 Arcade Daily #5 - Super Impossible Road

Merriam Webster defines the world ‘impossible’ as something which is:

Incapable of being or of occurring

With that in mind, the next game I’ve chosen to look at in my daily  Arcade daily reviews, could be written up under the Trades Description Act. Not only was the first game not actually impossible, neither is this reimagining of an App Store classic, Super Impossible Road. While it may not really be impossible, it is a bit bloody hard …

Super Impossible Road has been created by Rogue Games Inc. If you check their page on the App Store, you’ll see that Rogue Games are a very prolific developer. They’ve been a staple in the store for some time, so it’s perhaps suitable that they’re part of the initial launch group for  Arcade with Super Impossible Road.

While the game does have a loose story1,it really is irrelevant. All you need to know is that Super Impossible Road sees you speeding down a twisting and coiling track set against some very nice looking intergalactic backgrounds. There are, currently, five different game modes to play through, which are:

  • Career - This mode tasks you with taking part in a plethora of different races, involving simply finishing in the best time, crossing X amount of gates etc.
  • Race - This mode includes only offline races against AI opponents.
  • Online Race - This is, you guessed it, races but … online!
  • Time Gate - this is, essentially, a time challenge. You must cross each gate before the time runs out. Each gate will grant a few extra, precious nano-seconds.
  • Classic Mode - This seems to be a survival mode, where you simply have to survive as long as possible.

Super Impossible Road is fairly unique in that the game appears to be equally as playable with touch controls as it is with MFi / Xbox / PS4 game controller support. Xbox controller support is very important to me with this  Arcade lineup, so that’s a bit +1 from me.

In each review, so far, I’ve mentioned how impressed I’ve been with the  Arcade line up. Super Impossible Road is my first disappointment. The only reason it’s a disappointment, however, is the strength of the competition. Taken in isolation Super Impossible Road is great fun to play, runs well, looks even better and once again the lack of IAPs helps to elevate a title that would definitely have been riddled with them in the past. For me, however, the game is a little too retro and, if I’m being completely honest, boring.

Standards have been set so high, right now, and options are so vast, the  Arcade games are going to need to be something special to keep me playing. In a normal world Super Impossible World would be a strong entry into the App Store. As it stands, it’s fairly mediocre. All that being said, it’s presence in the  Arcade lineup is welcome and while it’s not a game I will dedicate time to right now, while there are so many to work my way through, I’m sure I’ll spend some time with it in the future.

  1. Something, something future, something, something racing … [return]

 Arcade Daily #4 - tint.

After a manic week of work, family and digging through endless  Arcade games I needed a break and a little relaxation and, luckily I didn’t even have to leave the Arcade to find it.

The next stop on my whistlstop tour of  Arcade is the ’relaxing col(u)or-mixing puzzle’ game, tint., by Bangkok based developer Lykke Studio.

tint.1 requires you to solve a multitude of different puzzles through the power of watercolours. In order to solve each puzzle you’re required to match your paint strokes to the colour of the origami pieces on each page of a book. This starts off simple enough, matching red paint to red origami and blue paint to, you guessed it, blue origami. This quickly moves on, however, requiring you to mix the paint trails together as you go along to match to non-primary colour origami pieces.

While this premise is very simple, the execution is absolutely stunning.

You select the level, or page, you want to play in my leafing through a gorgeously rendered art book whilst being serenaded by some superbly relaxing and soothing music and sound effects. Each section of the book is themed around different seasons, from crisp autumnal colours and aesthetics to bright summer tones and everything in between. It really is a gorgeous looking game, and experience.

Not only does the game look beautiful, it also sounds it. According to the  Arcade listing the full binaural audio experience has been crafted by hand using real objects found in nature and in an art studio. I’m not sure what sort of sounds you get inside an art studio, to be fair, but if this is what it sounds like I may need to visit more often …

I’m going to keep todays review short and sweet, because I think simply reading about a game like this cannot do it justice one little bit. All I will say is that if you have an  Arcade subscription, and I imagine you do if you’re reading this in the first place, you owe it yourself and your mental well being to give this game a try. Get home from work, have a bath, make a cup of tea, put your feet up, pop in some headphones and unwind with this beautiful, entrancing and soothing game. You can thank me later.

  1. Yes, the lower case name and full stop is the way the studio write it, it’s not a typo, but thanks. [return]

 Arcade Daily #3 - Bleak Sword

The previous  Arcade reviews that I’ve written have been for games that, in my opinion, are best experienced on a larger screen1. In order to bring a little balance to the force I wanted to try a game that’s more at home on the iPhone.

