Hooray! Overpriced DLC goes on sale…

Need for Speed World is part of EA’s mission to try and conquer Free-to-Play gaming. It’s a part of the video game market which can be very profitable for a publisher even though a good chunk of it is, as its title suggests, free to play. The best way of clawing back development and maintenance costs; vanity items. Like pieces of armor, weaponry or in Need for Speed World‘s case, a ridiculously expensive virtual car. Released last Wednesday for the year plus PC racer, the Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition will set you back $100 unless of course you grab it now because the kind old folks at EA are selling it for just $75 (via Gamespot). Baffling when you think Free-to-Play items are also know as micro-transactions. There’s nothing micro about that price.

The Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition is said to be the first premium elite car which would mean that more offensively priced DLC will be coming to the 5 million users of NfSW. Of course no one is forcing players to buy the cars but it certainly adds to EA’s reputation of being rapacious.  Just the other week they announced a subscription-based version of Tetris. Never mind that Tetris can be found on every platform known to man, in the iOS version you can now sign up to paying $3 a month or $30 a year for exclusive discounts, challenges and a booster to speed up level progression. Because levelling up is what Tetris is all about…

Stories like these are the kind of thing usually saved for April Fool’s day when companies can announced insane ideas and promotions with consumers chuckling at the stupidity and forgetting it the very next day. But this time the stories are true and it’s EA who look like the fools to me.

iOS enters the third dimension

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Companies like Sony and Nintendo are defiant that in one way or another, 3D entertainment is the future. The former relies on fancy TVs, glasses and a PS3 whereas the latter is marketing their latest handheld, the 3DS, as a better alternative, doing away with the need for glasses and instead using a dual-layered screen to generate 3D images. But what if you didn’t need either or those solutions? A pair or developers from the University Joseph Fourier have created a tech demo for iOS devices that creates the illusion of 3D on existing 2D Apple hardware (via Slide to Play).

The App called i3D (available on the App Store now) was developed by Jeremie Francone and Laurence Nigay and uses the front-facing camera to track your face as move the device around. Since your head stays still (or at least should), i3D changes the on-screen image in real time according to its position relative to your head. Or, to put it another way, iPad 2 or iPhone 4 + i3D + head = 3D images. The video above shows just how impressive the demo is at the moment and the potential for this kind of technology rather than investing in expensive glasses or multi-layered screens. The downside – other than i3D currently only showing five proof of concepts, one of which being Mii heads so it’ll probably be pulled soon – is that no matter how cool this kind of thing is, it’s generally seen as a gimmick. Nintendo’s previous DS has a DSiWare title called Looksley’s Line Up or 3D Hidden Picture in Japan, that was pretty neat but puzzlingly not a concept adopted by other developers. Maybe now that i3D has been made for iOS devices, there’ll be more interest from smaller indie studios who regularly create iPhone games. I hope so because in the right hands this kind of thing could be awesome.

Your definitive way to play

In an effort to boost their status within the gaming community, Apple have hired two key members from Nintendo and Activision to help promote the iOS as the definitive gaming platform. Robert Saunders, who is currently working for Nintendo UK, is leaving to join Apple at the end of April for a PR position specifically created to focus on Apps while Activision’s PR director Nick Grange will look after iPad hardware (via Appleinsider).

The creation of both positions and head-hunting of two traditional video game veterans shows Apple’s dedication to iOS and the devices it’s found on. But they’re going to have a hard time convincing the sternest of critics that iPads and iPhones have become the definitive way to play games. It’s true, iOS games are vast in quantity with more and more people using them for entertainment purposes however that doesn’t necessarily make them replacements for console and PCs just yet. If such a claim is to be based on the sheer number of players, Facebook would surely be on top with Farmville and Cityville leading the way. Regardless of semantics, we still have a clear divide between the casual and hardcore audiences because of the kinds of experiences that appeal to each demographic. An overwhelming majority of iOS games are of a shorter bite-sized nature and even the grander ones work better when split up this way. Controls have become a big issue too with mechanics and gameplay being scaled down to make up for a lack of precision.

I’m not against this type of game, far from it if you see some of the games covered in my review section but everything has its place within the industry. In a report from the end of last year, Smartphone gaming has risen 43.8 percent whereas those found on DS and PSP fell 13 percent. Great news for Apple and Android for that matter but being mobile phones, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into hands than it is for systems that predominately focus on video games. They are a threat, no doubt about it just as is the iPad with a recent survey showing 84 percent of owners using the tablet for gaming. Whether or not those games are comparable to ones found on traditional platforms is still to be understood but the potential market is growing seemingly everyday. I’m yet to be convinced that the iOS can be considered definitive but I’m keen to see how Saunders and Grange try and prove that it is. Who knows, they may just win me over forcing me to eat my words good and proper. To be honest I’d rather that and have more quality gaming experiences than the alternative.

Infinity Blade. You can do it too!

Epic’s Infinity Blade swiped its way onto iDevices last year after beginning life as a tech demo called Epic Citadel. That proved the Unreal Engine could work remarkably well on a mobile device and gamers were eager to see how the team of ChAIR Entertainment used this to make a game. The result was a very casual experience wrapped in a veil of hardcore ideas and a simple control scheme, taking only five months from start to finish. That includes concept and distribution. The team revealed their timeframe in a talk at GDC (via Joystiq) called: Infinity Blade: How We Made a Hit, What We Learned, and Why You Can Do it Too!

