Carousel Review

Carousel Review

Apr 23, 2014

Dropbox is a-cookin’, and Carousel, its new media management app is headlining the menu.

The app itself is fairly clean in appearance, with a bright default menu system that is reminiscent of the menu of its big brother. The gesture-based contexts are well represented by in the quick tutorial; overall, the minimalist concept looks good.

If Carousel’s main purpose is to streamline storage and access to images and videos, it makes a good case for itself on the first use. After creating or signing in to an existing Dropbox account, it automatically collects photos from the device and collates them by date. Each picture can be selected by tapping on it, and then the picture can be shared or hidden. In the gallery view, the sets of picture by day can be scrolled through.car1

The share functionality is very interesting, and probably the best feature. In the main view (by date), several pictures can be selected by tapping; a blue check mark appears on the ones selected, and when one is done, one can tap the “share” button, which opens up a a send dialogue. The sharing tool lets stuff be shared to contacts in the address book: by SMS, email, etc. If sharing to other onboard services is more of the current fancy, the extended share functionality takes care of that. There is also a dialogue icon that shows shares, and for the queasy, the app backs up taken photographs to the cloud.

So, with regards to sharing and simple organization, Carousel is an equitable offering, but “organizing” doesn’t necessarily include “deleting” at this point. On one level, it isn’t that big of a drawback, but I immediately found some pictures that I wanted gone, but could not get rid of off from within the app. Of course, it then begs the question of whether a standalone extension of Dropbox for just media is warranted.

For now, it’s great for light use, and I think as time goes, it’ll be a more functional part of Dropbox’s mobile strategy.

Wind-up Knight 2 Review

Wind-up Knight 2 Review

Apr 22, 2014

Some things never stop being cool. Afros. William Shatner doing karaoke. Swashbuckling knights.

Wind-up Knight shows that even wound-up armor can come correct. It also shows sequels can live up to the hype.

The graphical presentation is done quite well, with cute characterizations and excellent use of color. The animations are fluid, and work well with the scene-to-scene stills that make up a lot of the background. The artwork is vivid, and becoming.

As far as gameplay goes, we get side scrolling platform action; our wound-up hero is armed with a sword and a wind1shield, and can jump and duck too. Correspondingly, their are virtual buttons that control jumping, attack, defense and such towards the bottom of the screen.

The first level launches the gameplay in all its glory. The knight progresses from left to right, jumping across obstacles and working to acquire jewels. Soon, there are correct live creatures blocking the way, and jumping won’t work. Here, the sword becomes useful to slash through these beings that can do end the the run otherwise.

In this initial level, the appreciable quirks show up. At one point, the knight starts going in the opposite direction after a downwards jump, and then switches back to left-to-right again. I liked these little switch-ups a great deal, as they ensure players stay on their toes. Down the line, other dangers appear, like dropping seeds that require the shield. The environments become more varied as well.

A finish line denotes the end of the level, and success depends on the number of jewels collected, with gold coins being the payout. The entire game can be unlocked for a fixed price, but isn’t necessary to enjoy. Customization and power-ups are also available; for the truly competitive, there is a tournament mode (with leaderboards) and side quests to tackle, and I especially like the latter because it gives a reason to play levels again. The in-app store allows for upgrades to equipment and customization efforts for gold coins or real cash.

The game is pretty tight, easy to get hooked on priced right. Ready and waiting, Sir Gamer.

Sony SmartWatch 2 Hardware Review

Sony SmartWatch 2 Hardware Review

Apr 21, 2014

The smartwatch space is one of those segments that one can’t afford to glance away from; when one looks back, it might be disconcerting to see the new models and proofs of concept that pop out seemingly every other second. Some companies, like Sony, are already building multiple iterations at this point. We just got the opportunity to formally look at the SmartWatch 2 a few months out of the gate, and it is an interesting ride, to be sure.

The stock hardware has improved… not that the original was lousy. The stock rubber straps didn’t exactly proclaim luxury, but the ability to get other set was a bit calming. The watch piece itself has Sony stylings all over it, with the sleek chromish angling, end-to-end screen use and covered micro-USB port on the left side.. The square face is punctuated by a the “SONY” brand name at the top and three virtual buttons (back, home and three-dot menu) at the bottom. Rounding out the look is a chrome push button on the right, that looks like a winder on a “regular” watch.

