Do You Miss Being Read To?

When I was little, I used to like being read to. Eventually, I could read faster than any well meaning adult could read out loud, and so I quit myself of their efforts and began a marvelous journey which included Agatha Christie novels in the second grade. Little girls came from all over the neighborhood when I played Barbies to see who dun it.

However, as an adult, I often wish someone could read to me out loud when I’m commuting. NPR is fine for short news stories, but they’re kind of a one stop shop. If you don’t want to hear about cutting open albatrosses and studying their insides (a topic of “art” a few weeks ago that haunts my dreams), you kinda turn off the radio or listen to music. If you’ve planned way in advance, you have podcasts to listen to (may I recommend NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me or The Thrilling Adventure Hour if you’re looking for podcasts while you’re caught in traffic?). If you have planned only slightly in advance, there’s Umano.

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While it sounds like a Mexican wrestler, Umano started out asd a very popular app for iOS,  and now is available to Android. Umano is a large news magazine sort of thingy that allows you to pick and seek out news stories that you’re interested in. There’s a wide range of categories to choose from and each of them is regularly updated with the latest content. Each category in question has their own various news sources, with Umano favoring more feature-based pieces instead of short news stories.

To start with Umano, download and install the program. On opening, you are confronted with the option to sign in or to skip that step.  I skipped that step  as I was in the car in stopped traffic and already in “now now now” mood. Note, there was no “and go” part of the stopped traffic. The available options to select from are Inspirational, World & Politics, , Scientific, Entrepreneurial, Technology, Lifestyle, Facts & History, Entertainment, and Business. Since traffic wasn’t move at all,  I selected technology, science and entertainment, and then, blessings, the cars in front of me started going! It took a second for Umano to get spooled up and create a personalized feed. There was also a start to the article and then a brief stop as it spooled data, and then it ran well while my car was actually moving using only my cell plan, no wifi,  to get the data to the phone.

As promised, a woman who did not sound like GLADOS read me my story. Her voice sounded somewhat digitized, and listening to the next two stories by men, I realized all of them sounded like they’d been through some kind of filter that made them sound slightly robotic. What they said, however, hit all the important parts of speech in the way that a speech reader would not; it was real humans. The first article was about the things “men should stop saying” so, naturally, it was read by a woman, and the voice was snarky as appropriate, and hit all the highlights of a sentence that has actual swear words in it.

I fast forwarded through one of the stories, because when they pick technology as a category, they mean it, and I just didn’t need to hear about the specific applications of TCP/IP protocol in a new tech product when I was escaping my tech job. The skip option worked nicely. There’s a slight chime before each news story. I switched from Umano as my primary program and turned on Google Navigation to try and find an easier way home, and Umano continued to read me stories without a hitch. Switching back to Umano, I was able to rewind a story that had gotten a little lost when Google navigation was making suggestions outloud regarding my route.

Now that I’m no longer in traffic, I gave Umano another spin. I could not figure out how to create an account for Umano through my computer, nor through the app (though there might be one) without uninstalling the app and re-installing it. When I did that, I selected to create a login and it asked for my full name , email, and a password. Tsk, tsk – Umano did not verify password, so be very sure of what you enter here.

Select the topics you are interested in, and you’re off (again). Select any of the items in the suggested feed (as noted in the image above), and then the individual article will appear with the ability to play, skip, fast forward, etc. (as with the image below):

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Pressing the menu button on Android does nothing other than making a quick noise to let you know that yeah, you hit that button but, no, it doesn’t do anything.  To see options, click on the lines that sort of look like a list in the upper left corner, and you’ll be able to change your preference selection, invite friends, send feedback, log out, or change the settings.

Settings let you connect with Facebook, change your password or name, and thinks like set values if you want to autoplay the next article in your feed (or only play articles when you click on them to play). By default, auto play is enabled. You can download your playlist, set up daily reminders, and/or detect the activity of your friends (though I haven’t tried this last one and I suspect its tied to Facebook).

