Infinity Blade – Game Review

If you think that games on the iPhone and iPad are all puzzle games about cutting the rope or flinging birds at pigs, and wish that there were something more exciting, visually impressive, and more violent (You can’t help it, you’ve been desensitized by TV, right?) then you should try the impressive Infinity Blade. Originally there was a free demo that showed how amazing the 3D environment could be rendered on an iOS device, but now it’s a full-blown game. The title is completely apt because essentially you play a knight in a fantasy realm trying to get to the top of a castle where you face the evil God King (this isn’t much of a spoiler because it happens right away when you start the game) and you end up dead very quickly. Fortunately, your descendant (who’s got the same equipment, gold, experience as you did) comes back to try again. Along the way into the castle and up its tower, you do battle with a number of enemies (though not a very large number of enemies) before you face the God King again (and probably die again). This cycle keeps going again and again until you defeat him (and even then it goes on).

What makes this game good is firstly the graphics. The 3D CGI is amazingly sharp and you really feel a sense of the virtual depth. The characters, their weapons, armour, etc. are really imaginatively-designed and look good (My favourite enemy is called a Wood Jester, look for him!). The gameplay functions perfectly for a player like myself. I like things simple. I don’t like having to manipulate 10 different parameters, or perform a complex series of gestures just to get my character to do something. Instead, there are two arrows at the bottom corners of the screen to allow you to dodge to the left or right when the enemy attacks. There are also blocking moves, parries, stabs, etc. To attack, you just slide your finger over the enemy in a slashing motion. Again, the graphics are nice and fluid. On top of all that, there are spells that you perform by drawing a certain pattern on the screen with your finger once your magic gauge is full. Even on my iPad 1, the responsiveness is excellent, and my knight moves quickly and responds to all my commands (for the most part) immediately.

As you continue to fight, after each victory, you get gold and experience. The experience also goes towards mastering your weapons and armour (which is actually kind of a bad thing because there’s a gauge on each item which fills with experience points and as they fill up, they increase your overall experience and allow you to level up. Unfortunately, once you master an item, there are no more points added to your overall experience, so levelling-up goes much slower until you can buy and equip more items. Items cost gold, but there is a way to make in-app purchases for more game-gold in exchange for real-world cash. If you have the patience to spend many virtual bloodlines to do it, you probably can earn the gold in the game world eventually without shelling out more actual dollars.

Anyway, after you level up and get good weapons and armour, you will probably defeat the God King. Unfortunately that doesn’t automatically get you to the next level (I thought that surely the Infinity Blade which the God King uses would have been given to me and then I could use it to unlock the second level in the basement, but I have to earn the gold to buy the Infinity Blade myself — and it’s not cheap!). Anyway, once you get the Infinity Blade, you put it into a small obelisk in the castle basement which then opens three more doors to the Deathless Kings cells (this is the new content that was part of a free upgrade from the company). The Deathless Kings are even tougher than the God King, and pretty cool looking to boot.

As far as tips go, it was a great tip that I got from another blog which recommended that after a certain point, I should restart level 1 (keeping all I had acquired) because the enemies would be easier now that I’d levelled up and I could get more gold and experience quicker than ever. Another tip is that a healing ring is a must-have for any big battle. It allows your knight to become almost deathless himself.

Unfortunately there are a few flaws to the game as well. I already mentioned problem with mastering items. Another problem is the repetitiveness of the game (but that can actually be fun because you’ll become a better fighter by learning how each enemy fights). It would be nice if there were more paths within the castle, more choice. Also, maybe because it’s such a large app to have in RAM, it crashes not-infrequently. Thankfully your progress will likely be saved in the system so you can come right back to where you left off.

After I beat the final boss, I’ll have to look back at how distracting this game has been. I’ve spent many hours playing this game, and enjoyed every minute. (4 out of 5)

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Alvin & iMac: The End of an Era?

2006-08-26 Mourning kid, carrying

Lately my beloved 19″ white iMac is not doing so good. I know my computer is just an object, but it’s amazing how intimate some of us can become with our machines, how emotionally invested in them we can become. Frankly, it’s because of an emotional incident that led me to become a Mac owner to begin with (no, I was not swayed by charming commercials featuring Justin Long and John Hodgeman) but it was when I had a virus attack on my old Windows PC on Christmas Day. I was so frustrated and annoyed (beyond annoyed, downright panicked) by it that the idea of a computer/operating system without viruses was like a lifeboat to a drowning man. Now, almost six years later, I’ve been an Apple convert (some would say fanatic) since day one, but my first Mac is showing some signs of its age.

