Archive for September 14th, 2010

September 14, 2010

Namco Bandai sneak into Facebook with Treasure Abyss and City of Football

In the course of my work, I see a lot of Facebook ads. The majority are annoying links to games outside Facebook, which masquerade themselves as Facebook games. It does my head in, I don’t want to play non-Facebook games (at least from 9-6 every day). But today I saw the reverse… I saw an advert for a game by Namco Bandai. I thought I’d check it out, since I like a few Namco games (namely Tekken). It in fact turned out to be a Facebook game! Yep, Namco Bandai have entered social gaming and with no less than TWO games!

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“A social role-playing game where players band together to explore deadly dungeons full of monsters and traps in search of items and treasure needed to create powerful weapons”

Sounds pretty good right? As of yet, Treasure Abyss only has 7000 monthly active users which is pretty low for a game with a major publisher behind it. Since I spend all day on Facebook, it’s likely that the game has been released within the last couple of days at the latest. Even the great Gamezebo hasn’t had it listed yet, and that place is usually the first for everything Facebook game related. The game itself is pretty basic so far. You start in a dungeon and have a lantern to light the way. Every step you take burns down the candle in the lantern. You need to navigate your way through the dungeon, fighting monsters and collecting treasure, before your lantern runs out. It’s very simple, a bit like Pirates Ahoy‘s energy system. The sound and graphics are ok, if the animations are a little shoddy. The combat is just bleerrrrrgggghhhhhh, yeah it’s not great. There are a few Facebook games like it; Battle Punks and Doom Forge to name a couple, and they have much better graphics and features. The whole thing has a definite amateur vibe to it, but I guess that’s understandable as Namco’s first foray into social gaming. Moreover, the Japanese aren’t exactly renowned for that sector of the industry.

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“Asset management game where you get to invest in actual European football clubs and their players. Based on results of matches in the real world, you’ll earn dividends in the form of Experience Points and Prize Draw Tickets.”

City of Football has even less users than Treasure Abyss, standing at 2500. You select a team to ‘invest in’, from a selection of real teams… which is nice (although the descriptions are out of date, stating that James Milner plays at Aston Villa and Joe Hart at Birmingham). You then go to the Football Exchange and exchange in stocks which give you dividends in the club. Then you wait for the real world results of the teams you’ve invested in. If your team wins, you get more dividends. You can also invest in Player Stocks from a prize draw. I think I got lucky and was awarded with Cesc Fabregas who is not only super awesome but my favourite player these days! Typical play after that involves you buying and selling player stocks (which give you loyalty bonuses in the teams they play for) and waiting for the real world results to maximise your Team stocks. It’s pretty confusing, even for me… but I’ve got a feeling it might be quite fun. It’s definitely better than Treasure Abyss anyway.

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So Namco Bandai’s first trip into Facebook is an interesting one. They have a cookie cutter dungeon crawler with average graphics, sound and rather archaic combat. On the other hand, they have a really interesting and mature football investment simulator with licensing of real players, teams and leagues (unless they’ve gone and broken the law). I’ll keep a close eye on these games as they develop, because this venture is going to be very interesting for the future of real gaming on Facebook.

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Sam

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September 14, 2010

City of Blunder

Playdom (the third biggest Facebook gaming company since its acquisition by Disney) recently released a rather critically acclaimed game onto our Facebook shores in City of Wonder. It is a refreshing take on the typical Town Building formula, with a more advanced technology tree and a basic, but kinda fun PvP system in which you attack other Cities to gain experience, cash and population. Of course, as a Facebook game it’s still very limited compared to games not on the platform. Furthermore, its influences from the Civilization series are so blatant that it makes the experience one of disappointment to existing Civ fans (such as myself… role on September 24th!). Yet it is a step in the right direction, a step that a number of Facebook games are taking, bringing slightly more complex and tactical gameplay experience to the 60+ million Facebook gamers today.

However, it’s very apparent that Playdom don’t really think too hard about their game’s design. City of Wonder is very pretty and very stylish, it’s cartoony look is hard to dislike and its artwork of various historical figures is a pleasure to look at. In fact, I prefer it to that of previous Civ games (although Civ 5 is likely to blow it out of the water). In Facebook games, the look is important since people are happy with 1-click per minute content. What annoys me about City of Wonder is that there appears to be no real testing or thought behind the ‘advanced’ features that Playdom have introduced. It’s like they’re playing around with the concept but they don’t feel like investing any time in making their innovation something special. After playing City of Wonder for a few weeks now, there are many obvious faults with these more advanced systems that you’d think Playdom would realize. This post is going to go through some.

