Archive for the iOS Category

If there’s one thing Topps knows, it’s trading cards. Topps began packaging baseball cards in with their gum back in the early 1950s, and the rest is history. Along with baseball and football cards, Topps has also had success with pop-culture related cards, including Star Wars. Topps launched their line of Star Wars cards in 1977, igniting a “collect ’em all” mentality that’s been going strong ever since.

These are my original Star Wars cards that I acquired throughout the 1970s and 80s. I say “acquired” rather than “collected” because I don’t remember specifically setting out to collect them all. Instead I picked up cards when and where I could — a few cards here from the convenient store, a few cards there from a friend at school.

Along with collecting and reading those cards, I also traded them. Every kid who ever collected cards kept track one way or another of the cards he needed and the cards he had duplicates of. Sometimes you would get lucky and plug a hole in your collection by opening a new pack of cards and finding a missing treasure, but more often than not those missing cards would be acquired on the school bus or on the playground, trading one card for another. Back then we had no concept of a card’s financial value; the “valuable” one were the ones you were missing and the “worthless” ones were cards you had two or three of.

Recently I became excited when I heard that Topps was releasing new cards for the new Star Wars movie and re-releasing cards for classic characters, but I felt the wind rush out of my sails when I learned that these cards would only by digital. Pictures of cards? Who wants to pay real money for and collect picture of trading cards?

I decided to give it a go anyway, and so what follows is my trepidatious review of Topps’ new Star Wars: Card Trader application for Apple iOS devices.

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OVERVIEW

Star Wars Card Trader is an application that allows you to collect, buy, and trade digital Star Wars cards. Digital Star Stars cards are essentially pictures of Star Wars characters. Like real cards, each card contains information on the backside (the cards can be flipped over and read).

Each day, users receive 25,000 free credits. Credits (as those who are familiar with the Star Wars universe) are the common form of currency (except for Watto). The packs I’ve seen for sale range from 1,000 credits to 30,000 credits. Additional credits can be purchased with real money. The lowest amount you can purchase is 3,000 credits for $0.99; on the other end of the scale, $99.99 will land you 900,000 credits. Free credits can also be earned in the app by performing certain tasks (more on that later). You can collect a lot of cards with those free daily 25,000 credits, but if you want or need more, there are multiple ways to get them.

The app has five icons across the bottom of the screen, so discussing those seems to be the most logical way to explain all the functions of the app.

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TRANSMISSIONS

The first icon (a small satellite) reveals your Transmissions. This is where you will find new announcements from Topps. The announcements are mostly about new cards, new series, and new virtual collectibles. I just opened the app and there have been six new announcements today alone. Users can receive these announcements through e-mail or push notifications from the app as many of the offers are time sensitive, but if you (like me) already have enough beeps and buzzes coming at you throughout the day, you can opt out and simply check them manually — however, limiting yourself to manual updates assures you will miss time-sensitive offers.

There are lots of references to card colors I’ve never seen before. Right now if you pull a green Sy Snootles card, you get a free orange pack! (I’ve never seen a green card or an orange card.)

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FAN FEED

The second icon from the left consists of four stormtrooper helmets. I didn’t know what this icon did for the first week because every time I pressed it the app simply crashed. The app has since been updated and I now know that this is the Fan Feed section.

In this area, people set up potential trades by listing what cards they are looking for and what cards they are willing to trade. It’s an attempt to keep conversation “in house,” but as you can see with all the emoticons and caps it’s already starting to look like MySpace.

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HOME

The Deathstar icon leads to your Home screen. Here you will find all your personal statistics including the status of your trades, any awards you have received or things you have unlocked. You can also see how many cards you have, what percentage of all the cards you have collected, and so on.

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CANTINA

The Cantina is where you buy card packs and can earn free credits. Let’s talk about the cards first.

Card packs (that I’ve seen) range from 30,000 credits to 1,000 credits. The pack values reflect both the number of cards in the pack, and what types of cards are included.

