Monday, July 14, 2008

Quick iPhone app reviews

I installed the 2.0 update and downloaded and played with a bunch of the apps. Except for Enigmo, all the apps I tried were free. The high points are Cube Runner, Aurora Feint, Shazam, and Google Mobile App. Here's my quick impressions:

I tried several of the free ones, and based on experience with the Desktop game, I bought Enigmo. The iPhone definitely has potential as a gaming platform.

Cube Runner: This is a nice little game that uses the accelerometer. The control is nicely sensitive and the game is cute, but it gets sort of old quickly, but it's fun enough to do in an idle minute I'm unlikely to delete it.

Aurora Feint: This has some role-playing game back-story, which I haven't really figured out, but it's a great little Tetris like game. You've got blocks of the 4 elements and you're trying to get them in rows of 3 or more, in which case they disappear. It's got good use of the touch screen, and you can even rotate the phone to switch gravity, which is a nice (literal) twist on the game. Good graphics, good play, good sound, and who knows, the bigger game might be interesting too.

Enigmo: I enjoyed the desktop version of this and the iPhone version is a remarkble port. The controls are sometimes a little finnicky, but it works and the puzzles are great.

PhoneSaber: Makes your phone make lightsaber noises as you swing it around. Gratuitous fun demonstration of the accelerometer. Don't let go.

Blip Solitaire: A pretty basic game that uses the touch screen. Not really any fun. Haven't deleted it yet, but probably will.

Spinner: Another acelerometer based game, but just not that compelling. Not intuitive and once you figure it out, not that fun. I'll play Cube Runner instead.

Shazam & Midomi: These are two "music id" services. Both let you hold the iPhone up to playing music and it will try to identify the song. Shazam seems to work better for music over the radio and has a reasonably nice interface, including of course "Buy from iTunes" buttons, but also has "Watch on YouTube" buttons. Very nice for IDing a song on the radio in the car. Midomi is also pretty good, but it's key feature is that it lets you sing or hum a song, instead of just actual music. It does pretty well, and my kids got a kick out of singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and having it recognize it.

Remote: A very nice and remarkably responsive interface to control iTunes on your desktop. It makes me want to get an AirPort Express.

: Transcribes little voice recordings. It's not as featureful as the full Jott service, which I hope they will fix. The transcription latency is also really high, and while you can get your notes emailed to you, it's on a daily basis, not ASAP. If this improves, it will be great. For now, it's more of a net (slow) trick.

VoiceNotes: A basic voice recorder. The interface is a little clunky for most of the circumstances I've used a voice recorder in the past.

Google Mobile App: This is QuickSilver for your iPhone. If you haven't used QuickSilver, it's a cool mac app that doesn't do anything new, but does a lot of old things better. The Google Mobile App doesn't really do anything you can't do in Safari, but it's better at doing them than Safari. Basically, it saves a lot of typing by doing search term completion, web site URL completion and background searching. The web site URL completion alone is worth it to me, since the iPhone's (otherwise excellent) keyboard spelling correction doesn't do so well with URLs.

Twitteriffic: I'm not really big into Twitter, but this seems like a decent/nice interface to reading and posting. That said, I hear people raving about how great this is, and I don't quite get it. It's good, and includes nice things like easy posting of pictures, but really, I don't see the excitement.

I haven't really tried this one out much, but it seems like a nice interface to mobile blogging (Blogger or Tumblr). It doesn't seem to know about the fact that Blogger supports multiple blogs per user so I haven't tried it yet.

Yelp: I was hoping this would be great, since I really like the web site, but it couldn't find any restaurants near my home, which is just wrong.

WeatherBug: A decent weather app, but rather than showing cached results and indicating it somehow while it loads the updated information, it blanks out the information, which is annoying, especially when looking for forecasts which don't change that often.

eReader: A book reading application that comes with a couple of free books. A decent first pass, but it's missing a lot of features I'd want like bookmarking, line spacing adjustment and such. Plus, the page flipping UI gets the z-order wrong when going backward, which is a little bit dissonant.

NYTimes: Not bad, but nothing special as an alternative to the web site to read the news.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I play games with other people

Reading (and posting to) one of the latest "Do ratings matter?" threads on BGG it occurred to me that there's a subtext here that bugs me. The argument usually starts as a generic "why would you care what other people think?" kind of thing but the subtext is that the enjoyment of other people (eg, your opponents) doesn't matter, and therefore other people's opinions don't matter.

Other people's opinions matter, because I play games with other people. If one has a limited circle of people you game with, they may be the only ones you care about, but I, and most people I game with play with lots of different people, and are constantly introducing new people to the hobby and playing with more casual gamers. Even this year, which has been a really slow year, nearly half the people I've played with have been "new people". So, to that end what a "random gamer" thinks matters, in that I play with a "random gamer" on average more than once a week.

In detail, over the past eight and a half years, I've played with two new people a week, on average. My wife, who I've played the most games with only has played in 25% of the games I've played. The next most frequent gamer barely breaks 10%. Over 50% of the people I play with, I only have ever played a few games with, so knowing what games a "random gamer" is more likely to like is useful. Of course I use my own judgment, but I can't always predict what's going to succeed and fail with other gamers. For example, I personally never would have realized the extremely broad appeal of super-hits like Ticket To Ride or Carcassonne, or realized how universally I should be careful about inflicting something like Vabanque on other people.

Of course, to repeat a comment from the above thread ratings are meaningful but not oracular. For a shared activity like games, other people's opinions matter to me, and ratings are one way to get some insight into the opinions of all those gamers who I'm going to play with who I haven't met yet.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Almost 4, Almost a boardgame geek

(warning: This is an "Isn't my child so cute?" post)

I play a lot of games with my almost 4-year-old daughter.  Most of the time when I ask her if she wants to play a game, she declares "Yeah! Let's play a game I've never played before!"  While I have a large collection, this occasionally proves problematic, as lots of them aren't quite suitable for a 3-year-old.  But whenever she decides she is too overwhelmed by the rules, or is just sick of playing, she suggests "Ok, now let's play my version.", which are usually an extremely complex set of steps with no actual goal, but she imitates the general structure of game rules quite well.

A week or so ago, we were in a games store and she'd look around commenting which ones we had at home and asking about games she thought looked interesting.  Then, she turned to me, perplexed, and asked "Daddy, where's Race for the Galaxy?".  This is a game she's never played before, just heard me talk about.  In fact, she's asked, and I've demurred saying we'd play it when she was older.  Her response, "Ok, we'll play that when I'm 6."  Who knows, maybe she'll be ready.

A few weeks ago, after trying a game that was a bit too hard for her (Chateau Roquefort), I suggested we play something a little less complicated.  She protested, "I like complicated games.  Let's play another complicated one."

Finally, today we had some friends over and one of their kids said to her, "You have a lot of games.  How many do you have?" and she replied, "I don't know, but Daddy could check the database."