Age of Empires Castle Siege on Windows and iOS

Age of Empires Castle Siege Review

Microsoft Studios continues their experimentation in different business models and applications with Age of Empires Castle Siege, the latest entry into the AoE franchise.

This time around, Age of Empires has been adapted to fit what I have coined the ‘time waster’ model. Essentially it’s a full game, but actions are gated behind time sinks. Building a barracks will take just a few minutes, but upgrading that barracks to be able to build your next units may take 10 hours. Gathering resources plays a huge part in time waster games, and that mechanic is ever-present in Castle Siege. Have you played games like Clash of Clans, Star Wars Commander or similar games? If yes then you already know how to play Age of Empire Castle Siege.

Your Kingdom Can’t Run on an Empty Stomach

ResourcesGameplay is centered around building up your kingdom whether it be Briton, Teutonic Knight, or any of the other popular civilizations. To do so, you need three things: Apples, Wood, and Stone. Acquiring these three resources is done with buildings that generate the resource over time then storing them in another building. Each of these buildings (generators and storage) can be upgraded to generate faster and store more.  It’s simple and easy to manage in Castle Siege. [Read more…]

Agar.io for iOS

Agar.io for iOS

Have you ever played the incredibly addictive Agar.io? I thought it was just a browser game until I logged into the app store yesterday and saw that it was the #1 free game.

Agar.io AppAgar.io is simple. You move your little cell/dot/bubble/thing around what looks like a piece of graph paper and absorb little baubles and other players who are smaller than you. It reminds me of those games I used to play where I was a fish and I could grow by eating smaller fish until I was eventually the biggest fish in the sea.

In Agar.io the goal is much the game: Grow. Eventually you’ll grow so large that you can barely move and you just sit there as a fat mass absorbing anything that makes the mistake of coming too close to you. What I like about Agar.io (and hate… or love to hate) are the splitting mechanics. You can eject part of your mass in the direction you are moving thus catching others who are running or out of your reach. Moving too slow? Eject your mass onto someone else and assimilate them into your blob or simply split into multiple pieces to move faster.

Something to watch out for are the jaggedy green circles. Run into one of those when you are too big and you’ll split yourself into a ton of little pieces and be swept up by someone like me who like to lurk around them waiting for prey.

A really fun/funny feature to play with is the nickname system. There are dozens of names you can use that will make your blob/dot/thing take on an image. Most major countries are represented along with memes (Doge), major sites (Reddit), and even EA. I chuckled when I saw the irony that was a massive EA blob floating around absorbing everything in its path.

Agar.io on iOS is 100% online. You play with others. It’s actually such a simple and ‘pure’ gameplay experience that it lends itself beautifully to touch controls and mobile implementation. It runs phenomenally. I pretty sure there isn’t even sound. My only two complaints are that you can get some annoying ads between rounds (when you die and have to restart), and sometimes there are little lag hiccups which will cause you to fly right into EA a waiting juggernaut.

Download it and give it a try. It’s free, fun, and addicting (at least for a while).

Hearthstone for the iPhone

hearthstone-iphone

Hearthstone released for the iPhone just a couple of days ago, and I’ve already clocked 5+ hours…. all of which may or may not have been during the work day. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not great at Hearthstone. It’s not the deepest or most difficult to understand or even master card game out there, and like all card games you are only as good as the cards in your deck. Since I haven’t been into the idea of playing a lot of Hearthstone on my PC, as I’d rather play on the go, I’ve held off playing and thus haven’t earned cards. So take this review for what it’s worth — not that of a Hearthstone master, but rather an iPhone 6 Plus gaming enthusiast and still a fan of the game.

Hearthstone on my iPhone 6 Plus runs well enough. I have moment of slow-down, and loading times aren’t fantastic. These feel like something that I bet will be patched within a couple of weeks. This delay and often finicky nature of the touch controls has lead to more than one mistaken selection or card placement resulting in my utter defeat. The image above is actually of a match I was playing today. I mistakenly healed myself because the touch control let go when I was dragging it to my minion.

Blizzard’s implemented of the game on the iPhone does, overall, work. A few extra steps like having to click on my hand to bring it up, and touching to hold cards to see what they do adds to the time it takes me to execute my turn, but over time as I learn cards these will be less of an issue. The extra steps are a little annoying, but at the same time I’m willing to put up with them having Hearthstone in my pocket where I go.

What I love most about this whole thing is how integrated the Battle.net experience is, and the fact that I am playing on my phone with people on their computers, tablets, or phones. I have full access to my friends list and can chat, see what everyone is up to, and whatever I do on my iPhone is completely linked to my exact same Hearthstone account anywhere else. Wonderful integration that has, thus far, worked flawlessly.

Yeah, Hearthstone isn’t perfect. As a card game you can rip it apart. It’s pay-to-win, governed by incredible meta game, luck., etc… but it’s hard to beat free, and it’s hard to beat having it on my iPhone. The pay-to-win aspects are no different than the hundreds I’ve spent on MTG cards. I’m just trying to convince myself that a digital version is essentially the same thing when my brain is telling me it’s not. Bottom line, I have to spend money on cards for Hearthstone to realize its full potential.