The base card collections are the white and blue series, which describes the border color around the card. The Mace Windu Base Pack (the cheapest pack available) costs 1,000 credits and contains three cards. The odds are listed as 10% blue and 90% white. The Asajj Ventress Base Pack is essentially the same pack times three, but with red cards included as well. The odds in this pack are 86% white cards, 13% blue, and 1% red, and you get 9 cards for 3,000 credits. As you can already see, “rarity” is built in to the app from the very beginning, with white cards as the most common, followed by blue, followed by red, followed by a lot more.

Here you can see two packs priced the same at 5,000 credits but with different cards inside. The Firebrand Pack only contains 5 cards, but also includes yellow cards, while the Boba Fett Base Pack includes 15 cards. Note that the Boba Fett pack does not say “includes all yellow series 1 base cards,” and that your odds of getting yellow and red cards increase with the Firebrand Pack that only includes five cards. THINGS ARE GETTING SERIOUS.

Again I’d like to point out that so far, all of the series I’ve mentioned contain the same people on the same cards. “Rarity” here is all based on the color of the border drawn around the card’s picture. I’m a huge Star Wars collector and I will be the first to admit that Star Wars collectors are idiots.

After purchasing a pack you’ll be presented by a quick animation of a pack opening followed by the cards you just received. You can flip through the cards and see the fronts and backs of each one. I just bought the Firebrand pack and would really like to get a Boba Fett card, so here goes!

Nope. Instead I got “Dorme,” one of Queen Amidala’s hand maidens. I also got Garindan, Captain Tarpals, Shaak Ti, and Hobbie Klivian. Unless you have a Star Wars tattoo I’ll bet you $20 you don’t know who Hobbie Klivian is.

Just when I thought this pack was going to be a bust, I got my first official red card!!! Hooray!!!

At least it’s somebody who had a speaking role in the original Star Wars I suppose. Also note the number at the bottom of the backside of the card. There are only 117,505 digital pictures available of the red version of Admiral Motti, and I’ve got one!

You can also earn additional free credits by performing tasks in the Cantina. Here are just a few I saw available.

Watching a 15-second video commercial will net you roughly 150 free credits, while a 30-second clip can get you up to 300. Most video clips can only be watched once per day. If you’re willing to download and install a random game app, you can earn anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 credits. I earned 11,550 for downloading the free game “Cooking Fever!” You can earn big credits if you’re willing to sign up for real life services. Call for a free life insurance quote and you can earn 103,083 credits. Sign up for a free 7-day trial of Videostripe to receive 138,600 free credits. Join Disney’s Movie Club and you’ll earn 375,375 credits. Disney ain’t playin’ around.

There’s also a second button that simply says “Watch To Earn” that will serve you a 30 second commercial and reward you with approximately 300 free credits, give or take. I just watched a commercial for Summoners War for 322 credits, one for Retail Me Not coupons for 194 credits, Road Riot for 259 credits, and Empires & Allies for 307 credits. Each ad ends with a link asking you to download the advertised program from the app store. After earning 1,080 credits for watching 2 minutes worth of videos, I headed back to the Cantina and bought the Mace Windu base pack for 1,000 credits and got the following cards:

Worth it? Only you can decide.

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MY CARDS

The fifth and final icon (a stack of cards) leads you to My Cards, where you can view, sort (kind of). and trade your cards. The default sorting method for your collection is by Faction, which sorts your cards by affiliation. So far I have cards with the Galactic Empire, the Galactic Republic, Independent, Rebel Alliance, and Separatists. Many characters appear in multiple categories (I have R2-D2 and C-3P0 cards in both the Galactic Republic and the Rebel Alliance, for example).

In the picture above you can see that I have three Moff Jerjerrod cards (in white, blue, and red) and three Aayla Secura cards (in white, blue, and yellow). The “2” displayed on Bail Organa’s card lets me know I have two copies of that card. It doesn’t take long, especially when buying the more common packs, for the duplicates to add up. I’ve been using the app for a week and I already have six Emperor Palpatines and five Sy Snootles. And since I am only using the free daily allotted credits and already have this many duplicates, who exactly would I trade them with? Someone who has only been using the app for… three days?

