Category Archives: Gaming

Windows Users, Why Put Up With This?

Bookworm logoMy mom is far from a “power user” when it comes to computers. She’s never sent an e-mail. She’s never browsed the web. She probably isn’t proficient enough with a keyboard to type a simple “hello.” A few years ago, she started playing the addictive word game Bookworm on my sister’s computer, A family friend built her a simple Windows PC out of spare parts he had from other machines. Outside of the operating system, the only thing he installed on that computer was the Bookworm game. It worked fine until about a month ago. After some basic troubleshooting, it was determined that the spare-parts PC had bit the dust, and that it was time for my mom to get a new computer.

Knowing that her needs were pretty basic, I searched Craigslist and found a Dell workstation that would easily meet her needs. The computer was acquired for a princely sum of $20. I went to work installing the Bookworm game. Something I figured could be done in no time.

I did a Google search for where to download the game. This took me to the website for PopCap, the game’s developer. There, I was directed to something called Pogo. Pogo turned out to be a sort of client-based “marketplace” for games; In order to get Bookworm I’d have to get Pogo first. This seemed odd and inefficient.

I kept searching and found another site called Origin that promised I could download the game there. I signed up, paid for the game, and was then directed to download the Origin game client in order to get Bookworm! This seemed even worse than Pogo. At least Pogo was up front about the fact that I’d need their client in order to get the game.

Since I’d already paid for Bookworm thru Origin, I figured I should at least try and run the Origin client. But every time I tried to download it, nothing happened. I couldn’t find any evidence of an Origin installer anywhere on the computer. Now I was getting frustrated!

By this time, my sister had come into the room. She mentioned that she’s got an account with something called BigPond and she knew the Bookworm game was available there. So we logged into her BigPond account, found the game, installed the BigPond client and then finally added Bookworm to the computer. Now, my mom’s computer won’t be connected to the Internet. I did some testing to make sure that Bookworm would run without an Internet connection. And technically speaking, the game did work. But it seemed slower when the machine wasn’t online. Why? The only explanation I can come up with is, the BigPond client needs to phone home to check for licenses. When there’s no Internet connection available, BigPond games still work. But they’re slowed down because the client can’t complete the authentication check.

We’ve got the “new” computer setup at my mom’s place and she said it’s working fine. I’m concerned that at some point, it won’t let her play Bookworm anymore without letting the BigPond client get online to call home. This will effectively break the game for my mom, as her PC has no Internet. This whole ordeal has left me with a few questions:

1.) Why doesn’t PopCap offer a simple .exe download of the Bookworm installer, free of the need to use a third-party client?

2.) On my Mac, I’ve downloaded Bookworm from the Mac App Store. The game runs the same with or without an Internet connection. The download/install process was simple and straightforward. Knowing this, why would Windows users ever stand to put up with this kind of hassle?

Zynga’s Sponsored Play Turns Ads into Games

Farmville Harvest Swap LogoZynga, the company that makes “Farmville” and “Words With Friends”, is now including in-game advertising. This new ad product is called Sponsored Play. It allows franchises to have their products featured in branded levels of existing Zynga games.

In short, it appears that the branded levels will feature a short, fun, game, based around the product that is sponsoring it. Clorox, the company that owns the brand Hidden Valley Ranch, is featured in one of the first Sponsored Play games. Their ad/game is called Farmville Harvest Swap. It is a match three type of puzzle game.

“Farmville Harvest Swap” can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play. In addition to puzzles, the ad/game includes “delightful story-driven progression”.

The true purpose of the game, however, is to enable Clorox to promote its Hidden Valley Ranch products. AdAge reports that the game includes a level where players harvest ingredients for a Hidden Valley Ranch recipe. After players complete the recipe, they are presented with a clickable link that connects to Hidden Valley Ranch’s recipe site.

One could reasonably conclude that more Sponsored Play content will appear in Zynga’s games in the future. Potentially, this could provide Zynga, whose games are free-to-play, with a new revenue stream.

