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Diving into the Samsung app store: soup, superheroes, and doodling with the devil

Walking Dead: Road to Survival is a competent and varied tribute to its comic book brand.


Treasure still hides in those app store waters.

And I am just the man to excavate it. With me, a Samsung-provided mobile crew, one tablet (Samsung Galaxy Tab S2) and two phones (Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge Plus) strong. Before me, the app store, and all it contains. Let’s head back on in.

This marks my tenth expedition into the app store waters, so be sure to refresh your memory of my previous adventures (parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine) before getting back on board!

Out-collect the Collector in Marvel: Contest of Champions

Marvel Contest of Champions is a simple, digital way to smash action figures together.

Above: Marvel: Contest of Champions is a simple, digital way to smash action figures together.

Image Credit: Kabam

So this is where Gods of Rome got it from.

Marvel Contest of Champions, released two years prior to our previously-covered Greek god beat-em-up, sets up much of the same ground Gods would then pave over. Instead of extremely well-developed deities, players assemble their combatants from Marvel’s litany of costumed heroes and villains to duke it out in a cosmic free-for-all. You can swap out your selected team and/or upgrade them until you assemble your decided favorites. Each character is also part of a faction that grants statistical bonuses or negations based on the faction of the immediate opponent.

Characters engage in 1-on-1 battles in the single-player campaign, multiple foes in rapid succession during timed or special bouts, or against other human players online. All victories contribute to experience earned and “crystals” to unlock in-game items and more combatants. Players that don’t fork over real-world money won’t feel like they are hitting the “free-to-play wall” — where depleted in-game energy demands increasingly long wait times — too frequently. But the in-game reward system certainly feels geared toward simply facilitating more matches rather than giving players something worth investing experience into.

While it’s odd that your Champions’ roster never speaks outside of cutscenes — a particular oddity for normally talkative characters like Spider-Man — it does lend to the game’s overall action figure battle aesthetic. This feeling of smashing plastic proxies of your favorite characters together has both a good (particle effects! victory poses!) and a bad (button mashing!) side, but ultimately comes out feeling like a decently novel way to waste time. The story, which pits the Marvel universe’s obsessive cataloger the Collector in an intergalactic pissing match against the likes of Kang and Thanos, only serves to strengthen the Saturday morning cartoon sensibilities of it all.

Best played on: the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus

Keep your disposal survivors safe in the genre-mash of Walking Dead: Road to Survival

Scopely combines base building, resource management, and turn-based battles in Walking Dead: Road to Survival.

Above: Scopely combines base building, resource management, and turn-based battles in Walking Dead: Road to Survival.

Image Credit: Scopely

Walking Dead: Road to Survival feels like someone dared the designers to just combine as many of the game tropes popular on mobile as possible into one game.

Billed as a role-playing game, this tie-in (more closely resembling Robert Kirkman’s comic book series than AMC’s more popular television show) splits your time between maintaining a survival camp, killing zombies and aggressive humans, and managing the resources required to do one or both of those previous things. Impressively, it all seems to gel, thanks to how simply each individual element is executed. Building up your camp is about placing — but mostly upgrading — buildings and frequently returning for the in-game currency they drop, and battling the hordes takes place in single-screen, turn-based battles with a few special moves and elemental weaknesses granting character’s circumstantial stat boosts. Finally, managing your very limited inventory is just a matter of swiping equipment to their optimal character and occasionally remembering to open up a menu to heal during hectic encounters.

In combination these elements fuse well enough together, albeit under a bare-bones presentation and a first draft level narrative. The binary choices the game occasionally permits the player to make are hastily implemented and perfunctory at best, only there to capitalize on the memory of a much better implementation of choice architecture over in the console and PC spaces. The simplicity works well on the platform, but unfortunately lends a sense of numb drudgery to the whole proceedings. Survivors join your base camp as figures on a number sheet, granting stat bonuses in lieu of faces. Upgrading buildings gradually improves their appearance, but it never feels like there is a next plateau worth reaching.

