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

Sunday 29 January 2012

Gaming on a Diet

[Please note: this is an Andy's Imagination post, purely my own thoughts and will likely not appear in game]

Folks, my brain has been on the work again... This is another one of those posts where I show unbelievable arrogance and suggest I might know better than the company behind some of the world's most popular games... go figure. (Hey, might as well live up the stereotype some folks have of me!)

Today's idea isn't a building, or a feature or a little tweak, it's actually something a little more excessive.

Today's idea is Frontierville on a diet, it is...

Yep, Lite.

We know that Frontierville/Pioneer Trail is an intensive game these days. Many issues can be traced back to PC performance, especially memory.

So why not have another option for those with slower PCs or who want a quick fix in a half hour lunch break?

The differences between the main game and the Lite one are fairly significant but mostly cosmetic... The two modes will use the SAME server so your info will be the same across both, you can play one then go play the other and find your game exactly how you left it...

1) Expansions - Lite has no expansions, no Trail, no Hollow, no Ghost Town. It is PURELY for playing the homestead. That's a price folks have to pay and they can still play them via the main game. All extraneous code is hoovered out.

2) Animations - All assets are simple, unanimated image files, no animal movement, no little building tweaks. Instead of larger Flash files everything is just a small, web-optimised PNG image file. This speeds loading time and play time.

3) Avatars - OK, this one is a doozy but bear with me. We lose the people. No spouse, no kids, no NPCs so Granny, Doc, Bess etc all go away. If you need to talk to them you click their relevant building.

And... here's where the mind is bent, no avatar. You click, something gets done, it's that simple. The avatar is graphical bling. Neighbours could be a simple icon you click and the work gets done, the family could be choosable options so you can still do spouse/child specific mission requirements... but no more avatars on screen in Lite.

4) Doobers - The Doobers (the items that pop when you tend/harvest etc) all go out the window. They're a good graphical show off feature but honestly, who is THAT bothered? When it works fine, folks ignore it. When it works BADLY... then it becomes a source of huge frustration as it slows the game down and you're chased around the screen by doobers as you try to get anything done.

In Lite stuff just gets credited, it just happens.

5) Popups - OK, I've gone into great length about this before, and frankly we ALL know how helpful this would be. No Jack telling us what we already know, no popup asking us to send largely pointless gifts to friends, no automatic giftbox... when we load up it just goes into game and we get to play the game without interruption, and much smoother.

6) Menus - Menus will be simplified, Collections are especially optimised with smaller images, possibly even NO images. Again, doesn't look as pretty but some folks would rather drive an old Ford that does 40 MPH instead of a Ferrari that's limited to 5 MPH.

Mission menu, gifting menu, building menus, all cropped down and simplified with smaller (and uglier, yes) graphics to speed loading.

Obviously this is going to be a balance, both for us and Zynga. Lite will be limited and less fun/less aesthetic. We get a quicker game but at a cost of limited gameplay, features and attractiveness.

Most people, if possible, would still play the bigger better XL version, but this Lite version would make it simpler to just nip in, tend some animals, make a request or two, plant a couple crops and be out again. Quick, simple and smooth.

Right now folks find it hard to play because the game is trying to be so good.

Perhaps it's time to give another possibility, to admit that this won't look so pretty, that it won't be as complete... but what it WILL be is working for those on slow internet connections or with less powerful computers.

No point having a pretty game if folks don't get to play it.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

A Bit Of A Tree-t

[Please note: this is an Andy's Imagination post, purely my own thoughts and will likely not appear in game, lol]

I'll get something out the way first... This involves a building. I know, I know, I hate them too but if it's a building for a reason not just a building for the sake of it, I can live with it... and hopefully this idea is something folks might like.

I'm suggesting building an Arborist's Workshop, a tree surgeon.

We know that Pioneer times had arborists, after all we've already met Johnny Appleseed in the Frontier Heroes missions, so why not give one a home on your frontier and get some advantages from it?

This is my thinking of it, I'd be interested in other folks impressions.

Once the Arborist's Workshop is completed and a certain amount of missions finished the workshop begins to work for lumber trees the same as the Irrigation Station does for crops. The skill of the Arborist allows the lumber trees on your homestead to grow 20% faster, bringing them up to full size quicker.

