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In a fit of serendipitous timing, the day after I wrote my last post regarding Mobile Apps as a complement to PC gaming, a new indie Humble Bundle has surfaced specifically aimed at Android Phones*.

It's a small bundle this time with only 4 games on offer, some of which are quite old now to boot, but the idea is that whilst there's versions for Windows, Mac and Linux in there as well as Android, the point of it is as an introduction to Humble Bundles for mobile platforms. The games included in it are available directly from the Android Market as well.

Humble Bundle for Android logo

The games one gets with this particular bundle are:-

World of Goo - a physics puzzler that's become a well-known classic over the last few years
Edge - another physics puzzler of a completely different sort
Osmos - yet another physics puzzler of yet another different type with a lovely soundtrack
Anomaly - a tactical squad strategy/tower attack game that plays in realtime

World of Goo App   Edge EX App   Osmose HD App   Anomaly HD App

World of Goo is the bonus game for paying over the average and whilst it's old hat now, it's a game that suits a mobile platform very well. You control balls of black goo that buzz around a framework you pull and stretch into shape from said balls of goo, the aim being to get some of them from the starting point to an end point to progress to the next level. Think standard bridge builder with a squishy theme.

Edge comes in two varieties, regular and EX (extended). The extended version is more like Edge 1.5 with additions to the gameplay, levels and a graphics engine update. The aim is to flip a cube around a puzzle-maze, collecting flashing blocks ont he way and not falling off the edges. It's a cute game but I found the controls to be very inconsistent: moving your finger 2 millimetres on screen might make the cube barely wobble, or it might send it screaming off at top speed to plung over the edge in a blur.

Osmos comes in HD format and is another older game, this time with the focus being on patience and attempting to be a relaxing game. You're an amoeba-like lifeform whose main goal is to absorb smaller amoebas to grow whilst not being absorbed by bigger amoebas. There's all sorts of obstacles such as evil amoebas that hunt you, 'food' that is harmful, currents in the medium you're floating through and so on.

Anomaly is also in HD format and runs with the age-old theme of alien incursions on Earth (in this case in Baghdad, which is an... interesting choice of city, especially given your rescue squad is British). Aliens towers have sprouted up and you're assigned resources to purchase vehicles that will follow a course you plot beforehand to blow them up. Meanwhile you use various special effects to help them, hinder the towers and grab power replenishments before the next threat looms.


I've found the games are good to while away time when travelling, and Anomaly looks like it could give Ghost Recon on the 3DS a run for it's money in terms of hours of gameplay, though it burns battery fast. Osmose is a bit jumpy on the difficulty curve, with some later stages being significantly easier than some of the early ones. Edge's control issues are proving to be awkward to get over for me, and World of Goo is OK but I never got into it on the PC and it doesn't look like that will change any time soon.

On a technical note, once the bundle is purchased you pick which versions of the games to download where, such as the windows versions to a Windows PC then the android APKs to your phone, either directly or through another device with internet. My phone's native browser had issues with the download of the APK from the Humble Bundle site and in the end I grabbed them on my PC and Dropboxed over. Your mileage may vary.

* As a note, the games can be found seperately for iDevices as well.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
It's been a while since I last posted: life has been busy and my gaming has been predominantly Rift and Alchemy Genetics based, with a bit of Borderlands and Champions Online here and there, which gets boring to read about after a while. I failed to get interested in Star Wars: The Old Republic in any way despite the behemoth PR engine and the obsessiveness of many of my friends (some of whom were barely gamers before it hit). I failed to get Skyrim too, though I plan on checking it out eventually once the price is down and I'm over my Rift phase.

Mobile apps for games and gaming networks aren't new by any means, however it's only in the last year or so that official apps from the producers of various games have started to surface. From Authenticator programs to add an extra layer of account security, to linked chat systems and replication of some in-game playable features; the companies behind the move to integrate the mobile market have been playing catchup to the enterprising third party app developers who've been offering addon support for years now.