On the whole, for the price of free, I’m in. Traffic has been sucking BIG time lately, but I found myself sitting in my garage finishing a story before I came in the first day I tried it. It beats screen readers and its more versatile/offers more immediate options than talk radio. Take a load off, and listen to some slightly digitized real humans read to you. Its almost like when we were kids, but better.

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TripIt – Part 1

Recently, the unexpected occurred which required me to get plane tickets in a hurry. As I’m just finished switching jobs, but not yet done with the pains of switching jobs in the finance department, I needed to get the cheapest possible tickets for my family budget.

I ended up using points to get a ticket on one airline on the way to my destination, and actual money to purchase a ticket on a different airline to get the least expensive ticket at the time frame that would work for me on the return flight. As a result of my mad flight machinations, both tickets also go (or come from) different airports…I fly from Seattle to San Jose, but I fly back from San Francisco to Seattle.

I’d heard about TripIt from an internet ad (and you know those are always right and never lie to you or anything) and I thought that it might be nice to have a single program help me with the intricacies of delayed flights, knowing my flight numbers, etc. I also imagine the TSA is going to be seriously interested in me taking two one way flights, and it might be nice to have all my info in my phone where it’s easy to find every time they want to talk about it. 

So you all are the beneficiaries of my recent shenanigans. This is Part 1, where I talk about what TripIt says it will do, review what the free version gives you, what the paid version (99 cents) gives you (hint: it has to do with a lack of ads) and the Pro version says it will give you.

Part 2 will be in July after I’ve gone on my emergency trip and I report if TripIt was any better than just having Gmail queued up to my flight info.

Tripit comes in, as I noted, the three flavors. I went with the free flavor (as noted above: finances are tight). As I understand it, the only difference in the free version versus the 99 cent “paid” version is that there are no ads in the paid version. That’s it. I blew the secret kind of early on that. 

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This is pretty much the worst of the ads (although in the actual working version you get the dates and the flight info, I took that out because not all of you need or want to know when I’m coming and going). 

But, I get ahead of myself.

To get TripIt, go to the Google Play store and download it and install it. Then you can either manually enter a trip, or you can do what I did and live life dangerously (although less dangerously as I’ve tried it and – so far- nothing bad has happened) and allow TripIt access to your email; in so doing, it scans your emails, finds flight information, checks to make sure it’s current (for example, that trip you took 4 years ago isn’t going to show up, but the one you booked for six months from now will, provided you have an email confirmation), and then plugs it into the program. There appears that there’s a way to forward emails from your inbox with your itinerary information to TripIt and it can build trip information for you in the program that way, but I honestly couldn’t figure out how to do that and opted for the “please read my mail for me, don’t make me hurt you for violating my privacy” method, instead. For a full explanation on the forwarding of emails methodology that involves gnomes, you can check out their “secret sauce” video here. Gnomes are usually good. 

Now, while I’m getting free car rides while I’m on my trip, and I’m couch surfing, as well, TripIt will also organize your hotel, travel, and other needs (ferry, train,etc.) if you have an email confirmation (or want to hand enter the info). This is pretty awesome to me, because my husband typically takes all that info, distills it into a word document with the occasional word spelled incorrectly, and then prints out directions and other interesting tidbits about where we’re going and he’s not coming on this trip. So, I already have high hopes for TripIt because I can already see all my data on my upcoming two flights.

Once you’ve got the data in there, you just click the flight info (in the above image, it would be the Seattle to San Jose link) and it records all that pesky stuff my husband usually copies and pastes or hand types. It also provides easy ways to share this itinerary info with other people through Facebook, Google Plus, or just emailing them. You can also add TripIt information into your Google Calendar (it gets access when you give it permissions with Gmail, then you go into settings and select “Add TripIt to Google Calendar”). 

To see a list of all your upcoming stuff (and not just the first in the list) you can click on the “upcoming” button. Then it gives you links to your upcoming activities (as one would hopefully expect). 

So far, my issues with it are the amount of extra clicking I seem to have to do. It’s not enough to click what you want, you usually have to click to get a little further in. The extra itinerary info is helpful in that it stores your flight number there, but unless you have Pro, it’s not really all that additionally helpful unless you want to put in notes yourself. 

