KickStarter: The Perfect Opportunity for Small Developers

KickStarter: The Perfect Opportunity for Small Developers

Jan 27, 2012

The hardest part of creating a breakout app from your great idea is finding funding. Let’s face it, if you’re independently wealthy the odds of you going out of your way to create the next Angry Birds are small. Most of the greatest games on the Xbox Live Arcade, Apple App Store, and, of course, the Android Market are indie games: pet projects of people risking a lot on the success of these innovative games. Competition necessitates innovation; this is what drives the gaming industry. Sure, EA can manufacture hundreds of sub-par mobile puzzle games, but the real innovation comes from startups; young college kids looking to get their foot in the door with some novel idea. A quick look at the top 24 paid games in the Android Market shows just 9 titles by the traditional big players in gaming: EA, Gameloft, and Rockstar. Of these nine titles, six of them are remakes of classic games like UNO, Monopoly, the Sims, and GTA III. Look up the Wikipedia page for EA and then look at the Wiki for the developer of one of the most popular games on the Market, ‘Cut the Rope’. That’s right. Two whole sentences.

What I’m saying is that people love fresh, indie games, but getting backing for indie games – similar to movies – is hard and usually frustrating. That’s where an increasingly popular start-up called KickStarter comes in. You’ve probably seen them on the news or read about them online; they’re a great tool for anyone looking to get an idea off the ground. What KickStarter does is provides a place for normal people to help fund a startup. Instead of getting one company to invest $10,000 into the next Braid, KickStarter allows 1000 people to each invest 10 dollars. For your payment there are tiered rewards that are chosen by the developer. For donating over $5.00 you might get a personalized hand-written letter, and for going over $25, maybe an advanced copy of the product. These tiers go all the way up to $1,000 which could include a trip out to the launch party (not that I have $1000 to throw at a cool project). The way KickStarter regulates this system is by a.) Approving every application that is submitted and b.) Making it that if a project doesn’t reach its target amount in it’s allotted time then no money is given and the backers don’t pay anything. It’s kind of a cutthroat system, but it is a necessity.

KickStarter is the perfect opportunity for Android developers, building a fan base while also funding your project. One promising Android project that needs your help is Pixel Sand. As you can see with their video, this developer is attempting to revolutionize the relatively new falling-sand genre by adding unprecedented RPG, puzzle, and mulitiplayer elements to it. Other, non-app products include an initially impressive phone grip, iSLIC and the already funded phone platform/tripod adaptor Capta. KickStarter also allows developers to expand their business and work on developing for multiple platforms. A perfect example is an already-profitable PC game Hexxaxix XXI. Reaching the goal on KickStarter would allow for this game to be available for download across a large range of platforms including Sony’s new Play Station Vita.

So I encourage all of you to check out all the projects on KickStarter, not just Android ones. There are plenty of great projects out there that just need a little “kick” to get “started.”

Spacetime Studios Announces Their Latest Cross-Platform MMORPG, Dark Legends

Spacetime Studios Announces Their Latest Cross-Platform MMORPG, Dark Legends

Jan 26, 2012

Spacetime Studios has announced their newest entry in their cross-platform MMO Legends series, and this one will delve into a world that is culturally en vogue: vampires. Yes, their latest title is Dark Legends, and it will involve vampires. Yes, players will control a vampire, as they fight off the humans, and other supernatural forces that want to see them knocked down the supernatural food chain.

What Spacetime Studios is promising with Dark Legends is not just Star Legends or Pocket Legends reskinned with supernatural creatures, but gameplay that promises to be more action-based than previous games. Abilities such as charge and draining attacks will be part of this new combat system. As well, the game promises to have interactive story sections to help expand the narrative, which will be a larger focus in this game than in previous titles.

Of course, the game will still have the features that the Legends series was known for: MMORPG gameplay that works on cellular networks, and across many devices. This means that Dark Legends will be playable on iOS, Android, and Chrome, with players able to partake in missions together, and to carry their accounts from device to device. The game will also feature single-player missions for those who don’t like that second M in the MMORPG acronym.

