Dec 31, 2009

Happy New Year

We hope everyone has an enjoyable New Year's celebration tomorrow night whether your idea of fun is partying at a pub or playing games on your Droid (personally, I'd choose the latter). And we hope everyone has a prosperous 2010!

Thanks for your support! - Alan

Diner Dash 2

Diner Dash 2 from Glu Mobile is part of the new "time management games" category with the original Diner Dash making its debut on the PC in 2003. Ok, so maybe it's not so new. In this type of game you are managing customers and resources and their needs. More specifically in Diner Dash 2 you're managing customers, tables (with varying seating capacities), and things like whether they are in a hurry or need a high chair. Whereas there are other variations of this kind of game where you manage spas, grocery stores, farms, airports ...etc.

The interesting thing about these games is that they're quite addictive. In pondering why that is I suspect it's because they're easy enough to achieve success with, but hard enough to bring out that competitor in each of us. In Diner Dash 2 each level has pretty basic requirements to pass it, but pretty strict requirements to ace it so we end up competing with ourselves to get all the gold stars.

Ok, so what exactly is going on here? First, there's a tutorial to get you started and the game holds your hand pretty much every step of the way as new features are brought into play. On each level you're serving customers at your diner and your goal is to have the most satisfied clientele. Customer arrivals are shown on the left along with their party size. If you keep them waiting they get angry as shown on the meter. Angry customers score fewer points. You'll then assign them to tables, take their orders, deliver their orders, collect money, and clean up their tables. The trick is that not every customer acts like every other customer. The party of 4 with kids may take longer to order despite arriving before the couple that just saw a movie and is hungry (no, you don't know that they saw a movie in the game) so you're having to manage your time the best.

Next, you get bonus points for efficiency which means things like delivering two meals at the same time (versus taking two trips to the counter to pick up each meal). And then there are the extras. Things like high chairs needed by families or the mop to clean up a messy table. The game advances at a smooth rate so it always seems to be adding something new.

One problem I had with the game was when my waitress would become unresponsive to my commands. It took me a while to figure out what was wrong, but here's what I learned. If I tap on a customer and there's no available table for them they stay selected until I tap them again to unselect. That made little sense to me given that it was obvious I didn't have seating capacity and the usual 'choose a table' selector did not appear. Nonetheless, I initially thought that was a bug, but it turned out to be operator error.

One thing that's nice about this kind of game is that anyone can play it and enjoy it. It's a well done port of a game that has stood the test of time and remained popular despite being almost 7 years old. And it's one of few choices Android owners have for this style of game... fortunately it's a quality port. So if you like these kinds of games or are looking for something new it's a good bet that this game will serve up hours of entertainment.

Dec 30, 2009

Freebie Wednesday?

Two Fridays in a row with major holidays means it is Freebie Wednesday... let's see what we've got...

Bubble Maze is the inverse of Labyrinth where you try and get the bubble through the maze within a time limit, however bubbles float so you'll have to tilt in the opposite direction of a traditional labyrinth puzzle and watch your bubble rise to the top. I played through 5 or so mazes in this game and got bored despite the high quality of the game itself. Help promises that things would change once I hit level 13 with challenges like 2 bubbles, bubbles joining together, and even bubbles and marbles though so I'm probably just being impatient.

Lethal Racing brings the fun of a demolition derby to your Android phone. Crash your car into others and run over escaping drivers for bonus points. True mayhem. Steering works by dragging on the screen. Fun for a bit, but wears thin.

Mahjong from Magma Mobile is a well done Mahjong game with several different layouts to work your way through. For those that don't know what Mahjong is, in a nutshell there are stacks of tiles and only free tiles can be taken (those higher than surrounding ones or on the ends) and you must remove pairs until you have removed all tiles. Nicely done.

SnowBallBlow is an odd game where you must blow to move your snow ball in an effort to get it to grow while not hyperventilating. Compete with the rest of the world for the largest snow ball! The latest release allows you to use the touch screen to roll the snow ball. Cute, for a few minutes.

Spades(free) from is a solid version of the Spades card game with decent AI and many options for play style. It defaults to partner mode so for those that want to play solo make sure you adjust the game's options accordingly. And if you like Hearts (the card game), but don't know what Spades is then give it a try. It's kind of the opposite of hearts where you want to take tricks. Good game.

Dec 29, 2009

Raging Thunder

Raging Thunder is a racing game from Polarbit that was released a few weeks ago and then updated to properly work on the Droid last week. When it appeared I fell in love with the screenshots and was sorely disappointed that it wouldn't run for me so when the update appeared I immediately gobbled it down and started playing. The game has not disappointed and Polarbit is rapidly becoming my best friend.

First the game: it's an arcade racer (and not a simulation) and uses the accelerometer to steer. The game offers several modes of play including a championship mode which plays like a story mode, four upgradable cars, and ten tracks that must be gradually unlocked. The game does allow for touch screen steering, but I much prefer tilting my phone left and right as that feels far more authentic to me. The game also features both local and Internet networked play.

Differentiating it from simulations are the arcade style of control and the power ups that you can collect while driving. Skulls and bolts will decrease/increase your blue power boost bar. Following another car will increase your yellow tackle bar. Boost is essentially a short lived speed boost helping to catch up with cars ahead of you and is activated by touching your boost bar. Tackle allows you to ram a car and force it to spin out and is activated by touching the yellow bar. Finally, when playing in championship mode there are dollar signs littering the course that are used to purchase upgrades for your car.

What can't I say about this game? The control is excellent. The graphics, sound, and audio tracks are wonderful. I love the colorful scenery. And I love all of the extra options that are tossed in such as Internet play that provide this racer with longevity. This is an outstanding racing game for the Android platform and playing it has provided for a great overall experience. I'm liking it better than Speed Forge 3D because of the controls and the more colorful scenery. I'm also pleased that there is a 'lite' version to test drive before committing to this game. So if you've been waiting for Need For Speed to become Android compatible wait no more... Raging Thunder will cure any need for speed you might have had.

Dec 28, 2009

Mini Golf Wacky Worlds 3D

I reviewed Droid Mini Golf - PRO about 3 weeks ago and think mini golf games actually make pretty good mobile games. A round of golf is broken into holes that you don't have to complete all at once (I view mobile gaming as something done more so with fifteen minutes here and ten minutes there) and the touch screen makes for a pretty good means to control the game. Consequently, I was happy to see Glu Mobile release an Android version of their Wacky Worlds Mini Golf.

The first thing about Wacky Worlds is that is bleeds professionalism. Droid Mini Golf is pretty basic in the graphics and sound department whereas Wacky Worlds has a nice sound track, pretty 3D graphics, and those little extras like spaceships flying around in the background. The game itself is still mini golf, but Wacky Worlds 3D environment offers more things like ramps and such to deal with. Levels also feature bonus star targets that you can hit or ignore (as it may cost more strokes going after them).

The controls are very different between the two. Wacky Worlds uses the more traditional system of choosing your angle, choosing the power with which to hit the ball, and then a swing button. This is probably the biggest difference to me between the two and the only redeeming factor for Droid Mini Golf (which has you swipe the touch screen to swing at the ball). Not that I think Wacky Worlds does it poorly... just different and probably the way you're used to playing golf games.

Wacky Worlds offers three modes of play and four different courses (which must be unlocked in order to play them). One of the modes is interesting and has your course infested with gophers and you score bonuses for hitting them. Wacky Worlds also offers a nice tutorial to get you started. If I had to choose, then in all honesty this is the better of the two mini golf games with little question. It would be kind of neat if they added a swipe mode for swinging to take better advantage of the touch screen. And at $.99 I'm not going to complain about the absence of a demo... this game is a STEAL when it comes to entertainment value.

Iron Sight

Iron Sight from Polarbit (makers of Raging Thunder) is among a cluster of games released about a week ago from high quality, professional game development houses. The premise behind the game is a one on one duel between bots armed with various weapons much like a 3 dimensional version of Scorched Earth or Worms. It is turned based so you are allotted time to make your move which consists of positioning your bot for a nice, clean shot, choosing the elevation of your weapon, and then choosing how much energy with which you fire (more energy makes your shot go further).

The game weighs in at 17 MB which is huge by Android standards (and required me to clear out some old, unused games to make room for this new one), is pretty with its 3D graphics, and has a nice audio track which can optionally be muted. And while it does have some minor graphical glitches such as on the after match statistic screen on my Droid it's nothing that makes the game unplayable. The on screen controls work find given the turn based nature of the game. As for options, the game has 3 skill levels for computer opponents and allows you to play either a campaign or a single match. You can play against another person via hot seat plat or on the Internet, although my visit to their servers revealed no available players at the time.

