Bringing Back Free Play

Do you remember the Free Play Podcast? You know, the funny yet informative show that Riknas, Andras, and Joe did? The podcast where every week they would get together and review a F2P MMOG? Yes? Good for you!

Wait, you don’t? What is wrong with you?

Hey again everyone. It has come to my attention that the Free Play Podcast is no longer available off of iTunes, nor can it be streamed through its original host, VirginWorlds. I personally find this to be distressing, and would like to see it restored. Fortunately, I have almost all of the records of the podcast on my hard drive; I just need to go through the necessary steps to put it back up. Hopefully it won’t be too difficult…

If anyone would be interested in helping revive this project, please comment here or email me at RiknasSarn (at) gmail (dot) com.

Until then…

Riknas, signing off!

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Free Play Reviews: ForumWarz (Archive)

ForumWarz by Crotch Zombie Productions

Don’t be deterred by the whole Crotch Zombie Productions, this is actually a sophisticated- screw it. You already know that this game isn’t really going to take itself seriously because they decided to use a “z” instead of an “s” in the title. But, dey don’t be-leev dat htey R teh HAx0rZzZ!!!11!11 It’ll become clear in a minute.

What’s the Deal?

So, what is it about Forum Warz that separates itself from other Free to Play MMOs, and what types of games is it trying to separate? Please note, I am asking these questions rhetorically , and am not actually wondering those things. But to those of you who are, Form Warz’z(?) combat plays out a lot like a turn-based game. In fact, the similarities are so apparent, I am going to call it turn based. I don’t know what made me say “a lot like” before. Forgive me. When engaging in combat, you choose from a growing list of abilities which you can use, along with some items here and there. It’s a pretty standard affair.

Now, how it differs can pretty much be summed up in the word “everything”. In Form Warz, you play as a deplorable internet personality (starting as a Re-Re, but later “upgrading” to camwhore, emo, or troll) trying to piss off everyone they can via forums. You use your abilities (like bang head on keyboard) to increase your PWN. When forum members reply, it decreases your Ego (read “health). Once your PWN reaches max, the forum goes down, and you move on to the next. As you gain levels and abilities, strategy begins to open up a bit, at least in my Emo… class? personality? spammer? For instance, I have a power that gains in strength when my ego is low, but uses my tears (magic). So, I found myself constantly operating in this near-death danger zone, only healing little bits when necessary, but tearing through the forums. It’s an interesting and unique premise if nothing else.

It’s like he’s trying to tell me something…

The thing I find really interesting is that the creator of the game loaded style into absolutely every aspect of the game, and he (or she) makes it pretty obvious that he (or she) hates forum spammers. He (for the sake of ease, I’m going to pretend it’s a guy) constantly makes fun of them in quests, vendors, messages, everything. It’s like his personal joke, make people play a game where they all have to act like idiots to advance.

But if you take a step back, it actually does a fairly good job of conveying the message I think he was originally trying to get across. When you go from forum to forum, doing some of the same basic moves (as with most MMOs) you really start to see how completely meaningless the whole thing is. Not that I ever felt compelled to ruin forums anyways (nor should any of the fine folk here), but it really put things in perspective.

Dude, what was it like?

Excusing my philosophical tirade, having people play as intentionally lousy characters does have its drawbacks. The game is completely filled with immersion, in a way I wish other games would attempt. Since the game is based on the internet, and it is browser based, the game takes place is a pseudo internet. It comes complete with a google knock-off, instant messaging, bookmarks, etc. And with all this at work immersing the player, you really begin to feel like some attention deprived jack-off. Maybe it’s just me, but after a while I found it hard to want to progress. I mean, although you won’t admit it to your peers, in World of Warcraft (the eternal comparison) you really want to be that level 70 paladin. You want to feel cool, wearing the best armor, crushing weaklings, having spells of unimaginable strength. That desire is the driving force behind your play. In a game where you start as an “Emotionally Stable” Emo, and are trying to gain that treasured “unstable” rank, that drive is gone. Again, maybe it’s just me.

