Tag Archives: Farmville

December in Review

The Site

Well, I made it to the end of 2020, and I should be happy about just that I suppose, though it isn’t like the world will change dramatically tomorrow, or the next day, or on January 20th, or whenever.  The same problems will face us and the same people will block whatever solutions might help people or alleviate problems.

2020 banner by my daughter

One thing that happens today is that Adobe officially stops supporting Flash.  You might have seen a few messages like this of late.

The end of Flash is here

This has absolutely nothing to do with the blog, but it is a moment of passing for a bit of code that had a huge influence on the web.  It has its roots back in the 90s in tech that powered games like Spaceship Warlock and Myst and was a gateway for many budding game devs to create projects that could be played by others.  There was a whole era of crappy Flash games in the early 2000s, some of which were not all that crappy really.

And it was the underlying tech for a lot of web animation of that era as well.  Homestar Runner was entirely done in Flash, as were many other greater and lesser known projects. (Shout out to Chris Coutts’ Tales for the L33T: Romeo + Juliette back in the day.)  It got into a lot of places.

Some of those bits of the web have been converted, preserved, or moved to other mediums.  Homestar Runner is on YouTube if you want to watch Trogdor again. (Also, Chris Coutts)

But a lot of stuff will just fall by the wayside and disappear.  Flash got a bad reputation, especially for security issues, but it helped build the web as we know it today.  And so we say farewell to it and the games it fostered.  This is why Farmville is also going away today.  Marc Pinkus went on at length on Twitter about the game, leaving out the bits where he stole it from another company and did a bunch of dodgy stuff for revenue and helped create the aura of Facebook games as “spammy pieces of shit.”  So it goes.

Anyway, here we are at the end of the year and post number 405 for 2020.  It was going to be post 404 with a cute “not found” joke, but then that titan fight happened last night.

405 puts 2020 behind 2019, which had 412 posts, but one ahead of 2018, which hit the 404 mark.  Did I make a joke about it back then?

One Year Ago

After many slipped dates and fan push back, Daybreak decided to shut down PlanetSide Arena, their attempt to re-capture some of that battle royale lightning that H1Z1 held briefly when it launched.

On the bright side, EverQuest launched its 26th expansion, the Torment of Velious.

I also made a pilgrimage of my own in old Norrath.

CCP experimented with a day of no downtime.  I heard later that this caused problems and the next downtime had to run long.  You just have to reboot New Eden once a day I guess.

CCP also brought in the HyperNet Relay gambling mechanic, the new wallet UI, and the Kicking over Castles update to make blowing up structures a bit easier.  We got the Naughty or Nice holiday event which included a station to refurbish melted snowballs.

The holiday season also came to WoW Classic and EverQuest II.

Blizzard introduced battlegrounds to WoW Classic early to stem the completely predictable carnage that came about from the introduction of the honor system.  We also got the key chain and paid character transfers.

In WoW Classic we hit our peak group size as six of us ran off to the Scarlet Monastery graveyard.  Back in vanilla a bunch of dungeons allowed raid groups of 10 players.  Skonk and I also got our paladins out for the Test of Righteousness class quest.

We were also back in Gnomeregan for some quest clean up with Earl.  I had to swap to my pally so he could tank.  And then we went back with a different group mix.  Then we went back in again to get Moronae the Crowd Pummeler 9-60.    Finally, we went back to Scarlet Monastery to run through the library.

Then I reviewed my WoW Classic characters four months into the launch.

On the retail WoW front I broke the story of the rejected squish ideas.

I was still running around tuning up my main in EverQuest II until the Blood of Luclin expansion launched.  Getting to Luclin was a bit of a chore, at least the first time through.  From there the run to level cap was pretty quick.

And, it being December, there were the usual reflection on the year gone by.  I looked at my games played, reviewed my 2019 predictions, looked at the books I read, and reviewed highs and lows of the year.

I also did a Decade in Review post about gaming related stuff.

And then 2020 hit.  But that is another tale altogether.

Five Years Ago

Thanks to The Force Awakens coming out, George Lucas was in the news and rationalizing his “Han didn’t shoot first” change.  I wasn’t buying it.  There were certainly other things he could have changed.

It was December, so I had to go over the usual posts, scoring predictions, looking back at the highs and lows of the year gone past, looking forward to what I might play 2016, and something about the inevitable Steam holiday sale.  I also made a chart to show what MMOs I was playing in 2015 because everybody else was doing it.  I totally forgot to make that chart again this year.

There was the Operation: Frostline expansion in EVE Online.

In New Eden I got blow up trying to slip a Caracal out of Fountain.  It happens.  On the other hand, I did get my first kill mark on another solo op.  I also hit 150 million skill points, an achievement soon to be made trivial by skill injectors.

The much reviled Fountain War Kickstarter was finally cancelled, as it was clearly not going to get anywhere close to its $150K target.  But was that going to bank the flames of the brightly burning Goon hate? (hint: no)

The recently rebranded Imperium was taking its plans to low sec, either to generate content or display its arrogance depending on who was describing it.  We were also waging a war in Cloud Ring.

Turbine finally got their head screwed on right when it came to insta-levels in Lord of the Rings Online.  I was stomping around in the Mirkwood expansion trying to see in the dark.

In Minecraft I was building a prismarine outpost along the great northern road.  Aaron and I also killed the End Dragon.

On the EverQuest front, the Phinigel “true box” server opened, a retro progression server that was supposed to keep people from multi-boxing groups.

I summed up five years of Raptr tracking my game play with my top 20 played games.  There was LEGO’s somewhat nonsensical online name policy.  And I was playing Monument Valley on the iPad.

Ten Years Ago

That December I had one of my all-time most popular posts, Talking Cats Playing Pattycake!  You can thank me for not taking the hint and going all talking cats, all the time.  Or hate me for not doing that.  Take your pick.  And We Didn’t Start the Fire?  Nothing.

But I still had kitty pictures.  Awww.

I still think that if you label a window “Currency” it ought to show all your currency, not just the odd-ball stuff.

