Rock Band Reloaded Brings the Jams to the iPad

Rock Band ReloadedOver a year has passed since we last took a look at Rock Band on any of the Apple iDevices, but Harmonix and EA Mobile are at it again with the recent release of Rock Band Reloaded HD for the iPad. Making use of the newer device’s hardware, the title attempts the recreate the rock star experience for mobile with a quality selection of music and a host of downloadable content.

Coming with all the mechanics of any other Rock Band game, Reloaded does a good job of translating the title to the iPad, though it doesn’t exactly recreate the experience users have come to love in the console version. Even so, the overall game plays quite well with its new social challenge modes.

For those few who remain uninitiated, Rock Band is a rhythm franchise that allows players to become a rock star by timing taps on music notes that stream down the screen. As the player hits the notes, the score will increase, multiplying as they hit in succession, and playing the current song selected. If a note is missed, the multiplier is lost, and too many successive misses will result in failure.

DrumsAll of these console mechanics are still present in Reloaded, as well as the special glowing notes that will charge the “Overdrive” meter (which can be activated, when full, to double one’s score multiplier). Also, it wouldn’t be Rock “Band” without the inclusion of all the instruments of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.

Each instrument plays similarly on the screen to their console counterparts, but they do lack the same feel without an analog guitar or drum set controller. Of the instruments, drums will likely feel the most natural to most people with the tapping action, while the guitar will take getting used to for Rock Band (or Guitar Hero) veterans.

For those veterans, the title has incorporated the expert mode that was lacking in Rock Band’s original iPhone version. Like all the titles before it, the songs start off fairly simple, but ramp up quickly as users progress through the primary World Tour mode with increasingly tricky rifts and solos.

VocalsIt’s also worth noting that the vocal recognition for the game works decently well, and many of the World Tour levels require users to utilize the vocals in a special “Challenge.” Thankfully, for those who feel a bit reserved about singing into an iPad, a special touch rendition of vocals is always available.

Challenges are particularly useful in the game’s core scoring and social mechanic. Measured in “fans,” which are earned by completing songs with more earned for higher scores on said songs, players can connect through Facebook and compare themselves to others via a global leaderboard. While this is fine and dandy, it’s the interaction with friends that is particularly interesting.

Once connected through Facebook, players can not only track each other through leaderboards, but can connect to a news feed that show how friends are doing in the game. This “News Center” will display any and all accomplishments that friends have achieved and users can simply tap on it to go directly to the exact same song, instrument, and difficulty and attempt to beat it. Once finished, this will update in their feed and can be posted to Facebook as well.

VersusRock Band wouldn’t be a band without synchronous multiplayer, so that’s here too. The traditional play is present, where users can connect via WiFi or Bluetooth and play songs together. Getting four friends with iPads can be tricky, so there’s also a Versus mode that pits two users against one another on the same device, and an iPhone version of Reloaded (same basic game, just much smaller and more cluttered) that is a bit more economically feasible for friends wishing to play together.

There aren’t any particularly glaring problems with Rock Band. The only truly negative aspect is that players cannot create their own rockers like in other Rock Band games, but then again, this is a mobile version. The avatars that do represent the band are rather distracting, especially the lead singer, who just sort of bobs around in synch with the music without moving his lips. While this might seem minor, it looks absolutely absurd, detracting from the gameplay.

Most users will enjoy Rock Band Reloaded quite a bit. It’s on the pricier end for iPad games at $9.99, but is still a good addition for music and rhythm-game lovers. The initial track list is pretty decent, too, with more songs available through in-app purchases. In the end, if you have the cash lying around and don’t mind the lack of the analog controllers, Rock Band Reloaded is a fun game that’s made even better with friends.

This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

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Sunday, December 19th, 2010

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This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

Platforms, Privacy and Pandora’s BoxIF LogoCheck out the top headlines and insights this week from Inside Facebook— tracking Facebook and the Facebook platform for developers and marketers.

