Tweeria brings “lazy MMORPG” action to Twitter

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 2.22.24 PMEven though Facebook is often considered the default platform for social games, it looks like Twitter has received an exclusive with massively multiplayer online role-playing game Tweeria, the “lazy Twitter MMORPG.”

Tweeria is a largely automated RPG experience: Once players authorize the app, they do some basic character customization (like choosing a faction, race and class) and the game takes it from there. There isn’t any default character artwork or avatar that’s used at the beginning of the game. Instead, users have to acquire a rather hefty amount of in-game gold and select a portrait from the game’s marketplace, which seems to be using artwork submitted by DeviantArt users.

Every time a user tweets after this, their in-game character goes on adventures that are recorded and displayed within the game. These adventures allow players to gain experience, possibly discover equipable items and will mention other Twitter users when you include them in a message (seen below).

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 2.55.26 PM

Currently, Tweeria is a completely free-to-play experience. There doesn’t seem to be any way to acquire gold other than through having one’s character go on adventures, which means earning enough currency to buy new items is a gradual process. Likewise, progress can be sped up by joining a guild and going on raids, but these are still fairly hands-off experiences. The instructions, which seem to be written by a non-native English speaker vaguely reference how there’s an ability to search for raids via a Twitter hashtag search.

Tweeria certainly bears watching, as it’s one of the earliest games to adopt Twitter as a game platform instead of simply using it for social sharing. Currently, the game’s home page shows it has 36,448 players spread between its three factions. That said, it remains to be seen if the title will be able to find an active audience who might be able to eventually be monetized.

Slay Zombies Across Time with Age of Zombies on iPad & iPhone

Age of ZombiesHalloween may be over, but zombies are immortal, at least in the new Halfbrick Studios iPad and iPhone title Age of Zombies.  A quasi-sequel to the platforming title Monster Dash, Barry Steakfries returns to this game in all his monster slaying glory, but in a new top down, Rambo’esque shooter full of glorious cartoon gore and a sharp, fourth wall-breaking wit.

After a brief introduction to the game’s red-shirt villain — who makes some very amusing call-backs to Monster Dash — players are whisked into the past, where the evil doctor antagonist has sent his hordes of zombies. Not the immediate past, either: it’s the Stone Age, full of dinosaurs, cave men, and modern-day zombies.

SwarmedThis is where the flavor of the game is set, as each level has a different type of infected creature, with varying levels of style and amusement. More on that later, though: the shooting takes priority. For this,, players use digital analog controls on opposite sides of the iDevice to steer and shoot simultaneously.

The problem with this setup is that players can’t feel where the controls are, and often find themselves hitting the wrong part of the screen, thus not moving or getting stuck. Halfbrick is aware of this, and while it hasn’t recreated the true analog stick, it mitigates this issue by actually having the controls drift with one’s thumbs. Basically, as players are playing, a digital stick that starts in the bottom left, could end up in the upper right, should the players’ thumb drift that way. With this mechanic, control of the avatar is never lost.

So what about the zombie slaying itself? Well, players are granted an infinite supply of ammunition and a basic, slow-shooting gun to take them out, earning points along the way for consecutive and mass kills. As hordes of zombies (and we mean hordes) appear through time vortexes, so will different types of weaponry. From flamethrowers to shotguns, there is a very wide assortment of weapons to pick up, with more appearing in each level. There is no inventory, so any item discovered overwrites the weapon currently equipped. Additionally, special weapons have a finite amount of ammunition.

BoomBeyond guns, players can also pick up various explosives such as mines, grenades, and rocket launchers. These are, as one would expect, used to obliterate large groups of zombies, but are the subject of the game’s only, minor, complaint. In order to use them, players must tap an area above the shooting analog controls, but must return to the shooting control if the aim needs to be changed.

Age of Zombies has a wide variety of enemies. There are gangster zombies with guns, giant zombies, kamikaze zombies, and even, in all its glory, a zombie tyrannosaurus. Of course, that last is a boss.

There’s also a very unique health mechanic that’s worth noting. Players do have limited lives, but there is no visible health system. Unlike similar games, where one hit is death, players can actually take a number of zombie bites. It is not until they take a high number at one time (basically getting swarmed) that they die.

Zombie TRexAge of Zombies would not be complete without some social play. The game is integrated with OpenFeint, Facebook and Twitter. Regarding the first of those, there are a handful of leaderboards for total zombie kills and the game’s different levels in survival mode (basically pick a level and live for as long as possible). As for Twitter and Facebook, these are integrated with story publishing when players finish some key objective, like killing a zombie t-rex.

