Confucius and Buckaroo Banzai once said, “No matter where you go, there you are.” As if they are taking those words to heart, Apple is going to attempt (again) to put a little zen in your digital life and try its hand at Web based services.
iCloud will replace MobileMe, a for-fee and poorly understood (even by Apple it seems) service, with a free suite of services that will make an strive to keep all your applications on all your devices, be they mobile or home based, in sync so that you can have your digital stuff with you no matter where you are.
If you are use to having your email accounts in sync between your PC and your phone then you have an idea of what iCloud will try to do for other applications that handle music, games, documents and so on.
I say “try” because it’s still undetermined just how much syncing will be going on. El Jobso says the syncing, “just works”, but, after looking through the info that Apple has posted, I’m not so sure.
My idea of syncing that “just works” is that everything, my entire experience on any one device magically appears on every device I own. I never have to save a document, it is constantly saved to the digital ether. If I stop editing on my iPad and want to start again on my iMac then the document looks exactly as I left it on my iPad, right down to the position of the blinking cursor. I start a game on my iPhone, but like the view better on my iPad, I should be able to drop the phone and pick up the iPad and continue exactly where I left off. If I’m jamming to Black Eyed Pea on my iPhone I should be able to switch to my Apple TV and continue jamming without missing a beat.
In other words, my digital life would be virtual so that no matter where I go, there I am. The way it looks now, it’s really up to the app developer to determine how much of that app’s experience is virtual wherever I am, and how much I have to do to make sure it is. Even Apple’s apps may not promise my vision of “just works.” For instance, Pages documents in iCloud are versions, not the actual live document, so unless a snapshot of the current state of that app is saved with the version of the document, there likely won’t be a blinking cursor where I left it on another device. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
Saving a state of an app is not hard to do, and could lead to some interesting benefits. Take two of the free games from Glu; Men vs Machines and Gun Bros. Both games offer GameCenter integration, and true enough, there is GameCenter integration if all you want is to brag about scores and such.
But wait, there’s more.
I picked these two games because they look as if they were designed to be cooperative two-player shooters, which, to me at least, is what GameCenter should be all about.
Not quite. See, Glu seems more interested in the social aspect of gaming, so they’ve come up with a system where you can use the attributes of a friend’s game character as the computer controlled second player in the game you are playing. Basically, Glu takes the state of your friend’s character and uses it in your current game.
In Gun Bros, for example, you can create a stable of “Bros,” each belonging to a friend in GameCenter or FaceBook. You can select any character from that stable to be your wingman while you play. That wingman is controlled by artificial intelligence in the game and its mission is to fight along side you and protect your back as wave after wave of bad guys, who are fixated more on you than him, try to knock you off.
Your friend gets a reward for allowing his avatar to take the brunt of the enemy onslaught, he gets experience points, available the next time he plays. So, the state of his character changes even while he’s not playing, which is kinda cool.
The game is a top-down blast-fest set is a variety of environs. Your character and its robo-buddy take on wave after wave of the strangest baddie menagerie I’ve ever seen. Whirligigs with killer blades, chainsaw wielding madmen, suicide bombers, some nightmarish hulking thing that shoots a deadly green glowing projectile, and the list goes on. If that wasn’t bad enough, you could opt to fight on a zombie infested world where even the giant rats want to eat your brain.
Men vs Machine has the same basic gameplay, but is set in a Victorian-isque world where robots are hellbent on eradicating humanity. Again, the variety of bad guys, er, machines should hold the attention of most casual gamers through several waves.
In both games you have a long list of armory and armor to pay for with coin you earn while in the field laying waste to the hell-spawned hordes. When you finally succumb to the multitude of malicious minion, and you will succumb if only because your thumbs are tired, you get to convert your battlefield booty into cold, hard in-game coin. It takes a while to build up enough coin to buy better weapons, but it can be done.
The best weapons, however, require in-game cash, and here’s where both games offer in-game purchase of gaming cash so that you can arm yourself to the teeth. In fact, there are some weapons and armor that can’t be bought with coin earned in the game. Both games offer ways to earn bucks, you can do business with the list of companies Glu provides, and when you do you earn the cash indicated in the list. You cal also opt to just swap real money for in-game cash through in-game purchases. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I guess Glu’s gotta earn some money somehow.
Speaking of which, both games are ad supported, but the ads never appear while you are shooting, and when they do appear they don’t get in the way of anything.
Of the two I prefer Men vs Machines. Both games get repetitive quickly, but Men vs Machine has a steam-punk style I like, and the levels are interesting.
Either way, both games are good examples of how apps using iCloud to sync may not be what we expect. Glu says that “live” multiplayer gaming via GameCenter is on the way for Gun Bros. I can only assume the same is in the works for Men vs Machines.
So, will iCloud just work? Likely, as long as you don’t set your expectations too high. While we wait to see check out either or both of these games from Glu.
That’s a wrap for this week. More GameCenter games below with direct links.