A Casual Casualty: Flappy Bird

Just as Icarus’ portentousness resulted in death, Flappy Bird, the hugely popular casual game from Vietnamese developer, Dong Nguyen, seems to have flown to close to the sun. Hastily removed from both Google Play and Apple stores yesterday night following a Twitter announcement in which its creator accused the game of “ruining his life”, it looks as if this short-lived app phenomenon now belongs to the annals of time.

But with the game generating an alleged $50,000 through advertising revenue and turning Facebook walls into a forum for bragging and frustration, why was the decision taken to clip its wings? Was it for artistic and principled reasons; did the independent Nguyen loathe his ascendancy to the top of the mainstream consciousness? Probably not.

Perhaps the apparent threat of legal action from gaming giant Nintendo led to its grounding. Indeed, the game’s theft of Super Mario Bros’ iconic green pipes is blatant, and additionally, its crudely-drawn eponymous bird bears more than a passing resemblance to the antagonistic fish that feature prominently in the aformentioned’s underwater levels.

Or maybe it has ceased to exist because of accusations that several bots were deployed to bolster the game’s downloads, presenting an illusion of its success and popularity and thus spiking app store activity.

But whilst we can jealously sit around for weeks on end and eke out the real reason for Flappy Bird’s quarantine, we’ll probably never know the truth. So let us not rejoice at its death but celebrate what made it so bloody addictive.

There’s really nothing about the game’s design that screams complexity or complication. It’s based on a freakishly simple concept; tap the screen to guide the bird around as many pipes as you can. Its graphics are laughably plain and its mechanics can be picked up by anyone in possession of an index finger. And it’s this home-made feel that made the game so endearing; no expenses wasted on focus groups and big-wig researchers/ trend forecasters, just an endless runner that provided its players with endless fun, endless frustration and endless playing time.

William Shakespeare’s Polonius, a character featured in Hamlet, once spoke the sentence ‘brevity is the soul of wit’ and it’s clear that Flappy Bird has followed in the footsteps of Temple Run and Candy Crush Saga in appropriating this sentiment for the mobile gaming market; simplicity is the key to the happiness of the gamer and to lining the pockets of the gleeful developer.

In fact, Flappy Bird’s only complication resides in its deceptive task. How hard can it be to manoeuvre a miniature bird around a scattered array of pipes? Just ask this guy. And his reaction is just one shining example of both the game’s addictive yet highly irritating qualities. These sensations are best conceptualised in this clip; thrilling, tempting and painful in equal measure. Yet, you could never resist just one more go at showing those meddling pipes who was boss! And another. And another. All the time attempting blithely to justify your shirking of real-world responsibilities.

Dong Nguyen has vowed to remain active as a gaming developer but it’s doubtful that he will ever be this triumphant again. Flappy Bird may be gone but its legacy crows an important message to game developers; don’t overcook and over-think your app, take simplicity under your wing and you’ll soar to success. Casual gamers are sitting ducks.

‘Appy New Year!

Infected as we all are with the January Blues, it’s hard to believe that just three weeks ago it was Christmas Eve. The one day of the year where all of the anticipation gets too much for eager children awaiting Santa’s arrival and all culminates in the most restless sleep of the year. Well, that’s how my day usually unfolds anyway!

But in recent times, tech-loving kids hope not for modest gifts but bank-breaking tablets and smartphones. Just as desperate parents went mad to ensure that their offspring’s stocking was filled with Sony’s first Playstation and/or a replica Buzz Lightyear in 1995, in our increasingly technological world, nothing will suffice for a child but a hyper-sensitive, vastly-intelligent and highly-connected device such as an iPhone or an iPad. And it’s a demand that also extends to the bigger kids amongst us.

Where Christmas Day used to be a time for family and the forming of memories, it has now become a time for surrendering oneself to the virtual world and sharing Christmas not with the nearest and dearest smattered around us, but the anonymous communities that make up the internet. Speculative reports suggest that Apple’s application sales flourished on the day (no doubt due to the purchases of many new device owners), with the company reporting a download increase of 161% in the UK. Apple appears to be reaping the benefits of a shrewd autumn release schedule that succeeded in whetting the appetites of hungry consumers on the eve of Christmas, consolidating its reputation and considerable influence in the mobile world.

