The World Bodypainting Festival 2017

I had the good luck and pleasure of being able to go to The World Bodypainting Festival again this year.

I took over 3,000 photos, which I managed to whittle down to about 200 for a decent gallery here, and then down to a further 8 which I submitted in the photo competition. You can see them on my Photography page.

If you haven’t been yet, I recommend you check it out in 2018!

Posted in Life, Tech, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The best games ever

Lists! YouTube is full of lists! “10 things you missed in Halo 2”, “9 reasons to care about Assassin’s Creed”, “13 aardvarks in turn-based strategy games”.

They’re kind of stupid. But I wanted to do my own, so I pared it back a bit and have produced my own – simple – list.

The 5 best games

That’s right. As a lifelong games player, enthusiast, and developer, I feel I have a great deal of experience playing a wide variety of titles. So here is a list of what I consider to be the best games ever made. This is not really adjusted for time – it’s just what would be the most fun to play right now.

So, here we go, in reverse order for extra excitingness:

5. Halo 3

Halo, the classic shooter that propelled the original Xbox into the mainstream, can be hailed as the first (or at least one of the first, yes I hear you Goldeneye) FPS to successfully bring the genre to console and nail the controls on a gamepad. So much so, that nowadays when I play Call of Duty or Titanfall, I prefer using a gamepad over the traditional mouse-and-keyboard combo.

Halo 2 pushed the Xbox to the limit, and the multiplayer was sublime. But the single-player campaign left people wanting. Personally I didn’t enjoy playing the arbiter missions (I’m the chief!), and the ending was… well, it wasn’t there. They ran out of time!

Halo 3 corrected every mis-step Bungie made on Halo 2, and on a new console (the Xbox 360), the developers could step up the graphics a notch as well. The single player campaign is thoughtfully constructed with some fun maps, and they cleverly focused on the aspects of the game that were the most fun. There is ample opportunity to drive your warthog around, with AI soldiers manning the turrets, fly around in alien ships, and of course the “thirty seconds of fun” often touted by the developer is in plain sight, where you pick off a few bad guys, melee some others, hide from some shots, and finish off the group with a well-placed grenade.

Play the whole Bungie series! Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo ODST and Halo Reach. Even better in multiplayer! Halo 4 was good as well. I think the internet jury is still out on Halo 5. It seems like the bar has been raised so many times that it’s very, very high, and 343 Industries is having a tough time clearing it.

4. Uncharted 4

You’ll need some high-rated sunglasses when playing this game, because the polish and shine on display is mesmerising. Uncharted made a name for itself on PlayStation 2 with the original, an interactive Indiana Jones adventure, drawing heavily on the Tomb Raider series for inspiration. Uncharted 2 improved across the board, but somehow Naughty Dog couldn’t repeat the success with number 3. It’s still good. If you have the time, play it, for nothing else than the continuity of the story. But the frustrating gunplay (I died many, many cheap deaths) had me tossing the controller away in anger several times.

Naughty Dog sensibly took a little break (working on the technically amazing, but personally not as enjoyable The Last Of Us in the meantime), and when they came back for Uncharted 4 everything has been made perfect. Seriously, I don’t know how they could make this product any better. I really like and care about the characters, the way they play off each other is inspired, and the gameplay is ridiculously fun. Nate snaps to cover satisfyingly, and the forgiving platforming will make you feel like a superhero swinging off ropes and clinging onto cracks in walls.

Graphically, I had to rub my eyeballs several times to drink in the sights. Perhaps this comment will sound dated in another 5, 10, or more years, but it feels like we are pushing our way out of the uncanny valley now. It’s still not photoreal, but it is gorgeous. The colours and lavish scenery will really spoil you, if you have enough time to notice while so swept up in the world of A Thief’s End.

3. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I’ve covered this before, and my recommendation stands! It’s simply the most effective turn-based strategy game I’ve ever touched. The animations of soldiers as they vault over scenery and pop a shot around the corner is deeply satisfying, and the threat from the aliens is real. When your soldiers die, they’re gone forever. And so without any specific effort on Firaxis’s part, they spun some incredible stories just through the nature of the mortal qualities of my characters. I spent hours with them on various missions, then all of a sudden, they die. In one case I had one amazing soldier who made it through the whole game, only to die in the last mission, but ensuring success and humanity’s survival. It was a specific route that only ever played out in my game, and I felt quite emotional when the credits scrolled by.

