Glitch: Towers and More

It’s been over two months since I’ve posted my last Glitch review. Up until a few days ago, we’ve encountered numerous smaller updates, but nothing really huge (in my opinion; different features tend to have varying levels of interest on different people) until Wednesday’s introduction of Towers. As always, I’ll describe a few of the new game features, provide screenshots and video, and give my opinion on those features. Finally, I’ll give my outlook on where the game is heading. The new content I’ll be focusing on in this review includes Towers, butlers, new map regions (Roobrik and Balzare), and achievements. While not a creation of Tiny Speck, I’m also going to give my opinion on resource routes, as they seem to have become a controversial topic on the forums.

Butlers

First up are butlers. In a nutshell, they’re fancy mailboxes for your home street that also act as a sort of security camera.

My butler (on doorstep, next to pigs), named Jeeves because I have no sense of originality whatsoever

Butlers (colloquially known as botlers on the forums on occasion) are the first NPC in the game that players can chat with. You don’t get many options for doing so, but those options that do exist are just plain funny (chat isn’t used for any useful options; all of those are presented within its context menu). As seen in the video above, butlers have numerous customization options to choose from (it’s also interesting to note that it’s one of the few customization areas in the game that have no credit/subscriber-only options). Among their more useful functions are serving as a mailbox (selecting the Mailbox menu item brings up the familiar interface presented when accessing a mailbox from anywhere else within the game), and as a log of visitors to one’s street. Butlers can also hold packages and messages from visitors. Among their functions of questionable usefulness, but reasonable entertainment value, is the “zombie” command, presented in the video above. While butlers don’t bring with them any major new gameplay elements, they do address the much-requested feature of a mailbox on one’s home street.

Roobrik and Balzare

Castan Nella in Roobrik

Memento Sana in Balzare

Since my last review, Tiny Speck has also added the regions of Roobrik and Balzare to the game. They feature a distinctive look (from other regions, although every street within the two regions looks pretty much exactly the same as all the other streets within Roobrik and Balzare). Both regions have a slightly above average number of slightly above average quoins. But that’s it. There’s no shrines, vendors, trees, rocks, animals, or much of anything else to do there. If you’re looking for vast numbers of fast-respawning quoins, Groddle Forest Junction is your best bet. If you’re looking for huge quoins, the Ancestral Lands are where you want to be. But hey, if you want two more easy badges (Roobrik Completist and Balzare Completist), awesome! Speaking of badges…

Achievements

Tiny Speck has introduced over 60 new achievements to Glitch. This is great news for people like me who have a goal for number of achievements, but are stuck with a bunch of ridiculously insane achievements left to grind. A few of the new badges were just the ticket to propel me over 500.

The new Cultivation category of achievements

This new series of achievements was much overdue, as indicated by the two new categories added: Cultivation and Furniture. With so many new aspects of gameplay added, there was a stark contrast between old gameplay elements and new ones (badges for interactions with pigs, chickens, and butterflies; but not for interactions with foxes and sloths for example). Achievement stagnation has finally been remedied, and achievements once again span all areas of content in Glitch, making foxes, sloths, furniture, and cultivation equals to their longer-standing counterparts. There are many achievements in the style of the traditional “do X Y number of times,” as well as some rather interesting unique ones (for instance, feeding three sloths on the same street at the same time). Also added were a few achievements related to old game content, such as a badge for dying in one’s own house (not quite sure how that’s an achievement, but it was an easy one to add to my collection, so I’m not complaining). Let’s hope this trend continues, and more of the promised upcoming content also comes with its own set of badges.

Towers

My tower, complete with furniture and stuff for sale

Possibly the most notable recent addition to Glitch is Towers. Towers are optional public spaces that you can build on your home street. They essentially act as public houses with elevators. They can be decorated just like houses, and projects to expand them work in a similar fashion as projects to expand houses. Towers are exceedingly expensive to expand (Palindrome, whose tower I shop in during the latter half of the video above, wrote an excellent guide to this here), however past a certain point, having a ridiculously tall tower doesn’t provide any real benefits. I had trouble deciding what to do with all nine floors of my tower (which I built solely for the sake of doing so), and still have two floors that remain completely unused. That said, I’ve enjoyed having another fully-customizable space, and a public one at that. It brings Glitch ever-closer to being “a game of giant imagination,” as it claims to be (more on that in the closing of my review, which I’ll lead into on my section about resource routes). And unlike houses, towers provide a place to show off your decorating skills to the world at large (call me paranoid, but I’ve let very few people into my house, so its decorations go largely unappreciated). They’re also quite the credit sink for this reason. Hours after having fully expanded my tower, I’d spent over half my stash of credits. My one complaint about the creative potential of towers is the fact that they can’t be expanded horizontally at all, making it impossible to design a room that needs any significant width (as I said before, space in general is not a concern, as even with their small size, it’s fairly difficult to come up with a use for all the floor space of a fully-expanded tower, although I’d still like to see the ability to make the tower wider).

