Editor with the 148Apps Network since August 5, 2010
Dad, Mac Head, Gamer. Rob lives in Anchorage, AK, and commutes daily to the intarwebs to edit and write about games and gaming. His previous incarnation was as the Executive Editor at The Portable Gamer, and brings that experience with a good dose of humility into his current tasks at 148Apps.
In the sequel to PopCap’s hit lane-based defense game, Plants vs Zombies 2 takes players through three different times and places, including Ancient Egypt, The Wild West, and the Pirate Seas, bringing a whole host of new mechanics to the game, including Plant Food power ups and special destructive power buttons.
You’ll also see a whole new way of seeing your progression in the game with the big over world map, themed per time and world. THe game is looking great, and we got to play through a couple of levels of time-traveling fun.
We were able to sit with the folks behind the upcoming mobile reboot of Ultima Online today, learning more about the game and its planned release date (July, if all goes as planned). The game already soft-launched in Canada, and we hear tell that the producer on the game is playing in-game as well, so tell her hi from us when you see her.
The team has been hard at work balancing the game, making group joining a lot easier, and making sure the in-app purchases aren’t too egregious. Check out a quick video below to see the lay of the land.
Today at the EA event, we got to see a slick new game that’s part music creation, part social free-to-play game, part music mashup engine. Called Zya, it lets you pick beats, bass lines, and sing melodies, choosing from a wide variety of professional sounds and performances from all different types of music, including a bunch that you’ve heard on the radio recently.
We met with Thomas Konkol today, an indie developer who runs Imminent Games. Drip Drip, originally released on the Mac App Store, is coming to the iPad within the next few months. The game looks great, and the touch-screen really seems to be a great fit for this rain-management game.
Modern Combat 5: This flagship Gameloft first-person shooter (FPS) title is now at number five, with a new engine that the folks at E3 can’t talk about, but boy is it pretty. PLan to play this one out loud sometime before the end of the year.
Brothers in Arms 3: Another shooter, this one is less dual stick control, and more about flicking, swiping and tapping. I had a much better time here, killing more baddies than in MC5, but that’s just how I roll. Oh, and there’s slo-mo kill cam for those special headshot moments.
Minions Run: An endless runner starring everyone’s favorite little yellow dudes, the minions from Despicable Me. The game is planned to release next week, just in time for the movie, Despicable Me 2.
Asphalt 8: Hard to believe this racing series has been going on so long. Gameloft kicks it up another notch with a new racer that we should get to play sometime before the end of this current year. 148Apps founder, Jeff Scott, tries out the new Infected mode in the video below, but we’ve also been told there’s a sweet new Drift mode, as well. Very pretty!
Total Conquest: I’m not going to call this one a clone, but boy does it look a LOT like Clash of Clans, which to be honest was a clone itself. Regardless, it’s pretty, and set in Ancient Rome. Yay, Rome!
Domo Jump: Bounce your little monster, Domo Kun, up and up and up, fueling each jump with candy. Tilt your way up the screen with this pretty pretty jumping game from Konami, developed by Kung Fu Factory.
Slot Revolution: Another Kung Fu Factory developed game, to be published by Konami this summer, it uses slot machine mechanics to battle it out with friends asynchronously across an fantasy landscape with persistent level ups and XP.
MLB Live Challenge: A card battler using real stats from Major League Baseball players, with some lite fantasy sports elements and a free to play business model.
We sat down with Eric Cho of Gamevil today, to take a quick look at Steel Commanders, an upcoming card ballte, trading card game coming this Thursday to iOS and Android. It’s a science fiction-themed digital card game with factions, PvP, and some gorgeous artwork. Check it out:
At 148Apps, we use iOS a lot. I mean, a LOT. What may be an inconvenient feature to the average user is possibly a daily chore to folks like us, who use their iPhones and iPads every day, hour after hour.
As we sat and talked about our hopes and dreams for the next version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 7, we figured it might be cool to get a couple more folks in on the conversation, like Aaron Watkins, a public relations guru with Appency, and Tim Harris, currently President of Industrial Toys, developer of the much anticipated upcoming core sci fi shooter game, Morning STar.
Aaron Watkins, Appency
One of the trends I’ve seen recently is brilliant software developers coming up with much improved versions of native apps. Better mail, better calendars, better contacts apps… yet it’s still impossible to get rid of the apps that came with the device (Newsstand can’t even be put in a folder!). We’ve had better maps now for quite a while – Apple’s own attempt at maps has been a bit of a disaster and I would venture to guess that more people use third party map apps like Google for their navigation needs.
That being said – Apple needs to give the maps app a feature face-lift. Automatic routing when you go off course has huge room for improvement, and searching for items along a route would be a great cure for my Starbucks habit.
Along the line of phone organization for the OCD – as the hard drive space gets larger and larger in progressive phones, more and more apps end up on our phones and I would love to see folders within folders to do additional subdivision of content. The same goes for contacts, where the ability to create contact groups needs to be available on the phone itself.
