Blog Archive

videosWe were all expecting some big things from Apple’s conference today – Mavericks, details on the new iPad and possibly iPad Mini, and so on – but I don’t think anyone was prepared for the big bombshell. I am, of course, talking about Apple’s videos.

The keynote was accentuated throughout by a series of beautifully constructed and masterfully presented videos showcasing the technology giant’s latest and greatest achievements. And what about that iPad Air video? Did you see that iPad Air video? Holy jeeze! At one point it had a truck jumping over sand dunes in it!

We won’t know how the world will receive the new iPad Air and iPad Mini until November, but I think it’s safe to say that those of us who were able to catch the live stream of the presentation will be forever changed. Apple is a fantastic hardware and software developer, but their video creation skills are nothing short of mind-blowing.

If you wept openly the moment the word “Video” popped up on the big screen, or if you had to pause the presentation for a moment to collect yourself, please chime in below!

ios7designiOS 7 is a great update to Apple’s venerable OS. Not only does the visual overhaul bring a fresh take to the experience, but there’s lots of great little tweaks that just make the experience better. Heck, the ability to add Newsstand to its own folder is worth the download and installation on its own. But iOS 7 is not perfect: here are some things that could be added to the OS to make it better.

Better game save management

If Apple wants to make sure that iOS is a great gaming platform, they need to ensure that gamers can ensure that their progress in games can be preserved and transferred across devices. iCloud is so fraught with reliability problems that developers still dread using it. Finding a way to separate out a game’s save data from it being deleted would be a killer feature for iOS 8, especially since games with large file sizes and the longest experiences are the first to go when space needs to be freed up.

The return of quick tweet and Facebook posting buttons

TapToTweetConspicuously missing from iOS 7 is the ability to tweet and post to Facebook from Notification Center. They weren’t a primary way to share things, but to share while in another app or to just quickly fire off a tweet, the feature was great. Unfortunately it’s been cut down in the first release of iOS 7, when improvements like image posting would have been great.

Interactive notifications

AndroidInteractiveNotificationSay what you will about Android, but the ability to immediately reply to a text message or a tweet, or archive an unwanted email without switching apps is great. iOS could really use such a feature – it’s the kind of multitasking that’s non-intrusive and incredibly useful.

The ability to set third-party apps as default

If I want to open links in a third-party browser, use the built-in email sending feature to send from my email app of choice, or even just use a third-party photo management app, why can’t I? Apple’s own apps are generally very good, but third-parties who focus on certain features can often do better. Apple should allow users to set third-party apps to achieve certain actions, instead of still having to use awkward workarounds.

Custom notification sound options for all apps

Some apps still think that it’s okay to use the default notification sound. Some apps use custom sounds, and choose poorly. Yes, that car engine revving sounds cool but it also freaks me out. iOS manages notifications centrally, so why not have the ability to set custom sounds like I can with ringtones?

These are just a few of the features that could make the iOS experience better. Considering how iOS 7 was all about doing just that, I think there’s still a bit of a ways to go before it’s fully there.


Continue reading iOS 7: How Could Apple Improve It? »

ios7designHere we are, on the cusp of iOS 7’s official release. No, the early beta doesn’t count. Now that Apple’s latest mobile OS is almost upon us, the senior staff at 148Apps decided it was a good time to discuss what we’ve been looking forward to the most. With a little speculative wishful-thinking thrown in for good measure, of course.

Jen Allen is most interested in the new Multitasking feature. The ease with which we’ll all be able to close out apps is certainly welcome, but it’s the intelligent tracking that she’s really excited about. “[the fact that] it knows when I use apps most frequently will be great,” she says, “as I’m a creature of habit.”

For the unfamiliar, that means iOS 7 will anticipate when you prefer to use your apps and can update them before you even open them. Like to check Twitter every evening at around the same time? Load it up and your feed will already be up-to-date.

ios7controlcenterios7multitaskingIt’s the Control Center that’s been on Carter Dotson’s mind the most. “I love the quick settings panel. It’s long overdue!” he says, “Especially since turning Bluetooth off and on is such a hassle on iOS.”

Imagine being able to access all the simple but incredibly useful features you usually have to dig through menus to find. Well, that’s what the new Control Center in iOS 7 does. By swiping up from any screen – Any screen. Even the lock screen – users can turn Airplane mode on or off, fiddle with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, lock the screen’s orientation, access the flashlight, camera, and more. They totally had me at Airplane mode.

My own (Rob Rich) interests are fairly in-line with Jen’s and Carter’s. I’m super-excited about Control Center, and while I’m not quite as psyched for Multitasking I can certainly imagine how useful it will be. I’m also really looking forward to the Safari update, which will hide most of the extraneous interface elements until they’re needed. I’m also looking forward to the swipe navigation and the smoother Reading List browsing. Heck, even the consolidated tab view has me excited (I’m a tab browser by nature). I only hope they finally increase the tab limit for the iPhone.

ios7safariios7mailPretty much all of us are looking forward to the improvements to Find My Phone as well. And hoping we never have to use them! Still, giving users the ability to create a custom message that will display on the lock screen, even after a remote erase, brings some peace of mind. As does being able to reactivate the phone so easily (input your Apple ID and password and you’re done) if it’s returned or found. Generally being unable to do *anything* to the phone without the use of your Apple ID and password is nice, really.

I also very much like the idea behind AirDrop. We snap a lot of cat photos at home and being able to share them so easily will be a major boon. Now nothing will stop me from bombarding my wife with adorable kitties while she’s at work! Now I just need Maps to be relevant again and I’ll be all set.

We’ve saved the best for last, though. And because this list is alphabetical by last name. So, what is Jeff Scott’s most anticipated iOS 7 feature? “iOS 8.”

Nah, just kidding. He’s looking forward to the Control Center as much as the rest of us. Also “some parts of the refreshed design, game controllers, and increased security through the iCloud required login when wiping a device.”

ios7weatherios7itunesradioAnd what is he hoping against hope for? Lots of stuff. “I want the AMOLED screen that only lights up needed pixels,” he says, “I want the 44MP camera on the Nokia 1040, multi-user stuff, greater customization options, and widgets. I want developers to be able to trick out a few, simple things, like notifications. I want iCloud to be the end-all cloud service for all of my digital needs, and the iCloud price needs to drop through the floor. But we already know none of that is coming.”

So tell us, what are you all most looking forward to? Is there anything you aren’t sure of that you’d like to see make it into iOS 7? Anything you’d prefer to see left out? Chime in below and tell us your thoughts!


Continue reading iOS 7 – What We Want, Hope for, and Are Looking Forward to »

iOS Is Falling Behind For Family Users

With the announcement of iOS 7 came plenty of expectations and hopes. While some were realized (hello better multitasking and improved notification center), I think one very important area has been overlooked: the family market.

I don’t have kids of my own but I’ve heard the woes of many friends of mine that do. Apple just isn’t cutting it for them. This is an area where Android is currently ahead and it’s something that I was really hoping that iOS 7 would catch up on.

ios7Take a look at the latest Android update, Jelly Bean. In one deft move known as restricted profiles, it’s covered a lot of ground for the family user. Owners of Android tablets can now set up profiles for everyone in the household. Want to keep the kids away from using specific apps or viewing mature content? Just want to split up everyone’s high scores? It’s possible through setting up their own profile, without leaving everyone else using the tablet to suffer from such restrictions. It’s not perfect, given that developers have to allow their users to be able to restrict such things, but it is a major step forward.

iOS does have one significant advantage here in that users have total control over app-related permissions, but its restrictions tab is really pretty, well, restricted. Without the option for multiple profiles, users can hand over their iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad but they need to turn restrictions on or off each time. Multiple profiles are just so much simpler and require less maintenance, plus there’s the advantage that everyone has their own workspace to deal with rather than the clutter that comes from using one device across an entire family. I know a few families that struggle with the finer details of things like restrictions. If it was just a matter of setting up profiles, I could easily do it for them and they’d be set up for the future. Even better, such profiles would ensure that each member of the family felt like they had some kind of ownership over the device. Something in particular that kids get a real kick out of from technology.

While we prefer to not cover rumors at 148apps, there is an significant one that could relate to this issue: the prospect of a fingerprint sensor built into the iPhone 5S. There’s no guaranteed proof as of yet, and we’ll have to see what’s fully announced in September, but this could pave the way to multiple profiles.

For now though, parents are stuck with the option of using separate apps such as Disconnect Kids rather than a simpler, more comprehensive, built-in solution. However, the potential is great if the fingerprint reader comes to fruition. And if it doesn’t? Well, families may find themselves even more tempted towards an Android tablet purchase, and who can blame them.


Continue reading iOS Is Falling Behind For Family Users »

PopCapLogoIn an age where developers are micro-transacting their consumers beyond belief, it is refreshing to hear of the occasional development team willing to take a stand against it. In the most recent example, the financial relief comes from the good folks over PopCap Games. Their most substantial iOS offering to date, Plants vs. Zombies 2, made the unexpected move to free-to-play – much to the chagrin of their audience. Oddly enough, that shift may have actually been the best thing to happen to cash-strapped gamers in recent memory. So how can studios go against the monetization grain and still manage to sustain a profit? A simple change of perspective can go a long way.

Traditionally in-app purchases within free games were viewed under the microscope of paying a cost in order to either continue playing, or unlock an item that will make an unbeatable adversary more manageable. Essentially it boils down to being a pay-to-win structure. In either scenario there is a wide spread negative connotation associated with purchases, drowning in a bubbling cauldron of frustration and anger. When the main motivation behind opening a wallet is to make something that is undesirable cease happening, it feels more like being held hostage than acquiring something beneficial. It might even be fair to say that this is likely the reason that so many folks look down their nose at free-to-play titles.

While working on Plants vs. Zombies 2, the team over at PopCap hit on the discovery that purchases could actually be driven by positivity instead. For example: certain special crops are made available exclusively for purchase with cash through the in-game store. These seeds may be overpowered for a short period, and slightly flashier in terms of presentation, but over time the items that are unlocked simply by continuing to progress through the campaign will end up being just as useful, if not more so. Also, players have the chance to pay to unlock new worlds if they are uninterested in playing through the additional stage permutations in order to clear obstacles the “good old fashioned way.”

PvZ2PurchasesThe main differentiation is that these acquisitions are completely unnecessary in order to move through the game. In reality they act as more a shortcut for those that don’t have the fortitude of the multitude. Under most circumstances there are only positive underlying motivations associated these purchases; primarily consisting of the desire to play more of a game that they already love, which most will gladly do with a smile. After all, people are far more willing to part with their precious greenbacks when they feel like there’s a tangible reward on the other side of a transaction.

PopCap, along with a select handful of other developers, may have finally cracked the nut that the industry has been trying to shell for years. Here’s to hoping that more will pay close attention and make efforts to follow suit. Who knew that future of mobile gaming could be forever transformed, all thanks to a slight shift of perspective?

Pacific-RimPretty much everyone has been buzzing about “Pacific Rim” this month. The movie has been doing quite well from what I understand (plus it’s freaking awesome), but like most summer blockbusters that popularity also equates to some tie-in games across multiple platforms. While I found the Xbox Live Arcade game to be pretty enjoyable, the iOS iterations – yes, there’s more than the one – were both extremely disappointing. However all hope is not lost. While the Pacific Rim iOS title may have been a colossal (*rimshot*) letdown, there are still a fair number of great games on the platform featuring giant robots and giant monsters that can be quite a bit of fun.

Rock'n and Sock'n with GiganderX

Rock’n and Sock’n with GiganderX

GiganderX (Prodigy Co. Ltd, $0.99)
I’ve sampled a fair number of “giant robot” games across multiple platforms but none have managed to capture the oversized and plodding nature of these massive engines of destruction quite like Robot Alchemic Drive or Remote Control Dandy. And no other iOS games have managed to capture a similar feel of either title better than GiganderX. It’s fairly simplistic – there’s an extremely basic combo system, one special attack, and only a handful of levels – but it does an admirable job of making you feel like you’re piloting a slow, lumbering, oversized toy as it combats other slow, lumbering, oversized toys.

Giant Metal Robot (Poppy, $0.99)
Giant Metal Robot is a bit unorthodox, but that’s a big part of why I like it. You have to tilt your device to steer the young girl (and later her dog, too) along a rooftop, while swiping down to make the robot smash its fists. Flatten the little girl or her companion and it counts as a loss. Fail to smash all the skeletons that are chasing them around before time runs out and it’s a loss. Accidentally launch the little girl off the roof after smashing something and you lose. It’s deceptively tough, and yet it’s easy enough to play that it should keep you entertained for a while.