So, in between sporting flimsy, multi-coloured party hats, laughing at labourious cracker jokes and trying to stuff as many pigs-in-blankets down their throats as humanly possible, what were app-store addicts downloading on Christmas Day? Other than a few choice anomalies (Subway Surfers, Cut The Rope 2, Despicable Me), the free apps that were downloaded merely signposted the homogeneity of the times, exposing how established apps have developed a monopoly over the online activities of internet users.

Ubiquitous apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Candy Crush Saga and Facebook ranked highly in Christmas statistics compiled by 148Apps. Notably, the preceding apps scarcely left the top ten of either the Android or App Store markets throughout 2013 and their popularity was cemented as the festive season reached its peak. A distinct trend between all of these apps captions our era; that we, as humans, prefer to communicate with others (whether known or unknown) through a virtual lens, valuing the opinions and views of the online world much more highly those of our own, physically present families.

Or maybe I’m still being a bit of a humbug. Happy New Year!

Playstation 4 and Xbox One’s App Battle

Coinciding with the release of two hotly-anticipated next generation consoles, Sony’s Playstation 4 (already available in the U.S and launching here on Friday) and Microsoft’s Xbox One, debuting today across the globe, both companies have created companion mobile phone apps with the aim of further enhancing game play and gaming experience.

Respectively entitled the Playstation 4 App and more inventively, the Xbox One Smartglass, it appears that both Sony and Microsoft have realised the value of having an individual app to compliment their main systems; the success of Facebook, Twitter and Ebay as Smartphone shortcuts are a huge testament to this. But it certainly seems for the most part that both of these apps supplement, rather than enhance or add any real substance to, the games that each user plays.

The PS4 app allows users to ‘shop on the go’ and download games from a remote location that will be sent straight to their main console system and pioneers a type of instant messaging that optimises the speed of communication by eschewing conversations controlled by the console remote in favour of IMing friends through an easier ‘texting’ method. There’s also a system in which players can schedule, for lack of a better phrase, ‘game dates’ with friends, sending a notification including the time and date to their friend’s console or app.

The fundamental features of the Smartglass are remarkably similar, but probably less well executed than the PS4’s, with Microsoft’s ‘shop on the go’ only getting items ready-for-download rather than actually downloading them and a method of instant messaging akin to the PS4, as well as the ability to browse the accounts and trophies of your friends from the comfort of their Smartphone.

The only really groundbreaking element of these two apps is that, with a handful of titles, each companion can be used to assist game play. Preventing gamers from rubbishing Microsoft’s claim that the Smartglass is a ‘second screen to elevate gaming experience’, certain aspects of games such as Ryse: Son of Rome and Dead Rising 3 only become apparent if played with both console and app. In these examples, the Smartglass presents itself as a sort of Easter Egg for players savvy enough to deploy it in conjunction with the main game. Yet, for the most part, the companion guides, commentaries and behind-the-scenes footage that populate the app are more curious and interesting than useful, and all a bit superfluous to gaming experience.

The PS4’s incarnation of the ‘second screen to elevate gaming experience’ is perhaps a little more clear-cut with big-name games such as Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty making full use of this exciting new feature to augment their gaming content. To be utilised in conjunction with a player’s tablet, AC’s additional app content consists of picturesque, detailed maps that are replicated on the big screen whilst COD grants the ability for a secondary player to compliment the tactical warfare of the main action. Sony, unlike Microsoft, has also allowed developers to use this ‘second screen’ technology for free, so expect an influx of new innovations and features as the PS4 becomes an established console.

PS4’s ‘The Playroom’, is a slice of augmented reality geared up to allow players to draw inanimate objects on their tablets or phones and fling them into a world of AR robots on their TV screens. Sound confusing? See it in action on Jimmy Fallon. Devoid of any practical application whatsoever, it’s aim is purely to entertain and flex Sony’s considerable technological muscle. But that’s what console games are all about, to entertain and offer a way of escaping from reality into a virtual world.

