Please play Peggle, not Papa Pear Saga

papa pear saga peggle ripoff
Peggle, the vastly superior game that Papa Pear Saga completely ripped off

I’ve heard a lot about Candy Crush Saga but consider myself lucky to have not been sucked into it’s hateful world of Ripping Off PopCap’s Bejewelled So It Can Sell As Many IAPs As Possible, and I have to admit I kind of look down my nose at people who haven’t been as fortunate as myself. I see them on public transport and in coffee shops, addicted to the tacky-looking rip-off, and wish I could just lean over and point them at any one of the huge range of Bejewelled clones out there that bring something new to the party. I’d be doing them a favour.

I guess the appeal is that it’s free; apparently the majority of the smartphone-owning public can afford hundreds of $$$ for their phone but won’t pony up a couple of bucks for a proper game experience, happy (and miserly) enough to make do with a freebie that perpetually puts up a barrier to their enjoyment unless they grind a few more gems or wait for a dumb timer to run out or pay an expendable fee or hassle some friends on Twitter or Facebook. Eurgh. What’s wrong with paying the one-time asking price for a proper game experience, people?

The other day I saw an advert on TV for the follow-up to Candy Crush Bejewelled Rip-Off Saga, something called Papa Pear Saga, and in keeping with’s business plan as established by Candy Crush, Papa Pear Saga is another blatant rip-off of a PopCap game, Peggle, a genius videogame amalgam of old-school pastimes like pachinko and bagatelle and a game so wonderful and successful that it’s been ported to pretty much every modern gaming platform in the known universe.

Papa Pear Saga is Peggle with cheap graphics, cheap music, clumsy controls and empty level design. But of course they’ve thoughtfully made sure to hinder that ripped-off gameplay with timers, social-media pestering, and expendable IAPs, and the public has predictably been lapping it up.

peggle ripoff papa pear
Look at all those reasons to play Peggle instead of hateful rip-off, Papa Pear Saga!

Please don’t play Papa Pear Saga, and please don’t ever pay them one penny of the ransom they demand to let you continue playing. Please take a moment to look at Peggle. See the price? That putting you off? In exchange for that one time fee you’ll get masterful entertainment from one of the greatest casual game studios in the world, PopCap. Peggle has been honed to perfection. Anyone can play it, and it’s an absolute delight from start to finish. There’s even a sequel or two. And you’ll never, ever have to cough up expendable gems to progress, or wait for a dumb timer to elapse, or have to avoid tapping the IAP Shop button – because there isn’t one.

Please buy Peggle. It will love you for you, not for the size of your wallet. Papa Pear only loves you for your idiotic tendency to buy gems in return for permission to keep playing.

PS: There are indeed many games that copy the Bejewelled-style Match-3 gameplay, and I don’t lay the ‘rip off’ accusation at their door. Why? Because they bring something else to the party, a new twist of some kind. But most of all, they don’t just release games as Trojan Horse style vehicles for their hateful IAP bullshit. That’s the biggest issue here, beyond’s dearth of game-design creativity of course.


Photography in Grand Theft Auto V

GTA V photos
Death in the leafy suburb of Rockford Hills

I absolutely love GTA V. After what I felt was an increasingly tedious, humourless attempt to draw some ‘maturity’ into the series in GTA IV (which I eventually got bored with and never finished, nor did I bother with any of the DLC), GTA V has captured my imagination entirely and I’ve spent about 60 hours to date in the game having an absolute blast both playing the story and just ‘living a life’ in the state of San Andreas, albeit a legally questionable one.

Something I’ve started messing around with recently, now all the Rockstar Social Club servers are finally working, is the Snapmatic photo app on the in-game mobile phone. Not only is there more than enough craziness in the scripted action to snap, the world Rockstar has created is so realistic that it’s perfectly possible to spend your entire time photographing the game’s inhabitants and their autonomic adventures – and misadventures.

What you snap comes down to what you feel like. Earlier this week I decided to take advantage of the fact it’s not real by creating works of ‘art’ from the act of ‘murder’ – I’d find a nicely framed, artistic-looking shot, populated by some non-playable city dwellers just going about their day (walking by, snapping their own phone photos, reading a paper, window-shopping, chatting on a corner, whatever), then I’d brutally slay them in the messiest way (usually a sawn-off shotgun) and snap the otherwise aesthetically appealing photo.