The last element of merit worth mentioning is the sense of style and wit Age of Zombies comes with. While not every line is a gem, Barry Steakfries is constantly spouting out one liners that frequently break the fourth wall of immersion. Even so, many of them are very funny, referring to everything from Monster Dash to the game’s music.

In the end, Age of Zombies comes highly recommended for either the iPad or the iPhone. Of course, due to the nature of the game, it lends itself better to the larger size of the iPad. On either device, from creative bosses to gratifying game play, it’s a must-have.

AvatarLabs Translates Rhythm into Racing on the iPad

Rhythm Racer 2 HDAvatarLabs released a new iPad and iPhone app earlier this summer called Rhythm Racer 2 HD. This second generation title follows the original iPhone Rhythm Racer by taking the popular rhythm genre to a new mechanic, in which tapping and strumming become driving.

The concept of Rhythm Racer 2 is an iteration of a much older game concept called Audiosurf. But this iDevice game is free to download (Audiosurf costs $9.99).

The objective is to race around a futuristic, space-age track, collecting multi-colored orbs. Using the iPad’s tilt sensor, players steer their racer through the course, attempting to pick up as many orbs as possible. The difficulty level — Practice, Pro, or Master — determines the number of tracks on the course. Floating rings can also be collected by hitting small ramps that periodically appear around the track.

Missing an orb will end any streaks a player has going and will also dull the sound of the music track being played.

Visuals

The visuals of the game are not bad for an iPad title. While many of the 3D elements are reminiscent of late PlayStation or early PlayStation 2 quality, the backgrounds and static artwork are extremely well done and quite aesthetically pleasing. Surprisingly, it is the core collection aspect that is the least visually stimulating.

In all of the best rhythm games — Tap Tap Revenge, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, etc. — there is a visually pleasing effect upon hitting notes. In Rhythm Racer 2, there is nothing. The orb simply disappears from the track and temporarily reappears at the bottom of the screen.

Unfortunately, while the music is surprisingly good in most cases, the selection is paltry. The game also suffers from rather obnoxious control issues and the mechanics don’t give a true rhythm-based game experience.

Race TrackBut the most glaring fault of Rhythm Racer 2 is that there no rhythm based mechanics! In other games in the genre, players must tap their fingers on the screen in time with the song. This game requires little rhythm; so long as the racer touches the orbs, the track plays properly.  The player collects orbs using their eyes only, and the steering is, in no way, in rhythm with the song. This defeats the purpose of the rhythm genre and prevents the game from playing on the fantasy of being a musician.

The steering in the game is also unbelievably sensitive. Even the slightest turn of the iPad can send the player careening off course, which will force most players to reduce the sensitivity to its lowest possible setting.

SongsThe initial download comes with very few songs. There are more available, but these must be purchased from within the app itself. But, there are some well known artists in the bunch, including Filter and All American Rejects.

Social features are enabled through the OpenFeint mobile social network. Competitive leaderboards are available for each of the songs, difficulty settings and unlocked achievements. The game also syncs with both Facebook and Twitter, allowing users to post and/or tweet their in-game accomplishments.

All in all, Rhythm Racer 2 HD offers something new in lieu of the many iterations of the Tap Tap franchise, and is, for the most part, visually pleasing. But the mechanics are off target for a rhythm game. It can be fun, but the game is hindered by overly sensitive steering.  It’s hard to say when or even if improvements will come, as neither the iPad or iPhone versions have seen any updates in the two months they’ve been out.

ESPN Creates Location-Based iPhone App, ESPN Passport

ESPN PassportSocial, location-based apps like MyTown, Foursquare, and Gowalla are undeniably popular. Now ESPN is looking to get in on that popularity with a relatively new iPhone release, ESPN Passport. Unlike the others of the genre, this particular app is not for use everywhere, but is intended for a more niche audience.

ESPN Passport narrows its check-in to the sports-goer: the person that goes to stadiums — be they baseball, basketball, football, or soccer — frequently, much like ESPN’s previously existing, web-based version of Passport. As such, the app makes for a nice enhancement to the experience, but as one might expect it’s a far less useful title for those that don’t, or can’t go to the live games.

The concept is simple enough. Upon logging in, users will see games in their area from which they can check-in, which they do by a tap of the “I’m at this game!” button. Additionally, upon check-in users will also have access to their respective Facebook and Twitter accounts, allowing them to post or tweet their check-ins to make all their friends and followers jealous.