The difference in AI between the skill levels was significant as it ranged from "I'm going to try avoid hitting you at any cost despite this being my 3rd shot" to first round hits. I don't know that as I think it's good to have a confidence builder mode provided that the other levels offer significant challenge. One thing that amused me about the scenery was if I fired a shot and had a tree in my way the shot would be blocked by the tree and hurt me. Those must be some thick branches.

I'm not a big fan of Scorched Earth or Worms. I can play them a bit, enjoy them, but don't tend to have a desire to keep coming back for more. And that's exactly how I feel about Iron Sight. It's more of a "show off" title for my Droid to put on display for all the doubters that think the Droid can't do games, but as to whether you'll actually play this title probably depends on your fan level of the aforementioned 2D titles. I only wish a demo version was available to make test driving easier [Update: a lite (demo) version is now available]. As for the game itself, it's certainly well done and does a solid job of what it sets out to do which is raise the bar on Android gaming. Thanks, Polarbit... we're certainly happy to have you as a supporter and I look forward to trying your other games.


Lots of new games to talk about, but first I wanted to mention the topic of emulation on the Android platform and my stance on it. If you're unsure of what I'm talking about, emulation refers to software that allows you to use the software (usually classic games) from an older system on newer hardware. It offers a way of preserving the past which, being a video game collector, I am all for. In fact this was one of the bigger reasons that forced me to choose an Android phone over the iPhone as Apple has little tolerance for emulation on their platform.

If you're wondering what is available do an Android Market search on emulator and you'll find software for emulating the NES, SNES, Genesis, Apple II, Commodore 64, TurboGrafx 16, Amiga, Gamegear, Gameboy Advance, old arcade machines and more. Some are free and some cost a few dollars. I'm not going to spend any real time talking about or reviewing emulators, though, as the only thing that matters is if they run the software you want them to. I can say compatibility is good or great, but that doesn't matter if it does run your favorite game even if that's the only title the emulator fails to run.

My hope is for emulators for the Atari platforms to appear someday (Atari 2600, Atari XL/XE, and Atari ST) especially having had a good, free Atari 2600 emulator on the Pocket PC, but as of now I'll have to wait. And, of course, native Android games written by a quality developer will always be better than emulated games as they will (hopefully) take advantage of the form factor and properties of the platform better than something that was never intended to be used on such a device.

Dec 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

We'll be taking a Christmas break starting today through the weekend and want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays! Posting will resume on Monday for another holiday shortened week and we'll probably try to fit another 'freebie' day in there as I've seen some pretty neat little freebies lately... not to mention seeing several potentially great new Android games released this week.

Dec 23, 2009


MazeBall-Soccer made its debut in the Android marketplace today (well, it was today when this was written) and sounded interesting enough to give it a shot. The author describes it as being a cross between soccer (the sport) and those old, wooden labyrinth maze puzzles. After playing it the soccer part of the description is a bit of a stretch as this is clearly far more like the labyrinth maze game.

First, however, I should express that I did have some issues with crashes and screen updates going awry. In one case I had to run Advanced Task Killer to clear everything out of memory and then the game worked fine again. I sense the error handling for failed memory allocation and such may not be there and that will cause frustrations. Hopefully some of these issues will be addressed in an update once the bug reports start rolling in.

As for the game itself, it consists of 50 puzzles (not that I've played them all) where you have to guide a ball into a soccer goal at the other end of the field. The field itself contains lots of obstacles including things like pits and lego blocks. To move the ball you tilt your Android device and utilize its accelerometer. The first level consists of an open field and serves as a solid confidence builder. Once you get the right angle going with your device the ball quickly rolls on down the field into the goal and you'll be thinking that the game is stupid as the confidence builder is just that ridiculously easy. It took until about level 5 before the game started presenting any level of challenge for me and started to require thought.

The other half of the soccer portion of the game is that there are two timer bars at the top of the screen. If you don't score before the first one runs out then your imaginary opponent scores on you... and you have to outscore them to beat the level. The second bar is overall match time. Being hypercompetitive I like the idea of a score, but in this case playing against both a timer and whatever difficulty the maze poses seemed redundant. In fact, I'd probably axe the association with soccer entirely as I just don't see that it adds anything.

MazeBall-Soccer has the potential to drive you batty and sometimes requires thinking outside of the box. On one level I kept falling in the holes until I finally realized that I wasn't supposed to go that way, or at least I seemed to be doing the level the hard way. And feeling a sense of accomplishment like that is what a good gaming experience is all about. If you like labyrinth style games then you'll probably like this one, but I question with the free 10 level version of Labyrinth Lite available how many will be die hard enough to want this as well at a cost of roughly $2 (especially given the lack of polish with the occasional crashes I experienced). And, as seems fitting with so many Android games, there is no demo and there is no mention of this game on the developer's website... the latter being the more perplexing. So, in summary, if 50 more levels of labyrinth would entertain you then here's your match, otherwise Labyrinth Lite should have you covered as a neat tech demo. Oh, and just when is that full version of Labyrinth with a thousand levels going to become available?

Dec 22, 2009

Raging Thunder Preview

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast because, quite frankly, this game rocks. Last week this game was released along with its pretty screenshots only to do a 'Force Close' on my Droid. The developers apparently listened and listened fast, because they've addressed said issue within a week. Needless to say they got my money back.

Ok, I haven't played it for longer than about 10 minutes so far, but so far it's a beautiful, smooth car racing game with a great soundtrack and solid controls. It's certainly on par with Speed Forge 3D, but personally I like the more colorful scenery. We'll have a more complete review soon...

This Blog's Future

I started this blog just over a month ago having been quite experienced at starting new blogs, posting for a couple days, and then abandoning them. Operating a blog that offers daily updates requires quite a bit of time and dedication in addition to finances (for purchasing games and promoting the blog) and I'm happy to be able to keep it going. In the new year I am looking to expand this blog in several ways and would love to hear any feedback as to what you, the readers, feel would make it more useful. So far the plan is to:
  • Add a better index of reviews
  • Provide summaries with an awarded score (i.e. 7/10)
  • Provide direct marketplace links on all reviews for those browsing on an Android device
  • Get a logo
  • A twitter feed
The goal is to become the place to go for Android reviews. That said, the site is functioning predominantely on ad revenue right now and a new platform (I have a CMS that I'll be using) will open up advertising opportunities. Furthermore, any donations to offset costs are certainly appreciated. One again, the goal is to serve the community and if I'm flapping my fingers, but missing something that would be useful please let me know.

- Thanks, Alan

Age of Conquest: North America

Age of Conquest is a game available for almost every somewhat popular computer platform available. It is a turn based strategy game somewhat like the classic Risk, but far more in-depth. Several versions are available, but from what I can tell the only difference is the map (and the historical scenarios available for the map). The game offers many different scenarios to choose from such time periods as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, or you can choose to go Random and have starting locations arbitrarily assigned. The game also offers 3 difficulty levels and 2 objectives: world domination (i.e. conquer everything) or standard (i.e. conquer everything OR kill all enemy kings).

In the beginning you'll start with 5000 gold, a province, and a king. On your turn you'll be able to recruit new soldiers, buy towers and fortifications, move (aka attack), or disband. Typically you'll be buying some new soldiers, attacking adjacent provides to increase the size of your empire, and perhaps adding a tower or fortification to increase the defensive strength of a province. Towers also allow you to monitor troop buildups in adjacent provinces.

When an attack occurs some very clear formulas are used to resolve the outcome and the game includes details on this. There's no dice rolling or randomness as there is in Risk. The game also plays a lot slower than Risk as there is more decision making such as when to build towers and fortifications. With the Risk clone I used to play on my Pocket PC (Pocket Conquest) I could polish off a game in 5-10 minutes, but this game strikes me as the kind of game that could take an hour to play.

All in all the game plays well. The rules are clearly explained and it even offers a tutorial mode which worked well. The user interface didn't have any serious problems other than sometimes the slider was difficult to grab onto a make slide when I was choosing how many troops to recruit. The graphics are basic, but they are what you would expect from a turn based strategy game where the goal is to quickly convey information.

There is a free Age of Conquest Lite for those that want to get their feet wet first, before buying one of the four 'full versions' available. All versions are all priced at $2.99 except Europe which is $4.99 (I presume it comes with more scenarios than the others?). If you like turn based strategy then there are not a lot of choices in the Android marketplace. Fortunately this is a good one provided you're not expecting to hammer out a game in ten minutes. This also, however, means there's still plenty of room for a good Risk clone as this game certainly doesn't fill that gap.

