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Posts tagged with "games"

Epic Games Releases iPhone App That Captures Facial Expressions to Unreal Engine

Source: Epic Games.

Source: Epic Games.

Epic Games has released a new iPhone app for videogame developers that captures facial expressions, piping them into the company’s Unreal Engine in real-time. As explained on the Unreal Engine blog:

Live Link Face streams high-quality facial animation in real-time from your iPhone directly onto characters in Unreal Engine. The app’s tracking leverages Apple’s ARKit and the iPhone’s TrueDepth front-facing camera to interactively track a performer’s face, transmitting this data directly to Unreal Engine via Live Link over a network.

What I find most interesting about Live Link Face is that Epic says it scales from solo developers working at home to sophisticated stage productions involving actors in motion capture suits and multiple iPhones. If so, that will make the app a terrific example of the sort of democratization of complex tools that technologies like ARKit and hardware like the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera make possible when integrated into existing workflows.

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Game Day: Sketchfighter 4000 Alpha

Some tweet wishes do come true.

One of the first Mac games I ever played has made a comeback on the Mac App Store. Sketchfighter 4000 Alpha is a space-themed shooter that adds an exploratory twist on Asteroids-like controls. The game is a terrific riff on a classic arcade genre, but what holds the experience together and elevates it is the hand-drawn art and soundtrack.

Sketchfigher, by developer Lost Minds, was originally published in 2006 by Ambrosia Software, a Mac game publisher with roots in the early 90s that faded from the Mac gaming scene and finally went completely offline last year. That left fans with no way to download the app or activate existing licenses.

It’s been years since I played Sketchfighter, but as you can see from my tweet, I never forgot it. So, when I stumbled across a preview trailer for a reboot of the game, I was excited. As it turns out, Lost Minds was able to get the original source code for the game, update it for modern Macs, and release it on the Mac App Store.

If you played the original game as I did, part of the reboot’s fun is the nostalgia factor. Even if you’ve never played Sketchfighter, though, it’s a wonderful classic arcade experience. The game takes the sort of doodles so many students have scribbled in notebooks as teenagers and brings them to life on the same graph paper you’d find in backpacks.

Your goal is to maneuver a spaceship through a series of zones, avoiding obstacles and weaponry, collecting items, eliminating enemies, and fighting bosses. The controls are simple. The arrow keys control the direction your ship flies, and the space bar fires your weapons. That doesn’t mean your ship is easy to control, though. Both the flight physics and ship itself reminded me of Asteroids, which works well in this context. As you fly your ship, it drifts, carried by momentum towards walls, enemies, and other obstacles that can inflict damage, eventually leading to your demise. Along your route, there are also spots to refresh your health, which are a great place to visit before a big boss fight because once your health runs out, your ship explodes.

Sketchfighter features three save slots, so dying doesn’t mean starting over from scratch every time. Also, although I’ve only played in single-player mission mode, there are also two-player co-op and competitive modes.

There isn’t too much more I can say about Sketchfighter without giving away some of the surprises in later levels, but it’s worth emphasizing that the game’s relative simplicity is elevated above other straightforward arcade shooters by its nostalgia-evoking graphics and soundtrack. The music is a relatively short loop, but it’s incredibly catchy and the sort of tune that will stick in your head for days.

With so many games gone with the transition to 64-bit apps, I was happy to see Lost Minds take the time and effort to revitalize this small but fun corner of Mac gaming history. Updating older games isn’t trivial, which is why reboots like Sketchfighter are sadly the exception rather than the rule.

The Mac is lacking as a gaming platform in a lot of ways, but it’s perfect for quirky arcade-style fun like Sketchfighter. The game runs well on my 2018 Mac mini and has never sounded better than through my Harmon Kardon Soundsticks. What’s more, Sketchfighter is a terrific diversion when you’re sitting at your Mac and need a break. I hope it’s wildly successful and gets ported to the iPad eventually, too. It would be great fun to play with an iPad Pro attached to the Magic Keyboard with Trackpad.

