Karmageddon

Introduction
This is definitely one of those games where the name directed the mechanic. The concept of karma – good and bad, owing or being owed a debt, and both being a responsibility – and a meta game element of card destruction (making every deck unique) and Real World ™ consequences (in the form of a verbal contract to play) sort of came after the pun of Karma and Armageddon.

Strangely, the term has little prior use; mostly when I come up with a cool word I find “it’s been done already”. Great minds think alike, normally, and it’s hard to come up with something truly unique. Hence, I disclose the following existing references to karmageddon:

Hank Williams song, Karmageddon
The Urban Dictionary definition of Karmageddon:
Karmageddon: The Movie

I’ve been bouncing this particular idea around for a few weeks, with a vague notion it should involve Playing Cards; ideally ones that people don’t mind destroying a bit. Those horrible cheap “hobbit” cards you get in Christmas Crackers would be ideal, as ripping and writing on these is no real loss. However, no doubt at some point I’ll do an IndieGoGo/KickStarter for official decks, like Play Test: Legacies did (Sorry I missed THAT one!).

The most important part of this game concept is that players may “help” you, even when you don’t want it, and that this will exact a real consequence to clear the debt. Of course, like a gambling debt, this isn’t enforceable. However, entering into the spirit of the thing is the whole point. Why cheat? You’re only robbing yourself…

Set up
There are two elements to this game:

    A card game played with (what starts out at least as) a standard deck of cards. If there are Jokers, bridge rules or instruction cards, include them.
    Redemption of Debt where cards used to help other players are IOUs for an hour of a player’s time on any reasonable, legal and responsible task.

To play (the first time) a Sharpie or permanent marker and a standard deck of cards (with jokers) is necessary for 2-4 players. For more than 4 players an extra deck of cards is added for each additional player up to 8 maximum; ideally this should have a different back design or be different size to allow separation for future 2-4 player games. These cards will be torn, ripped and marked, so will likely not be useful for other games afterwards.

NOTE: a deck where cards are missing (otherwise useless!) is fine as a starting deck. Subsequent play will likely not have all the cards anyway, so one or two missing now won’t matter. Reuse/Recycling!!! I feel better already!

Set up for the Meta-Game (the redemption of favours) is merely the agreement of all players that they will commit to an hour of time helping one another for each “Debt Card” they end up with. Where this occurs in game, the card will be ripped in two and both parts signed by helper and helpee; its recommended that a phone number or email address for each is also written down, unless players are well acquainted. The helpee then uses their half in play (for that game only) and later as a reminder that they owe a favour. The helper keeps their half to call in the debt.

NOTE: The hour of time and the task are to be mutually agreed between helper and helpee. It could be anything crom mowing a lawn, babysitting, fixing a computer, whatever is acceptable and doable.

NOTE 2: Debts do NOT cancel out. If Mike owes Paco a debt and vice versa, they don’t call it quits. They both do an hour for the other. This is a matter of honour!

Once a debt is paid, “Done” is written on the helpers half and “Paid” is written on the helpees half. Cards can be kept as a memento, burned ceremoniously or binned.

Game play
The deck is shuffled (half cards are not to be kept from previous games). Players cut for who should go first, lowest first – Aces low – then the deck reshuffled. Play will simply consist of turning over cards until a task is achieved, when the player will keep those cards, or the task fails and the cards are returned to the bottom of the deck; there is no discard. Play then passes to the next player (in the order determined by the previous draw).

NOTE: over time decks may be added of a variety of different sizes. One option is to put them all in a box with a hand sized opening and have cards pulled out without looking, like drawing a raffle ticket.

Before turning over any cards each player states whether they are aiming for 1 to N cards to complete a task, where N is the greater of number of players or 4. Players may NOT choose a number for which they currently already have a successful trick displayed in front of them. Then cards are turned over up to a maximum of the determined number. If ALL of these cards are Ace-Ten (i.e. Not court cards, Jack, Queen, King) then the task is successfully completed, the set of cards is displayed in front of the player, and play passes to the next. If a court card is turned over before N normal cards, the task is “at risk”. If the court card was the first card, play continues as normal, except that the player is now attempting to get a full set of court cards to achieve the task. If a normal card (i.e. Ace-Ten) then appears before completion, again the task is “at risk”.

NOTE: if a Joker or other non-playable card is turned over, the current player should mark its face (not back) as either Normal or Court. This will be a permanent change. These cards can never be used or exchanged in “at risk” situations. If they come up again at the wrong time the task automatically fails.
At this stage, any other player can agree to substitute the offending card for one that would allow the task to be completed. Where only one offer of help is made, the player MUST accept. If more than one offers, the player can choose who helps them.

NOTE: this help can only come when another player already has cards laid in front of them from earlier successful tasks.

Once help is agreed, the “at risk” card is placed in front of the person offering help and one of their cards (normal or court, depending) is placed in front of the current player. Then the task continues. If successful – N normal or court cards are turned over – the swapped card is ripped, signed and half used with the rest of the cards for that task and displayed in front of the player. The other “at risk” card is added to the helper’s hand in any legal way (see later).

If the task is put “at risk” again by the wrong type of card showing up, another opportunity for help is available. if no offers of help are forthcoming, all the cards are returned to the bottom of the deck. This includes ones placed in front of helpers and helpees; they’ve lost a card to you for no gain by either party.