In this view you can touch each card to enlarge it to full screen. While viewing the card in full screen, tapping it will flip the card around so you can read the back. When viewing thumbnails, if you touch and hold an icon and swipe left or right it will give you the basic information. Sy’s card reads “White / Sy Snootles / Max Rebo Band Singer”.

There are four sort orders to choose from. Along the default “Faction,” there’s “Parallel” which sorts your cards by color, “Duplicates” which sorts them by the number of each card you own, and “Date Acquired.” I think what the app is missing is a way to simply drop and drag the cards around in any order you want. That’s how I used to sort my physical cards, and not being able to move things around is another reminder that at the end of the day you are simply looking at pictures inside someone else’s app.

My collection sorted by Duplicates and by Parallel (color)

At the bottom of each card are a few additional icons. One is a padlock that allows you to “lock” a card so that people won’t ask you to trade it. In the past seven days no one has asked me to trade for any of my cards, so to date this has not been a problem for me. You have the ability to lock up to 25 of your cards. You can also attempt to initiate a swap here. Pressing that icon allows you to “Trade Away” or “Get Another.” I tried trading off some of those duplicate Sy Snootles cards to unsuspecting Younglings, but so far no dice.

What I really wish is that you could do more automated trading. I’d love to just say, “I will trade my Sy Snootles cards for any cards I don’t have” and then let the app take care of that for me. The trading process is much to hands-on for casual users.

Along with viewing your own cards, you can also view a checklist of all cards listed by name, and also view all cards. While I like the idea of a checklist, it’s a bit depressing to see just how many cards are available and how many I don’t have. This is multiplied when viewing All Cards. Personally I don’t think you should be able to see the cards you don’t own… I mean, that kind of ruins the entire experience! And it doesn’t take long to see just how many free credits you would have to burn though to collect them all. I don’t even have an Anakin card yet. Time to watch some more commercials and earn some more free credits!

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SUMMARY

I’ve been collecting video games essentially my whole life, but somewhere around the time things went to digital downloads, I stopped caring. I don’t own a PS4 or an Xbox One for that very reason. I don’t like paying real money for digital and virtual things that I don’t really own. I don’t like the concept that a company halfway across the globe could go bankrupt and flip a switch that would cause me to lose access to games I’ve paid money for.

With that in mind, Star Wars: Card Trader has two things going against it (for me). The first is, you’re not collecting cards. You’re collecting digital pictures of cards. I’ll never ever ever pay real money to collect digital pictures. And the second strike is that these digital pictures of cards are locked into this app. I had lots of apps on my iPhone 3 that didn’t run on my iPhone 4, lots of apps that worked on my 4 that didn’t work on my 5, and so on. This app works great on my iPhone 6, but will it work on the 7? The 8? What happens when the day comes that this app is no longer profitable and Topps turns off the back end servers? Will I still have access to my Hobbie Klivian card when that happens?

Two other disappointments for me. One, my favorite old trading cards were the “behind the scenes” cards that showed the making of special effects in the films. There’s nothing like that here. And the other thing is, there are so many characters in this app that it’s almost ridiculous. I’ve been playing it for a week now and still don’t have a Boba Fett card! But you know who I do have? San Hill, Garindan, Admiral Motti, Admiral Ozzel, Hobbie Klivian, Moff Jerjerrod, Toryn Farr, Rune Haako, Aayla Secura, Asajj Ventress, Cliegg Lars, Dorme, Jan Dodonna, General Tagge, Mas Amedda, Sly Moore, Tarfful, Adi Gallia, Agen Kolar, Arvel Crynyd, Can Bane, Captain Typho, Chief Bast, Even Piell, General Madine, General Rieekan, Luminara Unduli, Tion Medon, Poggle the Lesser, and literally dozens of other peripheral characters from the Star Wars universe you have never ever heard of. No kid ever opened a pack of Topps Star Wars cards before and exclaimed, “Oh boy! Jocasta Nu!”

I asked my thirteen-year-old son what he thought about the idea of collecting digital collecting cards and he said it sounded like a great idea, so I suspect my disdain of the entire concept has less to do with the concept and more to do with, like Obi-Wan, my outdated ideas. If you’re the type of person who loves visiting garage sales and antique malls in search of old memories of yesteryear you’re going to hate this app. If, like my son, the idea of buying and collecting digital pictures of trading cards appeals to you, you’re going to love it.