According to Gary Gattis, CEO of Spacetime Studios, ““With each entry to the Legends franchise we raise the bar for the pick-up-and-play MMO space. The changes between Pocket Legends and Star Legends were significant, but Dark Legends is a quantum leap forward in interactive storytelling.” While these are bold words, both Pocket Legends and Star Legends were groundbreaking technical achievements, taking cross-platform mobile online play to levels that other games have struggled to reach. While there’s only currently concept artwork publicly revealed, we’ll have more on the game as it is publicly revealed at GDC 2012 in early March.

Pho.to Lab PRO Review

Pho.to Lab PRO Review

Jan 26, 2012

It’s been many years since “photoshop” became both a verb and a household name. It no longer really belongs to Adobe, instead it belongs to people who need a quick and simple word to describe what they’ve been doing to photos of cats. So it’s very difficult not to think of Pho.to as a “photoshop app”. But then again, is it really so bad to compare the two? Pho.to is but a humble offering in the vast field of photo editing apps, and yet it is very strong in its own right and can definitely hold its own compared to its predecessor.

What the developers of Pho.to have done is distill a lot of the features that make other, more specific photo-editing apps popular, into one sort of general grouping of all possible edits someone could want to make. There are some funny frames, and some artists effects, the option to turn a person into a monster or an animal. But they have also given themselves free creative reign and every two weeks will produce a new photo effect that is always one level weirder/funnier than the last.

Editing the photos is wonderfully simple – the user selects an effect, and then can choose a photo from their gallery, or from a selection of previously-used photos. This is brilliant, because users don’t have to keep hunting through the menus to get back to the image they want to use. The app allows the photo to be cropped so that only the most relevant sections of it are used, and then it does all the work. It actually does a very methodical job of rendering the original image into the new setting. Each time I ran a picture through it I was impressed (or amused). And once the photos are finished there are options to save it to the phone’s gallery, or to export it in whatever manners the phone is capable of.

I applaud the ingenuity of the effects developers. Every two weeks they produce something new to entertain their audience. I do wonder how long they can keep up the stream of effects, but so far they haven’t slowed down. The editing and finals products are all quality work and I have been amusing myself with different hilarious images for days.

What I find unfortunate in the sharing aspect is that users can’t simply email a copy of the image to someone. Instead it gets hosted on Pho.to’s website, and it produces a link to the webspace. It’s just a little disappointing that there is what I believe to be an unnecessary step between my friends and my hilarious photos.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 Review

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 Review

Jan 26, 2012

Sonic 4 is finally on Android. Sega’s revival of their legendary franchise utilizes 3D graphics, but is otherwise an entirely 2D affair that recalls the classic games, in both gameplay along with common level styles, graphics, and music themes Even the bonus levels are similar to the original Sega Genesis (Mega Drive for European 16-bit gamers) games. This is a port of the iOS version of Sonic 4 specifically – the console versions received some changes pre-release, particularly to the physics, graphics, and to two levels that are all still in the mobile versions.

This is a game that does tend to utilize the classic Sonic games’ nostalgia to advance itself – there are a lot of elements taken directly from the classic games, rearranged in new ways. This is not a bad thing, because the classic Sonic games represent the pinnacle of the series, and seeing these concepts presented in new ways is certainly enjoyable for fans of the franchise. The Android version looks fantastic, even better than the iPhone version which never had Retina Display graphics enabled.

The tiny d-pad was an ill-advised interface choice; it makes movement extremely difficult. Some of the weird physics are still here; Sonic still seems to be very sticky to the surfaces he stands on, and gravity feels very floaty. Especially compared to the recently-released Sonic CD, the physics will feel odd. This also is a release of a game that did come out in October 2010 on virtually every modern platform; the audience that hasn’t played it yet is likely small, and there’s nothing new here that the other versions of the game don’t have. Ice Cream Sandwich users should note that the game doesn’t run properly on that version of the OS yet.

