Apple Video Game System

Though this can’t be confirmed yet, it’s rumored that Apple is working on its own video game system that will be based on iOS and built into the Apple TV.  This has been further supported by game-centric APIs found in the up-coming iOS 7.

With Google working on its own video game console, this should make for some interesting competition.

The advantage for Apple is many people instantly associate the name “Apple” with quality.  Also, iOS games are mostly written in the Objective C programming language which then gets compiled to native code, which tends to make iOS games faster and smoother.

Google has the advantage of having a more open ecosystem, but Android games are compiled into Java bytecode, which in turn runs on top of a Java virtual machine, which in turn runs on top of the system kernel.  This can degrade the system performance overall and can lead to the stuttering you see in some Android games, even when played on powerful Android tablets and phones.

If Apple can make their system smooth and easy to use, and if they keep the price of the Apple TV right at $99, Apple might attract some new customers that wouldn’t normally be Apple fans.

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Ouya and the Credit Card Mess

The Ouya, a new Android-based video game console, was recently released to mixed reviews.  Some people like it, some people hate it, and some people really, really hate it.

The Ouya got its start on the popular crowd funding site Kickstarter where they raised $8.6 million dollars.  Later they also got an injection of cash from some venture capitalists.

The Ouya has had myriad problems.  Everything from buttons that stick, to an updated controller where the buttons still stick for some people, to wi-fi issues, controller responsiveness and lag issues, speed and stability of some games, shipping issues where those that backed the project on Kickstarter and were promised early delivery of their consoles still haven’t gotten theirs even though the consoles are now available at retail stores, and so on.  Each of those issues could take up an article all on its own.  But this article isn’t about those.  This article is about Ouya’s credit card mess.

What it comes down to is this:  When you first turn on an Ouya and create an Ouya account, you must put in a credit card number.  At one point there was an option where this step could be skipped, but they’ve changed the system to where it is no longer possible to skip.  Keep in mind that all the games have a free demo available and there are other free apps as well.  Nevertheless, to use any of these things, despite being free, you must put in a credit card number, which then gets saved in your account.  Not even the all-powerful Google, when creating a new Google account to download free Android apps with, requires this of you.

This issue has incensed many.  I’ve read reports of people even returning their Ouyas because of it.  Ouya says the reason for this is convenience.  When you play a game you like, they don’t want you to have to slow down in order to buy it.  They do it because of you, for you.  They know better than you.

The Ouya sells itself as being an “open source console”, where gamers can play how they want.  And yet they don’t give gamers the choice of how they want their credit card information handled.  They don’t give them the choice of entering the information for each and every purchase if they so choose, or of not entering it at all and simply enjoying the free items on offer.

This, which many view as tantamount to an invasion of privacy, has been what has truly put me off the Ouya more than anything else.  I was interested in it at one time.  I am interested in it no longer.  Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a company that despite all its claims and gesticulations, doesn’t know how to follow the open source creed of user choice.  That doesn’t sound very “open” to me.

Dragon’s Prophet First Thoughts

Dragon’s Prophet is an up-coming free-to-play action-based fantasy MMORPG developed by Runewaker Entertainment, the makers of the free MMORPG Runes of Magic, and published by Sony.  In this game you can train a variety of dragons which will then help you in combat, provide your character with enhancements, and which you can also use as mounts.

Different dragons have different abilities.  Some dragons, when used as mounts, will increase your movement speed, while others will let you fly, and so on.  Not all dragons fly in this game.  The lore of this game world defines almost any large reptilian creature as a dragon.

The game uses an action combat system similar to Neverwinter, while the graphics look very much like they’re based on Runes of Magic, though they’ve certainly been enhanced.  Nevertheless, the fonts, icons, and especially parts of the UI look like they were inspired by Runes of Magic.

