Flash Fiction Month 2020, Day 28
Challenge #12: Write a story including a bargain, a liminal space, a sacrifice, or a stranger. It cannot include the following verbs: believed, imagined, knew, loved, hated, noticed, realised, remembered, seemed, thought, understood, wanted, or wondered.
The trespasser topples a cart as he runs, scattering dust and packing material across the floor. She vaults the cart, lands on a sheet of styrofoam, skids into a steel shelving unit. Her right leg buckles. She tries to stand. A jet of hydraulic fluid arcs into the air.
I halt beside her. “Assist?”
I run. The trespasser is at a distance of thirty metres. Twenty. Ten. His breath is ragged. The crowbar he carries makes his gait unbalanced.
He reaches the door, swings it closed, jams the crowbar between door and ground. He does not look back.
I give a gentle push. I must not damage the glass.
She runs for the next exit over, right leg dragging. He is nearing exhaustion, his footfalls erratic. She is adapting, her movements becoming more efficient. Continue reading
- I made Flappy Bard as a birthday present for my sister and wanted her to have a chance to give it a go before it went out to the general public.
- I thought that Cookie Cracker would make a better April Fool’s joke if people weren’t already aware that I could create this sort of thing.
Depending on how closely you follow my work – and in particular whether or not you’re subscribed to my monthly newsletter and all the goodies therein – you might be aware that I recently began supplementing my Twine projects with simple HTML5 games. For the moment these tend to revolve around well established (and thus easily replicated) mechanics, which is why the latest is…
If you’re familiar with incremental games (and especially if you’ve played Cookie Clicker specifically) then this will look a lot like what’s already out there. While I’m still getting the hang of Gdevelop5 – the tool I’ve been using for HTML5 games – it only makes sense to follow a tried and tested recipe (to keep things cookie-themed). However, even while aiming for a fairly safe format, I like to think that I’ll inevitably work in some new ingredients. Continue reading
Spoiler Alert is free to download in the Google Play store today! If you haven’t heard of it, this is the one-button platformer I worked on a couple of years back and it’s great, silly fun. It’s essentially Mario, but you play the game backwards, stomping crushed enemies back to life and placing coins neatly back where you found them.
Oh, and your character is a talking chilli pepper wearing a knight’s helmet.
This is actually the first time I’ve got my hands on the Android version myself, and I have to say I’m very impressed. It’s hard to say whether the differences I’ve noticed are down to the touch controls or whether Megafuzz have simply updated the game since I last had a go, but it all feels very elegant. The desktop version technically used two buttons – one to jump and one to un-unleash powerup abilities – but in the mobile version they’re condensed into a simple screen-tap. I’ve played through the entirety of World 3 now and I can’t say I miss the desktop controls at all.
My main contribution, Mr. Deathbunny, has had his boss battle more or less cut, but you can still see him in all his gross, pink shouty glory. If you’ve got an Android device, that alone should be more than enough reason to grab the free version now, though even if you miss it the price is ordinarily just 65p and I’d say that’s money well spent. The game has had overwhelmingly positive reviews and even appeared in the Humble Bundle at one point, reaching something like 83,000 people in the process.
I don’t get royalties from this, by the way: I’m just happy to have had a hand in a neat little game and want it to reach as many people as it can. So grab your free copy and tell your friends!
Imagine having a little community of eenie weenie bunker-dwellers living in your smartphone.
No, seriously, imagine it. Imagine tapping on a tiny little man wearing a tiny little radiation suit, living in a water purification plant the size of a Tic Tac, in order to drag him into a cafeteria that’s also the size of a Tic Tac. That’s pretty much how Fallout Shelter plays out.
Fallout Shelter is apparently a tie-in to some new community building/managing elements in Fallout 4, but I’ve never really looked into that side of things because a) I don’t have Fallout 4 and b) Fallout Shelter holds up very nicely as a game in its own right. You build up your underground vault, you send adventurers out into the wasteland above, and you complete fun little objectives along the way. You can pretty much just load it up once in a while and check how all your little guys are doing: it’s not a game that will soak up hours at a time. Occasionally a crisis will crop up, but when it does you’re free to shuffle your dwellers around wherever they’re needed: when the all-clear sounds, they’ll automatically return to whatever they were doing before. Continue reading
Or: Pay to Play Versus Pay to Win. But I feel as though that general topic has been covered over and over, so for this article I’m going to focus on two specific games in the same series that each take a different approach.
Plants Versus Zombies is a 2009 tower defence game that’s made it onto a bunch of different platforms (though I’m only familiar with the Android version). Rather than the traditional variety of tower defence in which you strategically place armed towers around a winding path, Plants Versus Zombies has you plonking plants down directly in front of a horde of zombies who approach in a perfectly straight line.
Though the basic idea is ludicrously simple–zombies are approaching from the right, your house is on the left…stick something in the middle!–there’s a good deal of strategy involved. You often have to weigh up the benefits of planting a quick defence now versus saving up for something stronger later. You’re also frequently faced with a choice between paying for a very powerful (frequently explosive) plant to use just once, or saving up for weaker plants that will continue to chip away at the zombie horde throughout the level. The game might look silly, but it demands a fair bit of thought.