When a helper receives a card from the current player, if and only if the task is successful, they can add their new card to a current trick, or make a new single card trick. However, there should never be two tricks of the same size (court or normal). Tricks of greater than N in size are allowed, and will count as N for end game purposes, but can only be constructed through helping others; these can act as banks for future help, but do not count for more than N for victory point purposes.

NOTE: There can still only be one trick of N or greater size!

Play continues until a player has tricks of 1 to N (1,2,3,4, etc) of either normal or court cards; this is the Good Karma ending. Removing a card to help another player may not leave a player with two tricks of the same size. Alternatively, play ends when there is in front of any player tricks 1 to N of court cards; this is the Bad Karma ending.

Victory points are allocated on the basis of total index cards – total court cards in a player’s hand. If (IF!) a player has tricks 1 to N of court cards only these count as positives. N Wrongs DO make a Right! These are purely for fun, to encourage strategic play. The biggest victory is in being owed or owing no debt. If this is the case, a player’s victory points are doubled. Of course, the most important victory is honourably redeeming debts owed.

Enjoy!

Final NOTE: After a few times playing, the deck is likely to start getting a “bit thin” when that happens, add a single suit – Ace-King – from another incomplete or hated cheap deck. There should always be a minimum of 10 cards per player, with an approximate ratio of 10:3 normal to court cards.

Final FINAL NOTE: If you think this SHOUKD be KickStarted, comment here. I have ideas for expansions 🙂

BANCE!

Introduction
BANCE! is, according to @tableflipsyou:
‘It is a Victory word…like “Bingo!” or “Huzzah!” or “Yahtzee!”‘
http://twitter.com/#!/tableflipsyou/status/249316385287729152

It was coined by @Jared_Hunnefeld while playing “Lingo,” in which players need to figure out five letter words based on limited clues. Jared was presented with “B_NC_” The word was “BENCH,”but because the game is timed and you only have a few seconds to guess, he hastily wrote down “BANCE.”
Flip the Table Podcast Ep #4
http://tableflipsyou.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/episode-4-lingo-dvd.html

@tableflipsyou says ‘The rest is Flip the Table History.’
http://twitter.com/#!/tableflipsyou/status/249315810571587584

The challenge
Flip the Table regularly disparage roll-and-play and press-your-luck games, but @tableflipsyou actually likes Monopoly! We’ve had something of a feud going on Twitter (search for #MonopolyWar)

So, I agreed to make the game that BANCE! (I’ve added the “!” to distinguish the game from the word) so clearly deserves; all the worst bits of bad games:
1) roll and play
2) press-your-luck
3) Monopoly
20120923-104120.jpg
The Game
Take a Monopoly board, playing pieces, and $200 currency per player (see special rule regarding denomination).

The aim of the game is to land exactly back on the Start or GO square with exactly $200.

Order of Play
Order of play is determined by a bidding phase: whoever bids highest pays this fee to the next highest, who pays their bid to the next and so on down to the lowest. For help in transactions, see Being a Git!

Roll and Move
Each player chooses between 1, 2, 3 or 5 dice; never 4… no… never 4! Not after last time. Ideally there should be at least 2 different colours, and 3 of one and two of the other for completeness.

Dice combinations, chosen IN ADVANCE PLEASE are as follows:
1) this simply represents 1-6 (N00b!)
2a) this represents 2 numbers added, 2-12
OPTIONAL
2b) player can choose to subtract 1 die from the other, -5 (backwards) to 5 inc 0 (no movement) for doubles.
3) 2 dice of one colour represent numbers, the 3rd represents + (1,2), – (3,4), or x (5,6) [x is multiply!] player chooses order (i.e. 5-6 or 6-5), -5 to 36
5) Same as 3 but must be arranged [num][+/-/x][num][+/-/x][num], -10 to 216! If using a calculator (wimp!) press = (equals) after the second to get the “correct” answer.

Are you still with me here? There WILL be a test!

Once you have your number of moves, count out that number; if a player gets 6x6x6 just ignore them, pretend they aren’t there until they’ve finished, and carry on playing as if they weren’t there; you, discerning player that you are, never wanted them here anyway. This ignoring includes bidding phase for future turns.

BANCE!
If you land on another player’s piece at the end of your move, the first player in that square to shout “BANCE!” (including the “!”) gets to take half of the other’s money, rounded down, to the nearest number of notes they are actually holding. For example, Flip holds a $10 and a $20 (he’s losing as usual), and Jared lands and BANCE!s him. He should take $15 (half of $30), but only gets $10 because Flip never buys a round.

If you are landed on and say “BANCE!” before the moving player, you are a “Bloody sod!” Either way, winning could be a good/bad thing…

Play continues in bidding order from highest to lowest. If no one has died/given up/won then a new bidding phase begins, and play continues. Rinse. Repeat.

Denomination
The currency in Monopoly, aka Monopoly Money is one of the worst parts, notably because it often triggers the worst joke in board gaming. If you don’t know of this horribly obvious attempt at humour, I envy you. But actually you DO know it. We’ve all thought it, even if we haven’t said it. Now you’ll curse me for reminding you…

Each player’s $200 should be distributed as follows:

Player 1: 12x $5 bills and 40x $1 bills
Player 2: 20x $10 bills
Player 3: 10x $20 bills
Player 4: 4x $50 bills
Player 5: 2x $100 bills

All the other “spare” money should be burnt in creative ways:

20120922-211711.jpg
It will become clear that some players will have more change than others. How do you decide who gets to be player 1? Well, remember that bidding phase… yup, you have to bid to get it. Highest gets to be player 1, and receives that money, but must then pass on their bid to Player 2, and so on..

