A Few Good (Casual) Games

I love match three games and I am not ashamed to admit it. While I wait for Candy Crush to get off their butts and make more levels, I have been defaulting on my old favorite Bejeweled. I have been playing it for as long as I can remember (at least since my mid-EQ days!) – but I enjoy it so much more on the ipad – swiping makes the game so much more “zone-out-able” …. (hey, all games have their purpose!)

Match-three (or more) with a twist, I really enjoyed Two-Faced by Adorkable Games. Making use of the ability to swipe completely out of screen (onto the other side), adding the Tetris-like mounting pressure – if you let the blocks touch the top or the bottom you will eventually die .. and a few other fun twists. Worth checking out.

If you like match three games, but crave a wee bit more gameplay, a good friend of mine introduced me to Scurvy Scallywags. A match three game with a narrative and a purpose with a sense of humor – the gameplay is quick, simple and engaging enough to be played for more than just filler. And it is currently (or at least as of last evening) free in the AppStore.

Another freebie in the AppSore, although not in the match three category perse- but closely related as a color-match games is Flutter by Sebastian’s Games. Aesthetically soothing and reminds me of Thatgamecompany’s Flower, the game flows nicely and gets surprisingly challenging quicker than I would have expected.

And not quite in the category of casual/match games, but well worth a mention is TAG’s Game Designers in Residence Kitfox GamesShattered Planet:

Punching aliens … for science!

A survival adventure on a dangerous world, searching for the cure for an all-devouring darkness.

In Shattered Planet, you’re a hapless clone sent to document alien species and technologies, or die trying. Mostly, die trying. You could call it a roguelike, or a survival-exploration RPG on an endlessly dangerous planet. You lose your items when you die, but you keep any scrap metal or crystals you find to invest in permanent upgrades, or to invent new items.

Available for PC & Mac – worth every penny if you ask me =)

 

Evil Candy Crush

Yes. King is a slimy kind of entrepreneur that does not care about fostering community and developing a relationship with their players. And don’t get me started on the whole trying to copyright the word Candy – which thankfully (as far as this article goes, has been retracted). And the whole game industry hates King, and everyone is raging on about the evils of addictive gameplay and the how it forces the player to participate in the pay-to-play model…(which, btw, is not new as many of these articles mention but rarely have I seen such venom written about the other games that follow the P2P model…. mmo’s included)…

I am not defending King. I don’t like the claim to ownership to an idea that is clearly not original. I am not disagreeing that their game is addictive (much in the same way that Bejeweled and Tetrisw was for me… and any other puzzle type game that sucks me in beyond normal play habits)! But what I AM tired of reading about is how King – and Candy Crush are evil because it FORCES people to pay for their game in order to advance (regardless off some tongue in cheek articles…). That they lure people with the free game and then FORCE people to pay to get ahead (isn’t this the ENTIRE PAY TO PLAY MODEL!?!?!). So the leveling up process requires the player to wait 30 minutes to regain a life and not power-ups, which were “earned” in the early levels disappeared (although they did introduce the daily spin …yay ;-)). Many articles claim that it is IMPOSSIBLE to progress without paying money to King. That you NEED these power ups to progress and that waiting 30 minutes for a life to regen is impossible since evil King designed the game to be addictive.

I made it to lvl 519 without shelling out a cent. There are many ways to accomplish this without giving out my credit card information …. of course, one could wait the 30 minutes to play one (potentially short) game. One could choose to play ‘for fun’ and as such not worry about how far ahead they get, or – if you choose more subversive methods, there are ways to have more lives when you want them, etc…. (sharing? cheating?, ‘using’ your networks?) so many other ways to get ahead besides paying the evil company that forces you to play their game. I am not saying I don’t want to blaze through Candy Crush for my own personal, addictive puzzle-game obsessed reasons – but I do have AGENCY .. and that is the ONE thing all these articles seem to miss the boat on. Like blaming casinos for gambling addictions (and video games!) – the addiction and choice to pay to play falls on to the back of the player, never – in my opinion – the game – no matter how evil the company is!

Making room (again) for sociality in MMOG’s

A recent blog post over at TAG  got me thinking about the role of down time in MMOG’s. Something a lot of (but not all) gamers complain about. It seems that if a game is not chalk full of action, it is often deemed boring or not very good. Over the years, MMOG’s seem to have fallen into this mindset as well, making quests faster (and easier imo), combat is swift, recovery time often little to non-existent, and corpse recoveries that used to take hours turned into a respawn or resurrection…Some people like the fact that the pace of MMOG’s have gone the way of an action-packed, single-player game.

