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This Week's Most Exciting New iOS Game Releases: Chaos Rings II, MotoHeroz, and More

The new iPad is making its way to store shelves this week, though we don’t expect it to stay on the shelf for long. If you’re one of the hopeful early adopters reading this on your iPhone while standing in line outside the Apple Store, then continue reading. This week’s lineup of new iOS game titles will be the perfect compliment to the gaming power the new tablet will deliver — though they’ll look and run great on any iOS device.

MotoHeroz

From RedLynx, the creator of DrawRace 2, comes MotoHeroz (.99, iPhone), a genre-mashing racer in the style of Trials HD. MotoHeroz draws elements from platformers, side-scrollers, and racing titles to create a brand new rally-style racing experience. With a vibrantly colored world and 30 uniquely engaging tracks to dig your wheels into, you’ll want to keep going for a chance to burn rubber on the next one. Thanks to single-player challenges and multiplayer races, MotoHeroz will have you doing laps for days.

Chaos Rings

Square Enix brings its original RPG series back to iOS with Chaos Rings II (.99/iPhone, .99/iPad). You’ll play as Darwin, the chosen one, who is left with a difficult choice. With the entire world in chaos and on the edge of destruction, Darwin must slaughter five people — including a childhood friend — as a sacrifice that will save humanity. The story unfolds based off the player’s choices, so you’ll get a totaly different experience depending on the routes you choose.

Picnic Wars

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned food fight, but Picnic Wars (.99/iPhone, .99/iPad) brings a whole new meaning to the term. You’ll have to choose to side with either the fruits or the vegetables as you hunker down in the trenches of food-flinging combat. With a huge campaign, tons of fruit and vegetables to send flying and a variety of unique launchers, Picnic Wars aims to prove that it’s OK to play with your food.

 

Kung Fu Rabbit

Somehow, evil has escaped into the world. Kung Fu Rabbit (.99, Universal) puts you in control of a bunny who has mastered martial arts, as you fight to defeat evil — and save the students of your dojo. The game features 70 levels of platforming that will require all of your logic and reflexes. With clever dialogue, intuitive controls, and unique moves that could only be completed by a rabbit with a black belt, Kung Fu Rabbit is a platformer potentially worth fighting over.

Rune Raiders

If you’ve been thirsty for a little Dungeons & Dragons-style action on your iOS device, Rune Raiders (.99, Universal) could help quench your need. After assembling a ragtag team of warriors that will then be placed and moved around a game board, the pieces come to life for battle. With a variety of power-ups and upgrades, you’ll be scrapping through the randomly-generated levels to beat up all the baddies you can.

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GDC 2012: A Look at the IGF Best Mobile Game Honorees on iOS

The Game Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco is winding down today, and we’ve been on site all week checking out the latest and greatest in games for iOS and Mac. One of the defining themes of this year’s conference has been the powerful response to indie games, often created by very small teams with tiny budgets, and how they’re often dominating the conversation amidst much larger blockbuster console and PC releases. The Independent Games Festival has long been a part of GDC, and all five of the finalists — plus four of the five honorable mentions — for the Best Mobile Game are available on or soon coming to iOS.

Looking for the best recent and upcoming indie games for your iPhone or iPad? Here’s a look at the nine iOS games honored by the Independent Game Festival in the Best Mobile Game category, starting with the winner — a title we conveniently (and glowingly) just reviewed today.

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The Week's Most Exciting New iOS Game Releases: Lightopus, Coco Loco, and More

Each week brings a mass of new game releases for both iPhone and iPad, but it’s hard to know which titles are worth a look and which are simply filler. As such, we’re launching a new weekly post to bring you the essential details on what we think are the five most interesting and exciting iOS games in a given week, complete with images and App Store links to find out more. And stay tuned, as many of the games featured in this space are sure to get full reviews on the site once we have a chance to test them out.

Lightopus

In Lightopus (.99, Universal), you’re the last of your species that is still in the wild; most of your kind were killed and the rest have been captured. Swim full speed ahead into the abyss as you aim to rescue your brethren and exact revenge on the monsters that attempted to wipe you off the planet. Lightopus features vibrant, electric graphics, intuitive controls, and lively character movement that will keep you gliding through the abyss for hours.

