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Welcome To Games Aren’t Numbers

We’re in a golden age of gaming. Video games have never been more popular, and they have never been better either. The reason why can be attributed to one invention: the smartphone.

The industry slowly became more and more complex when arcade games made the move to consoles. If you hadn’t played a game before it was difficult to master, and that’s not to mention the complicated controls and playing systems that you had to navigate to get there in the first place. It made video gaming a niche.

However, in the era of the smartphone, I believe gaming has become a pass-time that anyone can enjoy regardless of age or gender. That’s why we’re in a golden age. Everyone knows how to use their phone and thus everyone knows how to play a game on it. What’s more: because of the advanced technology of these devices, the games are frequently very, very good.

Just a decade ago, it was difficult to imagine innovative and groundbreaking titles being available on your phone. You may have had the likes of Snake and Solitaire on your phone, but games that allowed you to step into fascinating worlds and experience exciting gameplay were only found elsewhere. Phones were primarily just tools for communication – text messaging, calling and e-mailing (if you were really fancy!) Gaming had little or no place on the mobile phone.

But, today, phones contain games that are critically acclaimed, award winning and have the potential to become global phenomenons. We have everything from the immensely popular and addictive ‘Angry Birds’ to the multi-award winning masterpiece by Telltale Games ‘The Walking Dead’ (pictured above).

It’s hard to find a phone that doesn’t provide you with the ability to experience these games. No longer are handsets just storing numbers to call; they are consoles with thousands of puzzles, challenges and missions that you can install from the app store and attempt to complete. Games and numbers are now two very separate entities, but ones that exist on the same device.

I hope to explore many of the best smartphone games, from the biggest blockbusters to the smallest independent releases, on this blog.

Welcome to Games Aren’t Numbers by Number Direct UK.

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Trying To Escape From The Room

Towards the end of 2012, I was taking long train journeys on a regular basis. I had exhausted most of the games on my Apple iPad and needed a new addition to my device. I scanned the app store and nothing caught my eye. Meanwhile, I already owned most of the games my friends were recommending.

One night, I was watching the BAFTA Game Awards. A smartphone and tablet game I had never heard of before was sweeping all the major awards. It won the Apple iPad Game Of The Year gong and took home the Best British Video Game prize. The game was called ‘The Room’.

Immediately, I paid the small £1.99 fee and installed it on my device. I couldn’t wait to see what it was like. I could barely contain my excitement.  it must be incredible if it won so many big awards. When the installation had finished, I opened up the game, and what I found was… a locked box in a room? Surely that couldn’t be it? I scrolled around, zoomed in, zoomed out, scrolled around some more. ‘This game won the BAFTA award for Best British Video Game?’ I thought.

12 hours later I was sat on that aforementioned train commute and I couldn’t put the game down. I had become completely obsessed with finding out what was in the locked box that sat so mysteriously in this room. ‘The Room’ challenges you with puzzle after puzzle to solve the enigma and crack the box open. You must find clues hidden on the walls, under tables, and on the box itself. Crack the clues and you find secret compartments. The secret compartments contain weird items. You then have to figure out what to do with the items. Every time you feel you’re getting closer to opening the box, another challenge presents itself.

‘The Room’ eventually lived up to my initial expectations. It’s a puzzle game that is genuinely challenging, requiring intelligence and patience to put together all the clues and crack the mystery. But the game design is so brilliant that it never becomes frustrating. Each mystery is as fascinating as it is complex. When you finally crack it,  it’s simultaneously a huge relief and sad to see it end.

I became completely engrossed by the game. It’s a room that once I’d entered I just couldn’t leave.

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Your Children Should Be Playing Smartphone Games

Gaming has a stigma of being dangerous. It is often blamed whenever there is a tragic act of violence committed by a young person. It is something I have fiercely denied for a long time. Gaming is simply an easy target for those who don’t have the time or effort to explore some of the deeper issues surrounding violence. Besides, for the media, a sound-bite about how Grand Theft Auto caused a teenager to shoot someone is more dramatic than an investigative piece examining the effects of poverty, mental health, etc.

However, I wouldn’t just deny that smartphone games are having a negative effect on kids. I would actually argue that they can be enormously positive. It is something that hit home this weekend as I sat and watched by youngest cousin, aged 7, engage in a game of Ruzzle on his mum’s smartphone. Ruzzle is a simple smartphone game that challenges you to find words amid a jumble of 16 letters before the time runs out. You score higher points for finding complex words or using uncommon letters.

My cousin sat on his device for close to an hour playing the smartphone game. At first, he was failing to find anything better than low-scoring monosyllabic words, but as he played the game more and more his vocabulary began to enhance. With some encouragement from the adults around him he was not just finding ‘has’, he was finding ‘haste’. He was understanding the differences between tenses, plurals and much more.

It made me realise what an impact smartphone games can have on a young child’s mind. It is not just Ruzzle teaching kids about spelling and the English language; there are plenty of other games in the App Store that can help entertain and educate children at the same time. There are games that enhance memory like Elephant, there are games that encourage creativity like Draw Something, and there are puzzles like Flow that test logic.

So gaming may have a stigma of being dangerous, but I certainly believe smartphone games have the capacity to make kids smarter and more creative than ever before.

