Monthly Archives: January 2013

Far Cry 3 – Vertigo and dangerous chickens

Far Cry 3 is turning out to be a really interesting gaming experience, and I know having talked on Twitter and Facebook, many of us are sharing the same joy and pain of this massive free roaming jungle shoot/drive/fly/hunt/swear/avengeathon.
Like most free roamers it starts with some training, in this case it involves sneaking around and escaping to try and induce a little bit of tension and panic. This is interesting in that you start off panicked and wanting to avenge the death of your brother by the bad guys. He seemingly was a soldier, and you as a main character are not. However within minutes of the starting scenes you are armed and off dealing with things and attempting to rescue your friends who are now hostages. Of course at this point you are no longer so restricted by the tutorial as this is a free roaming environment you can do what you want to your own level of competence.
The game doesn’t let you do quite everything straight away though. You are restricted in some of your skills, which you have to earn skill points from mission and challenges to unlock the usual extra powers, swimming for longer, running more, being able to steal a bad guys knife and throw it at another for a double take down… the usual stuff 🙂
You also have to be a maker, gathering the flora and fauna to craft new holsters to carry more weapons, and a bigger satchel to carry more… flora and fauna and even have to make yourself a bigger wallet to carry all the cash you are making from the various trinkets.
The map of the massive tropical island is locked, though unlike some free roamers that does not stop you moving around anywhere. To unlock the map view of a sector you have to scale a massive radio tower and flick a switch. Yes this is a little like Assassin’s Creed eagle points and yes this game is published by the same people :). The climbing is a little bit clunky and difficult as this is a first person view but there is something fascinating about ascending these towers. It manages to induce a wonderful sense of vertigo once you get to the top.
Far cry 3
The still pictures just don’t do the effect justice. There is a great sense of height both from the visuals and the fact that you have struggled up quite a few platforms to get to the top so you know you are up in the air. However it is the alteration of the camera, your eyeline view that gives the most wobbly feelings. The camera makes you sway, your hands move a little as if balancing and it all tips a little. It is also combined with a wind effect that seems to tie in nicely. The whole tower feels and sounds as if it is fragile and flexing in the wind and taking you with it. I have not really experience that sort of gaming vertigo even in the massive heights of Just Cause 2 and Crackdown (probably due to those being 3rd person views). The last time I played a game and felt that tingle in my legs from height was in the original Tomb Raider on the Sega Saturn. Climbing up and and some very wobbly platforms feeling on the brink of falling all the time (even though that was 3rd person too).
One of the great joys of Far Cry 3 is the ability to really choose how you are going to take down an enemy outpost. Outposts make the map glow red and mean enemy patrols will find you wandering around as picking flowers and shoot at you. Taking an outpost makes it rebel territory and a bit safer. It gives you a locker to refresh all your ammo and a fast travel point in case you don’t want to drive around for hours.
An outpost has alarms, if they get triggered you will find you get a stack of pirates descending on you. So you have a choice. You can sneak in and disable the alarm before then dealing with the occupants, or you try and deal with them all really quickly before they can sound the alarm. Other options do present themselves. Sometimes the guards are more gung ho and if you create a disturbance outside they will come charging out at you rather than hitting and alarm. This makes for some great “rambo’ moments as you set traps and mines whilst picking off each aggressor. (Yes this is an 18 rated game BTW!) However it is not so much the violence that marks it 18 but the plot and the language. Even the loading screen occasionally pops up the F word (not Flora or Fauna!). As you sneak up on guards they are usually telling their mates of their displeasure with their lot in no uncertain terms. There is also an air of malice in the air, which you often forget if you are doing the side tasks and exploring, but as with all free roamers you have to get involved in the main missions to progress properly.
If the pirates and brigands were not enough of a threat though the island is teaming with wildlife they are very wild and seem to want to take your life. Tigers, panthers and bears are an obvious danger. You hear a roar and then get ready, but the ones that were the most surprisingly aggressive and have ripped me apart the most are the chickens. Technically they are not chickens they are in fact Cassowary big ostrich/emu like things. There you are sneaking quietly through the undergrowth to an outpost and squawk, squawk, rip, rip…dead. Luckily the same doesn’t happen with the giant tortoise though which seems to be the only thing that doesn’t was to kill you. You can craft things to make wildlife leave you alone for a bit but the tension of suddenly getting attacked, or having to keep an eye out for such things makes the jungle feel more random and dangerous. So it is annoying, but in a good way.
I still have quite a way to go on this game, but as its a free roamer the joy of just going for a drive or a stroll, picking a mini task to complete makes it very playable. Sometimes starting a mission can be a worry in case it sidelines you away into a must do piece of not so free roaming action, but that is again part of the fun. You get to appreciate the freedom more when it is taken away occasionally.

