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[appreview] title=Daniel X image=http://gigapple.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/picture-118.png price=$9.99 url=http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=305402305&mt=8 rating=avoid [/appreview] Increasingly, geeky pasttimes are seeping into the mainstream. Like creatures in a Neil Gaiman story, the boundary between the dimension of the fantastical and the land of the normal is blurring. And with that blur, faithful adaptations of […]

[appreview]
title=Daniel X
image=http://gigapple.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/picture-118.png
price=$9.99
url=http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=305402305&mt=8
rating=avoid
[/appreview]

Increasingly, geeky pasttimes are seeping into the mainstream. Like creatures in a Neil Gaiman story, the boundary between the dimension of the fantastical and the land of the normal is blurring. And with that blur, faithful adaptations of heroes and villains have made the leap to the world of movies.

That means that in addition to Spider-Man, regular folk are suddenly familiar with the likes of Dr. Manhattan, Coraline and Hellboy. What’s more, graphic novels are showing up on our iPhone screens. Scrollmotion’s latest app, Daniel X, brings to us the adventures of a teenage alien hunter with a vivid imagination.

Creating The Hero

“Daniel X”‘s backstory is a little different than that of standard comic book fare. Created by author James Patterson, it’s not part of the Marvel or DC stable; there’s no rich history or über fan cult of longtime readers, either. He’s a completely fresh character, seemingly designed with a teen audience in mind.

Although Patterson has found success with the “Daniel X” series, he’s also written a stack of celebrated books, several of which have made the transition to film, too. Yet despite all this, Patterson kicks off “Daniel X” with little more than a hackneyed genesis of our soon-to-be hero.

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Back when Daniel was knee high to a grasshopper, his father was an alien hunter. One ill-fated day, a particularly irate alien decided that he’d do a spot of murdering and Daniel’s folks were, due to all the alien-hunting stuff, fair game.

Much like various X-Men, Harry Potter, Batman, Spider-Man and an array of other heroes, Daniel X ends up an orphan before discovering his superpowers. Poor Daniel. For a character with so much potential, it’s a shame he had to wind up on the wrong side of a particularly unfortunate cliché.

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Although the kid happens to be from Kansas, it seems that he’s stationed in Tokyo, apparently a hub of alien criminal activity. Plus, he has super strength, super agility, the power to imagine things into existence and the ability to morph. Apparently the author also has the power to morph things, too, as he’s managed to transform the entire graphic novel into one massive cliché.

Tip of the Iceberg

Above and beyond the core story, the app itself isn’t a total disappointment; the technology is impressive. Designed by Scrollmotion, their engine, entitled Iceberg, is custom-designed for playing back exactly this sort of content.

The app opens with a tutorial — as you drag your finger across the screen, a watermelon explodes. Dragging back rewinds the fruity detonation. The control mechanism is novel and feels like you’re leafing through frames of a film.

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There’s an automatic mode, too. Tapping the screen reveals a control menu, allowing you to set the speed of playback, alongside a play/pause button.

Using Iceberg, the graphic novel’s artwork has been brought to life. Reading “Daniel X” feels less like a comic and more like scrolling through scenes in a cartoon: The camera pans across each shot, bringing the characters to life as speech bubbles pop into existence and gracefully fade away.

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The artwork seems to be painted as opposed to inked. It has texture, which, when combined with the kinetic nature of Iceberg, makes Daniel X’s adventure seem less humdrum and a little more exciting.

Iceberg Issues

There are, however, several enjoyment-impeding issues with the software worth pointing out. The inertia, when dragging pages, is incoherent — a small drag can seemingly whizz through several frames, or sometimes a big drag squeezes just a tiny bit of movement out of one panel.

Plus, switching to automatic mode can be frustrating. Even at the slower speeds, speech bubbles can zip past, with barely enough time to digest Patterson’s corny dialogue.

The iPhone screen also dims while the app is running and as there’s no settings menu within the app, there’s no way to stop this happening. What this means is that when reading “Daniel X” in automatic mode, you’ll find yourself having to tap the screen every few minutes to wake it up again.

Summing Up

The screen sleeping issue is irritating; it detracts from any opportunity to become engrossed in the experience. But then, the same could be said of the story and dialogue, too.

Patterson’s writing is downright awful. The dialogue is tired — we’ve heard it all before, but by arguably better comic writers — the story is predictable, the journey it takes us on more like a boring cruise than a narrative roller coaster.

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Furthermore, at $9.99, the price is a serious shocker. In fact, it’s like Scrollmotion decided that since “Daniel X” is devoid of any effective narrative trickery, they’d throw in their own plot twist of sorts by charging $10 for the app.

I understand that a great deal of work — and as such, cost — went in to developing the app engine, licensing Patterson’s uninspired graphic novel and, most evident of all, taking the accomplished artwork and creating vibrant cartoon-esque scenes. I really do get it.

However, if an app is so costly to develop that it’s set at an unrealistic or prohibitive price point, then somebody is being greedy or unrealistic, or both. Whatever the reality is, speculation aside, there’s a lot of fun to be had from the App Store, much of it at significantly lower prices than that of Daniel X.

This is potentially good tech and yet it’s filled with vapid content, certainly not worth the price tag. I want to support graphic novels making the leap to a fresh medium but this is poor content at a baffling price and as such, should be avoided.

  1. What. The. Hell? $10 is an “unrealistic,” “greedy” and “prohibitive” price point? With the headline I thought you were going to be talking about something with a PC-game-esque price, like $30 or $50 or something.