Two competing apps released by two gaming heavyweights to support the launch of the latest addition to both of their console catalogues. Which is better? The PS4 may just edge it owing to its more fleshed-out use of the ‘second screen’ to enhance game play but there really isn’t much to choose between them. Equally effective, and arguably both rather elementary and superfluous. But, watch this space.

Apple’s iBeacon in Action

Apple’s September launch of iOS7 may have set the hearts of the tech faithful racing and clogged up your social media feed, but one of its key features has yet to come to full fruition: the iBeacon. As I mentioned in my article The Power of Push, the delicious new fruit of Apple’s labours is designed to act as a type of virtual shop assistant, guiding customers through aisles and stores with a string of helpful and informative messages. Not only is the technology pioneering a more interactive and intimate consumer shopping experience but, if deployed effectively, can become a powerful mechanism for generating revenue.

Included in its operating system update, but largely ignored by Apple in the marketing of iOS7, this valuable feature is finally going to be put to good use. Reportedly about to be made operational in several of their U.S stores, this visionary marketing tool heralds the future of the retail experience. Set to go live in the next few days, the iBeacon, imbued with the latest in location technology, will be fully capable of being aware that an iPhone or iPad owner is in store and will deliver notifications such as promotional deals and details about upcoming workshops directly to their phone or tablet interface in addition to assisting in-store navigation.

Possessing many similarities to the burgeoning push notification trend in company marketing strategies, such as our own Dojit Notify, the iBeacon is Apple’s embracing of the ‘context-aware’ phenomenon, formulating relevant messages to potential consumers based on location and purchase history. Of course, this technology can certainly become a lucrative one for any retail business and if this upcoming launch proves to be a hit, expect the high street big guns (McDonalds, Starbucks et al) to adopt Apple’s latest innovation.

Indeed, an iBeacon-laden application has been demoed by Major League Baseball team, the New York Mets. The app provides stadium visitors with a map in which to locate their seats, interactive ticket passcodes and deals on the food that can be purchased at the event. Although only a trial, the Mets’ demo showcases how the iBeacon can be used to personalise a spectators’ baseball experience, optimising their enjoyment by always being on hand with vital information.

A feature that puts the customer first whilst also augmenting business revenue, the iBeacon represents the best in cutting-edge technology, and once fully up-and-running, will enhance the retail and event experiences of its user and provide brands with an incisive way of retaining consumers. A clever asset to your smartphone and a beacon of hope for struggling businesses.

The Trends of Top 5 Apps

The sheer abundance of applications vying for attention and selection on the App Store and Google Play is enough to make the aspiring app developer keel over in horror at the prospect of attempting to make it big in such a massive, and often unforgiving, market. Yet, a quick scaling of the top 5 most popular free apps on both iOS and Android-served devices reveals that there are many trends within the market’s most downloaded.

Currently perched proudly atop the App Store’s free-to-download list is Bitstrips. Garnering its frantic popularity from its affiliation with Facebook, this comic book-influenced application allows users to create their own detailed avatar (as well as those of their friends and loved ones) and place these characters in mundane or zany cartoon landscapes, accompanied by a humorous caption. The outrage that these harmless images have received from miserly internet commentators has done nothing to dent Bitstrips’ runaway success. Bitstrips’ social media credentials when coupled with its simple blend of wit, social interaction and accessibility has allowed its developers to target a wide, and ever-expanding, audience.

The third-highest shifting free app on iOS appears to have elevated simplicity to a higher art form. Its minimalism is reflected in its every detail, most notably in its elementary name, Dots: A Game About Connecting. Setting its user the simple challenge of joining as many matching coloured dots as possible in fewer than 60 seconds, the rudimentary content of the app does not undermine its enjoyability but merely enhances it. A variation on the Candy Crush, Bubble Witch and Bejewelled formula that tests its users’ skill, composure and speed in completing an easy task over a short time period, Dots is once again proving that developers should be going back to basics to produce a game that is as addictive, accessible and in the words of its creators, ‘easy and fun to play but difficult to master’, as this one. As would be expected from such a game, this title subscribes to the Freemium model, and offers users the option to purchase add-ons to help them achieve higher scores and optimise their gaming experience.

