Sharing locally has been solved, Chirp review

"Hey could you email me that picture you just took?"

While sharing online has taken the web by storm and has since become old news. Sharing digital information locally has always been a hassle away from out computers and high speed internet connections. Not any more.

Chirp

 

Say hello to Chirp

Chirp is the little mobile app that let's you share anything that has an URL or can be uploaded and given an url locally. All you need is the app. It's free. It's tiny, takes seconds to download and starts instantly and you're set. No, you don't need an account (though you can get one) no you don't need to connect it with facebook. You just start it. And now you're receiving anything being shared.

How does it share? This is the other brilliant part of this app. It sends the URL (everything is shared through their servers so an internet connection is needed, albeit not a fast one) through a short sound clip.

That's right, you hear a short blip-blop message as if R2-D2 really needs to pee, and there's the photo on your screen. It's cute. But i's also really smart. Since it shares through sound you can share messages with someone over the phone. I myself got a picture from the host of a Podcast I listen to. He just told me to open Chirp and I got to see what he was talking about.

Business model suggestion

Since I hate to see great services like this go away, usually because it's hard to figure out a business model. I thought I'd share a suggestion. Chirp, you listening? Great. Here's one way to monetize.

Providing the app for without an account is absolutely crucial to grow. If users need to jump through any hurdles at all Chirp will become another Bump. But without the first-mover-on-new-platform-hype. Keep it simple to share.

Instead charge for feature where a cost is tangible for the user: Access and Storage.

Access

Later access to the files. Keep the latest 3-5 shared things be available. Let the users purchase access to the rest. One advantage to this is that it's obvious to users. There's an understandable cost benefit. It's also just on the front end which makes it easy to implement (until you've got an open API).

Storage

In short: Huge. Ass. Files. Trying to share a 500MB HD movie clip? "Sorry this file is so large you need to pay 99 cents to cover the bandwidth costs". No problem.

Summing up

Chirp is awesome. Go get it.

And please Chirp, add support for all platforms. Open up an API and let developers go crazy with the free service. I'd love to Chirp stuff to my Mac or my friends PC / Android.

AirPlay review - the future is upon us

Today it looks like iOS 4.2, the new version of Apples operating system for the iPhone and the iPad, is being pushed back another week. I've been trying out AirPlay on my iPad (the developer preview) and I have to say this is the future. In http://www.apple.com/itunes/airplay/iOS has a killer app beyond anything else in the mobile space today. I'm not kidding.

Third Party AirPlay speaker

AirPlay let's you stream music and videos to and from any iOS enabled devices. Whole there aren't many such devices yet this is the future of media we've been waiting for.

Coming home, sitting down with my iPad and than choosing what I want to listen to on my wifi stereo system is a form of media disintermediation that really takes the leap from 50s hifi systems to the visions of the future represented in movies such as Total Recall or Minority Report.

AirPlay really does change everything. Lets just hope Apple opened it up to third parties. This is the way we'll want to consume media in the coming years. Let's hope it get wide adoption on all platforms.

First impressions of the iPad

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad I didn't like it. It was just to basic, I thought I'd never buy one unless they upgraded it quickly.Three months later I had just touched one and "got it". The UI made all the difference, it IS just a gimped laptop but with an interface that makes what you can do fun.

I just unpacked my own and tried out most of the functions I've been looking forward to. Unsurprisingly it feels like my iPhone only the screen makes the entire experience slightly more immersive.

As I'm typing this there is no doubt in my mind that this is the future of computing, at least the near future, but should you get one? If you work on the road or need to upgrade a net book the answer is Yes. If you have a great laptop or use a desktop machine however, don't. Not yet, let the platform mature a bit and you'll be much less grieved.

Interactive art, game?

Every Day the same Dream is a short flash game that I think you should play. It's story of a faceless man who tries to break out of his routine of getting up, dressing, saying good bye to his emotionally detached wife and driving to a miserable job. It's not exactly cheerful. It might even provoke dark thoughts. It's conveys a sense of how valuable life is in a strange way. This game is provoking. It doesn't provoke your ideals. It provokes how you live.

