Tag Archives: Toys and Technology

Quick! Get Yourself the Indie Love Bundle

The Indie Love Bundle: six amazing games

The Indie Love Bundle: six amazing games

I’m a big fan of “casual games,” the sort of thing that’s often played in a web browser; point-and-click puzzles, side-scrollers with some sort of twist, beautiful abstractions with lovely sounds. I stumbled across the Indie Love Bundle, a collection of six fantastic independent games (all of which have won some sort of award or another) for only $20. The catch is, you’ve only got until midnight on Friday to buy it.

I’d played demos of a few of the games before but hadn’t splurged on them, but at this price I bought mine today. A brief rundown of the games included:

  • And Yet It Moves: a puzzle-platformer where you can rotate the world to change gravity; the graphics look like torn-paper collages
  • Auditorium: an abstract game that requires you to push and pull a stream of colored lights to fill up the various meters; the music is affected by the gameplay
  • Aztaka: a side-scrolling RPG set in the Aztec world
  • Eufloria: a space-exploration game that involves … growing plants from the resources on the planets you discover
  • Machinarium: a point-and-click adventure about a little hand-drawn robot
  • Osmos: a physics-based abstract game involving absorbing other motes, while shooting out motes behind you to move (and shrink)

All of the games work for Windows; all except Aztaka and Eufloria work on Mac as well. And the great thing is, if you purchase the bundle you can choose individually whether to activate the game for yourself or send it as a gift. It’s a fantastic alternative to some of the other video games you may be playing, and the diversity in types of gameplay is remarkable. (Plus, it’s always great to support the indie developers!)

Visit the Indie Love Bundle website to watch a trailer and purchase the games.

Cogs Will Spin Your Gears

Cogs game in progress

I’ve always loved sliding tile puzzles, from the simple number kind to distant relatives such as the Rush Hour Traffic Jam puzzles. There’s just something appealing about putting things back in order with only the one open square to work with. Cogs adds a new dimension to the idea.

Created by Lazy 8 Studios, Cogs was first available for the PC and has just been released for the iPhone and iPod touch. Both versions are fairly similar with some minor tweaks in the iPhone version. Instead of completing pictures or putting numbers in order, your challenge in Cogs is to build machines by sliding gears together or hooking up steam pipes. The steampunk theme is great and carries over to the timer, move counters, and menu screens. It’s an attractive game with all sorts of mechanical contraptions and wonderful animation, and the sound effects are pitch-perfect.

Some of the puzzles are three-dimensional cubes (such as the one pictured) which require you to spin the cube around to solve each face individually. There are also two-sided sliders (you have to solve both sides simultaneously) and cylinders, nontraditional shapes that will really get you thinking. Inventor Mode is the basic game: put together the machine using the least amount of times and number of moves. Challenge Mode allows you to replay the puzzles you’ve solved, either in fewer than ten moves or in less than 30 seconds.

The one disappointment on the iPhone version is that the initial purchase only gets you ten puzzles. There are five “puzzle packs” in all, each available for $.99 (with a bonus 51st puzzle at the end). After you solve the first ten puzzles there’s a button to purchase the next pack in-game. But $4.95 for the whole thing is not a bad deal, and half as much as the (still not so expensive) $9.99 PC download. The PC version, appropriately enough, can be downloaded from Steam.

I really enjoyed the app, particularly since I’m the sort of person who likes to go for all the awards and achievements. Once you’ve gotten all the achievements, though, the replay value goes down. The iPhone version is tied to Crystal, a system for tracking your position on leaderboards and achievements as well as integration with Twitter or Facebook. (I generally don’t use this sort of feature but I suppose kids may like the bragging rights.)

One nice touch for the iPhone version is a tiny spark that shows where you’re touching the screen: depending on the puzzle it helps to have that pinpoint accuracy. Also, I was told there were some minor tweaks for the iPhone version to “smooth out the learning curve and get players into the 3D puzzles faster.”

