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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Games News: Apple set to enter games development with Chinese acquisition

Written for GameSpot UK

Apple has been hotly tipped to be on the verge of signing a US$150m deal with the Chinese software developer, Handseeing. Not only marking their first major deal in the People’s Republic, this would place the handheld giant in the new position of being able to develop games for the iPhone and iPad in-house.

We should have a decision in about one or two months,” Tian Bo, the acquisition’s vice-president for operations told Reuters. “They’re still talking about it and it’s not quite settled yet right now.”

The online games specialist has been operating in south-east China since 2005 and it remains to be seen whether this deal relates to the planned Apple Games Centre or is a separate international venture in their increasing gaming ambitions. Apple themselves are remaining tight-lipped.

As is Tian Bo, who only added to Agence France-Presse that the negotiations would be ongoing until September when an “incremental” announcement would be made.

Until then we can only speculate how Apple will handle the rare transition from gaming platform to games developer and how this will affect the unpredictable current handheld market.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Games Article: Backloggery.com and the forgotten art of game completion

Written for DenofGeek.com

Where do you keep your private collection? Under the mattress? In an unassuming shoe-box somewhere? (Supposing it would all fit.) Do you place it in unmarked boxes tucked away in the far corner of the attic, out-of-sight, out-of-mind? Or do you throw caution to the wind and display it defiantly in pride of place on your shelf for all to see, disapproval be damned? It’s the dirty little secret gamers all share yet none but the truly foolhardy dare to discuss in any detail, and with good reason too.

I’m speaking of course - in this infantile extended innuendo – to gaming backlogs; those games that lie unfinished (some even unstarted) not through any fault or gross misdeed of their own but simply because you haven’t had the time to finish them. We all do it. The gaming industry is fantastic at generating hype for new and upcoming releases and this is especially apparent now E3 has passed and every self-respecting gamers’ wish-list is fit to burst . It’s no wonder then, that with every new release we chase that new hot product, like parents cooing over a newborn when they have 50 neglected children already sitting at home.

And it’s not just games. Most of us will already have enough books and DVDs (it’s the boxsets that’ll get you) to last a year, at the very least, and yet we still collect HMV bags and Amazon packages like birds gathering materials for their nest. Fact: the home-entertainment draught is not coming. Neither will we be needing any time soon the materials to hibernate through a nuclear winter (and if we did I doubt the last three next-gen cover-shooters will be what people are wrestling over in the aisles of ASDA).

Perhaps it’s the blindness of nostalgia but personally I can’t remember in my youth ever letting a game sit on the shelf uncompleted. I would take it as a matter of duty to complete a game - often more than once - and not the just the good ones either, even a truly mediocre game was worthy of a thorough playing through. Admittedly, as children time was in abundance, whereas money for new games was not, and many of the games of that time were clearly significantly shorter affairs than those of today. However, it is also worth considering that for most gamers we were furiously defeating these games before the internet made ‘I’m just stuck’ a thing of the past and - for some of us - before save files were par for the course, meaning the Herculean act of completing a game in one sitting.

Today the shoe is on the other foot. Time is money, and most of us have too little of the former and, well, more of the latter. Placed in such a position our younger-selves would bunk-off work in order to catch up with a decade’s worth of gaming, and knowing this we attempt to condole our inner-child by regularly purchasing games neither of us will ever finish. We feel guilty so we buy, only to end up increasing the number of games we feel guilty for not playing, and since this cycle of guilt doesn’t look like it will relent any time soon we’re left deciding where to hide the resulting backlog.

But now a new option has raised its head. Backloggery.com offers the digital equivalent of lining up every game you regret never completing and inviting your friends round to judge you. ‘You have the games. Play them.’ reads the bold slogan and as a surprisingly anti-consumerist mission statement it really gets to the heart of what is ostensibly a glorified to-do-list.

Listing your most neglected purchases may seem daunting but the hidden reward is the feeling of achievement you get every time you update that another hour has been shaved off a completion time, not to mention the glory of changing a game’s category from ‘Unfinished’ to ‘Beaten’, ‘Completed’ or even the elusive ‘Master Run’. It works a little like a blog for your gaming achievements (note the lower case ‘a’) and while your friends may begin to lose the will to feign interest in your game-completion Facebook updates Backloggery offers immediate gratification as it instantly alters your unfinished/beaten ratio and even presents you with a little graph of your accomplishments. It’s Mr Miyagi for your gaming training-montage, and the analogy even stretches as far as the ‘fortune cookies’ which suggest a randomly generated game from your collection to rediscover.

This may read like a press release so I might add that I am not under commission and other to-do-list formats are available (such as the modestly timeless pen and paper). In fact, Backloggery works in much the same way, offering no catalogue of games but instead allowing you to input their details one by one. It’s a laborious process and it’s unclear how exactly the users whose backlogs numbers into the thousands had the precious game-completion time to spare for it, but in many ways it’s part of its understated charm that your profile is truly customisable from the personalised banner and colour scheme to the grammatical decision between ‘Legend of Zelda’ and ‘Legend Of Zelda’ (choose wisely). It really is a no-frills service and an endearingly altruistic one in an industry where games must be either new or retro to be of any interest and in this environment, a listing of merely old games is actually quite refreshing.

Admittedly, depending on your backlog figure you might never get to the bottom of it, and the site features a cheeky ‘wish-list’ category to acknowledge that man can not live on old games alone. Conversely, for a site that reveres the statistics, 100% completion never seems the point. The play’s the thing, and whether it’s a further chapter of a story you thought you’d never hear the end of or rediscovering the joy of playing for the sake of playing, trophies-be-damned, the simple act of listing those regrets frees you from the guilt they carry. Some games you may find you need to go back to if only to fully realise there was never any need to go back to them, and in these cases I’ve found even a prompt click on the ‘null’ category offers its own satisfaction.

Backloggery is a clearly a site designed by gamers that know all too well the self-flagellation and shame gamers subject them to over a hobby that should only ever be about enjoyment. So feel guilty no more. Backloggery has died for your gaming sins. Your backlog chains are cast off. Live long and prosper! You’re free, and you’re welcome.

(If your curiosity is piqued my humble backlog can be found here. Sign up and let us support each other like a kind of Backloggers Anonymous.)