Forever Drive

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Well, Hello ladies…

Forever Drive was one of the first games I downloaded, and is another great example of FTP gaming that works. I’ve been waiting to write a review for Forever Drive because it had some pretty major bugs, and I was hoping that Supermono would release an update to fix them. A couple of weeks ago the update finally came out, and so it’s time I write out my thoughts.

Forever Drive is pretty much a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin type of game. You drive and drive and drive until you’re so bored of driving you steer straight off a cliff to your death, much like my Uncle Murray did in the late 90s.

Do you know what it's like going to the supermarket late at night to get some more beers and you're trying not to let on that you're driving pissed?

How Does It Drive?

In Forever Drive you race only against time – which is perhaps partly to credit for my long lasting enjoyment of the game. Quite frankly, I find racing games a bit boring; I don’t really care about beating anyone else (except my wife, I beat her all the time!) Although your only real opponent is the clock, there are plenty of diversions on each track to keep the tension up. There are points to collect, pick-ups, and other cars travelling along at their own pace which you must dodge.

Each time you pass a car you start a combo chain and you only lose your combos if you hit a car or the sides of the track. The higher your combo, the faster you travel. (Although I’ve noticed this function has gotten a little buggy in the recent update. Sometimes I start going very fast after getting a combo of only 8, other times it takes closer to 20 for the same speed.) It can be truly painful when you’ve got a good speed going then suddenly you hit a car (the likelihood of which steadily increases the faster you go, obviously) and now find yourself moving at a snail’s pace. Along the sides of the track, usually on turns, there are glowing strips that give you points while you drive on them, but of course the danger with these strips is their proximity to the edge of the track, which you’re trying to avoid. Occasionally there will also be a line of little stars on the track, in sets of 10. Each is worth 10 points but that is doubled if you manage to get them all.

There are three pick-ups: Time Extension, 500 Points, and Speed Increase. By far the most useful and most common is the Time Extension. The Speed Increase is a power-up that I find can be just as harmful as good. They don’t always appear in the best of spots and if you hit one going into a bend you’re just as likely to shoot straight into the wall, slowing yourself down, losing any combo you may have built up, and will probably be worse off that if you had just skipped it. On the other hand you receive points at the end of each track for the number of power-ups you picked up, so you have to weigh the pros and cons.

All the points earned during a track run are tabulated after you cross the finish line. When you run out of time, your overall run is ended and all the points you’ve earned during all your track runs is calculated and your level meter fills up. By leveling up you earn newer and better cars, new paint styles and license plates for your car, and buildings to use as props when you build your own track. One of the things I really loved was the tongue-in-cheek descriptions of all these items. Its always nice when a developer doesn’t take themselves too seriously. In fact on the help section of the Supermono website, which can be accessed via the help tab in game) the 8th point on the list is that players should remember to put the game down and go have fun outside.

You can listen to the Drive soundtrack on your headphones while playing this. Then you can pretend you're cool.

One of Supermono’s most clever tricks with Forever Drive was the method they developed to keep new, fresh tracks consistently added. By having tacks created and vetted by the players themselves, it prevents the game from becoming tiresome and dull. There are some downsides to this method though. For one, occaissionally you’ll play a track that you really love, but the odds of getting to play it again are a bit slim. With new tracks constantly being added, you rarely see the same track more than 3 or 4 times. The other, bigger downside is that while everyone thinks they can design games- much like almost everyone seems to think they can sing, act, or write. These misguided creators often mistake impossible or stupid with challenging and thus you find yourself playing many tracks that are damn annoying. For example, tracks with a sharp turn right at the start. This is particularly bad design because while it works great when you test the track or if you get the track earlier in your run, if you have built up a combo and are therefore going at quite a clip, you will very likely crash straight into the walls with a turn right at the beginning due to the angle of the camera. And though the publisher has worked to fix the glaring problem of people sticking buildings on top of the track and obscuring your view, the items can still overlap the track a little bit and can still lead to you crashing into a car that was impossible to see. And of course there’s just as likely chance that these user designs are teh result of trolling, intentionally made bad to ruin your experience.

I imagine it would be hard to make a good track if you have big fat sausage fingers.

There is a system to work around this problem – at the end of each track you can give a track a thumbs up or a thumbs down, and if you give it a thumbs down you’ll never see it again. If it earns enough negative votes, a track will be removed from the game. Also there is a 3 track limit to building levels (unless you buy extra slots). Some have complained about this or suggested that it is counter-intuitive to Supermono’s user-based level addition, however I think its actually an intelligent move. It prevents trolls and inept designers from filling the game with terrible levels that ruin the experience. However I do think they could have instituted some sort of system whereby users who create levels that consistently get up votes earn an extra slot or two, therefore encouraging the best level designers to create more.

