Hidden Folk

There’s a game coming to a device near you. It’s called Hidden Folks. You’re going to want the biggest monitor you have. Not that you can’t play it on, say, your tablet. Just that you’re going to want to see it large. And, yes, it’s that kind of fun – funny enough, challenging enough, different enough that you might even consider it a good enough reason, if you don’t already have a big screen, to get one.

Let me show you what I mean:

 

I know, I know, but please don’t think Where’s Waldo. Everybody thinks Where’s Waldo. It’s not Where’s Waldo. In fact, there’s no Waldo – there’s critters and thingies and stuff to find, each accompanied by a clever clue. Lands to explore – each land different, with different thingies to look for. There’s pointing and clicking and things to open and close and grow and cut down. You don’t have to find everything to get to the next land, which is both a relief and an invitation to come back and try to find the rest of the stuff. A lot of the strategy is figuring out when to zoom in and when to zoom out. Overview. Then close-up detail. Then overview again. It’s more like what Where’s Waldo would be like if it were designed, from the beginning, to be played on a device, by playfully creative people with a deep appreciation for whimsy.

In sum: Hidden Folks is Major Fun

The designers note:

“Hidden Folks is draw by hand, scanned in, placed, layered manually, animated, and scripted. All sounds you’ll hear originate from the developers’ mouths. There are no time limits, no points, just areas with a bunch of folks and objects to be found.”

Such a gentle invitation to point and click your way to significant hours of light, but deep fun. Funny fun. The funny sounds. The funny drawings. Fun so gentle that you can play it with kids. In fact, the kids could even play it by themselves if you’d let them. So inviting that even passing kibitzers will find themselves gleefully included. Playful fun.

Currently, the game has around 15 areas with themes like the camping, the desert, a factory, the suburbs, and many more. “You can expect,” adds the designer, “more areas later.” For sure.

The lead designer of Hidden Folk also happens to be a much-admired friend of mine: Adriaan de Jongh, designer of Bounden (a game I was so fascinated with and by that I wrote three posts about) and Fingle (four posts). Hidden Folk is a big, big game, and required the full engagement of Adriaan, his colleague, Sylvain Tegroeg (and a host of creative others).

Hidden Folks was just made available on this very day! You, lucky folk that you are, can find it on Steam (PC, Mac, Linux) at your local App Store, for iOS, tvOS, and, a bit later (patience playful one) Android.

Bounden: dance, play, love

bounden
Two people. One SmartThing (you know, iPod, iPhone, Galaxy). Each partner (player/dancer) is holding on to one end of the SmartThing, thumb on the little “place your thumb here” circle. You center the cursor in the midscreen circle. A large ball appears. A cursor-like object in the center. You hear music. You tilt. The ball seems to turn with your tilt, revealing a trail of rings and things. You commencez your personal Pas de Deux.

Through careful and cunning tilting and twisting of the SmartThing and your personal bodies, you do what you can to keep the cursor aligned with the apparently endless parade of circles and almost-circles that appear to float around the ball. Do well enough, and you will both, ensemble, level up.

Watch, for example, this:

It’s a unique game, an “invitation to the dance” if there ever was one. There are subtleties and complexities, o yes. For example, the almost-circles written about above: well, once you get your cursor into one of them you have to then turn your Thing so that it is aligned with the opening of the aforesaid almost-circle – causing you to initiate yet another kind of dance-like movement.

But, for me, given my ever-sharpening focus on the play/love connection, Bounden is a lesson in love.

It’s all about sharing control.

As far as the game goes, it really doesn’t matter what you do with your bodies. It’s all about keeping the stream of circles and near-circles centered on the cross-hair-cursor in the middle of the screen. And to do that, it doesn’t really help if you’re the “better” player, or if you have a more intuitive, shall we say, “grasp” on the game and how to tilt the Thing. All that really matters is how you and your partner play together, understand together, move together, help each other, teach each other, give each other control. Which seems to me what love is, what playing together is, what makes this game so praiseworthy, so valuable, so fun, so profoundly challenging.

