All posts by Christopher

About Christopher

As a life-long gamer and Apple fanboy, Chris looks forward to bringing his critical wit and creativity to the NoDpad team. A self-proclaimed geek, Chris loves the distribution channel the app store brings to video game industry and hopes gamers and developers alike will continue to support the iPhone as a solid gaming platform. Besides video games, he also enjoys film theory, classic literature, and American football.

Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming on the iPhone: The Early 70’s

Every week for the next couple of months, No D-pad will spotlight key games from the last 40 years of gaming.  Not only will this retrospective give readers a brief history of the industry, we will also point out notable classics and clones from that bygone era that are now available in the app store.  We hope you enjoy.

Background

The impetus for video games began in late 1940’s when the earliest of computer engineers began testing war game simulations on mainframe computers.  To run these games, mammoth machines size of home trailers were housed in academic and military institutions.  These machines looked impressive, but their computing power was less than infantile compared to what we have today.  There’s nothing currently available for the iPhone that mirrors these early experiences, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Most people today wouldn’t even recognize these early programs as “video games.”  The idea of using computing power for entertainment purposes grew in the 1960’s, but this wasn’t till the 1970s that things began to change.

The Early 70’s

The early 70’s laid the groundwork for what is now the world’s most profitable and fastest growing entertainment medium.  Not only did refrigerator-sized gaming machines show up in local bars and restaurants around the United States, they also found their way into homes.  The earliest home video game game system was 1972’s Odyssey system by Magnavox; the system included a handful of single screen games like Roulette and Simon Says.

Note: There are many fun Simon Says and Roulette games available for the iPhone, but none of them truly emulate the early Odyssey experience.

1973- The first blockbuster video game stepped on to the world stage in 1973.  Atari’s Pong– a simple block-style table tennis game- became a huge hit in the U.S.  With this success came another video game tradition: unabashed cloning.  After Atari made a home version of the game for Sears, other developers (Coleco, Magnavox, and even Nintendo) began making there own versions, too.  The closest iPhone game to original Pong is yet another a clone named Pang: Pocket Pong.  For a more modern experience, check out World Cup Table Tennis.

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Left: the original Pong Right: the iPhone's clone

Following up on the success of Pong, Atari released the arcade game Gotcha.  A simple, top-down maze game with a hilariously sexy ad campaign, the game didn’t quite latch onto gamers like Pong, but the iPhone does have a decent retro-re-creation in iMazePro.

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Left: 1973 ad for Gotcha!   Middle: screenshot from Gotcha! Right: iPhone’s clone iMazePro

1974- The maze game expanded in 1974 when a NASA engineer came up with a 3-D maze game called Maze War.  Not only was this title one of the first 3-D games, many credit it as the earliest first-person shooter.  It also was a pioneer in competitive play; multiple players could shoot at each other while wandering through the same sketch-like maze.  For the iPhone, there is no exact clone, but there is Simple Maze 3-D, a line art game that recreates the look of this old trend setter.  If you’re looking for a modern spin on the maze game, check out the GPS-driven i-Gotcha.

Left: classic Maze War    Right: iPhone’s clone

Check back with us every week or so for more gaming history with our continuing series Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone.

Fallen EP-1 Review: Holiday Chills

Ahh… Nothing reminds me of Christmas more than a blood soaked prison cell.  That seems to be the subversive approach behind YOUOCO’s untimely release of Fallen EP-1.   Intended as the pilot episode to a much longer story, Fallen EP-1 is a third-person slasher title that prides itself on horror and gore.  Designed in the vein of the Silent Hill or Resident Evil series, players assume the role of a inmate who finds his cell door unlocked and his fellow inmates dead.  Despite the promising premise, the title unfortunately lands on uneven ground due to dated gameplay design.

Likes

Mise-en-scene- Ambiance means so much in any horror title, and it is certainly title’s strong suit.  The look of the game is great.  Combined with an ominous industrial score, disgusting cut scenes, and off-putting game sounds (i.e. clanky metal doors, broken glass over tile) and gamers will find a legitimately horrific mystery.

