Friday, December 19, 2014

Review of new Island in Family Farm Seaside, a mobile device game

Family Farm Seaside always has been my favourite game for mobile devices.  I have been playing it faithfully on a daily basis for almost two years.  A small break in my log-in record occurred when I took a 30 day cruise and the Queen Mary had the worst internet, making it impossible to complete the Mother's Day Quests that year.  Nevertheless, it is a gorgeous game graphically with old-fashioned values in the Quests and moreover, it explores global festival traditions in the time-restricted Quests, making it even more attractive to me.

I have written reviews of mobile Zynga farming games such as FarmVille 2: Country Escape and the CastleVille Legends.  Although I played them without too much frustration initially, once I reached Level 20 or so, I became exhausted by the constant demands that gameplay levied on farmers.  Too many options all at once, too much to do... too frantic.  Thus, despite the fact that some of my friends and even one of my cousins plays these games, I opted out of them.  I still have the games but never play them.

Imagine my horror, therefore when, after Family Farm Seaside announced that they were going to release a second farm, that farm proved to be almost identical in its options to the frantic Zynga mobile device farming simulation games.  I wrote an initial guide for the Island which can be found at

Family Farm Seaside Guide

It includes all time-restricted Missions and Quests as well as Strategy tips for the game and other useful information.

Every player must judge for himself or herself but I find the Island exhausting and do not care for the options there.  New Items can be unlocked for the most part only by making farm expansions or amassing Dev Points, earned by completing Helicopter Orders.  This would not be a problem if there were not a primary Farm with its own Daily Order Board, Cooking Stand Missions and other Time-Restricted Quests.  What we have now is a situation where there are too many options at play all at once, all due to expire within a specific time frame.  It is NOT fun.

The original Family Farm, played on laptop or desktop through Facebook, remains the greatest game of all.  It is a game where developers actively seek and follow player advice, where premium cash is GIVEN as a daily log in reward, where beautiful Decorations can be crafted and then placed on your Farm rather than being on sale for REAL cash as 'Limited Items' as Zynga is wont to do.  The Christmas Quests in the original Family Farm are fun and allow sufficient time for all players to complete.  The Christmas Tree this year, when fully decorated has an animated train running round its base and is exquisite.

If you are a fan of Zynga's FarmVille 2 Country Escape and CastleVille Legends, no doubt you will become a player of Seaside because of the new Island option but I for one am sad that the developers chose to follow a gaming company that does not have the best track record really.  The original FarmVille becomes increasingly difficult even to play.  With far too many farms to ever visit, and far too many new options and purchase offers bombarding the player, it is almost impossible to log into the game now.  Most of my old Neighbours no longer even attempt to play the game, having encountered some of the same problems.

Ah well... I still do love my original Farm on Seaside, although I wish they had offered a new Farm Expansion for our existing Items.  The fact of the matter is that the Island, which we thought would give us an opportunity to decorate with Items that no longer fit on our original Farms, does not accommodate ANY original Farm Items.  This is a serious defect in the game.  You have new farming land but there are entirely different crops, entirely different animals and entirely different machines and decorations... leaving me with far too many Items in my Warehouse and a crowded original Seaside Farm that barely can fit one Machine when needed.  Please, please do offer us a new Expansion at least!

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Current Review of FarmVille

Once upon a time, Zynga created a game they christened FarmVille.  There have been some accusations to the effect that they stole Farm Town's concepts and more, but one way or another, FarmVille became a great success.  Facebook was fairly new then and FarmVille and Farm Town were two of the primary farming simulation games on the platform.  The graphics of FarmVille were far more sophisticated than those of Farm Town, although Farm Town offered some very sophisticated options to players who had stayed fiathful enough to reach high levels.

I never played Farm Town to that extent but I did play FarmVille through the years as more and more new Farms were opened, each with a different theme.  There was an Hawaiian theme, a Christmas theme, a spooky Hallowe'en theme, a New England theme, a British theme and so on and so forth.  Five years later, FarmVille continues to release new Farms every few months but what is the bloody point?  The game is too huge.  It take at least 20 minutes to LOAD the newest farm, and making the trip to an old farm is as dangerous as taking a propeller plane to Nepal.  The page is inundated with streaming advertisements, all of which slow the loading process.  Furthermore, the actual gameplay is far too complicated now.  Every day, it appears that new crafting options and challenges are thrown at the player.  Some of us simply want to FARM but that is near impossible now.  All of the missions involve crafting which requires endless bushels of crops of different types.

Most of my old Neighbours do not even play the game any longer.  Many of them cannot load it.  Others are simply fed up.  What a great pity!  Zynga continues to brag about the number of users, but I suspect that once 'Liked', few bother to 'Unlike' the game and many of the numbers consist of players who haven't looked at the game for years.

Zynga's stock became almost worthless for a time.  Now it is up in value, but that probably has more to do with other games than FarmVille.  Why not make FarmVille viable again though?  Why not clean up the loading page for a start?  We don't need to be hit with reminders endlessly about crafting, shipping licences, eternal double points and the Terms of use.  Simply let us access our farms and I think you might find that actual gameplay will increase.  Zynga has the capacity to load games quickly.  I have seen it on the mobile device games like Castleville Legends and FarmVille 2 Country Escape.  Why not bring FarmVille back to a place where it can load within five minutes???  We are not idiots nor are we robots.  We do not need to be told what to do every five seconds.  The gameplay is interrupted constantly by prompts to send all Neighbours Special Delivery Boxes or buy the latest Items or use the most recent crafting option or WHATEVER.  We can choose ourselves whether or not we wish to perform these actions.  It is frustrating, irritating and in all honesty, quite counterproductive to inundate players with so many stupid pop-ups and arrows that we cannot plant a single crop on a single plot or harvest a tree or animal.

And here's a thought: instead of creating NEW farms, why not increase the capacity of our Gift Box to accommodate all the items the game practically FORCES upon us?  Thank you for adjusting the number of clicks needed to receive the daily stamp item, but it is rather frustrating when one has to spend hours to sell or otherwise use items from the Gift Box in response to a declaration that no new items can be received until one seriously diminishes the total.  THAT is your responsibility, Zynga, to increase capacity for something we actually NEED.  We do not need multiple Hallowe'en farms, Alien Farms, Emerald City Farms, Jungle Farms, Australia Farms or anythiing else under the sun.  Give us a chance to work on the multiple farms we have accrued over the past five years!  You offer sales from time to time on land and items on old farms, but when our games crash or freeze due to the fact that the myriad prompts and pop-ups require us to be on the NEWEST Farm, what is the point???




Friday, November 7, 2014

Changes in Family Farm Seaside in response to Players

Recently, I wrote a post about some aspects of Family Farm Seaside that were frustrating to players, including myself.  A number of small changes have been made now, to enable players to operate more successfully.

One of the issues involved a Jack O'Lantern Machine that had to be completed from Materials obtained randomly when fishing with a special Hallowe'en Hook that required 125 Bait.  The Machine requires a total of 500 Materials.  It was released a few days before Hallowe'en and players had four weeks to complete it.  Even so, there were two fundamental problems with this.   A Machine that is particular to Hallowe'en should be completed in time for Hallowe'en.  A week after Hallowe'en, many players had not completed the Machine and were heartily sick of fishing.

The developers have reduced the price of fishing with the Hallowe'en Hook from 125 to 100 Bait.  This is a temporary 'sale' but is helpful.  Furthermore, they have reduced the price of purchase of extra fishing tries from 2 RC to 1 RC.  This too is temporary but shouild enable many players to complete the Machine.  I finally completed mine this morning.

Another problem with the release of the Hallowe'en Machine was the fact that the game had another ongoing project that required a large number of Seafood Items that, like any Seafood Item, could be obtained only randomly when fishing with specific hooks.  With a limited number of fishing tries, one could not perform both the Cooking Stand and the Jack O'Lantern Machine projects.  It is extremely frustrrating when one cannot participate in all Missions, Quests or projects in a game that one plays faithfully on a daily basis.

Today, a new time-restricted Quest was released.  You can find it on my Family Farm Seaside Guide page.  Some Quests in the past have included tasks that required a large number of Seafood items. This one does not require more than 10.  This fact is significant in that many players still are working on the completion of the Jack O'Lantern Machine and need to be able to use their allotted fishing attempts for that project.

Whoever developed the Family Dinner Quest thought it out very nicely.  Items that are required in one step are used in a later step and the Items that are required for the Collections Mission are required for tasks in the Quest sequence as well.  In other words, farmers can further the Collections Mission by completing a task for the traditional Quest sequence.   This has not been the case in the past, where many tasks really had no connection to any other task or to the corresponding Collections Mission.

I do not know if any one at FunPlus read my 'open letter' or not but the developers obviously became aware of player complaints and addressed them in a timely fashion.  For me, this is what distinguishes a truly good gaming company from a  poor one.  Moreover, I am more inclined to invest time, energy and even money in a game when I know that player concerns are heard and addressed than I would be in a game where it is evident that no one ever listens.  The developers of the original Family Farm actually invites players to make comments and suggestions about every aspect of the game.  I  hope a forum can be established for players of Family Farm Seaside where they can do the same.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Open Letter to Fun-Plus about Family Farm Seaside

First of all, let me be absolutely clear about one thing: I consider Family Farm Seaside to be the best game that is available for mobile devices.  I have over 500 days of continuous log ins for this game.  I have completed every possible mission... until now.