The app store itself has plenty of room for update. The native phone app store on its last major redesign went from a place where the top 10 apps were readily visible to a system where its really the top 4 that get all the visibility. A combination of the best elements of the last version and this version would be an ideal solution. With the problems associated with app discovery, it would be great to see more categories – but my pie in the sky hope would be a system in which third parties could create white labeled app stores that used an iTunes based system and billing mechanism, but allowed others to create their own curated content stores that they could locate on their own websites. Why cant a travel magazine have their own iPhone app store where they highlight the best apps they have looked at, and sell them directly on their website without all the current redirection.
Oh – and one last thing – developers need to be able to respond to reviews in the app store. Its basic customer service!
Rob LeFebvre, 148Apps
Good stuff, Aaron. There is lots of room for improvement in discovery, including categories and stuff. A curated app store for different groups would be cool, too.
Personally, I’d like to see the iOS update to include a lot of the stuff we’re seeing from Android, like more customizable home screens, widgets, and the ability to define default apps, even if they’re not Apple ones.
I’d love to be able to turn wireless and Bluetooth on and off without having to dig for the Settings app, and for gods sake, let us login to multiple accounts on the App store. Sigh.
I’m also really hoping for a better, more unified look and feel. The skeuomorphic stuff gets a bad rap, and while I don’t think it’s that big a deal, I’d love to see a flatter, less faux-anything look and feel.
I’d like to see Game Center improved, as it just feels kind of tacked on, right now. And lets get it on Android, or just give up and embrace Google’s new push.
That’s all I can think of at the moment, I’m sure I’ll chime in more as the discussion gets going.
Carter Dotson, 148Apps
What I really want to see from iOS 7 beyond just a new visual look is something that significantly streamlines and de-clutters the user experience. Are we so sure that the standard grid of icons is still the best way to go about using the multitude of apps on our phone, especially with the sheer number that’s out there? Why must I still go to Settings in order to turn basic settings on and off? As well, for those of us that have used iOS for years and have gotten used to the incremental changes, it’s easy to forget that for many people, iOS has a lot of complex aspects to it.
Considering that Android and Windows Phone have experimented with different ways to display important content in creative ways, I would love to see an Apple take on making the experience more user-friendly and intelligent. If there’s a better way to use our myriad devices here in 2013 with everything they’re capable of, shouldn’t it be Apple leading the way? iOS has felt static for a while, and I hope there’s more than just a new coat of paint coming.
Tim Harris, Industrial Toys
I agree with the sentiments about management of apps, and my main hope is along those lines.
The running app tray needs work. There should be a more user friendly view to see what apps are running, and a better way to close them. The search screen and the pull-down screen are underutilized for this type of thing. The current “double tap the home button” sucks, and manually closing everything to free up the device suxxors. Toggles like Wifi, Do Not Disturb, and Airplane Mode should be easier to find and one click and allowing users to bring their most-used out of Settings and into “normal” screenspace would make life easier.
I’m also going to pile-on Rob’s Gamecenter thing. We’ve seen slight improvements to Game Center over the versions, but it’s never gotten to a level that game developers can get excited about (or users, for that matter). I’d love to see friending, challenging, incentivizing and deep-linking get better. Achievements should be able to be integrated into the games innards rather than being tacked on so that we have to write our own systems to make it all work. Points should mean/do something. Gimme gimme.
Jeff Scott, 148Apps
I think my big hopes are around openness. Rob mentioned this a bit with the ability to choose default apps, like Maps, email, browser. But I think it goes beyond that. App to app communication needs to be enhanced. We’ve seen really interesting things done with Audiobus, and Apple must love it since Garage Band was one of the first apps to support it. More of that for all media types or in general, data. Open up Siri, the notifications tray, basically loosen the grip. It can be done without making the phone look like some 13 year old kid has designed it.
Apple also need to open up with the App Store. Give developers the tools they need to sell, support, and grow. The App Store economy is larger than the GDP of most countries in the world. It’s time to give it the support it needs. I have a gut feeling the reason not as much has been done is because iTunes is still based on the now ancient java based WebObjects. It’s ancient, fragile, and a beast to change. It needs to be replaced, but that’s no easy task.
And I agree with Carter on the look and the grid of icons. That hasn’t changed since the first user interface, the Xerox Alto in 1973. Forty years is too long. Some may say that it works, but when you have 500 apps installed, it just doesn’t work. We need a new interface, other than a grid of icons.
Search may be the answer to some of these issues. And I expect Apple to make some big advances with Siri, hopefully in iOS 7, but certainly going forward.
Now, the big one. The one I have been hoping for since the iPad was announced. Multi-user logins for iOS. In particular an iPad that is shared in a family. It’s a must. Parents don’t want kids in their email, kids don’t want parents in their Clash of Clans villages. There is so much that could be done with a good multiuser system. I have too many ideas, but we’ll save that for another time. But, to me, this is a must have, and it must be in iOS 7 because it was needed in iOS 5.
