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19th January 2010

Meanwhile, on the other side of the century: A Drupal House’s Adventures in Social Media

by 80elements.com

What began as intermittent tweets and a few flickr images has been transformed into a nearly full time job. Social media today is seen as essential for business. The Business To Client broadcast model is dead, many maintain, and conversations between users on forums and facebook pages are becoming the norm. One-way brick and mortar business is simply not enough.  As overheard in a recent social media course, “for many people today, if you don’t exist online, then you don’t exist in real life.” A pretty big statement to make, no doubt, but there is a definite basis for this.

A year ago, a twitter account, a facebook group, and a flickr page were in use by 80elements to increase social media presence – all were set up, but keeping each active was not viable due to a deficit of time to devote to active creation. A solid message is difficult to maintain without this consistency, and so the 80E social media image was blurry.  Today, 80E blogs, vlogs, facebooks, tweets, and updates linkedin along with a real aim towards consistency in time and identity. This shift has created a full time commitment towards social media and has brought the entire team into the mix, affecting each of us in different ways. As a business, especially in web and iPhone app development, if we aren’t active online, we do not exist. Social media time is thus allotted into the production and promotion schedules. So far, so good, but time will identify the true long-term return on investment.

As one can quickly learn from blogs and google searches, the reasons for a business to move into social media are both numerous and necessary. Each business will soon be aiming towards creating online identity through Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, google profiles, Youtube, blogging and all sorts of other new social sites coming and going. The data and content to pull it off can be staggering. To top it off, it can be very easy to have your content become part of the blur of data that passes us by online. “Every minute, 20 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.” That is a HUGE amount of data to contend with, and equal to the very viral J*zz In My Pants by The Lonely Island being uploaded 480 times per minute or 28800 times per hour. A unique branding strategy is necessary to keep people interested, and keep your brand visible and searchable online.

Where does all this data go after it’s no longer viral/live? Thankfully for search, it stays online. Like your status updates on Facebook, your data is not deleted from the system – it is merely backed up.  In 50 years, if YouTube continued to receive the same upload levels as current (doubtful as it will of course fluctuate), then J*zz In My Pants could be stored 12 614 400 000 separate times. A twitter update, or an occupation field on LinkedIn, are not that data heavy – if twitter were to have similar data creation rates, in 50 years, this would be equivalent to  4 054 628 571 541 200 tweets of 140 characters. All of it stored, backed up and, in the end, no longer owned by the creator/user.

Personally, if I am approached to work with a person or business, I first look online. If I find little/nothing, it can be a definite hindrance to moving forward. Questions may spring to mind: “why are they not online? What are they hiding? Should I be concerned about this?” and I find it more difficult to make a decision. Indeed, many employers do this with potential employees as well (LinkedIn, Facebook). Which identity is more valid? After finding more information online, my opinion of my real life experience can most definitely be changed. Research and reassess after all, and this comes into play with all identities. In 10 years, the line between online and offline identities will be much less defined, let alone half a century from now.

As social networks expand, our personal data is pulled out further and further from its source.  If you wanted to remove your presence from the internet today, could you? How about in 50 years, when Facebook has shut down (or not) and all that data is still on its servers, owned by someone other than yourself. Remember Friendster, the old ICQ and sixdegrees.com? They’ll remember you. A demand exists for those who want to get out of the game. A successful social media suicide app, designed by developer mobblr_, would delete your online presence but has now been banned by Facebook. Terms of use violation, Facebook asserts. Attempted data loss, definitely.

As a company, this may not be a big issue, but as a private individual, this may be the start of a change in how we interact.

“In 2006, AOL voluntarily released the search data of 650,000 of its users over a three-month period — some 20 million Web queries in total. Although the AOL user name had been changed to a random ID number, one could analyze all the searches done by a single user and deduce who the person was. Understandably, the online community was outraged, and AOL acted swiftly, removing the data and issuing apologetic press releases.” For users, its too little, too late.

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Where will social media be in 50 years? This is a big question and one that requires an answer and major goals to be set. If this is not brought up in the present, then the future design and architecture of our online (read: new reality) world will be out of the hands of those it affects most: the users. These users are people, governments, businesses, and even religions (yes, the Vatican has a Facebook Page).  When/if privacy concerns overwhelm the system, a big shift will occur once again.