XCOM 2 was also great. Probably just as great, maybe even a little more. Just play both, okay? They’re good on iPad, but I might suggest keyboard-and-mouse (or even Steam controller) for the best experience.

2. Mass Effect 2

Much has been said about Commander Shepard and his galactic fight about The Reapers, and it’s difficult to know what to add. The whole series is great, but this felt like the game that raised the bar even higher than players’ lofty expectations after the original was released.

I love the freedom Bioware gave us to shape a hero to our own liking, allowing us to choose the gender of our protagonist, and giving equally valid options to resolve conflicts with powerful words or punishing weapons. In many ways it is Star Wars: The Game, a beloved space opera which is less sci-fi and more gripping thriller, with sexy technological undertones.

The characters you add to your squad are well-rounded and charismatic, and in this release they improved the gameplay competently. Play Mass Effect 3 as well of course, just don’t miss out on this one.

1. The Witcher 3

The first Witcher game was not so accessible, but when CD Project Red came round to making the sequel, they improved their franchise in just about every way possible. The Witcher 2 was a mature, deep adventure game for adults. Combining believable characters with a fascinating plot that you could actually shape yourself – like really: huge swathes of the game were different depending on whether you sided with humans or the other races, and different plots would activate depending how you resolved various other quests. The fighting system was fun, just hard enough in normal mode (to give you that nervous edge while fighting for your life), and the multiple endings were satisfying. This review won’t go into spoilers, but I like how they bucked a videogame trope and didn’t make me do something that all other games make me do.

CD Project was also not afraid to deal with some powerful themes as well. Torture, homelessness, rape and more is discussed, and as a powerful force yourself, you feel the responsibility to take action and correct some misdeeds. The gore is explicit but not sensationalised, and I’m relieved to see they’re not scared to render a nipple or two (and potentially many more depending what you get up to).

In The Witcher 3, it just got even better. Initially dismayed by the announcement that it would be open-world, I found they made the formula work very well. And they ramped up the impact your decisions had on the world even more. You literally decide the fate of nations – sometimes by accident – and the level of interaction with the characters is mesmerising. You will find yourself genuinely feeling something for your fellow witchers and sorceresses, and the quest to find Ciri is powerfully told, along with well-scripted and thoughtful side quests. The loot, magic, potion and fighting systems have all been given another layer of polish and the whole game hums together, taking you on its adventure like a well-tuned motorcycle. Graphically, it has set a standard for AAA RPGs to aspire to. I sunk over 150 hours into this one and its two capable DLC expansions, and I consider it time well-invested.

Posted in Gaming | Leave a comment

Google Docs Chapter Fixer

Hey! Do you use Google Docs? Are you writing in chapters? Do you sometimes insert or remove chapters? Then this script is for you!

To add it to your Doc, open it up, then go to Tools -> Script Editor. Copy and paste the following code (you might also need to save the script project, as something like “MyScripts”).

function FixChapterNumbers()
{
  var pars = DocumentApp.getActiveDocument().getBody().getParagraphs();
  var chapterCounter = 1;
  for(var i=0; i<pars.length; i++)
  {
    var par = pars[i];
    var parText = par.getText();
    if ((parText.length < 12) && (parText.slice(0, 7) == "Chapter"))
    {
      var fixedChapterString = "Chapter " + chapterCounter;
      par.replaceText(parText, fixedChapterString);
      chapterCounter++;
    }
  }
}

As long as your Chapters use just the text “Chapter 3”, “Chapter 4”, and so on, they will now be put in order, starting at 1. This only affects the “Chapter X” text in the title, not the body of any of the chapters.

If you’re writing your novel for NaNoWriMo, you know time is of the essence! Perhaps this can be useful for you.

Posted in Programming | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

World Bodypainting Festival

Last weekend I went to the World Bodypainting Festival in South-East Austria. Having never been before, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was amazed to discover a whole new scene, lots of friendly people, and some very dedicated and talented artists.