Of course, this isn’t the only thing you can do while at a game. After you’ve checked in, the app will take you to an Event Summary page. Here, there is a superfluous, yet nice, addition to the game where you can actually view how many times you have been in attendance for a particular team’s game. Additionally, that total will be ranked amongst other fans in a leaderboard, of which, the Top 25 can be viewed at any time.

EventsFrom the events page, users can not only view the records of both teams playing, but can also enter their seat information, upload photos, and leave comments. All of these can also be posted to Facebook and/or Twitter, and will be viewable to other users as well.

Unfortunately, viewing what other people do at these games is the limit if one isn’t actually going to major sporting events. If there are no events within one’s general area, all that gets displayed are those that have recently occurred, or will occur soon. It’s still a convenient means to get the final scores of recent games, and it’s also sometimes amusing to see peoples’ commentary on the game. That said, it’s just not the same as being there. Plus, it feels a little creepy to view other strangers’ personal photographs.

Aside from all of this, viewing any event will grant access to ESPN Gamecast. Though the information can be garnered in any number of ways, its inclusion with Passport grants users quick access to any number of stats for that specific game. If the game hasn’t started yet, users can view weather reports, times, ticket information, make comments, and even read a nice preview of the game that wraps up what one can expect. In addition to this, a vast majority of the ESPN network is also quickly accessible for scores, season information, dates, more stats, and so on.

Wrapping up the contents of Passport, the only other element worth mention is that the application also allows users to view any past events that they’ve checked-in at and retroactively add photos and comments.

Overall, ESPN Passport is a nice little application for a sports fan. All the same, if frequenting the actual games isn’t a possibility, it’s more or less a pointless app to have. One possibility for expansion would be events other than the actual games — perhaps local viewing events at, say, sports bars. Fact of the matter is, ESPN has a neat idea for the sports enthusiast, but it caters, very much, to a minority of their potential user base. Regardless, it goes to show just how popular location-based apps are becoming, when companies as large as ESPN start to get into the mix. With any luck, they will add to Passport before football season.

A Look at the iPhone’s Angry Birds Proves the Value in Simplicity

Angry BirdsWhile many games try to make themselves more complicated, a older iPhone title called Angry Birds proves that simplicity is often the most lucrative solution. Developed by Rovio Mobile, this quaint physics-based puzzle game has frequently found itself at the top of the iPhone’s paid app list. Even its more expensive iPad rendition, Angry Birds HD, has remained consistently within the top ten.

With simple controls and an even simpler concept, the socially integrated Angry Birds is a puzzler that quickly becomes addictive with its excellent sense of style and visual appeal. As good as it may be, however, the $0.99 application is not perfect with moderately annoying accuracy problems and the occasional “brick-wall” puzzle.

Long story short, strange looking green pigs have stolen the eggs from a very temperamental group of birds in an attempt to cook them. As they retreat back to their various “fortresses” (and the term is used loosely in most cases), it is up to the birds to use themselves as projectiles to take their enemies out.

Each level — and there are about a metric ton of them — consists of different structural layouts that contain a few of the green pig guys. In order to complete the stage, the player must launch their angry birds from a giant slingshot in order to take out every last one of them. The catch is that one has a limited number of avian ammunition.

StructuresThis is where physics takes over. Using these limited shots, players must figure out and target specific weak spots in each structure in order to effectively take out all the enemies. Furthermore, each structure is made up of different materials such as glass, wood, or stone. Depending on the material, it will more easily topple, break, or hold more weight. Moreover, these could be round, angled, or flat, so where one strikes makes a huge difference.

Each piece of the structure, as well as the pigs themselves, has a set amount of health. It isn’t a matter of having to directly hit them, but with force them to incur enough damage from falling, debris, or the bird itself essentially vaporizing. In order to help do this, players will periodically acquire new types of birds, with special abilities, to use in higher levels such as a little blue one that splits into three birds when tapped. This doesn’t make the puzzles any easier, but adds another layer of thought to solving each one.

To add more depth to the game, scores, and a star rating from one to three for each level are determined by how many shots the player has remaining and how many parts of a structure has been destroyed. Furthermore, for the collector type of player, there are also “Golden Eggs” that are apparently hidden about the levels and act like a sort of secondary achievement system.

Moving into complaints, one of the few problems is the general accuracy of each shot. This isn’t to say that the physics are off, but it is a bit difficult to be precise with repeat shots as the aiming is incredibly sensitive.