It’s an important game, evolution-of-gaming-wise-speaking. It’s a first: cooperative, musical, artistic even. But for couples, even long-married couples, it’s a lesson in love, and the importance – the crucial importance – of playfulness. Holding on, yes, but letting go, too.

01 Award
More about Bounden here.

Spaceteam

spaceteam

You and your iThing and at least one other player are members of a Spaceteam. You need to remember two things: you are a team, and you are in space, and you have an iThing, and you and another player or two or three are all in the same room, and you’re all connected via the local WiFiness or Bluetoothery.

You start the game. You note your control panel. You are given instructions. And you give instructions. Simultaneously shouting out commands like:

Major Fun Awardflush the megacondensers
set newtonian photomist to maximum
soak ferrous holospectrum
coddle hummingbolt
frog blast the vent core
engage hyperjig
oscillate the optical refractor

And then instead of text instructions, suddenly all you get are icons, and you wind-up shouting things like “toggle sleeping T left.”

And sometimes you all have to shake your iThings and sometimes you all have to turn them upside down because of wormholes and things and sometimes your control thing gets all wavy ’cause something weird and spacey’s happening to your imaginary ship and then, wait, let the Sleepingbeastgames people explain:

“Spaceteam is a cooperative party game for 2 to 4 players who shout technobabble at each other until their ship explodes. Each player needs an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. You’ll be assigned a random control panel with buttons, switches, sliders, and dials. You need to follow time-sensitive instructions. However, the instructions are being sent to your teammates, so you have to coordinate before the time runs out. Also, the ship is falling apart. And you’re trying to outrun an exploding star. Good luck. And remember to work together… as a Spaceteam!”

Cooperative. Sheer shared fantasy. Free (though there are freemiumish opportunities for well-deserved pittance purchases). Fantastic fun.

designed and programmed by Henry Smith of Sleepingbeastgames

Disc Drivin’

Disc' DrivinRemember Pitch Car, the Major Fun-award winning race track game that you play with pucks instead of cars and even though it feels like a real race, you take turns? Well, I’m happy to tell you that Pixelocity Software‘s iPod, iPad, iPhone, etc. Disc Drivin’ game is virtually the same game, so to speak, only a lot more virtual.

First of all, you can play on-line as well as co-presently. And one of the co-present versions, “Pass and Play,” allows you to play on one device with a resident puck-racer. Should you desire to practice a bit, you can play against yourself and experience, simultaneously, the thrill of defeat and the agony of victory – and not have to wait for someone else to take a turn.

And there’s a wifi and Bluetooth mode in case your friends have their own iThings with them and they all want to play at your house. Playing online, remotely, adds to the suspense, and yet lessens the tension. And it keeps you in touch with up to 4 people per game. And you can have several games going more or less simultaneously! (you can have up to 8 wifi and Bluetooth players).

Second, the 25 different track layouts are breathtaking – especially around the curves where there’s no railing and your puck haplessly flies off into deep space (you are spared having to witness its ultimate demise, but your puck disintegrates in mid-air and you are most certainly left with no questions at all about your fate).

And then there are power-ups and oil slicks and bumpers and barriers and ramps, oh, my! And it’s very realistic, in a virtual way.Your puck bounces off things and crashes into things and spins and slides and all the behavior you’d expect from real world pucking.

Major Fun AwardOn the other hand, the whole game looks and plays like the kind of game you play for fun – not like a real-time race, but much more what you’d expect from a toy-like, turn-taking game. Even though there can be a lot of time between turns, you can get very wrapped up in the whole “Oh, my gosh, the guy’s right behind me” thing. You get this genuine race-like tension, but you can still very much feel the high quality pretend of the whole game. And that’s what makes it Major Fun.

There’s an inescapable humor to it all that keeps you on the other side of serious. But not so much on the other side that you stop trying to win. And the sheer plethora of tracks!