Also operating to devastating effect on the App Store’s free chart is the official Dunkin’ Donuts App. Demonstrating the awesome repercussions that investing in mobile technology can have for an already world-renowned and flourishing brand, with this app, the American snack giants have added another string to their well-defined marketing bow. Pushing exclusive offers directly to the palms of those in possession of the app, providing a useful store locator and encouraging owners to send a virtual gift card to a hungry friend, the app has proven to be a sumptuous way of increasingly Dunkin’ Donuts’ revenue, consumership and consumption by exploiting the Smartphone as a revolutionary marketing channel, granting their advertising department immediate contact with the consciousnesses (and rumbling stomachs) of their clientele.

Bringing up the rear and occupying fifth place in the race (well, sort of, as the other four are noted for their ubiquity) to be crowned most popular free app on Google Play this week is the rather colourful title, Jelly Splash. Following the example of Dots, Wooga’s hit game is all about connecting objects, this time substituting the former’s coloured dots for fluorescent jelly shapes. True, the game bears more than a passing resemblance to King’s aforementioned money magnet (Candy…) but its theme of connection cleverly mirrors how social interaction and social networks drives the success of apps such as these.

In a virtual world where people are obsessed with sharing their every activity (see Bitstrips) with others and who are not content until they have rocketed to the top of a particular game’s leader board, Jelly Splash’s themes reveal that the key to an app’s popularity is simple: it’s all about connection. Its Facebook-generated leader board encourages the inviting of friends, the challenging of loathed ones and facilitates the endless bragging that clogs up News Feeds across the globe in notifications that appear something like this: “I’m on Level 73 of Jelly Splash, have you got the nerve to outdo me or are you as shaky as the eponymous foodstuff?” This app owes all of its success to people relishing interaction, conversation and competition, the same elements that drive addicted players to throw money at supplementary and (at-first) small in-app purchases to progress more quickly through the game than every body else.

Although Dots and Jelly Splash may be harbingers of an army of Candy Crush Clones set to flood the market, their success proves that players can just not get enough of matching colours and beating the clock. And anyway, isn’t Candy Crush just Tetris with sweets?

Google’s four remaining top-shifters merely underline the previous point, with the irrepressible Facebook followed by WhatsApp, Skype and Ebay in the rest of the chart. All of these apps promote social interaction and connectivity, with Skype encouraging face-to-face video conversation across the web and Ebay cementing its place as the pre-eminent virtual one-stop shop where the savvy consumer can nab a bargain. It is increasingly apparent that applications are no longer the exclusive province of fantasy worlds and escapist games but have many real-world (excuse the pun) applications. Linking your app to social media (both physically and thematically) is the way to ensure of healthy downloads and consumer recognition. The world may have migrated online but the human impulses for connection and competition remain, albeit in a more virtual vein.

Clash of the Tech Titans

With a rivalry that closely resembles the fierce and brutal nature of Muhammad Ali’s legendary tussles with Joe Frazier or the bitter, ego-fuelled mutual loathing of warring Hollywood starlets, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the eternal battle between Apple and Google rages on. Teasing tech-lovers with small glimpses and snippets of its latest operating system, the KitKat, ever since Apple was on the cusp of releasing their own divisive system update, iOS7, a few months back, Google have cut through the mounds of rumours and unveiled a concrete version of their new tool, which is available in the LG built and freshly-released Nexus 5.

Continuing the tradition of christening their numerous system iterations after popular foodstuffs (clearly a certain fruit never rocks far from the tree), the KitKat sees Apple’s biggest revenue rival establish a partnership with confectionery juggernauts, Nestlé, in an effort to boost profit and overthrow iOS dominance. Importantly, this union does not feature a transferral of money between the two companies but is more akin to a quid pro quo agreement with Google promoting one of Nestlé’s most-loved chocolate bars to its customers and in the region of 50 million Kit Kat’s being sold in special Android-emblazoned wrappers. A mouth-watering deal for both, with Nestlé imparting their substantial marketing knowledge in exchange for an augmentation of its own profit margins through new and exciting technologies. As part of a whirlwind marketing campaign, Google and Nestlé produced this advert, a witty and intelligent trailer that waxes lyrical on its own design features and simultaneously takes a ferocious and condescending bite out of an iconic Apple slogan.

