How 'Replica Island' Raises Hopes For Android Gaming

Starring none other than the Android logo, this intriguing game points to good things for the future of gaming on that platform.

“Do you have Angry Birds?” Within days of getting my new HTC Desire smartphone, this question had become a frequent irritation. My phone's superficial resemblance to an iPhone gave that phone's users a feeling of kinship with me, leading them to assume that the ornithological puzzler was available on my handset, too. Apparently Angry Birds is being ported to Google's Android operating system as I type, but in the meantime, I've felt that I needed to investigate Android's own gaming possibilities as they stand. Surely the platform has its own killer app?

Now that I'm among the million downloaders of Replica Island, I'd like to think that it does. I came across the game in TechRadar's article on Android games, and before long I was guiding the robot from the Android logo around colourful side-scrolling levels, gliding and sliding it from challenge to challenge on a mysterious island. So far, so Super Mario Bros., but within a few levels I was encountering features far more ambitious and accomplished than I'd expected.

For one, our heroic android can emit “possession orbs”, which allow remote control of enemies, a feature right out of the beloved 1997 platformer Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. Furthermore, the levels are presented in a non-linear, partly player-chosen order, depicting the shattered memories of the android, whose adventure is interwoven with a fifty year struggle between two men searching for the island's semi-sentient reality-rearranging phenomenon known only as “The Source”. Snake this ain't.

Replica Island was made by Chris Pruett and Genki Mine, the former a “development advocate” working for Google and based in Yokohama, the latter a “freelance artist and game developer” living in San Francisco. Appearing at Google's annual conference I/O in 2009, Pruett explained that the game began to form when he decided that if he was to advocate games development for Android, he ought to demonstrate what was possible; with any luck, he'll achieve his aim even more powerfully than he hoped.

Despite its humble origins as a stress test that Pruett considered “a 20% project” -- one he worked on one day a week -- Replica Island has ended up becoming a superb game in its own right. Beneath its cute Japanese anime stylings and initially familiar mechanics, the game features a plot and a weight of intelligent dialogue that few developers would consider implementing into a full price console game, let alone a freely distrubuted smartphone distraction. Taking advantage of the player's mute robotic nature, the game's characters even seize the chance to address the conflict between determinism and free will among other topics, and the game features no less than three different endings.

Diligent software engineer to the core, Pruett has used the game to collect player metrics, helping to make incremental gameplay and difficulty improvements, and the creators have released the game's full source code, hoping to help out other developers and in Pruett's words, to foster “a pretty awesome community”. There is much to be learned from Replica Island, and if it is the shape of things to come, then Android gaming could have a bright future indeed. In the meantime, if you possess an Android phone -- and you're not already among the one million -- I recommend that you get downloading.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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