Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Booyah Society: As Dumb As It Sounds

Booyah Society

Booyah Society

Booyah Society: the game where you get points for doing things in real life.

I got an email from a PR rep a few weeks ago about its launch. They describe it as, “The first social game based on real-life achievements.” Hmmm.

I find myself in interesting position as I write this – I haven’t yet tried it. Oh, sure, I’m interested in checking it out, but an ugly beast has raised its head – compatibility. Apparently, Booyah Society will not run on my 1st-gen iPod Touch. Checking again, I realize it does in fact state this on the App Store page, but I’m still somewhat bummed. Apparently I’m a second-class citizen of the App Store, though that’s another article altogether. Back to Booyah Society, or rather, the idea of it.

Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this yet. On the one hand, why not? It encourages gamers to spend a little more time doing things other than playing video games, which I confess often receive a disproportionate amount of my time. The concept actually reminds me of a joke several gamers/writers/webcomic artists have made – the best way to get a gamer in shape is to equate exercising with in-game training. Do some card and raise your stamina two points, bulk up to gain strength, complete obstacle courses for increased agility, and so on and so forth. It’s a funny concept, sure, but how much more palatable does it really make the activity, and for how many people will it actually make enough of a motivational difference?

Even if it is encouraging us to engage the world more directly, there’s also potential for distortion of the original intent. If we only do things to claim in-game achievements, is there really even that much worth to it? Most of us wouldn’t make much more than a minor change in our habits, but the ultra-competitive would likely end up doing things just to say they’ve done them and claim another achievement.

Incidentally, the potential for distortion of the original intent is similar to a certain type of behavior I saw while in China. Continue reading


September 2, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch | , , , | Leave a comment

Rollin’… in my 3.0

This piece was first published at iPGN. To see my original article, click here.

Rollin’… in my 3.0 thumbnailI’m currently drowning under a deluge of updates. It’s kinda fun. With the new 3.0 firmware having recently dropped, publishers are rushing to get their newly-improved games to the public. I’ve gotten updates or new releases of Baseball Sluggers, Star Defense, and Enigmo so far. I’m willing to be that there will be more by the time I’ve finished writing this.

Oh, here comes Leaf Trombone. Sweet.

While I won’t be among the lucky few getting the new iPhone 3G S, I do get to use the new firmware – it’s the every-man’s upgrade, providing you ignore the fact that us second-class iPod Touch users have to pay $9.95 for it. It’s a fair price, though, for all the fun little upgrades I’m getting. I won’t really be going into detail on them here – expect that in a later piece. Here are the things I’m enjoying so far: Continue reading

June 20, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mobile Gaming: Roundup

I really need to move the App Store button in my iPod Touch to somewhere other than the front screen. It’s just too tempting. Frankly, I’ve been downloading and playing games much, much fast than I can review them. Also, my time and resultant attention span is even more fragmented right now than usual. In light of that, here’s a roundup of what I’ve been playing recently that’s earned the T+L seal of approval:

Shoot dem Zombies!

Shoot dem zombies!

5. Zombieville USA: This one is simple enough. There are zombies. You are not a zombie. You have a gun. You shoot the zombies. Also, you loot the other houses in your neighborhood. Kill a bunch of zombies, get better guns, rinse and repeat. My only complaint is that the 3 difficulty levels probably could have been better balanced – Normal ramps up much too quickly from Easy, and oddly enough Insane mode just doesn’t feel… well, insane. Even so, cartoony graphics and a slightly humorous take on your traditional zombie game make this one a worthwhile purchase. Continue reading

June 15, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AppStore Age Ratings: FIX IT!

This article was first published on the iPhone Games Network. To see my original article, click here.

Age ratings need overhaul and reboot thumbnail

Let me start out by saying this: I’m a big fan of the App Store. Hands down, it is the single best distribution model for mobile gaming that I’ve ever seen, and has seen more success in the last year than anyone would have reasonably expected. It’s easily accessible, with user ratings, simple updating, and fair prices. That being said, it isn’t perfect. One of the major flaws in the system is the age-rating labeling system that every game undergoes.