And if you’re the type of person who thinks that after seven days of spending free credits you ought to have a Boba Fett card by now, you’re really going to hate it.

I take it back I love it I love it I love it this is the best app ever! Time to go watch more commercials!

PS: The Fan Feed section (the stormtrooper icon) has gone back to crashing the app repeatedly. I’m never going to get rid of all these Sy Snootles cards.

While I have phone apps on the brain, I decided to bang out a quick note about Downcast. Downcast is a podcast management tool for iOS (iPhones, iPods, and iPads). Unlike Any.do it’s not free, but if you own an iOS device and are even remotely into listening to podcasts, you should buy this app.

Downcast is a complete podcast management tool that operates independently of iTunes. If you’re like me and rarely (if at all) use iTunes, Downcast is a lifesaver. By entering in the iTunes or RSS feeds of your favorite podcasts, Downcast will (when launched) automatically download the latest episodes. Among other options, you can configure how many episodes of each podcast you with the app to download and/or save. I have mine to save the five latest episodes of each one on my phone. If you want to listen to older episodes that are no longer on your phone, or brand new episodes that you haven’t downloaded yet, Downcast supports streaming.

Downcast has a built in search feature that links to the iTunes podcast category. You can search by title or genre or keyword and find podcasts to listen to. The app handles both audio and video podcasts, and also supports simply listening to the audio of video podcasts if bandwidth is an issue.

Where Downcast absolutely excels is in its settings. You can set the app to only download when connected to wi-fi, to take it easy on your data plan. You can schedule when you want the app to check for updates by time or location. You can configure it to retain a set number of podcasts, or a set number of unlistened to podcasts. You can set up playlists. You can set it to play back audio at a higher rate of speed. One feature I love is, if you use iCloud, you can configure the app to share your podcast lists with other iOS devices — that means the podcasts I subscribe to on my phone will also appear on my iPad. Too cool.

Downcast costs $1.99 in the App Store and is worth 10x that to anyone on the go who likes listening to podcasts.

I use my smartphone all the time for sending and receiving e-mail, engaging in social media, playing games — oh, and occasionally making phone calls! Lately I’ve been looking at some productivity apps to help me with various tasks. A lot of times these apps get installed and removed within a matter of hours after discovering that they either (a) don’t work as advertised, or (b) I simply don’t use them. The ones I find myself using for more than a week, I typically keep. One I’ve been using for over a month now is Any.do.

Any.do is a simple task management application that allows you to schedule and juggle tasks.

The first thing you’ll notice is that instead of using a calendar, the app’s default view displays four folders: Today, Tomorrow, This Week, and Later. This makes so much more sense to me. Let’s say I need to wrap some Christmas gifts. I can add myself a note to do it tomorrow. Tomorrow, that task gets moved to Today, and the app will remind me to do it. Cool! As tasks are completed you can draw a line through them with your finger. Tasks can also easily be reordered or moved to different folders by dropping and dragging them with your finger.

Another cool feature of the app is that it can sync with other phones. If you use Google Chrome, you can install a Google Chrome app and sync with it, too. By using the Google app, if I’m sitting at my computer and think of something I need to do tomorrow, I can add it to the app and it’ll sync to my phone. More typically though, I think of things I need to do tomorrow or next week while driving, or watching television, or sitting at my desk at work. In those cases I simply add the tasks to the phone. If I need to re-prioritize them later, I can do do. Any.do is promising a web version of their app is “coming soon.”

Any.do offers Facebook and Twitter integration as well, features I don’t use. I don’t need my phone sending out tweets or posting to my timeline every time I mail out a package or wash the car. Any.do can also access your contact info (if you let it), if you want to add tasks that involve other people. I always freak out when apps ask for access to anything extra so I initially denied it, but later recanted and granted it.

Did I mention Any.do is free? Any.do is free. Free for the iPhone, free for Android, and free for Chrome. I don’t know if the web version will be free or not, but I assume it will be. I have no idea how the creators of Any.do make money or how they plan to make money.