I was still feeling the sting of ThinkGeek teasing us with the iCade at April Fools, all the more so because some pretenders were on the scene.

Turbine was giving away 10,000 Turbine Points, which comes out to real, and possibly taxable, value in real world dollars.  The comments on the post were obviously not from tax professionals.

I visited EverQuest for long enough to find a house.  And then I was out of money.

In EverQuest II they were starting the run up to vampires.

And I summed up what we knew about The Agency to that point… which was bupkiss.

In World of Warcraft, Cataclysm launched.  If you weren’t in the beta, there were still scams promising to get you in.  There was the digital pre-order, which worked for me.  And one final hardware upgrade we needed at our house before the expansion launched.  And then there was picking a new character for the re-rolled instance group in Azeroth.

The U.S. release date for Pokemon Black and White was announced at last.

Finally, I wrote something that looked sort of like a review of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s book Mogworld.  And then there was something about zombies vs. werewolves vs. vampires vs. unicorns.

Fifteen Years Ago

CCP dropped the Red Moon Rising expansion on EVE Online, introducing a host of new ships including titans and motherships.  They also introduced a new tutorial and new player experience, so some things never change.

Asherons Call 2: Fallen Kings, the sequel to Asheron’s Call, was shut down by Turbine.  Revived again some years later, it and its predecessor were both shut down when Jeffrey Epstein, Columbus Nova, and/or Daybreak Game Company acquired the MMO portion of Turbine and created Standing Stone Games.  The open question remains as to who might own the AC/AC2 IP at this point.  Warner?  Daybreak?  EG7?  Jeffrey Epstein?  The Russians? [Edit: Massively OP says that WB still owns it, which means it is as dead as any IP can be.]

Twenty Years Ago

The second EverQuest expansion, The Scars of Velious, launched.  The icy continent of Velious brought frost giants, Coldain Dwarves, and more dragons to Norrath.  It also introduced The Sleeper, a once per server event.

Most Viewed Posts in December

  1. Daybreak Revealed in Enad Global 7 Presentation
  2. Alamo teechs u 2 play DURID!
  3. Minecraft Village Population
  4. Leveling up Your Crafting Without Actually Crafting
  5. WoW Shadowlands Sales Stacked Up Against Past Releases
  6. Robbing Some Space Banks
  7. CCP is Just Going to Keep Selling Skill Points for Cash
  8. EVE Online Ushers in the Holidays with Winter Nexus Events Starting Today
  9. Do You Need a Level Booster for Shadowlands?
  10. Drone Aggression Nerf and Tech II Salvage Drones Arrive in EVE Online
  11. Arrival in a Level Squished Northrend
  12. Daybreak to be Acquired by Enad Global 7

Search Terms of the Month

what were brad’s aradune stats in everquest
[All 18s?]

velius porno 69 ano 14
[Make up your mind]

will scaling kill wow boring
[It wasn’t the best feature in BFA certainly]

how to rush through all wow expansions
[You don’t even have to do that any more]

eve dodixie losing status
[I’m not sure it had much to begin with]

can you buy skill points in eve online?
[Yes.  Next question.]

eve skill pints per isk comparison
[That’s a bit more difficult]

Game Time from ManicTime

My game play time went in something of a reverse flow in December.  I came off the big WoW Shadowlands binge at the start of the month, focused a lot on WoW Classic in the middle, and then World War Bee activity picked up in the back half of the month, culminating in last night’s titan slaughter fest.

  • EVE Online – 53.14%
  • WoW Classic – 34.20%
  • World of Warcraft – 11.78%
  • About Us – 0.88%

Oh, and I played About Us for about 90 minutes in the middle of all of that.

EVE Online

There was still World War Bee to keep me busy.  With the enemy camped on our doorstep fights have been easy to come by.  Somebody is always trying to provoke the other side into doing something dumb.  I’ve seen fights over anything from bait titans to a bait Raven in T5ZI-S.  And then there was the Catch deployment, where Reavers went out to join in with The Initiative to lay siege to Legacy Coalitions backfield… some more.  And then there was the battle in M2-XFE yesterday and early this morning.  We will have to see how that affects the war.

Pokemon Go

We got released to start working our way to level 50 this month.  The xp climb is very steep, but there are also a series of tasks, sort of feats of strength, to accomplish before you can level up, even if you already have the xp.  The big one for level 41 is to catch 200 Pokemon in a single day.  I managed that sitting in the parking lot at the ER at just after midnight where a couple of Pokestops were close by. (Daughter is fine, but why do these things always happen so late at night?)  They don’t let people hang out in the ER due to COVID-19, so I had little else to do while I sat and waited for a few hours.

Niantic also started releasing Pokemon from the Kalos region (Pokemon X & Y) into the game.

Level: 40 (50% of the way to 41 in xp, all but one task complete)
Pokedex status: 611 (+18) caught, 637 (+21) seen
Mega Evolutions obtained: 9 of 9
Pokemon I want: Still need some Unova Pokemon to fill in the gaps
Current buddy: Zwelious

World of Warcraft

What else was there beside the Shadowlands expansion?  I made it to level cap, chose a covenant, and have messed around with that some.  I am not as taken by the whole thing as some… I don’t feel compelled to log in every night… but I am not unhappy with it either.

WoW Classic

I think “Blacksmithing and Blackrock Depths” sums up much of my time in WoW Classic this month, though I did spend some time with my alts as well.  Doing the blacksmithing stuff got me to get my druid out to harvest kingsblood and my pally out for any spare iron, and I ended up playing them as well.  I also did a bit of the Winter Veil activities, though not the whole routine.

Coming Up

2021!

But, as noted at the top, a change of arbitrary numbers won’t change the plight we’re in.  Tomorrow is just another day and it is quite possible the new year will vie with the old when it comes to total misery caused.

Here you can expect the usual.  There will be a post tomorrow looking into the new year.  I have a 2020 games post still brewing.  Otherwise I will likely play the same games, write about them in the same style, and report and comment on bits of news that are related.

We still need to go back to Blackrock Depths in WoW ClassicShadowlands is still calling.