Dec 21, 2009

Surviving High School 10

On the iPhone EA Mobile delivers games like Need For Speed (in several editions), Madden 2010, and Command and Conquer: Red Alert. What do Android owners get? Surviving High School (which they also have on the iPhone). Then EA Mobile wonders why sales are weak on the Android. Nonetheless, this is where we are and this being an EA Mobile game I felt obliged to give it a chance.

The game description reads "BE WHOEVER YOU WANT!" Well, quite frankly that's not really true. In this Android adaptation there are two scenarios and you do little more than name your character, compete in some mini-games, and choose from a few text options in situations like who to eat lunch with (the geeks, the freaks, or the jocks) which reminds me of the outstanding series Freaks & Geeks TV series we just recently watched on DVD (I'm easily sidetracked).

The two scenarios, and from what I gather EA does update the game with new scenarios on other platforms so let's hope they do the same for Android, are:

1) You're in a dissin' content with a rival and you have to out dis' him with rhyme.
2) You're trying to become homecoming queen by becoming popular, getting a guy to ask you to homecoming, and then winning the dance contest.

Aside from the "Choose Your Own Adventure" type mechanic where you're given a few choices as to what to do there's a mini-game side to things where several objects rotate in a circle at varying speeds and you have to tap the screen when the one you want reaches the bottom of the circle. All in all most of the game is reading and going along with the provided storyline.

When I read "BE WHOEVER YOU WANT!" I envisioned something very different. The way the game handles didn't surprise me as the screenshots made it evident that this wasn't a 3D game or anything. I just though, from the game's description, it would be more of an open ended experience as I carve my niche out in High School.

Two other points of interest about this one:
  • There's no reference to the Android version on the EA Mobile website.
  • The game sells for $2.99 on the iPhone, but $4.99 for the Android. Is there some sort of Android tax that I'm not aware of?
This game strikes me more as a game for those that want to live the movie "High School Musical" and I picture this as a game more for young girls. There is no demo that I can see so all you can do is try it for a day and get your money back if you don't care for it (as I did). As for me, the limited choices and juvenile storyline got old pretty fast. I do think a game that simulates High School could be a good idea if done right. Bully (on the major consoles) was a step in the right direction. I don't think this is.

Dec 20, 2009


One thing I have not yet talked about is apps for the Android that aren't games so here what I've done in a nutshell...

First, I've organized my phone so that news related widgets are on the first panel (sports, weather, stocks, and news), icons for frequently used apps are on the second panel, and other stuff is on the third (currently pretty empty) panel. As for the apps, here's a roundup of what has made it onto my phone...

Advanced Task Killer is one of those things that you shouldn't need, but do. It kills off running processes. It's almost like rebooting the phone as I can't tell you how many times I've run this after an app or game has failed only to have it succeed.

AK Notepad is a quick little place to jot some notes down much like like Post It! notes for the Android.

Aldiko is software that gives you access to the massive collection of books that are freely available on the web. No these aren't NY Times best sellers, but they're also not junk. You'll find classics like Alice in Wonderland available and oh so much more.

Amazon has an app that gives you a more friendly shopping experience than when using the browser on their site (mainly due to screen size). It also features support for scanning/searching by bar code.

ASTRO is a file manager. It lets you see and manage the files on your Android including your Storage Card (which is mounted at '/sdcard').

Barcode Scanner lets you use your phone to scan a barcode and then looks the item up on the Internet to find the best price. We saved $20 on a new faucet the first day we had our Droids with this little app.

Bible is just a nice pocket bible with access to several of the different available translations.

Express News also offers a widget that I use to get the latest news from a variety of sources.

Facebook is just that... a Facebook client.

Finance gives me access to quick stock quotes and also provides widgets for various market charts such as the DOW and Nasdaq.

Google Sky Map uses the GPS and compass to give you a tour of the stars in the sky.

GPS Status shows you the status of the GPS. I find this useful as it shows how many satellites the GPS has locked onto (i.e. am I close to getting a valid reading or is it hopeless).

IP Cam connects to various IP Cameras across the globe and lets you watch. For the voyeur in all of us.

Movies shows the latest movies and previews along with local (and not so local) theater show times. It also provides info on the latest DVD releases. A great app for the movie lover.

Pandora streams music over the Internet based on your tastes. Create various stations based on favorite artists and then it tries to play music of a similar genre. You can only skip 6 songs a day though in the event that it plays songs you don't like.

Pkt Auctions eBay is an eBay client that integrates with the Android providing last minute outbid notices and the works. Very nice for eBay users.

ShopSavvy is another app like Barcode Scanner, but sometimes one finds a match when the other does not.

SMS Popup shows incoming SMS messages in a popup dialog box vs you having to dig into your phone to find your message. This is a must have if you use SMS/MMS.

Speed Test checks the speed of your Internet connection. Curious how much bandwidth Verizon is actually providing? Now you'll know.

SportsTap gives access to the latest sports scores in a variety of popular and not so popular sports, but also doubles as a width showing scores for your favorite teams. My only problem has been that it limits you to six favorite when I might like to monitor the teams competing with my teams down the stretch.

Tricorder is an odd app as it tries to simulate a Star Trek tricorder with its GUI, but yet provide useful information instead of simply being a geeky joke. It provides satellite info for your GPS (eliminating my need for GPS Status), audio activity, sunspot activity, ...etc. I found the audio activity to be kind of neat as it'll show me the pitch at which I whistle.

The Weather Channel provides the latest forecast, 10 day outlook, today/tomorrow, and maps along with video reports related to the weather. I don't know why I'm so much more into the weather as I've gotten older especially as I know they can't accurately predict more than about 3 hours into the future, but like a trained dog I still check the 10 day forecast. lets you watch (yes, WATCH) TV programs from CBS, Showtime, and a handful of other sources on your Android. While I admit I haven't actually sat down and watched a 30 minute show on my 3.8" screen it's cool to be able tell people that I could if I wanted to.

Twidroid is a twitter client. It doesn't take much looking to learn this is among the best if not the best twitter client available for the Android platform. A lite and full version are available.

Wapedia is a Wikipedia (online, free encyclopedia) client. Once again it just makes using the site easier given the Android's lack of screen size.

Where is a swiss army knife type of app that allows you to look up places, find low gas prices, check the weather, and many other things all from one app.

WhitePages is the white pages for the whole US of A in the palm of your hands.

WiFinder scans for nearby WiFi and provides more detailed info such as what channels people are using. I found it handy in choosing a channel that others nearby were not using in an effort to have a better signal for my WiFi.

Yellowbook is the yellow pages in the palm of your hands.

So there you go. 28 or so apps that have made it onto my phone and for the most part appear to be staying there. I'm pretty such all were free or are lite versions that have proven to be useful or just plain cool.

Dec 18, 2009

Freebie Friday

It's Freebie Friday again so let's take a look at what Santa has brought us...

Andoku is Sudoku for the Android. It is ad supported (as are many of the free titles) and offers several skill levels to challenge even the best Sudoku player. It also allows for hints to be placed in the cells (i.e. multiple numbers as a reminder of resolved logic). I'm not crazy about how the ads hug the bottom row of numbers, but yeah I get it... I might accidentally click on the ad. All in all a great Sudoku for Android.

Evade It! is what I like to call junk. The premise is that you control a parrot that has stolen the pirate's treasure and you're on an island avoiding cannonball fire from the pirates. The cannonballs drop from the sky (apparently) and control of your parrot is simply enough... touch and he zips to that point on the screen. At least he does until he gets a mind of his own and darts off to another random location. The game is basic and boring so do yourself a favor and skip it.

Mancala is an Android version of the classic Mancala. The game isn't jazzy and gets right down to business, but looks nicely done.

NimDroid is Nim for the Droid. But not really. In Nim you have three rows of sticks and can remove any number of sticks from one of the rows. The last player to remove a stick loses. In NimDroid you have 21 sticks if you go first or 7 sticks if the computer goes first. One a turn you can remove 1, 2, or 3 of them regardless of rows meaning this isn't really Nim. And the computer always wins. Sound fun? It isn't. [Why does the computer always win... I'll try to quickly explain for when I go first. If I go first we start with 21 sticks... 21 is a multiple of 4 plus 1 (aka 5 x 4 + 1). The computer always pairs my move to make sure exactly 4 sticks are taken. I choose 2... it chooses 2. I choose 1... it chooses 3. After 5 rounds of us going 20 sticks are gone leaving me with the last one and the loss. That's why the row rule is pretty important.] I suppose giving the game to someone to figure out why they always lose might be fun, but the game itself isn't.