Basically, Apple really needs to bring it with iOS 7. I personally think they have been left in the dust by Google and Android. Even Windows Phone and Amazon have shown some insights and features that Apple should have and could have done first.
Tim Harris, Industrial Toys
Oh, yes– I’d like to take a moment to be a crybaby. The existence of app updates destroyed my sanity, thus my tears. It’s not that I hate updating much-loved and much-used software. Quite the contrary, I get excited about the latest and greatest from my favorite developers. However, the current iOS visits two very specific evils upon me, turning me into a compulsive update checker/reader/clicker:
1. it won’t let me choose apps to automatically update when updates are available, and 2. it won’t let me update as many applications as possible when I am short on drive space.
Every couple of weeks, I find myself with over 100 update notifications and when it gets to that level, I’m stuck updating every app click by click. Some intelligence to the app update process would save users tons of time and self-loathing. It would save developers angst, too, making valued updates more likely to reach their install base.
Rob LeFebvre, 148Apps
Alright, I’ll whine a bit, too.
Please let me take care of the stupid red number at the top of my apps that use the badge notification icon. I’d really like a “mark all as read” option in Mail. I’d love to be able to have the red badge of shame go away when I open an app and close it – not just when I open an app, take care of all the stupid stuff, and then close it, 30 min later.
Also? Let’s make it a lot easier to buy in-app purchases with one account when we originally “purchased” the app with another. Does it really matter which account we’re using to download an app, vs. buying smurfberries for?
Aaron Watkins, Appency
As someone with kids, I dont know if making in-app purchases too much easier is a good thing- I dont want my 10 year old, or my 4 year old for that matter, purchasing things. That being the case, I would love to have kid modes where I can hand my iPad over to my youngest and only show for her apps that I have pre-selected as appropriate, and then do the same and have a different set for my 10 year old son. Maybe even a “play mode” and a “homework mode” that could be used in schools or for when you give your kid the device to look up vocab words and end up discovering he has been playing RoboKill the whole time.
Thanks to one and all for their time on this topic. Will Apple give any of us what we want? Only time will tell, as Apple is set to announce iOS 7 for the first time at WWDC this June. Keep your eye peeled (ew, gross) on 148Apps for all the lowdown when we know more.
Posted by Rob LeFebvre on May 30th, 2013 iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
IK Multimedia announced today two huge new updates to their flagship iOS guitar product line, Amplitube 3.0 and iRig HD, bringing prosumer-level audio processing and input to the iPad and iPhone.
Amplitube 3.0 brings a new in-app purchase option, Amplitube Studio, which turns your iPad into a full-on digital audio workstation (DAW). It also lets you chain effects on every track, and iRig HD owners get four special gear models not available otherwise.
iRig HD is the new, higher-quality solution to connecting a guitar or any line-level instrument to your iPad or iPhone, letting you take advantage of amazing apps for guitar amp modeling and stomp box effects, like Amplitube, which is also Audiobus capable.
You know you’ve made it big today when you’re showing up in memes. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (aka KotOR) while not a modern game by any means, is still one of (if not the) most popular Star Wars games of all time.
It’s not surprising, then, that the internet has taken its own inability to refrain from putting big blocky letters on top of images and mashed that up with images and references to this most geeky of geek games. Here are several of the best from around the ‘net. Click on each image to go to the original source.
Let’s start with a meme from a popular series of beer commercials, the world’s most interesting man.
Yeah, it’s a bit obscure for us, too.
And, keeping within the classic meme concept, here’s a good one, referencing KotOR, the new Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic, and, well, Xzibit.
Seriously, dawg, we did.
Of course, no meme bank would be complete without actual images from the game itself. Here’s one of the main characters, Bastila Shan, who apparently has a bit of a judgmental attitude.
Voiced by Jennifer Hale, no less.
Then there’s the angry droid companion, assassin HK-47, who refers to all non-droids as, well, you get it.
I can haz Jedi-burger?
Darth Malak has Bastila up against the torture table, and leans in close, menacing. Suddenly…
A new fragrance from the maker of “JediPassion,” Darth Malak.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, popularly known as KotOR, was the first computer role playing game (RPG) set in the Star Wars universe. It was originally released on the Microsoft Xbox in July of 2003 in North America, eventually coming to Windows computers in November of that same year and Mac OS X in 2004.
Bioware, headed up by Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka at the time, revealed the upcoming title at the Entertainment and Electronics Expo (E3) in 2001 to some great fanfare. Working under license from LucasArts, Bioware chose to set the game 4,000 years before Star Wars: Episode I in the official Star Wars timeline, thus avoiding any movie tie-in pressure and allowing the developers some freedom to create new content in a familiar universe. While the team of over 40 had to send concept artwork to LucasArts, there was only minimal direction from “the ranch.”
