WWDC 2009 Keynote Thoughts

It was odd to be back in Moscone for my fourth WWDC. I was too busy draining my laptop battery and breaking my fingers for the benefit of my colleagues during the keynote, but now that I’ve had a few hours to digest, here’s some more nuanced thoughts.


Yudo Gotta Groove

Watch out: hardcore Bemani history lesson follows.

If you rewind back to the end of 1997, Konami was beginning to lay the groundwork for rhythm gaming – the very first beatmania title was hitting the market. One of the founding musicians of the series would be found under multiple aliases – n.a.r.d., dj nagureo, Jam Master ’73, tiger YAMATO – and that was Reo Nagumo.

What Naoki Maeda was to Dance Dance Revolution, Reo was to beatmania. Notable songs credited to him include 20, November (leading to it being worshipped as some sort of “Bemani day”, when it is in fact his birthday), u gotta groove (the traditional song everyone starts with when first playing 5-key beatmania), 5.1.1 (the traditional song everyone starts with when first playing 7-key IIDX), g.m.d. (which taught us all that “Konami” rhymes with “trigonometry”), and R5 (which to this day remains my favorite IIDX note chart). His work stretched across all three beatmania platforms, and well into Pop’n Music’s song lists as well.

After beatmania IIDX 10th Style saw a release in 2004, Reo would only have one more song appear on a IIDX release (2007’s DistorteD), which he claimed in the Song Production Info would be his “final opus that will erase [his] past” and identified a sushi restaurant in the US as the reason for his retirement:

Oh, baby, I decided to retire with this track.
Um, I’m going to emigrate to America.
The reason is simple, I’ve found my calling,
Someone left me a sushi place. It’s getting big in America~

I got a fan letter that said:
“The first time I heard R3, I was in middle school.” Thank you. The kids have become adults.
The time for my retirement draws near. The old men should slowly fade away, so the young ones can take over.

You know, even on the eve of the 21st century, I was
Making you guys a track. It’s crazy.
Even when I busted up my Y31, I took out my sadness by making songs.
Thank you, everyone!
I guess I eventually got kinda cool. *tears*
The world really does revolve around you.
Well, it was fun.

But as I discovered today thanks to an inbound link from Finger Gaming, Reo is still doing what he’s always been doing – not running a sushi restaurant but instead a game company, called Yudo Ltd.. Yudo was actually established in March of 2003 according to their press release, and the company statement isn’t shy about Reo’s role in the founding of some Bemani titles:

Yudo created a trend in music-based games with titles such as beatmania and pop’n music, with experience that runs deep into the management level. Yudo was founded, and is currently helmed by, Reo Nagumo, who worked as a DJ under the moniker dj nagureo. The company continues to develop and produce games and music.

With a unique planning expertise, Yudo aims to offer revolutionarily new services and games throughout the world.

Yudo is very much a casual gaming company, focusing on the iPhone and WiiWare platforms. Many of their releases thus far have been $1 games (slogan: “1$-GAMES is ‘One’derful”), including Cutie Scratch, PiyoPiyo Panic, and SpyBugRadar, which perhaps makes more sense if you’ve seen the demo video.

But of course, my admiration of Reo is for his musical output, and that’s where the Aero Series comes in. Much like the cartoon hierarchy is cat, mouse, dog, so too is the music game hierarchy: guitar, drum, synthesizer. Having heard through the grapevine that the guitar and drum versions were a bit crap, I splurged the $3 for Aero Synth Evolution. (I am unclear what the difference is between the Evolution version and the non-Evolution version.)

And immediately, the $3 was worth it: the first song on the Free mode song list is OBAMA by SUPER tiger YAMATO. (If nearly eight years of Bemani obsession has taught me anything, it’s to not question the strange capitalization of song titles or artists.)

Here’s a video of me playing it on Normal difficulty. I apologize in advance about the quality – it’s difficult to play a touch-based game while holding a camera:

(I should also point out that while Yudo has done an excellent job providing English interfaces into their software, it does suffer from the occasional Engrish – such as the “Dairy Rankings“.)

My expectations of most iPhone music games have been terribly low, so this came as a somewhat pleasant surprise. You can tap the notes anywhere along the same general horizontal plane as they are, so long as you hit it with the right timing – thus allowing you to avoid most issues with hand blockage. There’s also chords which will take some getting used to for me to be able to read them properly.

