Andy's Workshop

Game chat and stories along with some articles probably for the more geeky among us,
all written by me, Andy.

Click here for my Frontierville Addiction Therapy Guide

Friday 25 March 2011


I think it's fair to say...

Esta's Blog needs readers, Visit Esta's Blog?!

...that at the moment there's...

You seem tired! Why don't you ask someone to make you a sandwich?!

...something of an annoyance...

Frontierville Express Souveniers, now 30% off in a SHORT TERM SALE! (That you'll see every day for the next two years) Frontierville.

Did you know other people will do things for money? Why not pay Andy to come around and do things for you?!

Popups. The bane of the rest of the internet and now the bane of Frontierville. It's not like they haven't ALWAYS been there but I think most sane people are seeing something of a frustrating increase in amount.

I just sold 30 Goats for a mission. THREE times I was told to go visit a neighbour and just managed to get back in time to click the doobers and keep my streak alive for the second Pony Express delivery of the day.

Three times in just a short couple minutes (I wasn't driving them individually to market) could be deemed excessive.

Thankfully so far this morning I haven't had Bob hawking his wares at me with yet another Horseshoe sale... are we supposed to think we've been specially chosen? Is this supposed to tempt us while they're cheap? How stupid do we look? Humble Bob is the only man who has a sale on more often than a sofa warehouse. If anyone has managed to buy full price Horseshoes lately they were incredibly unlucky considering that so far I think there's been a 2 minute window on January 22nd when he WASN'T trying to offload them for 30% off.

As for Jack... oh Jack I do feel for you. I know you don't wan't to be an annoying git, I really do, but what they've got you doing... have some self respect, man!

You spent the first 20 levels of our Frontier lives teaching us how to do something, and now you spend the rest of it watching over our shoulders, reminding us and stating the bleeding obvious.

Go visit a neighbour! Yes, we did that VERY early on, I haven't hit my head or had a lobotomy, I know! I also take this as an insult to my social ability, like in real life I'd need someone to pop up EVERY 50 SECONDS and tell me to phone one of my friends, send a text or compose an email.

I have some social skills, there's also the fact half the missions at the moment seem to REQUIRE us to visit neighbours, so this is ridiculously undesired.

"You've run out of energy!" Yes, I know. That's why my avatar has stopped working. If you'd just SHUT THE HELL UP I'd be able to open the market or my inventory and get some more energy but noooooo... with the machine gun three popups that appear every single time I dare to use all my energy it's nigh on impossible. (You've run out of energy, ask friends for energy, BUY energy while waiting for a friend do send it...)

For starters I have lots of excellent friends, I have many, many tasty lunches, dinners etc in my inventory and food out the wazoo. I'm not going to spam my friends and use up gift requests for a measly 3 energy points. If I ever did it would mean I was in dire straights and therefore unlikely to want to BUY a meal while waiting... who would annoy their friends for a pitiful 3 energy, then go off and buy a meal because they're impatient?

Seriously, stop it. NOW.

I love the game and I totally understand the need for some kind of marketing but it's got too damn much. annoying ruddy popups every 30 seconds is not the way to keep people playing your game, it's the way to annoy them the heck away.

Have you noticed popups have been vanishing on the internet recently? It's because everyone considers them the second most annoying thing ever to spawn from this World Wide Web of ours (coming in a close second behind Justin Bieber) and companies have been finding better and less frustrating ways to get the message across... it might be worth you thinking of doing the same, or at the very least make it so we can play for a few minutes before feeling a deep desire to smack an old pioneer around his beardy face.

Saturday 19 March 2011

The Seedy Side of Town...

[Be aware, some of the contents in this 'humorous' (relative term) post may not be for the young or easily disturbed and adult themes are used. Just like Esta when she's got her ready-for-work face on, approach with caution.]

We often get requests from people for certain buildings, especially when a new one comes out and the same things are often mentioned, things which would have been around back in Frontier times especially.

So, it got me thinking... What would have been around back then we WOULDN'T want to build on our homesteads... and thus a post was born.

Some of these buildings have been mentioned in passing and some are just off the top of my head, so allow me to put on my best tour guide impression and take you on a tour through some of the lesser desired buildings...

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Seedy Sides Tour Guides, your one stop shop for the parts of town definitely on the wrong side of the tracks.

