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Documentarian Ken Burns Releases His Own iPad App With a New Way of Looking at History

Posted by Rob Rich on February 12th, 2014
iPad App - Designed for iPad

Ken Burns, the rather famous documentary filmmaker, has just released his own app. Appropriately titled Ken Burns. This isn't a documentary companion app or a collection of his films as you might expect, but rather an app meant to display American history in a whole new way.

Ken Burns organizes many key themes in American history into, well, themes. Art, Politics, Hard Times, Innovation, and more will chronologically cover notable events that fit their descriptions. There's also a more typical Timeline view if you just can't let go of The Old Ways. Oh, and you can view clips from many of your favorite Ken Burns documentaries while you're at it.

The Innovation section is free with the initial download (which is also free), and the full version can be unlocked for $9.99.

Phone Story Censored, Apple Needs New Definition of Objectionable Content

Posted by Rob LeFebvre on September 16th, 2011

Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander hit it out of the park this past week in her interview with developer Paolo Pedercini of Molleindustria about their game Phone Story. The game was submitted to the App Store, then pulled by Apple, citing app store violations. These include restrictions in the developer agreement against depictions of child abuse and "objectionable or crude" content. The other two app store violations include prohibitions against paid apps donating to charity. The app continues to be available for Android smartphones.

The game is essentially a documentary-like commentary on the smartphone hardware industry, an industry that the iPhone created and plays a major role in. The developer is, essentially, bringing awareness of the life cycle of the smartphone that we are using to play the game on to users who may or may not know the facts of the matter. Like any good documentarian, the developers elucidate the facts, put them into an art form, and release it to the public. Their website includes more facts, as in this page about Coltan, an essential mineral for electronic devices, and the focus of one of the minigames in the app.

This kind of awareness raising can only be a good thing. While I am not an expert on Apple's approval process, I can see how one of the mini-games can be construed as "depicting child abuse," as guards with guns are placed with a tap on the screen to keep the young looking workers digging up coltan. However, I think Apple needs to start looking deeper at the process of approvals on games that are clearly artistic or documentary-like in nature. I'm sure it's a tough call sometimes, but perhaps there could be a secondary process? I'm sure even the most concrete approval clerk could look at a description like the one on the Phone Story website and see that this is the case:

"Phone Story is an educational game about the dark side of your favorite smart phone. Follow your phone's journey around the world and fight the market forces in a spiral of planned obsolescence."

If Apple continues to want to be the arbiter of what gets published, and wants to be the front runner, they need to come up with some way to allow these types of games to get through. Would they pull a magazine app that reproduced the sort of information that is conveyed through gameplay? Let's hope not. It's my sincere hope that Apple works its way around this issue, both for Phone Story and for future indie games that have a clear humanitarian focus. Protecting users from hurtful content is one thing, censoring the fact that these things do exist, in the very market, is another, and as such, suspect.

Look Behind The Curtain With The Final Hours of Portal 2

Posted by Blake Grundman on April 25th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with the game design process.  Everything from the core coding to the art and level design has left me endlessly intrigued.  One game that is a perfect example of technology and level design working cohesively together is the recently released PC and console title Portal 2.  While not gushing about the game too much, I would feel fairly safe saying that it is one of Valve's best releases to date. That is saying a lot considering that this is a developer that has redefined the first person shooter genre multiple times.

This is why I was beyond ecstatic to learn that one of my new favorite games of all time is now the topic of a written documentary spanning Portal 2's entire development process.  Except here is the cool part: it is an interactive iPad application, dedicated to telling the story, behind the story.  Here is what you can expect from The Final Hours of Portal 2:
Journalist Geoff Keighley was granted unprecedented “fly on the wall” access over the past three years to create this staggering 15,000 word multimedia experience. From the hush-hush Portal prequel that was shelved to the last minute scramble to complete the game’s story, readers will experience a gripping and dramatic tale brought to life with exclusive photos, videos, interviews, interactive experiences, and other surprises.

When a quality journalist like Geoff Keighley is behind a literary work of this magnitude, it can't help but throw a tremendous amount of credibility to the software.  I have read several of the features that he used to write like this for GameSpot way back in the day and they were page-turners to say the very least.  If you have ever been at least slightly interested in the game development process, this unprecedented look behind the curtain is a must own.  Maybe this is finally the excuse I have been looking for to get an iPad...


Waiting For Superman Sets The Stage for Super School

Posted by Blake Grundman on April 5th, 2011
iPad App - Designed for iPad

As far as documentary films go, if your flick hasn't been either produced or endorsed by the obnoxious human/manatee hybrid know as Michael Moore, most likely you don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of garnering a strong following among the US filmgoing audiences.  Against all odds, last year's Waiting for Superman was not only successful, but garnered the praises of pundits throughout the film industry.  The film helped draw attention to the ever growing failures of the American education system, and the benefits that can be brought about by more widespread acceptance of charter schools.

Though the film was released last year, it doesn't mean that supporters have to be done with the causes promoted within the documentary.  One such way to get behind the message is to download the new iOS app Super School, which was has been developed as the official companion app to the film.  Here is what the software provides:

"Take a seat in our virtual classroom and see how you score in some old time favorite games. Answer trivia questions about education in the U.S. and get tips on how YOU can make a difference.

Earn game points to build a schoolhouse that you can post on Facebook to show you care about what's happening in our schools today. This handheld simulation will get you up to speed on the education crisis in the U.S. and give you the power to become a superhero to students and teachers in America." -- Via Waiting for Superman Blog

Also, the program offers users the opportunity to make a difference for local schools, by sending a pre-formatted letters to your government representatives, urging them to invest more into the American school system.  As a child of a teacher, I can attest to the benefit that can come from this increase in funding that only the government can provide.  Super School is free, so you should give it a glance and do you part to help the future of this nation.  Everyone should do their part.