Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I Could Resist No Longer

After what seemed like months without it, I finally re-activated my World of Warcraft account. I had been weighing up the pros and cons for weeks beforehand. As I am on Uni holidays at the moment I felt like I had the time to spare. However, the fact that I knew I would quickly get tired of playing WoW held me back from buying some time. My girlfriend, initially at least, also held me back. She, and rightly so, warned me of the amount of time I would waste playing the game.

However, one night last week, she suddenly changed her tune. I am still unsure why this occurred, however I didn't really need to know. All i knew is that the most effective barrier to my playing WoW had just crumbled. A few days later, I traded in a few Xbox 360 games and paid the remainder for a time-card.

Like I do every time I come back from a WoW-break, I had visions of grandeur which, in this case, centered around of my desire to level an Alliance Death Knight on the Oceanic Barthilas realm. However, as I have previously found out (and must have chosen to ignore) I don't like playing Alliance on Barthilas, my favourite realm. As such, I was only able to level my Draeni Death Knight to level 61. My heirloom items helped quite alot.

After this failed attempt I flitted from realm to realm, character to character trying to find my niche. I tried some Alliance toons on Oceanic Dradmaul but I got bored of them quickly too. Currently I am playing my Orc Warrior on Oceanic Barthilas. He is level 47 and has been tanking using the new PuG system for the last few levels. I have really been enjoying tanking and have had mainly positive and nice people in my groups.

As of the moment, my favourite level-specific instance is Zul'Farrak. It is quite easy and quick to run with a good group. I like the look of the Troll mobs and even the casters are pretty easy to roundup and Thunder Clap. In the last few days of running PuG's I have only picked up 1 nice item that has not come from the loot bag at the end of each random run. It is this Helm of the Mountain and while I can't use it for another level, I am pleased with it.

I hope that my interest in my Warrior continues.....

Top 5 iPhone/iPod Touch Games

Number 1:
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars - AU $12.99

I had alot of trouble deciding what game I would chose for the number one spot in my countdown. I'll say up front that I have probably spend the least amount of time playing GTA:CW compared to the other games on my iPod Touch. If I hadn't already sunk countless hours into the Nintendo DS version of the game, however, I am sure I would have played the iPod version much more.

I really don't feel like it's necessary to go into the details of the game itself here. Suffice to say, GTA:CW sees the player control Huang Lee, the sarcastic protagonist, in a top-down version of what is, in essence at least, a fully-fledged GTA game. Rather than go into the details of the game as it has appeared on all the three devices it is available for, I will just discuss some factors that make it a great game for the iPhone/iPod Touch.

With its port to the Sony PSP, GTA:CW lost the touch-screen minigames that really did gave a certain character to the gameplay experience as a whole. The iPhone/iPod Touch version, however, brings the touchscreen activity back in a big and, arguably, better way. iPhone/iPod Touch users are no longer required to have a pokey stylus on hand while exploring Liberty City. I recall having a problem with the Nintendo DS version regarding where I was to keep my stylus during the driving sequences where it was not of any use. The ability to touch the screen directly feels much more natural than the Nintendo method and results in an easier time when attempting to hotwire a car or throw a Molotov cocktail. In regards to the touchscreen usability, I am a tiny bit disappointed that the iPhone/iPod Touch version is without the ability to 'flick' a coin into a tollbooth when crossing from one island to another. Unlike the Nintendo DS version, iPhone/iPod Touch users simply have stop at the tollbooth for a few seconds.

As far as visuals go, GTA:CW is one of the most graphically intense and thoroughly detailed games available on the App Store. The game features a day/night cycle as well as weather variability (when it rains pedestrians whip out their umbrellas). The missions themselves are short enough to be completed in 5 minute (or shorter) burts. If a mission is failed, there is an option to return to the cutscene that started the mission.

There are honestly too many good things to say about this game. The one that really sticks out in my mind, however, is the drug dealing system. Near the start of the game, Huang Lee is introduced to the burgeoning Liberty City drug trade. After a brief tutorial, the player is given the freedom of buying and selling a wide variety of illicit drugs according to current market swings. I know that this game within a game was the main reason I spent so many hours playing GTA:CW on the Nintendo DS. With the use of the drug-market analysis features found within the interface of the game, becoming a wealthy drug-baron has never been easier (or more entertaining).

Another thing I love about this game is its price. The Nintendo DS and Sony PSP iterations of the game can still retail for over AU $50. The fact that the version available on the App Store is superior to the other versions, in addition to the fact that it is less than a quarter of the price, makes Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the iPhone/iPod Touch a bargain in every sense of the word.

While I love all the games I have reviewed in this top 5 list, I think the GTA:CW is the overall winner in terms of quality, longevity, widespread appeal and value for money.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Top 5 iPhone/iPod Touch Games


MiniSquadron - AU $3.99

I am pretty sure that MiniSquadron has the honour of being my most played game on my iPod Touch. In a way not too dissimilar to Cartoon Wars: Gunner, MiniSquadron provides players with a rich visual experience while, at the same time, keeping players coming back for more through an addicting unlockable-extras system. Whereas in CWG, a game which sees the player work towards both the purchasing of new weapons as well as the upgrading of old ones, MiniSquadron focuses solely on the unlocking and use of new and improved aircraft. Each of the 8 levels in the game provide opportunities for the unlocking of planes. Going back to earlier levels with planes unlocked in latter levels sees the player reach higher scores and thus, unlock even more planes.