Any.do has been panned by some who say that it doesn’t have enough features. For me, that’s exactly the beauty of it — Today, Tomorrow, Next Week, Later. It’s very simple to install and begin using. And, it’s free.

I was eight-years-old in 1981 when Yars’ Revenge was released for the Atari 2600 console. At that time, Yars’ seemed a radical departure from most other available titles. Unlike the other games I owned at that time (Combat, Space Invaders, Basketball), the goal of Yars’ Revenge isn’t immediately discernible by simply looking at the playfield. The left hand side of the screen contains a big white bug (that’s you); on the right sits something or someone else (presumably a foe) behind a big red shield. A strip of rainbow-colored static runs vertically between the two of you. You can shoot (or peck) away at the shield, but not while hiding in the rainbow zone. Sometimes a missile appears behind you. Sometimes your enemy turns into a deadly spiral and shoots you in the face. There’s another wandering wafer that players quickly learn is not friendly.

It isn’t until we read the game’s manual that we learn we are not controlling a fly, but rather a Yar scout. The Qotile (aka “the guy hiding behind the red shield”) can only destroyed by a blast from the Zorlon Cannon, which the Yar must arm by using TRONS (units of energy). TRONS can be obtained by nibbling on cells from the Qotile’s shield, or touching the Qotile when he is not swirling. Yar can hide from the Qotile’s Destroyer Missile in the Neutral Zone (the “colorful and glittering path down the center of the playfield”), but cannot fire from inside it.

In addition to the manual, Atari also included a mini-Yars’ Revenge comic book that further detailed the Yars’ plight. According to the comic book, the titular “revenge” was in response to the destruction of the Yars home planet of Razak IV. We also learn that Yars are alien descendants of common house flies who wear chrome armor into battle. And if you didn’t get enough back story from the comic book, Atari also released two separate vinyl records containing dramatic reenactments of the Yars story. Atari used to put a lot of effort into their releases back then, yo. In this case the efforts paid off, as Yars Revenge became Atari’s best selling original title for the 2600.

Yars’ Revenge has seen multiple ports, mostly to portable consoles. The game was released for the Game Boy Color in 1999, as part of a compilation package for the Game Boy Advance in 2005, and Atari’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 for the Nintendo DS in 2011. Yars’ Revenge was also included on both the Atari Flashback 2 and Jakks Pacific’s Atari Joystick Plug-n-Play/TV Games controllers. Most recently, the original version appeared most recently on the Atari Classics compilation for the PSP and iOS. (Just to clarify, all previous versions of Yars’ Revenge have been ports of the original, 1981 version.)

That brings us to Yar’s Revenge, a brand new Atari game developed by Killspace Entertainment. You can tell it’s an all new game because the old one was Yars’ (with a trailing apostrophe) and the new one is Yar’s (with the apostrophe before the “s”). SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE? This sly bit of coy marketing probably would have worked better if people hadn’t been misspelling the original version as “Yar’s” for the past three decades. Exactly thirty years after the release of the original, Yar’s Revenge hit PCs and XBLA in late April and PSN whenever hackers finally got gone done pissing all over it.

Despite the name of the original, apparently the Yars never got their revenge. In fact, in the sequel we learn that the Yars were all but wiped out by the Qotile, and what few Yars weren’t killed were captured. That’s where you come in, of course. After escaping, you’ll be exacting revenge against your former captors with guns a’blazing, which (technically speaking) means the game’s title should probably have been “Yar’s Yars’ Revenge Revenge”. Fortunately for us all it’s not; apparently, revenge is a dish best served one Yar at a time.

Speaking of names, this all new Yar’s Revenge doesn’t much resemble its namesake. The new Yar’s Revenge is at heart an on-rails shooter. Players are automatically guided through a beautifully pre-rendered world, and are allowed to move (but not steer) using the left analog stick while aiming with the right. In the past thirty years, Yar weaponry has come a long way; along with your traditional pulse laser, you also have a railgun and missiles at your disposal. Like all shooters, there are trade-offs (missiles are limited and the rail gun needs to recharge). Along the way you will also encounter power ups that can do things like recharge your health or make you temporarily invulnerable.

