28 February 2012

Do You Play With Sound?

One aspect of video games that I haven't mentioned very much in my blog posts is the sound. That is because I rarely play my games with the sound on. As a matter of fact, the first thing I do when I try a new game is look for the options menu so I can press Mute. There are games that I've played for months and then read reviews commenting on how wonderful the music and sound effects are, and then it hits me that I have never even heard the music.

Why do I mute the sound on games? I do it for a variety of reasons. Ever since the release of the original Sim City, the prime time for me to play games is late at night while my husband and kids are sleeping. I don't want to disturb the quiet of a sleeping house with a bunch of bleeps and bloops. When I play games during the day, it is usually while I am talking to someone or watching TV, so the game sounds would be distracting. What about when I'm playing alone? Well, I could listen to the game soundtrack then, but I am so accustomed to playing without it that the music becomes monotonous to me after a few minutes.

I am making more of an effort to play with the sound on these days because I feel like I am missing part of the game experience. It never bothered me before, but as games become more complex the sounds become more sophisticated. I don't want to miss anything!

24 February 2012

Same Game, Different Titles -- Why?

Facebook and the casual game market are filled with look-alike or copycat games. I just wrote about an example of that in my last post. This week, however, I discovered two versions of the same exact game on Facebook and I can't figure out the reasoning behind that.

Astro Garden is a farming game run by 6waves. There isn't much that sets it apart from Frontierville or Farmville, but I'm a sucker for pretty graphics so I started playing it. Somehow I got distracted during the opening of the game and I missed what the story was and why I was growing vegetables that looked like they were from outer space. When I did a search on Facebook for the game's page, I found another game called The Big Game Theory and an entry on the wall from 06 Feb 2012 saying that they were starting a common project with 6waves called Astro Garden. As I said, I like the graphics in Astro Garden so I thought I would go ahead and try The Big Game Theory. Both games are identical!

I don't understand what the advantage is of having two copies of the same game on Facebook. What incentive is there to choose one over the other? Why would a person play both? It seems like the fan base would be split.

21 February 2012

Tiny Tower vs. Dream Heights

One perennial topic of discussion in the casual gaming press is companies copying each other's games. A company that has been accused of this more than once is Zynga, and they have come under fire again for the similarity of their new game Dream Heights to a game by NimbleBit called Tiny Tower. I have embedded two YouTube videos so you can see for yourself how much the games are alike.

I downloaded Tiny Tower for my iPhone before Dream Heights was even released. It was one of those games that I download because I've heard it mentioned in passing by several people as a fun game. I didn't really know what the game was about, but I figured I would suss it out as I played. Once I tried it, however, I had trouble understanding what to do. The 8-bit graphics that other players found charming were grainy to my poor old eyes and difficult for me to decipher. The pop-ups at the start of the game gave minimal instruction. Although I prefer my tutorial to be provided in-game, I would have welcomed a separate how-to page, but I couldn't find one in the game's menu. I ended up deleting Tiny Tower after a couple days.

Zynga has a pretty good cross-promotional strategy. If an ad for a new Zynga pops up while I'm playing Scramble with Friends, I will most likely download it and give it a try. That's how I ended up with Dream Heights, and like other Zynga titles, I had no trouble jumping right into the gameplay. The graphics were clear and the opening tutorial was easier for me to understand. Playing Dream Heights actually made me want to download Tiny Tower again. This time I was able to understand a lot of the stuff I couldn't figure out before, especially the ratings that help you match the right person to the right job.

As for Zynga copying NimbleBit's game, I have conflicting thoughts on that. I know that it isn't fair for a multimillion dollar company with over 2500 employees to steal the ideas of a little indie company that amount to three guys in the den. However, for me, Dream Heights is an improvement on the original concept and the one I would pick if I could only keep one. I still feel guilty about siding with the game world's robber baron, though.

19 February 2012

The New Why and What of This Blog

When I originally created this blog in 2007, I created a post that explained why you should read this blog and what to expect. My gaming life has changed, so I thought that it might be a good idea to revisit that post and give you guys an update.

Why do you want to listen to my advice on games? I believe the ideal reader for this blog is someone older who is trying to fit fun into a busy life. As a 45-year-old wife and mother, I enjoy games but I don't have the endless time to devote to them the way a teenager does. I also don't have a generous allowance with which to buy games, so I will continue to focus mainly on games that are cheap or free and games that can be rented.

What style of games do I like to play? The answer to this question has changed the most since 2007. Although I am still interested in board games, I don't play them much any more. Nowadays, I play mostly casual games. In particular, I'm hooked on the diversions offered by Facebook. In the past year I've acquired both an Android tablet and an iPhone, so I am exploring the offerings for those platforms, as well.  No category will be completely off-limits, though. If I get a chance to play a board game or an XBox 360 title, I will most likely comment on it here.

Who do I play games with? Well, since I am mostly playing casual games now, I don't really play "with" anyone. None of my real-life friends or family enjoy the Facebook games so I have recruited strangers from the game forums to be my "friends". As for the iPhone and Android games, I compete with my kids to be the top of our own personal leaderboard, much the same way I competed with my friends as a teenager to have my initials next to the high score on Centipede in the arcade.

My hope is that this blog will be one more source in helping you make a decision about what games will get a portion of your limited free time.

17 February 2012

Here I Go Again

When I decided to restart this blog and write a new post to end the hiatus, the lyrics to the Whitesnake song kept echoing in my head:

"Here I go again on my own
Going down the only road I've ever known."

Those words encapsulate my thoughts on blogging lately. The blog written by an individual for fun (and possibly a little money -- let's be real) seems to have fallen out of fashion, and is making way for blogs by companies or individuals trying to market themselves as a brand. Others are turning away from blogging to express their thoughts on social networks like Twitter or Facebook. I guess I am an online dinosaur in this respect. I visit lots of professional blogs and participate in several social networks, but when I really have thoughts to share I want to do it in a corner of the internet that I can call my own.  Hence, the relaunching of this blog.

After a long period where I wasn't playing much of anything, I find myself consumed with playing games again and I want to share my thoughts on what I've been playing. Although I do read sites like Gamezebo and the individual games have sites with their own forums, commenting in those places feels like writing my words on the last page of a notebook. I want to put my thoughts on the front page by using this blog. Even if only five people read this, it will have served its purpose as a place where I can go back and find what I wrote more easily than trying to sift through boards on someone else's site.  Basically, I'm inviting you to read my personal gaming diary. I hope you enjoy it!