Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Because Everybody's Free to Wear Nostalgia | Internet Explorer's "Child of the 90's" Ad

Damn right, in those days, a troll was still a friend, and lunch was a puzzle, not a picture.

Teary kid that I am, this ad naturally brought tears to my eyes--those innocent, corny days of our youth when everything was still happily insulated from likes and comments and you were still content.  

Nice photography too; even without those 90's "artifacts", just because of the photography the 90's touch was just unmistakable. 

I wish I used Internet Explorer, but the thing is, I migrated to Mozilla soon as I learned there was Mozilla, and then to Google Chrome soon as it was available.  Who knows, I might peek into IE from time to time from now on.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Run, Run, Run | Five Runner Games for Android

Now that the much awaited sequel to Temple Run is out, this whole thing has prompted us to write a review of the best and not so best runner games in Android right now.

Rail Rush | MiniClip Games

Rail Rush puts you in a sort of roller coaster ride (without the vertical loop, but alas, with lots of gold nuggets to collect along the way.)  The fact that you're practically trapped in a constantly moving cart around a seemingly endless ride means you really have no choice but to zoom along, unlike in other runner games where you nevertheless run like crazy even if no one's chasing you at all (We're looking at you, Agent Dash, The End App, Panda Run, etc.)  Controls are smooth in Rail Rush, if only a bit more forgiving.  As long as you swipe up or down, it doesn't matter if you did it a little too early, you'll still make it.

Just like traditional runner games, missions abound in Rail Rush, from collecting a certain amount of egg rocks to hurdling this number of wooden barricade, encouraging you to play yet one more round till you've unknowingly spent an entire hour.  

What to do with those gold nuggets you've amassed?  Buy characters (each one with a quirky ability of only being able to smash either left, right, upper or lower obstacle), and some nifty cart add-ons for a hassle-free ride.

The Nice: Smooth motions, tilt function, secret tunnel, battery-friendly looming darkness 
The Not-so-nice: Absence of bats (it's an underground passage, right?)

The End App

It's almost a shame you can't stop running in The End App, considering that the developers have rendered such a beautifully-detailed, gloriously colorful, post-apocalyptic city ruins (if you can call post-apocalyptic ruins beautiful and glorious).  All over the street cars are overturned and up in flames, the roads are all fissured and cracked, seemingly from an aftershock, with lava and flames spilling over from below, and there are even buses nosedived into the ground below, having gone off the freeway.  

With all these fascinating details, one would definitely wish the character would slow down for chrissake and admire the view, do a little exploring like old school adventurous Mario.  

But as we've said, you just keep on running, turning either left or right, and not much more.  Meanwhile you collect, uhmm, duct tapes.  Yes, duct tapes are the ultimate survival gear, alongside your Swiss knife and heavy-duty LED flashlight (and if Douglas Adams is to be believed, a towel too.)  The nonstop quest to collect duct tapes simply begs the question of why?  If you want, you can pony up a few dollars to unlock other survivors as well as new devastated cities.

After a few runs, The End App, with its fast-paced action and upbeat music, becomes a bit of a chore though, and you find yourself wondering, if the apocalypse is all over and I'm the only survivor left in this godforsaken town, why the heck am I running all the time?

The Nice: Devastatingly detailed environment
The Not-so-nice: Awkward running position of default character, Questionable duct tape quest

Panda Run

Simply put, Panda Run is not worth your time.

The Nice: Hmmm. Unless you find pandas on the run cute.
The Not-so-nice: Everything.

Agent Dash | by Full Fat

You'll love Agent Dash for its secret agent appeal, complete with the handsome tuxedo suit (for the titular character Agent Dash) and a sexy catsuit aviator outfit for the female Agent Goodtug.  

Apparently, your goal in Agent Dash is to blow up the enemy's headquarters.  So you run through various obstacles in a jungle setting, inside the enemy base, and then outside the streets, in that order, and then back to the jungle again.  Power ups are available including jetpacks and a magnet for magnetizing, uhm, the diamonds, but hey, that's their game.  Fortunately, graphics are nice, and the characters look like they just came right out of a well-established cartoon show, but alas, after a few runs, the game feel tiresome and old, and aren't agents supposed to be stealthy in the first place, not running all the time?  And where are the crazy gadgets?  As a matter of fact, where are the villains?!  Because there seems to be no one else around.

The Nice: Great sound and music, Funny when the agents fall flat on their faces or smash into a wall of rock
The Not-so-nice: No tilt function, and well, the runner mode is just plain wrong for the spy genre.

Temple Run 2 | Imangi Studios

The husband-and-wife team who gave us Temple Run is now back with, well Temple Run 2.  This time around a single huge gorilla is out to get you, prompting your endless run.  

