Friday, June 14, 2013

Nostalgia in convenient app form

Like a goodly portion of the people here in the States, I'm a big fan of those wonderful little time waster apps Apple and Google like to inundate us with.  While hardly a game designer myself, I have tossed enough of them to the side that when one comes along with something that catches my attention I like to talk about it.

Since this is my blog, and since I can't see you roll your eyes at me when I do silly things like that, guess what today's post is about!

Okay, so today's geek out is over Transformers Legends, which is available for free for iOS and for Android.  On the surface it's one of many 'card collecting' apps.  In case you're not familiar with the idea, you perform 'actions' in the game, in this case 'scanning', which depending on the game you're playing gives you a chance to get in game currency, a new 'card', or some other event.  Usually you're limited by one or more forms of energy, and almost all of them involve some mechanism to fight other people playing the game.  T:L follows all of this, and as far as this goes isn't too remarkable.  The artwork on the cards is pretty good, and the rare and above cards use a 3-D effect that takes advantage of the iPad's motion sensors to make a crude movement effect.  Spiffy, but nothing too overwhelming.  The PvP is fairly simple, and very reliant on luck.  The upside is you don't actually see when other people attack you, so there's no risk of rivalries or hostility developing in the game.

Where T:L really shone for me is their special events.  A few days after I started the game all of a sudden angry Dinobots started showing up and trying to beat up my poor innocent little Decepticons.  Again, nothing too special, but I started digging into the mechanism and was actually pleasantly surprised at what I found.

What got me was the way they encouraged people to co-operate to take these things down, at all levels in the game.  When you encounter a boss you are given the option to attack or run away.  Attacking takes 1-3 'combat cubes', which under normal circumstances are used for PvP battles and take an hour to regenerate per cube.  If you fail to take the boss down on your first attack you are given the option of asking other people playing the game for help with the boss.

The system starts out fairly standard for card collecting games, down the boss and get items you turn in for cards.  There are three categories for bonuses, first hit, MVP (most damage) and finishing blow.  Assuming the boss is killed the person with first hit gets an item that refills part of their energy, which lets you go find more bosses, or lets you get more cards/credits, which is really nice if you're just starting out in the game.  The MVP gets a bonus to the event points they receive for killing the boss, which are used to hand out rewards during the event as you accumulate enough points, and to determine overall rank in the event for final event rewards.  The tougher the boss, the more points, and the more the MVP bonus is.  Then the person with the killing blow gets an item that refills a combat cube.  Wrapping it all in a pretty bow is a participation bonus based on the level of the boss.  Have enough players help kill a boss and everyone gets a couple items they you can turn in for weapon cards that help boost your standard cards up even more.

Now the beauty of the system is how it interacts between the high level and low level players.  The points you get are based on the level of the boss, not how much damage you do, so a low level player is encouraged to attack higher level bosses that they'll barely even scratch to get the cards and points from it.  The higher level players are kept from being annoyed at this because every point off the boss's health is that much closer to the boss being dead, and it helps get the participation bonus.  Because of the MVP bonus higher level players still get more points, rewarding them for their work on developing their cards in the past, but the lower levels can still do well if they're willing to work for it.  Higher level players are encouraged to help the lower level ones because of the finishing blow reward.  When you use one cube to kill off a boss you wind up getting the cards and points for free, because the reward replaces it for you.  The stronger you are the higher level boss you can finish off this way, which along with the MVP bonus encourages you to keep working on your team.  So far it really only seems to be the bosses that fall in the middle strength wise that wind up having trouble, and since their power level seems to ramp up slowly over the course of the event this isn't a major factor until the end.

My only complaint so far would be the frequency of the events.  There was about a day's gap between my first one and the one that's going on now, not a lot of time to recover and rebuild your armies.  There was a bonus for this one and the last one for having all Decpticons so it's not too bad, but I would have been really frustrated I'd needed to switch to Autobots to get the bonus, which is bound to happen sooner or later.  A quick check of the Wiki for the game makes it seem like this is a little quicker than usual, but not dramatically so.

Overall it's a fun little time waster you can get into for free.  As with almost all free apps like this you can buy advantages using premium currency, although unlike some there is no way to earn it in the game itself, it's only available by paying for it.  I look it as anyone willing to support the game with their money deserves the advantage, and in the future if I have more free cash I might be willing to do so myself.  For now, I just enjoy the extra challenge of playing against them.

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