Arcade auto racing for iOS

/* Posted July 1st, 2011 at 3:05pm [Comments: none]    */
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When it comes to racing games on the iOS, you have plenty of choices. Whether you want to race
cars, motorcycles, ATVs, jet skis or planes, the iTunes app store has excellent options.

Probably the most recognized racing games would be Firemint’s Real Racing, the Need for Speed franchise, or the Asphalt racing games, all of which offer 3D racing action. But we’ve found that sometimes it’s the arcade racing games that can be more fun if you’re in the right mood.

This weeks collection of iOS apps is all about arcade racing games. The first is a recently released 2D top-down racer with unique controls and 6-player local multiplayer. The second moves towards combat racing with upgradable cars and tons of levels to conquer. The third is an excellent physics-based racer with a focus on skidding and sliding around corners to get to the finish line.

Cut the corners close and jockey for position in this top-down 2D racing game.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

VS Racing (99 cents) is a true top down racing game in the classic sense–there are no 3D effects or complex car models, but it’s still pretty fun. The control system offers up three different types of steering (there is no gas or braking in this game). When you race for the first time, the game suggests you use a steering mechanism usually found in ball rolling games–tilt to turn so that the car is always traveling “down hill.” We tried a couple races using the suggested method, but found the other two directional steering options to be much more reliable.

VS. Racing offers a single player campaign as well as local multiplayer over Wi-Fi with up to six players. In the single player game, you start off easy to get used to the controls in what are called the Local Qualifiers. As you progress, more racers are added to train you to jockey for position against other cars. After the qualifiers, you move on to Regionals, then compete in the championship all the way to the Finals. A loose story line shows up as static dialogues between the games characters in between races, but there’s not much to it–in other words, you won’t be playing this game for the story. Still, the racing action is pretty fun with 34 races across six unique tracks.

Multiplayer would probably be the best part of VS. Racing, but it’s limited to matches played over local Wi-Fi. If the developers added racing online with GameCenter support, it would probably be great fun matching up against five other players online. Hopefully the developers are planning that for later versions. The game could also be improved by adding more tracks.

Overall, VS. Racing is a pretty fun racing game, but might be a bit easy for serious arcade racing fans. If you want a top down racer that’s reminiscent of classic arcade games, VS. Racing is a fairly good option, but if they add online multiplayer and GC support, it will be even better.

When you get behind in this game, use your weapons to take people out and improve your position.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Death Rally (99 cents) is an iOS adaptation of (and homage to) the classic, much-loved top-down PC racer of the same name. Much like its predecessor, Death Rally has a gritty feel (although much more PG than on the PC) and some of the best racing gameplay and graphics on its platform.

At its most basic, Death Rally is a 2D arcade racer in which you duke it out for pole position in short, brutal races against multiple opponents, with some help from your guns. You control your car with a virtual left joystick (the lack of fancy controls means you need to master sliding around corners), and you control your special weapon (you can unlcok several in the game, from a shotgun to a mine-layer) with a virtual right joystick. Your primary gun is always firing if there’s something to shoot at.

What makes Death Rally so addictive is how it rewards you for quick, pick-up-and-play races: you’re unlocking and upgrading weapons and cars–for cars, improving their speed, handling, and armor–and each race gets you slightly closer to a new or better weapon or vehicle, which in turn lets you compete on progressively more difficult races against increasingly craftier opponents. You get cash for a variety of accomplishments, including winning or placing, taking out competitors, and making or breaking course records. Death Rally keeps things fresh by continuously changing the available races, with enough maps, difficulty settings, and special challenges to always pique your interest as you work your way toward gaining fame and beefing up the hardware in your garage.

Death Rally is a racing gem, combining intuitive and visceral gameplay with a supremely satisfying RPG-style advancement system. It’s a must download for arcade racing fans, especially if you can find it on sale.