What they learned was to always have some ideas in mind for future projects. ChAIR’s employees pitched around 30 ideas a day with the stipulation that it had to built by the six people in the team in less than a year. When Epic Games bought ChAIR, they knew the kinds of games they wanted to make and already had a plan for them too.

After the honeymoon period between gamers and Infinity Blade was over, the backlash began with many claiming the game was repetitive and too easily controlled which limited what you could do with it. When you look at the internal rule set ChAIR implimented when developing Infinity Blade, their decisions make a whole lot of sense. They came up with the ‘Pocket Pillars’ which defined how to make a touchscreen experience with the number one point being it must be playable with one finger, finding ways to use that finger then remove it. Presumably this is so the player’s digits don’t obscure their view of the game like so many other smartphone titles we’ve complained about. The game also had to be “Super short” with meaningful and fun gameplay, progressing the player every two minutes and if it was something that worked great with a traditional controller, they were doing it wrong. Lastly, Infinity Blade had to be purely skilled based, easy to learn, hard to master.

All of these points are incredibly valid points into how great smartphone games are and should be made. They can be attributed to the likes of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, two immensely popular mobile games with legions of fans between them. They all excel because of how they’re perfectly designed for the device in hand, not a compromised version of something else. The fact that Infinity Blade was criticised for offering a similar experience seems a bit harsh to me as it does cross the boundaries of both casual and hardcore quite nicely.

Donald Mustard of ChAIR said last December how Infinity Blade started life as a Kinect project and hinted if the game proved popular in over the holiday period it could be headed for the motion controller. With a little tweaking, the Pocket Pillars would equally work well when making a Kinect game, keeping it simple, fun, skill-based and specific for the device. For now, I’ll keep on levelling up my knight on my iPhone but am increasingly intrigued as to how it would work on Kinect. 

Review: Dead Space (iPhone)

I had no idea Dead Space was heading to the iPhone nor did I ever think it would. I figured that an acute control method with stellar graphics and sound were integral to the experience and something unable to achieve on any Apple device. But here we are, a gameplay video sparking my interest and a few hours of horror later, I’ve finished Dead Space on the iPhone and the best way to describe it is “wow.”

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Gloomy fodder

Over 16 years since the last game in the series was released, Cannon Fodder 3 has been announced by Russian developer GFI with a rather sheepish Codemasters clinging onto the press release. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’ve merely licensed the game out to GFI and aren’t actually dealing with it themselves resulting in Cannon Fodder 3 only being available in Russia and the CIS. Bummer huh? In a statement this morning (via VG247), a rep said “In 2008 Codemasters licensed the Cannon Fodder IP to GFI (www.gfi.su) for a one-title project. Under the agreement, GFI is designing and developing a new game based on the series for release in Russia and the CIS territories. Codemasters understands that GFI’s plans for distribution and release outside of Russia and the CIS have yet to be announced.”

A worldwide release would sell like hot cakes, especially when you factor in its PC and Xbox 360 exclusivity. Such a title is perfect for the PC (as was the originals) with the style and quirkiness suited for Xbox Live Arcade. GFI put out a statement detailing the kind of things we’ll be missing:

“You have a small army which consists of only “cannon fodder” soldiers, who are ready to rush into fight with the enemy, sparing neither effort nor oneself. The player will have to pass several episodes full of cartoon violence among different locations, and the Earth is not the limit – it’s time to go into open space and show the enemy “who’s daddy”. You’ll get classic isometric environment in full 3D, weather effects, change of time, destructible environment, physical water – all this and a lot more you’ll find in Cannon Fodder 3.”

The original game was a darling of the 90’s gaming era spanning multiple platforms with a unique element not seen a video game; the remembrance of fallen soldiers. On missions, if any of your troops were killed in action – and a lot of them were – the level would end with a roll call of all who lost their lives for a disturbingly kitsch approach to military casualties. An ironic addition when you think how jovial the deaths were treated on the battlefield and the whole mood of game for that matter. Still, a cute and interesting inclusion if not anything else. The game’s creator, John Hare, was known to be trying to bring Cannon Fodder to iOS devices (despite a clone called Grunts already existing) but little more has come of that. Fingers crossed the plans for distribution outside Russia which Codemasters speak of isn’t far behind the initial release.

ChAIR kinects with Infinity Blade

The talk of the town for iDevice gaming at the moment is Infinity Blade who stormed the App Store last week to a multitude of positive reviews. But did you know that it was first conceived as a Kinect game? Co-founder of ChAIR Entertainment, Donald Mustard, spoke of the various internal discussions that lead to the slasher becoming an iOS darling: “We always have some cool ideas on deck, and kind of the inception of Infinity Blade began as a discussion around: ‘If we were going to make a Kinect title, what would we make? What would a Chair Kinect game look like? That discussion happened, you know, a year and a half ago. We had this really cool design, and it’s not that dissimilar from the game you’re playing today; it’s just been refined and adapted to the iOS screen, which honestly I think is where the design works the best.”

I agree, setting aside the fact that running the Unreal Engine on iOS platforms is a massive deal, the pick-up-and-play style and very linear but entertaining progression system feels right for an Apple portable. That being said, the same importance that Infinity Blade has for Apple could have easily been applicable for Kinect. It would have been the most graphically impressive and one that uses a traditionally core engine instead of a more casual-focused one. But I’m glad ChAIR chose iOS over Kinect in this instance as the gameplay does seem right at home on a touchscreen over motion-controls. However Mustard did finish with a bit of an ominous statement regarding the future of Infinity Blade: “If the Kinect really takes off over the holiday season, who knows?”

{Thanks Joystiq}