In-app purchase scam – Mustang Tuning Crash

This evening I happened to look at a couple of incoming emails from my apple account, to be greated by two in app purchases of £34.99 and £99.99. Having a family of apple users and not being able to do sub accounts we tend to run all the devices on 1 account. The predlets are very good about asking for downloads, plus they don’t have the app store password. So things seemed to be ok until these invoices.
It appears that an app called Mustang Tuning Crash was the culprit. It seemed to have been a top down simple racer, aimed at kids and casual gamers. However it appeared to have an in game app purchase delux version that clearly one of the predlets hit the menu option for. At no point was there any password challenge, just instead “unlocking” something or other for nearly £100.
I have no idea how anything like this ended up on the apple website given they apparently strict submission procedures.
The apparent developer of this has a number of kids style games many with in app purchases. I have no idea if this is a rogue app that the developer has been hacked or is a deliberate rip off or a loop hole in the rules.
Apple responded offering a refund, though I replied I was more concerned the rip off was sorted out. I had already contacted my credit card company and so my card was now cancelled. This is of course hugely inconvenient with so many recurring online payments in place. However it was best to check. I also remove any credit card from the itunes store.
I am not sure how many other people have fallen foul of this but it all seems rather suspicious especially as the Developer “anibal soares” appears to not be very well represented on the web.
So whatever the loophole/hack/mistake is make sure you look out for in app purchases. Turn them off in the settings, but please avoid this app. If it is a genuine mistake then I will let you know but for now its a great way to lose £140 on a couple of clicks and I am sure the game was not that good (though I deleted the things from everywhere I could).
****Update 23/1/13 I wrote to Apple as a separate complaint from the one dealing with my particular money issue. I am due a reply within 48 hours.
I referred to the comments and how many of them appeared to be spam names or automated in some way too.
There is not an obvious fraud or dubious behaviour section. So I had to label it with “quality of content”.
Hopefully they will act as this is surely not in the terms and conditions, though apple do have a wide set of standards I hope common sense prevails.
Here is the note I sent via the Apple website.
“Last night I reported what appeared to be fraudulent in app purchases of £99.99 and £34.99.
On further investigation it appears many of the apps by developer claiming to be Anibal Soares have a similar set of extremely dubious in game content prices.
I am surprised that this content made it onto the app store and I am assuming that there was a gap in the update process that meant these were not fully checked? I am not sure if they have been hacked or if the developer is doing it deliberately. Some of the content seems to link to THE TOP BEST COOL FUN & FREE GAMES LIMITED registered (but current held by a chartered accounts firm) registered in at companies house as 08127720
The reviews of the app appear to be generated names giving the apps 5 stars they do not look in general like people.
Please can you confirm you are going to investigate this suite of apps please as it breaches a number of the app review guidelines. I would expect that a strict review can be done under “11.11 In general, the more expensive your App, the more thoroughly we will review it” as several hundred pounds of in app purchases must draw some attention.”
**Update 23/1/13 As much of what I do is about understanding how technology and trends impact us a people I have to hsare the observation about the impact this has had on the predlets. Predlet 1.0 being slightly older but the owner of her own ipad mini understood this was something that should not happen, but you can accidentally be caught out. So she has chosen to spread the word amongst her friends to look out for this app. Predlet 2.0 being slightly younger took this to heart a bit more. Despite not being told off, the explanation of what happened definitely had him worried. This morning he talked about it out of the blue again and said “but dad whenever it said buy I did hit cancel you know”. I explained that it was the same as if you have something stolen. You try and be secure, look after things, but sometimes people choose to take things from you. If there is blame it is with the people doing the stealing and scamming. Very classy though to pick on kids!
**Update 24/1/13 Still waiting to hear how this is progressing both from my reply to the original refund and to the specific extra request to investigate. So I did tweet to @AppStore too just in case. “@AppStore you need to investigate the £99.99 in app purchases should not have passed inspection? … still waiting to hear?”

