Some more Android game bargains

This week saw the launch of a Halloween-flavoured Humble Bundle, called the Humble Mo-boo!-ile Bundle. As per usual, six games are offered, three if you beat the average, and all follow a scary theme.

Humble Mo-boo!-ile BundleThe bundle consists of the following games:

  • Rebuild
  • Oscura: Second Shadow
  • Containment: The Zombie Puzzler
  • Five Nights at Freddy’s (beat the average)
  • Dead Effect (beat the average)
  • The Walking Dead: Assault (beat the average)

The current average is only $3.04, so it’s an absolute bargain (the RRP is around $25) and it’s likely that there will be further games added. Additionally, another game called ‘The Spookening’ is available for free simply for entering your email address on the Humble Bundle site! I have previously played Rebuild and enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to playing these other games.

Elsewhere, the Grand Theft Auto series has been discounted this week. Grand Theft Auto III is going for £1.99, as it GTA: Vice City, and GTA: San Andreas is available for £2.49. Considering these games cost £40 when originally released on the PS2, this is amazing value, especially considering just how much gameplay is available from each game!

Android v5.0 announced, named ‘Lollipop’

The latest version of the Android operating system has been announced by Google, and continuing with the alphabetical naming convention it has been named Lollipop.

Android Lollipop

The major difference with the Lollipop release is the new Material design, which is much cleaner than previous designs such as Holo. A triangle, circle and square are used instead of the previous back arrow, home and apps buttons.

Notifications have also been enhanced and will also appear on the lockscreen. Multitasking now utilises a Google Now-like display. The notification bar has been changed. A new battery-saving mode has been implemented. Behind the scenes, Lollipop uses the ART runtime rather than Dalvik which should see big performance gains, especially when using newer 64-bit processors.

My phone is too old to receive a stock Lollipop ROM (thanks for nothing Samsung), but I’m hopeful my LG G Pad 8.3 will get it, because there was a Google Play Experience version of this device released – hopefully LG will update both at the same time.

In the market for a new phone

I’ve had a Samsung Galaxy S3 for over two years now, and it’s starting to show its age – the screen occasionally becomes too light on the right hand side, and it’s becoming a little slow – only having 1GB of RAM is the culprit here I think. I like the form factor of the device and the camera, and my contract is up for renewal so I’ve started looking around at alternatives.

As I mentioned, I like the size – whilst I think before I would have liked a phablet (i.e. a Galaxy Note-sized device), these days I use my tablet (an LG G Pad 8.3) around the house much more for general browsing, game-playing, etc. and so the phone would only be used when I’m out and about. As I work from home this is not too often and so I am happy with a screen of under 5″.

The other function I could not do without is a camera – I rarely take my proper camera out unless we’re going away for an extended period of time, and being able to take photos and videos is a necessity. A lot of cheaper phones these days do not have the best cameras – I don’t need the best quality camera but an average one would do.

At the moment there appear to be two main contenders:

  • Motorola Moto G (2014 edition) – this is very cheap (<£150 sim free), features an almost vanilla version of KitKat and has a much better camera than the 2013 version.
  • Sony Xperia Z3 Compact – I don’t really want the bigger version of this, but the Compact looks ideal in terms of size and especially the camera. However, it is a lot more expensive than the Moto G.

In the end it will come down to whatever I can get for the cheapest price possible – I’ve seen the Z3 Compact available for £20/month which is about the upper limit of my budget, but the Moto G would be much cheaper. The screen on my S3 is working for now so I’m not quite so desperate to upgrade, but I would like to get some money for it when recycling and that value is dropping by the day as it gets older.

Humble Mobile Bundle 9 out now

The Humble mobile bundles now seem to update every two weeks, meaning even more great value gaming goodness (or alternatively more money forked out!) The current bundle features six games, three of them if you beat the average (currently a very reasonable $2.87). Additionally, you can get Devil’s Attorney for free whether you buy the bundle or not!

Humble Mobile Bundle 9

The games featured are:

  • Syberia, an adventure game
  • Neuroshima Hex, a tactical board game
  • Bardbarian: Golden Axe Edition, an RPG
  • Leo’s Fortune, a platform game (beat the average)
  • Out There, a space exploration game (beat the average)
  • First Strike, a strategy simulation game (beat the average)

As per usual, more games will be added soon, which will make this even greater value if you buy it now for $2.87! There are 13 more days until the bundle finishes, I’d advise buying it sooner rather than later as the price may go up.

Marvel Puzzle Quest

Having worked my way through all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, as well as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I decided to have a go at this game on my Android tablet. I was addicted to the first Puzzle Quest game so was interested to see how the Marvel version would work. I think if anything it is even more addictive, especially as it now features an online player-vs-player mode!

There are many different characters and variants to choose from, with a large number of power-ups to aim for. The only bad point is that although the game is free, it is geared up to make you pay via in-app purchases, both to expand your roster (using Hero Points) or level up your characters (using Iso-8). It is possible to progress through the game without paying (as I am currently attempting) but Hero Points are very difficult to come by – I have a roster of 10 at the moment but do not have anywhere near enough space to claim all of my awarded characters. But I will strive on without paying if I can get away with it!