But hey, this pretty much had to come out, didn’t it? Episode 2 is planned for Android, and this gives folks on the Android platform a chance to check this version of the game out before the next version comes out. For Sonic fans, this is well worth the retraux blast, and the Android version is a very good version of the game.

Sony’s Picture Rater Enhances Picture Manager Functionality

Sony’s Picture Rater Enhances Picture Manager Functionality

Jan 25, 2012

Sony Digital Network Applications has released today a supplemental application to their Picture Manager app, called Picture Rater. This is designed to help users rate the photos in their libraries. Two photos are displayed, and users tap the photo they prefer, which rates one photo higher and lowers the ranking on one photo. A photo can be rapidly tapped on to increase its rating to 5 stars instantaneously. The photo ratings then sync up with Picture Manager‘s ratings filters, so clicking the 4-star rating in Picture Manager will show pictures rated that score from the Picture Rater process.

Picture Rater does require Picture Manager to run, which is disappointing because this is an interesting way to see pictures on one’s Android phone; I discovered a bunch of photos I didn’t even realize that I still had. Also, I was reminded how annoying apps that install data to the SD card can be when their media shows up in other apps. Picture Rater is available for free on the Android Market.

Gameloft Joins GetJar Gold with Asphalt 6: Adrenaline

Gameloft Joins GetJar Gold with Asphalt 6: Adrenaline

Jan 25, 2012

GetJar has struck a deal with Gameloft to start offering games from Gameloft on their Gold service, starting with Asphalt 6: Adrenaline. GetJar Gold has been soldiering on for the past few months offering games for free, and this is possibly their biggest ‘get’ yet. They’ve also been partnering with big-name publishers and developers for their Gold program, including venerable names like Sega, offering ChuChu Rocket for free. However, Gameloft has been a titan of mobile publishing since the days we all carried around J2ME handsets like the original Motorola Razr, and they’ve been chugging along even on the modern handsets with games that take much inspiration from console games.

Asphalt 6: Adrenaline is the latest in their racing series (and was also recently in the news as being playable with voice chat over 4G LTE on Verizon), and it will be the first title offered on GetJar Gold. According to GetJar CEO Ilja Laurs, “It’s great to have Gameloft in the fold and making their games available for free through Getjar. We now have 95% of the world’s top developers and publishers on GetJar, and the momentum we need to continue to explore new ways to reward both Android users and the developers building great new apps for them.” By installing the GetJar Gold app, users can install Asphalt 6: Adrenaline for free starting now.

Ad-Blocking on Android

Ad-Blocking on Android

Jan 25, 2012

Thanks to Android apps having more permissions than on other platforms, this also means that it’s easier for apps to deliver ads in different ways. Developers can push ads to the notification bar, or even maliciously install app icons that are links to advertisements. While advertising itself is not a bad thing – it helps many developers make money in a challenging environment, and websites such as ours use advertising to help keep things going, and to pay talented writers to keep churning out interesting and informative content. I do not recommend just disabling all ads without enabling them judiciously for services users wish to support. However, advertisements can be intrusive and annoying, which is why many users disable it on their phones.

Thankfully, there are applications that can help detect which apps are serving the most odious of applications, and offer ways to remove them. First, detecting ads can be done through free apps like Addons Detector. What this does is that it detects the kinds of third-party services that installed apps can use: this includes push notification services like Airpush, typical banner ad services like AdMob, social gaming services, and other, non-malicious services. However, this app can’t necessarily remove those services themselves.

Airpush in particular, being one of the most well-known push notification ad services, can be removed either through their Airpush Permanent Opt out app that hypothetically opts out a device from receiving Airpush ads. Apps like Airblocker – Airpush Block can be used to block ads on rooted devices. This is the issue – blocking ads at the server level requires editing the hosts file, which is in the system folder, which requires a rooted device. However, plenty of free solutions exist either in custom roms or on the Android Market to block ads, such as AdFree Android which modifies the hosts file to block ads. While removing ads can improve device performance, it can have the effect of shorting legitimate website owners and app developers of necessary ad revenue, so use these judiciously.