GTA V photography
A death on the steps of a Rockford Hills church.
gta v snapmatic
Dead busker outside the Oriental Movie Theatre

After a few shots this got a bit too easy so I started focussing on just the blood splatter, framing otherwise arty shots that were unmistakable adorned with the lifeless corpse and/or arterial spray of some poor unfortunate passerby. Dexter would love it.

But it’s not just me. Check out the Snapmatic photo-sharing page on Rockstar Social Club and you’ll see tens of thousands of gamers taking photos ranging from obvious selfies to more artistic and amusing moments frozen forever in between committing multi-million dollar heists. Here’s a few of my own less gruesome snaps around the city:

GTA V snapmatic photos
An abandoned mine entrance in the side of a mountain – you’ll find a Letter Scrap here by the way.
snapmatic photos gta V
Michael snaps a selfie downtown. Kifflam!
gta V monkey mask
GTA meets Planet Of The Apes
gta V photography
Emergency indeed – a little too late for these unfortunate victims.

Whoops, how’d that last one get in there?

In short, having fun with the phone-camera in GTA V is most definitely A Thing That People Are Doing. Which brings me to…

Petapixel’s humourless commenters

Mashable highlighted Fernando Pereira Gomes, just one of the many hundreds of players who are really making the most of the Snapmatic app, a real-life street photographer who has turned his own visual style to the streets of Los Santos to very pleasing effect. I love the shots he’s found in the city, they’re great. They go a long way to demonstrating that this city has a life outside of the scripted events of the storyline. Like I say, this chap is far from the only one doing this, but he’s a good example.

Petapixel picked up the link from Mashable and ran their own story on it, which is where I came across it this morning. And then I got into the comments.

As a rule internet comments are a worthless cesspit of self-entitlement, arrogance and bigotry, with a good dash of deliberate trolling thrown in to stir it all up. True, there are those who may just want to add their opinion to a balanced discussion taking place, and that’s great. But I’d say the majority of internet commenters simply want to unleash double-barrels of snark, correcting opinions they consider wrong, and do so with the fervent belief that only their opinion matters and That’s The End Of That.

As it was with the comments under the Petapixel story which are loaded with “this isn’t photography!” and “there’s a name for this: copyright theft” (eh?), and “um, this is called making a screenshot and requires no skill” and “so can I take photos of other people’s creations in a museum and call it art?” and “he didn’t use a camera, therefore it’s not photography” and “photography is defined by exposing chemical film to light actually” and “so if I screenshot Zelda: A Link To The Past, does that make me an aerial photographer?” and so on, and so on.

Enough, you tiresome bores!

I’d like to say this to everyone posting guff like that:

Get over yourselves, and do something about your shoulder-mounted chip against anyone who dares to question your personal definition of what photography is. Seriously, what does it matter? Why not put all that energy into creating something of your own that meets your terribly narrow definitions rather than attempting to piss all over someone else’s fun?

Rockstar put a camera in the phone that the player uses in the game. Switching into the camera roots you to the spot and gives you a zoomable, panable, tiltable viewpoint with which to frame and take a photo, in-game, which is then shared on their real-life photo sharing website at the Rockstar Social Club.

Correct: no chemical film is exposed to light.

Correct: no physical device that looks like or could be described as an actual real-life camera is ever in the user’s real-life hands.

Correct: the world that is being ‘photographed’ is entirely artificial and coded from the ground up by Rockstar.

But so what? The world they constructed is so beautifully made that emergent activity outside the realms of the scripted action happens all the time, all over the map. Cops chase villains, crash their cars, and engage in gunfights with them. Thieves hold up ATM users. Tourists stop in the street to snap photos. Hawkers try to sell you stuff. Pedestrians compliment and abuse each other – and depending on what you’re wearing, driving or doing, you too. Bums stagger down alleys and collapse. Birds fly into helicopter rotors and emerge as a burst of blood, feathers and fleshy bits. Reckless drivers mow down careless jay-walkers, then are wrenched out of their car by outraged witnesses and beaten to death. And yes, the framework that governs these actions is programmed, but how and when they occur in my player’s field of view is not, or at least it feels that way.