Towers also finally make Vending SDB’s (Storage Display Boxes) a useful item. Until a few weeks ago, SDB’s were merely used for personal storage. Now, they can also be used as vendors. You can set prices for items you place in SDB’s (items in SDB’s without prices are safe from others; only you can access them), and other players can buy items from them in the same way they would buy items from a vendor. Introduced about two weeks before Towers, vending SDB’s were previously not really useful. You’d have to let people in your house in order for them to purchase from a vending SDB, meaning you must be online in order to allow them to buy from you. And if you’re there with another player, you’d may as well just trade with them. Furthermore, it means having to trust often random people in a private space that often contains valuable items. Since Towers are a dedicated public space, they solve this problem nicely.

Miscellaneous

In addition to the major updates I’ve mentioned so far, Tiny Speck has also added a few smaller updates in the form of character upgrades. The first is a set of inexpensive upgrade cards purchasable via the imagination menu that turn into tickets placed in your inventory. These tickets send you to one of several special locations containing high-value quoins. If you’d like to buy some of these for currants, I sell many of these cards in my Tower.

Arbor Hollow, a location accessible via purchasable tickets

The second is an upgrade card which provides access to the Trade Channel, an official chat channel for buying and selling things. Due to its official nature, it has an extremely large number of people in it, making it quite effective in finding buyers and sellers. Unfortunately, due to people who complain about every last thing Tiny Speck does, the introduction of trade channels was met with a barrage of complaints about the fact that there is a small iMG cost to purchase access to the channel. At 200 iMG, the cost is not a barrier to entry, as, even at level 2, a player must have earned at least 400 iMG (worthy of mention is that the players complaining about this are all a much higher level, and most likely have thousands of spendable iMG at any given moment).

Typical conversation in the Trade Channel

*Note: Not actual typical conversation in the Trade Channel

Whither Craftybots?

As big a deal as I’m about to make about how the game is heading full-force in the right direction, I’ve been left with one question, that seems rather answerless. We’ve been promised craftybots (devices which will automatically craft items for us) for ages now. We’ve been given numerous updates in the mean time, that we had no idea even existed beforehand. Based on screenshots of craftybots in existence, and on random other things, I’ve thought for awhile that they’ve been coming. I realize how it is with development, that asking for ETA’s is possibly the worst thing you can do. And I won’t. Because while craftybots would certainly make the activities I’m about to talk about later (and the tower-building I just talked about) easier, by no means are they a necessity to complete such tasks. Ultimately, it’s no longer something I anxiously care about; it’s just a weird sense of something we were told of that’s since faded into oblivion.

Resource Routes

For the first time, I am going to cover an unofficial gameplay element in one of my Glitch reviews. Why? Because it’s had a bigger impact than quite a few official features. Harvesting resources is now more efficient than ever before.

Warning: I’m really reviewing resource routes as an excuse to rant about the people who complain about the fact that resource routes exist. As such, if you’re not looking for heavily opinionated commentary, please move on to the next section (depending on how much you don’t want to read such rants, skip the rest of the review; the next section ties into this rather extensively). Thank you.

Resource routes are chains of home streets, linked together by a given signpost location on one’s home street. The intent is to provide access to vast quantities of a specific resource. As an example of why this is useful, the region of Ix, formerly the only place to harvest allspice, contains 35 spice plants. Assuming the highest relevant skill and not counting super harvests, that’s two harvests per tree per game day at twelve spice per harvest, totaling to 840. On the other hand, The Original Spice Road currently contains 457 spice trees. Assuming the same things as assumed earlier, that’s 10,968 allspice. I used the spice route as an example because I’m a member of it, but other routes provide similar advantages (huge amounts of a given resource, all accessible in an orderly manner). In addition to the original Housing Resource Routes, Serious Routes aims to provide more concentrated resources but with fewer participating streets, and Glitch Routes allows players to create impromptu routes based on given criteria.