Whilst many iPhone users are still wallowing in regret after updating their devices with Apple’s much-maligned system improvement, technology critics have been busy expounding the merits of its Google counterpart. The Kit Kat’s ability to run on smart phones that were released far from recent memory removes any trace of exclusivity and drives the accessibility of the iteration, and when coupled with a cleaner-looking screen that doesn’t look like it was designed by ‘a 13-year-old girl (see the previous iOS link) and significant advances in its lauded Google Now application, it has definitely cemented its popularity with those in the know. Although the Kit Kat is unlikely to infect your Twitter feed or Facebook wall for weeks on end a la the launch of iOS7, its critical seal of approval and the notion that existing Google software runs on 80 percent of the world’s smartphones, should be ringing alarm bells at Apple HQ.

App Annie’s third quarterly market analysis for 2013 revealed that Google Play downloads were leading iOS by a healthy margin of 25% due to the rise of smartphone users in South American countries like Argentina, the formulation of a middle class in hugely-populated Brazil and the contribution of the emerging BRIC countries to the mobile phone market. Google still trail their counterparts substantially in terms of revenue generation but it seems that with heavy critical acclaim, solid user approval of its services and systems and the support of a universally-consumed food brand, it’s only a matter of time before Apple’s financial hegemony comes under serious threat from its youthful competitor. Seconds out! Round three.

Games: The Moulders of Minds?

Due to their links with American high-school massacres, pre-meditated murder cases and a recent robbery that culminated in the theft of the victim’s copy of the best-selling Grand Theft Auto: V, video games have always attracted a magnitude of bad press. Yet, in some cases, the attributing of violent atrocities to aggressive and graphic console titles are unfounded and perhaps a little unfair. Politicians, pressure groups and parents are all guilty of mercilessly blaming the risqué features and controversial themes of these games for the occurrences of such tragedies and the apparent manipulation of pure minds into committing acts of murder and crime. Yet, a recent study and experiment conducted by Texas A&M University, which involved putting 103 participants through an initial stress-inducing ‘frustration task’ before ascribing them each a different type of game to play, a variation of either a ‘non violent’, ‘violent’ Good vs Evil or ‘violent’ from the perspective of the ‘bad guy’ title, did much to disprove this finger-pointing. The results recouped suggested that the ‘violent’ sort of video games actually reduced the tension, stress and depression experienced by an individual: a destroyer, rather than a stimulant, of violent tendencies.

Official US governmental figures support this finding, as violence perpetrated by young people is at its statistical lowest in 40 years. Whilst this is not to suggest that the accessibility of video games is accountable for the decrease in crimes committed, it does undermine the notion that these genres of game always inspire dangerous and psychotic behaviour. Indeed, noted academic, researcher and criminal psychology expert, Christopher J. Ferguson, puts this discovery succinctly and sharply, viewing the widespread assumptions that motivate whole communities to demonise video games as a ‘classic error of using a high-base-rate (very common) behaviour to explain a low-base-rate (rare) behaviour.’ That is to say, using Ferguson’s example, that just because 93% of American male children have played Street Fighter II that this has clearly not created an army of aggressive individuals and should not be held accountable for the despicable actions of an overwhelmingly small majority. It merely seems that violent video games are the newest scapegoat on which society can pin abhorrent crimes, the latest recipient of a collective hatred in a long line of culprits, following on from controversial works of art, literature and music, in generating frantic moral panics.

With this evidence in mind, it is fitting to turn the focus to the video and mobile games that are being used specifically to affect the brain in a positive way and seek to rectify the negative publicity that permeates the gaming industry. Dr James Rosser, a general surgeon based at Florida Hospital is a proponent of utilising video games to improve the performances of surgeons and doctors during operations. His vision, which began in 2001 and is still very much in action today, comprised of encouraging surgeons to spend a maximum of 6 minutes before theatre appointments, playing the Nintendo game, Super Monkey Ball 2. As absurd as it sounds, there is method in Rosser’s apparent madness, as in a simulated operation experiment that involved 300 participating medical personnel, where 50% played the Nintendo title beforehand and 50% did not, the unlikely gamers returned some highly positive results.

