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Posts tagged with "games"

Snowman Announces New Creative Studio and Its First App, Pok Pok Playroom, A Digital Play Experience for Kids

Today, Snowman, the studio behind some of our favorite games on Apple platforms like Alto’s Adventure and Odyssey, Where Cards Fall, and Skate City, announced Pok Pok, a new creative studio that is launching an app on May 20th called Pok Pok Playroom.

Pok Pok Playroom is an app designed to encourage interactive play with a series of digital toys that spark curiosity and creativity in kids in a low-key, calming environment. The app’s digital playroom includes multiple brightly colored toys that prompt children to explore through independent play. Here’s how Snowman explains the app in its announcement:

Pok Pok’s first app is called Pok Pok Playroom. It’s a playroom filled with educational toys that spark creativity, imagination and learning through open-ended play. There is no right or wrong way to play, only lots of opportunities for experimentation and exploration. Pok Pok puts kids at the centre of the experience so they can follow their noses and learn at their own pace.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Pok Pok Playroom since I got a demo of an early version at WWDC in 2019 from Esther Huybreghts who, along with her husband Mathijs Demaeght, are the artist-duo and parents of two young children behind its development. I’ll have more to say about Pok Pok Playroom when it’s released on May 20th, but for now, check out the trailer, which does an excellent job of providing a feel for what the app is like:

Alongside the announcement of the trailer and app release date, Snowman announced that Pok Pok Playroom is part of a new creative studio called Pok Pok. The studio, which was incubated inside Snowman for the past few years, was co-founded by Huybreghts and Demaeght, along with Snowman’s Melissa Cash, Ryan Cash, and Jordan Rosenberg, and will continue to build Pok Pok Playroom and new content for it that will be released periodically.

For more information about the app and studio, visit playpokpok.com.


Apple’s New Siri Remote Lacks Motion Control Sensors Required by Some Apple TV Games

Jon Porter of The Verge rounds up recent discoveries about the new Apple TV 4K’s Siri Remote. First reported by Digital Trends, the new Siri Remote lacks an accelerometer and gyroscope. As Porter explains:

The change means that the new Siri Remote won’t work with certain Apple TV games that rely on motion controls. According to code in tvOS 14.5 seen by MacRumors, trying to play an incompatible game will lead to the following error message: “To play this game on your Apple TV, you need to connect the Apple TV Remote (1st generation) or a compatible PlayStation, Xbox or MFi controller.”

On one level, the omission of the sensors in the new Siri Remote is surprising because it comes hard on the heels of an expansion of Apple Arcade’s offerings on all platforms, including the Apple TV. Still, the original Siri Remote was never a good game controller. The button layout and diminutive size made it a poor substitute for a traditional game controller. The new Siri Remote is a little bigger than the former version, but I don’t expect it would work any better as a controller.

With support for Microsoft and Sony controllers available since tvOS 13 and the addition of support for current-generation console controllers in tvOS 14.5, Apple has clearly made the decision that a purpose-built controller provides a better gaming experience. I just wish Apple would consider making its own controller with a fast, low latency connection like AirPods, which benefits from Apple’s proprietary technology layer that sits on top of Bluetooth.

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Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming Beta Launches on the Mac, PC, iPhones, and iPads

As we reported earlier this week, Microsoft began inviting Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers to beta test Xbox Cloud Gaming yesterday. The beta is invitation-only, but if you’re a Game Pass Ultimate subscriber and are invited to test the streaming service, you can use it on PCs and Macs via Edge, Chrome, or Safari, as well as on iPhones and iPads.

At The Verge, Tom Warren has a short walkthrough video that tours the service’s UI on a Windows PC. Although the games run on older Xbox One S hardware in Microsoft’s data centers, which means longer load times than current hardware, the UI appears to scale nicely across devices. Warren describes the experience as follows:

Once the connection settles down, it’s very similar to xCloud on Android. If you run this through a web browser on a PC or iPad, you’ll even get a 1080p stream. It feels like I’m playing on an Xbox in the cloud, and there’s a dashboard that lets me access friends, party chats, achievements, and invites to games. This is all powered by Xbox Game Pass, so there are more than 100 games available — and even some original Xbox and Xbox 360 titles that can be streamed.

Warren also notes that some games work with touch, but as you’d expect, most are best experienced using a Bluetooth-connected controller.

I’ve had a chance to play with Google Stadia on an iPhone 12 Pro Max and the experience was far better than I expected, even over WiFi. Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming beta has just begun, but it looks like a promising way to enjoy your favorite games on more devices than ever.