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And that leads us to Pro. Pro costs $49 per year. Its advertising swears that it will notify you of flight delays. It will help you find alternate flights if yours is cancelled or delayed too long. It will keep track of your rewards points all in one place (for example, I have points on Alaska and Virgin, and right now I have to log into their respective Apps or websites to see how many I have).

Pro also indicates it will help you get refunds if it notices the price of the seat you’ve taken on that flight has dropped, which often happens without most of us ever actually noticing. Most seats on a commercial airline are sold at vastly different rates to the people to whom the butts in the seats belong, depending on when they bought their ticket and where they bought their ticket. Buying in an allotment to a discount site can net you one price, buying well in advance directly can net you another, and calling a representative and talking to them on the phone can net you a different one…and lots of other factors. This app will track the price of your seat and if it can find it commercially available through the Internets, it will help you get refunded the difference in price. 

The existing ability to notify people of your flights is manual in the free tool. With Pro, you can set up automatic alerts regarding flights (though I am not sure how) and apparently there “VIP Travel benefits” with Hertz and Regus Gold if you purchase Pro. 

Pro has a 30 day free trial that requires a credit card; I am always wary of “trials” that only end when you call and cancel, which I’m notoriously awful about remembering to do. 

On the whole if it does all it says it does, Pro seems pretty awesome if you fly more than twice a year. Obviously if you have a job that has you flying for business once or month or more, it looks like a great tool for not going completely crazy (automatically notifying your spouse when your plane will be late might save some marriages).

 I typically fly between two and four times a year, so it could be of use to me. Saving money on the price change of your seat could, for example, easily cover the $49 cost. As noted above, however, I’m living life on the cheap for now, and I want to see how well it runs me through my upcoming flights before I make any further investments.

More on TripIt when I get back. As always, leave a comment if there is an app you want me to review.  

 

 

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More Wallpapers: A Volcano, a Stick Man, and Retro Fighting

Breaking up my summer obsession with games, I bring to you another installment of “cool wallpapers I think are nifty.”

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Let’s start with the volcanic live wall paper, called Island Nights. You get some good visuals and options  for the price of 99 cents. The camera opens on an island (as you’d expect from the name) with a hut, dock, fire pit, tiki mask, hammock, mountains, etc. Things get interesting with the volcano in the background that is slightly erupting (enough to look cool, but not enough to destroy the small camp you’re looking at). There is a sign post (which you can customize), a name for the village posted (which you can also customize), how much smoke you want out of the volcano, tiki torches (which you can choose to have lit or not as well as whether or not they flicker), fireflies (which you can disable or enable…honestly, when I have the chance to have fireflies, I take that chance), foliage, and the moon. You can decide to remove the moon, or what phase you’d like of it, and you can add shooting stars (one, none, or a meteor shower). The camera, per default, does some gentle panning, though you can alter that in the settings. You can also alter the performance settings, one of the first times in these 3D panoramic wall papers that I’ve seen that option. Thus, you can control how much of your battery is sucked out by this wall paper. You can zoom, swoop left and right. I find it soothing; I also find that, like a lot of live wallpapers, it does eat your battery, but its nice to be able to determine just how fast (without having to change to a non live wallpaper) using the settings. It is also called Island Nights, so you pretty much get a night scene, always.  I’m pretty happy with this one, and am keeping it in my regular rotation.

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Next, I’m reviewing Stick Man Fun Live Wallpaper. It is important to note the exact name of the wall paper, because there are A LOT of wall papers featuring stick people. One that I will not mention by name nor link to has the stickman doing things you really don’t want your kids seeing. So this one is much more PG rated. I’d rate it entirely G, but I’m not sure how you all feel about alien abduction, stick people doing “the worm” dance move (as in the image above), or stick people that have a lot of flatulence while they’re sleeping. Those are a few, but not all, of the animations this little stick guy will do on your screen. On the whole it’s cute, but it gets old kind of fast; the animations run fast and you go through them very frequently.  Despite being free, it appears there are no ads in this version, which does make up for a bit of repetitiveness. Finally, it doesn’t seem to chug the energy too much, which is good, because it’s really not doing that much, even as a live wallpaper.