Pyramid Golf is a solitaire card game where you have a pyramid layout of cards and have to discard them one at a time based on numerical sequence. Get stuck? Flip a card from the draw pile. Get rid of the pyramid and you win much like in Klondike (the solitaire people are so familiar with due to its default installation on all Windows PCs). I didn't find Pyramid Golf very exciting and much prefer Klondike, but for what it is it is at least well done.

Throttle Copter is another "travel through the cave, touch to go up, release to go down, see how far you can go" game like SFCave. Perhaps this one is better than SFCave as I have to admit that it's more fun piloting a helicopter than a dot. The game play itself was comparable.

Tiny Little Western is a simple shoot 'em up game where the bad guys dance back and forth behind some scenery and you have to shoot them. As you progress through the stages the game surprises with power-ups and even a bonus stage. The bad guys are as dumb as mud, but the game places several on screen at once to keep it somewhat challenging. Not bad for a look.

Zilch is a dice game when you roll/reroll to try and get various combinations of dice such as pairs and straights. It is a bit of a push your luck game as you have the option of rerolling to score more point, but at the risk of losing everything. The game is quite well done and deserves more play time.

Sky Force

Sky Force from Infinite Dreams isn't a new game by any means. I remember playing it several years ago on my Windows Pocket PC. So when I saw they had ported it over to the Droid I was quite happy. I immediately downloaded a copy and it plays just as well as it did back then. Sky Force is a great mobile game.

But first, Sky Force is a vertical scrolling shoot 'em up. You control a ship and have to frantically blast away the enemy defenses as you infiltrate. Along the way you'll earn power-ups and have to capture stars for bonus points, but don't expect the enemy to wait for you to do so. There's always more on the way. The game features 3 difficulty levels and 8 stages (or levels) to work your way through. Completing a level means destroying a specific amount of the enemy's defenses. Control can be via either the accelerometer or touch screen and I've preferred the touch screen. The graphics are sharp and the audio and sound track and great.

The vertical scroller genre of games which started with Xevious back in the early 80s is an interesting shooter variant that can make for a great game. Too often though I find the games either play way too slow (shoot bad guy... wait for next bad guy... shoot it... wait some more...) or way too fast as the bullets and missiles spray and I haven't a prayer's chance of survival. Hitting it right in the middle where the action is frantic, but not invincible is a developer's challenge and Sky Force does it just right.

Some of the comments I've read state correctly that this is a port of a game from 2005 and it hasn't been upgraded. True. So is Pac Man. That doesn't mean it's not fun and not a worthwhile addition to a game library. Sky Force is a blast to play (no pun intended) and I'm glad to see another esteemed mobile developer support the Droid (and I'm sorry, but this game is specifically for the Droid). So if vertical scrollers are up your alley and you have a Droid pick this one up... you won't be sorry.

Dec 17, 2009

Market Fragmentation

The has been a lot of talk about Google creating a phone of their own and market fragmentation in the Android marketplace. For those not paying attention, this basically means that there could be too many different models of Android based phones for developers to support because of each phone needing a slightly tweaked version of the same program to properly support it. I don't buy it.

I say that if Google has the brilliant workforce they are supposed to have then I just don't see that happening. If a device runs Android 2.0 then the device should be able to report on the available of features such as screen resolution, keyboard availability, camera capabilities and decide whether to scale down support or not run on the device (i.e. a program for taking photos shouldn't run on a device without a camera). After all, it's the operating system and its APIs that developers target and not the raw hardware (well, usually as targeting raw hardware would be software suicide here).

I do believe Google needs to make some serious improvements to the marketplace and they need to address the issue of being able to store apps on an SD card. I just hit my warning today telling me I have too many apps and that's quite aggravating knowing 16 gigabytes is sitting right behind my battery mostly unused.

I also do think it's entirely possible that the first round of Android devices may be abandoned. I'd be ticked if I owned one, but I suspect they just didn't expect to the OS to grow in size like it has. I also think they want to establish a standard of device capabilites and might not want to lower it below current 2.0 devices. For example, the Droid supports multitouch... will all Android 2.0 apps start supporting multi-touch? Not if developers are trying to create the largest market for their apps by supporting older devices.

Finally, I realize that there will come a day when my new Droid becomes the old, abandoned device. It just better not be Spring 2010 because Google releases it's own phone...


FRG from Woo Games is an arcade style overhead shooter. In this game you are a robot being swarmed by countless enemies and you are simply trying to destroy them before they destroy you. The game plays smoothly enough and the music and sound effects are well done. The game features touch screen controls such that you can touch open space to move or touch an enemy to fire. The game features 3 difficulty levels and a couple different robots and weapons.

One thing that I did find difficult is that while control of the game is not a problem it is hard to see any graphic detail on my robot or the enemy hordes. They are all just a bit too small. Likewise, when moving and firing my finger sometimes gets in the way of seeing where my robot is.

I've enjoyed playing this game up to a point at which it starts to become a bit repetitive. I feel like perhaps the difficulty doesn't really ramp up quick enough and the difference between easy and hard moves didn't seem very big. Ultimately it just didn't beg me to keep playing as some games do. The game this one really reminds me of is MiniGore on the iPod Touch. Perhaps the best way to put it is that this is really more of a quick twitch arcade game where you race yourself to clear your way through hordes of enemies. What it isn't is a deep experience with a vast array of levels each containing new power-ups to help you with future baddies. I'm just too used to scouring levels for power-ups.

There is a Lite version available to try in addition to the Deluxe version which is priced at $3.00 and contains more levels, weapons, robots and an exclusive survival mode. All in all, this game offers solid arcade style game play for those with 5 minutes to spare and wanting some quick action from their Android.

Dec 15, 2009


Hyperspace from UK based Psychotron is among a handful of games that have achieved some level of popularity in the Android marketplace. It has an over four star rating and looks like a Super Monkeyball clone in space. Let's take a look...

Upon loading the game we're greeted with global leader boards so you can always see how you stack up to the competition despite this being a single player game. That's the first pretty cool thing that sets this game clearly apart from other indie games. The premise of the game is that you'll be rotating and tilting your Android phone to turn and accelerate your ball as it rolls along an obstacle course and you try to finish in record time. Along the way are stars to pick up for bonus points, but navigating to them typically comes at the cost of precious seconds. Then there's other stuff that gets added as you work your way through the game's many levels of play. Things like arrows that speed you up or slow you down, purple square that pop up and push you back, green jump squares, bombs ...etc. The accelerometer based controls are fantastic and soon you realize that going backwards (to pick up a missed star) is as easy as moving forwards. The controls are very comfortable.

The game features five levels of difficulty. I'm on normal (aka level 4) and it's quite challenging. I can't imagine what insane is like. And then one of the difficulty levels is doing the course in reverse. The game also lets you replay any level that you have unlocked as you compete for a better score.

One challenge I had with the game was when a pit or dark spot would appear almost out of nowhere because the action is so intense that I didn't really stand a chance of avoiding it. Losing a life costs more precious time. That said I suspect those with the highest scores are most a factor of having memorized the course in addition to having the needed hand/eye coordination.

A standout aspect of this product is how they've done so many of the things that I think are needed to properly promote a game correctly. They have their own website set up for it, they have nice looking screenshots in the marketplace, and they have a demo version available so you can try before you buy. Oddly enough though they just released another copy of the game for 2.7 euros vs 2.5 euros for 'those that can not find the original in the marketplace'. I didn't have any problem locating both so I went with the cheaper version of the two.

No doubt this is a game that deserves all 4+ stars it has earned in the marketplace and will hopefully earn more sales are the Android platform grows in popularity. As for me, despite not being a huge fan of this style of game, I give it a 5/5 because it's clear that it achieves everything it is intended to and does a quality job of doing so.

Betas and Test Versions

Is it just me or is everyone sick of seeing betas and test versions push up through the Android marketplace. I don't want software that DOESN'T WORK! I didn't sign up to be a Beta tester. I didn't purchase an Android device over an iPhone so I could download software that the author knows is missing large portions of functionality. Please STOP putting that stuff in the Marketplace...

Or better yet... Google... Why not create a separate area/category for such software and allow people to try to hook up with those interested in investing time and energy in testing their software? I supposed I should appreciate that there are people out there 'trying' to support the device I own with new apps and that want to build off of my feedback. Perhaps Google could support that and the spirit of software development by supplying them with a "Beta Testing" area.