***Update 4/2/13
I contacted Apple again asking why I had not heard any more. It would appear the reason was as they had refunded my money then everything was OK. Clearly it is not. So it would appear that no further action was being taken.

“Nadia here from the iTunes Store. I understand that you have not hear anything in regards to the charges you reported . I can certainly appreciate how motivated you must be to get this issue resolved quickly, and I would be more than happy to help you out with this today.

The order you are inquiring about was refunded on January 23, 2013, and should be available within 5-7 business days from the date it was processed.Please contact your credit card company regarding questions about when the credit will be posted to your account.

I just want to take a moment here to clarify for you what you were actually charged for. The items that you were billed for are what are known as In-App purchases. These are paid enhancements for apps. Things like weapons, items, extra levels, and other enhancements are types of in-game purchases which often fall into this category, and this is what you actually purchased, most likely unintentionally.

The Application ” Mustang Tuning Crash Chase” was free, and this is the Application that was used to purchase the in-app items. The in-app purchases were for “Deluxe Mode” and “Fun Games” to be used when playing ” Mustang Tuning Crash Chase.”

Whenever your iTunes Store password is entered on your device for your account, it is stored for up to 15 minutes, allowing new purchases to slip in without being prompted for the password. If, during those 15 minutes a new item is purchased (without being prompted for the password), those 15 minutes will start over. ”

So I am trying again! I have asked that they move this up from whatever 1st level support it is currently in. Or am I missing something that really was worth scamming people for £99.99 with a terrible little app?

****Update 5/2/13 This is probably getting a little bit silly now. I am trying to report a scam but Apple does not seem to have a “dealing with a scam” section anywhere. I just got a reply stating this.
“Thank you for getting back to me with this information. I see that you are very concerns about this app and believe that it is a scam and should be removed from the store. I will surely provide you with all the information I have in order for your concern to be addressed.

Ian as I stated in my previous email. I strongly suggest that you submit any feedback you have about this particular app at Apple’s Feedback page:

Our team will review all your suggestions and concerns and take the appropriate actions. If you continue to have any questions please let me know.”

So the answer to dealing with a scam is to just leave some feedback. None of those sections have anything even approaching the category this needs to be dealt with. I have asked that i get put through to the fraud department, or at least somewhere that is not level 1 support. It is not the support desk’s fault, I understand that, but I am not happy with a fob off of ask someone else by filling in another form. I wonder if there is a regulatory body that deals with these things?

****** Update 7/3/13
Having gone back to the apple itunes helpdesk with a response that this really needed to be handled in a different way and could they pass me to someone appropriate I was given another huge brush off. Presumably from the helpdesk flowchart.

“I see that you do not feel that our feedback page is the appropriate channel for your request. Ian I am truly sorry for any frustration this issue has caused and I can understand you desire to get your concerns address in regards to this purchase.

I have contacted a senior advisor in regards to this issue and they advised me that our feedback link in the best avenue in order to address your concerns. Our feedback page allow for suggestions or improvements as well as customer concerns and it is regularly checked. They also advised me that you can submit multiple request as well as having your friends and family submit there concerns about this issue using the feedback link.

Thanks for your understanding.”

This really seems strange as I have pointed out to them I am already in contact with the company and they should be the point at which this gets passed on. So I am trying one more time to get passed to the right people. I still can’t see how the comments box, not having my family and friends fill it in too is supposed to help in anyway. I am trying here to help other apple users? I do not understand them not being able to at least take a look and see?