While previous BioWare games ran long (Baldur’s Gate was 100 hours of gameplay, though it could take over 300 hours for the non-expert to complete it fully), the KotOR team wanted to keep gameplay short enough to justify all the extra world and environment building. “Our goal for gameplay time is 60 hours,” said Mike Gallo of LucasArts in an interview with GameSpot in 2002. “We have so many areas that we’re building–worlds, spaceships, things like that to explore–so we have a ton of gameplay.”
BioWare had experience developing for PC, so the development team settled on Xbox as the obvious initial target for development. One of the challenges, though, was deciding how much detail to give the visuals versus the AI, scripting, and character models. With an console, the storage space is limited to how much can fit on a game disk, and the graphical performance is determined by the console maker, not the hot-rodding PC modder. In fact, the PC version of the game has higher resolution for both display and textures, an extra location to visit, and more non-player characters (NPCs), items, and weapons.
LucasArts worked on the KotOR audio, using its vast resources and movie-library of sound effects to make the game sound like a true Star Wars experience. The game also contained 300 unique characters with 15,000 lines of dialogue, leading to a script that filled ten 5-inch binders. Around 100 voice actors filled all the roles, including some big names like Ed Asner and Jennifer Hale. The music for KotOR was an original score by composer Jeremy Soule, who used similar themes as the motion picture soundtrack while creating something new, all on an 8 megabit per second MIDI system.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic launched to strong critical and player acclaim, winning several awards, including game of the year from Game Developers’ Choice, best Xbox game of the year from BAFTA, and an Interactive Achievement Award for best console and computer RPG. The game also received many Game of the Year awards from places like IGN, Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer, and G4, and has an average Metacritic score of 93/100. KotOR has been named one of the 100 greatest video games of all time by Time, and it came in at 54 on Game Informer’s 2010 Top 200 Games of All Time list.
Posted by Rob LeFebvre on May 23rd, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Casual game mega-publisher Zynga has just released a new arcade hack ‘n’ slash game called Battlestone. You’ll get to swipe your way to victory, fighting off hordes of enemies in single player mode, while squaring up against others in PvP modes. Once you get into the game, you’ll collect characters, summoning and upgrading heroes to beat ever-more difficult enemies and environments. Get your swipe on today with this free-to-play game on your iPad or iPhone.
When we introduced a new feature here at 148Apps, Our Favorites, we promised that more was coming down the pike (whatever *that* means). Well, that day has arrived with a new addition: Life Hacker.
These are the apps that we use to push the boundaries of our schedules, our minds, our bodies, and our working lives. Life Hacking is all about getting more done in one day than most folks get done in a week. The apps in this list will help all of us take our lives to the next level anywhere, anytime.
Fresh from the (ahem) crushing success of King’s Candy Crush Saga, the Facebook and mobile casual game developer announced today that yet another top ten Facebook game, Pet Rescue Saga, is scheduled to release on mobile early this summer.
King says that the current Facebook iteration of Pet Rescue Saga is the third overall largest game on Facebook with over six million daily players. The iOS and Android app will be available early this summer on iTunes and Google Play. This is the third mobile release for the casual gaming company, with Candy Crush Saga seeing over 500 million plays a day on mobile. A day. Sheesh.
Stay tuned for more details as they become available.
Posted by Rob LeFebvre on May 6th, 2013 iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
In case you missed it earlier, Topple 2 is coming back to the app store, this time via Mobage. The ngmoco:) classic block stacking game is a classic in the iOS App Store, hearkening back to a time when ngmoco:) was the critical darling of the nascent game scene on the newly created Apple mobile platform.
It’s a low $0.99 now, so head on over to the App Store and get yourself this piece of iOS gaming history.
Posted by Rob LeFebvre on May 2nd, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Imagine our surprise and delight when we saw this amazing news force its way into our inbox this morning. The Lego Group has just released its own Lego Star Wars game directly to iOS with The Yoda Chronicles. Head over to Lego Star Wars website to see a ton of mini movies in the style of The Clone Wars, starring Yoda, Count Dooku, and General Greivous battling it out for control of the Force, then download the free iOS game to play through eight levels of pure Lego Star Wars action.
For hundreds of years Yoda™ has trained the Jedi Knights™ of the future, but never for something like this. The Dark Side is preparing a weapon more powerful than any Jedi™ has ever faced before. Play now to take control of the galaxy!
Build, create and control your favorite characters and vehicles to smash your enemy, solve puzzles and complete challenges within the LEGO® Star Wars™ universe
The folks behind the ever-amazing Game Developers Conference, held each year in San Francisco, are expanding their offerings with two new conferences to be held at the Los Angeles Convention Center November 5th-7th, 2013. The App Developers Conference (ADC) will focus on more than just game apps, bringing together developers for iOS, Android, and other mobile platforms for workshops, presentations, and seminars. The GDC Next conference, taking place simultaneously, is the spiritual successor to GDC Online. GDC Next will focus on the future of gaming experiences across all platforms.