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    Social Gaming Roundup: Dr. Dre, Bing, Charities, & More

    Mafia WarsZynga Partners with Dr. Dre — Social game developer Zynga has announced it’s first in-game music partnership today. Mafia Wars players will now be able to view the music video “Kush,” featuring Snoop Dogg and Akon, a single from the upcoming album Detox. Additionally, users will be able to collect limited edition Dr. Dre virtual items and experience music content from the new “Hustlin’ wit Dre” portion of the game. Players will also be able to view an exclusive video message from Dr. Dre and become eligible to win signed Beats By Dr. Dre headphones and a signed copy of the upcoming CD.

    Happy Island Comes to Bing — Sibblingz has announced that it is bringing the social title, Happy Island to the Microsoft search platform Bing. Users who play the new Bing version will be able to play through the first few levels of the game without any need to sign in, and will then have the option to do so using Facebook Connect. To add to this, CrowdStar is said to be releasing a “search integrated gaming enhancement” mini-game that will allow players to earn in-game rewards on both the Bing and Facebook versions.

    Childs Play ArmorFrima Studio Uses Rock Paper Sumo for Charity — Quebec-based Frima Studio has announced that its Facebook title, Rock Paper Sumo will be donating 100% of proceeds earned through marked, in-game items to Child’s Play 2010. The items come in the form of Child’s Play-themed sumo armor pieces (seven in total) that can be purchased individually for anywhere from $0.49 to $1.49, or in a pack for $5.

    EA Cuts Prices to iDevice Titles for the Holidays — According to listing on Touch Arcade, Electronic Arts has slashed the prices of its iDevice titles for the holidays to $0.99. Perhaps this presages a bigger move towards the now-burgeoning free-to-play business model?

    Pocket Gems Lands $5 Million in Funding — Mobile social developer Pocket Gems has announced the securing of $5 million in growth financing in an investment round led by Sequoia Capital. The funding is slated to be used to fund the expansion of the company’s engineering team to “continue to drive the evolution of mobile entertainment.” The company has also stated that it will be expanding to the Android platform.

    GumtreeBOKU Announces Partnership with Gumtree — Mobile payments company BOKU has announced a new partnership with the UK’s, allowing users to pay for the online classified listings with their mobile devices. Gumtree spans six countries, including the UK, Ireland, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

    Kobe Bryant Coming to Social Games — According to EngageDigital, 6 Waves has announced a partnership with Endemol USA and is planning on bringing basketball star Kobe Bryant to social gaming. Thus far, the game is said to be for the Facebook platform (as well as other social networks and gaming sites) and will be the first social title centered around a “global” celebrity. Bryant will also be involved in the game’s creative process.

    UDKUnreal Dev Kit Comes to iOS — Epic Games is releasing its Unreal Development Kit to the public this week, says The Wall Street Journal. However, this free-to-download version is tailored specifically for bringing high-quality visuals and functionality to the iOS. Free though it may be, developers that wish to sell apps that use the tools will have to pay a $99 licensing fee and 25% royalties after the first $5,000 in sales.

    TeamLava Continues Its Story Titles with Treasure Story

    Treasure StoryOver the past year, social mobile developer TeamLava has taken Facebook game concepts and translated them over to the iPhone and iPad to create its “Story” series of social games. A fifth title has launched this week by the name of Treasure Story. Essentially a mobile version of the Facebook games Treasure Madness and Treasure Isle, the new game falls hot on the heels of the barely week and a half old Bakery Story.

    The premise is basic enough: players are on an island. There is treasure on the island. Treasure is good. Divided up into grid spaces, players tap each square to dig up whatever is hidden beneath. Each tap consumes a set amount of slowly recharging energy, depending on what is on the square (sand, grass, trees, etc.), and coin, food, or treasure will be rewarded, along with experience. As one might expect, each of the treasures are part of a set, that can be redeemed, once complete, for a large sum of in-game currency and experience.

    As players complete islands (also granting experience), new ones will unlock, and it’s rinse and repeat. So what does one do from here?

