titles planned, and this may not be all – these titles are under the wing of Namco’s American mobile studios, and other international branches may have their own worldwide releases down the road as well.
Today on our Twitch channel at 3:15PM CDT (1:15 PM PDT, 4:15PM EDT, 9:15 PM BST), Breakfinity from Phil Hassey will be the featured game. But not only will it be played with commentary, but I and Phil will be competing for high scores live against each other. Watch the embedded viewer below, or click here to watch and chat with us. If you miss the live broadcast, the archive will be embedded below after the show. May the best brick-breaker win!
Roadhouse Interactive recently announced the upcoming Warhammer 40,000: Carnage. Roadhouse is typically known for free-to-play games of the mid-core variety, meaning that they target more of a traditional PC/console gamer audience, as opposed to a casual one like many of the simulation and casino games that free-to-play has become known and often reviled for. But Roadhouse is going to release Carnage as a paid game. I spoke with Tarnie Williams and Kayla Kinnuen of the Vancouver studios recently to discuss just why they went this route.
First off, they say that they wanted to put together a cohesive game experience that players could just sit down and enjoy. “We really wanted to put together a game that didn’t have an energy mechanic… or any social pay walls, because we really wanted to deliver a great experience with players… you could buy this game, and if you wanted to just punch through the game in one sitting, ten hours, twelve hours, whatever it takes you, you can do that. You don’t have to wait for status bars to refresh or invite five friends to pass this gate. And we think that the gamers that want this game will really respect that, and I think that the price point supports that.”
Now, the game won’t be without in-app purchases, but Roadhouse claims that “it makes for something that can be used, but it’s all on your ability to play.” This decision to design the game this way may be in part because it won’t be paid everywhere. Roadhouse claims “there are places that cannot support a premium model. Certain territories just won’t buy it. But we believe that, actually, in a number of western countries, there’s actually an aspect of free-to-play fatigue in some cases, and there’s some interest from players to have robust experiences. And we’re trying to deliver one of those. To be frank, I’m really excited at what we’re delivering.” As well, they claim that with the free-to-play version that some markets will get that “both aspects of the experience as well as the manner in which players are allowed to consume and unlock content will be different.”
As well, this sort of “paymium” model, which games like Infinity Blade have used, have paved the way for the acceptability of games that launch with a paid price but also in-app purchases. According to Roadhouse, they claim that “there’s an expectation, for especially those small percentage that are spending lots of money, they want the ability to, at times, push further ahead or circumvent some of the design that’s been put in to place, and to be able to move at a different pace.”
“So fine, we understand that. But I think there’s also a big chunk of gamers, who when we look at the Warhammer 40,000 audience, they are gamers. And we have a lot of people in that are who are interested a full experience, without being limited to playing for six minutes. So we didn’t want to limit it in that way.”
And gamers that pick up the game will likely have a lot to play with over time: the plan is for the game to launch with 50 levels, and for updates down the road to possibly multiply the content of the game by four times what it launched with. And while they are working with Graham McNeill to craft the game’s story and world, they say “we think the title stands alone on its gameplay. And its structure, and its campaign, and its story, even if you didn’t have the Warhammer 40k brand on it, someone who’s never heard of Warhammer 40k is still going to be able to engage with this title, and still have a satisfying and rich experience as they go through a very detailed and rich world and have that experience.”
But ultimately, while Roadhouse is taking a different path for the company with this, they say “We’re not [saying] go kill free to play. It’s absolutely a viable business model, there’s lots of reasons to do it in lots of cases. But in this case we’ve chosen a different path and one we believe is very viable.”
Warhammer 40,000: Carnage is expected to release this May for iOS and Android. Thanks to Roadhouse for their time.
Rocketcat Games joined our Twitch channel late last week to stream Wayward Souls with us. For the first time, see the first boss of the game defeated, and see large chunks of the second area of the game, the Tower, with a couple of the game’s characters. The game releases on April 24.
We’ve shared YouTube videos of some of the highlights, along with a recap of the entire stream, containing information on the process of the game’s development and what players can expect when it releases.
See the first area of the game defeated with Renee the Rogue:
Renee the Rogue running through the Tower, the second area of the game:
As well, Blythe the Warrior makes a lengthy run through the Tower, but can it be successful? As well, check out some of Wayward Souls‘ hats that will be available, including some of the early adopter hats:
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a deceptive game because it can be so easy to get into, but doing well winds up being a bit of a challenge. Well, for those just jumping into the game with its iPad release, here are a few general tips on how to get better at Hearthstone.
If you’re serious about becoming a good player, dedicate yourself to doing so. This is not a standard mobile title, this is a Blizzard-made PC game that’s available on mobile. Yes, it has an easy learning curve to get into, but there’s a steep mountain to climb to be an expert, and part of that is collecting all the great cards that are out there.
So, if you’re going to go from newb to even just being respectable at the game, be prepared to dig in. Get ready to lose often, and to spend a lot of time learning how to play well as much as actually trying to play. Remember: you’re at a disadvantage because there’s plenty of experienced players out there already thanks to the game’s PC beta period, even though there are those folks just jumping in as well. Also remember: this is a free-to-play game. You may want to spend money on booster packs if you want to get better cards.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. It can be easy when starting out to stick with the starting class and to just try and build them out. Don’t do so – there are nine classes in total, and it’s possible that one might be more conducive to your play style than another. So try them out as you unlock them. This is why I say you should be dedicated. You likely won’t get to a position where you are at an optimal level for a long time if you’re committed to being good.
So always be trying out different things, playing as different classes, trying different strategies, and especially forming different decks. I recommend reviewing a deck often: is a card a good idea to have in a deck? Would a new card be better than one already in the deck you’ve made that you’re comfortable with? You won’t know for sure until you try it out for yourself.
Pay attention. Try not to be distracted when you’re playing seriously. You want to know at all times what your strategy is going to be, what cards you’re going to play – and more importantly, not play, as a powerful ability might be better served for later. Mana amounts are more of a suggestion of what you can do, not what you must do. You have some time to make moves, so take advantage of it!
But the other big reason to pay attention is that decks are only 30 cards. While it’s impossible to know what exactly a player has in their deck, if you know they’ve used something already (especially twice), then you know what they can’t do in the future, or can even just have an idea on what they might do, based on their class (this is why you experiment)! Be smart, and you can outwit your opponent.
Play often! You’re not going to get better by not playing. Play regularly – practice against the AI, especially when starting out. But try to complete the missions daily if you’re a serious player: they’re free gold for the taking, and free gold means less real-world money spent on arena entries and booster packs (or just more of them if you’re intent on not paying)! And remember: the things you learn will stick more when you play and do them more. Your account will transfer between different platforms, so you can play wherever you so choose.
So get out there, and get Hearthing those stones for great victory!
On our latest Twitch stream, we’ll be playing a pair of minimalist arcade games, one that just got a big content update in Pivvot, and another that was inspired by it in 15 Coins. Whitaker Trebella, creator of Pivvot, will discuss the new modes added to the game and the challenges of designing them. As well, Engaging Games’ Blake Johnson will discuss his studio’s own 15 Coins, and how games like Pivvot helped inspire it.
Watch the embedded stream below when it goes live at 7:15 PM CDT or click here to watch on Twitch and chat with the developers. Highlights will be available after the show.