In the end, I of course do not have an answer for how or what will happen, but I do assert that if it is not the public that steps forward to maintain its rights to information and to identity, then it will be out of the public’s hands. If I am not in control of my identity, then someone else will be. If online and offline identities are blurred, where will I end up? Where will I exist in the world?

“Web 3.0” will necessitate a rebellion.

by Ryan at 80elements.com


Feed – twitter.com/80elements

Vlog – youtube.com/ryan80Elements

FB – facebook.com/ryan80e

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10th January 2010

Our Thoughts On Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead 2Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Distributor: EA
Release Date: November 2009
ESRB: Mature
Platform: Windows PC and Xbox 360

In many areas, the CaveChild and I have very different views on this title. He is more of an online-multiplayer gamer than I am, and he did, for the most part, like the multi-player portions of this game, except when his 360 headset wasn’t functioning and he’d get kicked from a game because Left 4 Dead 2he couldn’t communicate with other players. With teamwork and communication being a huge part of the play, if you are a gamer who does not like to converse with others when playing, this portion of the game is probably not for you. In the online play, you can choose to be either a Survivor or one of the Zombie Bosses, but whichever team you are on, strategy and planning play a huge part in being the victor.

I am a gamer who likes to collect things – this mode of game play feeds my OCD-ishness, and for me at least, is an important part of the enjoyable gaming experience. Other than weaponry, there wasn’t anything to collect and horde. Characters are not given a large capacity to carry items, and for those of us who primarily play RPG-style games, this is a huge challenge. The developers have forced players to use their resources effectively, and the “pray and spray” method of killing massive numbers of enemies isn’t really an option. Thankfully there is a large selection of melee weaponry available – there is something oddly satisfying about whacking a zombie upside the head with a frying pan or cricket bat. Nothing, however, says “Die Zombie!” quite as nicely as the limited-use chainsaw.

While there are a number of drops to gain extra ammunition, molotov cocktails and other new items such as the bile bomb, in my own opinion it would’ve been a nice option to gain a hunter’s flap jacket at the gun store, thereby legitimately adding a little bit of extra storage capacity, instead of only being able to carry one “bomb item” and one medical kit.

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One of the areas which I found to be particularly frustrating was in not being sure which way I was supposed to go. While the five maps are not overly large, there are specific areas which gamers must work towards in order to get to the Safe Houses. Some areas were reasonably easy to work through with a well-marked path, while other areas seemed to lack the all-important player clues as to what needed to be done and where. The ability to wander around in a Left 4 Dead 2semi-open world is always nice, but so is having a clear idea of where you need to be, particularly when The Director is throwing huge numbers of infected zombie folks at you. There were also too many invisible walls for our preference – and a few areas which could’ve made some great sniper nests were not available. It is somewhat evilly satisfying to literally snipe a zombie’s legs out from under him or her.

The atmosphere and setting for the game was appropriately eerie, and I will give the level designers and audio crew extra points for this. However, there were also many instances of clipping failures and targeting problems – there were times when it would take 8 or 9 shots to fall a zombie who was squarely in my sights. It was lots of fun to use the Safe Houses as “duck huts” and snipe zombies or pile up the bodies of those who rushed the door. Having an endless supply of ammo while in the Safe House was also a bonus and added more than just a few minutes to overall game time. Left 4 Dead 2

I would have liked to have had a longer campaign, simply because that is where my game style preference focuses. I don’t that I would consider Left 4 Dead 2 to be a hugely impressive sequel to Left 4 Dead, but it’s not a complete disappointment, either. With the different play modes which are available and with The Director looking after the AI experience and interaction for horde management and difficulty scaling, there are a decent number of hours of play available to the gamer. On the Village Gamer scale of game approval, we’ve settled on a range of 7.5 to 8.0 for Left 4 Dead 2’s overall product presentation, additions and improvements.