    Digging TreasureThis is where some Treasure Isle “inspiration” comes into play, as players can use their hard-earned income to decorate their very own virtual island. From palm trees to animals, players can use both in-game and virtual currency to create the island they see fit. Sadly, in this initial version of Treasure Story, the number of decorative items is extraordinarily low and most cost virtual currency. That said, décor is a huge part of TeamLava’s story games, so more will almost certainly be more available in upcoming iterations.

    Also on the island, and also like in Treasure Isle, players can cook their own food on a pair of fire pits. This food will act like the food dug up on islands, and can be used to recharge small portions of energy. With that in mind, any cooking food works with the typical farming rules, in that if the player does not return in time to claim it, it will spoil. While players start with two fire pits, more will unlock as they level up.

    Socially, Treasure Story implements the same mechanics it has had in all four of its past Story apps. This means that players can visit other random players’ virtual islands and “tend” to their decorations, granting bonus experience and coins. Of course, this works both ways, as users that tend to random community members will earn “Star Rating.” The higher this rating, the higher the user will appear in the social menu that displays random users.

    Tending NeighborsAlso like previous titles, players can use a Storm8 ID or Facebook Connect to invite friends as neighbors which allows for gifting and more tending opportunities for their island. And photos of the game can be taken at any time and posted to Facebook.

    So what’s different about Treasure Story? Not much. Other than the social aspects and extra fire pits upon leveling, the only other change is simplification. Unlike either Treasure Isle or Treasure Madness, there are no mini-games to play, no gems to collect, no bugs to spray, nor any rocks to blow up. Whether or not this is a bad thing is subject to interpretation. None of the Story titles have been very complicated, and the tapping of island tiles to find treasure is, oddly, addictive; and since it’s mobile, it’s easier sit down and play for a few minutes.

    Like all games, this will likely get old, but the big issue here has nothing to do with what features it doesn’t reuse, but the concept as a whole. TeamLava has had significant successes by deriving features from popular Facebook titles. In many cases, the differences have been small, and have only become smaller with its past two applications.

    But love it or hate it, TeamLava is succeeding with this strategy, and there’s little doubt that Treasure Story will not follow in the footsteps of its predecessors. With its use of the same social mechanics that helped make TeamLava’s past titles popular, and history on its side, expect to see this new title rise in the top app lists in the very near future.

    Exploring Basic Economics & Social Skills in Tween Virtual World Woozworld

    WoozworldVirtual worlds may be in general decline, but every once in a while an interesting concept for one rolls around. Today the world is Woozworld, and believe it or not, it’s a tween-oriented title that advertises not only its ability to build social skills but basic economics and finance skills that younger audiences will need later on in life.

    In actual play, Woozworld includes all the basic concepts of other virtual worlds, along with a more interesting approach in its primary currency mechanics. Giving young audiences a chance to work on their own, and be creative in their own right, the concept is sound. However, with a tremendous number of things one can do, the game hardly does a quality job of explaining “how” to do it.

    After creating a free account directly through Facebook Connect, players jump into Woozworld right away with the creation of a “Woozen” avatar. Randomly placed somewhere in the world, players must learn to swim by being kicked in the river, for the game gives no direction whatsoever. For the record, yes, there is a help menu with dozens of topics that explains what everything is, but without a context to put it all in, this help blurs into a game of trial and error.

    UnitzThankfully, the game is not terribly complicated — not that most virtual worlds are — and players are typically able to speak with any of the Woozens walking about where they started off. Starting up a conversation is the most prudent step for two reasons: First, it’s probably the best way to figure out what’s going on (if not, the only other option is to follow some vague, goal-oriented achievements), and second, popularity is rather useful.

    One of the major goals for users in Woozworld is to create both the best looking Woozen and “Unitz” (a personal virtual space). Every day, users can vote on the avatars and virtual spaces that they like best. At the end of the week, these are tallied and the winner receives a respectable chunk of game currency. Of course, this is more of a personal accomplishment than a reliable means of income.

    Fact of the matter is, that in order to win such votes a good stream of revenue is needed to buy all the virtual items necessary. There are a couple of game-like ways to earn money in Woozworld, that are pretty basic, dubbed “Jobz” and “Infestations!”, which involve random objects popping up throughout the world that are removed with a click to get a bit of the in-game currency, “Beex.” Jobz pop up a single object, while an Infestation is when multitudes of them appear in any given area.