2014-04-19 12.25.21

The device is light enough to be used comfortably; I wear a business/sports watch socially, and this one feels even more natural on the wrist in comparison, so much so that it’s easy to forget. When on and in its rest state, the default watch face has dark undertones, and hitting the on button lights the face up further, and activated the home button. Anyone familiar with Android devices (or smartphones in general) should find the menu quite intuitive; tapping the home button opens up the menu, where installed apps and the settings menu reside.

Pairing the phone via bluetooth is easy, and involves (in my case) the installation of two apps from the Play Store. After this, the user has access to the specially crafted apps available… stuff like Gmail, music and Twitter can be installed via the companion Android app.

ssw5

In practice, the gadget works as one would expect. After receiving an email on my phone, a notification vibrates through the phone and a summary is posted on the screen. The notification isn’t too startling, but it isn’t shy either. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to figure out how to remove installed apps (via the device). I did like the ability to customize watch faces and bands.

The biggest barrier to adoption, is the same one facing most smartwatches in this still niche space: need. For all the cool (geek?) factor, the need for a smartphone within range might slightly curb the mobile benefits. I’d also like to see the consolidation of companion apps needed. Of course, there is no such thing like too many apps; while there are quite a few to choose from, like Agent Smith in the Matrix series, we can always do with “more.”

Still, I’d consider the SSW2 to be one of the best items in a sector that still needs some refining overall, and that Sony is positioning itself well to reap future benefits.

LG G Flex Hardware Review

LG G Flex Hardware Review

Apr 17, 2014

As we mentioned earlier, LG Electronics largely elbowed its way to Android prominence with it latest batch of devices. We had an opportunity to formally look at LG’s G Flex, and the experience was just as eye-opening.

Gotta admit, the internals are juicy. It sports a 2.26 GHz quad-core Snapdragon chip, and packs in all the radios and stuff one would expect in a high-end Android phone: Bluetooth 4.0 LE, wi-fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, GPS. The cameras are definitely not slouchy, with a 13 MP autofocus snapper in the rear and a 2.1 MP unit in the back. Top of the line requisites like LTE and a 3,500 mAh battery are present to partner with the 32 GB memory.

Cool innards aside, the physical presentation is where it will most likely stand out initially for most. It cuts an imposing figure, and wears the label “phablet” (yeah, I said it) quite well, embodied in the 6.32″ x 3.21″ x 0.31″ flex2 and stated 6.24-ounces frame. But it’s The Curve that visually defines this phone. The phone features a tangible parabola that tapers uncompromising into the 1280 x 720, 6″ HD flexible OLED Gorilla Glassed display.

The device is sleek, with its signature curved chassis and slim profile being easy on the eyes. The USB port is centered at the bottom, and the sides are delightfully bereft of buttons, as the ON button is placed on the back. The grey finishing defines it quite well, and the device feels natural in the right hand despite its non-diminutive size.

And y’all just have to forgive me for getting a bit caught up in the screen. It’s supposed to be indicative of the future of curved displays, a feature that is supposed to be enhance the enjoyment quotient. Coupled with the excellent screen, the whole structure does seem to work, though I feel those looking for something that changes the fabric of life as we know it might be a little let down. In other words, the flexible screen (along with the self-healing capabilities of the back) works well, but might not yet be a set-apart feature just yet.

The software suite also sets it apart. There is the needed Google suite, but above and beyond, that LG makes the crafty (and daresay, necessary) move to ensure customers have an opportunity to get immersed in LG’s massive consumer electronics ecosystem. Like the G Pad, the Flex works with other select LG devices and electronics. Miracast compatibility is another plus, and the device comes upgradeable to Android KitKat. In real-life use, the device is quite fluid, and doesn’t stutter under heavy lifting, and everything runs smooth.

Pauses? Folks coming from the G2 or other bigger flagships, might not be as enamored; I would have loved a bigger battery, and I will whine about available accessories. Still, it’s the first phablet I have ever wanted to be around for an extended period of time.

Trust me… that says a lot.

Impossible Road Review

Impossible Road Review

Apr 8, 2014

Welcome to the era of the ultra-difficult endless games; Impossible Road is our guide.

The game background is stark, almost clinically pure white, with singular primary swatches used to make the rolling track that makes up the game travelway really pop out. All together the game is aesthetically pleasing, and almost breathtaking from a visual point of view.

