XCOM: Enemy Unknown coming to iOS

This is a guest post by Will Judd.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown running on iPadXCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of the best games of last year, offering an excellent modern take on the classic turn-based alien defense strategy game. One of the game’s best qualities was that due to its turn-based nature and efficient implementation, it ran well even on integrated graphics cards like the Intel HD 4000 series found on the latest round of Ultrabooks. The game worked well on consoles as well, another rarity for a strategy title. This week, we’ve learned that publishers 2K Games are using those two qualities to bring the full game to iPhone and iPad.

Unlike many mobile ports, XCOM appears on its new platform without sacrificing much of the original experience. Except for a few maps cut to fit within Apple’s size limits, you’ll be playing precisely the same game as those on PC, Xbox 360 or PS3. That’s a major achievement for any mobile port, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released only in October last year – it took Grand Theft Auto ten years to make the jump from PC and console release to the eventual iOS and Android version.

The port is being developed by 2K China, with original developers Firaxis providing guidance. The game’s lead designer pointed out that turn-based strategy games are ideally suited for touch interfaces, and 2K have already been able to demonstrate a level running on the iPad with full touch controls.

Unfortunately, there’s no word on whether there will ever be an Android release, although I wouldn’t think of it as out of the question. Regardless, the iPhone and iPad versions will be released at a premium price point this summer and could well offer one of the deepest and most enriching games on the iOS platform.

Do you think that XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be a hit? I’m personally of the opinion that it’ll be the ideal iPad Mini accessory, particularly if we see the release of a new Retina iPad Mini before the game is finished.

Thanks for reading and be sure to let me know what you think. Thanks for reading and have a good one!

5 amazing things to do on your iPad

This is a guest post written by Simon Butler, owner of Rental Tablets, which rents iPads to trade shows, exhibitions and corporate events.

So you’ve bought the iPad, downloaded angry bids, loaded up all your music and installed the usual social networking apps like twitter and facebook. Fancy doing something truly unique with your iPad that will make all the other iPad users envious?

In this post I will highlight 5 unique and amazing things to do on your iPad.

Control robots

Rover tank, controlled via iPadWhen robots start to provide footage and other visuals back to the controller, it makes sense to use a pre-existing device like the iPad to act as the remote to display the footage and control the robot. That’s exactly what the Rover Wireless Spy Tank does, it even captures night vision so you can use it at night. Because it uses wifi technology it’s able to work up to a range of 200m. The Rover retails for £99, all you have to do is download the free app and set it up to use your robot and away you go.

If you want a bit more control over your robots and want to spend your weekends tinkering away a little bit more, you can build your own robots with Lego’s Mindstorm kit. You can even build a collection to interact with each other. You can build your own little army and control them using the free iPad app.

Build a budget prompter

If you like creating video presentations for Youtube and other online video sites, this will come in real handy. For a professional feel to your videos without stuttering and better transitions, it’s best to use a teleprompter. Normally professional teleprompters are expensive. But thanks to iPad and Android tablets, the technology is now accessible for all. With Teleprompter 2000 for Android and Teleprompt+ for iOS you can important text files and set up your own teleprompter rig for cheap. There are loads of cheap reflector systems on eBay for less than £100 which you can use for professional quality recordings. Failing that you could just use the iPad front facing camera with the app and have a pretty good teleprompter for the best part of £11.

Create a 3D model of your head.

This is perhaps one of the most narcissistic things you can do on your iPad. It’s up there with naming all your children after you or putting mirrors on your bedroom ceiling. With the Sculpteo app you can take a snapshot of your face taken from the side and create a vase out of the outline of your face.

It costs a couple of hundred dollars to get it made but it’s worth downloading the app just to have a peek. The vase are actually printed using 3D printers rather than crafted on a pottery wheel.

I suspect in a few years time when 3D printers are more affordable we’ll see more companies propping up offering some pretty interesting creations.

