For those of you who might have enjoyed The Big Bang Theory series, you’ll likely remember the episodes where Sheldon filmed videocasts of a series called Fun With Flags. When I started to write this post tonight, I kept thinking of that episode, as I write about apps that I like. Let’s get to it…
For my iPhone, I have the standard utility apps for messages, social media, files, phone, etc. Nothing too exciting there, obviously. Music could be more exciting, sure, but I generally use Apple Music as my default, and I’ve been too lazy to really get the others going for a bunch of free accounts that come with other services.
But after the standard utilities, I have Feedly. It is an RSS reader, which is a bit anachronistic in the world of the internet. Almost everyone posts to social media now, including me, so why bother? Because it is a simple way to grab regular posts from websites and read them in one place rather than playing “lucky feed” to see it in your list of status updates from everyone else or having the system notify you for each one. I use Feedly for a few comics (XKCD, for instance), a few writing blogs of friends, and then generally a bunch around 3D printing (a future hobby), astronomy (a current hobby), photography (somewhere between current and future), books, education (for work and future writing), tech (interest) and writing (current hobby). Do I read all of them? No, of course not. But I do browse looking for interesting articles rather than relying on the latest news, particularly given the tone of the last 18m of news. I like the feed, easy to scan, find a few good articles, and move on.
After that comes the real fun…the games.
I have to give the first spot to a game called Traffic Puzzle by Piccadilla. It is relatively simple, a pseudo-match 3 game with a small twist. Not the “rush hour”-style traffic puzzle where you slide cars to exit the parking lot, but rather that when the cars have nothing in front of them, they drive ahead until they hit other cars, obstacles, or walls, or they drive right off the board. Way back when I started, it took me forever to get through a few hundred levels. I refuse, generally, to pay for powerups, and in this game I never have. You can earn them through other side-games within the game, so if you get REALLY stuck, you can do some others for a few days to give yourself a small fallback reprieve, and there’s a daily “free spin” lottery that gives you a free resource of time or power. I figured I’d play until level 300 or so, and then it was like, “Why not go to 500?”. New levels intrigued me, extra logic and problem-solving for the right steps, way different than simple Candy Crush in my view, and so I kept playing. I’d stop for a week or so, and then start again. Then I finished the game. Yep, I went to the very last level (about 2100 or so), and I thought, “Great, I’m done!”. Except I’m not. The gamemakers keep adding new levels, and so I’ll get an update notice, and another 20 puzzles appear. Or maybe 40. It’s up to about 2400 levels now. I stay “current” which means I play about once a week, but it sure helped me distract myself over the last two years. Sometimes while waiting at doctor’s offices, or in cars. Or just chilling but not wanting to be productive. I have NEVER done that with a game before, I usually get bored with them waaaaay before that point. Feels weird to “finish”.
The next two apps were advertised in other games, and I’ll be honest, the games are nothing like the ads, a fact that I found interesting when I found out why. Games participate in expanded affiliate marketing, which normally people think of simply someone selling a product on their website, and if someone clicks through, they pick up a few cents or more. This is a step beyond that. Expanded affilitate marketing for games can include a freelance marketing company designing their OWN advertising for a game (not theirs, nor even a client), and running the ads through affiliate game marketing sites.
So an app like Traffic Puzzle has ads in it, and through their marketing, it ran ads for a game (#1), say, but the ads weren’t designed by Game 1 or even approved by Game 1. Instead, they were totally created by a fly-by-night animation company say in Eastern Europe that advertises Game 1. If anyone clicks through, they get their affiliate / referral fee. Since the games are initially free, I assume there is either a period of time by which they get a percentage of future spends or a flat few pennies for every download. Either way, it’s why so many ads you see out on the internet are totally misleading for the actual game when you get to it…usually it isn’t COMPLETELY false advertising, the storyline is similar, but the mechanics are usually VERY different. Because the company that makes the game IS NOT the one contracting, designing or running the ads. I admit that I don’t understand the model to work since having 100K people download the game and then trash it in the reviews doesn’t seem like a good strategy, but maybe it’s like a drug dealer giving free samples. But I digress. That is NOT where the joy comes in!
Tactile Games has two games that I play, and I started with Game 2 simply as I saw it in one of the other games first. In the ad, you see basically someone kidnapping an elderly woman, locking her in a room, and you have to do some escape-room type stuff to get her out, including fixing up the house (a bit Farmville-y, I admit). Anyway, there was a bit of a story to the ads, which you don’t normally see, so I gave it a go. Not surprisingly, the ads didn’t match the game play.
Instead, it was a rather typical Match-3 game like Candy Crush and others where you match things in a grid, get power-ups, blah blah blah, clear the board. I’ve played dozens of these games in the past, including CC, and well, they usually last about 10-20 levels at most, and I’m hitting delete.