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Lastly, I’m going to take a look at Retro Fighter Wallpaper. While you don’t actually watch any fights or run any fighters (this is a wallpaper, after all), it re-creates many 16 bit landscapes where such side scrolling fighters used to take place. From the wheat fields of Mars (yes, really) to the pagodas of Atlantis (also, yes, really) and a lot of different environments in between, your screen can remind you of yesteryear and mashing multiple buttons together in an effort to beat the tar out of your friends in a fighting game.  I love the slow pan through the environment, and the old fashioned pixelated, animated graphics. The wall paper is free, but you do see ads when you are in the settings selecting which of the environments you want to pan through as your wallpaper. This wallpaper had better performance than Island Nights, but it is a lot less complex than Island Nights and therefore requires less energy over the long run.

That’s it for now. As always, if there’s anything you’d like me to review, please leave a comment. Enjoy!

 

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Non Standard Games (Games Games)

This week Google tried something a little different: they released a Skee-ball  game that can be played with two devices paired through their Chrome operating system/ The game is called Roll It, and it is expected to be played with a computer and a smart phone (though apparently other configurations of tablets and computers and phones are theoretically possible).

The game can be played on Android or iOS, but I have only tried it on Grace, my Samsung Galaxy S3. 

To play, install Chrome on your mobile device and on your desktop (or any variants–tablets, etc.) The mobile Chrome can be found here for Android, and the desktop Chrome can be found here (it is also available for iOS).

Once you have Chrome installed and ready to go, visit the URL g.co/rollit on both devices.  Follow the instructions on the desktop (it will take you through a couple of options to confirm you know what to do) and then you’ll receive a code. Enter the code into your mobile device.  Your computer and the mobile device will do a handshake, and then the game will load. 

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The first game will be old school Skee-ball, with rings of varying values. Subsequent levels move the rings around and change things. 

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On the mobile device (aka the Skee-ball), the following screen will appear. You can use the arrow at the top for aiming, and, as the image shows (and demonstrates), you swing the mobile device at the desktop.

Accidentally letting go of the device is an issue. Being too far away or too close can mess with your aim. Throwing too hard will result in various cool sound effects (but not actual scoring help with the game), from a breaking window to a screeching cat. Don’t be like me: over throw only if you want to hear the noises. If you have auto-landscape/portrait mode on — where if you tilt the device it automatically goes to landscape or portrait — you should disable it as it can affect the mobile device’s ability to be a ball in the game.

Other than not letting go of the ball, its remarkably like Skee-ball (or as close as you can get in your own home without the arcade. Speaking of which, it plays arcade music. Constantly. Its fun at first, but if your significant other is like mine and you intend to play a while, you should probably mute the game. All together, a very fun and interesting experience, much like the first time I used a Wii or Kinect. 

Now that we’ve covered the new school, on to the old school end of the spectrum: I’d like to re-introduce a really old game, by Penn and Teller called Desert Bus. The game was originally made for an unreleased Sega CD game collection of their’s called Smoke and Mirrors. For complicated plot reasons, the company producing the game went out of business, but the game itself never really died.  For other complicated plot reasons, the game has been made available in other formats, and recently been ported to Android by Amateur Pixels. 

For uncomplicated reasons, the game is not incredibly popular because the point of the game is to drive a bus through the desert from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada, in real time. Yes, real time. The bus kind of pulls to the right and can go a maximum speed of 45 miles an hour. The entire game, providing you don’t crash, leave the road, etc. (all of which will get you towed back to Tucson to start over, no matter how close you were to Vegas), takes over 8 hours to play and because of road variations and that fun slight veer to the right, you have to pay somewhat constant attention to the unending road in front of you.