The Workshop also has a daily bonus that drops Spring Water to use on the limited edition trees AND can, on occasion, drop a new "Lumber Boost" that can be used to instantly boost any lumber tree up a stage in it's development.

Finally, the Workshop has it's own collection that can be traded in for a FULLY GROWN lumber tree, Oak or Pine. They can make it rare, they can make it ungiftable just to crack down on exploits, but just a collection that'll help out when we really, REALLY need a tree!

Obviously fully grown trees cost horseshoes so they're going to be loathe to give them out willy nilly, but I don't think via a rare collection will be too unbalancing... (After all, who the heck spends HS on trees?!)

I think with the chance of fully grown trees, quicker growing trees, lumber boosts AND spring water... if it's a nice small footprint (little wooden shed?) I wonder if folks would be happy to build it?

I'd be very interested in your thoughts here or on our Facebook Page.

Friday 13 January 2012

Quoting disaster...

"You can't trust 75% of the quotes on the internet."
- Christopher Columbus c:1492
I don't doubt this blog will stir up a few suggestions I'm a Zynga crony etc. It seems criminally unfashionable these days to have positive feelings about the company that gives us our games, and Lord knows I have my problems with how they run Frontierville... But sometimes folks are so eager to Zynga-bash it just gets silly.

I place some of the blame on Social Media, it's so easy now to copy and paste a status, or click share, that often we don't think to go DEEPER. It's how scams trap us, we just click, or share, or like a post... without wondering, like a river, where is the source and what's been peeing in it.

Recently I reckon most of us here have seen the CAPS LOCKED and infuriated little status doing the rounds at the moment about a statement released by Zynga, something loosely saying "we don't care about older players, only new ones."

I've seen a goodly number, as have the other admins. They're heartfelt and emotive in their own little way but here's the teeny tiny problem. It's based on a sinkhole foundation. Looks solid enough but poke around and the whole thing falls through the floor. The entire basis of the status is false.

For starters, let's look at the crux of it, this is the statement:

"Zynga has expressed a strange sentiment to explain their recent departure of players that they don’t care as much about retaining existing users as they do attracting new ones. While veteran players of games like Farmville and Mafia Wars get fed up with the company’s games or service, Zynga is content to just keep releasing an endless stream of titles in hopes that by getting new players, they outweigh the tide of old ones leaving."

The problem here is this is suggested to have come from Zynga, spoken, written, even just intimated. The reader is left believing this is the words and feelings of Zynga. Then the posters will add their own heartfelt emotive comment regarding how dare Zynga think like this... aiding new people to fall in the trap with every share.

So, to the truth of where it came from. The words above weren't based on any Zynga comment, on any statement, on anything anyone had broadcast. They were based on one man's report into the release of Hidden Chronicles, the new hidden object game from Zynga.

His point was that he felt in releasing new games such as HC he FELT that Zynga were just wanting lots of new people playing new games instead of working on the ones they had. Unfortunately this opinion was picked up, someone out there didn't quite read it properly, cocked their Caps Lock Button and let rip.

This is one guys FEELINGS written in a blog, it's not an article in the magazine, it's a contributor blog on the site, one that contains individual thoughts and ideas, much like this one of mine.

He is suggesting that developing a new game is Zynga ignoring old players and just wanting new ones. This is what this contributor has decided in his head that is now being ripped from the comfort of its context and spread as if it's quotes from Zynga.

In part I blame the writer himself (who admits he's new to journalism but has written some good stuff). In using the strange phrase "expressed" he was, himself, suggesting this was something that had come from Zynga, instead of something he felt from seeing the HC release.

In fact, in context, it's more about how Zynga are following, rather than leading, the gaming landscape on Facebook and to be wary of investing in their stock. (Which is fair enough, Hidden Chronicles IS nothing other than a Gardens of Time ripoff, but that's not suggesting there's anything bad there)

Let's take a look at some facts specifically tailored to the game we love:

Frontierville is glitchy. Yes it is. It could do with the Trail ripping out, a LOT less of a flood of new stuff and some serious recoding to make it more efficient and stop crashes with Flash when opening Collections or the Rodeo etc.