A fantastic interactive experiment that I can really recommend:

Every Day the Same Dream

Brütal Legend demo impresssions

One word: Awesome. To tell you the truth, I had already planned to buy Brutal Legend just for the story writing and the fact that original games are few and should be promoted. But after playing the demo I have to say that the team at Double Fine has outdone themselves. This is one hell of a game, the gameplay is simple and fun while the narrative is awesome. The game has excellent polish and definitely seems worth the money.

Truthfully, I'm a bit surprised and a bit impressed. I had not suspected that the game would be this fun to play.

Uncharted 2 multiplayer beta impressions

I like Uncharted 1. Let's get that straight before I say anything else. Because it does make me slightly biased. But that aside, Uncharted 2 among thieves really ups the ante. The graphics are slightly better, everything is more smooth and the free running/climbing is really more integrated into the world.

The multiplayer beta is just what it sounds like, a demo that only showcases multiplayer. And its a lot of fun. Gameplay is engaging even though it's quite slow compared to other shooters. The levels are pretty large and since you can climb you have to think vertically unless you want to get shot repeatedly by the other players climbing the ruins.

There is a modern standard leveling system and a matchmaking system that we really don't know much about since there aren't that many players playing it.

So far though, the beta has me convinced that the game itself is holding up to the hype. Still, Uncharted is just as much about the narrative progression as the game mechanics. And we haven't seen them yet.

Monopoly city streets

The word wide Monopoly match is finally running smoothly without slowdowns or lag. The game is a fantastic experiment on the google maps platform. I've been wondering why it hasn't  been used more for games up til now, let's see if that changes. There is only one problem with the game. Chance has such a small effect on actual play that the main strategy in Monopoly (buy everything as fast as possible) is not only dominant but effectively the only one. Still pretty fun though, buying your own neighbourhood.

Plants vs Zombies first impressions

Popcap have released their newest casual venture Plants vs Zombies. Basically a simplified tower defense game with levels and really cute graphics. My first impression was, truthfully: "Wow! This is great! This is so much fun!". Yes, I committed the exclamation fan-boy crime.

My second impression, 20minutes later was: "What? Is this it? This isn't that much fun..."

The next time I had a conscious thought was an hour later. An hour of hard concentration trying to kill zombies. Have no doubts, this is a most excellent game. And I will get into detail on why I think this is shortly.

UPDATE:

Downloaded the demo on my girlfriends Mac, two hours later she'd bought the full game. Two days later she was stuck on one of the final levels of the game. She'd grinded the entire game. Yes, I'm proud of her!

Dawn of War 2 impressions

Dawn of War 2 is Relic Entertainments follow up on the massively succesful Dawn of War series. Relic being the only remaining RTS studio competing with Blizzard sure has it's work cut out for it but the success of Homeworld, Dawn of War and recently Company of Heroes seem to indicate that they are somewhat good at what they do (understating for effect). Dawn of War 2 is a game that is more focused on small unit tactics compared to the massive armies of it's predecessor but apart from that not a lot has really changed. Don't get me wrong, it's a big change. And for the better in my opinion.

DoW2 is simple put: fun. It's a lot more like the classic Myth series then Command & Conquer style RTS games which makes play a lot more focused and immersive. The graphics are great and the different units with their different abilities make for interesting game dynamics. But there are a few glitches in this new way of playing.

First though, I wonder why it requires such outrageous system specs? It's not prettier then Company of Heroes but it makes my core2duo 2,4 Ghz, 2GB DD2, XFX 8800GT 512MB machine stutter and jerk. Sure, I'm running the game in 1080p but I have no problem running CoH in the same resolution. Isn't DoW2 based on the same engine? Recommended system specs are way below my machine so I can't help feeling Relic somehow forgot, or didn't have time for optimization. Please patch this up, this is just silly.

