Giraffes, Water Slides, & Trading Cards – A Recipe for Mobile Games

Hey readers. As the month of March comes to a close, I thought I’d do a round-up of games I played this month, with a bit of commentary aimed at exploring gameplay elements that make particular games sticky. This is far from exhaustive, as gamers differ in taste, but maybe there is a recipe in all this that can help devs. I dunno.

None of these games are staggeringly new; I got bored of Threes before the other rip-offs arrived. These are long-lasters for me, which is Kind-of-a-Big-Deal. I wrote Best Apps Market Reviews for all but the last one, which, being Guild Wars 2, I decided to review in the style we do at BAM.
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Seattle: cool. AWP: meh.

“Is it the sea you hear in me,
Its dissatisfactions?”
-Plath, Elm.

No. Sure, AWP was very disappointing, but Seattle was perfectly fine, and I enjoyed my time there. Maybe I am dissatisfied about AWP. Maybe I am hesitant to say that all the AWP presenters I saw gave content that I already knew plenty about, and that I ended up hearing authors with more money, better book deals, talking about stuff I already knew.

While I don’t mind that, I wanted to show them stories they’d never seen, because, well, they’re sheltered authors, and some of us actually did screw up, and have stories that might not sell a ton, but will entertain. Besides, I figure AWP isn’t interested in anything but their brand of writing, so, it makes sense for me to say that writing serves purposes aside from their stale RHETORIC.

For future reference:
If  you know something about writing but have no connections, AWP is a waste of money. Networking is a joke and you have to smash people’s faces into tables in order to convince them you don’t care about Journal X. You also have to pay money to listen to authors that write trash that explains how they made that trash, which is marginally useful, but you’d be better off exploring the city you’re in, because AWP is a stale bureaucracy that will die out sooner or later, and, as someone working at a startup, I welcome it, because I’m going to do something for them that is better than they could even imagine.

So, please, just die.

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Deep Down Ingrained Sexism, Games, and Whining

I Flipped through an article on February 17 by Brenna Hillier that had a catchy title, but decided to relegate it to my “stuff to address later” project. Here’s where I try to unpack Ms. Hillier’s arguments, then comment on them. For tl;dr readers: Hillier’s complaints overlook the fact that games are entertainment, which should never be -reasonably- sanctioned.
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Why EA’s Mobile Dungeon Keeper Ironically Succeeds

Last week, after a protracted time of testing, Electronic Arts opened the flood-gates and let the rest of the world play a mobile rendition of a franchise they bought from properties created by Peter Molyneux called Dungeon Keeper. As it happened, on 01-30-14, I did my job and played, rated and reviewed the game for the Fetch app-discovery app, saying:
Recruit minions and carve out a sinister underground empire by harvesting resources and laying devious dungeon traps to painfully foil your enemies! EA did a great job bringing a PC classic to mobile devices.

I rated the game 9/10 (4.5), so imagine my surprise when I see a bunch of posts from other reviewers of games critically saying Dungeon Keeper is an example of everything wrong with mobile games, and that EA essentially raped the franchise because purchasing virtual currency is practically required to enjoy the game.

Well, I thought about refining my review to reflect recent trends, but instead opted to respond–I want to provide background to my reviewing processes and metrics, and, why EA was able to pull a well-planned fast-one that pissed off everyone. Essentially: EA orchestrated this as a blow to free-to-play, and it might be a good thing for mobile games…

I sat tapping through the tutorial of Dungeon Keeper with little surprise. I figured EA would turn Dungeon Keeper into a free-to-play game the second I saw it soft-released. As expected, the demonic guide talked down to me and encouraged me to pursue tasks that would take gems to complete quickly, like, surprise, Clash of Clans, or any other derivative. I tolerated it and took it in stride.

The tutorial was annoying, but compared to other games I’d played on Android, above-average, so I kept tapping through things until I found the point where I could break the MANDATORY tutorial. I assessed what I saw and rated everything in the game accordingly. I then un-installed Dungeon Keeper because I was disgusted, which, in retrospect, I think was intentional. EA did this to show the ridiculous nature of profiting in the mobile gaming sphere, and I’m forced to agree with them: you can’t adopt new payment methods to emulate traditional gameplay mechanics for mobile without pissing people off.

I stand behind my rating and review because the Dungeon Keeper gameplay exists, but is behind a pay-wall for those that want immediate gratification. EA engineered this to TRAP the media and with the hope that that would benefit them in the long run, because they’ve just used a cult game to make people find reason to hate freemium mobile games even more.