    JobzIt’s also worth noting that the occasional job may require a very basic mini-game, such as clicking a frog repeatedly in order to burp it. More coin can be earned through finishing achievements and voting. But these methods aside, the real earner is being the salesman.

    This is where finances come into play, as users can set up shops called Shop Podz in their virtual spaces. These can be stocked with virtual items from décor to clothing (there are even mannequins one can buy and use), with the idea being to search the world for items others might want — buy low, sell high. Sometimes users will be able to find exclusive or rare items, find specials, order from catalogs, and so on. The process is actually pretty simple; it’s the finding of products that’s a challenge but also part of the fun.

    EventzOh yes, advertisement is necessary too. After all, how can one make sales if no one knows the store exists? Advertisements come in the form of a neat little feature called “Events.” Once a user has a Unitz, they can create events that range from group games, to parties, to sales, and any other user can search for them. These become venues for earning votes and popularity, boosting revenue, or just meeting new people. Granted, events are user generated, so not all will be good, but it’s a pretty cool option that enables younger audiences to be both creative and entrepreneurial. Believe it or not, there’s a decent number of these events going on at any given time.

    In the end, these are only the major highlights of Woozworld, and there are dozens of other features within the virtual world. Most are fairly minor, like the “Spellz” that cast special effects on other users, or can even turn players into a temporary vendor, but all add their own little bonuses to game play. At its core, Woozworld is like any other virtual world in the sense that it gives the players some toys and says “go,” and that’s part of the problem.

    There is no real direction to Woozworld, and the game often leaves the user wondering what they should do next. The game does do a decent job of promoting the need for social interaction,and turns the play into something that teaches basic life-skills. Free-to-play (though users can subscribe for added benefits), and with the ability to log in with just Facebook, Woozworld feels like a safe, interesting, and somewhat educational title for tween audiences.

    Through Facebook, Clash of Kingdoms Grows

    Clash of KingdomsFrom Ikariam to Evony, we’ve seen our fair share of browser-based strategy titles grow using Facebook as a portal. The latest to join this ever-growing list is Clash of Kingdoms by Koram Game, which brought in over 700,000 new monthly active users during a recent growth spurt.

    Best described as Evony set in ancient China, Clash of Kingdoms boasts many of its predecessors’ features. Nevertheless, a strong cooperative play element makes this particular strategy game feel a bit different. Of course, the big draw back is the accompanying breadth, which could leave players floundering with an overwhelming amount of information to learn.

    Players start out as a lost Chinese hero,whi is found by a wandering handmaiden. Immediately, players are presented with a fairly unusual top-down scene, reminiscent of an old Super Nintendo game, of the main character wiping out a horde of bandits. The aesthetic doesn’t quite provide the epic feel the developers were going for, but it does make for a nice hook and immediately shows some of the more differentiated modes of this title.

    Early BattlesAfter the opening come the basics, which ought to be familiar to Evony-type game players. Users are granted a manor, and from it, they construct resource gathering structures to harvest lumber, stone, iron, and food, and residences to earn silver. Players then build a handful of different military facilities (e.g. a barracks) and begin training troops.

    Like Evony, each structure must be placed on a specific plot of land and can be upgraded to be more effective. Additionally, the bigger the upgrade, the longer it takes to construct, thus items purchased with virtual currency (gold) can expedite the process. It’s also worth noting that the amount of space within one’s manor is finite, with extra plots opened through the use of gold.

    Next up, players will likely visit the “city.” The way the game is laid out is that multiple users live and work together, to protect the same city. It is from within these walls that the player can take part in myriad text-based quests in order to earn experience, special items, trade resources, and contribute to the defenses of the city. Additionally, the city also plays host to the recruitment of “heroes.”

    CityAlong with the player’s avatar, heroes are non-player characters that are used to lead regiments of rallied troops into battle, boosting stats such as damage, defense, and so on. Many of these leaders will also come with special spells and abilities that grant them, and their armies, advantages in battle. In addition to this, all heroes can gain experience through the noted quest system and can be equipped with whatever items and equipment one finds.