To that end, today’s  Arcade Daily micro-review is for Bleak Sword from Devolver Digital.

The  Arcade listing for the game describes it as featuring Dark Fantasy Dioramas which is a perfect description of the graphical style used in the game. Bleak Sword sees you facing off against a myriad of increasingly dangerous and powerful beasts and monsters across some compact, yet beautifully designed diorama battlefields.

The controls are easy to pick up, yet difficult to master. With a simple tap, hold, and swipe you’re able to direct your avatar to roll, parry, attack, and counter-attack the various creatures that populate each small level. Controller support is also available, which is always welcome, though as mentioned before, is certainly not necessary. The  Arcade listing doesn’t actually indicate controller support is included, but the developer description does. With a little practise you’ll soon be rolling around the screen and slashing your sword around like a pro. Once you get the hang of it it’s very satisfying.

The aim of the game is simply to defeat each levels monsters, whilst taking as little damage as possible. Remaining health rolls over into the next level. Between levels you have a chance of finding various items that increase your stats, such as a sword that adds +1 attack power, or a bracelet that adds +1 health and +2 attack. You get the idea. If you should die along the way you will lose everything you’ve collected and all experienced points you’ve earned so far. You are given an opportunity to get it all back, instantly, by clearing the level out that you last died in. If you fail to do so it’s gone forever. This is essentially a mini Dark Souls and it’s great.

The art style is sparse, but strangely beautiful. The level design, whilst small, still looks oddly detailed, despite the 8-bit graphical style. The dioramas feature a quite hypnotic parallax effect which works really well in my opinion. Each battle is fairly quick paced, so you will often get little time to stop and appreciate just how cool looking each level is, which is a shame really.

A list of over 30 achievements to unlock and an Arena mode help add some further depth to the game as well.

Bleak Sword is great fun to play and works really well as a game to have a quick go on when you need to burn a few minutes2 in a queue or … when doing something else that rhymes with queue.3 Yet again, this  Arcade title is a winner, and well worth some of your time.

  1. Which, in my case, was the 12.9” iPad Pro. [return]
  2. Though longer sessions would work just as well. [return]
  3. It’s okay, we’ve all done it from time to time … [return]

 Arcade Daily #2 - Agent Intercept

Next up in our journey through the  Arcade catalogue is the excellent Agent Intercept by prolific development house PikPok.

Agent Intercept sees you take on the role of a James Bond come Austin Powers type secret agent tasked with completing various missions in order to stop the dastardly CLAW organisation. The missions all, conveniently, involve chasing, racing, destroying and otherwise generally bothering a plethora of bad guys in your souped-up secret agent vehicle from the start of the course to the end.

The graphics are quite pretty, especially on the iPad Pro where I’m doing most of my  Arcade gaming at the moment. The music is also suitably retro and ‘secret agenty’, which is a nice touch.

On the face of it, the game appears to be a fairly standard iOS game, but there are some features of this title that make it stand out amongst its non-Apple Arcade peers.

One of the major selling points of  Arcade is the fact that, in order to be included in the collection, the games have to be made fully available to the player. By this, I mean that In-App Purchases (IAPs) are not allowed. Agent Intercept is a perfect example of how a game that, without  Arcade, would have almost certainly been absolutely crippled by IAPs. As I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago, the lack of IAPs catapults Agent Intercept to a really enjoyable game that you can dip in and out of. If IAPs were allowed, it would almost certainly be something you’d play once or twice, until you hit the inevitable blocker or paywall, at which point you’d be hounded by requests to buy some agent bux or the like.

Games with IAPs always feel like they’re out to get you. They walk a fine line between making sure you’re enjoying yourself, whilst also working against you to prevent progress at every turn. Agent Intercept feels so much better for the fact that you’re left completely free to just enjoy the ride, whilst taking out some CLAW scum along the way.

While it’s not necessary (or possible) to monetise the game in the, now, standard way of IAPs, PikPok have come up with a smart way to keep you coming back to the game. I’m not sure what the monetisation model is for inclusion in  Arcade, but I can only assume that the more your game is played, the more you get paid. To this end, the game has a daily rotation of missions available to you. Are you finding todays mission too hard? No problem, just stop playing and come back again tomorrow for a new challenge. I think this is a really smart way to keep eyes on your game, whilst also giving players a genuine, none manipulative reason to keep coming back.

Another high point of the game for me is the fact the game includes controller support. While Hot Lava, which I looked at yesterday, was pretty unplayable without a controller, Agent Intercept works very well with touch controls. Controller support does, however, really take things up to 11.

