Friday, August 12, 2011

Jonathan Stark's Social Experiment

This isn't about games, but it's a good story that's certainly going viral. App developer and author Jonathan Stark has made his Starbuck's card publicly available. Here it is:

Just save the picture to your phone, run it under the barcode scanner, and if there's any money in the account, then someone else has just bought you a cup of really bad coffee. (I detest the flavor of Starbucks.)

You can check the card's current account balance via Twitter.

Stark also posts directions on how to place money back on the card, for people who want to buy someone else a cup of coffee. 

As social experiments go, it's kind of fascinating. A glance at the Twitter feed shows the card running out and then filling up again. In the midst of complete economic collapse, it's heartening to know that someone is willing to buy a stranger a cup of coffee.

Historically, America has always been an absurdly generous nation. I like to imagine that this quality will save us when our governing and financial systems finally break down; that we will band together in charity and support rather than turning on each other in fear and anger.

"When the chips are down," the Joker says in The Dark Knight, "these 'civilized' people will eat each other." That certainly seems to be what's happening in England right now. Are we any better? I like to think so. Maybe Stark's small experiment is a little glimmer of light.

1979: A Game About the Iranian Revolution

Before leaving to found his own company, Navid Khonsari was one of the people who gave Rockstar's games, such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Revolver, their cinematic feel. After producing critically acclaimed titles like Alan Wake and Homefront, the Iranian-born director and producer is turning his attention to the Islamic revolution that drove his family from their homeland.

In 1979, Khonsari is tackling the events surrounding he deposing of the Shah, the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the hostage crisis. He's well aware of the controversial nature of the project:
Iranians are going to criticize me because I'm making a game that 'promotes American imperialists going in and shooting Iranians'. Americans are going to criticize me because I'm making a game that 'glorifies Islamic fundamentalism,' or something. I'm not going to please everyone, and the point of the game isn't to do that. 
I think that being able to base a game in contemporary historical truths is significant, besides being educational. It opens people's eyes to look beyond what they're reading in the paper and realize that there's a definite relationship between history and the headlines.

Read the whole thing.

A Psychiatrist Tries to Understand Angry Birds

Okay, this is my absolutely last Angry Birds post for this week. Dr. Dinah Miller is trying to figure out why people are hooked on this game. Help her out. While you're at it, maybe you could give me a clue. I liked Angry Birds fine when it was called Crush the Castle, and I like the art, but I've just never spent all that much time with it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

London Riots Blamed On...

... Grand Theft Auto?

Kotaku spotted this quote from a constable, buried in a story in the London Evening Standard:
These are bad people who did this. Kids out of control. When I was young it was all Pacman and board games. Now they're playing Grand Theft Auto and want to live it for themselves.
Ah ... no. Look, I detest the content of Grand Theft Auto, but this is just absurd. Generations of class warfare rhetoric, a culture of entitlement and dependency, and the erosion of a distinct British character in favor of the vague promises of "multiculturalism" is at the root of these problems, not some game. When you listen to these two stupid girls brag about their crimes, you have all the explanation you need for the nightmare engulfing England. The British made it through the Blitz because they believed in their nation and the importance of sacrifice and honor, and then raised a generation that derided these things.

On the other hand: yay, boardgames and Pac-Man! You both get the English Police Constable Vote.

These Birds Aren't Angry, Just Mad

Sorry for the light posting, folks, but my publisher moved up the print date for the Games 100, and there hasn't been much time left over for the blog.

In the meantime, I leave you with the surest sign that Angry Birds have entered the pop culture pantheon: a MAD magazine cover.

The full cover is here (mild language warning). 

Monday, August 8, 2011

App O' The Mornin': Cut the Rope: Experiments

Grade: A
Price: $1

Cut the Rope is one of the few games to challenge the dominance of Angry Birds in the hearts and devices of app gamers. Cute, clever, and insanely addictive, it combines a wonderful puzzle mechanic with an appealing visual style to make a knock-out game.

Cut the Rope is one of those rare games where the title is also the instruction manual. In a series of single-screen puzzles, hanging objects function like pendulums. You need to cut the ropes at precisely the right time and in exactly the right sequence to get the object where it needs to go.

In this case, the problem is how to get a piece of candy into the mouth of a voracious (yet adorable) little monster named Om Nom. Each puzzle has three stars and a piece of candy.  Cut the rope with a finger swipe, and the candy collects the stars as it drops into Om Nom's mouth. It's fairly easy to get the candy into the monster's mouth, but to get it there while collecting all three stars can be incredibly challenging.

The original game came with 4 sets of 25 puzzles each, and more sets were released with updates and holiday packs. In the first full-blown sequel--Cut the Rope: Experiments--the initial set of puzzles functions as a recap of the entire first game.  All of the many puzzle elements are re-introduced: balloons, whoopee cushions, spiders, rubber bands, ropes, and so on. 

There are only two other puzzle sets: "Shooting the Candy" and "Sticky Steps"--for a total of 75 puzzles. This is fewer than the original, but updates are promised.

The new gameplay elements are certain to appeal to CtR Fans. The targeting button shoots a rope to the candy as it swings. This rope can be of various lengths depending upon how far away the candy is when you fire. If the candy is swinging close to the rope shooter, the rope is short; if it's further away, the rope is longer. 

The other new element is the suction cup. Tap this cup, and it comes loose from the "wall" of the puzzle and begins to drop. This allows you to reposition ropes, creating far more variables on each screen.

These new features are run through their paces in two sets of twenty-five puzzles each, creating complex variations of the familiar CtR gameplay. Lvels are of consistently high quality. The basic solution usually isn't all that hard, but earning 1, 2, and 3 stars can be brain-bendingly difficult. There are some I simply couldn't solve at the 3-star level no matter how many times I tried. That's a good thing: it means the game is still challenging, which keeps it interesting.

It is a bit disappointing to have only 75 puzzles and 2 new elements, but there's more than enough here to keep things fun and fresh, and the updates give you something to look forward to. Cut the Rope is one of the best puzzlers in mobile gaming, and Experiments only further cements its reputation.