Fellow contributor Jenny Williams had this to say about the PC version:

You have to do the first puzzle to unlock more puzzles, then do those to unlock more, etc. Once you solve a
puzzle, it gives you an medal for finding a solution, for how much time it took and for how many moves you used. As soon as you click “Play” for a puzzle, the timer starts up so you better be ready!

This game adds a whole new level of complexity to conventional slider puzzles, because you have to design the system while you move things around. You have to have the design in your head, and then figure out how to get the pieces in the right places. Often, though, there are two or more possible pieces which could both work in one place. Definitely a thought provoking game.

Since there aren’t too many puzzles, you could easily solve all of them in a short period of time (my husband and I played about 15 puzzles in an hour or so). So it’s a good game if you like to try to beat your previous scores on things, but once you figure out how to solve a puzzle, the charm may be gone. (Not sure how much the PC version of this game cost.) It’s a great game, though, very different from a lot of what’s out there, so major points for that.

If you like puzzle games, it’s definitely worth a try. You can download a free trial for the PC, or just buy the first puzzle pack for $.99 from the App Store to get a feel for it. Visit the Cogs Game website for more details (and a really cool demo video).

Wired: Very cool steampunk look, nice take on sliding tile puzzles. Just an all-around pleasure to play.

Tired: iPhone version separated into five puzzle packs (still not expensive, but disappointing if you’re not expecting it). Loses some replay value after you’ve gotten all the achievements.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a free download code for each version for review purposes.

5 Ideas to Make Computer Engineer Barbie Realistic

Photo: Mattel

Photo: Mattel

The takeover of the world by geeks has just made another giant leap forward. Yesterday, Mattel announced that, as a result of a poll of fans, for Barbie’s next career, she will be a computer engineer.

We at GeekDad are all for anything that might encourage girls to pursue tech careers when they grow up, and this new Barbie might just fit the bill. We especially like that its accessories were chosen with help from the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering, which explains the geek chic shirt with the binary code all over it, and the smartphone with Bluetooth headset.

We’re concerned, however, that the doll will create unrealistic expectations of what a job as a software engineer actually entails. Some of these expectations may be encouraging and some discouraging. For instance, Computer Engineer Barbie is, like most (if not all) Barbies, wearing high heels, which seems a ridiculously uncomfortable shoe choice for a job where nobody really cares what you’re wearing so long as it’s decent.

Here, then, are five ideas that we think would make Computer Engineer Barbie more realistic (in no particular order):

1. The choice of a coffee cup or Mountain Dew can that, once put in her hand, can’t be removed for two hours.

2. A cubicle farm playset, with optional foosball table.

3. A switch to turn on dark circles under Barbie’s eyes from having worked until 2:00AM three days in a row to get all the bugs fixed before the new release is deployed.

4. A wrist brace for when Barbie gets carpal tunnel syndrome.

5. The choice between Mac Computer Engineer Barbie, Windows Computer Engineer Barbie, and Linux Computer Engineer Barbie. Then they could publicize the sales figures daily to encourage geek parents to buy the version they want to win for their kids.

Check out the article on our sibling blog Gadget Lab for more on the subject.

LEGO Rings: The Most Romantic Geeky Valentine’s Gift Ever?

Photo © Shannon Conrad

Photo © Shannon Conrad

So, there are only two days left until Valentine’s Day, and you’re stuck for something really romantic to get for your significant other. Or maybe you have some ideas, but find yourself frustrated with the difficulty of finding something that meets your (and your significant other’s) geeky sensibilities as well as your romantic ones.

Well, you can stop worrying, because Etsy seller Shannon Conrad (aka rubygirl) has had the great idea of creating interlocking LEGO rings. These sterling silver rings look like the top and bottom of a 2 x 2 LEGO brick, respectively, and will fit together (though not click into place like the plastic pieces). This seems like it would be an ideal gift for a couple to buy together, and each give the other one of the rings — thereby making it less necessary for them to arrive in time for Valentine’s Day, too.