Is that too much to ask for?

Dec 14, 2009

Baseball Superstars 2009

I've been looking for an Android football game, given that it is the heart of the NFL season with the playoffs just around the corner, but have had no luck. Instead I found Baseball Superstars 2009. Baseball Superstars 2009 is one of a limited... ok, very limited... selection of sports games for the Android. Baseball Superstars 2008 is the other choice (please correct me if I am wrong as I WANT to be wrong). I'd really like to see some good football, hockey, and soccer games on the Android platform. A basketball games might be nice, too, for those that enjoy that sport.

So here I am with Baseball Superstars 2009 from GAMEVIL in the midst of football season. Fortunately, this game rocks. It's a prime example of how to do almost everything right on an Android game. But first, the negatives. For a start, the text size is microscopic in size on the menus. If you have poor eyesight you won't be able to play this one. Next, it uses my favorite style of control; the on screen gamepad. It will let me use my Droid's DPad, though, but it treats the middle as the fire button and I find that worse as I can't navigate and then quickly get a middle click in with the same DPad.

Once we're past those issues this game is a gem (and the on screen controls aren't too bad given that baseball isn't a constant stream of button presses like an arcade game). The graphics are cute. The audio is sharp. The game play is smooth. It's this kind of game that reinvigorates my faith in the platform and shows that the same games that are on the iPhone CAN be done on the Android platform given hardware with enough horsepower (i.e. the Droid).

The game itself is packed with options from choosing a team's lineup, to season modes, to home run derbies, to a quick pickup game. When I first started playing the game it was unbelievably difficult. I had what seemed to be a billionth of a second to correctly swing at the ball, and the computer opposition would hit most of what I pitched. Further reviews revealed 3 difficulty levels and, better yet, 5 speeds. I was on speed 4 with middle difficulty. I dropped it down to easy and speed 2 and things turned around quickly. I need to bump it back up to speed 3 and perhaps back to middle difficulty, but the good news is that I still have 2 speeds and hard difficulty to go before I can retire this game.

The game also offers a lite version to give it a test drive. I really appreciate when companies do that and I'm sure it helps them cut down on the refunds by allowing people to more effectively try before they buy. But all in all this game is an excellent adaptation of baseball for Android owners that all baseball aficionados should have.

Dec 13, 2009

Talking To a Computer

Is anyone else having difficulty adjusting to a handheld device that you can talk to AND have it correctly 'hear' the words you say most of the time? I'm still busy typing away in the Google search box and just about to hit return when I realize I could have just said what I typed in a fraction of the time. I really need to remember that I have this feature.

And then there's the public aspect... the odd looks I get when I'm whispering sweet search instructions into my Droid...

Dec 11, 2009

Freebie Friday III

Maybe I should make Freebie Friday and regular thing for Fridays...

Xokoban is a Sokoban clone with amazingly slow movement. It feels like it takes a minute to move a box by one square. I couldn't deal with the slowness of the game to get past the second level. Avoid if you value your time... there are better choices (hint, look at Freebie Friday II).

Lim Thye Chean released a vertical shooter, however the title uses a foreign character set so search on the name of the author instead of the game. This is a nice little shooter with solid graphics and a sharp sound track (I know I can hear some 'Axel F' in there and even perhaps some 'Welcome to the Jungle'?). Several different powerups make the game interesting for a few minutes, but quite frankly it was just too easy and repetitive for me after playing for five or so minutes. And there are no options to crank up the difficulty that I can see.

Mines, from devisnik, is a solid Minesweeper clone. Minesweeper is a logic puzzle based on a grid filled with an arbitrary number of mines. Any square that isn't a mine contains a number indicating how many mines it is adjacent to. From there you clear out the squares revealing the numbers and using logic to deduce where the mines are. Nice job on this one!

Barbie Jigsaw is a game I had downloaded for my daughter and found myself playing a little too much. It's several Barbie pictures broken into squares that need to be unscrambled. It was more entertaining than I thought it would be and someday I'll remember to show it to said daughter.

Cavedroid is a 3D take on the "guide your dude through a cave going up and down, but don't crash" genre aka SFCave which I like sooo much. 3D is a bit of a misnomer here as you're still going up/down and in summary I'd stick to SFCave. Cavedroid didn't offer nearly the thrill of the game's 2D cousin.

Graviturn is another ADC II winner and is an accelerometer based game where there's a "maze?" and you have to tilt off all of the red Os and keep all of the green Os on screen. The color coding seems backwards to me as a driver where I'd expect the green ones to have to go, but nonetheless this is still a fun, ad supported, freebie.

Pong Multi Touch is something I mentioned last weekend when I learned that Droids do support multitouch in their hardware. Pong Multi Touch is a simple adaptation of pong that requires two players playing simultaneously on one Droid. My only complaint is that it's hard to see the ball sometimes and impossible to see the paddle with my finger in the way so the precision I need to play a strong game of pong doesn't seem to be here. Still, not too bad of a demo for multitouch.

And finally, All Your Base RETRO could be a dream come true if the graphics glitches were fixed for my Droid. It's a clone of the old Sabotage game on the Apple II where planes fly overhead dropping bombs and paratroopers and you're cannon sits at the bottom, center of the screen and rotates to different angles as you shoot the intruders down. Everything plays well here except the gun is a tad to the right of the base it's supposed to be physically supported by. Despite this glitch it is still playable and a treat to have on my Android phone.

Dec 10, 2009

Assassin's Creed

GameLoft has been in the news lately, and not in a favorable light towards Android owners. On Nov 20, 2009 they issued a press release stating that they were significantly cutting back on Android development and cited that they sell 400x more of their games on the iPhone. Some were disappointed to see their system get the shaft from a major developer, and others made the claim that GameLoft hasn't exactly released competitive titles when contrasted to their iPhone version.

In doing this review I checked out all of the GameLoft titles currently available... about 10 or so ranging from Derek Jeter baseball to The Settlers to Assassin's Creed... and decided that I'd pick one, preferably one of the best ones, to see what's what and what's not.

First, Assassin's Creed on the Android is NOT the same as the iPhone version. Most likely this is because of memory issues that we've discussed in the past... namely there's just not enough space to store a 100 MB game without offloading the data to the SD card which isn't directly supported by the existing Android OS. Assassin's Creed on the Android weighs in at just under 2 MB... about 1/50th the size of the iPhone version. Is that fair? Who cares? Just because the Android version doesn't have the same graphics, 3D, audio, or number of levels as the iPhone version doesn't matter anymore so than the fact that the XBox 360 version is vastly superior to the iPhone. What matters is whether it's a good game.

I guess this gets down to a core issue I have with mobile gaming and the lack of a perfect platform. As much as the iPhone is a great device, with nice graphics, sharp audio, and some cool gaming features like the accelerometer it still stinks when playing games like Pac Man and Galaga. An on screen DPad just isn't the same as a real DPad (like the one I have on my Droid). The iPhone can have the most amazing games in the world, but quite frankly the ones the use an on screen DPad all basically stink from my experience. Flight Control rocks. Racing games that use the accelerometer work well. Puzzle games are a good choice. But heavy action games leave me flat on the iPhone.

Back to the Android version of Assassin's Creed: it plays well and has good graphics and sound (not great, but good). It's got those little extras that you expect from a professional developer... things that have little to do with the game, but just make it a bit more real... like the doves scattering. It also uses an on screen DPad and fails to take advantage of my Droid's DPad. Wait a second... up and down work on the DPad... left and right don't. I don't get that at all. Seriously, up and down work, but left and right on the DPad do not.

In Assassin's Creed you're assigned missions to kill various leaders after being banished from the assassin's guild (or something like that). From there's it's a 2D side scrolling platform game. You'll be jumping along the tops of building, climbing ladders, swinging on ropes ...etc. And the built in tutorial that hints how the controls work is very nice.

Assassin's Creed is clearly among the "cream of the crop" games for the Android. It's fun and plays well and is certainly more than worth the $2.99 I paid for it. In the marketplace it's in the 1,000-5,000 copies sold and from what I read there was a time that this was priced at a buck. So I'm appalled at so few sales and certainly sympathize with GameLoft. I don't know what kind of cross-platform tools they use, but for $15,000 you don't get much development (and I presume they have sold more than that as Android owners are not limited to buying from just the Android marketplace). Obviously GameLoft wants more sales, but what about those of us that think our apps should be on par with iPhone apps? Sounds like the blame is on Google for not making a standard way for storing larger apps on the SD card as the hardware is certainly capable. And, of course, everyone likes to blame Google for the marketplace not being particularly good or for encouraging purchase of apps.

