It’s been a bit quiet here on the blogging front recently and part of that is that I’ve been playing a few different browser games, and finding some of my time consumed by that instead. I think browser games have definitely declined in popularity since their peak (probably related to the rise of smartphones, and people playing casual games on those instead) but I still like them, as they have one huge advantage: easy multi-tasking, since you can just swap between tabs and they’re usually not too demanding on your computer to limit performance on other tasks.

In recent weeks I’ve mainly been playing three different games that are all very different from each other – in tone, art style, genre, and gameplay. I thought I’d do a quick write-up with my thoughts on each.

Kingdom of Loathing

You might have been able to guess this was coming from my post on turn-based RPGs earlier this month. I wrote more there about what I really enjoy about Kingdom of Loathing, and I still do, but like my other attempts at making a comeback to this game in the past few years, this one has gone like:

  • First ascension: Wow, this is super fun, why did I ever go inactive! I made a bunch of mistakes because I forgot what I’m doing, but that’s alright! I took a ton of notes to make sure I’ll know for next time!
  • Second ascension: Yay, I didn’t make all the same mistakes! Only this time the RPG screwed me a bit so I still didn’t do as well as I wanted. Hopefully it’ll take pity on me next time.
  • Third ascension: Eh well, it’s still fun I guess, but yet again not everything is going my way and I’m not having that excitement to play every day that I had a couple of weeks ago. And yet, because this game’s closest proxy to a “score” is daycount/turncount, I’m effectively trashing my “score” for this run if I skip any days… suddenly this is starting to feel like a (time-consuming!) obligation…

So, that’s about where I’m at now. KoL is still, for sure, one of the best turn-based RPGs I have ever played; it just does so much right. And yet I keep ending up put off by my conflicting desires to “do well” at the game (which entails maximising turns, playing every day, etc.) and my desire to just be able to play when I want to, for as long as I want to. I guess I should note here that West of Loathing, the standalone game by the same creators, is the kind of single-player game you can just play when you want for as long as you want, but it doesn’t offer anywhere near the same variety for repeated playthroughs (like there’s enough variety for 4–5, but not dozens or hundreds, like KoL).

Also worth noting, I guess, is that there is definitely still some mean-spirited humour in this game’s writing, even though a number of the worst jokes were removed years ago. West of Loathing is a lot better, I can only assume because the team was older and more mature when they made/wrote it. But still, there are definitely times I see a joke in KoL that makes me cringe hard, and that’s not a great feeling. And, that said, I don’t even read most of the text any more because I’ve read most of it many times before and playing a day’s worth of turns takes long enough without actually stopping to read the text, omg. It’d be a full-time job if I actually did that, not even kidding.

Neopets Classic

Nine days ago I posted a link post about Neopets’ pivot to an NFT-based “metaverse” scam, but it was through that uproar that I found, and made an account on, the fan-made project Neopets Classic(external link), an effort to recreate the website as it was in its heyday of the mid-2000s (except without the ads).

There isn’t as much to do on it as the “real” Neopets (even accounting for the fact that half the real Neopets site has been utterly broken since the demise of Flash), but the vibe of it is so absolutely on-point. There was a mini-plot that felt totally fitting for the Neopets of 20 years ago, the new species/colour combos (contributed by fan artists) are high-quality and feel totally like they could’ve existed on the original site, and there are a bunch of creative new avatars to collect along with dozens of the original ones. One of my highlights from the very first evening I was playing Neopets Classic was getting an avatar that read “I NEVER FUCKING LEARNED HOW TO READ.” – just because the swear word was totally out of place for the original Neo but somehow felt perfect for a fan recreation where we’re all adults just joyfully reliving our youth.

I’ve seen some questions in the Discord about whether this kind of project can be trusted to stay online considering they are, you know, infringing on Neopets’ IP pretty strongly. It’s not operating as a for-profit business, but the owner, Noah, does have a Patreon to collect donations to go towards server costs (and I believe also renumerating artists for their work). There is an older project with a similar goal, Leopets, which has been operating for approx. 15 years without getting shut down, so judging by that it stands a good chance. And it’s also true that Neopets these days is a very small operation that some people doubt is going to last much longer (given the site’s brokenness and the fact the parent company feels the need to mix it up with NFT scams). Maybe they’d consider it a poor use of their time to go after some small fansite – who knows. It’d definitely be a shame if the site was forced down for this reason, and would only further cement my opinion that modern copyright laws are a gross overreach – but again, it doesn’t look like something I have to worry about short-term 😛