Disc Drivin’ comes in free (advertising supported) versions, and the modestly priced advertising-free. All versions are generously endowed with a multiplicity of tracks and conceptually dangerous delights.

Disc Drivin’ is designed by Tommy and Michael Bean. Thank you both.

Recurse

Recurse is a game for the iPad ($1.99 on iTunes), and, well, I just can’t restrain my glee or refrain from sharing it with you.

Recurse is just about my favorite kind of fun – funny, sharable, challenging, easy to understand. You can play it by yourself. You can play it with friends. You use your hands or your whole body. You can keep it running in party mode just in case you’re having a party and that’s the mode you want for it. Here’s a clip:

Recurse is a different kind of game, especially for the iPad. It’s a gentle, non-threatening, dance-like game. The music sounds like the fun the game is.

You prop your iPad up on something or on the neat little stand that comes with your neat little iPad case or cover. You start the game, and choose, say, the Slide mode (there’s the Shuffle mode that’s a bit more, well, for me at least, challenging; and then there’s the Survival mode especially for parties I’m thinking). It counts down for 5 seconds, and starts with the music and the red and green grids with their sliding across your face, or your body, or you and your friends’ bodies, or whatever is facing the iPad camera. Your images are kind of blurred in a jaggedy way, which adds jaggedousity to the whole game – just enough to make what you’re doing a tad difficult to actually see. Your challenge – to cause your variously distorted extremities to intersect with the green grids whilst avoiding the red grids. The more green-grid intersections, the higher your score.

The designer notes: “One thing I discovered when developing the game was that people got very self conscious when they saw their own image clearly.  Abstracting the image in the way Recurse does keeps people from being aware of what they look like while playing it, and then makes for a great moment at the end when they see the  ‘reveal’ of what they looked like in mid gyration.  I think the abstraction is really important to get adults to let go of their inhibitions and get them to play like children do.”

And you can send a picture of your silly selves directly from the game to your Facebook or Twitter account.

Recurse is an exceptional game, designed by the exceptional Matt Parker. The first of its kind, I believe, for the iPad. Not the last, I am sure. A precursor, one hopes, of iPaddy joys to come.

Gluddle

Gluddle made me laugh. Several times. Out loud. I don’t know if it was because all these eyeball things say “oi” whenever they hit something. or each other.  Or what a great sound they make in chorus. Not the qvetchy oi. But the somewhat Australian oi. Though I made the qvetchy oi, many times. Let me tell you.

So, there are these Gluddle (the plural of Gluddle is Gluddle). Yes, they most definitely look like eyeballs. And you kind of point them in the direction that you want them to go. And a curve of semi-balls shows you the direction they will most likely go. And then you tap, and off they go, bouncing and oi’ing around, bouncing off each other, bouncing off walls and things, until they bounce off the screen entirely. What you hope most is that they bounce into these large, target-looking things that also look like eyeballs, but are called the “Supervision,” which immediately makes you want to destroy them.

These Supervision (the plural of Supervision being Supervision) can get pretty mean. They can freeze your Gluddle, which is always a bad thing, even though you get a lot of Gluddle. I mean a lot, I mean you get an endless supply of Gluddle!  So you can fill your screen with Gluddle after Gluddle after Gluddle and you can’t really lose. You just get a lower and lower score. But eventually you figure things out, and on to the next challenge (there are 102, count them. levels). Strategery-wise, you can also tap one of your Gluddle while they are in mid bounce, and, like the Supervisions, freeze a Gluddle. But, unlike the Supervision-frozen Gluddle, you can unfreeze any of your self-frozen Gluddle. Frozen Gluddle can be very good things, because your free Gluddle bounce off of them, and a well-timed freeze can cause an equally well-timed bounce into, well, see, it’s a puzzle, a physics game, and there’s a lot to figure out, and the thing is, you can’t lose, and it makes you laugh. Oi, the sheer Majorness of the fun!