Coco Loco

If you could go for some hot chocolate and marshmallows, maybe stay away from Coco Loco (.99, Universal). It’s sure to make the cravings worse, as you’ll play as two gooey mallows that have set out to save their friends from the clutches of the cocoa covered villains. Armed with baseball bats — hey, why not? — and unique skills, you’ll tackle gorgeously designed stages as you aim to prove you’re not as soft as you appear.

Sminis

What happens when an evil scientist’s robot minions suddenly have free will? They acquire a longing for freedom, and in Sminis (.99, Universal), it’s your job to safely guide the mechanical men and women through the maze that is a mad scientist’s laboratory. The game brings a stunning stylistic look that utilizes all of the abilities of the Unreal Engine. With 30 unique levels and three difficulty levels filled with increasingly challenging puzzles, there’s plenty to play.

Plants War

There are few things that are more devastating to an ecosystem than the introduction of unwelcome species. When beasts threaten to invade the Dryad Forest, the plants fight back to preserve their home. Take control of Leafy and his floral friends as you guard your land in Plants War (Free, Universal). This real-time action game puts you in control of a hero, whom you’ll upgrade while unlocking special skills that will help in your fight.

Kids vs Goblins

After an intense storm, three children find themselves trapped on an island inhabited by goblins who have captured their baby brother. Fight across the treacherous terrain of the land and recover the kidnapped infant in Kids vs Goblins (.99, Universal). You’ll control all three children at once, assigning them individual powers and spells that you’ll use and upgrade. There are over 60 spells to unlock, with countless combinations that will serve you well through all 30 levels.

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Price Drop: Big Game Sale

 

Gamers get a huge bunch of price drops today from only two developers. This news is so big it’s shoving any other price drop of note aside and going straight for the jugular. Enough chatter, let’s get to the matter.

Aspyr

This week saw Doom 3 for Mac hit the App Store. If you don’t have Lion already, that’s reason enough to at least upgrade to Snow Leopard. This classic from 2005 is seeing its first ever digital release, and to celebrate, Aspyr’s chopped their prices 33% across the board on all Aspyr games in the Mac App Store. We grabbed three top titles, but the fun doesn’t stop with just this trio.

Civilization V 

Voted the Mac App Game of the Year, drops to just .99, and it’s going to stay that way until the first of the new year. Lead the world from the dawn of humanity all the way up into space and take on some of history’s greatest leaders in the process. A massive hit just got a little more affordable.

The Secret of Monkey Island

Voted one of the Best Games of 2011, Aspyr dropped the bucks on this re-imagining of the 1990 classic. Play the part of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood and win the hearts of Elaine Marley, governor, while leading your pirate crew on a rollicking adventure. This one you shouldn’t miss and at .99 a pop, how can you go wrong?

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Monkey Island wasn’t the only Aspyr game to hit the Best Games of 2011’s lists. Continuing an epic streak of multiplayer shooters, COD 4 features unlimited gameplay possibilities, simply astonishing graphics and a nice price drop from down to .99 just like Civilization V. Can you keep up with the plot twists, let alone trigger finger cramps?

 

Big Fish Games

Not to be outdone, Big Fish Games has slashed prices on a whopping 66 of their games, flipping the script on these and bringing the prices down to just .99 for the lot. 

Drawn: The Painted Tower HD

This gorgeous puzzle adventure will suck you in to the journey to save Iris. But can you solve the puzzles that unlock each floor of the tower? Fantastic characters and a lush painted world awaits you. Down from .99, the six bucks you save on Drawn can buy you any of these other games.

Nick Chase: A Detective Story HD

Do you like ‘em tough, two-fisted, and hard-boiled? Well, then, you won’t find anyone in the App Store to compare with Nick Chase, private eye. Uncover the hidden clues to solve the mystery of the missing Da Vinci manuscript. Everyone’s a suspect and you can’t trust a soul. But you can trust this .99 price.