Special BirdsIn order to shoot, one has to pull back on the slingshot with their finger and adjust its trajectory before releasing. The issue is that even the slightest vertical alteration can send the bird way off course, and since the screen is so small, it’s extremely hard to tell where you are aiming (even with the dotted trajectory line that represents the last shot). It’s an issue, obviously, resolved with the larger iPad version, but forking out an extra $4 for just that, doesn’t seem like a good enough reason.

A lot of the early levels can be surprisingly difficult as well. For hardcore puzzle fans, this probably isn’t a big deal (in truth, this is just picking nits), but it is very easy to get stuck and frustrated. Unlike other iPhone puzzlers we’ve seen in the past, such as Blockoban, there are no noticeable hints or help, which can lead to eventual frustration.

On the social end of things, Angry Birds also comes with integration to the same social network Modern Conflict came with, Crystal. With it, players can find other friends using methods such as Facebook or Twitter, view recommendations for other games, and compete in a huge number of leaderboards based on individual level high scores. In addition to this, the game also has unlockable and sharable achievements.

Overall, Angry Birds, for the iPhone is a fantastic puzzle game and comes highly recommended for fans of the puzzle genre. Its overly sensitive accuracy issues and lack of puzzle help or hints are issues, its true, but at worst they are minor. In the end, if one has an iPhone and a dollar, then Angry Birds is one app to add to the collection.

Empire Avenue Draws Real Investment to Virtually Buy and Sell Friends

Empire AvenueA couple years ago, games like Friends For Sale sold millions of Facebook users on the idea of buying and selling friends.  The fad eventually died down, but new interpretations of the concept continue to pop up.

Empire Avenue is the latest, a social site dreamt up by a group of former BioWare, Electronic Arts and MySQL employees. The founding group is enough to convince us to take notice, but today the company also disclosed a $200,000 investment from a group of angel investors, led by Boris Wertz of W Media Ventures.

So what, besides the all-star cast, makes Empire Avenue stand out from the classic friend trading concept? Most notably, it’s that the people being bought and sold aren’t on just one social network. They come from all of them.

Okay, so the game doesn’t connect with MySpace or other small networks (yet), but using connections to Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, Empire Avenue tags players with an initial value then drops them into a virtual stock market to become stocks. It’s an interesting enhancement the original games of yesteryear, and actually pretty fun if you get some friends to play with you. That said, as with Friends For Sale, it does feel like a game that may wear thin once players start asking “what’s the point?”

Essentially, players sign up for Empire Avenue and give themselves a unique “ticker” name (like the six letter abbreviations at the stock exchange). When they start out, their stock is not worth much. However, the means of increasing that value is very natural.

The game doesn’t actually require players to do anything on the site to increase their worth. Once logged in, the iser can connect to the three aforementioned social networks, and any action performed on them will increase how the player’s worth. This includes commenting, status updates, tweets, and so on. Furthermore, any privacy settings set on, say, Facebook, will translate over to Empire Avenue as well.

BoughtThis is where the core of the game comes into play. Players increase their value so that when investors buy shares, the palyer earns more money (Eaves). These Eaves are then used to purchase shares of other players, turn around, and sell them when their value grows. As in the real stock market, it’s an investment, so it can be prudent to buy stock when it’s low.

In fact, in less then five minutes after account activation, we were bought, showing there are already people searching for new, cheap, players, before they start tweeting up the internet. In addition to buying and selling, there’s also the more strategic means of directly trading stock, but most of the community updates and player statuses are seeking to buy.

Though the basics of the game are simple enough, there is a great deal of strategy to be had. Users are given charts and graphs that show fluctuations in players’ values during the past 30 days, daily gainers, weekly earners, and various communities. It’s a lot to take in, honestly, and it looks a bit too much like a real stock site, which has the obvious tendency to turn off a lot of potential users. It just doesn’t look fun.

GraphsAs far as other social elements are concerned, there are a few more beyond the already noted. One of them is a community dashboard that allows people to connect with other individuals based on city, interests, or personal, private communities. These are not much more than discussion threads, but each one is part of the leaderboard system in Empire Avenue, creating a sort of team oriented competition where the overall community value is measured.

Of course, leaderboards seem to be the only driving factor behind playing Empire Avenue. The problem is that not all players care about these. As it stands, players buy and sell stocks, while raising their own value, in order to make more money, which is then used to repeat the same process. There’s no real tangible reward (save for a few achievements that pop up every now and again). Even the in-game shop where people can spend their Eaves on something other than stock consists mostly of means to purchase more stock.

