Archive for May, 2011

Microtransaction Games

Posted: May 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

The concept of microtransaction games is a relatively new one. The basic idea is that the game itself, in its most basic form, is free to play. However, in order to get all the content, or bonus content or more energy or something like that, you have to spend a little bit of money. Its a pretty neat concept when you think about it. It gives people who want to play purely for free the ability to do so and also gives people the ability to buy things that are special or interesting or different. There are also some very interesting psychological impacts to this marketing method.

Many of the newer MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online roleplaying games) work under this concept. Some of them do it better than others. The Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest II and several others all offer various packages of classes or different maximum levels or more bag space. The problem with the way some of these games are offering packages is that in order to get the full game experience, you do have to basically buy everything. Some of these games still offer the monthly fee option where you get the full game, and to make matters even worse, this option gets even more content than any of the people not paying the monthly fee can ever get, even if they buy every single package available.

The upside to the concept of microtransactions is that people can play for free if they want, can reward the developer if they want to, can make whatever choices they decide they want to. It puts a lot more power in the hands of the players. The downside is that most of these games have a system where you spend, lets say, $10 and it gives you some amount, lets say 100, of their special virtual currency. The second it becomes the virtual currency, all correlation to real money spent stops. The human brain doesn’t associate the pretend money and pretend items with the real money cost involved, except for the original purchase of the currency. So, I have 100 virtual credits. Lets say that this really special sheep or something costs 50. Well, 50 virtual credits for a virtual sheep doesn’t sound so bad. How does $5 for that little sheep sound? Would you be willing to spend $5 for the special sheep if that was what the store said, instead of 50 virtual credits? And the games always give the currency a fanciful, fun sounding name. Good examples are Farmbucks and Neo Cash. Interestingly, this concept has long been known to the owners of casinos.

Microtransaction games make a large profit for their creators. They have the potential to give the player more choice about how and if they pay to play. They allow some people to have extras for paying more. Really, what microtransaction games really are is the concept of capitalism distilled into the online gaming world. If I spend more money, I can do more, have more, etc. Is it fair? I don’t know. Is it fun? It must be, because a lot of people are giving companies a lot of profit for switching to this marketing method.

So what do you think about it? Do you love it? Hate it? Never played a game that used it? Live and breathe for Farmville? Tell us about it.


Metroid: The Other M

Posted: May 20, 2011 in 3 Hearts
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I am a huge fan of Samus Aran. I have been for years. I played every one I could get my hands on, from the original Metroid on through time. I loved Metroid Prime, the whole trilogy. I started playing The Other M earlier this week and I’m not sure how I feel. The graphics are beautiful, the cinematics are amazing, its like the entire intro to the game is designed to reward the long time Samus fans and enlighten the new comers. I sat there, watching the opening cinematic and it was like one of my geeky little dreams come true. The cinematic opens with Samus hanging in midair, suspended from a metroid while fighting Mother Brain. Its the ending to Super Metroid, but instead of being rendered in cute little SNES spirtes, its beautifully done in 3D, and along with the fight, you get Samus’s thoughts.

I remember when Metroid looked like this…

That’s one of the things I found interesting about this game. For the first time, I get to hear what Samus is actually thinking. In Metroid Fusion, she had brief moments of thought, but this time she spends a lot of her time thinking and remembering, at least towards the beginning of the game. While its kind of neat, Samus talks way, way too much and has far too many flash backs. But that’s only for the intro, once Adam sends you off on your mission, there are only periodic check-ins.

Now this is what it looks like.

I think the main thing that bothered me about this game is that periodically, in the middle of combat, little boxes would come up to show me how to use special attacks. I admit, jumping on my enemy and blasting a charge beam into their head is pretty awesome, but I don’t need to be reminded how to do it every time I come up against an enemy who needs it used on them to die. And since this is also the mechanic used to teach new special attacks, you can’t really ignore the little boxes, even when they’re about to get you killed.

The control scheme for The Other M is completely unique. Its an odd combination of isometric third person view and first person view based on the orientation of the Wii mote. My main complaint about the controls is that I really really liked the Metroid Prime controls when it was ported to the Wii. Moving the Wii mote to aim and using the nunchuk to move made me really happy, it was like I was Samus. Now? Autotargetting, and really awkward camera angles. They should have just stuck with what they had before.

So, Metroid has always been a fairly on-the-rails game series. What this means is that its very linear. I need x-y-z suit accessory before I can go here or I need to unlike this color of door, etc. This is the first time its ever felt that way. Normally, I feel like there’s a reason for the convoluted puzzles required of me. This time, I’m following the orders of a very annoying commanding officer, listening to flashbacks and still jumping through hoops but now I don’t even get to aim my gun myself.