****** Update 7/2/13 part 2.

Having written back to the helpdesk in order to try and get an explanation about why a rip off application (or genuine mistake) of this nature is allowed I attempted this response.

“That is really an unacceptable response as this is not a minor suggestion. It is not very joined up of apple. The app is on the store and that is where the link is to raise a concern.
Please put me in touch directly with the right people not redirect me to another web page where we have to go through this again.
I am considering reporting this to local authorities which I am sure is not the sort of thing that apple wants ?
Whatever your help desk process is this needs to be escalated up several levels.
I would be happy to talk personally to your supervisor as I am sure it is just the process that is failing here not you personally”

I appear to have hit some sort of counter on the helpdesk process though….. The response being this……

“I see that you believe that is issue to too major and providing feedback will not correctly address this issue. I can definitely relate to your concern as you believe this particular app is a scam and would like to report this issue.

Ian, as an advisor to the iTunes store, I cannot comment on the functionality of the in app feature for that app. Each application is built in with a possibility of upgrading and or purchasing upgrades to certain apps and games. As for this being a scam, please note that this has always been a feature and this is a feature you can turn off on your device. I would also ask that you submit feedback via the link I provided earlier. Rest assured that all submission are review our feedback link is the best avenue for your concerns to be addressed.

To turn off In App features on your devices, please follow these steps:

1) Tap Settings on your device’s home screen.

2) Tap General.

3) Tap Restrictions.

4) If necessary, tap Enable Restrictions and enter a passcode. This passcode will prevent restrictions from being disabled without your permission.

5) Scroll down to the Allowed Content section. Switch the In-App Purchases option to OFF. Enter your Restrictions passcode if prompted.

Ian I am sorry but I need to let you know that we’ve provided as much information as we can about this issue. Please note that Apple now considers this matter clearly addressed, and future replies requesting information beyond what we have clarified will not be responded to. Thank you for understanding”

So thats it, no more responses from the itunes store wheer you are able to register a concern or complaint. They seem to consider that my individual concern over money taken is all that mattered and that my concern for other people is not relevant.
I am sure it is just english cut and paste but “As for this being a scam, please note that this has always been a feature” may say it all.
So what now? This post is getting very long, but this need to be resolved Apple?

************** Update 7/2/13 part 3

I am not just trying the apple support communities see if that registers with anyone

*************** Update 27/2/13
It seems the global problem of bait apps and Apple’s lax attitude to them has caught up with them at least in the US where the class action rules. They are having to offer compensation and refunds to people caught by these apps. It is incredibly wide spread and so they would have taken a lot of money in percentages from these scams. The ruling has been reported here and here thanks to @katerussell and @hardlib for sending me the links.
It is important that Apple have taken steps to patch the iOS to remove the daft 15 minute window of opportunity for these sneaky apps to steal the money from our kids. I am not sure how people can live with the fact they do that, but dishonesty is dishonesty.
The ruling doesn’t effect the UK, but this is not really about compensation is it about Apple finally trying to do something about a problem that have complete power to stop. It makes a mockery of their app approval process though it would seem?

********** Update 13/4/13
The OFT (office of fair trading) in the UK has decide to look into the practice of targeting kids with in-app purchases. So I have sent this information on to them to see if helps their investigation. You too can report anything to them by Friday 28th June

Disney joining blended reality gaming trend with Infinity

It is a couple of years since the first Skylanders game arrived that blended physical character collectibles with on screen action. I first got interested in it from the vector it was plotting with being able to potentially create new physical toy changes with 3d printing and it also led to showing this advance in technology and games on the TV in series 3 of Cool Stuff Collective. This also made it’s way into my academic paper 🙂
Disney have now picked up on the technology with Disney Infinity. The official trailer shows a lot of game play with a few references to it’s version of the portal of power and the range of figures.