In searching for info on Assassin's Creed I also read several posts from people proud that they steal all of their Android software. Good job, guys! If you want to make sure that none of the major developers support Android then please ensure that you deprive them of any profits they deserve. My only hope is that perhaps when you're trying to sell some software you've written that you suffer the same fate. I'm not innocent from software piracy in my youth, but was fortunate enough to be guided to it a) being wrong and b) to understand that I don't want people doing that to me.

I know this review has been all over the place and thus much more than a simple game review, but it wasn't just about the game to start with. It was about a company and their decision to abandon a device I've only owned for a month. It's about trying to understand why they would do so... do their apps stink and yet they expect them to sell? Or are they good and still don't sell? As for Assassin's Creed, it's a good game (and among the elite in the marketplace) that just hasn't sold well. But now's your chance... if this sounds like your cup of tea then buy it and show GameLoft that we like and want their games (and who knows... maybe something crazy might happen like them releasing an update that supports the Droid's DPad).

[In other news, GameLoft did pledge support for Android 2.0 about a week after the Nov 20th press release. However, it's all going to come down to sales... is this a viable platform for commercial games or is it just a software flea market.]

Dec 9, 2009

Droid Mini Golf - PRO

I'm not a golf fan, but I enjoy a game of mini golf a few times a year and mini golf seems like a game that would translate particularly well to a touch screen device. So when I saw Droid Mini Golf - PRO from Patchwork Games for a buck I figured I'd give it a try.

In mini golf, just like in real golf, you have 18 holes to play and in each hole there are a predetermined number of shots that it 'should' take to complete if you are competent. This essentially allows you to play against the hole itself in attempt to get a better, lower score versus playing another player. It also lets you know just how bad of a player you are. Each hole also has obstacles to bounce off of or avoid and in mini golf Pro there are sand traps to slow the ball down, water traps which give a one stroke penalty, and metal 'boxes' which you bounce off of with a 'clink' sound.

Mini Golf Pro features 3 different courses for extended playability and also offers online tournaments and rankings so you can see how you compare against the rest of the world. The graphics are mediocre at best and the sound non-existent with the exception of the occasional 'click' off of a metal obstacle.

The controls basically work ok. You drag your finger across the screen (anywhere... not even across the ball) at a given speed to create a vector that determines where you ball goes. You can also hold down on the screen for an extended time to zoom out and see the whole course in the event that it doesn't fit on the screen. Unfortunately, I suspect these two occasionally get confused as I've had some accidental shots while trying to zoom and some zooms while trying to shoot. I might recommend changing this to a button on the size of the screen if I'm correct and the code is occasionally confusing the two actions. Furthermore, there have been several times where the program and myself apparently completely disagree as to how I swiped by finger. This might happen 1 in 20 times, but it's enough to be aggravating. One final bug, and I can't reproduce it, is the time my ball flew off the course and out into space (the black background) as the side of the course failed to contain the ball. I know a shot can be so powerful that this happens in real mini golf, but in real mini golf the ball is also position back on course whereas here it just sat in space. The game has no problem letting me hit the ball back onto the course, though, and finish the hole.

I've also had some issues where it seems like if my device is anything less that cleanly booted that the game hangs on the startup screen refusing to let me click on the buttons that start the game. Killing all of my existing apps fixes the problem, but still... I shouldn't have to do that and that will scare others that try this game out away.

How do I like it? Despite my complaints, I'm very positive on this $.99 game and I've played through the "Original Course" many times and continue to enjoy it despite the quirks. As anticipated the touch screen controls (usually) work great. I hope the author is able to address my issues with upcoming releases and continues to add new courses to the game. And I hope the Android community that has interest in this type of game will buy it and allow this developer to become big enough to be able to afford a decent website.

Dec 8, 2009


ParkingBreak is another mobile clone of Rush Hour. For those unfamiliar, Rush Hour is an excellent puzzle game from ThinkFun where you have a parking lot of cars and trucks and a red car that needs to be moved out of the lot. Each vehicle can either be moved horizontally or vertically. Your goal is to move all of the others cars in order to clear a path for the red car to get out of the parking lot. The simple puzzles are quite easy and are good confidence builders, but later in the game you'll need to resort to excellent logic skills in order to solve the puzzles. Once you do that there's a family of games such as Rush Hour Deluxe you can purchase and each comes with a nice set of plastic cars, puzzles, and solutions, but this isn't about the board game...

ParkingBreak brings this game to the Android, but ads the addition of a score. For each level you'll be paid $500, $1000, ...etc based on its difficulty, but then every move costs you $10. Personally, coming from playing Rush Hour I ignored the scoring and simply focused on solving the puzzles.

ParkingBreak is among the prettiest Rush Hour clones and at $2.99 it should be. Most other Rush Hour clones I've played have been free, but I don't knock a company that's willing to do a good job for charging money. I just think $2.99 might be a bit steep for this game.

Another interesting point is that in addition to a demo and Android version there's also a Droid specific version that takes advantage of the Droid's odd screen size. Now, I'm all in favor of developer's forgetting about those extra 54 pixels and treating my display as a WVGA display so as to simplify porting... I've never really understand why the Droid has such a weird screen size. However, with two full versions one question I have is "If I buy the Android version and upgrade to the Droid are we saying I have to buy this again?". I sure hope not.

I did have one problem with this game and that's in between levels it would seem to hang on the loading next level screen. I could always press Home and then start the game again and all would be well with no lost progress, but there's some sort of glitch there. There's also a marketplace report of level 24 causing it to crash? I've only made it to level 22 so I'll have to follow up on that if it turns out to be true.

ParkingBreak is a cute looking, well polished adaptation of a fun puzzle game and I'd certainly welcome the extra effort the developers took with this title in several other titles where the game is fun, but not as sharp looking. I'm pleased with my purchase and would recommend this game to others that enjoy this type of app.

Dec 7, 2009


SpecTrek was among the winners of the Android Developer Challenge II and that's what brought my attention to it. I've been trying to work my way through the winning apps that are actually available to us, and this one is clearly among the most innovative.

It clearly takes a page out of geocaching's book, but instead of finding real, hidden stashes of 'treasure' you're ghost hunting just like in the movie Ghostbusters. Your Android device becomes both your ghost finder and your weapon in capturing the specters.

First, you pick how long of a game you want from a short 15 minute game to a long 2 hour game. The length of the game determines how far away and how many ghosts there will be to catch. Once that's done the imaginary ghosts are placed and it's a race to find them. Consequently, this doubles as a fitness game as you walk or run to set a record time for finding and capturing ghosts.

When your Android phone is flat or parallel to the ground it becomes a map of where the ghosts are located. When it is used in camera mode (or perpendicular to the ground) it becomes a filter that can 'see' the ghosts which our unassisted human eyes cannot see. Essentially the software uses your GPS location and compass heading and then superimposes the ghosts over what your camera sees as your landscape. It's pretty cool to see these ghosts floating around... to zone in on them... and then get them in your sites and hit the capture button.

Obviously if you don't want or like to walk around then you won't find any love for this game. Likewise, you might not get your thrills off of capturing things that don't really exist and prefer to stick to traditional geocaching. However, this doesn't require people to have placed caches for you... is a nifty family game or solo game that gets us out of the house... and the kids seem to love it.

Dodge or Death - How Not to Market a Game

I saw the game Dodge or Death come through the app store on Friday night, I believe. It's an impressive example of how to not market a game. First, make sure there's no demo. Next include a description that says how great the game is. Try using the word 'addictive' if possible as no one has done that before, or in this case talk about the EASTER EGG that only the Master can obtain because don't we all want to be the Master? And naturally include that the game NEVER, EVER becomes boring... even Halo becomes boring eventually, but not "Dodge or Death". Finally, make sure to not include any screenshots, but if you're going to include screenshots, as Dodge or Death does, make sure they DO NOT show actual game play. Perhaps a screen that says "Ready?" and a screen that says the game's title will do.

In other words, make sure that if I plunk my $1.49 down on your game that I have absolutely no clue as to what I'm buying and it'll be a COMPLETE surprise because people love surprises. And you're probably wondering why you haven't cracked the 50 download mark with a game that never becomes boring? Our First Month

It's been a month since I picked up my Droid phone on its release date. I called the local Verizon store here in Batavia, IL to see if they had any left which they did. I went on over to test it out for about half an hour and decided to pick up a pair for the wife and I. Then I waited and waited and waited... apparently they were too busy to sell me one so I drove up to Best Buy and bought them there (and as a side benefit eliminated the whole rebate hassle).