The physics in this racer are exceptional, but you’re going to have to master drift-like turns.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Reckless Racing (99 cents) is just plain fun, taking some gameplay ideas from old classic console games like RC Pro-Am, and adding in modern graphics and physics to make a racing game that is a blast to play and looks great on the
iPhone 4 Retina Display.

The game delivers on two major counts: graphics and controls. Reckless Racing is absolutely dazzling, with vibrantly colored cars and tracks that are just shy of photorealistic. And you get to choose from five different control schemes–everything from basic left/right-gas/brake buttons to an onscreen steering wheel, to accelerometer steering. We’re partial to the buttons, but we are also enamored with “tank” mode (in which your car just goes flat-out the entire time–all you do is steer).
Whatever control option you choose, you’ll find absolutely perfect arcade physics. Cars skid and slide and screech around corners (in varying amounts depending on whether you’re on gravel or asphalt). If you like drift, you’ll love RR.

The game’s half-dozen vehicle options include Otis’ flame-adorned pickup, Cletus’ old army jeep, Floyd’s cab truck–you get the idea. As far as we can tell, each car is identical in terms of handling and performance, which makes for a level playing field and a better game–you’re battling the track and your driving skills, not the car.

RR offers just seven tracks, which does seem a bit limited, though as you progress, you unlock reverse versions of each one. That more or less brings the total to 14, but we would still love to see EA add some new tracks in a future update.

Single-player options include Dirt Rally (your basic championship mode) and Hot Lap (in which you race for the best single-lap time). Then there’s Delivery, which is just like it sounds: you pick up and deliver as many packages as you can in a fixed amount of time (3, 5, or 8 minutes). This takes place on a larger, more open track–and it’s a blast.

Of course, any single-player racer gets boring after a while, which is why we like that RR offers online multiplayer races for up to four players.

Overall, if you’re looking for a classic isometric racer like the days of old, Reckless Racing takes the best of that classic genre and adds in modern graphics and physics to make for an excellent arcade racer.

Got a better top-down racing game that’s not mentioned here? Please let us all know about it in the comments.

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Angry Birds Seasons celebrates summer with pig update

/* Posted June 29th, 2011 at 3:04pm [Comments: none]    */
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The Birds are back for some summer-picnic fun--30 levels worth.

The Birds are back for some summer-picnic fun–30 levels’ worth.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Rick Broida)

If you haven’t updated your apps lately, there’s a nice surprise awaiting you in the App Store: Angry Birds Seasons 1.5.1. (Note: That link is for iTunes.
Android users can find the game in Android Market.)

Instead of a holiday-themed update, this one actually involves a season: Rovio has added 30 new levels (twice as many as in most previous updates) under the banner “Summer Pignic.”

If you’re even the least bit familiar with the game (and who on the planet isn’t?), you know that these seasonal updates have been arriving steadily.

In fact, here’s a little Angry history for you: after Angry Birds Halloween scared up mammoth business last year, Rovio filled players’ stockings with free Christmas-themed levels–and changed the app’s name to Seasons. (Seems like “Holidays” would have made more sense, but whatever.)

In February, things turned romantic with new Angry Birds levels for Valentine’s Day. In March, the Birds celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with more new levels. And a month later, April brought not only showers, but also Easter pigs wearing bunny ears.

As with all previous updates, this one’s free. If you’re the last remaining person who’s new to Angry Birds, the 99-cent app comes with all the previous levels as well–for a grand total of nearly 150. That’s a fairly decent amount of bird-flinging bang for the buck.

The question is, what will happen to Seasons after this? Summer Picnic would seem to indicate no new levels until autumn, and the next big holiday around then is Halloween again. (Unless Rovio has a Labor Day update in the works, which seems iffy. And I’m not holding out much hope for Angry Birds Rosh Hashanah.) Could this be the end for Seasons?

Angry Birds Seasons 1.5.1 is available for Android, iPhone/iPod, and iPad.

Editors’ note: This post originally had the wrong name for the update. It is Angry Birds Seasons: Summer Pignic!