As with nearly all vidoe games, the overall goal here is to rack up a high score. Your score can be boosted by acquiring and maintaining multipliers, which themselves can be increased by shooting accuracy and speed. Yar’s Revenge contains six levels, each of which ends with a boss fight (where those powered-up weapons will come in handy).

One thing the sequel shares with the original is in-game poor story telling. In the original, the Yars’ back story had to be conveyed through the help of a comic book (the Atari 2600 wasn’t particularly known for its ability to render cut scenes). In the sequel, the ongoing Yar saga is related to players through voiceless, subtitled cut scenes. I hope you can read fast, because the words tend to zoom by faster than a Qotile Destroyer Missile. Even worse is the written dialogue that appears in-game, usually while a wave of enemies is firing lasers at your insect-shaped head. If you have a tough time texting and driving, you can forget about following the plot.

As far as shooters go, Yar’s Revenge isn’t great and it isn’t terrible; it’s just kind of there. While some of the bosses and waves of opponents can be tough to dispose of (depending on the difficulty settings you’ve chosen), more than anything, the repeated zapping of continual onslaughts of baddies grows monotonous long before players can blast their way through the game’s two-to-three hour playtime. More important to me than the fate of Yar was finding out when this punishment was going to end.

Thirty years ago, Atari programmer Howard Scott Warshaw created the Yars’ Revenge, a 192×160 resolution game that consists of 4k of code and is still being played today on modern systems. Thirty years later we have Yar’s Revenge, an absolutely gorgeous on-rails shooter that is bigger in size than a conventional CD (the PC version is well over 700 meg) and will be forgotten by most gamers in 30 days, much less 30 years. If that doesn’t sum up the current state of the gaming industry, I don’t know what does.

(originally submitted to Caltrops.com)

Before any of us had heard of Nintendo, we had Atari. If you were a kid in the late 1970s or early 1980s, you either owned an Atari 2600, were friends with someone who did, or were a weird booger-eater that nobody liked anyway.

Those of us with fond memories of the Atari 2600 have multiple ways to relive those blocky classics. A few die hard dorks (myself included) still own real Atari consoles; those less dedicated (or dorky) can still enjoy the games through emulation on virtually any modern computer. Compilations of Atari 2600 games have also been released for essentially every video game console released in the past 15 years. The latest of these retro compilations is “Atari’s Greatest Hits” for the iPad.

Technically “Atari’s Greatest Hits” is available for free via an iTunes download, but the free version only comes with Pong — which, unless you rode/ride the short bus each morning, you’ll tire of in just a few minutes. After downloading the core program, an additional hundred games are available for purchase, divided into groups of four for 99 cents each. For hardcore old school gamers, the entire lot can be purchased for a one time $15 fee. While each game grouping technically has a “theme”, some of the pack groupings make little sense; if you buy the Missile Command Pack (which comes with both the arcade and the Atari 2600 versions of the game), you’ll also be the proud owner of a prime example of false advertising, “Fun With Numbers”.

Of the 100 available games, 18 are arcade games and 82 are ports of Atari 2600 games. Most of the four-title game packs contains a sampling from each group. The Asteroids pack, for example, contains the arcade versions of Asteroids and Asteroids Deluxe along with the Atari 2600 versions of Asteroids and Canyon Bomber. The Centipede pack contains both the arcade and Atari 2600 ports of Centipede and Millipede. The only games available to purchase are official Atari titles, so you’ll find no Activision or Imagic games here, boy. A small subset of the games support multiplayer gaming over Bluetooth. While this feature makes sense in head-to-head games like Warlords and Combat, going through the hassle of talking one of your friends into also buying this compilation and configuring Bluetooth just to take turns watching each other play Yars’ Revenge and Tempest seems somewhat pointless.

Each digital game purchased contains scans of the owner’s manual, box cover, and in the case of the arcade games, original artwork. None of them are a replacement for holding or touching the real thing, but when you’re paying for digital content (especially when we’re talking about 30-35 year old games), more content is better. As for the quality of the games themselves, the conversions are passable. The games look and sound relatively authentic, although nitpickers will spot slight differences here and there.

