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Over recent years, the dissemination of game content has shifted from a single complete and finished product in a cartridge or on a disk, to a first release version that then has updates added at various later points. This is even becoming true of consoles, such as XBox Live and PSN games. Whilst there are debates about whether it means paying players are the new beta testers, rushing releases and suchlike, one thing that has caught on this year especially is the idea of seasonal updates.

In short: christmas has come to a video game near you.


MMOs have had this sort of content for years, with plenty of titles adding in bits and pieces ranging from encounters to phat lootz to social costumes. Halloween and Christmas seem to be the most popular and this year is no exception with just about everything on the market going for it. Even EVE Online gets in on the act, though these days they have restricted it to gifting each account with some sort of present item such as a ship or an implant.

Trion Worlds Holiday Greeting

The MMOs I have dealings with all have Christmas festivities in some form or another. Anarchy Online has present-dropping leets in tower fields, big christmas trees in the main cities and a series of minigame encounters around a tongue-in-cheek storyline about aliens (lead by the commander Grin'Cha) infiltrating Santaleet's workshop to spread throughout the planet... Rift has had a three phase Fae Yule event going on for the last month or so and and the final phase is due to being any day now, revolving around the newly-freed Fae going overboard in celebrating the rites of Grandfather Frost with gifts, special footholds and costumes. Champions Online has costumes and perks associated with defeating armies of misfit toys, and the final part of an adventure pack series with a wintry theme.


But it's not just MMOs. Game all across Steam have popped up free DLCs with christmas content ranging from decorations for the Tavern in Dungeon Defenders to a new map with its own achivement and music in Sanctum*. Killing Floor has christmas-skinned zombies, to follow up their Halloween themed DLC. Bunch of Heroes also has a holiday pack... You get the idea.

It's even becoming present in mobile gaming: Alchemy Classic just updated with a christmas addition set, chaging the backgrounds to be festive and adding some 50 new combinations for christmas and yule related items, like Coniferous trees.


Of course with a fixed theme such as Christmas/Yule, there's only so much you can do based on the same hashed-out old tropes (trees, presents, candy canes, snow etc) and it is all a bit jarring with the setting of each game unless it's based in the real world and the here and now. Ultimately it's why Eve Online moved it's christmas celebrations out of game, so to speak (although it was fun pelting the devs with snowballs in my destroyer). It's all just some silly fun, though, and it can make a change in the scenery from the rest of the year.

*For the record, Sanctum devs can't sing. It is funny though.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
As I've mentioned previously, I've been playing about with the Alchemy games on my Android phone over the last few months. It's the sort of thing I do when stuck on the tube, rather than in lieu of some other activity, and it keeps me sane enough through the rush hour commute.

I've checked out the three following games: Alchemy (no other name, just that), Alchemy Classic and Alchemy - Genetics.
I already reviewed the first Alchemy back here and I enjoyed it a lot. As I have now played it extensively and found all 380 elements, I feel that it serves as an appropriate benchmark. A quick recap: It has compact but distinct icons and reasonable responsiveness if a bit laggy with a lot of icons on screen at once and prone to overheating. There are plenty of methods to create many items including logical progression, figures of speech and pop culture references. Being able to see how you produced an element is very handy and the autolink to an element's wikipedia article is a nice touch. Hints are behind the paywall but given the many routes you can take for many elements, the fairly logical sequence things follow and the fact it's always 2 elements that combine (sometimes the same one duplicated), it's not a headache. If all else fails, there's cheat apps and websites that list how to make everything.

Alchemy Genetics Screenies

So the first one to compare is Alchemy - Genetics. The premise is the same except that the focus is on creating animals. As of writing this, 525 of them to be precise. The freeware version has adverts but beyond that I didn't spot any other loss of functionality, which is a rarity these days as more and more of an app's features get moved to the other side of the pay wall *. It's got more of a cutesy interface along the lines of the kids' TV show interpretations of a mad science laboratory, and whilst it's clearer which animals are being combined to form what, it also imposes limitations on the interface and how it is manipulated. It's also missing some rather key preferences, such as being able to disable the buzz if you're creating something via a pathway you have already discovered. This gets to be very irritating very quickly because all you can do is disable the notifications entirely. Combinations can run both ways as well, so Dove + Pig [fat] = Dodo, but Pig [fat] + Dove != Dodo. If you have an animal earmarked in the first or the second spot for combination, you can't easily switch spots around either.

