The Unnecessary Complexities of Video Game Pre-order Bonuses

In recent years, game companies have started offering incentives for pre-ordering their games. If the game is sold in a physical package, these incentives might include something tangible, like a cloth map or figurine.

Digitally downloaded games generally see bonuses of a similarly digital nature. You might get an exclusive in-game weapon that’s unavailable through any other means. If the game is sold through Steam you might get one of the infamous Team Fortress 2 hats.

Recently, we’ve started to see a trend towards more complex pre-order bonuses. For instance, it is common to receive different bonuses depending on where you pre-order the game. Pre-ordering a game from one retailer might net you a completely different exclusive weapon than if you pre-order from a different retailer. This complexity has reached a critical point with the hotly anticipated upcoming shooter Battlefield 3.

Last week, EA Games, the publisher of Battlefield 3, made a blog post detailing the game’s many pre-order bonuses. Battlefield 3 has seven different pre-order bonuses, all with different sets of stipulations on availability and exclusivity.

Here is just a taste of the complexity:

Everyone who pre-orders the game, regardless of retailer, will get the Back to Karkand expansion pack for free. This expansion won’t be available on the game’s launch date, and everyone who didn’t pre-order the game will be able to buy it for $15 when it launches to the public.

If you order the game at specific unnamed retailers you’ll get the Physical Warfare Pack, consisting of early access to three in-game items and a weapon. Those who don’t pre-order will get access at a later date.

Pre-ordering the game through EA’s own digital distribution service Origin, or if you bought specific versions of one of EA’s previous Medal of Honor titles, grants you early access to the game’s open beta. Four other bonuses are also available by pre-ordering through more unnamed retailers, and these bonuses don’t appear to be obtainable in any other way.

If you have specific pre-order bonuses in mind that you’d like to get, buying the game turns into a combinatorial problem. Can you match the bonuses you want to one specific retailer? If you can’t, which bonuses are you willing to give up? Does ordering from one retailer net you more bonuses than ordering from a different retailer?

Sure, there are plenty of people who will look at the bonuses, say, “Screw it,” and just order the game from whoever they’re most comfortable with. For everyone else, EA is expecting an awful lot from us just to get the privilege to give them money.

The upcoming game Batman: Arkham City suffers from similarly complex pre-order bonuses. It too has a pre-order guide that can be found on the game’s forums, and the guide’s author even acknowledges how complex the bonuses are in the very first line.

I’m not saying that pre-order bonuses are inherently bad. By pre-ordering a game a consumer shows that they believe the developer will produce a game worth paying full price for. It’s nice to get a bonus for that sign of faith. By mucking up the pre-order system, publishers are making it more complicated for gamers to give them money, which seems counter intuitive. Shouldn’t the buying process be as simple as possible? I shouldn’t have to spend half an hour doing research just to decide which version of the game I want to buy.

Both Battlefield 3 and Arkham City will almost assuredly be financial successes, reinforcing the idea that these complex pre-order systems are beneficial. Where does it end? In the future, will we be poring over convoluted Excel spreadsheets just to decide where to buy a game? Only time will tell.

Friday Fun! Fulfill Childhood Dreams With Kerbal Space Program

Space: the final frontier.

Many children dream of becoming astronauts when they grow up. If that happened to be you, now’s your chance to fulfill that fantasy. Not only will you be piloting your (hopefully) space-bound craft in Kerbal Space Program, you also get to design it!

Kerbal Space Program tasks you with getting the titular Kerbal race into orbit. In order to accomplish this monumental feat you need to design, build, and fly the rocket yourself.

The design phase, easily the most important, also happens to be the most fun. Your design needs to be sound in order for your rocket to go anywhere, so it’s usually best to start with something based on a real life design. Too little thrust and it won’t even get off the launching pad, while too much thrust will make it uncontrollable. It sounds intimidating at first, but after a bit of trial and error you start to get a feel for what might work and what won’t.

Since the game is still technically in the alpha stage of development, the choice of spaceship parts is a bit thin. Even with a limited inventory to choose from there are still enough variations on designs to keep things interesting. The promise of a wider variety of machinery in future versions certainly is appealing, though.