Now that I’ve provided facts and math about routes, I’d like to analyze the complaints people have given about them. Really, there is one major complaint that has been mentioned on the forums time and time again. That is that routes have essentially pulled people out of the “real” world.

To quote Steve Jobs, himself quoting Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a-changin’.” I’ve never really understood why people complain about routes. Nobody’s forced to use them. As a matter of fact, for a certain few resources, I actually find the “real” world a better place for gathering them. Not to mention, the “real” world is not going anywhere. It’s still the only place that provides quoins, vendors, shrines, foxes, sloths, batterflies, and quite a few other things. But for quite a few resources, it is becoming obsolete. And it signals a change to the core of who’s putting together the locations. For the more sentimental among us, I suppose I understand the whining to an extent… for now. The “real” world used to be a large general social place. It’s less populated now. However, resource routes aren’t to blame here. Significantly fewer users are active ever since Glitch un-launched. And invites have been disabled for ages now, so there haven’t been any new players. The game is ripe with new content, but the player base in general is stagnating. A lot of friends I’ve had for quite awhile have left or gone on hiatus, and if anything, this situation for myself and other people is probably what’s leading to the decline in social activity within the game. Routes have nothing to do with it.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that resource routes are extremely true to the original vision of Glitch (more on that in the next section), and group halls (supposedly coming in the future) will provide new spaces geared toward social interaction.

What’s Next?

Beginning with the housing changes, moving steadily forward with towers, and with even more future plans to this extent, it seems that Glitch is finally on track to reach its vision, proudly declared on the game’s loading screen as “a game of giant imagination.” Back when I first joined, in November, I read a review of the game. Based on that review, that talked a lot about emergent gameplay, I expected Glitch to be a lot more like the thing it’s becoming. I enjoyed the game, but to be honest, I was disappointed at the time. Pretty much the only “customization” you could do of any location in the world was deciding which tree went in a certain patch. Now that you can customize nearly every aspect of your house, home street, and tower; and these aspects can lead to larger emergent goals like resource routes, Glitch is becoming much more imaginative, in the way it was always meant to be, and in a way the “real,” or as I will refer to from now on, “old” world was never able to facilitate. Yes, this may be a hard pill for players who have been around longer than I’ve been to swallow, but even then, you’ve gotta admit that the old way of doing things was indeed lacking in imagination, and some of those elements would have to be de-emphasized as Tiny Speck unlaunched the game to re-tool it toward its original goal (not to mention, I’ve seen a lot of really old game screenshots, in which the entire concept of the game was completely different; this appears to be by no means the first time Glitch has seen a radical shift in direction).

In a forum post by Glitch creator stoot barfield, mention is made of upcoming “infinite streets.” Whether this means players will be able to create an unlimited number of streets, or expand their home streets an unlimited number of times, but due to the context (performance issues solved by daisy-chaining different locations together), I’m going to optimistically assume the former. While a quick read of the forums shows that Tiny Speck has a lot more up their sleeves, this “infinite streets” concept sounds like it would be the last major piece to truly enabling a nigh-limitless world imagined by players.

Edit: I need optimistically assume no more. After much forum-digging, I managed to find an additional post that confirms that by “infinite streets,” he meant “infinite number of streets.”

Conclusion

Based on the introduction of Towers, the game’s past changes (housing, etc…) as well as lots of forum posts (two of the most significant linked to above), it seems that Glitch is undergoing a fundamental shift in what you do in the game. Previously, it seemed like it was about being handed a world and learning how to use it and its resources for… something. Something not really clear. Now, Glitch is evolving into a game where it’s about players being constructive, and being provided with tools with which to build the world. I’m reading a lot into future content updates that haven’t happened yet, and into forum posts that are vague at best, but my optimism for this future is heavily based on the updates that have been coming so far, and it seems like Glitch is becoming the game that, at the time I joined, I had hoped for and sought after in vain.