Fisher’s Family Farm

Marissa Fisher needs your help to feed her fishy friends as they produce delicious goods that you can sell. But watch out, predators are out there, waiting to gobble your finny little buddies. Manage your time and keep Fisher’s Family Farm in the black or else, Mom and Dad are out the door. This .99 will keep you hustling!

Atlantis Sky Patrol HD

With 100 doomsday devices all over the world, it’s up to you to get in there and save the day. A new twist on the classic marble-popping game, Atlantis Sky Patrol HD will have you traveling the world to bust each link. Addictive and for just a measly .99, you’ll wonder where the holidays disappeared to.

 

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Thursday Recap: Apple Pulls Its Only Game, Google Music, DebtMinder Goes Universal

DebtMinder for iPadHard to believe that our U.S. readers will be face down in a plate of turkey, stuffing and all the fixin’s only a week from now, but November is flying by like a freight truck out of control, so what can you do? Meanwhile, the technology world is keeping busy with new advances such as Facebook-to-Facebook calling via the Skype app for Mac, Google Music is official, DebtMinder goes supersized, Apple pulls its one and only iOS game and RIM looks to be ready to fire sale its BlackBerry PlayBook — at least in Canada. Here’s all the news for Thursday, November 17, 2011.

Skype Adds Facebook-To-Facebook Video Calling on Desktops

Ready for a little more Skype-Facebook integration in your life? We sure hope so, because Skype’s The Big Blog announced today that a new beta version 5.4 for Mac has just hit the website, offering the ability to conduct a Facebook-to-Facebook call from within Skype — no browser required. The move continues the Skype/Facebook love-fest that began when Facebook video calling powered by Skype was first launched in July. Simply install the Skype 5.4 for Mac beta (you’ll have to scroll down the page a bit, which first tries to offer you an old version 5.3), connect your Skype and Facebook accounts, select a Facebook friend and hit the video call button. For some of us, that will be just another reason to avoid Facebook (and now, maybe Skype in general), but for you social butterflies, you’ll be floating like you’re in heaven.

Apple Removes Lone iOS Game, Texas Hold ‘Em

Now here’s an odd one for you: Apparently, Apple is getting out of the iOS game business. Didn’t know they were in it to begin with? That’s probably because you never bought Texas Hold ‘Em, the company’s only title for the platform, which began life in late 2006 on the iPod and then moved into the App Store when it debuted in 2008. According to MacRumors, the .99 app hasn’t been updated since September, 2008, and attempts to find the title in the App Store throw up the familiar “The item you’ve requested is not currently available in the US store” error. RIP, Texas Hold ‘Em…

Google Music Gets Real, But Mostly Snubs iOS Users

Remember Music Beta by Google? (Insert sound of crickets here.) Well, it’s finally out of beta and officially know as simply Google Music, the search giant announced at a press conference on Wednesday night. The good news is the service remains free and now the doors are opened to anyone willing to install the desktop client and then push upwards of 20,000 songs onto Google’s servers. Although the mobile client is Android only (at least for now), the service has a rather nice HTML5 mobile web version which works quite well on your iOS devices. New to Google Music is the ability to buy music via the Android Market and share with friends on Google+, and the company is encouraging new artists to sign up for the fun as well for a mere one-time payment, then a 70/30 split split on the sales.

DebtMinder Goes Universal with iPad Support

return7 is back with another update for their DebtMinder app, and this time it’s gone supersized! DebtMinder version 1.1.0 is now a universal build, which means it works great on your iPad as well as the iPhone or iPod touch. The new version also resolves some iOS 5 display issues, adds a per-account amortization chart to the Payment Plan and squashed a few other little bugs here and there. The .99 app works in tandem with BillMinder to take charge of your debt quickly while keeping your bills paid on time — and let’s face it, we could all use that in our lives, especially with the holidays fast approaching. DebtMinder 1.1.0 is a free update for existing users and ready for your downloading pleasure in the App Store.