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29th November 2009

Assassin’s Creed 2 An Historic Adventure

Assassin's Creed 2The CaveChild and I have been playing Assassin’s Creed 2 almost non-stop since release day, and in my opinion, this is truly the best IP sequel title I have yet to play. Yes, it trumps Modern Warfare 2 in my game selection. We both appreciate the incredible amount of historical research and accuracy that went into Assassin’s Creed – right down to the speeches delivered by the heralds. I am probably one of the few people who actually pays attention to the entire ambience of a game’s environment and utterances of the NPCs. Mike covers much of the game play in the accompanying review video, but there are a few areas I wanted to touch on as well, so we decided to do a joint game review. He has completed the game, whereas I am about 80% complete on the storyline.

While there are small parts of Assassin’s Creed (both iterations) that are less than my favourite things to do in the game, they are inconsequential to the overall player experience. I have never been a fan of the race events, although I found the “collect the flag” races in AC1 easier than the gateway races in AC2, this is simply because the flags were easier for me to see on rooftops than the swirling white light effects used in AC2. I could make more use of Eagle Vision during these races, but that seems to add to my mild vertigo reactions to the speed and heights experienced in Assassin’s Creed 2. There have been a few times when I’ve experienced that “roller coaster feeling” throughout the game.

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My favourite part of game play in Assassin’s Creed 1 were the missions and stealth tactics – and I was well pleased to see this not only continued but built upon in Assassin’s Creed 2. The new assassin abilities and weapons which have been given to Ezio added so much depth to his forays into a corrupt and dark Renaissance Italy, that I keep being disappointed when I run out of Assassin Contracts to fulfill for Lorenzo. For some reason, I find the combat skills in Assassin’s Creed 2 easier to use than when I played through Assassin’s Creed 1, but I’m not really sure why, considering that they are pretty well the same Eziobuttons. At times I do get frustrated with movement control, because it seems that Ezio is not wanting to do as he’s told, he’d rather move in a different direction or grab onto something I didn’t want him to, but all is overcome with perseverance – in my opinion it’s better to have to work at something and practice to get it right than for it to be too easy.

Speaking of practicing and levels of difficulty, the many puzzles in Assassin’s Creed 2 range from easy to OMG am I ever going to solve this one or beat the timer. It took a fair bit of work to earn those Assassin’s seals to gain Altair’s armour – but it was quite satisfying when I did it, and now Ezio gets to honour Altair by wearing his armour and brandishing his sword.

One of the new features in Assassin’s Creed 2 which I really like is ownership of the villa. I enjoyed restoring the town, collecting weaponry, artwork and armour. I only wish that there had been more to do with the villa and town, because I had all of the town’s upgrades completed by the time I had finished the Tuscany map. I also like the addition of the merchants – the doctor is a very welcome NPC and the ability to easily replenish my stocks of poison, medicine, throwing knives, bullets and smoke bombs. I really, really like the smoke bombs. I like being able to swim as well – and I think that the canals of Venice are now a little shallower due to all of the dead guards I’ve sent to their depths. Being able to dive into the water has also save me from countless guard attacks, and also that one time when I couldn’t see if there was a wagon of hay to leap into from the top of a church tower – so I dove into the water instead. Definitely like the non-drowning death improvement – now I just need to work on not falling to my desynchronization from great heights while climbing things.

Two of the challenges that I really had fun with were the wild carriage ride and flying on da Vinci’s wings. I only killed Leonardo once on the wild chase through the mountains, and really it’s not my fault that he leaned too far over and tipped the carriage over. My speed and cornering abilities had absolutely nothing to do with it. Flying was a challenge on a whole different level. It only took me a few attempts to get the hang of it and make it to the palace on time. Sort of.

Instead of collecting area or faction specific flags as in Assassin’s Creed 2, players now collect the six seals of the Assassin’s Tombs to gain Altair’s armour, the Codex Pages to gain knowledge and weapons in partnership with Leonardo da Vinci,  and the feathers which Ezio’s younger brother Petruccio treasured. Ezio must also find glyph symbols hidden around the towns in order to find out more information about the mysterious Subject 16, and taken piece by piece the video clips really don’t make much sense – until you get the big picture. The puzzles attached to the glyphs and Subject 16 are incredibly imaginative, and some of them have taken a lot of hit and miss guessing to solve. No matter their difficulty, though – each one has something of historic value to teach, which I do appreciate.