The graphics are beautiful.  Gameplay is easy enough for the so-called 'casual gamer' but challenging enough for seasoned players.  Unfortunately, however, there are some new options that are almost impossible to achieve and this is the subject of this post.

Initially, Family Farm Seaside was a farming simulation game.  No more, no less.  Like the original Family Farm on Facebook, there were Crops, Animals, Trees and Machines that could be harvested. There were missions that were unlocked at specific levels and had no time constraints.  Then, missions became available with time limitations.  These usually were linked to specific festivals or holidays and gave rewards in the form of new Trees, new Machines or new Decorations.  All very well and good so far.

The game expanded to include a fishing option.  Fishing always was random, however, in the fish one actually caught.  This was not too much of a problem as long as Missions did not demand specific Fish or Seafood Items.

A Kitchen was released, then a Beauty Shop, where Items could be used to create Cooked Dishes or decorative pieces respectively.  Finally, quite recently, a Cooking Stand was released.  This in itself was not a problem, as long as the Dishes that were required to complete the Missions were not too difficult to make.  Unfortunately, two things occurred almost simultaneously:

The Cooking Stand 'Missions' are linked to rewards in the form of a sort of Bingo type card where each Round, requiring a specific number of specific Dishes, completes a square on the card.  Round 3 of the current Cooking Stand Mission required two Dishes, each of which required two specific Seafood Items.  One needs a total of 200 Dishes to be 'sold' in order to complete a round.  Four dishes, each of which has a maximum of 60 are available to be made.  Even if one completes 120 maximum of the non-seafood dishes, one needs another 80 of the other two dishes.  Fishing, remember, is random.  I spent a week fishing without ever catching the items required to make these dishes.  After using the items stored in my Barn, I still lacked the ingredients needed to complete the round.  One can use RC (premum cash) to buy the ingredients, but each dish required TWO, not ONE seafood item.  This meant that I would have had to spend a total of 40 RC to make 20 more dishes.

Perhaps I could have caught the ingredients needed but at the same time, a new Machine was released for the Hallowe'en season.  It was an unfinished machine that required a total of 500 ingredients, ALL of which had to be caught by using a special Hallowee'n Rod when fishing.  Again, results were entirely RANDOM.  After fishing almost constantly since the release of this Machine, I still lack 25 materials and I am fed up.  One cannot even PURCHASE the missing materials.

Fishing is restricted to a specific number of attempts.  These are replenished over the course of time, but if one wants more attempts, one must pay 2 RC for 5 additional tries.  The game ran a brief sale wherein one could purchase 5 extra tries for 1 RC.  Even taking advantage of this, I still lack 25 materials.

I am NOT the only player with this issue.  It is ruining the game for me quite frankly.  It is not fun to go fishing without catching a single material I need.  I continue to catch the materials I do not need, but many of the items caught have NO materials attached to them.  Every fishing try requires 'bait'.  The Halloween Hook requires 125 bait per attempt.  Slowly, I am exhausting all the items in my Barn, items I had saved for potential use as cooking ingredients.  I hope some one at Fun-Plus will address this problem and either make the Bat Wings more plentiful during fishing or give us an option either to trade the materials we have caught but no longer need for the ones we do need or give us an option to purchase the missing materials.

Yes, we were given 4 weeks to complete the Jack O'Lantern machine but it was released only a couple of days before Halloween and Halloween is OVER.  My enthusiasm for the whole affair has diminished with each unsuccessful fishing trip.  Moreover, I sacrificed the Cooking Stand round completion for this.

I have been playing this game for two years or more and have invested significant time, energy and even money in Seaside.  I am growing disillusioned, however.

There are two more issues I would like to address here:

First of all:  in the original Family Farm and Happy Farm, if you somehow do not log in one day, you lose only 7 days of log ins.  In Seaside, I believe you lose all your progress.  That was certainly the case when my device failed and I could not log in last year.  The developers kindly reset my log in history but even so... shouldn't it be a 7 day loss instead?

Second, the time-restricted Missions are becoming too difficult.  In the beginning, a Collections Mission required 150 materials in order to redeem the final Reward.  It was increased to 250 but in the last Mission, it was increased to 350 materials.  That is too many!  Collections always are random and to be forced to collect 350 materials in order to redeem the final Prize, a prize that is required about halfway through the traditional Quest sequence, is DISCOURAGING and counterproductive.  I know many players who simply gave up on  this Mission.  Is that the way the game should work???

I think developers are paying too much attention to the highest level players to make the game 'challenging' for them, not realising that those of us in the middle are being discouraged from continuing.  Please reconsider!  Better a mission that can be completed in a timely fashion by ALL players than one that is too difficult for most players apart from the power players at the very top of the iceberg.

Thank you for your attention.

Let me finish by declaring that Family Farm Seaside remains the only mobile game I play regularly.  I stopped playing Farmville 2 Country Escape and Castleville Legends because there were two many conflicting new options and too much stress.  I hope to God Fun-Plus will learn from Zynga's errors and not make Seaside a similar stress-filled activity.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Fundamental Defect in Facebook Games

Back in the day, they were called 'casual gamers'.  Facebook was merely a gleam in the eye of Mark Zuckerberg then and the only games played on the computer were 'PC Games' that had to be downloaded.  AOL was famous for its lists of free games and there were other free games available for those who enjoyed a bit of gaming.  Unless an individual actively sought out a game, however, there was little to draw a non-gamer into the net.

With the explosion of the popularity of Facebook, 'casual gaming' was revolutionised.  The entire basis of Facebook as a 'social Network' worked in favour of gaming companies who wished to advertise their wares in a fashion that was tantamount to 'word of mouth'.

Facebook did not make the games.  It simply provided a platform for them.  In the beginning, there were a few farming simulation games such as Farm Town and FarmVille and battle games such as Castle Age.  The games themselves were free, but one needed to find 'friends', 'neighbours' or 'allies' if one wished to succeed.  One could play the game in a very basic fashion without having 'friends' who played but it was extremely difficult to succeed.

Success was based upon the 'help' of Facebook Friends.  These friends either had to send materials or aid to the players they knew by clicking on Wall Posts or by responding to requests that were built into the game.

It was a brilliant marketing ploy.  Any Facebook user who became involved in a Facebook game would urge Friends and Family to register for the game in order to provide essential aid.

The games themselves were fairly simple in the beginning.  Farming games basically consisted of planting, growing and harvesting Crops or harvesting products from Animals and Trees.  As the concept of Facebook gaming provded popular, more options were added to existing games and new games.  Crafting items using raw ingredients from Crops and Trees as well as Dairy Products were incorporated into Farming Simulation games.  Quests were added to these games as well.

I have been an ardent fan of complex farming simulation games such as Harvest Moon, Rune Factory and the Sims for years.  One therefore might have surmised that the more complex sophisticated games on Facebook would have appealed to me.

Unfortunately, I have found a very fundamental defect in all of the Quest-oriented Facebook Farming Simulation games.  They do NOT encourage creativity or any use of initiative.  In fact, if a player seeks to anticipate uses for items or to grow Crops and buy Animals and supplies before any Quest directs him/her to do so, the result can be very negative.

The complex games operate on the basic assumption that the player will take NO step without being directed to do so in a Quest.  It is a Pavlovian strategy in a sense.  Quests direct players to plant X number of a specific Crop, to obtain X number of specific materials and perform a specific task or tasks, awarding the player with a Reward in the form of coins, XP and often Limited Edition items when the entire sequence has been completed. 

If a Player does not wait for the Quest but uses raw ingredients to make Items on his/her own initiative, there often will not be sufficient time to replenish stocks when the Quest is announced.  Other Crops may be growing on his/her Farm and will have to be harvested before the Crops that are needed to satisfy the Quest can be planted.

Freyashawk, who has written over 250 Strategy Guides for games, most of them for Farming Simulation Games, is one of the WORST players where Facebook games are concerned because she is too accustomed to the process of independent thought.

I therefore prefer the games that do not dictate every single step that a Player must take.  Two of the older Farming Simulation games remain favourites because one can play them successfully even if one ignores the Quests.   The games I like best  that allow a Player to operate fairly well outside of the Quest structure are FarmVille and Fantasy Kingdoms.  Although both games incorporated Quests, those Quests can be ignored or followed sporadically.

The first game that made me realise how much I despised dictated actions was Frontierville.  Many Harvest Moon players raved about the game, declaring that it included 'courtship'.  I do not care for unwashed men with beards and the styles of the Frontier in any case, but the endless instructions annoyed me beyond belief.

CastleVille was released later.  That game has a medicval setting which is most appealing but it revolves as much on an endless procession of Quests as Frontierville.  I therefore found that I did not enjoy it much at all.

I try new games sometimes and usually find myself with the same sense of frustration when endless Quests and instructions seek to force me into strictly regimented gameplay.   However delightful the graphics may be or however creative some of the Quests may be, the fact that a player actually is penalised if he/she takes the initiative is depressing to me.