The signs are everywhere (and bloodthirsty) in My Little Monster

The signs are everywhere (and bloodthirsty) in My Little Monster

My Little Monster (Group Sound, $0.99)
As a long time fan of giant monster movies, I can’t not find the idea of raising and training my own to be both awesome and oddly charming. And that’s before taking the adorable and weird characters, goofy skills, and ridiculous hats into consideration. It’s an odd hybrid of virtual pet and simple action game, but it’s also a neat distraction for any kaiju fan.

RoboCat Rampage (Luke Turvey, $1.99)
Some robots are more interested in preserving nature than in protecting humanity; and that’s exactly what RoboCat Rampage is about. You move the enormous mechanized feline around each stage attempting to squish anything that looks industrial while also trying to avoid stepping on anything green (i.e. trees, etc). The more smoke-belching factories and vehicles you smash before reaching the end of the level, the higher your score and the happier the little woodland creatures will be.

Fortunately The War for Eustrath is easier to enjoy than it is to pronounce

Fortunately The War for Eustrath is easier to enjoy than it is to pronounce

The War of Eustrath (iQuibi Inc, $2.99)
Giant robots aren’t a genre; they’re a subject. So while The War for Eustrath may not seem quite as “typical” as the other games on this list, but it’s definitely relevant and possibly one of the best. The characters are quirky in an eye-rolling kind of way, but it’s a very competent strategy game. One that features some pretty cool-looking mechs. Cool-looking mechs that fight each other. It’s like Xenogears crossed with Fire Emblem, and I can’t think of a single thing about that description that isn’t awesome.

OFFWORLD (6waves Lolapps, FREE)
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy OFFWORLD‘s Rock-Paper-Scissors style combat as much as I did, honestly. But enjoy it I did, and I think it adds a fair bit of strategy to what could have otherwise been a very basic game. Not only is there plenty of mental back-and-forth as you try to predict your opponent’s next move, there are also lots of customization options for various weapons and attachments. Plus it looks and animates gorgeously.

Don't underestimate Monster Jam Jam's giant radioactive poultry

Don’t underestimate Monster Jam Jam’s giant radioactive poultry

Monster Jam Jam (Behold Studios Jogos Electronicos LTDA ME, FREE)
I happened upon Monster Jam Jam accidentally, but I have to admit I was rather impressed by its no-frills simplicity. Each match is random, and the only difference between monsters is their appearance, so all you have to worry about is out-thinking your opponent (AI or otherwise). It uses a fairly simple combat system wherein each combatant picks an action (attack, power up, heal, defend) and attempts to guess what the other side is planning. No scores, no leaderboards, no upgrades or unlockables; just a bunch of quick pick-up-and-play kaiju action.

Roar Rampage (FDG Entertainment, $0.99)
What is it most people think of when they think about giant monsters? Property damage. And property damage is you’ll get when you start playing Roar Rampage. The giant boxing glove-toting lizard moves along automatically, so all you have to worry about is flinging his fist all over the place in order to bust through buildings and knock helicopters out of the air. It’s simple, destructive fun.

Destroy Gunners ZZ is a blast despite the distinct lack of giant beards

Destroy Gunners ZZ is a blast despite the distinct lack of giant beards

Destroy Gunners ZZ (SHADE Inc, FREE)
Destroy Gunners ZZ is a freemium/social sequel of sorts to the original Destroy Gunners; the latter of which has been one of my most preferred mech combat games to date. I decided to list the sequel over the original simply because it looks a little better, has a little more variety, and has had a few control refinements but the first game is also totally worth a look. Especially for any early series Armored Core fans hoping to find a comparable experience on iOS.

Robot Rampage (Origin8, FREE)
Just like people, not all robots are friendly. In fact, the robot headlining Robot Rampage is a total jerk. All it does is stomp around smashing everything in sight, while occasionally blasting stuff with lasers. Of course when you get to control the giant robo-jerk as it smashes up buildings and fries all military resistance with heat beams it’s actually pretty cool.

Death Work ain't afraid of no early birds

Death Worm ain’t afraid o’ no early birds

Death Worm (PlayCreek, $1.99)
Not all vicious giant monsters walk around on two legs. In fact, some of them don’t have any legs at all! And while watching a giant radioactive shellfish level a city can be pretty intimidating it can be just as bad when dealing with a subterranean horror you’ll never see coming. Being said subterranean horror, rather than running from it for dear life, is a lot cooler. Especially when you can evolve new traits between levels.

Super Monsters Ate My Condo! ([adult swim], FREE)
Super Monsters Ate My Condo! is admittedly a bit of a stretch, but it features plenty of giant monsters so I figure it has a place on the list. Plus it’s a lot of fun. The odd physics-based match-3 puzzles coupled with the quirky kaiju waiting to gobble up each high rise floor are a great match. It’s the kind of game that could very easily make an hour disappear if you give it half the chance.

 

How has the App Store impacted my life? Well, if you give a mouse a cookie…

It started when I first decided to give the iPod touch a whirl: I had heard about the App Store launching, and I picked up a discounted first-generation model of the iPod touch as the second-generation launched. I figured, hey, this might be the future, I’m gonna get onboard now. The store was exactly what I expected it to be: a collection of interesting and occasionally odd games from a wide variety of developers. It was, and still is, an endlessly-fascinating world.

Still one of my favorites from the early days of the App Store.

Still one of my favorites from the early days of the App Store.

The App Store was also indirectly to blame for me getting hooked on Twitter. Apps like Tweetie from Loren Brichter helped me on my way to become the Twitter addict that I am today, especially once I got an iPhone proper. I’ve met many great friends from Twitter, and most importantly, it’s why I’m here on 148Apps today.

It was through following someone on Twitter who recommended following The Portable Gamer that led me deeper down the rabbit hole. One day, they posted that they were looking for new people to record iCasual segments for them. I took them up on their offer, as I figured, “hey, why not – might be fun to do on the side while getting some free games to play.”

Soon, scripting and recording those audio reviews turned into written reviews. It turned out writing about games was pretty fun, plus, I was halfway-decent at it! I was made managing editor of the site a couple months after I joined, and for the next year, it was a regular part of my life. I got to feel important in helping to arrange and post new content on the site, and even got printed in iPhone Life magazine at one point. That was pretty cool.

TPG-Netbook

A little over a year after joining The Portable Gamer, that was when 148Apps advertised that they were looking for a new paid writer. I decided to go for it. For a while, it was just a hobby, albeit a really cool one.

Eventually, I decided: why not try to make writing my career? I love doing it, it was giving me more of a sense of purpose than my college studies were giving me, and hey: I was already getting paid for it. So I ramped up my game. I spent more time writing for 148Apps. I started looking for other writing gigs, which came through connections and just reaching out for other opportunities, with my work here at 148Apps playing a significant role in proving I could be a good and trustworthy writer.

And a year ago, it finally happened. I was able to support myself on my writing work and I moved to Chicago. It was all thanks to the App Store. Sure, there were a lot of steps in between, but I honestly don’t know what my life would be like if it didn’t exist.

It’s been a pretty sweet ride so far, one that I hope continues on for a long time.

 

I’ve been in love with video games for over 25 years, ever since the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System. And while the technology has been advancing exponentially ever since, one thing has been constant: my envy of video game reviewers. These were people who were paid to play video games and then write about them. How freaking cool is that??

I idolized everyone who worked for Nintendo Power, IGN, GamePro, EGM, and later Play, Game Informer, OPM, and so on. I’d dreamed of being able to do the same thing myself but it was always one of those “there’s no way, but it would be cool if” kind of dreams. At least until I actually started doing it when I more or less tumbled into writing for Crush! Frag! Destroy!

I’ll never forget the years I spent at CFD! – first as a contributor, then as Managing Editor/website mom. They were instrumental in helping me put together a sizable and diverse body of work that included console, PC, mobile, AAA, and indie games. I got to talk to game developers. I received review copies (FREE review copies) of games like Persona 3 Portable, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect 2. I went to Pax East one year and felt like a friggin’ badass. However it wasn’t until I got myself an iPhone 3GS, crossed my fingers, and sent a resume off to 148Apps that I really started to live the dream.

Much to my amazement I was brought onboard almost immediately as a freelancer. Suddenly I was making money–real money–reviewing video games (and apps). After a few months, a senior writer position opened. Then I crossed my fingers for a second time as I expressed an interest, and was again amazed at how quickly I was given the go-ahead. That was two years ago, and things have only gotten more amazing since then.

Thanks to 148Apps and the existence of the App Store, I’ve been able to write about games (and apps!) to my heart’s content and pay some bills in the process. I’ve been able to meet and interview some great developers, both from the indie scene and from big name studios. I’ve been invited to special press-only preview events. Some developers have come to me specifically so that I can critique (not just review but actually critique) their works in progress. I’ve come to understand and appreciate just how influential, creative, and downright fun iOS games can be. And I’ve made some really great friends that I’ve never actually met in person along the way, too.

If it weren’t for the App Store and 148Apps I honestly have no idea what I’d be doing now. Maybe I’d still be writing gratis while waiting for my big break. Maybe I’d have given up on the dream and focused on something a little more “realistic.” Thankfully I don’t have to worry about any of that because I’m already doing it. And I’m going to keep doing it no matter what.

 

The App Store has been around for five years, and in that time its library has grown from just under a thousand titles to over a million. Even with so many releases (and more on the way) there are still a fair number of developers – prominent, indie, or otherwise – who haven’t gone near it. Why have some embraced the App Store while others have hesitated? Why are there still so many talented people, whose games would be a great fit for iOS, not releasing their games for the platform? I reached out to a number of developers, some who have and some who haven’t released games on iOS, to try and figure it out.

The Initial Draw

appstoredevs_store01With such a big install base (600 million devices sold and 575 million user accounts) and a unified operating system, it’s only natural for many a developer to find the App Store appealing. Especially if the popularity or puslisher support for certain platforms starts to wane. Daniel Steger of Stegersaurus Games has been doing pretty well on the Xbox 360′s Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace, but lately it’s looking like Microsoft might be pulling the plug on the once indie-friendly venue. “iOS has been seen as one option because it has many consumers and seems to fit the scale of games I enjoy making,” Steger said, “Frameworks like Xamarin’s Monotouch could also make porting my games from XBox to iPhone fairly pain-free which is an added bonus as I could continue creating games for both platforms.”

Daniel Steger/Steger Games

Daniel Steger/Steger Games

It was the portability and popularity of Apple’s iOS devices that first attracted ISOTX‘s Jeroen Roding to the App Store. “The iPad is something you have with you all of the time, it is accessible at any given time of the day,” Roding said. “The average revenue per unit is pretty high and the whole shop backend is easy for the users.” It wasn’t just the install base, either. As a developer for Facebook games there was also cross-platform integration to consider that would allow users to “start the game on PC and Mac and finish it while on their tablet,” he said.

Both Marios Karagiannis from Karios Games and independent programmer Suraj Gregory-Kumar attribute their initial interest to the App Store’s popularity as well as Apple’s certification process. According to Karagiannis, “Companies that consider creating casual games for mobile devices cannot really afford to skip the App Store,” since he considers it to be “the biggest, more consistent app store of the 3 major platforms right now.” Gregory-Kumar agrees, but views the situation from a more practical standpoint. “I own an iPhone and wanted to venture in to unknown territory,” said Gregory-Kumar, “but more over it was a way of showing those around me the games I could produce, since the device is portable and easy to show off.”

Suraj Gregory-Kumar

Suraj Gregory-Kumar

As for getting apps certified, Karagiannis considers it to be a necessary buffer. “Remember that the lack of any kind of certification means in practice that a VERY large number of apps are utterly useless – including malicious apps.” In other words it’s like the Wild West. However, that also means getting something approved for the App Store can take a little while, as Gregory-Kumar recalls. “The App Store approval process is something which takes a lot of consideration, as the app must meet their strict guidelines, otherwise the app is declined.”

Mike Roush, co-founder of Gaijin Games, has a slightly different perspective on the matter. BIT.TRIP BEAT has been on the App Store since 2010, however he doesn’t feel like they’ve had much involvement in it’s App Store appearance. “I don’t really feel like Gaijin Games made the game, seeing as it was a port of the Wii version.” Roush said, noting that Namco’s involvement with publishing and co-developing the port attributed greatly to his feeling of detachment. He also believes they could take advantage of the shift in App Store shopper preferences from the quick and casual games of the early years to something more complex. “Nowadays,” Roush said, “it seems to me that people are interested in deeper, richer and more polished experiences.”