There is a rumor that PAPI might try to make a big push against the Imperium come January.  I suspect if they can break into 1DQ1-A or Helm’s Deep they will have destroyed enough of our stuff to declare victory and go home to rest for a bit.  It has been a long war of sustained combat.  And, as mentioned in my earlier post today, there was that big titan battle over a Keepstar timer.  Will that change anybody’s plans?

Friday Bullet Points on a Tuesday just to Catch Up

Basically, the month slipped by and ends tomorrow and there were several things I think I should have mentioned, if only to set their place in the timeline of what happened this month.  So on to summaries and links and bullet points.

  • LOTRO Planning a “Mini” Expansion

Standing Stone Games announced that Lord of the Rings Online will be getting a mini expansion pack titled War of the Three Peaks next month.  SSG will be treating it like an expansion in that it will be available in three different versions:

  • Normal Edition – $20
  • Collector’s Edition – $59
  • Ultimate Edition – $99

SSG has been less than forthcoming as to what players will get for the extra $39 or $79, aside from the possibility of boar mounts.  Reaction to this mini expansion has been mixed.

I’m holding my own opinion on value until SSG comes out with more details, but my past experience with Adventure packs, an idea that shows up at Daybreak every so often, only to be disavowed, places my expectations low.

  • EVE Online Mineral Redistribution Plan

CCP put out a dev blog on Friday about the next steps in their economic work, calling it a “redistribution” plan.  However, it reads much more like a continuation of the “starvation” plan that they have been working on so far, with more things being removed from various areas of space and reducing yields on what remains.  The forum thread regarding this change exploded, which was no surprise.  Likewise, the chat in the live stream discussing the changes blew up as several devs tried not to pour gasoline on the fire and failed. (You can watch a re-run of the live stream or read a transcript if you’re that interested.)

Cutting through much of the general rage about the changes, it seems like CCP is trying to solve super capital proliferation via minerals.  However, supers use the same minerals as T1 subcaps, so T1 stuff is going to feel the same resource squeeze.  Updates that are all pain for no gain never fly well with the base.

The changes are supposed to come mid-October, so look for people to be mining heavily until that happens in an effort to try and insulated themselves from the already spiking mineral prices.

  • EVE Online Ship Models

CCP has a deal going with Mixed Dimensions to make models of EVE Online ships that players can buy, who have just added more hulls to those available.

I have always been a bit dubious about the ship models thing since the battleship models from more than a decade ago, not to mention the floating Nyx model that was a bust.  But maybe this time enough players… who always say they want these sorts of things… will actually pony up and buy them.  For me, however, the prices are a bit rich.  And I have that Rifter model from the 10th anniversary special in any case.

  • Microsoft buys ZeniMax Media

Microsoft agreed to pay $7.5 billion to acquire ZeniMax Media.  That name might sound familiar as they own id Software (Doom franchise), Arkane Studios (Prey, Dishonored), MachineGames (Wolfenstein franchise), Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within), Bethesda Softworks (Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises), and ZeniMax Online Studios (The Elder Scrolls Online).

While there will be no immediate change to any of the studios or their titles, it does raise the question as to what in the future will be exclusive to XBox and what will be available on other consoles or even on the PC.

  • Sony PlayStation 5 Pre-Orders Open Up, Hilarity Ensues

As foretold by every similar experience in the past, the pre-order process was swamped by people looking to get the new PlayStation 5 console, slated to ship in November, and by people looking to grab one to scalp on eBay to take advantage of desperate consumers as the holiday shopping season begins.  If you Google what happened, the word “fiasco” seems to be a common thread in much of the reporting.  Some of the confusion was caused by retailers putting pre-orders up for sale a day early.  Sony apologized for what happened and promised to do better in the future.

  • Microsoft XBox Series X and S Pre-Orders Open Up, Hilarity Ensues

Later in the week Microsoft opened up pre-orders for the coming XBox Series X and S consoles, slated to ship in November, leading to another rush to get in first to claim a unit, either to own or to scalp later.  While things were less chaotic (the news stories rank the event somewhere between “mess” and “debacle,” which is better than a “fiasco” I think) there were still issues and all units were quickly sold out.

The added dimension here is that the XBox One X, a previous generation console, saw a spike in orders at the same time, so it is quite possible that at least a few people are going to be very disappointed to find out that they were duped by Microsoft’s naming scheme into ordering the wrong unit.

  • Foreclosing on your Farmville

Zynga announced that they will be shutting down Farmville at the end of the year.

Farmville, the big break out game for Mark Pincus and Zynga and the poster child for Facebook “social gaming,” which at its 2011 peak had more than 80 million players, was also the standard bearer for annoying garbage games that made you pester your Facebook friends or straight up pay cash to advance and help define the whole genre as spammy pieces of shit.

Of course, that is what you get when your founder doesn’t even really like games all that much.

The surprise here isn’t so much that the game is shutting down but that it was still up and running.  Then again, literally the most profitable thing that Zynga has done during its entire existence was buy property in the SF Bay Area.  I am told that selling their building earned them more than all of their games combined over the last decade.  And, as they lucked into the social gaming on Facebook trend, they managed to luck into the peak, pre-pandemic real estate market in SF.  Good for their investors I guess.

I expect I will come up with a few choice words for the game, the company, and the genre to mark the final passing of the game in December.

  • EA Secretly Craves Lockbox Regulations

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

I’m throwing this one in here at the last minutes just to keep me from writing another two thousand word screed on the self-destructive behavior that greed drives this industry towards.

According to a story over at Massively OP, EA decided that advertising their FIFA 20 lockboxes in a children’s toy catalog (Smyths’ Magazine) was a good idea.  My bullet point for this section is obviously sarcasm, but only just.  The only other reason I could imaging EA thinking it was a good idea to effectively throw some red meat in front of legislators keen to declare lockboxes gambling targeted at children is that they believed that the current pandemic and political unrest would provide sufficient cover for their plan… their plan to target lockboxes at children.