AeroSynth does hold the distinction of being the only iPhone rhythm game I’ve played that seems to really maintain it’s timing window (unlike DDR-S Lite) and not suffer from the occasional bouts of frame dropping (unlike Tap Tap Revolution).

The experience on a whole is not terribly deep – 2 modes, 6 songs, and 9 courses means it’s no DJ Max Technika – but for $3, I have no complaints. For those of you who don’t want to splurge, there’s a free version with a single song.

But that single song isn’t OBAMA.


Gaming 2008: The iPhone

A year ago, if you had asked me what platform I was going to be doing most of my portable gaming on in 2008, I wouldn’t have said my iPhone.

But not only has the iPhone replaced my standalone iPod, it’s replaced my DS and my PSP on the train, late at night, and during life’s lulls. Sure, there’s a lot of junk on the store, but there’s also more than enough great games. Gamers who scoff at the iPhone should be weary that they may, in fact, be missing out on something.

I am constantly asked what apps people should buy for their new iPhone and/or iPod Touch. Through sale sniping, testing games other people have bought, and a lot of Coinstar redemption, I’ve tested a lot of games. But I try to avoid clutter on my phone, so I’m limiting myself to two pages of games at any given time. This is a list of what’s staying on my phone after six months of iPhone gaming.

**2 Across** – every phone needs a fantastic crosswords client, and this one has a polished UI and lots of puzzle sources.

**Doctor Awesome** – ngmoco’s first masterpiece. Qix with tilt controls, crossed with Phoenix Wright, Trauma Center, and your address book. No one should be without this game.

**Fieldrunners** – a great Tower Defense game, with intuitive controls and great polish. Very easy to pick up and put down.

**I Love Katamari** – I have ties to Namco’s mobile gaming division, and I remain a huge fan of Katamari Damashii. The recent patch fixed the performance issues you may have heard about.

**Marple** – I had played a different version of this called Einstein on my Mac a few years back, and the iPhone version is better. If you like logic puzzles, try this one.

**MazeFinger** – ngmoco’s free Flamin’ Finger play-a-like. Quick, maze-based fun.

**mondo solitaire** – Ambrosia’s solitaire title remains the most flexible one I’ve found, although I wish the performance was better.

**Pajatzo** – a hidden gem pointed out by the GAF iPhone Games thread, Pajatzo resembles one of those arcade machines where you use tokens to win other tokens. It’s a pretty fun way to burn a few minutes, and it keeps lots of statistics.

**Pass the Pigs** – it would seem like a digital version of Pass The Pigs loses something, but I disagree. Very odd graphical style, though.

**Pop** – the same game that’s on Wii Ware. I think it works better with you having to actually touch the bubbles than waggle at them. Pretty relaxing.

**Rolando** – ngmoco’s latest masterpiece. It looks like Loco Roco. It’s better than Loco Roco. Listen to the critics: this is the most fully-realized game for the iPhone right now.

**Samurai Puzzle Battle** – I grabbed this after hearing about how shoddy the Puzzle Quest port was. It’s complicated, but it’s a Match 3 puzzle crossed with Risk. If this doesn’t sell you, there’s a lite version available.

**Scrabble** – EA’s having a great year on the iPhone too. Their Scrabble port still sets a very high bar.

**Snail Mail** – a tilt-based racer with really smooth cel-shaded graphics and fun gameplay. I am horrible at it, but I can appreciate it’s genius.

**Space Deadbeef** – the best free game you can get for the iPhone. A twist on the shmup genre, it’s a fantastic little arcade experience. Give it a try, it’s free!

**Space Ninja** – a very recent release, but a brilliant bullet dodging game using tilt controls. Really well implmented – Touch Arcade has more gushing.

**Space Out** – I can only describe this as a mashup game. Space Invaders is crossed with Breakout for some kind of wonderful retro experience.

**Star Trigon** – another Namco title, this one a little known title from the Mr. Driller team. (I wasn’t even aware it existed until the iPhone version came out.) Really simple controls, really enjoyable play experience. Perfect for the phone.

**Strategery** – it’s Dice Wars. On your iPhone. RUN TO THE STORE QUICK.

**Texas HoldEm** – Apple’s Poker implementation is still the best.

**Trism** – best block-slidy color-matchy hair-pully game in town.

**Wordabble** – (still) my choice for best Boggle-style game, featuring a daily ranked game that everyone who owns the game can compete in.

**Yahtee Adventures** – while I was originally leaning towards Five Dice, EA’s licensed Yahtzee game has a lot of extra game modes and just generally feels like a fuller experience.