Alt. Mobile Gaming

Generally, the term “Mobile Gaming” refers to playing video games on a mobile device such as a smartphone. For the purpose of this post however, I am referring to mobile gaming as the ability to move a game and its state from one device to another, seamlessly. The game that sparked this post and my modified definition of mobile gaming is Oceanhorn. Oceanhorn is a universal app for iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. This game and the platforms in which you can play it are pretty amazing.

First, the fact that a game of this quality and polish only costs a mere $8.99 blows my mind! But, follow that with the ability to play this game in the living room on a TV in 1080p, to an iPad, to an iPhone, migrating all play states seamlessly through iCloud, and now you have a true definition of ‘mobile gaming’. With the launch of the 4th generation Apple TV, gaming was made out to be a big push for the device. It was easy to be weary of this, mostly due to the fact that it could easily just be about phone games on the living room TV, and that didn’t sound compelling. Oceanhorn was the game that made the idea of gaming on the Apple TV make sense. This game represents the type of gaming platform I have always wanted: something that is versatile and changes to fit my surroundings. At home, a bluetooth controller in hand in front of the TV. In a hotel room traveling for work, on my iPad Pro with that same controller. Waiting for car service, on my iPhone 6s. The game is capable of adapting to all of these scenarios without losing any of my progress.

The Apple TV comes with the new Siri Remote, and that can be used as a controller for games. For a game like Oceanhorn, however, a traditional gaming controller is really the way to go. At the time of this writing, the best controller out there is available from the Apple Store and is called the Nimbus, by SteelSeries. It is very comfortable to operate and has all the buttons you could want for games like this. Because it is Bluetooth, you can connect it to all your iOS and Apple TV devices. It pairs really nicely with the iPad Pro for on-the-go gaming.

Gaming is an always evolving area when it comes to technology, and I hope ideas like this help to push gaming more towards bringing games to where we are instead of pushing us to be where the given platform is. Of course, this setup is still technically all one platform, but it still does a much better job of bringing my game to me than any of the major console makers who have had living room consoles and handhelds for years and failed to implement this tight integration.

I Thought I Was Done With Consoles. #PS4

“I am going to skip this generation of consoles and just game on the PC.” – Jason

This is what I said after looking into the features of the three newest consoles (Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Wii U) as they were announced and available at stores to be messed with. On the surface it just didn’t seem like there was any need to have any of the new offerings. At the time of the launches we were in possession of an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii. The Nintendo Wii mostly sat by the TV unused, and at one point didn’t even have power connected to it, and you wouldn’t have even noticed. The Xbox 360, on the other hand, was quite heavily used. In fact, Xbox has always been my go-to console throughout the last ten or so years. The Xbox has always served me well: great games, comfortable controller, and powerful.

Of the three new consoles, here was the breakdown of our feelings on them.
Nintendo Wii U
– Barely a refresh of the Nintendo Wii, which was already not being used in our house.
– More gimmicky controller interfaces that we wanted nothing to do with.
– In typical Nintendo style, we knew we would play a couple of first party titles, and then the console would be useless.
– Slow, slow, slow!
– We are not dealing with that stupid, wonky sensor bar again.

Xbox One
– The mandatory use of yet another gimmicky control interface (Kinect).
– New controller is pretty good.
– That same gimmicky control interface had to be out and present by the TV at all times.
– Large footprint. Big console, a giant power brick AGAIN, and that Kinect thing.

Playstation 4
– Looked to have great controllers.
– No need for extra gimmicky control interfaces.
– Camera and all that crap is optional.
– Integrated power supply!
– Cool looking design of hardware.

Now, if it is not obvious by the above feelings, the Playstation was clearly the frontrunner in the race for us. I haven’t had a PS since the first one, so I have become VERY comfortable with the Xbox way of doing things: menus, controls, etc. (The only exception was the ever increasing annoyance at Xbox Live doing stupid things and being a barrier to just playing a damn game.) So, going to a Playstation would be a pretty interesting transition.

