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


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

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.