Negative Space Review

Negative Space Review

Jan 24, 2012

I was a very early adopter of the Nintendo DS, and one of my favourite games on that system (which I still own) was WarioWare. If you’re not familiar, WarioWare was composed entirely of mini-games. There wasn’t really a story, just little 3-second challenges that were equal parts fun and ridiculous. And my first and enduring reaction to Negative Space is how much it reminds me of WarioWare. That alone made it worth a look to me, but was it enough to keep me playing?

Negative Space is a brain-teasing puzzle game, designed to make you think outside the box, or rather outside the lines. You have two little blobs, one black and one white, and the goal is to get each blog to the flag of its corresponding colour. You do this by drawing lines in either black or white, and thus either push the blobs along, or create paths for them to fall through. White can’t move through white and black can’t move through black, but they can move through each other. It’s a little confusing on paper, which is why the game gives you a few tutorial rounds to get you comfortable.

The game presents challenges in a number of inventive ways. You can be limited in the amount of ink you have. Sometimes you’ll have an abundance of one colour and a lack of the other. Or you can be limited in the number of lines that you draw. It really makes you focus and concentrate to get past each level, and it’s a great brain exerciser.

Negative Space‘s downfall is unfortunately that it is rather a one trick pony. I worked my way through the tutorial levels and by the time I got to the main game I was…kind of bored. The difficulty curve is awfully steep and the game had used up most of my patience before I even got to the levels that count. I think they need to go back in and add a few easier levels at the beginning, to draw people in (pun intended).

Japanese Carrier KDDI Pushes Advertisements to Users’ Phones Through Bloatware

Japanese Carrier KDDI Pushes Advertisements to Users’ Phones Through Bloatware

Jan 24, 2012

Japanese carrier KDDI is offering a particularly nasty proposition to its customers: advertisements in the notification bar, served by difficult-to-remove bloatware. KDDI phones come with their own app store, the au one Market, preinstalled on their phones. This app is then pushing advertisements to the devices as notifications. This isn’t something that can be disabled easily, and the au one Market is not easily removed from these phones. This is obviously an annoyance for many users: notifications are supposed to be notifications about things that are important to the user, not an advertisement served indiscriminately to the user with no relevance. Airpush, which provides similar services to developers looking to monetize their apps, has not been well-received from Android users. It’s gotten to the point where Airpush themselves offer an app to opt out from their ads, though user reviews indicate this is not a perfect solution.

Thankfully, when these users upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, this bloatware will be more easily disabled. But then, carriers typically are slow to adopt new versions of Android as upgrades for existing phones. It’s a catch-22 of anti-consumer behavior; hopefully US carriers won’t get any funny ideas from this.

Gameloft Brings Online Multiplayer with Voice Chat to Verizon 4G LTE

Gameloft Brings Online Multiplayer with Voice Chat to Verizon 4G LTE

Jan 24, 2012

Fans of Gameloft’s online multiplayer games may soon be getting a chance to talk some smack to their distant opponents thanks to 4G LTE. Gameloft and Verizon will be offering voice chat in Asphalt 6: Adrenaline. According to Baudoin Corman, Gameloft’s Vice President of Publishing, “We are thrilled to be partnering with Verizon to illustrate the potential of in-game voice chat and multiplayer over the 4G LTE network. Gameloft seeks to provide gamers with a complete mobile gaming experience and feels that these features are at the forefront of the platform’s future.”

4G LTE’s benefits for gaming are well-known: OnLive in particular has touted 4G LTE’s low latency connections as what allows them to offer the service to mobile users not on wifi; the improved bandwidth and latency conditions should be ahelp with making these games work more smoothly. Voice chat is something that has existed on iOS through Game Center but not frequently used (one iOS developer I’ve spoken to says that it’s actually something implementable with a few lines of code, which makes it odd that it isn’t implemented as an option) so having it on Android should be a boon to mobile competitive gamers. Just remember that “kill him! kill him!” and shouting expletives in a crowded space is a way for people to get really scared, really quickly.