There is a lot more though from Family Gamer TV on youtube

Here Andy @GeekDadGamer Robertson has got some great interviews and exclusives. We have both talked about Skylanders and alike in various ways including sharing a podcast on the subject 🙂
Of course as with many technologies getting a physcial object of some sort to be part of the game play is not brand new. The usual Gartner adoption curve applies. Someone invents something, it generally will fail first time until everything else catches up, new variants on other tech evolve and become accessible and social changes occur. One of the early ones that you may remember was R.O.B. also toys that interacted with TV that were before their time such as Captain Power
This blending is occurring more than ever, not just character collectible toys but apps on our second screens even Antiques Roadshow has got in on the act. The way we interact with content is changing drastically. Will everyone be able to keep up? Lets see 🙂

More holodecks – Illumiroom

Recently I wrote about how a microsoft patent around kinect room scanning and projection looked like a holodeck in flush magazine it also ties in nicely with how kinect party does some interesting person removal already. Now Microsoft research have released this proof of concept video that starts to show the sort of blended reality they are heading towards with Illumiroom. A while back philips had a TV that had a lighting system that produced ambient lighting based on what was on screen but this…. is something different. It requires a projector understand the content on screen and the geometry of the room to enable the projector for peripheral images to make the image look like it works

It’s all very exciting stuff !

Academic G33kdom

My physical copy of the Computer Networks journal that contained my first academic paper arrived through the post.
Published paper
With my usual slightly sideways look at such things used my Cool Stuff Collective G33k t-shirt as the profile shot 🙂
I am not sure if this is unusual for an academic paper but I managed to get all my favourite subjects in, virtual worlds, 3d printing and even Skylanders gets a mention.
I am sure I will get around to updating my old fashioned CV should anyone ever need my services but for now its on the Writing page on the tab above this 🙂
I hadn’t fully appreciated how the whole process works, but it seems that people write papers and then Reed Elsevier charges people to read them. It seems my little contribution is worth $31.50 on this link maybe I should start charging for my writing or just get a job as a journalist? I would of course have to improve my spullchuckin 🙂

Those games are all the same? Good and Bad

I was lucky enough to get 4 great xbox games for Christmas this (I mean last) year. They were on my wish list as I had not got around to some of them in the whirlwind of 2012.
The games were Halo 4, Far Cry 3, Need for Speed : Most Wanted and Forza Horizons. So at face value and in the “let classify everything into a genre” categories there are two first person shooters and two driving games. They are however very different. To a non gamer (assuming there are any left) it may seem like duplication if things are resolved to being “just a game” and not a complete experience.
Take Forza Horizon.

It is a free roaming driving game and a follow up to Forza 4 where up to now all the Forza games have been track based. It has given a different feel and a background story to the reason you are collecting fast cars and razzing them around some fantastic Colorado scenery. Forza has always had very convincing physics models for the cars and this is greatly enhanced with a force feedback steering wheel. The wheel also makes life more interesting in making manual gear changes feel right. Driving around the cars feel big and substantial when you slide or drift you feel you are probably on the edge of something bad about to happen so you try and drive just right (at least with the steering wheel). It is actually just nice to drive around the huge area in your favourite car listening to some tunes. Having oncoming traffic and other road users makes it a bit more tricky to go flat out without wrecking. It feels like driving and racing. For me it makes drags me into a reality. I am sure you can sit back and play it like bumper cars but that does it a dis-service.