Needless to say, this design wasn't very stable

Once you’ve constructed your monstrosity… ahem… your masterpiece of modern engineering, it’s time to head to the launch pad. After providing your own countdown and hitting the ignition switch, your next task is to guide your baby into space. Depending on the robustness of your design, this may or may not be easy. A quick crash and burn might be more likely for your first few spaceship designs.

What happens once you reach space? Well, nothing, really. No fanfare greets you, there isn’t any confetti or champagne. If you like you can manually set yourself into orbit around the planet, or, if you have enough fuel, simply turn around and try to land safely back on Earth.

Kerbal Space Program might still be in the early stages of development, but it manages to capture the magic of space travel perfectly. Designing and constructing rockets gave me a childlike giddiness I haven’t felt since I started playing with Legos. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the game goes from here!

Kerbal Space Program can be downloaded for free from the official website. If you’re having trouble getting started, give the official Wiki a look or check out some of the design videos players have posted on YouTube.

Midweek Fun! Unleash Your Inner Speed Demon In ‘Proun’

A popular trend emerging in the world of independent gaming is the idea of gamers paying what they want for a game. It’s a daring move, but can pay off big for the developers. The Humble Bundle, which has gone through three iterations to date, has raised millions of dollars for developers and charities alike. The latest big name independent game to employ this strategy is the high speed racer Proun.

Proun takes a few cues from popular high speed racing series like F-Zero and Wipeout while also managing to inject some charm of its own. Controls are extremely simple; up makes you go fast, down makes you go slow (but really, who’s ever going to use it?), left and right steer, and shift activates a turbo boost. Instead of racing on a traditional track, Proun takes place on a cylindrical track with various geometric objects serving as obstacles.

As you steer you wrap around the track, which can be a bit disorienting at first as obstacles fly wildly around the screen. There are other competitors as well, but it’s impossible to interact with them. No knocking your opponents into walls here.

Like most racing games, Proun is all about racking up fast times. There are only three tracks (plus a bonus track), but Proun can be played at four different speeds. The lower speeds are nice and leisurely, perfect for learning the tracks and game mechanics. Supersonic will have you tearing your hair out in no time. After each race your time gets posted to the online leaderboards, where you can see how you stack up against the rest of the world.

Best of all, Proun can be had for whatever price you decide. Download the full game (minus a bonus track) without paying a cent. If you like it, I strongly suggest supporting awesome independent game developers and paying whatever you think is fair.

Proun is still a bit rough around the edges (there doesn’t seem to be a way to change the resolution, and there have been a few issues with the high score server), but overall it’s a brilliant concept that’s a blast to play, and well worth your time and money.

If for some reason you still can’t decide if you’re interested, check out the game’s promo video below.

Harry Potter eBooks To Be DRM Free

Personally, I am not a fan of publishers locking down eBooks with intrusive and unnecessary DRM. It devalues their product and does little to prevent piracy anyway. It’s unfortunate that almost all major publishers and digital book distributors continue to sell their books with such a handicap. One giant name in the book industry, however, is looking to shake things up.

J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, revealed her latest project yesterday. Along with a brand new online component of the Harry Potter universe known as Pottermore, Rowling revealed that both audio and eBook versions of the series would be made available digitally for the first time. Even better, the eBooks will be DRM free, meaning they can be bought and downloaded regardless of the platform they will be read on. The files will be digitally watermarked instead, associating the file to the person that purchased it.

A major publisher almost certainly wouldn’t allow such a bold move, but Rowling is able to offer her works DRM free because she retains the rights to the digital publication of the Harry Potter series.

Will this mark a turning point in the eBook industry? Will publishers and authors see that eBooks can still sell even without DRM? It’s hard to say, but it certainly won’t hurt. If Harry Potter sells well DRM free (which it almost certainly will), book publishers might finally start to see that DRM is completely unnecessary.

You can watch Rowling’s announcement for yourself in the video below.

Android App Roundup! ZDBox and Carrr Matey

It’s time once again for another edition of Android App Roundup! After a bit of an absence, we’re back and ready to bring you the must-have applications for your Android device. This time around we’ll be telling you about ZDBox, a handy little application that collects a bunch of tools into one place for your convenience, and take a look at Carrr Matey, an app that helps you remember where you parked your ship… we mean, car.