Some advice for anyone playing – when planning moves, you should look for the following (in order of preference):

  • A move that matches five tiles of the same colour – either all in a row, or two rows of three with one going horizontally and one vertically, with one crystal shared. This will not only give you another move but you’ll also get a crystal, which gives you a critical hit.
  • A move that matches four tiles of the same colour – this will clear the whole row or column. However, this is not always the best idea – it depends on what colours you are trying to build up to use your powers, or what colours you want the enemy to not build up. Some enemies also have passive powers which will affect you if you match certain colours (Daken and Bullseye are pains for this).

So far I’m playing the game every day and taking part in the events, and not doing too badly – my Modern Storm is almost at level 50 and Iron Man Model 35 is not too far behind. It’s pretty difficult without paying and you can only go so far in multiplayer events as they will have much stronger characters than you until you’ve been playing the game for a while. However, I’m enjoying it and plan on playing it for a while yet!

Humble Mobile Bundle 7 now available for Android devices

It used to be the case that Humble Bundles would appear one at a time, but now they have several on the go at once as well as a store. This is good news from an Android gaming perspective as it means we should get more mobile games on offer more frequently! This is the seventh such bundle (hence the name!) and currently features six games, three available if you pay what you want and the other three available if you beat the average (currently $4.05). These games are:

  • The Tiny Bang Story
  • Color Zen Premium
  • Heroes of Loot
  • Kingdom Rush Frontiers (beat the average)
  • Horn (beat the average)
  • Sorcery! (beat the average)

If you’re tempted by the bundle, it’s always worth buying it in the early days and paying more than the average, as additional games always get added after a week or so, and you’ll get these for free if you beat the average.

Here is a video featuring the games in the bundle:

Humble Bundle Android games

I’ve bought every Humble Bundle which features Android games, but due to a lack of time I’d never really played many of them! So to rectify this I’ve started going through the list of games I’ve not played alphabetically and trying each game out. I’m going to keep a list here of my progress through the games, including details of whether I liked the game and whether or not I completed it.

  • AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! (Force = Mass x Acceleration) – a game where you jump off buildings, gaining points for style and timing. I didn’t really get the hang of the controls and it didn’t seem interesting enough for me to persevere with it.
  • Anodyne – an RPG which had some interesting concepts, I played through a few levels – if I had more free time I probably would have stuck with it but I’ve abandoned it for now.
  • Anomaly: Warzone Earth (completed) – a reverse tower defence game. I loved it and played it to completion.
  • Anomaly: Korea (completed) – the sequel to Warzone Earth, again I enjoyed it and played it to completion.
  • Anomaly 2 (completed) – I didn’t find it quite as enjoyable as the first two games, but still played it to the end.
  • Another World (completed) – an old platformer reinvented for mobile phones. I actually played this a while back when I still used an Xperia Play as my main phone, so had the benefit of proper controls. I played it through to the end.
  • Aquaria – a sidescrolling action/adventure game. I’ve got this installed currently and have played it for an hour or so, I’m in two minds as to whether to continue or not. I eventually uninstalled this, it just didn’t grab me and with my limited available gaming time I decided to move on.
  • Badland – a sidescrolling action game, the control is similar to Flappy Bird in that you touch the screen to go up, and let go to fall down. I’m about halfway through the first ‘day’, it’s good to pick up and play a level when time permits. The game started to become a bit unforgiving, and I wasn’t enjoying it enough to persevere, so I stopped about halfway through the first lot of levels.
  • BIT.TRIP BEAT – a music game which is similar to Pong. I had heard good things about this game but when I finally got around to playing it I found it a bit dull so uninstalled it.
  • Bad Hotel – you have to build a hotel and prevent it being destroyed by various things trying to attack it. An interesting concept but I got a bit bored after a few levels and uninstalled it.
  • Bag It! – you have to fill shopping bags in the most efficient way possible. It’s very well done and I still have it installed, but haven’t played it for a while.
  • Beat Hazard Ultra – a twin stick shooter which uses your MP3 collection to build the levels. An interesting concept but I found the controls a bit fiddly so didn’t play it for long.
  • Bladeslinger (completed)I currently have this as my main tablet game. I’m quite enjoying it so far despite the fiddly controls. It’s a third person action game where you control a cowboy with a metal arm and gun/sword combo. I’ve finished it now – it’s short but enjoyable. A tip for Humble Bundle owners – if you go to buy stones/coins and register your email address, you get 30 free spirit stones and over 100,000 coins for free! More than enough to get through the game and make it much easier!
  • Bloons TD 5 – A tower defence game. I played through one round, it’s OK but not enough to make me keep playing for longer.
  • Breach & Clear – A tactical strategy game, where each side takes it in turn – the player has to breach and clear a room or area of terrorists. I found it a bit fiddly to control at first but now I’m really enjoying it and will play it through to completion.
  • Canabalt HD – an endless runner platformer where you only control when the character jumps. A bit simplistic for my tastes.
  • Doctor Who: Legacy – a match three type game based on Doctor Who (surprise!) I played this quite a lot when it first came out, but it required a lot of grinding or in-app purchases so I uninstalled it.
  • Osmos – a physics-based puzzle game, nice and calm gameplay, I still have it installed but haven’t played it much.
  • Plants vs Zombies – one of the most famous tower defence games, it’s good fun but haven’t got it installed, I only played a few levels originally.
  • rymdkapsel (completed) – a real time strategy game, very minimalist. I loved it! It has a short playing time once you get the hang of things, but it’s very enjoyable.
  • Super Hexagon – one of my most played Android games, I bought it when it first came out and have played it many, many times. It’s a game where you have to move a small triangle to avoid colliding with incoming walls. The music is brilliant.
  • The Room (completed) – an excellent puzzle game, played to completion.
  • The Room Two (completed) – another excellent puzzle game, although not quite as good as the first one. Played to completion.
  • World of Goo (completed on other systems) – I’ve played this on so many other platforms (Wii, PC) that I’ve not yet installed it on an Android device, but it’s a great game.
  • Uplink – a hacking simulator, it’s very addictive.