Need For Speed : Most Wanted on the other hand is a free roaming driving game that instills a very different yet equally enjoyable feeling. in NFS you go flat out most of the time, skitting around cars, performing drifts to earn crazy nitrous boost flicking in and out of traffic working on pure reactions. Pretty much every bit of driving has you diving left, right left, thinking yes I am in the zone, then kaboom a massive crash with sparks and shards and physics engine components working over time. Recompose yourself and then blast off again. It is a game where you look for unusual ramps and signs and work out how to get to crash through them like a hollywood stuntman. It is of course really just Burnout Paradise II but as that was such a fun and amazing fast experience thats no bad thing. I do remember the original Need For Speed games way back that were actually more like Forza in their realism. It was the first game I remember hearing the thud thud of running of the cats eyes as you crossed the white line in the centre of the road to overtake a slow moving car whilst being chased by the police. Now we have the police chases but it is not one or two cars but an army of them like Blues Brothers or Smokey and the Bandit.
So they are both very different experiences, invoking very different emotional responses. Of course if you don’t like cars they probably will invoke the same eye rolling not again response.
There is one similarity though that is a bad attribute. That is the way having bought the game you are constantly bombarded in game with the opportunities to buy new DLC (downloadable content). Clearly with cars and car models wanting to collect more makes sense to a fan. However Forza on its main menu has an option for Horizon Rally, this makes it look like it is part of the game, but click it and it guides you to buy quite a pricey extra add on. It’s another £14 and is already there. It is worse in NFS though. As you drive around you discover new cars to drive, that is part of the game mechanic, however sometimes you arrive at a car and there it is, the model is already in your game sat there but it then says you can go and buy this form the shop to unlock it.
Both these tactics are annoying, they probably work a little but it seems that the concepts of freemium are being applied to things that are already full price. That’s not really very fair. When predlet 2.0 plays NFS which he loves he is playing on his own non xbox live account. i.e. he is not connected to the shop. Playing NFS he still sees these cars so he is being shown something in game that he can never really attain.
I know these things cost a lot of money, I do buy DLC to extend games but it seems just a little bit shabby when the rest of the experience is so much fun.
On a positive note both games use Kinect voice recognition to let you engage with menu’s whilst driving though it does seem a little bit sensitive when other people are in the room talking and it triggers thinking you have said “rear view”… crash….
Also Horizon has a Smartglass application with it which means on my iphone (or on another tablet) you can get the GPS map up on the phone whilst driving around in the car. This second screen type of experience is becoming more popular and accessible. It will be interesting to see where it goes.
What abut Halo 4 and Far Cry 3? well so far I have only played a little bit of Halo, but it seems pretty much business as usual, wandering between set pieces in a defined order. It does look fantastic. Far Cry 3 though is proving a much more interesting experience, but I think that needs a post of it’s own next time 🙂
Wasn't imagining it
I am not sure if this is NFS being clever and looking at names or if this is built in and just a coincidence but I was pleased to see Hughes Park in NFS:Most wanted and equally surprised that there was Reynolds avenue leading to it. The reason for this resonating was that back in 06/07 @rooreynolds and I, and quite a lot of the eightbar members had areas names after them in Second Life. We had adjoining marina’s 🙂 It was a great honour for that to happen. So this was a great gaming flashback 🙂

2013 – Here comes the future. Go Kickstart something

Happy new year one and all 🙂 it’s 2013 and the human race and the planet have not been Mayaned out of existence so we can once again look into the future. One way is to dive into Kickstarter and crowdfund some interesting projects. If you haven’t looked at this before it is pretty much the same as pre-buying something you are interested in, though you are actually providing the funds to help a project that you think will work or has some merit.
One such project is Elite:Dangerous. Which if you are like me you grew up playing the free roaming ever changing vector based space game Elite. It is due a reboot and David Braben has got a Kickstarter campaign going. With these sorts of things you set a reserve price, the amount of money needed/pledged. If you don’t get the target the project doesn’t get the money.

This one has 61 hours remaining and has £1,186,093 of its £1,250,000 pledged. So there is already over a million pounds sitting wanting to be invested by 20,000 gamers, fans and interested parties. It just needs a little more. When you invest in these things you get various tiers of rewards, access to early beta’s, forums, or in this case your name used in the game 😉
Once you have pledged an interesting dynamic of wanting to be right kicks in. If it doesn’t get funded you haven’t lost anything but if you pick a project you feel part of it. This of course works better in small community ones, once you get up to this sort of level it is really a variation on a corporate machine. However…. This game needs to get funded so if you haven’t then go pledge something for the future. It is going to take a years of development at least with a 2014 release.
Who knows I might even try a kickstarter myself this year. We have some code and a working prototype, finding regular finance for something that is scientifically intriguing, socially intriguing and pushes social media and social games somewhere else is proving tricky, so what the heck. Come to think of it some of the TV shows should get done this way. It’s a good way to prove an audience, hone your message.
UPDATE Well they made the funding and exceeded it 🙂 Making it a record breaker