1. Helvetica vs. Arial

Can you tell the difference between Helvetica and Arial? This game puts you to the test.

Click here to view this gallery.

We have a treat for font fans with itchy thumbs in this super selection of five fabulous iPhone games that share a typographical theme.

Can you easily identify typefaces? Can you tell Helvetica and Arial apart? Can you spot the serif in a sea of characters? These games will test you on these skills — and more. Best of all, the apps we’re highlighting are all tried, tested and free, so you can give them a go without spending a single cent.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Accessories for Typography Nuts [PICS]
Take a look through the gallery for our selections. Shout out in the comments below with any other typographical games you enjoy on your iPhone.

More About: apple, dev and design, features, fonts, Gaming, iphone, iphone apps, iPhone games, typography

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James Phillips is co-founder and senior vice president of products for Couchbase, a leading NoSQL database company.

Online gaming has steadily grown over the past decade, now generating billions of dollars in annual revenue and representing one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. In the last couple of years, social games have taken center stage, producing the vast majority of growth in the online gaming market.

If you are planning to build and launch a social game, growth is what you should be concerned with and prepared for. In large part due to their tie to Facebook, these games can accelerate from zero to millions of users literally overnight — Zynga’s CityVille game reached 100 million monthly active users within 40 days of its launch. Cost-effectively supporting that kind of growth, while sustaining a snappy and compelling gaming experience, presents an enormous challenge at every layer of the game’s technology stack.

On the flipside, many games tend to peak and then wane over time. As important as it is to be able to absorb new users during the growth phase of a game, it is equally important to be able to dial back resources (and therefore cost) as the game’s popularity declines.

Managing Social Game Data

The database layer presents a particular challenge for these games, as traditional approaches to data management tend to fall short in these environments. This is a new and vibrant area of technology innovation. Three key attributes characterize the data layer of a social game that is prepared for success:

  • Elasticity: Matching infrastructure costs to demand optimizes a game’s profitability. The ability to easily dial up (and dial down) database resources is a critical part of that equation. One should be able to make these capacity changes to a live game so there is never a need to take a game offline, maintaining continuous revenue generation.
  • Low latency: Interactive games must be responsive. Making a player wait for feedback leads to abandonment. If the experience is not quick and predictable, users leave … and take their entertainment budget with them. Database technologies must be able to consistently deliver sub-millisecond random reads and writes of data, across the entire scaling spectrum.
  • Data format flexibility: The best social games adapt, delaying or preventing boredom and the resulting decline in active user count. The data tier must be flexible enough (even at very large scale, and without downtime) to support the changing data management requirements of a game in transition.

These are hard problems to solve at social gaming scale. To meet these needs, a new class of database — the NoSQL database — has garnered a lot of attention in the last couple of years. New open source, NoSQL databases provide the kind of performance and flexibility required of a social game database. If you are preparing for social gaming success, they are worthy of consideration.

Choosing the Right NoSQL Database

Selecting the right NoSQL database can be difficult. It seems like a new NoSQL database project appears every week. Sorting through the options can be daunting. There are various classes of NoSQL database: key-value, document, graph, columnar. Each data model has pros and cons.

Which is right for a social game? There is a lot of talk about “Big Data” in addition to NoSQL. Are these the same thing?

Let’s sort through these questions, in reverse order:

Big Data vs. Big Audience

There are two fundamental problems being addressed at the data layer today.

  • Big Data. Data is being generated at an unprecedented rate. How can you efficiently analyze these extremely large datasets and identify patterns, trends and opportunities? This is the “Big Data” problem. Technologies like Hadoop, Map-Reduce and Cassandra are solutions built for analyzing very large datasets. They are generally batch-oriented and focused on analysis.
  • Big Audience. Social games have user counts measured in the millions. Millions of users put tremendous pressure on a database — regardless of the size of the dataset. Even with only a few bytes per user (and thus a fairly small aggregate dataset size), keeping up with a non-stop stream of random reads and writes from a large number of concurrent users is incredibly hard. This is the Big Audience problem and what NoSQL databases are designed to address.

