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Tag: iphone

Conversation 009: Shooting the Shit and E-mails

It may take us six months, but we eventually hit you back with a show…!

When we realized (upon gorging on pizza and beer) that the core group was actually all together at the same time and had a free evening, we decided we may as well just go ahead and record a show! Episode nine of the podcast is the embodiment of everything the show aims to be — a bunch of friends sitting around pontificating about video games. Sometimes we say stupid things and sometimes we say brilliant things, but the end result is a good time, and hopefully with a few guys you want to hear from.

Andrew told us about playing everything from DJ Hero and Civilization IV. Jeff has been playing everything from Angry Birds to Boom Blox. Mike has been playing everything from Heavenly Sword to Final Fantasy 1. You all had e-mails with some top ten lists, and questions about everything ranging from English translation ambivalence to relationship advice.

For your amazing convenience, here are some of the iPhone and PC games we spoke about during the show, as well as one article:

Special thanks to all the folks who hung out with us the other night during the live recording of the episode! After you listen to the show to let us know what you think (and chime in on any of the opinions or questions), let us know how you best want to be notified about new posts and live recordings. Does the site warrant its own Twitter feed? A Facebook fan page? What do you think?

Enjoy! Hopefully we’ll see you again sooner than six months’ time! Expect some blog posts from all of us in the meantime, of course!

Five iPhone Games Worth Paying For

I have written in the past about how Apple can be pompous with their public image surrounding games. I have also written in the past about the “bottomed-out” level of pricing for iPhone games, and how game developers (specifically the big-name, established ones) have struggled to adapt to and create for a platform where just a couple bucks is somehow seen as “too expensive”. I do think there is a place for “higher”-priced games on the iPhone (that is to say “higher than $1”), but I do agree that the expectation of the price and its respective deliverable is nowhere near its DS and PSP brethren. It is a completely different model where even the big guys have to think like an indie developer.

That all being said, I wanted to share a few games that I have purchased for my iPhone that I regularly return to and genuinely feel are worth the price — regardless of the developer type. These are not fun little applications that you load up once or twice, show off to someone, and never return to again. These are not applications that you pay 99-cents for and feel you got your 99-cents worth of value after a couple days. These are games that take full advantage of the platform they are on, and over-deliver on their value. Picking up any of these is a no-brainer. I present them to you in an order that somewhat resembles my feelings on that value compared with their price compared with how much time I have actually sunk into them.

(5) Wolfenstein 3D Classic Platinum (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $1.99
CURRENT PRICE: $1.99

I played my fair share of Wolfenstein and Doom back during their original PC release just as much as the next kid. I was never super-into these grand-daddies of the modern FPS (back when the only term was “Doom-clone”), unfortunately, so I could not tell you just how faithful the port is based on my own experience. When you consider that John Carmack worked on it himself, though, I have full-faith this this is how it was intended to look and be played. The control scheme takes quite a bit of adjustment before you start cruising around — it uses a virtual control pad in the bottom-left like many games. Since it was always a very “2D” game with no real strafing in the first place, however, it carries over quite well once your thumb gets used to how it should nimbly and minutely slide back and forth. I have played it more than I thought I would, though I will admit that the sheer curiosity factor of playing Wolfenstein 3D on my phone carries as much weight as it does for simply being good.

(4) Rock Band (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $9.99
CURRENT PRICE: $6.99

I disagree whole-heartedly with my buddy Bob over at The Appcast. Back on episode 39 of their show, a battle between Rock Band and Tap Tap Revenge 3 (then still a paid app) concluded with my choice as the loser. This could not be more wrong. Whereas Bob liked all of the avatar customization and modes in TTR3 and disliked the “vocals” part of Rock Band, I have had nothing but terrible experiences with the cruft of TTR3 getting in the way of enjoying it. Earnings credits to unlock songs that are totally different from paying (with real money) for them is not as direct as Rock Band‘s simple “beat this playlist and get the mystery song” setup, which (while it is terribly antiquated) just works. The bazillion things on-screen in TTR3 leaves me confused as to what I actually selected — it’s a MySpace-esque assault of terrible design aesthetics. It is slow. It is unresponsive in the menus. Its business model of paid downloads literally gets in the way of me trying to do anything when it takes up 60-70% of the screen.