As a side note, however, players can purchase Google Ads-style advertisements for themselves to place on other users’ pages. In fact, it works very similar to the Google counterpart, with a cost per page view. That’s an interesting mechanic, but how players will use it remains to be seen.

Overall, Empire Avenue is a pretty cool idea, and earns bonus design points for rewarding players for doing what they already do anyway. Unfortunately, that reward all goes toward a single, repetitive point, which is to make money, in order to make more money, in order to… you get the idea. There’s no tangible reward other than trying to top the leaderboards. In addition to that, the site feels a little bit too much like a stock site. Despite the fact that it’s the theme of the game, it may be a bit frightening to most, and likely drive them away before they try anything. Sadly, most people do, in fact, judge a book by its cover.

London Goes to Hell-In-A-Hand-Basket with Echo Bazaar on Twitter

Echo BazaarIt has been some time since we looked at anything making use of Twitter as a social gaming platform, but the browser-based role-playing title Echo Bazaar is doing just that. Developed by London-based Failbetter Games the title first got our attention when it was announced that it would be coming to Facebook. It doesn’t look to have done so yet, but the browser-based app is still available through Twitter login credentials.

Though it is a role-playing game, Echo Bazaar shares little in common with other social titles of the genre. While many found on networks such as Facebook do have story, few have the level of storytelling that Echo brings to the table. Built in a choose-your-own-adventure style it’s a game that evolves based on player choices, allowing them to tailor their virtual selves around more than just attack power, defense, and mafia size.

The premise of the game is an alternative history type of concept where players find themselves in a faux-Victorian London that is all sorts of messed up. A mile beneath the earth, the world is dark, bizarre, and full of strange people and creatures including hedonists, devils, and squid-men. Oh, and the player starts off in prison.

Choose Your PathThis is where the game begins taking shape, as players are given choices to make their escape using Dangerous, Persuasive, Shadowy, or Watchful abilities. These become the primary character stats in the game, and based on what the player chooses, different story paths will unfold.

Each time a path unlocks, different tasks will become available and grant experience towards a particular stat. Typically, this is the stat(s) that the player is best at, meaning that if they initially chose the Shadowy path, more of these will be presented. As the story advances, more advanced story tasks will appear as a skill is leveled. However, these are unlocked with a minimum required level of a skill, so the lower it is, the greater the chance of failure, forcing the player to skill up through the repetition of older, repeatable tasks.

What makes failing costly is that the player can only perform 10 actions at any given time. This works like energy in mafia-style RPGs, and regenerates over time, but only so many, in total, can be done in any 24 hour period. When a task is failed, it seems that players garner less reward, but the big detriment is not being able to progress in the story.

Another element of the game that uses up actions are what are dubbed “Opportunity Cards.” Every couple of minutes, new cards are added to a deck. Interestingly enough, these may not have much to do with the main plot line, so they are more along the lines of side quests. However, many have unique rewards that one may not find in the story as well as opportunities to level up different skill sets.

Shadowy TasksRewards (items) in general, earned through both opportunities and story, are quite important. There are many situations in the story where the player must accomplish some specific task(s) in order to reach new chapters (so-to-speak) such as finding a home. What is curious is that there are different means of doing so. If one is Shadowy, there are spy-like tasks to find information and pay bribes. High Persuasive skills might be used to  convince someone to let them stay in their home. Or, if money is no object, then a direct purchase may be in order.

Unfortunately, cash is a bit tough to come by. The game isn’t completely clear on how to earn it, but the main currency is called Echos. The only evident way to earn it is through selling tangible items one finds in the world, but most, at least early on, only sell for a fraction of an Echo, called Pennies. All the same, it is needed to buy new equipment and items that can enhance the various skill sets of the player.

As for social elements, these are tied directly into both the story and Twitter. With each task, a new aspect of the story is unlocked and players can Echo the short “storylet” on their feed. What is more interesting, is any Twitter friends that plays can have their story viewed in-game as well. Other than that, the sharing of stories doesn’t do much. However, it does refill one’s energy once a day.

MysteriesThe other social mechanic is a battle system called “The Game of Knife & Candle.” Players have to actually sign up for it to attack other users or be attacked themselves, but it is not recommended for new players. The reason is that the game states that the Dangerous skill is the most important for it and should be at least at level 25. This does create a bit of an issue for some players though, as if they choose a different skill set in the story, it can be a bit difficult to raise this statistic quickly, leaving them to rely on randomly drawn opportunity cards most of the time.