Two games that reminded me initially of Harvest Moon in their charming graphics were FarmVille 2 and Family Farm.  I only discovered the latter game today.  I asked a family member to start to play the game at the same time, but instructed her to perform actions strictly according to the quests.  Meanwhile, I began to play the game as I would any Harvest Moon game, planting and harvesting at will, crusing the Marketplace for new options and purchasing them.

I discovered that my progress was much slower than hers.  The Quests were delayed because I had performed different actions.  Money was in short supply because I did not have the 'Rewards' she had for obeying the game.

In short, if you wish to succeed in Facebook games, it is best to do ONLY what the game dictates that you do.  I suppose the makers of these games believe that 'casual gamer' means 'gamer without the capacity to think for himself/herself'.  If you do not mind the utter lack of creativity inherent in the Quest system, you can relax and enjoy the adventure.  If, however, you are accustomed to independence of thought and action, you will have the same problems I have had.

My one solution is to play the games that are not aggressive with Quests and to perceive online Facebook farming as a sort of Zen activity.  I create virtual farms as havens of peace and beauty.  I do not want to be forced to farm at any specific pace or to compete with other farmers.

There is another reason why I like FarmVille and Fantasy Kingdoms and am less enamoured of FarmVille 2, for example.  Although games found on Facebook tend to be 'free', there always are two forms of currency.  One is 'premium cash' and the other is currency that can be earned through the player's actions.  Inevitably, many items that one can purchase, including expansions, require the premium cash.  In FarmVille and Fantasy Kingdoms, a player will earn one unit of premium cash for every level increase.  This is fair in my view.  In FarmVille 2, on the other hand, one NEVER earns any premium cash.  One only earns coins.  If you wish to purchase Limited Edition items, you need to purchase premium cash by investing real money in the game.

Many of the newer games follow this strategy.  I think it is counterproductive actually.  I am more likely to invest real money in a game that is generous with premium cash and Limited Edition items.  I do not mind 'paying my way' but I do dislike what I consider to be undue pressure on a player to spend money in order to succeed.  

I doubt that I am in the majority, however.   For any player who likes to be told how to proceed and enjoys cute graphics, I would recommend FarmVille 2 or Family Farm.  FarmVille 2, like the original FarmVille is a game where your Crops will wither if you do not harvest them withint a specific time frame.  In Family Farm, your Crops will not wither.

Both Family Farm and FarmVille 2 have some really creative little 'events' to celebrate the Christmas season.  FarmVille 2 has had special events and quests for every holiday so far and they make up for some of the defects in the game (such as the inability to earn premium cash and the way expensive animals cease to give product when they are transformed into 'Prize' Animals.)  On Hallowe'en, day turned to night and spooky sounds accompanied harvesting and other activities related to the festival. 
Thanksgiving was particularly charming.  One built a Feast Table and then proceeded to give five Feasts.  One invited Neighbours to each of these Feasts and the Neighbours actually would arrive, seat themselves at the table and eat, then leave special gifts when they departed.  I never saw anything quite like this on any other FB game and it delighted the heart.

For Christmas, one 'builds' a Tree in FarmVille 2.  In Family Farm, one plants a seedling.  Neighbours then must visit to water it a specific number of times.  Finally, one trims the Tree by asking Neighbours for specific ornaments and decorations.

Of all the Farming simulation games, Family Farm has the most careful balance and planning.  In other games, whether the original FarmVille or FarmVille 2, Quests and requirements appear almost random.  One may be required to harvest X number of specified Crops without any use being given to them in later Quests.  In Family Farm, however, every Quest is a little tutorial that leads to a new Maker or Animal.  One is introduced to the Beehive by growing and harvesting Clover which then is fed to the Cow to allow her to produce Milk.  The Milk then is placed in a Cheese Maker.  What is really interesting about Family Farm is the diverse usage of each Maker.  One can make four or five different Cheeses in the Cheese Maker.  One can make three types of Wine in the Wine Maker and a plethora of sweeties in the Cookie Maker.  Everything can be used in some fashion.  Flowers like Carnations and Lavender are attractive to special Bees... and so on. 

The only aspect of Family Farm that really bothers me is the way one harvests 'Beef' from certain Cows.  At least they do not die or go off to the Butcher as in some of the other carnivorous Farming Simulation games, but it disturbs me a little to 'harvest' a slice of Beef from a living Animal!  Even so, it could be much worse...

FarmVille and FarmVille 2 at least have maintained a strict vegetarian outlook.  Animals are almost the Masters in the original FarmVille.  The player is called upon to facilitate THEIR social lives and romances.   I rather like that turnabout logic.  It reminds me a little of 'Animal Crossing'.

There are too many games now on Facebook even to list.  A Facebook User can try any game and then block it if he/she does not wish to have any information about it posted to his/her Wall or be bothered with requests from Neighbours.   If you wish to play games but have many Facebook friends and family who look upon gaming with disgust or contempt, you can choose how to share any Wall posts or other information about the game.  Create a gaming 'group' for your game posts if necessary.

For me, much of the pleasure in Facebook games is purely visual.  No game is the equal of Fantasy Kingdoms in constituting actual interactive art.  It remains a little gem on Facebook.  FarmVille, however, does have some very creative developers, even though it tends to overload the player with too many new options and items.  To some extent, it is a matter of personal preference.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Latest Review of FarmVille

It strikes me that when dedicated players of a game, who never missed more than a day of gameplay in a couple of years, go so far as to BLOCK a game on Facebook, it is time for the makers of that game to sit up and take notice. Zynga, are you paying attention?

Despite a slew of wonderful Hallowe'en Items, Zynga finally has piled on the last straw to break the proverbial camel's back. There are too many quests, and too many that attempt to force a player to invest real money in the game.

Lighthouse Cove is an utter disaster. It was billed as a 'Fall Getaway' but a more pressure-filled environment could not be imagined. One is given a handkerchief-sized bit of land with a very limited number of potential farming plots. In fact, the number is 30. One THEN is given a sequence of new Quests each week that include at least three Quests to harvest 70 Crops that require a day to grow to maturity. If you wish to expand your farm to the point where you actually could plant 70 Crops in a single day, you must invest significant amounts of actual Cash.

What does Zynga do to HELP players to complete these ridiculous quests? Now there is a little icon with the Quest icons on the left side of the screen, informing players that, for a price in REAL Cash, they can grow their Crops, Animals and/or Trees instantly. It isn't ethical, in my opinion, to make Quests too difficult for players, especially those at low levels, to complete without investing real Cash. The game is supposed to be FREE, after all. Many of us HAVE invested money in FarmVille, but I think most of us would like to do so on a voluntary basis and not be driven towards it like cattle at every turn.

Zynga, you are failing your loyal fans when the high Level players who have supported your games for at least a year, if not two, have been brought to a point where they would rather BLOCK the games completely than continue to play them. Please, please reconsider your new policy of inundating players with far too many Quests and Animal Pens and unnecessary new options. A Quest should be something special that a Player wishes to complete and not an onerous duty that is pinned to the game like a Butterfly thrust through the heart.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Harvest Moon Tale of Two Towns



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The newest game in the Harvest Moon series is 'Tale of Two Towns' and I am in the process of creating a site as well as the usual Guides for this game. 'Tale of Two Towns' has been released for the ordinary DS system but a slightly different version is due to be released for the 3D system shortly. Evidently, the game will be the same for the most part, but there will be some special little additions to the 3D game.

In 'Tale of Two Towns', you choose not only your character's gender but his/her residence of choice. There are two Towns, as the name of the game announces. The Towns are Bluebell and Konohana. Bluebell Town specialises in Animal Farming. Konohana specialises in Crops and Orchards. The Towns are separated by a mountain region.

The Harvest Goddess will tell you the history of the Two Towns as well as the reason why she blocked the tunnel that cuts through the mountain and once acted as a shortcut between them. Too much bickering between the Mayors and villagers of both towns became unbearable to her and she caused an earthquake to bring down boulders to act as a barrier. Your primary task at the start of the game is to restore good relations between Bluebell and Konohana as she regrets the act that further divided them.

Although Crop Farming and Animal Husbandry are divided between the two Towns and you must choose between the two at the start of the game, it is not only possible but desirable to change your residence from time to time. You have the ability to make a choice each season, so every player can experience the unique beauty and charm of each Village, not only as a tourist but as a resident. While living in one Village, you are encouraged to visit the other. Each Village has some basic shops, but there are specialised businesses that can be found only in one of the two.

Note that although you must choose between Crop Farming and Animal Husbandry, you will be able to grow Crops on your Farm in Bluebell Village or raise Animals on your Farm in Konohana.

In true Harvest Moon tradition, there are Cooking Festivals and it is the Cooking Festivals that offer you the opportunity to begin to mend relations between the Two Towns.

Players of both Harvest Moon and Rune Factory will note new options in this Harvest Moon game that have been taken from Rune Factory. Among other things, there is a Message Board where Requests can be taken and Courtship includes both Heart Events and 'Date Events'.

Players who enjoyed Grand Bazaar will note that some of the Characters as well as gameplay options from that game have been included in Tale of Two Towns. The three brothers who were so prominent in the Bazaar are Characters in Tale of Two Towns. Another Grand Bazaar option is the ability to purchase pets who will herd your Animals as they do in Grand Bazaar.