I’ll update this as I get through the rest of the games on the list, there are plenty more still to go!

Stop stuttering when playing music from the SD card on the Samsung Galaxy S3

When I updated my Samsung Galaxy S3 to the most recent version of Jelly Bean (v4.3), it seemed to lead to some performance issues. Chief amongst this was that playing back audio from the SD card would stutter – it didn’t matter which app was playing it, or whether it was playing music or a podcast, it would frequently stutter. Further investigation led me to realise that this was only happening when the screen was off – it would play perfectly well with the screen on. However, this is hardly ideal (especially when out and about, as it will kill the battery!) so I tried to find a way to solve it.

I wanted to stay on stock as it makes it easier to update the phone, but it appears that my version of the phone (GT-i9300) will not receive an update to KitKat now and so there is no reason for me to stick with stock. However, most of the custom ROMs feature their own gaudy themes, and I’m happy enough with how the phone looks so I don’t really want to go down that route. The solution I found was to install the Boeffla-Kernel.

Whilst not a straightforward process (it first of all requires you to root the phone and install a custom recovery) it opens up numerous possibilities. The most interesting one for me is the ability to change the size of the read ahead buffer for the SD card. The stock value is 128kb, but I’ve now set mine to 512kb, which has fixed the problem and now audio plays without any stuttering, even with the screen off.

Thankfully, there is an app which makes this configuration straightforward, which is called Boeffla-Config. This needs to be manually downloaded and installed rather than installed from the Google Play store, but this is not difficult. Once installed all the kernel settings can be changed and applied from here.

Thanks to Boeffla for creating this kernel and making it easy to fix my problem!

LG G Pad 8.3 KitKat update – how to install and enable ART

The long awaited KitKat (Android v4.4.2) update for the LG G Pad 8.3 is finally here in the UK! Users can simply update their tablets by following these simple instructions:

  • Go to the Settings menu
  • Scroll down on the left side and select ‘About tablet’ at the bottom
  • Choose Update Center
  • Choose Software Update
  • Choose Check now for update

This should find the update, download it and then prompt you to install it. This will require two reboots of the tablet (done automatically) and takes a reasonably long time to do, but no user input is required.

LG G Pad 8.3 settings 4.4.2

The update does not present any massive differences; there are some fixes under the hood and performance improvements however. It does seem a lot smoother in everyday operation, and features the new Android Runtime (ART) which improves the performance of apps.

To access this setting, you need to get to the Developer options page. To do so, go to Settings, then About tablet, then Software information. Tap Build number several times, eventually Developer options will be enabled and appear in the menu to the left. Select this, choose ‘Select runtime’, then choose Use ART.

LG G Pad 8.3

My Motorola Xoom is struggling to keep up these days, even with a custom KitKat ROM and overclocking it’s not as smooth as I’d like. An Android development opportunity has come up, so I thought I’d get a new tablet to help with this, and have plumped for the LG G Pad 8.3.

When choosing a tablet, the main considerations for me were the screen size and resolution, the weight of the device and the operating system. I’d decided that the 10.1″ of the Xoom was possibly a bit too big and definitely too heavy to hold for any amount of time, so I wanted one that was 7-8″. After doing some research, there were two standout choices – the newer Nexus 7 and the G Pad. The Nexus 7 has a smaller screen but is guaranteed to get the most recent version of Android (currently KitKat), whilst the G Pad has a new 8.3″ screen but only runs Jelly Bean 4.2. Both screens are the same resolution, and both devices could be bought for the same price (£179.99 at the time of purchase).

I went for the G Pad because the screen size was more appealing, and I felt that I could cope without KitKat for now, even if LG don’t update it there will always be custom ROMs for it.

LG G Pad 8.3

My first impressions are very good – the device is light to hold and the screen is lovely – not as sharp as the Nexus 7, but I can’t see any pixels and it’s a massive improvement over the Xoom. Everything is smooth and lag seems minimal. The only thing that I’m not sure about is the battery life – it doesn’t seem like the device will last long without charging frequently, but that’s only something that can be seen after long-term use.

I’m very pleased with the device, and am looking forward to using it in my development work.