Being a git
NOTE: at any time it might be necessary to negotiate change with whoever has it – need to pay $3 but only have a $50… oh dear! – and this is allowed at any time. However, players are not obligated to swap currency, and can charge what they like for the service of providing change. No player is under any obligation though, and can attempt to issue IOUs in lieu of payment; these can be bought and sold and used in payment.

For this, I’d suggest using those spare notes (with a line drawn through the printed side to prevent “confusion”), as writing on the back is the most use they’ll get any… What’s that? You set them on fire! Put them out now!

Oh, well I guess you could always use the banks of Chance and Community Chest cards. Throw the Mortgage Deed cards on that nice fire you stamped out earlier. Didn’t you KNOW Property is Theft! …Bastard!

And there you have it, BANCE!
I thoroughly expect no one to ever play this game. However, if you do it will have saved you from using the board to play Monopoly at least!

BANCE!

P.A.C.O. (Push Avoid Combat Oppose) – A G*M*S Magazine Board Game

Inspiration
The initial challenge came from idle discussion with Paco, host of the G*M*S Magazine podcast, where we talked about rapid prototyping. I suggested that it should be possible to design a game during the podcast, so firstly, I decided to do something while listening to the latest RPG special. This was actually a two part podcast, but the actual time involved was about 17 minutes in total; not bragging, but I regularly set 15 minute game design challenges for my students, which means I was technically 2 minutes over. Of course, some build up and preparation occurred.
Secondly, I always raid local charity shops for games, analogue and digital; the former often being real bargains or at least cheap items for prototyping. Just this week I found a £2 copy of Waddingtons reprint of Scoop, a favourite game of my childhood that I enjoyed as a child, mostly for reading the silly little stories and the simplistic graphic design when ‘constructing’ my newspaper. Last weekend, I also picked up a whole load of other games for less than £10, including a nice, if incomplete version of Othello/Reversi, with 63 (rather than the necessary 64) reversible tokens. One token being missing was probably the reason the game was for sale, but the lack of a piece was a major inspiration for P.A.C.O. in fact. Something about seeing black and white pieces, like pixels in fact, and ‘holes’, gaps on the board seemed quite compelling; the idea of designing a game that wouldn’t be damaged by loss of pieces, and reuse/recycling an existing game, really appealed.
Looking back now, although a draughts/checkers/chess board and pieces could just as easily be substituted, laying all the two sided counters out – easier than just counting them as it allowed me to play pixel art maker – the idea of different types of piece and holes (i.e. lack of pieces) also reminded me of something else…
A few weeks before, I had seen a final year group project, called Tamoanchan, from 2012 graduating students at my own University a few weeks ago:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyQl8GvsP1M (NOTE: The ‘l’ is a lower case L.)
This game involves lifting and pushing blocks, leaving holes. So, the mechanic fitted with the idea of reusing the board and pieces. However, the challenge then was to see if a board game could be made that was inspired by Tamoanchan, which was simple to play AND fun.

“Inspired by”
I hadn’t originally planned a demake of Tamoanchan – aka ‘dmake’, a term usually applied to retro remakes of modern video games like the amazing Atari 2600 version of Halo:
http://www.atariage.com/forums/topic/166916-halo-for-the-2600-released-at-cge-download-the-game-here/
However, “inspired by” seems appropriate and due credit needs to be given, because Tamoanchan was an influence, although converting a real-time video game into a board game would not be trivial. For example, the video game form is real-time, with major environmental housekeeping and physics simulation, as well as character design and narrative in the art assets; an excellent example is the player avatar animation in the video, where a character watches a block slide past; something that shows the distinction between analogue and digital. Such a bit of polish isn’t needed or possible in a board game. Similarly, player movement in a videogame, using gamepads, buttons, etc, is a different experience to a turn-based board game, which does not have the luxury of automated rule enforcement. I should know after all, I did convert Lunar Lander to board game form once:
http://doctormikereddy.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/eagle-alight-a-board-game-inspired-by-lunar-lander/
This leads to an interesting discussion, namely that of when is analogue remaking, paraphrasing of game content, or wholesale reuse (stealing?) of a mechanic, an acceptable thing to do. There are many examples of games taking a successful idea and evolving it; Dominion ‘deck building’ clone anyone? However, as an academic I need to confess that, after the while, it was clear that P.A.C.O. had, in retrospect, lifted the base mechanical elements of Tamoanchan; specifically, lifting and pushing blocks, and moving round a diminishing board space. It wasn’t planned, but clearly my appreciation for the student project and starting with wanting to make use of an incomplete Othello game converged into the final idea. So, while not completely original – an analogue version of a digital game in development – but hopefully sufficiently unique to be worthwhile. I am hopeful Tamoanchan will see commercial release soon, and worth keeping an eye on.