The Mountain Area that separates the Two Towns is particularly glorious in this game, and gives a Player the ability to forage for Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots and other wild items as well as Fishing and catching Insects. New to Two Towns is the ability to catch fish with your hands! The use of a Fishing Rod is necessary to catch many varieties of Fish but shallow waters offer the chance to 'hand fish'.

A preliminary General Guide should be available on my new Tale of Two Towns site this weekend.

Happy Harvesting!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fantasy Kingdoms Review


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I was introduced to Facebook Games about two years ago by a friend who urged me to join the 'Social Network' and recommended FarmVille and Farm Town to me as the games that resembled Harvest Moon and Rune Factory the most. Almost immediately, however, I discovered two other games that attracted me enormously. These were 'Lovely Farm' and 'Fantasy Kingdoms'.

'Lovely Farm' is a Russian game that had a great deal of appeal but which stagnated and never really expanded its options, although new options were promised. The actual Russian version of the game did progress further than the English or international version and as I never played the original, I am unable to review it.

Most Facebook games have two forms of currency. One is earned primarily through gameplay. The other is primarily purchased with real cash and is the currency required for the most part to purchase 'premium items' as well as land expansions in many cases.

For me, one of the aspects of any Facebook game that defines its appeal is the ability to earn 'premium' cash in the course of gameplay rather than being forced to purchase it with real money. 'Lovely Farm' unfortunately failed this requirement as one NEVER was able to earn the currency required to purchase many of the land expansions and items.

'Fantasy Kingdoms' on the other hand, like FarmVille, rewards players with 1 unit of premium currency with every level increase. Furthermore, it actually is the most generous of all Facebook games I have encountered in that it includes a 'Wishing Well' option players can visit once each day for rewards. The rewards include many premium item as well as 1 unit of premium currency every 7th day.

Fantasy Kingdoms, as its name suggests is the Mecca for any individual who loves fantasy art and fantasy worlds. Its graphics are unparallelled and it has a variety of themes that would appeal to different tastes, from the 'dark' to the 'light', the whimsical to the classical. Even after two years, I continue to marvel at the items and landscapes created by its designers.

Furthermore, of all the games on Facebook, Fantasy Kingdoms most closely follows the feedback from its players and in most case, implements suggestions, whether they come as positive suggestions or complaints.

For example, Lovely Farm had one marvelous option other games lacked in the form of the ability of the player to 'hide' one or more type of item. Players could hide crops, animals, trees, decorations or buildings. This is an incredible aid to players who have used all of the available land as in many cases, a tall building or tree will conceal crops that are ready to be harvested.

I brought this option to the attention of Sneaky Games, maker of Fantasy Kingdoms. It took some time, but Fantasy Kingdoms now includes this fantastic option.

As in most Facebook farming simulation games, neighbours can unwither crops that have passed their harvesting window of opportunity. Fantasy Kingdoms initially gave Crops that had been fertilised or unwithered by neighbours little silver sparkles. They then changed the visuals to blue outlines. Many players, including myself, were very unhappy with the change. We missed the magical sparkles. Other players, however, welcomed the changes as they had complained that the sparkles were distracting. What did Sneaky Games do? They provided the players with the ability to choose their preferred graphic for enchanted/fertilised Crops. How many other game companies respond to players' concerns and suggestions?

Fantasy Kingdoms includes another option that does not appeal to me personally but which many players love. It basically incorporates a game forum beneath the window that displays the game itself. It is a community forum where players can 'meet and greet' other fans of the game and can ask for help or chat about anything or everything as long as the topic is appropriate to all ages.

Finally, where FarmVille only offered a second farm in the form of the English Countryside a few months ago, Fantasy Kingdoms now gives players the opportunity to own 10 Kingdoms and to expand each. As Fantasy Kingdoms is a game with elemental themes and powers, this allows players to create different landscapes for each Element if they so choose.

My only criticism of Fantasy Kingdoms at this point is the often brief Marketplace appearance of some of the themes. Even with the premium currency that one earns in the course of gameplay, in cases where themes are available only for a handful of days, acquiring these items would require significant outlays of real cash that may be outside a player's budget. FarmVille, of course, is far worse in this respect, but I hate to see any tendency on the part of Sneaky Games to persuade players to purchase more than they can afford. Players, especially when they are beginners, can be enormously frustrated by the brief appearance of desirable items or themes and it is rather unfair to subject them to this marketing strategy. In its defence, Sneaky Games, after withdrawing special Crops or items from the general Marketplace, will make them unlockable at high levels. Even so, what is the rush??? Why not make every theme available for at least a month? At the proverbial end of the day, game companies may profit temporarily from the strategy of offering time-limited items that require players to purchase them within 5 days but they ultimately will lose a significant part of their fan base. I only hope that Fantasy Kingdoms will bring back some of the themes, such as Air and Fire, in their entirety and make all Crops and Items available to all players again.

Fantasy Kingdoms offers an additional option to create special items through Spellcasting. Unfortunately, when the Crops and Themes linked to the Spells are available only for a very brief time, it is almost impossible for players to complete them. This can be frustrating as well.

Meanwhile, the new Space Theme, although less appealing to me personally than the Desert, Fire and Air Themes that so quickly disappeared, is available for another fortnight at least.

Of all the games on Facebook, Fantasy Kingdoms still offers the greatest fulfillment to me visually and creatively and I continue to admire the people at Sneaky Games for their consideration of players' concerns as well as their generosity in giving players premium currency and premium items on a regular basis.

N.B. I have written a little guide for Fantasy Kingdoms and created a site for it as well.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Wonderful World of Animal Parade


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Animal Parade is the next game in the series that began with Tree of Tranquility, the first Harvest Moon game to be published for the Wii system. Having written the Official Strategy Guide for Tree of Tranquility, I was unable to post freely about that game, but I labour under no restrictions of that nature where Animal Parade is concerned.

Both games have a very detailed main plot and both offer a wealth of choices in terms of prospective spouse. As your choice of spouse will affect the personality of your child, Animal Parade offers many different 'paths' in terms of your ultimate family life.

Both games include stunning graphics. Personally, I feel that the musical themes in Animal Parade are among the most beautiful I ever have heard, with the possible exception of Rune Factory Frontier, another game made for the Wii.

Watermills are nothing new to Harvest Moon. In many old games, including FoMT and MFoMT, you could feed the Corn you grew into the Watermill to create Feed for your Chickens.

Milling has become far more sophisticated in Animal Parade, however, offering wonderful new options of growing your own Coffee Beans and Sugarcane to grind at the local Windmill into Sugar and Ground Coffee.

A Crop that is new to Harvest Moon is the Olive, which can be processed into Olive Oil for Cooking, offering an alternative to the Butter created from the Milk your Livestock produce. Sheep by the way can yield both Milk and Wool in Animal Parade and ALL Livestock can be used for Transport.

The basic system is the same both in Tree of Tranquility and Animal Parade. Any player who enjoyed ToT will be well-equipped to play Animal Parade. As with Island of Happiness and Sunshine Islands, however, the two games are diverse enough to make each unique.

Comparing Island of Happiness with Sunshine Islands



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Although players of Island of Happiness will find many of the fundamental principles of Sunshine Islands reassuringly familiar, there are a multitude of exciting new options as well as some changes.

As in Island of Happiness, farming degree points are at the very foundation of the requirements for unlocking new options. The many 'teams' of Subsidiary Characters that corresponded to some extent to these point totals in different areas are not found in Sunshine Islands, however. There are Harvest Sprite teams, but they serve a different function and are unlocked by Friendship Levels with other Sprites.

In terms of what were the 'subsidiary characters' in Island of Happiness, you have only two Fishermen and two Miners as well as the owners of the Diner, Cafe and Inn.

As far as 'Main Characters' are concerned, Sunshine Islands features the same cast of Characters but with a couple of exciting new introductions. Lily and Will are introduced as two new 'Eligible' Characters. Mark or Chelsea remain your 'counterparts' and eligible for marriage. The Mineral Town characters visit Sunshine Islands seasonally much as they did in Island of Happiness.

Farming is very similar in terms of Sunlight and Water requirements. It has been made a little easier, however, in that Rice, Wheat, Soybeans, Buckwheat and all the products derived from them are on sale at Chen's Market from the start of the game. (Yay!) This gives you a nice little exploitation when you can afford to build a Maker Shed and purchase a Seed Maker. Although the Seeds for the various Grains can be unlocked, you can buy the product at the Market and throw it into the Seed Maker to produce a bag of seeds. As the grains all take more than one season to mature and nothing grows in Winter, you can modify your farming strategy to suit the seasons and grow grains even before you have unlocked the Seeds.

Rice, of course, requires paddy fields and you need to raise a special Rice Island in order to be able to have access to the four paddy fields in the game.

This brings me to the fundamental plot of Sunshine Islands. At the start of the game, after meeting your first Harvest Sprite and his companions on Sprite Island, you will be introduced to the reality of the situation in the Sunshine Islands. Sadly, most of the chain of Islands has sunk into the sea. With the aid of magical Sun Stones, a Sprite named Agete COULD raise them again. There are specific Sun Stone totals that must be met for each Island. Here, strategy is important as knowing which Islands to raise first will help you unlock new important characters as early as possible in the game.