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Microsoft to Begin Beta Testing Xbox Cloud Gaming on the iPhone and iPad

Tomorrow, April 20th, Microsoft Xbox Cloud Gaming, also known as xCloud, is coming to the iPhone and iPad and the PC as a limited, invitation-only beta. The service will allow invited Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers to stream over 100 games using the Edge, Chrome, and Safari browsers.

In an announcement on Xbox Wire, Catherine Gluckstein, Microsoft’s head of xCloud said:

The limited beta is our time to test and learn; we’ll send out more invites on a continuous basis to players in all 22 supported countries, evaluate feedback, continue to improve the experience, and add support for more devices. Our plan is to iterate quickly and open up to all Xbox Game Pass Ultimate members in the coming months so more people have the opportunity to play Xbox in all-new ways.

Xbox Game Streaming was launched on Android last year but was delayed on iOS and iPadOS when Apple told Microsoft it couldn’t stream the games to a dedicated app unless each game was approved by Apple App Review.

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Why Today Feels like a Quiet Turning Point for Video Games

Chris Plante, writing for Polygon on today’s major Apple Arcade news:

Microsoft’s and Apple’s bets on downloadable subscription services would seemingly place them behind their streaming counterparts in the long run, but that’s not quite the case. Their success shows that they’re neither ahead of the curve nor behind it; they’re simply meeting the expectations of their players. Apple debuted 30 games on Friday on a service that costs $4.99 a month and is often included in larger Apple product purchases for free. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier costs $14.99 a month and includes games on Xbox console, Windows PC, and Android devices — and will now regularly feature launch-day releases from Xbox Game Studios, Bethesda Softworks, and even Sony, along with a rotating collection of more than 100 catalog titles. They’re providing the best deals in gaming at this moment.

Compare Friday’s news and these strategies with other industry announcements from this week. Nintendo ceased selling a digital collection of Mario games for no greater reason than artificial scarcity, despite already hosting an online subscription service that could house the games. And Sony confirmed that it will be closing its digital storefronts for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita — with no clarity on how or if those venues or their games will be preserved, let alone be made available in the future.

The fact that Apple, possibly inspired by Microsoft, has a real chance to do game preservation better than Sony is not a sentence I would have expected to type in 2021.

See also: my story from 2018, App Preservation: Saving the App Store’s History, featuring – among others – Zach Gage, who brought four classic games to Apple Arcade today.

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Apple Arcade Expands More Originals and iOS Classics

Apple announced a significant expansion of Apple Arcade today, releasing more than 30 new games, bringing the total catalog to more than 180 titles.

There are a couple of new aspects to today’s release. First, Apple has added new exclusive Arcade Originals, including NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition, Star Trek: Legends, Simon’s Cat: Story Time, and The Oregon Trail, which are available on the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV.

Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are differentiated by the addition of a '+' in their title.

Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are differentiated by the addition of a ‘+’ in their title.

Second, Arcade includes two new game categories: Timeless Classics and App Store Greats, which are a big collection of all-time favorite iOS games that are now available at no extra cost as part of an Arcade subscription on the iPhone and iPad and differentiated from other titles with the addition of a ‘+’ in their titles. Games included in the category include Zach Gage’s Good Soduku, Mini Metro, Fruit Ninja Classic, Badland, Blek, Flipflop Solitaire, Reigns, Monument Valley, and more. It’s an impressive list of classics that that is great to see spotlighted by Apple and preserved.

Somewhat overshadowed by today’s announcement are two highly-anticipated Arcade titles: Fantasian and Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker, which also debuted.

It’s good to see Arcade expanding, especially with the addition of iOS classics. Game and app preservation is something that has been an issue on iOS with the relentless evolution of the platform. Many games got left behind with the switch to a 64-bit processor architecture and other games were never updated for new hardware specifications. With the addition of classics to Arcade, the best of the App Store lives on for new players to enjoy, which is fantastic.


Downtime Organizer Sofa Adds Apps, Audiobooks, Board Games, Deeplinking, Backups, and More Themes

Sofa is a terrific downtime organizer. Since its release, the app has seen frequent updates that have added features and refinements that make it an excellent one-stop destination for collecting media you want to enjoy later. We’ve covered the app before, so I won’t revisit its core functionality here, but if you’re new to the app, be sure to check out our previous reviews for more details.

The headline feature of Sofa’s latest update is the addition of apps, audiobooks, and board games to the lineup of media it can track. I’m especially pleased to see that iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps have been added to Sofa. I’ve long considered trying new apps as a form of entertainment. Even poking around productivity apps that most people would consider ‘work’ apps is fun for many people.

