OSG1

Tag - Evony

UI Rant

Yesterday I mentioned pop-up windows in Evony’s user interface as one of my pet peeves, and felt I should elaborate.

My first problem with pop-ups is the wasted space. Note the red scribbles on the image. When a player is in the barracks clearly his goal is either to recruit new troops or check on what troops he already has. The image of the city is completely irrelevant and when cropped like that is converted to visual clutter. The pop-up UI completely wastes that space which should be put to better use, even if just to make the barracks window a little bigger.

Second, pop-ups run the risk of covering up important information. Note the yellow arrow on the the image. Under the pop up is where the player’s current resources are displayed. This information is very important when upgrading a building or training troops, so why would you hide it? I’ve often found myself clicking on the barracks, then having to close them to check on my resources before going back to the barracks and issuing some training orders.

Finally, pop-ups can confuse the scroll wheel. Not all the possible troop types fit on a screen, and so a scroll wheel is necessary to browse through them. However, it only works if the player’s mouse is over the barracks window. Should the player wander over to towards the resources the scroll wheel switches back to zooming in and out of the (still irrelevant) city view.

The alternative to all of this is to use Travian and Ikariam’s strategy of just opening the building-specific screen as the main window. This wastes no space, ensures the main UI bar is always visible, and the player can scroll down from wherever they chose.

Of course, maybe there are benifits to the pop-up scheme that I’ve overlooked. It’s certainly useful in a lot of situations, especially when the pop-up is pretty small. For example, if you mouse-over any of the troop types in Evony you’ll get a pop-up over the pop-up that shows how many resources it costs to train one. Pop-ups are great for displaying context-sensitive information or options, but once the pop-up window reaches a certain size it seems better to admit you’re no longer dealing with a quick context-sensitive menu and convert the whole thing to a main view.

Hah, I’m probably the only OSG player who’s spent so much time complaining about user interface, but I wager it has annoyed plenty of Evony players, even if they haven’t realized it.

Cheers,
Oliver

Evony Age II Review

Game Site: www.evony.com
Game Developer: Evony LLC
Rating: Worth Checking Out

Evony Age II seems to be a pretty standard online strategy game. While it doesn’t really offer anything innovative or brilliant to the genre it does include all the regular game elements and executes them fairly well. Evony Age II really isn’t a different game than Evony; it’s more like an update. There are some improved graphics, a slightly different UI scheme, and a few new quests, but the core elements are all the same.

As with most OSG’s, you have a “City” view where you harvest resources by building Farms, Sawmills, etc. You then have a “Town” view where you build cottages, barracks, an academy, and so on. Evony does provide a lot of slots for buildings, which allows the player to decide how much of each resource he wants to produce. For example, a player can chose to build an equal number of mines for each of the four resources, or could commit all his slots to Sawmills and have a town that just cranks out a LOT of lumber.

You can zoom in and out and pan around both the City view and the Town view, which is a very nice feature, and there’s animation of little people running around in Town view. The graphics aren’t brilliant – most of the buildings are pretty boxy, boring, and can get pixely if you zoom in too far – but they don’t necessarily detract from the game.

The world map looks very much like Civilization III and functions a lot like Travian. There are a number of different terrain types which each give a unique production bonus if you build a city there, or can be captured to provide the bonus to a nearby city. It is curious that you cannot zoom out of the Map view, as that would have been a very useful feature.

Combat is pretty straight-forward. You recruit troops in the barracks and send them to attack other cities. You also have to send a Hero with every attack, which means you’ll need to build an Inn and a Feasting Hall before you can start raiding, and it requires a huge army to launch a successful attack. Some of the ads for Evony Age II suggest that there are “no more bullies”. It seems that they’ve attempted to combat players being farmed out of the game by adding a lot of NPC’s for the stronger players to attack. In my immediate area there are about 5 NPC cities for each actual player city. This is definitely great for new players, and all OSG’s should provide new players the opportunity to launch a successful attack on some sort of NPC before their beginner’s protection wears out. I worry though that Evony has gone a bit too far and the player to player interaction might suffer.

