With iOS 4.1 we get Game Center. I think that’s a good thing.
I offered my first impressions of Apple’s new gaming service about a week ago, and since then I’ve been playing games in the service whenever I find five free minutes. My opinion of Game Center hasn’t changed over the passed week, it and some of the applications that use it are a little buggy, but when it works it works great. There is a ton of potential in Game Center, and iOS devices make excellent gaming platforms. However, the apps have to take advantage of Game Center, otherwise it will be a worthless service. The problem is that some developers may be waiting for Game Center to become more stable before releasing apps that take advantage of it.
For instance, I’ve been playing Nanosaur II a lot. The multiplayer modes puts you in aerial battles against up to three other heavily armed pterodactyls (yes, pterodactyls). There have been some connection issues when more than two players are involved, but I’ve played three-way games often enough to be impressed with the speed of the graphics and the smoothness of the gameplay. Still the connection issues are aggravating, and they diminish the gaming experience.
I’m a big fan of the voice chat feature in Game Center, which let’s me talk smack to all challengers while I fire off a pair of heat-seeking missiles. I’ve met some pretty interesting people while flying my pterodactyl, which seems to show that Game Center is a social networking tool as well. However, voice chat doesn’t work all the time. Often enough, in the middle of a two-player game, the chatting dies. Even so, I’ve had voice chat work well in three-player games, which really add to the game.
This is the first release of Game Center and I’m certain Apple has updates planned, and there’s plenty of room for improvement. Beyond fixing the stability and connection issues, I’d like to see:
- Chatting outside of games: Currently you have to be in a game to talk. It’d be cool if we could at least text someone while waiting for a game.
- Group play: I’d like the ability to identify a group of people and issue a request to play to that group all at once. That would make gathering for private games so much easier to do.
- Simpler status: You can change your status by typing in text, but some sort of automatic status indicator would be welcomed. I envision a color dot where the color shows your status. Included an indication that you’re currently playing a game along with the usual status suspects.
- Allow icons or avatars: It’s nice that we can pick our handles, but it’s be nicer if we could design and show our colors or insignias.
With those “minor” updates Games Center would absolutely rock, and developers would flock to it like pigeons to bread crumbs. As it is, the list of game makers who offer Game Center compatible apps is short, but growing. If you examine that list one thing you’ll notice is a distinct lack of free games. As of today there are only three, two from the same developer, and all three are sim-style games: FarmVille, Farm Story, and City Story. Still, free is free, and that what I’m about.
FarmVille is an extension of the popular FarmVille Facebook game where people pay real money for virtual stuff.
OK, you don’t actually buy virtual stuff directly with real dough like you can in The Sims, but you can buy Farmville money which you can then use to buy virtual stuff. Some people really get into the game and become ersatz agricultural magnates and spend a lot of real time and money on their FarmVille farms.
Even if your aspirations in the virtual world is a bit more modest, you can still have fun in FarmVille making money the old fashioned way; (no, not steal it) by rolling up your sleeves and giving your index finger a workout by tilling and planting your virtual acres.
Those of you who already tend cyber-crops can access your Facebook farm through the FarmVille app, and buy more farm bucks through the in-app store.
There really isn’t much interaction between Game Center and FarmVille, it really isn’t needed since Facebook and the App Store can handle most social and commercial dealings you may have in the app, but Game Center can show achievements, and let you easily see who, among your friends, have FarmVille.
FarmVille is interesting and fun with lots of options, which makes it truly open-ended.
While we’re on the subject simulated farming, you might also check out Farm Story, which is similar to FarmVille, but without the Facebook tie-in. You can, however, use Facebook to find friends who play.
There are so many similarities between Farm Story and FarmVille that they are almost the same game. Only the social features and graphics are different. You tend your fields by tapping on plots of land to plow, plant and harvest. You can visit others and help tend their crops and earn points. The more you accomplish the more points you get and the higher the levels you obtain, which unlocks more features.
Still, I like that you have to earn your way to success in Farm Story instead of buying your way there, it makes for a more challenging game.
Everyone isn’t suited to be a farmer. For those folks there is City Story.
Where Farm Story lets you grow crops and livestock, City Story offers factories, schools, shopping centers and residences to build with to create a town. With enough planning and success, that town can turn into a city, then a bustling metropolis.
If this sounds a lot like Sim-City, that’s because it is a like like Sim-City, except on a smaller scale. You start off small, modifying factor outputs, and erecting neighborhoods for your population. As the town grows you have to maintain roads, erect schools and shopping centers.
Like Farm Story, there isn’t much Game Center interaction beyond monitoring your town.
The controls are tap-tap simple; tap a plot or building to change what’s going on there. Buy more stuff as you earn more money and experience. You can visit other City Story towns as well. It’s always fun to see how others are managing their towns.
If you’re into urban development then City Story is right up your alley.
That’s a wrap for this week.
More free stuff below with direct links.
If you haven’t already, you might want to check out Nikita, a new take on the Femme Nikita story where young female ruffians are recruited and trained to become assassins. There’s a free pilot preview of the new show in iTunes. Give it a watch.