The last element worth mentioning is a pretty cool Mysteries section that has a series of questions about the storyline. Should the player input the right answer, they could win some virtual currency called Fate, that is used for little things like refilling actions or getting more opportunity cards. It seems that they are limited in time (more are likely released on a regular basis), so it’s prudent to answer as soon as possible. What’s nice, though, is that users can see what other players think the answer might be as well.

Overall, Echo Bazaar is a curious little title, with a more interesting story to it than most browser-based RPGs. Its best elements are the more engrossing element of choosing one’s own story and customizing it based on a specific skill set. At the same time, however, choosing certain skill sets can slow the player down in their ability to effectively participate in the battle system, though at the very least they still have the social aspect of seeing friends’ stories and what they are doing. It’s probably not a game for everyone, as many social RPG players do like the player versus player aspect, and here, it just feels overshadowed. Regardless, if one is an advocate of story, then Echo Bazaar is worth a look; with any luck, it that will appear on Facebook sooner, rather than later.

Dumping Twitter Friends with iPhone App Chump Dump

Chump DumpThere have only been a few games made for Twitter, and they haven’t gotten far. There was the iPhone app, Tweet Defense, and before that, the re-release of the World of Blood games back in summer of 2009. Now, a group called Big Kitty Labs is taking a rather… different… approach to utilizing the social network in its new iPhone and Android game, Chump Dump!

Let’s face it, a wide margin of social networking users – be they Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter – have more friends than they can handle. Thousands. It’s because most social games create an added benefit to having more friends that play with you (e.g. Mafia Wars). But this smartphone app rewards the player for actually dropping those superfluous “friends.”

The game can be best described as a lottery type of game with a bit of user-generated content mixed in. When users log in, the app presents them with a daily lottery – a “winner,” as it were, among the user’s “friends.” Once they’ve been pulled up, Chump Dump! digs through about a month’s worth of tweets and activities this person has been up to. This includes information such as whether or not they follow the user, how many times they’ve replied to them, number of tweets, followers, and followies, etc.

Twitter DataFrom here, the player has two choices to make: Save or Dump! Should the user Dump the individual, they will earn a set amount of points, dubbed “Karma.” If they save them, they’ll still earn Karma, but it will be a lesser amount. Additionally, once a dumping has occurred, the player gets an opportunity to earn additional Karma by giving a reason.

This is, obviously, the user-generated element of the game, and comes off as amusing (some of the time). Granted, as with all user-generated content, a good deal of it is likely pretty lame, but a few reasons are pretty good. As of July 12th, in fact, Big Kitty Labs actually posted the Top 5 reasons, which includes “Dude, it’s my BOSS!” Yeah…. In most cases, that may not be a good one to keep.

Obviously, this is the premise behind the Chump Dump’s other major social mechanic: leaderboards. Really, that’s where the user’s drive in playing comes from. That said, there is the concern of getting fewer points if you save a person. What if said person is an actual friend? Moreover, with purchasable vouchers that let users Save or Dump more than one person a day, it’s easy to earn more points more quickly.

Regardless, while the concept is quite creative, it doesn’t seem entertaining enough to warrant the noted virtual goods purchases (thus the previous concern is more or less moot); which is why the iPhone app has advertisements and the Android version, ChumpDump Unlimited is $1.99.

DumpedIf users do wish to earn extra points, for free, however, they can pick up dumped individuals in the form of “adoption.” Granted, it is a bit counterintuitive to the app’s overall premise, but the concept is kind of funny. It’s almost like a hall of shame.

In addition to adoption, Chump Dump! further enhances itself with the addition of badges (achievements). Like most mobile games to make use of this traditional social mechanic, they’re nothing terribly extravagant, but they do add a little something extra in the form of longevity and “bragging rights” as players earn them through methods such as Dumping, Saving, or Adopting a set number of individuals.