One of the things Evony does well is the research. In addition to unlocking new buildings or units, each research has a bonus affect and can be researched a number of times. For example, Archery unlocks the Archer unit and each level also increases shooting range by 5%. You can do researches to increase each type of resource production, troop movement speed, attack, defense, etc. This is a great feature since, as with the open slots in the City view, it allows players to specialize in one thing or another.

Evony also employs several game elements that are rather annoying. I consider Evony the birth of the “Task / Quest” system; I think my distaste for that feature is well known. There’s also an intricate system of tax rate, comforting, levy, and loyalty that just makes the game unnecessarily complicated. Thankfully, I’ve been able to manage my empire so far without dealing with that too much. Finally, a the Chat system sends out a message every time someone wins an item in the daily roulette. I understand why they do that, but it’s still annoying.

The UI is a bit congested. There are buttons and information displayed on 3 sides of the screen, which is just too much, and there’s no prominence given to important information. Further, all of the building-specific menus come up as smaller pop up windows (which is another one of my pet-peeves I’ll discuss later) and can sometimes cover important information.

Overall, Evony Age II is your basic OSG. Despite the annoying aspects the gameplay is rather solid and delivers an experience of managing an empire, which is what OSG’s are all about.

Cheers,
Oliver

[polldaddy poll=3011578]

Have you played this game? Agree or disagree with my rating? Let others know what you think by using the poll.

OSG Bang for your Buck

As you many know, most OSG’s employ the “free-to-play” strategy where the game itself is free, but players can spend money to gain advantages, usually in the form of more convenient features, increased production, etc. I was interested in which games offer the most for your money and did a little cross-game comparison. Be aware that this can’t necessarily be considered a 1:1 comparison due to the differences between games and the varying price of in-game-currency based on quantity.

Game
+25% Production
Plus Account
Travian $0.83 $0.41
Wild Guns $1.90 $1.25
Ikariam $4.50 $1.25
Freesky $4.80
Lord of Ultima $1.70
Lords Online $14.00
Evony $20.00

I arrived at these figures by assuming the player is spending $25.00 USD, then extrapolating the closest Real Money to In-Game-Currency ratio. From there I found the cost of a Plus Account for 7 days, and the cost of a 25% production of ALL resources for 7 days. Again, not all of the games make this comparison easy. For example, Freesky only offers a 20% production increase for 3 days, so I simply multiplied the cost by 2.9. Further, some games like Evony offer “bonus packages” with every purchase of in-game currency, so if you really did spend $25 you would also receive some items to speed up construction or whatnot.

Honestly I was expecting to see the games much closer together. I was surprised by how cheap Travian is, and was also surprised by how expensive Evony is. Now, it can certainly be argued that in some games resource production isn’t as useful as in others, but nevertheless, since it’s something all these games share, it’s an interesting note of comparison.

Return!

Sorry for the lack of posting recently, I had to jet out of town for a bit, but now I have returned! The “List of Games” has been updated! It’s been a while, but I finally found time to tinker with it and added 6 new games, many suggested by readers (thanks for those).

I also came across an interesting article about Evony which puts them in a slightly more positive light than the report of their suit against Bruce Everiss.

Another reader also left a cautionary tale about purchasing money on OSG’s, especially Ikariam, which you can read here.

More soon!
Oliver

Alexa Ranking

I did a little research on what I assume are the top 3 OSG’s (in terms of traffic): Evony, Travian, and Ikariam. Granted this isn’t a great analysis, as I only looked up the .com’s, so this doesn’t take into account Travian and Ikariam’s .de servers or the other domains they have around the world.

Nevertheless, it’s probably a close-account of where these games stand. I found the breakdown of the percent of site traffic by country especially interesting. Over 75% of Evony users are from English-speaking countries, and who knew Ikariam was so popular in Saudi Arabia?