Have you ever played a game and been completely torn whether you’re actually enjoying it or not? That’s where I am right now with The Other M. I’ll certainly give them that young Samus is really attractive and the story is compelling. But at the same time, the controls are subpar and Samus talks too much. I’m a good half an hour to an hour into the game and I’ve only just gotten into what feels like a Metroid game. It has a weird combination of the old style of 2D gameplay that I grew up with and the 3D gameplay that I loved from the Prime Trilogy. Its an awkward combination and I’m not entirely sure they got it right. Overall, I’m sad to say that Metroid : The Other M only rates a 3 out of 5 hearts.

3/5 zelda hearts

Angry Birds

Posted: May 18, 2011 in 4.5 Hearts
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Angry Birds is a very popular iPhone game these days. But did you know that it is available for more than just the iPhone and iPad? According to the Rovio webpage (they’re the developers, you see), Angry Birds is also available in the Ovi Store (for the Nokia Ovi, apparently), the Palm app catalog and on Intel App Up, which is for netbook apps. You can also get it in the Google Chrome app store. Angry Birds is a puzzle game based on launching birds with special powers out of a slingshot to attack the pigs that stole their eggs.

For being a silly little puzzle game about birds with homicidal rage and strange powers, Angry Birds is insanely popular. It is the #1 downloaded app in the US and Canada and countless other countries. It plays more or less the same on every platform that you can find it on, the main difference being whether you use your finger or a mouse to control the launch angle of the birds. The physics involved is pretty simple and the puzzles are usually quite solvable. Periodically, though, I find myself getting stuck for weeks on a single puzzle. While a good puzzle game should have moments of frustration, it shouldn’t last for weeks. I admit, it took a good long time before I hit one of these levels, but still.

The graphics are really cute and simple. I love all the little birds. The backgrounds are simple and don’t get in the way of play. The different materials that the pigs use to defend themselves are clearly distinct and you can tell how strong different materials are. The sound effects are quite nice and entertaining. I like the music. Its whimsical and amusing, if a bit loud. All together, it adds up to a very amusing game that is fun for all ages.

I really enjoyed playing this game, I’m still playing actually. One of the things I really like about this game is that so many people are playing it, not just gamers. In fact, Angry Birds is largely played by adults who are normally older than the average gamer. In light of that and in light of just how fun it was to play, I award Angry Birds with 4.5 hearts out of 5.

4.5 out of 5 zelda heartsIf you’re interested in playing Angry Birds, there are so many different ways to play and different places you can get it that the best way to do it is to go to Rovio’s Angry Birds page here. If you want to find it in the Chrome store though, you should go here.

Uber Pong

Posted: May 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

Now announcing the latest game out from Awkward Pack Studios, creators of Prokaryote Hero. Uber Pong is an arcade style single player game based on keeping a increasing number of balls in a rectangle. I’ve added it to the Dangerous to Go Alone Arcade and to the Chrome App Store. Check it out!

Big Brain Academy DS

Posted: May 16, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Self improvement through video games. Its an admirable effort, no matter the medium used. One of the major things that video games can provide is an immediate response to mistakes and a comfortable environment in which to fix those mistakes. A great genre that is making use of this is the educational video game. Big Brain Academy for the DS is in this vein. The basic idea is that you are taking classes to increase the size of your brain and then you can also take tests to see how much bigger your brain has gotten. You can relax, we aren’t going to literally weigh your brain. Big Brain Academy is just using a nice simple measurement system (grams) that everyone can relate to and immediately see which one is bigger and thus better.

There are three different play modes to Big Brain Academy: Practice, Test and Versus. In Practice mode, you can play 3 different games for each of the 5 focal areas in brain development. These 5 areas are called compute, identify, think, memorize and analyze. These are the 5 things the entire game focuses on, so they’re going to come up again. There are three levels of difficulty for each game: easy, normal and hard. These games are the same games used in Test mode to find out your level of brain development. During Test mode, you go through one game from each focal area. The game randomly chooses how to test you and the difficulty scales with how well you’re performing to get an accurate assessment.

I really like the graphics in this game. They’re all really cute and simple. I also like the audio, its very relaxing. The controls are very easy to use, especially since they’re entirely based on tapping the screen to choose your answer. All in all, this is a really nice game. There is room on the cartridge for four different user files and each file displays the test results of the user on the grade scale from F to A, including the pluses and minuses. The downside there is that it doesn’t display the most recent score, instead it displays the best score ever received. Meaning that if you do really well and then take a break and start doing terrible, it still displays the best score from before. This is something of a problem, as I’m sure you can understand.

Overall, I enjoyed this game and found only a few small problems with it. As such, I award Big Brain Academy for the DS a 4 out of 5 hearts.

4/5 HeartsAs a note, this is one of the many games that has been made for multiple systems. You might remember an older review of Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree. If you enjoyed that game, or if you think this one sounds like your kind of fun, you should be sure to check out both.