Rosser’s experiment revealed that the set of game players made 37% fewer errors and were 27% faster in the imitated operation than those who were not subjected to his wacky warm-up. The reasons for these marked improvements probably derive from the need for Super Monkey Ball 2 players to make sharp, precise movements, adopt a multi-tasking approach and demonstrate a steady sleight-of-hand, three factors required for a successful surgeon. As a reported 98,000 patients die from medical errors in the US each year, a larger embracing of this practice may be instrumental in improving surgical competence and saving lives.

In addition to augmenting the mental focus of the surgeon, scientists and researchers are also striving to develop games that slow the onset of cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease and the decline in brain functionality that occurs as a natural part of the human aging process. A recent participant study chaired by Adam Gazzaley at the University of California made use of a specially developed game entitled NeuroRacer to enhance the memory, processing and concentration capacities of its test group of 46 60-85 year old participants. Importantly, a subsequent activity where these capacities were measured against those of a control group unexposed to this game, found that the cognitive skills of these aged NeuroRacer players were sharper, more agile and better functioning than their contemporaries.

Gazzaley attributed this success to the newfound ‘plasticity’ of the human brain and how it can in fact be re-moulded and re-energised by engaging in certain activities regularly. Fittingly, further research has discovered that if gamers play casual problem-solving games, such as Bejewelled or Candy Crush Saga, more frequently than watching television, the quality of short-term cognitive function can be increased. Whilst we are still many years away from implementing a cure for both Alzheimer’s and the inevitable reduction of brain functionality in old age, it is clear that keeping an appointment with a simple instruction-based or IQ-testing game or app can stem the rate at which these can take hold.

As well as video game technology earning a place at the forefront of medical and scientific practice, the gaming phenomenon known as edutainment (a portmanteau of education and entertainment) is establishing a prominent position in the commercial market. Rosetta Stone, the world-renowned provider of language-learning kits has recently taken to iOS to unveil a pair of mobile applications, designed for adults and children and entitled Arcade Academy and Lingo Letter Sound respectively, which encourages the player to use basic Spanish phrases to complete simple gaming tasks. Instead of exposing gamers’ minds to the brutal atmosphere of war, Rosetta Stone are embarking on the task of strengthening the linguistics of the consumer and broadening their mind in a positive sense.

Games may no longer be purely for entertainment as the aforementioned list of practical applications for this technology demonstrates. Despite an abundance of research that invalidates accusations that games are responsible for violence and crime, the new-found trend of doctors, scientists and developers using and producing games that actively try to improve the mental wellbeing of the individual will prove vital in this industry’s attempts to shake the heavy scapegoat tag that weighs down its creativity and freedom and questions the morality of most of the games that it produces.

Visit The Gallery Today!

Catering for the customer and developer in equal measure, the internationally-renowned iPhone Apps Gallery is the website of choice for application lovers everywhere. Boasting a substantial catalogue of applications, elegantly divided into categories such as ‘Sports’, ‘Social Networking’ and ‘Entertainment’, the site’s wealth of knowledgeable and tech-savvy writers review and rate the latest mobile releases on iOS in order to help the average consumer make an informed choice in picking the app that is most suited to their needs.

Working in a similar manner to film and music aggregation sites such as Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, the App Gallery’s concise, cogent and informative reviews assist the casual phone owner in navigating an often confusing, intimidating and grossly over-saturated App Store. Reinforcing their investment in the happiness of the consumer, the Gallery additonally provides visitors with a seemingly endless list of free apps to download and explore, a genuine tool for optimising the mobile phone activity of the typical user.

Yet, iPhone Apps Gallery also bridges the often gaping gap between the consumer and developer. Offering independent developers a platform to showcase their latest wares, the website is curated by a diverse palette of writers who utilise engaging, colourful and arresting copy (or allows developers to add their own app descriptions) to raise awareness of a brand amongst their site visitors. Both developer and user can be assured of a fair and trustworthy assessment of each and every app on a website whose impressive collection of app reviews puts contentment and satisfaction in your hands.