From a less personal standpoint, the game has all the bells and whistles coupled with its own unique twist. The tutorial is a robot that constantly insults you, but also wants your *cough* feces in his, uh, oral cavity. The shops are all websites, quests come in emails, everything has a little twist to it.There are a decent range of items, but this isn’t a lewt intensive game, lulz. Most items are cheap single-use boosts, but I wouldn’t have them any other way, from the way the game is set up.

Do People Pay for This?

(Just look at a picture of a forum, you’ll be fine.)

No.

Really, from what I could tell, the game runs entirely off of donations. That is pretty impressive, considering the amount of work that seems to be put into it.

Now, Bring It On Home

So, what’s the deal on this game? It is simply so different, I have to recommend a simple run-through of the game. Sign-up was practically non-existent, so don’t let that be a deterrent. However, it will probably be either hit-or-miss for most people, and you should be able to tell by the first two levels or so. Just, don’t expect this to be your new favorite past-time, because the premise of the game in inherently inhibiting. By that I mean, if this becomes your new favorite game, you should go crawl in a hole because nobody likes a CamWhore/Emo/Troll.

((This review was made in the year 2009, and may not remain entirely faithful to the current game. Review by Andras.))

Free Play Reviews: Dark Orbit (Archive)

Dark Orbit by Big Point

I have been trying not to criticize the names of some of these F2P games, but come on! Dark Orbit? Seriously? I understand why they chose the name, don’t get me wrong. Orbit has a lot to do with space, where the game takes place. Not that anything in the game actually succumbs to the power of gravitational fields, but that seems beyond the point. I understand why they chose dark, because it sounds dangerous and mysterious, and if they chose black it might sound racist. But, merely smashing two logical words together does not a good title make. I mean, how in the world (or beyond it) could an orbit, the imaginary lines in space, possible be dark. That makes as much sense as a lemon tasting fast. I might as well accuse this game of being too tall for me. But I digress, let’s get on with the game.

What Just Happened?

Yes, this game does in fact include a story section. If you had the delusion that this might have any effect on gameplay, you would be sadly mistaken. In fact, I only stumbled into the story when I was in the help pages. The story is as follows, only in an irritating third person (“the highly developed species known as mankind”):

Climate changes on Earth. Three major companies go into space. They colonize planets and make their climates habitable. Why they couldn’t do that on Earth is beyond me, but whatever. There are limited resources, so all the companies went to war with each other. So that’s that.

What’s This Button Do?

Sign-up is pretty simple, not any different from any other signup. It asks for a desired username and password, and then an email address. You then verify that, yes that is really your email. Then they let you play.

But they don’t really tell you how. As soon as I entered the “world” I was a bit overwhelmed with all the stuff on the screen and having no idea what I should be doing. There was a little button that said start, so I figured that might be a good thing to hit. It was.

That Was Fast

So, after my short paragraph and uneventful time signing up, I began my game. I had to choose between one of three companies to work for. I couldn’t really tell the difference between the three, except that one of them was read in a male’s voice, so I decided to work for them. There was a brief description provided, but nothing to really care about. I was then plopped down in a spaceship in the middle of space (I don’t understand how space can have a middle either) and there I was. I noticed on the map in the bottom right hand corner, aptly named the mini-map, that there was a giant blue blob on the upper right hand side with some red flecks floating around. Do to my excessive knowledge in Radio Detection And Ranging I figured blue was good and red was bad. Moving in the game is fairly intuitive. You see the game from a top down perspective of your ship, and click where you want to go. You can also hold down the mouse to have a form of manual control. After gliding over to the blue glob, I found it to be nothing other than a space station, with a horde of friendly ships hovering around it, like piglets suckling from their mother.

Lock and Load

So, at this “mother” ship you can buy equipment. Or, at least, you can go to where you can buy equipment. You see, you can’t actually buy and equip stuff in-game, it instead links you to the main website’s page where you then purchase things. It wasn’t all that complicated, but it was a bit irritating. I’ll forgive them, because they have a very schnazzy (yes, I just said that) site.