Of course, if you have a Big Audience, you are probably going to generate Big Data. And most social games deploy both a transactional NoSQL database for real-time data serving to the application and a Big Data solution for data analysis.

Classes of NoSQL Database

The term “NoSQL” database is an unfortunate choice. More accurate would be “non-relational,” transactional database. This is the consistent characteristic across these “NoSQL” databases (some of which, confusingly, do support at least a subset of SQL). So if these solutions are not relational, what are they?

There are a number of data models: key-value, document, column-oriented and graph to name the most common. Each model has pros and cons making them more or less appropriate for a given application. Document-oriented databases power the majority of NoSQL deployments behind social games, largely due to their balance of four key criteria:

  • Performance. The document data model keeps related data in a single physical location in memory and on disk (a document). This allows consistently low-latency access to the data — reads and writes happen with very little delay. Database latency can result in perceived “lag” by the player of a game and avoiding it is a key success criterion.
  • Dynamic elasticity. Because the document approach keeps records “in one place” (a single document in a contiguous physical location), it is much easier to move the data from one server to another while maintaining consistency — and without requiring any game downtime. Moving data between servers is required to add and remove cluster capacity to cost-effectively match the aggregate performance needs of the application to the performance capability of the database. Doing this at any time without stopping the revenue flow of the game can make a material difference in game profitability.
  • Schema flexibility. While all NoSQL databases provide schema flexibility, key-value and document-oriented databases enjoy the most flexibility. Column-oriented databases still require maintenance to add new columns and to group them. A key-value or document-oriented database requires no database maintenance to change the database schema (to add and remove “fields” or data elements from a given record).
  • Query flexibility. Balancing schema flexibility with query expressiveness (the ability to ask the database questions, for example, “return me a list of all the farms in which a player purchased a black sheep last month”) is important. While a key-value database is completely flexible, allowing a user to put any desired value in the “value” part of the key-value pair, it doesn’t provide the ability to ask questions. It only permits accessing the data record associated with a given key. I can ask for the farm data for user A, B and C to see if they have a black sheep, but I can’t ask the database to do that work on my behalf. Document-databases provide the best balance of schema flexibility without giving up the ability to do sophisticated queries.


Which Option Is Right for Your Game?

If you agree that a document-oriented approach is correct, then you’ve already substantially reduced the number of contenders. If you were previously considering Big Data and NoSQL as synonymous, you’ve further reduced the set. From there, you should consider the important attributes we previously identified: elasticity, concurrent random read latency and throughput, and data format flexibility.

Additionally, one must consider the ease with which developers can build applications that interact with the database. Are there well-maintained and documented SDKs/client libraries? Is there a community of users to provide support and guidance? Is the technology being actively developed, enhanced and improved? Can you get commercial support if desired?

If you are considering building a social game, you must consider the infrastructure requirements to support growth. Your choice of database technology is arguably the most important infrastructure component decision you will make.

More About: contributor, Entertainment, features, Gaming, Tech, Web Development

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As Steve Ballmer promised in January, Microsoft has released version 1.0 of the Kinect for the Windows Software Development Kit (SDK).

Improvements since the Beta 2 version, which was released in November 2011, include support for up to four Kinect sensors on one computer, improved skeletal tracking and speech recognition accuracy, as well as numerous API updates, stability, runtime and audio fixes.

Also of note is the Near Mode that enables the depth camera to see objects very close (40 cm) in front of the device.

Kinect for Windows Hardware is now available in the U.S., UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Japan, New Zealand and Mexico.

The suggested retail price of Kinect for Windows hardware is $249, but Microsoft promises special academic pricing of $149 for qualified educational users later this year.