In any event, after being a Windows Pocket PC user for nearly 8 years and an iPod Touch user for 6 months it was a grating decision. On one hand was the Apple app store packed with useful and interesting apps and games (and I do use my phone extensively to play games). One the other hand was all of the software I've accumulated and my familiarity with the Windows Pocket PC platform and my history as a Sprint customer (i.e. I could stay with Sprint if I went with a Pocket PC). And then the Motorola Droid backed by Google, a company that I'm not a huge fan of, comes along.

When making my decision I had a few keys things I was looking for out of my new phone:
  • A big, sharp screen that I could do Remote Desktop from and not see a postage stamp portion of the server's screen.
  • Horsepower both in terms of the main CPU and the graphics engine for gaming.
  • Upgradable memory (preferably by just sticking a new SD card into the SD card slot).
  • A great browser and a browsing experience as close to that of my PC as possible.
  • An open development environment that encourages developers to create software for the device.
  • A large, established software base.
  • GPS capabilities for navigation and geocaching.
  • A physical keyboard.
  • A nice camera and preferably one that allows me to take videos.
  • Good quality when making and receiving phone calls.
  • To be able to change my own battery and not have to send my phone off for maintenance in 2 years.
Obviously there wasn't a clear winner. My feelings towards Windows Pocket PCs (now Windows Phones, I think?) are that this is a platform that has waned in recent years. They and Palm (among others) had a huge head start in terms of time over Apple and yet Apple has been able to enter and dominate the market in 2 years. Windows Mobile 6.5 didn't sound like a huge advancement over 6.1, and I can't get much of a reading about Windows Mobile 7. I've also had to upgrade phones almost every time a new version of the Windows Mobile Operating System was released so I couldn't even count on buying a 6.5 device and upgrading it. Microsoft needs to start answering questions raised by competition or fold up and die in this market. Personally, I'd like to see Microsoft come back with a great Mobile 7 phone, app store, ...etc, but I have to bet against that at this point.

So it was the iPhone versus the Droid. The Droid had the nicer screen and comparable hardware specs in terms of CPU, graphics, GPS, compass...etc. The Droid is an open device, for 3rd party development, that doesn't require Steve Jobs to personally bless the software I run on my phone. The browser promises Adobe Flash 10 support in the spring of 2010 whereas Apple is shunning Flash integration (wouldn't want any code running that Apple didn't actually approve of). The Droid has an app store of moderate size and I've been able to find the basic apps I've wanted. The Droid lets me easily change batteries and SD cards (although why the SD card is hidden by the battery is a mystery to me). The Droid has a real keyboard and camera, and both are of excellent quality. Finally, the phone call quality has been great to the point that my wife actually doesn't complain about making/receiving a wireless call and that's partially due to the quality speakers and microphone in this device. The only thing the iPhone had going for it was the size and maturity of its app store, however I don't want to dismiss that as a small thing as software makes the computer... not the other way around. Still, I felt that the existing Android marketplace would be good enough and would get better.

 My decision has not proved to be errant. Whereas I used to carry my iPod Touch around with me most of the day and have my HTC 6800 phone as a secondary device I now successfully carry just the Droid with me. One of the first things I did was offload the utility type apps from my iPod Touch and install similar ones on my Droid and for the most part that was successful. News, weather, sports, stock quotes, Facebook ...etc were all easy enough to find. Even Amazon has a native client for shopping at their website on the Android. A third party has made a tool for eBay. About the only things I miss are some of the banking tools where the Android hasn't proven to be a big enough success to warrant an Android version of an app to check my bank accounts, but I can still use the browser for that.

 The phone itself has proven solid. The 5 megapixel camera has been excellent... far better than some of the reviews claiming the camera was just mediocre. And for the reviewers that claimed the keyboard wasn't very good I can only say that that's because they tried using it for about 18 seconds. After having the device for a month and having the option of keyboard input it is very much appreciated on longer emails and text messages. In fact it's made me more leery of media reviews on brand new technology. I suppose it's possible that I'm not the audiophile, videophile, whateverphile I need to be to truly contrast cameras or keyboards on phones, but the Droid's camera has taken nice, sharp photos for me and the keyboard has the tactile response that I'd except from a keyboard that's a millimeter thick.

I've also been able to pick up some good, entertaining games for the Droid, but admittedly the selection isn't even close to that of the iPhone. The iPhone seems to be getting more A titles every day while those of us in Droidland get software that allows us to shake boobies. I'm jealous! That doesn't mean there aren't any great games on the Droid. Speed Forge 3D is excellent and was an ADC II winner. Spec Trek is quite innovative. And, because it's an open platform I can always fall back on my emulators such as Nesoid (and legally too as I own several hundred NES game cartridges). But having access to a massive library of old games via Nesoid just isn't going to be the same as getting Madden 2010 or Super Monkey Ball II. This is the Achilles heel of the platform and the one thing that keep sticking with articles about companies like Gameloft saying, on November 20th, 2009, that they're cutting back on Android support and EA's support being nonexistent. With that kind of attitude what's going to save the Droid?

If you look back on the history of the app store it didn't happen overnight. First Apple supplied good tools to make it easy for even neophyte developers to write an app. This allowed for the creation of some lousy apps and some great apps. One in particular, Flight Control, comes to mind as it was among the first games I wanted to be able to play on my Droid, after buying it for my iPod Touch, and I still don't think there's a game as good as Flight Control on the Android platform (despite 3-4 attempts). Flight Control sold over 700,000 copies in its first two months in the app store... these are numbers that an Android developer can only dream of. One of the top paid apps for the Android is Robodefense. It is priced at $2.99 and is in the 50k-250k sales numbers. There's no comparing the two app stores right now. Apple's is vastly superior and gets better every day. So what's it going to take for the Android to start matching this?
  1. Install Base - The iPhone/iPod Touch combo has an installed user base of over 40 million units. The Droid has sold about a million units so far from what I read and it's safe to say that the G1 hasn't sold 39 million units (1 million might be lucky?). All in all, I'm not sure how large of an install base the Android platform has.

    Furthermore, there are claims that new Android devices will replace and not upgrade old Android devices creating a fragmented market where developers have to create versions for several similar, but different devices. For example, the TMobile G1 is slow and may not even be getting Android 2.0. Quite frankly, I'd be pretty upset if I was an early adopter and it took this long to get an update (a key reasons being that the G1 has only half the memory of the Droid and the OS is quite a bit bigger) or I never got an update.
    So, right now the iPhone platform has a much larger user base buying apps and thus the sales are there. Add to it that iPod Touch users are far more likely to buy than iPhone users and that makes things even more interesting. We have a situation where we can't possible hope to compete in terms of sales figures at this point in time. I don't even thing it's worthwhile looking at the iPhone as a comparison. We need a larger installed based of people willing to buy apps in order to get things moving in the right direction.
  2. Technical Issues - I just read an article on Apple Insider claiming the Android can't run the same kind of quality games as the iPhone because it doesn't have the storage space for apps that the iPhone has. I was distraught when I read that, but then realized it's simply not true.

    While the second half of the statement is true, that apps can NOT be stored in the Android's SD card, I recalled that Space Physics is a game that works around this limitation by having buyers download the software itself and the level data separately. The data program is run and creates all of the level data on the SD card so as to not consume limited app memory. It's convoluted, required the user to remember to delete the data file app, but it works. I also thought about this further and figured an app could actually, upon initialization, download any levels, textures, audio, data ...etc it needs from the Internet automatically eliminating the 2 step installation process of Space Physics. Obviously, one would need to provide server space for such downloads, but might even be able to work that into some improved copy protection every time an app gets the latest levels and updates. Finally, we can hope Google will fix this shortcoming and allows apps to be stored on the SD card in a future software update.
  3. Documentation - I haven't personally checked into this at any depth, but I continuously see stories of the shortcomings of the Android SDK even with the latest 2.0.1 release.
  4. Marketplace Quality - The existing Android marketplace limits which countries can buy apps and is poorly organized due to a serious lack of categories. It's not as easy to browse as Apple's app store. Furthermore, while I may be critical of Apple's software police there is also the benefit of knowing someone other than the author tried out the software that I'm being asked to download. Apple catches bugs in apps and also creates a quality control system, as well.
  5. Buyers - Are people willing to buy apps for their Android phone? As stated, the iPod Touch (non-phone) gets the majority of app sales. I know several iPhone users that have a handful of freebie apps on their phone, but pay little attention to the powerful gaming platform they hold in their hands. Perhaps Android users, on average, are more business oriented and don't care about games once they have email and a browser configured. Perhaps Android users are just plain cheap and insist on free ports of other Linux stuff? I only hope that Android owners understant the power of the device they own.
  6. Dollar Games - I'd say at least half of my iPod Touch games were purchased for the magic $.99 price point. At $.99 I could afford risk taking a bit more than at $3-$5. Why are so many Android games that are worse or equivalent to iPhone games priced are 3x or more the price on the competing platform. I know... quantity of sales isn't there. Still, that doesn't make me feel good as a consumer.