You can view my gallery here:

http://www.davidaddis.com/WBF2016/

The whole experience brings to mind an infographic I saw this year:

zoeypic

This was something I didn’t know if I should book, and didn’t know if I would enjoy. But on some level I knew I wanted to see what it was all about, and that special combination of trying something new, and being welcomed when I got there, made it a truly memorably weekend.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, I would recommend you take the plunge – while you can still afford it.

Posted in Life, Travel | Leave a comment

A Focal Point

“We all see life through a different lens.”

Eugh. What a tired old cliché (also: isn’t “tired old cliché” a tired old cliché?). It’s a way of justifying to ourselves that we need to be more open-minded. But it does carry some actually really weighty significance. Bear with me, because I think I can show you a way of thinking about this you might not have considered before.

The origin of this philosophical device, for me, goes back to the exploration of the idea that we could each see colours in a different way. What’s green to me might be red to you – but because we’ve both grown up calling it “green”, we both identify it the same way. We wouldn’t know the exact chemical and electrical processes occurring in each others’ brains. This blew my mind when I was 15.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I want you to imagine this idea extending from basic colour recognition to the way we individually see words, sentences, ideas, and situations in life.

Allow me to demonstrate with a series of trite, patronising and thought-provoking graphics. Check out my little table of numbers below:

table

That looks fine, right? One times three is three, two times four is eight. It follows a nice pattern and everything appears to be in order. Maybe you checked the easy ones like eight times ten.

But wait! There’s an error! Thirteen times fifteen is not one-hundred and ninety three!

table_error

It’s actually one-hundred and ninety-five.

A mathematics guru would have spotted this, and it would have made them uncomfortable. Upset, maybe. Potentially even angry! I apologise to any maths gurus reading this blog.

This happens to me quite often. I usually consider myself a bit of a spelling and grammer nazi, so when people use the wrong your, you’re, to, two, or too, it ruffles my feathers a bit. Even when people use funny when they meant fun, I have to concentrate to keep my smile from breaking. And that’s unfair – it’s a really difficult and subtle distinction for foreigners (well done, by the way, for learning a whole other language… I can speak Swedish, badly, and enough French to order a croissant).

So if you’re looking at that table and thinking, ok, there’s a small error, no big deal, imagine this sentence, now:

sentence1

Did you spot the error? Maybe you did? But it’s subtle, right? It doesn’t jump out at you and assault your eyes.

What about this one?

sentence2b

Yeah. It’s starting to get pretty bad. Or this one?

sentence2

I’d hope the majority of my readers could see the problem in the above sentence.

I would like you to imagine that someone might write a sentence that doesn’t look wrong to them, but does look wrong to you. Now I’d like you to go one step further – and this is the really crucial bit – and imagine someone else could read your work, and have it look wrong to them. But it doesn’t look wrong to you.

This is fine for a paragraph of text, as the error can be described in literal terms, and it can be corrected easily (most of the time). There is also a set of rules for the English language, so although some phrasing is subjective, the rules for which pronouns to use in certain cases (for example) is preset, and there is a definitive correct answer.

Now, please take this a step further. What if we apply this principle to any form of media or communication, or any way of visualising any idea at all? It’s possible that a friendly chat could be a harsh interrogation to someone else, and you would both be right in your very subjective perception of that situation. What you might perceive as constructive feedback could be useless nit-picking to your friend, or what might seem like the obvious way forward to you is certain disaster to a colleague.

Let’s just stop and think about that really quite profound revelation for a minute. This means that there isn’t one universal, correct way of viewing the world. There are several. Maybe hundreds. Thousands. Millions? We need to become aware that we perceive the world in our own unique way, which is a product of our specific brain chemistry and biology, coupled with decades of experiences – good and bad – that have shaped our opinions and reactions. And while it’s incredibly difficult to break out of that as it is literally the habit of a lifetime, we may be able to stop, and consider that someone else is getting a different experience.

This might be fine if all we’re ever arguing about is grammar or whether to have tea or coffee with breakfast. But what if it becomes a moral issue? What if a crime is justifiable to someone else, but not to you? Or vice versa?

This happens regularly in my office (not the crime, but just about every other situation), and in discussions when talking to friends. If we’re not careful, a difference of opinion can lead to an argument, alienation, or much worse.