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Mozilla drafts Firefox vision statement

/* Posted June 27th, 2011 at 8:56am [Comments: none]    */
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Firefox logo

What exactly is
Firefox for?

With a new Mozilla chief executive, a new six-week rapid-release cycle, and new Firefox management, apparently the organization has conclude there’s no time like the present to pin down an answer.

“Now that we have a solid base to work from, and greatly improved agility, it’s a good time to look at the quickly-evolving landscape and chart our path forward,” said Jay Sullivan, Mozilla’s vice president of product, in a mailing list message on Friday. “To that end, I’ve tried to synthesize and distill countless discussions and ideas I’ve heard from throughout the Mozilla community over the last few years about where we should go with our products to further the Mozilla mission.”

The result is a draft vision statement

Without further ado, here’s the Firefox vision: “Discover, experience, and connect with apps, Web sites, and people on your own terms, everywhere.”

Sullivan said wants the statement to be “something we can use to guide priorities and road maps, and something we can rally around to grow our global community to advance the Web.”

As rallying cries go, the vision statement is hardly up to the level of “Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” But to be honest, I can’t ever remember reading a vision or mission statement that was anything but blah.

But for a bit more passion (if not Shakespeare’s way with words), check what amounts to the preamble:

“The next generation of innovation on the Web will be anchored by a browser that is an honest broker committed to the interests of the individual user and developer, providing amazing experiences that match those offered by proprietary platforms; and user control and developer reach and freedom that is superior to proprietary platforms. As Firefox has transformed the browser landscape before, it must do so again….

Mozilla is uniquely positioned to deliver experiences that put the needs of the user first, above profits and above exploiting their personal data. Mozilla is the only organization in the world that can credibly deliver a browser that meets this opportunity.

Mozilla faces serious challenges today, with Chrome’s growth in usage picking up where Firefox’s left off, with Internet Explorer competitive again, and with browsing on the very popular
iPhone and
iPad devices restricted to the Apple WebKit engine that powers Safari. But it’s good to hear Mozilla is sorting out Firefox’s raison d’etre.

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Nitro PDF Reader jumps to 2.0

/* Posted June 24th, 2011 at 2:56am [Comments: none]    */
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(Credit:
Nitro PDF, Inc.)

Nitro PDF Reader, recipient of a 2010 CNET Editor’s Choice award, has officially jumped to version 2.0. After spending 12 months in beta, Nitro PDF Reader 2.0 comes to us with a host of big-time features, several bug fixes, and other minor enhancements. Some of the most important additions to 2.0 include:

Web browser integration
Now you can preview PDF files from within
Firefox, Chrome, and IE.

Nitro PDF Creator 2
As if the original built-in PDF creator wasn’t enough, now you can pump out PDFs at 4 times the speed and with a 50% reduction in file size

QuickSign
With this nifty new feature, you can say goodbye to the annoyingly tedious Print-Sign-Scan-Send workflow. QuickSign lets you import a scanned image of your signature and paste it onto “Sign Here” fields.

XFA Form Support
Again, another feature that lets us do away with printing physical copies. With XFA Form Support you can fill out paperwork digitally.

If you’re on Windows, and you’re still using Adobe Reader, you should strongly consider at least trying Nitro’s offering. It’s free, it has a built-in PDF creator, and now it comes with a host of features that many of its competitors can’t match. Nitro PDF Reader 2.0 is available now on Download.com, and you can get the full rundown of new features here.

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Fetch.io: Download manager in the cloud

/* Posted June 21st, 2011 at 8:56pm [Comments: none]    */
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Over the past few years, we’ve seen a plethora of download servers and utilities that range from the infamous torrent clients to temporary file servers like RapidShare, Megaupload, and HotFile. Torrenting in particular has seen some new improvements in the area of clients; uTorrent (which was eventually acquired by BitTorrent) became one of the most portable, system-friendly clients and Webware sites like Torrific have even eliminated the use of client software altogether.

So how do you top that?

Fetch.io: A Swiss Army Knife download manager?