Both conferences are looking for presenters from now until May 29, 2013, with the ADC looking for submissions in the areas of Entertainment, Enterprise, Health/Wellness, Lifestyle, Brand Marketing, and Education. Submissions for the ADS are open now at http://adc.callforsubmissions.gdc4p.com.
GDC Next is looking for presentations in the areas of The Future of Gaming, Next Generation Game Platforms, Free-to-Play & New Business Models, Smartphone and & Tablet Games, Cloud Gaming and Independent Games, with a submission form available at http://gdcnext.2013.gdc4p.com.
We spoke with Executive Vice President of GDC, Simon Carless (pictured, right), to find out a bit more about the impetus behind the two new conferences as well as the change in venue. The main reason to have the conferences in Los Angeles is one of logistics. “We’re finding a lot of the top game and app developers are on the West Coast – or can easily travel there thanks to the excellent airport connections Los Angeles has,” said Carless. He continued, saying that the lack of direct flights to Austin, TX, where GDC Online was traditionally held, made an otherwise successful conference tricky to get to.
A secondary reason, especially for the App Developers Conference, is that Los Angeles is a hub for many of the topical areas the conference will focus on, like entertainment, enterprise, fitness, and lifestyle apps.
As far as how GDC Next connects to the now-defunct GDC Online, Carless said, “We’re calling GDC Next the ‘spiritual successor’ to GDC Online, in that a lot of the advisory board from GDC Online are transitioning to this new event, but we’ve discovered that as their focus changes (to tablets, free to play, and beyond!), our focus for the show changed as well.” The resulting new conference and focus is more about the future of games, he said, to bring the conference up to date.
Carless is excited about the ADC, as its an area the group has never covered before, though he does mention that there will be a gaming apps track at GDC Next. “So what we found,” he said, “is that there are a LOT of apps being produced that are not games, and people were asking for a much more learning and takeaway-focused event around enterprise, entertainment, lifestyle, and other apps.” And that’s what the group is doing.
If you’re a developer of gaming or other apps and want to present at either conference, be sure to head to the respective pages, linked above, to submit your presentations to the committees who handle that sort of thing.
Here’s a confession: I haven’t purchased a song from iTunes or Amazon or Google in a couple of years.
No, I haven’t turned to piracy via Bittorrent, and neither have I started to use (shudder) YouTube to listen to new songs.
I’ve done what millions of other folks are doing these days, namely using streaming radio.
It started with Pandora, but my experience there quickly paled as I realized I could never really get the specific artists I wanted on the stations I created. Plus, I’m an old-school music snob. I believe in the album format, as a collection of songs that makes some sort of collective statement, even when it isn’t a thematic album, per se.
Enter Rdio, Spotify, and Rhapsody. Each streaming music service has its proponents and detractors, and I’m no different. I’m an Rdio fan from the start, but keep trying out Spotify as more and more of the connections on my social networks seem to use it to share playlists. I figured I’d give Rhapsody a shot, too, since it basically does the same thing as the other two.
And there’s the rub. Each service does the same thing: offers up unlimited on-demand music from modern recorded music over the internet, via a website, computer app, or iOS app. How then, are we to choose which service is best for us? Here’s how I did it.
First of all, I’m sticking to the iOS experience. That means that each service costs about $10 a month to use. I use my iPhone in the car or on my bicycle to play music via LTE on the go. I also use my iPad 3 or iPad mini to send music to bluetooth speakers in my house. These are my default listening environments.
Therefore, I’m judging each service on how well it works as an iOS app, as a music catalogue, and as a sharing platform, because I love sharing and discovering new music via my friends and social network.
Heard it on the Rdio
Rdio has a fantastic collection of music, both old and new, and the universal app makes it super easy to see what new albums are out, what albums are trending within my network, and to search for music I want to hear. I have yet to not be able to find something I’m looking for via search, and I dig pulling up new albums by artists I know as well as by those I don’t. Rdio is visually organized around albums, which makes sense to my old music-loving brain.
While many of my music-snob friends use the service, what Rdio doesn’t have is a significant amount of the rank and file people on the service to meet my sharing/discovery needs. The playlist support is also rather hidden in the iOS app, at least, making finding new playlists a more difficult task than it should be.
Here’s the current darling of the social network scene, with a broad user base and a fantastic catalog of all sorts of music. The playlist support is second to none, and finding playlists to follow is super easy and surfaced at the top of the interface, at least in the iPad version of the app. The What’s New tab has recommended albums, trending playlists, and New Releases all visible and easily accessed. This, plus the fact that many of my friends on Facebook and Twitter seem to share Spotify links more often than Rdio is what keeps me interested in the service.
However, what Spotify also has is a horrible iPhone app. I started using it on iOS via the smaller app, and almost gave up hope. It wasn’t until I opened Spotify on my iPad that I saw any use in using the service on the go. Why a universal app can’t work the same on both the iPhone and the iPad, I don’t know.
