Author Archive | Jared Newman

Smartphones and Tablets Get Their Gaming Buttons

As Sony and Nintendo cling to physical buttons as a major advantage of dedicated portable gaming systems, smartphone and tablet accessory makers have come up with an answer. At a CES press event, two companies were showing off attachable game controllers for smartphones and tablets, providing the tactile feedback that’s sorely needed for precision shooting and platforming.

I checked out one of these controllers, Gametel, from a Sweden-based company called Fructel. The controller clamps on to an Android phone or iPhone–or pairs remotely to an iPad–and communicates via Bluetooth. It includes a directional pad, four face buttons and two shoulder buttons on top. Gametel’s built-in battery runs for about nine hours before needing a charge from either mini USB or Apple’s 30-pin connector, depending on model.

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Don’t Get Mad at Atari for Shutting Down an iOS Battlezone Clone

Atari’s been a shell of its old self for decades now, but the rise of smartphones and tablets has rejuvinated the game publisher, as it remakes old classics for new platforms. Apparently this has become a problem for a few smaller developers, whose Atari-inspired creations have prompted takedowns from the publisher’s legal team.

Most recently, Black Powder Media raised a stink when Apple removed two of the developer’s games, Vector Tanks and Vector Tanks Extreme, from the iOS App Store at Atari’s request. Atari more or less confirmed the news, telling GamesIndustry.biz that “we need to vigorously protect our intellectual property and ensure that it is represented in highly innovative games.”

It’s the kind of story that sparks predictable outrage: Big bad game company shuts down scrappy indie game creation. Only in this case, I’m having a tough time getting angry.

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Wii U App Store Rumored, But Will It Really Be an App Store?

When Nintendo’s Wii U launches next year, it’ll have a “full-blown app store,” The Daily’s Matt Hickey reports, citing an unnamed source.

Or will it? As Hickey notes, Nintendo already offers app repositories through the Wii Shop and DSi Shop. The difference with the Wii U is that it’ll offer a wider variety of apps, beyond games and basic utilities.

But breadth of apps is not the best metric for a real app store, unless your definition is simply “a place to buy apps.” The way I see it, a true app store goes further by opening its doors to any developer. Whether there’s an approval process (a la iOS) or not (a la Android) doesn’t matter. What’s important is that anyone who knows how to code can contribute, so that the app selection grows in unexpected ways. You won’t find any great app stores that don’t allow this kind of outside development.

From Hickey’s report, I can’t tell whether Nintendo will open its app store to all developers, and I have my doubts. Game consoles are notoriously closed off to all but a select group of publishers. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is the only system that comes close to allowing outside development, through Xbox Live Indie Games, and even those apps are relegated to the darkest corners of the Xbox Marketplace.

So while I don’t doubt that the Wii U will have a wider selection of apps than Nintendo’s other systems–Hickey mentions MLB.TV and social networks as possibilities–I’m skeptical that Nintendo will let any developer run wild with the Wii U’s crazy multi-screen technology. But I hope to be proven wrong.


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Rumor: Android’s Answer to Siri is Coming Soon

Siri, the virtual assistant built into Apple’s iPhone 4S, seemed to catch competitors off guard. But all along, Google has reportedly been working on its own voice-controlled assistant for Android phones that responds to natural language.

The project is apparently codenamed Majel, and may see an initial release by the end of this year, Android and Me reports, based on unnamed sources. The codename is a reference to the Federation Computer in Star Trek, whose full name is voiced by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.

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Place Your Bets: Will Nintendo 3DS Dual Thumbsticks Take Off?

One thumbstick is rarely enough when you’re playing modern video games, so Nintendo’s 3DS is giving gamers a second stick via a $20 peripheral.

The Circle Pad Pro, which launched in Japan this month, is coming to the United States on February 7. The attachment snaps in around the base of the Nintendo 3DS, and includes an extra shoulder button as well. It requires a AAA battery to operate.

Here’s the issue: Existing games won’t work with the Circle Pad Pro, and developers will have to design future games to support dual sticks. So far, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D and Resident Evil: Revelations are on the roster of supported games.