Now that everything is set from Microsoft’s side, all that’s missing are the apps. We’ll see if Kinect for Windows lures developers to create some good ones in the coming months.

More About: Gaming, kinect, microsoft, SDK, Windows

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The Neo Geo is said to be making a comeback with a flashy hand-held gaming device resembling an iPhone.

Neo Geo who? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of the over-priced hand-held gaming device that flashed through the late-’90s — many haven’t. The company first emerged in the early ’90s with a $650 gaming counsel, according to CNET.

Kotaku says the news of the Neo Geo reemergence was first reported on a Japanese gaming site and not SNK Playmore, the maker of the Neo Geo. The Osaka-based company’s website makes no mention of a new gaming device, but did release news of two “vintage pre-NEOGEO era Arcade Classics” games for PlayStation on Tuesday.

“…this does look to be a leak, and it could even be a prototype. According to the blog, the temporary name for the device is ‘Neo Geo Keitai’ or ‘Neo Geo Portable.’ Note that once it goes in to production the device’s specs could change,” Kotaku said.

The gaming device has a 4.3-inch LCD screen, 2 GB of memory, a SD card slot on the side and comes preloaded with classic games like Baseball Professional, Fatal Fury and King of Monsters.

With smartphone gaming apps dominating the hand-held gaming market, Neo Geo’s planned entry into the gaming market comes at a difficult time to hook gamers. In November, Flurry Analytics reported iOS and Android held 58% of the portable gaming market, while Nintendo DS shored up 36% and Sony PSP had 6% in 2011.

Watch the video to see what the Neo Geo looks like. Are you still into non-smartphone hand-held gaming devices?

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr, PaRaP

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From Foursquare to Angry Birds to Farmville, there’s no denying social gaming is exploding. Riding this trend, new ideas and inspiration site PSFK recently challenged designers to use social gaming to combat climate change.

At this month’s Gaming for Good in New York City, 10 finalists presented gaming concepts, which address challenges presented by The Climate Reality Project. Environmental activist and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore selected five gaming concepts he believes have the potential to change conversations about climate change.

In his opening remarks, Gore said private companies — such as the PSFK gaming entrants — rather than governments, are leading the way to slow the rate of climate change. “Our democracy has been hacked,” he said. “It no longer functions with the integrity of our founding fathers.”

Gore is a known supporter of climate change prevention and believes the U.S. government does not do enough to protect the environment. Despite the evidence, some people are still not convinced that climate change and its effects are real.

SEE ALSO: “Trash Tycoon” Brings Eco-Responsibility to Social Gaming

One innovative gaming solution Gore loved was REALiTREE, a digital representation of the local environment and our role in sustaining its well-being. As seen in the photos below, large video screens, powered by renewable energies, display images of conversation-provoking trees. Creators Stark Design compare it to a communal Tamagotchi, essentially a digital environment where you’ll feel compelled to take care of the trees.

Other favorites included Zemoga‘s Climate Trail, based on retro favorite Oregon Trail, in which players follow a money trail tied to false information, and use that information to work toward a healthy environment in 2036. Awkward Hug‘s Greensquare is a geo-location game where you get points based on your checkin’s green scores. Arnold Worldwide‘s Reality Drop provides you with the tools to win any climate change argument on online discussion boards — and gives you points for each time you “drop” a reality fact. Parlor’s Climate Reality Patrol users tag their online comments with deeper explanations relating to climate change, earning rewards and badges.

While these games might not share the addictive appeal of World of Warcraft their combination of a pressing topic and points and badges make them exciting educational tools and conversations starters. If these concepts come to fruition, do you think they can impact climate change?

Disclosure: PSFK is a publishing partner in the Mashable Publishing Platform

More About: climate change, Gaming, Social Good

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Angry Birds fans, it’s confirmed, a new edition of the blockbuster smartphone and console game is coming in March, and it’ll be called Angry Birds Rio.