Source: Droid-Life

Zoo Keeper DX App Review

Zoo Keeper DX App Review

Jan 24, 2012

While I personally have never been a major fan of games like Bejeweled, I do find them fun for a while, but their repetitive nature wears on me. The whole connect-3 genre is hard-pressed for innovation, which is part of what makes Zoo Keeper DX a very intriguing game. To start off, if you’re not a fan of Bejeweled then I am not sure Zoo Keeper DX will do enough to make you change your opinion, but I found it to be a more enjoyable and intense experience than Bejeweled.

If you’re not familiar, Zoo Keeper DX is the mobile port of a fairly popular Japanese puzzle game that originated on the GameBoy Advance with subsequent releases on the PS2 and Nintendo’s DS. The biggest difference between Zoo Keeper and other games of its genre is that for the main mode you are instructed to collect certain amounts of animals, and when you have secured ‘x’ number of each animal that round is over and another one starts with a slightly higher objective. This twist adds a nice layer of depth and because you’re timed, makes for a much more intense game. Frantically scanning the board for that last chain of pandas is certainly an unique experience. This is aided by the changing facial expressions of the animals who do not like to be kept waiting. Other than the running counter above the playing field, the angry expressions of the animals you’ve neglected to capture remind you of your objective and also give the game more heart.

Unfortunately, I found myself playing this game on silent a lot because the the repetitive soundtrack gets very annoying very quickly, and the decent sound effects don’t do enough to make up for this. The graphics are your typical pixel art, which look great, and all the menu’s are local and well implemented. Overall, Zoo Keeper DX is a solid puzzle game for anyone looking, but if you’re not a fan of similar titles there just isn’t enough here to warrant a change.

Tablet Ownership in the US Spikes Dramatically Over the Holiday Season

Tablet ownership outright exploded over the holiday season, according to Pew Research. With a margin of error of 2.4%, now 19% of American adults own tablet computers as of January, a jump from 10% +/- 2% in December. This can be largely be naturally attributed to gift-giving during holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Festivus (assuming that anyone wants to still hand out gifts after the Airing of Grievances). However, what should be noted is that while tablet ownership has naturally grown by large amounts over the past two years thanks to the iPad and other tablet computers, this is by far the biggest growth period yet for tablets.

While specific platform-by-platform ownership was not revealed, it seems likely that the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s heavily-marketed $199 tablet was a huge part of the growth, along with Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color and Nook Tablet, and even possibly the budget sub-$100 no-name brand tablets that many retailers pushed, especially during Black Friday. The iPad was obviously a large part of the growth, as well, but it seems unlikely that it was the sole force behind tablet usage growth. Still, Android tablets in some shape and form appear to be pushing tablets into more people’s hands, dramatically reshaping the personal computing market.

Also interesting to note is that e-reader ownership also spiked from 10% to 19% from December to January; while they aren’t as talked about as tablets are as desirable devices, there appears to be a demand for these as well. That many of these devices are now available for low price points – even entry-level Kindle and Nook models are available for below $100, and generic e-readers are getting even cheaper – has to be fueling the demand for these devices as well. Remember that this is where Android is doing well also: the Nook Touch is powered by Android, and many “color e-readers” with LCD screens are Android-based as well.

There also appears to be a significant crossover between e-reader and tablet owners: 29% of all American adults own either a tablet or e-reader, so for many, the devices may be complementary; e-readers with e-ink screens are seen as superior for reading in sunlight, while tablets are seen more as computing devices for them, and not so much for reading; or only for reading in favorable lighting conditions.

While there’s still a lot to learn from the data, and whether growth will continue is something that many manufacturers will be curious about, this data shows that tablets are not just fads or gimmicks: they’re becoming a serious part of the technology industry, and people clearly want them.