BlackBerry PlayBook Gets 9 Holiday Clearance Pricing

Canadians, start your (fire sale) engines! According to AppleInsider, Research in Motion’s beleaguered BlackBerry PlayBook is gearing up for a holiday fire sale up north, with the 16GB as low as 9, 32GB for 9 and the 64GB model for 9 — all cheaper than what the tablet debuted at just a few short months ago. It goes without saying that sales of the device have been disappointing, both here in the U.S. and in every other country the PlayBook has landed where Apple’s iPad came before it. The sale corresponds with Black Friday next week, so we’re thinking Americans may also have a crack at the crazy new low price, which runs until December 1 but is rumored to become permanent come December 18.

Follow this article’s author, J.R. Bookwalter on Twitter

 

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Hands-On With Faraway, the Charming iOS Constellation-Building Game

Faraway has been in the works for some time, but for many, the upcoming indie game first appeared on the scene a couple months back with the release of the alluring teaser trailer included below, which shows essentially nothing of the gameplay experience, yet still hooks viewers with powerful text, audio, and imagery. Luckily, after playing numerous rounds of Steph Thirion’s game at the Fantastic Arcade portion of Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas this past weekend, I can safely say that the hype built by that slick trailer is well-deserved, as the engaging constellation-creating game is a true standout on the upcoming iOS horizon.

While the Fantastic Arcade version was set up in a full-sized arcade cabinet using one physical button, it was easy to see how the experience would play out on the touch screen of an iPhone or iPad. In Faraway, you take control of a shooting star, touching and holding the screen (or the button, in my demo) to anchor around a nearby fixed star, prompting you to spin around it until you release the button and vault forward in a new direction. Doing so skillfully is essential, as you’ll need to save precious seconds by maintaining high speeds in search of the next cluster, which shifts the game into the real meat of the Faraway experience.

Against the dark backdrop of space, large, bright star clusters hold the key to building constellations, and once inside the cluster, you can begin the process by anchoring on to any star. From there, you must weave your way around as many of the stars as possible without crossing your own path or leaving the cluster, with your progress creating the constellation in front of you. Score multipliers are added for the quality of your constellation design, and once you’re done, it’s off to the races again to find the next cluster to work a little magic within.

Each play session features an ominous countdown in the corner of the screen that ticks away to the end, but kicking out amazing constellations will earn you precious seconds to keep on zipping through space, making this a surefire high-score leaderboard favorite in the offing. And with the quick play sessions, Faraway is also certain to be a great pick for quick-hit sessions.

I kept coming back to Faraway during my three days at Fantastic Arcade, jumping back in for a few rounds whenever the arcade cabinet was free — which was surprisingly rare, considering how many anticipated indie games were playable at the event. But Faraway’s brightest moment came at the end of the weekend, when it was named Best in Show amongst the set of eight spotlight titles at the fest. Its minimalist design delivers small bursts of wonder, and iOS players shouldn’t have much longer to wait for the game, which is set to be released sometime this fall.

Faraway teaser from steph thirion on Vimeo.

 

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Indie Dev Vlambeer Details Game Cloning Saga in Fantastic Arcade Panel

Dutch game developer duo Vlambeer has only been making games since September of last year, but the studio has made a strong impression on fans of independent video games in that short span of time. Part of that impact has come from its games — notably Radical Fishing and Super Crate Box, a pair of free Flash-based titles that rely on simple mechanics to deliver electric play experiences. Unfortunately, the other part comes from the notoriety of having one of their games copied by another company, which proceeded to take the idea near the top of the App Store charts — while the studio was quietly creating its own iOS version of the original game.

All of the internet bickering and behind-the-scenes negotiations that resulted formed the basis of Vlambeer’s director’s commentary panel on Saturday at Fantastic Arcade, the gaming-centric portion of the Fantastic Fest film festival in Austin, Texas. Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman took the stage for nearly an hour to discuss the heartbreak that followed when Gamenauts used the core game design from Radical Fishing to create App Store hit Ninja Fishing. But despite the turmoil, the pair remained both optimistic and defiant, opting to discuss the importance of iteration in the video game industry while also showing off prototypes of other unreleased games.