If you know of an application that would make a good addition to a future App Roundup, feel free to send us an e-mail or let Evan or me, Kevin, know via Twitter.

ZDBox – Kevin’s Pick

If you’ve had an Android phone for a while, you have probably accumulated a nice collection of useful tools to accomplish various tasks. Wouldn’t it be nice to get rid of all of those applications and replace them with a single application that can accomplish multiple tasks? Enter ZDBox.

ZDBox can monitor battery life, monitor data usage, set up “do not disturb” times where your phone automatically silences, lock specific applications so they require a password to open, kill running tasks (not recommended), batch uninstall applications, and batch move applications to the SD Card. All from one easy interface.

Using ZDBox is pretty self-explanatory. From the main interface, click one of the options to be taken to a sub-interface to set up or run whichever service you want to use. If you don’t want to use all of the services and don’t want the unused one sitting in the background sucking up resources, they’re easy enough to disable completely.

I’ve personally been able to get rid of four single purpose applications and replace them with just ZDBox. It makes an excellent addition to any Android user’s arsenal of utility applications.

Carrr Matey – Evan’s Pick

Let me start by telling you that I have a terrible sense of direction. And it’s not just a bad sense of direction, I also get disoriented very easily. Exacerbated by living in a metropolitan area with 3.5+ million people, I quickly sought refuge from my navigational disability in the Android Market.

I then discovered Carrr Matey. With three r’s and a cheerful pirate theme, this app lets you “drop anchor” when you park your car, making it easy to find on your return trip. Using your phone’s built-in GPS, you can navigate back to your vehicle with an overhead map view or a handy compass view.

Carrr Matey's map view. The ship marks your car's location.

Carrr Matey has a few extra features that make it especially useful to post-16th-century transportation. After setting the location of your parked vehicle, you can enable an optional parking timer to help you avoid expensive parking tickets. If you happen to leave your vehicle in a parking ramp, Carrr Matey’s “Harbor Mode” lets you store details like level, letter, color, or number of the parking spot.

 

Parking timers in Carrr Matey.

Sure, your friends might poke fun at you when you tell them you legitimately have no idea where you left your car. But don your captain’s hat, young sailor, because you’ve set a course with Android!

Midweek Fun! Test Your Puzzle Mettle In ‘The Heist’ For iOS

What could possibly be better than buying a single high quality puzzle game for just $0.99? If you answered, “two high quality puzzle games for just $0.99,” you are in luck. However, there is a small catch.

The good folks over at MacHeist have partnered with iOS developer tap tap tap to bring us The Heist. At first glance it appears to be your average puzzle game (which, let’s be honest, are a dime a dozen in the App Store), but lurking just under the surface is something more. If you manage to slog your way through enough puzzles, you can unlock a code to download another game, available for free on PC and Mac.

Thankfully, The Heist itself is a decent enough puzzle game that unlocking enough puzzles to get the free game isn’t a chore. In the game you’ll be playing through variations of four standard puzzle types.

First up is your standard block slider puzzle. Here the goal is to move the wooden blocks in such a way that the contraption in the middle is able to exit through the little hatch on the right side of the screen.

Next up is an interesting take on Sudoku. Instead of numbers you’re given hieroglyph-like pictures to put on the playing board. Only one of each hieroglyph may be in a single row or column, and each hieroglyph must be grouped with others of the same color.

Third you’ll find my personal favorite of the bunch, a sokoban-style sliding block puzzle. The goal here is to move a series of blocks onto an equal number of ‘final’ squares. The catch is that you’re only able to move the blocks by pushing them from behind. Pulling from the front isn’t allowed.

Up last is another sliding block puzzle you’ll probably recognize from your youth. You’re presented with a square grid with one of the interior squares missing. By manipulating the interior squares you need to connect the circles on the edge using wires of the same color as the circles.

As you continue to beat puzzles, more puzzles of increasing difficulty get unlocked. The puzzles near the end can get fiendishly difficult, but thankfully you don’t have to beat them all to unlock the second game (which is a very good thing, because I’m absolutely awful at the last type of sliding block puzzle).

So what is the unlockable game? I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that it’s worth more than the $0.99 you’ll pay for The Heist, and it’s available on Steam (which means you’ll need a Steam account to redeem it).

