Category Archives: Blog

A Histogram of Violence

The ‘Ceeb is talking about a study that suggests gore does not make video games more enjoyable:

http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2009/01/16/videogames.html

In the case of THIS GUY (points at self with thumbs), excessive gore actually deterred a purchase of Fallout 3, the ultra-bloody sequel to a pair of games i rather enjoyed back in the day, which were free of slow-motion exploding limbs and the opportunity to play as Jeffrey Dahmer.

During the study, researchers used two Half-Life 2 mods: one with heavy gore-porn enemy explosions, and one where foes are telekinetically floated into the air and “de-rezzed”, Tron-style. Most respondents did not rate the violent version of the game as being more enjoyable than the less-violent version. (i say “less violent”, because let’s face it: i would neither want to be exploded nor dissipated into the ether, thank you kindly)

The article goes on to say:

Still, violent content was preferred, though not enjoyed more, by a small subgroup of people who scored high in aggression traits.

This hints at what i’ve been suspecting, and to what large AAA console developers are now responding: GORE is ADORED by a MINORity. This very vocal, very abrasive minority is presently flooding online message boards lamenting the “death of hardcore”, and complaining about games that are built for moms and dogs to enjoy. This is the same minority who aggressively snap to the defense of video games, whenever researchers suggest that games lead to aggression. Irony, anyone?

Iron E

Picture puns rock my socks off.

Free iPhone App Store Redemption Code for Textropolis

Ian Marsh is an indie iPhone developer who sent me a redemption code to his latest game, Textropolis. He probably found me after my somewhat embarrassing nerdgasm over Wurdle, another iPhone word puzzle game that i discovered last week. i’m growing to appreciate the economy of design in many of these iPhone games: they’re lean, succinct, and – dare i say it? – pithy.

There. i said it. i said “Pithy.”

Textropolis

Textropolis. Word.

Compared to Wurdle, Textropolis is a much more zen-like game. It has no time limit, nothing exploding, and there’s no real pressure to muscle through it. Instead, you’re pleasantly trying to form as many words as possible from the letters that comprise various city names. The more points you score, the closer you get to unlocking star ratings for each city. Five stars are more stars than no stars, and that’s better, so you want more stars. Because … well, stars. You know how it goes. The “tropolis” part of the fiction has buildings springing up as you earn more stars, but i wasn’t paying close attention, because stars.

Probably the best feature to recommend Textropolis is the little plane that flies by with a banner announcing the definition of the word you just made. i’m a little tired of entering words like “AIT”, “TED”, and “STURMPUMFLUMPER” (95000 points!) in Wurdle without knowing what they actually mean. Textropolis makes you smart AND relaxes you AT THE SAME TIME. Also, there are stars. You can have five of them.

An obvious drawback to any major word game geek is that Textropolis uses a limited dictionary compared to the likes of Wurdle and others, which employ the official Scrabble/Boggle dictionary. i was a little annoyed that Textropolis refused to admit “TOWINGS” (as in, “i would park my car there, but for all the recent towings”), and “GITS” (as in, “i’d give you a ride home, but those gits towed my car again). The Textropolis dictionary is just limited enough to be frustrating.

Marsh vs. the Third Degree

Ian was kind enough to answer a few questions about iPhone development. And since his previous games have topped the charts, best take heed, y’hear? The redemption code for a free copy of Textropolis that Ian sent me isn’t valid for Canadian LOSERS like me, so if you watch closely, i’ll be burying it in the copy of this post so that ONE LUCKY READER can have a free copy of the game.

For the rest of you who try to redeem the code after it’s been used up, the game is only 99 cents. Suck it up and buy it already. i live in one of the richest countries in the world. i burn dollar bills to light all my new toys on fire. Give the man your 99 cents.

Richie Rich

If you look in the mirror and see this kid, buy the damned game.

Untold Entertainment: Ian, thank you for joining us in our cool pirate lair shaped like a giant skull that looks totally awesome.

Ian Marsh: Glad to be here.

Untold Entertainment: Tell us about the origins of Textropolis.

Ian Marsh: Textropolis began its life as a small side project I worked on at a small failing Mobile Game Studio that was my first job out of college. It was J2ME, all of 63k and not too pretty. But it was all we would play in the office, and ever since I heard about the iPhone SDK I’ve been dreaming of making it for the iPhone.

Untold Entertainment: Did you hit any snags while developing the game?

Ian Marsh: Maybe the biggest challenge in the game was how to save the state of each level for 5 separate players. I ended up using a bit mask so each word in the city had a designated bit. This means that each city’s state can be saved by a string no longer than 20 characters or so.

Untold Entertainment: (smoking a rad-looking pipe) I see, I see. As an indie developer, how do you fund your projects?