And so, if you gaze to your left you'll see the first building, the Slaughterhouse!

How boring is it to just click on an animal and it vanishes? No more! Now feel the full interactivity of the Frontier self sufficient lifestyle! Click and drag your animals to the slaughterhouse to convert them to cash and food! Make sure to try one of every animal to see every possible animation!

Complete with Bert the Butcher character out front who'll give out interesting facts about which parts of animals go where, let's hope he doesn't explain hot-dogs again! (Hot dogs available from Bert's stall to the left of the Slaughterhouse).

It also solves the problem of those pesky Injured Animals, what if you don't want another one? Well, it's time for some buffalo steaks and a loin of venison!

The building has it's own Slaughterhouse Collection of a bloody apron, a bolt gun, a conveyor belt, tripe and a cleaver (Reward - a butchers outfit). It's also complete with TWO new badge achievements, one for number of animals sent and one for different types of animal.

Now, if you've all finished your complimentary Big Muck from Bert's Burgers I'd ask you to turn your attention to the right because with Bert's level of hygiene you might need this place... Yes folks, Say hello to Sullerton, Stearman and Sprugg, the Frontier's Undertakers!

Mr Sprugg waits patiently outside the building for when you decide you feel like trading in your spouse or simply let them get too close to the new, more dangerous, varmints. Whether it's rattlesnake poison or bear decapitation these people will give your family member the sending off of a lifetime!

Make sure to send your avatars over to them for a proper measuring beforehand and pick which wooden overcoat you'll be wearing from the Undertakers shop menu!

With the Excited Embalmist badge to aim for and the Undertakers Collection (Reward a black funeral carriage) you'll be the Angel of Death in no time!

The Collection includes a top hat, a long tailed coat, a bottle of embalming fluid, lilies and a measuring tape.

Remember to click the updated graveyard for a list of clients and to find the new use for the Flower Shop flowers! Would you like lilies or carnations on there?

Has everyone finished getting measured up? Excellent!

We always leave this place until last because some of our tourists often go missing here... so ladies and gentlemen, there she is!

Upset for the third wheel in the romance missions who didn't get connected up? Feel sorry for poor Jack who's left out altogether?

Never fear! Simply place the Parted Calves Cathouse on your frontier and send your avatars along for a bit of fun with one of the new characters, Tallulabelle and Juan!

You can send any character to the welcoming bordello where they'll vanish from your homestead for a 10 minute countdown, rendering the cathouse unusable. Once the 10 minutes are up you'll pick up a Cathouse Collection item AND 500 coins, your split of the takings.

Once a day you can also collect your own "Daily Bonus" from the building but be aware, although you'll gain a large amount of very interesting experience, this Bonus will drain all remaining energy and has a 3% chance of reinfecting you with the Prairie Pox, requiring another visit to Doc Auburn...

It obviously comes with it's own collection, handcuffs, stockings, leather waistcoat, blindfold and a piece of wood carved into an... exotic shape. This rewards you with the Cathouse Sign to decorate your homestead and a new avatar animation "The Itch".

Aim for the Easy Rider badge for another notch on your... Jackalope belt!

So there we have it folks and... yes? Um, yes, the Doctor's Office is over there... oh dear, we did warn you.

And so, as we come to... yes? No, I haven't seen your husband Ma'am... oh, he went... ah right, yes, he'll be a couple minutes yet.

I hope everyone has enjoyed our lit... YES? No, I'm afraid Juan is not for sale. No Ma'am not even for that much. No Ma'am, he doesn't have a brother. Yes Ma'am, we do sell Juan merchandise of that kind, check in the gift shop, in the curtained off area.

RIGHT, if that's all the questions I hope you all had a wonderful time, please feel free to check the gift shop! Bu bye now!
Are they all gone? Phew, two lost to Bert's burgers, one more in the Undertakers and 5 unaccounted for after the Cathouse... not as bad as last week!

Monday 14 March 2011

Zynga Poker? Try Frontierville For Your Gambling...

It may be that you like a quick flutter, the excitement of hoping Lady Luck puts her hand on your shoulder, the intense highs and debilitating lows of gambling.

