Just yesterday I grabbed Google Listen for my phone and subscribed to a few podcasts. There aren’t enough of these for Listen, which leads me to think there should be a standard format, and a standard database of some kind to link all these so any podcast program can find them and keep updated. But I digress.

A bigger issue challenging Android is the open-source paradox. In theory, Android is open source. It is free to use. Its SDK can be downloaded and used by anyone (given they have the training and experience). Anyone can make apps and post them to the Android Market for use, and these apps do virtually everything imaginable.

But it’s not all open. Google has already determined that the source code of Honeycomb, version 3.0 for tablets, has not and will not be released. This stems from their fork strategy: version 3.0 is tablet-specific, because according to Google, it was too difficult to build a version that could function both on smartphones and the larger tablets with simple reconfigurations. Thus, Honeycomb could be considered a fork of the smartphone variant of Android. Hopefully in the future, these two forks will reconverge after Google works out some of the kinks, but who knows.

Google says the holding back of Honeycomb’s source code is to prevent mediocre apps from permeating the tablet market, and I guess they have a good point there. But I don’t see too many bad apps on the phones–it’s generally a straightforward process when searching to avoid the ones that don’t look so good–and either way, this still goes against the concept of Android being “open.”

What is more of a problem is the fact that it’s so open to start with–here’s the paradox. Everything is available to everyone, more or less. But most of the Android phone manufacturers aren’t content to just put out a phone with Android. That just won’t do. HTC invented Sense. Samsung made TouchWiz. And Motorola has MOTOBLUR. In some cases, these interfaces have just made things clunky and diluted the Android experience. But that’s just it. In the words of the guys at Android Central, they’re not selling Android, they’re selling the experience.

This also goes against the philosophy of Android, if you ask me–not just because I prefer the vanilla experience, but because these interfaces can’t be disabled or removed by normal means. Even if they are removed, in most cases it has been shown to destabilize the system; at this point it would just be better to root and install a custom ROM. On top of this the manufacturers are violating one of the founding precepts of open software and are making these (considerable) changes to the core of Android without making the changes public or returning them to the source project. This throws the whole concept into disarray, but the worst part of it is that this is happening almost entirely at the manufacturers’ discretion, taking advantage of Google making their source available openly.


control fantasy: the buttons within

I recently resumed my playthrough of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King. Besides the name being long in the tooth (not that that’s unusual for Japanese games), it has some of the typical issues with Wii games, those being developers not properly considering the implications of the hardware and its use.

First, a primer. MLaaK is a city-building sim game, in which you play the leader of a kingdom that was destroyed in the first Crystal Chronicles game, who is attempting to refound his father’s realm. In a third-person over-the-head perspective, you run around deciding where to place buildings such as homes, which then allow families to move in and in turn make adventurers available for you to send into the wilderness to bring back loot and riches.
The first failing of this game’s design is that the Wiimote’s forward sensor is unused. When you’re running around with a camera hovering over your back, the precision of that sensor is pretty much mandatory. But no. You simply use the D-pad to move about your town, and even that isn’t as precise as it should be–the King turns at nearly right angles, meaning if you’re not aligned with a street’s length you end up making an awkward zigzag to keep from bashing your head into buildings. Thank Romero the game doesn’t have character collision, or it would be a nightmare just to go for a stroll.
Apparently wanting to add to the inelegance, the Wiimote is used in its “normal” orientation, that is you hold it lengthwise, with the D-pad under your thumb. Why? If you’re not going to use the motion sensor, why not have it turned into “retro” orientation and make use of the extra buttons in a much more comfortable way? Many Wii game designers don’t seem to realize what they’re making can use other modes than what you see in the advertisements.
Another case in point: Metal Slug Anthology. It’s your typical sidescrolling platformer game (well, a colection of games), and smartly makes use of the Wiimote’s retro configuration. Okay, not so smartly. The game has no totally retro control scheme. In its simplest setting, it’s played much like it was an NES game, with one very annoying exception–throwing grenades requires the Wiimote be snapped quickly with the wrist. Obviously this makes gameplay extremely difficult, as moving the controller this way means you either can’t move or can’t shoot, and doing neither for even a second in a game like Metal Slug means death. Meanwhile, the “B” trigger is entirely unused. Why is the grenade function not mapped to this button?
Is this intentional? If so, why do developers feel the need to do this? It only makes gameplay awkward, at best, and in the case of Metal Slug‘s grenades, painful after a time. The game dev’s aim is to make it comfortable to play; otherwise there is little incentive to play. Not every unique feature of the Wii hardware needs to be exploited for every game–conversely, useful design mechanics should never be ignored when they will complement gameplay.
Or, at very least, games should allow full freedom of customization when it comes to command mapping. Personally, this is my preferred solution, but I can see reasons why it would be problematic for some developers.

blown away

Just finished the last part of the Space Oddity story arc in Deadpool #33-35. While I was amused by the parallel with the characters of the sentient moons Id and Ego, I’m left wondering why there was no Superego. Seems like Marvel missed out on an opportunity to make a much more expansive story arc.

In awesomer news, Moon Knight is getting a relaunch, and PunisherMax has been resurrected. This gives me a slight modicum of faith in the Disney-Marvel relationship, that maybe they will see what their great products are (of which PunMax was one) and stick with them.
And on an aside, playing through Spirit Tracks I’ve just picked up the Whirlwind, similar to the Gust Jar and a couple other mechanics from previous games. To use the Whirlwind, one blows into the mic to generate wind and blow things away. While this is inventive, I wish there was an alternate-use option, as just the first boss battle left me short of breath.


Sony took it upon themselves to refer to Nintendo’s gaming devices as “great babysitting tool[s].” This sounds like the kind of intolerable whining of a sore loser, to be honest, which isn’t surprising considering they’ve had their collective penis handed to them time after time as they continue to bash their head into the wall that is the Nintendo Handheld Imperivm. This doesn’t even cover their recent move into Android devices, which to me is a far greater (and more satisfying) irony.

But these are small pickles. What irks me more is Tretton’s next line, “no self-respecting twenty-something is going to be…with one of those.” Now he’s not just bashing Nintendo, he’s taking shots at their customers. That’s just low.
Just so you know, Mr. Tretton, I am 26. And I am regularly seen with my DSi, not my PSP. The PSP’s library of games has been stagnant, to say the least. While it’s a fun platform for racing and platformers (at least in my opinion), the games on it are hardly innovative. And I’m certainly not going to waste my money on a PSP Go, much less a Playstation Certified-smartphone on which I will have to repurchase all the games I already own.
Meanwhile, games like Phantom Hourglass feature inventive use of the dual screens and touch controls, allowing access to the in-game map complete with the ability for the player to add their own marking and annotations–and even metagaming (in one case, an example of meta-metagaming). The upcoming Ocarina of Time 3D will not just be a rehash of the classic, but will include the ability to browse and utilize inventory during gameplay, refining gameplay further. Games like Partners in Time feature two groups of characters, independently controlled on each screen (this concept is also used in The World Ends With You).
What do you have against this, Sony? Another God of War? Or will that blend in too well with the other 70% of your product pool consisting of 3D platformers? How about rereleases of mid-90s sidescrollers touched up with marginally better sprites? Or maybe another teat of the Final Fantasy cash cow?
Before you start bashing, try building up an actual case.