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Friday, August 08, 2008

App Store Hijinks

Personally I think the App Store is only just shy of completely brilliant. One of those times that philosophy that drives Apple really shines and pulls together something which quite honestly changes the conversation as well as the game.

But I did say just shy. There's some pretty glaring faults to be had here. Nothing which is odd or surprising considering what's going on - but they still exist. There's no good way to deliver trial software - which has lead several developers to start distributing "lite" and "full" versions of their software to accommodate. Juggling the apps I've downloaded from my phone, from iTunes, kept, deleted, etc. onto the phone itself is a bit of a mess and I keep forgetting to update the sync settings prior to actually syncing.

The other half of the App Store problems involve, well, the apps themselves. The now much blogged $999 "I Am Rich" app is probably the epitome of the controversy - but much of this is also due to a much inflated sense of what Apple would allow and disallow from the store in general. And much of that was a complete lack of messaging on Apple's part on what they would allow and disallow. It was, and probably pretty much is, roughly designed as "what we want". Some people took that to mean that if you didn't follow Apple's much touted design concepts, you wouldn't get through the door.

Honestly I was always skeptical of that and somewhat expected to be ... well, pretty much what it is. There's been a lot of comments about Apple allowing an app like "I Am Rich" onto the store as well as for Apple removing such an app. My suspicion was always that Apple would be more like a bouncer than a fashionista at a party - it's in Apple best interests to have the widest range of apps on the store and a high volume. They pretty much can't lose here, a lot of free apps mean that there is more incentive for people to own an iPhone and a lot of pay apps means more to their bottom line.

The key phrase there being - a lot of apps in general.

The real problem, I think, goes back to the concept of trialware. The real problem is that there isn't a decent mechanism for determining what's truly crap and what is not. Something like "I Am Rich" is probably pretty easy to discern for most rational people but I could see where Apple might pull it just to avoid dealing with an angry customer. "I Am Rich" is really a non-issue, a humorous footnote in what will be the history of the App Store, but the real problem for Apple would be a glut of $9.99 and $19.99 apps which completely suck. If people pay up front for apps that don't pay off, they'll be less likely to try them out in the future.

Which defeats the whole "have a lot of apps" angle in the first place.

Game Play: More on Civ Revolution

Civ Revolution has now easily overtaken Bad Company for staple stress reducer around the pad. The Girl started her first empire last night while I've beaten Emperor with a economic and cultural victories so far. I've played a small amount of online, but will probably play more of that down the road.

Despite this addiction, the game isn't without some flaws. Perhaps it's my paranoid fear of the world being overtaken by giant robots, but I swear the computer starts cheating more and more at battles with the higher difficulty levels. Maybe it's just random chance, but there's often a slew of combat which just feels cheap and annoying. When my rifleman crew defending at 59 gets blown away by a cannon army with an attack of 27, my battleship of 18 falls to a cruiser of 9 and my modern infantry gets squashed as they walk off the assembly line ... all in the same turn - you start to wonder what that floating point unit is doing behind the scenes.

More annoying, though, is the computer AI's near complete inability to engage in war with itself. After winning last night I saw the chronology show that the Russians and the Aztecs had been at war at some point ... which I can't quite comprehend since both of them were throwing everything they had at my capital at the time. At one point the Aztecs were going to win with a tech victory, so I spent a bunch of money bribing every other nation to go destroy them. Ten rounds later I was 5,000 bucks poorer and the Aztecs were one space shuttle richer.

Which brings me to the fact that the diplomacy is so two dimensional that it's paper thin. The biggest use for it is bribing off other leaders to stop attacking for a few rounds so that you can finish that infantry army to defend yourself. Otherwise you have a lot of telling them to go shove their demands where the pixels don't shine.

And there is the occasional just outright bug. The funniest is the "dance bug" where the combat logic locks up and armies just dance around for eternity. Moderately funny was the odd "Roman Settlers" which briefly appeared instead of barbarians - with an attack strength of 999. Before anything happened, though, they vanished. Less funny ones are where the interface glitches out and makes it difficult to do things like activate defending units.

It's a great game, don't get me wrong. But it could use a patch or two and maybe some tweaks to some existing gameplay.

And a co-op mode would rule.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

iPhone 2.0.1 out, "Fixes Bugs"

If you ask your local iTunes nicely, it will update your iPhone from 2.0 to 2.0.1, and if I recall correctly, the changelog was as simple as "Bug Fixes". I just got mine updated but haven't had much of a chance to see if it fixes any of the random app crashes I've seen. I'm reinstalling the (also updated) Galcon now to give it a test drive.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Movie Watch: The Orphanage (El Orfanato)

I think The Girl put it best when she called The Orphanage a "thriller with a plot of gold". There's far more going on in this movie than the average horror fan will expect and it is all used for excellent effect. Presented/produced by Guillermo Del Toro, which essentially just means the guy from Pan's Labyrinth thinks you should watch it, the subtitled foreign film could only distract the most jaded of viewers as the cinematography and acting are completely brilliant.

Scare-wise I would best describe it as chilling. It reminded me of both Poltergeist, The Changeling and even a touch of Blair Witch Project - and before you wince I mean the creepy psychological parts and not so much the shaky camera and running through trees. Even with this pedigree, the movie takes off into avenues and angles that none of these manage and hit an emotional depth that one could only hope a Hollywood studio could show an audience.

It's not as outright scary as one might as expect, though, and people who have been fed a large diet of Japanese horror imports should be warned that this is as much, if not more, drama than fear.

Highly recommend.