This is so dumb, like a dumb sandwich with a side order of dumb and a 16oz cup of dumb to wash it all down level of dumb, that I had to stop and check other sources to make sure this wasn’t a hoax because somewhere in the back of my head something was saying that even EA could not be this dumb.

And yet, here we are.

I mean sure, I guess that the ESA declaration on lockboxes last year, who among the signatories you will find EA, didn’t specifically say that targeting children was bad. But I guess I didn’t think that needed to be said.  As I wrote a year ago, this is how you get your industry regulated.

Quote of the Day – Bored With All Games

Right now, I’m pretty bored with all games

-Mark Pincus, former Zynga CEO in a Wall Street Journal interview

On the one hand, his longing for the early days of FarmVille, to which he claimed to be “addicted,” is an understandable emotion, at least to me.  I certainly long to relive the early excitement of some games.

On the flip side… really, FarmVille is the pinnacle of your gaming excitement?

F-Ville

F-Ville

But I think it is clear from his history that Mr. Pincus was looking for a way to make money in life, not a way to make games.  I particularly like this old quote:

I did every horrible thing in the book, too, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this Zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it

Yeah.

Well he made money and left his mark on an industry.  I still wonder what Lord British thought we was getting into before Zynga pretty much fell apart.

Hat tip: Game Politics

On The iPad – DragonVale, Candy Crush Saga, and Constraints

I have maintained in the past the idea that it is often the difficult bits… the annoying, high effort, failure prone adventures… that end up being the good part of games.  We remember overcoming adversity, defying the odds, working hard (or just staying up late) to achieve a goal, or finally defeating a boss after far too many wipes.  Heck, even long journeys for dubious purposes and misread quests stick in my mind after years later.

Basically, I would put forth that it is the constraints that make the game, and that overcoming particularly onerous constraints are what make memorable moments in the longer term, even if they are frustrating at the time.

Which, as it turns out, is bad news for the makers of casual games when it comes to getting me to give them money.

DragonVale

I have several games on my iPad that are there for my daughter.  I leave them alone and she plays them.  DragonVale is… or was… on that list.  One of her friends was playing it so she wanted to try it.  My first glance review of the game was “FarmVille by another name.”

DragonVale

DragonVale

Instead of growing crops, you are running a dragon zoo where you can breed new and different types of dragons.  The constraints are the typical time and currency.  It takes time to build or upgrade habitats as well as to breed the dragons.  And then there are the three currencies, gold, food and gems.

Food isn’t really a currency I suppose.  It costs gold to grow and is required to raise the level of the dragons you breed which, in turn, increase the amount of gold they bring in over time.  But it feels like a currency.

Gold is the easy, in-game currency that you buy most thing with, from paving stones to the floating islands that make up your dragon exhibit.  You earn this over time by just having dragons on display, though you have to open the game and collect it from time to time, as each dragon habitat

And then there are gems.  Gems are the constraint removal currency.  When a new, limited time dragon comes out, you can spend time trying to breed it, or just buy the egg outright for gems.  If that breeding cycles is 48 hours long, you can skip it for just 1 gem per hour.  And the top tier habitats, which hold the most dragons and gold, can only be purchased with gems.

All of which would have remained unknown to me had my daughter not come to me asking if she could buy some gems.

Gems! They Cost Money!

Gems! They Cost Money!

My immediate answer was “no,” after which I asked why she wanted them.

She explained that there was a limited time dragon she wanted, but since I am notorious for hogging the iPad, she was afraid time would run out before she was able to finally breed the dragon.  This lead to some negotiations which ended up me becoming the day-to-day manager of DragonVale while she was the owner/CEO.

She set policy, which was basically about what dragons to breed and how (usually helped along by web.) along with handling all of the cosmetic work.  I would make it part of my daily routine to click on habitats to collect gold, breed dragons as specified, exchange gifts with her friends (one of the ways you can earn gems in game), and a couple of other routine items, all of which generally takes about a minute to do maybe three times a day.

That left us with a game we both played and which we could discuss and make plans around without spending any money.  And the constraints drive that.

More Gemstone Dragons Please!

More Gemstone Dragons Please!

For example, gems remain in short supply for us primarily because the top tier habitat for each dragon type can only be purchased with gems.  However, the benefits… they are able to store more gold, increasing the time to full, thus allowing you to collect less frequently without “wasting” time with a full habitat as well as the ability to hold more dragons, allowing an increase in your overall population… were such that I convinced her to embark on a slow but continuous plan of habitat upgrade.  I would keep 50 gems in reserve, in case something we had to have came up, but would spend anything beyond that on the upgrades, which were 25 gems each.  We earn, depending on friends and the whims of a mini-game, between 2 and 10 gems a day.  We had a couple dozen habitats to upgrade, so this was truly a long term plan.  We are only about three quarters done at this point.

And the upgraded habitats themselves take up more space, leading to a park-wide layout redesign of paths and decorations.

Our "High Value"Dragon Island

Our “High Value”Dragon Island

All of which has made the game… well… an actual, long term game for us.

Unfortunately for Backflip Studios, it only maintains that status so long as we don’t give them any money.  Sorry guys.

Double Rainbow Dragon Pukes Rainbows!

Double Rainbow Dragon Pukes Rainbows!

Still, people do give them money.  On visiting the dragon park of on of my daughter’s friends, I noticed that she had a lot more rare dragons than we did as well as more than 800 gems in her inventory.  So clearly somebody is paying our way in the game.

Candy Crush Saga

I only found out about Candy Crush Saga because I heard people complaining about it.  Always the best endorsement of a game, right?

I would describe it as something of a Bejeweled clone, and apparently it is huge.  The Facebook version is one of the biggest game there, having eclipsed the once mighty Zynga on all fronts.  There are versions now for iOS and Android.  I have even seen ads for it on TV, and not just during the 3am Tom Vu time slot.

It is a classic “social” game in the odious Zynga style with a huge number of constraints which can only be bypassed by paying money or recruiting your friends by polluting their wall with posts.

Or by just waiting.