Game Setup
You need 64 (or less) two sided counters, with different colours on each side, or alternatively two sets of 64 (or less) differently coloured counters, an 8×8 board with cells big enough to hold a counter, and 2-6 figures that have a clear forward direction to represent players, which must fit in a cell of the board (Skylanders work well for large boards, but 35mill figures are fine), 1 or 2 D6 dice for random start locations, pen and paper for each player to write moves out. Board setup is to fill the edge cells with white counters, which leaves a 6×6 grid of currently empty cells, which should be filled with black counters. If you have less than 64 counters, you’ll be left with one or more empty cells. To choose which row/column should be empty, roll a die for row, then again for column and make that the empty cell. [Optionally, the minimum number of empty cells should be no.players-1]. Finally, place the player pieces in the same way, rerolling if a player is placed on or adjacent to holes.

P.A.C.O. example start position
Fig.1 – Example starting board state, showing starting counters, holes at (3,1), (1,4) and (6,5) and players at (2,2), (5,2), (1,6) and (4,5)

Basic concepts
Black pieces represent blocks that can be walked on. White represents blocks that have been raised up and may not be walked on; our characters have Chronic Jumping Syndrome (CJS) that is very common, like Diagonalitis (the inability to walk except along rows or columns). Empty cells (cells with no counters) represent holes. Holes are things you can fall down. So, at the starting point we should have 2+ characters and 1+ holes in a 6×6 grid, surrounded by a wall of blocks.
Players have six options to move each turn:
1) Turn left – figures rotate 90 degrees counter-clockwise from current direction to face either North, South, East or West
2) Turn right – as above, but clockwise
3) Move forward – this must be to a black counter.
4) Jump forward – this must be to a hole (empty cell) and followed the subsequent turn by a Move Forward command. Not doing this will result in falling down!
5) Lift block – the block (black counter) immediately in front of the players is flipped to or replaced with White.
6) Push block – the raised block (white counter) immediately in front of the player is shoved forwards. See pushed block rules.

All players write down their next move; players choosing jump write down the next two moves. When all are finished, moves are declared and implemented. In the following order of priority: rotates, moves, jumps, lifts, pushes. Therefore, if one player lifts a block, it will be available for an adjacent player to push, if that is what was ordered. This allows collaborative, reactive and competitive play, and negotiation as to what to do next is definitely encouraged. However, so is outright lying about what you are going to do next as every point counts and in the end the number of points, kills and deaths will be significant. Play continues until no more legal moves are possible, or by agreement of all the players.

Dealing with conflicting orders
If a player attempts to move into an occupied cell, the move fails. If two players try to move into the same square, roll 1D6 for each of them, the higher one wins and the other fails to move; if an equal roll is thrown, neither move. If a player chooses to jump, then on the second turn there is no black cell to land in, either because there is a hole now or a lifted block or another player, then the jump fails and the player falls down the hole. If a jumper will land on a square that another player has been ordered in to, the same die roll applies as for two players trying to move into the same cell. If a player tries to lift a block when another has given the order to move or jump into that space or it is already occupied, the lift fails, because the move takes precedent. If two players order the same block to be lifted, the action succeeds. However, if two players both try to push the block it fails, by effectively cancelling each other out. If a player is involved in lifting a block and another gives an order that would push it onto the lifting player, the push fails, again by being effectively countered.

Push Block Rules
When a block is pushed, unless the push fails (see above), all previous orders should have been implemented and player pieces moved to the relevant cell. When a block is pushed, it will move in the row or column the player piece was pointing, and will move until it hits another white block or escapes off the edge of the board. If a pushed block meets another white block, it will stop next to it; if there is a hole in this space it will fall down and seal the hole (i.e. become black again) [Optionally, it could fall through]. The hit block then carries on in the direction the original pushed block was going. If it collides, the same rule applies, etc, until a block is removed from the board. If a block hits a player, the player piece is pushed in front of the pushed block as it moves. If the player is pushed into a white block, the player is ‘stunned’ and loses the next turn, while the stopping block moves off in the direction of the initial push; if the player is above a hole when stunned the piece falls through. If a player piece is pushed and does not meet an obstacle, the piece is pushed off the board.

Scoring
When a player piece is stunned, falls through a hole because of a failed jump, or is pushed off the board, the player loses a point. NOTE: a player that falls through a hole because they were stunned will lose 2 points, one for being stunned and one for falling. If the player wishes to be placed back on the board – see respawning rules – the player will lose an additional point. If a player causes another player to be stunned, fall or be pushed off the board, they gain a point. Again, as per the stunned and fallen player, who loses 2 points, a player that causes this to happen will gain 2 points. At the end of a turn, any players remaining on the board (and not stunned) will gain a point. The final winner is determined by how many points they have: the one with the most positive points (or least negative points!) when players agree to stop, or there are no more legal moves, is the winner.

Respawning rules
As per the original placement rules, 2D6 are used to determine the new starting position for respawning players. However, unlike the beginning set up of the game, where if an illegal position is chosen the dice are re-rolled, when players are respawning this does not apply. If the player would have been placed on another player or a white block the respawn fails, but the player does not lose the point. If the player would have been placed on a hole, the player fails to respawn and the player loses a point. Players are free to try to respawn on the following turn, after other players have executed their orders, and having no positive points is not a problem, as players just go into the negative, hopefully to be able to earn points in future turns.

Something missing

It’s been a while since I last wrote about moving from iPhone to WP7. I have been saving up a list of things that are right and wrong about the current OS and Apps, etc, such as the lack of support for podcasts with a store, such as iTunes, on the device itself. However, these are merely the eco-system that surrounds both devices; one is much newer, the other has had significant investment. This is, though, the last post (for now at least) on my experiment. Why? Simply, because the Nokia crashes.