I may sound like a fanboy, but that’s fine. Harmonix knows what they are doing, and I am fully on board with them. Rock Band is fast. It is minimalistic and yet retains its distinctive look. It is organized. If you are into downloadable content, it is cheap — two (bundled) songs run you a mere 99-cents, a huge discount from the $2-per-song price point that is standard on the consoles, and (unfortunately) even carried over to the PSP’s Rock Band Unplugged store. It is true that this game does not have the huge variety and raw number of  songs available in the Tap Tap Revenge series, but you have to ask yourself which type of game play experience is more your style: do you want random taps that could follow any variety of musical qualities of the song (TTR), or do you want instrument-specific patterns (RB)?

For me, the choice of a music game was clear. I paid the full launch price the day it was released, and while I do think it settled down to a more appropriate $6.99 since then, I do not “regret” my purchase in any way. When I am itching for a little drum action on the train ride home, Rock Band for the iPhone has me covered until I can burst through the door to my ION drum kit. That is the main “problem” with this iPhone version, though — when the full experience is waiting for me at home, the only time I ever play the portable version is during commutes. I cannot see myself sitting in my living room playing the iPhone version when I could get up and belt my little heart out. It is what you make of it, though; if you do not have the cash to drop on the full version, skip a couple cups of coffee and get the portable one.

For the record, I have no problem with the “vocals” portion of the game — I never expected to actually be singing into my phone, so while it would have been a “nice-to-have”, I do not feel any major loss with having to trace my finger up and down the pitch, instead. No, the performers cannot be customized like their cousins on the consoles, and no, they do not perfectly move in sync with the music. None of these things affect the base game play, though, which is the most important thing to get right in an iPhone game.

(3) wurdle (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $1.99
CURRENT PRICE: $1.99

As one of the first games I picked up, wurdle certainly deserves a spot on the list. It’s simple, really — a bunch of letters are randomly boggled around in a grid, and you have to draw lines across the letters to form words. More than any other iPhone game, this is the one that I have seen groups of people get involved with (including a train conductor who stood behind us and called out a couple words). It is one of the best two-minute diversions you can find and you will lose more time with it than you choose to admit. There is always something to be said for simplicity, and wurdle hits a home run in that respect. What more can you say?

(2) Peggle (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $0.99
CURRENT PRICE: $2.99

Depending on how how addicted you already are, even the $4.99 original asking price may have been a steal. The price has fluctuated all over the place since then, but it is well worth it no matter what the cost is at any given time. While I only dabbled in the game on the PC and did honestly enjoy it, this ultra-portable version of the game is exactly how I wanted to play. The wheel on the right-side to pinpoint your exact angle was a great way to compensate for the lack of mouse control. The colorful design looks fantastic on the iPhone’s screen. It runs beautifully, even zooming in to slow-motion with “Ode To Joy” as you hit your last block. It is the culmination of every bit of “casual” PC gaming since Minesweeper, all wrapped up in an absurd and irreverent aesthetic.

(1) Harbor Master (AppShopper.com Link)

WHAT I PAID: $0.99
CURRENT PRICE: $0.99

The “line-drawing” genre is one that has exploded on the iPhone. I initially saw Flight Control and thought it looked neat, but for whatever reason, Harbor Master was the one that grabbed enough of my attention to warrant a purchase. It is clear that my favorite games on the platform are the ones that take their simplicity and work feats of genius with a single, underlying concept — Harbor Master is no exception. You have a boat, you have a dock. Draw a line for the boat to empty its cargo at the dock, and draw a line for the boat to leave. Oh, but watch out for the boats hitting each other. Oh, and watch out for putting the orange and purple cargo in the right places. Oh, and on this stage, watch out for the pirate ships. Oh, and on this stage, take advantage of the fast-unloading dock but also watch out for the monster.

I have sunk more time into Harbor Master than any other application on my iPhone, most likely — yes, that includes Safari and various Twitter apps. Every other day I seem to hit a new high score on a stage, which drives me to want to play it even more. How fascinating is that? A game-lengthening tactic from the industry’s infancy (“beat a high score”) is what brings me back to this game. It is not about unlocking new stages. It is not about unlocking new boats. It is not about multiplayer (though that is also there). It is about the game doing the one thing that it does so well, assigning an obvious 1-point rating to each successful delivery, and making me want to get “just one more” each time. And everyone loves the tropical music that plays, too!