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  2. Yep, $10 is indeed unrealistic, to sum up as to why:

    - The plot and dialogue are trite

    - The tech still needs some tweaking

    - In relation to print, specifically graphic novels, the price point is appropriate even cheap. However, the iPhone is a different medium and thusly consumers have different expectations. Therefore, comparatively speaking, the app is over-priced. For free, you can get Topple.

    For $0.99 you can have Passage (which features a narrative with a thousand times more depth than Daniel X and manages to communicate it all in pixellated lo-fi form). For $5 dollars you can have Rolando.

    But you might argue that, despite the fact one may gleen infinitely more pleasure from the above apps, they are different: they are games. It’s like comparing apples with oranges.

    In that case, we could compare Daniel X with Clickwheel Comic Reader. The former is ten bucks, the latter is free. The former is closed, providing access to one story. The latter is a platform that allows you to download from a vast library of comic books for a modest fee. The former is as hackneyed as my apples-with-oranges statement, yet carries less weight. The latter features classic – genuinely classic – stories from 2000AD and Judge Dredd, amongst others.

    But wait. That’s not all. Clickwheel Comic Reader is kind of closed too, in that you can only install comics from the Clickwheel folks. Ouch. Well, in that case, try iComic. Costing 99 cents, that’s nine whole dollars less than Daniel X, you can load in your own CBR comic files, potentially meaning you have access to a vast, almost endless, library of graphic novels and comics from some of the most celebrated artists and writers in the world.

    Or you can down ten bucks on Daniel X. Ridden with clichés, bad writing, boring story, useless after the first disappointing read. Totally your choice.

    But wait! There’s more! You could purchase every single app – all of which I’m arguing provide individually more pleasurable experiences than Daniel X – for less than the price of Daniel X. Indeed, Topple, Passage Rolando, Clickwheel Comic Reader and iComic, amount to a paltry $6.97. Purchase these instead of Daniel X and you’d have cash left to buy a comic book from Clickwheel and post a smug tweet about your savvy buying decision.

    So, that’s ten bucks. Ten whole dollars. For one story. One bad story. With nice tech, I’ll give it that. But awful story. Or $6.97 for three amazing games, two comic book readers and one comic to start off your burgeoning collection. Your choice.

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  3. Price has never had a linear relationship to the enjoyment you get from a product. Ever.

    I paid $18 for Harry Potter 7, and I paid $6 for the complete Lord of the Rings in one binding. Harry’s clichéd, not terribly well written, and is only the last book in the series, and I’ll only ever read it once. The Lord of the Rings brought me more enjoyment, and I will read it many more times before I die, and if it’s still in good shape, maybe others will read it after that. Yet I’m happy with both purchases, because they’re both fairly small change and they both brought me some enjoyment.

    I completely understand panning the product if you don’t like it, but that doesn’t make $10 a greedy or prohibitive price point for a nicely done adaptation of a comic book to the iPhone, and the tone of this whole article comes across as a personal swipe at the artist, author, and developers. Maybe they failed to deliver, but that doesn’t make them greedy or unrealistic.

    Should I be mad at OmniGroup for charging $20 for OmniFocus for the iPhone? After all, this is a different platform with different expectations. How about Puzzle Quest at $8? That’s also more than your four apps put together. And totally worth it. That doesn’t mean it’s better than your four apps. It’s different — maybe its audience is smaller, maybe its development costs are higher, maybe they’re just capitalizing on having a name outside the iPhone. Whatever the factors behind its cost, it’s $8 well spent if you like that kind of game.

    (One last question: How many authors/artists make their books available online as CBR files? How much do they charge? In a quick look around, I can find three — Cory Doctorow, Hermes Pique & Juan Romera, and Jim Munroe & Salgood Sam — all of them free/Creative Commons works. Which is neat, and all, but isn’t really a “vast, almost endless, library of graphic novels and comics from some of the most celebrated artists and writers in the world.”)

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  4. Thanks so much for reviewing Daniel X. I am glad that you liked our core technology, even if you weren’t thrilled with the story. Over the next year you will see ScrollMotion releasing a lot more name brand comic books and graphic novels. The technology will continue to improve and the the bugs that you have mentioned have already been addressed and will be fixed in updates soon.

    As for the price, Daniel X is actually a 125 page graphic novel and while we know that pricing will mature in this space, we think that $9.99 is a fair price for something this new, fun and engaging. If you want to try another ScrollMotion graphic novel, I suggest you take a look at First Things Last (http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=301896118&mt=8) which is $1.99 and a very compelling experience that shows some of the possibility innate in this new story telling form.

    Josh, ScrollMotion Founder

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  5. In a given App Review, an app is evaluated based upon it’s merits, successes, drawbacks and failures.

    In most cases, and in the case of Daniel X, the pricing does not inform the main body of the critique. The price is the final consideration when making a recommendation to purchase or avoid an app.

    As we know, price is not necessarily an indicator of actual value. However, once evaluated, an apps price can be – and in this case is- disproportionate to its value.

    Daniel X is indeed a well executed adaptation of the comic book to the iPhone. This is besides the point though because the story is dire and would remain so no matter what the format.

    Josh, I’m very much looking forward to what you guys put out in the coming months. The technology is wonderful and, with the right content, will make for wonderful iPhone apps. I really do hope I’ll be recommending one of your apps in the future!

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  6. [...] up, the week kicked off with a scathing review of the Daniel X graphic novel — an utterly dull comic-book barely improved by its leap to iPhone. Later in the week though, [...]

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  7. Well, I liked it.

    Of course, I wasn’t the one who bought it…

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