Sunday, January 17, 2016

How Neopets minigames work for a toddler and an old fart

I just realized I have been playing Neopets since 2002. O_O
I'm still on level 2 since I don't get to binge-play very often. When I do, it's usually when I'm having the hardest times, feeling too sick to work or do crafting, or just desperately need to change my activity for a while between work. I have been planning to repaint my Blue Wocky since then, but never earned enough NP. Back then I had no idea that many year after I will go to the USA and would be able to buy some real-life things related to the game.
My Blue Wocky. She's sad because hungry, will buy her some food when I'm done with this post.

Working with casual (and not-so-casual) games now, I started to see the Neopets mini games differently - applying the knowledge I got from people I work with, our speakers and numerous friends in the industry.

Firstly, I think their range of mini games (that you play to earn in-game currency - NeoPoints) represents most - if not all - classic casual game genres. 

Secondly - I keep wondering what's that thing that kept me engaged in 2002 and still does now? 

My all-time and recent faves in Neopets mini games

Chemistry For Beginners, the first game I tried in Neopets in 2002
Puzzles are still my fave part of the Neopets Games Room. The idea of this one, Chemistry For Beginners,  is memorizing the combination of elements, represented by those colorful stars, and assembling them into more advanced chemicals, avoiding creation of the explosive ones (introduced at higher levels of the game). 

The 2nd one I checked out and got addicted to - Meepit Juice Break
Meepit Juice Break is just another look on those pipe-matching games, where you need to rotate pipe elements in order to deliver juice to squirrel-like animals called Meepits. Each has a countdown timer, so if you fail to help them - they fall off the tree (and apparently die). I felt bad for killing an innocent Meepit just to make this screenshot. :(

Another of my faves is under the Action category, though I'd say it's closer to a puzzle... Maybe they meant that you need to run away from ice blocks that may fall on you, as well as Ice Wurms that guard the treasures and will chase you - but leave their stuff unattended!

I love the sounds in this game! Snowmuncher.
As the game description says, you guide Dieter the Polarchuck (that looks like a usual polar bear to me) who loves eating snow blocks and collects gems. However, eating snow makes him bloated, so he needs to eat the Bloat-B-Gone meds in order not to die. Eating the medicine results in a funny barfing sound, which was - I confess! - the initial reason why I liked this game. 

I admit that I have that stupid childish sense of humor that makes me laugh at poo and pee jokes, as well as enjoy the dumbest fart comedy movies you can find. Sex jokes and dark humor is also what I'm into. On the other hand - it's still easy to disgust me!

The Tyrannian Golf game, still a bit complicated for me since I have never played real-life golf, is categorized under Brain Busters - whatever that means. Coming back to poo and pee jokes - there is an option of a dung ball! XD And the "Load Userhole" option in the start menu sounds dirty to me. :D Sorry not sorry!

Apparently you can call nasty users "userholes"!

This game absorbs me a bit more than the others and doesn't work for a brief break between work articles/emails/calls. I'd say there's something enchanting about trying to plan the best route for the ball and get it into the right hole. (Damn it, it does sound dirty!) And the graphics add up to the vibes too, even though they aren't my favorite in the whole Neopets world. 
Not the highest level I have reached in this game, I just can't play it fast, as I said - it needs more focus and time.
I like it that the outcome depends on one's skills, and it's not like there are some pre-programmed results that just pop up when a certain set of actions has been performed. Which makes this game either meant for grown-ups or much older/patient kids, and this is awesome. 

This one, Ultimate Bullseye, initially became my favorite thanks to being simple in terms of rules and controls, and providing lots of NP. 
Easy to start, hard to master. Classic? It worked!
Even if I don't shoot accurately enough, like during the play session I did for the sake of this screenshot, I can still submit the score and get some NP. Like - I have 10 minutes between Skype meetings, and need to keep calm - I play a game of this and get some NP regardless how much I've scored. When I have more time, I can keep playing more and more, not submitting the score unless I have a certain number - it's where "I can do better than that!" kicks in. I hardly ever get bored replaying this game, again - because everything depends on my skill. 

I favorited all the abovementioned games (and some more) back in 2002 and have been enjoying since then. But Spinacles is a relatively recent favorite, and I think I play it most often. What is more, I like the game music. :) I usually have one of my playlists in the headphones when play Neopets, but with Spinacles I can even pause it. It is the case when music ehnances the gameplay, experience and immersion. 
Spinacles is where the visuals are exactly the way I like in Neopets
It's like one of those bubble-shooting x match 3 games, a bit more challenging that the still cute Faerie Bubbles that I enjoy for the art and not that much for gameplay. In Spinacles you shoot colorful bubbles on a rotating bunch of existing bubbles, match 3 or more of the same color - and they disappear. 
I like that you can try your luck if the bubble coming up is totally NOT what you want - shoot it into space and pray for it to bounce around and not stick to your bubbles pile. 
The power-ups here are both positive and negative: some can help, like gaining the necessary color to get rid of 3 bubbles, or exploding and killing all bubbles. The others add up a layer of bubbles, or turn random color - you can also try your luck shooting these out into space.  ))
So, this is skill+luck+strategy+immersion. 
And this is the art theme that I like most of all in the Neopets world. Yes, unlike the traditional darker/gothic look I'm into when it comes to games on my tablet and phone. Nevertheless, my neopet is still a feline Wocky. =^_^=

Wait. I lied. The smilies inside of the bubbles are replaced with cute skulls later in the game. :) 

What's the difference between what keeps me engaged now and what worked back in 2002?