And then there’s the moments that really can’t have been programmed. They can’t program the sun to rise just as a storm passes at the exact moment I’m reaching the top of a mountain just in time to witness the most beautiful flare of sunlight through a heavy cloud, silhouetting a lone tourist already at the peak, snapping their own photo. That’s the laws of the game as programmed by Rockstar serendipitously producing a unique moment – it hasn’t happened every other time I climbed a mountain.

It’s photography in every way that matters to me

So my verdict is this: sure, it’s not ‘real’ photography. Sure, I’m not taking any ‘real’ risks to get the photo, nor am I capturing any ‘real’ emotions in the in-game inhabitants I snap as they go about their day.

But serendipity is in full effect. I still have to find the shots, frame them up the way my eye likes them, pick the moment to press the shutter button. The ambient light is so well done that picking the right time of day to get the photo you want is just as important.

GTA V photos
An expensive shopping trip for sure
photography GTA V
A bloody protest outside Ponsonby’s. Just out of frame: the corpse

I have to make that photo somehow or other, even if it’s as grotesque and/or ridiculously unrealistic as blasting a pedestrian from just the right angle with just the right weapon so as to get their blood to spatter across the Ponsonby’s window in just the right way to send the message I want to send about that chain of stores and the patronising and supercilious staff they employ within.

In short

Photography within the world Rockstar created for GTA V is perfectly creative, limited only by your imagination, and all in all, it’s just meant to be fun.

But apparently that’s a very foreign concept to many in the photography world, and particularly amongst those that comment on Petapixel. Photography is ONLY done with REAL cameras. Photography is ONLY done with REAL film. Photography MUST meet their dictionary-rigid definitions and TO HELL with anyone who DARES to contradict them.

Well I’m proud to not be that boring, or limited by such narrow and humourless opinions about what ‘photography’ really is. I’m a hard-working professional real-life photographer, and I love messing about with the photography in GTA V. Bring it on.

iOS & Mac how-tos

How to sync your Colonization save game on a Mac

I just got stuck into Civ IV: Colonization for Mac after it was on sale on Steam (although it’s also available on the Mac App Store if you prefer), and I’m rather enjoying it. I’ve got Civ IV and V and they’re great games but I’m not very good at them and I’m really enjoying the smaller scale and more focussed victory conditions of Colonization. However, I’d like to not necessarily be tied to my iMac in the study, lovely as it is. Sometimes you just want to grab a laptop and hunker down on the sofa next to your loved one who insists on spending the day watching guff on Netflix… 😉

Unfortunately Colonization doesn’t support SteamCloud for savegame syncing. Dropbox to the rescue! If you’ve seen my guide to syncing XCOM save games using Dropbox this is pretty much the same deal, but if you’re new to this, read on.

(By the way if you’re trying to achieve this on a PC I’m not sure how symbolic links work on PC, but if you can work that out the principles are the same.)

Dropbox and symbolic links

First you’ll need a Dropbox account. It’s free and it’s awesome, and if you don’t already have an account use my links to sign up and we’ll both get some bonus space, which is nice!

Next up you’ll need to get ready to use symbolic links. In short, when you move a file from one place to another you can leave a little ‘map’ (a symbolic link, or symlink) in the original location that seamlessly redirects the operating system to the new location as if nothing had moved. You can read more about how symlinks work in my post here, and when you’re ready to set up the service you can get instructions from here. It’s also possible to leave a symlink behind using Terminal, but the symlink tool is sooo much easier!

Got those set up? Nice, here we go:

Move the Colonization saves to Dropbox

On a Mac you’ll find them in the User -> Documents -> Aspyr -> Colonization folder. Note that while all we really need is the Saves folder, it’s much easier to work with the entire Colonization folder.

sync colonization saves mac

Grab the folder and move it on your hard drive to your Dropbox folder. To keep things in some sense of order I have a ‘Documents’ folder in Dropbox, so I created an ‘Aspyr’ folder in there and moved my original ‘Colonization’ folder there, so it now resides in User -> Dropbox -> Documents -> Aspyr -> Colonization.