The obvious elephant in the room is, “How well do the controls translate to a touch screen interface?”, with the answer being a resounding “meh”. Listen, moving my finger around on top of a picture of a joystick has never felt realistic and never will. The controls on the iPad are spaced so far apart that it’s almost impossible to hold the iPad up and play the games at the same time. Playing on a smaller screen makes the device easier to hold, but shrinks the virtual controls at the same time. From Crystal Castle’s trackball to Tempest’s spinner (replaced with a “sliding dial”), the lack of tactile feedback is both noticed and missed (don’t get me started on Battlezone or Major Havok). Atari’s Greatest Hits is compatible with the about-to-be-released iCade, a device that turns your iPad into a mini arcade cabinet (complete with a Bluetooth joystick). With an MSRP of $99 there are far cheaper ways to enjoy old Atari games, but if you already planned on picking up the iCade, your Atari’s Greatest Hits experience no doubt would be improved.

For mobile gamers, compilations of Atari games already exist for Sony’s PSP and the Nintendo DS. And, as previously mentioned, both Atari 2600 emulators and MAME have been ported to nearly every platform under the sun by now (there’s even a port of MAME for the iPhone). If you’re an iPad owner and you either enjoy touch-screen controls or enjoy being frustrated by them, you could do worse than picking up “Atari’s Greatest Hits” for the iPad.

(Originally posted on Caltrops.com)

Two things came into my life around the same time — a rekindled interest in Text Adventures/Interactive Fiction, and the iPad. Over the past month or two, I’ve been searching for a way to connect the two. While the iPad’s virtual keyboard (similar to the iPhone’s, but obviously bigger) isn’t designed for banging (touching?) out novels on, it’s certainly adequate for typing text into a work of Interactive Fiction. The portability of the iPad is a plus, too.

As I mentioned in my previous post (edit: HERE), iDOS (formerly DosPad) officially hit the App Store this week. iDOS is a port of the popular DOS emulator DosBox for iOS. It runs on the iPhone and iTouch, and contains a few additional features for iPad users. iDOS only lasted for a few hours in Apple’s App Store before it got yanked, but if your iOS device is jailbroken, you can download iDOS via Cydia, directly from the developer’s site.

There are a few works of Interactive Fiction (and Choose Your Own Adventure-style) available for iOS, and thanks to Parchment I have been able to enjoy several IF games on my iPad via the web, but that leaves a whole lot of games unplayable. Like games written in Hugo, which my friend Robb Sherwin primarily uses.

A few minutes of searching turned up a DOS-friendly version of Hugo. It doesn’t display the pictures and music like the Windows-based Hugo interpreter I’ve been using, but it does work. iDOS may have some performance issues when it comes to emulating graphic-intensive DOS programs with the iPad’s processor, but it seems to have no problem running DOS-based game interpreters.


Click to Enlarge

This is a screenshot of Robb Sherwin’s “A Crimson Spring”, written in Hugo, running on the iPad.

In the big scheme of things, running old DOS-based interpreters on new hardware via emulation is probably a step in the wrong direction. Ultimately I would like to see web-based interpreters for all the major IF languages. (And no, before you ask; coding such a solution is way beyond my skill set.) I think platform-agnostic interpreters would help widen the acceptance of Interactive Fiction. In a world where essentially everybody and everything connects to the web, it makes sense to put your game there.

Until that happens, we are occasionally left with coming up with alternative solutions, which sometimes means forcefully shoehorning old games onto new devices. iDOS lets me do that.

(Note: I write a lot of these the night before they hit the site. Because of that, there is always a possibility that, due to conky scripts and janky timers, blog posts could appear out of order, causing the appearance of an odd ripple in the space/time continuum when I refer to other posts that (A) haven’t appeared on the site yet, but (B) hopefully fill by the time you read it. While writing them, I am often forced to refer to things in past tense that haven’t appeared on the site yet. When it all works, it’s a beautiful thing; when it doesn’t, I appear kooky. Here’s to everything working!)