(Credit:
Fetch.io)

Enter Fetch.io, a cloud-based service similar to the likes of Dropbox but with the utilitarian function of Torrific, as well as support for RapidShare, Megaupload, FileServe, and other services. Instead of downloading your files to your own computer, you input a torrent URL or any cyberlocker URL from a site like Megaupload, then go about your business. Fetch.io will “fetch” the files itself using its own connection, download them to a remote server, and notify you of the completed ingestion via e-mail. You can then access your files directly from your Fetch.io folder in a process similar to Dropbox.

If you download a movie file, Fetch.io will automatically encode it as MP4 or Flash format for streaming support. This opens up movie-streaming potential for various media platforms and mobile devices.

Keep in mind that although Fetch.io’s servers can download files at an amazing rate, users are still capped at their own respective download speeds and bandwidth when accessing their completed downloads on Fetch.io’s servers.

Fetch.io is currently in the beta stage and is offering user accounts of up to 20GB of free storage and 40GB in bandwidth. Fetch ‘em while they last.

Fetch.io boasts support for multiple download sources, including torrent and cyberlocker sites.

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Offline Google Docs starts playing peek-a-boo

/* Posted June 20th, 2011 at 8:55pm [Comments: none]    */
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Google Apps logo(Credit:
Google)

One of the big criticisms of Google’s Chromebooks is that they’re significantly less useful when you don’t have an Internet connection or are paying by the megabyte for a wireless data plan. That drawback is particularly glaring when it comes to Google Docs.

And unfortunately for Google, the company missed the Chrome OS launch window with one important upgrade coming to Google Docs, the ability to use the word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software while not connected to the Net.

Offline Google Docs was slated to arrive early this year, but Google pushed it back. In May, Google promised offline Google Docs this summer and said it’s testing the feature internally.

And apparently, it’s not just internal: the unofficial Google Operating System blog reported a case in which a reader saw a black status bar at the top of the browser window with the label “Offline Docs,” the alert “network connection lost,” and apparent links for “switch to online mode” and “switch to offline mode.”

I use Google Docs a lot and am both impressed and disappointed.

On Friday, I collaborated with several other writers collectively writing a single document–and we even used Google Docs’ chat abilities when Yahoo Messenger’s chat room faltered. Right now, I can see words I’m writing on my
Mac appearing across the room on my Windows machine–a silly curiosity were it not for the fact that I need to use multiple computers. I’ve looked up needed information on Google Docs with my smartphone. The power of building the network into Google Docs is truly impressive.

But Google Docs’ offline shortcomings afflict me me whenever I’m on a train going into London, vacationing in Cornwall, suffering a DSL outage at home, avoiding exorbitant data roaming fees abroad, or working at a tech conference with overwhelmed Wi-Fi.

The W3Cs new HTML5 logo

The W3C’s new HTML5 logo

(Credit:
W3C)

Unlike Googlers, I’m not equipped with unlimited data plans. During these moments of unconnectedness, I crack open
Microsoft Office again and afterward deal with the annoyance of mirroring the files back into my online archive.

So I for one would like to see offline Google Docs arrive as soon as possible–and offline Gmail, Calendar, and anything else in the Google Apps service, while we’re at it.

In a Reddit discussion last week, Google Docs product manager Jeff Harris blamed the significant technical challenge of the task for the delays.

You’re going to see offline start to roll out later this summer. We used to have offline with Google Gears, but it became pretty clear that plugins weren’t the right approach. We’ve been reimplementing offline using HTML5 standards like AppCache, File API, and IndexDB [aka IndexedDB].

We’re some of the first webapps that are really putting those standards to the test, so it’s taken a while to iron out the kinks.

It should be noted that one of those offline technologies, IndexedDB, is still in somewhat early days of the standardization process and hasn’t necessarily won over all the browser makers. Don’t be surprised therefore if only early fans such as Mozilla’s
Firefox and Google’s Chrome support offline Docs.

