Gunpoint Preview: Best Indie Game Of 2012?

I’ve been beta-testing a new game recently and it’s too good not to share – you know, in a quick review, that is, not the actual game.  Gunpoint is a “game about rewiring things and punching people” according to creator Tom Francis. Which actually sums up the cunningly simple idea behind this superhero spy game that equally rewards thinking and aggression.  Not to mention it gives one a peek at the wit baked into this indie game.

So here’s the premise: you are spy tasked with retrieving vital info from a secure data terminal.  You are armed with your basic Spiderman spy gear that lets you leap and fall great distances as well as climb walls. Cool but the fun part is that you also get a crosslink device that can rewire lights, security doors, elevators, surveillance cameras and more.  As an example, you could wire the elevator door to the lights on a level with a guard so that your arrival kills the light and send the guard over to the light switch while you slip by undetected…  Or sneak up to pounce on him from behind and punch him in the face! The choice is yours.

Here’s another example from fellow beta-tester and reviewer Will:

I’m standing at the window of a building. Across a small alleyway stands another building, with a guard, above me, looking out. I’m safe now, but when I move my cursor into the space between the buildings, it turns red, telling me that I’ll be seen as soon as I step (or leap) outside. He’s in pouncing range, and I’ve upgraded my leap enough to propel me through the window, but there’s no chance I’ll cross the distance before he puts a bullet in me. I could shoot HIM, maybe, but I’ve still got objectives left in the level, and no time to clear them before the sniper shows up, blocking the exit.

I slip into Crosslink mode, look at my options. I’m in luck! The switch behind me is on the same circuit (devices on different circuits can’t be linked together, usually) as the lights on his floor. I hook my switch to his lights, exit Crosslink, and flick it. Lights go out, he turns around to turn them back on, and as soon as his back is turned, I pounce, crashing through the window and slamming my fist into his face. Awesome.

But those are simple examples.  You can chain together several devices to cause some pretty creative mayhem.  Think rube goldberg machine and you get the idea.  The great thing about Gunpoint is the number of “i wonder if…” ideas that actually work.  Spoiler Sentence: Watching a guard raise his gun at my head only to trigger a door that knocks him unconscious instead of tragically ending my illustrious spy career: priceless.

Pricing and release date have yet to be set, but trust me: you want this game.  It achieves an excellent balance of clever puzzles (for you) and traps (for them) with enough superhero action to feel like a real spy.

UPDATE: After many delays, Gunpoint is now available for just $9!

What Apple Needs In The iPad 3

Rumors are starting to fly furiously as the iPad’s impending launch approaches. With possible launch dates ranging from Feb 29th to March 7th, the wait is almost over.  But this launch is unique from past years as Android has finally produced an actual rival for the tablet space.  While the Amazon Kindle Fire is in many ways not in the same league as the King of the tablets, it did make an appreciable dent in Apple’s holiday sales to the tune of over a Billion dollars.  So what does Apple need to do in the iPad 3 to stay the dominant force in 2012?

  1. Retina Display – The time for a HD display has passed and Samsung is trying to beat Apple to the punch with it’s own retina resolution tablet. I can attest to the eye fatigue induced from too much iPadding and with their latest play for the textbook market this is a no-brainer.
  2. Graphical Power – 4 times the pixels in a retina display demands 4 times the graphical power just to stay in one place.  With ever more demanding games becoming a cash cow, expect this to increase by at least a factor of 8 or more.  A faster CPU is in the works but a modest bump here is all that is needed to keep things snappy with an adequate GPU.
  3. Softer Edges – Literally. The tapered edges that make the iPad 2 seem even thinner dig into one’s hands rather quickly.  Something that couldn’t have been lost on the majority of Apple employees using this product.
  4. Real Office Software – Look Pages, Docs To Go, Quickoffice and the like are merely passable.  While the office software has improved since the original iPad, it is still sorely lacking.  The first company to get this right will not only make a pile of cash in the student and enterprise market but will lock in users to the ecosystem of their choice.  Oh only has to consider the history of Microsoft to see the importance of this issue.  An iOS exclusive would put a boot on the neck of Android while the reverse could quickly break Apple’s near monopoly of the tablet space.

Finally a few things that would be great, but I doubt we’ll see from Cupertino.