Reservations

appstoredevs_store02As appealing as any development platform might be there are always going to be a few aspects that give someone pause. Apple’s certification process, while a welcome buffer for some, becomes an unnecessary barrier for others. Daniel Steger had this exact problem when he attempted to move a few of his Xbox Live Indie Games to iOS. “I spent some time porting my game engine to work with Monotouch,” Steger said, “Unfortunately, after all that time I did not account for Apple’s sensitivity when approving games.” The first game he had attempted to port was rejected three consecutive times; the last of which was anything but constructive or informative. “I was told not to submit the game again, as it would never get approved.”

Jane V./Price Rhythm

Jane V./Price Rhythm

He tried to make the best of it by porting two other games, both of which did fairly well on Xbox Live and were, in fact, approved for the App Store, but it just wasn’t enough. “They were quicker ports just trying to make the best out of a bad situation,” he said. Unfortunately, while these games performed well on Xbox Live they didn’t even come close to recouping the time and money spent porting them to iOS in the first place. He’s been understandably hesitant to port any other projects ever since. Jane V from Price Rhythm was also initially put off by the approval process. “I am holding myself from developing games because I believe that in order to succeed in it and make the “killer” game, you have to make it really beautiful and engaging.” She said, “This requires a lot of graphical capabilities, marketing budgets and etc that a lot of indie developers just don’t have.”

Marios Karagiannis/Karios Games

Marios Karagiannis/Karios Games

Jeroen Roding, Marios Karagiannis, and Suraj Gregory-Kumar, on the other hand, were more concerned about the development tools themselves. Gregory-Kumar wasn’t much of a Mac user initially and was also worried about budgeting on top of his unfamiliarity. “Fortunately, my husband is an Apple fan so his Mac came in handy.” Gregory-Kumar said, “With the Unreal Engine you need a windows machine to install the software, and a mac to submit it, so developing using this process without the technology would prove costly.” Roding, on the other hand, was limited to his prior experience with developing browser-based games. “We didn’t really have the experience at the time to get our game functioning on iOS.” Roding said, “Now we are working with scaleform and Unity in order to get the game running smoothly on iOS and retaining the same value on PC and Mac.”

Marios Karagiannis, however, has had a fair bit of experience in designing for mobile ever since 2011. Although it was for Windows Phone. A platform he picked mostly due to the accessible development tools. “XNA was providing (at the time) an excellent game development framework for indies and Microsoft was really pushing for the platforms, which gave me a lot of perks.” He was also a little preoccupied at the time, what with pursuing his PhD and all. “Revenue as well as user acquisition was not my number one priority,” Karagiannis said, “I opted for having fun creating my games while making them available through a number of people through a centralized store at the same time.”

Jeroen Roding/ISOTX

Jeroen Roding/ISOTX

Mike Roush was mostly concerned about he and his team’s extensive background in console development, as mobile platforms are something of a different beast. The App Store is also a fairly unpredictable marketplace. “If we invest a significant amount of money into an iOS project and it doesn’t hit, then we are in trouble.” Roush said. There was also a lot less pressure for their games to succeed because they were a much smaller studio at first. “We had no fear of failing because our office burn-rate was around $1000.00. We didn’t really have much to lose and we could function on very little.”

Coming Around

appstoredevs_store03Even though they’ve had issues or reservations in the past, everyone agrees that there are some qualities the App Store possesses that made (or will make) it worth the effort. Even Daniel Steger hasn’t totally written off Apple’s mobile platforms. “I wouldn’t say an attempt to return to iOS is out of the question,” Steger said, “but there are a few places that take priority because of my experiences.” He’s been attempting to use Steam Greenlight to release his most recent project, Mount Your Friends, on PC and has been eyeing Google Play for another go at mobile devices. He’d still be willing to give Apple another shot, however. “If I heard Apple was being more transparent now on their review criteria, or heard that my old, rejected submission to the app store would be considered today by Apple that may influence a return.” Suraj Gregory-Kumar is simply looking forward to more time to learn, and hopes that Apple eventually opens up iOS to other development tools. “It would be easier being able to use a windows machine to develop for Apple (using Xcode/Objective-C),” he said.

Mike Roush/Gaijin Games

Mike Roush/Gaijin Games

Marios Karagiannis and Jeroen Roding are pretty much on-board already thanks to Apple’s install base. Since finishing his PhD last December, Karagiannis Has found that his priorities have been changing. “App Store users seem to be willing to pay more than Android users.” His biggest theory on this phenomenon has to do with the install base on Android versus iOS. “While on paper Android users are many more,” Karagiannis said, “the average Android user uses an old device and is used to getting all of their apps for free.” Of course a similar case could be made against iOS users, but there definitely seems to be a more universal acceptance of $0.99 releases on the App Store. Roding is more interested in the number of iOS users rather than the particulars of the App Store’s economics. “From a marketing point of view we really liked the average revenue per unit and the fact that we can reach a larger audience.” Roding said, “Also looking at the numbers for PC gamers having access to or owning a tablet are really good, around 30% of the PC gamers now owns a tablet.”

Karagiannis concurred. “Apple’s ecosystem proved to be quite robust and iOS as a gaming platform seems to be one step away from being the most successful gaming platform at the moment, including game consoles and PCs,” Karagiannis said. Mike Roush feels the same way, and has high hopes for Gaijin Games on the App Store. “We are actually working on the iOS version of Runner2 (it’s super amazing btw). I would be willing to bet, from here on out, every game we make will be on an iOS device.” Roush said, “You just can’t argue with the number of iOS units currently in the hands of people.”

Why is there such a buzz around XCOM: Enemy Unknown arriving on iOS? Sure, It’s not just a high-quality title, but it’s also a current-generation console and PC game that is being brought to iPhones and iPads. But why does this buzz exist? Why is the mobile gaming community excited about getting to play a game that already exists on multiple other platforms?

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I believe it’s because mobile gamers not only want to play core games like XCOM, but they also want them to succeed because they want more of them. The mobile market just hasn’t been the friendliest environment so far for the kinds of experiences available on consoles and PC. Developers and publishers have been scared away from making either ports or even original core games thanks to the pricing race to the bottom, despite hardware becoming more technically-capable of handling core games. $19.99 is cheap for XCOM, but not in the wider context of $0.99 and free-to-play games that are so prevalent on mobile.

It feels hopeful to see promising titles take a blowtorch to the current system. The mobile market should be able to support games worthy of higher prices as well as the lower-cost indie titles and the free-to-play games, in a similar way to what Steam has done. That service is not the most accessible for indies, and it still reinforces the archaic notion of ‘publishing’ in a digital distribution system. Despite the drawbacks, at least it’s possible for games at smaller price points to thrive along with the big-budget, big-price games. Mobile gaming is largely beholden to the free-to-play (or almost free) pricing scheme.

Providing additional hope for core games on mobile is the promise of gamepads. There are going to be some core games that just aren’t going to be great on touchscreens. Sure, it’s possible to create passable interfaces for many games, but many games are just plain better with physical controls. Hello, Grand Theft Auto 3. That Apple is making physical controls a possibility, and with the sleeping giant that is TV gaming via the Apple TV lying in wait, core gaming feels like it is nearing takeoff on ‘mobile’ platforms.

Too. Many. Virtual. Buttons.

Too. Many. Virtual. Buttons.

With this movement, there is definite potential for drawing in core gamers who have rejected mobile gaming. If they see that mobile can support the kinds of games they love, then perhaps they’ll give the platform its just due. On the flipside, I think that mobile gamers want to see their platform of choice become accepted. Is it insecurity? Perhaps to a small degree, but there’s no reason for this platform to be so disrespected.

Sure, the gaming handhelds have tried to provide core gaming experiences while on the go. But there’s just so much less creativity on those platforms because they’re not completely open to all developers yet. The Vita’s getting to that point with Playstation Mobile, but its single-use focus means I don’t see a need to carry it around with me at all times when when my iPhone is just more handy. I can use that to do everything, including playing games. But what reason is there for my iPhone to not have the kinds of games that I can have on my Vita and 3DS?

Yeah, but does it have Tweetbot?

Yeah, but does it have Tweetbot?

Mobile gaming is great, and it’s opened up avenues for new types of games and for new types of gamers. Yet there’s no reason the core gaming experience, and those that enjoy it, shouldn’t be welcome on mobile too. So yes, get excited about core games like XCOM coming to mobile, and support the worthy ones, because it can lead to more great games coming to mobile, and that’s a very good thing.

I’m all for game controllers for iOS devices, for what it’s worth. I’ve got a few of them, and they are all gathering dust. The issue with controllers for mobile devices is that they never get used. Not even for the games that are better when played with them. The controller is another device to carry, have batteries for, and connect. Mobile games are about immediacy, something to play when there’s two minutes of downtime. A controller in that situation is just never really worth it.

But, controllers do make sense when playing games on a TV where the user is looking at the TV instead of their device to make sure virtual buttons are being hit.

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Apple knows this, that’s why their support for Made for iOS game controllers is an obvious step in their overall TV play. Apple wants to get controllers out there, and more importantly games that support game controllers out there. Then late this year, or early next year Apple will announce the next Apple TV model that supports third party apps and games and likely will come with a Apple designed game controller. It will fit nicely into the iOS portfolio and allow all of your previous purchases to carry over, hopefully with iCloud saves for your game progress too.

The importance of this for the gaming industry can not be overstated. This will be especially impactful if Apple can get this out before the XBox One and PS4 launch later this year. This will turn the Apple TV box into a $99 game console with what will likely be thousands of low cost and free to play games by then. To me this leaves micro consoles like the Ouya and the Gamestick dead in the water, if it weren’t for their $80-$100 price point. But really, who would want crappy Android free to play games when you can have all of the games your iPad plays, on your TV, without paying for each game again?

Image credit: Neogaf user humble.

vigilo-confidoX-Com: UFO Defense has become virtually synonymous with “strategy” ever since it was first released in 1994. X-COM: Terror From the Deep (1995) was a neat idea for a sequel that took the fight for Earth’s survival into the oceans with entirely new aquatic aliens to battle, although it was hampered by a significant research bug that could make completing the game impossible. X-COM: Apocalypse (1997) expanded the formula even further by adding more complexity to the world as well as other human factions to worry about in addition to the always-present alien threat. After that came X-COM: Interceptor (1998) which deviated quite a bit from the series’ roots. This time the fighting was over a specific region of space, and much of the gameplay centered around space combat using Interceptors and coordinating wingmen during an attack. Finally, there was X-COM: Enforcer, which was an even bigger departure than Interceptor. Enforcer was more of a third-person arcade shooter set in the X-COM universe, with no real strategy or management elements to speak of aside from selecting which weapon to use in a level. But while the series has done fairly well for itself over the years, none have every quite managed to eclipse the original.

I could go on and on about why it’s so great and why I would go so far as to purchase the DOS version just so I could run it on my Mac in an emulator. I actually have, on occasion. However it’s not just me. A lot of people think very, very highly of this strategic battle for Earth’s survival against seemingly impossible odds. So many, in fact, that its influence can be found throughout almost 20 years worth of games across multiple platforms. Granted I’m only one guy and have human limitations, so I haven’t tracked down every single one, but I have compiled this collection of fifteen different titles that manage to evoke some of that X-Com magic.

The Beginning of the End: 1994

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It all started in 1994, when X-Com: UFO Defense was first released across several home computer platforms including the Amiga and DOS, and was later ported to the original Playstation. At the time there really wasn’t anything quite like it. There was an almost masterful mix of base management (building facilities, researching new tech, hiring personnel, manufacturing better gear, etc) and tactical combat that, to this day, hasn’t been able to be reproduced in quite the same way.

Every single sortie was an intense game of cat and mouse as the precariously mortal humans (i.e. mice) tried to track down and eliminate their superior alien targets (i.e. cats). Simply stepping off of the Sky Ranger for the first time could result in a rookie – or even worse; a veteran – getting vaporized as the extraterrestrial threat had usually already spread itself throughout the environment. Crafting better weapons and armor back at the base certainly improved a soldier’s chances of living to fight another day but even on the easiest setting it was quite common for an entire squad to get wiped out in short order.