Ian Marsh: Well the first game or two I put out were made in my spare time while still working at a full time job. Luckily those ended up selling well enough for me to quit my job and make games full time.

Developers Ryan Henson Creighton and Ian Marsh

Untold Entertainment prez Ryan Henson Creighton and developer Ian Marsh (both obscured by foliage) stroll around Untold’s island interview getaway.

Untold Entertainment: Have your iPhone games done well enough to cover costs and to turn a profit?

Ian Marsh: Yes. (that’s good news! -ed.)

Untold Entertainment: Are you considering porting your games to other platforms, or are your iPhone controls too technology-specific to do that?

Ian Marsh: No, this would be a lot of work for a single developer. I’m just concentrating on the iPhone for now!

Untold Entertainment: What lessons have you learned from your first three games? Are you going to do anything differently for your fourth, or have you pretty much mastered the development process with your third game?

Ian Marsh: Start with solid gameplay and keep it simple. In my opinion the best type of mobile games are still simple pick up and play games even with the iPhone’s advanced hardware.

Untold Entertainment: What are you working on now?

Ian Marsh: Right now I’m promoting Textropolis. On the iPhone making the game is only half the battle unless you get terribly lucky. When you put out a game you have to try and keep it afloat long enough to get noticed, reviewed, and blogged about.

Untold Entertainment: Well, fat chance of that happening. Would you like to play Jell-O Twister?

Ian Marsh: Would i!

(debauchery ensues)

As promised, here’s the single-use redemption code for a FREE copy of Textropolis, courtesy of the developer (for amazing US citizens only! Code not for use by worthless, and often stupid Canadians):

TP73HFKLAJE9

Let me know if you were the lucky reader who successfully redeemed the code! If two or more people respond, i’ll know y’all know how to spell “LIAR”.

Best Video Game Commercial EVER

i don’t know how i could have been a gamer my whole life and missed this. i thought nothing could beat that nerdy white kid rapping in the Zelda ad, but MAN. This Pole Position spot takes the cake (and then kick’s the cake’s ASS):



F*** yeah!! It’s like they distilled Real Ultimate Power, the Internet’s foremost authority on ninjas, into a video game commercial. Life is totally rad.

iMpressions

As i mentioned in another post (iPhone vs. the Basement Battalion), our decreasing faith in Flash development has lead us to investigate the iPhone. Our experiments in self-publishing our own Flash games (chronicled in our ongoing and depressing Pimp My Game series) have shown that there’s too much free content online to reasonably compete. The pricing models for Flash games are between $10-20 for a trial-based game, and zero dollars for most others. There’s a vast no-man’s-land in between. i’ve never seen a Flash game available online for between $0.99 and $9.99. It could exist – i’ve just never seen it.

So there’s a real need to fill in that pricing gap – the gap between “too much game” (i’m not likely to stick with Mystery Case Files long enough to get my ten dollars worth) and “not enough game” (the average length of time i’ll spend on a free online Flash game is two and a half seconds).

Chrome Jellybean in Chicago

Ok, so i’m supposed to match three of the … LOOK! A DISTRACTINGLY SHINY OBJECT!

The (cr)App Store

The iPhone App Store fills in that gap admirably. While you still have a glut of free, mostly poor-quality games and apps, there’s a spectrum of higher-quality entertainment up for grabs between that $0.99-$9.99 range. More than ten dollars for an iPhone game is largely unheard of. But there’s a lot of debate currently raging among developers about what some are calling the “race to 99 cents”. They’re accusing most developers of devaluing their work, or gaming the system to get more attention for their app, forcing everyone else in turn to keep cutting the price of their apps until everything levels out at 99 cents, the lowest possible price to charge for content on the App Store.

Lengthy discussion follows many of these posts. And it was in reading these discussions that i formed my first impression of these strange beings, these “Mac people”, who i have been avoiding for so long.

Supposed Mac and PC users

i actually identify better with the witty fat guy than the arrogant, catty guy

Once Bitten, Mac Shy

i am a PC person. i’ve owned PCs for most of my life. i worked in a PC-only dev shop for over seven years. Every machine i’ve owned since i was 10 has been a PC. Because at 10 years old, i owned an Amiga.

The Amiga systems were better than the x86 PCs of the time. They were better for artists and musicians. They had better music and video capabilities. Images, animations and movies all played better on Amiga systems. Sounds like a certain fruit-branded platform we know today, doesn’t it?

Amiga 500

The Amiga 500. It’s for artsy folks.

The problem with the Amiga platform is that everybody bought PCs, and the Amiga became more and more niche, until eventually all the hot software came out for IBM PCs and “clones”, and Amiga owners were left to seek each other out in weird underground support/software swap groups that met in the catacombs beneath ancient churches. i hear they had their own secret handshake and blood rites.