2005, all 2002 pics have died with my old laptop.

2015, the old fart

I remember my main motivation in 2002 was earning NP to get the things I wanted, like buying a house for my neopet, furnishing it the way I like, and of course buying this: 
...I searched for "electric paint brush" - and nothing! Whaaat??? Did they discontinue the brushes???
Anyway, this is what I wanted to turn her in: 
An electric-colored Wocky

2002: Like A Job

Games felt like something that is not a bad way to earn money - just like a job you just don't hate, but don't love either, as I later realized. I was more excited about the opportunities you can explore and use when you have this money. It also feels like Neopets has shaped my initial attitude to working: if you need money, find something you don't hate to do and stick to it for a while until you have as much as you need for a certain purpose. This helped me a lot in some of the jobs that were not bad, yet not the dream job that I have now. :)

2016: Games To Get My Mind Off Things (I have a dream job IRL!)

It's 2016 now, I have a dream job and some experience with okay (but not so fun) jobs in the past. I still play Neopets, and it's mainly the mini games that I enjoy most of all. I am still happy to get NP for excelling in these games, but I put them in the bank and forget to collect daily interest. I wish I could do this automatically! I hardly ever spend NP on something else than food and toys for my pet, mostly because I don't have time for deep exploration and finding some other things for my wishlist - especially that I don't see the brushes available anymore. :( 

You can see the site's audience while registering. As far as I remember, you choose your age group in the beginning, and there's one for 0-3 years old, and up to 45+. However, you cannot sign up if you're under 13 years old - in this case you need to fax them a permission from parents. Was a pain to do from Ukraine about 10 years ago, so we registered my 6 years old cousin under his mom's name. Yea, looks like they didn't care much of third-world countries back then. :(

All in all, what is the magical thing that kept me addicted back then and still works now?

Fun fact: in 2002, when no one in Ukraine was even talking about wifi or mobile internet, I feared my pet would die while I'm on the summer break in the mountains for 3 months. So my dad drove me to the neighboring town that had an internet cafe just so that I could spend an hour or two playing Neopets. 

Due to the kids being the main target audience of the website, all its content is strictly moderated, including private messages. Not so cool for older people, but I am not there for communication anymore. By the way, one of our Casual Connect speakers in Tel Aviv, Shai Samet from Kidsafe, mentioned Neopets in his session, which resulted in a huge smile on my face - so he told more about how this site treats kids' safety online. 

In 2002 it was the only type of videogames that I liked. Also, the site was an opportunity to speak English with kids and teens - something I couldn't do here in Ukraine, though I did talk to dad's colleagues from the USA a lot. Back then I wasn't allowed to work legally (though I still did, standing in for the office secretary who was sick, or doing small translations or even envelopes stuffing). Neopets gave me that desired feeling of doing something relatively fun (playing games, possibly even super fun for other kids) and getting a reward I could use to get something I wanted. 
Each location has its own theme and vibe.

Neopets also featured the graphics that resembled those of the 90s Nickelodeon kids' shows I liked and still do - so I enjoyed the aesthetic side as well, and even tried to draw characters and items following the provided drawing tutorials. (An amazing idea for any game world!)

Talking of the graphics: with the overall style being consistent, different locations had a different vibe, color scheme and theme - appealing to kids with different tastes. Being just a few years away from becoming goth, I was into brighter and girlier locations, and still prefer them - I've got enough dark stuff in other games.
I mostly played in winter, so like Terror Mountain a lot.

And my all-time favorite place, Faerieland. 
What is more, unlike other game sites, this one didn't have invasive apps or nasty monetization tricks, so I didn't feel threatened. It also didn't force me to download anything - and I was playing from dad's work computer.  One of my worst fears in 2002 was accidentally downloading something wrong or harmful, or clicking something that would ask me for money. 

Now, in 2016, it's the zero negativity, fun and relaxing games with graphics I enjoy, as well as - still! - no annoying ads, - that keep me playing Neopets. It used to be a treat for me in 2002, now it's escape from the real world that is turning uglier and uglier. 

What is more, working in the games industry gave me a fresh wave of interest towards Neopets: now I play the mini games trying to see them from the design point of view, as well as examples of more or less "clean" samples of classic casual game genres. What makes me add the game to favorites? What kind of mood makes me choose this game or another? And, last but not least - what is that thing that gives a particular game the vibe that gets me excited? 

Working on my very 1st game, I'm aiming on it having the same kind of appeal Neopets mini games have. For now, sketching and checking out GameMaker tutorials (remember - I have zero experience with making games or programming!), I try to think - would I click to play this game if it was on Neopets? 

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