Ignoring all attempts at storytelling is par for the course in mobile games, and you’re best course of action should you pick up Road to Survival. But doing so removes all motivation to continue beyond extending your ability to keep playing. You sink into a rudderless drudge, a slow amble of progression for progression’s sake. It’s like you become a mindless … oh, what’s the word … husk? No. Man, it’s like the answer’s gnawing at the back of my brain.

… Oh well, I’m sure it’ll come to me eventually.

Best played on: the commercial breaks and season gaps during the show, to make all those filler episodes look good by comparison.

Settle into the quaint procedural routines of Family Farm Seaside

Family Farm Seaside steps up its base-building game with multi-step processes and proximity benefits for well-placed crops.

Above: Family Farm Seaside steps up its base-building game with multi-step processes and proximity benefits for well-placed crops.

Thanks to this series, I get the sense that I have tilled more soil on my phone than a modern-day farmer can manage in a year on their actual property.

So it was a genuine surprise that Family Farm Seaside not only stuck out among the throng of field hand simulators but also took some interesting steps forward. The result is by no means anything worth activating any micro-transactions over, but what it does right provides a blueprint for other similar games to pursue.

Seaside did inherit much of its look and feel from its hundreds of forebear; an endless list of crop-rearing and equipment purchasing chores need doing in a colorful, cartoon world of exaggerated character proportions. Successfully tapping and dragging your finger onscreen to perform such chores (everything from fertilizing plants and tilling soil to buying cheese-making machines and skipping wait times in menu screens) leads to more opportunities to do that exact same routine all over again, until you fill your screen with a bright and cheery food industrial complex.

Where Seaside stands out is by expanding on the concept through incremental complexity. More complicated items — bee hives, for example — demand proper placement among certain crops to facilitate pollination, and creating cheese from milk is a multistep process requiring multiple machines, item units, and timer bars to succeed. This isn’t the first game to place such additional demands on the player, particularly in the latter case, but it is one of the few to implement it smoothly. As smoothly as a gameplay loop can be while its fragmented by multiple wait times and opportunities for micropayments, at least. Seaside still suffers from the self-imposed slog that comes from its pay model, but it’s a mechanical step in the right direction.

Best played on: the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Idle hands are the Doodle Devil’s core gameplay conceit

In the Doodle-verse, the devil is well-versed in creating new elements and sending his minions into battle.

Above: In the Doodle-verse, the devil is well-versed in creating new elements and sending his minions into battle.

From the same universe (Doodleverse?) that brought us Doodle God comes the opposite end of that divine equation.

Doodle Devil, in precisely the same fashion as Doodle God — which I covered back in Volume 5 of my adventures — in His machinations, drags one icon representing a core entity or occurrence over to another in order to create the many elements that make up our world. For example, selecting Water from a list of icons and dragging it over Fire will, by divine mathematics, create Steam. Where Doodle God had you then adding these elements to an evolving world map, Doodle Devil has it go toward building an army of demons and spells for use in battles against other underworld denizens. In-game coins (or real world currency) buys you hints as to which elements combine with which. You earn coins in clumps ranging from dozens to hundreds for victories in battle or successful turns in a Doodle Devil themed slot machine.

Dragging and dropping menu items may be one of the most basic gameplay conceits I have ever come across. And yet, like my divine intervention with Doodle God before it, I found myself devoting far too much time calculating the probabilities of two elements making a match. The core flaw of both games comes from the expansion of common sense elemental patterns to include bizarre equations and downright odd “elements.” I’m not sure how Energy + Human = Wizard, and I’m downright positive “Wizard” isn’t on the periodic table. All of this is obviously done in service to a hint-based economy, where confusion is the only means of possible profit. Where Doodle Devil uniquely fails is in its battle system, which in practice involves two character portraits burping cheap post-production effects at each other while you combine two of three simple elements together for spells. It’s as vapid and uninteresting as it sounds.

Not today, Doodle Devil. Not today.

Best played on: a field trip to an actual scientific laboratory, and only if you want to see a bunch of people in lab coats get sad.

Cater a town of cardboard people in Star Chef

Rise up through cuisines and critical ranks in Star Chef.

Above: Rise up through cuisines and critical ranks in Star Chef.