The concept of the game is quite simple. You are put up against waves of enemy aircraft and must survive the onslaught in order pass the level. The key to a good score depends on your skill with the plane you are piloting. Luckily the control system in MiniSquadron is amazingly responsive and easy to use. Given that every plane handles, shoots and receives damage differently, you should never find yourself desiring further aircraft variation. While you are initially given the controls of a basic plane equipped with a single-fire front-mounted gun, it is not long before you can experiment with an ever-increasing range of aircraft. While some planes fly slowly and deliver a cluster of bombs to any aircraft below them, other planes are able to quickly out-maneuver an enemy and provide almost continuous machine-gun fire. In addition to the more 'realistic' airplanes, MiniSquadron allows players to unlock other airdract including both laser-firing UFOs as well as unnervingly creepy planes that resemble animals. The combination of visual style, maneuverability, speed and both offensive and defensive attributes amongst the planes seems almost endless. The visuals of MiniSquadron are truly superb. The planes and environments in which they fly are so distinct and appealing that simply flying around in a level is a pleasure.

While MiniSquadron is one of the more expensive games I have bought for the iPod Touch, I would suggest this game to anyone who is interested in fun and enjoyment. It's that simple.

Top 5 iPhone/iPod Touch Games


Cartoon Wars: Gunner - AU$1.19

After getting into this series with the original Cartoon Wars game for the iPod Touch, I was eager for more. As soon as I noticed that CWG had appeared on the App Store, I instantly bought it. Unlike the other two games I have previously reviewed, I can’t find as much to write about Cartoon Wars: Gunner. Anyways, here goes…

In CWG you play as a cool-looking black-and-white stick figure who battles hordes of enemies on a static battlefield. While this may sound like it could get quite boring, the weapons upgrade system makes this one of those games that you always want to play a bit more. While the plater initially only starts out with a bow and arrow, the game provides for many weapons to be unlocked when enough gold has been saved from killing enemies. Each weapon can be upgraded a total of ten times and it seems like other game-changing aspects (such as health, movement speed and damage improvements) can be upgraded limitlessly. The visual style of the game far outshines the the graphics of the original Cartoon Wars. The enemies are varied and spectacular, despite their uniform grey hue. This colour choice only benefits the game by proving a contrast with the vibrant colours produced by the various weapon effects.

Some reviews have complained about the simplicity and lack of gameplay-variation in CWG. While I do agree wih these assertions to some extent, I really feel like the core aspects of this game are enough to keep the player entertained for several hours at least. With the announcement of upcoming updates to the arsenal of weapons and range of enemies in the game, Blue GNC has ensured that the Cartoon Wars franchise has a long life ahead of it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

1 out of 2 so soon isn't bad eh?

After finishing my previous post regarding my new thoughts on the Apple iPad, I came across an article that instantly grabbed my attention.Yesterday, AppleInsider posted video footage of a conversation between Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal and Steve Jobs soon after the announcement of Apple's newest device. Mossberg's questioning of Jobs yielded some interesting facts. They are as follows:
-The iPad will be able to play over 100 hours of music before needing a recharge.

-The eBooks offered through iTunes will cost the same as those offered by Amazone for the Kindle.

-The iPad-compatible version of Pages (part of the iWork suite) will be able to save files in a Microsoft Word format!!!!!

A more in-depth rundown of the conversation, in addition to the video itself, is available here: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/10/01/29/steve_jobs_ipad_to_offer_word_support_10_ebooks_6_days_of_music.html

This last piece of news is fantastic for me personally. I am much more likely to purchase the iPad now, knowing that I will be able to word process at uni and then convert the file to a Word document for later editing and printing.

After I discovered this glorious fact, I researched the level of compatibility between Word and Pages documents. The 2008 Edition of iWork (I couldn't find confirmation of a more recent version), at least, allowed users to import both Microsoft Office 2007 and 2004 documents. It was also noted that this 2008 Edition only saved Microsoft Word files in the older .doc format, and not in the newer .docx format. While I understand that things might have changed since then, and possibly could change again with the advent of the iPad's iWork suite, I feel much better knowing that at least the later Microsoft Word file formats will be able to be used with the iPad's native word-processing software.

Come on Jobs, give me some multiprocessing news and be 2 for 2! For my sake and for yours. You can't advertise the iPad as a netbook killer unless it has the balls (read: multiprocessor) to kill a netbook!

My New Thoughts on the Apple iPad

I have spent most of my free time since the announcement keeping up to date with news, views and opinions regarding the iPad.

