The Committed Podcast Talks to Robyn Miller, Creator of Myst and Riven, and Director of The Immortal Augustus Gladstone

The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01In the latest episode of The Committed podcast, we meet Robyn Miller.

Robyn has been creating stories for decades. After the wildly successful Myst and its sequel Riven, he set out to become a filmmaker. His first feature film, The Immortal Augustus Gladstone, has been released digitally.

Join me with Ian Schray and Rob Griffiths as we chat with Robyn about his experiences in the video game and film worlds in this week’s episode.

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App Notes: Threes for iOS, a Confounding Puzzle Game

2014-02-06 14.02.12.pngI’ve never been a big game player, and the games that attract me on my iPhone or iPad are generally the kind that contain puzzles. I like word games, such as Letterpress, and I’m a big backgammon player, and very much like Backgammon NJ HD.

A new game called Threes, just released today for $2 (1/3 off for its launch period) has caught my attention. It’s a puzzler, where you have to think about how to get the highest score. The game is based on multiples of three. There are tiles in a 4×4 grid, and they can be 1, 2 (1+2=3), 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96 and so on. You play the game by swiping in any of four directions; when you swipe, all the tiles that can move – that are not against the border of the grid – move in that direction.

Swiping allows you to add tiles together. So, if a 2 and a 1 are next to each other, and you swipe, they join to become a 3. From then one, you can only join tiles of the same value. So two 12s make a 24; two 48s make a 96.

As you go on, there’s less room on the grid, and when the grid is full, the game is over. Your score is calculated by adding up the points on the board, with bonuses for those tiles that are 24 or above. My high score so far is around 2,600, but someone I know – who alerted me to this game – currently has the world’s best score of over 23,000.

It’s a tough game, one that starts out easy, but becomes more complex as you realize the subtleties of strategy necessary to get high scores. But it’s one you can play at your rhythm, and use to pass the time when you’ve got a few minutes. It’s well worth the price at $2.

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App Review: Backgammon NJ HD

Backgammon is of my favorite board games. I’ve been playing it since I was a teenager, and its unique combination of luck and skill means that games are always interesting. Unlike a game such as go or chess, the chance dice rolls mean that even when behind, you can win (or lose) suddenly.

I’ve tried lots of backgammon apps for iOS, and I’ve ended up using just one: the $8 Backgammon NJ HD. I wrote about this app, and another, at Macworld, about a year and a half ago, and changes to Backgammon NJ HD have made it much better, making it my only choice.

There is now only one universal app, instead of a separate app for iPhone and iPad. Not only do you no longer need to buy two versions, if you have an iPhone and iPad, but you also can play more people. Game Center considers a different app to be, well, different. So having two apps split the player pool. In my Macworld review, I wrote:

With two different versions, Backgammon NJ suffers because if you have the iPhone version, you can’t play owners of the iPad app; each one is considered to be a different game. So if you have two iOS devices, you may want to buy both versions, depending on when and where you play.

This is no longer the case. In addition, your ELO ranking is the same whether you play on a phone or tablet. The developer told me that there are 700-800 people playing this app daily, and I don’t often wait more than a minute or two to get a game using Game Center.

The latest version of the app also includes turn-based playing. You can start a game with someone, and play a turn at a time, at your own speed, instead of playing in real time. I don’t particularly like this, but if you want to play that way – if you don’t have time to play full games during the day – it’s good to have.

Backgammon NJ HD has a very attractive interface; one of the nicest.

Backgammon nj

You have a choice of boards – wood, marble or felt – and there are numerous settings to allow you to customize gameplay. If you play against the app, you can choose a skill level: easy, medium, hard or expert. I’m currently playing at the hard level, whereas I was at medium when I reviewed the app for Macworld.

Part of the reason I’ve gotten better is that Backgammon NJ HD has features that help you improve your game. You can get hints whenever you’re not sure what the best move is, and the Hint button lights up with a blue border when you’ve made a move that the app considers incorrect. The same is true for doubling; the doubling cube displays a blue border when it thinks you should double, and when the app doubles, will recommend whether or not you should accept.

So, to play backgammon, and to improve your game, Backgammon NJ HD is the perfect app. You get the opportunity to play people online, and you get to play one of the strongest apps, with excellent tutoring features. What more would you want?

Note: many of the reviews of this app suggest that it cheats. There were so many that the developer, Jimmy Hu, posted this article explaining how dice rolls are made.

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New iOS Game: Blackbar Creates Its Own Category

It’s rare to find a game that creates its own category. The new $3 Blackbar is unique. It’s a text-based game, where you have to fill in words that have been redacted from letters people exchange. One of them works for some government agency, and the Department of Communication filters and redacts these letters. Your goal, to advance in the game, and the story, is fill in the black bars. There are no settings, just Next and Previous buttons.


As the story advances, you learn more about the lives of these people, and their situations, and why their messages are being censored.

I’ve been playing for a while now, and it’s quite interesting. It’s a challenge to solve some of the puzzles, but with the help of my son, who’s also playing, I’ve been able to continue. I don’t know how long it will last, and what direction the story will take. Maybe that’s part of the fun.

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Letterpress: An Addictive New Word Game for iOS

Yesterday, Atebits released an addictive new word game, Letterpress. Alerted to this game by my Macworld colleague Lex Friedman in his review of the game, I downloaded a copy, and quickly got hooked.

It’s a combination of Boggle, Words with Friends and Risk, where you have to make words from the 25 letters in a square, but when you use tiles, they change to your color. It gets a bit complicated, as you can “own” tiles that get a darker color, if your tiles surround them, preventing your opponent from taking those tiles from you. You get one point for each tile that’s your color, and the game ends when there are no more white tiles, or when both players pass, if there are no more words they can make.

I’ll admit that it’s a bit confusing at first, and a friend and I started playing yesterday and went through a few games, pretty much stabbing in the dark. But following Lex’s advice, we persevered, and the strategy needed to play slowly became more obvious. (Read Lex’s Macworld review to better understand the gameplay.)

Letterpress uses Game Center to set up games and manage moves. I’ve had a few problems with moves that couldn’t be sent, which have been resolved by quitting the app and re-launching it; these problems are related to Game Center, and it’s not clear whether they are due to the app itself or Game Center. I have to say, I’ve never really used Game Center much before, but yesterday, I added a whole bunch of friends (mostly my Macworld colleagues and other tech writers), many of whom are regular Words with Friends opponents, and all of whom have adopted Letterpress as well.

Letterpress is free, but for $1, you can unlock the full version which adds two important features. You can play more than two games at a time (I’ve got a dozen going on already), and you can see a list of words you’ve already played. Because there’s another twist: if you play a word with a certain root, it can’t be used again. So if you play “follow,” then no one can play “followed,” “follower,” etc.

There are only two things missing in the game. First, there’s no way to chat with your opponent. Second, you can’t ask for a rematch without going through Game Center and making a new game request; that’s a multi-step process, whereas tapping a button to request a rematch (as you do in, say, Words with Friends) would be much easier. (This also looks like something that will be huge on Facebook, and I don’t know if Facebook integrates with Game Center at all.)

Try Letterpress for free, and you may find yourself hooked. The extra buck to unlock more games is necessary, because two games at a time isn’t enough. It’s a fun, attractive game, perfectly suited for those who like non-real time turn-based games and who like finding words.

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