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Posts Tagged ‘iPad’

The Best Things In Life Are (Mostly) Free

May 5th, 2014 No comments

I’ve previously rhapsodized about my iPad, surely the most wonderful–and certainly most addictive–electronic device I’ve ever owned. The two of us were inseparable. At least, until I finally bought an iPad Air, at which point I broke that piece of outmoded shit over my knee.*

So, now that I have iOS 7, I’m trying out the new generation of apps. And, to my utter surprise, I find myself loving a couple of “free to play” games.

Previously, I’ve largely avoided so-called “freemium” apps, most of which purport to be free yet require frequent “in-app purchases” to provide their full experience. However, soon after acquiring my iPad Air, I sampled Doctor Who Legacy, a game which has been praised as an example of “how to do the ‘free to play’ model correctly.”

After having spent too many hours with it, I can vouch for this assessment: you can play Doctor Who Legacy as much as you want without paying a dime. Yes, you can purchase “time crystals” which can be spent in turn on various characters and perks, but most are easily acquirable in-game. And you’ll earn plenty of crystals just by playing.

Now, I did spend a few dollars on crystals, partially to support the developers and partially to access a special “fan” area which offers previews of upcoming characters and levels. But that was a choice, not a requirement.

The game itself is a Doctor Who-themed riff on the likes of Puzzle Quest, which combines “match 3″ play with role-playing game mechanics. You assemble a team of characters drawn from the TV show, each of which contributes hit points, attacks and special abilities to your mix. Then you pit your TARDIS crew against a large array of enemies with powers of their own.


It’s got a rudimentary story, something about the warlike Sontarans fracturing the timestream in their attempt to conquer reality, but it’s barely coherent and beside the point anyway. It’s just an excuse to toss in every TV character you’ve heard of–and quite a few you’ve completely forgotten about. It’s the sort of game in which you can pit K-9, Strax, Cleopatra, an Ood and Winston Churchill against the combined might of the Whispermen, the Peg Dolls and the Flesh. And if any of that made sense to you, this game might be right up your time corridor.

The only thing that seemed capable of stopping from matching 3 with the Doctor well into the night was an equally addictive game, and now I’ve found one. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a collectible card game set in the World of Warcraft universe. And while Doctor Who Legacy is fairly dependent upon being versed in the TV show, Hearthstone is perfectly enjoyable without any knowledge of prior Warcraft games.

My first reaction to Hearthstone was “this is a dumbed-down Magic: The Gathering.” And I was dead right. But what I realized after a while was that I was having a load of fun playing a dumbed-down Magic: The Gathering.

Really, the gameplay is extremely similar. Two players square off in a duel of spells and summoned minions, attempting to penetrate the enemy’s defenses and whittle their opponent’s life down to zero.

However, the differences are in the details. Unlike Magic, players are not allowed to interrupt each other’s turns with spells, eliminating the chaos of endless counters and counter-counters. You still have to be savvy in your card play, but you needn’t worry about baroque “timing” issues.

The game takes advantage of its digital-only format by incorporating random effects that would be difficult to effectively model with physical card decks, and by allowing players to set up “secret” traps for each other.

The interface is slick and visually dazzling, with magic missiles whizzing across the battlefield. Special “golden” cards (which are earned through play) feature animated images.


While the game pretty much demands that you play other people, the designers have eliminated the douchiness that stems from online matchmaking. Opponents may only communicate through a handful of pre-programmed “emotes,” imposing civility and sportsmanship. And a strict, 90-second turn limit keeps things moving.

Even better, they’ve entirely done away with the secondary market that plagues collectible games. You can’t trade or sell cards, you can only acquire them in-game. You earn “gold” which can be used to purchase new “packs” of cards, and if you get too many of a given one, you can scrap them for credit which can in turn be used to acquire the cards you really want.

Of course, you can spend real money, either to buy packs or to enter Arena mode. The latter offers greater rewards each time you win a match, and players in the know suggest that once you get good at Arena play it pretty much supports itself. I am not good at Arena play, but even so, I earn enough “gold” through regular play that I gain a free entry into the Arena every two to three days. And I truly haven’t spent a dime on the game to date.

*A total lie. I have a ton of media stored on the old iPad 1, and intend to use it as my “reading” tablet.

Categories: Games Tags: , ,

Dungeon Addict

April 15th, 2011 No comments

There’s been both one good reason and one bad for the lack of meaningful content here these past couple of weeks. The good reason is that I was swamped at work, what with planning both the June TV schedule and the FY ’12 budget for Illinois Gardener.

