Archive for the ‘computer games’ Category

Catan iPhone app review

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Screenshot of Apple iPhone app 'Catan - The First Island'I’ve expressed before that The Settlers of Catan is my favorite board game. But I don’t get to play it much lately, so I was excited by the news that there’s now a version for the iPhone and iPod Touch. “Catan – The First Island” was developed by Exozet Games and released by USM; the Catan app is $4.99 from the iPhone App Store.

Previously, Catan fans had to settle for a knock-off called Kolonists (currently not available from the iPhone App Store — pulled due to being too close to Catan without a license, perhaps?). Kolonists dressed the game in a Roman theme and did away with the random dice roll element of resource gathering, replacing the roll with a workable-but-inferior mechanic of having a single worker per settlement (and two per city) that provided guaranteed resources each turn, and a bit of jostling for position with your neighbors. It made the game faster but less interesting. So it was refreshing to go back to the original mechanic. (Other limitations of the Kolonists app are that it’s single player only, and there’s no ability to trade resources with the computer players, only the bank.)

This is a preliminary review of Catan, having just three-and-a-half games under my belt, but that’s enough experience to offer the following points. First, the good:

  • It’s Catan. The rules are implemented faithfully, the terrain and icons are familiar, and the gameplay is smooth. If you’re a Catan fan, you can stop reading here and just go get it now.
  • The music is excellent, and the sounds are good (but I could see them becoming annoying over time). There are options to switch off either or both.

And the bad:

  • This is just basic Settlers. No expansions, no 5- or 6- player options. You do have a few options when creating a game, however. These options are: fixed or variable setup, random vs. stacked dice, optional friendly robber (no attacking players who haven’t earned any points yet), changing the victory requirement from the default 10 points to either 8, 9, 11 or 12, an optional catch-up “resource bonus” to players who haven’t earned any resources in five turns, or starting with a settlement and city instead of two settlements.
  • Even switching the option for “quick animation” on is not quick enough. You get bogged down in transitions and long dice roll animations and the resource assignment animation. Kolonists had a faster pace.
  • I don’t like the UI. All the commands (building, trading, etc.) are hidden in a slide-out menu to the right, guaranteeing that even a simple “end turn” is two gestures. Building a settlement is needlessly complex: Slide out menu, tap build, slide left in the build menu to choose to build a settlement, tap a checkmark to confirm, tap on screen where you want to build the settlement, tap a second checkmark to confirm. A better option would have been to dedicate some of the screen real estate to action buttons.
  • No undo.
  • While there is a good in-game statistics section (keeping track of dice rolls and other interesting data), it doesn’t keep track of your overall win-loss record. Kolonists offered a campaign mode, awarding points for each game that earned you new (cosmetic) titles. Catan would have done well to offer something similar.
  • The AI does not seem great. I’m 3-0 so far (but might have lost another game that crashed). You can choose either random computer opponents or select different characters, which are rated by skill. I’ve seen even the best-rated AIs make some questionable moves. And they all trade too much in the end-game.
  • You can only save one game at a time. If you save a game and then start a new game, it doesn’t warn you that your previously saved game is lost.
  • It’s a bit buggy. For example, I chose to switch off the insipid comments that the AIs make when building items, but sometimes they still make comments anyway. And one game had to be abandoned when it was a computer player’s turn but it took no actions, with no options to continue or skip.
  • Multi-player is only done via pass-the-phone (hot-potato style) — no networking support.
  • Picky: The random setup of ports isn’t in accordance with the rules, randomly putting ports closer together than the official random setup rules allow. (Unless something has changed in the fourth edition that I’m unaware of.)

Despite the limitations, I recommend this anyway. I’m hopeful that all of the above problems will be fixed over time.

For players not familiar with the board game of Catan, they offer extensive tutorials and help. I didn’t go through them all but they seemed exhaustive, which should help a bit with the learning curve.

I’ll give it 3.5 stars for now.

“Elven Blood,” “Mafia Wars,” “Mobsters,” “Vampires,” “Spymaster,” etc., are terrible games

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

[Elven Blood logo]I’ve stopped using Facebook almost entirely, because FriendFeed is much more engaging, useful, and easy. But back when I was using Facebook, I briefly played a game called Elven Blood (which has now been removed from Facebook).