The rings can be made in any size and cost $125 (shipping is free). If you’re not interested in the pair of rings, you can also get just the top ring (for $70), on which you can evidently build with real LEGO pieces — it comes with a few, but it seems to me it might be fun to change them out based on your mood, and how cool would it be to put a minifig on it?

Hat tip: Craftzine.

Lego Ben 10 Models Harness the Best of Bionicle


The other day my four-year-old son and I put together one of the Ben 10 Alien Force models from Lego, a Big Chill the company sent me to review.

The first thing I noticed was how few pieces came in the box — 20, which is pretty low for a Lego model. This is because the various body parts come in one piece — upper and lower arms and legs, hands and feet, torso, head and two wings make for 16 of the 20 elements — the other four are snap-on decorative pieces. There aren’t even any Technic pins!

I was immediately reminded of Lego’s Bionicle line, which also feature relatively simplified models made up of fewer but more specialized parts. I’ll admit that I’m prejudiced against this sort of model — in many ways, my instincts tell me this is dumbed-down Lego, not in the same league as the magnificent thousand-piece models the company is known for. But here are 3 reasons why Lego’s Ben 10 products actually rock:

1) Playability. I loved building the Republic Gunship but you put it in a room with a 5-year-old and it will be in twenty pieces in no time. Lego’s Ben 10 products feature Bionicle’s tough ball & socket connectors for limbs, and these pack far more holding power than Lego’s System bricks (studs & tubes) but without the challenges of their far-stronger Technic pins and holes. The end result: great playability for little kids.

2) Ease of building. As the parent of young kids who, frankly, are too young for regular Lego but too old for Duplo, these models are cool enough to interest kids without being too hard to build. Building a 20-piece model is a challenge for a 4 or 5-year-old; building a thousand-piece model is an impossibility.

3) Creativity. At first blush these models don’t seem to offer as much creativity as System models. However, here are two reasons why this is not the case. First, Lego provides downloadable instructions on how to combine multiple kits into larger, cooler, non-canonical models. Second, there’s simply the fact that they’re not action figures, they’re models made up of multiple pieces. Inevitably, kids will mix pieces from different kits to create their own masterpieces. Furthermore, while these models don’t need Technic pins to fit together, they do have Technic holes in them so you could add Ben 10 elements to other creations.

If you have younger kids who just want to play and have fun, but don’t have the patience for building a big Lego model, you can do a lot worse than Lego’s Ben 10 Big Chill.

Slugging It Out: Slug Wars for iPhone


Down in the garden there is a war being fought … slowly. Two armies of slugs face each other across the battlefield, each determined to break into the opponent’s base. Armed with acorn guns and salt shakers, they race—er, trudge—into the fray.

Slug Wars is a new real-time strategy game for the iPhone and iPod touch, a little reminiscent of Plants vs. Zombies, but with both offense and defense. Instead of just defending your own base, the goal is to get three of your slugs into the enemy base. You queue up various types of slugs, each with its own abilities and cost, and when they meet the opposing line they do battle. Get all the way across the field, and your slug enters the enemy base.

There’s a campaign mode pitting you against the computer, and winning unlocks new slugs to add to your arsenal. You start with the Soldier (very basic but fairly fast) and the Tank (slower, but can shoot from farther away). Eventually you get such slugs as the Kamikaze (with a salt-shaker strapped to its back) or the Airborne, carried by a butterfly over the heads of the other slugs. You earn more funds by defeating slugs and by picking up flowers that sprout up on the field, and the trick is balancing firepower and speed with your available funds.

Skirmish mode is just a one-time battle against the computer, and Slug-It-Out pits you against a friend. There aren’t really any options to speak of: just turning sound effects on or off. There’s also a brief tutorial in case you need some help getting started.

The Slug Wars battlefield

The Slug Wars battlefield

The controls are very simple: dial the wheel at the bottom of the screen to select a slug, and then tap the lane where you would like to spawn the slug. Since some of the heavy-duty slugs are slower and cost more, you have to balance them with the faster Soldiers to gain ground and pick up flowers.

