Design Talks Plus

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I recently discovered a really great show on NHK World called Design Talks Plus. Each episode covers a different aspect of design, with a main guest who talks on the subject — for the recent episode on “Icons,” the guest was noted creative director Kashiwa Sato. The latest episode is a good one too, looking at the urban renewal currently happening in Shibuya, and includes an interview with artist Akira Yamaguchi, whose art I’ve always really loved (and I used to have an awesome t-shirt with his art on it, that I wore to death).

I watch NHK World through its app on Apple TV, and although it’s great that you can watch past episodes on-demand, they unfortunately only seem to share the last 2 episodes, and I’d really love to watch the rest of the series.

Legend of the Skyfish

The last of the iOS games currently seeing heavy play on my devices is the one that I really knew nothing before launch, but saw it mentioned in articles that were talking about Deus Ex GO and Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.ipa, and my interest was piqued. I was first attracted when I saw it getting described as having Zelda-like gameplay, and then for its art direction, that looked beautiful to me. But my fear with games like this on iOS is that I really dislike playing action games on touch devices that use a virtual gamepad, which is what I assumed might happen here. But then I saw that it was also available for play on Apple TV (it’s cross-platform on all devices), and so that sold me (as I have a SteelSeries controller I use with Apple TV). This is a fantastic game that looks gorgeous on a TV, and plays incredibly well with a controller. I sat down and found myself playing non-stop through the first set of levels, only eventually stopping because it was getting late. It’s not a hugely challenging game, but I find it incredibly enjoyable, and as I said before, I really love the way it looks. It’s been months since I’ve played a game on Apple TV, and so I’m glad that this has come out to remind me of the potential that device has as a gaming platform.

Disney Infinity 3.0

Up until now I’ve had no interest in this – the last thing I want is to be collecting any more figures, and I’ve never had a huge desire to play games based on Disney properties, and I’ve had my fill of Marvel with the LEGO games. But I’ve been bitten hard by the Star Wars bug, and so I was interested in seeing what the game was like, which I did by downloading the Apple TV version, which is a free download, and gives you a few teaser levels to whet your appetite. I liked what I played, and so now I’m wondering if I’m going to take a deeper plunge…

Let’s Play TV Games

This past Friday I got the new Apple TV, and the day after the Nimbus controller that wirelessly syncs with it (over Bluetooth). I’m having a blast.

I’ll start by saying that I’m a longtime and very strong user of Apple TV. It’s now turned into a pretty successful product for Apple, but I was an early adopter, and it quickly became indispensable for me. The killer feature for me has always been AirPlay, and on top of streaming lots of video content to it, it’s also been my main “stereo” in my home (first by streaming music from iTunes, then Spotify, and these days Apple Music).

But I’ve always been waiting for the moment when they would finally add a proper App Store to it, so that we’d start getting proper apps that were made for use on a TV screen.

And that of course means, TV games.

The best thing about plugging it in and logging into my accounts (as a citizen of the world, I have Canadian, US, and Japan accounts) was that I already had access to a bunch of games courtesy of the few Universal apps out there that have already jumped on the TV front. Early faves so far include Canabalt, Badland, Edge/Edge Ex, Phoenix HD, Jetpack Joyride, and a game that I’m finally having fun playing for the first time (because I’m playing it with the Nimbus controller), Asphalt 8.

(And to be fair, even though it’s not a game I particularly like playing, Crossy Road does look great on the big screen.)

The game I’m playing the most though is Rayman Adventures, a free-to-play game that plays exactly like a regular Rayman console game when you’re playing with the Nimbus – it’s not like the (albeit excellent) auto-runners that have already come out on iOS. There’s also another free-to-play game that I’ve been enjoying, a hover ship “runner” called Breakneck, although it was crashing for me consistently when I was reaching a certain level today.

As I mentioned at the top, I quickly bought that Nimbus controller – which is a very solid piece of hardware, by the way – because for most of these games, I wasn’t really enjoying playing them with the Siri Remote. But one very big exception, and the only game I’ve bought so far, is Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising, which was specifically designed to play with the Siri Remote, and in fact does not support play with a controller. I found myself really enjoying playing that game with the remote, and as someone who was not a fan of playing games with the Wiimote (along with the nunchuck controller), I think what makes it better here is that the Siri Remote is so much smaller and lighter, and so it’s not as tiring to be holding it up. Add some gorgeous HD visuals, and you’ve got a legit great space shooter.

The App Store is a bit strange though. Right now you can only find games through a featured page, through a page of things you’ve bought (and so any Universal apps that you’ve previously purchased on other iOS devices show up there), and through a search page. It’s not surprising that there’s no charts yet, since the store just opened, but I would have liked to see some category pages – I have a few friends who I know have created Apple TV versions of their iOS games (Shaun Inman’s The Last Rocket, Eric Koizol’s Rainblocks) that you can only find if you specifically search for them. I also find it strange that you can’t buy Apple TV apps through App Stores on other devices (or on your computer).

So what’s the verdict?

I think it’s pretty clear that I’m already quite excited for this device, in terms of games, and I think this will finally be the micro console that sticks. Just like what happened with the iPhone, tons of people are going to buy Apple TVs to watch video content (which I of course do as well) and as they start discovering the high-quality games you can play there, it’s going to make it that much more attractive for creators to develop Apple TV versions of their iOS games, or even better, games that may be created specifically with the TV in mind. Also, the fact Apple is strongly promoting the sales of controllers like the Nimbus means that I’m sure more and more games that play better with such controllers will be coming out on the device.

To me, this feels like a new console launch, and a good one at that.

Update: I just realized that I forgot to emphasize another thing that is a huge sell for me – although I alluded to it when I mentioned Asphalt 8 – and that’s the ability to finally play games that use virtual controls on iOS devices with a real physical controller. I absolutely hate playing games that way (with virtual on-screen controls), and there are tons of quality games that I’m sure would be a million times better if I could finally play them with a proper controller – a recent example is Downwell, a game I did still enjoy, but that I still found to be a bit awkward because of the controls. Yes, you’ve long been able to use wireless Bluetooth controllers with iOS devices, but that’s not a practical thing to do. There’s nothing more natural though than using one when you’re playing TV games.