21 December 2013

What crossword puzzles brought me today

Today is the 100th anniversary of the first crossword puzzle. I came pretty close to finishing the puzzle that was part of today's Google Doodle, and while I filled in clues I thought of my late mother-in-law (MIL).

My MIL passed away in 2011 and although we weren't close, we were getting there. I had been married to my husband for almost 20 years before my MIL and I managed to develop a friendly relationship. She was an uncomplicated woman with simple tastes, and one of the activities she enjoyed was solving word search puzzles. In her house and in her car, there would always be one of more of those monthly puzzle books from Kappa or PennyDell. She would pick them up from the dollar store and work on them while she was babysitting the kids or waiting to pick them up from school. Every once in a while, I could get her to try different puzzles like sudoku or fill-in puzzles but she preferred the word search. As my kids got older, they would sometimes work the puzzles with her, so one year we got her a giant fold-out word search puzzle book. She seemed to get a kick out of that gift, even as she protested that we shouldn't have spent so much on a puzzle book.

It has been years since I worked a puzzle on paper, but when I saw the puzzle books in the dollar store today I had to pick one up. It felt like the right way to honor my MIL's memory today.

27 July 2013

Longing for Nintendo

For the past several months, I have been in the mood to play Elite Beat Agents. For those not familiar with the game, it was a rhythm title released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS. It was one of the first games I bought for the kids when I got them DS units for Christmas. Although there are a lot of rhythm games on the market, none of them approach the infectious style of this game. What set EBA apart was the silly stories. Most rhythm games just have you play song after song. In EBA, there were three "Men In Black"-style agents with whose job it was to swoop in and solve random problems with music and rhythm. There would be a story that played across the top screen while you swiped and tapped on the bottom screen with the agents dancing in the background. The controls were more fun than the ones on other games; it was almost like my fingers were dancing. I still have the Elite Beat Agents game cartridge, but we haven't had a working DS in this house for ages. Now that we all have devices with touch screens that play games, I can't justify buying even a used DS. I sure miss that game, though.

Recently the gaming podcasts I've been listening to have stirred up my Nintendo lust again, but this time for another game. Everyone seems to be talking about Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Ever since I discovered Harvest Moon back in the day, I've had a thing for life simulation games. I especially like the ones that are tied to the real-life clock so that you have to check back in for new events and such. I thought that I was satisfied with the farm simulation games that I was playing on Facebook and iOS, but they don't have quite the same charm as the Nintendo games. The randomness of a game like Animal Crossing can't be achieved in a game like Castleville, which starts with a bit of a story but quickly slows the player down with obstacles that can only be removed with real-world cash. Although I tend to lean toward the free games, I would be more than willing to pay up front for a port or clone of Animal Crossing on the iPad if it meant that I never had to deal with in-game purchases mucking up my gameplay. In the meantime, I guess I will have to pull the Game Cube out of the garage to get my life simulation fix.

12 July 2013

Clearing out my iPad clutter

Over the past few years, I've been getting better at keeping the clutter in many areas of my life to a minimum, but I can't seem to resist downloading free games. I currently have 110 apps on my iPad. My iPad only has 16 GB of memory, so I frequently get a message saying that I don't have enough memory to update or download something. 

The obvious solution for dealing with low memory would be to delete something, right? The problem is deciding what to delete. There are several games that I haven't even played yet because I tend to go back to the same few again and again. There are multi-player games that I only keep so that my kids can play them with their friends, like King of Opera.  Then there are apps that normally cost money, but I caught them while they were free, like all the art apps for my daughter that she can't get for her Android tablet.

I've been saying for weeks that I am going to pare down my collection of apps, and I think today is the day. I've given myself permission to play in the name of organization!

24 June 2013

Papa Pear Saga: Cutest ball shooter I've played

As I said in the title to this post, Papa Pear Saga (free, Facebook) is the cutest ball shooter I've played. I'm not really sure if "ball shooter" is the proper term, but it is descriptive. It is one of those games where you aim your balls at a certain area of the screen to clear out other balls or obstacles. Some shoot from the bottom up or, like Papa Pear Saga, from the top down. There are plenty games in this genre, but this one stands out as one I would rather play over the others.

Of course, the fun graphics were the first element of the game that grabbed me. When it comes to casual games you have a lot of games that are almost identical in gameplay, so it really is a matter of picking the game that is the prettiest. Papa Pear Saga has a bright and colorful look that reminds me of children's television. I especially like the way the pots that you are aiming for hold their hands up as if they are saying, "Me! Me!"

The gameplay is what I'm starting to think of as a signature of King.com's "Saga" games. They seem to be generic games at first glance but after a couple levels you are introduced to goals. I haven't gotten too far in Papa Pear Saga, but so far I've had to clear carrots and release fruit to fall into pots. I know from playing Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heroes Saga that King throws in something new right about the time that you think you've seen all there is in the game.

Right now this game is only available to play online, but I've read that King might release it for iOS and Android. I didn't really get into Candy Crush Saga until they released it for the mobile platforms, and I expect it will be the same with Papa Pear Saga.