For reference’s sake, my scores are 182 on Cyclone Island, 135 on Fishing Bay, 127 on Monster Cove, 146 on Smugglers’ Reef, 152 on Cannon Beach, and 111 on Sturgeon Creek.

How about you all?

There are plenty of other games that are worth checking out. I still have not grabbed Canabalt, for example, and I know that Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is worth a look. One of the earliest games, Fieldrunners, still has not made its way to my phone. I also can’t wait for the port of Plants vs. Zombies. How about you all? Which iPhone / iPod Touch games have you grabbed that you feel are more than worth the price of entry? How do you convince people (like our own buddy Andrew, who refuses to pay for a single iPhone app) that some of these are actually worth paying a buck or so for?

Apple’s Smug, Egotistical, and Misleading Self-Proclaimed Jump to Gaming Market Leader

It feels like we could go on endlessly about 9/9/09. It was the tenth anniversary of the Dreamcast, the tenth anniversary of Final Fantasy VIII, Harmonix’s The Beatles: Rock Band came out, and… Apple randomly decided that it’s the market leader in handheld gaming.

Apple held a press event on that date announcing new developments in their iPhone and iPod line of products. Many were expecting an announcement of The Beatles finally coming to digital distribution (and exclusively through the iTunes Store), but a huge focus of the presentation ended up being on video games. Apple has dabbled in this before (particularly with their “funnest iPod ever” claims), but this time around they went for blood.

This would be entirely fine, except for the fact that they were misleading, occasionally flat-out wrong, and they deserve to be put in their place. Sure, I’m just some tool on the internet with a part-time video game blog. I even own every single system in question (DS, PSP, iPhone), so it doesn’t particularly affect me in any significant way. Still, I have a huge problem with intentionally misleading and misinforming people.

The entirety of the presentation is up for download from Apple as a video podcast in the iTunes Store. Any quotes and images used below are taken from this freely-available video.

When you think about it, the companies that have come before us… Nintendo and Sony with devices like the PSP and the DS… when these things came out, they seemed so cool. But once you play a game on the iPod Touch, you know… they don’t really stack up anymore!

apple_september2009_1

Came before you? They’re a part of the same generation. I suppose they came “first”, sure, but they are continuing with hardware revisions (DSi, PSPgo) and software upgrades at the same time Apple is continuing with the same thing. Hell, you could twist it around and say that the PSPgo is a newer system than the first-generation iPhone. What is that actually saying, though…? Not much.

And really? They don’t stack up anymore? It will be interesting to see how the iPhone version of Madden 10 does, especially when the PSP version is still getting pretty good reviews. While I hate to use it as a reference, the MetaCritic list of “best” DS games sure has a few that still “stack up”. Most notably is the power of Mario Kart DS, which sold another bazillion copies in July 2009… nearly four years after its original release.

One thing Apple conveniently forgot to mention is how games typically seen as “iPhone Games” are suddenly jumping ship to other platforms. Fieldrunners, one of the first, great tower-defense iPhone games, is hopping over to the PSP Mini catalog. In fact, the process of porting it over was “easy” according to the developer! Expect to see more from-the-iPhone ports in the future as developers build a base product and then turn their eyes elsewhere. You can easily argue that they build a significant and loyal audience on the iPhone with the original versions of the games, but there is an equally-important audience elsewhere they can cash in on, too.

They don’t have this amazing multitouch user interface.

apple_september2009_2

Certainly not false. Apple is absolutely right; neither the Nintendo DS or the PSP (or any hardware variation thereof) have a multitouch user interface. At the same time, let’s not forget who spearheaded most of the input schemes for controlling games, as well as feedback from those controls, into home console and portable gaming. Sure, they didn’t develop these technologies, but things like force-feedback (rumble packs), touch control (DS), motion control (Wii), system interoperability and connection (Gamecube+GBA, Wii+DS)… all pioneered and usually perfected by Nintendo.

I’m with ya’ on the PSP, though. The analog nub is pretty terrible.

Their games are kind of expensive.

Now when I say they’re expensive, we’re talking about 25, 30, 40 dollars for a title. A lot of kids can’t afford a lot of titles. I mean, you give one of those, you’re giving a need to spend a lot of money on those titles.

