Friday Fun! Get Your RTS On In Pixel Legions

In this week’s Friday Fun, I bring you a Flash game with a bit more depth than previous entries. Pixel Legions takes the complexity of most modern real-time strategy games and boils it down into its most basic form, perfect for the Flash game format.

In Pixel Legions there is only one unit type, the humble pixel. Groups of pixels are spawned in regular intervals at your square base. Pixel groups can be directed by clicking on a group and then clicking on a destination or by clicking and dragging for more complex routes. When two pixel groups of opposing colors get close enough to each other they join in battle. The goal of each level is to eliminate the opposing colors’ pixel spawning bases.

Many of the later levels start you at a distinct disadvantage to the opposing colors, but there are ways to tilt the odds back into your favor. Flanking groups of enemy pixels by attacking from multiple sides give your pixels a combat bonus. You can also halt enemy pixel production by directly attacking their base. On levels with multiple enemies you can bide your time, building up your own army while your opponents decimate each other.

Several levels introduce obstacles that alter how the game is played. For example, some levels have a “King of the Hill” area (no, not that King of the Hill). Position your base here and you will benefit from increased pixel production and a boost to your existing army’s strength.

Pixel Legions manages to provide enough strategy and tactics for RTS fans, but also keeps thinks simple enough for those not used to the fast pace of the modern RTS game.

Android App Roundup: ‘NewsRob’ (RSS Reader) and ‘4 teh birds’ (Game)

Dearest Android readers:  Thanks to a fantastic suggestion, Kevin and I are starting a weekly feature about some of our favorite Android apps.  We’ll be covering apps we love, apps that improve our phones, games, and newly-released apps that are worth checking out.

If you have any suggestions, hit either of us on Twitter, send us an email, or post in the comments at the end of the article!

Kevin’s Pick – NewsRob

Since Google hasn’t released an official Reader app yet, Android users can either use the mobile Reader website or download an app that syncs with Reader. I prefer the latter and have been using one called NewsRob since I got my phone, and it suits my needs perfectly.

NewsRob comes in two flavors, free and Pro. The free version is ad-supported and lacks some of the more advanced features of the Pro version, such as widget support. If all you plan on doing is checking your feeds, though, the free version will work just fine.

Synchronization can be configured through the options menu. There are options to sync automatically, only when connected to Wi-Fi, or only on demand. You can also set the time interval between synchronizations. In addition, NewsRob can be set to download only text, text and images, or text, images, and the web page the item points to.

Navigating NewsRob is as easy as it gets. Your feeds are broken down into any folders you might have set up in Reader, and then into individual feeds. Cycling through the items in a feed is handled by the volume buttons or on-screen arrows. Getting to the web page of an item is as simple as clicking its title. The page is rendered directly in NewsRob, so it isn’t even necessary to have a separate browser open!

NewsRob can be downloaded from the Android Market by scanning the QR Code below with the Barcode Scanner application.

Scan to download NewsRob

Evan’s Pick – 4 teh birds

Since Kevin went with something useful, I decided to go with something fun and pointless.  4 teh birds (nope, not a typo) is a super simple game for Android where clusters of cute, chubby birds fall from the sky, and your objective is to match three same-color birds together.

This game sports a fantastic physics engine, so those bulbous little birdies bounce all over the place as you try to match them up.  This game has wonderful artwork and animation, making it a great way to waste a few minutes during the day.

4 teh birds has several game modes, including time attack and survival.  In Hey, not too rough mode the clusters of birds can always be moved, but in Time Attack and Survival modes the birds can only be moved for a limited amount of time.  This quickly brings your game to the panic-inducing end game of Tetris when you’ve got a screen full of birds and no way to match them all up.

Overall, this game is addictive and has some of the best art direction, albeit simple, that I’ve seen in an Android game.  And hey, who doesn’t enjoy throwing obese birds around every once in awhile?