Are Games Really That Interactive?

The introduction of the Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move signalled a new era for video gaming. This suave new technology sought to improve player interaction with the games on their television screen, trading in the traditional controller for a highly sensitive sensory system that allowed the real-world movements of players to manifest themselves as in-game actions. Geared up to facilitate a more realistic gaming experience, anything from a user’s punches (in the case of Wii Fit’s boxing option) to their speed and agility could affect and defeat an on screen opponent, taking interactivity to a higher level.

However, despite an ability to faithfully mimic intricate human actions, gaming technology still has much to improve on before capturing the complexity of the human condition, at least from a psychological and emotional perspective. Indeed, realism is often hindered by the rigidity of the inner mechanics of a computer-based console game which can usually only travel in a linear fashion and adhere to strict rules to guide the player to the game’s conclusion, interrupting the creativity, spontaneity and innovation of the individual. Take, for example, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas, a title with highly sophisticated graphics but one with a lone premise, to shoot and defeat terrorists and do so minus the emotional trauma that should accompany acts of murder. The narrow nature of the game is such that it constructs clear binary opposites between good (the player as a member of Rainbow Six team) and evil (subversive, stock character terrorists), creating a rather limiting and one-dimensional universe.

It is fair to say that this variation of game is much more popular than Japanese release, Way of the Samurai 3. This game is unique in its dexterity and density as, instead of training your character to swat aside all opposition, users can make informed choices to surrender or apologise to fellow combatants. Here, a player’s choices enhance the in-game reputation of their character, their acts of heroism venerated but acts of treachery and violence leading to scorn and hatred. This feature ensures of a deeper emotional development of character, and one that directly affects the direction of the game’s plot, a player’s actions resulting in one of over fifteen alternate story lines and conclusions. A rejection of pre-determined plot adding to the realism and fluidity of the game.

Unfortunately, games that explore the inner psychology of their characters and analyse the morality of their actions as the story line progresses are all too rare. Grand Theft Auto: V, notable for its nihilism and immorality but jointly recognised as a social satire, is soaked in a culture of violence and sexual depravity. Some have claimed that this merely follows the trend of investigating society’s anti-heroes such as television drama, Breaking Bad’s, Walter White but the game’s active encouragement to murder a prostitute and kill enemies by offering trophies as rewards, seemingly validates, and prohibits the player from questioning, this gratuitous behaviour.

Away from the content of a game, developers are however utilising the latest technology, particularly in relation to mobile applications, to optimise a player’s overall gaming experience. Whilst the majority of these games follow a conventionally linear and fixed plot, the rise of push technology is breathing new life into formulaic titles. This is the philosophy behind Dojit-notify, which sends out personalised push messages in relation to a user’s in-game location and their skill level or ability. Designed to help developers liaise directly with a mobile player by helping them through difficult portions of a game, this service adds a further dimension to, and bolsters interaction with, mobile phone games.

Player interaction with games is certainly a multi-faceted beast with some interactive elements displaying far more progression than others. Physical interaction has definitely reached its zenith in the sophistication of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony’s movement-detector consoles and devices and developer-consumer interaction is advancing healthily with the rise of push technology. However, the most difficult variant of player interaction remains that of emotional mimesis. The dominance of games that substitute the liberty and morals of the player for the fulfilment of a basic, unalterable plot should be a clarion call for all aspiring developers to design a game that grants players freedom of action rather than bowing to the tyranny of tradition.

The Growing Intelligence of Apps

If the invention of Apple and Android’s ‘automated personal assistants’ (the respective iBeacon and Google Now) and the burgeoning usage of push technology (see Dojit-notify) are anything to go by, we really are, as a recent Urban Airship report suggests, ‘moving into an age of hyper-personalised media.’ Whilst this revelation may be influencing some wayward developers to produce questionable and controversial applications, such as this highly offensive application which gratifies the basest of human urges and normalises the sexualisation of women, for the most part apps are being created that improve the day-to-day lives of the every person. As mobile technology is now capable of tracking user location to a precise degree and building an intimate profile of how, and why, an individual uses their smartphone, ultra-intelligent applications are staking an impressive claim in both the marketplace and our personal app libraries.

