App O’ The Mornin’–Afternoon Edition: Epic Citadel

Simply mind-blowing: that’s the only way I can describe the interactive tech demo just uploaded by Epic Games. This Unreal Engine-based technology shows just what lies ahead for mobile 3D gaming: gorgeous interior and exterior environments with decent framerates and a good implementation of onscreen directional controls.

The demo is simply an exploration of a medieval town and the surrounding area. I’m not sure what they plan to put in that town, and right now I don’t care: I just want it.

The techno demo is available for free. It’s not a game: just a guided tour and a chance to wander through the best-looking environment ever created for a smartphone. The lighting, flowing water, textures, and distance rendering are all first rate.

This is not pre-rendered or re-touched: this is as it looks in motion on a last-gen iPod Touch.The pictures in this post were all taken in-game by me (even the ones with the Unreal watermark), using the built in screen capture utility.

Friday Linkaround

I’ll Believe It When I Play It: I thought Duke Nukem Forever was a description of the development cycle, but it may actually release 13 years after I first wrote about it. Does anyone care anymore?

But Will Totoro Be In It?: Studio Ghibli (the animation studio responsible for the films of Hayao Miyazaki, among others) is collaborating on a game.

Sorry We Failed: Stardock apologizes for the horrible launch of their game, Elemental.

Carmack Does iOS4…: John Carmack’s demo of RAGE … on an iPhone. (YouTube video.) Great googly moogly.

…And Epic Responds: A look at Epic Games’ Citadel tech demo, which you can download from the App Store right now.

Speaking of iOS4: Version 4.1 should be out next week, complete with new game features.

Dealing Death: Space Hulk: Death Angel is turning the classic over-priced alien-shredding space-marine battle game into a co-op card game. At least it will be easier to find than Space Hulk 3rd Edition.

Small World Gets a Little More Crowded: Some new races are coming to Small World.

No Medal of Honor in Military Shops: EA’s controversial shooter gets a PX ban.

Footballville: Madden NFL Superstars finally launches on Facebook. This social networking game allows you collect cards to form a team and then simulate seasons. Money for the best cards can be earned from playing and winning or, of course, by giving them a handy credit card number. Great, now I’ll get messages asking me to join someone’s team along with to farm and mafia requests.Kill me now.

Gamebusters: Will MythBusters do a videogame episode? Looks like it! (Go to the 1:44 minute mark.)

Best Game Evah?: Mario Bros. is the greatest game ever, according to some dudes.

Chess: This week in Chess.

Giveaways: Don’t forget to let me know if you’ve followed us or shared a link, so I can enter your name in the drawing for the Bicycle card prizes.

Bicycle Rider Backs (808s): A Closer Look

We’re beginning this series on playing cards with the most popular card maker and brand in history, the US Playing Card Company and their Bicycle cards. (Click on the images for higher resolution art.)

Corner detail

First, a little history. US Playing Card was founded in Cincinnati in 1867, Russell, Morgan & Co began as a general printhouse, but in 1880 they started making playing cards. New machines were designed, and about 20 employees set about making 1,600 decks per day.

The Bicycle brand was introduced in 1885, and by 1891 cards had come to dominate so much of their business that they changed their name to US Playing Card Company. They grew partly through acquisition, standing over several card companies with brands dating back to 1833, among them the famous Bee brand.

Detail: Naked Cycling Angel

Bicycle is the most recognized card brand in the world. Over the years the design has changed, but a few things have stayed common, such as the naked bike-riding angel on the card backs.

Why is there a naked bike-riding angel on the backs? It’s just one of the mysteries of the universe, so let us never speak of it again. (The angel was probably meant for luck, as a Guardian Angel, and the bike was possibly just an example of a piece popular technology from the time.)

There are a number of Bicycle versions, with different colors, different kinds of bikes, and different card back designs. The most ubiquitous are simply known as Rider Backs, or “808s” from the brand number, and are the standard poker-faced design. These come in numerous configurations, such as Bridge (smaller size), Pinochle (48 cards, 9 through Ace, doubled), Poker, and so on, but all share similar card back and face designs.

Joker Detail

The distinctive Ace, featuring a symbol of lady liberty, has it’s own bit of lore, as USPCC explains:

The Ace of Spades served a famous purpose in the war in Vietnam. In February, 1966, two lieutenants of Company “C,” Second Battalion, 35th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, wrote The United States Playing Card Company and requested decks containing nothing but the Bicycle Ace of Spades. The cards were useful in psychological warfare. The Viet Cong were very superstitious and highly frightened by this Ace. 

The French previously had occupied Indo-China, and in French fortunetelling with cards, the Spades predicted death and suffering. The Viet Cong even regarded lady liberty as a goddess of death. USPC shipped thousands of the requested decks gratis to our troops in Vietnam. These decks were housed in plain white tuckcases, inscribed “Bicycle Secret Weapon.” The cards were deliberately scattered in the jungle and in hostile villages during raids. The very sight of the Bicycle® Ace was said to cause many Viet Cong to flee.

Detail: Ace of Spades

Bicycle cards are cheap but durable. The basic cards are coated paper with a matte finish that offers a nice grip. They’re not too slick, like Aviators, and they hold up reasonably well. They’re easy to find for $2 to $5 a pack, and are made entirely in the USA. This is your basic deck of cards, and if you don’t have some in your home, you really should.

I’m going to do some more of these detailed posts because I think these items are wonderful examples of the printer’s art, but we often don’t pause to really look at them. I’ve scanned these at a very high level, and adjusted the images to emphasize the lines and colors, so click on the images to see the details.

You can still enter to win two packs of World Series of Poker branded Bicycle 808s from State of Play.

App O’ The Mornin’: Mills and More

As part of my ongoing series on Colonial Gaming, I covered Nine Men’s Morris over here. It’s one of the classic abstract strategy games, with ancient roots and some intriguing elements of strategy.

There are several versions of Morris (aka Mills and Merrills) in the App Store, but I’m perfectly happy with Mills and More, from Antitalent Game Studio. It has simple touch controls for placing and moving markers, and clean, appealing graphics, with markers that look like Go pieces.

The Lite version includes the basic Nine Men’s Morris in 1 and 2-player modes, with three levels of articifical intelligence and Bluetooth support.

The registered version adds Three Men’s Morris and Six Men’s Morris, and the developer is promising Twelve Man’s Morris in a future update. The “flying” run can be toggled on or off.

Give the Lite version a try. If you like abstract strategy games, you might find this an appealing alternative.