Idle Games

While in a gaming funk this year, I tried a variety of idle games. They can be mechanically interesting, and they scratch that MMO Achiever itch and help you overcome it by taking it to its logical extreme.

“RPG” has come to mean “character advancement” and that familiar treadmill of leveling up by playing a poor combat mini-game to do the same thing with higher numbers and a more garish color scheme. MMOs have done a great job of pushing this to narrative irrelevancy through static theme park worlds that you cannot change because all the other paying customers need to be able to ride the same ride, and you can also pay to ride that same ride repeatedly. Fight goblins, then fight blue goblins, then fight orcs, then fight blue orcs, then fight gob-orcs, then raid gob-orcs until the expansion gives you a gear reset so you can start over. Along the way, optimize any remaining fun out of the equation in your quest for the most efficient path from number to number.

ProgressQuest is the trope-maker, a perfectly fire-and-forget single-player MMORPG. Create your character, and the game takes care of the rest as it slays monsters, loots their bodies, completes quests, etc. True idle games do their job too well: you get the point very quickly, and because there is nothing to do, you wander off. You might leave one running for a while just to watch it go, but it is too shallow to impact you meaningfully. Later idle games added gameplay, mostly something vaguely like economic gameplay in the sense that you accummulate money, use it to buy upgrades, and then earn money more quickly (and repeat). That can also be engrossing while providing the illusion of accomplishment and a perfect Skinner box of “push the button to get imaginary money/cookies.”

At some point, it sours. The part of your brain that knows that you are doing something compelling but not fun wins. You perhaps have a sense of letdown or betrayal. And then you cannot help but recognize how much “click the button to kill the goblin to level up the button to kill the blue goblin…” looks like “click 1 to shoot a fireball to kill the goblin to level up to cast Fireball 2 to kill the blue goblin to finish the quest…”

: Zubon

Mamono Sweeper

Flash bagatelle of the day: Minesweeper with mines worth variable “points” and a dungeon-crawl theme. The instructions are kind of Engrish so:

  1. Start with Minesweeper rules.
  2. The blue monsters (level 1) are normal Minesweeper mines. Higher level monsters count as multiple mines on the same square.
  3. You level up by stepping on mines/monsters. Keep it to your level or lower to avoid damage.
  4. Level up to 2 and start stepping on bigger monsters. Repeat to 5.
  5. Hit level 5 and step on every square to win.

: Zubon

Bonus rule: click on a monster you’ve revealed to see what number is “under” it (what the number in that space would be were it not a monster).

Quick Reviews: PC Ports

Another weekend of “meh” from Humble Bundles.

Deadlight is a side-scrolling zombie survival platformer. Run away from the zombies, sometimes shoot or chop them, climb walls, and jump from ladder to ledge to avoid the electrified ground. The atmosphere is nice, and I found any plot incoherence appropriate given that people make bad decisions in crises. I played the first third of the game but stopped there due to dodgy controls. I presume it works better on a controller; someone must have tested the PC port but been ignored when they explained that it is a horrible idea to have a move that requires left-shift, left-control, and A or D. Also having different keys for opening visually indistinguishable types of doors, unnecessarily many moves because parkour, and some generally bugginess or finickiness in navigating obstacles. Not bad if you can get past some dodgy controls, but a basic requirement of a platformer is not to have dodgy controls.

Smallworld 2 I stopped before even starting the game. I may try again due to recalling some acclaim for the board game, but from the first screen the interface is horrid. I can see how it might work better on a tablet, but it misses things you would want on a PC like labels, flipping through the main menu without loading times, and a coherent display of information. Something about “Watch the Tutorial” rather than “Play the Tutorial” immediately put me on my guard, probably because of having seen the next note before it.

AdVenture Capitalist (not from the Humble Bundle) had a recent major update. The developers took a while between updates because they realized there could be money in this thing and made a mobile version, then replaced the PC version with a port of the mobile version. This reduced functionality, again with lousy menus, and any visual improvements were offset by new visual problems. They quickly walked back some of the visual problems, yielding an interface that is slightly prettier and significantly less functional than it was before the update. I have said that a rule of thumb for shipping the update is, “Does it make some things better and no things worse?” They took the opposite path.