Turn your iPad into a car stereo system

If your car came with a substandard audio system which you’re tired of, and fancy a bit of an upgrade. Why not mount your iPad next to your centre unit. RAM mount have a range of floor mounting kits for iPad which are surprisingly stable. Connect your iPad with the audio jack connector to the line in. Or USB connection if the car supports iOS connections.

For retro effect you can download the BeatBlaster app for a hi-fi system look. While you’re at it, why not try out an iPad satnav solution which will allow you to view the road on a screen twice as big as an ordinary app at a fraction of the price. Hint: TomTom is more expensive and goes on its brand appeal, but CoPilot is cheaper and better.

Express your artistic flair

Digital art is catching up and starting to gain the same recognition as traditional painted art. British artist David Hockney creates art pieces using modern technology including clever setups with Polaroids, digital cameras and painting directly onto the iPad. So, why not take a stab at creating your own art pieces? Hockney uses the iPad with an app called Brushes to create his pieces. You can get Brushes for £5.49 in the US, or on a “freemium” model in the UK. Although you can paint with your fingers for the best effect it’s best to get an iPad compatible paintbrush which can work with the screen of your iPad/Android like the Nomad Capacitive Brush.

These are five things I’ve come up with, why don’t you share your own? Having an interesting iPad application that you want to share with the world? Write in the comments below.

The Lost City [iOS Review]

The Lost City screenshotBack in 1993, a game called Myst came out that totally changed my idea of what could be achieved in video games. This was a time of poor graphics (although we thought they were excellent) and bleepy sound effects. It was the heyday of Sonic the Hedgehog and consoles like the Super Nintendo. Myst, with its beautifully rendered scenes and fiendishly difficult puzzles, was like a breath of fresh air. It looked amazing, and played like nothing else I had experienced.

Jump forward to the present day, and I recently downloaded The Lost City on my iPhone. It’s a puzzle game that places you in an ancient and abandoned city and has you solving puzzles to try and bring the area back to life. Just like Myst, the screens are pre-rendered and take on a beautiful, almost artistic look. The objects and elements within each screen comprise the puzzles and, believe me, you’ll resort to the hints and tips guide more than once!

The gameplay is a weird mix of linear and non-linear. The early puzzles felt like I was moving along a simple path to some (undefined) ultimate goal, but as I moved on I found I would have to go back and make changes to what I had already done. It felt sort of like I was moving in circles, or undoing perfectly good work, but the more I think about it the more I think it’s an interesting dynamic to introduce. It makes you think about the effects of your earlier actions, and not just put them out of your mind as soon as you complete each puzzle.

The Lost City is a beautiful little game, taxing on the mind but very satisfying when you work out how to get past a particularly tricky section. If you resort to using the hints and tips you should get through it in a few hours – more if you’re determined to work it out all by yourself.

The Lost City costs 69 pence and is available from the App Store for iOS devices.

Grand Prix Story for Android and iOS [review]

gpstoryI have to admit it, I’ve occasionally wondered what it would be like to run my own Formula 1 team. The engineering challenges of developing the best car possible, the thrill of seeing my cars come home at the end of a race (hopefully in a good position) and the glamour of travelling all round the world.

Sadly, I’m almost certainly never going to find out what it would be like, but a great little game for Android and iOS devices does give me a chance to play around with some of the concepts.

You may remember, just before Christmas, Will Judd reviewed a game called Game Dev Story for us. In that game you ran a virtual software company trying to release hit games. Well, Grand Prix Story is another release by the same guys, and has you running a racing team instead.

So what sort of stuff do you get up to? There’s car development – which starts off very simple as you only have one chassis and a couple of drivetrain options available, but you can also research different body types, drive options, and upgrades like aerodynamic wings and improved engines.

You can hire new drivers, choosing to take on a rookie and train him up, or go for someone with plenty of skill and a high salary. Hire mechanics to repair the cars after a race, and to research and build new ones. All of these people can be upgraded in some way to improve their skills and get the most out of them.