Task / Quest System

A game mechanic that seems to be cropping into most new OSG’s is the task / quest system. This is something I first noticed in Evony, but probably originated from the “in-game tutorial”.

Strategy games are generally quite complicated and each one has its own terms and icons, so a tutorial is essential for helping new players get in the to the swing of the game. One of the best in-game tutorials is in Travian. As soon as you start the game the tutorial pops up, explains what resources are, why they’re important, and tells you to upgrade one Woodcutter. There are 20 more sequential tasks that guide you through the different aspects of the game, and once you join an alliance the tutorial is over and you will never see it again. A player who completes the tutorial has essentially graduated; he knows how to play and should be fine on his own.

The quest / task system, however, is a persistant pressence in the game. Usually there are a number of simultaneous quests in different categories that continue throughout the game. For example, there might be a category for production with the following tasks: Upgrade a Cropland to lvl 2, Upgrade a Cropland to lvl 3, Upgrade a Cropland to lvl 4, so on and so forth. At the same time there is a category for Military: Build a Barrakcs, Train a Soldier, Upgrad Barracks to lvl 2, Upgrade Barracks to lvl 3, build a new Soldier, etc.

I would argue that this system detracts from the game.

First, it doesn’t teach anything, which is the point of the tutorial. If you throw 10 different quests at the player at the same time, he will not know which one to do first, and would be able to build a Barracks by just clicking around just as fast as by sorting through all the different quests.

The quest system also removes part of the strategy from the game. By significantly rewarding players for completing the tasks, the game basically ensures that all players are going to be performing the exact same set of actions. The game is eliminating choice.

Instead of reaping the rewards that are inherent in a level 2 Barracks, the player is rewarded by the task system. It’s almost like being paid to exercise. Instead of learning about the health benifits and thinking “I do feel better after I work out, i think I’ll keep doing it,” the player is far more focused on “I’m going to keep upgrading my barracks, because every time I do I get 2,000 resources.” The player could go through the entire game not truly understanding how to play, merely following all the tasks.

Finally, the task sytstem adds another thing to consider in an already complex game. In Ikariam, every time I play I have to go through each of my towns, check that they have enough Wine, start construction on my next building if I have enough resources, send special resources to wherever they need to go, and sift through all my reports and messages. All to say, an OSG player is very busy for a “casual gamer”. Now if I have to check for completed tasks as well, it’s just unnecessary busy-work. Some OSG’s like Heroes of Gaia, make it even worse by requiriung you “Accept” a task before completing it, or else you won’t get the reward. I’m already running an empire here, no need to make things more complicated.

All to say, I find the task / quest system to be part of a disturbing trend where new games rely on immitation and budget more than smart gameplay. Of course, that’s just my two pennies worth. What do YOU think?

Cheers,
Oliver

Huge Evony Haul

A nice Evony Blog, Evony Strategy Guide, recently posted about the biggest raid in Evony, and probably in any OSG. The attacker looted 1.7 billion resources!

EvonyBiggestPlunderBillion

It got me thinking, what does that actually mean? In Travian, a single Woodcutter produces from 5, to (realistically) 2.000 resources per hour, with a maximum of 16 resource fields per village. In Ikariam, a single Sawmill will produce from 30 to (realistically) 500 resources per hour, with a maximum of 2 resource fields per village. In Evony, a single Sawmill will produce from 100 to 5.500 resources per hour, with a maximum of 40 resource fields (I think). To put that in perspective, in Desert-Operations, even at my low level, I was producing 10.000.000 every night.

So what’s the point of all those zeroes? If it took the victim a full week to produce all those resources, does it matter if the game calls in 1.7 Billion? 1.7 Million? Why not 1.7 Trillion? There comes a point where just adding zeroes to the end of everything doesn’t actually change the game, it just looks bigger. I have to believe that once the resources get into the billions, we’re approaching the point of ridiculousness.

Nevertheless, congrats to the victor here.

Cheers,
Oliver