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.

How Playing A Smartphone Game Might Get A Professional Sportsman Banned

Playing smartphone games are a great way to pass the time,  provide education and improve children’s brain functions. However, a smartphone game also managed to get a professional sportsman in hot water last week. Now he is facing a lengthy ban from his field.

Gaioz Nigalidze is recognised as one of the best chess players in the world. At the tender age of 26, he is ranked 400th in the world and is the Georgian national chess champion. Last week, he was competing in the Dubai Open tournament with a first prize worth $12,000. He had made it through to the sixth round and was facing Tigran Petrosian.

Tigran Petrosian noticed that his opponent was taking very long bathroom breaks after almost all of his moves. He became suspicious and a search was made of the bathroom. Those searching it apparently found a smartphone hidden in the bin with an as-of-yet-unnamed chess game loaded on it. When they opening a Facebook app, Gaioz Nigalidze’s account was allegedly signed in.

A full investigation has been launched into the incident with Gaioz Nigalidze denying that he was cheating. Depending on the outcome of the claim, he could be facing a ban from all chess tournaments for as long as three years.

How Desert Golfing Changes The Smartphone Game Landscape

One of the most common techniques that video game developers use to keep people hooked on their product is what’s known as the ‘virtual Skinner Box’. The concept is based on a theory by BF Skinner, who argued that a person will do something with more frequency if there is a reward at the end of it. In games, this means that you return to the product time and again in order to achieve something – a high score, a new level, upgrades to your character, etc. This is something that has existed in video games for as long as they have been in existence from Space Invaders to Candy Crush.

The virtual Skinner Box is an unavoidable problem with video games. In order to be entertaining, to keep its players mashing the same series of buttons, they have to have some addictive factor. However, this same concept is somewhat manipulative when it’s misused by ‘freemium’ games that use it to sell add-ons or unlock exclusive content.

A new smartphone game is challenging the concept of the virtual Skinner box though – Desert Golfing from Blinkbat Games. The concept of the game is to pull and launch your golf ball across a two-dimensional desert terrain with the aim of getting it into the hole. Once you have succeeded, you move onto the next level. Then the next. And the next. And the next. And the next. It never ends. There is no high score table, no restart button to play a level again, no goal to achieve and no people to compete against.

Desert Golfing essentially subverts everything we have come to expect from a video game, and it will have its many critics for doing so. Some of the most damning remarks about the game range from it being “pointless” to being “dull”. However, there are just as many gamers who believe this is a truly remarkable experience. It has shot up the iTunes charts since its release a few weeks ago, meanwhile a writer at Arts Technica said it had him “feeling a little philosophical about game design, and even life in general”.

There is a reason for this: the minimalism of the game allows those who download it to focus on the retro beauty of its 2D design, which is both intricate despite its simplicity and nostalgic in the way it channels the aesthetics of early video games from the 1980s. And for those among us who appreciate the art of making smartphone games, rejecting the virtual Skinner box in order to achieve this is a daring and refreshing step.

More Women Are Now Playing Games Than Men

Those who make major blockbuster video games have held the misconception that their target demographic are teenage boys for a long time. Because of this, whether it’s Call Of Duty or Assassins Creed, video game makers have often made their products to suit what they think this demographic wants. Their protagonists have been gun-toting alpha males with female characters (if there are any) reserved to supporting roles as scantily-dressed damsels-in-distress.

It is safe to say that companies like Microsoft and Sony have been detached from reality in doing this, unaware of the seismic change going on in the video game industry as more and more women become interested in the medium. However, the Internet Advertising Bureau’s latest report may finally prove to the likes of Microsoft and Sony what is really happening. It has found that there are now more women playing video games than men.

The preferred console of choice for female gamers is the smartphone with 54 per cent of the people playing games on a phone being girls. It shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise either. The accessible nature of smartphones has opened the door for females who may never understood the appeal of gaming before. Furthermore, they are a place where independent app makers have been able to make games that don’t just conform to the teenage boy demographic, making products that can be accessible to any age range or gender.

So what does this mean for the gaming industry, and in particular the developers of blockbuster console games like Grand Theft Auto or Far Cry? For starters: this should be the final nail in the coffin of an outdated stereotype that gaming is for teenage boys. Game developers need to sit up and pay attention to the figures and realise that their games must, at last, change to meet the demands of this growing market. Games now have to be conscious of gender, giving women stronger roles than just sidekicks, girlfriends and captives.

Can The Xbox and PS3 Hit BioShock Really Work On iOS?

The last post we published on Games Aren’t Numbers talked about the need for developers to release popular titles from older generations of consoles on mobile devices. It discussed how Playstation 2 games like Max Payne and Grand Theft Auto 3 found a new life on smartphones and how the struggling Nintendo would benefit from similar action.

However, we never expected that just weeks later the video game developer 2K would commit to the ambitious feat of bringing the recent Xbox and PS3 smash-hit BioShock to iOS. After all, while adapting Playstation 2 or Nintendo 64 releases for mobile platforms should be fairly straightforward, the concept of making something as visually and technically complex as Bioshock compatible for iPhones and iPads seems almost impossible.

For those unaware of the game, BioShock is regarded as one of the high points of the Xbox 360 and PS3 eras. A first-person shooter set in the underwater world of Rapture, the game has been celebrated for the immense detail of its graphics as the player explores the sunken wreckage of the game’s world. Similarly, praise has been heaped on the amazing mechanics that let you scavenge, shoot and use futuristic powers as you encounter the game’s villains. That’s not to mention the gripping story that contains one of the gaming medium’s biggest twists.