The graphics are great, with different color palettes for the opposing armies. The character designs are funny. Aside from the Kamikaze, who douses himself and the nearest enemy with a pile of salt, there’s the Nuke, sipping a cup of salted seltzer water—when he explodes, he wipes out half the screen, both enemies and friendlies. The sound effects are decent but nothing especially exciting (mostly some battle sounds, and each type of slug has its own battle cry as it enters the field).

While some of the earlier levels took me a little longer to beat, I found that the difficulty level didn’t really keep pace with me. Most games I won three to zilch; the one time I lost (right after the Missile slug was introduced) the score was two to three. Probably playing against another person would be a little more interesting because their strategy would vary some. I found I was generally getting by with only four or five of the eight available slugs, and I was starting to lose interest in the game. I’ve gotten up to level 35 with the computer rarely getting a single score, and even that mostly just to see if it was going to get any harder. (It doesn’t seem to.)

A few other minor quibbles I had: you can actually start deploying slugs before it says “Ready, Fight!” so for a while the computer was getting a few slugs on the field before I was ready. Also, I did find that the slug-selection dial was a little, well, sluggish for me. (Note that I’m using a first-generation iPod touch so I know the processor speed on this is a bit slower than the newer versions.) Also, there wasn’t a very clear indicator of progress in the campaign, other than a small label at the bottom of the screen during the fight. It would have been nice to see that on the splash screen, perhaps, and maybe some statistics would be fun as well.

That said, until I had gotten all the slugs, it was fun trying to decide on a strategy and discovering the new slugs. If you’re a fan of tower defense games, this is certainly worth trying out, but you may want to find a partner because I didn’t find the AI particularly intelligent—I’ve settled on a strategy that seems to be unbeatable against the computer. They do promise to release more slug units in future updates, so I’m looking forward to see what they come up with.

Slug Wars is $1.99 in the App Store, and you can visit the Republic of Fun website for more information.

Wired: Amusing take on tower defense games that throws in offensive strategy; great graphics and character design.

Tired: Computer doesn’t put up much of a fight; bare-bones options.

Disclosure: I received a free download of Slug Wars to review.

Have a Super Game Day With Kai-Lan for the Wii

Bubble Pop

Bubble Pop

Super Game Day

Kai-lan and friends are featured in a new game for the Nintendo Wii, Super Game Day. Like the TV show, the game is geared toward younger kids, and features the same voice actors as well. The characters and settings carry over pretty well from Ni Hao, Kai-lan and my kids really enjoyed playing it.

One of the great things about this one is that the controls are for the most part very simple, mostly just using the position of the Wiimote rather than the buttons, so my three-year-old was able to follow along for most of the games. For Bubble Pop, you hold the Wiimote sideways and tilt back and forth to move, pushing the “2″ button to jump. For Dragon Parade you hold it straight up and down, and jump over or duck under obstacles. Even the water balloon toss is a simple swinging motion and doesn’t involve pushing any buttons. I found this particularly nice because little kids have small hands and don’t necessarily have the ability to hold the Wiimote the way an adult hand can.

My kids playing Dragon Parade

My kids playing Dragon Parade

Also, before each game Kai-lan gives a brief tutorial on how to play. (After the first time you can skip the tutorial.) Both of my kids were able to listen to the instructions, and my six-year-old usually didn’t need any help interpreting. The only two trickier games were Yeye’s Movin’ and Groovin’ (which involves holding the remote and then copying Yeye’s moves) and the Dragon Boat Race (neither of my kids has any idea how to row a boat, sadly).

I was a little disappointed to find that the game doesn’t incorporate any Chinese language learning. However, many of the games do have ties either to Chinese culture or to a specific episode of the show, so my kids were reminded of some of the episodes they had seen.

Playing the games unlocks new areas (for a total of three), and also harder difficulty levels. The number of times you have to play to unlock a difficulty level seemed a bit high at first, but pretty soon my kids were playing “Heavy Bubbles” mode on Bubble Pop, their favorite game.

