Monday, March 2, 2009

The Space Game: A Casual Collective Joint

I've been experimenting more with Twitter lately as a way to keep up with interesting folks in the game and social computing world.

One of the people I've been following posted a link to The Space Game which is hosted on the Casual Collective website. It's a Tower Defense variant that is pretty fun to play and addictive. 

The game is pretty polished with lots of content. There are several help pages and semi-interactive tutorials. Moreover, the first few basic missions are pretty non-threatening and allow players (like me) who don't like playing boring tutorials or reading lots of help text to learn by playing.

Game play is very much like an RTS: The player needs to manage resource gathering and allocation. There are few "building" types and upgrades, so the game isn't overly complex to learn.

That said, there is some room for improvement when it comes to core game play UI and the structure of the initial experience:
  • There is an initial discoverability issue with the main build menu. Specifically, if you have something selected you no longer get to see the build menu. This is especially problematic early on when you are just learning the game and can't figure out how to retrieve this menu (you need to click on an empty space on the screen to do so).
  • Feedback on "noff nuff resources" (don't have enough to purchase an item) and invalid placement is confusing. For the first few minutes I couldn't figure out why sometimes I could build objects and sometimes I had to wait. The lack of confirm/noff-nuff resources sound FX and the non-standard use of color to indicate valid/invalid placement of buildings added to the confusion.
  • The rock-paper-scissors was not that easy to understand. This could have been helped a bit by having specific "good vs." information on both "buy" and "upgrade" buttons (the help text currently has vague text about size and speed of ships) and by having mouseover help text for the various enemies (e.g., "use missiles against this foe".)
  • I didn't understand the role of "electricity" as a resource until after playing several games. This speaks mostly to the "learn as you play" structure of the game. There really wasn't much need to introduce electricity in the first couple of games, but by the third game it would have been nice to have the scenario "trick" me into managing the electricity resource in ways that made me pay attention to it and learn it while playing. 
That said, the game was fun to play on my laptop using the mouse touchpad, which is nice.

The other interesting thing about The Space Game is the fact that it lives on a casual games portal called Casual Collective. I haven't checked out some of their other games, but it looks like a promising website:
  • It encourages you, but does not require you, to register. You can play mostly full versions of the game -- but miss out on awards, credits, MP, save progress unless you choose to register. It lets me get hooked before I need to commit instead of scaring me away before I even get started, which is great!
  • The games, themselves, seem interesting. I look forward to trying some of the other titles.
On the negative side:
  • Although the registration pipeline *seemed* simple and pain-free (just fill out nickname, email, and provide a password) I somehow failed to get an account. There was no confirmation screen and no mention that I should check my email for a validation key. I'm not sure what happened other than I don't seem to actually be registered. Sadness.
  • Social/Community features on the site tend to be buried in tabs as opposed to surfaced at all times. There are leaderboards, forums, and real time presence is being tracked. These data should be surfaced in useful places to let users know that this is a social place.
  • There doesn't seem to be any integration with existing social networks (e.g., no Facebook application).
I'll give it another chance when I can figure out how to register... I'm curious about how it holds up as a platform vs. some of the other more popular digital distribution platforms.


David Scott said...

If you have problems registering a 2nd time please give me a poke (dave at casualcollective dot com) and I will try to help.

Thanks for the great review!

Jason Schklar said...

Roger that! I'll check it out later on this week and possibly review another game.