The actual stuff you can buy is sparse to say the least. There are about 10 different ships you can buy, but each one is almost always completely superior to that last. That means there no real choice in which ship you want, just which one you can afford. The rest of the equipment was so incredibly barren I almost feel ashamed of it, as if I had some part in the creation of this game. There are a mere 4 different weapons to buy. That’s it. Four. And 3 of them have practically the same name “Laser LF 1”, “Laser LF2”, “Laser LF3”. Once again, they vary only in their damage output, with each one entirely superior to the last. If you notice a theme here, it’s the lack of variety. This in itself may deter people hoping for a lot of depth in their games, or any sense of individuality. There are also drones and engines you can buy, but they too have a depressingly small amount of variety.

Fire When Ready

Let’s move into the next area you are probably wondering about, how do you use these new weapons? And the answer is disappointingly simple, you just click on the enemy and hit laser attack or rockets. Imagine world of warcraft, only you have nothing but one spell and an auto-attack, and you have a pretty good idea what this is. In my first experience fighting I found the red specks moving towards the giant blue blob, and figured enemy players were trying to over-run our base. Needless to say, I began a full assault on all the red specks in sight, and found that they died very easily. After the initial thrill ran off, I noticed that these enemies would not engage me and would fly around in circles if no one attacked it. To my great embarrassment, I was getting worked up over a bunch of low level NPCs.

So, really, the combat is one of the worst features of the game. It is so simple and automated you might as well be watching someone else play.

The game seems to prefer it this way, since everything in the game revolves around the automated combat. It’s as if the game wants as little interaction from you as possible, but still wants you there, like playing action figures with a 5 year old. The missions that didn’t involve fighting were even worse, here’s an example:

The first mission tells you to find a certain kind of mineral and bring it back to base. It told me to find the mineral in X-1 and X-2. After some fiddling, I was able to bring up the big map and found that I was in some J galaxy. But all of them were Js. There were no Xs in to found. In dismay I flew around randomly and shot down some NPCs that dared fly in circles while I crossed their path. Some of these NPCs dropped the mineral I wanted, but apparently THOSE ones were contaminated or something because they did no count for my quest.

As anyone would do in that situation, I consulted the help pages. They were absolutely no help at all, as it covered only the rudimentary basics, such as how to fly. When I went to the map section to see if I was looking on the wrong map, it gave this confusing bit about how you navigate the Space Map. I had to read it three times to understand that by Space Map, they mean the HUD and your play screen. Why they insist on calling it a map, is beyond me. So, with my new-found vocabulary and frustration, I decided to give another whack and flying around randomly. After doing this for a good 20 minutes I found what I sought, my red mineral just floating in space to be picked up. Apparently the minerals randomly spawn across the map. Since I only gathered one and the quest required 20, I decided to completely abandon that mission and go on to the Kill X of Y ones. Those provided even less satisfaction.

You Pay For This?

So, how do these guys make money? There is your fairly micro-transaction option at work here, you pay real money for uterium. Some ships require payment in uterium, while others are paid for in standard credits. But, since you can find uterium in bonus boxes lying every two feet on the map, payment isn’t really necessary. If you want you can convert your uterium into standard credits too, but that seems to defeat any point to actually playing the game.

Closing Statements

Really, you can do a lot better than this game. To give an example of the amount of work going into this, there’s a flash game on newgrounds that is almost identical to this one, and that was a one man show. I cannot think of a reason to play this as opposed to other MMOs unless you have a space-ship fetish, but are too cheap to buy any of the numerous spaceship games that are good.

((This review was made in the year 2009, and may not remain accurate to the current state of the game. Review by Andras.))

Free Play Reviews: Runescape (Archive)

Runescape by Jagex

What’s this? Do I, Andras, dare to take on the monolithic giant that is Runescape? And no, I don’t actually expect you to answer that. Speaking into your computer would be stupid. Don’t do it. Seriously.