Sketchfighter 4000 Alpha is available on the Mac App Store for $6.99.


Arcade Highlights: Crossy Road Castle

Anti-gravity rainbows, cute animal characters, prize machines, co-operative play, and endless tower platforming: if this all sounds like the perfect diversion during a long stay indoors, you’re absolutely right.

Crossy Road Castle is a long-awaited sequel to the original Crossy Road and one of the newest Apple Arcade titles. But don’t let the word ‘sequel’ mislead you – Crossy Road Castle offers an entirely different gaming experience than its predecessor. Think less “crossing the road” and more “climbing an endless tower, one micro-level at a time.”

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Spelltower+ Review: New Modes and More Resurrect the Classic Word Game

Word game addicts, say goodbye to your family, friends, and productivity: Spelltower is back and better than ever. The newly launched Spelltower+ from Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger takes the original game, modernizes it for the latest iPhone and iPad screen sizes, adds lots of new game modes, and packs several other key feature enhancements. Whether you’re a longtime Spelltower fan, or the game missed your radar entirely in its glory days, Spelltower+ deserves your attention.

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Arcade Highlights: Pilgrims

Apple Arcade launched with a flurry of fantastic games. Not long after the first wave of titles hit the service, Czech studio Amanita Design turned heads with the unexpected release of Pilgrims, a traditional adventure game that borrows interaction elements from card-based games. The studio’s quirky, signature art style and sound design come together in a short but delightful game that encourages exploration and experimentation.

Amanita has been making iOS games since the earliest days of the App Store. It’s probably best known for Machinarium, which was released in 2009, but it has released a string of artful games that are fan favorites, including CHUCHEL, Samorost 3, and Botanicula.

Pilgrims dropped on Apple Arcade in October and is available on iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and the Mac. I’ve played the game on all four platforms and found that it’s best experienced on the iPad, followed closely by the Mac.

The reasons Pilgrims succeeds so well on the iPad are threefold. First, the game is beautifully illustrated in a hand-drawn style that is reminiscent of a children’s storybook, which a big Retina iPad screen helps bring to life. Second, the iPad’s superior sound system makes it a great way to enjoy the game’s soundtrack, even without headphones. Finally, as I’ll explain in more detail below, Pilgrims relies on a card-based approach to gameplay that lends itself to touch, making direct interaction with the game’s cards and collectibles a natural fit.

The iPhone benefits from the same intimate interaction as the iPad, but the experience is diminished by the smaller screen and the iPhone’s inferior speakers when played without headphones. Pilgrims benefits from the even bigger screens of a Mac and TV, where I found that interacting with the game with a trackpad or mouse felt closer to the iPad’s touch experience than using the Apple TV’s Siri Remote or a game controller.

Pilgrims features a storybook-like feel, good humor, and a fun soundtrack.

Pilgrims features a storybook-like feel, good humor, and a fun soundtrack.

The premise of Pilgrims is simple: you start the game as a traveler who wakes up in his tent. You navigate around a map to various locations by tapping or clicking on them. Along the way, you collect items, interact with other characters, and solve puzzles. As you pass certain milestones, you’re joined by other pilgrims on your travels as you progress to the conclusion of the story.

The characters you befriend and the items you collect are represented by cards at the bottom of the screen. As you travel from point to point, your objectives will be clear: the thief wants potatoes, and the restaurant owner wants wine, for example. To obtain those items and unlock later stages of the game, you need to visit other locations on the map and through trial and error, collect items, trade for others, and interact with characters to advance the story.

Interactions in Pilgrims are primarily accomplished by dragging the cards of items you've collected and travelers you've befriended into each scene.

Interactions in Pilgrims are primarily accomplished by dragging the cards of items you’ve collected and travelers you’ve befriended into each scene.