First there was the freezing

So, I’d be working on my computer (maybe I’m doing a few things at once, but that’s normal, right) and then suddenly I’d click on Firefox, or Quicklook, or any darned thing, and I’d get the spinning beachball of death, then eventually that would go back to the arrow pointer, but I couldn’t click on anything, and the clincher was that the clock in my menu bar stayed frozen as well. There was no response from anything. I might have preferred to believe that time had stopped in the universe at large, but I quickly admitted to myself that I needed to do a super-hard reboot by pressing the power button until it shut down my computer, then power on again. Sad.

Then there was the blackouts

Now, I’d already had black screen of death experiences a few years back when my Mac’s logic board died, but I got it replaced and had no problem since then. This problem was different. The screen would go dark all of a sudden, but I could still tell that the computer was on and running (I’m not sure how). It’s like I’m on the other side of a closed door, and even though I can’t hear any footsteps or sounds of movement, I know that there are people on the other side. Anyway, without the screen, I couldn’t do anything. Reboot. So sad.

Then there was the progress bar

At first the reboots just were like normal, but then one time I started to notice that the grey startup screen with the Apple logo had a new little grey progress bar (isn’t it cool that even when the computer’s breaking down, everything looks nice and matches? I’m clearly an unrepentant fan-boy). I didn’t know what the progress bar was for, but it made the startup a lot longer. Sometimes taking 5, 10 minutes. Googling the problem led me to learn that while people don’t really know what the problem is, there is general agreement that it’s a hardware problem. Booo! Super sad.

In the mean time, I ran Disk Utility and it told me that there were some misreported bytes or something. So, I had to even boot off my Snow Leopard DVD and run Disk Utility again and the problem was fixed (not my real problems — see above — but the misreported bytes were fixed). Disk Utility told me that my hard drive was just fine. Great.

Now my preferences panes don’t work

The latest thing to fail is that when I go into System Preferences, some of them don’t work. When I click on Security, I get the message that it needs to restart System Preferences to run. Then I restart and click again and it tells me that the preference pane failed to load. Sadder than sad.

Nevertheless, given how emotionally invested I am in my computers, I am surprisingly un-sad. It’s about time for me to get a new computer. When I bought my iMac, I told myself that 24″ was too big. 19 was enough. But now when I see the 27″ iMacs in the Apple Store I think, “Yes, I deserve one of those.” However, I’m still going to wait things out. Rumours abound of an imminent refresh of the iMacs (they finally announced the Macbook Pros being refreshed so the iMacs can’t be far behind), plus I want to have Mac OS X Lion pre-installed on my new computer (and that’s supposed to be coming in the summer), so I am going to bide my time, and sit next to the sickbed of my dying iMac. Maybe I’ll bring him some soup or a nice hot cup of tea now and then. I’ll pat his hand soothingly or sing soft lullabies when he’s sleepy. I just want my iMac to rest and enjoy his last days in relative peace.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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In Defense of iPad

In the tech world it feels like old news, especially for the US who have had their iPad for months. In Canada, it’s been less than a month since the magical little device made it to our shores and I still get all kinds of questions from people when they first see me with mine. I guess it’s a testament to the hype and reputation of Apple that everyone seems to have heard enough about the iPad to form some opinions about it (can’t say the same for the latest HTC smartphone or Google Android device). Most people are just curious and are not really intending to judge me for buying an iPad, but since I shelled out the big bucks for the top of the line 3G model, I guess I always feel some need to justify myself as an early adopter and why I don’t think I got scammed.

Do you love it? What do you do with it?
I have to say, even though I don’t believe it’s magical, I do love my iPad. I use it every day, a few times a day. Mostly I’m either checking up on my Godfinger worshippers (it’s a game where you are God, taking care of a bunch of farming minions), or reading on Early Edition (it’s an app that lays out my RSS feeds to look like a newspaper — very cool!). Also, it’s a lazy-man’s device for sure. Even though I’m only a few feet from the computer, whenever I get notifications of new gmails or tweets, instead of getting my butt off the couch to check, I just pull out the ol’ iPad and saved myself from burning a few extra calories. On top of the convenience, I actually find myself really liking the way it runs so smoothly and the way everything looks on it. I’m looking forward to journaling on it as well when vijournal M (a journal app that syncs to my Mac and my iPhone) makes its way to the iPad.