The TAG post mentions that a colleague disliked SWtOR game because there was “no gameplay/no challenge” and the response to this is that he is right …. but the post goes on to say:

But that’s the point… I felt that familiar tedious rhythm of questing in MMOs return.  That steady pace, ever incremental, always one more thing on the horizon… time slows, workdays are neglected, worries recede.

And what’s this?  Time to ponder, time to think, time to reflect.  Playing SWtOR, like all MMOs, brackets time and space — its a virtual world excuse to chat and socialize  for some and it’s time alone for others.  But what is the nature of this time alone?  You are occupied at the keyboard but barely occupied cognitively… this is why MMO players are great multi-taskers.  You can play the game while chatting on the phone, watching television, doing email and even playing other games, or…  you can ponder and muse about stuff.

Time to ponder and think indeed. For me, the gaps in the gameplay brings mmog play back to its social roots… it is what the waiting is for…… see, back in the day (for me, this starts with EverQuest in 1999), mmog’s were known for long pauses between action, everything took forever to do, even finding a group and getting to the agreed upon location. But they were also known for the close bonds and relationships among guild and group mates because you had nothing to do but hang out and chat while waiting for mana to regen. as mmo’s developed, but as early as Dark age of Camelot gameplay started to shift to exclude the social bits. The big thing was closing the gaps between battles, speeding up the regen time, eventually moving to insta-recast, etc. While this made gameplay more ‘fun’ and action packed for some, what got lost was the available moments for sociality. It didn’t take as long to level up, you didn’t need as many people to help for quests, and battle could rage on almost non-stop as long as you could stay alive.  But it came at a cost.

For me, this idea that mmog gameplay should be quicker and there should be less ‘waiting’ is actually what ruined my mmog experience. There was no more time to chat even about in-game stuff; little time to strategize during combat. Every moment had a purpose, unless you consciously chose to sit somewhere and be social, it didn’t happen. See, a lot of people aren’t social by choice (especially in video game play). They don’t want to say “hey, instead of killing mobs and leveling my avatar, I am going log into the game, and go sit in a city or safe place and have a chat with my guildmates, or heck, with random players”. This is not to say that people don’t do this, but having the space to socialize within structure of play is different.

But when the waiting is designed INTO the gameplay then eventually, people talk. They strategize, tell stories of past battles, get to know each other but not “on purpose” … they socialize. Not many people like silence (at least when in a group) – even digital silence – when in a group. It was always just a bit awkward to sit in a group of 6 in EQ back when (or in WoW when I did play) where everyone just sat there, waiting for the mob to spawn or someone to have enough mana to continue… So people chose to fill the silence – the waiting  – with social bits… Even people who couldn’t care less about being social, ones who, when you talked to them about it later (as I did for my MA research) didn’t see the value in it as an end within itself, would talk about how these moments, over time, became the social glue that bound a group or guild together. To me, judging solely on the TAG post, it sounds like SWtOR brings that old “waiting” mentality back to mmog’s, slowing the action down and returning to a sort of ‘social’ (or potentially social, some people will just sit in silence, or choose to play alone, etc…) gameplay.

I was always furious when people could not see the value in those downtimes. It is where trust and bonds are made that lead to better gameplay experiences (I say imo, but I know this at least from my experience of interviewing ppl during my MA and just being an MMO player over the course of 5 different mmo’s- of a certain era of course – I stopped playing when the first WoW expansion hit, but still – there are so many stories of bad PUGS, people you will never see again, not only because they were horrible players, but because you didn’t have to bother getting to know who you were playing with. There was hardly time to do so. When you can sign your name to an automatic list for a group, get picked up solely based on your class, get insta-ported into the location, and get into battle within a short period of time, there is no sense of obligation to the group or the individual players. If a group sucked, it was nothing for many players to feign getting booted out of the game to rid themselves of a bad group. But when it took you an hour to get something going, the process of getting your foot into a group through chatting up your skill set and accomplishments, taking the time it takes to travel to the camp spot, when you get there and a group sucks, you stick around if only for the time you’ve invested in getting into the group.

Don’t get me wrong, in EQ back in the day, there were bad pick up groups, there was always that person who could never quite play their class right, or what have, but because you got to know people over time (smaller servers helped of course), and you had already committed so much time in getting the group together, you stuck it out (maybe even just a bit more). And while there will always be crappy groups, in my experience, I’ve found that if you have time to talk about things, even if its just strategy, the group usually gets better. But when the game forces you to be in action 95% of the time, there is less time for the glue to gel. Of course, the addition of VoIP enabled players to have these discussions ‘while’ fighting, but in my experience, voice chat never quite enabled the same type of bonding (I have many theories on that, but I will reserve them for another day).