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Miyamoto Scales Back, Nintendo Spins

Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s legendary game designer behind Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, said he’s stepping down from large-scale projects.

Speaking to Wired’s Chris Kohler, Miyamoto said he wants to work on smaller games and leave the major blockbusters to younger developers. He is not retiring, but sometimes says otherwise to his co-workers.

“What I really want to do is be in the forefront of game development once again myself,” Miyamoto told Wired. “Probably working on a smaller project with even younger developers. Or I might be interested in making something that I can make myself, by myself. Something really small.”

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Kinect Made Whole in Xbox 360 Overhaul

I bought a Kinect for Xbox 360 a few months ago, but not so I could flail my arms and legs around looking like a fool in Dance Central (although that, too, is happening). Mostly, I was curious to see how Kinect would fit into Microsoft’s Xbox 360 dashboard update, which went live late Tuesday night.

To my delight, Kinect now plays a significant role in the dashboard. It’s no longer penned into special menus with limited functionality. Instead, Kinect now allows you to control almost any part of the Xbox 360 with voice commands and motion controls. And it works really well.

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Verizon Galaxy Nexus Isn’t Pure Google, May Cost $300

The Galaxy Nexus is a pure Google phone, free of bloatware and designed to run Android exactly as Google envisions it. But on Verizon Wireless, that won’t be the case.

Although the Verizon Galaxy Nexus will run a mostly unmodified version of Android 4.0, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, the carrier will block Google Wallet, which lets you pay at some retailers by swiping your phone in front of a payment terminal, Computerworld reports. Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T are working on their own payment system called Isis, and Google Wallet, backed by Sprint, would be a threat. Isis isn’t launching until next year, though, so Verizon Galaxy Nexus users won’t be able to use NFC payments at all.

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Ting: A Wireless Carrier that Isn’t Your Enemy

While most wireless carriers take every opportunity to overcharge their customers, Ting wants to be different. 

The carrier, which according to CNet will launch in mid-2012, automatically sorts users into appropriate price tiers for wireless voice, data and text. So if you don’t use your phone a lot in a given month, you land in lower tiers and don’t get charged as much. In months of heavy use, Ting bumps you up to higher tiers instead of charging inflated overage fees.
 
Of course, there are catches: Ting subscribers must buy their own phones at full price, off-contract. While that means customers are free to leave Ting at any time, the up-front cost is more expensive. But because Ting’s service plans are generally cheaper than those of major wireless carriers, and because subscribers pay less for light use, the savings can add up in the long run. Also, Ting customers must activate their own phones, which can be a complicated process, especially when porting a number from another carrier.
The other downside to Ting’s service is that if you only exceed your usage limit by a tiny amount, you pay for a higher tier instead of a small overage fee. For this reason, the wireless industry has tried to argue that overage fees are great for consumers, but the savings you’d reap from falling into a cheaper tier for lower usage negates that argument.
 
As for service, Ting will run on Sprint’s network. It’s not clear whether Ting will offer 4G service at launch.
Ting is one of several carriers that are trying to undercut major wireless providers on the cost of smartphone service. Others include Republic Wireless, which costs $19 per month and relies on Wi-Fi to drive network usage down, and Sprint’s own Virgin Mobile brand, whose plans start at $35 per month. T-Mobile has also jumped in with $30 per month prepaid service in partnership with Walmart.
 
The problem with all of these services is that their best phones are inferior to the top shelf offerings from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. (CNet’s Rafe Needleman said he doesn’t like Ting’s selection, and hopes it gets better before the service launches.) But even low-end smartphones are improving, so these cheap carriers are becoming viable alternatives.
 
[This post republished from Techland.]


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EA Sells iPhone Tetris Subscriptions, is Probably Genius

No one in their right mind would pay $30 a year for Tetris, right? Right?

Electronic Arts thinks people will. The publisher is relaunching Tetris for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, with an optional subscription for extra features, Gamasutra reports.

Here’s how it works: For $1, the basic Tetris app includes three game modes and a ranking system that allows people to level up as they play. For $3 per month, or $30 per year, players can join the “T-Club,” which provides performance-enhancing perks, faster rank progression and exclusive content. Yes, EA wants people to subscribe to Tetris.

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