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23rd November 2009

Canadian IP Law For Dummies A Must Read

Canadian Intellectual Property LawA few weeks ago I told you all about a special edition book titled Canadian Intellectual Law For Dummies. Written by Henri Charmasson, John Buchaca, Neil Milton and Diana Bryon and published by John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd. with support from Export Development Canada, the book is currently available free of charge through an online request at Milton’s IP. After reading this book, anyone involved in creative properties would be remiss in not taking advantage of the information given by the authors.

Many books about law are often dry, tortured reading. Not so with Canadian Intellectual Property Law. The authors have conveyed a massive amount of information in an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand method, interspersed with a sprinkling of humour.

The 119 pages of Canadian Intellectual Property Law covers everything from concept to protection, how to find the right IP legal professional, and addresses the many misconceptions about patents, trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs, trade secrets and contractual rights. Knowing the correct protections to obtain and how to leverage your protection to increase income are also important components in this book. While the authors target Canadian-based properties as their primary subject, they do discuss international treaties and how to obtain IP protections in foreign countries. There are also references for getting more information from government agencies about Intellectual Property, and in For Dummies tradition, there are plenty of clearly marked tips, warnings and reminders. The only addition I would have liked in this book is a quick-reference section listing online resources which are available to the general public.

As with all complex legal issues, it is always best to consult with the professionals in regards to IP protection, this book will give creative companies and individuals a head-start in understanding how to protect themselves, and how to find the best IP professional for the tasks at hand. When all is said and done, not taking advantage of Canadian IP Law for Dummies may cost you and your company money it could have earned – if only you’d been aware.

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10th November 2009

48 Hours Into Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age OriginsI have now logged over 48 hours of game play (probably closer to 58 now, because I started writing this yesterday) in Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360 CE), and there are many aspects I really like, but there are some that may take a bit of warming up to. Having read both of the prequel novels written by Dragon Age lead writer David Gaider, I knew a fair bit of the back-story and my progress through the game has been greatly aided by that knowledge. I am still amazed at the amount of story yet to be revealed through the Codex additions – I have lots of reading of the story’s bits and pieces I have picked up so far through quests, conversations and random items. This is a positive aspect, because I like games which tell a good story. The writing in Dragon Age is tight – and humorous. I have found myself at times just standing and listening to my “henchies” talk, and there has been many a time that I find myself laughing outDragon Age: The Stolen Throne loud at their dialogue. There are also a number of references to modern pop culture in the game – some of it so subtle that it can be missed if one is not paying attention. The “light” has gone on a few times after certain scenes or dialogues, when I realize what has transpired and its reference to something in our society.

I went with the human noble warrior for my first go around – I wanted to be a caster, because that is what I’m good at, but Scott talked me into trying something different. It has become (sometimes painfully) obvious that I am a far better caster than I am a warrior. Thank goodness for the ability to change which party member I can control during battle. I will, however, admit that I am getting better at melee combat. I still have a long way to go at being highly proficient in close-up and personal fighting, but I certainly like the amount of control Bioware gave us in character creation. I also really like that each character – Dwarf, Human or Elf has its own story beginning, as this adds to the replayability factor.

Each of the party member’s distinct personalities and beliefs play very important roles in how the game Dragon Age Templarunfolds, as does each choice you make in the dialogue trees. One could almost feel sorry for Alistair as he goes through relentless teasing at the hands of Morrigan, whose own jaded view of the world at large often prevents her from seeing the simple good in people as anything other than weakness. During last night’s play, I caught Wynne also giving Alistair a rough time about filthy socks. Meanwhile Leliana appears to be the complete opposite – she is strong in her belief of all things good,  although I have a feeling that this is going to change at some point in time. Just a hunch – and some advance reading on Scott’s part. I haven’t made a lot of use of Zevran and Sten yet, but I’m sure they’ll get their chance in battle as well.

I’ve read many online comments about areas where players aren’t happy with the Tactics menu, or they aren’t happy with some of the sudden difficulty spikes. Maybe it’s just my play style, but I am not disappointed by any of it. Yes, some of the battles are insanely difficult and my hero may end up as a pile of ashes after being blasted by a huge fireball, but thanks to the Save Game function which I mostly remember to use, it’s “try, try again” for me. I probably died a dozen times trying to defeat Flemeth before going and doing some different quests first in order to level my Grey Warden some more and perhaps gain a little more help in the way of additional party members. Once I completed the quest for Shale and kicked Alistair out of the party for this particular task, I did it in one go. Shale is a very effective tank when equipped with the right crystals for the job. Next time around I will have to Dragon Age Originsremember to go get Shale before hunting for the urn. Perhaps then I won’t turn into a crispy critter because I just had to ring the gong to see what it did. Apparently the dragon landing on the cliff edge was supposed to be a clue. Maker bless the Load Last Save function.