Not to say that the iPhone doesn’t occasionally need a force reset, but 6-7 times in a fortnight is not an acceptable level of performance. That is how often the Nokia has just up and frozen in the last few weeks. In a way, it is like the Mac v PC debate of old: one is more reliable than the other. So, I am moving back to Apple as my main phone provider. I had planned to finish off my experiment with developing a simple application, to complete the experience. However, this will wait now. I will complete this element one day, but, for now, having a reliable phone is more important.

Good Things (come to those who wait)

Introduction
It is important to realise that the iPhone (king of the smartphone kingdom) has had a number of generations, and the opportunity for Apple to learn from the innovations and mistakes of others, as well as making their own. However, what is often overlooked is how much the foot has been shaped by the shoe, so to speak. Since the original iPod, and possibly the Mac itself, we have been slowly and subtly trained in how to use Apple products. This cannot be overlooked in attributing the relative success of different smart phone platforms. So, moving to a different metaphor (namely Metro) is pushing comfort zones we didn’t know we had.

Nokia Drive
This is a really positive experience. Although this GPS navigation app isn’t on every WP7 device, it is downloadable and wonderful. Drive gives everything a GPS app should: clear 2 or 3D display, turn by turn navigation, free pre-downloadable maps and configurable voices. It totally blows away the paltry iPhone app in so many ways; too many to mention in fact. And it’s free.

Text to speech to text
After I ditched the iPhone compatible headphones, because the mic wasn’t working with the Nokia, I discovered how convenient the speech recognition is. Ok, it’s no Siri – but I’m not falling for the hype – but it works well. For example, I was stuck in an Olympic Torch traffic jam in Newport on Friday. The Nokia tells me (through headphones) I have a text from Victoria Jones. I say “read it” then “reply” and speak “stuck behind torch, will arrive half past five” with the blowers on full, windows down and cheering crowds outside, but the Nokia gets it first time. Even if it hadn’t, it’s easy to try again. And all this without me faking the hand from the wheel or eye off the road.

Summary

Free GPS software 9/10 – its chosen route isn’t always the best.

Hands free SMS Handling – 10/10 – simple, sleek, efficient

Little Things

Disclaimer
This will inevitably sound like a rant against WP7, but it needs saying. To set a context though, many of these issues were the same for the first iPhone generations, and probably Android too for that matter; you’d have thought though that entering a mature market would mean not making the same mistakes to ensure parity. Who knows, maybe Windows 8 will address these problems?

Memory of a Goldfish
One of the features I’ve come to rely on, switching between apps, is persistence. Copying text from one app to another. Flicking between web browser and email. Doing that multi-tasking thing my wife tells me I should be doing. However, trivial tasks that would be simple on an iPhone, were virtually impossible on the Nokia: web pages reloaded, draft emails disappeared, etc. I even lost the first version of this post, switching back and forth; this used go happen with draft emails on the iPhone, but its been a while since I’ve had to rely on saving drafts manually 🙁

The second draft I lost when the Nokia froze just now, for no apparent reason. D: It’s always useful to know how to force restart a phone. I’m not sure if app switching by holding <- is as amnesiac as using the standard navigation. I definitely remember this being an issue for iOS 3 but the hardware must be capable of doing more than WP7.5 is allowing.

This lack of persistence is a big issue in terms of the usefulness of the phone. No background or multi-tasking extends to many features, with file uploads, etc, requiring you to stay in an app until it has finished; thus preventing the phone from being used for anything else. Furthermore, screen locks cut network connections, so auto screen lock is not a good option if you are trying to upload files. At one point I had to sit using the iPhone to research using WP7 for AudioBoo while the Nokia was stuck uploading a voice recording for over an hour; more on that later.

Words with Friends
Sometimes, the only contact I have with my wife is over a nice game of Scrabble Words With Friends (WWF); we’ve played across oceans and continents, waiting in queues, and even across the dinner table. My wife is VERY good at letter/word games; the only time I ever beat her at Scrabble was when she was in labour! So, the lack of a WP7 version when its available on everything else, was a disappointment. The lack of Flash on WP7, despite being “announced” for Windows Phone by Adobe in 2010, even prevents the FaceBook version, along with 80% of the internet. Not sure what happened, prior to Adobe dropping mobile Flash generally, but this isn’t a matter of principle as it was for Steve Jobs. Silverlight is great, but this wasn’t the last app for me to yearn for NOT being available. I’ve already mentioned that stalwarts, like Twitter and FaceBook are behind in functionality – something Mac owners are used to in contrast to PC applications – but this starkly shows the inverted nature of the mobile space, when Microsoft is the poor cousin. Here’s an example:

AudioBoo…Audio Who? Audio BOO!
Some readers may have come across the 4m33s hash tag on Audioboo, a terse audio blog I have been running for a few years, featured on local and national radio and included in the British Library UK Sound map project (hash tag uksm)…

[And HERE I had to swap to editing this post on the web version of WordPress because THE WP7 WordPress App WOULDN’T LET ME SCROLL DOWN ANY FURTHER…! Actually, while I’m on the subject of text entry and handling web forms, etc, there are a few niggles:

  1. There is no easy way to scroll to top of web page – on iPhones tapping the top status bar does this
  2. You cannot select text in emails, even in replies (!) unless it is your own typing
  3. Positioning the text cursor is counter intuitive, with a weird press and hold then slide to try to get it in the right place, as simple tapping just selects the word, rather than position the cursor.
  4. Losing text entry focus in windows unless you manually scroll, which might be related to the problem I had in WordPress, so you cannot see what you are typing when it gets over a certain length.
  5. Bloody Search button accidental presses when lying in bed, as well as not being able to turn off auto-rotate, which is less of a text specific problem, but made worse when typing on the phone screen.