On the non-PC port front, I played through The Blackwell Legacy, which was a sufficiently enjoyable point-and-click adventure game, and I say that as someone who has long since stopped liking point-and-click adventure games. The developer commentary is harder on himself than I was as a player in terms of exposition dumps and absurd adventure game puzzles. I only had one real guide dang it moment, in that to get the best ending you must stop and look at your notebook during the climax of the game. Borderlands players will remember that as “wow, the game is really starting to click here, I better stop and look at my inventory.” Setting, characters, and story are pretty good, enough that I will try a sequel.

: Zubon

Don’t Explain the Joke

There comes that moment in the game where you have crossed some threshold or achieved something notable, and you want to tell someone about it. And you realize that your non-gamer friends, family, and/or significant other would not understand what you are talking about; that it would take so long to explain to them that you would probably lose the emotional high from trying to explain its significance; and that they would still probably comprehend at the level of “he did a good game thing.” And then, in some games, where you would still need to explain a bit to your gamer friends, and then they would probably ask, “why are you playing that?”

But just so I can say it: I did a good game thing. Thank you.

: Zubon

Idle Hands

Lately I have been fascinated with idle games, the way one might be with a wind-up toy or train set. You set things up and just watch it go.

AdVenture Capitalist remains strangely compelling, at least for a little while after they add updates. When you can quickly double your earnings, there is something to do, which is a strange thing to ask of an idle game.

After ProgressQuest was the trope-maker for idle games, later games have added variable degrees of interactivity. Upgrades and mini-games seem to be the most common, along with a bit of clicking, usually important at the very start but quickly overwhelmed by passive sources of advancement. Until recently, upgrades were the only interactivity in AdVenture Capitalist. Anti-Idle has a large idling component but also a variety of mini-games. Cookie Clicker is closer to AdVenture Capitalist but has rewards for watching and clicking the special cookies, along with some … unusualness in its late game. Candy Box and A Dark Room both have idle mechanics for advancement but significant game components.

I was originally surprised by offline advancement in AdVenture Capitalist, but that seems to be (becoming?) more common in idle games than I knew. Clicker Heroes and Idle Blacksmith both keep generating advancement while you’re away. Anti-Idle has an offline mode, but when last I played, you set it for a fixed duration like planting Farmville crops.

Lots of little wind-up toys. I cannot say that many of them have much gameplay value, but the steady accumulation of effortless illusory progress is almost hypnotic. Perhaps the strangest thing is seeing non-ironic idle games. ProgressQuest and Cow Clicker were commentary on types of games; new idle games mostly mean it.

: Zubon

Offline Idle Game

In one of the more unusual combinations of ideas, AdVenture Capitalist is an idle game that counts offline time. You do not even need to be idle.

Yes, you could just change the date on your computer to get trillions of imaginary dollars, but at that point, why are you bothering with an idle game?

: Zubon

In general, why are you bothering with an idle game?

Discrete Units

Ever have one of those days where you will not commit to watching a full movie, but you end up watching five television episodes? My gaming has been like that lately. If it takes longer than a half-hour, I’m probably not motivated to commit to that, even if I might still sit down and play things for a couple of hours.

Casual games have been helpful for that. You have a break point every few minutes if you want to decide you are done, even if you keep playing “one more round” for an hour. Pixelo? Great. Match-3 games? Stellar. It battles against my intentionality in that I did not sit down with the need to play 20 rounds of match-3, but once I’m in, I’m rolling and having a good time.

Which is the goal.

: Zubon

Pure Grind

Trying one of the recent games at Kongregate, I discovered a game (and accompanying achievement) for pure grinding, Mighty Knight. It has the usual more-or-less required upgrades, but some “quests” remove the “more-or-less” by removing all player input. Those quests are to have your NPC companions defeat all the enemies. You cannot command, control, or guide them in any way except for buying them better equipment. Your NPC companions also select targets at random and fight them to the death, no matter what else is going on around them.

As I type this, the game is rated 3.9/5. Either most folks operate on the 7-10 rating scale or the average gamer just utterly baffles me.

: Zubon