The age rating is supposed to inform users what age level a particular game is appropriate for. In theory, this should let parents control what their children can and cannot play. Most of us don’t bother checking what label a game has received before buying it. I’m an adult, what do I care if a game I plays is rated for preschoolers or teenagers? Allow me to enlighten you on the ratings some of the more mainstream titles have received.

Resident Evil: Degeneration is rated 9+. Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles got a rating of 12+. Terminator Salvation is 9+. Wolfenstein 3D Classic is 12+. The limited visual capabilities of the platform mean these games can’t possibly be as graphic as their console and PC counterparts, but are the ratings appropriate? Hell, the game iDracula – Undead Awakening is rated only 4+. It consists entirely of blowing vampires, werewolves, and witches to bits. Is that really appropriate content for a four-year-old? Granted, it’s the rare pre-school or kindergarten aged kid that will actually ever play the game, but the standards by which games a given ratings really need an overhaul. Continue reading

June 15, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch, Tech | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Love AppStore (similar to, “I love lamp,” but without Steve Carell).

I love AppStore thumbnail

This was first published at iPGN. To view my original article, click here.

Before I jump into this, I just want to say one thing – I’m preaching to the choir. I know that. If you didn’t like gaming on your iPhone or iPod Touch, then you probably wouldn’t be at iPGN (see that logic? Yeah, that’s an if > then statement. Came up with it all by myself). With that mind, I’m here to tell you that the App Store is the greatest thing that’s happened to gaming in, well, years. I would say the greatest thing since sliced bread, but that’s clearly an exaggeration. And besides – I really like sliced bread. Continue reading

June 12, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, Humor, iPhone/iPod Touch, Tech | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mobile Gaming: DoodleJump

There is a single game that has effectively captured my attention for the last two or three weeks, and its name is DoodleJump. That’s right, DoodleJump. I didn’t mistype that. There’s doodling, and then there’s jumping. Somewhere in the sweet, sweet middle is DoodleJump.

The art direction isn’t mind-blowing, but it doesn’t hurt, either. Everything looks like it was sketched (or doodled, if you like) on a sheet of graph paper. It’s simple, likable, and visually interesting. That’s a good combo if you ask me.

This is a deceptively simple game, and that’s how it gets you (and I really did mean you just then, cuz it never gets me). Here’s how it works: you play a little guy that looks nothing so much like a cross between an elephant and a lightbulb. And you jump, and jump and jump and jump. Jump until it seems second-nature. Jump until you’re the undisputed king (or queen, for you gamer chicks out there) of jumping. Jump until your real legs actually start to ache in some kind of crazy psychosomatic trauma. For the love of all that’s good in this world, jump! Continue reading

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch, review | , , , , | 2 Comments

Interview: Ge Wang, Creator of Ocarina and Leaf Trombone

This article was first published to the iPhone Games Network. To see my original piece, click here.

Interview with Ge Wang from Smule thumbnail

I sit down with Ge Wang Co-founder, CTO, and Chief Creative Officer of Smule, to chat about Ocarina and his latest music game, Leaf Trombone.

1. Background

How did you get into making applications like Ocarina and Leaf Trombone?

As an Assistant Professor at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), I come from the field of computer music research, which, for me, combines three passions: music, computer science, and the joy of building things. It’s my mission as a researcher to change the way people think, do, and interact, through sound, technology, and music. Along this line, Ocarina and Leaf Trombone were designed to provide new creative, social experiences that perhaps weren’t possible until now.

Before you started making iPhone apps, you were primarily known for SLOrk. Can you tell me a little about it and how that project has influenced your app writing?

The Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) is a large-scale ensemble of laptops, human players, and special hemispherical speaker arrays (made out of IKEA salad bowls, car speakers, and compact amplifiers). Like its older East Coast sibling PLOrk (Princeton Laptop Orchestra), SLOrk aims to fuse traditional music making (the orchestra) with the vast potential of computer technology. It’s both a performing ensemble and a classroom for exploring this new musical medium. (One can find out more about SLOrk at:

Working with the laptop orchestra has greatly informed the design of iPhone apps for me. Crafting a musical interface for the iPhone (e.g., Ocarina and Leaf Trombone) is similar to creating an instrument from scratch for the laptop, it’s just that the design parameters are different. The challenge is to design around the capabilities (and limitations) and to make the most of it all. Continue reading

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, Interview, iPhone/iPod Touch | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mobile Gaming: Siberian Strike

Remember playing arcade games like Xevious and 1942 in the arcade as a child? You’d take out wave after wave of enemy fighters, ground emplacements, and just about any other obstacle that you care to think of. There were all kinds of crazy upgrades you could earn – typically over-the-top weapons that would destroy just about anything in your path. Those were good times, right? Except for all the quarters you’d have to pour into the arcade machine to keep playing after you’d inevitably make a mistake and die. That wasn’t so awesome.

Now you can relive the experience in all its nostalgic glory, minus all those quarters. Siberian Strike is a Gameloft title for iPhone/iPod Touch that recreates that experience, with a few tweaks to freshen the traditional “vertical scrolling shooter” gameplay a bit.

You can choose one of three fighters – one with great speed but weak firepower, another that has beastly weapons but little speed, and a third that is evenly balanced between the two. The main method of gameplay is Story Mode, in which you’ll embark in a series of missions against the Russian military, moving across the plains of Siberia from one installation to the next, appropriately annihilating everything in your path. As should be expected in games of this nature, there are larger, more powerful “boss” battles to supplement the regular gameplay.

In addition, there are some specialty missions, involving precision flying through a field of icebergs. While not too challenging, these provide a nice change of pace and variety to the experience.

Unfortunately, other modes of gameplay beyond Story Mode are a bit limited. There’s Free Play, which is merely the chance to replay levels out of order, should you feel the urge to do so. You’ve also got Multiplayer, though I’ve got to mention that there wasn’t anyone else online attempting to use this mode when I tried to use it. From what I can tell, it’s just a cooperative mode on the exact same levels that you play in all other modes.

Graphically, the game has cool semi-retro visuals and a cartoonty style that emphasizes the humorous, vaguely-excessive style typified in these games. Battery life is average while playing. I would’ve preferred to see more creativity in terms of gameplay – perhaps an Unlimited/Endless mode, or other forms of multiplayer.

Overall, it’s a solid game, and the $2.99 price is appropriate for the content it delivers. I would prefer to see one of two updates with additional content. Regardless, if you’re into these types of games, Siberian Strike is a good choice.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch, review | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

State of the System, Part II

This article was first published on the iPhone Games Network. To view my original article, click here.

In part one of this article, I discussed where the iPhone/iPod Touch platform is at in terms of things like visuals, controls, and gameplay, and what gamers can expect for the future.

Today we’re wrapping up with Part II, where I’ll be covering some of the more abstract qualities of the platform – specifically game updates, replay value, multiplayer, and the App Store back-end.

Game Updates:

It’s almost a fact of life for App Store users that when you buy a game, you aren’t actually getting the final version. It’ll be updated, and probably more than once. Whether or not you like the idea of buying something before developers have finished tweaking it, the practice is here to stay. In fact, it isn’t even all bad. Many games have dramatically improved since their original release, and the simple nature of the App Store’s system means that all users have the chance to get a more polished, hopefully bug-free product. While this isn’t a perfect standard, it’s still much, much better than buying games for your average cell phone, which usually goes something like this: Continue reading

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch, Tech | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

State of the System, Part I

This was first published on the iPhone Games Network. To view my original article, click here.

Apple’s App Store was announced over a year ago, and since then we’ve seen it explode, with over one billion apps downloaded, independent developers striking gold with the likes of Trism, and mainstream powerhouses contributing AAA titles like Super Monkey Ball, Tiger Woods and Assassin’s Creed. The quality and variety of games has multiplied dramatically, and with those increases comes a question – have developers reached the potential of the platform? If not, where will it go from where?

Frankly, there’s quite a bit of material to cover on the topic, so I’m splitting this into two parts. In the first, I’m focusing primarily on classic gaming elements like visuals, physics, gameplay, and controls. In Part II, I’ll discuss some of the more abstract qualities like updates, replay value, multiplayer capabilities, and the App Store back-end. Continue reading

May 22, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch, Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments