Archive for ‘Cannon Canon’

August 24, 2010

Cannon Canon: Wild Ones

Cannon Canon is where I’ll be sticking my thoughts on the Artillery game genre in this new age of Social gaming. See this post for an intro. The Artillery game is a genre which lends itself quite well to a casual web game environment. Cannon Canon will discuss what’s out there, what has been before and what I think the future of Artillery gaming will be.

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This first edition of Cannon Canon will discuss a game I’ve been tasked with playing and analysing quite a bit over the past 3-4 months. I thought I’d  likely feature it in my Gamebook series but it crosses over here. Wild Ones has been around for a long time, in social gaming terms, debuting in December 2009. It’s backed by Playdom who were recently acquired by Disney for a substantial price. As one of the more hardcore games on Facebook, Wild Ones is an interesting case study and a project I’ll likely follow for some time. Why? Well it’s got real gameplay, real-time multiplayer combat. Secondly, after the Disney acquisition and the new phase of oligopolistic Facebook developers, it will be interesting to see if the trend moves in the direction of ‘Wild Ones-style’ games or takes a different path entirely.

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Here is a quick primer on ‘Artillery games’. You are against an enemy in a 2D environment with a large array of weaponry. Weapons are fired by aiming with a firing arc (much like a tank) and by holding down the trigger to increase the power of the projectile. Often there are variables which effect the trajectory, including Wind. It’s your goal to reduce the enemy’s hit points to zero, or to destroy the terrain they are standing on (causing them to fall off the screen). Simple, fun and surprisingly deep. Worms is the epitome of the Artillery game, being responsible for its popularity. The Worms series has been around since 1995 and I’ll likely do a history of Worms for the next Cannon Canon. In fact, the first new 2D installment of Worms on the PC; Worms: Reloaded, is due for release in a couple of days so perhaps I will check it out and give you the verdict.

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Battling in the lab

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Onto Wild Ones. If you’ve been a fan of Worms, you will already be able to see some similarities. The cartoon style and colourful graphics are very reminiscent of Team 17’s foray into the Artillery game and the similarities don’t stop at the graphics. It has Bazookas, it has Grenades and it has Ninja Ropes. While I initially thought it was a complete rip-off, there are a few differences which make it a more varied experience.

Firstly, you control only one character. Worms has traditionally defaulted at 4 characters per team. Having one character drastically changes the way these games work and some of the criticisms levelled at  Wild Ones originate from this deviation from the ‘standard’.

A few months back, Wild Ones had an identical death system to Worms. Your character had one life, a la Counter-Strike. Since you had 4 worms in Worms, you would often focus fire enemies to give yourself a man advantage. The way maps were designed, it was often easy to do so. Terrain is destructible and you can simply destroy the land separating your target from their watery grave. Wild Ones has similar maps, and it’s similarly easy to drop your enemy in the drink. Unfortunately you do not have 4 worms, you have 1… so if you got unlucky with your positioning you would often die before getting a turn. Fortunately, Playdom have been very responsive to user demand and have added in respawning. In fact, respawn is now the default setting. It’s a much more accessible and enjoyable experience for newer players.

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The visual similarities with Worms are undeniable.

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Another problem that emerged with Old Wild Ones was “team sam”. It was a free-for-all game, but 75-80% of players insisted on forming teams. Every time you’d start a game, you’d get one guy asking to be team mates with the highest level player in the room (fair competition and all…). More often than not, they’d join together and obliterate one guy while the other player would be forced to team up in order to have a decent competitive battle. If it started with teams then that would be fine, but what this system mostly resulted in was 2v1v1 or, in some ridiculous cases, 2v1 battles. Yes you’d get people asking for teams in a 3 person battle. If this wasn’t meant to be a slightly professional blog I’d be giving you my uncensored opinion on that behaviour right about now. All I’ll say now is /facepalm.

Once again though, Playdom were watching! They introduced Team Battle mode. It’s at this point that I really do have to commend Playdom. They’re now one of the ‘big evil Facebook game companies’ (like Zynga) but they really do seem to care. The Wild Ones team is constantly releasing new content and hefty updates. Lets hope this doesn’t change with Disney behind the strings.

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All filler, no killer.

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One thing that has remained 100% intact during the transition from Worms to Wild Ones is the insane amount of stupid weapons you can use. I’m all up for variety but the developers of these games have absolutely no idea about quality over quantity. Worms has around 60 weapons, Wild Ones also has a stupid amount. The majority of them do the same thing with different visuals. Wild Ones also has super-powerful weapons, which cost a premium. Worms has these weapons also, complete game-breakers that take no skill to use. In Worms they were rare, in Wild Ones any monkey with a credit card can stock up on them. This is my major problem with Wild Ones and the direction it took. The Old Wild Ones had a few premium weapons but they were not overpowered. The new Wild Ones is completely broken, with at least 5-6 weapons that kill someone in one turn. I’m sure this is a great tactic for monetizing (the only people who would pay for OP weapons in this sort of game are the kiddies who just want to win at all costs), it makes the game boring for the 99% of users who don’t pay. Eventually, if Playdom don’t do anything, the users will start to decline. They’ve lost at least 1 because of it…

So what does Wild Ones do right?

The characters are cool. You choose a cartoon style animal avatar and the selection is good. Each animal has a unique ability (which I love) and different stats. This is a nice evolution of the genre.

Apart from that, there isn’t much else that Wild Ones really excels in. Playdom’s effort has been admirable but there is a lot of room for improvement. Social features, for example, are horrendous. It’s a Facebook game and you barely interact with anyone! In spite of all the complains, Wild Ones is a fun game. The ultimate goal of Cannon Canon is to identify where these games are going wrong and where they should be heading, so we’ve had a good start so far!

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Sam