As simple as the game may be, Chump Dump! is certainly a wonderful addition for the iPhone if you have a bit too many “friends” on your Twitter account. It makes for a great means to clean things out a bit, and as a free app, it’s certainly worth a download. That said, it’s difficult to judge if the Android price tag is worth it or not. True, $2 isn’t a lot, but if you’re not heavy into Twitter, it’s hardly worth it. In the end, it’s a game with a few kinks, here and there, but one with a truly unique idea behind it. We look forward to what new developments come out of Big Kitty Labs, as well as what curious machinations will utilize Twitter, as a whole, in the future.

iPhone & iPad App, Modern Conflict, Raises Mobile Strategy Gaming to New Standards

Modern ConflictIt has been a while since we’ve seen a mobile strategy game of high merit on the iPhone platforms. The wait, however, is over as this past weekend hosted the release of Modern Conflict for both the iPhone and iPad platforms. Developed by clickgamer (a division of Chillingo) and Russian developer Gaijin Entertainment , it first caught our attention as a lite version that had made its way to Apple’s top free app charts. Since then, we’ve had an unsated craving as this simple, yet deep, real-time strategy game now eats up a truly absurd amount of our free time.

Fluidly controlled using the devices’ touch screens, it’s a strategy game centered around conquest, with the objective being to destroy all opponents on any given map. With just tanks, helicopters, and the only control being tapping, one would think it boring. Modern Conflict is far from it, however, and with the incorporation of an internal social network called Crystal, it is a title with basically zero flaws.

The game has three modes associated to it: Campaign, Survival, and Spec Ops. As Campaign mode is likely where most users will start out, it seems as good a place as any to begin. In this mode, users can play as the United States, Russia, or China and proceed through a basic storyline. To be honest, the story is a bit simple, and hardly immersive (especially with some of the borderline-corny dialogue), but the play is so fluid, no one is really the wiser.

Attack and DefendFor each mission, players are presented with a birds-eye view of a war zone that is speckled with shapes, numbers, and lines. Each shape represents a base, with a hexagon being a tank base, and a circle being a helicopter base. On each map, there are typically three factions representing the player, the computer opponent, and neutral bases (with only the first two actually attacking – neutrals just defend). Now, within each base, there is a number which displays how many tanks or helicopters are at that locale.

Here’s where the fun begins: In order to take a base, a user must tap a base they control – one tap will select half the units at that base; two will select all of them – and then tap the location they wish to attack. Should the number of units attacking be greater than the number of units defending, the base will be taken over. The only catch is, for tanks, the various bases must be connected by paths, meaning that if there are bases A, B, and C, with B being in the middle, tanks from A or C must first stop at B.

Helicopters, on the other hand, are not bound by roads and can travel anywhere at any time. They also tend to be faster. This makes them ideal for counterattacks, but it is worth noting that helicopters suffer double losses when attacking a tank base (e.g. over 16 choppers are needed to take a basic tank base with 8 tanks in it), and visa versa.

Campaign ModeNow each base, depending on its visible size, can produce a maximum number of units (though an infinite amount can be sent to it from other bases), so the idea is to capture neutral bases as staging areas or choke points for both attack and defense. Moreover, there are usually a dozen or more bases on a map, so the entire game is in constant motion.

To add further depth to the strategy, some bases will also offer various defensive capabilities. Not only will tanks and helicopters that are traveling from location to location shoot at enemies (reducing their attacking numbers) who are also on the move, but anti-armor and anti-air turrets will also attempt to thin the ranks. In a more passive means, some bases are also fortified with a wall which causes x2 casualties to attackers, and others doubly fortified, causing x4 casualties to attackers.

As if the game wasn’t fun enough with all the chaos, Modern Conflict has any number of events that can happen to change up the game. Sometimes these are triggered by a quick counter attack or retreat, while others are random such as the arrival of reinforcements, artillery blowing up enemies, or one of your bases becoming heavily fortified. Typically, these occur when the player is in danger of losing, and with the exception of reinforcements, they only ever help the player.

Random SkillsThe only time reinforcements even arrive for the computer is in the Survival mode. Choosing from the U.S., Russia, China, or some resistance guerrilla group, players are given an infinite form of replayability, through procedurally generaged maps. Each level the player plays in this mode gets increasingly difficult with multiple opponents (that fight each other as well), more enemy reinforcements, and seemingly more intelligent AI. The only saving grace for the user is that each level rewards them with passive “skills” that are the noted special events, extra units, extra guns, and so on – just don’t try it on the hardest difficulty. It won’t end well.

As for the last game mode, Spec Ops, it’s really just more of the Campaign mode; just different maps and colors.

Already, Modern Conflict is a fantastic game, but it’s made even better with the inclusion of social mechanics. Upon downloading, users can actually sign up for, and connect to, a gaming social network called Crystal. With it, players can find other friends that use it through Facebook, Twitter, or email and get any number of recommendations for other games based on what is popular, features, or, most importantly, free.