So how can we avoid that and what can we actually do about it? First, let’s start with what we shouldn’t do:

  • Refuse to talk
  • Act passive-aggressively
  • Complain to other people
  • Become violent

Sadly we can’t just jump into someone else’s brain. The first thing we should do is relax, calm down, and avoid acting impulsively (and often emotionally). Then, when we feel like a rational human being again, we should:

  • Ask questions (why do you think it’s unfair? What should we do differently?)
  • Make eye contact
  • Allow them to speak
  • Avoid negative body language (crossing arms, rolling your eyes etc.)

When we make this kind of an effort, people get a lot off their chest and are more likely to open up to other ways of thinking (specifically, yours). And who knows? They might even convince you to change the ‘lens’ through which you are seeing the problem.

Sadly, not everyone is reasonable, and sometimes we are forced into a situation where we must disagree. Then it’s time to talk to other people, and decide on a course of action unanimously or at least democratically.

I hope this has made some kind of sense. If it has, and you agree with everything I said, and would like to add some positive comments inline with my exact world-view, please use the comments section below.

Posted in Life | 3 Comments

Games you should play: iPad

This post should, perhaps, carry a health warning. If your spare time is so precious that you can’t afford some late nights spent doing something new, or that new project haplessly discarded as your attention is stolen away, just stop reading now. But if, however, you’re looking for some entertainment on your shiny new iPad, read on. I am here to help.

There is so much software available on The App Store that it’s hard to know where to start. Even if you whittle down by genre (“I like RPGs!”) you may find yourself the victim of developers who have snuck their product (“RPG Game!”) into the top 10, and spent more time on the marketing and sexy icon than programming some engrossing gameplay. And with the charts dominated by Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, the truly great games get squeezed out, much to the lamentation of any serious gamer.

You know those games that steal your time like some sort of hypnotic trick? You remember turning it on, then the adventure happens, and then suddenly it’s 3:30am, your eyes and brain hurt, and you must squeeze in 4 hours of sleep before you get up for work. These are the games that I’ve played recently that are like that – and I’m still grateful I found them!

5. Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP

Originally released in 2011, Superbrothers targetted the iPad and despite a successful iPhone release as well, this is where the game shines. With some gorgeous and atmospheric pixel art, chipper chiptune (chipper-tune?) soundtrack, and a tongue-in-cheek self-aware narration and episodic structure, Sword and Sworcery EP has existed in this kind of alternate-dimension bubble entirely on its own, able to shrug off any pale imitations for 4 years.

This one might not steal an entire evening from you, after about 40 minutes of play it actively encourages you to take a break and come back when refreshed. The developers deeply care about your mood while you start (and finish) each episode and you will warm to the bizarre cast of pixelated characters.

Particularly I loved how they don’t directly identify the player, known as The Scythian. They drop in through other peoples’ comments that you are female. Perhaps if I was truly enlightened I wouldn’t even feel the need to mention this, but I thought it was great that they touch on it and don’t make a big deal out of it – as they should.

screen800x500 ssep1 superbrothers-sword-and-sworcery-8

4. Game of Thrones

It’s just getting started, but the first two episodes are available now and set the scene nicely. Taking on the helm of multiple characters from House Forrester, you must guide the members of the family in an effort to prevent their House from being overrun and their precious ironwood forests being stolen.

It won’t necessarily become Thrones canon, but it does fit into it nicely, inserting its story at about the time of The Red Wedding in Thrones-Time, and provides the opportunity for plenty of cameos from the correct voice actors, such as Lady Marjorie, Cersei and Tyrion – making a decent year for Peter Dinklage in video games, along with his major role in Destiny. Roose Bolton also pops up as a particularly troublesome and threatening villain, and the game comes alive when he’s on-screen, conjuring up all the sadistic baggage he brings from the TV show.

TellTale’s real-time animatic of the Game of Thrones world intro is where some cracks start to show, it could never live up to the beautiful 3D mechanical vistas we’re used to, and when the characters play some janky animations in particularly hectic scenes, the illusion breaks down. I think they were right to concentrate on storytelling and not aesthetic naturalism, but it still grates nonetheless.