The addition of apps is timely given the trend towards subscription-based apps with free trials. If an app catches your eye, but it’s got a relatively short free trial period, you can drop it into Sofa to try later when you can make the most of the trial. The addition of apps also provides a way to track games on Apple’s platforms that weren’t always available in Sofa’s videogame category. However, the change also means that you may have to search for an iOS game in a couple of different places at times.

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Kitty Letter: A Silly, Challenging, and Addictive Word Game from Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal

It’s always a good sign when the hardest part of writing a game review is putting the game down. That has absolutely been the case with Kitty Letter, the new word game from Matthew Inman, the artist behind The Oatmeal webcomic. The core mechanic is familiar: make as many words as possible from a handful of jumbled letters. But as with many of my favorite iOS games, Kitty Letter takes a classic genre and adds a twist.

Inman’s twist reminds me of another classic iOS genre: tower defense games. As you create words by swiping across the letters that appear in a mysterious language vortex, armies of exploding cats are launched, countering other cats bent on destroying your home and attacking the crazy cat man who lives in a trailer across the street. Add collectible power-ups, a funny storyline, The Oatmeal’s signature humor and art, and multiple game modes, and Kitty Letter is completely absorbing. The game is perfect for one-handed mobile play and theoretically short sessions because no single level takes that long to play, but that’s only the case if you actually manage to peel yourself away from it.

Kitty Letter can be played in single or multiplayer modes, each of which has two ways to play. In single-player story mode, battles are interspersed with a storyline that I won’t spoil, but which includes elements like a fish you have to slap repeatedly to defrost and groaning deer. I’ve played through the first set of levels, and the story adds depth to single-player mode, which lacks the competitive dimension of multiplayer mode. The other single-player mode is an arcade mode, where the goal is to survive as long as you can, racking up points as you are relentlessly attacked by waves of exploding cats that come at you faster and faster as you play.

In multiplayer mode, you can play head-to-head against a friend or against a stranger. I played several matches against strangers and only won a couple of times. Kitty Letter has only been out a few days, but there are already some terrific players. What makes multiplayer mode difficult, absorbing, and incredibly fun is that, like Arcade mode, it’s critical to maintain a quick (but not too quick) pace and be good at coming up with lots of words. You can try to slow down a little to see what your opponent throws at you, but if you slow down too much, your letters reset. If you play fast, you may overwhelm your foe, but you also might run out of words too quickly and have to wait for new letters, helpless against an onslaught of cats.

In both modes, the game mechanics are roughly the same. Build words from the letters launching cats that counter incoming armies and hit back at your enemy to inflict damage (or win points in arcade mode) when your cats make it through your enemy’s defenses. The longer the words you put together, the bigger the cat armies you generate are. Timing counts, too, because incoming groups of cats can only be countered by making a word that starts with the letter that appears above the group of enemy felines. As you and your opponent are hit by incoming cats, your health meter tracks the damage you each take. Whoever’s health runs out first loses.

Kitty Letter is available on the iPhone, iPad, and M1 Macs, but it’s best on the iPhone, where you can quickly swipe across letters to make words one-handed with your thumb. The game includes a stats page that keeps track of your highest scoring word, wins and losses in multiplayer mode, and your highest arcade mode score. Kitty Litter is free and has no ads, other limitations, or gimmicks to entice you to spend money. Instead, there are a variety of avatars, cats, and houses that you can buy as In-App Purchases, but they are purely cosmetic and don’t affect the game.

It’s been a while since I found a casual iOS game that is this fun and distracting. Kitty Letter silly, challenging, and addicting, which is the perfect formula for fun.


Headland Review: Fight Your Way Through a World of Imagination

Headland is a new game for iOS and Android by the award winning game studio Northplay. The game revolves around a young boy exploring a world of his own imagination; fighting enemies and hunting down the missing shards of his robot friend’s “imagination core.” I played through Headland over the last few days and found it to be a well-made and overall quite enjoyable experience.

I really like that Headland plays in portrait orientation. Most games like it run in landscape, which is fine, but it’s nice to have a change. On my iPhone Mini I can actually play Headland entirely one-handed, which makes the game feel more light and casual even though its gameplay is engaging. Playing two-handed on my iPad Pro was still fun though since I could support the device with a single hand and play with the other.

The key to this is the game’s excellent controls, which are intuitive and only require a single finger at any given time. To move your character, you place your finger anywhere on the screen and then rotate it. This is essentially a joystick movement control, but it works so much better because the joystick will appear underneath your finger wherever you place it. My struggle with most touch-joystick games is that I end up placing my finger off-center from the stationary joystick and then I move in an unwanted direction. This never happens in Headland.

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