Glitch: Imagination and the Housing Reset

In two more rounds of sweeping changes made to Glitch (that I’ve decided to cover together, as they’re related), Tiny Speck has added the new Imagination (iMG) system, as well as the long-awaited housing reset. The imagination change (and the user interface changes that go with it) possibly marks the biggest change made to the game since I’ve joined (and possibly since its inception – even though I’m not really familiar with the game’s history before last November). Once again, this review will include not only facts, but also my opinion on the changes (which, aside from one major thorn, is mostly positive).

Imagination

Imagination cards, and some new UI bits

The first of these recent rounds of changes was the conversion to Imagination. Imagination, commonly referred to as iMG, is the replacement to the old experience (XP) system. Earned by the same actions that earn XP, including gathering iMG quoins, which replace XP quoins, and new Qurazy Quoins (which give huge amounts of iMG), seen below (although upgrade cards exist that increase the amount some of these actions can dish out), the primary difference is that imagination (which I’ll refer to as iMG for the rest of this review) is spendable. The player is dealt three cards, which they can re-deal for free once per day. They can then purchase one or more cards using iMG. These upgrades include improvements to Super Harvests, improvements to learning speed, increases to one’s energy tank, and increases to one’s quoin multiplier, as well as some pretty random stuff. My upgrade video will primarily showcase energy tank and quoin multiplier cards, as I’d already purchased most of the unique upgrades during the conversion.

An iMG Quoin (the small purple one) and a Qurazy Quoin (the large white one)

A selection of my purchased upgrades

Supposedly the experience is to be different for a player new to the game. For those who have already been playing, our XP was converted to iMG (and our levels dropped accordingly – Level 60 players were moved to Level 42). Note that I said “levels.” This means that in addition to being spendable, a lifetime count of iMG earned is also kept. This determines one’s level, in the same way as XP previously accomplished this task. However, one’s energy tank (or mood tank, which is now tied directly to energy tank) is no longer level-dependent. At the time of conversion, energy tanks were, however, assigned based on level (level 60 players received energy tanks of 1610). Now, energy tanks can be upgraded using cards, allowing for absurdly high energy tanks. Mine, for example, is 5990 at the time of this writing (for comparison, level 60 players had energy tanks of 2860 before the conversion). While it is not my goal to cover strategy in this review, it is worth mentioning that the community as a whole questions the value of having a large energy tank. I find it convenient, but it does vastly increase teleportation costs, and it does make mood harder to manage, although mood is a non-issue if you have a supply of the Rookswort herb to munch every ten minutes. Following is a video demonstrating the upgrade card system.

Some of the “upgrade” cards are not actual upgrades, but purchasable items. These include the Reshuffle Card, and the Get Out of Hell Free Card. These cards are also much cheaper than the upgrade cards. The Reshuffle Card allows additional reshuffles to one’s hand past the one allowed per day, and the Get Out of Hell Free Card allows you to leave hell with full mood and energy (normally, one leaves hell with almost empty mood and energy). These cards can also be found on the auctions.

The upgrade card system, if used wisely, allows a player new abilities that really enhance gameplay. One of my favorites is a card that increases the amount of seeds received when shucking herbs. While a lot of the upgrading felt like buying back things I already had as parts of skills, this isn’t much of an issue since at the point of conversion, almost anyone who had played much at all received so much iMG that it was easy to buy back all the abilities one might have had before the conversion, and more. Actually, as far as new players are concerned, I see this as a good thing. Previously, you could basically just sit around and learn skills all day, and never play the game. One could become “really good” at Glitch, and never actually enter the world (in reality, some skills were tied to a few easy to earn achievements, but almost any of these could be earned in mere minutes). Since the only way to earn iMG to purchase these upgrades is to actually play the game, this now requires active involvement in the game in order to improve one’s character. As it should be. It’s only fair that in order to become good at something, one should invest time in doing so. It’s how it works in the real world and in most games, and now Glitch also works this way.

User Interface Changes

Many user interface changes were implemented at the time of the iMG conversion. Look back at my first review, then look at the following screenshot.

Different, huh?

I don’t really know how to describe why, but as a 99% generalization, I like the UI changes. It’s more modern, or something like that. Energy is now represented by the curved bar near the top left. Mood is now represented by an image of your player avatar in the same location, whose expression changes based on your current mood level. This also replaces the player menu that used to be present in the upper right corner. Click the mood image (or your name above the image) to access the player menu. And in perhaps the most controversial change of all, the magic rock (or familiar) that used to occupy the center of the screen is now gone. In addition to the keyring upgrades, the functions previously accessed via the magic rock are now accessed by means of the iMG menu, as seen below.