Android Market iPhone Store

As an example of such a third party app: those who've played Eve Online with any degree of seriousness will know of Aura, an API-using app that monitors skills, manufacturing, market orders and so on. When I was playing Eve, it was invaluable as it'd let me see at a glance exactly what order on which character had been filled by whom, if I was about to superceede my current clone and also when my next skill was due to pop. It's been around for a good long while (in mobile app terms) and is quite the success story. It's not the only one of course, there's a ton of apps for Eve and the same goes for pretty much every game out there with a following. People like the functionality; they like to be able to stay connected. Games companies have taken heed and have started to produce their own versions.

Playing catchup

The earliest 'Official' apps were the account Authenticators for games such as World of Warcraft. In games with a high profile, and thus sporting a large target for unscrupulous account-breaching activities, keyloggers grabbing passwords are commonplace, as is account sharing and plenty of other means to gain access to an account from the user's end. Authenticators add another layer of security by requiring a code generated by the app to be entered when you login. It's a unique key attached to your account and changes frequently (usually a 30 second window) when synched up with the server. The idea there is that unless someone has your mobile phone as well as your username and password, it's no use trying to keylog the code as it'll be invalid shortly after use.

Now, gaming companies have introduced apps that do more, often linking into game servers' API to allow for communications such as reading in-game mail or chatting in channels, or more. An example of this is the official Rift mobile app, currently in Beta, for the iPhone and Android platforms. It allows you to log in as many of your own characters as you like in order to chat to friends and guildmates, keep track of world events and play minigames to earn small in-game rewards. Whilst the latter is opening a can of worms regarding paying subscribers not have equal access to content and loot unless they own smartphones, the functions offered have proved to be extremely popular (even if it is buggy as all ungodly hell in it's current Beta incarnation). It's not alone: World of Warcraft has had a similar app for some time, as have other games. Some of them are even paid apps that require an initial purchase fee, or else cost a little extra on top of the game's subscription fee in those games that have them, such as WoW's Remote Services app that allows the use of the auction house from a phone, among other things.

Social Networking?

It's not just online games that could benefit greatly from associated apps. Gaming networks, notably Steam, have been bugged for years about releasing apps, or at the very least allowing the API to become available for third parties to develop apps in their stead. It took a while but Valve finally pulled their collective finger out and the Steam Mobile App is now available on iPhone and Android markets. It's a beta test at the moment, and once you've logged in it'll take that as registering interest in beta participation. If you do that, keep an eye out on your Beta notifications (Setting menu in the main Steam client) for an invite and once you've got that accepted and sorted out you can get stuck in. They're being a little slow to send out beta invites but as I understand it everyone who registers interest (i.e. downloads it and logs in) will eventually get one.

Steam Mobile App

I've been using it for the last few days. So far, so good. You can't access your game library sadly, but you can do most other things such as chat to friends and see the friends list, view the store, make purchases and so on. It's also pretty stable so far, which is a plus in my book.

The haves and the have-nots

Clearly there is a future in mobile apps associated with online gaming. There will always be third party apps, some paid and some free, and any online game company that sees itself as a major player will want to have its own suite of official apps. But there are lines being drawn over what constitutes convenience, and what becomes an unfair in-game advantage. Checking a mail message versus winning rewards. Favoring owners of some devices and not others.

My personal line in the sand is at direct manipulation of in game content. Chatting to a friend is one thing, acquiring free loot and manipulating auctions is quite different. Particularly because not every player of a game will own a supported smart device. Computer-aimed software with the same functionality would be an equiliser, because one would presume that if your machine is capable of running the game in question, it's capable of running a small associated applet too. However, I have yet to see such a thing implemented and I do wonder why that might be. It can't be a question of losing money because many of these smart device apps are free, and even if they're not you can charge for applets like any other piece of software.

Finally, let's not forget security issues, and what might happen if your phone goes walkabout. Saved login information and account details could be a problem. Authenticators might end up locking you out of your own account unless you spend hours on expensive support phonecalls and post ID halfway accross the world to prove you're the real account owner, as happened to a friend of mine when her phone was stolen.