But Zynga Poker doesn't necessarily have to be your outlet, the way Frontierville works means you end up relying on luck just as much as any game of chance, actually probably more as this game doesn't allow for the skills of card players to help themselves.

One question we often have on the page is asking what the chances are of a random event happening, a collection item dropping or a varmint appearing, even why some debris appears and others don't, and why they're not getting it.

The way Frontierville works in these situations is by rolling a digital die, one with 1000 sides to it. A die that, in reality, would have to be so big it would probably need to be rolled on the Bonneville Salt Flats so it didn't crush any buildings.

Each random event is allocated a range of numbers on the die and if one pops up... ding, ding, we have a winner! (Or loser, depending if you really WANTED that varmint...)

This means nothing is ever certain. I can sit here and tell you the chances of events happening but that's no concrete answer to how often things will happen for YOU. Welcome to chaos.

Let's take Coyotes as the most recent random event.

I cant remember the exact number so let's say *plucking a nice round number from the air* there's a 1 in 10 chance of a coyote appearing. That on the digital die if the roll is 1-100, up pops a coyote.

So, you feed a chicken, the die rolls... nothing, you do it again, and again, until finally you've fed 9 chickens. Because I've said it's a 1 in 10 chance, it'll seem like this final chicken should make a coyote appear! But it doesn't.

So, let's say it's a 10% chance instead. It's still highly unlikely that feeding 100 chickens will pop 10 coyotes. Some folks will have more, some less, some, by the law of averages, WILL have 10 coyotes... but that's more about luck again.

When you roll a die it's a 1 in 6 chance of a certain number appearing... but once you've rolled it you STILL have the 1 in 6 chance, the die, just like the game, doesn't keep a track of the numbers and not allow a second, third, fourth roll of the same number. Every roll is a single event, and that's how Frontierville drops it's goodies.

So, like all good betting shops, we can give you the odds of something appearing, but we really can't tell you a winner.

Almost everything that appears in game does so by a random roll of the dice, and often fears the game is glitched because something doesn't turn up, or in fact DOES turn up, is actually not a glitch but down, instead, to one of the most uncontrollable elements in the world.

Pure dumb luck, today available in two flavours, Good and Bad.

In honour of today's topic today's prize for reading is an invisible poker table for the characters to use when you're not looking. So if you log on one day and find Bess down to her underwear you'll know she's not joining the Poker World Tour any time soon...

Thursday 10 March 2011

Servers, Rollouts and Keeping Up With The Joneses...

I'm not really what you'd call religious, but I do quite like many of the Ten Commandments that God gave Charlton Heston all those centuries ago. Not killing, stealing or lying, respecting parents, not cheating on your significant other... these are all things that I think should translate easily into life for even the most fevered athiest.

One I admit I do have trouble with is the final one, not so much coveting my neighbours wife (he can have her...) but his ass donkey. Envy seems exceptionally difficult to control because it's almost visceral, it's a subconscious feeling of want rather than an active decision.

Envy is also extremely prevalent on our wall and in Frontierville... How many times have you heard the phrase "My neighbour has *insert mission here* and I don't..."

We see those posts popping up for new request items, we read about the missions on the excellent "Frontierville Express" (The folks who do that site must be geniuses...) and we WANT IT!

Well, we have a lot of questions on the page about how stuff rolls out and why it's so slow getting to people, so I thought I'd explain the general method and the reasons why here, with the help of another AAD, Andy's Awful Diagram.

Firstly a little basic info. The rollouts don't follow a set pattern, so just because you or a friend have it first THIS time, doesn't mean you'll have it first NEXT time, they share it around.

Also geography, time of joining, level etc, none of that has much bearing on your server. You likely as not won't have the same server as someone else in your house, or in your street. You'll likely not have the same server as someone who joined around about the same time as you.

When you join you're randomly assigned a server using a formula I don't know, be it the least pressured server at that time, your zodiac sign or your inside leg measurement, not totally sure. But there's no real way to be able to say "Friend A has that server, so should I."

Now, onto the rolling out procedure and the AAD.

Imagine the servers for Zynga as water storage tanks....

As you can see from that, there's a reason the rollouts are slow and come to one server at a time.

For a start if they tried to put the new stuff on every server at the same time the crash would be immense, the grinding would be terrible in the same way as trying to use a computer to copy something onto 20 different hard drives is slow and laborious, there's only so much a computer can do at any one time, the more servers they tried to fill, the slower things would be and the worse problems they'd cause.