The iMG menu

While I also think the magic rock was a nice, uniquely Glitchian touch to the game, and will be missed, I’m rather enjoying the new UI for the most part. I do have two minor complaints though. The first is that the new UI seems to add a little more lag to the game. The second is a “scrolling” behavior that has been added to the iMG, energy, and currants meters. If one of these is increased or decreased, as opposed to quietly changing to its new level, it now increments toward that level, much as the display on a gas pump might. And, to me at least, it gives the impression that even a small change to these is actually much bigger. I don’t know why it gives me that feeling. Maybe it’s just because so much attention is being drawn to it. But to be honest, I really don’t like it. Now, onto the housing reset and related stuff.

The Housing Reset, Construction, and Imagination (Again)

First let’s briefly revisit cultivation (along with a not-so-brief video), which I covered in my previous review, and how it now relates to Imagination. Now that housing has been reset (meaning houses, yards, and home streets have been restored to their default states, and old houses are gone), cultivation items cost iMG (like upgrade cards do), and all changes to stuff are permanent (as in they won’t be reset again). Unlike upgrades, housing-related upgrades are exceedingly cheap. By “exceedingly cheap,” I mean possible to max them all out with about one day’s worth of iMG grinding. It’s worthy of note that I’m only talking about upgrades that can be purchased with iMG right now (enlarging one’s home street and back yard, and placing cultivated items in these locations). Housing expansions, which are performed using a Construction Tool, are quite a bit more involved. I actually managed to fully expand my house in one day, but I found doing so exceedingly taxing (it’s worthy of note that it probably is not intended to max out one’s house in one day; this was just something I really wanted to do). In addition to now costing iMG to cultivate one’s street and yard, players are no longer limited to one of each resource per home street or yard. The only limit now is the size of the land on which the resources are to be placed (I have thirteen tree patches on my fully-expanded home street). The price of any size increase or resource goes up with each of that increase or resource purchased, but it’s only by amounts that any player with an efficient iMG-gathering strategy would find trivial. In summary, cultivation now costs iMG. But it’s fairly easy to max out all cultivated resources, as opposed to upgrade cards, which keep appearing indefinitely.

The Housing Reset

Yesterday, housing was reset. This means that all customizations a player made to their house, home street, and back yard, were reverted, and the house was returned to a template state. This was only planned to happen once, meaning now players can customize their houses with confidence, knowing that their changes are now permanent. This has four major implications. The first is that old houses are gone. New houses are now the only houses. Old houses, while inferior to the new ones, will live on in screenshots we’ve taken of them days before the reset.

There used to be a signpost leading to my old housing quarter here

The second is that furniture items can now be crafted. We’ve been given a small selection to start with, but beyond that, furniture items are crafted using a Construction Tool (this also includes Wall Segments, used to expand one’s house). Resources needed to do so include Planks, other wood items made from Planks using a Woodworker, metal items made using a Metalmaker, and Fiber (and fabrics made from Fiber) and Snails (obtained from the new Fox and Sloth). Following is a video demonstrating construction and house expansion.

The third, visible in the video above, is that many upgrades to furniture (as well as most wallpapers, floors, and ceilings) now cost credits. I’ve always wondered how Tiny Speck stayed afloat, considering previously the only real gain acquired from purchasing credits or a subscription was extra clothing and vanity items (although it was more than worth it anyway, in my opinion at least). Since you’ll likely want lots of (upgraded) furniture, this may finally provide them with what I’d imagine to be much-needed income. Which is great news, because I really want Glitch to stay around for a long time (and ad-free; I admire the fact that TS respects clean user interfaces and doesn’t try to gain revenue by placing advertisements in the game or on the Glitch web site).

The fourth change brought about by the housing reset is what happened to the items stored in our old and new houses. They were placed in Moving Boxes, which were placed in our newly-reset houses. This is the major thorn I mentioned at the beginning. Unpacking these boxes left all your items in a huge pile on your floor.

Really? FML. 

