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 16 February 2013

The Quest for Equal Play

[As usual, all thoughts in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not necessarily represent the views of the admins or members of Frontierville Express.]

Dear Zynga, we need to talk. Grab a chocolate hobnob, a cup of the beverage of your choice and a seat on the sofa.

It's been confirmed that the different drops of Squeekies from the Cuddly Kitty Corral is predetermined and different for players and that this is programmed.

I have a bit of a problem with this and it's the same as the problem I have with cheating.

People don't necessarily want a quick game or an easy game, all we ask is a fun game and, most important here, a fair game.

We understand that making too much stuff free can impact the game and impact how good it is for you as a business. But on the other hand the ability to get the growth items from the building has helped make a generally disliked game mechanic (the partnering) more palatable for the players.

By creating an arbitrary tiered "class system" for players it makes the game unfair and unbalanced. It causes friction between players and between the players and yourselves.

It's also made one of least popular features even more worse, not necessarily in gameplay terms but just the feeling it's given everyone, even those lucky ones in the top tier (and, full disclosure, I am one of the lucky ones and I'm still vexed).

Often a good feature isn't made or broken by the feature itself but on out feelings ABOUT the feature.

Making people feel players are being treated unfairly in such an extreme way as this, unbalancing the game, will simply add another reason to instinctively hate these partnering missions, whether they're good or not.

If you have to limit it make the building unboostable and give it a 2-4 hour turnaround or make it a random drop. OK, people won't get everything they need but you still get your posts, and at least it gives a silver lining to the Partner Cloud for players.

Make it none, make it one, make it three, but whatever you do make it EQUAL.

I think most players would agree that we expect good missions and bad missions, different strokes for different folks. But, good or bad, we also expect them to be fair and balanced for everyone.

Monday 4 February 2013

A Quick Award Ceremony...

As we've now been around for two years I thought it might be fun to have a little dig through the last two years in a nostalgic fug and see if I could pick out the best and worst moments of the last two years in the game, in my opinion.

Worst Building

It's fair to say sometimes, just sometimes, either the developers or the art department have... well, lets be generous and call it a blip. This award looks at those moments where things just don't go quite right.


Holiday Hall - The buildings that store buildings are awesome, we will all agree, but sometimes they're just a leeeetle bit pointless.

The Holiday Hall stored all those buildings from certain events on the Homestead, Halloween, Christmas, 4th July etc. The problem here is that other than two of them they were all storable in the shed and we all did, because they were largely useless with no great rewards.

Had the Holiday Hall been slightly smaller than, say, an ocean going liner it might have been alright, but with the Hall being about twice the size of the only buildings we really cared about storing in it this one was about as successful as Bess' eharmony profile.


Ferris Wheel - Some folks said it was anachronistic but actually they had Ferris Wheels in Pioneer Times, so that's not why it's on this list, it's more just about the building itself and the story that surrounded it.

First up, we're meant to make our child safe by having them ride something made by Hank. Hank.

I don't think I would trust my child sitting on a stool made by Hank, let alone high up in the air in a Ferris Wheel, unless of course they take a really extreme view of facing your fears over there.

The other big factor was it was a building with no actual use beyond this one mission thread, and the mission thread had no use but to build the wheel, the whole thing just stuck you in ever decreasing circles of uselessness.


Detective Office - Where on earth do I start?

Do we start with Finkerton looking like an axe murderer? (He and Jacques could make a good Pioneer-era Saw movie) How about the ugly green colour we couldn't change? Maybe it's the largely broken mechanic and the collection reward of a "pair of footprints".

No, I think it was the animation in the window at the back. If you've had your building hidden and have a strong constitution just take it out and take a peek, it's been known to make weak players faint.

I guess it was meant to be a sneaky detective fluttering the curtains to peek out. Instead, when you added it to the grim looking Finkerton stood out front you instead imagined a victim dressed in rags trying desperately to get aid for their strife by sending "help, I've been kidnapped and imprisoned by a psychotic detective and forced to make him tea" in morse code with their blinking.

Best Building

Of course, whether it's graphics or use, they get it right sometimes as well...


Ranch - The Ranch is easily my favourite looking building, that's as clear as I can be. It works to open up a ton of space storing buildings, it wasn't onerous to build and it's gorgeous.

The look of it is so perfectly Frontier, the horse out front, the spinning windmill, the barn... You look at the Ranch and you see it on a Frontier homestead, which really is the best we can ask for.


Saloon - Ahh, the Saloon. Drinks, barmaids, a curvaceous nude painting over the bar... The thing about the Saloon is we can ALL see inside it even though we never really do.

Every western movie from a John Wayne special to Carry On Cowboy has themselves a Saloon, as does any book, video game or TV show. The corner design, the upstairs rail with some special rooms inside, the saloon doors... it's all so familiar it leaves a warm and loving feeling in our eyeballs.

Of course, the fact we can concoct drinks also helps...