The model used by the Elven Blood game is this:

  • You start at level one with low stats, no possessions or money, at a particular location.
  • You can choose to do one of several quests at that location. You complete the quest merely by clicking on a button.
  • Each quest gives you a small amount of experience, and usually money, and possibly a different reward (or a chance at different reward) such as an weapon or armor or mount or key.
  • Performing the quest uses up stamina and may also lower your health.
  • Stamina and health recharge over real-time.
  • As you grow in experience, you increase in level.
  • Each location has a store which sells weapons, armor, and possibly mounts.
  • As you acquire items and mounts, you can then move to different locations.
  • At the new location, there are more quests, sometimes requiring a larger party size.
  • You can sometimes purchase or find land or houses or special items, which give you a monthly income or increase your health/stamina recharge rates.
  • To increase your party size, you can invite your friends (or strangers for that matter) to join your party. Simultaneously you may (or may not) join their party. Joining someone’s party doesn’t really do anything except increase the “party size” stat. Other party members do not actually participate in questing or game play.
  • Pretty soon, the only way to progress in level (or to go to new locations) is to acquire more party members.
  • On the side, there’s a separate player vs. player (“PVP”) activity where you can attack or be attacked by random people. Victory or defeat is determined by what weapons and armor are used by you and your party members, plus random factors. But PVP doesn’t really do anything other than keep track of wins/losses and lower your stamina.
  • You start with a certain number of special points. These special points are used to buy extra party members, or instantly recharge health or stamina. You can acquire more special points by clicking on special offers (such as insurance quotes) or buying things, or paying actual cash.
  • By default the game posts “stories” to your Facebook news feed, announcing when you’ve gained a level or reached a new location.

[Mafia Wars logo]At least two dozen other games, such as “Mob Wars” and “Mobsters” and “Spymaster” and “Zombies” and “Vampires” use the same model. In addition to being found on Facebook, some of these versions are web games, some MySpace games, some Twitter games, some web games, and some iPhone games. (Doubtless other playforms too.) On Facebook, Mafia Wars is a top ten application, with more than 14 million monthly users, per AppData.

TechCrunch reports today that Playdom’s Mobsters is now available on the iPhone. Their review includes this description:

As with other games in this genre, gameplay largely revolves around completing missions and becoming more powerful by acquiring better weapons (there’s also a time constraint that forces you to keep coming back for more). It may not sound particularly appealing until you’ve tried it out for yourself, but once you do it’s easy to quickly become totally addicted.

[iMobsters logo]Already on the iPhone, you’ll find numerous re-skinned version of this game; currently in the top 25 are “iMobsters,” “World War,” “Jet Fighters Online,” “Brothers in Arms,”  “Racing Live,” and “Vampire II.” When looking at reviews, you’ll rarely see customers talk about the merits of the game, but the reviews consist almost entirely of people begging for you to “add me” (listing their user number or ID so that you can add that person to your party, so you can complete quests).

And that underscores the major problem with these types of “games”: The only challenge is finding friends, family members, co-workers and random strangers to add to your party so you can progress. There is not really any game here in the traditional sense: Completing the quest is simply a matter of clicking the button. If the quest is fighting someone, you don’t fight like in an arcade game or in a strategy game. If you meet the requirements, you succeed at the quest. (Some versions of the game may add in a random chance at failure.) There are zero decisions. There is no control. You have no options.

I am flabbergasted that so many are “addicted” to this game; I fail to see how anyone can stay interested for long.

In addition to the lack of actual game play, you end up polluting your news feed or twitter feed with random updates that — I have to assume — are of zero interest to anyone other than you (with the possible exception of other players of the game, who might then see you’re playing, and will then try to snag you to join their party).

To be fair, Elven Blood did try to incorporate some actual game elements. For example, there was a maze where you had to interpret a clue to figure out which location to travel to next. But even with these elements, the majority of the game was simply waiting until you had enough stamina, then clicking a quest button to succeed at a quest and gather rewards. Rinse, repeat. If anything, the best analogy to these games is those Tamagotchi virtual pets popular over a decade ago, where the gameplay consists of pushing a button in response to stimuli, to no real end.

So, then, the only real challenge is how effectively you can spam in order to get people to join you.

Am I missing something? These games are tremendously popular, but I honestly don’t see any lasting appeal. I was initially hooked on Elven Blood because for a little while it was engaging to join up with friends, see pretty graphics, and go through the whole RPG level treadmill progressing from neophyte to powerful warrior.

I’m most impressed by the monetization. The game creates a real incentive for you to pay cash or click on random dodgy offers just so you can grow your party without having to annoy other people. I’m sure that’s a very effective business model. As a game, however, I have zero interest.

Sammy plays WoW

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

For the last few months, I’ve not been playing very much World of Warcraft — typically 3-6 hours per week and that’s it. That changed last Tuesday — they’ve released some new content, and I’ve been playing a bit more than normal. On Sunday, while Sophie was napping, I played a few minutes with Sammy on my lap, and explained to him a bit of what was going on.

He really likes watching my character fly around on his Netherwing Drake (Sammy calls it a bird), and while I was doing a couple of quick daily quests, he narrated a bit of what he could see. He doesn’t distinguish between my character and me — both are just “Daddy” to him.

“Now Daddy’s fishing.” (I was.)

“Daddy’s getting that flower. He’s getting all of them!” (Picking herbs.)