Interspersed with characters from Rio, the upcoming animated feature from 20th Century Fox, Angry Birds Rio will revolve around the kidnapping of those annoyed avians.

As you can see in the video above, they’re hustled off to Rio de Janeiro via helicopter for an unscheduled vacation in a dark cave. Once they escape their cages, they find hundreds of others suffering the same fate, triggering a 45-level battle between the birds and their evil captors.

If you can’t get enough of Angry Birds, between now and the release of Angry Birds Rio, the game’s developer Rovio will release a pink-tinged Valentine’s Day edition. The company’s CEO Mikael Hed also announced an animated Angry Birds TV series to debut on an undetermined date.

More About: android, angry birds, Angry Birds Rio, gaming, iOS games, trending

Social game developer Kabam has raised a whopping $30 million round of funding from Redpoint Ventures, Intel Capital and Canaan Partners in order to create multiplayer social games focused on hardcore gamers.

Kabam CEO Kevin Chou, a former associate at Canaan Partners, says that the fresh round of funding will be used to fuel new acquisitions and grow out the internal team to bring more products to market. A lot of the focus will be on launching new massive multiplayer social games. In addition, Kabam hopes to expand to other social and mobile platforms in 2011.

Unlike Zynga, Playfish and other social gaming juggernauts, Kabam doesn’t focus on the millions of casual gamers that permeate Facebook. Instead, the development firm is honing in on 25- to 35-year-old males who are looking for a deeper and more competitive in-game experience.

Kabam currently has three Facebook games on the market: Kingdoms of Camelot, Dragons of Atlantis, Glory of Rome and SI Fantasy Football. Kings of Camelot is by far the company’s most popular game, boasting 6.1 million monthly active users and 700,000 daily active users. The social gaming company has about 7.5 million monthly active users across its entire network.

Kabam’s games are far more like World of Warcraft than FarmVille. In Kings of Camelot, for example, users are actively trying to grow their kingdoms through commerce and battle. A key element to Kabam’s games is the player vs. player (PvP) aspect: Users are encouraged to form groups and actively attack other players to build their virtual empires.

Supporting massive multiplayer games and the calculations needed to make the battles happen instantly takes a lot of server power though, which is also where the funding comes into play. Not only will Kabam use the money from Redpoint, Intel and Canaan to buy more servers, but Intel Capital (a strategic investor) will provide assistance and insight in data center technologies and parallel processing. Redpoint Ventures led the round, while Canaan Partners is an existing investor in the company.

Social gaming is a rapidly expanding market, but there are countless companies in the space. We like that Kabam is distinguishing itself from the crowd and carving out its own niche with traditional hardcore gamers. Cornering even a slice of the social gaming market is definitely a recipe for success.

More About: Canaan Partners, funding, Intel Capital, Kabam, playfish, Redpoint Ventures, social games, social gaming, world of warcraft, Zynga

If you have, throughout the course of your life, spent more time typing on a keyboard than fiddling with a joystick, we’ve got the perfect video game for you. We hope you’re prepared to dominate.

Z-Type might remind you a little bit of Asteroids or Missile Command, but it might remind you even more of scrambling through keystrokes to send an emergency e-mail or finish an overdue term paper (or in our case, break news in a blog post).

Words appear in the screen, accompanied by dramatic music. As you type, you “shoot” at the words until they explode at the last keystroke. The higher you level up, the faster the words appear, and the greater their numbers become.

Z-Type was made with Impact, an HTML5 JavaScript game framework released at the tail end of 2010. It plays nicely with most web browsers as well as with mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

Both the game and the framework were created by developer Dominic Szablewski. Szablewski made Z-Type for the Mozilla Game On development competition. He said in his blog that he was inspired by games like The Typing of the Dead.

Give Z-Type a shot, and let us know what you think of it (and of the game engine Impact) in the comments.

Hat tip: Sara Chipps.

More About: casual game, game engine, gaming, HTML5, impage, javascript, video game, z-type

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