Now here’s a service that has always seemed more corporate to me, with a big, pretty iOS interface and plenty of new artists and albums to listen to and discover. The main page is set up with New Releases, Popular Artists, and Featured albums. The genre support here is great; I can find classical, jazz, and world music as easily as I can rock or pop.
On the downside, playlists are a decidedly single affair, as I can make them, but I don’t see anywhere to find them. There’s also no connection to Facebook or Twitter, making sharing my music listening or discovering that of my friends rather difficult. The show stopper here, though, came when I tried to open up the app on my iPhone, originally having set it up on my iPad mini. I got a message saying, essentially, that I had reached my “Device Limit,” and that only one device at a time is supported. I could switch devices if I liked, but only one at a time is authorized for the Rhapsody service. Game over, which is too bad because it’s a very pretty app.
I’m still going to stick with Rdio, because it looks and works the same on my iPhone as it does my iPad. The people I’m connected to on the service are all folks with eclectic, intelligent taste in music, and I really get a lot more out of following them and their playlists on Rdio. I wish it had better ways to discover playlists, and makes browsing by genre a bigger part of the interface, but the service is still my personal favorite.
Spotify is a close second, mainly due to the trending playlist and larger-seeming user base, at least within my social scene. I wish it was less song oriented and more about the albums, but that’s more my own bias than anything significant with the service. If sharing songs with other folks is important, Spotify is a great choice.
Rapsody, sadly, while pretty, has the limitation on devices, as well as a more corporate look and feel, plus the lack of modern social network support. If none of those things matter, it’s a decent service for the same price as the other two.
Bottom line, whichever service meets the needs of its individual users is the “winner,” but I find Rdio to be the best of all worlds, and will probably stick with it for the time being, especially while the Spotify iPhone app is so awful.
Posted by Rob LeFebvre on April 22nd, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Narr8, the digital storytelling app we reviewed back in November of last year, has gotten a new update, letting users unlock new episodes with in-app currency, called NARRs tokens. These will are earned through daily use of the Narr8 app, and can also be purchased like other free-to-play games on the App Store. The first two episodes of each series are still free to download, of course. The new update also includes a new autoplay feature, letting users watch a continuous stream of downloaded episodes.
The first step in NARR8′s evolving business model was the introduction of NARRs tokens, which users accrued automatically by using the app each day. This virtual currency has helped users unlock exclusive collectible items associated with each series. Now, users can also buy “NARRs” to unlock new episodes.
Opening the app every day will accrue the full weekly bonus of 120 NARRs per week. The cost of one new episode will be 100 NARRs, which can be purchased for $ 0.99. Users can purchase bundles of 100, 300, 500, or 1000 NARRs for $ 0.99, $ 2.99, $ 4.99, and $ 9.99, respectively. Auto play for motion comics costs 100 NARRs.
Ever wondered what a video game trailer might be like played completely against type? The folks at Paradox apparently have, and you can see the fruit of their efforts right here in their latest trailer for upcoming strategic action game, Leviathan Warships.
You can pre-order the game for Mac and PC for $10 right now, and get the DLC included for free. Leviathan Warships will otherwise also release for iOS and Android on April 30.
Posted by Rob LeFebvre on April 18th, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Yahoo! just released it’s new app, Yahoo! Weather, and it’s beautiful. Not only that, but it’s got ties to Flickr’s Project Weather, a crowd-sourced set of pictures of current weather photos from cities around the globe. If you’re looking to replace the default weather app, this may be the comprehensive and gorgeous alternative you’ve been waiting for.
You know those super special apps that reside on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, always ready, always in use? The ones that you recommend to friends and family over and over?
Well, we’ve got those, too, and we spend a LOT of time with different apps around here. Every so often, we come across something that’s so good, so unique to us as individuals, that we needed a way to share it with you.
So here it is: Our Favorites. A curated set of themed lists that give you our very favorite apps for a variety of uses and personality types. Are you a Bored Core Gamer? Do you feel like a Social (Network) Butterfly? Do you consider yourself a Fresh Music Seeker? Well, we’ve got a Favorite list for you, culled from our own experiences in and around the iOS App Store.
Check them out, won’t you? We’ll be releasing a new list regularly, so come back often and soon.
Deirdra Kiai is a young game developer with several games to the good, including the most recent, Dominique Pamplemousse, a “stop motion musical detective adventure game” that’s available on Mac, Windows, and iPad. Here’s a quick preview, with Deirdra’s own singing voice as the lead character:
We had a chance to sit down with Deirdra this past GDC week, and chatted a bit about Deirdra’s game development experience, the choice of gender-neutral protagonists, and some of the techniques that went into making the current game. Some of the interview has been edited for clarity.
148Apps: How many games have you made now?
