Kickstarter Spotlight: Pixel Sand

Kickstarter Spotlight: Pixel Sand

Feb 1, 2012

Editor’s Note: Kickstarter Spotlight is a new weekly column spotlighting promising Android-related Kickstarter projects. Have any suggestions for projects to be featured on Kickstarter Spotlight? Leave them in the comments or send an email to the author.

The great thing about Kickstarter is its ability to give under-funded app developers a chance to create great, innovative apps. Last week I wrote a blog post about a great website called Kickstarter, and in it I mentioned a developing app, Pixel Sand. There are a few “falling sand” games scattered around the internet, and for those unfamiliar with them, they are basically an open sandbox with small particles that react to gravity and to each other. These particles can be anything from water to fire to nitroglycerin. Here, take a look. The problem with these games, other then being a black hole to free-time, is that there has never been a foray into expanding these games from simple sandbox to full, story driven, co-op titles. As is probably obvious by now, one man, Trevor Sundberg, is trying to tackle this very thing. Already with a working game for the PC, Xbox, and Windows Phone 7, Trevor is trying to expand his game by adding a campaign and of course, expanding to iOS and the little green robot.

The proposed new game elements are genius and are sure to have users stretching the limits of the platform. As I stated in my earlier review of Apparatus, from prior experiences with games such as Little Big Planet, Halo, and Minecraft there are no limits to what the community can create if given the right tools. Seriously, click on those links, the Minecraft one specifically is that perfect internet mix of impressive and sad.

That is what makes the stunningly simple inclusion of electricity so smart; it is such a simple yet absent addition in the few other “games” in this genre. Other great elements include power-ups and doors that only open after a select number of coins has been collected. I personally am excited to see some of the user-generated content, and one thing that is a definite is that someone, somewhere will re-create the iconic first Super Mario Bros. level.

Unfortunately, as of now, Pixel Sand still needs funding. There is still time, however, and I strongly encourage everyone to click on the link in this post, head over to Kickstarter and help this game out because it deserves to be realized to its full potential.

Apparatus App Review

Apparatus App Review

Jan 27, 2012

I will admit that I am a nerd. I’m an engineering student who grew up on the first version of The Incredible Machine and free-form puzzle games are some of my favorites. That being said, I expected a lot from Apparatus, and fortunately for me it delivered, and it was one of the few apps where I was actually amazed while playing it. The first thing I have to say about this app is that it is gorgeous and it runs smooth to boot. This was tested on my quickly aging EVO 4G, so even non-feature phones should have no problem running this app.

For those not familiar with the premise of games like The Incredible Machine, the game gives a simple objective and a set amount of materials for the player to gerry-rig up into their own special Rube Goldberg machine. Games like these thrive on the user’s creativity, and Apparatus is no different; however, I would have liked to have seen some more open-ended gameplay as some levels seemed very linear. There is also an excellent free-play mode where the player is given no restrictions and allowed to let their creativity roam.

Going well with this free mode is the fairly fleshed out community that comes with the game. Downloading user-made levels could not be easier, and it only takes a few seconds to get a level and start playing. This sense of community is a huge addition for a game like Apparatus as the game aspires to be a kind of Little Big Planet for the mobile device. As we’ve seen with games like Minecraft, Halo, and the aforementioned Little Big Planet, what the public is capable of doing has no bounds, and giving them a way to share their magnum opus with the rest of humanity is an essential feature for any game nowadays.

And by "no bounds" we mean THIS.

One gripe with Apparatus is the lack of a tutorial to explain some of the features of the game. The first few minutes here will be frustrating due to seemingly random actions that become more clear the longer the game is played. Also the controls can be a bit touchy, but like above, they too work themselves out as the player becomes familiar with them. All that aside, Apparatus is a great game that impresses both graphically and fundamentally; a definite pick up for those who long for the days of The Incredible Machine on Windows 98.

The Hills Are Greener: Rebellion in the Amazon

There is a groundswell of discontent starting to build up against the Amazon Appstore, particularly from independent developers. One of the biggest salvos against Amazon has come from Bithack, developers of Apparatus. They recently wrote a blog post describing their experience with the Amazon Appstore. It was not kind.

Apparently Amazon has a review process for their Appstore that is much like the other “App Store” – it took two weeks for Apparatus to originally be rejected by Amazon for not using secured HTTP connections. Apparently, future updates took just as long for approval from Amazon. Apple has been known to take up to two weeks at times for approving apps, but they also have to approve every single app that comes in to the App Store; the Amazon Appstore is considerably less crowded. It is also apparently difficult for developers to limit which devices their apps can be installed on, something that the Android Market seems to have a better handle on.

One of the most damning accusations from this report is that Amazon not only basically uses their contracts with developers to renege on the supposed 20% cut that developers would get if their app was offered for free by Amazon, but that they also apparently dropped the price of the game to $0.99 without any kind of alert, after a problematic review popped up that they could not do anything about. Amazon apparently made it difficult for users to get in touch with Bithack, whereas the Android Market offers email and even phone number information on each app’s page. Compare this with Mika Mobile’s experience, where they said they got too much email from users!

What both Bithack and Mika Mobile have in common is that both have not had great sales from the Amazon Appstore. Combined with the rest of their experience, Bithack have actually pulled Apparatus from the Amazon Appstore. Their 95 theses posted on the door of Amazon has made the rounds around Android enthusiasts, and has drawn the eye of the Independent Game Developers’ Associaiton. Back in April, they warned about Amazon’s ability to set their own prices, and reiterated their warning recently when the Apparatus fiasco happened. The question becomes whether secondary app stores on Android will continue to be utilized by developers. If they aren’t providing any kind of tangible advantage to those who sell on these secondary stores, and force developers to agree to draconian policies that could ultimately hurt their ability to gain revenue, then why would they sell on these other stores, unless they are rejected from the Android Market specifically? Android’s freedom, especially with the ability to distribute apps outside of the Market easily, is a strength, but it really does feel like third-parties are trying to exploit it and developers for their own gain.