Goofus underlines every word, slowing other readers down and damaging the book. Gallant draws polite lines in the margins and adds a short, neatly-written note.
(In reality, of course, Gallant uses sticky notes. Writing in library books is terrible.)
(Archaeology of Knowledge 13)
Ever since Tiny Tower, I’ve gotten excited about new NimbleBit games. I downloaded both Pocket Planes and Pocket Trains at midnight, and played them obsessively for days. Both addictions eventually dissipated (in the case of Pocket Trains, because the price of opening a new area would have taken days of progress-less work. Or, y’know, five bucks. But I digress.). So these days, when a new NimbleBit project comes down the pipe, I snap it up.
This week, NimbleBit, in partnership with Milkbag Games, released Disco Zoo. Going in, I knew practically nothing about the title, other than that it would probably involve disco and a zoo. So I’ve played for a few minutes this morning. Before I go into my thoughts, check out a couple screenshots and see what you can discern.
Ah! A zoo! Cute-ish, minimalist pixels, friendly, colorful buttons, and NimbleBit’s distinctive retro typeface.
And a whole lot of freemium going on. Nothing new or revolutionary here: two-tier currency system, cool down timers, a revenue trickle that you have to renew every few minutes, and the constant prompting to collect more. Here’s another screen, replete with more freemium hallmarks:
Ah yes. The construction cool down. Not only do your resource-generating animals have cool-downs (they go to sleep, and you have to poke them to wake them up. Wait, isn’t sleep deprivation a torture technique? Nevermind.), but they also have a longer initial cooldown, representing “construction.”
So far, so NimbleBit. The revenue model is almost copy pasted from every other NimbleBit title (except NimbleQuest): construction timer, resource collection timer, two-tier currency, and occasional coin pop-ups (to reward the waiting player).
Here’s where Disco Zoo departs from the NimbleBit standard model: it includes a game-within-the-game. Pocket Trains/Planes, andTiny Tower/Death Star were simple management games—the management was the game. In Disco Zoo, there’s another layer. This is what it looks like:
It’s basically animal Battleship in a smaller space. Each animal has a pattern, so once you find one animal square, you have to figure out where the other squares of that animal are. Like I said. Animal Battleship.
But here’s where it starts to get insidious. NimbleBit has learned a thing or two from Candy Crush Saga and games like it, and has implemented what Ramin Shokrizade calls the "pain relief" style of monetization.
You only get a set number of “rescue attempts” (moves) before the game ends, at which point, the game presents you with this screen:
Yep, you can buy your way back into the game. The idea here is that the game’s mechanics emphasize finding parts of collectibles, but those parts are useless unless you find all of them. So the game expects you to—at least occasionally—run out of attempts before you find all of something you want. And the game is very clear about what you want.
Remember that unicorn from earlier? That’s a “Mythical Animal.” Most animal squares show up green (or whatever color the rest of the game board is), but Mythical animals have pink squares. “Find us,” they whisper. And when you fail to find them in your five attempts, that matching pink “Buy 5 More Attempts” button looks a little better. If you’d rather “Get 5 Free Attempts,” you can watch an ad and keep playing. You can, apparently, keep doing this forever (which leads me to wonder why you’d bother paying premium currency, unless you’re just deathly allergic to ads).
So the game offers pain relief (relief from the potential pain of losing a new animal) in exchange for either your time or premium currency.
But that’s not all. Disco Zoo has another marker of freemium: playing costs currency. Each time you play the Battleship rescue game, you have to pay some amount of coins. But here’s the kicker: that price of admission raises each time you pay it. So at the beginning, you can gather animals on the farm for 100 coins (which, isn’t that stealing? Taking animals from poor guy’s farm? Nevermind.), but each time you play, that price creeps up by ten coins. Obviously, ten coins isn’t going to break the bank, and I suspect that it’s meant partially to keep some kind of pace with the player’s constantly increasing revenue stream.
There are a few other little gamified bits and pieces here and there. Your animals can level up, rewarding you slightly even when you find the billionth rabbit on the farm. Even lack of progress is progress at the Disco Zoo. Just keep playing. At worst, you level up your cows and find a few coins. At best, you get a unicorn! And who doesn’t want that?
But there’s one more piece—the one I went into this game wondering about. We’ve seen a whole lot of zoo so far, but what about the disco?
Here’s the disco:
You can pay some premium currency to trigger a disco party, where the animals don’t get sleepy, their revenue doubles, and coins drop faster. Disco parties are actually a shined-up version of a feature dating back to Tiny Tower: the currency converter. If you were short of coins, you could trade premium currency for coins, which is, generally speaking, a terrible deal. Coins appear all the time; they accrue while you’re not even playing. Premium currency doesn’t. It’s rare to find during gameplay, and the only reliable way to get more of it is to buy it.