You only get so many losses before you have to stop playing, pay, or prostitute yourself.  And the game sets you up to lose with some pretty hard levels… though you can also pay your way out of not losing with extra turns, time, or other bonuses.  The game has absolutely no shame in hitting you up for money to get yourself out of a tight spot.

But the game itself is cute and light and fun in that Bejeweled sort of way and the constraints make progress in the game all the more satisfying.  I think I spent five days on a really tough level in the high 30’s. I would just lose until I ran out of plays, then go away until they regenerated.

No More Plays!

No More Plays!

There are occasional gates where you have to pay, post to Facebook, or pass three special levels.  But you can only do one of the levels per day, so you are locked out of progress for at least three days.

Come Back Tomorrow!

Come Back Tomorrow!

And yet, saying “no” to the constant “pay to win” offers, makes me feel all warm inside, like a Christian that has said “no” to the temptations of Satan.  And I continue to make progress, slowly but surely.

Now stuck at... level 59!

Now stuck at… level 59!

Which, I am going to guess, was not the designers intention.

Constraints Make The Game… for me

Which I am sure all says more about me than game design in general, but which does illustrate one of the problems I have with the free to play concept.  The constraints that are in there to make you want to pay money actually work as a deterrent towards me paying money, as the only thing the money would do is relieve me of actually playing the game.

Which makes me feel odd, because I wouldn’t mind rewarding the designer… I just don’t want to remove the constraints that make the game interesting.   And, really, that is the only path they have left me.

Well, I actually don’t feel odd when it comes to Candy Crush Saga.  They rub the “pay” button in my face so often that I have made it one of my missions in life to play their game without paying them.  But I think you get my point.

The Zynga Business Plan Moves Forward

My daughter and I were watching Spongebob together when we saw a commercial for this:

Hungry Hungry Herd

Technically, it is not a simple rip-off of some other company’s idea, the classic Zynga approach, because Hasbro owns Hungry Hungry Hippos, and Zynga and Hasbro are in bed together on this one.  But it certainly feels like a poor recycling job to me, with 50 Farm Cash thrown in as a “Digital Value for Parents Inside!”  I suppose at least they are pretending to feed adult addiction to the game rather than overtly suggesting the kids go log on and play.

Of course, in looking this up, I found that Hasbro and Zynga have recycled a few other classic games with a FarmVille theme.

I would add that there is even a CityVille version of Monopoly… but what brand hasn’t gone for their own version of Monopoly at this point?

Not Even FarmVille Hits The Lowest Common Denominator

One of the common cries of the hard core when complaining about changes to a game to make it “easier” or “more accessible” is that the company in question is attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

The next time you see a player making that complaint, remember that somewhere out there somebody felt the need to write the book FarmVille for Dummies.


Really, the lowest common denominator is a lot lower than you and I can probably imagine.

Via Ars Technica.

Looking Back at 2010 – Highs and Lows

Yesterday I looked forward to figure out where I might be headed in the new year, at least for MMOs. (There are some single and multi-player games on my list, but that is another post.)

Today, it is time to look back at what came to pass in 2010, or at least what came to pass in my little corner of the gaming world.

Lord of the Rings Online

Highs:

  • The instance group had a great summer diversion from WoW into Middle-earth.  LOTRO gets better every time I go back to it.
  • I had more fun than I probably should have playing with the music system in LOTRO.
  • The transition to Free to Play seemed to be mostly a good thing for the game.  There were a lot more people playing.  And Turbine has been adjusting what is free and what you need to purchase from the LOTRO Store based on feedback.
  • I feel quite satisfied, as a Lifetime Subscriber, as to how I was treated as part of the transition to F2P.

Lows:

  • Only four of us hit Middle-earth, and since there is no mentoring or “buy a level” method in LOTRO, there seems little likelihood that we will be able to carry on past where we stand with the whole group involved.
  • Still haven’t seen Moria yet. (Only 8 levels away though!)  And Mirkwood?

EverQuest

Highs:

  • It still lives!  And look at how many servers it still has!  Not bad considering its age.
  • Now has housing in what looks to be an interesting mix of the EQII and LOTRO approaches.  It is really well done, given the architecture and interface that EQ has been carrying along with it for nearly 12 years.
  • Server merges, once I could find my characters, beefed up the visible population somewhat.

Lows:

  • Only focused sustaining the current population, though that is probably both the right and practical choice.  It just makes me a little sad to have to admit that there just isn’t going to be any significant new player base.
  • Server populations feel pretty small even post-merger.  I suspect we’ll see another round soon.
  • The game is really feeling its age.  Every time I go back the interface feels older and more cobbled together.

EverQuest II

Highs:

  • EverQuest II Extended is bringing in enough people to its single server to make the game feel more alive than it has in a long, long time.
  • New Halas is a good starting area and if you follow the quest line all the way through, you get a mount as a quest reward.  One more for the “why didn’t you do that sooner?” list.
  • The integrated quest guide functionality really helps out in New Halas.
  • The basic New Halas housing makes the old single room cells we got as housing in the racial ghettos at launch seem like… well… single room cells. (Though they are now two-room cells these days.)
  • The Revelry and Honor guild hall (on Guk) is still awe inspiring, and in a much less game-lagging sort of way.

Lows:

  • EverQuest II Extended has effectively ended any possible influx of new players for the old EverQuest II servers.  How soon until EverQuest II live is just the Antonia Bayle server?
  • On the server with my main characters (Crushbone), nobody on my friends list or in either of my guilds is still playing.
  • The integrated quest guide appears to be a work in progress, at least in some of the older zones.
  • The rest of the New Halas housing looks just like the basic from what I have seen, with a room added here or there.  I’ll just stick with the basic.
  • Eyesore marketing.  EQII deserves better.
  • The Freeblood Station Cash Grab.  $65 for the race and all the accessories.
  • The loss of Stargrace as a subscriber.

TorilMUD

Highs:

  • TorilMUD is still up and running.  I’ve only been logging into it since the Fall of 1993.
  • ZMud still works for me on Windows 7!  More than a decade of triggers, scripts, and macros preserved a while longer!