The gameplay concept is painfully simple: there is a ball that rolls along the irregular, devilishly twisty ramp. Of course, said ramp had no guard rails to stop an errant ball from flying off into failed nothingness. To prevent the ball from rolling off, here are direction buttons on either side of the screen that “turn” the ball. Keeping the ball on the track is no small feat, and requires lightning quick reflexes and just the right amount of pressure. The runs work like rodeo, except that the torture can last longer than 8 seconds; longevity on the track is the main objective in this game.impfi

Secondarily, for the truly daring, it is possible to purposefully roll off the track and glide the ball to a piece of track below, kind of like jumping off a downward going windy road to skip some parts of it and catching the lower parts of the road. This maneuver is insane, but loads of fun, if a bit hit or miss; if the track is not reacquired quickly enough after a jump, the run ends. Suffice to say I did the jump several times, just not always on purpose.

The game is pretty tough, but this is by design, and it works. The frustration the game builds up adds to its allure, and the sharing functionality allows folks to really go for bragging rights. The laws of physics are generally adhered to as well.

Fun game. Just please, please watch the blood pressure!

LG G Pad 8.3 Hardware Review

LG G Pad 8.3 Hardware Review

Apr 7, 2014

LG Electronics has been on a tear lately. It has made itself quite well known in Android circles; its Optimus line represents one of the most encompassing smartphone collections, and being tapped by Google to help create the Nexus 4 definitely pushed the South Korean electronics house to the front of the Android pack. Being tapped to make the sequel Nexus 5 all but reinforced its status as a premium device maker.

I just got the opportunity to review the LG G Pad 8.3, which is the company’s entry into the mid-size tablet space. At first glance, there isn’t a whole lot to not fall in love with.

The device is pretty light, quite thin,and looks sleek in the black and gray trim. The screen is rich, with a hint of framed bezel that is thicker at the ends; the front-facing, 1.3 MP camera balances out the 5 MP rear one at the back. There are two speaker grills in the back, and the Verizon-branded review unit sports a micro SD port at the top (right between an infrared emitter and standard headphone jack), which allows the internal 16 GB be supported by an external 64 GB. It’s light, at just under 12 ounces, and is shaped at 8.54 x 4.98 x 0.33 inches, which makes it infinitely wieldable. The volume rocker and “on” button are on the right, while the microphone and USB port are nestled at the bottom.

gpad2

Turning on the unit is what gets the party really started. LG advertises an HD screen, and it surely wears the crown well, with warm, rich representations that actually make one want to hold the device and stare. The 273 ppi, 1920 x 1200 pixel screen is rendered exceptionally well. In action, the G Pad is pretty snappy, which is what one would expect from a 2 GB RAM Android 4.2.2 device rocking a quad-core Snapdragon 1.7 GHz chip. Setup was easy, and I was able to get the wi-fi and bluetooth 4.0 low energy going fairly quickly. The included GPS, Miracast and VZW 4G functionality are welcome connectivity options.

Software wise, the G Pad offers Google Apps and the power of Google Play. While I’ll always prefer raw Android, LG’s skin is fairly unostentatious, even if there are some VZW/LG bloatware to contend with. I did like the Qpair idea, in that it helps to connect to standard Android devices, and the ability of the tablet to interface with some LG electronics.

So… what’s the “Jamie Foxx screeching stop sign” pause moment? It just might be pricing, which seems to be hovering around roughly $300 to $330 online. Not too unfair of a price considering what one is getting, but with the Android OEM race to the pricing floor, excellent tabs like the G Pad might get lost in all the cheapness. I also thought the battery life was jut okay.

Still, it’s one of the better tabs I have looked at, packs a lot of functionality in its purposefully slender frame, and is backed by the coolest kid on the block.

It’s hard to say no.

Card Wars – Adventure Time Review

Card Wars – Adventure Time Review

Apr 3, 2014

Card Wars – Adventure Time is an excellently-executed card game, and apart from some design issues, as well as a baffling lack of multiplayer, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The rules should ring familiar to Magic The Gathering players. The game field consists of eight parts – four lanes, divided between two opposing players. The player fills their lanes with lands at the beginning of the game. Then the players take turns, placing creatures, buildings, or casting spells, ultimately trying to get the opposing player’s health down to zero. The creatures can only be placed on specific lanes, with some exceptions, buildings are put on any lane, and then improve any creature, placed on it, and spells do various things. The players have five mana points each turn, and every card has a certain mana price, depending on its power. While buildings and spells are simple, creature cards have several properties: health, attack, and special power. Special powers differ between the creatures and can be activated each turn by each creature – but they also cost mana. Sometimes it’s important to see what’s more important: using a creature’s power, or playing a card. Player also has a special power. The powers are different for every hero, and can be used every several turns.