End of digression]

…ah where was I? Oh yes… so I am a big fan of AudioBoo. Surely, there’s an app for that! It’s even on the Nokia Symbian OS. However, no. There’s no WP7 version. Searching (on the iPhone 4) I discovered that you could send Voice Recorder files to BooMail. er… No. The email that Voice Recorder sends, just contains a link not an audio attachment and BooMail doesn’t pic it up. Nor does Voice Recorder allow you to edit the email, to add tags, images, etc, so scratch that; and *I* thought the Internet was always right!

Ok, another app that allows AudioBoo uploads is available… No, wait, it’s not official and according to comments doesn’t actually work. Or… Voice Memos Lite? Yes! It’s free – always good – and can send to AudioBoo or SoundCloud. Yes! Oh… no. Linking the app to AudioBoo fails because a PIN is never generated during the pairing process; AudioBoo recognises the link, but the app doesn’t. Oh, well, let’s buy the paid version that was mentioned a year ago as being in development, because the Lite version only allows one account to be connected. Maybe AudioBoo’s API has been updated…

Oh (again). There is no paid version. The web site has disappeared. The last post on the facebook page – not counting the forlorn ones from users asking where the web site has gone – is from november 2011. Looks like abandonware. So, that didn’t work either. A shame as it looked like the most promising solution.

In the end, I had to try to email myself the Voice Recorder link, which inexplicably went from being 4m59s in total length to 6m44s, which seems to imply that the counter on the recording page is wrong. So, I have up. Is there anyone who knows how to accurately record 5 minutes of audio and get it off the WP7 and up on to AudioBoo?

Mike’s Killer app suggestion number 2: an AudioBoo client

Summary

AudioBoo: 0/10 (a complete fail)

Text entry in apps and browser forms: 3/10 (predictive text was pretty good, but other aspects awful)

Next Time
Really, Cameras. Honest.

And some stuff I think the WP7 does better than iPhone 4. REally. Honest!

Well that didn’t go so well

Update
It’s the end of the first day, and I’ve downloaded FaceBook, Twitter and WordPress and played with IE9 and Bing.
Social Apps
Both FaceBook and Twitter are pretty much what you’d expect. However, neither is really as smooth as their more polished Apple equivalents, with performance issues (stuttering scrolls) and annoying refresh problems making it hard to keep track; these were problems on the iPhone too one or two versions ago.
WordPress
Well, actually this is more about the keyboard. It’s early days but generally I like the portrait keys better than the iPhone. However, the location of the Delete key seems to be annoyingly close to the CR key. After some practice I’ll probably not notice.
Bloody BING!
Which brings me to BING. I’m sorry, but it’s just a pile of crap. What makes it worse is that it has a dedicated button right there, which you cannot yet reallocate and gets hit accidentally ALL the time! The main reason I don’t like BING, apart from the fact its search is poor, is all the sponsored ads that jump all over the place. If I could remove it entirely I would. Google Search is now installed 🙂
Headphone Woes
Finally, my Sony in ear headphones are incompatible with WP7 because the mic doesn’t work 🙁
So, it looks like I’ll have to buy some new ones.
Summary
FaceBook and Twitter 6/10
Keyboard 7/10
Headphones 1/10
Tomorrow
Camera and other stuff

OK… here we go!

Introduction
Well, after receiving a nice WP7 phone to do some XNA development on, and my iPhone 4 nearing the end of its contract, and looking for a new mobile provider, and generally feeling uncomfortable with “how well” Apple devices have slotted into, and shaped my existence, I’ve decided to see if I *can* transfer all the services and conveniences that iTunes and three generations of iPhone have given me, to alternative platforms. First off, it is the Nokia Lumex 800, so the front facing camera I’m used to (occasionally) using has gone; if you had the new 900 this would be fixed, but this was a freebie, so I can’t complain.

The Nokia headphones provided are TERRIBLE, not fitting my ears at all (HTC ones are no better, sadly). Having said that, the Apple default ones are awful too and I generally buy Sony “in ear” headphones, as they help with my hearing impairment – too much head banging in my YOOFF – but the lack of on mic volume buttons means the Nokia ones HAVE TO GO! So, one change I won’t accept, but one I’d effectively already made anyway. In fact, I think over the years I have spent about a whole phone’s worth of money buying replacement headphones; this is not an exaggeration, as I’ve kept all of the various broken headphones for some art piece I may eventually get round to. So far, either an earpiece starts buzzing, or makes no sound, or is wrenched off, or the mic breaks or the plug cable wears out. I am a HEAVY podcast listener, clocking in at over 20 hours a week, so it is understandable that I will get through them at an alarming rate, but it is frustrating how expensive headphones are, when bought separately. So, the Sony MDR-EX38iP are recommended as they tend to last a few weeks longer than most, especially because the phone jack is a right angle type, rather than sticking annoyingly out to get caught and bent and broken in trouser pockets.

