Monday, 26 January 2015

Casual Picks 8: Pixel Edition

Casual Picks will probably become an increasingly regular feature as I'm playing a lot of free-to-play tablet and phone games looking for ideas and inspiration for titles that I'm involved in developing. I'll now start commenting on how games implement their IAPs (in-app purchases) as it's fast become the norm in free games.

 This week I've been playing a lot of games with a pixel art style to them and they're all worth a good hard 8-bit looksee. Let's go...

In this all too charming little title you are the owner of a 'Disco Zoo' with no animals in it. To populate your pixel zoo with little pixel animals you need to go on rescue missions, which form the main core experience as you hunt for animals in a battleship style manner over a grid of hidden tiles which you reveal by touching. To capture an animal you need to reveal a complete set of that animal's tiles, where each animal type is associated with a particular pattern type such as a line of four tiles, a 2x2 square of tiles or maybe three tiles in an L-shape.

Once you start capturing animals, they'll start making money for you by entertaining zoo visitors... until they fall asleep at which point they are boring and you'll have to wake them up by either tapping their enclosure or, more interestingly, initiate a disco at the zoo, during which all animals and zoo visitors dance to their hearts content.

IAPs: The standard 'energy mechanic' allows those who do not want to wait for their zoo to make money for them to skip ahead. Often times you will be clearly one or two moves from discovering a rare of mythical animal so the hard currency of 'Discobux' (or watching an ad) can give you extra moves if you need them. Hats are also available for your animals if you want to accessorize and these can be purchased for soft/hard currencies. The currencies themselves are fairly low in price compared to similar games so it may be fair to say that this game isn't targeting whales in an aggressive way. The smallest IAP is less than a quid so they are really counting on folk buying Discobux on the cheap to enjoy the 'Disco Zoo' event thrills.

Where Disco Zoo excels at charming us with its dancing pixel animals, Tiny Dice Dungeon charms us more with its deconstruction of the RNG elements of RPG games by building its entire gameplay and world around the random crunch moments of dice rolls and does so with a satisfying amount of simple risk reward gameplay which has a slight whiff of Vagrant Story about it. To attack, your hero rolls as many dice as possible without showing a 1. If a 1 is rolled, then the attack missed and the turn is wasted. You can 'bank' your attack roll before the dreaded 1 shows its face and attack. All enemies are bound by this principle even bosses. Tiny Dice Dungeon manages to get a whole heap of intriguing gameplay out of this simple system.

The PvP mode is actually quite compelling, when you're allowed to play it of course.

As you make progress through the main campaign, a whole host of side quests and subsystems make themselves known. Equipment, collectible monster companions, loot drops, researching and constructing powerful attack dice... it's all there and then some. There's even a very well implemented PvP system in place which seems to be pretty good at matching you up against worthy opponents. There's also no semblance of any kind of energy/session inducing waiting other than in the PvP so you can grind to your heart's content, which may or may not be in the best interests of the game.

IAPs: No energy mechanics other than in PvP (with no way to skip the wait!?) means that this game relies on you being interested in buying 'Uncut dice' (the hard currency here) in order to skip grinding for rare loot to craft dice or a whole host of other things. My problem with this is that grinding is pretty much what one takes part in an RPG for most of the time so this seems counter intuitive, especially since players can grind indefinitely in any given session. The only other revenue stream is paying hunter NPCs to find exclusive monster companions unavailable elsewhere. This game needs some kind of 'almost there' mechanic, like letting you watch a video ad or pay hard currency to re-roll a particularly damning 1 roll or to cheat death. I hardly see this one grossing all that highly... but I've been wrong before.