Most people might notice slowdown for the few seconds/minutes it takes to load the info into a server. If they tried to add them ALL at the same time, we'd have hours of pure server gridlock.

The other reason is the one I put up there in the AAD.

Although everything is tested in house on production servers in a beta environment NOTHING is perfect and things can still slip through, stuff that only happens when the server load is heavier or when more people are all using a feature at the same time.

No testing is ever 100% certain in the same way as no condom is 100% certain to stop pregnancy. When the Zynga devs send the updates and new stuff out they know there's the chance of an unwanted glitch baby, and although they've taken every precaution, it'll happen.

So by rolling it slowly they also catch problems and glitches from the 1-5% who've had the update already and can patch it or put a hold on the mission before it reaches everyone else.

We've seen some missions come out before that have been put on hold for glitches and personally I'd rather see a solid game feature come out slowly with minimal glitches than everyone having it quickly... but it's broken.

So, next time a mission comes out, feel free to be envious of those folks who have it and impatient to get your hands on it... but remember there are reasons the rollouts are slow and steady, and they're for our our own good.

Your invisible gift is a special one today, 50, yes FIFTY invisible feeders crafted specially in my invisible blacksmiths. Feeding all your much loved invisible animals will never be easier...

Thursday 3 March 2011

Frontierville Addiction Therapy

Twitches? Stuttering? Cold, clammy skin?

Yes, I fear you're suffering from a Frontierville addiction and are currently having withdrawal symptoms due to the problems in the game.

Well, we here at Frontierville Express are here to help! We've created this handy list of things you can do in your everyday life to ease the pain and suffering of not being able to get in the game.

Each task has three levels. For minor addiction simply complete the main action, for medium addiction also complete the "added realism" section... and for critical addiction use the "ultimate realism" section as well. Some sections require the help of at least one assistant and will be marked with (A).


Prepare your family - Insist on dressing your spouse and children for the day ahead.

For added realism - Change their hairstyles and colour.

For ultimate realism - Acquire a degree in plastic surgery. Subtly alter their facial features, ears and eye colour for aesthetic value.


Build a cabin - Due to planning restrictions, difficulty and time we suggest the cabin is made from Lego (other building blocks are available). This will also give a realistic level of customisation as you can change all fittings and the wall colours to fit your homestead theme.

For added realism - Knock on your neighbours doors and request Lego bricks to finish your cabin. Once you have 5, stop and try again in 8 hours.

For ultimate realism - Ask them to pass the Lego brick through a closed window, allowing you to see the building material you need but not actually get it.


Visit neighbours - Enter your neighbours back gardens and do five things they might want doing.

For added realism - be sure to remove any cacti, skulls and other debris. They'll love you for that. Ignore any signs suggesting this may not be what they'd desire, these were obviously left there since before the debris took over.

For ultimate realism - Take something made of cloth from their clothesline. Please note that the neighbour's reaction, newspaper coverage and bail amount will vary wildly depending on what was taken.


Experience Issues - Every now and then stop, close your eyes, wait for about two minutes then open them again to "refresh life".

For added realism (A) - Have an assistant put back anything you've moved and undo any work from the last five minutes.

For ultimate realism (A) - Hire an old man to jump out from around a corner and loudly state to your face "Blasted Life just went quiet on me!" For the morale and self-worth of the assistant we ask that you do not use a deaf old man.


Tend a pig - Purchase a pig (from a reputable breeder obviously). Every so often feed the pig and watch it grow. Be warned this may take some time to work, this is not a glitch, merely a feature of nature that, I fear, is not hackable.

For added realism (A) - Take a hard hairband, attach to this a small clip with a long arm such as those that hold table numbers in restaurants. Into this place an arrow cut from yellow cardboard. Every six hours have your assistant place this on the pig to remind you to feed it, removing it directly afterwards.

For ultimate realism (A) - Have your assistant throw coins, cardboard stars and a packet of bacon at you randomly when feeding the pig.


Grow tomatoes - Purchase some tomatoes and place somewhere in your garden. Water every fifteen minutes.