Hopefully the install base will grow by leaps and bounds as predicted and different Android models will not fragment the platform. This is a great piece of hardware that I'm, on the whole, very happy with. Google should also be applauded for their ADC design competitions which has stimulated development on the Android, but I can only hope they take their marketplace seriously. And if you're an Android user reading this do not forget that you're a part of the solution too. Developers are only going to come if they see sales happening in the marketplace and while I certainly don't encourage anyone to buy apps they don't intend to use I also hope people buy apps that will be useful as we all try and support our platform of choice.

Dec 5, 2009


A rare weekend post, but I'm excited...

I just pulled down a new game from the Marketplace called Pong Multitouch mainly because of the multitouch claim. It has been my understanding that the Droid did not have this feature that iPhone owners covet. Pong Multitouch claimed to support the Droid's multitouch capabilities. So which is it? Well, to my surprise, the Droid does indeed have multitouch and Pong multitouch does exactly what it says... 2 player pong detecting two fingers at the same time. Neato. So I did a little more digging and found that apparently the Droid's lack of multitouch refers moreso to the fact that the default browser doesn't support it most likely because of Apple's big stack of patents. Bummer. There is, however, a web browser called Dolphin that is free and supports multitouch and the familiar pinch gesture probably because they would love the press of being sued by Apple and having to share a portion of the profits from their free browser with them.

I tried it out and yes it works, but it's not nearly as slick as Apple's Safari browser on the iPhone. For a start, when I pinch and release it continues to zoom a bit further after I've removed my fingers from the screen. Dolphin does let you configure a myriad of other gestures for things like searching, downloading, RSS feeds, ...etc.

My one issue with the Android browsers that Safari does so well still remains an issue, though, and that's just how well Safari lets me double tap on a column and it zooms in perfectly presumably being smart enough to judge the table size of the area I clicked on. The default Android browser seems to overshoot the column ignoring its width assuming I'm centering on something else.

Anyhow, I'm impressed to learn that my Droid HAS multitouch afterall and hope that perhaps some developers will begin to use it. I did go back and test yesterday's review game Android Invaders and verified that it doesn't support multitouch so I presume developers have to code to explicitly enable it.

Freebie Friday II

Late again with the Friday post...

On Sunday it'll be a whole month that I will have had my Android and I plan to write basically a summary of what I believe are the pros and cons of this device primarily compared to the iPhone (given that that was its primary competitor despite my Windows Pocket PC background), but for now let's take a look at some nice and not so nice free games for Android devices.

Armageddonoid is a Missile Command clone from Teleca Poland. It certainly is rough along the edges, but one thing I liked was the touch screen controls. Instead of letting me click to point I have to drag my finger to move the site and then click to fire which makes the game closer to the original from a control standpoint and more challenging. It also works with the trackball according to the authors and seems to play reasonably well for a freebie.

Android Invaders, from UKLooney, 'cheats' and isn't really a game, but rather a game emulator and in this case it emulates the old Space Invaders arcade game. The program itself actually searches the Internet for Space Invaders roms (which are illegal to have unless you own the original game). After that it plays just like the arcade game with the exception of the controls which aren't very good. For a start, given no multitouch only left, right, or fire can be used at a time if using the onscreen controls which seemed to work best. For me, I tried using the DPad and there seemed to be a delay in processing moves. The added haptic (vibration) feedback when you die also became annoying pretty fast.

Bloxx 3D is a 3D Tetris game where you are given the overview of a pit or well and block of different shapes fall down leaving you to sort them out so that they fit. Should you fill an entire level it disappears and you get points. I never could move my block left/right/up/down in the game, though, only being able to rotate it so this gets an "unplayable" rating in my book. I can only presume it works on some Android models and not on others.

Chess for Android, from Aart Blk is a nice, free Chess game with a simple 2D board and 5 skill levels which is more than enough to challenge a lousy chess player such as myself. Skill levels appear to be listed in terms of how long the computer has to make a move (from 0 to 30 seconds) vs. real chess rankings. Nonetheless, its free and plays just fine!

Millionaire is a card game in which you try and get rid of all of your cards first. The text is a bit messed up on the instructions for me, but I was able to work my way through to understanding the basics of the game. The game itself seems to play pretty nicely and touch selection of the cards works far better that I would have thought given the size of the cards. I've tried a few card games that claim to be popular overseas and usually it takes awhile to gain insight into the strategy behind the games once getting the rules down.

Milky Milky is a freebie from the esteemed Phil Symonds (creator of Abduction!: World Attack and Gem Miner: Dig Deeper) similar to those pipe games where you have to connect the pipe pieces by rotating them so that the water flows from the drain into the sewer. In this case you're moving milk from the cows into the milk truck as Phil apparently likes cow themed games. Well done, as usual with a tutorial and over 50,000 downloads in the 2 days he's released it. I have to wonder if he'd priced this at a dollar just how many downloads it would have or would people have been too cheap to pay a buck for it? I only hope Phil is financially rewarded over time for releasing 3 good games for Android devices.

Parachuter (which changes its name to Paratrooper when you've downloading/installed it) is just a pain to control. I can't help but feel that the goal of this game was to create a game where I'm clicking away blindly on the screen so that perhaps I accidentally click one of the ads at the bottom after I die vs creating an entertaining gaming experience. My Android's memory couldn't be big enough to warrant keeping this one installed.

Pinball, by Magma Mobile, is a pinball game featuring 5 different and interesting tables. One, for example, is Space Invader themed where you have to try and hit the aliens. While the ball physics is somewhat lacking... although not horrible either... this had some entertainment value for pinball players. I didn't start liking pinball until I hit age 35 or so thinking the game was just too simple and dare I say stupid as a kid/young adult. I've changed my stance and love the Pirates of the Caribbean pinball game at the local Chuck E Cheeses.

Press Your Luck, from Joe Sack, is a remake of the Parker Brother's board game called Can't Stop designed by the great Sid Sackson. I enjoy many board games and this is well enough done that it captures the feel of the original. The game isn't going to win any beauty contests as it's pretty plain looking, but it does the job. In this game you have columns from 2 - 12 and you roll 4 dice. You then pair up the dice any way you want to (i.e. a 3, 4, 5, 6 could be a 3+4=7 and a 5+6=11 or a 3+5=8 and a 4+6 = 10 or...) and advance your token along the corresponding numbered column. The trick it that you can only be advancing in 3 columns during a turn and if you roll such that you can't advance any of your tokens your lose all of your progress from that turn hence the name "Press Your Luck". Now, because 7 is more common that 2 when pairing 6 sided dice the 2 column only have 3 spots and the 7 column has 13 spots to make it to the top and the winner is the first to make it to the top of 3 of the columns. Make sense from my 4 line rules summary? Full rules from the Parker game are here. I'm biased towards this game as I already loved it. I was ecstatic to see an Android port that works well. It only have one level of AI and I can't be sure of how good that is yet, and this game isn't going to be fun unless you like the statistics and probability aspect of the game.[Update: I'm still undefeated in this game so I suspect the AI isn't that sharp, but it's still fun to play.]

Socobar 2.0 is a Sokoban clone from ConfettiMobile. Push the boxes on top of the dots to turn them red. Do so for all boxes and you've completed the level. I was a bit surprised at level 1's difficultly as I'm using to that being a teaser, but it took me far too long to get to puzzle 2 in a good sense. Nice little puzzle game!

Tightrope Hero is an innovative little game from Good Team Studio where you are a clown walking along a tightrope that somehow exists above the clouds (it was probably easier to do the graphics of clouds than a full cityscape). Tilt your Android back and forth to balance. But the pigeons love to land on your tightrope (and apparently love living above the clouds?) causing your center of gravity to change. Honest, I was pretty bored with this one pretty fast as progress seemed slow and there didn't seem to be much incentive to play on despite the title's very professional appearance