It’s still too early to tell if this will become an epic adventure game, or Just Another Scripted Adventure Game with a nod to its TV big brother, but the first episodes play well and TellTale have shown that they have the chops to deliver a full ‘season’ of entertainment with the biggest and best suprises left to the end.

443209479 443339225 big_thumb_024ca7ff8f0adc708e53ab7795a4ead1

3. FTL

In Faster Than Light, you command a small Federation Ship with confidential information that must be returned to the fleet. The problem is, the Rebel Fleet are hot on your tail, and you will find yourself seriously outnumbered and severely outgunned if they catch up with you. Using your wily wits, and some clinical multitasking, you must upgrade your ship as your traverse the sectors back to base, and manage the various crises that will break out on your travels.

At first the game might seem overwhelming, but through logical deduction you will find the best combination of weapons, find out how to upgrade your shield, or buy drones – or get a cloak to dodge incoming missiles… (I’m getting excited just thinking about it.) And eventually the once-powerful rebel ships will seem like trifling playthings, sauntering up to you simply to offer up their ship as scrap. And this transformation – the one that will happen entirely in your mind – is at once both empowering and spellbinding, as you become a powerful ship captain entirely through the power of your mind.

Originally a PC game, the port works well on iPad as you click on ship doors to open/close them directly, or paint a fearsome laser beam target across an enemy vessel. Be warned though, as the klaxon call of the captain’s chair is difficult to ignore after you’ve flown through a few sectors.

FTL_ipad_Fight41 ftl05-600x450 FTL-iPAD-2

2. The Banner Saga

Mixing gorgeous 2D art with a compelling story of humans and giants trying to escape an apocalyptic event, The Banner Saga presents an unforgiving turn-based strategy game, where you must tightly manage resources and upgrades.

Restocking your caravan with supplies is vital, but so is keeping your warriors at the peak level, and they both draw from the same currency – ‘renown’. So at times you will choose not to level up just so you can feed the refugees you are leading away from a war. Along with many likeable characters, this makes an empathetic situation where you start to care about the people on the screen. Offering no quicksave/quickload, there are several Choose Your Own Adventure moments where you have to think quite brutally about what will be for the greater good. And often you don’t know if you chose the best path – only that you chose your own.

BS1 the-banner-saga-coming-to-ipad-windows-and-android-tablets-1403777797704 the-banner-saga-screenshot-ME3050216390_2

1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown / Enemy Within

Possibly the most addictive strategy game I have ever played, XCOM perfectly balances base-building with squad command. In a near-perfect balance, you must edge your troops forward to fight the aggressive aliens as you also upgrade your base and train your soldiers.

Everything from the PC game is here, including multiplayer, and support has been added for touchscreens so you can use gestures to rotate the camera and swipe through selections. The game can sometimes misinterpret your gesture, thinking you’re drawing a path instead of trying to move the camera, but I find these annoyances slight and not intrusive to the gameplay.

This game is perfect for tablets; you can play one mission or upgrade your base while you wait out that train journey, it looks good (it’s obviously been made compatible with older devices, so not maxing out newer hardware) and touchscreen controls fit the turn-based nature of the game well since you are never taxed with action gameplay, just thoughtful tapping and swiping. If you play one game in your life, make it this, or The Witcher 2. If you have an iPad, the choice is made for you.

Enemy-Unknown-for-iOS xcombattlefield XCOM-Enemy-Unknown-iPad

Honorable Mentions

Where is ShadowRun?  Oceanhorn?  80 Days, Valiant Hearts, VainGlory?!  Well, they are all great games too but I wanted to share with you my personal top 5.  Don’t take my word for gospel – have a look through the app store yourself too.  Just don’t miss these gems!

Posted in Gaming | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Ceroc Beginners Class

Posted in Programming | 5 Comments

Who is The Manic Whale?

After a somewhat lengthy hiatus, I have returned to let you know there is some new music I’ve created available for download:

I Am The Manic Whale is a Prog-rock experiment mainly heralded by my old friend and rock companion Michael Whiteman. He wrote the music and recorded nearly all the parts (i.e. the hard work) and I just dropped in to record a few fiddly guitar bits, then claim all the glory. Rob Aubitt pitched in to do the final mix and master of the track.