For added realism (A) - Every now and then when watering the tomatoes have an assistant place a live groundhog in the middle of the tomatoes and clobber with a spade remove carefully and look after in excellent conditions, making sure it's being cared for well, ready to be brought out again next time.

For ultimate realism - Write to Zynga and complain that you planted tomatoes an hour ago and have tended them four times but they still haven't grown. Demand they fix the glitch.


Canning - At regular intervals raid any nearby fruit trees, vegetable plots and supermarkets for food. Do not eat the food, simply store it while complaining how much you dislike doing it.

For added realism - When you have a certain amount of food, give it away.

For ultimate realism - Just before you have enough food to give away, give them a fiver instead.


Clear debris - As a game-relevant option do not mow your lawn, simply pull up each blade of grass individually.

For added realism (A) - Have an assistant randomly spread rocks, flowers and the occasional cow skull into your garden when you're not watching.

For ultimate realism (A) - Have an assistant acquire a rattlesnake and   your █ █ █  then █ █ █ █ █  suck out the poison from your  █ █ █ █ █  veterinarian. (This tip has had to be censored for health and safety reasons).


Have your hair cut - Visit your local barbers and request he cuts your hair.

For added realism - Ask to see his menu of haircuts. Pick one of a completely different colour and length (for added XP shave your head then ask for long flowing locks).

For ultimate realism - When leaving, take one of the barbers chairs as it's the last remaining thing you need to "finish your collection".


Tend a mystery animal (A?) - Visit your local Zoo and beg the keepers for the chance to enter the penguin enclosure. If needs be, use words such as "lifelong ambition" and "terminal illness". If required take along a small child to use as the target. Once you're in, feed a penguin.

For added realism - When the keepers aren't looking attempt to place alice band-antlers on penguin's head.

For ultimate realism - When released from the police station ask if the penguin dropped any Mystery Animal Collectibles. Request directions to nearest alternative zoo with polar bears. Purchase Santa hat in preparation.


Hopefully if you've completed all these tasks correctly you will be filled with the warmth of Frontierville and no longer feeling such crushing withdrawal symptoms.

You're welcome.

Dr Andy M.D.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

A little perception change goes a long way...

Reading the variety of complaints on the wall of our Facebook Page right now it occurs to me that many things could be helped by both sides of the gaming environment for Frontierville, Zynga and the players, thinking of Frontierville more as a video game than a time waster such as Farmville.

As a long term gamer who's had computers and consoles almost his entire life, since a Sinclair Spectrum 48k at the age of three (Lord love rubber keyboards and replaceable membranes), I tend to see Frontierville in a different light to some of the other members.

One of the biggest complaints from members seems to revolve solely around the mission requirements and can be narrowed down to "it's too hard" or "it'll take too long".

It's fair to say we live in a world of instant gratification but also, at it's core, Frontierville is a video game and, as such, contains a difficulty curve the further in you get.

I think many of the players of online games, especially things like Zynga games, are used to the Farmville model. When I played that game it really didn't matter that much when you levelled up or what you did during the day, occasionally you got different gifts to send or different crops to plant but it was all much of a muchness, one of the major reasons I left.

On the other hoof, Frontierville has a mission structure, and as such needs to be treated slightly differently, almost like the games people, like I, flock to buy for our Playstation 3s, our X-Boxes and our Wiis.

As you play Frontierville you collect resources, you increase your energy bar, you gain more neighbours who can assist with missions either by being hired or by coming and helping out directly. Because of this, to keep us interested, to keep us coming back, they need to make the missions harder.

Even a third of the way down the mission tree we have things like "Build Up" which needs the terrifyingly difficult requirements of clearing 8 grass and building a general store. How about two thirds of the way through where we find "Learn About Sunflowers" and have to harvest 20 Sunflowers, unwither one for a neighbour and tend 5 more on a neighbour's plot.

Not exactly under the heading of "taxing".

Now, however, things are getting interesting. We're seeing mission threads that will take days, weeks even, to complete. Long term missions that are actually difficult, and this seems to confuse some of the players, I think because they've never really played "traditional" video games and don't understand the difficulty mechanic.

Frontierville has never promised to be easy or quick. The earlier missions that could be completed in a few hours with minimal effort perhaps lulled some people into a false sense of security, they gave succour to people's demand for an instant rush and became exceptionally playable because they fed people's desire to succeed by praising them and rewarding them even up to three or four times a day.