I’ve been really impressed with the  Arcade line up so far, and Agent Intercept is another strong offering. While it doesn’t really offer anything all that unique, the lack of IAPs, allowing the game to be just that, a game, is a unique selling point unto itself. I think this game, along with its peers amongst the other  Arcade titles, is really going to change the App Store paradigm and I can’t wait.

 Arcade Daily #1 - Hot Lava

With the (early) launch of  Arcade to iOS / iPadOS beta testers, early adopters now have access to an impressive library of some really fun and interesting new games. While, right now at least, the list of available games is somewhat shy of the promised ‘over 100’1, it’s still an ample launch catalogue.

Since it was first announced at this years WWDC I’ve been looking forward to trying  Arcade, so as soon as I spotted it had launched I jumped all over it. I’ve since downloaded all of the available games to my iPad Pro and am slowly working my way through.

I’ve been enjoying gaming on iOS more and more over recent months, so this has come at a perfect time for me. To celebrate the launch of this service I’m planning on writing a series of posts, one each day, looking at a different game in the catalogue each time. Some micro reviews as it were.

To this end, I’m going to start with the title that’s impressed me the most so far2, namely Hot Lava.

According to the  Arcade listing:

Hot Lava transports you back to your childhood imagination.

If any child has an imagination this extravagant then all the best to them!

The game is, essentially, a digital The Floor Is Lava game, on steroids. The aim of the game is simple, get to the end as fast as possible. As is often the case with any (good) game that appears simple, however, there’s more to it than that.

Firstly, each level you enter has a set of goals you can aim for in order to really master the level. These goals range from completing the level under a certain time, finding hidden golden poles, or avoiding certain platform types, which in turn forces you to find a more complicated or hidden path through the level. Earning stars unlocks various cosmetic items such as avatars, clothing and tags you can use to stand out from the crowd a little.

The world of Hot Lava can also include other players that are currently online at the same time, which adds a competitive element to the proceedings. You can compete with these strangers, or your friends, to get the best times or scores throughout each level.

One word of warning I would give before you jump into Hot Lava is that, personally, I think a gaming controller is a must to play this game properly. You can play without one, of course, but the gyro controls are very fiddly and tedious. I’d go so far as to say if you don’t have a controller available to use, give this game a pass. I’ve been playing it with an Xbox Controller which works perfectly. Once you get into a decent rhythm, and get an understanding of the map, you can really fly through each level.

I’ve found Hot Lava to be fun, yet challenging game, and one that I’ve found myself coming back to over and over again for a quick game. This is a perfect game for a service like  Arcade. It’s simple enough to pick up and play for short bursts when the mood takes you, but also deep enough to sink hours into while you try and perfect your time in a given level. If this first game is anything to go by,  Arcade is going to be a fun ride!

  1. There are about 51 games as of right now. [return]
  2. After some albeit it very limited time across the library. [return]

🎙26: The iPhone 11 Pro Max Super Hyper Mega Phone 3000

You’ve heard the best, now hear the rest … or something.

This years iPhone event has been and gone so I wanted to share a few (brief) thoughts I had about the event, and what was announced over in the Steve Jobs theatre on Tuesday.

I should just mention, as I do in the episode itself, that I was experimenting with a different mic setting / location so audio quality is questionable at best this week. Please let me know what you think on Twitter, but my intention is to move back to the old setup from next episode, so apologies for any inconvenience caused to all 3 of my subscribers!

You can find links to the show below:

You can also find a direct link below.

🎙25: The iPhone Event 2019 Preview

The Dent podcast is back … again

In this weeks episode I have a quick cyat about a few of the things that I’m expecting, and am looking forward to, with the upcoming ‘iPhone event’ to be held in the Steve Jobs theatre on the 10th September.

Grab a cup of tea, have a listen and enjoy!

You can find links to the show below:

You can also find a direct link below.

An Unexpected Benefit To Mouse Support in iPadOS

I’m in a very lucky position in my life that, generally speaking, I can usually keep up to date with the latest Apple / tech products and trends. As I’ve mentioned in the past1 my main device at home has been an iPad, and I have been, and am, very happy with this setup and have never regretted the move.

Something did make me question this a little recently, however. My daughter, in her first year of real school, has been learning to use computers at school. The basics they are learning involves using a mouse to navigate around some basic learning apps. My daughter has always been quite good at using an iPad2 and other Apple based mobile devices so it broke my heart a little when she came home to tell me she needed help at school with the mouse. I know this is a bit over the top, but you never want to think you’ve not given your child every opportunity to do as well as possible.