iTunes Withdrawal
Which leads me to the first and most major hurdle with letting go of my iPhone 4! As I said, I have a rather voracious podcast habit – mostly science, games, technology and occasional audio books – and while many slate iTunes, it is a damned convenient way to subscribe and manage podcasts, and is cross-platform; I have macs at home and a mix of windows and macs at work, but we have a few iPhones, as well as various iPods in use daily, so currently the home iMac is the default location of my audio. The first major stage then, apart from unlocking the iPhone 4 so it can go to my wife when (if?) I manage to wean myself off it, is getting my podcasts either from iTunes to the Nokia, or reproducing my subscriptions in Zune Marketplace, which many podcasts feed into. The latter is difficult as it involves me setting up a PC as my hub for the phone, but the former is a kludge, even with the new, greatly improved Mac Connector software:

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsphone/en-gb/apps/mac-connector.aspx

So, let’s take the apparently easier path of using Mac Connector with my existing iTunes files. Mac Connector makes this relatively simple, but already I’ve got a problem. My iPhone 4 is 32GB, but the Nokia is 16GB… Time to selectively choose what podcasts I can have on the phone. Firstly, the interface for choosing what podcasts to sync to the phone is not that dissimilar to what you’d get in iTunes. However, a live feed of file size estimation is missing, until after the sync is complete. So, it’s trial and error as to whether you have picked too much content to fit onto the limited memory. Syncing also still seems MUCH slower, as the files used to be uploaded each time, rather than intelligently recognised as already being there. However, it appears that this has been fixed in the new version; doesn’t explain why it’s still slow though. And, unlike the iPhone 4, you cannot access audio while the phone is syncing, but have to unplug it from the computer. However, even quitting the Mac Connector software doesn’t release the phone functionality, which is problematic if you are trying to charge the phone at the same time! 🙁

I already have a problem, I suspect, because I’m not entirely sure if listening on the Nokia will flag to iTunes that the file has been “played”, but syncing is set to all unplayed files; I’ve already had to cut down by at least 50% what I am putting on the phone already. If Mac Connector doesn’t “set” played files for iTunes, then that is another manual task that may need completing… Let’s see, shall we…!

Talking of syncing, anyone who knows me has probably heard my rather distinctive ring tone, which I have carried since I first had a Sony Ericsson P900: It merely states in a female voice, ” is anybody there? “, which always raises a smile. However, Mac Connect has an odd idea of what is a compatible ring tone. So, I need to change hello.m4r to hello.m4a in Quicktime player, then reimport to iTunes and create an mp3 version. THEN get it onto the phone… we’ll have to wait until the podcast syncing has finished to try that.

While we’re waiting, I am looking forward to the MS Office app on the phone, as I get stupid amounts of word attachments on my work email, and being able to see stuff the way colleagues do will be an advantage. And the lack of games (sic) means it will be harder to distract me 🙂 Mind you, I HAVE to have Twitter, WordPress, and Facebook to be truly diverted. So, it’s a good thing that these are there, even if the first is rather different to what I am used to.

Right, it’s all synced and backed up now. So,let’s listen to a short podcast, in this case the BBC World Service “60 Second Idea to Change the World”, which is understandably a rather brief programme. The first thing to notice is a big “subscribe” button. Hey, maybe I can go iTunes FREE! We’ll have to see. However, the big problem I am immediately aware of is the lack of 2x play speed. Now, if you haven’t clicked yet, I listen to A LOT of podcasts, and one of the ways I do this is by using the double speed playback that iPhones allow. This does take some getting used to, but after your brain speeds up to the rapid flow of speech – rather like visiting Italy and learning Italian! – it is PAINFUL to listen at 1x playback speed as everyone seems to be speaking S O S L O W L Y! General impressions of the podcast playback, apart from the lack of double speed, is that fast forward doesn’t allow sped up audio, like the Apple playback, and on the Nokia at least, FF makes files fly past in a way that is much too quick to be really useful. Not a major thing, but this leads to my first KILLER APP idea for WP7: a decent player that can access the podcasts on the phone, but able to play at variable speeds, such as 1.5x or 2x as well as allowing FF and Rewind review of the audio. I am amazed that there is no decent podcast playback app in the marketplace.

OK, after listening, then syncing again, something sort of works in flagging files as played in iTunes, but the last played date/time is not set; not a major problem although it does make it slightly harder to see what files have been listened to, with the only indication being the far left blue ball icon. In that respect, this is also a great improvement on the first generation of Mac Connect.

Summary
Headphones functionality 6/10 (no on mic volume control; a clearly slower response to pressing the button; no option to shuffle based on double click.)

iTunes functionality 7/10 (this score based on Mac Connect, which has notably improved since I first checked it last year)

Podcast functionality 5/10 (mostly because of playback speed; no audio review option; inability to change order of podcasts in interface)

Next time
Getting my Social Apps ON!

My review of Reviews of Fez

Ok, here’s my take on @polytron and Fez. But first a disclaimer: I haven’t finished the game. But I won’t be posting links to other reviews, even though this is a piece about those reviews (Google them). But there’s a reason I feel qualified to comment. But before I explain that I’m going to summarise in one sentence so the haters can jump in to the comment section:

“Fez is about losing childhood.”

But am i ready yet to do the growing up?