    As anyone that plays Evony-style games can tell you, these strategy titles take a long time to really get anywhere, and Clash of Kingdoms is no exception. With what little army we have, however, we were able to at least catch a glimpse of the battle system through what are called “Historical Campaigns.” A sort of top-down grid in which troops are given to the user, players watch the battle unfold in a turn based system while the computer does all the work. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any real tactical control, but that doesn’t mean strategy is not present in Clash.

    We were lucky enough to join Clash of Kingdoms amidst an offensive against some other neighboring cities. Users have the ability to deploy their hero-led regiments to various parts of the world as well provide aid to other troops already on the field. While this is all confusing and muddled for a newcomer, it was fascinating to watch the more experienced users of our city strategically attack points around the primary target, in order to draw away defenses, then move in with a full attack force and sack a rival city.

    World MapOther users are dramatically important in Clash, and the idea of putting groups together in cities (rather than all alone at the start) adds a greater level of teamwork.

    Of course, as interesting as this might be, this is all assuming the new user can actually figure out what is going on. From research, to donating silver to city power-ups, to gaining rank for your avatar and earning a salary, Clash of Kingdoms is on the bloated side when it comes to features. Everything is served in a text-based tutorial early on, and while it’s enough to get started, the majority of the game is still learned through trial and error.

    Even as an experienced gamer, the game can feel overwhelming, discouraging the impatient or casual player from trying. The title looks pretty on its splash page, but quickly becomes a cluttered mess of buttons, rules, icons, and features.

    In the end, Clash of Kingdoms, like those that came before it, remains targeted to a niche audience. This review barely scratches the surface of Clash, as there are still dozens of mechanics we’ve yet to even see or find the opportunity to participate in. Frankly, for those outside the target audience, learning a spreadsheet program would be less work and, likely, more fun.

    TeamLava Expands its iDevice Story Franchise Once Again

    Bakery StoryThe folks over at TeamLava are at it again, expanding their iDevice “Story” series of games with their latest iPhone and iPad release, Bakery Story. Joining the likes of predecessors Restaurant, City, and Farm Story, this new free-to-play application couples familiar game play with the Baking Life premise.

    Essentially a carbon copy of TeamLava’s last release, Restaurant Story, Bakery Story revisits old concepts from Facebook counterparts. The game is of decent quality in both production and social features, but lacks dramatically in the originality department. It’s a game that will mainly be appealing to those seeking a new Story aesthetic to dabble in.

    The whole point of Bakery Story game is to build a successful bakery. In order to do so, players utilize drink makers to make beverages, such as coffee, and ovens to cook up brownies and cakes. Using the Café World mechanics of “preparing” each step of the food making process, the products are created over a period of time and then served atop an empty counter.

    Each product will serve so many customers until used up, earning coin for each one that visits (longer cooking products are worth more). So long as there are seats and food available within the bakery, customers will remain happy, thus boosting the popularity of the player’s shop, and in turn, earning more patrons.

    Cooking The visuals feel more or less the same as Restaurant Story with its blocky, basic look, and general lack of movement and animation. The only thing that really feels any different is that some of the décor and the color scheme.

    If there is any one thing of interest about Bakery Story, it’s that décor is not gated by level. Right from the get go, players can decorate their virtual bakery with whatever they can afford, using both in-game and virtual currencies. This allows the player a greater opportunity to become hooked on the game, as they are able to see exactly what they can buy and can, potentially, decorate their space as they see fit, unlike games that only grant one or two new items a level. Nevertheless, the game still has level gates on food and drink, as well as how big one can make their bakery and how many cooking appliances can be owned at any given time.

    SocialAs with all the other Story titles, Bakery Story utilizes TeamLava’s typical social integration. This means that users can visit any other player, friend or not, and view their bakery. Once here, tips can be left (which the visited player can collect) and will earn the tipper minor experience as well as “Star Rating.” It is the latter that is most important, as this rating will move the user up the social, community rankings, allowing it to be more visible — and thus visited more often — to other random users. Furthermore, messages can be left on anyone’s virtual space wall.