Vindication rarely comes in a more professional, legitimate form than a star rating for a restaurant.

And now, you can simulate that joy by feeding a never-ending horde of cardboard cut-out people in Star Chef. The hike up to the titular rating is one that requires increasingly complex recipes, which ask for more and more time-consuming ingredient prep with more and more specialized machines. As your restaurant grows in popularity, you will need to match the demands put on your decor and in your placement of your expanding garden and kitchen inventory.

Within sixty seconds of launching Star Chef I had: gained five levels, gotten three pop-up ads, and clicked through two dozen tutorial prompts. The game makes a first impression, and it makes it fast. Which is good, because it means most players will be able to exit out of this game with minimal time lost. Star Chef is in no way a wretched experience, but it provides no reason to stick with it after even a few minutes. Character art portraits have to inform you via text how much fun you are having, as if afraid that if they leave you alone you won’t know it otherwise.

Customers barely react when your waiter serves them food — which the game’s art style can’t even display in an appetizing fashion — and you can perform all of the activities more fluidly in a multitude of other games, both separately and in a similar gardening-base building-cooking combination. You are better off browsing a food’s show website while watching one of its late night re-runs for a more accurate and entertaining encapsulation of the restaurateur experience.

Best played on: the loudest volume setting, right next to the ear of a pretentious Yelp reviewer.

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About Ms. A. C. Kennedy

Ms. A. C. Kennedy
My name is Ms A C Kennedy and I am a Health practitioner and Consultant by day and a serial blogger by night. I luv family, life and learning new things. I especially luv learning how to improve my business. I also luv helping and sharing my information with others. Don't forget to ask me anything!

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Climbkhana: Ken Block explains Pikes Peak assault in latest Gymkhana video

By Carter Jung

Climbkhana is clever. And no, not because it's a portmanteau. Rather it's how Ken Block and his merry band of Hoonigan Media Machine misfits took something the internet clearly loves, hooning, and paired it with a picturesque mountain tied to one of the oldest motorsport events in America, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

More than that, tire-shredding drifts and thick clouds of smoke from the Hoonicorn V2 — a 1,400-horsepower 1965 Ford Mustang converted to all-wheel drive, harkens back to the glory days of Pikes Peak. A time when car and driver would test their mettle racing up a precarious ribbon of dirt to 14,115 feet of elevation.

The new Climbkhana video is the latest chapter in the Gymkhana series. Watch the video on Monday, Sept. 25, when it debuts on YouTube.

Ahead of the debut, we talked with head Hoonigan Ken Block and Brian Scotto, co-director of Climbkhana and longtime Gymkhana collaborator.


AUTOBLOG: With this video, you've strayed from the Gymkhana naming convention, opting for Climbkhana. There's also the recent Terrakhana video. Is there meaning behind the shift?

BLOCK: Climbkhana and Terrakhana were both names that we all — Brian, myself and our team — came up with for these projects. The goal was to make it clear that while they're related in the sense that it's myself driving and incorporating Gymkhana-style moves, they're new ideas.

AB: Ken, your first exposure to Pikes Peak was watching the hill climb on TV as a youth. When did you decide to film your own four-wheeled exploits on the mountain?

BLOCK: We had been talking about doing Climbkhana at Pikes Peak when someone from the hill climb organization reached out to us. The timing aligned perfectly, and we were all on the same page about doing something cool to showcase the mountain in a way that wasn't the standard hill climb footage. We wanted to be respectful to the event, pay a bit of respect to Climb Dance, and create something that was still very much in line with what people expect from my videos.

AB: Did you ever compete in the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb?

BLOCK: I raced at Pikes back in 2005 in a Group N rally car! Although by the time I got to the top, it was a very underwhelming experience due to the lack of power thanks to the elevation.

AB: Brian, a segue, how did you get involved with the Gymkhana films?

SCOTTO:
I've been on this ride since day one. The first Gymkhana film actually grew from an article that ran in 0-60 Magazine — which I was the editor of — about the sport of gymkhana, featuring Ken. I consulted on the first and second Gymkhana films, but by the time we released the third, I was full-time working for Ken. I stepped into the role of creative director and then eventually graduated to director, but I sort of still do both jobs.