Gameplay wise there is also a question of complexity, long time readers will know by now that I've been an active advocate for simple games for the past 5 years but DoW2 is plain weird. It's a game made to be simple to pick up, small units, distinct advantages for different units. Small skirmishes and simple to understand goals. Sounds great right? So why does each unit has 3 interchangeable special abilities that seem to come in enormous variety, all with different uses and hot keys?

It's like if some part of the design was just hammered into the game without following the same rules as the rest of the game: Overall game design "simplicity and stream lined experience" Unit and ability control "pre 2000's complexity comparable to text based logistic shipping simulators from the early 90's?" I'm drastically exadurating now but the complexity is really strange to find in this game. It just makes little sense. Why aren't the unit abilities locked to special roles? Or at least the ability groups locked to certain units? Does a sniper really ever need to use melee-charge? And why can't I control all the abilities with the same keys, as I do in World in Conflict? Button A for ability A, button B for ability B and so on. No matter WHAT that ability is?

Oh, and the multiplayer gameplay is copied without shame from the original version of Dreamlords. But that's just awesome.  ;)

Flower impressions

Sublime. Flower is the most engaging experience of movement, speed, atmosphere and space I've had in any game. The runner up, Eve Online, is not even close but even Eve is light years ahead of most games. Flower has room for improvements, nothing is perfect. But it might be the most innovative game I've played since Dune 2. It is not a classic game in almost any way, it is more an interactive experience of engaging fun rather then a computer- console- arcade- game. And it's better for it. It breaks most of the molds that hold this medium from growing but is never artsy or pretentious.

The only complaint I have with flower is that I have to play it with the SixAxis controller. Don't get me wrong, the 360 controller would certainly not be better and I doubt even the wiimote would be an improvement. A clunky piece of plastic simply doesn't do the experience justice. For preference I would have liked to play it using an iPod nano. But we can't have everything can we?

Flower. It's the best game in it's range (a short, small, cheap but luxurious experience). Buy it. You'll not regret it, I wish I was home playing it right now.

Thatgamecompany has really hit the mark with this one, let's hope they keep reshaping our perception of games and entertainment!

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BDG5ax_eTo]

Mirrors edge is fantastic

I just tried the Mirrors Edge demo and before I say anything else: if you can play the demo and haven't: PLAY IT NOW. Believe me, it's worth it. And yes, it is that good. Mirrors edge uses a first person camera with innovative gameplay and an extremely stylized environment to bring us the feeling of being a runner. A sort of lawless messenger service that hiden on the rooftops of a sparkling white totally oppressed city.

At first the game is disconcerting but in less then a minute of gameplay I was flying over the rooftops in a state of flow. The game is challenging, fun and beautiful. The controls are fantastic and the sense of immersion is quite beyond anything else I've experienced.

I have one problem that I intend to discuss with a friend of mine who happens to be a producer at Dice. The tutorial is pretty hard and therefore setup with restart points conveniently spaced in between maneuvers. But apparently Dice has either not played this part at all themselves, or their designers are so god awful bad that they didn't see that if a player fails at doing something the player has to watch an NPC doing it. Each time. And the NPC takes about 3 times as long to do it as you do, and there is no way to skip it. In short: I fell of a pipe several times during the tutorial, which led to me sitting for 5 minutes watching an NPC walk across the same pipe with close to 1 minute of gameplay spaced in between. That's just unforgivable. Well, at least I never have to play the tutorial again.

If I were you, I'd buy this game. Personally, I can't afford it because I bought the PS3 to play it on... Catch 22 anyone?

Ratchet and Clank: Quest for booty micro review

Waiting for the Mirrors Edge demo to finish downloading I decided to try out the latest Ratchet and Clank adventure, quest for booty. QoB is supposed to be a short and sweet downloadable game that will be a fun expansion to play for previous fans of the series and a simple introduction for players who've yet to experience Ratchet and Clank.

I'm probably neither of these groups since I have played some Ratchet and Clank tools of destruction but never actually bought a Ratchet and Clank game. I am however a big fan of platformers and Tools of Destruction really gave me a taste for the gameplay.