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As a fund raiser every year, a group called Loading Ready Run plays the game, all the way through, but with the port to Android (and iOS) you can purchase the game for a mere 99 cents and that money also goes to the charity Child’s Play (as an aside, Child’s Play was created by Penny Arcade to both help kids and improve the images of gamers everywhere; their organization and a lot of the activities that come out of it send a lot of dollars to Child’s Play yearly). 

While the whole retro feel of the thing is pretty cool, unlike many games, I’m going to recommend you don’t download this one. Other than the retro feel and giving money to charity, I see little entertaining in it (which is sort of the point being made by Penn and Teller). I’m not sure how much old school cred you’re looking for, but playing this until your mobile device runs out of power seems, well, pointless, and in some cases mean. Perhaps you could dare someone you don’t like to do it?

That’s it for this week. Enjoy, and, as always, if there’s anything you want me to review, please leave it in the comments! 

 

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Games Games Games (Will She Ever Stop?): Live Wallpaper Edition

Last week I got ill (summer plague going around the office) and my computer died. The computer has resurrected (kind of) and while I’m still recovering, I think we’re both (for now) through the worst of it. So I’m back with more games, this time in live wallpaper format.

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I touched on Pixel Zombies in a previous post (just a passing comment in another set of reviews on Gauli) but I feel it deserves a little more attention that that.

As you can see from the screenshot above, every expense has been spared graphically in Pixel Zombies.Otherwise, I guess it would be some other kind of zombie thing. When you load it as your live wallpaper, you get a default number of hunters, zombies, and normal citizens. You also get unlimited nukes. The zombies turn the normal citizens and the hunters (if they touch them) into zombies. The hunters find the zombies (usually by bumbling around the screen) and shoot them from a distance, hopefully killing them. You win based on how you feel about blue or red being the victor. In the base version, you get ads; you can purchase to support them and to remove the ads. Both versions allow you to select the number of hunters and zombies, and to set the size of the nukes. You can participate in the doom/victory of the citizenry by pressing on various parts of the screen, which set off the nukes. The larger the size set, the more coverage of the screen is gotten (and the more pixel people are wiped off the map). I prefer the smallest setting, to try and get a “tactical” nuclear deployment experience. 

Despite far fancier wall papers, I find myself returning to this one over and over again. Its very simple, and as soon as everyone’s a zombie or no one is the game restarts, but I find it endlessly interesting and not a bad price at “free.”

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(Note in the same Gauli post I mentioned I Love You Not — pictured above — which is really more a toy and anger management tool than a game, but included with screenshot because I think it’s fun. It retails for 99 cents at Amazon. Keep an eye out for future “toy” posts). 

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RPG Live Wallpaper is fun, but I’ve found it a tiny bit clunky. Also available for the low price of “free,” Purchasing the full version (which I haven’t been able to find) will apparently unlock additional options. However, I did enjoy the free one just fine with the options available. You use your finger to guide your protagonist around the screen, and end up having encounters with monsters/villains which result in cash and/or magic items (also levelling you up along the way). The clunky part for me has been trying to move around the screen. If you like calls back to the old 16 bit games where the controller randomly stopped moving your guy for no reason, you’ll like this. It seems to eat up a lot of energy on my phone, as well, wearing down the battery life very fast. I never progressed very far in the game because swearing while slowly trying to move my finger just so overcame my natural desire to hunt and kill monsters in my live wallpaper program. 

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Shooting Gallery Live Wallpaper comes in free and a paid version. The free version has ads. It definitely does what it says it will do: you shoot, you hit things, you score. The problem is that I apparently have some kind of phone entertainment ADD, so while I had this on Grace (my Samsung Galaxy S3) for a while, it is no longer there. I mean, I like shooting things, and it makes great sounds (if you have that turned on) and its always on (since it’s a live wallpaper) so you don’t have to call it up (like a game). However, it gets old kind of fast, despite the various options and additional level opportunities and mysteriously flying Captain America-esque shields with targets on them. It does eat as much energy as RPG Live Wallpaper, but certainly more than Pixel Zombies. The visuals are actually very good for a free game (very 3D aspects to the game), so on the whole, a good deal…but only if you really like shooting games. 