Many people like Runes of Magic so the fact this game is made by the creators of that game holds some promise.  But there’s also some concern about the game being published by Sony.  So far, it seems Sony doesn’t have any idea how to do free-to-play properly.  The majority of their free-to-play games are completely pay-to-win, where they really want to force you into getting a subscription.  For instance, in many of their games, if you want to use higher-level gear you have to pay real money to be able to equip each and every item.

Personally, if a game does free-to-play right, I have no problems giving them some money every now and then to show my appreciation and to support the developers.  But if a game does free-to-play wrong, like Sony tends to do, I won’t play the game at all.

This game does look interesting and could have some potential, but with Sony in the mix, I’ll remain skeptical.

Ouya on Amazon

It’s been announced that the Ouya Android-powered open gaming console is going to be available on Amazon, as well as at a number of other retailers, including both online and regular brick-and-mortar stores.  The article announcing this information also has an interview with Julie Uhrman, the CEO of Ouya.  You can read it here.

Machinarium Review

I recently got Machinarium for Linux as part of a recent Humble Bundle deal, though it’s available for a variety of platforms, and I just beat the game yesterday.

Machinarium is a graphic adventure game with the regular sorts of puzzles you’d expect from that genre, along with more traditional puzzles mixed in, like having to move pieces in just a certain way or activate lights in just a certain way to solve the puzzle and move on to the next.

There’s no dialog in the game.  The story is told completely through animated thought bubbles and sequences.  It’s very slick, and it works well.

Overall, I highly recommend this game.  You can learn more about it on the game’s wiki page or check out the game’s page itself.

Henge of Denravi

Guild Wars 2 is a MMORPG, that also has a strong PvP component in the form of WvW (World vs. World).  This is where servers are categorized into tiers and then three servers at similar tiers are pitted against each other, with members of those servers meeting on a special battleground where they fight for control of certain control points, gaining points for the server overall.

At the launch of Guild Wars 2, Henge of Denravi (HoD) was one of the largest, if not the largest, servers in the game.  They were tier 1 and undefeated.  But, as the stories go, people started transferring from other servers and joining HoD WvW so they could relay HoD’s battle plans back to their servers of choice.  Also, there can only be so many people in WvW at one time, and the stories say people would transfer from other servers to HoD and join WvW then just stand around to fill up the queue, preventing the more skilled and organized guilds from joining the fray.

Those guilds eventually got tired of these tactics and left the server, joining other servers instead.

Originally Arena Net’s idea, the company behind Guild Wars 2, was to make world transfers, where you transfer your character from one server to another, free at first so players could be sure they were on a server they liked.  Then, after a time, world transfers were supposed to start costing real money, but that hasn’t kicked in yet.  That’s what allowed all of this server hopping to happen.

Because HoD was in first place for so long, it’s still ranked in tier 1 despite now having a much lower population than it used to.  This means that it keeps getting pitted against much larger servers where it can’t make much of any gains, with point spreads of 100,000 for the large servers and HoD with something like 5,000.

It’s expected that HoD will move to a lower tier at some point.  When world transfers are no longer free and when the tiers are reshuffled and rebalanced, it’ll be interesting to see how well HoD starts doing.  Who knows, maybe it can climb its way back up the ladder again.

What Indie Games Mean to Me

If you take a moment to look over this website you’ll see that I’m a big supporter of the Humble Bundle, which promotes indie computer games using a pay-what-you-want system, and recently a promoter of ebooks as well, using the same system.

I’m a big supporter of the indie game scene in general, where you have small independent game developers and publishers creating and publishing their games directly to the public through the Internet, using services like Kickstarter to raise money or simply selling directly through their own website.  This allows them to create games that large game publishers, with their slow development cycles and stagnant ideas, would never green light.