Unlike Island of Happiness, where most of the Eligible Girls and Bachelors actually had to arrive on Sunny Island before you could meet them, the majority of Characters are living on one of the two remaining Islands in Sunshine Islands at the start of the game. The exceptions are Shea, Wada, Mark/Chelsea, the Witch Princess, the Witchkin, Nathan, Alisa, the Harvest Goddess, Will and Lily.

Shea's home will be on Mushroom Island, one of the Islands that has to be raised again. When you have raised Mushroom Island, you will be able to meet both Shea and Wada, as well as being able to collect a veritable cornucopeia of Mushroom types in all seasons. (Two of the subsidiary goals in Sunshine Islands is completion of the long list of specific mushroom and fish types.)

Mystic Islands is a small chain of two separate Islands. The Harvest Goddess and her Church, inhabited by Nathan and Alisa are on the western island and the Witch Princess and her delightful niece, the Witchkin, are on the other. These Islands need to be raised before you can meet any of these important Characters.

Animal Island is the Island that provides an option that many players have longed to find in Harvest Moon for many years. This is the option to interact with Wild Animals, first encountered finally in Tree of Tranquility. How many players wanted to interact with the Animals that roamed the landscapes of Mineral Town and Forget-Me-Not Valley. Now, in Sunshine Islands, when you have raised Animal Island, you can journey there to befriend the various types of Wild Animals who live there. Making them your friends has concrete rewards in the form of Gifts of items...

There usually is at least one Mine in any Harvest Moon game and Sunshine Islands is no exception. The Mine is located on Volcano Island, another Island that has sunk beneath the waves. When you raise Volcano Island, your life will be enriched enormously with the opportunity to meet two amazing new Characters in the form of Will and Lily. (I am utterly infatuated with Will myself, but if I were a lad, I'd definitely fancy Lily!)

If you wish to grow Rice, Fruit Trees or build a Greenhouse, you need to raise a number of Islands, beginning with a small barren place called 'Link Island' that simply serves as a hub for all the special farming Islands. Each of the three special farming Islands must be raised separately and bridges must be constructed to them from Link Island before you will be able to travel to them.

As you can see, there are similarities here to Island of Happiness, where access to new areas (and introduction to new Characters living in those areas) was based on the construction of Bridges. The Sun Stones add an entirely new dimension, however.

Sun Stones can be obtained in a number of different ways. When you have given any Main Character five 'Most Favourite' or preferred Gifts, he/she will give you a Sun Stone in return. Taking the boat from Island to Island will result in the gifts of a few Sun Stones from the pilot, Kirk. When you have attained 2 Hearts with the owner of any business or home, he/she will give you a Sun Stone in a little special Event. The Fishermen and Miners can be given 5 'Most Favourites' to persuade them to give you Sun Stones but the Mineral Town characters have none to offer. Oter Sun Stones can be found on the various Islands. Agete gives hints about this. My General Guide, by the way, lists the method by which all Sun Stones are obtained...

When you have raised ALL the Islands in the Sunshine Islands chain, you will not be able to rest on your laurels... for it is at this point that Sunny Island sinks beneath the ocean!... More about that later...

Finally, in terms of Pets and Ranch Animals, Sunshine Islands has expanded the list to include Dog, Cat, Horse and PIG as Pets and rare Ranch Animals such as a Jersey Cow, a Suffolk Sheep and a Silkie Chicken. Youa re able to choose between two Kittens, two Puppies, two Horses and two different Pigs. There are interactive mini-games with all the Pets that are 'practice' sessions for the various Contests. Those of us who missed the old Disc-throwing game with our Dog in FoMT/MFoMT now are able to throw a Disc to the Dog in Sunshine Islands. The Pig is unique, however. He has his own Pen on Mushroom Island and HIS mini-game is hilarious. Throw him into the bushes and he will emerge with a random Mushroom. He will not give it to you meekly, however. You have to chase him and catch him before he eats it! The Pig is amazingly fast and cunning... At very high Friendship Levels, however, you have a chance of obtaining the rare Truffle from him.

These are only a few of the new options in Sunshine Islands. In terms of Courtship, Island of Happiness remains unique, with its alternate 'paths' in Heart Events. In Sunshine Islands, there is only one path for Heart Events to follow. Rival Couples can marry in the fourth year at the very earliest, but there are no children from these marriages. It is here that Harvest Moon as a series once more demonstrates its genius. Despite all the wonderful new innovations in Sunshine Islands, there still are very good reasons to play Island of Happiness!

Both of these games are complex, challenging and fun. Both have their unique strengths and for me, the ever-evolving universe of Harvest Moon continues to fascinate and delight.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Frantic Farming, Harvest Moon Puzzle Sequel to Island of Happiness


'Frantic Farming', a new Harvest Moon puzzle game is due to be released by Natsume in North America shortly. It is a fast-paced harvesting puzzle game that features all the main characters from Island of Happiness. In fact, a player can unlock a dozen different playable characters after beginning the game either as Mark or as Chelsea.

In Story Mode, each puzzle is accompanied by a Chapter in a Story that is unique to the character, although all the Stories have a common foundation on Sunny Island.

The premise of the tale is Nature run amok, with ripening vegetables choking every part of the Island. Your task is twofold: to harvest the excess Crops and 'save' the Island by determining the cause and solving the problem.

On a philosophical level, the idea that too much prosperity can be as harmful as any famine or drought is interesting. For players who in Island of Happiness struggled mightily to harvest their Crops even at subsistence level in the first few seasons, the Cornucopia of ripe Crops from every season is a novel experience indeed.

The puzzles are set on a grid filled with tiny squares. There are Crops on each square in varying stages of growth. You enlist the services of a single Harvest Sprite to harvest the Crops on the grid in order to meet the requirements for each specific puzzle trial. Whenever the Sprite harvests a Crop, he then waters the area that surrounds the square. The number of squares that can be watered depends on different variables. Gold Crops as well as Big Crops are included in Frantic Farming.

There are a number of different Contest Modes, requiring different strategies in order to complete each Chapter of a character's Story. When you complete one character's 'Story', you unlock a new character.

What may surprise some players is the wealth of characterisation and amusing dialogues in the little Stories, although Harvest Moon veterans have learned to expect this sort of detail in any Harvest Moon game. Furthermore, the little Stories actually provide important information about the characters on occasion, such as their 'Most Favourite Gifts', making 'Frantic Farming' a cohesive part of the Harvest Moon universe. It is far more than a 'puzzle' game.

For those players who like the DS Touchscreen/stylus option, Frantic Farming offers opportunities to practice and perfect stylus use. Crop movements within the puzzle grid are entirely controlled by the stylus. It is not mindless action, by any means. Strategy considerations can be quite sophisticated. Each character has a 'Special Skill' that is unique. Knowing when and how to use this Special Skill can be vital. As in Chess, in order to excel, a player must think ahead, paying close attention to Crop types and their stages of growth.

In some respects, Frantic Farming is similar to Princess Debut, another excellent game by Natsume. Princess Debut had a very detailed Story, with variations based on your character's choice of partner. The Story in Princess Debut was punctuated by Ballroom dance trials. In order to succeed, one had to learn all the dances. Although Frantic Farming involves harvesting rather than dancing and offers a choice of playable characters rather than a choice of partners for a single playable character, the rhythm of both games has much in common.

I think that this game will appeal to a number of different groups of players. First and foremost, it should appeal to any Harvest Moon fan and especially those who are familiar with the cast of characters in Island of Happiness. For those who have not played Island of Happiness previously, Frantic Farming will provide an entertaining introduction to these characters and their social interactions.

Any player who likes puzzles will be interested in Frantic Farming even if he/she is unfamiliar with the Harvest Moon series. As previously indicated, the puzzles can be very challenging.

Fans of Princess Debut should enjoy Frantic Farming as well for the reasons I gave earlier.

Finally, Frantic Farming offers a wealth of Multiplayer options for those players who like to connect either via Wi Fi or DS to DS to match their skills with others. I was unable to explore this option as I had an advance copy of the game, but it promises to be great fun.

Here is the second of two little introductory videos I made about Frantic Farming:


Friday, November 28, 2008

Rune Factory 2, the ultimate fantasy fulfillment!



When the original Rune Factory game was released for the DS, I was overwhelmed by its incredible beauty and the combination of classical RPG elements with traditional Harvest Moon activities. The plot was strong and the characters were interesting. Beyond that, however, the ability to forge weapons and make accessories was far more extraordinary to me than anything experienced in any other game. I love Cooking in any Harvest Moon game, but forging a weapon or creating an exquisite, powerful magical ring or pin is even more thrilling!

Rune Factory 2 is not merely a second Rune Factory. It actually spans two generations and each generation has its own unique game. There are new characters in the 2nd Generation and the ability to cook, forge and create potions is not available until you reach the 2nd generation. The characters are even more developed than those in the original Rune Factory. With over 420,000 words of text in Rune Factory 2, it is a complex interactive novel that rivals any printed fantasy epic!

The graphics continue to amaze and delight. In every season, there are unique special effects. In Spring, cherry blossoms float through the air throughout Alvarna. In Summer, fireflies glimmer in the fields in the evening. In Autumn, falling leaves of various rich hues accompany your character as he walks or runs through the village areas. In Winter, when snow falls, snowflakes in unique patterns and forms are displayed. Finally, on any Festival day, multi-coloured confetti rains down upon you wherever you go in Alvarna.