QoB starts the player off with a great intro sequence and superb voiceacting with some geeky humor. It looks stunning and the level of graphical and sound polish is just amazing. QoB is a very sleek product... Which makes the bad side so much more dissapointing. You see, those were the good points. The Control doesn't feel sleek at all, there is no introduction and it certainly isn't pick up and play. In some platform elements (climbing comes to mind) the controls are just wonky. Jumping is jerky and collision isn't obvious because of the cinematic camera, I find myself hitting air in front of enemies or walking into fire because the damn camera is trying to be Gears of War.

Level design is also pretty bad. At least for the first few levels. The pirate cruisers at the start of the game are just copied and not very interesting. When I land on an island I have no idea where to go because the ultra-realistic scenary doesn't give any hints and I still can't see much because of the camera. Maybe there is a map or a way to look around but I still haven't figured out all the control yet. This is a downloadable short and fast game, I didn't intend to do anything but just pick up the controller and play for an hour.

To summerize this game is actually quite good. It's funny and plays really well. It just dissapoints to no end when you've played Tools of Destruction, why does a game with more time for polish play worse?! If the control is exactly the same, games have moved on, why hasn't the controls been improved?

World of Goo review

I've just played World of Goo, the indie title by developer 2D boy that does everything right! The mechanics of World of Goo have more in common with building sand castles then any other computer game and as such is more of a toy then a game. But this is not a bad thing. To be accurate I have to say that I've only just finished the first chapter of the "story campaign" but so far this game does everything right as far as game design is concerned.

It's accessible, simply and easy yet engaging and engrossing. You can jump in to play for a few minutes or play levels of increasing complexity for hours. It's also a feast for the eyes and ears and has a lot of humor.

My only issue with the game is that it's fullscreen, it wants to take up all of my attention while playing. And though this might be most effective and certainly the first choice of most players it's quite odd to play such a light title without the ability to keep IMing on the side. I do that in WoW, why not in WoG?

Watch a video of the gameplay, if you find it even mildly interesting or seemingly fun you'll really enjoy the title. And please, BUY this game. It's cheap, it's indie and it doesn't use DRM. Support a just cause by getting your money's worth.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-A_JfkzPwww]

The power of habit in gamedesign

I love to talk and I love games. So naturally I often talk about games with my friends. The debates often circle points about game design and one of the usual sticking points is my belief that habits, or possibly the security of the known, affect our play and our game design. My idea is that the things we are used to always seem like good things, things to be fought for if challenged. We're always slightly against doing something other then what we're used to because it doesn't feel right, mostly because of nostalgia. This is a slightly odd notion but I've just noticed the supreme example of this behavior in game developers:

Hello Kitty Online. HK online is the social MMO based on the famous character and world of Hello Kitty. It's awesomely cute and looks fun and easy. When I was invited to the beta I was excited and happy, albeit a bit ashamed about my own reaction.

I downloaded the huge client, wondered a bit about why such a game needs GB's of data and booted it up.

Hello Kitty online is a World of Warcraft clone. Seriously.  It even has kill-collect quest grinding. It handles the same way, has the same systems... Why?

Yes, WoW is the most successful MMO of all time and making your systems at least as good as WoWs should be every MMO developers intent. But nothing in the Hello Kitty universe lends itself to the fiction the game play systems of WoW builds up, surely there are some systems we can copy and others we can leave out. For instance, killing in HK online seems a bit awkward. When did Hello Kitty become Dexter Morgan, hiding a serial killer under the cute & fluffy shell of a small rabbit.

I have no idea why the developers chose to copy WoW to this extent but I think most of them didn't even realize they were doing it. They thought this is what an MMO is. No, it isn't. That's what World of Warcraft is. We can make almost anything into an MMO.