So how did we end up with a console again? Well, after looking at the 360 and Wii sitting there being unused, and further discovering that the Wii was not even connected and we had zero Xbox 360 games in the house, it was clear that it was time for those two consoles to go! We commenced cleaning them off, wiping the data, and packing them up to go sell. Doing the Gamestop dance, we ended up with a fairly decent amount of money from the games we had left and consoles themselves. With that, we decided it would be worth giving the PS4 a shot!

Every step of setting up the PS4 was really well done; from physical connections to account setups, and navigating the menus to set the console up. Sony really nailed the experience on this new console: everything feels super fast, and I get the feeling someone actually used it and tweaked it before shipping it to customers. To continue the story of things being super fast, we tried some streaming video from Amazon (which is not something we usually do since we primarily use an AppleTV for video content) and the results were amazing. The video loaded very fast and the 1080p quality was the best I have seen on a streaming device. I suspect we will be watching quite a bit of streaming content on the PS4 going forward. On the other end of the streaming spectrum, live streaming of your gameplay on Twitch (my Twitch channel) is great as well! One button and you are able to setup and stream out your live gameplay. I never thought this would be a feature that interested me (too self conscious, mostly) but it is pretty cool to know I can do it, and because it is so easy, I suspect I will do it more often.

Ok, so what gives? You said no new console, and then you buy a PS4? Despite what many think, myself included prior to this purchase, there is something to be said for the couch experience. PC gaming is great, but sitting on your comfortable couch in front of a 70” TV with only a controller to worry about makes for a really great experience. PC gaming will never go away, but because of this couch experience, new hardware like the Steam Boxes are going to be huge, I think, as they are a merging of the two worlds. Finally, I have to touch on the lifespan of these consoles. It seems like every 6-12 months there is some new graphics card to buy for your computer to ensure you can play the latest games, but I could not believe it when I read that the Xbox 360 was almost 9 years old! Nine years old and still has plenty of life left in it. That says a lot about the staying power of consoles, and I suspect we will have the PS4 for quite a while as well.

P.S. The experience of the PS4 has been so good, I am now going to get one of the new slimmer, lighter PS Vita systems to see what they are doing in the handheld area. There is, of course, the nice bonus of the two systems working well together with features like remote play, where you can play your PS4 games on the PS Vita.

P.P.S. There is also a Playstation app for iOS and Android that lets you connect to your PS4, control it, and manage your PS profile. Nice added bonus.

UPDATE ADDED 2014-06-19I decided to upgrade the Hard Drive in the PS4 and it was so refreshing to see that Sony designed the unit so the replacement was trivial! Our PS4 is now rocking an SSD and load times have improved quite a bit! I highly recommend it.

Indie Board Games!

“I have never made my own board game.”

That is a sentence I can no longer say! In fact, I now have designed two of them! At the time of this writing, one is about 70% complete and the other is roughly 30% complete. I am not at this time going to go into details or mechanics of the games themselves, but rather will tell you a little about how this all happened. Full details on each game will definitely be posted as they are finished!

I honestly don’t exactly know how the idea of making my own board game came about. What I can tell you is that the first game actually started out as an iOS game. The turning point came when I was wire framing the game code up and came to the realization that the mechanics of the game were going to be above my current coding level. This, I will admit, was a bit of a letdown, but I still very much wanted this game to exist. Well, at damn near the exact moment I came to that first realization, the thought of, “what about making it a board game?” entered my head! What? That is crazy talk!

Now, thinking about making a board game is one thing; it’s entirely another to actually go through the process of creation and manufacturing. Once I decided that this game was going to become a physical board game, a whole other set of obstacles came up. When you are writing a piece of software, it is pretty straightforward: you write the code, test it, and publish it to one of the many “no barrier to entry” application markets, or even just pedal it from your own website. You may need someone to help you with design and so forth, but for the most part you can do everything with readily available and free tools.