Library - Ah yes, on the subject of boosts.... The Library just has to get a mention here. It's an attractive building (although now stores) but the greatness of the Library has to be in those wonderful book boosts you can craft inside it.

How many extra drops have folks got over time thanks to those magical doublers? Potentially the best boosts around and we wouldn't have them without the Library.

Worst Missions

If you've ever woken up at night in cold sweats thinking about a nightmare mission, it was probably one of these...


Canning - Right, lets start with one of the most iconic and remembered mission threads.

Here's the difficulty with Canning. It took the food.

That seems like a really simple thing and oh well never mind, but remember it's the food and the energy that it buys that keeps us all playing the game. Canning was a little like making us go through a whole heap of work just to remove our ability to do a whole heap of work...


Tape - Tape. Just Tape. Do I need to say any more? No, didn't think so.


Prize Pairings - You know that annoying person in work who picks up any meme, TV catchphrase or joke and rattles it off... Every. Single. Moment.

That's the partnering missions, something that started as a nice idea, and has swiftly degenerated into something that grates on the nerves like the latest American Idol single and is as discomfiting as horsehair underpants.

Each thread taken on it's own is ok, the general idea of growing a prize animal is a good one... but it's a harsh lesson to any game developer. A good idea executed well will still be hated once you've flogged the donkey off it...


Chilli - Let's be honest, even Heston Blumenthal couldn't create a chilli that uses 954 items, which was the amount of required requests for the Family Reunion missions, more commonly known as the Chilli missions.

In the time it took to complete these missions I could have gone to cookery school, specialised in chilli, created my own supreme chilli recipe, started a chain of chilli cafes, sold them to Starbucks and blown my new found fortune on wine, women and song.


Barter Office - Was anything ever more disingenuous than the Barter Depot? We heard Barter Depot and got all excited at the prospect of being able to trade things with neighbours or the game and swap things around that we needed.

Instead, it was a 1016 to 1696 item craftathon where everything we made and bartered for just ended up being something else we would use to barter with ad nauseum.

Even the REWARD we received at the end, the Victorian House, actually needed us to build it by going through the whole tedious "bartering" procedure again and again... In my eyes, easily the worst missions we've ever had.

Best Missions

It could be requirements, or storyline, or reward... but some mission threads become more memorable and just better than others.


Canning - Right, lets start with one of the most iconic and remembered mission threads... OK, deja vu much?

Let's accept that taking the food made Canning a really bad mission. But then, once you realised you could buy the requirement with just one Horseshoe and keep your food, the whole thing changed and it just became a mission of true homesteading, plating, harvesting, tending, tracking down what animals gave what food...

There's a certain irony that after being so reviled before more and more times these days we see people harking back to it with rose tinted specs, and wishing for another mission like it.


Cattle Drive - I know, I have placed a set of repeatable missions in the best missions set... let me explain my apparent insanity.

"I hate repeatables" has become something of a mantra for Frontierville players, but this was a set of missions that changed a lot of people's minds. Once you stopped the knee jerk to the R word it became clear the missions were actually (whisper it)... nice.

Although the final one was iffy (how many people knew what alfalfa was before these?) they were generally not bad missions, and soon a new mantra arrived... "I'd rather do a good mission three times than a bad mission once."

I can honestly say I would rather get the Cattle Drive missions all over again than the Barter Depot!


Kissing Tree - The Kissing Tree gave us a lot of new stuff. It gave us romance, it gave us interaction where we could pick a storyline, it gave us the chance to be a real controller of destiny.

Of course, we all know how it ended with Hank getting Fanny, but that feeling of interaction and control meant something, we had a hand in our own game, even for a short time.


Prairie Pox - How often have we seen "this isn't realistic, this wouldn't have happened in the Frontier." Well, this was VERY realistic...

The wild frontier, a ravaging illness and the desperate need to get cured by building a Doctor's Office and getting good 'ol Doc Auburn in to help.

Mission wise these were basic, but storyline wise, it really was as true to Frontier life as any game would be. Plus they looked fun while sick, it made you connect to your avatar and WANT to heal them!


Make Believe - I'm going to finish off with one of the most recent mission threads, and one of the best.

The recent Make Believe missions had a great storyline, a fairly gentle set of requirements and fairly nice rewards... so what's not to like? That's as simple as I can say it, everything about the missions was enjoyable to do, they were a thread i almost regretted was over.

But in it's excellence the Make Believe series does open up a question. How often will we get this kind of thread?

I think it's fair to say that a lot of people would be happy with more Make Believe series of missions, but is that what we'll see? Or will we get more partnering missions?

Will we continue to see requesting at a doable level or will something like the Barter Depot rear it's head again. Will we see threads the players would like to see, more of the Best than the Worst?

Let's hope so, because above all the Make Believe thread gave the page and the game a generally positive feeling for a while, and it's a feeling I enjoyed.