It’s (not) radical

Radical Fishing was released as a free online Flash game late last year, and its premise is simple but memorable. Using your mouse, you’ll guide a fishing line as far down as possible into the sea before pulling it back up and grabbing as many fish on the hook as you can. Once at the surface, the sea creatures are vaulted into the sky, giving you the opportunity to blast them to bits with a shotgun. It’s crude, but amusing — and Vlambeer was quietly working on an all-new iOS iteration titled Ridiculous Fishing, which would deliver a slick new art style and fresh mechanics to the mix.

But Vlambeer didn’t get an opportunity to introduce most of its game design to App Store users, as Gamenauts, a Bay Area developer established in 2005, beat it to the punch in early August with Ninja Fishing. While Ninja Fishing introduces a Fruit Ninja-like sword swiping system in place of the shotgun, the underwater action, upgrades, and overall concept are markedly similar to those of Vlambeer’s title. When it was first revealed in mid-July, various websites and prominent members of the indie development community quickly began calling out the similarities. Said Nijman on the realization that their beloved game design had been clearly copied for profit, “It still hurts to think about.”

The subject dominated a large chunk of what was one of the more anticipated commentary panels at Fantastic Arcade, with the pair displaying the first email Gamenauts sent following the initial internet reaction, wherein the studio claimed it was “inspired by [the] original Radical Fishing game” and that the team wanted to recognize Vlambeer within the Ninja Fishing app for providing that inspiration. In a follow-up email, the duo said Gamenauts offered them compensation as a settlement.

“We explained that we’d rather not have their money, but instead have them change their game so it wouldn’t be so much like Radical Fishing,” admitted Ismail. “Since we kind of understood that they weren’t going to do that, we proposed that they delay their game so that [Ridiculous Fishing] and their game would release at the same time — to basically give both games a equal chance in the App Store.” What followed didn’t seem to surprise the pair. “Then they sent a very polite email that basically translates to, ‘F–k you,'” said Nijman. Ninja Fishing went on to reach #5 in the App Store worldwide rankings, he noted, adding, “I guess that’s a good indication that our game design was really solid.”

Iteration vs. cloning

But rather than spend the entire panel bagging on Gamenauts and reliving the unfortunate situation, Vlambeer opted to use the situation to initiate a constructive discussion about the differences between iteration in the game industry and developers simply cloning established ideas. Using Xbox 360 mega-franchise Gears of War as an example of positive iteration, the pair explained how that shooter revised the cover system of a competitor’s earlier multiplatform console shooter, Kill.Switch. According to Ismail, it’s a prime example of iteration, in which a studio looks at an existing game design or mechanic and works to improve it and make it their own. In his view, it’s essential for the industry to continue forward.

But cloning is an entirely different subject for him. “Cloning is when a game company — or Gamenauts — looks at a game and just takes all the answers and copies them wholesale,” asserted Ismail. “That’s a clone. And it isn’t a good thing, because clones hurt.” Ismail said the two primary aspects that cloning hurts is originality and motivation, the former of which requires no explanation. But the latter was vividly demonstrated when the pair displayed a snippet from an email on the screen behind them, which was sent in the wake of the Ninja Fishing saga by Greg Wohlwend, the artist behind Solipskier’s remarkable look who is currently working on Ridiculous Fishing’s slick redesign.

“I wake up and I can’t think of working on Ridiculous Fishing without behind reminded of this ugliness,” wrote Wohlwend. “It confuses me and stops me in my tracks. There are chunks of time, maybe 20 minutes, where I can work away and try to forget about Gamenauts and Ninja Fishing. Those are nice but have been getting more infrequent.” Added Ismail about the process of working on Ridiculous Fishing, “Suddenly, these guys come along and take away [all of] the fun we had working on the project, because every time we try to open the files, we’re just reminded that somebody was cashing in with our game design, and they were getting the praise for everything we were working on for months.”

Much of the online discussion that’s followed in the past several weeks has been in black and white terms, where people either support rampant cloning or patents on game design — but Ismail and Nijman don’t see it quite so clearly, and presented three ways in which both game developers and press can work to educate players on the dangers of game cloning and stolen concepts. The first idea is to reach out to the press and have them help make the case against copycats, but Ismail warned that this isn’t always an option, as one editor he contacted shrugged off the issue in the name of his website simply being a “buyer’s guide.”