Supermono deserves big kudos for listening to reviewers and fixing problems with the game. In the previous version (I am currently playing V 1.22) there were some serious problems that really affected the game, so much so that I decided to not even bother playing it until they released an update. In the earlier version you would quite often find yourself on a track with a turn so tight the track wouldn’t line up properly. You would immediately get stuck and would then have to wait for the game to crash. And there were far too many levels with obstructed views. I (and I assume many others) wrote to the publishers suggesting some changes. Personally I suggested making users play their own tracks before they could be added to the pool and a serious look at the bug causing the game to crash at these times. I don’t know if they fixed that bug, but you now have to play the track before it can be submitted. I saw many other reviews complain about the obstruction issue, which I didn’t bring up, but which the publisher obviously paid attention to, as you can no longer place items too far onto the track.

Custom Paint Jobs

One cannot discuss this game without mentioning the artwork. The style of this game is absolutely gorgeous. Tron is the obvious comparison – glowing neon colours on dark backgrounds, some of the levels have a circuitry themed landscape. Combined with the props placed on the tracks (buildings, signs, dirigibles) and the way the track can rise and fall, I often find myself paying more attention to the scenery passing by than the track or the cars I’m meant to be avoiding.

I wonder if this was intentional, because it allowed the designers to make use of more block-y graphics. The cars themselves are quite square and basic in terms of style and this may have been to try and limit the amount of space the graphics took up. Or maybe when they decided that they were going to have Tron-like glowing tracks, their next step was to reinforce that reference with some 80s looks. Whatever the case, it works brilliantly.

Buying a Nice Set of Rims

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Forever Drive is a freemium product. Users can buy credits, which can be used to play the Super XP mode of the game, which multiplies your end of run score by 3. In the latest update, Supermono added a Challenge game mode, however I have yet been able to use this mode as its always “Loading New Challenges” and is never ready to play.
I think Supermono have struck a good balance on their revenue model. It’s perhaps a little to generous to the customer. I could see only the most hardcore caring about getting to the top levels and therefore I wonder how much the company earns from credit buys. Unlike Tiny Tower, which I looked at previously, Forever Drive doesn’t have an addictive nature that continuously pulls you back. It is undoubtedly addictive while you’re actually playing the game, but once you put it down, you can wait to pick it back up and it works more as a great way to entertain yourself during spare moments.

You see that? "Amazing" That's the same thing your mum said about me when she reviewed how well I boned her.

Finish Line

Supermono’s Forever Drive is a brilliant game to play and a great place to look for game design, especially for small developers. Their method of getting user input to maintain and keep the game fresh is a brilliant move for a small team that can’t afford to constantly do updates to keep customers happy, but the company still listens to feedback and works on fixing big issues, rather than letting the game fend for itself.

Its a great freemium game, although unfortunately I can’t say anything about the latest feature, Challenge Mode, which purportedly requires a spend of credits to play but despite the fact I do have some credits floating around, this mode never loads for me, so I couldn’t really tell you what it requires or how it plays. I also question how effective their payment scheme is, as I find the game lacks the addictiveness of some other successful FTP games, but that may simply be my feelings alone. Supermono might be rolling in it for all I know.

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Tiny Tower

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OH HAI

The saying that you’ll go blind if you masturbate too much can be proven false by my well-sighted friend Harry. However, Tiny Tower will make you wish it was true (because it’s a more enjoyable way of going blind than stabbing yourself in the eye). Then maybe you could stop playing the damn thing.

I put TT on my phone 3 weeks ago, fully expecting to get bored of it in a couple of days because I knew it was free-to-play, and everyone knows FTP is the soul destroying succubus whore of the gaming world.An astute player would immediately see that this is somewhat of a pixel-art rehash of Sim Tower, the best elevator simulation game ever made. You can get SimTower for the iPad here, renamed Yoot Tower after the game’s creator.

Sim Tower: Sometimes you would get red people in your tower. These were prostitutes. Very angry prostitutes.

PLAYING WITH YOURSELF

There are already many, in-depth and excellent reviews of Tiny Tower. If you’ve already read one, fell free to skip this section.

You start out building a residential floor, then a shop type of your choosing (Food, Service, Recreation, Retail, Creative) where you can put your residents to work and each shop sells 3 items worth 1, 2 and 3 coins each. Every Bitizen that moves into your building has varying skills (ranging from 0 – 9) to fit with the different categories of shops and their skill level affects their happiness in the job. Bitizens also have dream jobs which, if they are given, will reward you with Bitbux as well as double your restocking amount for each item in a shop.

The elevator that you begin with is desperately slow (Much as if it were being hoisted by a series of pulleys, ropes, and the strength of some POORS -who found themselves without jobs or places to live in Tiny City due to the recent economic collapse, and being thousands upon thousands of Bitbux in debt because of their non-vocational Bitdegree, had no choice but to take a miserable Bitjob at the newly opened Tiny Tower to Bitfeed them….Bitselves(?).

Naturally you can upgrade the lift with some Bitbux. And you’ll use Bitbux for rushing re-stocking of shops, level construction, as well as buying costumes for Bitizens. Bux can also be traded for coins, although to be honest coinage falls like mana from heaven so I can’t see how anyone would ever trade Bux for coins.

