Zombies on the iPhone

I’ll admit, I’m addicted to Zombie games. They’re not all of the same calibre, however.

iOS screenshot of zombie apps

As you can see, I do actually have a few zombie games. One of the more traditional arcade style games is Zombieville USA 2. With an analog control pad area for navigation, and three equipped weapons, this game is a fast shooter, where the objective is to survive to the helicopter evacuation zone, by fighting your way through a horde of the walking dead. Action is fast paced, and the graphics are cartoonish and fun. With all the upgrades, the shotgun transforms your character into a zombie slaying machine. It has a lot of replay value.

Zombieville 2 screenshot

Z-Day Survival is a choose your own adventure style post apocalyptic survival simulator. While its entertaining, there is a limited decision tree, which greatly limits replay value.

Z-Day survival screenshot

Zombie Highway is a rather mindless test of endurance. How far can you drive your car down the highway without being overturned? It integrates with Game Center, so you can see the distance your friends have made it.

Zombie Highway screenshot

Zombie Farm is what I assume FarmVille must be like, but with zombies. You harvest zombies, potentially mutating them with plants, and then send an undead army against a series of computer opponents. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t removed this from my device.

Zombie Farm

Zombie Lane, however, is far more entertaining. This game was originally a FaceBook game, and was also available in Google+. It has been ported from Flash to run on iOS. I believe it’s also available for Android as well. It’s a well balanced game, action points recover reasonably fast. There are always a stream of tasks and quests to accomplish. The multiplayer connection can integrate with Facebook, but doesn’t really show you who has the game. It also uses friend codes. My Friend code is: 172650524. I would caution anyone planning on playing this on an original iPad that the game appears to hit the system memory limits frequently, causing it to crash. It runs fine on my iPhone 4S.

Zombie Lane screenshot

Zombie Gunship claims to be about zombies. You’re high up in a helicopter gunship looking through a heads up display at tiny targets on the ground. The task is to take out the zeds, which are dark, while allowing the white “civilians” to escape to safety. While I believe that the developers were intending the colors to represent heat signatures, it leads to a racial aspect in the game that makes me uncomfortable.

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Infected is a zombie tower defense game. Your mission is to protect some civilians by buying and placing different types of units nearby, hopefully to take out the waves of incoming zombies. Different zombies have different weaknesses, and it’s a job of min maxing in order to survive. It tends to get a little tedious after awhile.

infected screenshot

The final two games are both running games, which interact with your GPS location. Zombies, Run! was a successful kickstarter campaign, and is a well executed app. While running, it adds prerecorded mission commentary in spaces in your running soundtrack. As you run, you pick up items with which you can provision and upgrade your base. The visual interface is decent, but when you are using it, your focus is on running, not the app. This game makes running fun, and is probably the most relevant training for the zombie apocalypse. It builds a compelling narrative, and the voice acting is fairly decent.

Zombies, Run!

The last game, Zombie Run, is clearly an attempt at beating Zombies, Run! to market. The concept is crudely executed, overlaying a few sprites over google map imagery. This really feels like it was slapped together on order to get the product out the door. Aside from the idea that zombies provide motivation for running, Zombie Run provides very little of note. I’m not going to provide a screenshot. Just avoid this one folks.

Of the games reviewed here, three get a wholehearted recommendation. Zombieville USA 2, Zombie Lane, and Zombies, Run!

NaNoWriMo To Go

NaNoWriMo Day 3I’m taking a stab at NaNoWriMo this year. Writing a novel in a month certainly sounds like a challenging task, especially as I’m perpetually busy.

One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve read is to take every possible moment to write. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is not just to drive aspiring authors insane, but to foster the habits of daily writing.

What tools can help an author on the go? Software like Scrivener is great if you’re sitting down at a desk, but it’s not as helpful when you’re on the go.

My challenges in time management mean that I need to be able to write anywhere, at a moments notice. Lugging around a laptop just isn’t going to cut it. Even carting around an iPad isn’t going to give me the flexibility I need.

I’ve already started writing my novel on the iPhone. It’s a compact device I always have with me, and it’s possible to type one-handed. I’m impressed with the autocorrect behavior, even when typing one-handed.

While typing speed may not be as fast as with a full-sized keyboard, the main point is that you can write when you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. You can fill in those otherwise dead spaces, and actually write.

The recent advances in cloud computing allow the work to be saved online, which both provides backups as well as the ability to resume writing on a different device when the opportunity arises. For example, this post was composed on the iPhone to this point, where I switched to writing it on the iPad with an attached bluetooth keyboard. Before published my post, I did a final edit on the desktop in a browser.

If the primary block to writing is finding the time, consider using a mobile platform. A common saying in writing is “butt in chair, hands on keyboard”, but that doesn’t really serve the mobile writer very well. To fill in those smaller blocks of time throughout the day, I’ve found that I need a solution that doesn’t involve sitting in a particular spot.