Puzzles- While walking through rooms, players will find the occasional arrow that leads into a first-person perspective.  Once in this perspective, gamers will need to manipulate inventory and props to unlock doors, get cameras working etc…  These mini-puzzles aren’t difficult, but they are a clever way to lengthen the game’s playing time.

Dislikes

Controls- The approach to gameplay feels about ten-years old.  As in early Resident Evil games, players will often find the simple act of walking through a room cumbersome.  (Some may find this a nice retro feature; I am not one of those people).  Controls are dictated by a virtual D-pad that seems clunky and unforgiving while combat, although easy, lacks any sort of finesse whatsoever.  Rooms seem to be designed more for aesthetic effect rather than game functionality.  One has to wonder whether or not it would’ve been a wiser choice to simply abandon the D-pad all together.

Why this publisher decided to release this title at Christmas time is beyond me, but one does have to admire the gaul of counter-marketing against the year’s most reverent holiday.  Even though Fallen EP-1 does have some nice, creepy overtones, the scariest part of the game is its dated approach to movement.  If players are willing to forgive the lazy control scheme, they’ll find a dark diversion from this otherwise saccharine sweet holiday season.

Fallen EP-1 was produced by YOUOCO and is available for $1.99; the game’s 1.0 version was reviewed on an iPod Touch 2G equipped with OS 3.1.1.

iPhone Snubbed in Many Best of 2009 Gaming Lists

Although the iPhone and iPod Touch are penetrating the handheld gaming market at astounding rate, Spike TV’s annual Video Game Awards show failed to include any of the iPhone’s offerings.  Even though Game of the Year went to the very worthy PS3 title Uncharted 2: Honor Among Thieves, it is surprising that there wasn’t a single nomination from the App Store in any category, not even among the handheld titles.  Surely games like Spider: the Secret of Bryce Manor or Rolando 2: Quest for the Golden Orchid can compete with other handheld nominees like Scribblenauts or Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story.

This lack of appreciation towards the iPhone isn’t exclusive to Spike.  In GameSpot’s latest “Best of” promo, they don’t even mention the iPhone as a gaming platform.  Yahoo’s list of nominees also fails to mention any iPhone offerings (although Sims 3 was nominated, it is listed as a PC game and there’s no mention of the iPhone variant).  Even the gold standard in gaming news, G4, forgot all about Apple’s little phone that could.

In the industry’s defense, there may be a formal submission process required by organizations like Spike TV before any game can be considered eligible for nomination.  If developers failed in filing this appropriate paperwork, then they have no one to blame but themselves.  However, if Spike and others choose their nominees more casually, it’s something of a surprise that the games industry is continuing to ignore the iPhone’s impact.

There is a bright spot, though.  Not all industry magazines have released their year-end lists yet.  Will one of these news organizations surprise us by including a title or two from the app store?  We’ll see.  If that’s not enough to bring us fanboys some sense of hope, Gamasutra has named the iPhone the hottest business gaming trend of 2009, commenting that this year the platform grew into more than the gaming wasteland many industry insiders predicted it would become.  Even though this isn’t exactly a gaming award, it is nice to see someone in the industry acknowledging the phone that “does everything.”  Sorry, Sony.

Apple–in its never-ending act of self-promotion–has released its own Best of 2009 which can be found on iTunes.  Also, the team here at No DPad will be releasing our own “Best of” list just after the new year.  Until then, happy holidays!

The Settlers Review: Delivering the Goods

Gameloft’s iPhone version of The Settlers carries with it the same quality that has become standard with the series. Like most RTS war/economy games, the idea is two fold: build a self-sustaining settlement that can then win an impending war. In The Settlers, players campaign as the head of one of four legions: Vikings, Romans, Mayans, or an ambiguous Dark Tribe. The first few levels function as a tutorial for the uninitiated while the rest of the game is a set of episodic challenges needing to be defeated in order to move on. Unlike Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, history is largely ignored. Despite this, the game is still quite fun.

Likes

Visuals: The graphical interface is solid with bright colors and detail. Everything is clearly marked with icons that become transparent or disappear when not in use. Each race race has their own style when it comes to the architecture of their buildings, and each class of worker has its own set of animations; this adds a whole lot of enjoyment to the game. Graphically, it beats competitors like Civilization and Catan.