Deirdra Kiai: Well, I’ve been making games ever since the early 2000s. It started out as a hobby in high school. So there are probably maybe at least ten or so games I’ve done that are available on my website. I have a reverse chronological order portfolio on my site so you can kind of see the evolution of what i’ve done there.
If you had to describe the evolution of your style of your games in a sentence or two, how would you do that?
Hm, a sentence or two? I started out heavily inspired by classic Lucas arts adventure games, (which is) apparent even today. But as I went on, I started incorporating so many more influences, particularly from interactive fiction and basically narrative-based, choice-based narrative games that aren’t necessarily always about puzzle solving but have some kind of interesting story you can explore and some kind of personal twist to it. So a big part of my evolution has been incorporating more of the personal into my work.
So when you say the personal, do you mean the characters or yourself?
Kind of both. The characters I write have a lot to do with myself and the people I know and just thoughts and feelings I have and sometimes the characters I write embody those.
Would you say your work is becoming more personal over time?
So, Dominique, how do you say the last name?
Pamplemousse. It’s the French word for grapefruit.
I just think it’s a cool word. It just sounds cool. it’s like an early detective–a big French detective name and I’ve always liked pamplemousse. I want a character named Pamplemousse. And what’s a good gender-neutral French sounding name? Dominique.
The gender neutral thing is a big part of this game, and the last one you made, as well. Tell us a bit more about it?
Well the genesis of the whole idea of doing a gender-neutral protagonist came with some of my past games featuring female characters and protagonists–I have a very androgynous drawing style for characters. I don’t like to sexualize women. I like to design characters who I can empathize with, and that goes for female and male and whatever. And so in (my previous game), Life Flashes By, I had several comments along the lines of, “I didn’t know I was playing a woman! Charlotte totally looks like a man! She’s got a square jaw and everything.” And I was thinking I wanted to play with this a bit. I want to play with this expectation that cartoon characters and gender that you have to explicitly show tertiary and secondary characteristics if you’re going to, like Minnie Mouse is Mickey Mouse with a bow on her head and Ms. Pac-man is a Pac-man with a bow on her head.
They’re not that different, right.
Not that different at all. It’s just weird that you have to specifically mark something as female. so yes, Dominique is a very neutral character. So I was like, “Why don’t I just make the character completely neutral?”
I was also partly inspired by the game Echo Bazaar, it’s now called Fallen London, and one of the character selection options involved having a gender neutral character. So it’s like a person of mysterious and indistinct gender. I chose that as my character and as I was playing my character in this game I felt like oh, I really like this. I’m just playing kind of this sneaky, charming thief-type person and people keep going “Sir, uh, madam, uh, what…”
But that was part of the fun. I just thought that was really cool. I, myself, kind of identify as somewhat androgynous so there’s definitely a bit of personal inspiration there. Definitely in the last year or two, my personal sense of style has gotten a lot more androgynous and I really enjoyed embodying that and playing with people’s assumptions. It’s a more comfortable role for me to play. I was never always comfortable just being a full-on woman but I’ve never really felt like a man, either. So it’s inspired by personal and inspired by people’s reactions to my previous work.
Tell us a little bit about this game and the claymation and all that. It’s taken about year to get this together?
Kind of, yeah. I’ve spent about a year, since maybe summer 2011 or so. I got started prototyping, creating and putting the materials together, making the puppets, and trying to make a set and seeing how that would look. and doing some art tests and gradually over the year. I built the preliminary game engine, I had the music um…
The music is fantastic, by the way. I love the way that plays out.
Thank you! Yeah, so just getting the music to loop seamlessly for the most part, and getting the musical queueing to work in a way that I am more or less happy with.
How did you put that together (besides with magic)? Was it a lot of manual tweaking or was it more programmatic?
Well, I sort of programmed a system based on counting the beats per measure, measures per loop, and I had this timer loop running, with every kick at a certain point, like, “now you can queue the music and now you can queue the action.”
What was the most challenging part of the claymation itself?
Well, it was figuring out basically what the best way to capture the characters and the background would be. I decided to create sprites like one normally would in a video game, instead of a traditional claymation movie where you shape every frame by every frame. It’s really, really time consuming. I wanted to make the best use of the interactive format as I could.
I looked into trying to create a green screen but the way I was getting my characters and the camera equipment I was using, which was admittedly quite cheap, it wound up being more cost effective to use a white background and kind of trace around in Photoshop and create the alpha channel that way. It was a slightly tedious process, but since I wound up doing a more simple animation style, cause I have kind of short-limbed characters, so they show they’re kind of moving a bit fast and stuff. It’s kind of like a herky-jerky silent film kind of feel. So I was able to maintain that, and that was kind of interesting.
Did you study up on any claymation?
Oh yeah. I did a whole bunch of research on how people make claymation puppets and how they do armatures. The simplest way to do it is basically use aluminum wire and that’s what I did–use a skeleton and put the clay material around it. I used some silicone-based putty that cured but at the same time would also bend. So the wire would bend and the skin would move along with it.