Other annoyances include combinations being extremely random (rodent + Tweety (Pie) = Hamster? but of course, everyone knows that!) although there is a random hint button that will let you know about an animal you can create with what you already have. In addition, large chunks of the top and bottom of the screen taken up by oversized buttons and the 'view screen' interface. Whilst my HTC Sensation has a large screen, I can see anyone playing on an HTC Wildfire getting very irritated.

In the end I stopped playing it after about an hour and haven't picked it up since, though perhaps I should give it another go soon. Certainly, I can appreciate the slight UI improvements it does have over the next game.

Alchemy Classic Screenies

With comments claiming this game is the original and 'way better', I was wary but at the same time intrigued about Alchemy Classic. My first impressions were that yes, it certainly looks nice where Alchemy is plain, and it has little swirly animations when you successfully combine elements. Another feature I noticed immediately is that successful combinations give you points, which you can then spend on hints on the next combinations. Added to this is the fact that the game lists all the new elements you can create with the elements you already have, I thought that perhaps I was onto a casual game winner here. The free version of the game has ads (of course) and also locks out a number of elements (complete with a little padlock icon).

Unfortunately, playing it for a while brought several major issues to light. The icons, while lovely, are very large and erratically sized with bounding boxes that far exceed the image size. This makes them unwieldy and awkward to position because even the tiniest bit of overlap is ready by the game as an attempted combine and regardless of whatever other elements you have overlapping any of the partaking elements, the game reads the whole combination rather than allowing for sub-combinations. For example, if you combine Carbon and Hydrogen, you get Hydrocarbons, except if a bit of Hydrogen was overlapping with, say, Fog. The game then reads Carbon + Hydrogen + Fog which produces nothing. Add this to the fact that the UI responsiveness is very poor, some icons are so huge you can only fit two of them in a row and if you try to stack a few in a pile to test one by one, the whole thing slows down immensely. If the bounding box of an icon touches the top bar of the screen, it's deleted, which doesn't end well with the poor touchscreen responsiveness. The bottom of the screen is completely unresponsive half the time and I've lost elements because I can't move them once they're there. (No, my phone is fine and I have no trouble with anything else in that location.) You can't easily and readily see how you created an element without having to faff with options in the Information screen either, which is an annoyance if you accidentally created something and didn't spot what the other component was.

Ignoring the technical aspects of playing, the game itself isn't that much fun because there is only ever one way to produce an element: no multiple routes here. There are occasional nonsensical combinations that even when discovered still make absolutely no logical sense, for example the only way to make a Container is to combine Metal - ok - with an Active Robot - WAT? I quickly discovered the reason the game is so generous with telling you what it's possible to find with your current open elements, and why you can buy hints with points. Unlike the other 2 games, combinations are not limited to 2 elements only. Some of them have up to 8 (EIGHT) elements that have to stack up. When you consider that there are currently 389 Elements to be discovered and you have to combine up as many as 8 seperate items, that's a truly staggering number of possibilities with that tiny remote chance of hitting one of your 389. I think there is a slight majority of the combinations only involving 2 but there's a whole ton of 3s and a not inconsiderable number of 4s and more. If you didn't spend points on hints and know what end result you're trying to come up with, you'd never find those needles in the haystack.

Despite all of this I have soldiered on through gritted teeth, determined not to let the game beat me but I suspect that come the 3/4/5 etc combinations, I'll have run out of points and then I'll give up because like hell am I going to try and sit there for hours taking a tiny handful of elements and combining them in every possible combination of up to 7 at a time, then cross over each tiny handful.

tl;dr - Alchemy Classic turns a game into a massive numbercrunching exercise one normally employs a supercomputer to do.


Of the three Alchemy games, the first one is far and away the best of the bunch. Yes it's the least pretty looking but it has the most appropriate functionality and the tightest interface. I didn't like the other two much after playing that one because it exposed their weaknesses without suffering from lacking their strengths. Still now I am done with Alchemy (at least until an update adds new stuff), I am exploring the others more.

*This moving the goalposts rubbish is a major beef I have with free Android apps at the moment and I have a little rantette about it relating to a soul-builder app for RIFT I used to like very much (before a major update took away all the features instead of actually updating the souls which had been recently changed by a game patch...)


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May 2012

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