All in all, if you have a smart device then there's much on offer by way of expanding your online game experience through apps with varying degrees of integration. I'm riding this wave with interest and looking to see where it might go.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
As I've mentioned previously, I've been playing about with the Alchemy games on my Android phone over the last few months. It's the sort of thing I do when stuck on the tube, rather than in lieu of some other activity, and it keeps me sane enough through the rush hour commute.

I've checked out the three following games: Alchemy (no other name, just that), Alchemy Classic and Alchemy - Genetics.
I already reviewed the first Alchemy back here and I enjoyed it a lot. As I have now played it extensively and found all 380 elements, I feel that it serves as an appropriate benchmark. A quick recap: It has compact but distinct icons and reasonable responsiveness if a bit laggy with a lot of icons on screen at once and prone to overheating. There are plenty of methods to create many items including logical progression, figures of speech and pop culture references. Being able to see how you produced an element is very handy and the autolink to an element's wikipedia article is a nice touch. Hints are behind the paywall but given the many routes you can take for many elements, the fairly logical sequence things follow and the fact it's always 2 elements that combine (sometimes the same one duplicated), it's not a headache. If all else fails, there's cheat apps and websites that list how to make everything.

Alchemy Genetics Screenies

So the first one to compare is Alchemy - Genetics. The premise is the same except that the focus is on creating animals. As of writing this, 525 of them to be precise. The freeware version has adverts but beyond that I didn't spot any other loss of functionality, which is a rarity these days as more and more of an app's features get moved to the other side of the pay wall *. It's got more of a cutesy interface along the lines of the kids' TV show interpretations of a mad science laboratory, and whilst it's clearer which animals are being combined to form what, it also imposes limitations on the interface and how it is manipulated. It's also missing some rather key preferences, such as being able to disable the buzz if you're creating something via a pathway you have already discovered. This gets to be very irritating very quickly because all you can do is disable the notifications entirely. Combinations can run both ways as well, so Dove + Pig [fat] = Dodo, but Pig [fat] + Dove != Dodo. If you have an animal earmarked in the first or the second spot for combination, you can't easily switch spots around either.

Other annoyances include combinations being extremely random (rodent + Tweety (Pie) = Hamster? but of course, everyone knows that!) although there is a random hint button that will let you know about an animal you can create with what you already have. In addition, large chunks of the top and bottom of the screen taken up by oversized buttons and the 'view screen' interface. Whilst my HTC Sensation has a large screen, I can see anyone playing on an HTC Wildfire getting very irritated.

In the end I stopped playing it after about an hour and haven't picked it up since, though perhaps I should give it another go soon. Certainly, I can appreciate the slight UI improvements it does have over the next game.

Alchemy Classic Screenies

With comments claiming this game is the original and 'way better', I was wary but at the same time intrigued about Alchemy Classic. My first impressions were that yes, it certainly looks nice where Alchemy is plain, and it has little swirly animations when you successfully combine elements. Another feature I noticed immediately is that successful combinations give you points, which you can then spend on hints on the next combinations. Added to this is the fact that the game lists all the new elements you can create with the elements you already have, I thought that perhaps I was onto a casual game winner here. The free version of the game has ads (of course) and also locks out a number of elements (complete with a little padlock icon).

Unfortunately, playing it for a while brought several major issues to light. The icons, while lovely, are very large and erratically sized with bounding boxes that far exceed the image size. This makes them unwieldy and awkward to position because even the tiniest bit of overlap is ready by the game as an attempted combine and regardless of whatever other elements you have overlapping any of the partaking elements, the game reads the whole combination rather than allowing for sub-combinations. For example, if you combine Carbon and Hydrogen, you get Hydrocarbons, except if a bit of Hydrogen was overlapping with, say, Fog. The game then reads Carbon + Hydrogen + Fog which produces nothing. Add this to the fact that the UI responsiveness is very poor, some icons are so huge you can only fit two of them in a row and if you try to stack a few in a pile to test one by one, the whole thing slows down immensely. If the bounding box of an icon touches the top bar of the screen, it's deleted, which doesn't end well with the poor touchscreen responsiveness. The bottom of the screen is completely unresponsive half the time and I've lost elements because I can't move them once they're there. (No, my phone is fine and I have no trouble with anything else in that location.) You can't easily and readily see how you created an element without having to faff with options in the Information screen either, which is an annoyance if you accidentally created something and didn't spot what the other component was.