The Gears approach to offline Google Docs provided the feature earlier but with significant limits. For example, spreadsheets couldn’t be edited offline.

Technical challenges arise when offline Docs go online again, particularly when multiple people are editing the same document, Harris said.

We will launch in whatever incremental pieces make sense. But the long-term direction is if you access a Doc URL while offline, it should open the local copy of the doc and let you edit. When you go online all your edits get synced in the background. You should also be able to see a list of your docs while offline.

We’ll need to work through all the tricky problems with how to merge conflicting edits. It’s fun stuff.

I for one would welcome the incremental piece of only enabling read and write privileges with documents of which I am the sole owner.

After all, it’s not just me waiting for offline Docs now. I imagine the Chrome OS team is paying very close attention as well.

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Play by Yahoo mashes up other players’ talents

/* Posted June 19th, 2011 at 2:54am [Comments: none]    */
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(Credit:
Yahoo)



(Credit:
Yahoo)

Yahoo has just entered the mobile music app market with its newest release for the
Android platform, Play by Yahoo Music. With this “full-featured music player,” Yahoo claims to offer a one-of-a-kind listening experience thanks to a few patent-pending technologies.

Taking a page out of Shazam’s book, Play by Yahoo Music uses its own proprietary audio fingerprinting technology to help identify songs you hear on the radio or anywhere else. The Identify feature can also be used in a continuous mode, for automatically identifying multiple songs played in a row.

Smart Shuffle is another a feature that Yahoo is touting. Similar to Apple’s iTunes Genius, Smart Shuffle gets to know your musical taste and tailors its shuffled playback accordingly. And it doesn’t require any active input from you in doing so (e.g. ratings, thumbs up, or other cues).

Finally, Play by Yahoo Music is introducing a nifty Music News feature. Built into the player, Yahoo Music News allows you to tap on an Artist News button from any song you’re playing, to bring up any related news.

Play by Yahoo (download) is available now for free in the Android Market. Give us a try and let us know how it stacks up via comment below.

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Best iOS golf games for Dad

/* Posted June 17th, 2011 at 8:54pm [Comments: none]    */
/* Filed under Web    */

Does your dad like golf? With Father’s Day this weekend and the summer finally hitting its stride, heading out to the links is probably on a lot of dads’ minds. But why let your dad’s golfing be limited to the weekend or the warm months of summer when you can bring the links to him on his iOS device?

This week’s collection of apps is all about playing a quick game of golf during downtime. The first app lets you play through nine-hole courses in strange, multilevel fantasy 2D worlds. The second lets you join one of the best golfers around, in a more involved golf simulation, playing on real-world courses. The last, out this week, is the sequel to an excellent pick-up-and-play golf game, perfect for when you need a quick fix.

Super Stickman Golf

Play golf on strange worlds with interesting traps–you wouldn’t want to fall down that hole on the left.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Super Stickman Golf (99 cents) is a 2D golf game that’s really easy to pick up and play, with tons of fantastical themed courses, interesting power-ups, and excellent physics-based gameplay. Though the game has a huge amount of arcadelike features, the goal is always the same: try to get the ball in the hole in as few shots as possible. The challenge is that it can be much harder than it looks.

Rather than your standard 3D layout as seen in many golf games, Super Stickman Golf offers up a 2D platformer experience. The courses often have multiple levels you’ll need to reach and obstacles you’ll need to avoid to finally get on the green.

The interface consists of arrows on the left to adjust the arc of your shot, a button in the middle for bringing in bonus items (more on that later), and a “Go!” button you’ll need to hit twice for each shot: once to start the swing, and a second time to adjust shot power.

Beyond the many themed courses that keep the game interesting, you also have some extra arcade elements to add some flavor. As you play, you’ll unlock unique balls like the Sticky Ball, which sticks to surfaces after you hit the ball–great for courses where there are shafts you need to climb to get to the green. You also can unlock Super Clubs that make it so you can stop a ball in midair, or freeze water hazards, for example. Each of the arcade elements is well thought out and adds a unique twist to the game.