With enough tenacity and practice, however, players could eventually fight their way through the invasion forces and even take the battle to the aliens’ base of operations. It’s the kind of undertaking that could require days or even weeks worth of planning and strategies to complete, but it made X-Com all the more satisfying for it. Then, once the dust had settled and the threat had been quelled, it was time to do it all again.

The First Wave: 1997 – 1999

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1997 saw the release of Incubation: Time is Running Out for the PC. There was a linear set of story missions to complete, and little emphasis on micromanagement aside from equipping squad members before each fight, but it managed to capture the turn-based intensity and gruesome alien combat quite well. 1999′s Abomination: The Nemesis Project, also on PC, followed suit with more combat and less management. About all the player could do when not in a firefight was select which areas of the world to try and defend from the alien/viral threat, then take their squad into real time combat.

Finally, Jagged Alliance 2 joined the fray that same year, and on the same platform, to round out the 90s library of strategy games. The combat sections were fairly reminiscent of the earlier strategy series but in many ways it played a little more like chess thanks to the need to take control of various areas. Unlike X-Com, the game took place solely on the island of Arulco rather than the entire world and instead of in-depth base management players would hire additional mercenaries, monitor enemy troop movements, and plan the hostile takeover of a town or mine or other useful area.

Turn (Based) of the Century: 2000 – 2005

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Once the year 2000 rolled around, it was time for games like Shadow Watch to take the reins. This tactical espionage thriller put players in charge of an elite team of operatives, each with their own special abilities and personal loadouts, and tasked them with retrieving documents from corporate offices (guarded by nasty enemies, of course) and other Shadowrun-style stuff. No expanded tech trees or cannon fodder rookies, though; they had to get their team through it all using only their wits and careful use of each team members’ strengths. A year later in 2001 Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel spun-off from the main series as a means to scratch a very particular itch. This isometric strategy RPG may not have had an expansive and open-ended story like its siblings, but it did have lots and lots of turn-based combat.

The PC received even more strategy love in 2002 with Laser Squad: Nemesis, which was kind of like playing X-Com as a turn-based deathmatch with several playable races. A single player campaign was available but honestly, that’s not why most people played it. Then in 2002 we saw the release of one of the most well known “spiritual successors” to X-Com when UFO: Aftermath became available. Aside from the “we already lost and are now fighting to take back our planet” theme and real-time combat that could be paused at any time to issue orders, it made for a very close approximation. Although many would argue that the UFO series was vastly inferior regardless of having an additional eight years worth of technological advancements on its side.

chron_rebelstar2003 went on to give us S2: Silent Storm, also for the PC (lots of PC love from the strategy genre, yessir). It was a very similar experience to the previously mentioned Jagged Alliance 2, although it was more about completing a linear set of missions and the occasional random encounter than trying to dominate territory. Plus it was set during World War 2, which is probably the most “normal” environment of any game on this list. Rounding out this lot in 2005 was Rebelstar: Tactical Command for the Gameboy Advance; a game developed by many of the same people who worked on Laser Squad Nemesis, actually. Again, it was pretty much all turn-based combat segments very similar to classic X-Com missions, and again it involved a team of soldiers who gained experience and new skills as they progressed. However it was also possible for players to “save” a set number of a soldier’s action points to put them into “Overwatch” in order to cover areas and otherwise react to alien activity when it isn’t their turn. Sounds a bit familiar, hmm?

The Next Generation: 2007 – 2011

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In 2007, the Xbox 360 received what was possibly its first X-Comlike when Operation Darkness was released. This bizarre strategy title involving World War 2, werewolves, and various other monsters wasn’t exactly a critical darling. Still, it did call to mind a little of that old school turn-based charm. Plus werewolves. I mean come on, werewolves, people. Fans of handheld devices and space marines had a bit more of a reason to celebrate that same year when Warhammer 40K: Squad Command came out for both the PSP and Nintendo DS. Much like earlier X-Comlikes it focused on the squad and a linear story, with turn-based combat and lots of nasty things to kill. 2007 also happens to be when UFO: Extraterrestrials (not to be confused with anything from the aforementioned UFO series) was released. This one was also very similar to the original X-Com, exept that it didn’t take place on Earth but rather a recently colonized world somewhere else in the universe. There’s still plenty of R&D and alien slaughter, though.

As we get closer to the present it’s hard not to mention games like 2008′s Valkyria Chronicles for the Playstation 3. Which is exactly why I’m mentioning it now. It was an obviously anime-inspired turn-based strategy game set on a fictitious continent during a fictitious war, but the hidden enemy movements and limited soldier actions felt quite familiar in a cozy sort of way. Last we have Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, which was released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2011 both as a launch title and as one of the only worthwhile games on the platform. Shadow Wars hybridized X-Com’s turn-based tactics and finite battlefield resources with the overhead grid approach from other games like Fire Emblem.

Full Circle: 2012 – Present

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And now, eighteen years later, X-Com is back in the form of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis’ 2012 “remake” (of a sort) of the Microprose original. Taking one of the most universally celebrated PC strategy games and dressing it up for modern gamers, while simultaneously keeping as many of the nostalgic bits in place for long time fans, was an incredibly tall order that many people were skeptical of. In the end, though, the team at Firaxis did a stellar job with preserving the feeling and oppressive intensity of the original game while streamlining and updating the experience.

The modern release of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a seemingly impossible achievement that manages to introduce newcomers to one of the genre’s most beloved series as well as appease (most of) the old school fans. It’s a game that’s well worth owning and celebrating, and we’re on the verge of being able to experience the panic of hunting down a pack of Chryssalids whenever and wherever we want on our iOS devices. The future, even one under threat of a hostile alien invasion, is looking mighty bright.

When Deus Ex: The Fall was announced as a mobile title, the reaction could be clearly delineated into two camps: mobile gamers intrigued by this deep franchise making its way to mobile, and by ‘core’ gamers who were outraged that a new Deus Ex game wouldn’t be coming to consoles and PC. As if it had to. As if they had a right to it. As if it was somehow a lesser product for being a mobile game.

Deus Ex The Fall Logo Small

Make no mistake, mobile gaming is still not fully accepted by gamers. It’s a big deal, and those who have had fun with the countless number of creative titles of various scales from all walks of life will know that a fun game is a fun game no matter what platform it’s on. But there’s still a mindset that mobile gaming is still a lesser form of gaming, and the reaction to Deus Ex: The Fall exposes this ugly truth.

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But what is it about this game that makes people so hostile to the very idea of mobile gamers getting a console-quality title on the go? Was it a presumption that since a new Deus Ex title was announced, it had to be for consoles? Still, the disappointment seemed especially amplified in this circumstance. It wasn’t just the garden-variety internet trolls who compalin loudly, though: it was high-profile outlets like IGN and even Penny Arcade Report were disappointed. PAR strives for a higher class of gaming coverage, so this still seems uncharacteristic of them.

What IGN's announcement article said before it was changed.

What IGN’s announcement article said before it was changed.

IGN’s staffer who wrote the subheadline disparaging mobile, a particular insult to IGN’s own mobile coverage, which has been running since back in the days of flip phones. The mobile editor actually changed the headline a day later. Still, whlie they may have a section dedicated to mobile coverage, there’s still clearly a mindset that it’s something negative.

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Despite all the great experiences on mobile devices, in genres both familiar and new, still there is disrespect. is just unfair. The people that make these games are gamers, often long-time ones. I’ve spoken to many of them. The App Store has provided new opportunities that just weren’t there before. I write about mobile games, but I’ve been a gamer for almost my whole life. Mobile games are legitimate games. That the games are using new interfaces doesn’t make them any less so.

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The irony is that a game like Deus Ex: The Fall is exactly what will legitimize the platform: this is a deep game that’s being released for touchscreen devices. It’s not perfect – it uses the flawed dual virtual stick control method along with touchscreen interface elements, but everything about the game sounds like it will live up to what the series has been known for, just in a smaller, more mobile-friendly package. This promises to be a legitimate Deus Ex experience that can be played while waiting for the bus.

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And while this may be coming a bit early, mobile gaming getting the ‘legitimacy’ of controllers and TV gaming is not far away. Apple just approved a controller standard, and there’s million of AirPlay-compatible Apple TV devices. On the Android side, where gamepads are already supported, consoles are already making their way out. There’s Ouya, GameStick, GamePop, and a million more.

Apple's reference specification for iOS 7 gamepads. Will this be good enough for games like Deus Ex: The Fall for the skeptical? (via Pocket Gamer)

Apple’s reference specification for iOS 7 gamepads. Will this be good enough for games like Deus Ex: The Fall for the skeptical? (via Pocket Gamer)

Because if just the presence of Deus Ex on mobile isn’t enough, what will be for those who still disrespect mobile?

So for the gamers who still disparage mobile, I say this: give it a chance. Don’t be mad that the new Deus Ex is going to be on mobile. Be glad that a new version is coming out, and that a wider audience will be able to experience it. And give mobile gaming a fair shake. It’s not all Candy Crush Saga; there are a lot of fun experiences out there in pretty much every genre under the sun. Games are games. Come enjoy these, and let go of your hate!

Even with the iOS release of XCom: Enemy Unknown rapidly approaching, some may find the wait unbearable. Playing the original release on Mac, PC, 360, or PS3 is certainly an option but if you’re specifically looking to fill the gap on your iOS device (or simply want to play something similar on the go) then today’s your lucky day. We’ve got a list of seven different iOS titles that ought to scratch that itch until Firaxis makes it official. Keep in mind they don’t all offer the same exact X-Com experience, but they do all evoke a similar feel for various reasons.

aliensvshumans03Aliens versus Humans is definitely the list’s most faithful to the early X-Com series. Skyrangers and Interceptors are MIA but there’s still plenty of that good old back-and-forth between base management and turn-based firefights. New technologies such as advanced weapons and armors can be researched and produced and soldiers can acquire marginal improvements if they survive a number of missions, too. It’s the closest thing to playing UFO Defense on your iOS device that you’re likely going to find for a good long while.

hunterstwo07Hunters 2 shares quite a few key similarities with early X-Com games, but it’s not a 1:1 likeness. Many key elements are here; such as hidden enemy movement, soldiers that level up and learn new skills individually, customizable loadouts, and needing to keep an eye on action points (i.e. Time Units). That said it’s also its own game with an emphasis on combat over management, daily missions to complete for extra credits in addition to the campaign, and a much smaller (but elite) team to control that prevent the stages from overstaying their welcome.

tacticalsoldierTactical Soldier – Undead Rising is another close comparison to the older X-Com series. It’s zombies instead of aliens, and it’s all about the skirmishes with little in the form of resource management, but it’s definitely rocking that tactical vibe. Stylistically it’s very reminiscent of getting a squad of rookies killed before they even step off the Skyranger, and there’s a big focus on each soldier progressing individually with better stats and abilities.

wesnothBattle for Wesnoth might use orcs and elves instead of aliens and space marines, but it still manages to capture some of that classic X-Com magic. Mostly it’s because your soldiers can be leveled up individually and sport their own names, but it’s also just a very rewarding strategy game. One with a ridiculous amount of campaigns to play through and factions to control.

frozensynapse05Frozen Synapse doesn’t require any base management. It doesn’t have named soldiers that can individually tweaked. There aren’t any aliens. And yet, most missions in this simultaneous turn-based strategy game feel quite a bit like X-Com. Your soldiers are just as susceptible to bullets are your enemies, and losing even one can have a huge impact on your strategy and chances for success. There’s also the added intensity of planning each move, right down to the little details like which direction a soldier will aim. That in itself isn’t so nerve-wracking but having to decide what to do without knowing what your opponent is planning (and vice-versa) can be just as harrowing as being down to your last rookie and knowing that final (you hope) Sectoid is close by.

starcommandStar Command is a bit similar to Frozen Synapse in that its strategy is more reactionary. Rather than trying to lure enemies to key positions you need to think fast and get your crew out of harms way while simultaneously trying to avoid getting your ship scrapped and trying to blast your opponent’s vessel. There’s nothing turn-based about it but the combat can be every bit as lethal and death is just as permanent. Of course it’s possible to reload an earlier game in order to save a downed crew member, but that sort of goes against the spirit of it all.

rebuild07Rebuild might appear to be the least X-com-like game at first glance, but it’s actually just as valid as every other title on this list. Instead of capturing the feeling of a desperate struggle to keep your squad alive, it captures the feeling of a desperate struggle to plan ahead and manage resources well enough to prevent total annihilation. In essence it’s more like the Geoscape than the battlefield. Carefully taking control of various buildings, divvying out salvaged weapons and clothing, and assigning roles that best fit each survivor’s skillset are all essential to not ending up like every pocket of humanity always does in a George Romero movie.