I am all for the betterment of people through video games but it seems to me that a lot of people don’t realize that the game has to be good in order for people to play it. The Biggest Loser for the Wii is one of those games. Have you ever tried to follow along with an exercise video where they use the names for different yoga poses or exercises but don’t once tell you how to do it? That’s how I felt playing this game. Ever heard of upper body twists with knee? Me neither. I can guess what they mean and once the person on the screen starts going, I can follow along, but they dock you points if you aren’t keeping up. To make matters worse, if someone is trying to follow this and doesn’t know how to do the exercises it is possible to hurt themselves pretty easily. I mean, that risk exists with pretty much anything where you don’t have a coach or trainer watching you but still. There are a lot of different ways to make a weight loss focused game without having people get into positions they aren’t in the physical condition to pull off.

So, The Biggest Loser bosts over 60 different exercises and yoga poses, has recipes for healthy food alternatives and has exercise goals that you can set. However, none of that matters, because the user interface is but together so badly that it becomes hard to use. Repeatedly, I went to hit the button to go backwards and discovered that you had to use the B button on the back of the Wiimote, that trying to use what appeared to be an on-screen button would actually start the workout I was trying to exit out of. So instead of me exiting the game, I get roped into another 20 minute cardio session. I know what you’re thinking: turn off the stupid game, right? Ok, sure, you can do that. But shouldn’t the user interface be, well, useable?

So then you get to the exercises themselves. They’re all quite reasonable, the sorts of exercises that anyone should be able to do. But remember, this is supposed to be at least something of a game. I get the whole weight loss thing, and exercise is important, but what this game is missing is that exercise has to be fun. The game is very, very goal oriented but completely lacks any fun factor. This is only made worse by the fact that the game has a hard time figuring out if you’re actually doing what it told you to do. I actually just stood still and moved the Wiimote at one point and got a perfect score and at another point did the exercise properly and got no points.

So here is my biggest complaint about this game. When a game has audio overlays that are supposed to be helpful or whatever, they should really NOT stop each other to play. “Wow, you’re doing a rea-What on earth are you doing?” Yeah, that doesn’t sound natural to you either, does it? This happens to the two coaches in The Biggest Loser game all the time. They’ll be trying to tell you that you’re doing a good job and suddenly its time to do a different exercise, so they have to tell you, so they have the first audio clip turn off and the second one turn on. There has to be a better way to do that.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy this game. The workout was intense, but nothing was laid out in any way that was reasonable to use. The audio tracks did all kinds of annoying things. The graphics were comfortably nestled in the uncanny valley where people look like aliens. I give The Biggest Loser a 1 out of 5 hearts. Epic fail.

Pocket Frogs

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So, this is a new one for Dangerous to Go Alone. I, myself, don’t own an iPhone, but a few of my friends do and I’ve been playing their games in my free time. I found myself playing this neat little game called Pocket Frogs. It is a free app available through the iPhone app store that was developed by Nimblebit. The basic idea of the game is that you’re raising frogs to breed, sell and race. There is a Froggydex of all available frog breeds and achievements for getting different types of frogs and such.

So, you have to tame your frogs by tapping the screen to hop around a lily pond and eat flies. You can also get gifts which can contain things like coins, potions, more frogs and habitats. There are achievements to be gained by getting different kinds of frogs in various combinations. Unfortunately, there is a limited number of achievements and the content isn’t being updated. There are, however, over 15,000 different types of frogs.

Pocket Frogs is what is known as a microtransaction game. This type of games operates off the idea that the user can play the game for free but has the option to buy things which can make play more enjoyable or bonus content. These payments are usually quite small and frequently involve buying some sort of in-game currency. Its an interesting business model and seems to work quite well. There are a lot of games that are using this model quite successfully.

The main problem with Pocket Frogs is the fact that once you have all the achievements there is really no more incentive to play unless you really want to go through the grind to get all 15,000+ types of frogs. Even then, they aren’t increasing the frog types so eventually you would have all of them. While the graphics are pretty cute and the game play can be entertaining, it just isn’t compelling enough to last after all the achievements are gathered. There’s only so long you can tap lily pads and breeds frogs before you get bored.

Admittedly, there is the racing game and puzzle game. I never did figure out how the racing game works exactly. I think that you can tap to make your frog go faster, but this might just be me thinking it works this way so processing what I see as supporting my theory. The puzzle game is pretty much a matching game. You can play either to maybe win coins and other prizes.

Overall, Pocket Frogs is a mildly entertaining little game for the kind of person who likes Farmville and the like. I personally don’t like it very much, but it can be played for short periods of time and has a lot of content. The content isn’t be updated, which is a major downside but it could still be worth it if this is your kind of thing, especially since the game is free to play. I give Pocket Frogs a 3 out of 5 Hearts.

3/5 zelda heartsIf you are interested in playing Pocket Frogs, you can find it in the iPhone and iPad app store and it is available for both systems.