The new environment is just gorgeous, very detailed--a splendid floating city high above the clouds, built by a long-gone civilization, which feels like you've seriously violated just because you're treading in their sacred grounds.  In the original Temple Run, it feels like you're just trapped in some sort of endlessly looping pathway where the boring straight paths either take you left or right.  In Temple Run 2, you meet the Great Outdoors.

Just like in the real world, the roads have curves and terrains now, while the camera suavely tracks your movement.  Curiously enough, the occasional waterfalls and transitions from floating cities to the forests remind me of an M.C. Escher painting, but of course thinking about topology won't get me anywhere.

Rope swings have been added for Tarzan moments when you need to negotiate cliffs--don't worry the characters have safety gloves so no rope burn. (The developers thought of everything.)  And for added measure there's even a mine cart where you take a ride.  Just like in the first version, you're still collecting coins here, but now the collecting is less tedious and a lot more fun.

The Nice: Rope swings! Mine carts! Depth of field!
The Not-so-nice: Still no redemption for the character, no secret passages you can explore at leisure, or puzzles to take a break from all the legwork.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Za is a word?

What’s a Z Really Worth?

Why efforts to assign Scrabble tiles their “real value” miss the point of the game.

from Slate.com

I have in my possession two tiles from a prototype of the game that would become Scrabble. They were crafted by architect Alfred Butts circa 1938. They are made of plywood with the letters stenciled in India ink. Their point values are handwritten on tiny squares of paper and glued beneath the center of each letter. My Q is worth 10 points. My X is worth six.
Any Scrabble player can tell you that the X is actually worth eight points. But as Butts was creating the game, in a fifth-floor walkup in Queens, he tinkered—with the layout of the board, with the total number of tiles, with their distribution, and with their respective point values. “It’s not hit or miss,” Butts said long afterward. “It’s carefully worked out.”
Seventy-five years later, Butts’ carefully worked out point values are under attack. Late last month, a University of California–San Diego, cognitive science postdoc and casual player named Joshua Lewis conducted a computer analysis to recalibrate Scrabble’s letter values based on the game’s current lexicon. Lewis reposted his findings to Hacker News, and they were picked up by Digg and went viral. Around the same time, Sam Eifling, writing for Deadspin, asked a programmer friend to do the same. Both were inspired by the fact that while the language had changed dramatically from the time Butts performed his calculations, the game of Scrabble had not...

If you've got time to read a fairly exhaustive article about the point value system of Scrabble tiles, this is it.  Although it took me a minute or two to move on after stumbling on the paragraph that says you can actually score points in Scrabble for the "word" Za (short for pizza).   

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

HexBug nano | for The Robot Insect fiend in you

The HexBug nano series, which come in all sorts of insect forms--from millipedes to flies to roaches--look like something a high schooler can easily cobble together for the science fair in a matter of days.

The insect robots are crude and spindly, and the plastic parts don't look like they'll last a week in the hands of even the most careful kid.  And they're pricey besides.  We'd be happy if the darn insects can at least be used to spy or clean up something, but as it is, the HexBug nano is just for show.

The millipede, for instance, has a sensor that allows it run around like crazy without bumping into anything at all. There's larvae versions in transparent capsules, and there's even an arena where the insect bots can crawl around.

Maybe a smartphone integration is coming which will make these bots more interesting.  In the meantime, we're gonna say pass.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Many-Storied Stories of Building Stories

Building Stories by Chris Ware

Redefining that hallowed genre of graphic novel (or comics, as the purists would have it) Chris Ware's Building Stories is boxful of pamphlets, booklets, newspapers, and diagrams that trace the life and times of the sad but hopeful residents in a crumbling apartment.  The pieces aren't bound in a traditional way (see photo above) so read starting from anywhere you like. Linearity has no space in the story as the reader is left to his/her own devices in marveling at the various narratives of love and loss presented in the various artworks.  

One thing I love is the way everything is in relation to the architecture. The spatial location of the characters is given importance, which in today's world mirrors our need to always know at what exact point are friends are.  Dwarfed by the very structure that supposedly protects them, the characters age and decay in tune with the apartment. The drawings are crisp and colorful, indifferent and deadpan even, reminding me of those laminated  illustrations in airlines, which is to say everything's nicely done and intended.  

In the insane world of Chris Ware, everything's till-further-notice, tentative, and tragically lurking for the surface.  This convoluted microcosm is certainly not meant for your tablet. Chris Ware's Building Stories is meant to be physically handled, flipped over, devoured, and then devoured again.  And if you let it, it'll haunt you even. 

Image from fullpagebleed.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Toy Aquarium Fish Without the Guilt.