The bad reason was this:

iPhone Screenshot 1

This, my friends, is Dungeon Raid, a maddeningly-addictive game app for the iPhone/iPad. It’s a cross between Bejeweled and Dungeons & Dragons in which you trace an unbroken line of matching symbols to collect gold, kill monsters (represented by skulls) and buff your dungeoneer. In other words, it induces the pleasant, semi-mindless haze familiar to players of slot machines or PopCap Games; and it also provides the constant reinforcement of gaining new and ever-more powerful abilities.

It’s very, very hard to put down. In fact,

We’ve Crossed The Border(s), And We’re Not Coming Back

February 14th, 2011 No comments

Updated (2/16): See below.

I’ve dreaded this development for years: the Borders bookstore chain is headed for bankruptcy. I’ve long been a loyal Borders customer, thanks in large part to the constant reinforcement of cascading discounts. Hardly a week goes by without at least one visit, and I usually walk out with something.

I never fully understood why Borders always struggled in comparison to rival Barnes & Noble. Granted that–here in Champaign, at least–B&N tended to be the better stocked, but Borders handed out free coupons like candy while its counterpart charged $25 a year for the privilege of saving 10 percent. When I had my Borders-branded Visa, I existed in a consumerist spiral of discounted books and DVDs that earned me Borders Bucks that allowed me to buy more books and DVDs at even steeper discounts and accumulate still more points.

I know that I abused the system; despite warnings that multiple uses of a given coupon during its cycle constituted fraud, I might drop by several times in one weekend when there was an especially meaty one. The golden ticket–40% off any item–was a clarion call to let my printer rip.

I may have been part of the problem.

Yet, in my mind, I made up for it in volume. I have bought a lot of books these past few years, and I wasn’t buying them on Amazon.

It’s too early to tell if Borders will go the K-Mart route (still in existence, albeit without a store within 30 miles of my house) or that of Circuit City (going, going, gone). Hopefully, our outlet will escape the purge. If not, we’ll be down to a B&N, a couple of used book sellers and the campus bookstore. Last week, USA Today speculated that small book dealers may make a comeback, but ours–Pages for All Ages–is long dead.

And it’s all the Internet’s fault.

Okay, you can’t assign blame to a series of tubes.* Besides, it’s a specious argument that ignores other concurrent technological and societal changes. But there’s no ignoring that the infinite timesink of the Web, the rise of the tablet computer, the mass acceptance of e-books, and the 80,000-pound cybernetic gorilla that is Amazon.com have combined to make selling slabs of wood pulp out of a locally-operated brick pile an untenable business.

I’m very sorry to see that happen.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my iPad.


If you’d told Ten-Year-Old Me that 35 years later he’d be carting around an object that contained hundreds of record albums, a thousand books and all the comics he could ever hope to read; that it would play video games, offer movies on demand and allow him to access the sum of all human knowledge**, Ten-Year-Old Me would’ve said “No fucking way!” Actually, no he wouldn’t have, because Ten-Year-Old Me didn’t talk like that. Ten-Year-Old Me was a good boy. But he would’ve been desperate to get those 35 years out of the way so that he could have the Precious.

Forty-Six-Year-Old Me worries that it’s too much, too fast. It’s not just the book publishing business that’s been affected, but magazines, newspapers, music, movies, radio and television***. And I have a vested interest in that last one. Retirement is an awfully long time off with changes occurring at microchip speed.

The thing is, I have a hard time blaming anyone for the dissolution of the media forms I hold dear. Truthfully, it is faster, easier and cheaper to push bits around. It’s hard to argue for the relative inefficiency of physical offices full of people with insurance policies and pensions, when most of the work can be done from a central location with a small staff.

It all makes sense. Hence comes the fear.

I wonder, when the time arrives and the last of the buggy whip factories close, what are all of these booksellers, editors, journalists, publishers, engineers, etc. etc. etc. going to do? When one person can do the work of fifty, how are we going to keep the other 49 occupied?

And don’t tell me that we’re all better off without the middlemen who got in the way of the creative folks behind the content. The artistic Utopia of self-publishing will only be viable so long as there are people making enough money to afford ephemeral, virtual non-essentials. Maybe you don’t need us to distribute your crap, but you need us to buy your crap.

So, the book stores are closing. The newspapers are shuttering. The broadcasters are next. It’s the end of the world as I know it.

At least, that’s what I read on my iPad.

*At least, not until it attains self-awareness. Which will be soon, meatbags.

**Well, the important pop-cultural parts, anyway.

***And the Post Office. And the printers. And the paper sellers. And the lumberjacks. Why does no one ever think of the lumberjacks?

Updated: Our local Borders survives. So far.