While I sometimes find the long cinematic conversations frustrating, I realize that they are an important game component – dispelling knowledge and opening different paths in the story, but geez sometimes I just want to get on with eliminating the vile creatures who are trying to take over my map.  On the plus side is the ability to skip forward through the conversations to get to where you want to be – whether it’s to retry a battle or to try a different path in the dialogue trees. On my next play-through I might just take the time to solve the puzzle and let the little girl live instead of allowing Kitty to possess her.

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22nd September 2009

Enter The Faunasphere

FaunasphereFor those who have never heard of Faunasphere, I will borrow a few words from the game’s official site. Please feel free to click on the thumbnails placed through out this article to get a better look at the environment and features, or hover over them for image descriptions.Ellie

Faunasphere is a “browser-based CMO (Casual Multiplayer Online) game, players adopt and care for cute and quirky creatures known as Fauna and collaborate to build and explore beautiful virtual worlds. From the creator and lead designer of Asheron’s Call, Faunasphere engages a broad casual gamer audience through non-violent game play, rich social networking elements, and an immersive storyline. The game is free to play, and features micro-transactions and premium membership to enhance the game play experience.”

Mire KnollOfficially launched by Big Fish Games on August 12 of this year, Faunasphere has several game play features:

* Fauna lay eggs as they level up. Eggs can be hatched to create new Fauna or traded between players.

* 12 Fauna breeds to adopt and care for, with an endless array of visual variations to explore. Players can try to breed Fauna for specific traits, or can purchase special items to transform them.Zapping Pollution

* Players can customize their own corner of the world by designing a Faunasphere to shelter their Fauna. Items to decorate and improve a player’s Faunasphere can be collected via game play, traded between players, or purchased.

* Players advance through the world via unique, non-violent game play. Fauna clean up pollution and complete tasks to earn game currency and level up.

Happy Food For a Happy Fauna* The game can be played as a no-commitment diversion, but offers deeper involvement for committed players.

Features not listed above but which I feel are important to include:

Faunasphere is very easy to play. While reading is required, the game play is simple to pick up, the characters are cute – and sometimes very unique depending on how their caretakers have customized them, and the game’s community is incredibly friendly. That is one aspect of the game that really Home Sphere Buildingstruck me. I know from reading through the game’s community forums that there have been problem users, just like in any online game. That said, the players who inhabit Faunasphere are friendly and even considerate. They even give you items if they think they somehow “stepped on” something you were doing or planning to do. They readily offer assistance should anyone require help with a task or cleaning up some of the higher-level pollution monsters.

Rock GardenFor my adventures into the Faunasphere, I chose to look after one of the Hoofers, which are horse-like characters. Players can choose from a Hoofer, Sniffer or Scooter, each with its own set of attributes, likes and dislikes. Each character likes different food, comfort, beauty and amusement items. These likes and dislikes are important to bear in mind when building a faunasphere, and particularly when you create a Den for your Fauna to rejuvenate in. Your Fauna likes to be in a place which makes it happy, so it’s important to use the “Happy” items which your Fauna prefers.

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13th September 2009

Gamer – The Movie

95 minutes
Rated R

We went. We saw. We were not disappointed. We weren’t in awe either, but it was still some decent escapist entertainment – just like a video game. It’s not a movie I would recommend for someone who has absolutely no involvement in video games, because much of the movie plot would be lost on them. The good points include the fact that I think they cast their lead characters well. Gerard Butler makes a very good video game hero and Michael C. Hall played a convincing digital media mogul evil end-game boss while Logan Lerman did very well as the tech-geek-MMO-FPS player.