You’ll get Bitbux randomly when you take a Bitizen to their chosen floor in the lift, and you sometimes get them when you’ve fully stocked a shop. You get some every time you give a Bitizen their dream job and you get 1 every time you build a new floor There are also missions which reward 3 – 5 Bitbux on completion. A colleague of mine, who’s probably a lying liar face, claims to have had a pop-up message saying 3 Bitbux had been found under a couch cushion.

So far, so acceptable.

WELL AREN’T YOU SPECIAL?

What really makes Tiny Tower stand out is the small touches. My favourite aspect is actually the Bitbook, something that a lot of players and reviewers seem to have written off. It’s true that it serves no purpose to gameplay, but I love giving it a peruse on occaision and I love reading posts like “When the moon hits your eye that is one pixel wide, it’s amore.”, “People can be so two dimensional sometimes.” or “Sometimes I wish I had more resolution.”The Bitizens are randomly generated so their names, looks, and skills are all pretty unique.

Each Bitizen has a birthday (and apparently you get a Bitbux whenever someone’s birthday comes up, but I have yet to have that happen to me.) Bitzens are damn cute, with their beady eyes and their mouths that snap open and shut as if they’re shouting OM NOM NOM as they walk around. Sometimes they are outlandish in style – white guy with neon green bandana tied around his head and his bright blue goatee? Yes, please! There’s the option of changing the clothing of a Bitizen for free OR you can dial it up with costumes, which can be bought for the cost of a few Bux per person or if you get lucky some costumed fools will move into your tower (these are equally random, I once had a black guy with a blonde beard in a green fairy dress holding a sparkling wand. I would have loved to go that party…) It’s surprising how excited you can feel when the guy dressed as a Viking moves in and gets put to work at the smoothie shop. You end up wondering why the guy in the ninja outfit is going to the travel agency or what’s wrong with the Burger joint when someone in a hazmat suit arrives.

Shops with workers in their dream jobs will have stars hovering next to them in the lift.

In addition to the general amusement of the Bitizens in the tower, some more directed game play is available in the form of side missions located in-game and through Game Center. The in-game missions require you to have a set of shops, such as a bowling alley and a pub, so that you can produce a certain amount of two products -in this example Single Games and Root Beer. These missions also have tongue in cheek titles such as “Save the World” for stocking Bikes and Bean Salad or “New Years 2012”, which requires Cocktails and Cardio Workouts (yes in Tiny Tower you can ‘stock’ activities). The Game Center achievements have similarly amusing names but require fully stocking a pair of stores. My favourite is “Fish Taco”, where you fully stock an Aquarium and a Mexican Food joint.

Bethoven was a musical genius and an absolute wanker.

BIDNESS

I’ve read a couple of reviews highly critical of TT, apparently written by people who have never played any simulation or strategy games, the kind where you initiate production of Product X and have to -shock, horror – wait for it to finish. One dummy ended up spending about 5 dollars in the first 30 minutes of the game because he couldn’t wait 10 minutes for his crap to load. What’s especially remarkable about this situation is that you can play TT without ever spending a penny.“Hang on!,” you gurgle with your blubbery lips. “That’s the premise of ALL free-to-play games.” And then you make that “durh” noise that jerks always make when they think they’ve said something smart. Yeah. You’re just like my coworker Dave who gets all worked up and interrupts people halfway through a sentence when he thinks he’s going to disagree. Well the difference, Dave Clone, is that you can actually play TT without spending any money.

There aren’t elements of the game that can only be accessed by ponying up dough. Nor does the game become impossibly difficult (in-app currency wise) after an hour of play. In the three weeks I’ve been playing this game I’ve gotten to 51 levels, upgraded to the next-to-last lift, upgraded all my shops to level 4 or 5, bought a few costumes, and still have some Bux left over. Plus coins are rolling in faster than real world money slithers to an investment bankers offshore, tax-dodging bank account.

One complaint I do have about the in app purchases for Tiny Tower is that they don’t seem to have great value for money. It’s 69p to buy 10 Bitbux, an amount the player could easily earn in 5 or 10 minutes anyway. A slightly higher number of Bux, maybe 50, would seem more likely to result in purchases, especially impulse buys.

“What the fudge.” you ask. “How does Nimblebit make any money when they don’t charge you to play their dumb game then?” It’s math, Simples. A game that is actually completely, 100% playable without spending money spreads like wildfire in our modern world where nobody thinks anything is worth anything (Unless it’s their personal anything. And then “OMG! How dare you spill a drop of coffee on my £13 Primark jeans!!!). Because so many, many, maaaaaannny people play this game, Nimblebit only needs a small percentage of players to spend money to make an absolute fortune. An estimate of over $3 million in the game’s first year, for example. Why didn’t YOU think of this game? Don’t you feel like a shmuck? I’ve played a few FTP games where the barrier get set high and early the game. And I bet the developers of those games would sell their children for Nimblebits success with Tiny Tower.

Tiny Tower is an excellent game. It’s fun, addictive, but still light. It’s full of small humorous touches and, pardon my French, it’s fuckin’ cute. It’s a great game for casual gamers.
Tiny Tower is also a great guide to game developers look at how to use Free to Play or IAP in a successful, make-it-rain way. Definitely be inspired by Nimblebit’s game, but try not to rip it off
completely.