There isn’t a lot of deformation of the characters, right.
Yeah, it was cured material. If I were using plasticine, then there could have been more movement but at the same time a lot more potential for things to go wrong and to really deform and not being able to get it back to where it was.
How much do you think your final product matches your initial vision? How much of a compromise did you get along the way?
Usually there’s always some kind of compromise especially when you’re a small indie developer. This was new art technique (for me). I tried to keep my expectations pretty open. I kept it to like, “Alright well, it’s not gonna look like Aardman or anything like that, but I’ll do the best I can.” I’m pretty happy with how it came out.
I wasn’t at the very start intending for it to be a black and white game, for instance. But when I was doing color tests and animation tests, I decided to try and see how it looked in black and white. The very very first game I did was also a back and white detective game and I thought I should try that again. Back to my roots! And the black and white style ended up looking really good for the art style, so I decided to keep it. So I saturated the colors a lot more so it really did feel like a silent film.
A huge thanks to Deirdra for talking with us at GDC this year. We wish nothing but the best with Dominique Pamplemousse and any future endeavors, which–according to a blog entry–include working on an MFA in Santa Cruz, California.
Posted by Rob LeFebvre on April 16th, 2013 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Facebook announced today an update to the Facebook app, with features added to both the iPhone and iPad for this universal app. You’ll get to multi-task in Facebook, even if you’re chatting with a friend, via Chat Heads, as well as some fun Stickers that you can buy and add to messages. Plus, the news feed has been redesigned with a cleaner look. Check it out on the App Store now.
What’s New in Version 6.0
Brand new ways to chat and a cleaner look for News Feed.
New for iPhone
• Keep chatting from anywhere in the app with chat heads
• Send stickers to bring your messages to life
• Explore new feeds like Music, Photos and Games
New for iPad
• Keep chatting from anywhere in the app with chat heads
• Browse brighter, more beautiful stories
Chat heads and stickers will be available to everyone over the next few weeks.
Posted by Rob LeFebvre on April 16th, 2013 iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
Part running trainer, part audio adventure, Zombies, Run! has just been updated to version 2.0, with a veritable horde of new features, missions, and an interface redesign. Get on this before you are eaten!
What’s New in Version 2.0
- Season 2 begins! Seven free new missions, and new missions released weekly from April 29th. Find out what happened to Abel Township!
- Buy a Season Pass for access to the rest of the Season 2 missions as soon as they’re released.
- A completely redesigned app and all-new new base building experience
Please note, if you depend on VoiceOver to play Zombies, Run! we recommend you wait for 2.1 before updating. See blog.zombiesrungame.com for more information.
- A bit ostentatious looking
- In-line mic needs volume/skip ability
Headphones are a funny thing. One listener’s sweet spot is another’s bass-heavy muddiness. The I-MEGO Throne headphones come in two flavors: Gold (bass heavy) and Poison (balanced clarity). I am reviewing the second model, which is a pretty purple linen underneath a silver-toned grille on each over-ear cup.
I prefer headphones that I can plug into my iPhone, use as a microphone, listen to music, and–of course–game with. To this end, the I-MEGO Throne Poison headset is ideal. These are by far the most comfortable headphones I’ve worn to date, with a soft, leather over-the-head band that never hurts, even after a couple of hours of use. Ditto the soft leather, sound-isolating ear cups, which only become uncomfortable after a long gaming session due to my upper ear piercings.
The clarity of the sound on these babies is something to experience. I dislike overly-bassy headphone like Beats as they tend to overpower the rest of the sound in the mid and high frequencies. Too high-frequency, however, leads to a tinny sound, and overly mid-range response makes things sound muddy. The I-MEGO Throne Poison headphones have an excellent, across-the-board clear sound, which makes all sorts of music delightful to listen to, including, acoustic, jazz, pop, and rock.
I was surprised by the excellent sound isolation properties of the headphones, as well. I took them on a plane recently, and figured I’d have to crank up the sound as I do with most other over-the-ear styles I’ve used. Not so, at all. I even left them on during the flight without music or games on, just to decrease the ambient noise of the jet engines. The music I listened to, Steve Martin’s banjo-tastic album, Rare Bird Alert, came through loud and clear, without having to crank up the iPhone volume beyond my usual loudness preference. These are fantastic headphones.
The only quibble I have is that the in-line mic only has one button, which lets me start and stop music playback, and answer and hand up the phone. There’s no way to use it to control volume or skip songs, like the Apple Earpods do. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but it would make an already great set of headphones even better. I also wish they came in a less “look at me” style, like a less ostentation solid black, or even white.
Bottom line, the I-MEGO Throne Poison headset is now my favorite set of phones to wear, in all sorts of settings where sound isolation and amazing clarity of sound is required. They’re well worth the price tag, and compete with much more expensive units that have a far less delightful audio response.