Now, Ken is my business partner at Hoonigan, and for some reason trusts me to carry on his creation.

AB: It's incredibly challenging to close down Pikes Peak — the highway is a public toll road. It's why, for the hill climb, practice is held in segments at dawn over the week leading into race day. How were you able to convince the authorities to give you access to the mountain?

SCOTTO: Luckily, the team at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb had come to us, and were instrumental in navigating this project through the parks department. But we still had to work around the mountain's schedule. We shot super early during the mornings and did controlled traffic stops to get other shots pulled off after 7:30 a.m. when the mountain opened to the public. It was no easy task. But everyone from the mountain was amazing to work with, they really seemed to appreciate what the world of motorsports did for Pikes Peak.

AB: Past Gymkhana films were in production for a scant five days. Climbkhana took more than 13 months. What were some of the challenges you faced?

BLOCK: It definitely took us longer than I would have liked to finish! The first time we went, we had some fairly serious engine problems and were unable to get everything we wanted. We went back two months later and were still having engine issues and ran into severe weather issues. Rain, snow, lightning and sunshine all within an hour at times. Some truly wild stuff! Finally, we sorted out the motor and went back this past August and had two solid days of good weather to finish everything up.

AB: How much did having Jeff Zwart co-direct help with production?

SCOTTO: Jeff Zwart is a legend. As a kid, photos he shot decorated the walls of my room, so I was honored to not only work alongside him and share directing duties, but to have him so excited to be a part of the project and join the Hoonigan Media Machine crew. Without Zwart's extensive knowledge of the road, it would have taken us three times as long to plot it all out.

Not only has he raced there a zillion times, he has also shot a bunch of car commercials there, so he knew it from both sides. Zwart also brought a different look to the film — we have never used camera cars before. Not using them has always been a big part of our formula, but Zwart and I were able to find a way to make them work while staying true to our signature style.

AB: When it comes to driving, is it pre-planned and storyboarded from previous scouting trips or more seat-of-the-pants?

BLOCK: There's always a scouting trip prior, and then we'll do a recon pass before we start to film. For normal Gymkhana stuff, I can normally walk through the scene, but with Climbkhana, since it was the road and extended distances, I used my Focus RS to run through the sections before hopping into the Hoonicorn to film.



AB: You mentioned the film before, how many times did you and the crew watch Jean Louis Mourey's Climb Dance before going into production?

BLOCK: Maybe twice? But, I have seen it many times and I know a lot of the scenes by heart. It's very inspirational. And, it has a lot of the basic makings of how we make our videos since most of the footage was shot during the various practices of the two drivers before the race, Ari Vatanen and Robby Unser.

SCOTTO: I'm sure I've seen that film a hundred times in my life. Before we started doing the Gymkhana series, it was really the only film of its kind that was more than the typical motorsports coverage. Mourey elevated the way racing could be depicted. There's a lot of commonality in Climb Dance and our work. Many people think that it was shot during the race, but the film was actually shot just like Climbkhana, in the wee hours of the day, during practice and private testing. Oh, and I probably watched the iconic Ari Vatanen sun block shot 30 times on the day we filmed that homage moment to get everything just right.

AB: With the hill climb having recently celebrated its 101st anniversary and Pikes Peak being one of the most scenic motorsports settings in the world, there has been a lot of content to come out of the mountain. What was your take going into it?

BLOCK: I saw the road and mountain for what it was: one of the most amazing races in the world on one of the most amazing mountain roads. So, our vision was to help showcase what an amazing and challenging road it is, but to show it in a new way.

Since the road has been completely paved, everyone who races up Pikes Peak is now locked into tarmac racing lines. No one gets sideways anymore like the old gravel days, which is when I started watching the race. With Climbkhana, I wanted to show a more fun, sideways and playful way of getting to the summit.

AB: In previous Gymkhana films, you had a sandbox to play in, from an old airfield to what seemed like the entirety of Los Angeles. With Climbkhana, you were limited to the paved sections of the mountain. How did that affect the film?