Card Wars – Adventure Time is in no way limited in features. Player needs to build their own decks from scratch, unlocking new Card Wars 3cards in the campaign, and craft special cards if he finds a template. The campaign isn’t really varied, and consists of different heroes that the player needs to defeat, unlocking new cards and leveling his heroes in the process, but it’s large and does have some great rewards.

Card Wars – Adventure Time is a great card game overall, but it’s not without issues. It’s full of unnecessary screens and transfers, and I wish I could skip the cool animations if it meant getting to the next battle faster. Hero leveling mechanic cries an unfair advantage, because it not only gives larger card limit for a deck, but it also significantly improves the player’s base health. Pre-battle land filling is clunky and placing the damn stuff is a challenge in itself. Still, it doesn’t make the game boring, or really frustrating. But what the floop, Card Wars, where is multiplayer?

Overall, Card Wars – Adventure Time is miles better than other mobile TCGs. Its mechanics are simple, its cards are (mostly) fair, and it looks completely staggering. I definitely recommend it to any fan of trading card games, although I don’t think you’re going to enjoy it that much if you’re just in it for Adventure Time characters – or wish to play with your friends.

Nvidia’s Cutting the Shield’s Price and Offering Exclusive Content, but Selling Games and Devices May Not be Their Future

Nvidia’s Cutting the Shield’s Price and Offering Exclusive Content, but Selling Games and Devices May Not be Their Future

Mar 31, 2014

The Nvidia Shield and what the company is doing with it is really quite intriguing as the Tegra 4 and Android gaming flagship device nears its first year of public availability. Nvidia’s continuing to promote the handheld with price cuts and now quasi-exclusive content to try and sell it. But based on the context of the device, the news, and what I’ve seen and heard straight from Nvidia, the Shield seems to be more Nvidia hammering down the nail for their efforts with internal hardware and services, by providing consumer products that showcase it.

This runs much in contrast to Intel’s efforts with Android, which they were happy to talk about at GDC 2014, but were lax to discuss in a consumer context, it seemed. Sure, there are Intel-powered phones and even the iConsole.tv that they promoted at their booth. But there’s just no flagship Intel Android device, one that screams “This is an Intel Android device!”

Nvidia has been in that lofty position before. The Tegra 3 was ubiquitous for a while in 2012, and while it felt like the Tegra 4 has been less-used, or at least more under the radar, there are still devices that use it. The most prominent, of course, is the Shield. And it may not just be a one-off device if all the continued promotion is a sign.

Nvidia decided, probably quite smartly, to save two of their big announcements for the Nvidia Shield for after GDC, what with all the announcements regarding game engines, VR headsets, and the like. First, the Shield has gotten a price cut to $199 from its current $249 price point, putting it well within the price range of other Android tablets but also the Vita and 3DS as the hardware relatively ages.

But what’s really fascinating is that Nvidia seems to be really pushing for console-quality content on the Shield – or at least Android as large. This isn’t just with the announcement of Portal for the Shield, which is a rather cool game to have on mobile, being one of the best games of this millennium, and one that as many people as possible should play, even if many already have.

chuckschallengeprojectshield

But Nvidia is also dipping their toes in game streaming, and their GDC booth flaunted it. They had what looked like Ultra Street Fighter 4 being played on a big screen TV and a couch, with a Shield hooked up. Various Shield units were streaming games, including one example where one of the Batman Arkham games was being streamed from a local machine with imperceptible latency, and another Shield streamed the same game from over a machine in Houston via Moscone Center’s wi-fi. There was perceptible latency, but not so much that the game was unplayable, a minor technological miracle given the situation.

Nvidia of course has announced their Grid technology for streaming games over the cloud as well, but representatives indicated to me that they want this to be more of a backend service than one that they provide themselves, even though they are doing so for the beta.