21 June 2013

Hay Day: All Farming, All the Time

There are a few games that I continue to play out of habit. I'm not having much fun with them, but I can't bear to delete them because I've already spent time building the farm or the hotel or the neighborhood. Hay Day is one of those games. It is a rather popular farming sim  (free, iOS only) that has all the usual elements. You can grow crops, raise animals, and make items from their byproducts. That's it. There aren't any special events for the holidays or a change of scenery for the seasons. It is just all farming, all the time.

Hay Day reminds me of the wordless picture books I used to check out for my eldest daughter when she was a toddler. Most farming games have at least a flimsy story to give you a reason for why you are trying to expand your farm. Not only does Hay Day dispense with the plot, but it uses as few words as possible to get its point across. There is a bulletin board with orders for you to fill, and each order just has pictures of the food and a number for how many to grow. That is as close as the game gets to having quests. Because of this, the game quickly became repetitive to me.

Like most casual games these days, there is supposed to be a social aspect to Hay Day but to me it is limited. You can add your Facebook friends who are playing the game and visit their farms, but I couldn't find anything to do other than buy the produce my friend had on sale. There is supposed to be a way to help my friends on their farms, but the one time I found something to click on (a boat) I couldn't figure out what to do because there wasn't an explanation.

I suppose there is a meditative quality to Hay Day that keeps me coming back. The graphics are cutesy yet soothing when I am playing right before bed. The animations for the animals make me smile, as well. So far the pigs are my favorite, especially with their sauna that squeezes the bacon out of them. However, after a month of playing, I think I've gotten all I am going to get out of this game.

18 June 2013

GOG.com's Summer Sale

It hit me a couple months ago that I finally own a PC that is fast enough to play some of the video games that were hot a few years ago. I also discovered that many of these games are fairly inexpensive now, especially from the direct-download sites. So while I was listening to a podcast where the presenters were reminiscing about older games, I took my browser for a little cruise over to GOG.com. What on earth did I do that for? They are running a summer sale, and my budget is tighter than an 1890s corset right now :-(.

GOG has 500 games for sale between now and 05 Jul, but they aren't all on sale at once. For instance, the Alan Wake bundle was on sale for $4.48 when I went, but there were only nine hours left to get that price. That is 90% off of the original price. There were several other games that were 50% off.

If you like older games, I'm sure you will find something cool. This is not a paid endorsement; I'm just really happy that I found this site. We've never bought games as soon as they were released, so my kids don't pay much attention to whether a game is new or old. I may have to check the couch pillows to see if I can get them a game or two to keep them occupied while school is out.

16 June 2013

Making video games a family experience

My husband ABM isn't into really into video games, but he will occasionally find a casual game that tickle his fancy and get obsessed with it for a while. His current obsession is Candy Crush Saga and he has dragged the family along with him. We've joined him happily, of course. The kids love it when their father steps into their world, so if he meets them halfway by finding a game he likes they will definitely join him.

Many adults complain that video games are an experience that isolates the participant, but I haven't seen that very much in our house. Candy Crush Saga is not a multi-player game but we treat it that way. We don't compare scores or how many stars we've gotten on each level, but we are all trying to race to the highest level. This isn't done in a cut-throat manner, however. Everyone is comparing playing tips with each other and giving each other tickets to open certain areas. This makes it feel like a group activity even though we aren't playing together on the same screen.

Another way that our family enjoys video games together is by playing single-player games as a group. We brainstorm on how to solve puzzles and pass the controller over to whoever is best at certain aspects of the game. Last month I started playing Red Dead Redemption on the Xbox with my daughter M and my son DJ. That game doesn't have many puzzles but there are actions such as herding the cows that I am not very good at, so my kids are more than happy to coach or take the controller and get me through a mission when my character has failed for the third or fourth time.

QUESTION: How does your family enjoy video games together?

26 April 2013

Apps Gone Free: Where I find my free iOS apps

There are a bajillion app recommendation sites on the internet, but I tend to find my apps in two ways. If I am at my laptop, I read reviews on Gamezebo. On my iPhone, I use an app called Apps Gone Free from a site called AppAdvice. As the name suggests, Apps Gone Free lets you know about other apps that are available for free, usually for a limited time. Here's a YouTube review by a guy with an charming Australian accent:

In the video, the presenter is using Apps Gone Free on an iPad, but you can use it on an iPhone, as well. I have it installed on both of my devices so I can download the app straight from Apps Gone Free. There have been plenty of times when I've typed the name of an app in the App Store but couldn't find it because the name was rather similar to other app names.

One of my favorite things about Apps Gone Free is that I never run across junk. I've used other apps like this and ended up with games that looked like they were created as part of a school project or something. Apps Gone Free says that they have a staff handpicking the apps and writing the blurbs instead of just using the promo copy, and to me it shows. What is on offer seems to go in cycles; for a while I ran across a lot of art-related programs and now there seems to be a lot of preschool apps. No matter what they feature, it all seems to be good.