This was a movie which was definitely meant to cater to the typical male gamer crowd as its audience, but the storyline was at least somewhat redeeming. Game world cliches were bountiful in both visual and Gameraudio moments, some very subtle, some not so subtle. I’m not sure I like that the token girl gamer got her head blown off so early in one of the levels, either.  At least there was at least one other tepidly strong female character in the movie – and I’m not talking about the female characters portrayed “in game” either.

The writers crammed as much about the gaming world into this movie as they could, and it would be very easy to miss many of the references if one wasn’t paying attention, such as the tea-bagging which occurs early in the movie or the Blade Runner costume which appears later. Then again it’s hard to miss the parallels drawn between what can go on in the gaming world and the real world, such as the waffle eating mega-sized apartment-dwelling male who overly enjoyed controlling a female character in the movie’s parody of Second Life with a “real life” game called Society.

There were many similarities between Gamer and Death Race, and even possibly Condemned. There were some excellent explosions and vehicle wrecks, but the weaponry was fairly basic with one or two upgrades. The story also brought in some interesting concepts in order to flesh out the evil digital media mogul’s dastardly plan. Without spoiling the end of the movie for those who may not yet have seen it, there is one final subtle message soon after the “boss battle” which involves some of the boss’ henchies but before the hero drives off into Game Over land with his rescued damsels in distress.

Gamer isn’t a movie which we’ll be rushing out to purchase when it’s released on DVD, but I’m sure it will take its place in gamer lore along with Hackers and War Games. We will probably catch it when it hits the small screen on Movie Central, just to see what other subleties we missed.

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6th September 2009

Learning Autodesk Maya 2009: The Modeling & Animation Handbook

Book Cover

Learning Autodesk Maya 2009: The Modeling & Animation Handbook (Buy Book)

By Autodesk Maya Press

ISBN-10: 1897177526

ISBN-13: 978-1897177525

Review by: Josh Martin

I was lucky enough for Autodesk to allow me to review this book.  As an animation student myself, I wanted to continue learning through the summer while school wasn’t in session.  I’ve read many negative and positive reviews on this book and I wanted to get to the bottom of this book and of course, to further my knowledge of modeling and animation in Maya.

The first thing I noticed when I received this book was the great illustrations throughout it. With the illustrations being in full color, it is easy to follow along and find the subjects the book talks about. I was hoping there would be a DVD that came with the book. My hopes were correct! The book comes with a DVD which includes project files, textures, and even a quick video walk-through on different sections of the book. Of course, the book also has the “all important” index which lists every general term a modeler, texture artist, rigger, or animator would use so you can easily look up different techniques and terms.

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25th August 2009

Cavechild’s Mini Review of TMNT Reshelled

Aldergrove – The day Ubisoft released Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time Re-shelled on XBLA, TMNT Turtles in Time Re-shelledMike had to have it. Turtles in Time was one of the Nintendo games which he played almost constantly when he was younger – it was right at the top of his playlist along with Mario and Donkey Kong. TMNT Turtles in Time Re-shelled was developed by Ubisoft Shanghai and is available on XBLA for 1200 Microsoft points.

Watch the cavechild’s mini video review, and find out why he gives it a 10 out of 10 game play rating.

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17th August 2009

Gravity Well Is Harder Than It Appears

Genius Factor GamesGravity WellDeveloper: Genius Factor Games, Vancouver BC
Publisher: iTunes
Platform: iPhone and iTouch
Genre: Mobile
ESRB: Everyone
Price: $1.99 usd

Gravity Well is a level puzzler which requires the player to maneuver a little blue ball from one end of a maze to the other. There is an optional tutorial available, and game options permit the player to adjust the volume for both effects and music. The soundtrack, created by The Humble Brothers is not at all irritating and is of higher production quality than many of the mobile games out on the market. The soundtrack is also available for purchase in the iTunes store.

GravityWellIf you have to quit the game for whatever reason, you can select the level you were at or any other level which you’ve completed when you restart the game. Gravity Well also allows the player to put the game on pause if needed.

Gravity Well’s developers have a distinct knack for making the player think and find creative ways to control the ball as it moves through each maze. The ball moves when the player touches the screen, warping the grid a creating a “gravity well” which pulls the ball. It’s not always as easy as it seems to get the ball through the grid, because the game’s gravity force is not affected by the tilt of the iTouch or iPhone.

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