At any rate, the site doesn’t yet have tons and tons to do. Personally I feel like the big improvement would be to add some minigames, even recreations of the PHP ones from Neopets like Pyramids, Sakhmet Solitaire or Cheat. (You know, since recreating the Flash ones seems to be so hard that the real Neopets itself hasn’t managed it…) I think Noah is currently working on a gardening activity, which will probably be fun anyway, though. Everything that’s there so far seems pretty balanced. The economy included. I’m pretty optimistic that the more that gets added to the site, the “stickier” (as in, the more time I would be happier to spend on it) it’ll be.

(As an aside, a few weeks ago I wrote a wiki page about Neopets that you might be interested in if you’re at all curious about what I remember fondly from there, and therefore what I would probably be excited to see in a recreation. Just pointing it out because it seems related.)

This isn’t my first rodeo with idle/incremental games, but probably my first that’s lasted more than a couple of days. The thing is, I also kind of hate this game. It’s addictive, but it isn’t fun.

If you haven’t played an idle game before, it basically goes like this: you passively generate resources (in this game’s case, cookies) every second. You invest these resources in upgrades that make you generate more cookies faster. Every once in a while a “golden cookie” appears on the screen and if you click it you get a huge temporary boost to your cookie generation. Numbers go up and up and up, the tiers of upgrades you unlock get higher and higher, and if you get deep enough into the game you get to “ascend” and reincarnate to do it all again with some extra bonuses.

What I hate about this game is that it feels so soulless. At first I thought it was neat because it has flavour text in a “news ticker” at the top of the screen, and it has relatively nice art, and I thought it was funny you enlist grandmas to bake you cookies. The novelty wears off pretty fast though and after that it’s just “generate resources to buy upgrades to generate resources to buy upgrades”. I feel a compulsion to check in on the tab every couple of minutes to try to catch any golden cookies, because without them progress is slow. Honestly I’d prefer to just close the tab and maybe reopen it to invest whatever resources I’ve generated once or twice a day, but you don’t generate any if you close the tab (not unless you’ve ascended and bought relevant upgrades before reincarnating 😒). Although that said, writing up this post convinced me to just close the tab for good and not even bother with this game any more, since I’m clearly not enjoying it anyway.

What I will say is that I do think “generate resources to buy upgrades to generate resources” can be a fun gameplay loop if it feels like it has any goddamn point. Like, the simulation RPG Littlewood basically has this gameplay loop, but it feels worthwhile cos you’re doing stuff like meeting different NPCs and furnishing their houses and unlocking minigames in that fishing village place and pursuing achievements (and it’s not the kind of game with some annoying-as-fuck last few achievements to make it too time-consuming to 100% – I 100%ed it in 60 hours, for example). Alternatively, in Merchant of the Skies you start out as a merchant, buying goods from trading posts for cheap and selling them at different trading posts for high, until you can raise the funds to buy your own sky-islands and produce your own resources (and you also invest in upgrades to your ship and your islands to make these more efficient over the course of the game, too). In the late game you can set up caravans to ferry resources to the trading posts and sell them for you. In the story mode, there are also quests that basically give you the directions you need to get to grips with the game and achieve that all-important feat of making the game feel like it has a point. It has a great pixel art style and some memorable NPCs too (the singing carrot, the flying turtle…); TBH I just wish the game had been longer. After I finished the story mode I started a new game in sandbox mode, but it wasn’t quite the same. Overall it’s definitely a good example of “accumulating and reinvesting resources” not just feeling soulless, though.

Neither of those are browser games, of course. Neither of them are idle games, either. But the reason I mention them is that I think they demonstrate you could have an idle game that felt worthwhile, if the idle part actually ties into a broader RPG or strategy component, let’s say. Like a game where the decision-making has to be actively done by you, but you could accumulate resources at a given rate in the background (perhaps capped by some storage capacity, which could be upgradable). I don’t know, surely people have already made games like this, right? 🤷🏻‍♀️ But if I were going to play it, like I said, the game would have to feel like it had a “soul”; I wouldn’t want to play some lazy cash-grab kind of game.

So yeah, that’s where I’m at. Flowing on from playing these, I’ve also spent some time reading up on various aspects of game design when it comes to browser games, which has also made for some interesting reading, if maybe not the most productive 😊 But hey, who needs to be productive all the time, right?