From helping smartphone users bolster their music database or genuinely offering a service that can save lives, featured below is a short list of the market’s most useful applications:


Heard

Released in conjunction with iOS7, this is the app that lifts the iPhone to even greater heights. What can you add to a phone that already has everything? Well, the ability to reverse time, of course! Despite a distinct lack of the fabled flux capacitor (although if anyone could successfully deploy this technology, I’m sure it’d be Apple), this radical ‘time machine’ feature allows users to recapture the past and record moments that would otherwise be confined to the ever unreliable province of human memory. Running the app’s recording function in the background during a family meal or party, without causing major harm to your phone’s battery, ensures that life’s defining moments can be captured at the tap of a button, with the app recording in five minute gaps and giving users the chance to rewind, find and store memorable words in an easy way.

Circle of 6

A product of Tech 4 Good Inc, a start-up founded with the aim of reducing and combating social violence (sexual or otherwise) through mobile technology, Circle of 6 is a reliable and accessible application that ensures of the safety of its users on a night out. Based on the premise of inputting the contact details of a ‘circle of 6’ friends into the app, this innovation sends coded messages to the user’s trusted network to inform them that the sender may be in trouble or danger. The ‘Car Icon’ makes use of the aforementioned location technology, utilising GPS to find a user’s whereabouts, backed with the message “Come and get me, I need help getting home safely.” A second icon, ‘Call Me’, prompts one of the circle to ‘interrupt’ a situation that may have become awkward or uncomfortable and provide a friend in need with a reassuring line of communication. Easy to use and an important tool for people on dates or alone in an unknown place; Circle of 6 prioritises user safety and security by maintaining a constant connection to their friends and families.

Flipboard

In a world saturated with media, 24-7 news channels, websites and traditional newspapers, it can be hard to find and absorb the stories that matter to us the most. Perhaps influenced by the Independent’s concise publication, the i newspaper, Flipboard offers its subscribers an aggregation of the day’s most important events, and includes an option to customise the topics and categories covered. Highly functional and possessing refined graphics, this iOS-exclusive tool lets you ‘flip’ through your own personalised newspaper and engage with the topics that are most important to you.

Soundwave

The era of the mix tape may be dead (doubtlessly soon to be followed by the humble pencil that was once required to wind its content back inside) but Soundwave is putting sharing and recommendation back into music. Soundwave is a savvy system that collects the music listened to by your friends on social media sites, which succeeds in generating a dexterous and diverse new library for your ears to explore. Yet, it is certainly the ‘music map’ tool that is the most exciting feature of this new app. Drawing a circle around a map of your current location (whether city, street or building), this intelligent service will formulate a playlist informed by the music that is being listened to in the surrounding area. Therefore, not only does this app provide users with an abundance of new listening material gleaned from both strangers and friends but will accurately capture the feeling and vibe of an area, shining a light of the type of people who populate it.

The Ping

Developed by the Kenyan Ushahidi, a small group who made use of interactive mapping to track areas of violence and promote peace in the wake of their country’s 2008 election results, the Ping functions in a similar manner to Circle of Six. Directly inspired by the recent terror attack that took place in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, this app allows its users to create a list of valuable contacts, including family, friends and lovers (to which each of these people add the details of another person) to ensure that everyone can be reached in the event of an emergency. If an act of terrorism or a natural disaster occurs, the app can be set up to contact all members of the list and await a response. Once a reply has been received, that person is marked as ‘safe’ and their relatives can rest easily. This is the sort of technology that would have reduced some of the trauma and anxiety of people waiting to hear news from their loved ones after high-profile atrocities such as 9/11 or the London bombings. Ushahidi is dedicated to utilising mobile technology to save lives and encourage safety, creating applications that expose the truth and make the world a better place.

It seems that applications no longer solely exist for play but for pragmatism and practicality, a hyper-sensitive technological phenomenon that adapts to the needs and well-being of its owner. Mobile phone applications have now become extremely useful to us as individuals and are invaluable assets to the modern world.