We’re hoping to add a few more songs to BandCamp as we go, and make the music available in more places. Enjoy!

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

A hardcore game developer’s favourite iPhone games

As a games developer, I have a rather high standard for games that entertain me. Staring at their inner workings for 8 hours a day has given me the keen ability to spot shallow game mechanics (not to mention lazy bugs) – and having played videogames for pretty much my whole life, I’ve been exposed to a good spread of genres, from twitchy platformers to thought-provoking RPGs.

I have a dilemma: there’s this awesome games machine I usually keep in my pocket – my iPhone (4S). It’s amazingly powerful given its size, yet the software on it is far too often lacklustre. I’ve trawled through The App Store for many an hour only to come away disappointed that there are no epic RPGs, no fantasy worlds in which I can wonder, and no fascinating characters with whom I can interact.

At least, there aren’t many.

Now there are plenty of very polished quick and fun games – Angry Birds, Where’s My Water, Cut the Rope… Games that require no explanation because you finish a level in one swipe and you’re immediately rewarded with glowing stars and growing, throbbing arrows.  I can’t fault them in terms of either presentation or rapid gratification, but they’re never really satisfying on the same level as, say, The Witcher or XCom.

If I was a world-famous chocolatier, these things would be the equivalent of an advent calendar.

Do you find yourself wanting more? Here’s my top 10 list of deep iOS games. It might not scratch the surface of a fully-fledged immersion into PC gaming, but this is the best I can recommend!

10. Words with Friends

The first desynchronised multiplayer game that I remember playing, I chuckled with glee at the thought of sending off my wicked combinations of letters to my fellow players.  It’s basically Scrabble by mail, with a slightly ‘Toys R Us’ feel to the user interface.  Totally compelling if you like word games.

Words with Friends

9. The Lost City

I never really played Myst, but I imagine it’s like this: visually sumptuous views of a forgotten world, and a tiny thread of story which is expounded upon by the clues you discover throughout your adventure.

The Lost City has been lovingly put together and it’s a pleasure to explore and interact with its environment.  Tap on the edges of the screen to move in that direction, or tap and drag on the various puzzles to uncover the next secret.

The Lost City WorldThe Lost City Notebook

8. Geared

An underrated little puzzler, Geared has you slotting, um, gears into place to connect a starting and ending, uh, gear.  They come in different sizes (and later on, with different properties) and you must slide them together and avoid the deadly gearlock.

It looks simple at first but the compulsion to build a machine is quite irresistible, and there’s definitely a wonderful sense of achievement when you slot everything together and the gears turn away.  One level in particular got me stuck for ages and I couldn’t rest until I’d solved it.

Geared

7. Spaceteam

Aka ‘Spadetram’ amongst my friends after a cursory typo, Spaceteam requires you to work together with 1-3 other iOS-tronauts, and bark commands at each other.  You’re given a set of controls and must interpret the bizarre words yelled in your direction as you interleave your own requests that appear near the top of the screen.  Above that, your tiny spaceship wings its way through space as you collectively shake your phone to avoid wormholes, and turn it upside down to dodge asteroids.

The tension and excitement that comes with real collaborative gameplay is unique in this game; too many times I’ve nearly missed my stop on the tube because I was too busy refreshing the biotic flange converters.  And when you finally make it to sector 12, you will want to high-five like never before – as a Spaceteam.

 

Spaceteam

6. Crimson Steam Pirates

A tongue-in-cheek story of both male and female pirates stirring up rivalries and disorder with the mighty Queen Victoria, Crimson has you steering your pirate ships around and issuing orders in a Frozen Synapse-style turn-based adventure.  Set up your orders and special attacks at the start of the turn, then see them play out as the cannons fire.

The developers obviously had a lot of fun creating the missions, and as you are dragged through its preposterous and entertaining story, pictures of what appear to be the team and their friends dressed up as pirates do battle and emote towards the screen in stylised vignettes.

This polished and fun adventure might lead you by the nose a little at times, but it’s so much fun dragging your little ships around, ordering them to full steam ahead then lambaste your rival pirates with double powder cannons, you won’t mind in the slightest.