Interactions are initiated by dragging cards into each scene and then watching how the story unfolds. The scenes are handled with an excellent sense of humor and whimsy that encourages you to experiment. In turn, that lends itself to a leisurely pace and provides a richer experience than doing the minimum necessary to reach the end of the game would suggest. It also makes Pilgrims a fun game to revisit because, although the environment may be familiar, testing different interactions with the characters you meet along the way makes repeat plays fun.

It’s the combination of storytelling and card-based play that makes Pilgrims such a perfect match with the iPad. Playing on a big Mac screen with a good set of speakers is a close second, but sitting back in a comfortable chair and exploring Pilgrims’ world from an iPad can’t be beaten. If you missed this release, which trailed the Apple Arcade launch by a few weeks, be sure to check it out now.

Pilgrims is available as part of Apple Arcade on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac.


Arcade Highlights: Grindstone

When it comes to mobile games, all a new title has to do to draw me in is show a Candy Crush-style grid of objects. There’s something about the simple mechanic of making connections on a grid that’s hard for me to resist. Most of the time, though, I find that while such games can easily grab my interest, many will quickly lose it when I actually start playing. It’s usually just standard match three games that keep my attention, so when I first tried out Grindstone, I didn’t think it would be for me.

Grindstone is an Apple Arcade title from Capy and the creative team behind the excellent Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. It features a familiar grid of objects – in this case monsters to defeat – but rather than rearranging matching monsters in a Candy Crush fashion, you’re tasked with tracing a line from one matching monster to another, determining the order in which you’ll slay them and potentially earn rewards. Monsters have to be adjacent to each other for you to string them together, so essentially you’re completing a connect the dots puzzle each turn with as many monsters destroyed as possible.

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Game Day: NABOKI

NABOKI, a brand new puzzle game by Maciej Targoni, is a masterpiece of mobile game design. Targoni is the developer of klocki, which I previously reviewed, and several other games that feature a similar minimalist aesthetic that I love.

I started NABOKI for the first time on a recent early-morning flight to California. I couldn’t have picked a better game to make my uncomfortable surroundings melt into the background.

The game has no tutorial and virtually no UI. Instead, NABOKI relies on exploration and the player’s curiosity to propel it forward. Coupled with a soothing nature-inspired soundtrack, NABOKI creates a calming environment of thoughtful concentration that’s a great way to relax.

NABOKI opens with a single white cube with rounded edges and a red arrow-like character on one side. Swiping on the screen spins the cube in three dimensions. Tapping on the cube provided immediate audio feedback, playing one tone when I tapped a blank side of the cube and another when I tapped the side with the arrow, causing the cube to launch itself offscreen.

The early levels of the game introduce the basic concept of tapping the arrow side of cubes to clear them from the screen and rotating the puzzle to consider your options from all angles, as you would a Rubik’s cube. As the puzzles become more complex, featuring blocks of several contiguous cubes, you need to clear pieces in a particular order to clear a path for others, and often to expose the arrows you need to reach before they can be cleared.

After several more levels, NABOKI begins to introduce different behaviors to cubes. There are circles that rotate cubes, switches that shift cubes and blocks of cubes, unclearable blocks, and blocks with patterns that have to be matched to clear them, for instance. Each puzzle builds on the new types of blocks introduced, combining them in clever ways that amp up the difficulty gradually in a way that isn’t frustrating.

Each type of cube also provides different audio feedback, which I enjoy, but I’d like to see haptic feedback added to interactions. NABOKI is the kind of game that I’m far more likely to play on my iPhone, and I think haptic feedback would draw players into the game’s world even more quickly and deeply.

NABOKI should be played with headphones because the soundtrack is a fantastic synthesis of instrumentation and sounds from nature. The soundtrack reminds me a little of the Brain.fm music. It’s a wonderful complement to a puzzle game like NABOKI, that creates a relaxed, contemplative environment in which it’s easy to lose yourself.

The single dot in the top-left corner reveals navigation buttons to replay solved puzzles and a button to turn the soundtrack on and off. There’s no scoring, leaderboards, or other competitive aspect of NABOKI. It’s just you against the puzzles.