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Badland Game Is Everything Flappy Bird Should Have Been

The gaming industry can be a very strange one, and the enormous heights that Flappy Bird soared to reflect that perfectly. How could such a poorly designed game become a universal phenomenon like it did? I’m confused by its success even more after taking a look at the game Badland, which was released earlier this year at around the same time everyone was talking about Flappy Bird.

Created by Frogmind, Badland shares a lot in common with Flappy Bird but I think it is vastly superior. Like Flappy Bird, it asks the player to fit a winged creature through a series of obstacles by tapping the screen. However, I found Badland to be everything that Flappy Bird wasn’t.

Badland takes the simple tap-tap-tap concept and attempts to do something inventive. Unlike Flappy Bird where each obstacle was defeated through the same monotonous act of tapping your device, Badland is quite different. The obstacles here aren’t identical green blocks but a complex series of doors, traps, wheels and chutes. Sometimes you must collect magical items within the game that allow you to pass obstacles. Some will make you smaller to fit through tiny gaps; some will make you heavy enough to activate switches. You often have to navigate various routes in order to complete each level too. While I got bored of Flappy Bird after a few hours, Badland kept me coming back again and again hoping to beat its creative challenges.

‘Creative’ is the operative word when it comes to Badland. Flappy Bird stole its entire aesthetic from the Super Mario games and was designed in just three days resulting in a myriad of bugs. However, Badland has clearly been a labour of love. The game has a hauntingly beautiful landscape and soundscape that looks like something out of a Grimms Brothers fairytale. I loved its use of silhouette and the natural sounds of bird calls and whistling wind in the background of each level. It adds something to the experience that Flappy Bird never even attempted: mood and atmosphere.

Badland is so good it outlines how unfair the mobile gaming world can be. In a perfect universe, this would be the game that made thousands of dollars a day and spurred the kind of hyperbole that Flappy Bird received. I could debate the reason why it didn’t all day. Is it because it is a paid-for app? Is it because people wanted a quick and immediate time-killer rather than a challenging saga you have to keep coming back too? Regardless of the whys, I think Badland is ten times as good as Flappy Bird and is very much worth checking out yourself.

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The Rise and Fall of Flappy Bird

For a short period of time, the smartphone and tablet game Flappy Bird was all the rage — ­­ ‘rage’ being the operative word in that sentence. It promised to be a straightforward time-­killer for doctor’s waiting rooms and train journeys home; a simple tap game that challenged you to flap a bird’s wings and fly it through a series of green pipes. However, it was so poorly designed that the game prompted frustration from everyone who tried it.

The gaps were impossibly tight, the physics was difficult to gauge and the eponymous bird would often die without having collided into anything at all. I played the game for about an hour over the course of one weekend and didn’t manage to get a score higher than 7. It was so difficult to play, in fact, that some gamers broke their devices in anger.

People started taking to social media to discuss the app and it wasn’t long before curiosity got the better of the gaming world. Soon, everyone wanted to take a shot at Flappy Bird.

In much the same way that you can’t look away from a car crash, gamers just had to see what the fuss was about. They wanted to find out if it was really as bad as people were saying. In addition, players wanted to see how the seemingly easy task of tapping to get a bird through some pipes could be so challenging and cause such a vitriolic reaction. That was certainly the reason why I downloaded it.

Whether people were playing it out of morbid curiosity or they were genuinely enjoying the simple but addictive app didn’t matter though; they were playing it. Thus, it became one of the most popular games on the app store. In just a matter of weeks it was making its young developer Nguyen Ha Dong, a 27 year old from Vietnam who designed it in just 72 hours, upwards of $50,000 a day from in-­game adverts. It was a rags ­to­r riches story like few others in the gaming world. He was propelled to celebrity status over night. But, as anyone who tried maneuvering the bird through those pipes knows all too well, what comes up must come down – and this is precisely what happened with Flappy Bird.

Nguyen Ha Dong very clearly became frightened by just how much attention his game was getting. He took to Twitter to demand peace from the press (he refused to give interviews during this whole period) and often had to fend off criticism from those who didn’t like Flappy Bird. This sometimes included death threats. Things only got worse when people also began to accuse Nguyen Ha Dong of foul play. An app designer and marketer for Blue Cloud Solutions insinuated in a blog post that Nguyen Ha Dong used bots to hijack the ratings and boost it up the charts. Many people also accused him of plagiarising the aesthetic of Nintendo’s Super Mario games – not least of all because of the pipes.

The ‘fun’ therefore came to a halt. Like the game’s bird colliding into a pipe, Nguyen Ha Dong killed Flappy Bird off. He tweeted that he would remove it from app stores in just a few days, meaning that those who hadn’t installed it would no longer be able to. The developer said he wanted to return to a life of simplicity. He said he had created an ‘addictive’ monster and had to destroy it. Cynics wondered if he had been handed a Cease And Desist notice by Nintendo after the aforementioned allegations. Some even thought it might have been a marketing ploy to get one final surge of installs before the game inevitably faded into obscurity.

The real reason for the app’s demise may not be known. But one thing is certain: Flappy Bird is no more. It has become a bird so rare that people were listing phones that still had the game on eBay for thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, a great many knock­offs have appeared on app stores in the weeks following its disappearance. It goes to show that the story of Flappy Bird’s unprecedented rise and spectacular fall is so incredible that it won’t be forgotten any time soon.