4 teh birds is free and can be found in the Android Market, and can also be downloaded by scanning the code below with the Barcode Scanner application.

Scan to download 4 teh birds
Image credit: lwallenstein

Friday Fun! Get Your Flash Game Fill With Morplee

Kick back and relax, it’s Friday! What better way to pass the time at work than with a Flash game?

Morplee follows the WarioWare format of throwing mini-games at you and seeing how fast you react. You’re given 60 seconds to complete 25 mini-games, running the gamut from frantically clicking as fast as you can to solving simple math problems. The twist is that the mini-games are stacked on a tower, giving you a view of three at a time that you can play in any order you choose.

On top of that, Space Invader-like enemies fall from the sky. Shoot them with your mouse before they land and start sucking your lifeforce. Take too long or lose all of your health and it’s Game Over!

There are slight variations to some of the mini-games, so even if you have one figured out you’ll still have to think quickly before you click. You’ll probably be able to finish the game in ten minutes or less, but those ten minutes will be filled with frenzied mouse movement and clicking as you try to save your home planet from the invading aliens.

I finished with a final score of 3034, can you top that?

Preorder Monkey Island 2 SE: LeChuck’s Revenge and Recieve Secret of Monkey Island: SE for Free

Nearly a year ago, I reviewed The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, and this Summer LucasArts is breathing new life into the second game in the series: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. LeChuck’s Revenge is getting the same overhaul that the first game got, with updated graphics, sound, and voiceover work.

In addition to their massive Summer sale, Steam also has pretty sweet deal on Monkey Island 2. Monkey Island 2 Special Edition releases on July 7th, but if you act early and preorder it, Steam will throw in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition for free! You can’t ask for much more than two top notch adventure games for just $10, especially if you didn’t play them in their previous incarnation.

If you have the adventure game bug, you can also pick up the LucasArts Adventure Pack for another $10 and play through four other adventure game classics, albeit in their original form and not enhanced like the two Monkey Island games.

Pioneer One: A Science Fiction Series Freely Distributed Through BitTorrent

An original science fiction series is looking to break new ground in the era of digital distribution. Funded purely through donations, the first episode of Pioneer One has recently been released. Foregoing traditional methods of distribution, the creators are instead freely distributing the episode through BitTorrent.

The first episode of Pioneer One was made on a budget of a mere $6,000, and its creators have already raised that (and more) in donations. As of the writing of this article, nearly $11,000 has been raised, with a goal of $20,000 which will be used to fund the next three episodes.

The pilot episode of Pioneer One tells the story of a strange object that crash lands in Montana, spreading radiation over hundreds of miles. Government agents are sent to investigate the crash, and what they find isn’t quite what they expected.

Pioneer One gives nods to other science fiction series, (a Sonic Screwdriver can be seen in an early scene, and two of the government agents bear a striking resemblance to the main characters of another popular sci-fi series), but also manages to tell the beginnings of a compelling story. The low budget look and feel reminds me of Primer, which also managed to tell an enthralling story with very little cash.

Some of the acting is admittedly not very good, but for the most part the actors and actresses perform their roles quite admirably. Most importantly, the ending makes you wonder what happens next, and leaves you looking forward to another episode.

One of the most interesting thing about Pioneer One is its distribution method. The first episode is licensed freely under Creative Commons and distributed via BitTorrent. Most filmmakers see BitTorrent as an enemy, and do everything in their power to fight it. The creators of Pioneer One instead chose to harness its power, and so far their decision has paid off. If donations continue at the same pace, we can look forward to more Pioneer One in the future.

Download options and donation links can be found at Pioneer One’s website.

Have you watched Pioneer One? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!

Friday Fun: Fight Your Twitter Friends In Dot War

Twitter doesn’t usually lend itself to games very well, but Dot War takes a unique approach. Type in your username and a friend’s (or opt for a random opponent), and your respective user pictures are transformed into an army of pixel soldiers. The colors in your picture determine your soldiers’ behavior and strength. Each side has three crystals that the opposing army is trying to destroy, with the army that damages the opponent’s crystals the most in the allotted time declared the winner.

