Lifeline: Rescue an astronaut with your smartphone

“Has Taylor texted yet? Is he ok?”

The premise of 3 Minute Games‘s “Lifeline” is that an astronaut has crash-landed on some unknown planet and needs your help. Most of his gear has been totaled, but he’s managed to put enough together to send simple text messages in hopes that some stranger can help him survive.

Through use of pop-up notifications and clever writing, the game really nails the feeling of texting with a lost astronaut. I’m not usually a fan of text based games, but as we got into it, my wife and I became really entrenched in the unfolding story, which get’s spread out into little segments over time. Fans of “The Martian” will find plenty of similarities between Taylor and Mark Watney. Particularly their sarcastic since of humor.

“We talked about how ‘hard,’ or plausibly realistic, the science fiction should be, and how that would affect the plot as well.” says Mars Jokela, the game’s lead designer. “Andy Weir’s The Martian figured into this quite a bit (we’re all HUGE fans of the book and it shows).”

I expected to play the game all in one sitting, but the game tries to create a real-time vibe by spreading events out. IE, when Taylor goes to sleep, you won’t hear from the game for 8 hours. This bugged me at first, but became really compelling for me later on. “I wonder how Taylor’s hike is going. He should be halfway to the capsule by now.” Breaking the game up also turned it into bite-sized chunks that are more playable throughout the week.

As far as my adventure goes, I accidentally killed Taylor this morning. The game is so immersive that I was originally considering leaving him dead. I liked the permanence of it. I made a bad decision and it cost an astronaut his life… but by tomorrow morning I’ll probably have changed my mind and will use the “rewind” option to give him different advice (and probably end up killing him again a few days later).

Lifeline is available for Android or iOS (including Apple Watch support) for just $.99. I suggest playing it in it’s default real-time mode and allowing notifications (which really add to the experience).


Learning to love Instagram more

When I first heard about Instagram, the popular photo sharing app for the iPhone, I immediately wrote it off as redundant tech. “Why would I want an app that is part Flickr, part Twitter, part 4square and part Hipstamatic?” I wondered, “I already have all of those things!”. When I finally tried the app however, I was immediately addicted. In the same way I didn’t “get” twitter until you actually tried it, Instagram doesn’t make sense until you’ve played with it. Rather than combining existing services, Instagram fills a gap that you didn’t even know existed. If you are unfamiliar with it, Instagram allows see photos your friends are sharing, as well as uploading your own pictures. In a twist on Twitter’s functionality, Instagram asks “What are you seeing?”. Screenshots, self portraits, sunsets, empty BART cars, etc. All of the images are cropped into a 612 pxl square, then displayed in a timeline along with all of your other friends photos. You can add descriptions, locations, and filters if you like, but the basic idea is you are just sharing images that you find interesting, however mundane they may be. It’s a deceptively simple app, but it’s this simplicity that keeps that app great… like Twitter before they added all the recommended friends, retweets, and other complex behavior.

What I like most about Instagram is that it allows you to find and share beauty in everyday things. Typically, I’m not finding myself drawn into the high res images of cityscapes as much as an iPhone shot that perfectly captures some interesting crack on the sidewalk… or pic of some fresh made biscuits in the oven that a friend posted along with a recipe. It’s finding beauty in the mundane, which I love, and since I’ve started using Instagram I’ve been taking more pictures than ever before!

The biggest downside to Instagram is that it only exists as an iPhone app. So my friends can’t subscribe via RSS to view on their browsers or on their Android devices… so as a work around, I created a Tumblr (ick!) page that will have all of my Instagram pictures available as I post them. You can grab the rss feed for my Instumblrgram pics here. It’s not an ideal system, but it gets the job done and some of my friends are also trying the same thing.

With the help of my fantastic webmaster Naomi, I’ve also added a new feature to‘s web-banner. Anytime you visit the site, you can see my most recent Instagram picture “paper-clipped” to the top right hand side of the page. Isn’t’ that awesome? As a bonus, you can still see a different banner image every time you refresh the page (I have 12 in rotation).