Secondly, the duo believes game developers should make their voices heard when clones are spotted, with Ismail saying that “it would be such a tragedy if one guy has this amazing idea and didn’t make it because he’s afraid to get ripped off.” And finally, they believe that informing consumers on the context of game design will make a difference, as games require creativity and considerable effort to succeed. “We need to tell players that making a video game is hard work, and making a great video game is even more work,” said Ismail. Nijman chimed in, saying, “Right now, especially in the App Store, there’s absolutely no cultural literacy for video games. People just consume them and there it ends. With any medium, we think that sometimes it’s actually more important where something is coming from and how it was made than just the final project.”

Moving on

Despite strong support from video game fans, Vlambeer had its detractors in the wake of the
Ninja Fishing debacle. Some claimed that the studio should not make simple games because they’re easier to clone, to which Nijman responded, “We believe in minimalist game design – we think you can still make simple games that are new and that work.” And furthermore, some commenters espoused the belief that Vlambeer should not have shown its hand by releasing games for free online. In a defiant turn, Ismail said, “Just as a general ‘f–k you’ to these people, we’re going to show some of our upcoming prototypes.”

What followed were rough sketches of a couple of playable games that may or may not ever see the light of day, the first of which was Yeti Hunter, a pixel-centric first-person hunting game where you’ll hunt the fantastical creature in the falling snow. The other title was FFFLOOD, which sounds like a take on the tower defense genre, though the pair were reticent to nail down exactly what it is at this point. Whatever it may be, it certainly bears the same kind of bizarre humor found in Radical Fishing, as Nijman explained, “It’s a science fiction game where you’re cleaning out all the native animals on planets to build holiday resorts”

Neither may actually come to market, but Vlambeer remains incredibly busy in the meantime, as it is preparing for next month’s PC release of Serious Sam: The Random Encounter, a lo-fi role-playing take on the popular shooter franchise that rounds out a recent series of indie spinoffs. Ridiculous Fishing should follow sometime soon after that, plus the studio is putting the last touches on an iOS version of Super Crate Box, which is being co-produced by The Blocks Cometh developer Halfbot, which fought through its own App Store cloning saga back in January.

What was particularly encouraging about the panel was that in spite of all the nastiness that has emerged from the Gamenauts run-in, the Vlambeer duo remain largely positive and optimistic about their bright future, as well as the importance of game studios building upon and improving existing ideas. Said Nijman in a memorable exchange, “Video games can be whatever you want them to be. I guess everybody here knows that, but it’s still a great thing and we should never forget that.”

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Hands-On With Lost Mars, the iOS Sci-Fi Action-Gardening Game

Tiger Style Games’ debut release, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, was one of the first truly original App Store standouts, letting you command an arachnid by flicking it around stages, all the while unraveling a mystery as you spun webs and captured flies. The studio’s next big release looks to make a similarly distinct impression on the iPhone and iPad, this time by blending familiar play elements in a very different way with a game that features side-scrolling exploration — and gardening.

Expected to launch this fall, Lost Mars looks very similar to the 2D, side-scrolling adventures of the beloved Metroid and Castlevania series, albeit with your hero sporting a jetpack. But instead of shooting or otherwise attacking enemies in the rocky caves of Mars, you’ll instead explore the environments and plant seeds to revive the ecosystem and progress further through the campaign.

I had a chance to try out the game at the Fantastic Arcade portion of Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas over the weekend — as well as take in a directors’ commentary panel from developers Randy Smith and David Kalina — and it’s clear that Tiger Style is trying to find a happy medium between the more invested play experiences associated with console and PC/Mac titles while holding onto a user-friendly touch interface that doesn’t rely on virtual joysticks. Lost Mars began life as an earthbound cave-exploration game, but when the idea to take the concept into space emerged, the title really found its footing as a science fiction tale that blends active movement and gardening mechanics.