A perfect example of this is Wasteland 2, a sequel to the acclaimed computer role-playing game Wasteland from the 80s.  Brian Fargo went to many of the large publishers asking for the funding to make Wasteland 2.  None of them were interested, thinking that no one would be interested in a game like that.  So instead, he turned to Kickstarter.  The goal was to raise $900,000 to fund the project.  Instead, they raised over $2 million, proving that there really was a desire for such games, and also proving that you don’t have to go through a big publisher and play by their rules to get a game published.

This of course holds many parallels to the ebook industry and authors being able to publish their ebooks directly, but that’s a subject for another post.

So, I’ve been thinking about what indie games mean to me.  I don’t expect them to have the most advanced graphics… after all, they tend to be dealing with smaller budgets… but I do expect the gameplay to be interesting.  They often have very nice soundtracks.  Most importantly, however, I expect them to have good stories.  When I play an indie game, that’s what I’m looking for.  A story that’s deeper, more compelling, and perhaps even more daring than what you’d get out of a main-stream game.

So for me, what I expect from an indie game, and what indie games mean to me, can be summed up in one word:  Story.

Dust Force Review

I recently picked up the indie game Dust Force as part of the Humble Indie Bundle, and have spent the last few days playing it.

The Humble Indie Bundle is a program where you can get a package of independently developed games and pay as little or as much for it as you want.  The money gets divided among the developers and charities, and if you pay more than the average amount, you unlock some additional games.  You can learn more about it here.

Dust Force is one of the games you get for paying more than the average, so I was expecting it to really be something special.  In Dust Force, you play a number of different characters of your  choosing.  You run around levels in 2D side-scrolling platform style, cleaning dust and leaves off of surfaces.  The game incorporates some puzzle-like elements, as you need to use the right combination of jumps, moves, and key-presses to get to some of the surfaces.  Cleaning surfaces also adds to your combo counter, which counts down over time.  You have to keep your combo counter active if you want to achieve a perfect score on the level.

The idea is certainly different and unique, but to be honest, I don’t enjoy the game very much.  I’m sure there are some people that do, but I’m not one of them.  The controls are far too twitchy and unforgiving.  A game like this requires that you move your character precisely, yet when you stop running you always slide.  Then when you’re jumping around, it can be difficult to position and move your character just how you want, resulting in you landing on some spikes or something similar and having to repeat that section of the level over and over again.

The game isn’t difficult because of its puzzles or creative mechanics.  The game is difficult just because of its controls, and that’s just bad design.  Dust Force ends up being far more frustrating than fun.

Piratey Reminiscence

As Talk Like a Pirate Day was earlier this week, it’s something that I’m still thinking about.

When I was growing up pirate things weren’t as pervasive in the culture and media as they are now.  Everyone knew about pirates of course, but it wasn’t something you encountered very often.

My first real experience with piratey goodness was the game Sid Meier’s Pirates! on the Commodore 64.  That’s what really got me hooked.

In Sid Meier’s Pirates!, you can play the captain of a ship, or a fleet of ships, either acting as a pirate, or under the banner of one or more countries, earning letters of marquee and increasing in rank and prestige from there, including earning land and even winning the hand of a governor’s daughter in marriage.

While all this is going on, you can also sack towns and drive the governor out and install a governor from the country of your choosing to help further a country’s goals, find pieces of a treasure map to find buried treasure, rescue members of your family, capture the silver train and treasure fleet, recruit more sailors to your cause and expand your personal fortune, all while sailing, getting into cannon fights, and sword duels.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! remains one of my all-time favorite games.  It was ported to a number of different platforms, including the Apple II and the Sega Genesis and was made into a number of versions, such as Pirates! Gold and the newer game, also called Sid Meier’s Pirates!, for all the modern video gaming systems, the PC, Mac, and the iPad.  Each version plays a little differently, especially in the areas of fighting with cannons, sword duels, and attacking towns over land.

I always found the most enjoyable remake to be Pirates! Gold, but the original Pirates! for the Commodore 64 is still my favorite.  I would recommend that anyone that hasn’t played one of the many versions before to find one and give it a try.