The Simpsons Tapped Out Update and Universal Movie Tycoon Review

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 17th April 2012.

Back in March I wrote about a new game launched on iTunes that was so popular that it caused a server meltdown. The Simpsons Tapped Out, a time management game similar to Farmville and My Smurfs’ Village, was withdrawn from the Apple App Store a few days after release allegedly due to high demand on the servers of the game’s producers, EA Games.

It now appears that there was more to the game’s withdrawal. The thousands of players worldwide who had already downloaded the app were allowed to continue playing the game (and spend money on premium features). Within a week or two, reports started to flood into internet forums of lost game progress, missing characters and in-game dollars and points not being recorded.

My Springfield fused with another player’s town, leaving me with a mess of streets and houses that looks more like The Rocks than the orderly custom designed town my slightly OCD mind created.

Almost six weeks after the withdrawal and initial promises of updates and patches to fix the app, EA Games has gone quiet. The game is still missing from the iTunes store and there are no signs of any relief for the players who have already dedicated hours and hours of game play to Homer and company.

It seems that The Simpsons Tapped out was rushed out for release with major flaws and little beta testing. Apple has started to refund money to players but the lack of communication from EA Games may well have tarnished the cash cow that this game was destined to become, at least in the eyes of early adopters.

The void in the “freemium” game marketplace left by the MIA Simpsons has already been filled by a new franchise, this one based on movie making. Universal Movie Tycoon is free to download and celebrates the 100th anniversary of the famous film studio. As head of the studio, players get to build sets and remake famous films, selecting from an array of virtual directors and actors.

As expected, progressing through this game is painfully slow without spending real money on the premium currency of the app, Movie Magic. Unlike other games of this type, a couple of dollars seems to go a long way. There is, however, the ridiculous option of buying 5000 Movie Magic credits for $51.99. You could buy every premium decoration, set and building, upgrade every actor and director to the max and still have credits to spare.

Unfortunately there is no social functionality which is the norm for games of this ilk. What’s the point of building your own virtual film studio if you can’t visit other nerds online and leave them virtual gifts? Initially fun, the game soon becomes repetitive and boring. It says so much about the current sad state of the film industry when a game designed to promote Universal Studios encourages you to remake the same movies over and over again. So far I’ve remade The Fast and the Furious 33 times, Despicable Me 23 times and Seabiscuit 22 times. I don’t think this game will be on my iPad much longer.

Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 12:52  Leave a Comment  
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Your Smurfs are dead, long live The Simpsons

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th March 2012.

If you’ve been spending the last few months tending to your Smurfs’ Village on your smart phone, I have some bad news for you. You may have spent hours and hours forcing your little blue children to tend to their crops all day and night. You’ve occasionally broken their smurfy monotony by making them build new mushroom houses in order to increase your village population. Houses inside which your Smurfs will never be allowed to rest. You’ve woken up at all times during the night to play pointless mini-games to earn experience points so you can advance levels and add new crap to your virtual village. How does it all end?

This column isn’t about the rights of overworked Smurfs or the folly of wasting your life keeping imaginary creatures alive. I can’t talk. I had a tamagotchi in the late nineties and my Smurfs’ Village is up to a healthy level twenty four. However, I am predicting that we will all soon be abandoning our blue friends and replacing them with yellow ones.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out was released for the iPhone last week and immediately rose to number two on the Free Apps Chart. It has proven to be so popular that the EA Games server crashed and most players were unable to access the game. On Sunday, the app was pulled from the iTunes store and is currently temporarily unavailable.

Like its Smurfy counterpart, The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a free-to-play time management game that costs nothing to download but has the potential to become quite expensive. The game starts with a hilarious animated sequence that is worth the download alone. Homer, at work in the nuclear power plant, has become distracted at his console playing a Smurf-like game on his “myPad” which results in a radioactive explosion. With Springfield wiped off the map, it is up to Homer to put the town back together, one building at a time.

To earn experience points or XP as well as game cash, players must send Homer to perform various tasks which take different amounts of time to be completed. As you complete challenges and earn points and money, more Simpsons characters are unlocked and new buildings can be added.

Being a time management game, the challenges play out in real time. To grow corn on Cletus’ farm, it will take ninety days, literally. To overcome this, players may choose to use donuts to make time past rapidly. Donuts are the premium currency of the game and are earned very slowly as the game progresses, however, similarly to smurfberries in the Smurfs’ Village, those fine people at EA games will also sell you donuts for real money via your iTunes account. The high cost in donuts of premium buildings and features, combined with the slow rate of free donuts earned, suggests that you might be opening your wallet to spend some hard earned real dollars sooner rather than later,

The game features voices, artists and writers from the TV show, resulting in a novel approach to a familiar genre. The game controls and structure took a little while to get used to, but the lengthy tutorial should have you adding the Simpson’s house and the Kwik-E-Mart to your new Springfield in a few minutes. I managed to play the game over the weekend for a few hours before the server crashed and enjoyed it although I couldn’t help but feel like I was cheating on my Smurfs.

My prediction is that you’ll soon be ditching your Smurfs for Simpsons, however, until the game is restored on iTunes, your little blue friends have been spared for a few more weeks.

Published in: on March 6, 2012 at 07:26  Leave a Comment  
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The Smurfs are Shonky in 3D

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This column was originally posted in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th January 2012.

They’ve been absent from popular culture for many years but if you’ve been anywhere near a television or magazine in the past few months, you will know that they are back. They’re annoyingly cute little people, singing and dancing at the drop of a hat, and led by an even more annoying father figure. No, I’m not talking about Young Talent Time. It’s the Smurfs.

The Smurfs were the brainchild of Peyo, a Belgian cartoonist. First published in 1958, it wasn’t until the eighties that Smurfmania hit Aussie shores. At the time, Smurf figurines were exclusively available via BP service stations. I remember harassing my Dad whenever we filled up at a BP to buy me the latest Smurf. I eventually amassed quite a collection and even had two mushroom houses. I really should find these again in my parents’ basement. They might be worth something.

There was the cartoon series on TV as well, which spawned that irritatingly catchy theme tune that will never leave your head once you hear it. Sing along with me. La la la la la la, la, la la la la. Yep, you’re now infected. I’ve also got a few cassettes of the Smurfs singing bizarre songs about Smurfin’ Beer (tea with honey) and such.

Of course, just like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pokemon, Rubik’s Cubes and Lindsay Lohan, the general public eventually lost interest and the Smurfs were tossed onto the scrapheap of past fads.

Fast forward a decade or three and our little blue friends with communist tendencies (that’s for another column) have returned. The original cartoons have been reissued on DVD, complete with a Smurf figurine in the box. A new live action feature film, with CGI Smurfs, was released in cinemas in 3D last year and has just hit video stores and shelves.

The spearhead of the Smurf invasion this time comes via our phones, rather than TV or cinema screens. The Smurfs’ Village for iPhone and android phones is an award winning game that is sweeping the world. When I say award winning, I mean that this past year, The Smurfs’ Village won a 2011 Choice Shonky Award.

You see, the game is free to download and the premise is easy. Similar to SimCity and Farmville, the object of the game is to grow and develop your village. Starting with a few Smurf workers and guided by Papa Smurf, you must grow crops, build houses and slowly build up your population. After a few easy levels, the objectives become time based. And by that, I mean extended periods of time. Growing a crop of golden corn takes ten hours. Papa Smurf will often send two workers away for a mission taking 24 hours.

For those players, such as me, with minimal patience, Smurfberries allow you to bypass the clock and make crops grow and complete missions instantly. They can also be used to purchase extra items for your village which will also help you move to the next level faster. You start the game with a few berries but then you must buy them, with real money. 50 Smurfberries will set you back $5.49. 2000 Smurfberries (yes, this is actually an option) will cost $109.99.

From a consumer perspective, this game is deserving of its shonky title. It is really easy to rack up a large bill on your (or your parent’s) iTunes account. There are reports of gamers unknowingly spending hundreds of dollars on Smurfberries.

From a capitalist view, it is brilliant. Charge people money to buy virtual currency to purchase virtual features for their virtual village. It really is money for nothing. Why didn’t I think of this?

Be warned, The Smurfs’ Village is extremely addictive. This writer got up at 4am this morning to harvest some virtual tomatoes just to avoid paying for Smurfberries…again. My village is now at level 14 and I have 25 hard working (they don’t sleep) Smurfs under my control. How does this game end anyway? Probably when I lose interest (likely) or go broke (even more likely).

The Smurfs are back and they are taking over the world, one iTunes account at a time.

Published in: on January 16, 2012 at 06:41  Leave a Comment  
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BBC Listener iPhone App

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 28th September 2010.

The already competitive radio market in Australia just got a little tighter this week with the launch of the BBC Listener App for the iPhone. Whilst much of the BBC’s radio content has been readily available via podcast or live internet streaming, the Listener represents an increased accessibility to overseas programming which should make local broadcasters a little nervous.

The BBC Listener is available free via iTunes. The App includes a 30 day complementary trial, and following this, the monthly subscription rate is $3.99.

With the Listener, over four hundred archived programs are available for live streaming via WiFi, with more than twenty new shows added weekly. Programs can also be saved to be played on the run.

Unfortunately, the content is definitely not youth orientated at this stage, with almost all of the audio being magazine, discussion or documentary programming. Most shows run between thirty and sixty minutes, and have been sourced from the part-talk, part-music Radio 2 and the all-talk Radio 4.

That’s not to say that the BBC Listener is just for those old enough to be thinking about getting funeral insurance. There are a few gems for the non-baby boomers. My favourite is Desert Island Discs.

The second longest running radio program in history, Desert Island Discs was first broadcast in 1942. The premise is simple. A celebrity is asked which six pieces of music they would bring with them if they were to be stranded alone on an island. They are also allowed to bring a book and one luxury item. And no, a raft is not allowed.

The celebrity explains why the pieces of music are meaningful to them, and in the process, reveals much about what makes them tick. This week’s castaway is Jerry Springer. For the record, one of his favourite songs is Wind Beneath My Wings, his book selection is a family photo album and his luxury item is a cheeseburger machine, whatever that is.

The best thing about BBC programming is the absence of advertising, and just like podcasts, the ability to listen to what you want when you want is always appealing.

Those after more contemporary BBC music and pop culture shows will need to continue downloading podcasts and listening to live streaming for now, although I’m sure the Listener will eventually offer these shows too.

If you are over thirty and prefer to hear more talk than music, the BBC Listener is a great iPhone App. It will soon also be available for other smart phones. With almost all of the BBC’s radio content available for free online, the $3.99 monthly subscription fee may seem a little steep but for easy access to an almost unlimited array of informative and entertaining audio programs, the BBC Listener is probably good value for the non-techno savvy.

Published in: on September 30, 2010 at 07:30  Leave a Comment  
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