Fishes kept in aquarium look pretty on the surface, but deep down we all know how they got from the pet store and into our glass tanks is never a serene story.  The aquarium fish trade is seriously damaging marine life, and at what cost?  So bipeds like us can have nice brilliantly colorful fishes to look at to let us de-stress after a day's work.

Enter Robo Fish, the toy robotic fish that swim, frolic, feeds, and even cluster like the real thing.  Up close, they're not that realistic yet, but at least they got to fool the cat.

You know what this means.  Low maintenance pet fishes that you don't have to feed (though you'll have to replace the batt once in a while.)  

And best of all, no fish was caught and separated from its natural habitat.

$37 (2900 Yen) per fish at Amazon Japan.  (Trust the Japanese to wow us with these things.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Four of My Favorite Android Games on My Phone Right Now

Pew Pew (from Jean-Fran├žois Geyelin)

Pew Pew is what the classic novel Flatland might look like if all the characters were pitted against each other in a chaotic space combat.  Sure enough, you've got 3D spaceships and enemies, yet you only get to move around a 2D plane.  But even so, this retro shooter game featuring sleek graphics--minimalist lines, spare shapes, and psychedelic colors--is so fun to play you almost forget it's on touchscreen.  Pony up for Pew Pew 2 for more challenges, though the free version on Android will already blow you away.

Nice bit: Replay function of your top 5 high scoring games, which gives you a 360 degree view all over.

World of Goo (from 2D Boy)

Sticky black goo and physics merge in this ingenious puzzle where you build spindly structures .  Excellent graphics and storytelling, with bonus mystery of the sign painter. The black goo, by the way, reminds me of the black oil in The X-Files--animated too, but less fatal.  Free for the first 10 levels, but the paid version is definitely worth it.

Furdiburb (from Sheado.net)

Hark back to the simple days of the keychain tamagotchi games back in early 2000s, and see if you can still remember what the fuss was all about.  

Enter Furdiburb, possibly the only tamagotchi game worth your time on Android.  Your creature to care for: a ball of an alien stranded on a planet, with quirky inhabitants selling you stuff and eventually helping you rebuild your spaceship.  As with the tamagotchis of the past, you also give baths to your charge (in the form of cloud showers), and feed with various produce you yourself have grown.  The mini-games along the way are all enjoyable without losing replay value.  Furdiburb reminds me of Samorost (though less grungy and gritty--there's much sleuthing going around, customizing your crib, and plenty humor--all wrapped up in crisp candy-nice graphics (not too girly, thankfully).  Beware, Furdiburb isn't just some touch-and-click mindless fun; you'll have to pay attention.  
Nice bit: Tilt your phone to move and shake up things.
Sad bit: when Furdiburb eats Chicken Mama.

Best bit: Sheado just came out with an update!

Robot Adventure (from Runner Games)

Just when I thought something was frigging wrong with my robot--too clunky and won't fly at all--I complete my mission and was able to upgrade--from better gas mileage to shock-proof helmets.  From then on, each flight became a breeze, though still frustratingly hard enough so you'll keep coming back.  Robot adventure is perfect for quenching that age-old, never-ending thirst to reach the stars and the unknown, although I hope an update will really let my good ol' Robot bump into something new.

Sad bit: Fully upgrade, my robot looked like a chunk of gold.  Not the most aerodynamic metal.
Best bit: What lies beyond.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dashing or Not So? Agent Dash at Google Play

Tired of Temple Run's run-for-your-life adventure?  Try Agent Dash instead: it's free too, just as exhilaratingly fast-paced, and for a change no one's chasing after you.  After all it's definitely far more intriguing to see a man running and running with no one behind him.  

Your goal though as the tuxedo-donning Agent Dash is to destroy enemy bases.  Without tripping or crashing into conveniently helpful signposts or falling into a river of lava of course.

The non-stop running means Agent Dash--and all the other fast & furious agents like Joanna Goodthug and Jawbone--won't have time to smell the roses, much less explore the nice, lushly-detailed world game developer Full Fat has prepared for its characters.  As it is, graphics are rendered beautifully (from the shafts of sunlight streaming down the forest to the flowing lava) while ambient sound really adds a nice overall depth (crashing waterfalls, eerie hollow underground sound for instance).

We especially like the tongue-in-cheek tidbits when the game is just beginning to load (Loading some crates, Straightening the bow tie, Greasing the wheels, Loading some important stuff, etc.  Get it?)  

Replay value suffers after days and days of running though.  Unlike other runner games, Agent Dash doesn't have those mini-objectives that you can achieve per level.  You end up, well, just running and running until you slip and trip.

Overall the game's polished look feels like Agent Dash could have been a popular animated show deftly turned into a action-packed game.  But the lack of whistles and bells, and all things that make the spy genre infinitely intriguing make this a bit of a disappointment after a few runs.
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