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Last and (kind of) least, is also a shooting game live wall paper, more in the style of Bubble Bauble, is Space Junk. Your shooter is fixed in the center of the screen and you shoot a wide variety of junk that flies over head. The free version has ads, and while there is a lot of space junk, the game gets older faster than Shooting Gallery because of the fixed shooting position. I’m all for killing the occasional alien as well as satellite, and being an astronaut typically beats the hell out of being in the old west for me, but that’s where the allure stops. If I had ADD with Shooting Gallery, I just tried this game once and put it down. Still, for free, and if you like shooting games with an outer space theme, this might be the game for you. It eats up a little more energy on your system than the Shooting Game (not sure why, as I ran both free versions).

So, there you go. Blow things away at your own discretion in whatever theme you like best.

As always, if you find something you like and want me to review, please let me know! Enjoy these, and I’ll continue on the road to recovery (and hopefully my computer will, too). 

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Games Games Games: Physics Puzzlers (sort of)

This week is all about physics puzzlers, for values of sometimes questionable physics. These are games riding the coattails of Angry Birds and all their ilk, but which are still pretty fun in their own right.

Physics puzzlers are both a mental puzzle–how do I move X to get Y over to Z?–but they also include a little bit of hand/eye coordination…and sometimes a little luck.

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The first game up for review is Contre Jour. In this game, you’re trying to get the little black monster into the blue circle. It sounds relatively simple, but then the world sort of warps and changes. From gradiating the turf to move him around, to winging him by his appendages, Contre Jour is a mix of Where’s My Water and World of Goo, both pretty awesome physics puzzlers in their own right, but with somewhat different physic puzzles trying to be solved (and also both with free options, which Contre Jour doesn’t currently have–to try it, you have to buy it for the price of $1.99).

Levels progress in increasing difficulty, but without terrible spikes of being stuck in any one place for too long. But the crowning achievement of this game are the graphics; each level is a tiny piece of artwork in your hand. Other puzzle games are cartoony and they certainly get the job done, but this is a great game to be playing when a cute girl (or guy) bumps into you while you are waiting for friends on a night out and asks to see what you’re doing.

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If you are up for cartoony action and are tired of alligators and their water issues, I recommend a similar game with the Phineas and Ferb theme, Where’s My Perry. The game is based on a running gag in the show that Perry is a secret agent who inevitably disappears as the boys start their massive science experiments/robot building/space craft racing/whatever day to go and fight evil, typically through the use of various secret passageways and tunnels, to get his mission, so he can fight the (very mildly) evil Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz…it is a Disney show, after all.

Where’s My Perry was built as a tie-in to Where’s My Water, and I actually kind of like it better. The show theme appeals, but the extra sciencey gadgets and gizmos shake up the “normal” physics of the “move stuff out of the way so other stuff can flow” concept of this type of physics puzzler. It starts with a free version, and then changes up the pay model typical of most Google play games by charging per sets of missions. For 99 cents you get 7 levels which is 140 different puzzles, plus the original puzzles included in the free edition. That’s a lot of play time for under a buck. Also, I didn’t really mention the gnomes:

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In both the Perry levels–where you’re helping Agent P–and the Doofenshmirtz levels–where you’re helping Evil Incorporated–you are collecting all kinds of weird gnomes. It’s also a running gag on the series and they have a lot of fun with it in the game. Collect the right amount, and unlock extra surprises, levels, and options in the game.

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Finally, in this week’s round up, I recommend Slice It. Instead of flinging birds, swinging goop, and digging tunnels, you are carving two dimensions polyhedral shapes. Okay, that sounded way more boring than it actually is. The challenge appears on the graph paper on the screen with the shape to be carved; it starts out fairly simple, having you carve a square in half, and gets gradually more complex as you go along, such as cutting things that aren’t nearly as symmetrical as a square into “equal” pieces. You are scored on a scale of 1-3 stars (sound familiar?). Each level progresses in difficulty from the first one. While it’s not quite Fruit Ninja in terms of action, cutting up poor defenseless shapes can be very tension releasing. I imagine its probably not bad for your younger crowd; it teaches shapes and spatial awareness without them really knowing it (heavens knows I didn’t realize it until later).