Lows:

  • Oy, you think EverQuest or EverQuest II Live have population problems?

Star Trek Online

Highs-

  • It shipped!  A Star Trek MMO at last!
  • My classic NCC-1701 ship model looks great!  I love it!  I make original series sound effects whey I fly it!
  • Seems to be getting all sorts of of new episodic updates.

Lows –

  • Apparently it wasn’t the game I wanted.  If you ask me, I’ll tell you I like the game, and I’ll mean it when I say it, but I obviously can’t be trusted to speak the truth.  It is installed.  I keep it patched.  I never play. Damn.
  • Then there is the whole C-Store thing…

Civilization V

Highs-

  • Gets back to the series roots and what made my most favorite Civ game, Civ II, great.
  • Actually runs well on my new machine.

Lows-

  • Gets just as laborious to manage as you get closer to the end game (unless you’re losing badly) as Civ II
  • Ghandi the Terrible! (Supposed to be fixed with the latest patch)
  • Didn’t run at all on my old machine for no reason I could divine.
  • Individual Civs and tiny scenarios as for-pay downloadable content?  I’ll wait for a big Steam sale.  And then I’ll wait some more.

Total Annihilation

Highs-

Lows-

  • I still don’t have anybody to play against. (Same for Age of Kings, and I am so out of practice with StarCraft I get slaughtered by the sharks on BNet so fast it is scary.)

Pokemon

Highs:

Lows:

  • I still need 325,217 steps to max out the Pokewalker.  I wear the damn thing everywhere.  Obviously I need to walk more or rebuild the Pokewalker LEGO machine… and then hide it from the cats.
  • We didn’t get all of the download events they got in Japan. (Where is my special Celebi?)
  • WiFi co-op play in HeartGold and SoulSilver limited to battles.   I miss the underground from Diamond and Pearl.
  • Pokemon Ranch was no help at all.

Wii

Highs:

Lows:

  • The Wii, on the other hand, seems extremely taxed playing LEGO Harry Potter.  At first I thought there was something wrong with the game, but it is the Wii huffing and puffing trying to keep up. The LEGO games look much better on the XBox 360 or PS3.  It is time for some better hardware from Nintendo.
  • Netflix Streaming selection is still too small… and too random.  How do you make season 2 of a series available on streaming, but season 1 not?  I know, it is all in the licensing details, but they need to get those details worked out.
  • I totally suck at Super Mario Bros. Wii.  My daughter and her little pals play, and I am the one always in the bubble.

World of Warcraft

Highs-

  • The instance group is back together in Azeroth
  • I can fly in old Azeroth! OMFG that is so worth it!  Especially with my druid.
  • An all new race to play, redone level 1-60 content to go through, including updated instances, plus guilds have levels and achievements that give access to interesting things.
  • With only five levels to cap out, I am taking it easy and enjoying the new content.
  • The game is still smooth and polished and a lot of fun to play with my friends and family.

Lows-

  • Once the instance group hits 60, there are 20 levels of unchanged content between us and the next new thing.
  • Level 85 seems to come awfully quick for most.  Nobody else seems to be taking it easy.
  • Can’t fly in some parts of meso and neo Azeroth.
  • Guild levels come very slowly for small guilds.  I think we’re 25% of the way to level 2.  Achievements are also easier for bigger guilds.
  • More reputation grinds… including one with your own damn guild!  I helped found the guild five years ago, and now I’m neutral with it?
  • Gear inflation – my best welfare epics: Gearscore 245.  My first green drop at Mt. Hyjal: Gearscore 272.  My hunter gained a base 100 DPS rating by trading in his blue gun for the first green quest reward gun.
  • Wintergrasp is dead… and when it isn’t, I end up getting owned by level 85s with gearscores that seem to be an order of magnitude above my own.

Blizzard in General

Highs:

  • Still the brightest star in the PC games sales chart, with booming sales of StarCraft II and Cataclysm.
  • Hasn’t been completely destroyed by Bobby Kotick yet.
  • Tenacious D – Completely uncensored at BlizzCon.  Told my daughter she could watch until the first swear word.  She barely got to watch a minute.
  • Gave Red Shirt guy his due.

Lows:

  • Didn’t ship Diablo III… or give us a release date.
  • Didn’t tell us a damn thing at BlizzCon.  We had to find stuff out this way.
  • Forcing RealID on users who want to post to the forums?  That didn’t piss anybody off
  • RealID and Facebook integration plans in general.
  • I still hate the new BNet Parental Controls window.  Firefox doesn’t seem to like it either.  There may be a correlation.
  • It is starting to get easier to count the people I know who play WoW and who HAVEN’T had their accounts hacked.
  • Still no cast list for the Warcraft movie.

Facebook

Highs:

  • Family Feud – Comes in great, bite-sized doses and you can help your friends score more… or embarrass yourself in front of them.  The answers piss you off, but in a good way.  You feel smarter than your fellow man and woman.
  • Warzone Tower Defense – In the MindJolt section, it isn’t really a Facebook game, you can play it other places, but I first found it on Facebook.  It is fun.

Lows:

Other Semi-Related Items

Highs:

  • Scott Hartsman’s back and looking like all win with Rift
  • Duke Nukem (and 2K Games) might have the last laugh after all.  Hail to the chief, baby!
  • The MMO market in general looks like it is in for an uptick in the coming year.
  • EALouse get’s it all off his chest.  I’m not sure any of it was a surprise though.

Lows:

  • APB… I blinked and missed it.
  • MassiveBlips, gone… and probably forgotten.  Who will continue to decide who runs the #1 WoW blog?
  • For what seemed like forever this past Spring and Summer, Derek Smart and David Allen just could not shut up.  Well, at least until somebody got paid off and went away quietly.  (Okay, it was like Jerry Springer, we decried it, but we couldn’t look away.)
  • The EALouse comment thread makes Derek and David look like the pinnacle politeness and restraint.