The Heist can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store.

Banish In-Browser Advertisments On Your Android Phone With AdFree

Browser advertisements – the bane of every Internet user’s existence. Sure, there are plenty of sites that aren’t overzealous with advertisements, but for every site that tucks a small ad into the corner, there are ten that present you with giant flashing sidebars and bombard you with full-page ads that demand your attention.

All of the major desktop browsers have plug-ins that handily eliminate the majority of ads, but what do you do when you’re on your phone? Sure, there are third-party browsers that allow plug-ins, but what if you’re stuck on (or prefer) the stock browser?

Lucky for you, AdFree Android does exactly this.

IMPORTANT NOTE: AdFree Android requires that you have root access. If you do not have root, it won’t work at all. Applications like AdFree Android are just one of the many benefits of rooting your phone. For more, check out Why You Should Root Your Android Phone.

Unlike most browser extensions that block ads at the browser level, AdFree Android works by blocking them at the operating system level by modifying your phone’s hosts file.

Setting up AdFree Android is a cinch. After downloading it from the Android Market, go ahead and open it up. Like all root applications, it will ask for superuser permissions which you should grant. There are a few options from the main menu, but the one you want now is right at the top – Download & Install Hosts.

Clicking the button will do exactly what it says, and give you a prompt saying if it was successful. That’s it! If you know what they do you can play around with the other options, but for normal use the defaults work fine.

With Ads
Without Ads

Ads in a desktop environment are annoying, but in a mobile setting they can seriously impede your browsing experience. Ads that demand your attention by clicking to remove them can be difficult to dismiss with a touch screen. If you’re on a metered data plan, they consume precious bandwidth. With AdFree Android, however, ads become a thing of the past.

AdFree Android can be downloaded from the Android Market here, or by scanning the QR Code below. If you find AdFree Android useful, consider donating to the developers.

How To: Import E-Books Into Aldiko for Android Using Dropbox

It’s been nearly a year since I last wrote about Aldiko, and while the E-book market on Android has exploded since then I still consider Aldiko to be the best reader out there. E-book powerhouses like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have both launched reader applications of their own, but they both lack a seemingly critical feature: the ability to import your own E-books to read.

Luckily for you, Aldiko does exactly that.

In previous versions of Aldiko E-book importing was a bit of a hassle. The books had to be put in a specific folder on the SD card or the application wouldn’t even recognize they existed. A few months ago, though, Aldiko got a brand new interface, and with it came easier book importing. By combining this awesome new update with the power of Dropbox, it’s not even necessary to connect your device to your computer to import books!

Initial Setup

To get started, you’ll first want to ensure that the book you’re importing is in the correct format as Aldiko will only accept books of the EPUB variety. If your book isn’t already in the EPUB format, it can easily be converted using Calibre which is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The next step is to sign up for Dropbox if you don’t already have an account. Dropbox is a free service that lets you sync files across multiple platforms, including Android.

After getting your computer set up with Dropbox, go ahead and move the E-book you want to import to the Dropbox folder. Once it syncs, head on over to your Android device.

Importing the Book Into Aldiko

If you haven’t already, go ahead and download the Dropbox client for Android. Once you’ve signed in, you should see the E-book you moved earlier. Long press on it and select ‘Download’.

Once the book finishes downloading, switch over to Aldiko. If you aren’t already on Aldiko’s home screen, hit the Options button and select ‘Home’. From here you should see a button for SD card. Once in the SD card you’ll want to look for the folder labeled ‘dropbox’. You should now see the book you want to import, so go ahead and select it and choose ‘Import to Aldiko’.

That’s it! You can click on the book right now to start reading, or access it from the shelf view later. Happy reading!

Aldiko comes in both a free and paid version, both available on the Android Market. Download the free version by scanning the QR code below, or find it here on the web version of the Market.

DroidWall: The Aptly Named Android Firewall Solution

Installing Android applications can sometimes be a risky operation. A list of permissions requested by the application pops up before installation, but how many people actually read those? Even if you do read them, they can often leave you puzzled as to why that application needs that permission.