It was a lot like the BETAMax/VHS battle before it – you can argue til you’re fit to pop about which technology is best, and there may even be a clear winner … but the only thing that matters is what the majority of people buy. After i sunk $1000 into my Amiga 500 to buy a hard drive with a few MB of space on it, i saw the platform die a painful death soon after. Since then, i decided never to go with the “better” product, but always to side with the masses. Sometimes it hurts to be practical.

Yo Mama Uses a Mac

Sure, i make cracks about Macs just like the next non-Mac-owning guy. “i’m getting a Mac.” “Oh? i could’ve sworn you were straight”, and “Mac is so intuitive! To eject a disk – just drag the icon into the TRASH CAN”, etc etc. i bought into the stereotypes that 1. Macs were for creative (read:gay) people, and 2. that despite the company’s claims that the platform was super-easy to use, it wasn’t.

Well, it turns out i was actually right on both accounts. i started watching the developer videos for the iPhone SDK, and the parade of “creative” types reminded me of my stint in community theatre. Mac definitely, definitely attracts more gay dudes. As Seinfeld would say, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

My Mac is also nowhere near as easy to use as Apple would have us neophytes believe. You don’t have to spend much time with Xcode, Interface Builder, Keychain, and the iPhone Simulator before your screen is an absolute zoo of windows, modules and toolbars. Not only are the modules not integrated into a single system – within each module, there’s a laundry list of pallettes that float on your desktop and don’t reliably dock to anything, making it completely confusing to understand which program you’re actually working in. Of course, this is just my experience with Xcode, which is free – i haven’t tried any other Apple software, so i’m willing to reserve judgment.

Too Many Windows on a Mac

If someone will tell me the Mac equivalent of the Windows-M “minimize all” command, i will marry your ugly cousin and paint your front porch

Impeccable Attention to Not Bursting into Flames

Where i’ve been really impressed with my Mac experience is in the hardware department. i have a MacBook – an older model, white Apple laptop – that cost me around $1200 CDN after i bullied FutureShop into matching BestBuy’s Boxing Week price. (Pro tip: they really back down on the warranty they try to sell you when you open up a web browser in their computer department and surf over to the pages and pages of Futureshop bashing on EhMac.ca).

My first laptop, my only laptop, is a beastly Dell XPS that i used $3k in corporate bursary money to purchase. It dents easily, and plaques and stickers are always falling off of it. It comes armed to the teeth with Dell bloatware, and it heats up to searing, kill-a-baby temperatures. It’s not a good machine at all, despite what CNet reviews would have you believe. (After buying some Dell monitors based on CNet reviews, i slowly came to the realization that Dell must sponsor reviews on the CNet site. i have since sworn off Dell altogether.)

Dell XPS Bonfire

My Dell XPS after seven minutes of operation. The “X” stands for “scorching bonfire”.

Dell must have done their marketing correctly, because people all over the place ask me how i like the XPS laptop – even when they can’t see the logo on the back of it, which mystifies me. It’s weird. It’s kind of like having this disease, and everyone oohs and aahs over it. “Oooh – the mumps! i’ve heard good things! How do you like them?”

Meanwhile, the MacBook is quiet and happy. The battery life is generous, and seems to outperform the XPS battery by a longshot. It coos at me when i start it up, and it’s gently stroking my thigh as i write this blog post. Something’s a little fishy about that last feature, but i’ll let it slide.

Drink the Apple-Flavoured Kool-Aid

One of Apple’s slogans is “Think Different”, and my early iPhone development experience has been just that – different. There’s definitely a different class of people posting on those message boards i posted above. They’re smarter. It’s obvious. These folks are a far cry from the teenagers hacking Flash and tossing out a mountain of free content from their moms’ basements – the Basement Battalion. The Flash community has its champions, but by and large, there’s a lot of desperate-seeming “me-tooism” and people doing their very best to learn Flash Actionscript so they can launch their sequel to Booby-Shooter 5000 on AddictingGames.com.

i dunno. Maybe i haven’t been around the Apple dev community long enough to have discovered the dregs. But i will say that through all of the Apple dev boards i’ve read, there seems to be this weird devotion to Apple. It unnerves me a little … “Apple” is spoken of with reverence, as if the devs are talking about a benevolent father figure instead of a corporation, who scolds them when they misbehave and who rewards them with technological goodies when they are nice. It’s a teensy bit Big Brother-ish, from an outsider’s perspective. A little cultish. i hope i don’t end up dead in a cot somewhere wearing new Reeboks with a mouthful of Kool-Aid in a bid to join Steve Jobs at the mothership.

Well … if the mothership is taking me to a planet where the market is crazy for independent games, and small shops are praised as a guiding light in interactive entertainment, i might just take a tiny sip.