The Blog

Highs:

  • Lots of great comments from the regular readership.  Tobold has a point, being less popular generally begets better quality.  There is probably a lesson in that which applies outside of blogging.
  • Very little trollish behavior aside from SynCaine… and he can’t help it, he just foams at the mouth when somebody says “World of Warcraft.”
  • Still writing regularly after more than four years.
  • Writing and recording stuff that I enjoy going back and looking at years later, which was my main goal for the site.  This is my gaming memory.
  • A very high complement and honor paid to me in the form of a mention from Massively.  Thank you so very much.

Low:

  • I have a backlog of things I want to write about, much of which I fear I will never get to or, worse, that I’ll simply forget.
  • I never got to a bunch of things that were somewhat topical and have since lost some meaning, but which I should have recorded at the time, if only for context.
  • My most popular posts this year involved a World Cup predicting octopus, Talking Cats Playing Patty Cake, and Blood Elf Porn.  Now you know the secret to popularity.
  • I still cannot find another WordPress.com theme that I like better than Regulus.  Not that I need to change, but something in my keeps looking. (Something in that probably explains men.)
  • I looked at my site the other day without being logged in and saw the ads that WordPress.com slips in for the readers.  Gold seller ads.  I swear, I didn’t know.

And that was about it for 2010, wasn’t it?  Thank you all for being involved!

Now what highs or lows did I miss in my myopia?

6 Devious Ways Farmville Gets People Hooked

Cracked.com has an piece up titled 6 Devious Ways Farmville Gets People Hooked.

No, you cannot have that last one

Cracked.com is a humor site, an off-shoot of Cracked Magazine, a one-time competitor to MAD Magazine.

The article would probably be funnier if, as with their 5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying To Get You Addicted piece, it wasn’t so close to the truth..

Instead, it is pretty much a light hearted recap of exactly how things work.

But it has pictures!

And we all like pictures, like the one above, which I stole from the piece.  So there.

100 Levels of The Agency: Covert Ops

So I did it.  I played SOE’s Facebook game, The Agency: Covert Ops through 100 levels.

The Level Achieved

That meant getting to level 101, since there is no level 0.

The overall time commitment wasn’t that great.  As I said in my initial post on about the game, it has a not-atypical method of doling out play time for a Facebook game.  In the case of Covert Ops, you have a pool of “cover,” a resource that allows you to go out on missions.  You spend some to do mission, and when you’re out, you’re done.  Cover comes back slowly over time, or you can spend some Station Cash to buy some additional Counter Intel, each of which basically refills your cover pool.

And that leads us to the first gripe.

SOE will toss you some free Station Cash when you start playing, but to use it you have to create a Station account.

No problem there, I already have a Station account, and I have for years!

Only, you cannot use your current Station account.  You have to create a new account.  A believe me, there is nothing I need less than another ID and password to remember.  In fact, I’ve already forgotten both for the new account I had to create.

That is going to make it really tough for SOE to get any money out of me.  Not that such an event was likely, but you want to make spending money on your game easy.

And I can guess why they did this.  I would bet that SOE has to pay Facebook a cut of Station Cash sold for Covert Ops.  However, I think SOE treats Station Cash as a single pool of funds usable across multiple games.  So they had to keep the Facebook revenue separate.  That is my theory.

Anyway, 50 days of play, 100 levels.   And after that very un-Eurogamer like effort, I should be able to answer the magic question:  Is it fun to play?

No, it is not.

I will qualify that however.  There are bits of it that are fun to start with.  The mini games, for example, were fun for the first few passes.  The mini games are:

  • A linear run, jump, avoid obstacles
  • A simplified version of suduko (you get wild cards)
  • A “Where’s Waldo” find several items in a scene
  • A mini Husker Du? matching game (Who else had Husker Du?)
  • A version of the Jumble word puzzle

Except for the first, I had fun playing the mini-games.  But aside from the word puzzle, which at least has new words each round, the fun wears out quickly.  You learn how to jump, how to spam through the matching game, how to form up suduko, and where everything is hidden in the scene after a few rounds at most, and then it is just repetition.

Aside from the conflict resolution system, which I will get to in a bit, the rest of the game is clearly in the Mafia Wars vein.  You get a mission, if you have sufficient cover left, you click to do it, collect your reward, and move on to the next mission.

Only Covert Ops does not farm the ground that Mafia Wars does (see the Mafia Wars deposition) when it comes to collaboration with your Facebook friends.

You do not have to go through the annoying add friend routine that Zynga seems to be locked into, and which I hate.  Instead you are automatically friends in-game with anybody on your Facebook friends list, for which I give SOE full marks.  I’ve already committed to those friendships, don’t make me repeat the whole invite thing.

But once you have friends, there isn’t much you can do with them.  You can send them off on a mission for a reward (which you can share with them via a post to their wall) and you can visit their homes to sweep them for infiltration once a day, which always yields a small reward since everybody’s home seems to be infiltrated daily.

But the whole mob-family support mechanism and the endless gift request/gift giving are mostly absent.  Not that I miss the latter that much, but SOE hasn’t replaced it with anything better, they’ve just got their own minimalist version.

So the whole thing is a bit less social than FarmVille.

They have added in the ability to fight other players for rewards.  However, it uses the conflict resolution system of which I have written about before.

Let's see, rock, paper, or scissors this time?

The rock, paper, scissors method isn’t the worst way to resolve a conflict.  You might even view it as an additional mini game, except for the tedious nature of the system.  And you end up having to go through this routine a lot.  And the fights scale with you, so the only way to gain any advantage over your opponent is through equipment and upgrades.

You can spend your money on a few things.  You can buy new clothes.  You can furnish your home.  Or you can buy equipment and upgrades.

Your appearance doesn’t change the game, and a fancy home buys you little, but you need equipment upgrades, so that is where almost all my money went.

My home, with minor upgrades

To win the conflict resolution consistently, you will need the bonuses equipment gives you.  Some of the parts you need for equipment you can buy with the in game cash, but key pieces come only from mission drops or via Station Cash.  And at a number of points you will hit an equipment check gate and won’t be able to proceed to the next mission without an upgrade.