As a mobile games review editor, I don’t like what EA has done. EA has taken a wonderful PC game and commodified it to fit current mobile gaming trends. But, I don’t disapprove of their tactics either.

All that being said, when I rated the game, I figured Dungeon Keeper’s score in light of what you’d either be willing to pay or wait for, and not how upset you’d be at either junction. So, take that as you will.


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Shia LeBeouf’s Unsurprising Logical Fallacy

“The ‘copy’ is the scapegoat for the immense and apparently unsolvable problems that mimesis, as a basic constituent of our position, poses for us.”…“No doubt, it is symptomatic of the decadence of contemporary society, where the ability to produce a certain appearance situationally is more valuable than the slow development of substantive skills.”
-In Praise of Copying, Marcus Boon, 2010.

I really tried to not give attention to the -at times amusing- LaBeouf morass. I really did. Seeing the web explode, then continue to feed a fire was so entertaining, was reason enough for me not to say anything until I stumbled upon a 01/20/14 article titled “#stopcreating” that was authored by SHIA LABEOUF on the Hi-Lo-Brow site I have nothing against, “The New Inquiry.” Given the thrust of his article, I can’t excuse LaBeouf from anything, and I wouldn’t want to, because he’s wrong, and here’s why.

I opened this entry with a reference to Marcus Boon’s In Praise of Copying for good reason, one which Mr. LeBeouf, who’s supposedly a professor, doesn’t once mention in his laborious defense of, bluntly, ripping-off someone else’s story, and profiting as a result.

LaBeouf speaks of an explosion of writers employing strategies of copying and appropriation over the past few years, with the computer encouraging writers to mimic its workings. He equates this, then, as being “integral” “to the writing process;” that it would be mad to imagine that writers wouldn’t exploit these functions in extreme ways that weren’t intended by their creators.

I expected more from a “professor,” than what could be easily excused as a fallacy of “exclusive premises,” but, that’s all he opens his article with, and spends the rest of his time trying to say copying is okay by not citing the people he needed to be citing, like, oh, David Shields or Marcus Boon. Instead, he cites popular NYC media artists and whines about being chastised by a poet of a prominent university for being, frankly, a dick, and then saying something potentially-insightful: that we are in the same boat as to how we form our own meaning in the context of new questions concerning authorship. Hardly insightful. Clearly LaBeouf doesn’t like “academia,” whatever that means.

Mr. LaBeouf, you’re not helping anyone with your “writing,” because you basically used your status to make copying seem okay, like, you were re-framing something, but, really, your mimesis is not something I want to follow, considering you encourage us with logical fallacies.

People, keep doing your own thing, but, please, attribute. It seems like that is the only way some of us will manage.

I’m a poet, so I am not worried about people taking my writing…well, not yet. And when I say “taking my writing,” I really want to be able to see how things that I write might change over time.

LaBeouf thinks machines, or, the creators of those machines (engineers I deeply respect), might best me, or, poets, in the near future…but his whole article was an imploding attempt at seeming critical that failed to mention even the most common authors that a graduate student might find in an MFA program.

I don’t know why his writing was both accepted and acknowledged by The New Inquiry, because it doesn’t drive the kind of traffic TNI purports to curate; there are few resources to explore the argument. But, the internet is rife with back-patting and more egregious kinds of mutual satisfaction than I care to worry about.

I just hope that TNI, will, in the future, use editors that really care about what is posted on their site, because, frankly, they failed this time, by letting something so stupid as LaBeouf’s garbage get any exposure beyond his utter social media failure.


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No history is so hard to write as that of our own times

“No history is so hard to write as that of our own times. Few, if any, can free themselves from the fashions of thought and opinion which control the daily life of their neighbors, and every one inhales to some extent the vapors and miasms floating in the air he hourly breathes.”
-William Walker, March 1st, 1860.

One of my holiday gifts was a memoir a very, very distant relative wrote. You might, or might not have heard of him: William Walker. He was a doctor, lawyer, editor for a counter-culture newspaper Walt Whitman wrote for, and, well, such a terrible military leader that his clout and charisma lead him and his troops to briefly conquer Nicaragua. Steel magnates like Vanderbilt (ironically, I went to that university) eventually hired mercenaries that captured and killed him by firing squad. But that’s all history. What matters isn’t the corpus of his memoir or life, but how he’s prefaced it with the above quote. It says something we overlook today.