Yes, an at-launch retail game for the DS or PSP is going to be more expensive than the bottomed-out $0.99 price range for most “game and entertainment titles” (a phrase we’ll revisit) in Apple’s App Store. I don’t think too many people will dispute this. Of course, things like development costs, hardware manufacturing, licensing, etc. all contribute to the price. A physical product will typically cost more than a digital-distribution product. Again, not really lying, but certainly misleading.

By the way… how is giving someone an iPod Touch and telling them they can’t have any more games or apps any different from giving someone a DS and telling them they can’t have (or can’t afford) any more games? You’re somehow enabling and forcing someone to spend more money…? I… guess…? I don’t buy this argument for a second. It’s fluff, it’s ridiculous, and if anything, it shows that it takes far more products (more and more apps and games) to satiate their own iPod Touch gamer than it would a DS or PSP gamer.

They don’t even have anything like the App Store for finding great games and titles.

Here’s where things are changing, though, and where Apple is outright lying. Digital distribution helps to bring costs down. We’re not there yet, but many of the DSiware games and upcoming PSP Minis are not and will not be the same as a Tiger Woods game, either in content or cost.

Furthermore, the PSP has had a store since launch. It may not always have been as tightly integrated as it is now (requiring either a PS3 or a computer to purchase and manage software), but the PlayStation Store has certainly been there. The DSi launched with its own version of the Shop Channel, itself also included at launch with the Wii. DSiware games were available immediately, with a growing catalog of at least one game per week.

But worse isn’t the price, it’s the BUYING experience! Having to go a store and try to find the hot new game for one of those devices is not a lot of fun.

The buying experience on an iPod Touch is incredible; it’s truly breakthrough. Built into every iPod Touch is the App Store… can find access to all these 75,000 titles. It’s just incredible. If you look JUST at the gaming and entertainment category ALONE, you’re going to see a big difference.

apple_september2009_3

Let’s play a little game called, “How confusing is it to find something in the iTunes Store?

First thing I did was go to the iTunes Store main page. I’m thinking, “OK, self… we want to buy a game. I own an iPod Touch. Surely, I will click ‘iPod Games’, right…?

itunes_store_1

Of course not. That brings you to the iPod Click Wheel Games section, intended for the Nano and Classic series of iPods. Those of us who follow this kind of material know what it all means, sure… but picture someone who doesn’t.

itunes_store_2

All right, fine; let’s go to App Store, instead.

itunes_store_3

I’m struggling to understand how this looks like anything other than a digital version of the same GameStop store shelf Apple shows in their presentation. It’s overwhelming, it’s clunky, and it needs a lot of improvement. Sure, the iTunes Store has undergone some upgrades and clean-up since this particular version (shown through iTunes 8), but it’s hardly a convincing argument.

And they certainly don’t deliver a media experience like the iPod that’s built into the iPod Touch.

While it’s true that if you want to listen to music on the DS, it has always involved hacking the system and loading homebrew software. The PSP, on the other hand, has had integrated music and video support from the very start. RSS feeds can be added, allowing for podcast streaming right from the device. On top of all that, a web browser is included. The cross-media bar (XMB) isn’t always the most intuitive and streamlined interface, but for a while Sony actually marketed the device as a portable media device and a gaming console.

So I’m going to bring up a chart of the gaming and entertainment titles available on the Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, and iPhone OS. And here’s what it looks like:

apple_september2009_4

Sony PSP: 607 titles. Nintendo DS: 3,680. iPhone OS: 21,178. It’s absolutely incredible, the amount of work developers are doing to bring AMAZING content to the iPod Touch and the iPhone.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Really? Did they seriously just try and spin this number in a positive light?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Sturgeon’s Law come into full effect here. If I stop to think about it, I will probably come up with a better ratio of “good” to “crap” games on the PSP than I would on the DS, and similarly from the DS to the iPhone OS. Of those 21K+ titles, how many are actually worth anything…? By “worth”, I don’t even necessarily mean “money”… I mean “time”. How many of them are worth even the time it takes to download them?

Here is where the “Game & Entertainment” moniker comes under fire. Apple is clearly piling anything and everything from fart soundboards to Madden under this sub-heading. The DS may have a ton of horrible shovelware, but I don’t see “iFart” on anything other than the iPhone OS. If you look at this statistic in any way other than a heat-of-the-moment, Apple-fanboy (or stockholder), mid-event set of beer goggles, you see just how ridiculous it is.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love my iPhone 3G, and I can’t get enough of Harbor Master (I just did 152 cargo deliveries on Cannon Beach, and am quite proud of myself). The games continue to get better and better, and I have been happy to even spend my money on a few of them.