This one was different, and I don’t mean the game mechanics. There is a story built-in to the game, which is called Penny and Flo: Finding Home. After each mini-level, you read dialogue between the various characters, and it feels very much like a soap opera. Penny and Flo meet because Flo is a wedding planner, helping Penny and Butch plan their wedding in a few days. You help them set up the venue a bit, Butch leaves, and then Penny and Flo decide to go on a Thelma and Louise-style joyride in a convertible, crashing at an old woman’s estate. Daphne, the estate-owner, is a retired movie star and her daughter, Violet, is trying to get a power of attorney over her to put her in a home and sell everything off. There are about 10 more characters running around the game.
It sounds stupid, right? It’s not just me? I ask because despite it appearing and sounding stupid, the damn thing is awesome. It is the most barebones of storylines, no backstory other than a line or two in dialogue, but so far we have two men who have undergone character growth to find themselves, a sub-plot with a sleazy paparazzi / tabloid reporter helping Violet, plans to renovate the house in time for a big upcoming party, and marriage counselling for Penny and Butch as well as Flo and her husband, Ted, along with their geeky son. As a game-player? Meh. As a writer? It is fascinating to see such content broken into such simple elements. It feels a bit like a choose-your-own adventure story, as there are a couple of places where you choose which way the story goes, but generally, it is tidying up rooms or gardens, choosing decorations, etc.
I liked the story so much, I had to try their other game, called Lily’s Garden. Get your mind out of the gutter, it’s not that kind of metaphor. In the game, Lily’s aunt has died and left her an estate that is in decay. In a Brewster’s Millions-style twist, Lily has 30d to bring the estate back to its former glory with an ex-lover of the Aunt entrusted to “inspect” her progress, while also occasionally helping her with some of the projects despite his advanced age. But the story doesn’t stop there. Lily has an ex-fiancé, Blaine, who is famous and self-absorbed that she dumped to come to the new house and start over, who shows up occasionally to offer to take her back. There’s the inspector’s niece, Regina, aka handywoman extraordinaire who is helping with the projects. Next door, a hunky neighbour named Luke offers the potential for romance, including moonlit dancing in the garden that suffers from cellphone interruptis from his complicated life with an ex he’s negotiating with for joint custody of their 12yo daughter. Did I miss anything? Oh, yeah, a fake cousin who tries to steal half the property, a squirrel who declares war on Lily’s efforts, and a huge series of secrets and clues about the Aunt’s life and background.
I’m loving it. Again, the game is basic, but the storyline that goes with it? I get it, you might be asking how good could it really be? I’m not talking Tolstoy here, and that’s a good thing. Lily likes Luke, and his daughter, and when she meets the ex-wife, Rachel, she likes her too. They become friends, all good. Until Regina asks…soooo, if you become friends with Rachel, can you still date her ex? Who would think to put that level of thought into a substory of a Match-3 game? Well, Tactile Games, apparently. Based in Denmark, if that helps frame the zeitgeist.
Again, like with Traffic Puzzle, I am not a “spend money to play” kind of player. If the game is your typical, “Hook them and then make it impossible to advance without paying”, I just move on. Both of these games, I have made it all the way to the middle so far without having to pay anything. I chose to pay something for Lily’s Garden at one point, which actually bothered me in a different way. Just as with Traffic Puzzle, I am really enjoying the game, and yet I have paid nothing for it. There’s no “tip the developer” button, or “donate what you can” option on the website. The only way they make money from me playing is if I actually buy something. So I found a small bundle that would help me, and I threw them a few bucks to say “thanks for the game”.
I have never seen this dialogue approach to a game before, and I swear, it feels like real characters from a book. I’m still playing because I want to know what happens to Lily at the end of the month, and if truth be told for Penny and Flo, I noticed that in the back of the house, there is a large broken down observatory that I want to fix up. 🙂
Beyond those, on the iPhone, I play a few specific games. I’ve worked my way through The Room and The Room Two, both puzzle games, but it’s a bit small on the phone. Andrea did them on the iPad, which seems to have gone well (they’re like escape-room mysteries to solve, very elaborate pieces though, with some magic, so you couldn’t really do it in real life). I also play Ultimate Cribbage, Euchre Gold, Super Yatzy, and Farkle regularly for quick games by myself, or Kryss with Andrea (a crossword game).
If I go back to my Android Tablet, I would be remiss if I didn’t do a shout-out for Puzzle Page. It is available on iOS, but the problem is I would lose all my progress from the Android Tablet to shift over, and to be honest, it is WAY easier to play on a large screen than a phone. There are DOZENS of games in it, and I’ve earned so many credits and powerups over the years that there is no reason to pay for anything other than the subscription fee to play more games than the first few each day. If I could transfer my status from Android to iOS, I would continue my subscription easily, and make the jump. But I’m leaning towards killing the subscription. I just don’t go out and about to use my Android Tablet that much. If I go back to work in the office, I probably would again. I used to play on it every day at lunch, if I wasn’t reading.
Sure, I have other games. Card games, solitaire games, dice games, word games, etc. But these are the ones that give me joy. I really enjoy them, and (almost) none of them cost me any money to play. I see a few ads from time to time, but mostly, the balance is good.
Free fun? That sounds like joy.