Overall, I think they did a good job creating a game that really captures the feel of the TV show, and allowing the players to choose their favorite character to use is a great feature, particularly because the characters talk to you during the game. The games are fairly simple, so older kids may lose interest sooner if they aren’t already fans of Ni Hao, Kai-lan. But as a dad, I liked having a game that includes my younger daughter (even though she doesn’t get a whole lot of videogame time yet).

Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: Super Game Day is about $30 on Amazon. It’s also available for PS2 (and is a little cheaper) but I imagine the controls aren’t as kid-friendly.

Wired: Kid-friendly controls; play as your favorite character; animation and voice acting matches the show

Tired: No Chinese language learning; probably won’t interest older kids.

The game is from 2K Play: www.2Kgames.com/2Kplay/

Related Posts:

Learning Chinese with “Ni Hao, Kai-Lan”

“Ni Hao, Jade-Lianna”: GeekDad Interviews the Voice of Kai-lan

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of the game for review.

Does Your Child Love the Turntables? There’s an App for That

DJ Baby

DJ Baby

DJ Baby is a simple iPhone/iPod Touch app that lets even small children rock the turntables. It’s dead simple to use: Each of the four “records” has a vocal sample, and the button with the musical note starts and stops the  backbeat.  Clicking on the needle varies the vocal sample a little.  You can try out the app online (Flash required), although it’s more engaging with the touchscreen interface.  Plus, if you shake the device, there’s a bonus sound effect!

The app is definitely easy to use: Basically, if you trust your kid to hold the device, then they’ll be able to figure out the interface.  And the target audience–say, 6 and under?–will almost certainly find it diverting, although children in the older part of that range might not be willing to play long at a stretch without asking to play something else.

The simplicity has some consequences: there’s no way to save a beat, nor is there a way to create your own sample, whether by recording your voice or using a track from iTunes.  You can see why: It would defeat the whole purpose of the app if you were constantly being called over to fiddle with settings.

DJ Baby is $0.99 on iTunes.

Wired: Simple, fun turntable app for young children.

Tired: No customization options in this release.

Toy Fair 2010 is Coming – And GeekDad Will Be There

Promotional Image by TIA

Promotional Image by TIA

I’m excited to go to the NYC Toy Fair again this year and an thankful that I have more time to plan for it. Rumor is that one or two other GeekDad contributors will be there so a meet-up is hopeful.

The fair is growing this year with over 1200 exhibitors and a reported 7000 never before seen products. I’m skeptical of that last number, but it does promise to be a fun time.

I’ve already got appointments with LEGO, Bandai America, and Playmobile, and probably won’t book too many more. I’d like to keep my schedule open and spend more time cruising around in the cheap booth talking to startups and smaller toy and game companies. I missed the 20% of the floor last year that included most of the independent game houses and startups. This year I’ll start on that end so I can talk with the creators and owners of the companies and hopefully sniff out some cool new games for you all.

If any of you are going and would like to meet a GeekDad or two, ping me on twitter @AntonOlsen and we can coordinate when and where. Or just keep your eye out for the GeekDad shirt. I’ll be wearing one of the new ones from ThinkGeek.

Is there anything special you’d like to me to look at, or seek out?

Trossen Announces RoboticsToys.com

Screencap from RoboticsToys.com

Screencap from RoboticsToys.com

Trossen Robotics has launched a sister site, RoboticsToys. Much like the main Trossen site, Robotics Toys is definitely fired up about robots.

Roboticstoys.com aims to be the number one place to find all your robotics kits, toys, and decor for that budding roboticist in your family. Robotics is a great way to spark an early interest with children in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences. There is nothing quite like building your first interactive creation and watching it come to life to kickoff a lifelong fascination of discovery and invention. Just be careful with how much time they spend behind closed doors or you just might come home to find this thing “negotiating” allowance increases with you.

They’ve got everything from a $10 HEXBUG to a $1200 Bioloid with something in between to fit most any budget.