How many of us think about our writings as meaningful artifacts? Beyond that, how many of us make the effort to remove that writing from the “fashions of thought and opinion which control” our lives? Is a hit-seeking list you get paid for writing going to really matter? Is anything aside from what YOU want to write actually valuable, or just derivative and confined by “fashions of thought?” Most of writing today on the Internet is just reinforcing “vapors and miasms” that we constantly breathe.

This isn’t to say that good writing doesn’t get done, just that many of those writers are bound by some external interest or another that dulls the authenticity of their writings. But, no one said writing was easy, and writing, frankly, about our time, must be the most difficult, as it’s packed with post-modern garbage, capitalism, promises of all kinds via The Singularity or the Next Big App.

I know there are people sharing real struggles and giving better pictures of our age than more popular media platforms. Tumblr has lots of honest micro-blogs about suffering from mental illness, for instance. But where are the people willing to really, critically write about the 21st century? Not just for 20-somethings, but for everyone!

I know William Walker would have made an app instead of trying to conquer Nicaragua, and it’d probably fail miserably, but at least he’d have the willingness to preface his memoir today the same way he did almost 1.5 centuries ago.


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2013 – a Lyric, Datum, & Anecdote Laced with Irony.

Image-Jenny Boully, The Body: An Essay, 2002

It wasn’t an easy year, but it was a fun one. Many websites tout the ineptitude and bleak perspective of 20-somethings because 20-somethings are somewhat of an Internet majority. Well, I won’t entertain that idea, and will instead say being a 20-something in 2013 was awesome. For every stupid thing Thought Catalog‘s writers “composed,” I had something alternatively cool happen in my life (however small this or that thing might have been in comparison).

Entirely out of order, here is what made being a 20-something in 2013 great:

1) Pacific Rim: next to Gravity and Blue is the Warmest Colour, Del Toro’s homage to anime and mecha took me back to growing up in the 80s. It’s somewhat campy, but everything about it screams quality production. I’m listening to the soundtrack right now, and if you want to get pumped up, there’s nothing better than Pacific Rim to start your (work) day.

2) BAASICS: the Bay Area Art & Science Interdisciplinary Collaborative Sessions might have a ridiculously clumsy acronym, but their May 6 session, The Deep End, blew me away. A blend of science, art and personal presentation, this event made me realize that people in the Bay Area are thinking about greater things than how to make the new big app or whine about public transit, and that people don’t suffer from “mental illness,” but are, simply neuro-diverse. It also showed me that 20-somethings care enough to START something like this, rather than make a hit-seeking blog. So, good job.

3) Gravity: another movie, but considering that I see maybe five films in theaters a year, it’s significant. I wrote a blog post about what makes this movie great, and stand by it. It’s emotionally deep, visually breath-taking, and short. It’s the best movie of the 21st century, imo. Also, being a 20-something, I was able to appreciate references from older films like 2001 that inevitably had to be there.

4) Humble Bundle: you let me buy so many games with your sales, and I’ve only played, probably, two of them. Still, you made pay-what-you-want awesome, and I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it without…

5) Android: you’re Google’s attempt to prevent Apple dominance, and while things didn’t pan out as expected, I appreciate the sentiment, considering I work for an Android start-up (Fetch). The platform has really accelerated, and, while the games still suck, NVIDIA has ideas that will likely change things up.

6) Being me: let’s just skip over my age, because your opportunities are partially derived from your social and familial connections. This is why so many NYC people write for Thought Catalog: they were given the chance because of their social connections, not because of their writing ability. Getting socially connected matters for people my age, and, unsurprisingly, that factored into me finding a job, improving my life, and living to write this really narcissistic post instead of asking for pennies at the BART station.

7) Poetry: nothing approaches poetry in terms of representing human consciousness, and it saved my life this year, and, I’m going to AWP in February in Seattle, so, awesome. Reading poetry is reading code, but writing poetry is composing a kind of consciousness in a code that only the human brain can read. That makes me want to write, write poems, compose stories of all kinds, and try to get others to focus on learning writing. 2013 showed me that writing, not technical capability, got me here, and I want people to know that expression via writing is the closest thing to spell-crafting you can get. Also, Beth Bachmann, ’nuff said.

Oh, I could say more, but let’s just crack the bottle open and get on with the end of 2013! I’ve got plans and resolutions, but let’s enjoy what we have now: media, drinks, friends, whatever. Also, 20-somethings, make 2014 the year we don’t seem like our lives are so bleak. DO STUFF. ENJOY LIFE. GIVE AND RECEIVE. Don’t expect; don’t compare. DO, and Love. Learning to love seems to help. Stop searching and start BEING. Be alive, and stop this stupid search people tell you every 20-something experiences, because that’s hardly the case.