    It‘s also worth noting that using the Storm8 network or Facebook Connect, players can add friends, which allows for gifting. Moreover, using Facebook Connect will allow the posting of things like snapshots to one’s social feed.

    Like the games before it, Bakery Story is well put together and, coupled with push notifications, works well in the mobile environment. Nonetheless, the game brings nothing new to the space, and feels like a reskin of TeamLava’s previous titles.

    From a business perspective, this is hardly a bad idea. After all, it’s how Zynga started out, with it’s collection of Wars games, and the Story games frequently find themselves on Apple’s top free apps lists, so TeamLava is obviously doing something right. All the same, it would be nice to see something a bit different from the company.

    This Week’s Headlines on Inside Facebook

    IF LogoCheck out the top headlines and insights this week from Inside Facebook— tracking Facebook and the Facebook platform for developers and marketers.

    Monday, November 29th, 2010

    Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

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    Friday, December 3rd, 2010

    Revisiting Aquarium Games on the iPad with Tap Reef

    Tap ReefIt’s been about a year since virtual aquarium applications splashed onto Facebook, but that doesn’t stop the occasional iteration from seeping through to mobile now and again. The most recent is a game by the name of Tap Reef HD on the iPad. Developed by Jirbo, it’s free, and also available on the iPhone. It could be the app for aquarium lovers who prize high-quality visual effects more than innovative social features — in fact, it already is for many, having reached some top positions on the iTunes App Store leaderboards.

    Bef0re we get into the details, here’s a refresher in virtual aquarium games. Essentially, players are tasked with caring for a digital fish tank and raising a wide variety of colorful salt water fish in the process. With Tap Reef, the functionality is no different from previous titles in that players purchase fish from the store and feed them periodically so they don’t die. Most apps we’ve seen let users sell fish for a profit assuming they’ve cared for them properly.

    Each fish also comes with a set happiness meter which is affected by regular feeding, the cleanliness of the tank (users must sponge the algae every few hours), and “petting” one’s fish. It’s a bit odd, for sure, but this is merely tapping on the fish itself. What is curious, is that this is one of the visual perks of the game. The app is actually 3D, and tapping on a fish allows the user zoom in on the animal, following it closely with the camera.

    Close Up FishFor an aquarium genre that has ranged everywhere from cartoon-fish to stiff, Photoshop cutouts, Jirbo’s title actually looks very nice with actual 3D fish models. Are they perfect? No, when zoomed in, there are a number of visible texture seams or z-buffering issues, but for a mobile game, it’s certainly one of the better titles out there.

    Despite all the colorful fish swimming in all directions, it is surprising that the game has no real decorum. The focus of Tap Reef is solely on the fish (and there are a lot) and the only decorations involve new backgrounds and some soothing musical scores (well, there’s also a clam and a diver).

    Obviously, this is one of the negatives of the game, as other fish titles, such as Fish World, had the décor affect the fishes’ happiness level, creating a function to the aesthetic, and allowing the fish to sell for more. Here, happiness still affects the value of the fish, but there is less involvement to it.

    Another aspect worth noting, is that each type of fish comes with a “hardiness” rating which is indicative of how easy it is to care for. The hardier it is, the less it has to be fed, pet, or the tank need be cleaned. As with real salt water fish, however, the fancier ones require much more attention, but are also worth more coin. Also, once fish reach adulthood, they can also be bred. Doing so will cause a pair of fish to swim together for a time until the new baby is born. Of course, once again, aside from the visual, this is a mechanic that has been seen and done before.

    Exotic Creatures

    On the social front, Tap Reef is integrated with Facebook directly. This allows for automatic importation of any Facebook friends that also play the game, as well the ability to easily share achievements and screenshots. Also ,within one’s profile is a visible set of stats (fish born, fish deaths, fish sales, etc.) that display just how good a fish keeper one is. Additionally, there are global leaderboards that compare all Tap Reef players together.

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