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City of Wonder - Playdom's first foray into Farms 2.0

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Technology Tree Balance

In City of Wonder there are 3 determinants of success; Culture, Trade and Military. Items are split into these categories and the technology tree is then geared to each one, signifying that you can take a certain path. In essence this is a brilliant idea, which has been used in RTS games since the dawn of time, but it’s nice to see it in a Facebook game. The problem with City of Wonder is that there was zero thought put into the balance of each tree. Let me explain…

  • Expeditions are your ‘Battle Energy’. When you battle another city, you expend an Expedition.
  • Expeditions can only be performed when you have a happy population.
  • A happy population is a result of ‘Happiness’ and population size. The higher the population, the more happiness you need.
  • Happiness is acquired through Cultural items.

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Can you start to see the problem yet? Your battle energy resource is based purely on Cultural items. In order to battle, you must have a high happiness (which = high culture). Therefore, culture is the most important resource. If you have no culture, you cannot battle… even if you chose Trade or Military. But it gets worse…

  • If you successfully ‘attack’ another player, you will receive rewards.
  • Culture attacks = Experience. Trade attacks = Money. Military attacks = Population.
  • Remember, your Expeditions are limited to happiness.
  • Your happiness is limited to population.
  • Military buildings provide no happiness but gives you population.
  • Your reward for a military victory prevents you from taking part in Expeditions.

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So the Military tech tree provides population, but with no way of actually utilizing that population. If you attack an enemy and you win too much population, it stops at your happiness cap and then calls you unhappy! You win the battle but then have to buy a cultural item in order to battle again! If you choose Culture attacks, you win experience (which is always the best reward in a game based purely on levelling up) and you do not get this population cap nightmare. Even if you did… you invested in the culture tech tree so you decided you like to build lots of happiness! We haven’t even got onto trade, which is pretty much pointless as your ‘farming’ grants you so much money that the Trade tree is obsolete.

But it gets worse.

The winner of a battle is determined by 3 factors. Population, Culture/Trade/Military rating and Allies. The latter is a brilliant way of getting people to invite all their friends and I commend Playdom for that idea. However, if you’ve read the past 3-4 minutes of text you’ll already see the problem. Culture trees will always have the biggest populations, since they can provide the happiness. So as a Military Mogul (of course I went for the offensive approach!) I can attack a Culture focussed city in a military battle and lose because their population dwarfs mine. I had an attack rating of 2500 and lost to someone with a defence rating of 900 because they had a massive population. Military can’t even win in Military battles against Culture!

It’s a complete disaster! Did they not think at all?

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The battle screen - Cultural Exchange, Trade or Military?

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Terrible levelling up system

In City of Wonder, you level through doing your chores. In this way, it’s no different to a FarmVille or My Town. You farm resources, wait a while, collect them and then get money and experience as a reward. In City of Wonder there are 3 types of ‘farms’. Residential give you population and experience. Markets give you money and experience. Goods give you money and experience (it’s hidden as something different but it’s the same as trade). From my experience, residential is a pretty quick way to level. All you have to do is maximize your happiness and then collect your population and experience every 10 minutes or so. Happiness also lets you perform Expeditions and Population is an important part of winning Expeditions (see above). Markets work in the same way really, except the money is negligible.

However, I can’t be bothered to click a house or a market every 10 minutes to collect a tiny portion of cash and XP. I get all my money solely from Goods. To harvest goods, you choose how long you want to wait, pay a small fee and then collect it at the end of the waiting period. This way you get a massive lump sum and you can do other things while waiting. It also means you get a lot less experience. Since I’ve focussed purely on goods, I amĀ under-levelledĀ but overpaid. I have enough resources to crush anyone who’s the same level as me because I’ve inadvertently manipulated the system. I can artificially keep my level down, while accruing masses of military buildings. I’m attacking people 4 levels above me most of the time!

Another problem with this is that technology is restricted to levels. I’ve got the money and the pre-requisites to research the next military upgrade (which I would like to get), but I have to wait 2 levels to be allowed to research it. The way I play, with my goods focus, will not get me those levels any time soon. Therefore I have too much money and am researching stupid stuff I don’t want and that does not effect my master technology plan (like Drama). I can’t play the way I want to play because of the way I play. Wrap your head around that one!

Now, if Expeditions gave experience for all the tech paths (Military and Trade in addition to Culture), then I could level up through the battle system. Shouldn’t we level up through a battle system anyway rather than mindless clicking? What’s strange is that it’s a Facebook game standard to get experience for everything these days. It’s like Playdom forgot rule number 1.

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As I said previously, City of Wonder is a step in the right direction but if they put a little more thought into the game design aspect then they could really have had a strong first-mover grip on the more sophisticated Facebook gamers. The door is still open to a slightly complex farming/battling game, just like City of Wonder has done. City of Wonder has all these users now, but the game’s flaws will begin to annoy its most hardcore players (the ones who pay real money for things). With a bit of thought and a bit of balance, it wouldn’t be hard for a rival company to just clone City of Wonder and ensure that the gameplay is rewarding and fair instead of counter-productive and aggravating.

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Sam