As seen above, for those of us who hoard things, this was unpleasant. I know I managed to pick up that mess in a few hours’ time (I made sure to clean it up completely so I could create the review screenshots and videos), but organizing all that stuff was not fun. As picking up Moving Box contents won’t affect new players, and those who play the game already have already suffered it once and shouldn’t have to again, I won’t focus on this much. Suffice it to say cleaning that up was extremely unpleasant and tedious.

Where from here?

Aside from group halls (which the staff have been rather quiet about lately), imagination and the completion of housing mark what more or less amounts to the completion of what we were promised at unlaunch. And Tiny Speck has delivered on those promises and more. The game is almost completely different now than it was before the unlaunch. While I don’t know what all TS has planned for the future, it seems like the most sweeping changes are now in place. Stewart Butterfield (the creator of Glitch) has suggested that player-driven vendors and craftybots (used to automate crafting) are some of the next things to be in the works. I look forward to these upcoming changes, and trust that they’ll be every bit as impressive as the previous ones.

1000 Hours of Glitch: A Review

Roughly a week before I began writing this review, I achieved a major milestone. According to Wakoopa, I have played Glitch for over 1000 hours. (that’s approximately one month and eleven days of time spent in the game). So I decided to celebrate by writing a review. There are already plenty of reviews out there, so I intend for this one to be different in several ways. First off, I joined Glitch after having read a review of it, which is partially why I decided to write this one. The review was more so interesting facts about Tiny Speck than a proper review of Glitch, so I’ll take it upon myself to provide that (among other things, it included only a couple of actual gameplay screenshots, and no video). Even if more comprehensive reviews do exist (I’ve honestly only read that one), they’re still most likely out of date. Glitch unlaunched several months ago, and much has changed since then. In fact, the biggest change (the imagination conversion; more on that when it happens) is yet to come. My bet is on Tuesday…

This brings me to another way in which this review will be different than any others you may find out there. As Glitch is currently in a state of near-constant change, I’ll try to review new content as it’s released (however, this review will cover the game in general, while emphasizing on the direction the game’s going so far).  This will hopefully allow me to provide new direction for my blog itself, as I’ve been rather starved for content lately, despite promises to the contrary. A final note before I begin: If you’re looking for a purely factual review, stop reading here and go somewhere else. I tend to be highly opinionated on all things Glitch, and as such, I have no intent to spout out facts without giving my personal opinion of the gameplay elements involved. With that being said, let’s get started!

General Gameplay

Housing

Me, standing under a sampling of my trophies (click to enlarge)

There really is no “point” to Glitch. This is reflected in the game’s very own slogan (see below). That is, there is no singular goal to achieve, although this is contrary to what the Glitch Wikipedia article, by far the worst piece of literature I’ve seen on the subject, may otherwise lead you to believe. Time travel is not, in fact, a core gameplay element, and, as far as I know, is only part of an early quest. There are, however, many separate goals to achieve. Gaining experience points (which, most likely next week, will be converted to a new system, imagination, which is basically like spendable xp that still retains a lifetime count that determines one’s level), earning achievements, and collecting currants are the most significant, although others, like completing quests and fighting the Rook often come into play. A recent hobby many people have taken up is decorating one’s house (a small section of mine can be seen above), which is now possible due to the much-improved new housing system that Tiny Speck is in the process of transitioning to. Almost everything in new houses is customizable, from the wallpaper, floors, and ceilings, to the decorations. This is opposed to old housing, seen two screenshots down, that cannot be customized at all.

“Do stuff. In a game.”

Old housing had several templates to choose from, but the templates can’t be altered… at all

There are indeed several kinds of old housing to choose from, however what you see is what you get. The exterior, interior walls, ceilings, doors, furniture (however most furniture in old housing is merely part of the background), etc… cannot be customized to any degree. I won’t focus much on old housing, besides pointing out its deficiencies, as old housing is quickly on its way out.

Decorate Mode, along with a sampling of upgraded and non-upgraded furniture

Housing customization takes place within Decorate Mode. Here, one may make enlargements to their house, change the wallpaper, flooring, and ceiling, or add and remove furniture. Above, in the furniture tab, is a view of a category of furniture items, in this case seating (entirely ignoring the fact that a sitting posture does not exist in Glitch; you can always stand on the chairs though…). The items can be dragged into the game window to place them in one’s house, and from there can be “upgraded” to one’s choice of styling.