Spec OpsThe social features directly integrated into Modern Conflict are a bit basic at the moment, but they do work well as the emphasis is not on them. They are merely an enhancement. The game comes with a metric ton of leaderboards for players to compete amongst as well as dozens of achievements to unlock. Moreover, the game also advertises direct multiplayer challenges. Unfortunately, they do not appear to be active in the game as of yet, so it’s impossible to say whether it will be synchronous or asynchronous. However, considering the very fast paced nature of the game, the former is highly likely.

Truth be told, if you own an iPhone or an iPad, and you like strategy games, even a little bit, then you need this game. No, it’s not recommended. You need it. Of course, make sure you have nothing important to do for a few hours. That said, the game is currently $0.99 for the iPhone and $1.99 for the iPad, but the price is only an initial launch sale. As far as which device to get it on, the larger screen size and longer battery life of the iPad makes the game moderately more enjoyable. Suffice to say, we look forward to any and all upcoming Modern Conflict updates.

Guiding Trains in this Unique iPhone Puzzle Game

TrainyardIt goes without saying, that you tend to see a lot of the same type of game nowadays. Revised old concepts and clones tend to be safer, but more often than not, it’s the small folks that break that mold. Such an app comes from a single guy, Matt Rix, this time around, with a terribly addictive puzzle title for the iPhone called Trainyard. It’s a $1.99 app, that combines simple path-drawing mechanics with timing, planning, and color. Married with some simple, and non-intrusive social features, Trainyard is an app that has very little to complain about.

Essentially, the goal of the game is to make it through well over 100 puzzles by getting all trains from Point A to Point B. Early on, the game is simple enough: Players get one starting terminal and one goal terminal and draw a path to get there. However, all trains and terminals and goals have their own color, thus only a train of the same color may enter the goal safely. Also note that paths are not as free-form as they are in other path-drawing apps (i.e. Flight Control). Each section of path is set within a grid space and will either be a straight or corner piece.

It’s all fairly straightforward and intuitive, not to mention very, very easy for a good third of the puzzles. Despite the slow ramp up time, once you make your way to the more intermediate and advanced puzzles, Trainyard begins to take on its unique shape.

To start things off, once all track is laid, users launch the trains, which all go at the same time. As you’d expect, later levels will have more than one train, and players must warry on when they or if they should collide, but more on why in a moment. Frankly, it’s easy to prevent if you need to as you can draw separate paths from the separate train terminals to the separate goals. At least at first.

MulticolorsEventually, rocks start appearing that the trains can crash into, which forces users to make multiple trains of different colors use the same track. Moreover, many puzzles will have only a single goal terminal that must accept X amount of Y color for a puzzle to be solved. This is indicated by a number of colored lights on the terminal. This means that if there are four green lights and four blue lights, players must ensure that four of each color reach the end safely.

Remember the color? The way that trains use the same track is that each grid space can hold two pieces – a primary and secondary track. Without going into the fine details, if you launch two trains at the same time, and they combine where these two tracks are, they merge into one. Now, for trains of the same color, this is no big deal. But often the goal will accept fewer trains than are being launched — as indicated by a number of lights on the starting terminal — and thus you must combine them. At more advanced levels, the goal might require, say, a purple train. The only problem is, you have only red and blue trains. Well, now you have to build a track from Point A to Point B, and combine the two colors to make purple. The same works in reverse. If you combine the two and the goal only accepts red and blue, you will fail.

FB PostAs you can begin to see, all of these very simple rules begin to create a very complex set of results, and in the case of many puzzles, there are any number of ways to solve them. In fact, this is where the game’s social elements come into play.

After completing a puzzle, users can actually post to their Facebook feed or tweet to their Twitter account their solutions. It’s not an earth-shattering feature, but considering the difficulty of some of the puzzles — and if you have friends that play — they are great additions. Oh? How do friends know the solution? When you post a solution to one of your social networks, it includes a nice video showing how you solve it.

Truth be told, there really isn’t anything significant to complain about with Trainyard. It’s wonderfully creative, easy to learn, and has any number of possible solutions to its puzzles. Moreover, the rules are simple enough to create a near infinite number of new levels for future updates, or even potentially purchasable level packs. If there was any one issue to be had, it’s that the game takes a bit too long to really get started, and the tutorial levels get very old, very quick. Overall, however, for $2, its an app that is well worth checking out.

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