Isn’t it just a big iPod touch?
It’s true that in essence it’s a big iPod touch. It is not as revolutionary as all the marketing from Apple would have you believe. However, my counter-argument is that it’s a big iPod Touch in the same way my recently-purchased 42 inch LCD TV is a big version of my old 26 inch CRT TV. Everyone is clamouring for new big flatscreens, but they’re just essentially bigger versions of the smaller TVs we used to have — but there’s the rub! The larger TV allows for an HD signal to look noticeably better. Similarly, the larger screen real estate of the iPad makes games look better, but also many apps can take advantage of the extra space for menus, lists, etc and still maintain a good sized screen on the right. (Case in point, an app called Air Video lets me stream video from my computer. On my iPhone, the menu takes up the screen until the video comes on, at which point that takes over the entire screen. On the iPad, there are menus on the left, while a decent sized video can fill in the right.) And don’t get me started on how great a reading device it is for comic books, magazines and regular eBooks. The bigger screen makes all the difference.

But it still doesn’t have a camera, or support Flash, right?
Well, those are both true, but frankly, I have yet to care. I have a camera on my iPhone, and I don’t do much chatting, let alone video chatting. I definitely don’t need to be doing that on my iPad. Plus, there’s no way I would be caught dead holding my huge iPad up to my face to take a photo. Similarly, there’s only been a handful of times I’ve come across sites on my iPad where missing Flash posed a problem (plus I was reading something recently stating that for most mobile phones, the Flash they support is not the most recent or capable of displaying a lot of the flash video out there on the web.

Does anyone really need an iPad? I could have purchased a computer for that price.
It’s also true that the iPad is a luxury item. For the most part, if you have computing needs, you’d be better off getting a cheap laptop (or maybe even a netbook) but for the rest of us, that is not nearly as fun. Apple does a great job of creating things that developers get behind and support with 1001 inventive new apps/functions. It’s cool to be part of that community. No one needs an iPad, but everybody wants one (at least those people who have had their hands on one). It’s an easy sell.

Bottom line is that it puts so many wonderful things at my fingertips and fills so many of my needs for convenience. It’s a fantasy come true after watching years of Star Trek and seeing them hold their PADD devices in their hands. Now I finally have my own version of one (now if Steve could work on getting me that starship!)

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“Slingshot” games for the iPhone

I know everyone else is talking about iPads, but since I live in Canada, I don’t have one yet. However, I would still like to revive my Apple blog by talking about something cool — iPhone games!

Do you remember when games first started coming out for the iPhone and iPod touch? A lot of them tried to make use of the accelerometer (since it was one of the cool new things about the hardware) and we got lots of games like Monkeyball, Dizzy Bee and Labyrinth that made us tilt our phones a lot. Now I noticed another trend: slingshot games. What I mean is that the game’s central element is that you have to pull some kind of virtual elastic and shoot your character forward like a slingshot. I recently discovered these three slingshot games which are similar but different. After wiling away subway hour upon subway hour with them, I’d like to share my review (and my addiction) with you all.

Parachute Ninja

Basically this one is the slingshot version of a platform game (i.e. the Mario Brothers genre). Your character is a little yellow ball. But no ordinary yellow ball — you are a ninja, but no ordinary ninja — you have an umbrella that can pop out of the top of your head (yes, it’s weird but incredibly cute and fun). You start from a elastic green string and slingshot yourself up or sideways depending on the level, avoiding falling into the water below. To help you are other strings along the way (you can rest on the string and then shoot yourself further), fans (they give you lift when you open your umbrella), and bouncy platforms. Unfortunately there are also challenges in the form of spikes that zap, and hovering monsters. This game is very well designed and the levels are challenging (so you have to think about the physics and plan ahead) but not too difficult that you can’t keep going forward. Who’d have thought that being an umbrella ninja yellow ball would be so fun?

Angry Birds

Did you know that there’s a war being waged between the birds and the green pigs? Well there is one in this game. On one side the birds are armed with a big slingshot and various abilities. On the other side, the green pigs build shelters out of wood, bricks, glass and metal. The object of the game is to finish each level by squishing all the green pigs. You are the birds and you slingshot yourselves kamikaze-style at the green pigs in their shelters. Not only is it fun to figure out all the right tactics for taking out the pigs, but what makes this game addictively fun is that each species of bird has special abilities. Little blue birds will split into three birds in mid-flight. Yellow birds gain a sudden burst of power. White birds drop explosive eggs, and black birds are themselves destructive bombs. You probably have to play it to get how enjoyable this game is, but I encourage you to take up arms in this conflict. The Angry Birds need YOU!