Disco Zoo's disco party is a shinier, more obtuse currency converter. You pay premium currency, and in exchange get a cute visual, double base currency income, and freedom from having to wake animals up every few minutes. The Disco half of Disco Zoo is divorced from any meaningful gameplay or decision making by the player. It doesn’t influence choice, and it doesn’t create or demand actions. All it does is offer temporary (and expensive) relief from the game’s own timers and micro-costs.
Let’s review those freemium elements again.
So is Disco Zoo a bad game? Depends on how much you like Battleship, I guess, and how much you’re motivated by digital drip-rewards (does the promise of a pixelated unicorn get your blood pumping?). For me? Absolutely. Disco Zoo is a terrible game.
But it’s a great monetized reward dispenser.
My media consumption has been skewed much more in favor of books than games lately, which got me wondering how many of you are also big readers? I don’t hear most of you talk about books very often - what are y’all reading right now?
Also, on a semi-related note, I’ve been itching to write some…
I read a lot, both for research and pleasure. I assume you’re talking about fun reading, so I won’t bore you with what games studies and Foucault books I’m reading for my diss work.
I tend to read several fun-books at once, depending on mood and time of day. I’m currently reading:
Infinite Jest before bed
1Q84 in the afternoons
Blood Meridian when I have the emotional fortitude.
I’m nearly done with 1Q84, and while it’s good, you can really see Murakami indulging his love for passivity and quiet, slow progress. The result is atmospheric, engaging, and charming, but it’s built around a surprisingly underdeveloped mythology (which isn’t a problem in and of itself—Wind Up Bird Chronicle had a similarly light mythology, but it was evocative and shadowy in a way that 1Q84 rarely is). I’d recommend it to firm Murakami fans, but for newcomers, I’d suggest one of his earlier books like Wind Up Bird Chronicle or Kafka on the Shore. Anyway.
As soon as I finish 1Q84, I’m moving on to Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea, and after that, Titus Groan.
Someday, when I have lots of time and spare mental energy, I’m going to finish Godel, Escher, Bach and I Am a Strange Loop. I have a hunch that the GEB would make a fascinating lens for my academic work, but it’s a demanding book.
Google’s failing me. Anyone have sources on counter-gaming (like, playing games in ways contrary to how they’re “supposed” to be played)? I’m interested by the idea of playing rebelliously, intentionally breaking the illusion a game sets up, but I need some sources. Help?
I tend to add games to my library faster than I can finish them, thanks to Humble Bundles, Steam sales, and the like, and I’m starting to feel like a wastrel. I’ve played a couple hours of Civ V, an hour of Spelunky (an AMAZING hour), 39 minutes of Valids Story, an hour or so of Reus, etc. etc.. I seem to play enough of each game to get a feel for it, then I inevitably buy something else on sale, play an hour of that, and then move on for the newest, shiniest thing.
There are exceptions, of course. I’ve finished Uncharted and Infamous since Christmas, but there are so many completely amazing games that I haven’t finished (including Fire Emblem: Awakening, Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon).
So I started an account on Backloggery. Any tips from Tumblr on clearing backlogs or using the site? Step number one is “stop buying games.” Easy.
So I finally bought Limbo and Spelunky. I’ve played both of them before (the original free version of Spelunky and a demo of Limbo), but the Steam sale makes a man do strange things. Both purchases have, so far, been totally worth it. The remastered version of Spelunky is better than the original in every respect. Rogue-likes are new territory for me—I first experienced perma-death in FTL, and wasn’t quite sure what had hit me. There was no save? No backtracking? I died and everything I’d gained, everything I’d earned was just… gone? I was horrified. Now I’m addicted.
Spelunky is new every time. Others have talked about this with greater depth and insight than I will, but it’s a beautiful feature. Sometimes I find a shotgun early and drop through the mines blasting spiders and snakes without really worrying about the extra gold, just trying to keep hold of my prize boomstick. Fun. Sometimes I remember that I have bombs and have fun altering terrain and snagging gold nuggets. Fun! Sometimes I pick up a damsel and consider the very literal commodification of women via the damsel-in-distress trope (omniprops to Anita Sarkeesian).
Then we have Limbo. I’ve only played a few minutes of it—it’s actually paused in another window—and I’m being repeatedly impaled by a spider. Neat! I’ll reserve any further comments until I’ve played more. It has a great aesthetic, and the physics work well without taking center stage. Story? Character design? Level layout? Too early to say.
It figures that one of my favorite iOS games in recent memory is a platformer (a la NightSky) about typography.
In case you’re interested: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/type-rider/id667443268?mt=8