When you start talking physical goods, everything changes. You are now in a very different world. You can come up with the idea, and maybe prototype some game parts and pieces, but what about making actual game boards, cards, and so forth? This was about the time I found myself doing A LOT of research on Google to figure out how others have gone down this path. If you are willing to pre-buy 15,000 units of your game then you can probably get a game printer to run that for you. I definitely am not looking to turn this into a full time job; I really only wanted to have a couple copies made for myself and maybe a couple to give to friends. What I needed was a company that would create the various parts in a more “print on demand” style much like Blurb does with books. So instead of having a room full of games that I realistically will never sell, I can just order them one at a time as needed. After a bit of googling, I found just the place that does exactly that! TheGameCrafters.com are exactly what I was looking for. They make it super easy for you to go from concept to completion.

1. Create your game idea.
2. Create all the art for the game board, cards, etc.
3. Submit for printing.
4. Game shows up on your doorstep a few weeks later!

This is, of course, slightly over simplified, but honestly not by very much. For the first game I came up with, after building some prototype boards and game pieces, Valerie and I played through the game enough times to work out any play mechanics bugs. She also gave some great input on how to make the game even better! After that, we got all the art put into the .PSD templates (huge thanks again to my awesome wife for helping with this part of it!) that TheGameCrafters provide, and then uploaded them to their website. Aside from printing all the boards, cards, manuals, and various other printed items, they also have a very large selection of game pieces and tokens for almost any kind of game you can think of.

Once you have all the parts picked out and added to “your game”, you can then publish it to their shop as well so others who are looking around the site can purchase your game if they wish. TheGameCrafters have a pretty standard revenue split setup for the selling: you pick a price above whatever the base cost of parts is, and that profit is split 70/30 between you and them. Pretty damn good I would say, considering you have $0 upfront investment.

If you have ever wanted to make your own board game or card game, I would definitely check out TheGameCrafters.com; they make it very easy to turn your idea a reality. I am having so much fun making physical games, and it is such a different creative process than working on computer based projects. I look forward to announcing the 2 games I am working on to everyone very soon!

“I am in no way sponsored by this company, I just really like their product and wanted to tell you about it!”

— Jason

RAZER Naga Gaming Mouse

Finding the right computer mouse is one of those seemingly never ending quests in a geeks life. I almost always go with wireless mice myself. Most recently I was using the Apple Magic Mouse at home, and still currently use the Logitech MX Revolution at work. The Apple mouse was great in theory, but fell short in actual day-to-day use. After questing for a new mouse for many months, I found myself at the local Fry’s looking at the wall of mice they have. I figured I would most likely end up with some form of a wireless Logitech mouse. This however turned out to not be the case at all. What I ended up with was neither Logitech nor wireless. I ended up with a wired gaming mouse made by Razer. Out of their rather large line of gaming mice, I chose the Naga. It looked to be very comfortable and had an interesting looking number pad on the side that could be used for gaming or other macros. From the second I plugged it into my laptop, I was sold! This mouse is supremely comfortable to use. The right and left buttons are perfectly molded. The cord is actually really great because it means never replacing batteries or dealing with any kind of wireless interference. Also the cord is wrapped in a cloth material that keeps it from getting hung up while tracking and also keeps it from getting tangled. The Naga is super precise when tracking with no issues as far as skipping, and tracks on just about anything.Being that it is designed to be a gaming mouse, you will not see a lot of the buttons you would see on other mice, such as web browsing controls, or application launchers. This is actually a bonus for me because I never use those anyway. There are however 2 things about the scroll wheel I miss from many of the Logitech mice. The ability to set the wheel to a free-spin style of scrolling and the tilt back and forward. Not the end of the world, but took a while to get used to them not being there.

Overall, I am very pleased with the quality of the mouse. Solid construction and has enough weight to it to not feel cheap and flimsy. I am not a “hardcore gamer” so I don’t need my mouse to have user adjustable weights or any of that.

If you need a new mouse and maybe do a little gaming on the side, this is definitely one to check out. If not this one, check out Razer’s entire line, they seem to have a model for everyone.