Ever since I read Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses when I play a game I tend to look at what pieces are contributing to the experience and how the “Lenses” apply to that game. Right now my memory of the lenses is a bit rusty, but I started playing a new Facebook game to look at how it works and doesn’t work and thought I’d write my thoughts while they are fresh.
First off, the music has a nice “Fairy tale/adventure/disneyeque” sound to it. I know that I may tire of it after a while, but right now it is enjoyable. How you design loops so they enhance and don’t get annoying is a really good question. That said it seems to have more than few segments of the music (perhaps even “movements’) so it isn’t just a short loop.
The graphics are cartoon and on the cute side, but defined enough that you aren’t going “aaaah saccharine”. The look is consistent, the graphics go together and nothing makes you go “Wait…where did that come from.”
The avatar for the user has a default so the user can get going but has a small but reasonable set of customization options (and probably you can buy more.) It is nice to be able to pick your character’s look, but at the same time it is good to not have too many options or it gets a bit overwhelming. (n.b. by default it created a female character for me and I didn’t check if I can change my avatar to a guy (I just changed my hair color from blond.))
The game does a nice job of gradually building the player’s knowledge of how to play. You start out with some small quests that teach you he basics, and then as you complete the quests you get new ones that teach you new skills (how to use the market, how to plant, how to move the gloom away.) The game also provides good feedback as you make progress through the quest – encouraging you on.
The game also introduces new characters as you go and you end up “interacting” with them through quests and the like. It makes you feel more like there is a “there” there.
This is a Facebook flash game and as such it is “click on things to interact” kind of game. As far as the type of game, it has a few elements. The first is a “gathering/building” game ala Tiny Towers/Farmville/etc. It gives you small simple repeatable tasks with clear indicators when you must maintain things, plus the “playing house” aspect that these games have where you can build things and move things around allowing you to entertain your inner organizer/decorator.
Secondly it has a “questing and adventuring” game. The various NPCs (non player characters) give you quests that you fulfill, but in addition there is an overall story where you are the Lord or Lady of your estate and you are fighting off the gloom and rescuing people. The story quest line (which interplays with the “here’s how you play the game” quests) uses the language of hero quest lines. You may be the chosen one, but there are challenges to meet and bad guys to fight off, and those who will help you in the journey that you must seek him out in the to learn from him…but first you must gain the skills for your journey, etc. (Sorry…Joseph Campbell is on my reading list still so I can’t tell you if this is the classic hero’s journey – but it mirrors many games and movies that I’ve been told reflect it.)
The language as you receive and complete the quests is written in a way to make you feel your “choosiness”, which does give a nice feel good.
In addition to the type of gaming the way they have implement the performing tasks is quite well done. When you click on something to clear it/harvest it/mine it/feed it/etc. when the actions is completed your rewards joyfully pop out onto the screen and you run your mouse over them to gather up the rewards. For some reason this has a satisfying feel – like you are really gathering rather than just clicking – and also it allows them to throw out variable rewards. Yes you get the item you harvested but you might get something else with it. It makes each click a bit of a “surprise box” which adds to the feeling of adventure. (Ok, perhaps I find adventure easily but the element of surprise does trigger something in the human pleasure psyche.)
Like most Facebook games it has the standard “invite your friends to be neighbors” and “visit your friends” quasi-social aspect. Visiting lets you do tasks for your friend and vice versa. However, when a friend has visited, you see them in your estate (somewhat standard behavior) and you can accept or reject their help (also standard) but then you watch them do the tasks (that they did whenever they stopped by) and you get to gather up the rewards from their tasks, and then you send them off with a gift. While the end result is pretty much the same as the “Farmville model” since you are watching them do what they did and interacting to gather the rewards it has a very different feel – it’s like you got to see them visit.
As with many games there are resource limitations. Some tasks take a set amount of time to complete – so you have to wait to do them. You also have a limited resource of energy that limits how much you can do in any one session – you can wait or buy more energy – (so the constraint can become coins in this case). And then there is the space & money resource management as well. All in all the time & energy constraints seem the most “need management” so it is a pretty loose boundary but the constraint is there. Also quests require resources, so you need to manage gathering and producing such resources to complete your tasks at hand.
Lastly they do a very nice job of always giving you something to complete. When you finish one quest a new one appears. Right now I have 4 quests (one for each NPC I’ve interacted with), plus animals to feed, periodic bad guys to fight off, and various and sundry tasks that i can chose to do. It is easy to get into the “just one more task” mode because it just feels so productive – there is no time where you are going “hmm…nothing to do….” which is good.
Anyway, those are some initial thoughts on Castleville.