In short, it’s the fun parts of team management without the grind of having to break up fights between your drivers or explain to the FIA why your car’s front wing seems to be flexing a little more than it should! It’s obviously very simplified, but it’s still great fun. It’s worth pointing out that this really is about team management, however – you won’t do any actual driving in the races. After all, that’s what you pay your drivers for.

The key to winning is research and knowing which setups work well at which tracks. Taking a road car to an off-road track will result in a poor finish. Some of the tracks reward cornering ability, while others require a good top speed. Some even need a setup that can cope with ice. Don’t expect anything like an accurate replica of Monaco, but by knowing the conditions at the various tracks on your race calendar you’ll do better than if you just approach it randomly.

That semi-thoughtful approach really works for me. You can pay careful attention to the details if you want, or can just have a bit of fun playing with cars, and it’s good either way.

At the end of the game (which is 14 “years” long) you can choose to start again with some of your technological advances in place. Just don’t think that by taking your most advanced car with you you’ll breeze through the early races… I tried it and still struggled!

Grand Prix Story is a fun little simulation of a racing team. It captures the essence of motorsport management without becoming overwhelming or delving too deeply into detail. It’s a great distraction and, if you do have an interest in motorsport, I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Grand Prix Story is available from the Android Marketplace and Apple iOS App Store.

World of Goo HD [iOS – Review]

Blimey – it’s June already !? Better start thinking about Christmas soon ;)

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about today. I’d rather tell you about one of my favourite games. It’s not exactly brand new, but it’s worth mentioning. The game in question is World of Goo.

I first played World of Goo on my Mac, and it is also available for PC and Linux, but it’s the iOS version that’s recaptured my interest. Let’s talk about the game in general first, and then we’ll look at why the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are so good to play it on.

World of Goo is a physics-based puzzle game. The game world is inhabited by millions of goo balls, who don’t know they are in a game or that they are extremely delicious. The object on each level is to help the balls reach the exit pipe by building them into various structures. There are several types of goo balls, which react in different ways to each other and the environment.

Sometimes you’ll be using your brain to work out the right sequence of events, using the right goo balls for the right task, and other times you’ll be manically building a structure hoping to reach the pipe before it collapses under its own weight.

If that were all there was to World of Goo it would be a pretty good physics game, but nothing particularly special given the number of Flash physics puzzles you can play online for free. What makes World of Goo even better is the interesting storyline, revealed through the writings of a mysterious sign painter, brilliant cartoon-style graphics, and an amazing soundtrack (which is also available to download for free, by the way).

It’s the combination of that storyline, how it all looks and sounds, and the enjoyment of solving each puzzle that makes World of Goo a very addictive and fun game.

Now, World of Goo is good when played with a mouse, but the touchscreen interface of iOS devices takes it to another level. See, you’re dragging and dropping those goo balls to build your structures, and it just seems natural to do it with your finger. I’ve certainly found that I can build structures more quickly with touchscreen than mouse controls and it really does just feel “right” to do it that way.

In short, World of Goo is fun, addictive, and on occasions nothing short of beautiful. I would recommend playing it on an iOS device, but if you want to take a look without dropping any cash on it there are demos available for Mac, PC and Linux machines.

World of Goo HD is available for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) from the App Store. For other formats (PC, Mac, Linux) check out the publisher’s homepage.

Track your WiFi use with WiFiMan [iOS]

Last October I mentioned an iPhone app called DataMan, which tracks the amount of cellular data your iPhone is using. Since most mobile carriers are now metering their cellular data, it can be useful to keep an eye on how much you’re chewing through.

The same company has now released WiFiMan, which tracks WiFi usage.

While the bandwidth limits on WiFi accounts tend to be much more generous than on cellular, it’s a hard fact of life that many WiFi plans do still have a limit. Are you likely to run into that limit on your smartphone? Well, I guess that depends what you’re using it for.

Heavy VoIP use, video conferencing, watching TV or videos and so on can soon start to eat into even a generous bandwidth limit so, again, it’s worth keeping an eye on how much you’re going through.

