Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Simpler May Be Better

You may not have any reason to notice small, browser-based video games. Even if you are a steady follower of video games, a wealth of browser games will naturally go unnoticed. But after a little digging, some treasures can be found. With almost no entry experience necessary and no monetary cost, the return value on such games like Candy Box or A Dark Room is immeasurable.

Initially, I was looking for a simple, fun game to play where I could open a browser and leave it running. Nothing much more than a time-killer. Once in a while, I would play online strategy games that ran in real time. With titles like Tribal Wars or Supremacy 1914 you could log in daily, set your units, accomplish tasks or quests, and logout satisfied. These types of games interested me: strategy games that required minimal involvement. They are not unlike what you might find on a mobile device.

I found A Dark Room with a Google search.1 A Dark Room commences in, just that, a dark room. As you progress through the game you get more places, more people, and overall more tasks to complete. It sounds simple, but you must make some choices as to how to invest your resources. Patience is a virtue when it comes to achieving the best equipment. The game progresses slowly at first, but as your village expands, it becomes much more thorough and involved. The transition is quite amazing. As the game fills in, it is easy to forget how simply the game opened. Unless you’re a cynic.

I turned to Candy Box after I knew I needed something more like A Dark Room. In the same manner, I was quickly hooked on a simple premise. When seeing the sole option, “Eat all the candies,” with a number generator, “You have X candies!” that ticks up by one every second, you start to think: “Is this a joke? I mean, even the title sounds like a joke!” Here again, patience is a virtue. There is about three minutes of thinking you have been had before the game takes off. After that, there is little to slow it down. The game progresses so rapidly and in such different directions. Candy Box spawned a sequel as well. It was good, but not too different from the first. But I can’t complain. Why fix what isn’t broken?

That’s it. It sounds simple, I know, but that’s kind of all I can say without spoiling the fun that lies within playing them. Honestly, the two games are not entirely similar. Playing one does not scratch the same itch as playing the other. Both accomplish different and exciting qualities. But there are some similarities. Their minimalist art styles are reminiscent of one another. While they are games that operate on separate browser tabs while doing something else, both draw the player in with more and more involved gameplay. For both games, it is easy to click over to set something in motion, but many times become engrossed in another detail of the game.

Without going into much detail, games like A Dark Room, Candy Box, or its sequel can very much draw you in. I hesitate to describe too much, because there is just so much to discover, and the discovery, of course, is the fun. An “iceberg” analogy seems especially fitting here in describing the depth of these games. Is there an endgame? Some sense of finality? Don’t ask me. I have not found one yet, but that is not for lack of trying. Everytime I start one of these games I find new things to do or quicker ways to the things I do know. It is a steady pursuit to find new surprises.

I think the reason these games are so incredible is that expectations are almost nonexistent. It is hard to come up with broad comparisons to other games. Instead, you find some of the better elements of different genres of games. They are more involved than text adventures or point-and-clicks, or at least they seem to be. There are some strategic choices you have to make. The simple concept masks a much more fulfilling experience. There are enough facets to keep you constantly wanting to advance further into the game. Your style of gameplay can be passive or active, meaning the game can last as long or as short as you want. I’m pretty sure “graphics” (or lack thereof) do not matter in this discussion.2 It is just not easy to form a good complaint against these types of games. Again, unless you’re a cynic.

When I showed A Dark Room to a friend, at first he said he could see the potential for fun, but I could tell he was not fully committed. An hour later, I hear: “Am I on a quest? Is this an RPG?” Whether you are into video games or not, simple, browser-based games can be worth hours of enjoyment. I’ll be seeing you on the dusty path.

1 The Internet is a big place. By far, these are not the only games worth playing in your browser. Interesting new choices turn up daily that can be very rewarding. In fact, most genres are well represented with free browser-based clones. I am speaking only about two games that are somewhat similar, yet hard to classify.
2 And besides, Dwarf Fortress looks just as good and is wildly popular in some circles.