And really, it seems that their approach is just that: they want to be the man behind the curtain, but they’ll bring down the hammer on their efforts in public when necessary – and exclusivity is only a limited option. After all, The Shield is functionally not much different than an Android phone in a clip on a MOGA controller. Portal was announced for Tegra devices, not just the Shield. Even WayForward’s recent Shield-exclusive release was more “it’s optimized for Shield and Tegra 4, anything else is gravy.” The Shield controller uses the HID protocol that they helped develop.

WonderMomo

Really, there’s no reason why Nvidia has to make hardware at all other than to be reference hardware, like with the Tegra Note. But it helps to have these devices that are out there that have actual, real-world consumer applications.

It’s a fascinating approach because Nvidia seems to want to have their cake and eat it too, while being perfectly fine to just have the cake, they’ll only eat it if they feel the need to. It’s a metaphor that doesn’t quit pan out. But their goal seems to be to elevate Android gaming by any means necessary: by providing the hardware from the internals, to the externals, to the peripherals, from software solutions to software itself. And perhaps that’s what’s necessary: it’s easy to be like Intel and talk a big game, but Nvidia is ready to talk and play the game when it comes to powerful gaming on Android.

GDC 2014: Gamevil Announces Their Upcoming Global Releases, Including Zenonia Online

GDC 2014: Gamevil Announces Their Upcoming Global Releases, Including Zenonia Online

Mar 19, 2014

Gamevil’s ringing in 2014 at GDC with the announcement of five new games to be released worldwide. Operating under the thought that hardcore online multiplayer games may be big in 2014, here are the new titles they announced at a press conference:

Zenonia Online: Gamevil’s popular action-RPG series goes online for the very first time this year. Already out in Korea, this entry will not skimp on the action-RPG gameplay, but will add in MMO features like lounges to meet with other players, eventually partying up to take on the game’s levels. As well, there are battle royale and PVP modes to participate in for competitive gameplay. This one will release worldwide later this year.

Dragon Blaze: This “simulation RPG” has players gathering a team of heroes, leveling them up and battling them out against other teams of heroes and villains, with the ability to participate with up to 3 other players in real-time. The global launch in the 3rd quarter of 2014 will debut the game’s online PVP mode as well. The game has been a hit in Asian territories where it reached #1 on the App Store top grossing charts according to Gamevil, so it could be an intriguing and very popular US release.

Dungeon Link: Built off of the popular “connect the dots” style of games, players build up a team of four heroes, and then battle enemies in an arena where they must try to connect as many tiles as possible between the four sets of color points in order to attack the enemies, with more tiles meaning more damage. Gamevil claims over 2000 dungeons will be available to fight in. Expect this one in the 3rd quarter of 2014.

Elements: Epic Heroes: Revealed for the first time at their GDC press conference, Gamevil showed off this 3D action-RPG for iOS and Android. Featuring online play with touchscreen-friendly controls, players will level their heroes and fight through various dangerous environments for glory when it releases later this year.

Mark of the Dragon: Gamevil finally revealed their take on the Clash of Clans genre of game that has become popular. Build defenses, train attackers, and go after enemies. Their game’s big difference is that players can summon dragons which they control to attack specific enemy structures, giving this well-worn genre a potential fresh take. This one is planned for summer 2014.

Out There Review

Out There Review

Mar 12, 2014

There isn’t a roguelike quite like Out There. A space simulation game where players find themselves adrift in space, scrounging for materials from planet to planet, solar system to solar system, trying to find their way home.

Essentially, the game is turn-based. Players start out in a solar system, and can explore planets of two kinds: ones they can land on with materials they can mine for, or gas giants which can be probed for fuel. Each move uses up fuel, oxygen, or damages the hull, and players need to find the materials to refill and repair as necessary. Materials can be mined for that can build new parts and repair current ones.

How does one learn how to build new parts? Either through random events when traveling to a new solar system, or by encountering life on certain planets. The different species speak in alien languages that become revealed over time as players encounter them more. As well, random events can harm the player, with choices affecting what happens.

While randomness does play a big role in Out There, especially when it comes to doing well (finding a suitable new ship at a distress beacon to take over can be key), really the game is all about how the player manages adversity. Things are always tilted against them: something is always being depleted. Space for new materials and to install new tools is always low. Drilling or probing for resources might not be fruitful. There’s always the luck-of-the-draw factor, but smart players can minimize those effects.