There are two modes of play: an automated version where you have no direct control over your army, and a more hands-on mode where you can direct the general movement of your troops. Neither offer a very deep gaming experience, but it does give you a nice diversion in which you compete with your friends to see who has the most powerful Twitter account.

In the battle below, My avatar army was able to defeat Evan’s.

See if you can best our staff! Just plug in @briannelsondsgn, @pbvinge, @JugglingPilot, @kschulte, @dpatterson, or @evanw.

Gameloft Releases 10 Popular iPhone Games for Android

Gameloft, the prolific iPhone development studio, has ported 10 of their more successful games to the Android platform. These games (including Assassin’s Creed, Dungeon Hunter, N.O.V.A., and more) saw good critical reception on the iPhone, and it’s always nice to see more development for the burgeoning Android Market.

In a somewhat questionable move, all but one of these games (Asphalt, which has been available for a while now) cannot be found on the Android market. Instead you’re required to purchase them through Gameloft’s own website.  Gameloft has said that they’re pursuing alternate delivery methods in order to find an optimal way to get consumers their games, which unfortunately comes with a couple of downsides in this case.

When Gameloft first released the games they were burdened with cumbersome DRM measures, and people were only allowed a single download. Thankfully these restrictions have been removed and consumers can now download their games as many times as they’d like.

Assassin's Creed

Gameloft’s decision to bypass the Android Market also limits their potential consumer base. Everyone who owns an Android powered phone knows to check the Market for applications. By selling their games through their own portal, Gameloft’s games don’t get nearly as much exposure.

The other downside to keeping their games off of the Android Market is that they can’t get automatically updated. Users are notified when Market installed applications have updates available, but those who install applications from other sources will need to check that source to see if there are updates.

Ultimately, making consumers purchases games through a separate portal is inconvenient. We can only hope that Gameloft sees this and eventually make their games available through standard channels.

LauncherPro: A New Contender In Android Home Screen Replacements

For many people, the default Android home screen is good enough.  Those who crave more features, though, inevitably install a home screen replacement. I’ve been using one called LauncherPro for the past couple of weeks, and I can’t see myself switching to anything else any time soon.

LauncherPro doesn’t offer the feature set of a home screen replacement like HelixLauncher, but its sheer simplicity is what drew me to it in the first place.

The first thing you’ll notice when using LauncherPro is how smoothly it scrolls through home screens. The screens fly past with no slowdown, and it makes the default Android home screen look outdated and clunky by comparison.

Another welcome addition is the option to choose how many home screens you would like to use (up to seven). This is especially useful for those who own Motorola’s Droid, as it only supports three screens by default. LauncherPro also features an Exposé-like tiling of all your home screens, accessed by pressing the Home button on your phone or by making a pinching gesture on the home screen.

LauncherPro gives you a dock at the bottom of each home screen, allowing easy access to the dialer, your contacts and messages, and the web browser by default. The latest version introduced the ability to change these buttons to whatever you like, so you can launch any application or shortcut of your choice with ease.

The final feature that LauncherPro currently adds is the animation of the app drawer. Instead of just sliding up from the bottom when you press the application launcher button, a list of your installed apps will fly in from off screen, then fly out when you close it. It doesn’t add any new functionality, but it is a little extra eye candy.

Since LauncherPro is still technically in beta, it looks like we can look forward to more updates and feature additions in the future. You can follow LauncherPro’s development at the developer’s blog, found here.

Have you tried LauncherPro yet, or use a different home screen replacement? We’d love to hear what you like or dislike about them in the comments below!

How To: Stream Media From Your PC to Your PS3

While Sony’s Playstation 3 is viewed mainly as a video game console, it can also serve as a great streaming media center with a little extra software. Using the aptly named PS3 Media Server, it’s incredibly easy to serve up music and video straight to your PS3 from your computer.