What You Say?

The history of Runescape is not what you would typically expect from a game of Runescape’s stature, and is only referenced slightly during my time with the game. The complete expanse of their knowledge can be found within the lore section of the website. If you want the most brief description of the story possible, I can give it in 6 letters. MMORPG. That’s right, yet another fantasy based online role-playing game. The lore wasn’t serious, mostly comprised of small humorous few of which actually add to the universe. This is forgiven, since the game does not seem to take itself seriously, and sees most of its own actions as a joke. The few of you who enjoy the “role-playing” portion of role-playing games should be warned.

Where do I sign?

As I am sure most of you readers know you must sign up for an MMO in order to play it, if you don’t know this you should stop looking over daddies shoulder while he is trying to read this magnificent blog. Signing up for Runescape was THE least painful experience of any of the MMOs thus far. The only information it asked for was my date of birth, the username I want, and the password I want. No email address was required, or even politely requested. During the registration process it provides you with a link on where to go to start playing. From the time I accessed the site to the time I actually started loading up the game took a grand total of 58 seconds. Bravo Runescape, you crazy jackal, bravo.

The Pointy End Goes in the Bad Guy

So, you’ve just spent a record breaking amount of time creating your account, now you want to put it to good use and start your grinding/leveling cycle. First it is important to note that Runescape now comes in 2 different visual modes. The “advanced” mode has very impressive graphics considering it is a browser based game and extremely low system requirements. The low mode is very drab and dull, but honestly if your computer is so hopelessly outdated that it needs to use this mode you should be happy if your mouse can move from one end of the screen to the other without lagging, let alone playing an online game.

After selecting which mode you want to play in (please god let it be advanced) you can create your personal character. The formula for it is fairly standard, choose one of a half dozen hair types and hair colors, and clothing and colors. I found the selection to be reasonably good, and my emo/ancient bearded wizard was well on his way. After popping out of this virtual womb fully grown and clothed, you discover that your “hospital room” is nothing else but a dragon infested cellar. A nearby white knight initiates your tutorial by asking help fighting off this dragon. As far as tutorials go, this one started off fairly exciting and creative. It should be noted, however, that after this sudden burst of total creativity the developer in charge of it must have had his head explode, for after the initial engaging bits it all turns very bland. The tutorial quest is comprised entirely of you running around town meeting various trainers who then make you demonstrate the different content in the game. It is all very informative, but also very long taking well over a half hour for me. There isn’t even any option to skip the tutorial since all of the buttons and abilities of your character are hidden until the game has had the time to give you the full lecture on it. So, while it is a bit more entertaining than reading a tutorial page, I personally would have preferred just being able to read it all.

So About this Game…

So the few of you who have not already played Runescape are probably wondering how the game handles itself. My response would be that this MMORPG handles itself like an MMORPG. This is a nice quality of the game, since it seems well aware of its condition and place and makes no attempt to be something it is clearly not. This game has plenty of grinding, but each skill has its own individual grind. If you want to be good at tree cutting you have to cut trees, which all makes sense. Grinding combat is, surprisingly, a little less fun. Combat with a sword consists of a game of whack-a-mole. Only, unlike most games of whack-a-mole where you are required to whack the mole, hence “whack-a-mole”, the game thinks you’ll be content watching the moles whack each other as if there were some mole civil war. Magic can be a bit more fun, but getting the necessary runes to grind is a grind in itself. True, there are different fighting types for each weapon (accuracy, power, etc.), but really, once you find one you like you can keep with it and no one will call you out on it.

All this would be forgivable if you at least had a friend to keep your mind off of the monotony. While the game does allow a friends list and guild membership, there is no party system whatsoever. Furthermore, two players cannot attack the same creature. This means if you want to play with a friend, you can’t actually help each other in the way of combat. In fact, most of your player to player interaction would be in the way of the market. This lack of grouping, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of the MMO. This game could just have easily been released as a single player game and it would have made very little difference.