Create the symbolic link

Now we need to tell the computer (and the game) where to find the folder since we moved it. Select the ‘Colonization’ folder in it’s new location, right-click and select ‘Make symbolic link’. It will create a new file called ‘Colonization symlink’ – it’s actually an Alias, as depicted by the small curly arrow on the icon.

sync savesgames colonization mac

Now move that symlink back to the original location, so Users -> Documents -> Aspyr. Once there, edit the filename to remove the ‘symlink’ element. Now wait for Dropbox to update the folder to your other computer.

Tell your other Macs about the new location

Now you need to tell your other Mac about the synced savegames. Find the newly-synced Colonization folder in your Dropbox on the other Mac and create a new symlink to it as before, then move that symlink into that computer’s Documents -> Aspyr location described above, delete or rename the one that’s already there (assuming there are no saves in there you want to keep!), and rename the symlink to just ‘Colonization’ again.

All done!

Now you should now be able to save a game on one Mac, quit the game, launch it on another Mac a few moments later (after Dropbox syncs) and fire up that same save.

A couple of words of warning – don’t run Colonization on more than one synced Mac at the same time or when you come to save it will get very confused and not know which updates to sync, which to load, and it gets messy. Secondly, if you decide to move the ‘Colonization’ folder inside Dropbox for some reason, be sure to create new symlinks in the new location and replace the old ones so the game doesn’t get lost!

Hope this helps – happy colonising! (I’m British, we use an ‘s’…)



Why I find it hard to trust Touch Arcade reviews

Or, When a ‘review’ is actually just a ‘hands-on first impression’

Touch Arcade is one of the biggest, most popular sites for news and reviews of iOS games. They also have a great iOS app that will keep you updated of news and price drops for watched games, and an active forum. Unfortunately I’ve found that when held against my own standards their journalism and particularly their reviews are not the most thorough or balanced; constructive criticism is often neglected, compromised by too much in the way of gushing praise, I feel.

You could charitably put this down to mere differences of opinion, but their ‘review’ of XCOM on iOS takes the biscuit, being little more than a vague hands-on first impression and frankly it barely qualifies as that – ‘glorified affiliate link’ would be my cynical assessment.

In this review they spend about 90% of the content describing and recommending the source PC/console game (which you can find in any review from the original release as it famously hasn’t changed) and just 10% covering the port itself, vaguely. Five stars, buy it now through our link.

Full disclosure: I also use affiliated links but I pride myself in giving as full, honest and balanced an opinion as possible about the apps and tools I talk about here. I rarely get that balanced feeling from Touch Arcade’s reviews, especially this one.

Now, the XCOM I’ve played on Mac and XBOX really is excellent. This iOS port is meant to be so complete as to be The Same Game, so it’s fair to presume that in terms of gameplay alone it’s the same 5-star design.

However, it’s still a port: the controls have been mapped to touch, it’s lost a lot of maps, it’s running on lesser hardware, and is only recommended for the latest iPhones and iPads (with ‘support’ for older devices). I’d like to know the ramifications of these factors before purchasing, especially as at $19.99/£14.99 it’s a AAA price for a AAA game; this is not Real Racing 3.

Touch Arcade’s review went up shortly after it was released for sale in New Zealand, the first country that gets an app release as it rolls out around the world. Given that limited time frame one might naturally assume the author had had pre-release access to the game and had a review ready to go with all that port-specific nitty-gritty us iOS gamers will be after.


Eli, one of Touch Arcade’s senior members, posted on the forum about how 2K has got Touch Arcade blackballed:

JFYI 2K has us completely blackballed. We didn’t get an early copy of the game aside from what was available in New Zealand, and their marketing people don’t email us. XCOM is just a great game. These nitpicks about the port are weird.

They didn’t like that we broke the Borderlands embargo, so, the reason TA has so much coverage now while everyone else is twiddling their thumbs is because we don’t have any restrictions and can just buy the game from New Zealand. It works out.