Your protagonist moves fairly effortlessly though the caves of Mars simply by tapping the screen for quick bursts, or holding your finger down for sustained movement in that direction; and from the bit that I played, the core approach is based around collecting different types of alien seeds called “cerobranes,” and using them to populate the ecosystem in each area. Doing so pops open a barrier to the next area, which gives you an opportunity to delve further below the surface, with a Metroid-like world map revealing a large setting to discover throughout the adventure.

While the core action/gardening approach seems fairly simple — though you can also research items and distract enemies with plants — Smith said there’s a lot of “optional deep science nerdery” for players to immerse themselves in, plus the narrative presentation includes cut-scenes and text exchanges between the player, a far-off handler, and a robot (or computer). While placeholder images grabbed from the Internet are currently being used for those text-based story moments, the actual in-game visuals are already impressive, and the subtle electronic background music really helps set a cryptic tone for the journey.

According to Kalina, Tiger Style is still deciding whether Lost Mars will utilize a universal iOS release or, like Spider before it, separate iPad and iPhone versions. One possible consideration is to release the iPad version first, since the larger screen and newer tech on both tablets offer the best-optimized experience — thus giving them more time to tinker with an iPhone version for older devices — but nothing’s been finalized. But despite the mention of gardening, this is no free-to-play affair, and it’s certainly nothing like Farmville. And whatever the final asking price, Lost Mars seems like it will deliver both the production values and lasting experience to justify the investment.

 

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Rumor: Assistant Will Be the iPhone 5 Game Changer

Assistant

9to5mac is reporting a series of alleged changes in the next iPhone, including RAM, processor, and camera upgrades. But, it is the new Assistant software that they believe will be the key feature of the iPhone 5.

According to the report, Assistant will be based on the Siri platform, and will be the evolution of the Voice Control software that first appeared with the iPhone 3GS.

9to5 pointed out that the software was not finalized when sources provided details about Assistant, and that features could change by the time it hits the market. The features their sources described, however, are pretty sweet.

Apparently, starting the software will be the same as launching Voice Control, but it is much faster to load up and with slicker graphics. That, however, appears to be where the similarity ends.

According the report, Assistant “is literally like a personal assistant, but in your phone.” The speech interpretation is apparently so precise that you won’t have to even speak very clearly or slowly; instead you’ll just speak as you normally do, and Assistant will understand.

So what might Assistant do? Well, according to the report, the possibilities are vast. Imagine being able to speak on the fly into your iPhone to do the following:
- make appointments that load right into the iCal
- set reminders that tie into Reminders
- ask for directions and get a GPS-based response using Maps
- create and send text messages through Messages
- request specific songs to be played from iTunes
- speak back and forth with Assistant in “conversation view” to get the best results
- locate your friends using “Find my Friends”
- ask knowledge questions and get immediate answers through integration with Wolfram Alpha
- vastly improved speech-to-text using Nuance that ties into Pages as well as Messages and Mail

It looks like we’ll have to wait until the first week of October to get an official announcement about whatever it is that Apple will be launching; if these Assistant rumors ring true it looks like we could be using the iPhone 5 in completely new ways.

 

Adrian covers daily news as well as the weekly Law & Apple column for MacLife.com. You can follow him on Twitter, if you want to.

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Valve Announces New Game Modes for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Valve has announced today that they are working with former Counter-Strike modders to make their game modes an official part of the upcoming title, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

The two new modes are based on a mod called Gun Game from the original. However, they’ll be getting a new name as “Arsenal: Arms Race” and “Arsenal: Demolition.” We don’t have any specifics on how those games will play, but we do know a bit about the mod they’re based on.

In the original Gun Game, players started with only a basic pistol and needed to score kills in order to gain better and better weaponry (eschewing the model of the original game which had players using points to buy whatever equipment they preferred.)

Counter-Strike has had dozens of mods over the years, and it will be interesting to see if Valve chooses to include any of those as well. Certain games like “Zombie Mod” cast some players as zombies that must “spread the infection” to other players. (Though you’ve got to use your imagination a bit since “zombies” which just players who could only use a knife.)

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