Gluddle is brought to your iPad,-pod and -phone courtesy of Creative Heroes. It was by created by Richard van Tol and Sander Huiberts. It is fun. Major Fun. It will make you laugh. It will keep you playing. It will make you laugh some more.

 

Fingle

Have an iPad, perhaps? Love to play on it, except getting a little tired, maybe, of playing by yourself?

So, there you are, at, I dunno, a coffee shop, maybe, with a friend – maybe a good friend, or someone you’d like to have for a good friend – and you just happen to have your iPad with you, as always, ever since you got it. And you turn to your friend, saying “care to Fingle?”

“Fingle?” asks your friend, quizzically.

And, without another word, you whip out the old Pad, launch your brand new Fingle app (which, for a limited time only, is only 99-cents and includes four, count them, puzzle packs), and you Fingle. Together. Laughing at the sheer delight of engaging in something quite similar to a game of Twister, only with your fingers. Challenged, ever-increasingly so; entertained, ever-more deeply so.

It’s Fingle. A game for two co-present players sharing an iPad. A cooperative game. A game that, from time to unavoidable time, makes you laugh together.

You have your squares. Your friend has hers. You put one finger on each square. Your friend puts one finger on each of hers. And, without losing contact with these squares, you attempt, simultaneously, to slide your squares into your targets, and hold them there, until your friend has managed not only to slide her squares into her targets, but also to hold them there long enough for the game to decide that accomplishment has been achieved. And then you go on to the next challenge where you have to use four fingers, each. And then the next, where you have to use your four fingers, each, to move into moving targets.

I first encountered Fingle at the DiGRA conference. I was excited about the potential of the game even before it was completely actualized. And now that it’s available, and finally on an iPad near me, I am even more excited to share this surprisingly innovative, paradigm-shifting, touchingly cooperative iPad game for two players even.

Designed by Adriaan de Jongh & Bojan Endrovski, from Game Oven Studios. Major Fun? Oh, yes. Majorly so.

Par Out Golf – the app

You indubitably know about the Major Fun award-winning game of Par Out Golf. Should you have somehow forgotten, the link will tell all. (Remind me to make a “links” pun somewhere in this review). If you’re too, shall we say, busy to click on the abovementioned, I quote myself, liberally:

Of the several skills you practice while playing Par Out Golf, a fascinating, and, to any golf player, significant challenge is learning how to visualize your shot. The more observant you are, the more capable you are at remembering the lay of the land, the more effectively you can imagine the exact amount of drive to put on the ball, the better you’ll do. This, of course, is the essence of Par Out Golf. Like “real” golf, Par Out Golf challenges both mind and body.

It’s kind of like the spiritual essence of golf, made manifest. If you are not familiar with said essence, hie thyself over to Michael Murphy’s classic Golf in the Kingdom.

If you also happen to have an iThing – iPhone, iPad, iPod – you’ve probably caught yourself wondering – what would Par Out Golf be like if it were an actual app, if it were something I could play on my very own iThing, by my very own self, or, now that I think about it, with my very own friends, i-to-i perhaps.

After all, how perfectly logical it would be for there to be such an app? A course is presented, filled with cunningly arrayed sand traps and rocks and other things to avoid. One takes one’s finger and, without touching the screen, traces and retraces the ideal route. Then one places one’s finger so it is in actual contact with the virtual ball, holds one’s finger there as the clouds cover the course into visual oblivion, and, having visualized the path, one draws said path, taking into account not only one’s memories of the terrain, but of wind direction and speed, and perhaps even choice of club, lifts one’s finger at the end of said visualized path, and beholds one’s fate graphically recapitulated as the clouds clear and the chosen path is revealed.

Accompanied, of course, by encouraging and perhaps sympathetic sounds from the invisible crowd, the soothing sounds of ocean breezes, the calls of birds, the striking of rocks, the landing in the rough, one’s stroke is made, and one’s score is entered onto the scoresheet of destiny.