Overall, with over 260 holes to play across several themed courses, unique obstacles, arcade elements, and local and online multiplayer, Super Stickman Golf has plenty to offer any arcade golf fan.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12

Switch clubs by hitting the club icon at the lower left.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 ($4.99) is the first golf simulation from the popular golf franchise on iOS since April 2009, and it’s easy to see that this latest game is leaps and bounds beyond the original. The graphics on the
iPhone 4 Retina Display are smooth, reminding us of console-level golf games. The controls have been fine-tuned as well, making it easy to adjust shot types and switch clubs depending on the situation.

You get the choice to play as Tiger Woods, alongside him, or as any one of several current pro male and female players. You can also create your own player and customize clothing, clothing color, and skin color. Later, when you earn some money for various challenges on the course, you’ll be able to upgrade your equipment for more powerful shots and better accuracy to help you improve your scores.

Rather than the standard three-touch hit method found in other golf games, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 uses a vertical swiping method for better precision–the down swipe determines shot power and on the up swipe you can slightly curve your swing for draw and fade shots. Even once the ball is in the air you can swipe repeatedly in any direction to put spin on the ball. All of these shot variables will come in handy in various situations, and we like that there are so many controls for shot precision.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 lets you play quick games, head-to-head matches against friends over Bluetooth or a local network, or Tiger challenges with unique requirements, or you can play through your own PGA Tour. You can also connect to Facebook and try to beat your friends’ best shots (which you can watch) on specific holes. Sadly, there is no online multiplayer at this time, but it seems like a no-brainer that EA would add that functionality in a future version–we’ll just have to wait and see.

Even without online multiplayer, with a streamlined control system, customizable players, and tons of challenging courses to play on, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 is the golf game to beat on iOS. Anyone looking for a golf game that’s closer to simulation than arcade will enjoy this title.

Flick Golf Extreme

The graphics in this game are excellent as you shoot from atop high skyscrapers.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Flick Golf Extreme ($2.99) is the sequel to Flick Golf (iPhone or iPad), a very well-made arcade golf game we’ve reviewed here in the past. But instead of the usual golfing experience of trying to work your way to the green in the smallest number of shots, in the Flick Golf games your goal is to get as close to the hole as possible in one shot–ideally with a hole in one. Flick Golf Extreme takes the game a step further by moving off the grassy links of traditional golf games into all sorts of strange environments.

The interface and controls in Flick Golf Extreme were made for the touch screen, and it shows. When you start a hole, check for wind speed before taking your shot (this is especially important in later levels). To send the ball toward the hole, simply flick your finger in a forward motion across the ball toward the pin. While the ball is in the air, flick the screen to guide the ball toward the hole. You’ll also be able to apply spin to the ball as long as it is still bouncing–great for small adjustments to get extra points. Each hole is surrounded by concentric circles, each with a point value that increases the closer you are to the hole.

Flick Golf and Flick Golf Extreme share the same precise controls, but where Flick Golf Extreme really shines is in the environments. With beautiful 3D graphics, you’ll be taking shots across deep canyons and, on another course, from rooftop to rooftop high atop skyscrapers. In one level, you’ll actually need to take shots from a hovering helicopter onto an aircraft carrier. All of the environments are meticulously detailed, with gorgeous animations and excellent sound design (in one level you can see and hear a huge waterfall as you take your shots, for example). It’s clear that the developers went to great lengths to make this game a striking visual experience to go along with the already great gameplay.

Flick Golf Extreme offers three game modes: Quickshot, in which you hit as many shots as possible within a time limit; World Tour, in which you’ll need to achieve high enough scores to unlock each course; and–new to Extreme–a 5 Ball Challenge, in which you get five balls that you can only replenish by hitting holes in one. Each of the game types requires a different strategy, adding to the replay value of the game.

Overall, Flick Golf Extreme is a fun and addictive pick-up-and-play arcade golf game with excellent controls, strange and beautifully made courses, and plenty of replay value. If you liked Flick Golf or want a quick golf fix, Flick Golf Extreme is a must-download.