I haven't spent much time on the AppAdvice website, but from what I've seen I would say it is worth a look. They have more in-depth app reviews and lists of apps centered around a theme like Mother's Day. Not all of the apps mentioned on the website are free, but there are plenty of cool ones I would never have found myself.

This is NOT a sponsored or paid post. I just really like this app :-).

25 March 2013

May have finally reached Facebook game overload

A few months ago, I wrote about how Facebook games could be a time suck. This became even more apparent to me recently when I joined a Facebook group devoted to a game I play regularly, Chefville by Zynga. Reading the messages in this group actually made me feel guilty that I wasn't playing more often. Members were checking in messages that read like this: "Sorry I haven't filled any requests today. I had to go to church and run some other errands." Really? Why on earth would you feel that you needed to apologize for living your life instead of playing a game? Well, it wasn't long before I posted a similar message myself. I thought that belonging to a game group would be fun because I would have other people to discuss the game with. Instead, I felt like I was a Chefville slacker who was letting her neighbors down by not playing often enough. Mind you, Chefville is a casual game, but being in this group gave me a sense of how players in more "serious" games like MMORPGs can get so engrossed that they fall behind in their homework or stop hanging out with real-life friends.

I'll be honest and admit that I let a few things slide while I was trying to keep up with not just Chefville, but the other nine simulation games I play on Facebook. When I took the time to do other things like play games in person with my kids and read books, it became quite evident that these games were more like work than fun. The Zynga games are the worst offenders with their multiple timed quests that require all your time plus the assistance of half your Facebook friends list. I went into overload mode for a while, but I think I am finally ready to wean myself from this particular pastime. You'll still see me gaming on Facebook, but it will most likely be other games that give me time to breathe.

22 March 2013

What I'm playing on my iOS devices

As of last Christmas, I have pretty much turned into an iOS gal. ABM found two iPad 2 tablets for a great price at our favorite pawn shop, so he picked those up for us. I sold my Android tablet to his best friend, and he gave his Android tablet to our daughter C2 because her cheapo Android tablet from Christmas 2011 bit the dust. I now have both a phone and a tablet running on iOS 6. As much as I used to grouse about Apple not being the only game in town, I must admit owning iOS devices is enjoyable for cheap gamer like me. There are so many more free and freemium apps available for iOS, and the graphics don't look like they were created by a 3rd grader. Anyway, here are a few of the games that I am playing right now:

Fairway Solitaire (review on JayIsGames): This is a Big Fish game I just discovered recently, but it has been around since 2007 when it started as a desktop game. If I had found it back then, I would have been just as enamored as I am now. I think that older folks like me, who got their first computers in the 1980s when they all came with Klondike, have a soft spot for solitaire games. As the title suggests, it adds golf-related hurdles like sand traps and water hazards to the card play. There are also plenty of trophies, which I like because I enjoy working toward something in a casual game. The games displays well on the iPhone 4S without making me squint, and the occasional comments from the golf announcers are amusing.

Gems with Friends (review on Gamezebo): As you may have guessed from the name, this game is part of Zynga's "With Friends" line. I've been playing this game for months and I am still obsessed with it. There is something about matching up the numbers that is almost like meditation to me. I play it right before bed and it calms me down. The one downside for me is that this is a competition game and most of my friends don't play video games. Luckily, there is a random opponent feature that quickly finds me a match when I want one. I usually go through at least 10 games before I settle down to sleep.

Pocket Planes (review on Gamezebo): Although I installed this game several weeks ago, I didn't start playing it until this week. I was a regular Tiny Tower player when I had my Android tablet, and this game scratches that same itch. The simplicity of buying airports and scheduling flights keeps me checking my iPad over and over. I started out playing this on my phone, but I didn't like scrolling so much to see various parts of the map so I switched to the iPad. It is much more enjoyable for me that way. This game is also available for Android, and I wasted no time getting C2 (who was also a fan of Tiny Tower) hooked on it. I wonder which one of us will be the first to buy all the airports in North America?

There are many, many more games that I am playing. In fact, I have been playing so many games that I was falling behind on more important tasks! I'll do another post soon on games that have very little going for them, but I keep playing them.

28 January 2013

Facebook gaming can be a time suck -- duh!

If you took a look at my most-played games on Facebook, they are of the homestead-building or city-building variety. I blame my introduction to Harvest Moon and The Sims franchise roughly 12 years ago. Something about manipulating the lives of little imaginary people and assigning them tasks appeals to me. I never enjoyed playing with dolls, but I imagine that this is what playing with dolls felt like for all my childhood acquaintances.

Unlike playing with dolls, games on Facebook don't freeze in time until you come back. I don't feel guilty if I get bored with a game like Song Pop and don't play it for a while, but I almost feel as though I am neglecting something important if I don't go back to Chefville for several days. My food will be burnt and several quests will have expired. These aren't the kind of games that you can lose, but having lots of unfinished appliances all over my imaginary restaurant does make it look that way.

I have been spending so much of my leisure time maintaining my pretend restaurant and my pretend theme park and my pretend farm that I haven't had time to try other games or read books or blog. Moderation in all things! The world won't end if I play these games for a little while and then move on.