It’s also funny. Really, really funny. What story it has is presented through polite notes dropped by the waves of zombies, and the ravings of your saucepan-wearing neighbour, Crazy Dave. The game attracted some well deserved praise when it was new and has maintained a following ever since. Long story short, it’s a neat little package and a hard act to follow. If you fancy playing it, it’s easily worth the (now fairly trivial) price.
Plants Versus Zombies 2 (2013) takes almost exactly the same approach in terms of gameplay, but its pricing is completely different. The game is free to download on Android and iOS (but not available on any other platform), offering optional in-app purchases in lieu of a mandatory up-front charge. Ever come across one of those games that invites you to buy power/crystals/gems to progress better/faster?
Yeah. It’s one of those, and it attracted a lot of criticism when (and especially before) it was released. Plants Versus Zombies 2 offers opportunities to spend real dosh on imaginary plants at pretty much every turn, even going so far as to take you to the shop screen as part of the tutorial. Twice. The first time funnels you towards (though doesn’t actually require) buying additional plants and accessories, while the second illustrates a FarmVille-style plant-tending mechanic, in which you earn powerups by watering and waiting in real time or (you guessed it) spending gems.
That said, once you’re past the “BUY SOMETHING!!!” portion of the tutorial, it’s easy to forget that the game ever brought it up. Though new level packs are available for purchase before they’re unlocked, I can’t really imagine ever doing this. At the time of writing, I’ve unlocked the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth worlds without even completing the first: paying for number seven at this point would feel like going out and buying a chocolate bar when I already had six melting in my hot little hand. This abundance of levels feels particularly generous compared to the original game, which offers just one well curated (but entirely linear) series of levels.
The wealth of content available for free in Plants Versus Zombies 2 is simultaneously a strength and a weakness. On one hand, I’d probably recommend it over the first game purely because there’s a lot more to do. Even without paying for any extras, there’s a wider variety of plants and a wider variety of zombies, and the gameplay feels more refined. On the other hand, the non-linear levels make for a weak plot (Your neighbour Crazy Dave has invented a time machine so he can re-eat his taco. There. That’s it.). The first game wasn’t exactly a masterpiece of storytelling, but the setting and the sequence of levels (front garden, back garden, pool, roof) did an adequate job of presenting you, the player, as an ordinary guy whose house is under siege by the undead. The sequel never quite explains why Crazy Dave even takes you along for the ride.
Though the overall bundle of levels feels a little haphazard, with the game coaxing you into completing various “quests” without ever really doing anything to recommend one over another, this free-to-play game offers a huge amount even if you’re determined to never pay a penny. The only time the game really seems to be pushing you towards “paying to win” is in the events and minigames. The vasebreaker, for example, presents you with a vast field of vases to break. Three green ones will obviously contain plants, while the rest will contain plants, powerups or (far more likely) zombies.
Vasebreaker plays more like a slot machine than a strategy game, with the level of randomness involved making it nearly impossible to win without either several restarts (to find a favourable vase layout) or several powerups purchased with in-game currency. This is a game where one unlucky break can easily see a super-tough zombie spawn right in front of your base, and 1,000 coins spent on zombie-paralyzing butter (Yeah, it still has all the charm of the 2009 original!) can just as easily stop it. You earn coins steadily for free, and it’s trivial to stockpile them for this one minigame, but when you know you have to–when you know that the only reliable way to win is to throw coins at the problem–there’s little joy to be had in doing it.
The daily events present a similar problem. Your first attempt is free. However, given that you have no idea what that event will involve–shark-wielding giants or swarms of zombie chickens–you’re at quite a disadvantage right off the bat, with little chance of setting up an effective defence. You can retry as many times as you like, but each retry costs 1,000 coins. Since there are additional rewards for beating five events in a row, it’s easy to imagine a situation where you’d be forced to choose between losing a four-day winning streak or paying real money for additional coins.
If people want to invest their money in this kind of minigame, it’s reasonable enough to offer them the option. However, personally, I find it kind of off-putting. If winning five events in a row was simply presented as an additional challenge, I’d be all for it. However, when it feels like a trick to make me invest money in the game, it makes me unwilling to even invest my time. There’s something to be said for paying for extras to support the developers (who have, after all, put out a remarkably enjoyable game for free), but I’d prefer to do that by buying additional content rather than gambling on a minigame. Fortunately, this is where they’re really onto something.
In addition to the regular quests (which make for the easiest way to earn gems without buying them for cash), the game occasionally offers the opportunity to “Try a Premium Plant for Free!” This behaves like a regular “go here, do this” quest in terms of earning gems, but at the same time trying out the premium plants is pretty neat in itself. Many will be familiar to those who played the first game, and all of them feel finely balanced: a fun extra rather than an overpowered tool to blast through levels. This pretty much hits the “freemium” sweet spot. If you want to support the game, you get something neat in return. If not, you aren’t missing out.
To wrap this up, both Plants Versus Zombies games are well polished and fun to play. If you’ve got an Android or iOS device, I’d highly recommend the second one: it’s certainly the bigger of the two, and (when you’re not being forced to depend on them entirely) the various manually-activated powerups make it faster and more lively than the original. If you enjoy the sequel and want to throw some money towards the franchise, I’d suggest buying the first game over paying for additional content in the second: the original still holds up very well, and the same things that make it feel smaller than the sequel also make it feel more complete as a package.