  1. Matte Display – I realize the new Apple campus looks like a spaceship, but surely they have fluorescent lights in their current one.  Is anyone else tired of being able to read their own hip T-shirt in the even the slightest of glare?
  2. iPad Specific Keyboard – I realize the standard Apple bluetooth keyboard works with the iPad but many of the OSX function keys at the top don’t.  And really is it so much heresy to want functional arrow keys?  Sometimes you just want to move the cursor a letter or two without playing tap-tap revolution on your screen to get it there.  Seriously, when it’s easier to delete the last two words to just typed than to reposition the cursor to your typo – you have failed on the much vaunted “ease of use” mantra.

Again, I realize I’m tilting at windmills here, but I can’t help it.

Amazon Takes Over Low End Tablet Market

Amazon announced a new family of Kindles this morning, not the least of which was a new entry point of just $79.  But e-readers aside, the real news was the high end Kindle Fire that will all but kill the low end tablet makers.  Premium products at non-premium prices as Jeff Bezos put it.

A month ago when Amazon tablet was firmly ensconced in the mists of the future, several vendors were working hard to carve out a niche with low end Android tablets that were far enough below the iPad’s $500 floor to not illicit too many comparisons.

While many tablets competed in this space two leaders had emerged: Archos and B&N.  Archos made “personal video players” before tablets were cool, thus they were well positioned to simply add apps and ship a decent product (Apple complicated things by creating scarcity for tablet components but that had passed).  The other winner was the dark horse Nook Color.  While comparable in pricing and specs to many competitors, the backing of Barnes & Noble meant it would last – which made it a favorite for hackers.  Grab a Nook Color and use it as is or “jailbreak it” and enjoy a slightly subsidized android tablet.

All of the rest of the entrants on the low end have been noise or are still “coming soon” (at least in the US) except for two.  The original galaxy tab (7 incher) from Samsung is now old enough to be relatively cheap and who can forget the suddenly “limited edition” $99 HP tablet.  The latter served as a wake up call to the industry when they discovered people would buy a discontinued and unsupported tablet if the price was right – proving there was real potential below iPad levels.

With the state of the market it mind, we can examine the newly announced Kindle Fire and see why it will be killer – not of the iPad, but just about everything else:

  • Amazon is subsidizing the hardware cost so if you just want a cheap but solid android tablet hackers should deliver that option by Christmas.  Without content profits, most companies can sell their tablet for less than it costs to make.
  • Amazon has created a much simpler user interface than the standard android. They didn’t just add some widgets or whatnot they created a new one top to bottom.  This approached helped B&N grab market share and Amazon has done it even better.
  • Amazon’s content base is one of the few to rival Apple: books, music, movies, and more.  Content consumption is what tablets do best and most low end producers don’t have such a pipeline.  (B&N’s Nook Color will be the sole survive of the coming bloodbath for just this reason)
  • Specifically Amazon’s app store offers what Apple like protection and quality far beyond the general Google Marketplace and with thousands more apps than competing private app stores.
  • It remains to be seen just how good the Amazon Silk engine is at improving the mobile browsing experience but this another area where other companies can’t compete as they don’t happen to also own one of the biggest data centers in the country.

So at the end of the day, B&N has to drop the Nook Color by at least $50 to compete (and launch the Nook Color 2), and companies like Archos, well they would need to create a huge content selling service in the next oh – 6 weeks…

Yeah, good luck with that.

 

Why Twitter Suddenly Matters

Yes I realize that Twitter has over 150 million users – I myself have been on it since 2009. However much of this mad rush to join has been spurred mostly by two groups: people addicted to status updates and businesses chasing after social marketing. The honest truth is that a few billion tweats later, most people have said very little with their 140 characters and most businesses couldn’t even tell you if their followers have impacted their bottom lines. Sure a small share of tech savy businesses have leverage twitter well but we’re not talking about the outliers here. No, up to this point the biggest winners have been the celebrities. Sadly, more people care about Colin Farrell’s lunch selection update than your new product launch tweet. But twitter is evolving. Rapidly.

Recently some significant things have happened with twitter that will make it matter to more than the attention starved and fan boys and girls of the world. Here’s what happened:

  1. Ubiquity Critical Mass – This was bound to happen with the size of the social bandwagon as lately every phone, tablet, TV, watch, and electric razer has integrated twitter, facebook and netflix into it. The ubiquity finally paid off after some people used it to report the news before the news crews. The shift from twitter as the endless echo chamber to first on the scene is significant to its long term success.
  2. Photo Sharing – The new twitter now includes photo sharing leaving it poised to become the top such service overnight. More importantly it gives twitter a second, independent reason to exist.
  3. Steve Jobs’ Blessing – The inclusion of twitter into the bowels of iOS 5 is less of a boon to its userbase than it is a protection of its future. As it essentially moves one the big players that could threaten it’s supremacy over to its side.
  4. Feature Integration – Much of twitter’s success is due to its simplicity of setup and use. Adding features such as automatic link shortening further simplifies tweeting for the masses.Alas, none of this solves the average business owner’s problem of leveraging twitter for their own use. However for those on the fence about twitter, it may have just gotten too powerful to ignore.