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I Review Android Games and These Stuck Around in 2013

FIRST OF ALL: Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to All of You (bless you, Chuck Norris).
Note: skip here to see the games I kept on my phone for 2013 after reviewing thousands of others.
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Nothing to Offer but Confusion, Thought Catalog?

“I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

You really like to take things out of context, and, thankfully, lists are clearly contextual, so you’re to blame for this. Kerouac, and other writers didn’t write what they did thinking you sad hit-seekers would leech off their talent simply because you can’t write anything worth anyone’s eye-time. Good job.  I hope you love your jobs of rehashing brilliance and intermingling it with confessions. It must work! Good job, again, and good luck.

To reference the title of your original “article,” it should be “One Quote from Kerouac for Any One Trying to Find Her/His Self,” because the other quotes of that article are just more list-garbage-driving hits. Thought Catalog, ever try, you know, giving 20-somethings like myself something that I won’t see straight through? It’s probably because you’re all younger 20-somethings, which is fine, but don’t speak for all of us. You really need to venture out into the world of literature. Try some de Certeau, or Marcel, or even write about David Shields’ Reality Hunger, because, really, all those people, and many other less iconoclastic writers, touch on things you people miss.

Making 20-somethings feel miserable must be important to you. So, go ahead–do your confessions of misery and lists of encouragement, but, people will catch onto it, and you’ll be left with, what? Worthless editors living in NYC. Good. Job. I hope you enjoy it, and, happy holidays!

Confusion works in so many ways, doesn’t it, hit-seeker? Excuse me, I need to go play Arkham City to numb my clearly hopeless 20-something mind to the realities of the world you clearly know so much more about.


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NVIDIA Wants to Kill Traditional Gaming

It happened a couple weeks ago, and coincided with a huge sale of XboxOnes and PS4s, the last generation of home consoles as we will know it. NVIDIA did something they’d been waiting for months to do, and, I can say from experience, they’re doing a really good job. Games as a Service (GaaS) launched for SHIELD users within the Bay Area, promising, given “ample” internet bandwidth, playable console games. It’s essentially the Netflix of gaming: no installation, no waiting time, just quick access to entertainment that is interactive. The day GRID launched, I was cynical, but updated my SHIELD and used my Verizon PDANET hotspot connection to route me to the NVIDIA servers…what I experienced was incredible. I clicked on Street Fighter IV, which I didn’t own or hadn’t installed, and was launched into a deathmatch. While it was noticeably scaled-down for my connection in terms of video quality, it was perfectly playable, and on the SHIELD, a console-level experience. To say I was impressed would have been an understatement. NVIDIA’s got something planned, and it will change gaming…if it works.

The SHIELD was originally a development project, or test of concept for NVIDIA, or, so NVIDIA says. I think it was a way to get people to buy the best Android gaming handheld, and, also become beta-testers for a Tegra-based cloud-gaming service. Their timing couldn’t have been better, either. NVIDIA released SHIELD months before the next-gen consoles; they had time to QA it; they had time to get their servers ready for GAAS. Now, NVIDIA is no slouch in mobile gaming, considering their Tegra chips are…well, dense with transistors, and they’ve said on numerous occasions that the PC is where gaming is, and always has been at.

The SHIELD is the most powerful Android gaming device, and NVDIA is proud of that, but they’re going to be even happier when people see GAAS as a viable means of finding entertainment. Console providers all-around are probably scared of this, because it goes against traditional console strategies, focusing on software sales at the sacrifice of hardware. NVIDIA is willing to give up hardware profit if they can flood the market with Tegra, and, in doing so, get people to use their GAAS via GRID. No installs. No time. Instant-entertainment. Tempting, no?

There are hurdles, however. NVIDIA’s network is clearly not ready for anything on any large scale. It’s also still limited to the people beta-testing their GRID application, which is limited, likewise, to a paltry number of games. Looming on the horizon, though, is something quite interesting: Steam Machines. Whether NVIDIA and Valve are working together to displace console gaming remains to be seen, but if any of the upcoming Steam Machines use Tegra, you know it’ll work with GRID (if GRID isn’t just a test-bed for something else).

It will be an interesting year for gaming in 2014. I don’t plan on playing that many games, but, I like seeing where technology goes. I’ve got poems to write, in the meanwhile.


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