Seabeard App

seabeard-app

Take elements of Animal Crossing, Rune Factory, Harvest Moon, and everything annoying about In-App Purchases (IAP) and you have a “free” game called Seabeard. Seabeard is all about restoring your island to its former glory. You do so by clearing out overgrowth, restoring ruins, building new houses, and bringing commerce back to your empty corner of the map.

Gameplay is simple: You tap the screen to move and interact. You can decorate buildings, obtain pets, harvest farmable items, explore dungeons, craft recipes, do quests, go fishing, play mini-games, and the typical stuff you’d expect from a game of this type. Watch the video below from the creators of the game for a visual presentation of what you’ll find.

I really enjoy Seabeard’s use of islands. Your have your own island home that you are trying to build up, but you can travel via ship to other islands. Traveling between islands provides an opportunity to play sea-based mini-games where you can earn prizes ranging from gold to rare crafting materials. If you choose not to play a mini-game, you are lifted up by a zeppelin and carried to the next island.

seabeard-islandsOne of my favorite features is the ability to set up vendor stalls on your island to sell your goods to the game itself or to other players. I don’t mind the concept of having to put items up for sale and waiting 5 minutes to an hour for them to sell. I also don’t mind having to earn additional slots. I think this system works well for Seabeard, and it’s something I can see working well in other games. Selling your items to other players is also a novel feature for devices like this, and allows people like me to get my friends and family playing so that we can help each other build up faster.

Seabeard is one of the best graphical presentations I’ve seen on the iOS. The stylized visuals are captivating, the game runs flawlessly on my iPhone 6 Plus, and I’m once again challenging my previously held belief that phone games have no chance of providing a full-featured gaming experience. Seabeard is capable of providing the exact same experience found in games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing. The key word here is capable.

 

In-App PurchasesWhere Seabeard falls short is in its use of IAPs. The game starts out decently accommodating. Wait 10 minutes here, 5 hours there, spend a few hours earning coins to afford the next building, etc. Then suddenly you hit this wall where it’ll take several hours of doing the same repetitive tasks before earning enough gold to move on. Conveniently you can purchase Pearls or Gold from their cash shop, but the rates are so ludicrous that you’d quickly spend hundreds of dollars before even putting in a decent amount of time into the game. IAPs take what could be one of the best games ever made for phones and warp it into a cash grabbing annoyance. My heart was crushed when this realization came crashing down on me right in the middle of enjoying the game.

If Seabeard was available for $20 I would be telling everyone I know to get out there and buy the game. Totally worth that price. But now I’m stuck in this weird position of telling people they may as well avoid playing it because they’ll only be disappointed after about 3-4 hours of play.

Despite its enormous and unavoidable flaw, I really do hope people try this out and realize the potential for creating a fully-realized game of this calibre on mobile devices. I like having this type of game with me on my phone — a device I carry with me everywhere — and I like knowing I can pick up and play for 30 seconds or 10 minutes then slide it back into my pocket.

In-App Purchases

In-App Purchases

I’m playing a lot of mobile games these days now that I have an iPhone 6 Plus. Playing on the iPhone 6 Plus screen is way more fun than the iPhone 4. I can actually see stuff and my fingers aren’t blocking 40% of the screen. I’m not really a “mobile gamer” though, so I’m not inclined to spend more than $0.99 on an app, and even then I won’t buy ones that aren’t on a huge sale and critically acclaimed – Terraria for $0.99 today, for example.

The apps I tend to play are “freemium” which means they have In-App purchases (IAP). The IAP are generally the same type of thing you’d expect from a F2P game like League of Legends, or something a little more insidious like the type of model found in a F2P MMO. The worst of the lot are the IAPs tied to the “waiting game.” Freemium apps are notorious for being timer games where the main gameplay element is actually just waiting for time to pass. Token, Pearls, Doodads, or whatever the in-game currency for that particular app can be earned in-game at a tauntingly slow pace (only there to make put you in pain) or bought from the store. Spend the premium currency and the timers speed up.

Mobile games, the games meant to be ‘on the go and quick’ end up being slow and tedious upkeep games. It’s this weird juxtaposition of time and convenience, and that’s what makes mobile gamers the perfect prey for this type of business model. In order to keep a game that should be quick and convenient actually quick and convenient, money has to be spent.

IAPs have become a license to make bad design decisions or in many games entirely bad games. Games that would be AMAZING — even better than so many PC/Console games — are destroyed by IAPs having to dictate design direction. It’s sad because had the game simply been sold for $5 or $10 or heck even $20 I would have happily bought the game rather than feel like I have to be nickeled and dimed (many times to extreme sums of $$$) just to find the level of enjoyment I could have by paying the initial cost.

I truly believe we are entering an era where mobile devices are capable of providing as-good or better gaming experiences. For that to happen these games can not continue to exist predominantly as IAP waiting games.