That’s it for this week. I hope you’re enjoying my “summer games games games” posts; more to come. As always, post or reply to me about any games you recommend I try.

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Games Games Games: Gamebook Edition

As noted in my last post, Games, Games, Games: Puzzler Edition, I would be doing additional posts about games. This week, as you may have guessed from the title, will be about Gamebooks/Storybooks.

A Gamebook is a lot like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the 80’s. In the original Choose Your Own Adventure books (still available today, say in places like Amazon), choices you made at the end of the page directed you to a different page in the book, allowing for branching plot lines and for choices you, as the reader made to affect the outcome of the story. This is not to be confused with Chick Tracts, which were also popular in the 80’s (although in my groups of friends, typically an object of derision: I didn’t want to be Elfstar, either, because it was a stupid name. I’d prefer Debbie any day). 

In a gamebook, this idea is carried a little further than in the choose your own adventures. Some gamebooks allow you to randomly generate and select among the options generated for how good you are at certain things (typically 1-3 traits) and those numbers are used in contests you run into through the course of the gamebook, The choices you make on each page plus the resulting contests between your traits and a number selected by the designers of the game book determine the story outcome and can introduce new plots as well as explore existing ones.

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Designers also often include graphics to punch up the gamebooks; the more professional the art, usually the more cost to the gamebook.

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My current favorite is Wizard from Tarnath Tor by Tin Man Games. Not a ton of downloads on this bad boy, but its been a lot of fun (and I’ve died a lot). It’s not a free game–in fact, it’s the 6th in their set of gamebooks, and I don’t think any of them are free (I am also a rebel as I’m totally reviewing things out of order). 

You start by selecting the difficulty level you’d like to play at; classic is hardcore, very few “save” spots (they call them bookmarks), bookworm is probably “average” in terms of difficulty, and novice is definitely “easy” mode. Next, you roll for Vitality and Fitness in this game book, which then derive two additional statistics, Defence and Offence (spelled that way). Once that’s settled, the story begins (and doesn’t start well for you…I mean, how many good plots start with the hero getting everything he already wanted? That’s boring). You meet a newly made wizard who pays you to take him to Tarnath Tor.

Along the way you pick up items and cash. The items can affect your statistics to change the outcome of conflicts; inevitably, you will never have enough of all items to manage all outcomes and while cash helps you acquire things that will help, you never have enough of that, either. Figuring out how to use your resources and make good choices is a lot of the fun in this game, and despite the fact I’ve keeled over on bookworm setting several times, I keep coming back for more. 

The game does have a cheat mode, music, sound affects, etc. So if you’re really stuck and need music you can select it…or, if you’re dying constantly you can select that, too. I’m not sure its worth the current price in the Google Play store of $5.99 (I like my entertainment under $3 usually), but its still a lot of fun with a lot of good artwork.

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Wizard’s Choice (I do play other games besides Wizard based ones, and you’ll hear about them in the future, I swear) by Sam Landstrom is the low, low price of free for the first chapter (the first taste is free. Unlike Wizards of Tornath Tor, Wizard’s Choice does not do a trait randomization (you start with values in Health and Mana as set up by the app itself). Unlike the other gamebook reviewed, you don’t have to select combat, if it happens because of a choice you’ve made the operations involved with that are done automatically. Subsequent chapters are $1.99 each (though I haven’t tried them yet). 

Per the story itself, “You are a young wizard seeking treasure and glory” and that’s basically the plot; try to survive it and achieve those goals. There’s a fart joke on the first page, and the writing is not as good as other gamebooks I’ve tried, but the artwork is simply amazing black and white sketches (most of the time, there is the occasional bit of color added). For the price of “Free” I recommend you try it; if the stilted writing and occasional lame joke doesn’t bother you, definitely try later chapters. For the moment, I’m going to keep trying to live through Wizard from Tarnath Tor.

Let me know any gamebooks you like or would like me to try in the comments!

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