Fast forward a few months after that conversation and Apple launches the first iPadOS beta and with it, albeit it a bit hidden … mouse support. I took to this instantly and have been loving it ever since, but it didn’t strike me initially that this may be perfect for a child too. The quite large pointing target seems a bit too big for many able bodied users that I’ve seen talk about it, but it’s great for the visually impaired, as it’s originally designed for, but also as it turns out, kids!

Now, thanks to iPadOS and some great CBeebies, and other applications, my daughter can wiz around my laptop as she calls it3 like an old pro. As soon as we’ve stopped the lessons she very quickly reverts to using touch to get back to YouTube for some crappy princess videos, however!

  1. A few too many times, I know! [return]
  2. Only for short spells, occasionally. Don’t get angry with me Mumsnet folks! [return]
  3. Interestingly she started calling it a laptop as soon as I added the mouse. Before that, it was just ‘the iPad’. [return]

Dark Noise - Simple, Powerful, Beautiful

After so many years of operation, there are rarely completely original app ideas anymore. Most categories are extremely well represented, from email clients to white noise apps. To truly stand out in a fairly crowded market you need to make your app something special. It needs to look good, or perform better than the competition. Luckily, Charlie Chapman, first time iOS developer and all round great guy, has been meticulously crafting one such app that I’d like share with you today.

This app is called Dark Noise, a white noise app with a difference. Before diving into the app itself I’ll let Charlie describe himself1 to those of you that don’t know him:

I’m a software engineer in St. Louis, Missouri by day, and a designer, motion graphics artist, podcaster, and indie dev by night.

If you want to hear a little more about the actual design process behind Dark Noise, or where it may go next, you can hear Charlie talk all about it on the latest episode of the excellent The Outpost Show with Daryl Baxter. It’s well worth a listen, but don’t forget to come back here if you go and dive into your podcast player of choice right now …

So, what sets Dark Noise apart from other white noise apps? Quite simply, it’s crafted with love. I’ve been lucky enough to have been beta testing the app for a few months now, and I’ve never known another developer be so receptive to feedback and also so quick to make tweaks, improvements and enhancements on the back of it.

As you launch the app you’re greeted with a great looking, yet simple, list view of various available sounds. Included in the one time purchase price are over 30 sounds, across large range of areas, from traditional white noise app favourites like Thunderstorms and Waterfalls to more unique offerings like Lawn Mower and even Snoring2

Dark Noise Main View

Tapping on any sound in this list will, as you’d imagine, start your chosen sound. When doing so, you aren’t taken into a kind of ‘now playing’ screen, however. You instead get a nice tan of sorts at the bottom that tells you what’s playing with a play / pause button. This is a nice design choice as it allows you to continue browsing the other various sounds without interrupting the current one. By playing a sound you’re also treated to your first example of some of the beautiful little animations sprinkled around the app. Tapping the pause button makes the icon morph into a play button and vice versa when pressed again. This may seem small, and an odd thing to call out, but it really is quite pleasant and just adds onto a long list of small things in the app that, again, highlight the care and attention Charlie has put into his app.

Speaking of animations, another real treat are the simple, yet affective animations each of the sounds icons have. While the Dark Noise app is about white noise you can listen to to help you sleep, or focus, the animated sound effect images are so mesmerising I will often just want to stare at them to relax as much as I want to listen to the beach sounds.

While a large Now Playing screen isn’t the default when playing a new sound, you can press the Now Playing bar at the bottom of the page to jump into a dedicated view, should you want to.

Dark Noise Now Playing

This view gives you some further options not previously available. From here you can AirPlay the sound to other devices, such as a HomePod, which works very well indeed I might add. You also get a volume slider and a timer option so you can set the sounds to stop after a set period of time. This is, as you’d imagine, very useful for an app you’re likely to fall asleep listening to. This page also gives a much better view of those gorgeously animated icons again.

Back on the main view, you have an option to favourite your, well, favourite sounds. When pressing the heart outline next to a sound it becomes a favourite and it bumped up to the top of the list. When you have a few here you can quickly rearrange them into whatever order you’d like, via the grab handles along the side.

In terms of core app functionality, that’s it. It’s a simple premise, and it’s not alone in the white noise space, but Dark Noise sets itself apart from the competition with a great design aesthetic and wonderfully intuitive UI flow. It’s extremely easy to navigate and use, and a real joy to do so. It’s also blazingly fast.

If you dive into the settings area you’re once again treated to a real plethora of options. For a one time payment app, that is quite frankly criminally low, you also get a large range of customisation options you’d usually expect to pay various levels of in-app purchase prices for. Firstly you can customise your widget settings which allows you to select up to 4 sounds to display there. This is a nice touch and looks particularly good on the iPadOS beta, now that you can pin widgets to the Homescreen.

