Sunday, October 24, 2010

Just Click, Stupid

Name: FarmVille
Type: Farming Simulation
Mode: Social gaming
Dev/Designer: Brian Reynolds
Company: Zynga
Publisher: Zynga
Original Release: 2009 for Facebook/Web Browser
Legacy: FrontierVille, FishVille.
Claim to fame: Spamming my facebook wall

[This article has been modified and was originally posted here ]

I came, I clicked and I gave up. At the risk of offending the legions of happy cow clickers, if FarmVille is the best social gaming has to offer, then the future is one too many clicks away. I wasn’t thoroughly disappointed by FarmVille, but all I could think playing it was this had to be some kind of joke. That was it? That was the game sixty million active users on facebook were updating their walls and spamming mine with their scores and achievements? It couldn’t be. Something was off, I had to get to the truth and unearth it from its virtual ground.
Released in june 2009 by the Bay Area social gaming company Zynga, FarmVille is a real-time farm simulation inspired ( if not cloned ) by Farm Town, another farm simulation, released earlier in 2009 by another social gaming company. With almost 80 million players, and 25 million of those checking their farms on a daily basis, FarmVille is not only the biggest social game around, it’s bigger than France, and is sure to make for a whole lot of angry folks at the upcoming Salon de l’Agriculture. Sacrilege!
The player starts this virtual sacrilege on an isometric map with a small farm, some coins in his/her pockets, some crops ready to harvest and a couple of fields to be saw with a selection of seeds ranging from soybeans to eggplants, strawberries and wheat. You get money for the crops harvested, you level up and get rewards for just about every other ten clicks you make, but more importantly the gameplay is constantly interrupted by pop ups prompting you to share every single piece of news, events, accomplishments and any gifts the game can think of. You can invite your friends to be your farming neighbors, you can buy virtual cash for real cash, use your virtual cash to sign to Netflix (for real), and even get your fields sponsored by McDonald. Are you lovin’ this?
I got virtual money to blow

Apparently, many of Facebook users do, as 50% of them play social games on the platform and only log in in order to play those games, which with 500 million users, is a pretty decent number of social gamers. But Facebook has not yet had its SimCity or Street Fighter 2 moment where a canonic video game sets the tone for the rest of the game developers, or has it? Let’s look into the innovative elements of FarmVille:
1. Social Obligation
For a so-called social game, FarmVille’s reliance on incessant, repetitive and mindless clicking as its main game mechanic is almost anti-social, but as AJ Patrick Liszkiewicz said in his essayFarmVille:
“entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbours have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others’ farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies.”
Coercion as a game mechanic, who ever thought of that?
2. Reward System
This one is a no brainer: the more you click, the more rewards you get, kinda like …
Pimping my cow

… well, you get the picture
3. Simulacrum
Baudrillard had predicated it, the virtual world is no longer a mere representation or simulation of the real, but a reality in its own right. When the CEO of Kiva, one of the largest non profit organization helping the development of third world countries, says his biggest competition for people’s attention and donations is Zynga; when people not only spend more time and money, but actually care more about virtual farms than real ones, then it’s time to grab a red leather chair andtake a seat next to Morpheus:
“Welcome to the desert of the real.”
Does FarmVille belong in the Video Game Canon?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fight the Power!

Name: Street Fighter II
Type: Fighting game
Mode: Mutiple-player
Developer: Yoshiki Okamoto
Designer: Akiman
Composer: Yoko Shimorura
Company: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Original Release: 1991 for Arcade
Legacy: Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter EX, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Hyper Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter IV, etc.
Claim to fame: A campy action flick starring JCVD and Kylie Minogue.

[This article has been modified and was originally posted here at GameJudgmentWNFUD8XP8M49

Before there was Fight Club, there was Street Fighter II. Before Dana White introduced the world to UFC, there was Street Fighter II. Before there was Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Soulcalibur or Virtual Fighter, I was eating Hadokens every other weekend on my best buddy's SNES.

While SF2 wasn't the first one-on-one fighting video game, it took the genre introduced years earlier by Heavyweight Champ into a choke hold and electrified it Blanka-style, with better graphics, improved resolution, kick ass voices and sound, memorable music, detailed background and unforgettable characters.

Guile and his unforgettable hairstyle.

You get to pick one of eight characters, namely Ken, Ryu, Guile, Chung Li, Blanka, E. Honda, Dhalsim and Zangief, then challenge the CPU or a friend to a best out of three bouts and progress by defeating each character to have a chance at defeating the bosses Barlog, Vega, Sagat and ultimately, the boss of the Shadaloo organization, boss of all bosses ( sorry Rick Ross ), the one and only M.Bison. Add the break-as-many-thing-as-possible-within-a-given-time bonus games, and we got one solid Video Game Canon contender:

1. Combos
Awarded by the Guinness World Records for being the "First fighting game to use combos", SF2 owes a great part of its success to a technical overlook. Yes, the sequences of simple and special attacks, better known as combos, were never meant to be. Not quite a bug but boy did it make a difference, raising the kumite ( sparring between two karateka ) fighting style above the at the time more popular beat 'em up fighting games like Double Dragon and Street of Rage.