Do you have another golf game you would like to share? Let us all know in the comments!

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Icebreaker Hockey lets you take the slap shot

/* Posted June 17th, 2011 at 2:53am [Comments: none]    */
/* Filed under Web    */

Icebreaker Hockey (99 cents) hit the iTunes App Store recently, adding another sport to the challenging 3D tilt-to-control sports arcade franchise from developer NaturalMotion. Now you’ll be able to take to the ice and work your way around defenders until it’s your turn to take a shot at the goal.

Icebreaker Hockey

Touch the screen to come to a hard stop–the perfect move when a defender tries to attack from the side.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Many iOS gamers will remember Backbreaker Football, one of the early great
iPhone games at the iTunes App Store. Taking advantage of the iPhone’s accelerometer, Backbreaker Football let you tilt and touch buttons to maneuver a football player downfield to score a touchdown.
Later, Backbreaker Football 2: Vengeance expanded on the original, adding obstacles to jump over and a new game mode that let you play as a defender. The genre was such a hit that there have even been copycat games from other developers, like Bonecruncher Soccer, which uses many of the same concepts, but lets you dribble a soccer ball downfield to try to take a shot at the goal.

Icebreaker Hockey, from NaturalMotion, now lets you tilt to control a hockey player as you guide a puck down the ice past defenders. This game shares many of the same concepts as the earlier versions, but offers enough variation to keep it exciting–especially for hockey fans. As in the earlier games, you start by picking from unlicensed teams that have remarkably similar colors to NHL teams. You also can put your name on the jersey and choose a number.

Icebreaker Hockey

You know your juke move was successful when the defender gets laid out on the ice.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Immediately upon starting the game, we were extremely impressed with the opening visuals on the iPhone 4 Retina Display as the camera panned around the arena showing a laser light show and almost true-to-life reflections on the ice. The control scheme is much like the Backbreaker games: you tilt to turn your skater, and each side of the screen there are buttons for spin and juke dodges. You also get a button for turbo boost and, if you simply touch the screen, it makes your skater come to a hard stop–great for making a defender miss when he tries to hit you from the side. Once you get close to the goal, your player will wind up to shoot a slap shot into the goal.

As in the other games in this genre, scoring a point is not really the goal of the game; Icebreaker Hockey is about the route and moves it takes to get to the goal. Along with trying to stay out of the way of multiple defenders, you’ll want to skate over bonus areas to add to your overall score. We found that mapping out a route as the game gives you a preview of the round was the best method for scoring the most points.

Icebreaker Hockey

After scoring a goal, you can watch how your power shot slipped by the goaltender.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Icebreaker Hockey comes with tons of gameplay across two modes. In Challenge mode you’ll face 50 waves of action across 10 progressively more difficult challenges. Endurance mode takes it one step further, letting you face increasingly challenging waves to see just how far you can go.

Overall, Icebreaker Hockey is definitely a worthy addition to the franchise, offering plenty of fun and variation to keep you coming back for more. Online leader boards and in-game achievements only add to the fun.

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Microsoft declares WebGL ‘harmful’ to security

/* Posted June 16th, 2011 at 2:53pm [Comments: none]    */
/* Filed under Web    */

A security firm raised new concerns today about WebGL–but Microsoft piled on with an opinion that’s likely more damaging to fans’ hopes for a universal 3D Web graphics standard.

“We believe that WebGL will likely become an ongoing source of hard-to-fix vulnerabilities,” Microsoft said today in a security blog post flatly titled “WebGL Considered Harmful.” “In its current form, WebGL is not a technology Microsoft can endorse from a security perspective.”

The move effectively kills WebGL fans’ hopes, at least for now, that WebGL could become a standard Web programmers could count on finding in modern browsers. And that means one hot area of programming, games development, won’t have an easy, unified way to tackle Web-based software.