When I was growing up, my friends’ parents never really got gaming. Some might have appreciated that their kids loved playing games, and would still buy them the relevant equipment, but they never really understood why it excited us so much. I happened to be part of a, then, very select group. I had parents who figured it out perfectly. My Dad was never any good at playing any games but he enjoyed talking about them because he was forever fascinated by the progression of technology. It was my Mum, however, that turned into a major rival. In the good sense, of course.

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As a kid, we would have battles to beat each other’s Tetris scores. We’d compete at games of Columns too, meeting up to work together to progress through Bubble Bobble (we never did beat it).

One of the most important things I believe I’ve ever been given is a set of parents that were constantly supportive and encouraging of what I set out to achieve. That’s continued right up until today.

With my father sadly no longer with us, my relationship with my mother is even stronger than it was before. Having pursued a potentially risky path of freelance writing, she’s always been there fully supportive. Whether it be by accepting that money is a little tight this month, or by making sure I’ve got a sandwich by my side while I struggle to meet a tight deadline. Of course, I do the same for her, but Sunday isn’t about me, it’s about her!
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Crucially, she’s quite the solo gamer and tech enthusiast now. In recent years, she spent a few hundred hours playing through Dragon Quest VIII on the Playstation 2. Something that I’m rather proud of telling other gamers. More relevantly for readers of 148apps, perhaps, she’s unlocked and at least two-starred every single level of Angry Birds imaginable, and I don’t mean just standard Angry Birds. I’m talking standard, Space, Star Wars, Seasons and Rio. She’s a machine when it comes to flicking birds towards pigs.

jenandmumWe’ve got the one iPad between us which luckily isn’t too much of an issue, although it never stops either of us flocking to the Apple Store together to gaze at the new specimens. Sure, we both know that the iPad 2 is a very fine device in its own right but that doesn’t stop either of us eyeing up the size of the iPad Mini or pondering just how much faster the iPad 4 might seem. She’s got her own iPhone now too, having been given my “old” iPhone 4. It’s the perfect tool for her to play SpellTower while on the move, her language skills being far superior to mine.

She hasn’t quite delved into the apps world as much yet. She reckons it’s because she’s too busy. I reckon it’s because there’s always “just one more” level of Angry Birds to conquer.

I’m an extremely lucky person to have not only such a supportive mother, but one that is just as excited as me about new technology, gadgets and the wonders of the App Store.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mum. :) [And from all of us at 148Apps, too, Jen's mum! --Ed.]

Recently, the NYC police department announced that they have created a special division to deal with iPhone and iPad device theft. It has become such a problem in large cities that police are devoting special teams to cope. Dear Apple, it’s time for you do do something about it.

I’ve known many people that have had iPhones and iPads stolen right from their hands. Criminals often grab the devices out of their victims’ hands and disappear before the victim even knows what happened. This almost happened to me yesterday; I was oblivious to what was going on, and it was pure luck the criminal missed getting a good hold on my device and I got to keep my iPhone. Many others aren’t as lucky.

iPhone snatching is a crime of opportunity and Apple has the ability to eliminate that opportunity or at least make it much less profitable.

Apple devices are hotly sought after, and that will always make them a target for crime. Even so, technology should be able to alleviate much of the resale value and limit the potential for data being lost. The issue is really in two parts: data security and device security.

There are a few things that Apple can do to help with data security. One big issue that seems to be a glaring omission is that an iOS device can be turned off even if it’s locked. This provides the criminal with the opportunity to avoid remote tracking and erase via Find My iPhone by just turning off the device.

If the device couldn’t be turned off when locked, the opportunity would be there to at least track or even wipe the device remotely. The piece of mind the ability to wipe a device would give to victims is immense.

But how about doing something about the actual resale value of devices? Apple tracks every single iOS device. With that ability comes the opportunity to permanently disable devices reported as stolen. Remember that registration screen that pops up when a new iOS device is activated? It shows up either in iTunes or on the device itself. That information all goes into a database at Apple. If your device is re-registered to someone else, or even connected to a network, Apple knows about it.

Apple, how about giving the registered owner the ability to report a device stolen? And if it’s seen on the Internet after being reported as stolen, deactivate it permanently. Something like this would make iOS devices, without some sophisticated and very expensive modifications, worthless for resale.

Wouldn’t that help reduce crime, if criminals knew that a stolen device would be unusable and therefore nearly worthless?

Interim steps could be taken as well. For instance, with prompts for configuration, turn on Find my iPhone by default when the device is registered. Getting users to verify their registrations and giving them tips on protecting their device and what to do if it is lost or stolen would also help.

iPhone and iPad theft it a huge deal around the world. I think it’s time that Apple stepped up and helped users keep their devices secure. The technology and the need is most certainly there, will Apple help?

Editors note: I know that open letters are pretentious and stupid. It’s really just a method to get ideas out there. They maybe ignored, but at least I got this off my chest.

[ Image credit: By Poulpy (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons ]

Not all games can be winners, and not all the games we review on 148Apps will receive high marks. But the amazing thing about the App Store and mobile game development in general is that there’s always a second (or even a third) chance. Content updates allow developers to address complaints or perceived issues fairly quickly and have the potential to completely turn a game around.

Which is why we’ve decided to take a look at some previously reviewed titles that didn’t go over so well the first time. Each one has been tweaked at least once since we wrote about it and we wanted to see how they might hold up now. Have they been significantly improved or are they only marginally better? Were major issues resolved or are they still dragging the entire experience down?

Lets take a look and see, then.


Puzzle Planets


Original Review Score – 2.5
ReviewerBonnie Eisenman
Known Issues – Severe performance problems including lag and crashing, control issues due to said lag.
Updates – Performance greatly improved with no discernable lag and no crashing, also resulting in improved control.

I like weird stuff like Puzzle Planets, but even I found it to be tough to play, originally. Thankfully, the game-breaking problems that kept Bonnie from enjoying it at launch have been addressed. And it’s all the better for it.

In my time spent building several alien worlds, I’ve never once had it crash on me, and being able to enjoy an iOS game uninterrupted is pretty important. More than that, however, the lag also seems to have disappeared, which makes it much easier to simply enjoy the game itself. All the planet rotating, pinching to form mountains, reverse-pinching to create fissures, and tapping to create volcanoes, as well as spinning the planet around in order to soak up water and distribute it to the barren land masses to create life all perform smoothly and create a kind of zen-like trance after a few rounds. I’ll certainly admit that it would be nice to have more than 15 planets to mess around with, possibly with some distinct characteristics rather than everything looking like “Earth 2.0,” but that doesn’t keep the somewhat simple time-based puzzles from being fun (and looking great) while they last.

$0.99
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2011-03-18 :: Category: Games

Minecraft – Pocket Edition


Original Review Score – 2.5
ReviewerRob Thomas
Known Issues – Virtually none of the features that made the PC version so notable, a complete lack of survival mode, barely any blocks to play with, super-tiny worlds.
Updates – Survival Mode, crafting, armor, mobs, a lot more blocks.

Now this is a game I did check out as soon as it was released onto the App Store. And, just like Rob T. (yes, we have a lot of Robs here), I thought it was a colossal disappointment. Nothing but a simplified Creative Mode with an extremely limited block selection. To call it a mere shadow of its older brother on PC would be a massive understatement. However, Mojang made good on its promise of constant updates, and the game has seen a slew of improvements ever since.

To be fair, this still isn’t a 1:1, pocket-sized version of the PC game. Heck, it’s still technically alpha status at the moment. Even so, this month’s update has brought it much closer. New blocks have made it in, sand and gravel are finally affected by gravity, armor can be crafted now, baby animals will appear, and so on. As I’ve said, it’s not PC Minecraft on iOS, but it’s certainly close enough to make me happy. Heck, in some ways I actually prefer it to the original because I can play it anywhere at any time, and it utilizes a much friendlier crafting system that does away with tile placement and simply shows what can be made outright. If it weren’t for the absence of a few features I’d even call it the best version to own. Even so, it’s a fantastic companion to the indie juggernaut Notch started to build all those years ago.

$6.99
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2011-11-17 :: Category: Games

The Simpsons: Tapped Out


Original Review Score – 2.0
ReviewerBrad Hilderbrand
Known Issues – Absurdly long real time requirements for performing tasks, an almost unnecessary reliance on premium currency.
Updates – Improved server stability, special holiday events.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out is another game that I myself didn’t play around with until recently. It’s also a bit more complicated of a comparison than the other three games on this list in that virtually none of the issues mentioned in Brad’s review have been addressed. Instead, the real difference is having another perspective.

First I’d like to say that I 100% respect Brad’s opinion on the matter and can totally see where he’s coming from. This game takes time to play. Lots and lots of time. More so than the average freemium title, it seems. However, I don’t necessarily view that as a “bad” thing. The very nature of many free-to-play games makes them ideal for playing in small increments, and that’s no different here. Sure we have to wait 24 hours while Lisa does all of her homework for the week but when factoring in all the other characters that can be acquired and given tasks to complete it doesn’t seem so bad. I’d consider it ideal, actually, since it means I can fiddle with my own personal Springfield, go off and do whatever my day demands, then check back in on occasion. I can’t claim that the game has been “improved” at all in the past year, but I don’t personally think it really needed to be. It’s Springfield in my pocket, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.

FREE!
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-03-01 :: Category: Games

Static Quest: The Delivery


Original Review Score – 2.5
ReviewerRay Willmott
Known Issues – Lackluster freemium mechanics that practically force players to pay in order to progress, overly simple gameplay, no staying power.
Updates – Bug fixes for late-game content.

Based on what I’ve read in Ray’s review, I’m willing to chalk this one up to a fairly drastic difference of opinion. Again, I wholly respect Ray’s views and opinions but mine are almost a complete 180 from his.

It’s true that Static Quest: The Delivery is incredibly basic in its “tap either side of the screen” mechanics. However those same mechanics are what make it ideal for quick mobile play sessions. It’s super easy to start up a game for a minute then put it down just as quickly, and with all the various weapons to unlock and upgrade there’s always something to strive for. I’m also rather fond of the retro pixel visuals (as per usual) but I found the special costumes associated with each weapon to be the real treat. I can totally get behind a game that makes the main character look like Ezio from Assassin’s Creed 2 (and up) when he uses a dagger, or like Robin Hood when he equips a bow and arrow. The fact that it’s actually quite fun to play doesn’t hurt, either.

$0.99
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-06-28 :: Category: Games

Sister site Pocket Gamer editor Richard Brown discovered that Real Racing 3 is showing up in Game Center. The good news is that means it’s been approved by Apple and it can’t be long before the release now. While it’s not out yet, this does bring up something interesting. Something I noticed in the Game Center achievements lends a little to the accuracy of rumors and theories I’ve been hearing that Real Racing 3 will be released as a free to play game.

Last week we took you through a three part series about the history of the App Store icon, Real Racing. Rob Rich covered the history and design of the first two games in the series. He also covered time-shifted multiplayer and other new features expected in Real Racing 3. An excellent series and well worth a read. One thing we didn’t cover is how the game will be monetized as it has yet to be announced. That monetization method is likely to have huge implications on how the game is received by the fans of the series.

In the past few months, monetization of games has made a huge shift. With the exception of Minecraft Pocket, the only games to spend any time high up on the top grossing list have been free to play games. It’s obvious where the money is. Real Racing 3, with a budget likely to eclipse the reported $2 million budget of Real Racing 2, may have to be free to play to have the potential of making a profit. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

For one, Firemint / Firemonkeys have already tested the free to play world with mixed results. The follow-up to their first smash hit Flight Control, called Flight Control Rocket was initially released as $0.99 paid download. The game was tweaked to drive higher in-app monetization and made free to play. There was a bit of a backlash though as many of the in-app purchases were considered “pay to win” items. Something that really ruins the competitive aspect of games. Flight Control Rocket was never a huge hit and it’s thought to have lost money.

A similar thing happened with another Firemint / Firemonkeys game, Spy Mouse. Initially released as a $0.99 puzzle game, it was tweaked with in-app purchase items included and made free. It is rumored that this change was much more successful for Spy Mouse in generating revenue. So we know that Firemint / Firemonkeys have their tests in free to play. They also see how much money is being made in free to play, it’s logical that they would move that way. Nearly the whole industry is heading that way.