Controls: A simple touch and drag system glides players across the map while a slider bar at the right hand side of the screen zooms in and out. Using two fingers allows players to create boxes over segments of the population; once selected, these segments carry out orders as directed. All menus are touch driven, too

Audio: While in peace, the music is light and ambient, but all that changes when battle begins; the score swells as swords strike and armies clash. Also, whenever a player zooms in on a section of the map, the sound effects from the action below are amplified as if God himself had leaned in a little closer to listen in on his world.

Dislikes

Clutter: As with most games of this type, keeping up with all that is going on in your kingdom is part of the fun. This fun becomes slightly annoying when ported on to the small screen of the iPhone. Unfortunately, there isn’t much a developer can do to remedy this. Simplifying the game’s design to make this title more iPhone friendly would take away one its major strengths: its attention to detail.

Although there are no surprises for those familiar with this type of game, The Settlers does deliver where it is expected. Don’t let the hefty price tag scare you. At $6.99, this is a solid buy; there are a lot of hours of gameplay in this title.

buy

The Settlers was produced by Gameloft and is available for $6.99; the game’s 1.1.1 version was reviewed on an iPod Touch 2G equipped with OS 3.1.1.

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Surviving High School Review: Any Up for a Rerun of 90210?

With the success of lifestyle games like The Sims, it was only a matter of time before game developers expanded the genre for the teenie set. Electronic Arts‘ latest offering Surviving High School is an honest attempt to do just that. The game plays not like simulation per se; it is more like an interactive story with a series of mini-games thrown in. Like in Fable, decisions early on effect people’s perceptions of you. Ultimately, these decisions limit what players can do towards the end of the game’s campaign. For example, should you choose study instead of watching television, you won’t be as popular and therefore you’re limited in both friends and dating partners. Yes, it’s as simple as that.

Likes

Presentation: The game carries competent visuals along with a musical score that does its job. Simple, static shots of a classroom or hallway fill a screen while bubbles with characters’ head speak to players to progress the plot. The controls are simple; players touch a choice and story moves on.

Mini-games: Success in mini-games also effect the plot. Trivia in the form of homework might spur players to brush up on their academic skills while the weekly football game built into the first season of the title adds a nice climax to each in-game week. However, because the difficulty in these games is almost non-existent, the best function they serve is to separate the talk of plot-driving scenes that sometimes labor on and on.

Replay Value: Since different choices lead to different scenarios, players might enjoy replaying this title to see how complex the interactive story takes them.

Dislikes

Stereotypes: One shouldn’t expect too much from a game that centers around the high school experience, but the blatant stereotypes and canned dialogue scream cliche. Although some characters’ motivations evolve into a decent story arch, the game will harken more memories from Degrassi High than The Wonder Years; there’s nothing conceptually here that exceeds the episode of a WB television series.

Female Representation: Much has been said about female under-representation in video games. Unfortunately, this game, too, repeats the same mistakes so many developers make. Those wishing to play female characters have no option to do so. This is especially odd. Considering the game’s casual approach and he-said/she-said story, this game seems poised for the female demographic.

Episodes: Continuing the game in the form of weekly episodes seems like a good choice, but this soon loses its appeal when players discover that their previous avatar is no longer accessible. Instead of extending the plot using your original character, players are stuck assuming the roles of secondary characters from the original campaign. In the developer’s defense, there are extra episodes available at $0.99 each which may add more content than the free weekly extension this gamer explored.

Although Surviving High School fails to deliver one-tenth of the charm or insight of a good John Hughes flick, there is enough drama here for those who relish in less poignant fair. Younger teens and those adults wishing to relive their formative years may get a kick out of this title, but there’s little here for anyone who has discovered the wider world that exists beyond high school.

Worth A Look

Surviving High School was developed Electronic Arts and is available for $2.99. The game’s 1.0.0 version was played on an iPod Touch 2G equipped with OS 3.1.1 software. There’s also a lite version to try.

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