That's how powerful habit is, we tend to stop thinking why? and instead think this is how it works. Designers need to watch out for this behavior, because it's an artificial boundary that impeded game development. What if we could make HK online with game play systems that give exact same results for the players as the game play systems of WoW but don't seem even moderately alike. We can do that, if we don't fall pray to the power of habit.

Warhammer Online guild

I started a guild in WAR yesterday. So far I'm pretty impressed by the fact that there is actually incentive to do so in WAR. Guilds level up and give skills and features for all members to brag about. This might be the first guild/convergence/corporation/whatever that I actually feel inclined to be active in. More on this as it develops. ;)

Warhammer Online first impressions

The highly anticipated MMORPG Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is finally launched and I have, as most of you, started playing. Right now I'm stomping through Blood Mountains (at least I think it was called that) as a fierce and funny black orc, screaming and yelling as I rampage around and kill anything I see. My first impressions of the game are really only threefold:

1. Polish

I didn't play the first release of WoW so I can't compare with it. But I can compare WAR with Age of Conan, Vanguard and Tabula Rasa. It's kicks ass in the polish department. WAR feels complete, I have yet to see any bugs and though some animations and quests are a bit jerky at times they don't subtract a whole lot since they're never really believable in an MMO anyway.

2. Gameplay

There's a whole lot more to do in WAR then in WoW or Vanguard.  The developers behind WAR have really pulled out some great innovations in using MMO mechanics to come up with gameplay activities. Quests are sometimes logically based on other quests which I had no idea I was missing in other MMOS. For example: one of the first quests as a greenskin is to kill dwarfs found in barrels washed up on a shore under the towering walls of a dwarf keep, and thirty minutes into the game I find a quest where I stuff dwarfs in barrels and throw them off the keep. Now this might exist in certain areas of WoW or Vanguard, but I have yet to notice it if it does. In WAR, my experience so far really seems integrated into the world. Not taped on like the quests of early WoW.

Public quests work great by the way. And they are a really fun way to spend 15minutes away from solitary questing.

3. World or Setting

Warcraft is a ripoff of Warhammer, which in turn is a ripoff of Tolkien's middle earth. That's ok.

But Warcraft really started to invent the setting while they build WoW, so we can see the cracks in the setting design in the early parts of WoW that get smaller as the setting is refined into later stages and of course the expansion. WAR doesn't have this problem, it's based on an very fleshed out fantasy world that has so much story, depth and humour that it rubs of on all the people working with the world. In short, WAR feels a lot more like a world then World of Warcraft and the humour of Warhammer is everywhere, spot on, and making sure that it never gets too serious.

I'm impressed by WAR so far, I'll be back with more thoughts on the game in a few days.

Spore

I've just played spore into the start of the space stage, I really like it. But it's quite unlike most other games. I have a few friends that've played spore and told me it was shallow. Even one extreme who said it was down right boring. But when I asked them why this is most of them couldn't give me more then general arguments on the lines of "not enough to do" or "not enough of a challenge" which to me sounds exactly like the critique the Sims recieved from the gamer community and it still went on to become the biggest franchise in the history of the industry.

My own oppinion is that Spore, as far as basic mechanics go, is pretty shallow. Where in the Sims you had an abundance of choices Spore offers at best about 4. But here is the tricky part. Spore has a deep meta gameplay.

The Sims was quickly hailed to be a great way of just pushing around a doll house. That is, the game itself was really more about looking in on and affecting the lives of your sims then it was about controlling them. And the same is true about Spore. Spore is a tamagotchi for an entire evolutionary tree of a species from baceria to space aliens. But that's all it is. Spore is not a classic game where you rank higher then others and so on. Spore gives the player unending amounts of creatures and vehicles and stuff, and basically says: go explore. Poke around, see how they interact. This is real hobbyist entertainment, I could spend countless hours with Spore if I had the time. Just like I can spend coutless hours painting Warhammer figures, or countless hours playing with a dog that I don't have time to have.

Spore is in essence, a simulator that lets you poke and play with simplyfied evolution, don't expect a game. This is an experience. And it is as close to a work of art as I have ever seen.