A furniture upgrade window

The exterior of my house, located on my home street

Here the exterior of my house, as well as its location, my home street, can be seen (for what it’s worth, it isn’t possible to stand on some houses, and even some of the platforms on my house, that look like actual surfaces, can’t be stood on; not really a major review point but it still really bothers me). Notice how the inside of my house is much larger than the outside (interior and exterior size are completely independent of each other, and exterior house size is, in fact, static). That being said, it is possible to expand the size of one’s home street (or back yard; home street and back yards function in the exact same way, but are customized independently).

Customization menu for my home street

House Customization (Exterior)

Both the street background (and background music – I was overjoyed when this was announced as I wanted the Uralia theme music instead of the much-overused Groddle Forest theme that formerly applied to all backgrounds) and house design are customizable. The background has one of ten or so predefined choices, and houses have seven base styles. These base styles have many further customization options (for example, the House of Whimsy design has an average of nine different choices for each customizable area listed). This alone makes new home streets much preferable to old housing quarters (which were basically just lines of the old-style houses, all on one street). But wait, there’s more!

Cultivate mode on home streets

Another feature of home streets (and back yards) is Cultivate mode. Unlike old housing quarters, which were barren lots usually containing nothing but housing (a few housing styles did have some resources, although they were template-based and not customizable by residents), home streets can be cultivated by their owners. This means that resources (which will, in the future, cost imagination, described earlier) can be placed on one’s home street. These resources are consumed with use, and must eventually be repaired. For example, herb plots, the item which breaks most often in my case as I’m using them to grind herb-related achievements at the moment, require lumps of earth and guano to repair. The ability to have customizable resources on home streets, coupled with the ability to link your home street to those of five friends, has led to interesting player-created developments, such as housing resource routes. These routes so far have been designed around harvesting trees, and due to their organization, have easily been the best way to gather large numbers of tree-based resources. These are particularly useful for finding usually hard-to-find resources, like planks, which have also met increased demand as they’re likely to be necessary for building furniture and upgrading one’s house, once those features are available in their final form.

Gardening

1200 words and we’re just getting started! Let’s move off the topic of housing now, and onto actual gameplay mechanics. First up is gardening. There are two kinds of gardens: crop gardens and herb gardens. This used to be more significant before the introduction of new housing (while no longer explicitly on the topic of housing, almost any other topic easily ties back into it). Previously, the kind of house you chose to have determined what kind of gardens you had. Bog houses had herb gardens, and all other houses had crop gardens. Tiny Speck has responded by allowing new housing to contain any kind of garden you wish (this also comes as a consequence of the fact that new housing is not tied to a specific region). I’ve created the following video to demonstrate the mechanics of gardening. While crops and herbs serve different purposes, I will only demonstrate herb gardening in this video, as crop gardening and herb gardening essentially follow the same process. The only real difference is in how seeds are obtained. Herb seeds are obtained by shucking the herbs, and crop seeds are purchased from vendors or by feeding the crops to a Piggy, who will then plop out seeds (in a pleasant contrast to the nerfings mentioned later, this has recently been enhanced to allow more than one packet of seeds to be obtained at a time through feeding).

Mining

I’m not entirely sure an MMO exists that doesn’t include mining. Glitch is no exception. However, it has mining, with some strange (and sometimes completely illogical) twists. For instance, you get rewarded with bonuses for mining cooperatively with other players. Four kinds of rocks exist (beryl, dullite, metal, and sparkly). Metal can be smelted into ingots, and the other rocks can be crushed into elements, which can then be used for assorted alchemical purposes such as creating powders and rubbing plain metal ingots into other kinds, which can then be used in crafting.

Animals

Up until last Tuesday, there were three primary kinds of animals in the game from which one could harvest, Butterflies, Chickens, and Piggies. In yet another demonstration of how Glitch brings innovation to the mostly stale MMO genre, Butterflies can be milked to receive Butterfly Milk, Chickens can be squeezed to receive Grain, and Piggies can be nibbled to receive Meat. The amount of these items that you receive is dependent upon your Animal Kinship skill, and at lower levels of this skill, additional action is required before these actions can be successfully performed. Assuming you have the Animal Husbandry skill, you can also use Chickens to incubate eggs.