The landscapes are extraordinary in their delicate beauty. It is the most incredibly gorgeous game I ever played. Moreoever, with two full generations to span, it is a very long, complex game with the value of three or four games made by any one else.

In terms of the way it spans two generations, I am reminded most of Phantasy Star III, although there are significant differences. In Rune Factory 2, the characters are developed far more fully and the game has far more options than Phantasy Star III. On the other hand, the latter actually had a myriad of different characters for you to play depending on the individual you married previously. In Rune Factory 2, your child can be either a boy or a girl, but his/her character will not vary according to the woman you married. The two games cannot be compared in terms of the options that exist in Rune Factory 2, such as cooking, forging, mining, farming, ranching, fishing and so on... The only point of comparison is the fact that both games actually encompass different games for each generation of character.

For players of Harvest Moon who enjoy the rituals of Courtship, Rune Factory 2 offers a wide variety of eligible girls in the 1st Generation as well as unique 'Heart Events' in the form of Requests for each. There is romance in the 2nd Generation as well, but your character can focus more on this aspect in the first generation, when there are not as many enemies to defeat!

I would recommend Rune Factory 2 even above and beyond any other Harvest Moon game, although every Harvest Moon game offers a wealth of experience and detail to any player. Island of Happiness is another recent release that is perfectly amazing and deserves a review of its own. I would not declare that Rune Factory 2 is superior to Island of Happiness or Harvest Moon DS/Cute DS... for me personally, however, the option to forge an edged weapon is too wonderful for words and that is what may place Rune Factory 2 ultimately at the top of my list!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tree of Tranquility for the Wii




'Tree of Tranquility' is Harvest Moon's latest venture for the Wii. Although a later version of 'Magical Melody' was released for the Wii, the game in fact was created for the GameCube platform. Tree of Tranquility, on the other hand, was created specifically for the Wii.

I was given the task of writing the official strategy guide for BradyGames. It was quite an undertaking. The biggest difference between my internet guides and a printed guide for Brady probably was the deadline and inability to update the guide once a certain stage of production had been reached.

The final retail version differs in some respects from the version on which the guide is based. There is nothing I can do about that, except to offer to help players as usual if they email me. One difference is the fact that the Fish Shop now does not sell raw fish. Instead, it sells only grilled fish. More sadly, you cannot buy Decent Cocoons in the final retail version at the Brownie Ranch, severely limiting one of the best exploitations I found in the game. You still can perform the exploitation if you have your own Cocoons though.

Tree of Tranquility has a very strong plot, and players who enjoy traditional RPGs probably will become quite involved with the plot aspect of ToT. One can choose to play either a girl or a boy. Courtship and marriage follow basic Harvest Moon traditions, including the wonderful romantic proposal tradition of the 'Blue Feather'. One very exciting difference in ToT is that you can choose to play a 'next generation' game as your own child!

With the possibility of saving an infinite number of files at different stages on memory cards, you can develop a basic game in terms of farming, ranching, fishing, mining and cooking, then branch off in different files to court and marry different individuals, creating new futures for your character in each. Furthermore, at the time of pregnancy, you are given the option to choose whether you wish your child to be a boy or a girl. If you save your game prior to that point, you can create different save files for each gender of child.

One of the most endearing aspects of Tree of Tranquility is the ability to tame a wide variety of wild creatures and persuade them to become your pets. Among the animals that can be tamed are a number of cats and dogs, a turtle and a penguin.
The landscapes are gorgeous and both farm and wild animals beautifully portrayed.
In Tree of Tranquility, transport options include an Ostrich!

The festivals are rather glorious, with colourful decorations, a profusion of seasonal flowers and ever-popular fireworks displays. There are a number of romantic festivals at different locations, including a Firefly Festival at the Waterfall. Trysts are held beneath a special Mother Tree in the Brownie Ranch district. The Starry Night Festival as well as formal Declarations of Love occur beneath the magical Tree.

Rival Couples not only can marry but have children as well in ToT. If you wish to meet all possible characters, therefore, you need to choose a candidate for whom no romantic rival exists. Of course, if you save files on a memory card, you can marry every single candidate in different games.

The Official Strategy Guide I wrote for this game can be found at all game shops and Amazon.com. For all other Harvest Moon games, see my online guides published by IGN.
You will find links to ALL my internet guides on my Harvest Moon website at:

Friday, July 20, 2007

Embarking upon a Second Life





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It always amazes me when I discover a new world.

Despite the fact that 'Second Life' is immensely popular, I never knew much about it until a friend recommended it to me yesterday.

For those who are as ignorant as I, 'Second Life' is a computer 'game' that actually allows individuals to live in another world. It is not like 'The Sims' because there is no story line and all the characters are real people. The world is very much like this one in most respects, although there are some technological advances, such as teleportation, that have not been possible at this point in our world.

When I visited the 'Second Life' site, I found it a little daunting at first. It seemed so much like reality, especially in the realm of business and money-making schemes, that I felt I would be as much a 'fish out of water' there as I was on Wall Street in Manhattan.

Despite my self-doubt, however, I registered and underwent the Orientation Tour. Rather amusingly, I was accosted by a number of newcomers like myself, who appealed to ME for help! Fortunately, having obtained my Key to the Island (the prize for completing the Orientation), I was able to help them. Perhaps one day I shall write a Guide for 'Second Life'. Who knows?

I wandered about a little, accepting pamphlets from various organisations and reading them. Free outfits and accessories were being given away as well. It was rather like a convention in many ways. I acquired a number of brochures and objects that may or may not prove useful. Although my avatar was clothed in jeans when I arrived at the Orientation Island, I was able to create an elegant long skirt for her instead, as well as a pair of gloves. Most of the activities on Orientation Island are designed to familiarise newcomers with the basic workings of 'Second Life'. They teach newcomers how to move, how to change their appearance, how to communicate with other individuals and how to interact with objects.

One of the first steps when registering is to create an 'avatar' for oneself. One is offered a few basic choices. One needn't be a conventional human being. If one would rather have the head of an animal, for example, one can. In any event, the initial appearance one chooses does not determine any ultimate choice. One can change gender, change body type, change everything, once one knows how to do it.

More than once on Orientation Island, I encountered a bizarre creature, perched on a wall. He (I assume it was a male) had the body of a chicken, but a head that resembled that of a human. I did not attempt to engage in conversation with the creature, although he looked rather forlorn, and the fact that I encountered him at different locations probably either signified loneliness or a desire to show off his bizarre appearance to every newcomer who arrived.

Incidentally, 'Second Life' truly is international. People speak every language and instructions can be found in almost any language. The first question any individual asked me was whether or not I spoke English. I believe I spoke to individuals from Scandinavia, Southern Europe and Japan within the first five minutes of my sojourn at Orientation Island.

I then discovered an offer for a free 'balloon tour' of the Island.
I clicked on the offer and was given the option to teleport to the site of the tour. Promises of free lemonade and popcorn operated as an added inducement, despite the fact that I never eat popcorn in the 'real world'. It sounded like fun, and that indeed was the purpose of this marketing device.

The balloon was very attractive, but did not move from its moorings. Until another newcomer arrived and promptly found a seat in the balloon, I was at a loss. He told me that the balloon would not move until an individual was seated safely inside. I found a seat and the balloon tour began.

'Second Life' really is all about marketing and recruitment. The balloon tour was a rather clever device to introduce newcomers to the people who had created 'Second Life' and to promote the entire vision of a second reality to newcomers.

As we passed a display of stuffed animals, I reached out to try to grab one and suddenly, was the recipient of a stern scolding from an unseen male. 'Don't make me get physical with you, Freyashawk!' the man shouted.

My companion, a chap named Noob Nishi, responded rather chivalrously, shouting back at the guy, telling him to be more courteous in future!

I was a little taken aback when my companion disappeared suddenly. I did not know if the unseen male had disposed of him in some sinister fashion or if he had forgotten the warnings not to stand in the balloon. (We had been told that if one were to stand, one would fall through the floor of the balloon.)

I completed the rest of the tour alone, floating slowly over the island until at length, the balloon returned to the platform with the popcorn machine.

Here I found my companion once more. He told me that his computer had crashed, thus explaining his sudden disappearance. He then announced his intention of flying to explore the island further.

Yes, one can fly in 'Second Life'. Although one can take a tour of the island via hot air balloon, one could take the same trip simply by pressing the 'Fly' button and taking to the air alone. No wings, but one does have the power to fly all the same, even though the scientific basis for this power may remain unexplained. (It is possible that it IS explained somewhere, however, as there are real scientific communities in 'Second Life', as well as exhibitions and events. One can attend lectures and become involved in classes, as well as opening businesses or creating a new community. One actually could make a second life more profitable than the first, and money made in 'Second Life' can be converted to American dollars or whatever currency you choose.)

I decided to explore a little in like fashion, and experimented with the power of flight. Unfortunately, when I chose to land, I overstepped the mark and fell onto a rocky cliff on a level far below the buildings I had intended to explore.

It was rather comical, actually. I do not know if any one watched my clumsy efforts, but I expect it would have been amusing to watch me dive and swoop, only to plummet onto the rocks below.

At length, I discovered a very upscale shopping precinct that included a photography studio and wedding chapel. More of this later...