Frontierville needs a big overhaul and possibly a complete change in mindset, less stuff, less begging, better optimisation. This is true, right now the game has become less fun to play, it's become more of a chore.

But bringing out a new game means squat to the ones we have. There's a strange assumption Zynga have one development team and a new game draws people from an old one, which is untrue. Every game is its own little autonomous being. It has its own developers, its own program team, its own communication team...

Zynga is like a massive shopping centre (that's Mall for Americans). A big building made up of lots of smaller, independent entities, a symbiosis if you will. Adding a Starbucks in the food court won't mean it's crewed by the shop assistants of Foot Locker.

I like to consider this blog something of a Switzerland of Neutrality when it comes to Frontierville (although I know others don't...) I've pointed out where the gamers have done silly things or misunderstood, I've also pointed out where ZYNGA have done silly things or, in fact downright stupid ones.

Yes, I will defend Zynga and resist the ever increasing number of Zynga bashers who give every glitch a Machiavellian plot and suggest evil intent in pretty much everything that the company do. But I'll also point out where the company are wrong, and if they really HAD said they didn't care about the gamers who've been with them for years (as a gamer who's been with them for years) I would be shouting it at them and at my own gaming friends on my status.

But I'm not. Because they haven't. We can THINK they do, we can SUGGEST it... But I don't think they do, and I think that for logical reasons.

Older players are more invested. Older players are more addicted. Every company wants more customers through its doors, but every company also knows that one person who keeps coming back (even if treated badly) is worth ten one time customers.

A new player to Frontierville might well see all the missions on offer and just quit. They wont have created their homestead, wont have become invested in the Fanny/Hank love affair and marriage. They won't feel attached to the game enough to get addicted, to pay for Horseshoes, to keep on, and on, and on, even if it's painful going.

New players will quit.

Even the blogger himself mildly contradicts himself when he points out Zynga's success is in its huge user base, a user base made up of old and new players alike. He is pointing out that Zynga rely on all players, not just new ones.

We've put up with some serious Hell in our time with Frontierville, and we're still here. THAT is why Zynga knows they need to hold on to the older players, the addicted players. THAT is why the statement above, as lovely and dramatic as it is, is nothing more than one man's feelings based on the release of a new game, taken out of context and given a false official tag, like a fake police badge.

The original blog can be read HERE.

Now let the accusations... COMMENCE!

Monday 2 January 2012

The Pioneer Trail - My Post Mortem

As we enter 2012 and bid a possibly less than fond adieu to the Pioneer Trail section of the now incongruously named Pioneer Trail game (can we just agree to call it Frontierville? Good.) I thought I might do my own little post mortem of the feature everyone wanted, and no-one probably had a smooth time in.

I think one thing that must be pointed out to begin with is I don't begrudge Zynga bringing it out at all. I know a LOT of game issues began around the app change and the subsequent adding of the Trail. A game that was always something of a chubby pup became an overweight dog of a game to play. This, unfortunately, must be laid at the feet of the Trail. It's no coincidence that as soon as the new app was launched and the Trail was added many folks found themselves unable to play due to problems in performance.

All of a sudden Frontierville was a game you needed a great computer to play with any success, and I know of folks who have simply never been able to play since the Trail was launched and the game became more intensive.

BUT... as big a but as this needs to be to offset that, the reasoning behind adding the Trail was simple. It was something we'd asked for, it was something that COULD have been wonderful, the developers are constantly pushing the envelope with the game and this was another example of the same.

Whether they would do it again looking at the myriad of problems it caused is debatable, I think most people would say no. But doing it in the beginning they could have had no idea what chaos was to ensue, hindsight is 20/20 after all.

We're always begging for new stuff, and one of the most popular questions was when the signposts would lead somewhere and when the Trail would open. We WANTED the Trail, and we pushed for it. To be honest Zynga would have been stupid NOT to bring it out.