As a tool, I’m using the Elements text editor on iOS, by Second Gear software, which has Dropbox support. It has a folder structure, which allows me to group files together, and separate the work by chapter, or as supplemental notes. Also important is the easy info button which provides the important word counts. Because it’s plain text being stored in Dropbox, it’s easy to do any later edits on the desktop.

Steve Jobs: In Memoriam

Steve Jobs at the WWDC 07
Image via Wikipedia

Steve Jobs passed away October 5, 2011. It came as no great shock, as he stepped down earlier this summer due to terminal illness. It came as no great shock, but with a great deal of somber reflection. Steve Jobs helped us Think Different.

In my youth, I never really had much exposure to Apple Computer. The first 19 years of my life were spent with PCs. I ran with DOS 3.3, then later Windows 95. By the time Windows 98 was released, I was running Linux, probably RedHat, SuSE and later Debian. Macintosh was easy to make fun of back then. After all, where was the command line? Why did their computers have a single mouse button? I had heard that the memory management was behind the times. If an application crashed, it could take down the whole system. These were the days of Classic Macintosh, right around the time of the first great transition from the Motorola 68K processors to ARM.

The phrase “Think Different” certainly applied to Macintosh, but it wasn’t really clear why being different was a good thing. Then Steve Jobs returned to Apple, and everything changed.

The iMac and the first iBooks were colourful machines, bringing life and energy back to the dull beige of computing. One of my friends at the University of Waterloo had one of the Blueberry iBooks, and introduced me to the first beta releases of Mac OS X. Built upon the technologies of NeXT, it showed a new way forward in computing, which combined the power of a Unix kernel with the graphics of the Mac interface.

Under Steve Jobs’ leadership, Apple launched several new innovations in computing. The Mac Cube was largely seen as a failure today, but its heritage lives on in the Mac Mini, a smaller device.

During this time, Apple drove changes in technology. The iMac G3 was the first computer to drop PS/2 ports and floppy drives in favour of CD drives, USB and FireWire ports. The MacBook Air has continued this transition by removing not only the DVD drives, but also removing the ethernet ports from its most recent models.

Apple has continued to innovate, bringing iTunes, the iPod and the iPhone to computing. With Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple continued to redefine the way we think about computing.

Steve Jobs also changed the way people think about presenting great ideas. His keynotes are famous for what is known as the Reality Distortion Field. Apple’s presentation software is named Keynote because it was designed for his keynote speeches, which were carefully practiced stories around a product release.

Steve Jobs popularized a narrative form of presentation, backed up by slides containing images and short words or phrases he used to emphasize key points of his story, rather than paragraphs of text to be read aloud. Steve brought charisma to the role of CEO.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve, you changed the world. Because you were different, the world is a better place. You will not be forgotten.

Kindle Fire: What Amazon Got Right

Kindle Fire
Image by Dekuwa via Flickr

Amazon’s recent launch of the Kindle Fire, priced at $199, and the entry of the low-end Kindle at $79 is a very interesting strategy.

When Apple launched the iPad in 2010, it built upon the architecture and infrastructure of the iPhone, which launched in 2007. Even the iPhone built upon the success of the iTunes infrastructure which supported earlier iPod models. Amazon is likewise dealing from a position of strength, building upon the technology of the Kindle ereaders, and Amazon’s existing delivery and hosting infrastructure.

Amazon ships much more than just Kindle books. The Amazon MP3 store has been an iTunes competitor for several years now, and was the first to offer music without Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. Amazon now also offers instant movie downloads as rentals or purchases, as well as Android application sales. Amazon offers a comprehensive alternative to the Apple iTunes infrastructure, and the Kindle Fire is another key part of this strategy.

The next key step of the Kindle Fire’s introduction is how Amazon differentiates this new tablet from the iPad. Like several other tablet manufacturers, Amazon is launching a smaller 7 inch tablet. While this form factor is not unique (the BlackBerry PlayBook, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the HTC Flyer all fit this size), Amazon has also cut the price point for the Kindle Fire. At $200, it is clear that Amazon is entering the low-end of the space, not directly competing against Apple at the moment.

When you consider the HP Touchpad fire sale in August, where a drastic price cut finally saw another tablet outselling the iPad, there is clearly a market for a lower-end tablet. One where Apple isn’t actively targeting.

If Amazon can successfully lay claim to this part of the market, you can expect to see future attempts at Amazon launching into the higher upscale market that the iPad now claims. One thing is for certain, Apple is watching Amazon very closely.

Amazon may have a razor-thin margin on the Kindle Fire, but the important thing to note is that it will drive sales to the Amazon store, where the real money is made. Just as Apple takes a 30% cut on sales on the Apple App Store, I expect Amazon will take a healthy cut off anything sold through their online store, while at the same time depriving the Apple economy of sales.

Amazon sent a clear message to other tablet manufacturers: This time, amateur hour really is over.