OutThere-04

But the most fascinating thing about Out There is the way that the game is actually about narrative and discovery – each runthrough creates its own story, both from scripted events and from emergent narrative of what the player experiences. No run in Out There is quite the same, and that’s the beautiful thing. The game is gorgeous with its comic book art style, sure. But this is just such a fascinating game: it’s not about combat, it’s about survival, and how the player manages to face it. It’s all done through this resource management system, but that just serves as a wrapper for something larger.

Out There is a game I don’t want to give away by saying too much about, and on paper, it’s perhaps not the most exciting game. But the experience of it, of learning how to survive and mastering the methods of doing so, and discovering the unknown, not knowing what is around the next corner, that’s something truly special. Perhaps the interface is a bit small on phones, or I’m annoyed that when obtaining materials, it’s not possible to use the refilling resources to clear space for the drilled/probed materials. These are minor issues for what is one of the most enthralling mobile games I’ve played in recent memory.

Opinion: WhatsApp and Comcast’s Wealthy Acquisitions Show That We Need More Dumb Pipes

Opinion: WhatsApp and Comcast’s Wealthy Acquisitions Show That We Need More Dumb Pipes

Feb 24, 2014

With WhatsApp and Comcast both in the news for being involved in big acquisitions, they may seem like disparate stories. Well, they’re not: both signal the continuing demise of neutral services and universal protocols that anyone can implement. Nobody wants to be a dumb pipe because there’s no money in doing so. And more importantly: there’s lots of money in being proprietary.

It’s hard to fault the creators of WhatsApp for cashing out: $19 billion is a lot of money, especially with their small team. That Snapchat turned down $3 billion looks to be both smart and stupid: smart in that having a lot of users just proved to be extremely valuable and that they could get more at some point, but also in that the most popular guy in school just asked out someone else. Facebook has a large market valuation and fears its irrelevance: it’s what has sunk in plenty of internet titans before them, and becoming a legitimate player in the data messaging category when Facebook Messenger has failed to do so in a meaningful way is a necessary move. Facebook will go down swinging, at least.

facebookmessenger

But the very need for services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Line, Kakao and the rest are merely a market inefficiency because SMS is inefficient and expensive: it’s prioritized towards text-first, and carriers make a mint off of it and MMS because they can. But the one thing that SMS has in spite of all its drawbacks is that it’s universal. Anyone with a mobile phone number can send messages to anyone else with a mobile phone number. Well, except for that pesky cost problem. That’s part of why data messaging has been so popular, it jumps over the hurdles of SMS and is often more convenient thanks to availability from tablets and computers.

But all of these over-the-top services have the inherent problem of being fragmented.They’re built solely to talk to one another just through their app. And given the number of competing services out there, you may need to have an app installed just to talk to one person, and many of these services are popular in one locale versus others. Compare all this to the ease of just having one unified inbox of SMS.

And of course, there’s no reason for anyone to build one unified protocol that would work well for everyone. There’s seemingly no money in building something that someone could build a better version of. But there’s lots of money in building something that users will feel compelled to stick with because if they leave, it could affect their personal relationships. That’s why Line, Kakao, and others are building platforms around their services: they’re not just about messaging. They’re about apps, games, anything that will not only get people to stick with them over another, but to spend money while doing so. And Apple’s iMessage is all about getting people to stick with iPhone in particular.

WhatsApp was the exception: they built a service that was a product, not a platform, and it was ripe for acquisition. Now it can fit into whatever use Facebook has for it.

hangouts

The problem ultimately comes down to this: there are so many companies with power: Apple, Google, the carriers especially – who could come together and create new standards. They could make a universal messaging system built to replace SMS that would go over modern data networks and wi-fi. It could tie in to mobile phone numbers but not necessarily, so that it would be easy for pretty much any internet-capable messaging device to communicate with any other without needing external apps or anything.

But no one has any reason to. Apple wants you to be so in love with Apple products and services and to rely on them so much that leaving is painful. Google has made their moves away from universality – they’ve been killing the XMPP protocol in favor of their proprietary Hangouts service. And the carriers, who perhaps would have the biggest incentive to keep people tied to actual phone numbers, aren’t. Perhaps it’s because the mobile business is so cutthroat that no one wants to work with each other? Or is it because while SMS is on the way down, they might as well beat that horse until it’s dead?