“Daddy’s giving the big fish to that man.” (True, turn-in of the World’s Biggest Mudfish.)

“He’s mailing those boots to mommy. Mommy will like them!” (Mailing some magic boots to a bank alt for disenchanting.)

“Those are clouds.” (Yup.)

“Now daddy’s at the farmer’s market. He’s buying fruit!” (Not quite, I was selling junk and buying candles in the Shattrath Lower City refugee camp.)

“That’s the sun going down.”

“Daddy’s flying to Hawaii!” (Taking the flight path from Silvermoon to the Isle of Quel’Danas. Every island is Hawaii to him right now, since we’ve been talking about his trip to Hawaii last year and looking at Hawaii pictures.)

A day in Hello Kitty World

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Hello Kitty World apparently beta-launched today. Here’s how I imagine it.

What’s your name? Haildoggy
What type of animal are you? A doggy, silly!
What color are you? Hot pink

…character creation in process… Done! ^_^

…loading the world… Ready! 🙂 🙂 🙂

…automatically sending warm greetings to your friends… Sent! <3 <3 <3 Welcome, Haildoggy! You are in your house. Your house is cute. There is a mailbox here. The mailbox is cute. There is a phone here. The phone is cute. There is a door here. The door is cute! The door is also closed. Your bedroom is here. It's super-cute. Haildoggy, what would you like to do? > Go bedroom

You enter your bedroom. The carpet is pink. The bed is pink. The lamp is pink. The walls are pink. Pink! You have a bookshelf. It’s filled with fun books. Books are fun! Haildoggy, what would you like to do now? }@V@{

> Use bed

You’re not tired, silly! And we can’t imagine anything else you’d use the bed for. Oh, a pillow fight? That sounds like fun! Invite over some friends, and let’s play!

You have a new quest: Pillow Fight!

> Call friends

You don’t have any friends. Yet! That’s a little sad, but just smile and it’ll get better.

> Call someone

You open the phone book at random. Here are some people you can call: Hellokitty413 HelloKitty554 HelloKittie432 Badbatsmaroo117 HeloKitty1A HelloKityA HellloKittie1138 Kerope933 HellooooKitty644

Who would you like to call?

> Never mind. Go to Flower World
You leave your house and head to the train station.

HelloKitten212 is here!

H3ll0Kitt3h333 is here!

The train is not here. Using the train costs $1. Remember, get your parents’ permission before paying for items! Do you have their permission? Good. Please enter your credit card.

> Say hi

Why aren’t you entering your credit card?

> Smile at HelloKitten212

HelloKitten212 smiles at you. She says: “Ur cute but y r ur clothes r sooo plain??!”

> Examine HelloKitten212

She has red go-go boats decorated with sparklies and spaceships and moonbeams. Would you like a pair like that?


They cost just $6.95. Remember, we don’t charge you anything for this game, and Sanrio has to pay the rent for its giant factories. So won’t you please consider buying some red go-go boats? Your mom’s credit card is probably in her purse. We’ll wait.

> [credit card number entered]

Hello Kitty herself appears to thank you! Hello Kitty loves you! Did she mention how cute you look?

> This is the best game evah

World of Warcraft all over again

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

I used to watch a lot more TV than I have over the past two years. And I used to play a lot of different computer games. And I used to go to the gym/Team Fitness a lot more than I do now. The big reason for the change is that more of my free time has gone into World of Warcraft, to the point where I really don’t play any other computer games and I’ve stopped watching about half the TV shows I used to watch. (I do wish Kimi would play too, but it’s really not her thing and she’s not at all interested.) Single player computer games now seem a bit lonely to me; I tried playing Oblivion but gave up because the world felt empty.

Blizzard has done a remarkable job of making their online game interesting and rewarding. And on a professional level, Blizzard is a service company just like TiVo, so I’m very interested in their patch rollout, billing, and customer communication processes.

When I play, it’s been mostly with my brother Harry but over the last couple of years on our server I’ve developed quite a few friends; we’ve even met in person at a couple of picnics and a party up in Antioch.

Last week my friend John R. purchased the game and started playing on our server (Horde side on the Feathermoon server, to be specific). To help him out, I created a new character and started levelling up a Tauren Warrior alongside his Tauren Druid. Re-experiencing the world has given me appreciation for Blizzard’s achievement all over again. The quests are well thought out and engaging, and the depth of gameplay is really there.

I’m not sure I’ll have the endurance to take this character all the way to 60; I’m more interested in driving forward my existing character, a Forsaken Priest, rather than really developing a second character. Plus being a priest fits my style of play more than a warrior.

The first expansion comes out later this month, and there’s a chance I will roll up a new character in the new Horde race, Blood Elves, and stop paying attention to this new warrior, but for right now part of my brain is thinking about Brahee Dawnstrider and his novice blacksmithing and his struggles against harpies and dwarves.