Begun This Tablet War Has

After several minor skirmishes the tablet war is finally upon us!

Apple

Dominating the mindshare and market with 15 million iPads sold in 2010, it seems almost laughable now to look back at when Apple announced their tablet months early in an effort to pre-empt the Adroid tablets that largely never appeared. Creating a new market is somewhat unique position for company known for reinventing existing markets. It will be interesting to see how well Apple can leverage this position over the next year or two.While it was beginning to look grim for consumers – team android was able to beat the iPad 2 to market. Just barely. But the iPad 2 will do little change the state of this war. Many are calling this latest revision the “iPad 1.5” as it will be more like a 3GS than the iPhone 4 upgrade. Sure it will get faster – when has that not happened in tech? A front facing camera and a thinner profile are equally boring upgrades. Unlike a more pocketable phone, such slight portability differences are of little consequence.No the best chance for Apple to wow us will come from the software upgrades. Currently the iPad is nothing more than a large iPhone. Which is probably why its popularity caught everyone (including Apple) by surprise: who would have thought millions of people could use a phone as their primary computer. Apparently those at the shore of the tech pond found the water fine, while the rest of us were left scratching our heads or picking one up as a toy. To keep the sales rolling, Apple will need to add some aditional functionality into iOS and expand the number of users that could leave their PC or at least their netbook behind.

Retina or No

No, the iPad 2 is merely a bandaid to hold back the android army that has finally shown up at the gate until the iPad 3 can capture our collective imagination. For once, Apple isn’t maximizing profits with countless revisions but waiting for the right tech to hit prime time. For instance, a rumored retina display resolution of 2048×1536 would need to push 4 times the pixels of the current iPad’s 1024×768 which could choke even the fancy new dual core processors. However, quad core processors are set to hit this fall – right in time for the iPad 3.While a tablet could certainly step up to the somewhat odd resolution of 2048×1536, I wonder if Steve will limit the iPad 3 to a more familar “Full HD” (1920×1080). This is both easier to market and lines up well with content consumption while still being 2X as good as the latest Android tablets (and 2.6X better than the iPad). Apple could also shrink the 9.7 display to 8.9 and thus achieve both a “more portable” iPad and a “retina” display. I think you can see how the slides and commercials are basically writing themselves…

iPad 3

  • 1080p “Full HD” 9 inch screen (2X Droid!)
  • Quad Core processor (2X power!)
  • Smaller & Lighter! (screen + carbon fiber!)

One other important background point in this war. While the $499 wifi iPad was most certainly a shot at the netbook market, it had the effect of being the best strategic decision Apple has made thus far in tablet war. While the free and open droid allows for a proliferation of cheap tablets (among other devices), the price ceiling created by Apple left little room for third party manufacturers as it was difficult to ask more than $300 for a less powerful tablet.

Google

Google extended this price barrier last year by refusing the Android Market to anyone excluding the expensive 3G hardware. However, while Google’s insistence that Android was designed for phones at not tablets was a drag on 2.x tablets it will be a boon to the 3.x ones The timing has been somewhat down to the wire with Android 3.0 – in fact, most reviews point to the need for a 3.0.1 release to fix some quibles. But that is of little consequence in the war. The fact is that Google delivered what was needed to take on the iPad: an OS built for tablets not phones with a big screen. This is the area that Apple needs to catch up on. While iTunes boasts 60,000 iPad apps to the Markets dozen or so, few of those extend the functionality in any meaningful way. Displaying a little more content on a 10″ screen than 4″ one is not a real feature.And that is where the real arms race lies: iOS adding real tablet thinking and functionality to both the core OS and its existing apps verses Droid adding such tablet apps to its sparce offerings.

The Future

The iPad 3 will be impressive this fall. The Droid equivalents will no doubt be equitable once they show up a bit late to the party again. 2012 will equalize if not commoditize the hardware race. The RIM Playbook and the HP TouchPad will both face an uphill battle, but I think the latter has a better chance to gain some traction as the third player.Perhaps what I’m most excited about however is the future of the little guys. That’s right players like Archos who is currently producing one of the best tablets under $300. Imagine next summer when you will be able to get a 7-9″ capacitive touch screen, dual core, Android 3.1, tablet for under 300 bones. That’s a market revolution!