Ignoring the technical aspects of playing, the game itself isn't that much fun because there is only ever one way to produce an element: no multiple routes here. There are occasional nonsensical combinations that even when discovered still make absolutely no logical sense, for example the only way to make a Container is to combine Metal - ok - with an Active Robot - WAT? I quickly discovered the reason the game is so generous with telling you what it's possible to find with your current open elements, and why you can buy hints with points. Unlike the other 2 games, combinations are not limited to 2 elements only. Some of them have up to 8 (EIGHT) elements that have to stack up. When you consider that there are currently 389 Elements to be discovered and you have to combine up as many as 8 seperate items, that's a truly staggering number of possibilities with that tiny remote chance of hitting one of your 389. I think there is a slight majority of the combinations only involving 2 but there's a whole ton of 3s and a not inconsiderable number of 4s and more. If you didn't spend points on hints and know what end result you're trying to come up with, you'd never find those needles in the haystack.

Despite all of this I have soldiered on through gritted teeth, determined not to let the game beat me but I suspect that come the 3/4/5 etc combinations, I'll have run out of points and then I'll give up because like hell am I going to try and sit there for hours taking a tiny handful of elements and combining them in every possible combination of up to 7 at a time, then cross over each tiny handful.

tl;dr - Alchemy Classic turns a game into a massive numbercrunching exercise one normally employs a supercomputer to do.


Of the three Alchemy games, the first one is far and away the best of the bunch. Yes it's the least pretty looking but it has the most appropriate functionality and the tightest interface. I didn't like the other two much after playing that one because it exposed their weaknesses without suffering from lacking their strengths. Still now I am done with Alchemy (at least until an update adds new stuff), I am exploring the others more.

*This moving the goalposts rubbish is a major beef I have with free Android apps at the moment and I have a little rantette about it relating to a soul-builder app for RIFT I used to like very much (before a major update took away all the features instead of actually updating the souls which had been recently changed by a game patch...)
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
In between jetting off to chilly climes, going through the Champions Online archetype rotation, popping into Anarchy Online for it's halloween activities and hitting up Rift now I'm starting to approach end game, I've been playing bits and pieces of other games.


First up is Zelda: Four Swords, DSiware released for the 3DS and free to all with a 3DS, DSi or DSi XL as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations. It's a limited time release and will be vanishing mid-february.

4 swords logo

It's primarily meant to be played multiplayer with up to 4 people playing differently coloured Links, workign together to complete each area of the game. It can be played singleplayer as well, with two Links both controlled by you. This is a little tricky at first: you can switch between them with the R shoulder button and you can set one to follow behind the other, or stand around wherever you left it. The trick is to get the hang of issuing these orders and swapping between them smoothly and quickly. Each Link can hold only the 1 special item beside a sword, and using the right item (and thus the right link) for a particular part becomes critical. In addition, each Link is measured on how many coins it collects, damage it inflicts etc. These all give a score at the end of each area. (Beyond that, I've not yet discovered a use for coins beyond a fee to raise you á la Fairy if you die.)

The emulation for the 3DS is basic. It's not 3D and doesn't suspend properly either, as it was directly ported from the original 2002 DSi version. It's got a tutorial area that explains how the game works and what items can do, which is helpful. Some of the items are funny, like the magnet and many of them are ye olde staples from almost any Zelda game you care to name. It held my attention for a while but ultimately as there's no real story or point to any of it beyond progressing through areas because they're there, I got bored.


Bunch of Heroes is an indie-ish PC game available on Steam. It's very simple: pick a character, team upw ith a friend or two, pewpew enemies and complete objectives in each area. The graphics are cartoony, it's filled with ridiculous puns and there's action to be had all round.