Meanwhile, the official website can be found at:

http://www.secondlife.com/

In my next post, I will describe my exploration of some of the business opportunities that exist in 'Second Life'.

N.B. I do not know all the specifications for running the programme. I am not terribly adept at computer operations, but I was able to install the programme effortlessly. It runs without trouble on my laptop.

One simply registers by choosing a name and initial 'avatar' appearance, then one must provide an email address and create a password. After that, one will receive an email that includes a link to the download site. Download the application, install it and then open it to enter into a 'Second Life'. It is as simple as that.

Note: Two of the photographs show the basic avatar created upon registration. The third shows my avatar in her current manifestation on her own land.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

'Fish Tycoon': A Virtual Aquarium




Taking a break from intensive games like Harvest Moon and 'Lost in Blue 2', I decided to try another game from 'Last Day of Work'.

In fact, 'Fish Tycoon' is both simple and sublime. It really operates as a virtual aquarium but there are sufficient challenges even for some one who loves games. At the same time, it can be 'played' in a rather desultory fashion by an individual who simply wishes to have a virtual aquarium as a screensaver on his/her desktop.

With 400 different types of fish, the game can bring new surpises to a player constantly. There is some skill involved, however. As in reality, fish can be hardy, slightly fragile or extremely fragile. Without improving the fish tank and acquiring some education through research, one never will be able to have any of the rare fish. Cross-breeding is an integral part of gameplay, but the results may not be viable unless one has the right level of 'research'.

The key to this game is the 'Game Speed' setting. If a player wishes to be fully engaged in the game, the speed can be set to 'Speed 2x' or 'Double Speed', allowing births and growth to progress at a very fast rate. If one wishes to concentrate on other tasks and cannot be involved in the game on a constant basis, it is best to set the speed to '1/2 Speed'. This allows the game to progress very slowly, to prevent catastrophes from occurring while the player is otherwise engaged in his/her own life.

At the start of the game, one has a single tank, a few half-grown fish and $300. Isola dollars, the currency of the island where most of the games made by 'Last Day of Work' take place.

Fish become adults after 20 hours. Their species and type as well as value are determined only when they are fully grown. They then can be bred or sold at the Supply Shop. By selling fish, one earns money to purchase upgrades.

Upgrades allow one to breed more fragile hybrids by improving the tank environment and the quality of food. There are upgrades that increase sales as well. Rather like 'The Sims', one must purchase the ability to do research in the fields of food, environment and marketing. The upgrade, once purchased, then must be 'learned' over the course of time.

The game operates in real time, whether or not one actively plays it. Even when the computer is off, the aquarium will continue to operate. In this sense, it really is a virtual aquarium. One can change the Game Speed to pause the game or cause it to run in Half-Time, slowing the process when one cannot be involved actively in the welfare of the fish. In the same way, one can increase the speed to Double Time when one wishes to move time forward more quickly. Even so, it does offer a fairly realistic experience of breeding and cross-breeding fish.

Sometimes the simplest concepts are the most appealing. It is exciting to find a new hybrid in the tank or to nurture a fragile fish to adulthood. The only question that remains is what sort of 'lasting appeal' this game will have.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Update on Virtual Villagers

I read an interesting interview with the creator of this game concerning, inter alia, the problems inherent in any game involved with 'real time.' Apparently, 'Virtual Villagers' was intended to be the sort of game one could ignore for a fair amount of time without fear of catastrophe, but players would return to find corpses littering the ground of their Village, in the same way I did.

Since then, I have discovered a certain rhythm to the game. Apparently, a 'random event' will occur at least once in a 24 hour period. It can be positive or negative, and may or may not involve a response or choice on the part of the player. A child may be washed up on the shore, rather like Moses in the basket, or a terrible tidal wave can deposit more debris on the beach, after your villagers had succeeded in clearing the shore of debris. Every 24 hours or so, villagers randomly will become ill. If you ignore the game for more than a day, the sick villagers may die.

Although the game is rather realistic in some respects, the age limit for pregnancy is rather high. I was able to induce pregnancy in a woman of 54 years, although by rights, having repopulated the tribe, she should have been able to enjoy a brief 'golden age' in peace. Nonetheless, as she remained the only adult woman, I thought it politic to use her as breeding material despite her years.

Most of the 'upgrades' must be purchased with 'tech points' obtained by having your villagers involved in 'research'. At the same time, one must make certain that there are people working on farming and building projects for the village's survival.

When you purchase Level 2 Spirituality, you no longer have to see skeletons in your Village Square. My poor 'breeder' woman died when I attempted to impregnate her one final time at the age of 56. I waited for her to come out of the breeding hut in vain. Suddenly I was appalled by the sight of her 'decomposing body' in the Square.

This time, though, it was different from the initial mass death scene. I was able to guide her daughter to the graveyard. She then walked to her mother's corpse, took the skeleton gently in her arms and proceeded to carry it to the graveyard. The entire village became involved. It was rather touching! Flowers bloom where formerly it was nothing more than a barren field.

It is a good little game, once one has some idea how to keep things running smoothly. It is not as challenging as 'Lost in Blue' or 'Harvest Moon' but it does not require as much energy or concentration either.

Virtual Villagers: Hope for the Future





(The puzzle board, containing icons of each of the puzzles that must be solved in the game.)

To read the entire sorry tale of my experiment with the PC game, 'Virtual Villagers', you need to begin at the earliest post on the topic. The situation, briefly, was as follows:

In an attempt to prolong my 'trial period' as well as erroneously believing that I could sleep while the villagers worked, I left the game on all night and slept through their gradual starvation... If I had been awake, I would have been aware of the moment when they gained enough 'tech points' to buy Farming experience and ran out of berries to forage. Instead, they kept gaining points while continuing to forge until the berry bush had been picked clean.

In other words, they were extremely well-educated as well as having completed a wonderful project providing them with a lagoon in which to bathe. They failed to find another source of food, however, starving one by one, collapsing in the centre of the Village where celebrations ordinarily are held.

The only survivors were a mother with infant and a young male. The woman was almost dead, and yet she continued to nurse the baby. The young male was extremely weak.

I bought the Farming advancement instantly and set him to the task of planting crops. I crossed my fingers and prayed that the mother would survive. She survived (barely) and the child became a toddler. The child was a boy, however, necessitating another breeding attempt.

The woman was 39 at this point, and possessed only an eighth of her former strength. It was very cruel, but I had to force the two adults to breed. It took some determination on my part, but at length she produced a baby.

She now was 40 years old. If the child proved to be male, my village would not survive...

I am glad to announce that she produced a girl. In the illustrious tradition of the ancient Egyptians, I will start a new dynasty with the two children. I doubt my adult female will produce any more children. In any case, I feel she has done her duty to the village of Isola. She now is 41 years old.

Life in Death: Virtual Villagers









This photo depicts a civilisation at its nadir.

Despite the very poor quality of the photograph, the bizarre juxtaposition of the mother with her baby in her arms surrounded by the decomposing corpses of her fellow villagers had to be captured somehow. Despite the fact that 'tech points' had been used to boost the level of Spirituality in this small village, evidently the surviving male is not advanced enough yet to bury the dead. The mother holding the child obviously cannot volunteer for cemetary detail at this point. When I placed the male next to one of his dead comrades, he only knew how to 'embrace' it, the initial act in the sequence of breeding. That was disconcerting, to say the least!

The photograph in the next post of the villagers disporting themselves in the sparkling lagoon is NOT from my game, alas. In my game, the villagers succeeded in clearing the blockage from the lagoon before they died, but did not survive long enough to enjoy the benefits of their labours.

As I was sleeping at the point when they amassed enough tech points to allow the purchase of Farming Experience that would take them beyond the foraging stage, they continued to pick berries until the bushes were bare... then slowly starved to death as their 'Goddess' slumbered fitfully.

Virtual Villagers







Computers now are 'loaded' with demo versions of a number of games. HP apparently has an agreement with 'Wild Games' to promote their games. There are two ways to continue playing any game after the 'free trial' has run its course. You either can purchase the game or purchase virtual 'coins' to feed into a virtual machine. Some games do not require more than a trial to play the game properly. Others are extremely frustrating to play in the trial mode, especially if they are RPG or simulation role-playing games.

'Virtual Villages' is a simulation role-playing game, on the order of games like Harvest Moon and Lost in Blue. It actually was produced by a company named 'Last Day of Work'. The difference here is that 'Virtual Villagers' continues even if you are not there to supervise the actions of the characters. As it is a PC game rather than one for a handheld system or console, this essentially should allow an individual to work at other tasks while 'looking in' on the game from time to time.
I believe there is a 'virtual aquarium' game that is rather similar. I find it an intriguing concept.

The trial period continues as long as you do not quit the game. I thought I was very clever to leave the game running all night. My villagers would do research, amassing vast numbers of 'tech points' to improve their lives. They were working on a project to unblock a river as well. I rather fancied I would sleep through the boring labour and awaken to a bright, new world.

Sad to say, I awakened to a rather grim scene. One begins the game with two adult females, three adult males and one child who is five years old. The game had prompted me almost immediately to begin 'breeding' the villagers, so I had one female with a baby in her arms when I went to sleep. For two years after the birth of a child, a woman will do nothing but care for the child...