No, no, of course, shall we say, no, it is not about speed or force of stroke, but rather entirely about visualization and execution of, as one is oft too tempted to say, the path.

And so on, hole by hole, until the very end of the course. And, should one have succeeded in manifesting some reasonable par-like status, one collects one’s just rewards. And should one’s rewards prove of sufficient merit, one unlocks yet another course, of even greater complexity, more tortuous paths, more entertainingly profound challenges.

All of which is to say Mike Martin and Phil Boden’s concept and Endless Wave Software‘s execution of the Par Out Golf app for your iThing reach a whole new, and delightfully playworthy level in its app manifestation. It is what any game designer would consider a masterful achievement, what any player would find a seamless transition. Not to replace the original, but to extend it into the virtual world, creating one more link between the game, the simulation and the simulation of the simulation – each link a direct link to the fabled links of golf itself, each being at least as much fun as one deserves, and, some would say, perhaps even more.

Wii Fit Plus

Island Cycling (via The Bit Block)

So, you finally buy yourself a Wii. And because you’ve been so good and so patient, you wind up with the Wii Plus. And you play. And you play some more. And you visit, virtually, every part of the virtual island. You fly, you bowl, you do it all. And great fun is had by all, precisely as promised. You are not disappointed. Even after you’ve acclimated yourself to the many Wii wonders – the controller that responds so responsively, that vibrates and even sings to you; the realistic, fully-rendered, 3-dimensional-looking ocean paradise (is that a whale? thar she blows!), populated by everyone you’ve played with and a cast of hundreds, who wave at you when you pass, and sometimes even cheer, while all the time accompanied by a richly detailed soundscape that further engages your senses: touch, sound, vision, humor.

And then you say to yourself, I think I’ll by me a Wii Fit Plus. Why? Because I want to, as the song says, put my whole self in.

So you buy it, even though it costs half as much as the Wii console, because you have dreams of the Wii taking you to places you’ve never played before.

Now, somewhere in the back of your copious intellect, you know that the Wii Fit Plus has something to do with fitness. And even though you just want to play, you silly person you, fitness is something that people take seriously, and the Wii Fit Plus is, of necessity, just as serious about helping you do precisely that. So you unpack it and set it up and find yourself sufficiently mollified by the intuitive ease of it all. And then you step up, as it were, on the Wii Balance Board, as instructed. And you continue to do as instructed, registering yourself, so to speak, informing the Wii Ones of your birthdate, your height, and other rather personally, but fortunately password-protectable details, and get informed of your BMI, and your balance (it is called a “Balance Board” don’t you know) and your body age. Your body age! Arggh! And, at last, unavoidably confronted by your precision-determined state of decrepitude, you meet your personal trainer.

All of which is to say that yes, if your goal is to become more fit, you can now, thanks to your purchase of the Wii Fit Plus, pursue that goal with ultimate seriousness.

On the other hand, you can also have fun. Actually, lots of fun. Fun that is so much fun you almost don’t realize how much actual exercise you’re having. Of course, the Wii Plus people take great pains to inform you of your progress in sometimes painful detail, and they use words like “failed” and “unbalanced” to make sure you know just where you stand, or didn’t. But, ultimately, it’s the fun that makes the whole thing worth our collective interest, and the fun is plentiful and varied.

The majority of the new and improved Wii Fit games are in their own section called “Training Games.” (Again, in order to keep with the seriousness of it all, they had to use the word “training.” Fact is, this is where the fun is, where, according to my playful way of viewing the world, the Wii Fit Plus becomes something very much like a paradigm for the whole fun-fitness connection.) There are 16 games in this section (others can be found in sections devoted to “strength,” “aerobics,” and “balance”).