Today the Real Racing 3 Game Center achievements are discovered, thanks to the carelessness of an EA employee. To my eye they verify that Real Racing 3 will be free to play. Two achievements in particular, “Extreme Paintover – apply 100 paint jobs” and “Wrenching Experience – conduct 5,000 repairs” point in that direction as they both seem excessive for a standard paid release.

Free to play games usually have what is called an energy system. This is the pay/play wall you hit when you have played a certain amount without paying anything. The energy system can be thought of as your allotted playtime. The energy / playtime decreases as you play and rebuilds as you wait. The “Wrenching Experience” achievement listed above to me indicates that cars will need to be repaired after racing, effectively refilling your energy to race again. The reason I think that is that 5,000 repairs is a huge number unless repairing the car is a necessary condition to racing. And why would that be a necessary condition of racing if it wasn’t a free to play energy system?

Free to play can be done right, even in racing games, so I’m holding out hope for Real Racing 3, should it turn out to be free to play. I have faith in Firemonkeys that they will not ruin my most favorite francise on iOS. When the game play is put first, and the monetization is optional, the game could shine as free to play. But when an overly aggressive energy system interrupts gameplay and forces plays to pay up or wait, it really saps the excitement from the game. I’m hoping for the former, obviously.

I can also hope for a single in-app purchase to just unlock everything and get rid of any play limits, energy systems, or similar. That would be the best of both worlds. But I doubt we’ll see that.

For Real Racing to succeed with both free to play and core racing gamers, it needs to carefully ride that thin line between pay walls and allowing players to just play. It’s a tough line to ride. And if there’s even a hint of pay to win, it will in my opinion, kill the game with all but the most casual gamers. Something like that would lead to a huge backlash from the hundreds of thousands of devoted players that love the Real Racing series, like me.

We’ll find out next week. EA is hosting an event in San Francisco which will be the first event to let journalists get hands on with Real Racing 3. It should be evident there what the plan is for monetization of Real Racing 3. Oh yeah, and I finally get to play Real Racing 3!

Buyers Beware – App-Shopping Red Flags

The App Store can be a wonderful place full of far too many games to count spread across every genre imaginable. However, despite all the rules and regulations for submissions, a few shady characters will inevitably fall through the cracks. In my numerous App Store searches I’ve seen my fair share of cash-grabs, some obvious and some not so much, but I’ve also begun to notice a few telltale signs that can be a good indication of a developer’s intentions.

This guide is not written in stone, and there are always exceptions to every rule. And I in no way mean to imply that the majority of App Store developers are simply out to con the unwary out of their money. Quite the contrary. Most of them are great folks who are just trying to make an honest dollar doing what they love and making other people happy. I only wish to pass a few tips along in the hopes that it may give you all a better idea of some of the things to look out for.


Tip #1 – Judging a game by its icon


Not all icons can be winners. That being said, if you see an icon featuring a recognizable character or a recognizable character who’s been slightly tweaked so they look a little different, proceed with caution. Using an icon that looks incredibly similar to a top selling iOS (even PC or console) game is a tactic often used to trick potential buyers.

Tip #2 – Check the screen shots


Screen shots are another good indication of legitimacy. They won’t all feature showpiece visuals but they still need to be there. If a game only has one or two screens available for viewing in the store, and those screens don’t actually show any in-game content, tread very carefully. Another “tell” of sorts is the actual content of the game screens. If the visuals look exactly like another game, or if (and I’ve seen this before) it looks like someone pasted some virtual buttons on top of a screencap, you might want to think twice before buying.

Tip #3 – File size


You see a game that looks awesome and the description makes it sound like the best thing since, well, the iPhone and it has a dozen glowing reviews. Before you hit “Purchase,” just take a quick peek at its file size. If this jaw-dropping showcase of iOS visual prowess takes up 5 MB (or even 50), it’s highly unlikely those screens or reviews are for real. Which brings me to my final tip.

Tip #4 – Check those reviews


User are largely subjective, but they can still be quite telling. If a game has a dozen five-star reviews and three or four with one-star, take the time to read the one-stars. Not liking a game is one thing, but when a buyer claims the game in question is totally different than what’s advertised you might want to pay attention. Also look out for reviews that are way too positive. It might be a trap.

Rob Rich – Favorite Things of 2012

2012 has been a heck of a year for a lot of people, and I’m not much of an exception. When compared to my fellow 148Apps writers I imagine my list is a bit more game-centric but what can I say, it’s a significant part of my life and has been for close to 25 years. With that in mind, on with my personal 2012 favorites in no particular order. Okay, they’re actually in order of what I thought of first.

The Daily Grind

This might sound corny and/or contrived, but I’m being totally honest when I state that simply writing for 148Apps has been one of my favorite aspects of this entire year. Not only has it resulted in my exposure to a bunch of great iOS games, it’s also afforded me lots of fantastic opportunities to interact with the community. I get to talk to iOS developers on a regular basis, I’ve gotten sneak peeks at new projects, and have generally been having an absolute blast doing all the stuff that I probably should be taking for granted but can’t because I enjoy it all so much. Yes, even my awkward podcasts with our own Carter Dotson.

Dragon’s Dogma

Team ICO’s polarizing title, Shadow of the Colossus will always be one of my absolute favorite games, so naturally I was salivating over the idea of introducing a similar idea into a game that’s equal parts Monster Hunter and even a little Elder Scrolls. It took a couple rounds with the demo for everything to click, but once it did I was smitten. The combat is supremely satisfying even before crawling across the haunches of a griffon in mid-flight, to say nothing of the satisfaction of bringing said griffon down. Not only that, it’s also the one game featuring a customizable avatar that I’m 100% satisfied with and even proud of my results.
[http://www.dragonsdogma.com/]

Moving

My wife and I have lived in New York for just over six years now. Up until recently it was in Brooklyn, in a somewhat unsavory part of town that was certainly better than it had been but still has a ways to go. It was one of those areas that can be a bit scary at certain times of the morning or evening. On top of this, our apartment was pretty small. We’re two people with two cats and it was cramped. Anyway, after a shockingly painless search we managed to find a significantly larger apartment in a much more significantly friendly neighborhood in Queens for only slightly more than our old place. The move itself was terrible – probably because it was sweltering hot, we had no AC, and I was apparently coming down with pneumonia at the time – but it’s been an absolute joy to be here ever since.

Mass Effect 3

Say what you will about that ending (and I agree that it was pretty disappointing), but I love this game. It’s a total refinement of the gameplay mechanics, the best looking entry to date, and features multiplayer that I personally find rather awesome. Plus I was able to bring my particular Commander Shepard’s tale to a close after several years. Sure underneath the hood it’s all a bunch of if/then statements but the results felt completely personal. This wasn’t simply Mass Effect 3, it was MY Mass Effect 3, and I’m not entirely certain any other game will come close to evoking such a feeling anytime soon. For the curious: FemShep (vastly superior), default redhead (finally!), totally got it on with Garrus (2 and 3). And I let him win the marksman contest because he’s cute when he thinks he’s got an edge.
[http://masseffect.bioware.com/]

The Blockheads

I’ve been on a fairly significant Minecraft kick lately, across all three versions no less. Getting to try out The Blockheads has been something of an epiphany. See, the typical Minecraft experience has never felt quite right to me on my iPhone. Combining all that crafting and building – along with plenty of unique new recipes like clothing – with a god sim-like control over the workers is shockingly fantastic. Imagine combining the Mojang juggernaut with The Sims and you’ll start to get the picture. Tasks ranging form mining to smelting to gardening can all be queued up and the selected blockhead will get to work on their own. Provided they aren’t exhausted and in need of some sleep, of course. It might not technically be out in 2012 (it’s slated for an early 2013 release), but I’ve gotten the chance to play The Blockheads before the changing of the years and that makes it a significant part of this one.
[http://theblockheads.net/]

Console gamers tend to dismiss mobile games as dumbed down, casual, kids stuff. Whenever I write a column about how mobile games can be as “good” as console games, the outcry is often loud and fervent.

With the power of current-generation iOS devices, it’s not a stretch to consider that many games that we see on consoles could be ported to mobile devices almost as is with the full game intact. And yet, it does indeed seem that when titles have a console and a mobile version of the same game, the mobile version suffers in terms of content.

Why is that? Even if we assume for the moment that an iOS device can’t push the same high quality graphic power as a dedicated gaming console, why must games on mobile be so much less in-depth than their console brethren?

Console Vs Mobile/iOS

Should gamers expect the same experience on mobile devices as on console? Probably not–but that may be changing. Michael de Graaf, the producer for the mobile version of Need for Speed Most Wanted, feels that the difference between console and mobile is narrowing. “At the moment, consoles still have an edge when it comes to raw power but that gap is narrowing,” he told us, “and we’ve seen possibilities continue to expand on mobile. The current quality of screens we are seeing and new form factors are increasing the quality and diversity of experiences that gamers can now have on a mobile device.”

Nick Rish, vice president of mobile publishing for EA, believes that comparing the two is futile. “There is something very immersive about holding a device 10 inches from your face,” he said, “putting on headphones and enjoying a game like Need for Speed Most Wanted while on your lunch break … It’s tough to say one platform provides a better consumer experience than the other; gaming is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Mobile gaming grew from very basic flash games we all’ve been playing on web browsers,” said Przemek Marszal, art director at 11 bit studios, the developer behind the Anomaly Warzone series. But that’s changing, he said, noting that even a hard-core indie developer like John Carmac sees the potential of iOS gaming.

Graphical Power

Is it fair to expect console-level graphics and performance on an iOS device? De Graaf thinks not, and helps his team tailor the gaming experience based on what mobile players want, versus simply what the hardware can do. “For instance, when we approached creating the control scheme for Need for Speed Most Wanted on mobile,” he said, “we wanted to provide consumers with the option to play in a way that was natural for a mobile experience. We listened to our mobile gamers and as a first for the franchise we gave fans the ability to control their vehicle via touch or tilt steering options.”

“I think hardcore gamers should expect the “same level” of experience and immersion but not the exact same experience,” said Marszal. “iOS is about touch, mobile, close-to-your-eyes feel, immediate experience. For a console, you almost need to “plan” your time with it.” He noted that the gap between console and iOS is narrowing, however, saying that the iPad 4 and iPad 5 is about as powerful as the original XBox.

Handheld? Or Mobile?

It’s hard not to compare the current state of iOS mobile gaming to other handheld gaming devices like Sony’s PlayStation Vita or Nintendo’s 3DS. It seems that for every story about the successes of mobile gaming, there’s a story about disappointing sales in the handheld gaming realm. “The DS and PSP are primarily gaming machines, but taking a look at the gameplay in Real Racing 3, Need for Speed Most Wanted or ShadowGun DeadZone it’s mind boggling just how stunning graphics and engaging gameplay can be on iOS devices as well,” said Rish.

So why don’t we see more console-like experiences on iOS and other mobile devices? Could it be the business model? Rish referenced the fact that with consoles and dedicated handheld gaming devices, consumers pay for their games up front, often spending twenty, thirty, sixty dollars or more for the entire experience. “We are seeing that when a developer gives a mobile game away for free,” said Rish, “there is more of a focus on replay-ability and the continual development of the experience through content updates, which prolong the experience, as opposed to creating an in-depth story from the beginning with a definite end.”

Could it also be that developers and publishers who do business in both worlds want to avoid cannibalizing their sales numbers? Our focus has always been on building an incredible experience on mobile that can sit alongside, rather than replicate, the console title,” said de Graaf. With gamers clamoring for high-quality realistic gaming experiences on living room consoles, a company would be hard pressed to give that up and move all its gaming resources to the iOS world, right?

Mobile titles, then, are like extra DLC, available to gamers who own both an iOS device as well as a console. They also function as advertisements for their console versions, driving even more sales to the publisher and developer than anything else.

While games on iOS can offer near-console quality and depth, then, perhaps consumers are, in fact, driving the types of games that show up on mobile devices. Rish pointed out that mobile gamers tend to prefer shorter play sessions when on the go, as well as the ability to immerse themselves into a deeper game as they have the time for.

Depth And Scope

Industrial Toys CEO and industry veteran Alex Seropian thinks we can have both kinds of games on mobile devices, but that developers are rightly concerned about just how to do so. “There seems to be some built up developer fear of bringing console games to mobile,” he told 148Apps, “because most of the ports and games that are structured like console games have been commercial failures on mobile.”