2K are hoping to bring BioShock to iOS devices in a ‘true recreation’ of the award-winning game. But can it really work?

On a purely surface level, BioShock is unlike any other game you can install on your iPhone. It’s not something you can tune into for 10 minutes on the way to work; it is an epic experience that requires the devotion of large chunks of your time. And what of the controls? The combat mechanics were complex enough for Xbox 360 and PS3 users who had to utilise every button to take on the game’s foes. It’s difficult to think how 2K will make it playable on a 5 inch touch screen.

However, these challenges seem positively simple compared to the technical complexities of bringing Bioshock to iOS. Smartphones and iPads are surely not going to be able to handle the sheer level of detail the game requires. The data capacity on smartphones simply cannot come close to that of a console. Lagging, low-quality graphics and enormous loading times will likely ruin the experience.

2K have a huge challenge on their hands as they hope to bring their first-person shooter classic to a new audience of game players. There will be some gigantic hurdles to overcome along the way if they hope to succeed. But can they really pull it off?  We will find out when the game hits iOS platforms later this year.

There’s Still Hope For Nintendo, And It Might Be Smartphones

The first console I ever purchased was the Nintendo 64 and it dominated most of my young life. I vividly remember wasting away the days in front of the TV jumping into each magical land of mysteries and challenges in Super Mario 64 and trying to gain enough points to win the Star Cup in Mario Kart.

However, Nintendo is now a dying name. Their Wii console was incredibly successful and introduced gaming to the masses, but since it has seen nothing but failure. They have quite simply been totally eclipsed by the likes of Microsoft and Sony.

However, there is a very simple way for Nintendo to turn around their recent bad luck, and it involves smartphones.

One of the problems with console games is that as technology inevitably develops older generations die out and give way to new ones. So too do the games on them. The aforementioned Nintendo 64, like its competitor the Playstation One,  is all but extinct now. The only place you will find the clunky console or the game cartridges is through websites like eBay. They’re so old, furthermore, that it’s unlikely they will still work — at least for very long.

Yet, there is still a huge demand for this generation of consoles and its games. Since my Nintendo 64 died a few years ago I have resorted to finding an online emulator to play the games through my mac. So too have millions of others. The aforementioned Super Mario 64 has been downloaded 9 million times to play through an emulator. The punch-em-up Super Smash Bros. has been downloaded a whopping 11 million times. Meanwhile, one look at eBay shows that a cartridge of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, for those lucky enough to still have a working Nintendo 64, is going for the staggering price of £65.

Of course, Nintendo don’t make any money from this.

A few years ago, Playstation realised there was a high demand for their previous generation of games and found a way to capitalise on it — they re-released the highlights for smartphones. The fun taxi racing game Crazy Taxi is available on app stores for a cheap £2.99, Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 2 can be bought for £1.99, even Grand Theft Auto 3 has its own smartphone version. All three and many more have been resounding successes.

It wouldn’t be hard for Nintendo to follow suit and revive their classic titles as smartphone games. After all, they are simple enough to adapt for smartphones and tablets, and the number of people who have resorted to alternative means to play them surely prove there’s a profit to be made.

People would soon be wasting away the days playing their classic games once again. But instead of plonking yourself in front of the TV, you could be exploring the kingdom of Hyrule from Zelda: Ocarina Of Time during your lunch break, or trying to shoot your way through the bunker of Goldeneye on the train.

Are Smartphones Responsible For The Gaming Boom?

The Sony Playstation 4 is on track to becoming the biggest selling console of all time. It is selling at a three-to-four fold increase when compared to the Playstation 3 and is flying off shelves faster than the Playstation 2 — which currently holds the crown for the most profitable console ever. In just five months since its release, the Playstation 4 has sold 7 million copies. Considering the similar success of the Xbox One, which isn’t too far behind that 7 million mark, it is causing some people to believe that we are in the midst of a gaming boom.

There are several reasons why this might be the case. Video games are finally being recognised as an art form rather than the misrepresented as a time-killer for teenage boys, the industry’s advances in gender politics are attracting more female players than ever before, and let’s not forget that gaming is in something of a golden period thanks to masterpieces like Grand Theft Auto V and Mass Effect.

However, there is another argument regarding what is responsible for the gaming boom — and that argument is smartphones.

The problem with consoles in the past was that they only really attracting people who were avid gamers and already owned consoles. It created a tough market. After all, console gaming requires practice to grasp the control pads, game mechanics and what is and what isn’t possible in a console world. Smartphone games, however, have broken down that barrier by acting as a gateway for those who have never owned a console before. They have equipped the world with the skills to tackle the bigger, complex games that consoles provide.

But smartphone games have not only provided a gateway in terms of skills. They have also managed to destroy some of the misconceptions about gaming. Prior to smartphones, if you asked someone on the street for their thoughts on video games it is likely they would have brushed them off as ‘toys’. Now, the entire world has seen that gaming can be addictive and engaging for anyone — that they can contain complex ideas like Papers Please does, and emotional stories like in The Walking Dead game.

The positive effect is so strong that people now, seemingly, want more. They don’t just want to experience simple games on the train journey to work or in the doctor’s waiting room. They want to dedicate an evening to battling quests or a lazy Sunday morning to roaming video game environments. Therefore, sales in consoles have exited a lengthy slump — brought on, ironically, by the rise of great handheld gaming on smartphones — and are now at an all-time high.

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.

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.

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.

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.