In the end, I think that all the epic feats talked about among elite players would never have happened (here I am referring to EQ specifically, but it is transferable) or not with the same amount of pride that many elite players have when recounting their stories. In my opinion, without these ‘waiting’ times designed into the game – people would not develop the same levels of attachment to the game, to their avatars and to their fellow guild/group mates, for these epic battles to be successful (and fun), there needs to be a level of trust and camaraderie in place. And trust has space to develop in these moments of waiting….I could go on about this, but I will restrain myself…

Dragon Age 2: Taking a stand

This came to my attention today via a friend on facebook, and thought it was worth sharing. It is nice to know that change can (and does) happen.

Worth the read – even if it hurts the eyes =)

“Straight Male Gamer” told to ‘get over it’ by BioWare

BioWare adopted a (sadly) very special and very principled stance in designing one of their recent games, Dragon Age 2. Their stance was simple: relationships are for everybody, whether gay, straight, or anything else in between. You can also have have more than one romance at a time with the game’s characters. In this game, everybody is equal. Too equal, it seems, for one particular straight male gamer who was upset to be on the receiving end of a little  flirting from another male character in the game. The reaction of this Straight Male Gamer?

click the link to read the rest of the article:

http://www.nomorelost.org/2011/03/25/straight-male-gamer-told-to-get-over-it-by-bioware/

 

And the bioware forum link:

http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/304/index/6661775&lf=8

New Addition to the Family

I recently purchased a PS3 to add to our console collection (currently, the family consists of an Xbox360, Wii, Ps2 & N64 … really regret giving our SNES up for adoption so many moons ago!). Of course, I could not simply purchase a console with nothing to play on it (it would get lonely that way of course!). It came bundled with God of War III (which made me happy – as I quite like that game), I also bought Little Big Planet, Ratchet & Clank and Uncharted. GoW is exactly what I expected – that’s good; and LBP is the very happy surprise. I know the game has had a lot of fan fare since its release, but I really am astounded at the creativity put into it (and it has an awesome soundtrack!). We have not ventured into the level building bits yet, nor played any player-made content yet, but for now, I am really impressed by the game (and will make LBP2 a worthy purchase I am sure). My daughters are also in love with the game, saying it really feels like they put a lot of thought into it… The loser in the bunch is Uncharted. It says it won game of the year (in some context, I cannot remember at the moment, and am too lazy to go check the box…) but it is kind of clunky, and the controls are unnatural (some bad button-mapping choices on the part of the designers…. not enough play-testing perhaps?).  It is not so bad that I won’t consider Uncharted 2 at some point, but the beauty of buying a console this late after release, is that there are tons of games we have never heard of (or bothered to look into) since we didn’t own the console – and so many of them at great prices (yay for classics & clearance bins!). That being said – any suggestions for games is always more than welcome!

 

Limbo

While I am supposed to be diligently (re)playing a few certain titles for my dissertation, unfortunately, the gaming world will not hold still for me, so I have been dabbling in other games for the sheer pleasure of it (I suppose this is necessary and related to some form of sanity maintenance or other…). After reading about the game Limbo in Edge Magazine a few months back, I was happy when I returned from my summer holiday and my husband had told me he had bought it on Xboxlive for me as a surprise.

First of all, the game is beautiful. Using every shade of grey, along a spectrum of sharp and muted variations that give the game world texture and depth. Stunning is the first word that comes to mind. In terms of the audio – I had read that the designers really did not want to use a soundtrack as such, feeling that music is often used to indicate to the player how they should be feeling at particular points in the game. While I welcome the odd, eerie, distant sounds that almost linger in the background – it really made me feel apprehensive. I could not read what was going to happen; if I would be attacked at any point, etc. The first time I died, I didn’t even realize that I was supposed to jump over a small spike-laden ravine. My little guy simply fell into the hole, was awkwardly impaled, and his limbs fell off. It was only then that I realized that I had to jump instead of run.

The controls are quite simple. Using only two buttons for all actions. Simplicity is good for the most part, but it does make game play a bit more challenging in that – especially in the beginning – I was not sure what I was supposed to do besides run and jump. I spent a good 10 minutes at the first bit where I thought I was supposed to jump up and climb a structure, when I was actually supposed to pull the handle of an old cart so that I could climb on that first. Once I figured it out, it was simple, but I never really thought of “pulling” when in my head I was only thinking “run” and “jump”…

I only played for about an hour or so so far (grrr to sharing the Xbox! lol). But so far I applaud the designers of the game for creating something that feels so on the edge of simple, yet pulls you in and holds on to you in a most (addictive?) way.