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

Saturday 30 June 2012

The Future Of FTV

This will be an unashamedly geeky post, but a couple things recently have made me ponder the future of online gaming and where we might see things going.

As much as it may not seem it with the various glitches and bugs that seem to haunt our existence on the Frontier we're entering what I think is going to be an exciting time for gaming over the web.

Online gaming is a much different beast now than it was ten years ago. For as long as there's been computers and the World Wide Web there's been gaming on it but in the early days it's fair to say it was the realm of the nerd, the geek, people like me in fact.

It tended to expand upon social gaming already in the "real world", role playing on tables with hand painted figures became role playing on a computer with a "skin" you've designed yourself.

Then came the three things I think changed it, World of Warcraft, Second Life and Facebook.

World of Warcraft (WoW) first drove the idea of an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplay Game) into the mainstream in a way none had before, it put the idea of playing online into the heads of new crowds of people.

Second Life gave people the understanding of social networking in more than just text form, creating an avatar that would be a digital you.

Finally, the one most readers of this will be interested in, Facebook came at the whole thing in a completely different direction. Whereas other platforms like WoW and Second Life gave you a game and told you to go find a social circle, Facebook gave you a social circle and told you to go find things to do with them.

Now, we're in a world where online gaming is huge business, be it console games with a multiplayer or online section such as Call of Duty or Little Big Planet, or companies like Zynga who are based solely on non-traditional gaming platforms, online and mobile.

So, past and present, but what about the future, especially for us in Frontierville/Pioneer Trail? What could we be seeing as the game and the systems continue to evolve. Unsurprisingly the two biggest question marks for me surround the two biggest areas of contention when it comes to issues and problems in the game.

The first question to ask is where we'll even be playing the game. More and more games are being ported over to now. Although YoVille somehow beat us on the last vote it's probably not going to be long before we see the game over on Zynga's own site.

But will we always see this double-networking that we see right now, or are we going to see a separation between the two companies?

We know, and a lot of current problems are proving, the digital communication between Zynga and Facebook is often at the root of many issues. Gifting, requesting, neighbours... it's all times when the Zynga system needs to communicate effectively with the Facebook one.

It's feasible we may soon see rise up as a social network in it's own right, although there's positives and negatives for that.

Although it may give more game stability as we see a single in house system running everything, Facebook has the infrastructure in place for such a massive network. There's also the fact that Zynga games work on viral marketing, Facebook posts being seen by friends or requests sent to people who don't play games.

On the other hand, would be gamers, it would be a pure demographic. Instead of annoying your friends who hate gaming, it would be shooting fish in a barrel on, you've got just people who are gamers, nobody else.

Arguably Zynga are now so prevalent in the online gaming market that it's hard to think of anyone who wants to play that doesn't use at least one Zynga game. Add that to the fact non-gamers will likely hide and/or block games and you do wonder if Zynga's efforts are better spent avoiding trying to recruit people with no interest and instead looking at osmosis bringing players from other games via cross promotion and posts on a Zynga-only social network.

Could they drag people away from Facebook which has become so much a part of our lives though, do we play the games because we're ON Facebook so much? The question of whether they could make people think first is the million dollar question, maybe literally as the freedom of their own network would raise the Zynga profit margins without FB dictating how in-game purchases are made and taking their cut.

Of course, there's also the fact that adding people you don't know is actually both a cornerstone of gaming and against Zynga's ToS... This could solve that issue.

Secondly, we have to look at a more technical aspect, in what shape will the game exist? This comes from a much more recent and topical news story in the geek-press that I read.

As most folks know, Frontierville uses the Flash platform to build and deliver the game. That, in itself, is a problem as Flash has long been known to be unstable and problematic, although for so long has been the only possible solution for the types of games we play, nobody has really been able to come up with a competing platform.

Now that's changing with the onset of HTML5, a new language online that is already replacing Flash in many areas, YouTube for example now has an HTML5-based test up. Next up is games.

Although opinion is divided about HTML5 and it's abilities to handle games it's getting a big push right now with many companies creating game tools to help design HTML5 fun, for examples see PocketGamer news about PlayCanvas and Gamemaker: Studio.

Now, however, we've seen potentially the biggest hit to Flash. It's one thing when folks in other companies look at other options and diss products, a whole other thing when your OWN company does it.

We all know Apple devices have never allowed Flash for a few reasons but one of the most public was due to instability and unreliability. However, anyone with an Android tablet or phone could download a Flash Player and plugins that would allow you to use Flash on your tablet, you could even play games on it if you didn't mind horrendous lag on most devices.

Now, that's changing. Adobe, owners of Flash since 2005, have announced they're going to stop supporting Flash on Android devices, saying they're going to be looking more into HTML5 and their own latest entrant, Adobe AIR.

Yes, true, this is the mobile market... but many of the problems, instability and high memory usage, cross over into PC gaming just as much, especially as PCs become more reliable and have longer lifespans.

How often do we have to clear Flash Caches? How many issues have been down to PC performance and heavy Flash usage. Heck, the entire recent market issue shone a light on that as a problem, the better your PC, the more memory in particular, the less likelihood of a crash with the market.

If HTML5 takes off and proves itself to be more reliable and stable than Flash, how long before developers begin to port games across? Zynga have shown in the past they can see which way the winds are blowing, and if HTML5 will cut down those Support tickets I don't doubt they'd look at the possibility of a platform change.

Suffice to say, if the game changes it'll be another fun decision, do they go the Mafia Wars route and create a whole new game, potentially losing players, or do we see our current homestead in a slightly different form? I think it's obvious which would garner the most support from players so we'd have to wait and see.

I must admit right now I can see both the development of as a network, and the rise of HTML5 meaning a change in our game. I wouldn't be in the least surprised if we're playing an HTML5 based version of the game on in a year or two.

All in all it's a frustrating and exciting time for online games, especially ours. Frustrating because there's so many problems, but exciting because the future could hold some interesting, and issue-stopping, changes.

Although if I'm honest... you get more out of it if you're a geek ;)

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Mae Monroe Sings...

 Ladies and Gentlemen, it's or pleasure to present Sheriff Mae and her chart topping hit, all about the love of her life, and we don't mean Birdie... (I hope he's good at DIY)

Buildings Are a Girls Best Friend
Sung by Mae Monroe

The players are glad to fight for doobers.
They delight in doing collections.
But I prefer a man who works
And gives me some erections.

A beast on the land
May be quite continental,
But buildings are a girl's best friend.

Decorations may be grand
But they won't pay the rental
On your crops and trees
to make quests a breeze.

Crops grow dry
Events go by,
And we all lose our bonus in the end.

But square-brick or wood-frame,
Whatever the part names.
Buildings are a girl's best friend.

Trading Post!
Big Barn!
Fishing Pond!
Talk to me Hank Baby.
Tell me all about it!

There may come a time
When a lass needs a tailor,
But buildings are a girl's best friend.

There may come a time
When a guy says he wont fail her
But make sure he mentions,
That he crafts extensions.

He's your guy
When quests are high,
But beware when they come to an end.

It's then that those louses
Mortgage your houses.
Buildings are a girl's best friend.