Bunch of Heroes logo

As a co-operative game, it's something of a twin-stick shooter but in an Alien Swarm style more than anything else, mechanically-speaking. WASD to move, mouse to aim and fire. The primary enemy here is zombies (inifinite numbers thereof), you have limited ammunition though there are crates to bust for drops. Nothing groundbreaking here and in fact I got fairly bored of it after the first area.


For the daily commute, I have been at the mobile gaming again on my Android. Minecraft Pocket was finally released for all Android platforms (an iOS version is out now as well) after it's Xperia Play exclusive offer finished and I picked it up as my first paid app.

Minecraft Pocket logo

It's a very pared down version of Minecraft (now officially released) - Minecraft classic essentially. it's purely creative mode with no monsters, health, equipment or resource gathering. You simply select what blocks you want to build with, run around the world you create and build things. The size of the world is also very much reduced, though you have forest, water, mountains, trees and so on.

You can multiplay over wifi or bluetooth, with one phone hosting a server that others can join. As a note, by default your map will be a publically available server unless you turn that off! I've not given the multiplayer part a go as yet.

It runs my HTC Sensation somewhat hot, I have to say, and the graphics start to glitch after a while though that is rectified by pausing the game, switching back to the home screens, then hopping back into the game. It's quite the battery drain as well. I also don't like the D-Pad controls too much, though as these things go they're fairly good. I haven't yet fully adapted to the complete loss of tactile feedback from a capacitive touchscreen when using controls that used to be physically pushed (moreso for the analogue controllers of the later consoles).

Overall I've found it to be fun now and then for building something silly but it really ought to have a flight mode enabled so that it can be a pure building simulator, given all the other aspects of Minecraft's gameplay are gone (adventuring, circuitry, combat etc).

Next up:

I've been playing more of the Alchemy games on my 'droid and I'll be giving those a go-over soon.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
I'm being rather slow on the uptake of mobile gaming on the Android platform, despite having a very capable handset. Partly it's because I'm focused on other game-playing media and partly it's because I see the phone's touchscreen interface as a rather limited sort of DS that has no alternative control options like buttons and only the one screen. I've yet to make that paradigm shift into games designed specifically for the screen types and sizes of modern smartphones (and no, Angry Birds does not interest me). Sudoku and the like notwithstanding.

With all this in mind, I've generally avoided games on my droid.

It was only the result of lunchtime surfing on friday that I happened across a mention of a game for the Android named Alchemy. The concept is very simple: starting with the 4 Classical elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth the aim is to combine up pairs of elements in order to create more. Air + Air = Wind, for example, and Wind + Stone = Sand. Eventually you end up with things like Time, Zombie, Sex, Quetzacoatl, Toast and the Ghostbusters.
Alchemy logo
As of writing this, there are 380 different 'elements' to discover. Elements being items you can make and then use to make other things with, rather than elements in any classical sense. Not everything can then in turn make something else, and these top-of-tree items are called Terminal Elements. Examples of such things include Transformer (of the robots in disguise variety), Explosion, Island and Lichen. There is frequently more than one way to produce an item and if you have the option to ignore previously discovered combinations enabled, it will still trigger production of previously discovered items if you're going about it in a different way. An example of this is Ash which can be made in many different ways including Dragon + Man, Vampire + Light, Tobacco + Fire and Dust + Dust.

As you can tell, there is a degree of internal logic as well as phrases, proverbs and pop culture references. Sometimes it can seem rather incongruous, however, and if an extremely obvious combination seems to be missing then chances are it will exist but require an item you hadn't thought of and will then become blindingly obvious once you've found it. There's a slew of guides floating about as apps, as webpages, as Facebook discussion groups and so on. Personally I'm avoiding those as it spoils the fun of accidentally combining things and getting unexpected surprises.

It's surprisingly addictive. I play it when bored and away from home, or on public transport, or waiting for the kettle to boil... Up to 210 elements so far. I might look at other alchemy games once I'm done but it would mostly be for comparison, given that they all seem to share a large chunk of the combinations and after you've done it the first time the novelty wears off.