Crimson Steam Pirates

5. Carcassonne

After the somewhat inaccessible Xbox version, I was skeptical to see how this might play on iPhone.  But sticking to a classic 2D approach, the developers nailed the deliciously pure puzzle gameplay of the board game and put in a few graphical tweaks (such as an ‘X’ which appears when tiles can no longer be connected) to boot.  Also boasting stable desynchronised multiplayer, Carcassonne makes it easy to have multiple games on the go with your tile-laying friends.

Carcassonne 1 Carcassonne 2 Carcassonne Multiplayer

4. Ghost Trick

One of the first things you’ll notice when you start playing Ghost Trick is that its animations are super fluid, and the entire game oozes style – its polished NDS original shows through here as the experienced hands of AAA game developers have clearly been at work before it made an appearance on iPhone.

You can’t fault it for an original concept – the game starts, and you’re already dead.  By using your ‘powers of the dead’, you can influence the real world, and even travel back in time in small chunks in order to protect the other protagonists, and hopefully recover some of your memories.

The transition to iOS has worked nicely as you swipe to jump between different objects in the world, then interact with them to make your ghoulish intentions known.

Ghost Trick Story Ghost Trick Summary Ghost Trick Jumping

3. Swords and Sworcery

The game itself encourages you to find a comfortable space, relax, and seal yourself into your earphones as you embark on this cheerfully pixel-heavy quest.  The art style works perfectly with its retro-flavoured graphics to pull you into its environment and the characters and you will find yourself quite swept up in its fairytale world.

In what is essentially a side-on 2D adventure/exploration/battling/puzzle/wonder game, you will tap on the screen to move your nondescript character around the world and battle mysterious dark forces.  The rain clunks down beautifully and the combat, although being somewhat of a rarity, offers up some scintillating interactions as you feverishly tap and rotate your way to victory.  The juxtaposition of the epic setting, stylish presentation, and informal descriptions gel together to make something delightfully unique.

This adventure deserves to have been a top 10 stalwart, and not just a top 40 visitor.

Sword and Sworcery Title ScreenSword and Sworcery LakeSword and Sworcery Cave

2. Rimelands: Hammer of Thor

I was so pleased to find Rimelands on The App Store; finally, a turn-based strategy game with real 3D graphics, and an actual story!  Rogue Planet had almost won me over, but the cool setting couldn’t carry its rather mundane combat.  Rimelands’ stat-based battles, spread of abilities and intriguing loot kept me dungeon crawling whenever I could find a spare 10 minutes.

In this adventure you guide Rose, a punky and quick-witted adventurer, through several fantasy lands in search of the titular Hammer of Thor.  The dialogue is hammy and churlish in places, but does serve to move on the story, and some of the characters (such as Rose’s grandma) are quite endearing.

The game clearly services some D&D roots as virtual dice roll across the screen during combat, which I found very well-balanced and entertaining.  I’m still waiting for a sequel, Crescent Moon Games!

Rimelands CutsceneRimelands Navigation Rimelands Combat

1. Civilization Revolution

It’s rare that I get so hooked on a game I count down the minutes until I can play it again, or feverishly check the clock to see how many remain until I have to stop.  CivRev did this to me however, and provided a wonderful gaming panacea while I was travelling across The States and enduring some rather long coach journeys.

It captures much of the satisfying feeling of growth from its PC heritage, from the tense beginnings as you poke around with a few warriors, to amassing tanks outside a city ready for a climactic clash.  The tech tree, advisors, and cloak-and-dagger negotiations with other leaders is all there, ready to be plucked from your pocket and enjoyed on the move.

CivRev Map CivRev Leaders CivRev Technology Tree

 

So where is Ravensword, Chaos Rings, or Zenonia?  The first of the three could be a good contender for a decent and ‘deep’ RPG on iPhone, I look forward to playing it when I get the chance.  The latter two, though, I have tried and just didn’t find any fun at all.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  Have I forgotten anything?  Do you desperately want to paste a link to where I can buy Viagra online??  Comment below!