I recently installed a newly-released game on my phone, and, like usual, took a look at the permissions it requested: full internet access (fair enough), read phone state and identity (wait, what? Why would it need that?), and access my location (alarm bells are definitely going off now). Since the game appeared to have fairly decent production values and was free, I was wary that its creators might be using an alternative revenue model, such selling user information to third parties.

Call me paranoid, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. I started looking around for a way to easily log Android network traffic to see if I could discover what data the application was actually transmitting, but stumbled upon something so much better: DroidWall.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: DroidWall requires root access to work at all. If you don’t have root, DroidWall will not function.

DroidWall lets you leverage the power of Linux’s iptables using a simple front-end interface. In a nutshell, it lets you block specific applications from accessing the Internet.

Even better, DroidWall is incredibly easy to configure. On the application’s main screen you’re presented with two modes of operation: white list or black list (toggle between the two by clicking on the header where the mode is displayed). When in white list mode, you select which applications you want to grant access to the internet (useful if there are only a few applications you want to give internet access). Black list mode is just the opposite. You select applications that you wish to block (useful when you only want to block access from a few applications). DroidWall also lets you decide on a per-application basis if you want to block 3G, Wi-Fi, or both, which can be useful if want to ensure that data-hog applications aren’t syncing while on 3G.

Once you’ve made your decisions, simply hit the Menu key, enable the firewall (if it isn’t already enabled), and hit ‘Apply rules.’ DroidWall will request Superuser permissions and the rules you defined will take effect immediately.

Be careful when selecting which applications you want to block, as blocking the wrong one could cause your phone to act rather strangely. For example, blocking the Linux kernel would probably be a bad idea.

If you want to be sure DroidWall is working, it also comes with a logging feature that can be enabled in the options menu. The log can be viewed via the ‘Show log’ option, also found in the options menu.

Conclusion

For all I know, the data the application was collecting may have been harmless. Usage metrics are often collected by game developers and studied to try and make the game better. However, since the game was new to the Market and I wasn’t familiar with the publisher, I decided it was best to not take a chance. DroidWall made it easy to use a built in Linux feature to simply block that application from accessing the Internet.

DroidWall can be downloaded for free from the Android market via the QR code below. If you really like it, consider donating at the project’s Google Code page.

Unleash the Full Power of Android Multitasking Using SwipePad

One of Android’s greatest advantages over its biggest competitor is its awesome support for multitasking right out of the box. Simply hold down the Home button for a few seconds to gain access to the eight most recently used applications on your device without ever leaving the currently running application.

But what do you do if the application you want isn’t on that list? How will you tell your loyal Twitter followers what you’re eating for lunch if you’re in the middle of a game of Angry Birds? Thankfully, SwipePad has you covered.

SwipePad lets you designate an area of the screen to swipe to open a list of user defined application shortcuts. By default, you swipe from the far bottom left or bottom right of the screen towards the center. After a bit of practice to figure out where exactly you need to be swiping, it becomes second nature.

When you first start using SwipePad, the 12 shortcut locations will be blank. To assign an application to a location, just hover over that location until it turns orange and release. Be warned, however: the initial setup can take a long time if you have a lot of applications installed. When choosing an application, the list scrolls painfully slow and is prone to freeze. SwipePad is still technically in beta, so hopefully that issue gets ironed out soon.

SwipePad is a simple application, but there’s still an options menu to poke around in, if you so desire. The most interesting entries let you change the swipe region and hide or show SwipePad’s indicator icon in the status bar. I recommend leaving the icon visible, as it helps prevent the operating system from killing SwipePad.

I’ve been using SwipePad for the past couple of weeks and can’t find much to complain about. Other than the long setup process, SwipePad works exactly as advertised. Initially, I was worried about accidentally invoking SwipePad when I didn’t mean to, but that hasn’t happened yet (and even if it does, you can just change the swipe region to somewhere less invasive).

SwipePad is particularly useful if you’re still running a phone with limited RAM, like me, and use a homescreen replacement app. Since the homescreen replacement has a tendency to get killed, having another way to access your most used applications is incredibly handy.

SwipePad can be found in the Android market, or by scanning the QR Code below.

Have you come across any other applications that leverage Android’s multitasking power, or any interesting applications in general? Feel free to shoot us an e-mail at tips@techerator.com!