WebGL was created initially at Mozilla, standardized by the Khronos Group, and supported by Google. It’s built into Chrome and
Firefox right now, giving those browsers a way to display hardware-accelerated 3D graphics useful for games and other visually rich tasks.

As with many technologies, though, the security scrutiny picks up once the technology leaves the labs and enters the real world. Today, Context Information Security, which issued a WebGL warning in May, issued another caution.


Google Body demonstrates WebGL features. The Google Labs site has a slider that lets you add or remove various systems of the human body.

Google Body demonstrates WebGL features. The Google Labs site has a slider that lets you add or remove various systems of the human body.

(Credit:
screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)

Specifically, Context publicized a problem that could let a Web site capture a screenshot of a Firefox user’s computer, the company said in a blog post. It found the problem by checking Firefox with Khronos’ WebGL conformance tests, which it said Firefox and Chrome don’t pass. It also called insufficient Khronos’ response to the earlier concern, employing a feature called GL_ARB_robustness.

“Context therefore recommends that users and system administrators disable WebGL,” Context concluded.

Khronos downplayed the concerns in a statement from spokesman Jonathan Hirshon:

1. All browser vendors are still working toward passing the WebGL conformance suite. Only once they have successfully done so can they claim support of Canvas.getContext(“webgl”) instead of Canvas.getContext(“experimental-webgl”).

2. The issue of theft of arbitrary windows on the desktop is due to a bug in Firefox’s WebGL implementation, and cannot be generalized across other browsers’ WebGL implementations. Moreover, that bug was addressed May 26 and is resolved in Firefox 5, slated for release June 21.

3. Browser vendors are still in the process of supporting the GL_ARB_robustness extension, so it is expected that the previously reported denial-of-service issues are still present. It is expected that the reported denial-of-service issues will be solved with the integration of this extension.

Context’s warnings are reinforced by the practical reality that Microsoft just wrote it off. The company has been frosty toward WebGL, but today it publicized Context’s findings and explained why it views WebGL as unsafe.

Microsoft concluded that WebGL “would have difficulty passing Microsoft’s Security Development Lifecycle requirements,” a stance that seems likely to doom hopes at least for now that WebGL would become a standard supported by all major browsers. Universal support means that Web developers could count on WebGL being available and therefore could use it; its absence means that some Web sites and Web apps–Angry Birds for Chrome, for example–will require compatibility checks and fallbacks.

Among Microsoft’s views on WebGL’s security problems are the following:

The security of WebGL as a whole depends on lower levels of the system, including OEM [original equipment manufacturer] drivers, upholding security guarantees they never really [needed] to worry about before. Attacks that may have previously resulted only in local elevation of privilege may now result in remote compromise. While it may be possible to mitigate these risks to some extent, the large attack surface exposed by WebGL remains a concern…

As WebGL vulnerabilities are uncovered, they will not always manifest in the WebGL API itself. The problems may exist in the various OEM and system components delivered by IHVs [independent hardware vendors such as video card makers]. While it has been suggested that WebGL implementations may block the use of affected hardware configurations, this strategy does not seem to have been successfully put into use to address existing vulnerabilities. It is our belief that as configurations are blocked, increasing levels of customer disruption may occur…

Modern operating systems and graphics infrastructure were never designed to fully defend against attacker-supplied shaders and geometry [software that run on a graphics chip]. Although mitigations such as ARB_robustness and the forthcoming ARB_robustness_2 may help, they have not proven themselves capable of comprehensively addressing the DoS [denial of service] threat… If this problem is not addressed holistically it will be possible for any web site to freeze or reboot systems at will.

Don’t expect WebGL to vanish, though. The movement toward Web apps is powerful, with notable allies. And some of Microsoft’s concerns, such as the difficulties of assigning responsibility for plugging holes, aren’t as bad outside the Windows PC world. Windows PCs use a vast array of hardware combinations, but Apple computers, Google Chromebooks, and new-generation smartphones don’t.

And companies selling that technology are used to not having Microsoft on their side.

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