Seropian makes a distinction between the scope of a game and it’s depth. A deep game, he says, “is one you can play over and over again, the same bits, and get better at it and continue to enjoy it. A game with scope is a longer game with more things to look at and lots of single use content.” He points out that creating a console-type game with scope isn’t the best strategy for success, as people use their devices differently than they game on consoles. “The real trick,” he said, “is marrying those depth elements – compelling story, fantastic artistry and deep game mechanics with that accessible and quicker structure.”

The benefit of mobile gaming, then, may in fact be ability to serve many types of people by providing many different types of gaming experiences. It’s much easier to have some shorter, more casual experiences available on the same iOS device as the more console-like games with depth and immersive gameplay.

It’s Just Different

Perhaps it’s best to stop trying to compare consoles and iOS games altogether, and note that there is room in the market for all sorts of games. The mobile gaming world has proven to be a disruptive force in traditional gaming, but that doesn’t mean it will replace it, completely. Both executives seem to say that replicating a game like Need For Speed on iOS or mobile would be counter-productive, as they already HAVE a console-quality version of the title: on consoles. Creating a second, mobile-friendly counterpart to a console game just might expand the title’s audience, as well as provide new customers who might purchase the higher-initial dollar title at some point, based on the mobile experience alone.

It’s the publisher’s job, then, to differentiate the mobile titles even more, if that’s the case. It also doesn’t quite explain why there aren’t at least SOME games with the kind of depth and immersiveness we expect from console games made by the larger gaming companies like EA.

In addition, maybe the games we’re looking for, the ones with depth, significant gameplay,storytelling, and amazing graphics, won’t be found fromt he larger publishers. Perhaps we’ll only see them from smaller, less risk-averse companies who don’t need to worry about a console vs. mobile version.

If companies want to make games to meet their customer’s needs, then there should certainly be a market for deeper, console-style type games on iOS. Here’s hoping that the increasing power and ability of mobile devices continues to allow game publishers to create a few more deep, long-form video games for our favorite mobile platforms.

When you think of current devices, you probably think of the iPhone 5 and the iPad 4th Generation. But there are other devices still being sold as new. And there’s a shocking number of apps that are not properly tuned to work properly with these other new devices.

The iPad mini is a brand new device. And it’s damn sexy too. It’s basically the same internally as an iPad 2. Both the iPad mini and the iPad 2 are current models for sale by Apple. In addition, the iPod touch, while it sells amazingly well, is a generation behind in hardware and often a second thought for support. There are just way too many apps that operate slowly or crash when running on these devices.

It’s important for developers to support the full range of current devices not only being sold, but also being supported by Apple. Basically if it runs the latest version of iOS, it should be supported in apps. It’s possible to support the range in all but the most extreme cases–many developers do it. Unfortunately, some developers are lazy either in their support or in their testing for these other models.

So, consider this a call to action for users and developers. See an app that doesn’t work well on the iPad mini, iPad 2, or iPod touch? Head to the App Store and hit up the support link for that app and let the developer know you noticed. Maybe then we’ll see better support for all iOS devices, not just the latest and greatest.

The Backstory
Both Zeboyd and Penny Arcade have had a hand in their fair share of RPGs over the past few years, but it wasn’t until recently that the two found each other and created some incredibly sweet (and utterly surreal) music together. This third entry in the Rain-Slick Precipice series marks both the Penny Arcade RPG’s first foray into “retro” territory as well as Zeboyd’s best refinement of their quirky RPG system to date. Ancient sea gods and mimes are just the beginning.

The Gameplay
One of the biggest differences between a Zeboyd RPG and a more typical example is the treatment of the combat. Health, magic, and items all reset after every fight, eliminating the need to constantly micromanage party resources. To compensate for this enemies gain strength with each passing turn, lending a sense of urgency and increased strategy to every combat scenario. What makes Rain-Slick 3 so much fun (aside from the rampant Penny Arcade humor) is the emphasis on multi-classing. Finding the right combination of character abilities can lead to some incredibly satisfying victories, and the way everything resets after every battle makes experimentation far less grueling.

How does it Compare?
The original Rain-Slick 3 made its debut on both Steam and Xbox Live Indie Games, and felt right at home on both platforms. It’s wonderfully retro while at the same time incredibly modern and accessible. And all of that “magic” has been retained in the iOS version. All the humor, the unique mechanics, the splendid visuals, and so on have made the transition almost seamlessly. The only real difference between the mobile version and its console/PC brethren – aside from the smaller screen and blessed portability – is the interface, which has been adjusted for touch controls. And save the rather garish virtual stick, it’s very near flawless.

One of the things I love most about Rain-Slick 3 on iOS is that it’s not an “inferior” version like some ports tend to be. All the bonus content (alternate appearance packs, Lair of the Seamstress DLC, etc) is included, and it’s received just as much post-release support as the other platforms. The fact that it’s a fantastic game even without prior knowledge of any inside jokes or experience with the previous two titles makes it all the more noteworthy.

*NOTE: “Console-quality” refers to the quality of the experience, not just the graphics. This is about the depth of gameplay, content, and in some cases how accurately it portrays the ideals of its console counterpart.*


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While this post has nothing directly to do with iOS, it is a pretty major story in the mobile world. One you are likely not going to hear the end of soon. Microsoft has just officially unveiled Windows Phone 8, the mobile version of their new Windows ecosystem.

While at first glance it looks like Windows Phone 7, Windows Phone 8 has matured nicely. The Windows Phone 7 interface, known previously as Metro, has become the basis for all Windows 8 devices, desktop, tablet, and mobile. Which is great for standardized usability, maybe. There are some really good things about Windows Phone 8, and some bad ones. The interface is great, the apps, not so much.

 

Windows Phone 8 – The Interface

 

When Joe Belfiore got on stage to introduce the final unknown features of Windows Phone 8, it seemed like a sigh of relief. Microsoft has been teasing this release for what seems like months, but it’s finally here. However, it’s not without some notable issues.

I must point out that the Windows Phone 8 OS interface is perfectly suited for mobile. It is the only mobile OS designed from the start for mobile and it shows that a lot of thought went into the design. In many ways it’s a better interface for mobile than iOS or Android (which just copied iOS). It is focused on getting you the data you need quickly. The strength in iOS is with the apps. But that isolates that data inside the app and requires extra touches to get to it. Windows Phone is designed to surface the data from your apps onto your start screen. It’s just there and it’s really well done.

Some really good new features were presented, like Kid’s Corner, a specially administered interface on your device for when your kids want to play. Deep integration of your social networks is also a huge plus–doubly so on the go. Rooms allow groups of people to share things like photos, calendars, and even group messages.

 

Windows Phone 8 – The Hardware

 

Microsoft has announced a range of devices that will run Windows Phone 8. Let’s be honest: they are all pretty good but not amazing. None of them that I tried have the design and feel of the nearly perfect iPhone 5, but they are functional and fairly well done. Some corners were cut with most devices being all plastic, but that also keeps the retail prices down.

Some stand-outs include the Nokia 920, and the HTC 8X. Microsoft handed out HTC 8X devices as the unveiling this week and it’s the device I’ve been using to test Windows Phone 8.

 

Microsoft asks for a third chance

 

Here’s the really bad thing about Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is asking for yet another do-over in mobile. They messed it up, failed to build properly for the future, again, and need to start over. That means that the old stuff is deprecated and won’t be upgraded.

So all the years of their rhetoric about Windows Mobile being the operating system of the future? False. Windows Phone 7 is the future? False. Have a Windows Phone 7 device? It’s not upgradeable to Windows Phone 8, just a few short months later. Sorry, Microsoft needs to start over and create something new, so you are left with the short straw. If you have a recent Windows Phone 7 device it can be upgraded to 7.8, a subset of Windows Phone 8, but incompatible with WP8 apps, which is little consolation.

So even while Nokia was spending crazy ad dollars telling users that the “Smartphone beta test is over,” they knew it was just a ruse. It’s unforgivable to me that Nokia was selling devices it knew would not be upgradeable in just a few short months. Imagine if the iPhone 5 were not upgradeable to iOS 7 when that inevitably comes out next year. Oh, the fervor that would raise. But you see, hardly anyone bought Windows Phone 7 devices, so there’s no outrage. There are good things about being on the low end of the list in smartphone production, huh, Nokia?

I think Microsoft should just buy every Windows Phone 7 user a new Windows Phone 8 device. Would be great PR, and probably more effective than some of the ads they will end up running.

The end result of this is that you should be at least a bit concerned that Windows 9 is right around the corner and could easily make any Windows Phone 8 device you buy obsolete and non-upgradeable.

So, that’s a bit off my chest. But now here’s the kicker. I really like Windows Phone 8, I do. I think it’s innovative, pleasing to use, and all around well done. But the sad thing is, I won’t use it regularly, because there are still too few good apps for it.

 

Right Achilles Heel: Where are the good apps?

 

While Microsoft touts 120,000 apps for Windows Phone, there’s a real problem with those apps: a huge majority of them are just horrible crap. Most of them are way worse than the crappiest of apps on iOS. Many of the recognizable ones, the ones that Microsoft trumpets as being keystones on the platform, are just way behind compared to their iOS counterparts. Some are designed as feature sub-sets of their iOS versions, but others just haven’t been updated in too long.

The good news is that this lack of good apps should start to be less of an issue. At the Windows Phone 8 event this week Microsoft said they would have 46 of the top 50 apps on Windows Phone. I don’t know where that top 50 came from, but they did announce some good additions, like Pandora, Temple Run, and Angry Birds Space.

Microsoft will spend a ton of cash advertising Windows Phone 8; hopefully it will help. Flurry has already announced a huge uptick in new Windows Phone projects. Hopefully those new apps will be first class citizens, unlike some of the feature-lacking ones available now for Windows Phone.

But that’s not all. There is yet another problem with the Windows Phone app marketplace: device-specific apps.

 

Left Achilles Heel: Manufacturer Specific Apps

 

Forget about the Windows Phone 8′s (lack of) upgrade fiasco. Or even that the apps released for Windows Phone are sometimes generations behind other platforms. Here’s another big problem: device-specific app markets.

It seems like every other platform tries to match the iTunes App Store, but none are able to do it. Microsoft has capitulated to the device manufacturers to allow them to place manufacturer-specific app market sections in the main marketplace leading to apps that not all users can get to. Of course, the device marketing wonks have run with it. Releasing apps for specific devices from one manufacturer instead of all devices on the platform is a weak marketing tactic. In the end, it’s the whole of Windows Phone that will suffer for it.

 

Windows Phone 8 – Where does it fit in?

 

It’s easy to categorize mobile users. This is a generalization, of course, but Android users tend to be the DIY types and the “I heard there’s something called a smartphone and I want one for free” users. iOS users are the people the like it when their devices “just work.” Those iOS and Android users have already invested time and money into their platform of choice and the apps there. They aren’t likely to switch in large numbers to Windows Phone 8. So who’s left for Microsoft?

Business users, perhaps. Those that work for companies heavily invested in Microsoft technology, maybe. The problem with this is it takes years for companies to upgrade this type of infrastructure.

People who don’t already have a smartphone? These are the best candidates for Windows Phone 8. If you have a Windows 8 computer, it just makes sense to go with Windows Phone 8 if you aren’t invested in something else.

Then there are those that just want something no one else has. It is different from iOS and Android, so perhaps a certain number of people will want it just because of that fact.

 

Summary

 

Windows Phone 8 is a great mobile OS with good hardware, but a lot of hurdles yet to clear. In spite of everything negative listed above, it is well thought out, very well implemented, and something to keep tracking. If it gains enough steam, and everything meshes perfectly, it could possibly be a top mobile OS. But the real problem is it just may be too late–5 years too late. We will see if Windows Phone 8 will be enough to win Microsoft more than just an honorable mention.

Swordigo is a Console-Quality iOS Game

The Backstory
A young apprentice’s master is slain and the fate of the world is unexpectedly thrust into the young one’s hands. Classic adventure game stuff. The same can be said for the reappearance of forgotten evils and the requisite epic quest. These are all themes that are fairly typical of the genre but that doesn’t mean Swordigo doesn’t put them to good use.