Of those 16, Island Cycling is probably the best place to start. It demonstrates how the system can engage your whole body (you “steer” with your Wii controller and “pedal” by marching in place on the Balance Board), it’s relatively easy to master, and, most significantly, there’s no time pressure. So you can bike around the virtual island, both hither and yon, knocking flags down or not. Of course, the less time it takes you to find and knock down all the flags (a handy interactive map helps guide you), the higher your potential score. But if your goal is to get comfortable with the system whilst engaging your considerable self in a leisurely tour of the virtual environs, you will find Island Cycling fun and pleasant, even though you just happen to burn some calories in the process. And your pre-schooler will want to play it as much as you’ll let her.

Then there’s Bird’s-Eye Bull’s-Eye, which is clearly silly, and most obviously fun. Silly? First of all, you’re a chicken. And I mean that in the best possible way. You look like a chicken. You fly like a chicken if a chicken could fly. Second, you fly by flapping your arms. So yes, there you are, standing on your Wii Fit Plus Balance Board, actually flapping your personal arms. And there you also are (as faithfully rendered by your Mii avatar), on your TV, looking like a chicken. Lean left, right, forward or back to navigate. Don’t flap too hard or you fly too high. Find a target. Land on it. Get more points (time). Find the next. Try to land dead center for the most points.

As funny as it all is, it’s not a little kids game, by any measure. The controls, though intuitive, are engagingly complex. Keeping your body properly positioned while your arms are flapping at just the right speed requires a very fine-tuned sense of balance.

Here’s what I mean:


(one of many excellent instructional videos from WiiFolderJosh)

Major Fun-wise, the games included with Wii Fit Plus are worth the price, even worth suffering through the sometimes insufferable humorlessness of the whole “fitness” concept, because they so beautifully exemplify the fun-fitness connection.

Though the games may look childish, Wii Fit Plus is not just for children. Children already know how much fun it is to use their bodies, to test their physical limits, expand their abilities, engage themselves fully, physically, emotionally, mentally, and unconditionally in the world they are growing into. But for adolescents, adults and seniors, for the differently-abled and the significantly-abled, the games of Wii Fit Plus demonstrate, over and over again, the sheer joy of exercising our many abilities, all at the same time. Whether you’re cycling around the island, flying like a chicken, throwing and dodging snowballs, driving your Segway into beachballs, being a drum-major, keeping time,  leading the throngs, skateboarding, doing Kung Fu, navigating your bubble through a maze of waterways, running an obstacle course, or balancing on top of a ball while juggling – you will have so much fun you could almost (if only they didn’t constantly remind you) forget that you were exercising.

On the other hand, maybe all the reminders will help you remember that fun is, after all, the best exercise you can get.

Playing on the Wii with a 4-year-old

We learned another lesson about playing on the Wii with a 4-year-old, courtesy of neighboring 4-year-old, grandson Cole. This lesson concerned canoeing for two.

Beating a 4-year-old at anything is not much of an accomplishment. Unless you’re also 4. Or perhaps even the 8-year-old sister of a 4-year-old. But for the grandparent-grandchild play connection, the real accomplishment is finding a game we can play together and both have fun.

We have two controllers, so we can play some games simultaneously. Even with the controllers and the simultaneity, it’s still not as fun as it sounds. In most of the games in the Sports Resort package (e.g. bowling, frisbee, baseball, air sports) the discrepancies between our abilities are too obvious. Try as I might, it just seems wrong for me to keep throwing gutter balls, or purposely tossing the frisbee in the wrong direction…well, you get my, so to speak, drift.

Canoeing, on the other hand, it seemed a little easier for us to wander gently down the stream together. Sure, there are goals to cross, but, if I want, I can paddle around, making up my own goals – like trying to follow him as closely as I can, even trying to see if we can both cross at the same time – and still find challenge enough. There are a lot of opportunities for us each to develop our own versions of paddling mastery. Unlike many of the games in the Sports Resort, this one doesn’t pressure us to compete.

This was an important lesson for me about what we need from games if we want to share them across wide ranges of abilities. One of those fun lessons.

Here’s what the game looks like:

video via Gamersonica1

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