Posted in Gaming | Leave a comment

Neglected Sexism – Wreck-it Ralph’s Ruin

This is no doubt in my mind that Wreck-it Ralph is a good film.  I laughed, I liked the characters and wanted them to succeed, and went away feeling entertained.  It managed to walk a fine line between not confusing casual viewers who know very little about computer games and catering to dorky obsessive nerds looking out for every tiny reference to game culture.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead!  If you haven’t seen the film yet, you might want to come back and read this after you have.

CameosPersonally I would have liked a few more said references, my eyes and ears were finely attuned to spotting characters and locales I’ve already spent many hours playing through.  Q-Bert and Zangief were welcome additions but sadly after the first 30 minutes the movie settled into its original characters and one main location – and a rather childish one at that, full of chocolate and sweets.  I feel like Disney missed a trick – where was the Monsters Inc-like scene at the end, with them dashing through different doors (games), pursuing the antagonist and being forced to adapt to different game types?  I wanted to see Ralph forced to play Halo one minute, Metal Gear Solid the next, then Puzzle Bobble…  But of course just smashing his way through to the horror of the respective in-game characters.

Ralph (hand) and VanellopeTo the film’s credit, there was one scene which touched me on a totally unexpected emotional level.  Just when you feel like Ralph is making progress, he is forced into a situation where he must destroy something he has just created.  Just as the ray of light is cast, it must be extinguished with his efficient form of destruction.  He does it in a classic case of utilitarianism, and you know it’s the right thing to do, but just when he doesn’t want to wreck anything any more, he must: both the physical and the psychological.  And he does it with consummate efficiency.

If this was the end of my review, Wreck-It Ralph might be somewhat forgettable; an enjoyable but shallow romp around videogames culture, but it also touched on a subject upon which I feel passionately.  It almost excelled, but also totally blundered with its gender archetypes and equality.

You might be thinking, “Don’t be such a dashingly attractive idiot, Dave!  There were several strong female characters in the movie, including a space marine and the racing girl.”  You have a point, but they’re also overshadowed by their male counterparts at every turn.  Oh, just incidentally, do you know their names?  …  But you remember Felix and Ralph, right?

Felix and CalhounSergeant Calhoun is an excellent example of a writer trying to make strides to satisfy feminists like me around the world, and while I’m definitely glad the film wasn’t filled with Princess Peaches (who would inevitably be kidnapped at the drop of a hat), she had to be propped up by the Fix-It Felix character.  She was essentially unstable, and while she did at least prove that she was physically strong, she was the only female marine.  Couldn’t we have had some others dotted into the squad?  On top of this she still had to become the love interest – as if we needed reminding that women are for impressing with our skills (or dorky admiration), and then should be married immediately.

And in an uncomfortable moment of classic sexism-overcompensation, there is a scene where Calhoun repeatedly punches Felix in the face.  Ok – there was a contrived reason for this to happen (and the plucky handyman could ‘fix’ his own face with his hammer instantly), but my test for whether a situation should be acceptable or not (with gender, race, or any quality you like), is: does it still feel ok if the roles are reversed?  If a burly male space marine was punching a small girl in the face, there would be outcry.  We mustn’t try to ‘make up’ for decades/centuries/millennia of sexual oppression by going in the other direction.  It just breeds more resentment.  Now is the time for equalism.

Does it still feel ok if the roles are reversed?  If a burly male space marine was punching a small girl in the face, there would be outcry.

Vanellope was shown to have racing skills, but was ultimately useless on her own.  She couldn’t do anything to un-do the ‘hack’ that King Candy had performed on her (and her world).  It wasn’t until Ralph appeared that she was able to do anything, thus cementing the idea that the women are incapable without a man’s help.  She does come to Ralph’s rescue near the end of the film, but it’s done in such a flashy and unfeasible way I felt a little nauseous watching the scene play out.

Ralph and Felix

I wonder how Wreck-It Ralph may have turned out if it had been a Pixar project.  Perhaps they could have managed some of these issues with a little more grace, and ramped up the film in the areas I found lacking such as the cliche ‘action-movie’ ending.

Don’t get me wrong!  I still recommend seeing it.  It is a fantastically well-crafted story in a cheekily created universe…  It meets my needs as a geek – I just wish they had rounded off the edges to please me as a liberal, too.

Posted in Gaming | 1 Comment