But wait…

But here’s the kicker. Ready? If you already have DataMan, it does WiFi usage as well as cellular. It won’t alert you if you’re about to go over a WiFi limit, but it will track how much you have used. So you have to ask yourself whether you want to buy a second app for the luxury of alerts, or can you trust yourself to manage your data usage just by keeping an eye on the counter?

WiFiMan is available from the app store for iOS devices. But personally, if any, I’d buy DataMan.

Paddle Battle for iPad [Review]

At first glance, Paddle Battle for the iPad sounds like a bit of a rip off of Breakout, the classic arcade game that had you busting blocks by bouncing a ball around the screen on a paddle. It becomes clear early on, however, that while there are similarities, Paddle Battle is a different kettle of fish.

Yes, you bounce balls around with paddles. Yes, there are obstacles in the middle of the play-field that are eliminated by hitting them with said balls. But at the other end of the play-field is another paddle, controlled by your opponent, who’s hitting balls back at you. The basic idea is to knock out your opponent’s shields before he or she does the same to you.

Ok, so far it’s just two player Breakout. Hardly innovative, is it? But there’s more.

Destroying some of the obstacles in the centre of the play-field brings power ups. Collect these and you’ll be able to deploy guided missiles, dumb missiles, autonomous UFOs and a load of other weapons designed to distract or destroy your opponent and make it easier to get through to their shields.

An effective tactic (and I’ve both used this and had it used against me) is to save your power ups and then release them in one almighty barrage in an attempt to overwhelm your opponent. It’s fun, but boy is it hectic.

The iPad‘s touch screen also adds a nicely tactile feel to the game as you swipe your finger back and forth to move your paddle, although I did find that the rounded back (on the iPad 1) meant it rocked a little during play.

Still, Paddle Battle turned out to be a great fun 2-player game (no single player option here). It looks stylish, has enough of a Breakout feel to appeal to retro game geeks, and makes great use of the iPad’s touchscreen controls. Now if only I could convince my wife that we should use it to decide who does the dishes…

Paddle Battle is available from the App Store.

Sky News comes to iPad

Sky News has launched an iPad app that allows users to control their own interactive news service, supported by a dedicated editorial team.  The app gives you a new way to get your news: live video, expert analysis and rich interactive graphics.

The main screen is a timeline, showing the major news stories and bulletins from the day. Tap on a bulletin and you get a video which can be enlarged for easier viewing. Where the Sky News app is really clever is when there’s additional information, as in the case of the Libya and Japan stories. If there is additional information is is arrayed around the central video, inviting you to tap on it and explore the background to the video you are watching.

What I often find when watching content on, say, the BBC News website, is that I want to open a link to read some of the background but forget that by doing so I will also navigate away from the video content. With Sky News for iPad, the video shrinks into the corner of the screen and continues to play, allowing you to explore without interrupting your viewing.

Should you wish, you can also watch the live feed of what’s happening on Sky News right now. Let’s say you choose to do that, and realise you’ve missed the beginning of an item… well, you can choose to rewind to before you started watching and see what you missed.

It all feels very slick, and despite not being a big watcher of news programmes (I prefer to read it), I’ve found myself firing up the app to find out what’s happening with certain events. I actually think the Sky News app is a good template for how content makers should be moving with iPad magazines – rather than just doing an electronic copy of a mag, why not fill it with interactive and video content?

Sky News for iPad is available for free from the App Store on iPad. The app will continue be free, but moves to a paid, monthly subscription in the near future for non-Sky customers, available through In-App Purchase. Sky customers will continue to be able to access the app’s content as part of their Sky subscription.

Further information can be found on the Sky News for iPad website at http://www.skynews.com/ipad.

Have you tried Sky News for iPad? If so, what did you think? Do you see this as a good direction for media providers to take? Could this be a good direction for iPad magazines as well? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Infinity Blade for iPhone [Review]

Infinity Blade, a 3D fantasy game for iPhone and iPad, comes from the venerable publishing house Epic Games. Epic’s other franchises include Gears of War, Bulletstorm, and they were the producers of the classic FPS Unreal.