The Gameplay
Swordigo harkens back to classic 2D adventures. Platforming puzzles, block pushing, melee combat, magic, and the constant acquisition of new gear that bestows new abilities and grants access to previously inaccessible areas are all prevalent. On top of all these classic gameplay tropes is a simple RPG character leveling system that also allows players to tweak their character to fit their play-style. Like to get in close and wreck stuff? Upgrade attack strength. That kind of thing.

How does it Compare?
The classic formula of finding new equipment in order to reach new areas and find more new equipment in order to reach other new areas has been around for quite some time, but there’s one game that stands above the rest and will forever be the standard that all other genre entries are held to. I am of course referring to Metroid. And while Swordigo’s protagonist might not be much of an intergalactic bounty hunter or carry much in the way of high tech alien weaponry (or have been raised by bird-people), he’s every bit a kindred spirit to Samus Aran.

There’s no shortage of games on the App Store that try to utilize the classic back-tracking adventure formula, but few pull it off with as much finesse as Swordigo. iOS users might not be able to enjoy the adventures of Ms. Aran or Mr. Belmont at an official capacity, but it’s nice to know that there are alternatives out there that scratch this particular itch incredibly well.

*NOTE: “Console-quality” refers to the quality of the experience, not just the graphics. This is about the depth of gameplay, content, and in some cases how accurately it portrays the ideals of its console counterpart.*



$2.99
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-03-22 :: Category: Games

Mission Europa is a Console-Quality iOS Game

The Backstory
A mining operation on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, has gone quiet. A team is sent to investigate and gets shot down in short order. Players control the lone survivor as he teams up with the facility’s computer in order to piece it all together and hopefully get home intact. A task made all the more difficult by the horrific cyber-zombie-demon-monsters that used to be the miners. It’s the kind of story we’ve seen in Sci-Fi horror before (Virus and Moontrap are just two examples I can think of), but it lends itself incredibly well to the interactive medium.

The Gameplay
Mission Europa (specifically the quintessential Collector’s version) is an odd duck of a RPG. It takes place entirely in first-person, utilizes both melee and ranged combat, features skills and summons that are akin to magic, contains tons of “lewts,” offers a crafting system, and has a pretty creepy atmosphere despite looking like it was rendered in crayon. Most of the time players will be wandering through the blood-stained halls, searching for a hidden item or hunting for a boss, all while fighting their way past the repurposed crew and other monstrosities. All the while finding and refining the abilities and gear that suits them best.

How does it Compare?
Because Mission Europa is an amalgamation of a number of different game types, it’s a bit like a lot of things. The gear collection, refining, and crafting is reminiscent of classics and contemporaries like Diablo or even Borderlands. The first-person combat is similar to an older Bethesda title, say like Oblivion. Meanwhile the oppressive atmosphere and disturbingly dark tones bring cult classic System Shock 2 to mind. The amazing thing is that it incorporates all these concepts, but it does them well, and even cohesively.

I could picture Mission Europa running on a PC quite easily, and it’s got the wealth of content (loot drops, crafting, creepy story, multiplayer, etc) most PC gamers crave. It would be right at home on Steam, too. Who knows? Maybe with a little push Banshee Soft might submit it to Greenlight and put my claims to the ultimate test.

*NOTE: “Console-quality” refers to the quality of the experience, not just the graphics. This is about the depth of gameplay, content, and in some cases how accurately it portrays the ideals of its console counterpart.*

$1.99
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2011-03-15 :: Category: Games

In spite of preorders of over 2 million iPhone 5s in less than 24 hours, the iPhone 5 is boring. Yes, it’s true. It’s boring. But, it needs to be. You see, boring works, boring is usable.

First, what is boring about it? It improves on every single aspect of the iPhone 4S. Some features are considerably better. LTE data speed is astonishing. The overall speed of the device, faster than any Android phone, is amazingly responsive. The screen expands for the first time ever in a uniquely usable way. So why then, is it boring? Because it’s Apple.

Apple has a track record of revising their products in ways that don’t vastly change the device in any single iteration. And that’s the case here. The device is amazingly more usable, but it’s not that different. Well that is until you start using it. Those writing that it’s boring don’t have the device yet.

You have to remember that there are a few fundamental things that set Apple devices apart from other device manufacturers:

Apple doesn’t add features people won’t use.

Apple doesn’t add features they can’t control.

Apple makes stuff that just works.

Apple innovates through revising what works, not bulk overhaul.

Many in the media expect every company to add “amazing” new features with every revision. There’s a problem with that though, most of those amazing features are unintutive, uneeded, and unwanted. But, those features take up words and make writing about the devices easier. The reality is that no one uses these oddball, yet somehow banner features like the stuff Samsung adds with every new product revision. Whizbang features do not equate with usable features. Apple is more pragmatic than that and add features that work and that people will use.

What’s the summary of all this? The iPhone 5 is fastest, most usable, feature rich, and amazing, yet boring phone ever.

I can’t wait for my boring new iPhone.

Apple held a special event in San Francisco today to announce the iPhone 5 and a few other things. While just about everything about the new device had already been leaked, in typical Apple style, the event still held a few surprises.

Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know about the event today.

It’s in the numbers…

As Apple does at just about every event they started out with a recap of some recent numbers showing how well they have done recently. And this time around it was no less impressive. Here’s a quick rundown of the amazing numbers all in one place for quick reference:

iPads
The iPad continues to impress and dominate the tablet market. In the words of Tim Cook, Apple CEO: “The iPad has 91% of the tablet web traffic. I don’t know what these other tablets are doing? Perhaps they are sitting in a drawer.”

17 million iPads sold last quarter (April-June 2012), that’s more iPads than any PC manufacturer sold of their entire PC line
84 million total iPads sold through June 2012
iPad Market Share, June 2011 – 62% market share
iPad Market Share, June 2012 – 68% market share
iPads represent 91% of web traffic from tablet devices
94% of the Fortune 500 companies are testing / deploying iPads

App Store
700,000 iOS Apps in the App Store
250,000 iPad Apps in the App Store (iPad and Universal)
90% of apps in the App Store are downloaded each month
The average iOS customer uses over 100 apps

Devices
400 million iOS devices sold through June 2012
150 million Game Center users
600 million sets of those standard iPod headphones produced

iTunes
26 million songs
20 billion total downloads
iTunes store available in 63 countries
435 million iTunes accounts with 1-click purchase
66% of downloads come from iOS devices

That’s a lot of really impressive stats.

iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 takes the iPhone 4S and makes just about everything better. When it took center stage we finally got to see the new specs of this oh so lust-worthy new iPhone.

The iPhone 5 will be available for pre-order this Friday, the 14th. With delivery and store availability a week later on the 21st. The prices end up being the same as the 4S, $199/299/399 for 16GB/32GB/64GB with two year contract.

In the US it will be available on the carriers that currently offer the 4S, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint.

The major new features include a larger screen, about 15% taller than the current iPhone screen. That doesn’t seem like much, but it lets you get an extra row in just about every list app. And it will give you that much more screen in games — or that much more screen that your thumbs won’t cover.

For apps that are not yet optimized for the iPhone 5, you will see those apps just as you do now. No stretching, you’ll just have small black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.

The other big change in the phone is a new dock connector, called Lightning. This is an all digital connector that adapts the pins to what your connected device needs to do — audio, video, charging, etc. It’s build much more robust than the current dock connector and can be inserted either way.

The downside to the new connector is that you are going to need to buy $30 Lightning converters for all of the devices that you need to use that have the old style dock connector. This could get expensive. Not to mention the 20+ dock connector cables I have in a drawer.

A much faster processor, a better camera (though still 8MP), a much better screen that supports a larger color gamut, a FaceTime HD (720p) front camera, all in a a thinner and lighter phone.

Oh yeah, and it has LTE as well. Major speed bump there.

It’s a great upgrade and worth it if you use your iPhone a lot. It’s not a drop everything and upgrade new device as there’s no feature that is just going to make you really crave it. If anything, the new dock connector will make this an expensive update for many. But it is a good feature bump and if you are due for an upgrade, it’s the one to go for.

iOS 6 Release Next Week

We got a quick recap of iOS 6 and the features we had already seen. They have gone through testing and iOS 6 is ready to release next week on September 19th.

The one new iOS 6 feature discussed was the ability to create Panorama images. It’s done quickly and easily by selecting Panorama from the camera options menu and sweeping the camera from left to right. It was shown working on the iPhone 5 and the new iPod touch. It’s not know at this point if this will work on other devices.

iPod touch is a first class citizen again

The iPod touch has been a bit ignored in recent years. The upgrade announced today gives it a huge update and brings it in line with the iPhone 4S / 5 hybrid specs. It’s a great upgrade to what is, but is not marketed as, the biggest selling portable gaming device.

The 5th generation iPod touch will sport the same screen as the iPhone 5, and will have the same processor as the 4S and a similar camera to the iPhone 4. It’s a great update.

The updated iPod touch will be available in five colors in October for $299 for 32GB and $399 for 64GB versions.

Earpods – 3 years in the making

Apple also introduced new earbud that were three years in the making. The Earpods are really quite good, if a bit badly named. They will also ship with the new iPhone and iPod touch.

Great bass response, amazing for earbuds. They don’t seal in your ear, so no outside noise reduction. But the flip side is that they are much more comfortable.

So that’s it, the rundown of what you need to know. A great event and some great new products.

We can expect more news from Apple before the end of the year. I wonder what it will be…

Apple is expected to announce the new iPhone 5 at a press event this week in San Francisco. The release of the iPhone 5 should follow shortly after that, perhaps as early as September 21st. Without any consideration of the new hardware, there are already a few hurdles that Apple will need to overcome to allow the iPhone 5 and successive devices to reach their full potential.

Took a Samsung to the knee

The problems with Samsung are really two-fold. The most immediatly pressing are the rumors that Samsung will attempt to file an injunction to stop the sale of the iPhone 5 if that device supports LTE. With their pride still quite hurt from losing their latest patent battle in the US with Apple, they are looking for a way to regain a bit of pride. What better way than to mark it’s territory and stop the iPhone 5 from being released by filing for an injunction based on their LTE patent portfolio.

On the flip side, Apple also has quite a few LTE related patents, recently purchased and the ones they already had. This should stop a judge from allowing the injunction, but you never really know with technology and judges. If this happens, expect a bit of a stock hit.

The long term problem with Samsung is their step-by-step duplication of Apple innovations. This will take Apple a long time to overcome in the courts, though recent court rulings have been both for and against Apple. It’s a long road, and unfortunately will slow down both companies, and others in the industry. The only real winners in the fight will be the lawyers, as usual.


Continue reading Opinion: Five Things Apple Needs to Overcome for the iPhone 5 to Succeed »


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The Backstory
It’s tough to really pin down the goings-on in fighting games. Story isn’t a particularly big focus most of the time and can lead to all kinds of weird stuff. An evil dictator bent on world domination creating a female clone of himself is just one example. Suffice it to say, so long as there’s a reason for wacky folks to fight the hows and whys don’t matter so much. As is the case with Street Fighter. Ignoring the nitty gritty the important thing to understand here is that Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, and the rest have gathered once again to beat the snot out of each other for their own personal reasons. And our amusement, of course.

The Gameplay
Street Fighter IV Volt (and by extension the original iOS release) had one major hurdle to overcome: controls. Virtual sticks and buttons just don’t compare to physical ones no matter how much someone might love their touch screen. Thankfully Capcom pulled them off quite well. While the overall action is a tad slower than most console offerings the fights are still frantic and movement is pretty tight. Whether it’s learning the ropes in Training, tackling the campaign, or taking on other players from across the globe in online matches there’s something for every kind of fighting aficionado. Having a roster of 22 playable characters is nice, too.

How does it Compare?
With practically an equivalent amount of content to its console counterpart and controls that aren’t a hindrance, Street Fighter IV Volt is as good as it gets on iOS. Aside from the concessions for controls and visuals (characters are no longer 3D, which affects the presentation and story segments) it’s pretty much the same game. It’s even got online multiplayer, which is something not even earlier Street Fighter console releases have sported until recently.

It’s not exactly 1:1, but Street Fighter IV Volt does a downright admirable job of giving iOS users a comparable experience to their console bretheren. It’s got the roster, the moves, the modes, and the multiplayer. What more could a fighting game lover on-the-go wish for?

*NOTE: “Console-quality” refers to the quality of the experience, not just the graphics. This is about the depth of gameplay, content, and in some cases how accurately it portrays the ideals of its console counterpart.*

$4.99
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2011-06-30 :: Category: Games

$4.99
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2010-03-10 :: Category: Games

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