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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Charity begins in the home (and in the shopping mall)

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th November 2010.

They say that charity begins in the home. In my case, that would be at around seven on a weekday evening just as I am about to sit down for dinner. The phone rings and it’s an annoying charity telemarketer. I’ve developed a tactic to avoid these calls. Usually there is a delay between the moment you pick up the phone and the salesperson at the other end speaking. That is because a computer randomly picks you and your number from a marketing list or the phone book, calls you and when you answer, it then connects you to a salesperson.

My unproven theory is that by hanging up during the delay, you get to avoid a long sales pitch but the computer still records you as a successful call connection with the telemarketer. So far, this tactic has worked well for me, with the exception of a few times when my mum was a little slow off the mark and I hung up on her. If a call does manage to get through, the promised two minute sales pitch is inevitably a twenty five minute one. I have taken great delight in allowing the telemarketer to give me his or her full length spiel about children in Africa with Bieber fever before calmly telling them that I wasn’t interested. For those short of time, dismissing them at the very beginning of the call works too. However, if the telemarketer gets to start their speech, it is pretty hard to cut in as I’m certain that their script is deliberately written to have no gaps. In that case, try snoring sounds or faking the engaged tone.

Those charity people in shopping centres annoy me too. I really don’t mind someone collecting money for a good cause, but these bubbly and friendly kids don’t want your cash, they want your bank details. They’re not working for the charity as volunteers either. For the life of your monthly payments, someone must be getting a commission. I’d rather my charity dollar go directly to a needy cause. Supporting backpackers is not a needy cause.

If you get a chance, watch the area where the charity folk are spruiking from afar. It is amazing how far shoppers will go out of their way to avoid them. Whether it is pretending to check out that really interesting walking frame in that window over there, or simply taking the scenic route, just as Darwin predicted, we’ve all naturally evolved to evade predators.

Have you noticed how they try to draw you in by saying something quirky to you as you pass, usually about your clothes? Last week I got, “Hello, Mr red shoes, baggy pants, fancy jacket and messy hair.” I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Perhaps Bozo the Clown was walking behind me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big supporter of charities and the work that they do. I just strongly feel that I should approach them to assist and not the other way around. Once I’ve shown interest in a charity, then sure, bombard me with information and requests for money but at least the initial contact wasn’t unsolicited.

If my call is going to be used for training purposes, then I trust that your trainer will use this recording to teach you the importance of not interrupting me when I’m trying to enjoy a meal with my family or friends.

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 07:38  Leave a Comment  
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