For all intents and purposes, the new iPhone game Star Wars: Trench Run is the updated spiritual successor of Atari’s classic 1983 Star Wars arcade game. In the original, players alternated between shooting TIE Fighters buzzing around the perimeter of the Death Star, and racing through the Death Star’s trench in order to blow it up (over and over). Star Wars: Trench Run consists of these same two levels, repeated with minor variances.

That’s not to say anyone could confuse the two games by looking at them. The arcade version of Star Wars used color vector graphics — essentially stick drawings — to convey the action. In contrast, Star Wars: Trench Run opens with almost a minute of near DVD-quality video taken right from the movie, and contains graphics indistinguishable from last decade’s movie special effects. Likewise, Trench Run contains audio samples straight from the Lucas archives.


Star Wars (1983)


Star Wars: Trench Run (2009)

Where the original arcade game gave players a flight yoke with which to control their X-Wing fighter, Trench Run uses the iPhone’s gyroscopic controls. Waving your phone around causes your X-wing to dip, climb and swerve. The constant movement of your phone ensures no one will be able to see what’s on the screen at any given time. It also kind of makes you look like a goof ball; then again, most of us Star Wars fans are used to that. The game’s flight controls can be inverted as well. Shooting is performed by touching the right side of the screen. The bottom left allows players to “use the Force” and slow down the action temporarily, while the upper left swaps between 1st and 3rd person views. The motion controls work perfectly and, especially when flying an X-Wing, I thought they added to the game’s fun.

Star Wars: Trench Run looks and plays so great that it took almost ten minutes for me to realize how repetitive the game was. I shot a few TIE Fighters, flew through the trench, shot a few more TIE Fighters, flew threw the trench again, shot some more TIE Fighters, and then wandered off to go check my Facebook updates. I can’t see playing Trench Run for hours on end, but I do see myself playing it a few minutes each day, which is all a guy can ask from a mobile phone game.

The game’s overall quality makes Star Wars: Trench Run a must own title, especially for Star Wars fans. (It’s a lot more impressive than showing off that free lightsaber app over and over, trust me.) My first instinct was to say that $4.99 is slightly overpriced, until you realize that $3 probably goes toward licensing fees, leaving you a $1.99 game that’s impressive to show off and lots of fun to play for a while. May the Force be with your wallet.

Moto X Mayhem is one of those frustratingly simple games that drives you crazy until you master it. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long to master, but it’s a blast until you do.

In Moto X Mayhem, players must navigate a motorcycle over hills, through caverns and across chasms in a race against the clock. There are two islands for riders to blast through (Bear Island and Lost Island), each with their own types of terrain. The game is 2D; your bike is viewed from the side, in landscape mode.

Controlling your bike couldn’t be more intuitive. Gas is applied by touching any part of the right hand side of the screen using your right thumb; brakes are applied by touching the left, although as any true racing fan will tell you, brakes are mostly optional. Steering is not necessary, as you are constantly travelling across the screen from left to right — instead, you must control how far you lean. As jumps are made, you’ll need to lean either forwards or back to adjust to the proper landing angle. And yes, you can pull off both forward and backward flips by leaning really far. (No points for flips; they’re purely for style.) Additionally, players will need to lean forward to avoid falling backwards while climbing the steepest of hills. The game accepts two different control schemes: one involves steering the phone left and right like a steering wheel, the other is by looking down at the phone and tilting it left and right. I found the second control scheme much more responsive and easier to use.

Moto X Mayhem includes rag doll physics for your rider, which means each time you flip over backwards or land awkwardly your rider will be flung into the air and his arms and legs flop wildly. A humorous touch, you can actually use your finger to flick the rider to and fro and give him a good thrashing after each crash.

The game’s graphics are bright and colorful and the sounds, from your bike to the background ambient noise, is fantastic.

The game’s Achilles heel is its brevity. Almost every level can be beat in less than 20 seconds, and with 14 levels total, by the time you do the math you could have already beat the first half of the game. A couple of the levels have multiple paths, but other than that there’s very little replay value especially once you begin to memorize the layouts of each level.

Available for $1.99 via iTunes, Moto X Mayhem is well worth the money. I’ve been playing it off and on for a couple of weeks now, which is worth two bucks to me.