Dragon-Punch-Land-On-The-Barrel Combo

2. Multiple Narrative
Also awarded for being the "Most Cloned Fighting Game", another major improvement is the ability to control a large selection of characters, each with their own fighting style, location, special moves, combos, rivalries and story, adding an unprecedented layer of storytelling intertwined within the gameplay: Vega wears a mask to protect his 'beautiful' face from injuries and removes it after a victory while Sagat, the boss of the precedent Street Fighter, has a scar from his defeat to Ryu in the previous tournament of the original Street Fighter.

3. Convergence
Not quite an award but Blanka has recently been recognized in europe as the third most famous brazilian personality behind Pele and Gisele Bundchen. SF2 is one of the first video game to introduce characters with convergence power, appearing in other video games and crossing over from the video game world to comic books, manga, anime, movies and pop culture. Clint Hocking, Creative Director at LucasArt said it best, convergence is "weaving together the shared experiences of differing peoples to form the very fabric of our culture."

Should be Street Fighter II be added to the Canon?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I run the city bitches!

Name: SimCity
Type: City-building
Mode: Single-Player
Dev/Designer: Will Wright
Composer: Soya Oka
Company: Maxis
Publisher: Broderbund
Original Release: 1989 for PC and Macintosh
Legacy: SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, SimCity Societies, SimEarth, SimCopter, SimAnt, SimTower, SimSocieties, etc.
Claim to fame: First successful open-ended video game.

[ update: with over 80 votes collected here and on the video game canon, SimCity has officially been inducted to the Video Game Canon as its first game ever.]

I'm bias. Guilty as charged. SimCity was the first PC video game I got to play with, loved it, FOCKING LOVED IT, spent a ridiculous amount of hours creating a great city only to tear it apart with a tornado. So no, it is no coincidence that I start this new blog with SimCity. Sue me. Better yet vote people, vote. In 1987, while I was still dealing with the existential dilemma of whether or not to believe in Santa Claus, Will Wright and Jeff Braun created Maxis, and two years later in 1989, the brand new company introduced a new paradigm to the gaming world: a simulated city with citizens, roads, houses, cops, firefighters, airports and even natural disasters. Yet no sign of Santa Claus there either :(

Then again, if you were a little tyrant who couldn't wait to grow up and run the world, forget the fat bastard in a red and white apparel clogging the chimney, SimCity was all you needed. The first kick ass open ended game where you got to create and manage a entire city. And rather realistically I might add. 

Creating chimneys big enough for Santa.

You start the game with $20,000, lots of land and a panel of tools to build roads, houses, power plants and watch citizens begin to move in and pay you taxes. It's all about the benjamins, and with more money comes more problems. You soon have to build more power plants and power lines to provide electricity to the growing masses, build roads, and more roads, and then even more roads, and then..., freaking roads. Because even in a simulated world we cannot all get along, you will also need to build police and fire stations, parks, stadiums, airports, etc, everything and anything to keep your citizens distracted, and keep ranking in the benjamins. Rule #1: Keep track of the wants and needs of your citizens. Rule #2: Fock the wants and needs of your citizens. This is the great thing about SimCity: no endgame, no final mission nor final boss to defeat; you build the city you like, you run it as you like, good or bad, you do what you want.

To be good though will require some management, planning and problem solving skills. But no PhD in civil engineering is required here. Keep your mayor's rating up, your citizens happy, and your treasury full. In a world like that, who needs Santa Claus?

Here's why SimCity, in my not so humble opinion, deserves to be inducted in the Canon:

1. Management
SimCity took the whole game management skills to a whole new level as players must handle a chaotic and unpredictable mix of economic, political and human realities. While it's no Advance Macroeconomics, SimCity has often been criticized for its complexity and the minutia involved. Fighting crimes, pollution and natural disasters while providing jobs and housings to your citizens will quickly put your skills to the test. A true pioneer in the genre.

Civil Engineering 101 in a perfect world.

2. Map Generation
Some people like to play video games. Others like to create maps. Will Wright blurred the lines between the two, for the first time giving players the ability to build sprawling metropolises, to watch them grow and randomly develop like living organisms. In Borges allegory of the map, the ultimate map is the one where it is confused with the reality it is supposed to represent, but with SimCity, the map is no longer a representation of the real. In SimCity, the map is the model from which the real is simulated. The map is no longer a mean to an end, but the end itself. Before there was Foursquare or Google Maps, there was SimCity.

3. Open-Ended
The simulations that SimCity creates have no endpoint, and technically could go on forever. A city that never stops growing. A story that never ends. The finite giving birth to infinity. In SimCity, each action creates a myriad of paths leading to unpredictable consequences, events and changes. Regardless of how well-planned, designed and organized a city is, chaos will manifest itself in the form of fire, crime, pollution, natural disaster, etc. The number of possible scenarios approaches infinity, or better yet, reality. Either way, a new pleasure is born, that of not just game, but fiction with a never ending story, that of a finite creation with endless possibilities.

Next week candidate for admission: Street Fighter.