Well, it works out if you actually post a review, Eli, but your site’s ‘review’ barely qualifies as such. Also, the fact that there are so many “nit-picks” about the port should tell you that this is an area a good review would focus on. But hey.

About that embargo: to TA’s credit the embargo they broke was for a widely-denounced iOS Borderlands game that 2K banned anyone from reviewing for nine hours after the US release presumably because they knew just how appalling it was. Ironically enough given the subject of this post TA called them on that and broke the embargo to do so, potentially saving a lot of their readers’ money. They did a good thing there.

But this post is about their XCOM ‘review’ and thanks to Eli we can now deduce how much time was spent experiencing the port before posting judgment on it. Quoting a forum user, nightc1:

So, the game came out at 6am EST and the review was posted at 10:38am EST… given time to download the game and write the review and the tutorial seeming to take around 30min (judging off of Sanuku’s video)… so maybe 30min of actual non-tutorial gameplay was used to determine the game is a perfect 5/5 with no issues? Ok, granted it is a port… but still, it makes it hard to take the review seriously.

A diligent reader would note that almost their entire ‘review’ is actually just a love letter to the PC/console game, given away by references to how he’s never been able to finish an Iron Man game (a tough mode with no save-reloading); it takes dozens of hours to play through XCOM, even longer on Iron Man mode, so there’s simply no way the bulk of this copy was based on playing the iOS version of the game. I’d wager that almost the entire thing was written without so much as a minute spent playing the final iOS release.

Right enough, there’s just a single paragraph out of ten that pertains to the port:

As a touch game, Enemy Unknown operates pretty well. The controls are intuitive. You tap to where you want to place your soldier, hit a button when you want to activate a power. The more I look at the game, the more I’m noticing bits and pieces of asset compression, which makes it look like a “low res” port. As for actual problems, moving soldiers into buildings is pretty rough. The camera doesn’t clip through walls very well.

So when it comes to looking with a critical eye at what was involved in porting the huge console/PC game down to just 3.2GB of iOS code we can boil this ‘review’ down even further to just three sentences:

The more I look at the game, the more I’m noticing bits and pieces of asset compression

The more he looks at it? Well, how much looking at has he done so far? What assets have been compressed and what effect, if any, does that have on playing the game especially on Retina devices?

moving soldiers into buildings is pretty rough.

No further information about how it’s rough or what impact it has on the experience.

the camera doesn’t clip through walls very well

No further information about what this actually means and again what it means for the overall experience.

As for the sentence about the touch controls, it may as well just say “you use your finger to touch buttons” – nothing about how well things like panning, rotating or adjusting height and map-level work, things you’ll be doing a lot of in the game.

There’s also nothing about how this long-awaited, premium AAA console game plays on anything other than the latest device (surely TA installed this onto every iDevice they could get their hands on to test performance and get the scoop on this all-important question, no? No); nothing about what’s been cut to make it fit; barely anything about graphical quality apart from some concessions to having noticed a bit of glitching “the more I play”.

Three sentences. There’s your iOS review, folks.

You’ll get a much better analysis of what makes this port tick by reading a forum thread such as Touch Arcade’s own, where the members tend to write more fully about their experiences with the game. Of course you’ll have to filter out those whining about the price or about how the textures aren’t as good as on their Vita/console/PC, and one man’s unplayable frame rate issues may be another man’s perfectly tolerable compromise, but nonetheless there’s way more pertinent information there than in TA’s ‘review’.

Finally, and allow me to just go into full-on cynic mode briefly, the headline for their ‘review’ includes ‘Buy This Game Now’ and the whole thing seems rather keen for you the reader to click their affiliated link. I already mentioned this is one of the most expensive iOS games, right?

In summary

This is a premium iOS game, hopefully one of many more to come, and it deserves a premium review of the iOS-specific elements of the port. Instead we got a love-letter to the source game and barely any useful critique.

And that’s why I don’t base purchases on Touch Arcade reviews any more. As ever I’ll be waiting for Eurogamer’s take, but in the meantime why not see what an iOS XCOM review should look like over at The Verge.