The name change also didn't work. Not only would it continue to be known as Frontierville (a name Zynga perhaps thought was getting a bad reputation) but as the Pioneer Trail was the backbreaker the app soon had a much worse reputation. People couldn't say "Frontierville is a bit glitchy but it's all the Pioneer Trail's fault". The game has had it's PR nightmares since the inception of the Trail and right now it might almost be worth returning to Frontierville, the mud that stuck on that name falls well short of the amount adorning the name Pioneer Trail.

What I do know is that we should never berate anyone for trying. It's arguable that the current mood of the players is well into Defcon 1 and the Trail had it's hand in it, but that in itself makes the next month or so rather exciting.

What will happen when the Trail goes? Will we see an increase in performance? Will we get something new to replace it? Will they suddenly find calls to Customer Support go down by 500% now there's no more questions about the damn hidden missions? (probably not a surprise they haven't been seen again in any other expansion.)

Whatever happens will be interesting, and part of that comes from the fact the developers are constantly experimenting and that's something we should never, ever discourage (I'll try anything once, or twice if my bruises heal quickly...)

Remember for every genius breakthrough there's been something less successful. If a groundbreaking and exciting development follows two failures, then that's a success rate to be proud of, no great invention came without a few singed eyebrows.

Faint heart never won fair Fanny after all.

So that being said, what about the Trail itself? Just how good was it? How fun was it?

If I'm honest, I'd probably give it a 6/10. There were some excellent things about the Trail, but a lot of that was offset by issues or by bad decisions regarding missions and requirements, the same problems that beset the rest of the game to be fair.

Let's start with the positives;

As ever with Frontierville the artwork was magnificent, my favourite by far being Beaver Valley, the Plains were a bit brown, the Pass a bit white, Beaver Valley was the sort of place you'd want to go for a walk.

We know the one thing that's never skimped on is the art and from start to finish it was very good.

The plot was also very good, the storyline, the little mini mission scrolls, the Ezekiel subplot that was criminally underused at Fort Courage... all worked pretty well.

The idea of different people having different jobs was also a nice touch, but really should have been done in the same way as the Ghost Town and Hollow, by automatically selecting the one we needed at that time.

But here comes the crunch, and to be honest this is easily translated across into problems with the main game, although everything was there for it to be a fun and interesting game... it wasn't.

What started out as fun in Beaver Valley (using your different characters to get different things) became tedious by the end of the pass when the same things kept coming back.

As fun as it was to pick your Doctor and harvest 10 herbs or grasses in the Valley harvesting 50 trees with him/her in the Pass was painful, especially when you were needing to harvest 50 something else with someONE else. In the end we just did the same stuff again and again, but bigger every time.

Obviously in games that will always happen, but because there was so little variation in the Trail it became dull, it was simply a chore.

Then the problems that beset the entire game, so much requesting, so much building, especially in High Plains. Woe betide anyone who redid the Trail or was slow in doing it (like me). It would take days, WEEKS to find enough building materials to finish off the McBaggins Well or the Pass Hideout.

And finally, the glitches, oh the glitches! Whether it was the aforementioned hidden missions not turning up, blueberries not returning (and which numpty made you harvest them twice in two missions?) or goats dropping and not geese I think we all had the problems, and nary a day went by without one or more of those questions popping up.

The final judgement may sound a little damning, but here goes. The Pioneer Trail, at large, suffers from the same problems as the entire game does. It sets you up to have a great game, and then things let it down. Mission design, glitches, marketing over gameplay... in the end you're in danger of being disappointed.

And THAT is what makes the pain of the Pioneer Trail all the greater, it's like being in a certain type of bad relationship. You love it, you get addicted to it and you want to enjoy your time together. But instead of comforting you, the POTENTIAL of what it could be, the occasional glimpse of greatness, added to the often misguided excitement of a new feature makes the whole thing worse because you see what the pair of you together could be... but are beaten down too often by the disappointment and anti-climax.

All we can do now is look ahead to what's next, and even though we know we shouldn't, like a sports fan at the beginning of every season, we'll look forward with hope and optimism, even though we hate and berate ourselves for it, and say to ourselves "this time, THIS time our faith will be repaid".

Let's just hope whatever comes out next IS a doozy, because we KNOW the developers have it in them, even if someone on high makes bad choices with missions. Lets hope they SHOW it...