By Joe Osborne From games.com
Games like FarmVille, FrontierVille and CityVille popularized the standard for what most Facebook games look and feel like. That said, Zynga Dallas's debut game, CastleVille, has massive shoes to fill as the fourth major Ville game. And after a look at the game, courtesy of Creative Director Bill Jackson, CastleVille's approach is clear: Sweat the small stuff.
When there's no need to reinvent the wheel, you simply make it smoother, give it more traction and maybe even a shiny rim. And along the way, you might happen upon something new entirely. CastleVille takes the tried and true formula of building your own sprawling property to manage and adds touches that competitors either haven't thought of or had the resources to muster. While we'd go with the latter, it's nevertheless impressive. "CastleVille, to us, is one of the most beautiful games that we've been able to create to date," Jackson gushes to us.
It's no joke. The first thing players will notice when they arrive in CastleVille is simply the visual fidelity. From the bright colors to the numerous points of animation in the characters and the environment this game is turned up to 11 when it comes to looks. These characters are far more defined than in any Zynga game to date, but so is the world. Jackson showed us what it looks like when you'll chop down trees in the game, and with each whack a tree wiggled and ultimately bowed before crashing down.
"When we were having some early players try the game, they expressed how much delight they had in building a kingdom and have it come to life like that," Jackson says. "And that really is one of the big aspirations of the game: Allow people to feel like the world is alive around them."
But there are other tricks up Zynga Dallas's sleeve to make the world of CastleVille feel alive, and again, it's the little things. Take quests, for instance: They no longer appear as simply icons on your screen, but the characters within the game world will provide you with your next goals. As quests progress the story in most recent Zynga games, they serve the same purpose in CastleVille. However, players choose where the story goes next by venturing into The Gloom, or the darkened area around their kingdoms.
Expansion in CastleVille--done by building up your castle and gaining the necessary Castle Points--is directly tied with the storyline in the game. This makes it more meaningful than simply purchasing land. That's because the characters that will provide you with your next quests are lost in The Gloom, though you can clearly see their silhouettes. It's your choice which characters you rescue first, and once you expand to that area, that character will have a host of new quests for you. (Of course, there are other goodies to find in The Gloom, too.) It's this feature alone that leads Jackson to think he's onto something.
"The story unfolds by my path, and which way I choose to explore the world will decide what I learn about the world and how the story actually works," Jackson told. "So, this is really much more common to a massively multiplayer role-playing game than it has been to the 'Ville series to date. I think what we're seeing with the evolution of the Ville series is really the first sign of what a massively multiplayer role-playing game for the masses might look like."
George the MinerWell, with this much of a focus on story and exploration tied to such high production values, maybe Zynga Dallas is onto something. If anything, CastleVille is telling of what future Facebook games might look like. That's especially thanks to, again, the little things, like seamless sharing. Because of what sounds like extended Facebook permissions allowed on the players' end, sharing general accomplishments and requests will no longer summon the hateful News Feed pop-up.
Other small tweaks to the tried and true Ville formula round out what looks to be not a revolutionary, but an evolutionary Facebook game. Reputation, or Hearts gained by visiting and helping friends, is no longer just a level, but a secondary currency. (Think Social Points in The Sims Social.) With it, players can buy new decorations and items, motivating players to help one another even more. And a collaborative item crafting system will have players playing together--asynchronously, of course--more than ever.
CastleVille ultimately doesn't do much to revolutionize the Ville or the social games genre, but it's the little steps it takes that could move the genre forward. Like, say, a soundtrack performed by a full choir and 75-piece orchestra. But really, that's just fluff compared to what Zynga Dallas is trying to accomplish at heart: To bring a Facebook game to life not just through fancy visuals, but the spirit of exploration all too common in traditional online games. Zynga told that CastleVille will launch in the coming weeks in a whopping 17 languages.
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