I have watched Steve Job’s prowl around the stage with the device in his hand several times. I think that the main thing people need to do is rely less on this video. Jobs does not really do the device a service with his overview. A good portion of the tech blogosphere has focussed heavily on Job’s presentation. As a result we are seeing an emphasis on the eBook functionality, internet browsing experience and media capabilities of the device. While these aspects are, of course, integral to the appeal of the iPad, I think we should look beyond what we can see right now, and focus on the possibilities that lie ahead for the device.

I mentioned in a previous post that the iPad could become useful for mobile blogging (by which I meant all non-typing intensive activities). As I have thought and read about it more and more I have begun to realise that the possibilities for word processing probably won’t end there. Apple’s new iPad-friendly version of iWork Suite will probably provide users with an adequate writing experience. While there is still the problem of being able to transport an iWorks document to Microsoft Word for all the non-Mac users out there (I am one of them), I assume/hope that Apple will allow this to occur. There is always the possibility that a 3rd party developer might produce a program that allows for iWorks and MS Word compatibility and that Apple will approve it. If this were the case, the iPad’s popularity with many demographics, especially students, would sky-rocket.

Now that I have covered the potential for the iPad to allow for easy-to-use and possibly even MS Word-compatible software, I want to talk about the actual act of typing on the iPad. I have seen many many comments firing hate-bombs towards Apple in regards to the iPad’s touchscreen keyboard. I actually wonder how many of those haters have actually used an almost fully-sized touchscreen keyboard. Personally, the closest I have come is using a giant touchscreen keyboard at my local internet cafĂ©. While that touch-keyboard is at least 50cms wide and 30 cms tall, I honestly can say that it is a breeze to use and feels very natural. While I know that the letters on the iPad’s keyboard will be smaller and closer together, I am of the belief that if the iPad’s keyboard is anything like the one I described, it will be more than useable. I would like to know how many people who espouse their negative views regarding large touchscreen keyboards have actually had the opportunity to use one.

As it stands now, even if it was compatible with MS Word, the iPad remains more like an iPod Touch than a netbook in one crucial way: multitasking. I do believe that the much of the disappointment over the iPad stems from the fact that for as long as the iPad runs on an iPhone OS system, it can never be more than a big iPhone. However, if multitasking capabilities were installed in OS 4.0, the gulf between the netbook and the iDevice would diminish greatly. From what I have read, there is every possibility that multitasking will be a main feature of OS 4.0. The ability to multitask would, once more, greatly increase the appeal of the iPad to many. Students, like myself, would surely flock to a relatively cheap and extremely stylish device that allows users to perform most of the tasks traditionally restricted to net/notebooks.

With the implementation of two simple additions (un-restricted word processing apps and the ability to multitask), Apple will have brought the iPad so much closer to its intended purpose: the netbook killer. This is what I mean when I say that we should not judge the iPad on the software previewed by Steve Jobs on Wednesday. We have no way of knowing what sort of apps will appear on the iPad in the coming months and years. Clearly, I have changed my tune regarding the device. I know I am truly excited about the potential of the iPad. With a few changes to the OS and with goodwill between Apple and the developers, the iPad could drastically change the way we view portable touch devices.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Top 5 iPhone/iPod Touch Games


The Creeps - AU$1.19

I first fell in love with the Tower Defence genre with NinjaTown for the Nintendo DS in late 2008. For me nothing has ever topped that experience, despite the iPhone/iPod Touch becoming the spiritual homeland of the genre.

The Creeps is the closest I have come to bliss-like Ninja-Town excitement. The Creeps has a few neat features that distinguish it from other TD games. Firstly, the charming artistic design that oozes from every part of The Creeps is very memorable. Gameplay-wise, The Creeps gives TD aficionados a new challenge in the form of destructable terrain. Destroying neighboring terrain not only awards players with extra gold (that can be used for upgrading your towers) but also makes way for further increases to your tower arsenal.

The twelve maps feature varied environments and keep the game appearing fresh. In additon, the three game modes and three difficulty settings provide literally dozens of hours of gameplay. Survival Mode is the traditional wait-out-the-enemy-waves scenario. Endurance is an insanely addictive mode that rewards you according to the number of waves you destroy before being defeated yourself (good tower positioning can result in over an hour of play for just one Endurance match). Door Buster Mode tasks the player with destroying the door through which the enemies flood though. A nice, and thoroughly necessary, feature is the ability to speed up time to twice that of normal. This becomes particularly useful in the plus-300 wave Endurance sessions.

The varied range of tower abilities means that you are never left wishing there was a tower that did X effect to Y opponent. The standards are all there: slowing towers (modeled as charming glue guns); standard single target laser guns; multiple target boomerang-style towers; towers that only shoot in a multiple-enemy-piercing straight line; and energy guns that build up their damage the longer they are attacking a target. Added to this are several more interactive weapons such as the whirlwind, which requires the player to move it to pick up enemies using the acceleromter. The oil can is used in a similar fashion. Oil is slicked upon the course and the player must tilt the device to prevent the enemies from advancing further.

With the recent release of three sets of AU$1.19 DLC for the game, which will provide new maps and enemies as well as more difficult challenges, The Creeps is a fantastic little Tower Defence game and is worthy of my Top Five iPhone/iPod Touch games.