That means either spending Station Cash, which I refused to do, or going back through your old missions to find the one that drops the piece you need.  Then you run that mission.  Over and over.  Until you get the drop.

Now, it is nice that you can go back and re-run missions.  You still gain experience and get rewards.  They even look to have some sort of mission mastery indicator built into the UI, though I did not see it activate in anyway.

But running old missions uses cover, just like your current missions.  So when you are doing one, you won’t be able to do the other.  I once spent three days running the same mission in Italy to get one part to drop so I could get an upgrade to move forward in the game.

Now, three days sounds like a long time, but unless you buy additional cover, you end up spending about 5 minutes a day playing.

But in the end, it was the conflict resolution system that wore me down.  Just at level 101 I hit a boss fight that needed an equipment upgrade.  To get that upgrade I needed a piece that was only available as a drop or via Station Cash.

I ran back through missions until I found one that would drop the right part, but it turned out to be another boss fight with the conflict resolution systems.  And since anything in that system scales to your level, and since the components rarely drop, the grind required to proceed overwhelmed my meager desire to play and I stopped.

End of game.

Summary

The game has decent art assets, though they get used over and over again.  The guy you talk to in Amsterdam looks just like the guy in Naples, New York, Dehli, or Los Angeles.

The game is story driven, and it looks like a lot of time was spent on story.  At each location you are guided through a series of events that lead you to that final boss fight.  Unfortunately, since 80% of game play is clicking a button to complete a task, you do not really get engaged and you soon stop reading the story.

The mini games are fun at first, but there only a few and they get used in the same way at the same story points over and over.  Again, this does not get the player involved.

The conflict resolution system is mediocre.  You fight people, dogs, submarines, and so on using the same rock-paper-scissors system.  These conflict events come up a lot and I began to dread them.  Of course, dreading what is the core of the game play is a bad sign.

The social aspect of this social game is seriously lacking.  Seriously.  While I like that your friends who join the game get automatically added to your in-game list of operatives, there isn’t much you can do with them after that.  As annoying as Zynga’s wall spam can be, they do social interaction better.

Farmville is a more compelling social game frankly.  You can play sim farm at least and tell your friends about what you’ve accomplished.  In Covert Ops, all I could really remember was the names of the cities where events took place.  “I fought some guy in Amsterdam” is less social than, “I’m trying to build a barn, can you send me some wood?”

In the end, The Agency: Covert Ops is a Mafia Wars clone that tried to trim some of the annoying parts of that game, but ended up going too far.  They trimmed out what I am told makes Mafia Wars compelling to play.

And while the game is technically in beta still (as is every damn game on Facebook I think… I’ll invoke the Heartless_ statement that if you’re taking money for your game, you are not in beta) and they have been changing things up some, the core game hasn’t changed since launch.  There really wasn’t enough there to keep me interested once I hit my self-imposed goal of 100 levels.

So I won’t see what location comes after Los Angeles in the story.  But I don’t mind.  I’m pretty sure it would look very much like Amsterdam, Naples, New York, or Dehli.

The tag line for the game is “Live the Life of an Elite Agent!”

What a dull and repetitive life that seems to be.

FarmVille – Cashing In On Shame

Am I still talking about FarmVille?

Well, it is still a fact of life in the gaming ecosystem that over 60 million people are still playing FarmVille, even if people are still discussing what it is all about, and it is making money, purportedly a lot of it.

And the revenue generation aspect of FarmVille, or any other free to play game, is something I find interesting.  There seems to be such a fine balance between making a game too accessible, leading to nobody paying for it, and making cash items a requirement, likely driving off a good chunk of your audience prematurely.

One of the things that the Zynga people talked about at GDC this year was the shame factor in FarmVille.

In the game, you can plant crops and harvest them to make money.  Different crops have different durations to mature, at which point you reap that which you have sewn, collecting the cash right on the spot.

However, your crops can also expire if you leave them in the ground too long.  There is a window of time after they mature when you must harvest, otherwise your crops will wither.

And the people at Zynga are convinced that having withered crops on the farm… and the graphics are depressingly 1930s Dustbowl in design… will embarrass people, and serve as a spur both to play the game and spend money on it.

I’m not sure I can get all the way down the path they are trying to lead us, but they believe and are thus focused.

To this end you can buy an unwither spray in the FarmVille market.  It costs 10 Farm Cash (the rare, get one per level, gotta pay money if you want any more currency) per application, and given the number of withered crops I’ve seen, I am going to guess it isn’t a best seller.  Too much other stuff is only available via Farm Cash and you can always plow over withered crops and start again.

But what if you chronically let your crops wither on the vine.  What if you really are embarrassed to have your friends see your fields strewn with dead plant.

Then Zynga has a limited time offer for you!

For only 250 Farm Cash you can buy the Unwither Ring!


What is the Unwither Ring?


Yes, with this item, your crops will never die on the vine again when you forget to harvest.  Shamed no more!

And how much will 250 Farm Cash run you in the real world?


Well, 240 Farm Cash will run you $40 and, assuming that you have saved another 10 Farm Cash out of the singles you get every level, you might be covered.  If not, well, you’ll have to kick in at least another $5, and if you’re already going that far, why not go to the $50 mark and have some extra Farm Cash around for the next item?

But you’re probably going to have to invest at least $40 to get this ring.  And hurry, it is only available for two more days.

Is it worth the money?  Not to me, but when I bother to plant crops in FarmVille, I never let them wither.  OCD FTW!

And I have to think that the obsessive FarmVille players, the ones that have installed the FarmVille tool bar on their browser that tells them when crops are ready, probably won’t feel the need either.  And they seem like the type most likely to spend the cash.

So who is the target for this item really?  Who lets their crops die but wants to spend money on the game?

I guess there is a certain amount of pressure removed from your life if you do not have to worry about your crops withering.  But if FarmVille is causing stress in your life, perhaps it isn’t the right game for you.

Do you know anybody who has the Unwither Ring?

Is anybody really embarrassed when their crops wither in FarmVille?

What would you expect to get for $40 in a free to play game?