Alchemy screenies
Old screenshot is old, unfortunately.

And now the parts I don't like:
  • The fact that the game doesn't suspend unless you quit to Home, chewing up battery at an enormous rate even if the screen is off and locked.
  • The free version of the app has an adbar at the top which displaces the whole screen down, meaning that items which end up at the bottom fall off the screen or superimpose over the add/trash button and thus you can't do anything with them. That's just poor design IMO.
  • There's an option to shake your phone to mix up the items on screen in order to discover new combinations. This has never once worked for me, no matter whether I leave combining to dragging one on top of the other (default) or switch to tap 1st then tap 2nd.

There's a number of similar games floating around, both using Flash and on various smartphone and tablet platforms. Doodle God is a rather chill attempt for the PC, and Alchemy Classic which exists for a variety of phone and tablet types.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)

The gamer war of Consoles vs PCs has been around since the earliest days and that is a topic worthy of a post in itself. By the mid-90s, the cost of a console was peanuts compare to the cost of a PC that could run games and in general the two markets preferred a different spectrum of games. Of course, the PC gamers didn't want to lose out on anything tasty the consoles could produce and so Emulation was employed to allow software written for specialist consoles to be run on computers.

Software that Emulates game consoles in order to play ripped versions of the games on other formats, most commonly PCs, took off in the 16-bit days and was predominantly focused on the SNES, with other consoles such as the NES, Game Boy and Megadrive coming along fairly soon afterwards. A peripheral named the Super Magicom was built in order to rip the SNES game ROM files onto floppy discs that could then be read by the emulation software on a PC. All you needed was a reasonable joypad and you were set.

With the advent of home internet, acquiring the rom files to run through an emulator was child's play and it meant you could have access to a huge catalogue of excellent games (and a plethora of rubbish) for nothing without having to buy a new console either. Naturally, this is game piracy and there's been long-running wrangling of exactly what you are and are not allowed to copy, rip, emulate etc. Is having an emulator containing a ripped copy of the console's BIOS to play ripped copies of the games piracy when you actually own the console and the game in the first place? What about backups? As a SNES owner with at one point a considerable library of games, was I pirating by also having those games on an emulator on my PC?

Anyway, plenty of competing emulation programs popped up at the end of the 90s, each with their own way of organising everything from sprite layer display to save games. The biggest names included NESticle for the NES, (Kega) Fusion for the Megadrive and other Sega systems and as the next generation of consoles took off, emulators for the Playstation started to pop up as well. This was made easier by the fact that some fo the developers of the systems were making notes to allow for easy emulation later on; this most notably occurred with the Nintendo64 and lead to the likes of Project64.

For the SNES, the eventual winner in the race was the Snes9x series which had the best performance in terms of correctly replicating the S-SMP sound system, Mode 7 scaling and additional chipsets that were included in special game carts (such as the Super FX chip and it's successive iterations as seen in Starfox, and the DSP maths co-processor as seen in Super Mario Kart). I tried plenty of others in my time (an honorable mention goes to ZSNES) but in the end the most complete and least buggy version I found was Snes9x, and knowing the original cart versions of the games meant I was particularly keen-eyed/eared for emulation errors. Snes9x is still going strong today, in fact.

Snes9x Logo

Retro gaming and Smartphones

All of this brings me to here and now. I got myself a shiny new Android phone recently and in a frenzy of app hoarding I went after a good SNES emulator. I was pleasantly surprised to find several free versions available through the Market. After trying out the rather awful SNESlator Lite and discovering it didn't work with 90% of my ROM collection, I was pleased to uncover Snes9x EX. I'm still getting the hang of a touchscreen for the D-Pad controls but aside from that it's great. It runs fine with the games I've tested and whilst the sound reproduction could be better, a crappy mobile phone speaker isn't giving it a fair chance in the first place.

And now if you'll excuse me, Secret of Mana shall be keeping me sane on the tube ride home...


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