Adults, of course, will be able identify games like “Farmville Harvest Swap” as an advertisement. Children, however, might not be able to differentiate between the Farmville game and the Farmville Sponsored Play advertisement. This brings up the sticky question of whether or not Zynga may be (perhaps unintentionally) directing ads at children. Parents need to be aware that Sponsored Play games could direct their child to websites that have nothing to do with Zynga’s games.

Aberford Combines Zombies and 1950’s Housewives

Aberford on KickstarterAberford is a video game that is currently on Kickstarter. At the time I am writing this blog, it has 26 days to go. Aberford takes place in the 1950’s and all of the player characters are female.

The game was created by Sketchy Panda Games. Aberford is described as a graphic adventure game with brawler-style combat. Personally, I like video games give players a lot of zombies to fight against. It’s awesome that all of the player characters are female. I can’t think of any other video game like that.

Almost all of the player characters are post-WII suburban housewives who live in the town of Aberford. (One character is a teenager, and another is unmarried). So, what we have in this game is a wealth of diverse female characters who are ready and willing to fight and kill zombies.

The player characters you see in the video are Peggy and Betty. Peggy is a professional girl’s-baseball-player-turned-unhappy-housewife. Betty is a former Army nurse who is “the master of everything a 50’s housewife should be”. Other characters, who are not shown in the video, include Doris, who worked as a riveter and lost her job after the war ended. Sylvia is a former scientist (and mother of two children).

Sketchy Panda Games also has some expansion characters These characters play important roles in the main story and are playable in freeplay/multiplayer mode. Some of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter involve the creation of full side campaigns for the expansion characters.

There are four expansion characters. Norma is the manager of Ms. Butler’s Boarding House for Girls and Young Women. She fought in WWII before transitioning and is taking experimental anti-androgen. Mary is a third-generation Japanese-American who spent her teenage years in a wartime internment camp. Mary is not married.

Sixteen-year-old Patricia is a cheerleader and the daughter of Doris. Alejandra, who speaks very little English, fell in love with a Mormon missionary in Mexico and married him after she completed her degree in mathematics. This couple has just moved in to Aberford.

E.T. Video Game Cartridges Unearthed from Desert

atariIt’s safe to say that video games were a lot less sophisticated back in the 80’s. This was a limitation of the hardware of the time, certainly. But it was also due to the fact that the industry itself was young, and game developers knew they didn’t always have to work very hard in order to get decent numbers on the retail market. The 80’s was also a time rife with product tie-ins and merchandising. These factors created a perfect storm for what has gone down in history as one of the worst video games ever created.

In 1982, the game E.T. the Extra Terrestrial was released as a quick cash-in following the massive success of the Steven Spielberg film carrying the same name. I remember playing this game on the Atari 2600 console. Specifically, I recall the frustration I experienced over trying to play a game that really made no sense. The gist of the game (if I remember correctly) is that the player would guide E.T. across different screens to collect candy pieces and somehow, eventually navigate to a spaceship that would in turn take the alien visitor back to his home planet. The gameplay was weird and illogical. The graphics and sound, terrible.

The E.T. game ultimately tanked along with the rest of the industry during the great “video game crash” of 1983. But that didn’t erase the game’s reputation from history. Over the years, E.T. has consistently ranked among the worst video games ever made. It even spawned a fantastic urban legend that the game’s manufacturer had buried thousands of E.T. cartridges out in the desert in the hopes that they’d never be found again.

Turns out that urban legend is true! As part of an Atari documentary, an excavation team took to a dig site in New Mexico, eventually uncovering thousands of original E.T. cartridges. Some copies of the game are no longer playable due to damage. But some have managed to withstand the conditions and have been sold at auction. One copy of the game sold for over $1,500.

Some profits from game sales are going back to the city of Alamogordo as well as a local historical society. The excavation team that completed the dug is still holding some copies of the game to possibly be sold in the future. Along with E.T., copies of more popular games like Asteroids and Missile Command were also unearthed. Those cartridges will likely also be sold in the future.

It’s hard to believe that something once so derided could now be so valuable. You never cease to surprise us on where you’ll spend your money, video game nerds.