No matter the reason, it all traces down to one deep fear that everyone who works in the communication business fears: they don’t want to be a dumb pipe.

By a dumb pipe, I mean just being a way for bits to get from one end to another. This is not a good space to be in: it’s about who provides the best core service: and sometimes “best” means “cheapest.” And by being a dumb pipe, it can be easier for user to switch to a service that’s a better fit. Thus, the ultimate goal of many service providers, from telecoms to Google are to make it difficult on users to switch by locking them in to their services as much as possible.

netflix

It’s why telecommunication companies’ growth is so worrying, especially in the context of Comcast buying Time Warner Cable. Comcast already has expanded into a vertical behemoth: they sell internet service AND cable service, yes. But since they bought Universal, they also provide the content that gets piped in via those services. They own NBC, USA, NBCSN, and a wide variety of lucrative regional sports networks. And they have a big incentive to get you to consume just their content via their services, and as little of services like Netflix as possible.

See, while Netflix is a private and proprietary entity, it is a service that works perfectly on a dumb pipe. You don’t have to be on Comcast – or any ISP in particular – to use Netflix. So all Comcast has to do is to make it more satisfying to use their services. Perhaps by installing data caps to hinder video streamers with the bonus of not having their own video services go against those caps, or by throttling Netflix even on high-speed connections, making their services seem better.

They are doing – or have done – exactly that. And there’s little pushback from governments to stop them, thanks to courts overthrowing consumer-friendly regulations, and to the many other problems that governments face beyond “Netflix buffers too often.” It’s rough sledding out there right now for consumers because these corporations are only looking out for themselves. Netflix is even guilty of this – they want to lock you in by providing not just the bulk of standard consumable content from other studios, but by providing their own exclusive content. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with Netflix giving consumers compelling reasons to subscribe to them over Amazon Prime or any other streaming service, but they’re definitely playing a similar game as others are.

To stem this tide of proprietary prtocols, it’s going to take a company willing to build a protocol with the aim of building a product around it. Data messaging needs its email equivalent. It’s possible to profit handsomely off of protocols, off of providing a better way to interact with said protocol – Gmail is big business for Google, and Mailbox got wealthy thanks to a Dropbox acquisition. Email, and the internet itself, took off because they broke through the barriers of proprietary operation to connect anyone and everyone. And it’s time that someone in power – from service providers to telecoms to governments – makes a stand, not just for the interests of themselves, but for the everyday person, the ones who use their service. The internet is one of the most powerful tools that humanity has ever created, and those in power should not be able to poison and fragment it the way they have been.

TowerMadness 2 Review

TowerMadness 2 Review

Jan 31, 2014

TowerMadness 2 is perhaps not the most innovative tower defense game of all-time, but it’s a solid effort.

Really, standard open-field tower defense rules apply: there’s towers with different ranges and effects, they can be upgraded to do more damage, or sold if not part of a good strategy any more. Success is based on whether players kept the aliens from getting in and taking too many sheep through a star system, with Invasion Mode, where waves come in faster, offering a fourth star. Players can also send in waves faster themselves to get faster times for the leaderboards.

Mixing things up from the original, this boasts a tower upgrade system, a limited number of towers that can be sent into battle, and Bo, a ram who will keep the aliens at bay when one of them gets into the sheep pen. The game is $2.99 and has wool, a currency for upgrades, but the game gives away decent amounts of it, has a doubler for $1.99, and offers up 400 wool for watching a short video. It’s not a bad deal, and the upgrades largely just add longer upgrade trees. They do help, but they’re not an overwhelming feature.

TowerMadness 2 does one technical feature in a way that other games have no excuse to do: on a device with no physical buttons like the Nexus phones, the navigation keys are sent away, thus allowing the entire phone display to be used. That few if any other games do this when it’s a supported feature (at least on Android 4.4 KitKat) is baffling because it’s fantastic. Just swipe in from the top or right edge to bring back the notification bar and nav keys.

TM2 - Gameplay 1

Another interesting technical feature is the addition of gamepad support. For a tower defense game, it seems like an odd addition, but really, it’s great: the ability to move around the board with the d-pad is well-made to where I like playing this way rather than touch because it feels more accurate and deliberate this way. It just feels good.

Really, that’s the best way to sum up TowerMadness 2: it just feels good. It has its own tower defense quirks, if not anything too revolutionary, but it’s just a solid game of tower defense.