Apple’s ego is getting a little too big, but that might be a good thing. Nintendo’s own ego has gone essentially unmatched in the handheld market since 1989, and it has only recently been under the force of genuine competition that all of the hardware manufacturers (Nintendo, Sony, and now Apple) have had to step up their game and innovate. Hopefully that means that everyone wins; games get better, hardware gets better, everything gets cheaper, and the variety of highly-engaging content on the “casual” and “hardcore” sides continue to grow.

But seriously, Apple…? You’re not there yet. You can wipe that shit-eating grin off your face.

Price of iPhone Games Not Necessarily the Issue

While eating lunch today, I stumbled across an article on MSNBC called “Will the people pay for quality iPhone games?” It was an interesting question, and one I often wonder about both for myself and for the gaming public as a whole. We have heard Andrew say a few times on the podcast that he simply cannot imagine spending “that kind” (any kind?) of money for games on that type of platform. Meanwhile, Jeff and I tap away at things like wurdle.

In the article, Andrew Stein, director of mobile business development for PopCap, says:

We need to be cognizant of some of the competitive pressures, but at the same time our games offer huge value to the consumer. We’re not interested in devaluing the brand by pricing it at 99 cents. It is a premium experience. We do invest a lot in our products. We take the time and do it right.

I can somewhat get behind and understand the logic of that kind of statement. It can be incredibly tough from a development standpoint to put any type of time and energy into a product and then be “forced” to “devalue” the product just to “compete” (though one could argue that any of those words and their possible negative connotations could be replaced with ones with positive connotations such as “given the opportunity” to “undercut” the competition so they can “showcase their talent and gain a leadership foothold”). While plenty of terrible games are made, I would not imagine trying to take anything away from a genuine product with geniune effort. I understand the balancing act that needs to happen, and it seems like PopCap does, as well.

However, then we get a quote from Steve Palley, who MSNBC lists as “founder of iDevice game-review site SlideToPlay.com and former Editorial Guru for Vivendi Games Mobile”.

We want better, more expensive games, but not enough people are willing to pay for them to make them profitable. It sucks. For now, the main use case for the majority of people who buy iPhone and iTouch games is the one-to-five minute ‘gameplay snack.’ They want novelties and amusements, not gameplay.

I am horribly confused by this statement. For someone coming from a game development background in some capacity (being employed by Vivendi) and now a part of the general enthusiast press, this seems to contradict itself. We just heard from one person in game development that they want to create these expansive environment and gameplay experiences, which Palley backs up… but then goes on to say that it is simply not what people want.

If that’s not what people want, why on Earth are you wasting your time, effort, and ultimately money to produce something that no-one wants?

We have had a similar situation on another handheld platform, which goes against everything that was anticipated. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (a new game in a well-established, always-high-selling franchise) is having trouble pulling in the numbers on the Nintendo DS, one of the best-selling systems in the history of the industry with a ridiculously large installed-base throughout the world.

An incredibly well-reviewed game from a multi-million-selling franchise on arguably the most successful system in the history of the industry with a highly-visible advertising campaign is having trouble selling? What’s going on here…?!

Analyst Michael Patcher has popped up a lot in gaming blogs and news stories as of late, so while I feel slightly ridiculous bringing these points up again if you have already read them, I promise you that it all pulls back to the bigger question in the end. Patcher states in a later Gamasutra article:

… “we can’t say that Take-Two made a bad game or marketed it poorly,” he says. “Instead, they created an M-rated game for a largely E and T audience, and those DS owners who are legally allowed to buy an M-rated game are not particularly interested.”

While things may change over time (as Take-Two insists they will, with Chinatown Wars having long-legs), for the time being it appears Take-Two made a great game for the wrong market.

I don’t see any difference from iPhone game developers making huge, immersive, “expensive” games… for an audience that just wants to play a Tetris clone for thirty seconds.

iPhone Hilarity

Here’s an IM session I was having with Julian a couple weeks ago on my iPhone. It was so hilarious, I had to take a snap-shot of it. Wonder how that happened…?

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