Must.Eat.Birds.

Instead of being on the side of the birds, now we use our slingshot to defend ourselves from the birds. In this game we are little round monsters with big mouths and apparently the birds are parachuting onto our picnic and once four birds sit in our four plates, the picnic is over. I know this sounds bizarre (all these games probably do) but this one seems to be a Japanese translation, so it’s probably even more wacky. The way to stop the birds (basically the only thing you do) is slingshot yourself into the air and gobble the birds in mid-drop. The special defence of us orange monsters is that we can shoot out and gobble multiple copies of ourselves. Each time we do, we double in size until we become a large, massive orange monster. But that’s still not the best part! The best part comes when you eat a whole bunch of birds in quick succession a large cake rises up in behind you and someone yells out “Maximum bake” in a strong Japanese accent. At that point, you bounce around the screen like crazy, and your points just go up exponentially — it’s the wildest monster cake picnic ever!

I know all these games probably sound insane and weird, but that is what will get you hooked. Maybe it’s something about slingshots that just cries out for something a little bizarre, but I promise you won’t notice that by your umpteenth hour with them. Just watch out for repetitive sling injuries.

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Can’t you feel it f—in’ tingle?!

Is there an app for proving that you are not insane? And why should I have to prove that I’m not insane? Isn’t the customer always right? Apparently not when it comes to iPhones.

So, my brand new 3-week old iPhone kind of sucks. Well, not really, but it does something that not only really bothers me, it contributes to the appearance of my insanity (or at least senility). The darn thing tingles. No, it’s not the vibration mode of the ringer — god! if I had an iPhone for every time someone thinks it’s as simple as that. It gives of a kind of charged tingle, when I hold it in my hands. Most notably down my leg when I keep it in my pocket. It’s so bad that I eventually want to take it out of my pocket. And when I hold it in my hand, before long (i.e. 10 minutes) it tingles up my arm and after about 15 minutes my knuckles will even start to ache a bit, like I have the flu or something. The iPhone flu.

So, being so naive as I am, I bring it in to the store. Of course, there’s no one to help me. I have to make an appointment with the “genius” and come back in two days. Whatever. So I wait and come back at my assigned time. Of course, I have to wait 15 minutes for that assigned genius, and in that time, the phone has tingled my hand like crazy. Speaking of “crazy”, when I tell the guy, he can’t feel it! He looks at me like I’m crazy. I know how it sounds, but I’m not crazy. Why do I have to prove that? After I keep insisting, he hands it to some other genius who’s busy doing something on the computer. She tries to feel it, but she doesn’t. Of course not! It’s not exactly quiet in the store, and I don’t think they are really focused on the feeling (which is subtle at first). They’re busy thinking of how many customers they need to see or when they’re done for the day. Plus they are probably thinking it’s something like the vibrating ringer so they don’t think it’s anything softer than that — it’s not the vibrating ringer, OK? So he takes the phone back to check “inside”. He comes back and tells me that there’s no sound, nothing audible, and he put it on something to feel vibration and it didn’t register any. Of course not! It’s not frakkin’ vibrating. It’s tingling!!

So, he looks at me and says that he can’t replace it because he can’t find anything wrong with it. Why the hell not?! When you buy a shirt and you take it home to wear and it’s scratchy, you can return it or exchange it. When you buy a CD player and you don’t like the sound, you can bring it back to the store. What is so special about the iPhone that I can’t get it replaced? “What’s wrong with it?”! I paid mucho bucks for a phone that I’m stuck with for 3 long years and I don’t even want to touch it! That’s what’s wrong with it! If they suspect me of some phone exchanging scam, what on earth do I have to gain by coming in and exchanging my phone. It’s not like it’s damaged or anything, it’s good as new. I just want one that doesn’t give me the shivers. Is that too much to ask, Apple?!

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Alvin Meets iPhone (for realz) – part 2

It never ceases to amaze me how Apple can not only make products that I want to buy, they make me want to want to buy them. Such is the point I had reached with my potential new iPhone. After being denied last Sunday, I was still eager to get my iPhone as soon as possible. I was so eager that I even dragged my buddy (and his family), who I was showing around town as they were visiting, back to the Eaton Centre with me when I tried to revisit the Apple Store and get my iPhone again. Good thing he is as big an Apple fanboy as I am so it was exciting for him as well (in fact, he got me a silicone case for my iPhone before I even got one).