That’s not to say that this game isn’t fun. It is fun in the way that it is so incredibly massive, like walking down a New York city street if you come from the country. Really, all you’re doing is walking with an increased chance of getting mugged, murdered, and/or raped, but the city is simply so massive that treading its side-walks is entertainment in itself.

Internet Highwaymen?

What’s the catch here? Really, it is pretty simple. There is an optional subscription, at $5 a month, which gives you more of the same. You get 100 more quests, mini-games, more skills, more lands, and regular content updates. Considering the price is one third the price of a regular MMO, it isn’t a bad deal. However, unless you have a powerful yearning to be the next greatest farmer, it would be worth it to wait until you have exhausted all of the free game’s quests before whipping out your credit card.

Fin

Basically, it is a dumbed down version of World of Warcraft that comes free of charge. But considering how dumbed down it is, where the very combat system seems out-dated, you might find a better MMO elsewhere. That is, unless you enjoy the grind, in which case this game will easily fill your cheapskate appetite. I just want to throw in that this is one of those games you may not want to tell people you play, otherwise they might pick you up by your power-ranger’s underwear and hang it over that red mailbox you have and while you’re wailing and wailing for your mommy a car comes by and throws a bear bottle at you and it cracks on your head and your so miserable that you spent the rest of your life sitting in front of the computer… or so I’ve heard.

((This review was made in the year 2009 and does not remain completely faithful to the current state of the game. Review by Andras.))

Free Play Reviews: Ogame (Archive)

Ogame

This is Andras, and you’re reading yet another rendition of the Free Play blog. If you could not tell by the aptly named title, this is where I tell you about a free to play MMO. In today’s instance we have Ogame. I don’t know why it is called ogame, except perhaps they wanted it pronounced oga-me and the whole o-game thing is a weird coincidence. I don’t really care, though.

Lore

What I do care about is the story in ogame, though. Or, at least, I would if a story were provided. The most I can possibly deduce is that the game is set either in the future or a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, or some Franken-mix of the two. I can understand the lack of a story though, since each player is in charge of an entire planet, and later multiple planets, so it is hard to think of any sort of story that could possibly encompass EVERYONE. In the absence of a story, however, the developers thought to put in an extensive amount of detail to, well, everything. For example, instead of just saying that a cruiser is a more powerful ship than the heavy fighter, the description reads as follows:

With the development of the heavy laser and the ion cannon, light and heavy fighters encountered an alarmingly high number of defeats that increased with each raid. Despite many modifications, weapons strength and armour changes, it could not be increased fast enough to effectively counter these new defensive measures. Therefore, it was decided to build a new class of ship that combined more armor and more firepower. As a result of years of research and development, the Cruiser was born.

Cruisers are armored almost three times of that of the heavy fighters, and possess more than twice the firepower of any combat ship in existence. They also possess speeds that far surpassed any spacecraft ever made. For almost a century, cruisers dominated the universe. However, with the development of Gauss cannons and plasma turrets, their predominance ended. They are still used today against fighter groups, but not as predominantly as before.

The descriptions are also provided for varying research technologies, although I can’t declare whether or not they are accurate, since I lack a formal degree in astro-physics. Over-all the descriptions provide a fairly interesting read in the absence of any real backing to the universe.

Become the Ruler

Actually joining the world of ogame.org was a bit more painful than it should have been. The process seems easy enough, the usual providing an email, a desired account name, and a desired password. From there it lets you start playing the game. However, it asks you send a verification email through the options menu, which it does not do automatically as most sites do. Worse still for both me and Riknas the first verification email only opens a eternally loading page. After staring at it for 5 minutes it dawned on me that nothing was actually happening. I then sent 2 more verification emails, one of which actually worked. It wasn’t the most difficult bug in the world, but it was a bit of an inconvenience.