Pokémon GO Will Send Players Outside

Pokemon Go deviceIt’s been a very long time since I’ve played Pokémon, and I was a very casual player. Even so, I found myself getting excited by the announcement of Pokémon GO. This new version of Pokémon is going to require players to go outside and hunt for virtual Pokémon in the real world!

Pokémon GO is being developed by Niantic, Inc., the company that is known for making Ingress. It seems to me that a company that has already created an interesting and successful game that makes players get up and walk around outside would be in a good position to create another one.

This new version of Pokémon GO is going to launch in 2016. Players will load the app onto their smartphone. It will be available for free from both the App Store and Google Play. In-app purchases will be available.

In addition, players will use a wearable Pokémon GO Plus device which will connect to their smartphone via Bluetooth. The device will notify the player about events in the game – including the appearance of a nearby Pokémon. This enables players to walk around outside without having to constantly check their smartphones in order to play the game. The Pokémon GO Plus is being developed and manufactured by Nintendo Co., Lt.

Blizzard Adds Silence Penalty to Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm logoThose who cannot play nice with others in Heroes of the Storm are about to receive some consequences for their bad actions (and words). Blizzard is introducing a Silence Penalty in the release of their next patch. It will limit the ability of a player who has been reported multiple times to interact with other players.

Heroes of the Storm is a multiplayer online battle arena video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. In short, each player becomes part of a five player team. That team fights against an opposing five player team. The goal is to destroy the other team’s Core (which is a physical structure that is located in their base) before the other team is able to destroy your Core.

Blizzard announced that they are about to add things to Heroes of the Storm in their next major patch that give players new reporting options and a brand new consequence “for those who consistently try to put a damper on everyone’s fun”.

Report Categories and Guidelines for Use:

* Abusive Chat – defined as “insults, cruelty, or ongoing harassment directed at one or more players”, hate speech, and real life threats

* Intentionally feeding – defined as “player intentionally and repeatedly gets their hero killed in order to anger allies of feed XP to the enemy team

* AFK/Non-Participation – AFK means “away from keyboard”. You can now report a player who is idle or inactive for an extended period of time during a game. You can also report a player who is present but has given up or refused to take part in the game.

* Cheating/Botting/Hacking – defined as “suspicious behavior which indicates the player may be using third-party software or hack programs to gain an advantage during a game

* Inappropriate Name – defined as “character names or BattleTag that are offensive, insulting, bypass the mature languge filter, or are otherwise considered objectionable”

* Spam – excessively repeating the same phrase, or pure nonsense, or repeated advertising for third party websites.

Starting in the next patch, any player who is reported multiple times under the Spam or Abusive Chat categories will, after investigation, receive a silence penalty. An icon will appear on their player portrait to let everyone else know that they have been silenced.

Silenced Players Cannot:
* Use Allied Chat in-game
* Chat in Hero League Draft Lobbies
* Chat in General Chat channels
* Chat in custom chat channels
* Send Whispers to non-friends

Angry Birds 2 hits 30 million downloads

Angry Birds 2 logoAngry Birds 2 is now on the market and, like any Rovio game, it’s proving popular. The latest in a long series of hit titles from the Finnish company, the game is quickly becoming another success.

The company has announced numbers for the game since its launch, and they are a bit staggering. 30 million of us worldwide have grabbed a copy and begun slinging birds at those little green pigs.

“What a great start to the Angry Birds 2 journey! But keep those slingshots well waxed and in good working order. The adventure on Piggy Island is just getting started, and exciting surprises await around the corner”, Rovio states in its announcement.

The statement alludes to more levels on the way, though it seems a bit soon to update this version. More likely we’ll see and update to one of the other versions first. Autumn is coming, like it or not, and Seasons seems a strong candidate for this.


Angry Birds 2 is Now Available!

Angry Birds 2 logoAngry Birds 2 is now available for both Android and iOS. It is the sequel to the original Angry Birds game. The app can be downloaded for free. The game is still made by Rovio.