BLOCK: It made it a bit more dangerous at certain points since my runoff was a sheer drop at times! It also restricted what we could do since there are only so many open areas, or unique spots like the ranger station and the parking lot next to it to play with. We can only show so many hairpins in a video like this, so we had to get creative with the various spots and storylines we could create on the mountain.

AB: What was the most challenging stunt in Climbkhana?

BLOCK: There's one turn in the upper part of the W's where I wanted to drop a wheel and spray some rocks out over the drop while still smoking the front tires on the pavement. Not easy! And the consequences were bad if I went wide, it's the same spot the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution went off a few years ago. I nailed it on my second run, but the commitment level was really high and the margin for error was pretty small, so I'd say that was by far the most challenging part.



AB: What shot are you the most proud of?

SCOTTO: That's a tough one. The shot of KB almost dying, with two wheels deep in the dirt, inches from disaster as his front wheels clawed at the tarmac to escape the long way down might be one of the greatest moments I have ever been apart of. I was standing behind our main camera for that shot, and didn't breathe the entire time.

AB: While the plumey tire smoke almost doubles as roost, what would you each trade to go back and shoot Climbkhana when Pikes Peak was still all gravel?

BLOCK: Most of my early race career was built on gravel rally experience, and my early memories of Pikes was of it all gravel. So, it would be a dream to actually drive it that way. Especially with a high-horsepower AWD rally car. So, as far as a trade? That's a tough question. Not my left nut, that's for sure. But it does have that sort of value, though [laughter]!

SCOTTO: Early on, something we discussed was that by making a Gymkhana film, it was the only way anyone would be able to drive the mountain in the same fashion as the glory days of Michelle Mouton, Ari Vatanen, Bobby Unser, Walter Rohl, Rod Millen and so on. So I'm not so sure I'd trade anything. That said, the rally fan in me wishes the mountain was still gravel for racing's sake. The faster records are cool, but nothing will beat the sideways, roosted slides with no guardrails and heaps of consequence.

AB: Ken, as someone who currently competes in the FIA World Rallycross Championship, how much does your skills hooning in videos complement what you do in a race?

BLOCK: All of the stuff you see in my videos is a direct translation from the things I would do on a rally stage or during a rallycross race. But, sideways is slow so are we are constantly fighting to keep the car straight when racing in the World Rallycross Championship. The Gymkhana videos are always fun for me to get that sideways stuff out of my system.

When Gymkhana first dropped back in 2008, it was during the early YouTube days. Do you remember what your initial expectations were?

BLOCK: I had none, really. I originally filmed it for fun and had it hosted on my personal webpage. It took off and was costing me around $10k a month to host it there! Once that happened, I knew I had something pretty special, and it's grown a lot from there.



AB: Besides excessive hosting fees, how much has the success of the Gymkhana franchise affected both of your careers?

BLOCK: I think the success of the franchise has certainly helped in terms of extra visibility as a driver and for my team and partners. It allows me to be a bit more multi-faceted than most guys on the circuit and it assisted in getting more sponsorship, which is a huge help when building out race budgets to compete around the world.

SCOTTO: Gymkhana changed the direction of my career. I went from being a magazine editor to a director. Not sure if that would have happened without this series. But then again, the entire world of media was shifting at the time, and we were all trying to figure out what the next thing was. Who knew it was making videos about sliding cars!

AB: As creators, where do you both find inspiration for your projects?

BLOCK: I find my inspiration all around me. At the end of the day, my team and I love to create cool content that we like and want to see. Through the process of brainstorming and general banter, we get inspired to come up with our ideas for the next video.

SCOTTO: Like Ken, everything around me inspires in one way or another. But if I was forced to pick one, I'd say it comes from my 7-year-old imagination. I think about the stuff that I wanted to see cars do when I played with Hot Wheels, then question what is actually possible.

AB: Say Ford came to you guys with the opportunity to film without any budget limitations, what would you each want to do next?

BLOCK: No budget restrictions? I guess the moon?

SCOTTO: I'd start with a much-needed nap. Maybe a vacation. Then we'd build our own world to hoon.

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