The mother and child survived, but barely. The other female had died, with the three adult males. Apparently, by some strange time movement, the child had become a young man. Needless to say, all the trained scientists and doctors were among the decomposing remains. Yes, the skeletons remain on the ground, awaiting further advancement of this civilisation.

In the midst of these grim memento mori, the mother continued to nurse her baby, although her strengh had been reduced almost to zero. The young male of 21 had retained only an eighth of his strength.

With all the 'tech points' amassed before their untimely death, I was able to purchase the knowledge necessary to begin to grow crops. I set the man to the task immediately, as the mother and child duo were useless.

I did not know if she would die before the child became self-sufficient or not. Amazingly, she survived and the child became a toddler. This allowed me to put her on farming detail with the male.

Unfortunately for the future prospects of this civilsation, her child was a male, and the mother now had reached the age of 38.

I had to work fast if I wanted the village of Isola to survive. First, I had to build up their strength a little. I force-fed them, then forced them to embrace and begin the difficult task of 'breeding' once more.

What a frustrating business that proved to be! They usually were too hungry to express any interest in the process. I would force-fed them, then force them again to embrace, ignoring all opposition and reluctance on their part. My only female now was 39. I was uncertain of the maximum age at which a woman would be allowed to have a child in this game, but it could not be far in the future...

At last, I succeeded. The poor woman, who was able to recover only an eighth of her former strength and energy before she became pregnant again, now has another baby in her arms. Gender is undisclosed until the woman has nursed the child for 120 minutes. I await the results anxiously. If the child is another male, I might as well face the horrible knowledge that this civilisation is doomed...

The game is more like 'The Sims' than Harvest Moon in the sense that characters often will resist your commands. They are quite stubborn and foolish sometimes and will refuse to forage even when there is no food in the storage area. There is no dialogue, but there are random events that occur, giving you the option of making a choice between two possible actions.

There are puzzles to solve. Some of these involve removal of rubbish or stones from various points in the village. Others provide clues as to the history of the village.

Oddly enough, the game is quite compelling in its way. It reminds me of 'Age of Empires', but without the threat of war. The fact that life continues even when you are not playing the game actively makes it rather like the games that create 'virtual pets' and allow you to care for them and improve their lives. I suppose 'virtual Villagers' is rather like an ant farm of homo sapiens.

If the child of my 39 year old woman turns out to be a male, I may lose my enthusiasm for this game. If it is a girl, however, I shall be overjoyed. You have no idea how awful it was to awaken to the sight of all those corpses, when I had expected only great advancement in knowledge and prosperity... To be able to 'turn it round' and create hope from despair would be very satisfying.

I do believe only a fool would use the 'virtual coins' option to continue playing a game like this after the trial period. If my little tribe survives, I am going to want to find the full version somewhere...

Monday, June 25, 2007

My Garden of Delight in an 'Innocent Life'










End of Spring of Year 3, Easter Ruins.

These are photographs of some of my fields at the Easter Ruins. I divided my fields basically into fields for flowers, herbs and vegetables. A couple of photographs shows flower fields. Flowers that can be grown in the Spring season are Pansies, Hyacinth and Tulips. All three are featured here, along with Lavender, technically one of the herbs.

One photograph shows a field where I mixed herbs with strawberry plants and another shows the shipping pods as well as a partial view of the Bas&Ket Railway that conveys baskets filled with crops from any part of the field to the shipping pods.

The third photograph shows another field filled with flowers and herbs.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Valkyrie Profile: The Chance to Experience Ragnarok and Rebirth



(Valkyrie Profile: Freya with Odin in Valhalla)





One of the very best games I ever have played is 'Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth'. Like many fabulous games, it has its basis in an old game for the original Playstation system. When they remade it for the new portable PSP system, they improved upon it. The result is one of the greatest games available for players who like both RPGs and action games.

Actually, there are two new Valkyrie Profile games, and this review will touch upon the PS2 game, 'Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria' although the main focus is on the PSP game, 'Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth'.

What is unique about this game is that it occurs on two separate levels. Lenneth, a Valkyrie, fights against the forces of evil on Earth while in Asgard or heaven, the Gods organise their forces to fight against the forces of evil. The interesting twist to this game is that all the heroes are dead. They are known as einherjar, the 'chosen slain'.

The game is organised in Chapters. At the beginning of a Chapter, Lenneth has the option to gain more einherjar for her army. By the end of the Chapter, she must decide who among her warriors she will send to Valhalla to fight with the gods.

This creates an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, a player would like to keep his/her best einherjar for the active battles that determine the course of the game. The einherjar sent to Asgard, however, bring rewards according to their virtues and their value as warriors. Points won in gameplay can be assigned either to combat skills or to improve the character of one or more einherjar. This game is quite complex really.

Although you cannot participate actively in the battles fought in heaven, the battles will change according to the warriors you send. At the end of every Chapter, the Goddess Freya will speak to you to give a report of your own progress and that of the warriors you previously sent to Valhalla. You actually can access the individual records of each of the einherjar sent to Asgard to read about and witness their performance in the war in heaven. This makes the game multi-dimensional in every sense of the word.

Both Valkyrie Profile games include a number of films that are unlocked at specific points in the game. The graphics are stunning and the plot is compelling.

If this were all that there was to 'Valkyrie Profile', it would be a richer game than most, but there's far more to the game than this. Throughout the game, there is a question as to the true identity of Lenneth. By making the right choices, you can unlock and experience her personal story, help her regain her memory and ultimately reunite her with her true love.

I am not going to go into the complex equations that determine the ending of the game, but there are three different possible endings. The first is the 'best' ending, where Lenneth and her true love reunite after the last battle to restore the earth. The second allows the player to experience Ragnarok in a different way. You can fight to victory, but Lenneth's own destiny will be lost in this version.

The third ending only is experienced if the player is truly indifferent to the game and refuses to perform any of the 'transfers' to Asgard of the warriors needed by the gods to fight at the last Battle. In this scenario, Freya ultimately becomes thoroughly disgusted with you... and you will lose the game.

What this means, in fact, is that there are three different games here. A player who loves this game can experience all three by playing the game differently each time. Moreover, even within the confines of a single ending, there are a multitude of permutations. By choosing different warriors to send to Asgard, you will be able to witness or read about different events in Heaven's war.

In terms of gameplay, Valkyrie Profile is extremely satisfying to any one who enjoys role-playing games and is attracted to games that allow one to improve one's fighters by increasing their experience and purchasing the best armour and weapons for them. Strategy is very much a consideration and most players require a good guide in order to fully enjoy the game.

The graphics are fabulous. It always amazes me when a game created for a small handheld system like the PSP has graphics that can be compared positively with anything made for PC or the larger consoles.

The 'dungeons' are well-designed and encompass every possible landscape, from forest to classical castle dungeons and levels in Heaven or Asgard.

For the impatient player, the beginning of the game, characteristic of many of the great RPGs, may appear long and slow. Believe me, it is worthwhile to persist. Once you are familiar with the characters, you probably will find the beginning intensely interesting. The first time round, though, it may be a little irksome to the impatient.

There is an aspect to the game that I found rather perplexing in terms of its divergence from the original Norse myths, but which will appeal to many gamers. On the side of 'evil', you will find vampires with a vampire lord named 'Lord Brahms'. True to the Norse cycle of myths, Loki is the leader of the forces of destruction, but Lord Brahms is an important character. The inclusion of forces of the 'undead' in the game must appeal to fans of such games as 'Castlevania'. For a purist like myself, the entire 'undead' component took a little time to accept, but there is no doubt that the castle of Lord Brahms is a fabulous addition to the game. Like many castles in Northern myth, it can be found only at certain times and once entered, the player has a limited time to explore it. It is in 'Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria', however, where Lord Brahms becomes a central character.

In point of fact, as previously stated, there are two new 'Valkyrie Profile' games: 'Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth' and 'Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria'. Lenneth and Silmeria are two of the three Valkyrie (swan maidens) chosen by Odin to choose the worthy slain. The third, Hrist, is an adversary in the first two games. One hopes her story will be told in the next Valkyrie Profile game. 'Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria' was made for a different platform: the PS2 or Playstation 2. It is by no means inferior to its PSP 'sister' game, and different enough to encourage players to explore both. Your first choice simply may depend upon the system that you own. I personally prefer 'Lenneth' partly because I favour small handheld systems and partly because I find her tale more romantically fulfilling.

In classical RPG fashion, you can choose between a wide assortment of warriors and mages in forming a company of four. Each einherjar has his/her own distinct style of combat and weapon type. Some weapons can be wielded only by one particular character. The battles are turn-based, but the equations are far more complex than most games. By planning the attacks of members of your party, you can generate special powerful attacks either by one or all members of the group. Magic attacks are elemental in nature and you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents in order to prevail. As in most games of this nature, enemies 'drop' war trophies. Treasures can be found in dungeons and some are more critical to the plot than others. In the case of Lenneth, you can use her either as a sword maiden or as an archer, and you can create an active party that comprises either one member or any number up to four. The range of any attack can be influenced by the attacker's position in the active party, so strategy is an element here as in other areas. Valkyrie Profile is both truly engrossing and unique.


Whichever 'Valkyrie Profile' game you choose, you cannot be disappointed. It is a game of beauty, depth and complexity that has something for every one.