So Infinity Blade has some pretty big shoes to fill if it’s going to live up to its predecessors, but could a game on iPhone and iPad really live up to these giants of gaming?

I first saw Infinity Blade in an advert for the iPhone 4 and was immediately hit by how detailed the graphics looked. It was almost like a screenshot from a dedicated games console. Oddly, soon after seeing the advert I forgot all about it again until last week when I decided to take a look. The graphics certainly are excellent and, since you hold your phone much closer to your face than you would a TV, the screen size is comparable.

The geek in me wants to know how Epic have managed to squeeze such high quality graphics out of the iPhone, and I can’t decide if some sections are pre-rendered or not. It doesn’t matter to any extent, really, I’m just curious. However they’ve done it, the results are astonishing.

The gameplay is fairly simple, and employs a recursive storyline to make up for lack of content. I guess  I’d better explain that, hadn’t I? Infinity Blade starts off with a warrior being killed by an unnamed enemy. You then jump forward about twenty years as another warrior pledging to avenge his father’s death. This is done by battling through numerous enemies by dodging, parrying, blocking with your shield, casting spells and plain old hacking (that’s with a sword, not an Internet connection).

As you fight through all the enemies, you realise you’re working your way back to the place your father was killed… and the being who killed him. Chances are you’ll get there and die a very quick death, but this is where that recursive story comes in. You jump another twenty years as another warrior pledging vengeance. Fortunately you keep the skills and upgrades you earned during the last bloodline, giving you a better chance when you reach the big boss again.

And that’s it, really – wash, rinse, repeat until you’re strong and skilled enough to beat the end boss.

It might sound a little repetitive, but there are plenty of different enemies to defeat, with different attack and defence techniques to overcome for each. There is also an equipment upgrade system that encourages you to try out new items. Some of those items are better for attack or defence than others, and some give you extra abilities like spells or increased loot drops.

Infinity Blade is a great mix of stunning graphics and simple yet compelling gameplay. It’s not got an epic (boom boom!) storyline or anything but, to be honest, not many mobile phone games do! If you want to see what your iPhone (or iPad) can do, it’s well worth checking out. And it’s even fun :)

Apple announces the iPad 2

Steve Jobs has taken the stage at Apple’s iPad 2 event to announce the new device. There’s been plenty of speculation over what it’s going to look like, and what features it’s going to have. So now that the cat’s out of the bag, what’s the real deal?

“New Design”

It’s hard to radically alter the design of something as simple as the iPad. It’s effectively a large glass touchscreen, so what can you change? Well, the iPad 2 is 33% thinner than the original iPad, and has a front and rear facing camera. The cameras should make it useful for apps like Facetime and although it’s a but unwieldy as a camera, should mean you can at least grab a few photos with your new toy.

Both black and white versions of the iPad 2 will be available.

Faster and more powerful

The iPad 2 uses a new dual-core processor called the A5. This will give up to 2x faster processing, with up to 9x faster graphics when compared with the current generation of iPads. You would think this is going to hurt the battery life but Apple are claiming that the A5 iPad has the same low power consumption of the A4, giving 10 hours of use or 1 month on standby between recharges.

It’s got USB ports, right?

Er, no. It doesn’t seem to have any more connectivity than the current iPad, although an HDMI cable was demonstrated at the announcement that allows anything displayed on the iPad 2 to be shown on your HD TV.

Oh go on then, how much?

The iPad 2’s pricing will be the same as the current lineup, starting at $499. It remains to be seen whether the price will also be the same in the UK, but I would imagine so. If it is, the range will start at £439.

Are you in the market for the iPad 2? What do you think of the changes? Is it enough of an upgrade, or a little too similar to the iPad 1? I’d love to know your thoughts, so feel free to share them in the comments.