In a follow-up article, TA Plays: XCOM, the team share 34 minutes of their own gameplay in a video. I’m finding that gameplay videos, while prone to spoilers, are often a better resource than unavoidably subjective text reviews so check it out if you’re interested in the game.

The TA team also acknowledge readers’ questions about playability of the game on various devices, except all they offer is that it plays great on the latest generation. As that’s what the game is officially recommended for these revelations are still pretty unhelpful, doing little to change my opinion of the thoroughness of their journalism versus the urge to get an article out now, quick, first.

Like I say above, you can get a much more professional and comprehensive look at how the iOS port handles over at The Verge.


State of Decay is utterly fantastic

It’s been a strange week for me. First my wife unexpectedly had to jet off to America with 24 hours notice, to be with family during a difficult time for them, leaving me to fend for myself for ten whole lonely days. And we’ve been exceptionally busy at work making the pilot episode of Smells Like Friday Night for Channel 4 (I’m a camera operator on it), culminating in a long but exciting 18 hour day on Friday.

Oh, and State of Decay, by Undead Labs, was released on Xbox Live Arcade, and it’s fantastic. The first I heard of this game was a couple of months ago when all the gaming sites evidently got a press release and pushed out an obligatory news story on it. I was excited at the description: an open-world zombie apocalypse base-building survival game?


Oddly, there had been remarkably little marketing for the game. Even in the week of release, you would only have known if you read gaming sites that ran a short news story about it. I saw very little anywhere else, often another sign that confidence was low in the game.

But still, it looked and sounded great. If Undead Labs could pull it off, it could be the game Dead Rising should have been. So when release rolled around this week I dived into the demo as soon as I could.

Oh my God it’s good.

Yes, it’s a bit glitchy. Yes, there’s tearing. Yes, zombies often appear to clip through walls. Yes, graphical pop-in is practically an art-form at times, with scenery, cars and the zed themselves occasionally just materialising right in front of you, or blinking across an entire room without warning. Yes, the tutorial leaves a lot unexplained and the stick sensitivity is too low and it needs a bit of a bugfix for some gameplay stuff (which Undead Labs just confirmed is coming soon).

But none of this really matters once you start playing. State of Decay is the closest thing I’ve ever played to a zombie apocalypse simulator on the Xbox, and until Day Z or The War Z (since renamed) get out of beta or whatever state they’re in right now, it’s the only one I know of, and definitely the only one for the XBOX 360.

The key for me is that it’s so much fun playing it your own way.

Poring over the huge map trying to decide whether to head out to save those strangers who radioed in for help just now, or leave them to their fate while I raid empty houses for badly needed medical supplies and food for my own band of survivors, or go and see what it is that bunch of bombastic army grunts are actually up to, feels real.

Trekking solo across country, crawling most of the way to avoid detection by the roving hordes of zed, spotting a downed aircraft on the horizon just as the sun starts to come up and wondering if it’s worth the significant detour to see if there’s anything of use to plunder, feels real.

And when your character just broke their rusted machete, is down to their last handgun bullets and no silencer, badly needs sleep and medical attention, has no stamina left for a fight, is trying to flee a horde that just noticed them, and stumbles across the path of a feral zombie that in the blink of an eye picks up your weakened form and tears you literally into two… That’s a blow that both you and the survivors back at base camp feel.

(Don’t worry, you switch to a different playable character but you’ll need to level up all their skills again.)

If you have a 360 I highly recommend you download this and get stuck in, and join the 250,000 (and counting) other players around the world that are experiencing their own zombie apocalypse, and surviving it (or not) their way.

UPDATE: 16th June 2013, the first title update for State of Decay is out and as promised fixes a whole bunch of stuff, not least the rampant Infestation warnings. I’ve restarted my botched game and am loving being back amongst the shambling dead.

UPDATE 2: 20th June 2013, well it turns out that first update didn’t work. Apparently it was all there but something got messed up so that when it’s downloaded and applied to the game it doesn’t actually take effect. The good news is that Update 2 is in for approval with MS now and it apparently includes all the fixes from Update 1 and a whole bunch more, and this time it will definitely work. So they say… 😉