So this time, the iPhone gods were definitely smiling on me. I went in to explain my situation, how I was denied, and how the person who helped me before told me to try my luck again. Fortunately the person who helped me this time was able to find a guy who works on iPhones and didn’t have any appointments for another hour and a half. Yay! So, he helped me out, the system was working, and he got me all activated on my new, white, 32 GB iPhone 3GS. It was a sweet and simple ending to a minor minor ordeal.

Now, I’m still kind of feeling my way around the iPhone, discovering new fun things every day. I was so excited when I could restore all my apps (not all of them, mind you. I took the opportunity to trim down) and get going again.

So, there you have it. I now have joined the throngs of iPhone addicts. I have already benefited from the use of my iPhone when my buddy wanted to eat at Red Lobster when we were in Niagara Falls. I quickly looked up Red Lobster and Google Maps helped us get there. Hooray for instant gratification!

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Alvin Meets iPhone (not!) – part 1

Having only been a pay-as-you-go customer up until now, I had never really sank my feet into the tar pits of frustration known as cellular providers up until now (actually, my brief glimpse into that was when they switched me onto a monthly plan without telling me all the charges that I would be incurring. I got them to switch me back, but stil…). Now, I am planning to replace both my iPod touch (which has been lost to some French vagrants) and my home phone with a brand spanking new iPhone 3GS (Yay!).

I’d pass by the Fido store (Fido is one of the Canadian iPhone carriers) numerous times in my consideration process and went in a few times, but they’re so dang busy that I ended up leaving with only a brochure. Finally, hearing about how Fido stores had no stock of 3GSes, I got tipped on going directly to the Apple store instead. So, that’s what I did. At the Apple store, I was greeted by a pleasant enough customer service person, but he told me that new activations would take a long long time and so I had to make a personal shopping appointment. He rebuffed my outrage at the delayed gratification by saying that they get a lot of people in the store looking for iPhones and if they spent all their time on activating iPhones, then they’d never have any time.. blah blah blah… so, I made the appointment for 5 days later — yes, that’s five whole days to wait for something that they actually already had in stock. I guess when you have customers coming out of your ears, trying to shove money at you for a new iPhone, you don’t need to be nice to someone like me.

So, like a good boy, I wait patiently until Sunday for my appointment and with their good customer service, Apple phones me and confirms that I’m coming for my appointment and they have the phone in stock. Easy peasy, right? See, I’ve learned that the paradox of Apple is that everything is coated in that easy-looking, clean, white, friendliness that is in their ads, in the attitudes of their service people. It’s a kind of mellow, “We’re sorry things aren’t working out, but smile anyway” kind of demeanor. I guess it’s better than the Windows/PC world, often fraught with a “too-bad-so-sad, figure it out yourself” demeanor, but still …

I go in for my appointment, all ready to leave with (as they promised) my iPhone working as I exit the store. Yeah right. After trying to sort out who talk to about my appointment (there’s no indication of what a person is supposed to do when the arrive for an appointment to announce themselves, but apparently the orange shirt guy is the concierge). Finally, when I sit down with the person who is helping me activate my new iPhone, the Fido system is down (@#$@!%!). The lady helping me is super friendly, trying to put me into the system at least 3 times, but still no go. So, she pleasantly turns to me and lays out my options of either leaving the store with the phone outright (i.e. pay $800 for the damned thing) or come back maybe tomorrow when the system is up again (possibly). I guess I’m supposed to be made of time. I guess I don’t have to go to work on Monday or anything like that. I guess I don’t deserve some special arrangement after having waited almost a week for my appointed waste-of-time.

As I leave the store, I am struck by the intricate web of ironies in my situation. If Apple had been willing to activate the phone for me when I came in on Tuesday, I would have already had my phone. Instead, they made me wait all week until the system was down to NOT give me the phone. Add to that the horribly elaborate way that cell companies need to make sure that they cannot let you get away without squeezing all your money out of you (that’s the part about the subsidies and how I couldn’t even leave with the phone at the normal, non-inflated price without an activation). I’m sure I’m not appreciating the nuances of the technology and business model that probably makes clear sense to someone, but after my annoyances of today, I have very little patience or compassion for Big Cellular.

So when will I finally get my iPhone? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll keep you posted. Sucks to be me, eh? (I know there are so so many worse problems than these, but at this moment it sure doesn’t feel like it.)

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