Crammed into a narrow seat with a tray that was too small to use my iPad Pro, and with no WiFi, NABOKI was the perfect way to pass a big chunk of my weekend flight. A few levels are also a great way to unwind after a long day. I highly recommend NABOKI to anyone who’s a fan of puzzle games.

NABOKI is available on the App Store for $0.99.


Arcade Highlights: Sayonara Wild Hearts

How can I best describe Sayonara Wild Hearts? It’s an on-rails music-driven game, but that feels like an inadequate description. Yes it’s a game, but combining the gameplay with Sayonara Wild Hearts’ blend of immersive levels, gorgeous visuals, and incredible soundtrack, it feels more fitting to call it an experience.

Sayonara Wild Hearts was an Apple Arcade launch title, one of the few demoed on-stage at Apple’s September event. And as one of Arcade’s premiere titles, it’s a brilliant representation of what Apple’s new service represents: off-the-walls originality. Arcade aims to fund and promote a variety of creative titles, freeing developers from the restraints commonly associated with the App Store’s In-App Purchase-dominated gaming fare. Sayonara Wild Hearts offers an experience that’s so unique and, dare I say, trippy, that it clearly represents its makers’ unfiltered vision.

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GameClub Launches a Subscription Service That Revives a Growing Catalog of 70 Classic iOS Games

Last March, I sat down with Eli Hodapp at Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco. We were in town for the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC). For me, it was strange to be back in the environs of the Moscone Center for something other than WWDC. I felt a little like a fish out of water, and I sensed Hodapp did too, though for a very different reason.

You see, Hodapp had just announced that he was leaving as Editor-in-Chief of TouchArcade, after a decade of helping build it into one of the premier websites that covers iOS games. As a reader, I was sorry to see him go, but I was also eager to chat with Hodapp because what brought us together was the buzz surrounding the reason he left: GameClub.

GDC San Francisco 2019.

GDC San Francisco 2019.

Hodapp and I are both from the Chicago area, but we’d never met before GDC. What led me to contact him was a column he’d written for gameindustry.biz about preserving the legacy of iOS games that had disappeared from the App Store, a topic that we’ve covered many times on MacStories and elsewhere in the past.

In the gameindustry.biz story, Hodapp explained why he left TouchArcade:

I’ve been incredibly vocal about preserving our digital history over the years, and it’s distressing to think how many great, historically important (and simply fun!) games have been lost. That reality is my prime motivation in stepping down from TouchArcade: to raise awareness of this problem.

Hodapp had joined GameClub as its VP of Business Development shortly before GDC to help build the library of 70 classic iOS games that are launching with the service today.

Over coffee, Hodapp and I discussed the state of gaming on iOS, game preservation, and, of course, GameClub. It was still very early days, but Hodapp articulated a clear vision of how classic iOS games could be resurrected in an economically viable way. As we chatted, Hodapp outlined the very thing GameClub is launching today: a service designed to reintroduce dozens of games to a new generation of iOS gamers without ads, manipulative In-App Purchases, or other gimmicks. The business model hadn’t been locked down yet, but if all the business and technical hurdles could be cleared, a subscription service was likely.

Shortly thereafter, GameClub launched a beta program to test games that it had already updated to work on modern iOS hardware and software. I joined immediately. I enjoyed playing some old favorites throughout the summer, and watching as the ranks of GameClub’s beta testers grew on Discord.

As I checked in periodically over the summer, it was clear that something about GameClub had struck a chord. For some gamers, it was the fatigue built up over many years from the constant barrage of ads and In-App Purchases. For others, it was the delight and nostalgia of rediscovering the first games they’d played on iOS. Even in those early days, it was clear that GameClub had tapped into something special by releasing a steady stream of classics and building a community of people that cared about them.

Now, after over seven months and many more beta-tested games, GameClub has launched, and I love it. Not only is the service brimming with many of my all-time favorite iOS games, but the GameClub app itself is a terrific way to discover new games and keep track of favorites. There’s a lot going on with GameClub, so let’s dig in.

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