Play a video game and you understand one thing, the longer you go, the more you play, the higher your level... all of that means the upcoming missions will be tougher, longer and much more challenging.

My current choice of game "Dragon Age: Origins" begins with short bursts through enemies who will fall over if you breathe on them too hard (shouldn't have had the extra garlic bread)... Well, that was 14 levels ago, my next mission will involve killing a dragon 6 times the height of me with just three colleagues and some sharp weaponry. It's going to be a nightmare and, in previous experience, will take at least 10-20 minutes for a single battle.

It'll be long, it'll be tiring, I might well die at least once in trying to kill the darn dragon and might even get frustrated to the point of lobbing my controller out the nearest window.

I'm REALLY looking forward to it.

If I'd had this mission even 5 or 6 levels ago I'd pretty much be prepared to die easily and never, ever be able to complete it. But because it's come in later when I've levelled up, got more powerful and got bigger friends I'm hopeful I'll complete the mission.

This is the same in Frontierville. If I'd had the upcoming expansion mission 4 or 5 months ago I'd be screwed. But right now I have more friends to send me stuff, I have more cash to buy the needed items, I've got the energy and stored food to be able to harvest everything I need to.

It'll still take me ages to complete but that's fine. Just as Frontierville never promises to be easy, it also never promises to be quick. For me if the game was short sharp bursts of easy missions I'd probably give up, I prefer a challenge. I want games to reward me because I did something difficult, not just because I successfully worked out which was the left mouse button and clicked something successfully (although as my left mouse button is my right mouse button and my mouse isn't a mouse this, in itself, can be something of a challenge for the uninitiated).

Of course, we also get the other half of the equation, if the missions are too easy and finished too quickly the biggest complaint we get on the wall is that people are bored and they want more stuff or they want harder missions.

If the missions are too difficult the biggest complaint we get (sometimes, I'll openly admit frustratingly, it's even the same people) is that the missions take too long, need too much stuff... Missions should be quick and easy, even for people of levels 80+.

I think for Zynga this counts as a no-win situation... in the same way as folks complain about missions with glitches, then complain when missions are put on hold to fix glitches... It can't be easy to know whatever they do in these situations is going to be complained about.

However, having said that I wonder if there's one video game staple the Frontierville devs might think to slip in at some point which might at least calm some folks, both the missionless and the ones who want things easier.

Levelling bonuses. Special items, special bonuses as you level up, above and beyond an energy refill and a horseshoe.

My fellow admin and VG lover Esta mentioned this in a chat this morning. As you level up in video games you're generally rewarded with a boost to your ability, not just your bank balance... and the thought arrived from her of more School Missions (A thought I will now happily steal and twist to my own ends in this blog).

Yes folks, it's Andy's Imaginary Game Features time again.

What about every few levels we received a new School Lesson that would actually HELP in missions, but also be a collecting challenge to pick up all the necessary School supplies?

I think it's fair to say the School is criminally underused once you reach a certain level so how about this... Every 5 levels you get a Lesson that gives you an extra energy point, every 10 you get a Lesson to be able to hire an extra neighbour. Lessons that'll really aid in missions rather than just mean a few extra coins or XP when harvesting things.

By later levels money, wood, food... they're all huge totals anyway and almost irrelevant but those helpful things like Energy and Hiring... THAT'S something we'd all love to have.

Right now levelling is almost pointless (something that makes chicken farming all the more useless) as we gain very little when we do... So perhaps it's time for Zynga, as well as the players, to look at the game in a slightly new light, as a fully fledged video game. Think level reward items, think more things we could aim for BETWEEN missions and make us think about tending our animals and trees at normal times, not just when the game tells us to do it for a mission.

The Jackalope badges have already brought one very successful video game staple, the Achievements, to Frontierville... so maybe it's time to think of other ways the world of consoles could make Frontierville an even better game?

Because today's post is especially long and rambling the prize is something equally special. Anyone who reads this will get... AN INVISIBLE HOMESTEAD EXPANSION! Yes, I know it's what you've all been begging for so here it is, two more tiles of invisible space will appear around your homestead for you to keep all your invisible animals and buildings in, once you've deleted the invisible debris that came with it.