Dark Noise Widget View

The app also includes extensive Siri Shortcuts support which allows you to set a shortcut for any of the sounds in the app, so you can trigger any of them with your voice. All available sounds are available from the get go, you don’t have to have played one of them first, which is another nice touch and one other app developers often don’t take the time to implement. There are also some quite extensive appearance options from various themes to a very impressive choice of custom app icons. At last found there were over 20 to choose from, ranging from alternative colours of the default icon to some inspired by various well known podcasts and bloggers such as Cortex, Accidental Tech Podcast and Jason Snells Six Colors. This is yet another example of Charlie’s efforts on making this app the real best in class.

One of the things I’ve found most impressive about Dark Noise is the fact that this is Charlie’s very first app. Most app developers could create 100s of apps and never come up with a product as well designed, and implemented as Charlie has managed to do with his very first release. While people’s need for an app like Dark Noise will vary, and not everyone will need it, I still think this is a must buy. If you do need a Dark Noise app then congratulations, because you’ve now found the best one I’ve ever tried. If you don’t think you need one, for the price of a coffee you can still help support an indie developer that has poured a whole lot of time and effort to create a real gem of an app. I have a lot of affection for this app, after seeing Charlie take on board thoughts and suggestions from friends during its development cycle, and I’m really excited to see where both this app goes, but also what project Charlie decides to turn his hand to next. With design skills like this I’d personally love to see him try his hand at a podcast app …

Not only is Charlie now a great app developer, it seems he’s also a great video producer, because he made this excellent launch trailer for Dark Noise as well. If I’ve not yet convinced you this is a great app, perhaps this will help:

  1. The following excerpt has been taken from the About section of the Dark Noise app. [return]
  2. The sound of someone snoring is one of my pet hates, so I’ve got to say I avoid this one and can’t understand anyone that could enjoy that sound! [return]

What's in a name?

One of the big questions I asked myself before moving my blog from Wordpress to Micro.Blog recently was ‘what would I call it?’ The name The Dent was kindly offered up to me by Zac Cichy after I tweeted about wanting to find some kind of identity to my tech blogging. The fact I didn’t come up with it myself frees me to say that I, personally, think it’s a pretty great name. While the name could mean many things, the six colour header and quote mark it as clearly Apple / Tech related.

The other alternative was to use AndyNicolaides.com, which I still own, but am not currently using. The unfortunate thing about this is my name is a bit of a mess1 and it would never stick in people’s minds for long, and if it did they’d soon forget how to spell it. It goes without saying that if you can’t spell a domain name, you certainly wont be going there very much2. The one benefit this name did have, however, was that it was clearly mine. I don’t say this because I need or want people to know the site is by me, but it does speak to a site that is fairly subject agnostic. While much of what makes me, me is technology based, I like to think there’s more to me. I like to read, I like to watch films, take photographs, listen to music to name a few. I would also like to share some of these interests and thoughts I have on them on my blog.

My issue, which is completely on me, don’t get me wrong, is that I feel I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner with the name The Dent. While I have a love for technology, I don’t always want to talk or think about it. I feel that the name of this blog gives off a certain expectation, however. This feeling has held me back from posting more often, and of varying topics.

As you would have seen if you follow or subscribe to this blog3 I post very little currently. A lot of it has come down to the fact that many things I think about writing don’t get beyond a planning stage before I tell myself it just wouldn’t fit on my blog.

This rambling post is both my promise, and first step, towards breaking this self-imposed limitation I’ve put upon myself. Believe me, I’m well aware this is a very over the top way of doing such a thing, but like I said this is more for me, to just get a post up and to break the habit, or lack thereof, of limiting myself to tech posts.

While I still think the name I’ve chosen doesn’t really reflect a personal blog which will include book reviews, my publically shared photography4 and more, it’s what it is for now.

The thing I need to remember is that no one is really reading this blog and it’s not going to be anyone’s first port of call for hot takes, be they tech related or not. This is a blog for sharing a few things that interest me, nothing more or nothing less. I need to start posting and stop being concerned about what I post about.

Thanks for attending my TED Talk.

  1. It’s okay, I’ve had the name long enough that I can admit to that. [return]
  2. Yes, I know most people use RSS and / or bookmarks, but that’s beside the point for now. [return]
  3. Which I’m both humbled, and mystified by if this is the case. [return]
  4. Now that I’ve essentially dropped Instagram, this is my main way of sharing photos online. [return]