After your ordeal is over, you may notice that you have received a mail from the game which provides some basic advice (build a mine and solar plant, idiot) and a link to the tutorial. Clicking this tutorial will provide you with the utmost basics of the game. At the end it gives yet another link to the “advanced tutorial”. Figuring that the advanced tutorial would provide more information than the first, I naively clicked it. To my surprise the link sent me right back to the regular tutorial I was on. I continued to follow this cycle of repeatedly going through the same pages, partly to make sure I wasn’t going crazy, and partly out of desperation for deeper gameplay instructions. Yes, I’m the kind of person who does read the manual before playing a game. As it turns out, the tutorials are fairly useless, as the game is very easy to pick up and play.

Build You Empire

As the recently adopted totalitarian ruler of an entire planet, you might be wondering what choices you can make. As far as initial customizations, none. All players start in the exact same manner, at a random planet. Being created at a random planet may stop clustering, but it can be a bit annoying when joining the game with a friend, as you may very well end up multiple galaxies away. This seems to be a bit of an over-sight on the part of the developers, but at least it encourages you to make new friends. That’s always good, right?

But I’m sure you’re wondering how the game actually plays. And if you aren’t wondering that, you’ve already played the game and are just humoring me right now. Thank you. As for the rest of you, the game plays almost like an Turn Based Strategy game. You gather resources through mines. The resources are metal, crystal, and deuterium(fuel). These mines require energy, which can be gather from a Solar Plant. The resources you gather can in turn be spent to upgrade your resource harvesters to get you more resources, lather, rinse, repeat. But wait, there’s more. These resources can also be spent on researching new technologies. Here is where the game starts to branch off. These technologies allow you to build new structures or ships. Which technologies you wish to invest your precious resources in is actually a more difficult decision than one might originally think, especially when maximum efficiency is no longer “upgrade to max”. To provide an example, eventually you might be able to build a Fusion Reactor. The Fusion Reactor could provide more energy than the Solar Plant, but it consumes precious deuterium. However, its efficiency can be further upgraded by researching more energy technologies. Whether you think it is worth it to spend your time and resources on that plant, or instead to just have more solar plants is up to the player.

Begin Your Conquest

Okay, so you’ve built up your empire, possibly expanded into other planets through colonies, and you are officially leet in your own eyes. Now what? Here’s where the game leaves it almost disappointingly blank. Since there are no missions in the game, the only real combat you could have it through fighting other planets, often pointlessly. That’s not to say that the entire game is for nothing, since it’s the journey to greatness that is often more fun, and it is very hard to get absolutely everything. If you think you have a good armada, try saving up for the Death Star (yes, it can actually blow up moons). The over-all feel of the game is largely reminiscent of Eve Online, to anyone who is familiar with the game. Since resources are automatically gathered, you only need to check on it every now and again unless you are in the middle of a war with someone. Alliances are still possible in the game, but the interface for it seems a bit intimidating and the benefits are hard to find.

They accept Paypal in Space?

Everyone’s after money, unless you believe in the barter system or are a transcendentalist. The gimmick, if you will, in ogame is darkmatter. Spend real money, you get in-game money. This is hardly surprising, but what did surprise me was how frivolous they made the dark matter. Dark matter is not required to get the best ships, or to avoid grinding, or to access the best features. All dark matter does is allow you to buy and Officer upgrade, which grants you a small boost to a specific part of the game, like mine construction. But what REALLY surprised me was how cheap everything was. If you only wanted 1 upgrade, $15 would give it to you for the next 31 years and 3 months. And that’s the least efficient spending. This game really has me impressed with their apparent selflessness in regards to spending.

Any Last Words?

Ogame is a fun little game, but it doesn’t provide the same time-grind some people might enjoy. Considering it is all resource management, I have a hard time imagining anyone spending more than 10 minutes per day on this game unless they are in a war. That said, those 10 minutes can be really fun. There is a certain sense of accomplishment when you can just stop playing the game and know that you are still making tons of resources. If this game sounds remotely interesting to you, I would recommend you give it a whirl, since it’s free and takes next to no time out of your usual day. I’m actually going to keep playing this one.

((This game was made in the year 2009, and is not completely accurate to the current state of the game, however new images were used. Review was by Andras.))