January 2010


Merry App-mas! My Review of Free Christmas iGifts

The holiday season is a time in which people are friendly and generous, an event that encourages me to go out and try things.

This past season there were two offerings designed to encourage use of the Apple iTunes Store. The first was an independent organization that was trying to raise the profile of various game designers while Apple put on the second. Between the two it was, theoretically, possible to get 36 different things for free.

That said the first, the Appvent Calendar, a word play on advent calendar, didn’t offer 24 different things for free, they wimped out and the last two days (the 23rd and 24th) was used to announce a contest of some kind where in order to win you had to be a US resident (something I’m not, although I suspect that I could have used my US iTunes account to win). I was fairly diligent from December 1st through 22nd to check out the free offerings.

Surprisingly most games are crap. Either I found the games stupid, too easy, or overly complex and confusing. It’s not always obvious which game is which, but I did diagnose a fair percentage of the time that the games weren’t even worth downloading. For those that I downloaded, I would play the games to see if I liked them.

One of the most promising games was Polyhedra, a tetris-like game with the objective of trying to fill at least 66% of the screen with shapes while trying to avoid bouncing balls that could destroy your efforts. Unfortunately not only did I solve the game (I had one of the ten best scores, globally, in less than 24 hours—I could have been in first place had I not gotten bored), I managed to break the game ending up with an impossibly high score and no way to “quit” and report the score. It was broken. I ended up deleting the game.

One of the stupid games was a word-game, Alphabattle where you would try to find words out of letters appearing on the screen—vowels at the top, consonants at the bottom. Unfortunately the level marked easy was actually harder that the hard level and the game provided an equal number of vowels to the number of consonants, which might work in some languages, but in English is basically impossible. I ended up deleting this game probably within an hour or two of downloading it.

I don’t have the patience for complicated games—and so when I was trying to figure out how to fly a little blimp in Blimp around on my iPhone, I quickly lost interest in that game and deleted it.

Once the Appvent Calendar was over, I started getting items from the iTunes 12 Days of Christmas, this one put out by Apple. This one covered more territory including not just games, but TV show episodes, music videos, and music tracks. Since I live in Germany it was geared toward a German audience. That said I didn’t bother with television episodes because even if I cared, they only offered one episode, not series, so I could imagine that it was more like a gateway drug: watch one episode for free, pay to watch the rest: no thanks.

I did get the Trivial Pursuit App for free, which revealed to me that Trivial Pursuit has tons of incredibly obscure questions—and I don’t mean trivial questions, but obscure random questions that nobody should legitimately know or care about. I still have it, but it’s on my short-list for deletion. Another thing I wish I’d never heard of; it’s a peculiar orchestral/rap video called Spiesser by Die Fantastischen Vier. I’ve posted the video at the bottom of this post.

Probably the best item out of the 12 Days of Christmas is a 32 minute animated film of Peter and the Wolf—which I still need to watch from start to finish. It looks really well made but I keep forgetting that I have it, as I usually don’t think of my iPhone as a video-watching platform.

Goethe is not an English Word.

I would have sworn that the best free game I got in December was part of the Appvent Calendar, but it’s not listed there: isoWords. It’s a very creative and well thought out game that is similar to Boggle, only once you use a letter three times, that letter and the rest of the cube it resides upon is deleted. Points are earned based on the letters used and the length of the word. I once found the word Quipper, which is worth 100 points.  My longest word is, so far, Coppered, which comes in at 90 points. Quality earns 95.  A word like tee earns only 3 points.  What I’ve learned from playing this game is that although my German is shitty, I keep finding German words, which are not words in this game. I’ve also discovered that the programmers (or maybe it’s the dictionary that Apple provides) does not recognize some common English swear words like shit, or some generally derogatory words that while words are not words you’d ever use in polite company.

And now for a digression: I’ve seen and tried to enter the infamous c-word in isoWords, but it is rejected. This is a word that a past (female) president of the University of Colorado, Elizabeth Hoffman, said that although it was usually a swear word, it could be legitimately used as a term of endearment. This led me to imagine some cheeky freshman seeing her walking across campus and shout out, as an endearing greeting, “what’s up c—?!”

She wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on if she tried to complain about being the object of that word.

Spiesser by Die Fantastischen Vier

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