The first step in getting streaming media to your PS3 is to download and install PS3 Media Server, which is available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. Once it’s installed, go ahead and open it.

Note for Windows Vista and Windows 7 users: You might have to run PS3 Media Server as an administrator for it to work properly. To do this, right click the shortcut and click on “Run as administrator”.

Once opened, you’ll be presented with a screen like the one below:

The next step is to show PS3 Media Server where your media resides on your local computer. Click on the ‘Navigation/Share Settings‘ tab at the top. This page has some settings you might want to change later, but what we’re interested in right now is at the bottom. Under ‘Shared Folders‘ click the plus button and navigate to the folder that contains the media you would like to stream. You can add as many folders as you like.

You’re now ready to stream your media to your PS3! Turn on your PS3 and make sure it is connected to your local network (for best reliability, it’s recommended that you connect to your network via Ethernet cable instead of through a wireless network, both on the PC you’re streaming from and your PS3).

Navigate to the desired media tab (Music or Video), and at the very bottom you should see your computer’s name.

Press X, and you’ll be presented with the folders you added earlier, with their content ready to be streamed.

Have you used any other software to stream media to your PS3 or other video game consoles? Let us know how it works in the comments below!

First Look: Fennec (aka Firefox Mobile) for Android

Last week, a pre-alpha build of Firefox Mobile for Android, codenamed Fennec, was made available for download. Following in the footsteps of the version already available for Nokia’s N900, Fennec looks to bring Firefox’s standout features such as the Awesome Bar, add-ons, and cross platform browser syncing via Mozilla Weave to the Android platform.

I’ve been playing around with Fennec for the past couple of days, and while it’s clearly a work in progress, what they have so far shows tremendous promise.

The first thing you’ll notice when using Fennec is it’s large installation size. Once installed, Fennec takes up a hefty 30MB of space, so if you’re using a device with a low amount of internal memory (like the Motorola Droid) you’ll want to make sure you have enough free space before installing. This size will surely be reduced in the final version, but for right now you’re stuck with it. Fennec’s memory usage also hasn’t been optimized yet, so expect it to gobble up any available free memory.

The second thing you’ll notice is it’s speed, or more accurately, it’s lack of speed. In it’s current build, Fennec is slow. It’s slow to boot up, and pages are slow to render. When pages load, scrolling around them is slow. I’ve heard reports that it’s not quite so bad on higher end phones like the Nexus One or HTC Droid Incredible – but on the Motorola Droid I’m using, browsing becomes an exercise in patience.

These downsides are, of course, due to Fennec being so early in development – but keep in mind Fennec certainly won’t be replacing your current browser of choice just yet.

On the positive side, Fennec appears to be quite stable. While it can take a while to close, I’ve never had it outright crash or lock up my phone in the few days I’ve spent with it. For a product so early in development, this is a great sign.

Internet pages are usually rendered quite well, but navigation can be a bit of a pain. The only form of zoom supported so far is via double tap. Multi-touch isn’t available yet, and there isn’t even something similar to the magnifying glasses found in Android’s stock browser. Unfortunately this means that on some pages you’ll be squinting to read text.

Feature-wise, Fennec looks to be shaping up quite nicely. Fennec already supports several add-ons, including Weave and Adblock Plus. The Awesome Bar works just like its desktop counterpart, providing easy access to frequently visited sites. Tabbed browsing is smoothly integrated, with a list of currently open tabs accessed by swiping to the right.

It might not be quite ready for prime time, but Fennec will definitely be making a splash in the Android browser market when it’s officially released. There are still quite a few kinks to be worked out, but once they are resolved Fennec will be quite an attractive option for Android users.

If you would like to install this early build of Firefox Mobile on your own Android device, you can find it here, along with additional notes and instructions on installation as well as how to enable Weave. Note that Fennec requires Android 2.0 or above.

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Have you had a chance to try out Fennec for Android? Let us know about your experience below!