As you might expect, there have been some changes made to the game since the original version. That’s not unusual for any mobile game that has a 2 in it’s name. For example, there were huge visual differences between Zynga’s Farmville and Farmville 2.

Ubergizmo reports that much of the gameplay in Angry Birds 2 is similar to the original Angry Birds. The new version includes animations, new effects, and dynamic lighting that Rovio was unable to put into the original version (which was released in December of 2009).

The game now includes cards, which players can earn by destroying things. The more things a player destroys, the more cards he or she receives. Every fifth level is a boss level. Players can use feathers to level up the birds, and can choose which order they want to play the birds in. There appears to be more strategy involved in Angry Birds 2 than there was in the original Angry Birds.

Angry Birds 2 includes in-app purchases Players start the game with 3 lives. When players run out of cards, they have to stop playing. The player can either wait 30 minutes for the lives to regenerate, or can spend real world money on gems. It takes 60 gems to recharge one life.

Obviously, Angry Birds 2 is not the only mobile game that includes in-app purchases. Many of them do. It is up to the player to determine if it is worth it to them to spend real world money to continue playing Angry Birds 2 right now, or if it is a better idea to do something else for 30 minutes while the lives recharge.

Ingress comes to Android Wear

Ingress LogoI started playing Ingress earlier this year. I’m still pretty new to the game and I can’t say I’ve made an awful lot of progress. Ingress is an augmented reality game where players choose factions and then battle for control of portals that exist in the real world. Once a new portal becomes available, players from the two factions (either Enlightened or Resistance) can hack the portal and try to ultimately take control of it. As factions continue to claim more portals, they can then link those portals to eventually take control of larger areas.

Traditionally, Ingress could only be played using either Android or iOS apps running on smartphones or tablets. But now, Ingress is available on Android Wear devices. Now it’ll be easier than ever for players to locate portals and interact with them, as the Ingress interface will be readily available on devices like wristwatches, sparing the need to remove a pocketed phone or having to pull a tablet out of a backpack or bag.

The Android Wear version of Ingress is available for download thru the Google Play Store. So get out there and get to hacking those portals! No matter which faction you’re on, Ingress can be a lot of fun and it’s a good way to get some exercise, too.

Final Girls is a Game About Coping With Trauma

Final Girls Intro ScreenVideo games often involve leveling up characters, completing quests, and finding awesome “loot”. Then, there are some video games that break away from that definition in order to make a point, tell a story, or provide the player with real life skills. Final Girls is this type of video game.

Final Girls was created by Kanane Jones. The game is set in a support group meeting that includes a small group of women who have experienced a traumatic event. Players sit in on this meeting sort of like a “fly on a wall”.

The women take turns discussing their week, sharing both the good and bad things that happened. Support is given by the other women and the therapist who is running the meeting. At the end, the therapist directs the women to discuss what they are doing as self-care strategies.

This video game could help women who are struggling with their own, real life, trauma. The game provides some examples of real situations that could cause a woman to become anxious due to the trauma they experienced. It gives some specific examples that are a healthy form of self-care, and makes it clear that things will get better.

The unique thing about Final Girls is that it doesn’t focus on the horrible thing that happened to each woman. It briefly mentions a generalization of what happened to each woman in order to provide context. The true focus of the game on how the women were able to talk about what happened to them, learn coping skills for dealing with the aftermath of the trauma, and have a good life.

Kanane Jones is an abuse survivor who noticed that stories about trauma tend to focus on the traumatic event, but not how people continue on and live their lives. She wanted to tell that story, and decided that a therapy session was the perfect location.

self care strategies Final Girls game

The name of the game, Final Girls, refers to a trope in slasher films where a woman is the last one alive to confront the killer. The game includes some familiar faces. The therapist, Ellen, looks a lot like Ellen Ripley. Carrie is recovering from being bullied in high school. Kanane Jones is a fan of horror movies, and describes her characters as “inspired by” the movies (but not based directly on them).

Final Girls is free to play and is a browser based game. It includes graphics, lettering, and music that reminds me of the older console games. Some parts of the game come with a warning about upcoming content, and players are allowed to skip those parts without penalty.