Many reviews focus on the mechanics – retro 8 it platformer reflecting the days were games were real games and hard – or the multi-layered “get everyone talking in the playground (Internet forum?)” under the surface content. Some think it clever this is concealed (though what truly is when “walkthrough” is one of the most used word in search engines?) while others worry people “won’t get it”. Still a few naysayers accuse Phil Fish, who is invariably described as “outspoken” or linked to the GDC Japan games thing (Google it), of cunning manipulation. Of course, what’s always worse than a smart arse is a successful smart arse.

So, let’s take a look at what I have gleaned from “Fez: The Review: The Game” (FTRTG), which unlike “Fez: The Movie” (aka the Indie Game Movie that stubbornly resists being torrentable, and will only be shown once in the UK in Sheffield this year :-(so I’m not holding much hope of seeing any time soon) or “Fez: The Game”, which remains firmly unfinished (see my second but). Because I AM finished with FTRTG. All the various takes on Fez in print and web seem to each miss a different but important element – author’s blindspot, limited space or deadlines? – and only reading a selection can you see a growing theme. Like Gomez suddenly being aware of his 2D existence, but having a limited pallet to manipulate it, and his journey of discovery in a frankly bewildering world, I feel (yes, feel) there’s a metaphor here to our own childhood’s end (mistaken for nostalgia by many reviewers). It also cleverly refers to the mainstreamification of Games into modern culture. However, the obvious (and sometimes subtle) references aren’t only to games as some have suggested: the NYT review references meaningless hyroglyphs translated as “Help I’m a prisoner in a Fez factory” but fails to spot homage to a great children’s book “Help I’m a prisoner in a toothpaste factory” sadly, and there are other missed connections to innocent times. Fez is far deeper than many will give credit for. Maybe not deliberately on Polytron’s part, although I suspect it is, but this is, by the external requirements – QR codes, cyphers, and a (deliberately?) confusing multidimensional map – the players’ hero’s journey NOT that of Gomez.

Fez is an impressive addition to the canon of games that will require me to keep digging, and trying to not type “walkthrough” into Google. My only regret is the ephemeral nature of its meta content: will we still be able to use the QR codes in 20 years? it might take me that long, and a series of red rings, to fathom it all.

I did not like (Dan Golding’s review of ) Fez

It all started with a tweet:

@dangolding: I did not like Fez. Here’s why: http://t.co/BpgRchAh

Something about the controversial title didn’t sit right. Checking it out, I couldn’t help feeling it was more rhetoric than reason. After reading the ‘review’ I replied on twitter asking Dan where it was going. It seemed nowhere. Dan asked if I thought his critique was unjustified. So, I said I’d read it again.

It read as a bash Fez for no reason emotional attack. Rather than calm me down, maybe think I’d over-reacted, it just made me feel more angry. So, I commented with a fairly inflammatory response. Go read his post first, and the “me too” comments; no doubt by now others may have sprung to defend him. Maybe they’re right, but something about this article is not right. Anyway, in case my reply has gone to moderator’s hell, here below is my comment on his article reproduced.

***
Like a previous poster, I’m going to quote this:

“But Gomez’s smile is empty and hollow. It is less a naive expression of nostalgia than it is a simpering, mincing appeal. He has nothing else to say, so he just grins.”

but not in order to praise the author. More than anything else, this piece of rhetoric belies the fact that this is a one dimensional opinion piece, playing on the topicality of attacking what is currently getting (undeserved?) praise. It’s not big, and it’s not clever. It’s just the first to burst the Fez hype balloon; like the mainstream media’s habit of building up, then tearing down people through the currency of celebrity.

The overwhelming (if temporary) love fest (fezt?) that is the specialist game journalism coverage of this long awaited Fish product is as much his creation as the game itself; wheels within wheels of viral marketing that shows a credible awareness of the culture of game and how its members can be manipulated. However, if people are happy to be gently massaged, or creatively led through a series of superficial mysteries, who are we to judge. It just makes Fish’s achievement that much more canny. This isn’t shallow propaganda, it’s effective and clever marketing.

The author introduces the idea of “smart” indie games without justification, then straw man argues against his own categorisation as judgemental, then states that all video games would not stand up to Ballet, should we slip down the slope of cultural comparison.

er…?

Most reviews of Fez appear to be joyful description of play, rather than actual critique – for example http://www.critical-gaming.com/blog/2012/5/16/the-dimensions-of-fez.html – but this article presents itself as a critique:
***Twitter***
@dangolding: I did not like Fez. Here’s why: http://t.co/BpgRchAh

@DoctorMikeReddy: @dangolding ok, but what next. Your piece starts but doesn’t end. Where should we go?

@dangolding: @DoctorMikeReddy Well, it’s a critique, not a manifesto. I don’t want to dictate directions so much as analyze current trends.
*** Twitter ***

However, there is no meaningful analysis or identification of trends. It just resorts to a superficial description of what it describes as nostalgia, namely jumping and rotating, which doesn’t “say” anything.

Phil Fish doesn’t need to say anything; given his recent GDC running off at the mouth, this is probably a good thing. However, he maybe does need to “work the room” to make sales – something we should openly debate – and this he has done with remarkable success. To attack elements of the game instead of debating Fish’s multi-pronged technique to build interest in a long in the tooth product, just comes across as jealousy. Perhaps Dan resents the effectiveness of this manipulation, as I can’t see any other reasonable explanation for the vitriol. I can understand this, if it is accurate, but let’s call a spade a spade. Fez encourages a sense of (often bewildering) exploration, both within and without the game. A depth Dan’s article would do well to emulate.

Dr. Mike Reddy