Introduced on Tuesday were two additional animals, the Fox and the Sloth. Foxes are harvested for Fiber (for future use in furniture crafting), and Sloths chew Metal Rods into Snails (assumably for some construction use; a snail is a half-screw, half-nail item – see below). Foxes and Sloths were introduced along with five new gameplay regions and a few new streets in existing regions. I particularly enjoy the mechanics of harvesting the new Foxes. Difficult? Yes. But it’s far less “grindy” than the mechanisms for harvesting the old animals (watch the video above and try to imagine finding pigs and harvesting each one twice [the limit with a maxed out Animal Kinship skill] for an hour or more).

Snail

Trees and Other Resources

There are eight kinds of trees in Glitch (Fruit, Bean, Gas, Spice, Bubble, Wood, Egg, and Paper). The items harvested from these trees are used in cooking and other forms of crafting. Multiple other resources abound, including peat bogs (used for making fuel cells for machines), jellisacs (also used for making fuel cells), barnacles and fireflies (used for making crystals and crafting a few other items), and dirt piles. The following video gives a brief overview of some of these resources.

Commerce

Auctions

I’ll be totally honest, Tiny Speck has really screwed the pooch on auctions. They’ve stated a goal of encouraging more trade between players, and as such are phasing out vendors. Okay, I get the recent vendor nerf (vendors now sell higher and buy lower). But if you’re trying to encourage trade between players, why make auction items take about eight minutes longer to be received? You want to nerf the undesirable action, not the desirable one. This is without even going into the asinine fees associated with using the auctions. That said, sometimes it’s unavoidably necessary to use auctions. They’re great for finding (almost) any item you may need (with some exceptions; see below).

The latest auctions

Marketplace Forum + Marketplace on the Go

Among the many shortcomings of auctions is that many items (generally either really worthless items, or really valuable rare items; although cubimals spread this entire spectrum) can’t be auctioned. Furthermore, you again have the ridiculous taxes on auctions. There exist two major solutions to this problem; one official, and the other player-created. The official solution is the Marketplace forum. This allows players to discuss and facilitate trades. A player-created solution also exists, in the form of a group called Marketplace on the Go. It allows bargaining to take place within a chat/IM-type setting, as opposed to the threaded forum styled official solution.

Final thoughts (or are they?)

For all its shortcomings (really, the only ones that need to be addressed at this point are those involved with auctions; and making sure that annoying Groddle Forest banjo tune actually stays in Groddle Forest – although they’re making decent headway on that), I can still safely say Glitch is the best game ever. Why else would I average six hours a day playing it? Plus, Tiny Speck has pretty well proven that they’re quite capable of addressing shortcomings. I’ll once again use as an example the housing system. The old system downright sucked (well okay, it seemed fine back when we didn’t know any better; but when presented with something better, we realized how awful it was). The new system isn’t even quite finished, but already, it’s vastly superior to the old housing quarters. I haven’t made much mention of this yet, but possibly the best thing about Glitch isn’t that it’s a great game (and it is; you’ll never find better), but that it’s got an awesome community. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few bad apples. Just like any other MMO, you will run across the occasional griefer (word of advice here: don’t let random people in your house; it’s one of the most common ways they steal things). But in most cases, griefers aren’t a perpetual issue, just an occasional annoyance. More often than not, the people you run into will be either benign, or friendly and helpful. I’ve been playing Glitch every day for close to six months now, and there’s a reason: An MMO with lots of new ideas, coupled with the best community on the internet is a winning combination.

I usually don’t assign scores to products that are beta/pre-release, but Glitch couldn’t be any more deserving of this rating.

Overall Rating: 11/10. (yes, that’s eleven of ten)

While there are still many changes to come, that I will assess in future posts as new content is released, I’m certain that Glitch will only get better.

Thanks to Zen Kitty for help with the review, and to Scarlett Bearsdale, Kristen Marie, and Saucelah for corrections/suggestions!

I’d like to end with this screenshot, just because it looks cool.

First Look: OS X Mountain Lion

One short year ago, I reviewed the Mac OS X Lion Developer Preview.And now, it’s time to review the Mac OS X Mountain Lion Developer Preview OS X Mountain Lion Developer Preview (Apple has dropped the “Mac” prefix from the name, as seen below).

The About This Mac screen

This morning, Apple completely unexpectedly announced OS X Mountain Lion. The announcement was odd for two reasons. 1. Apple usually holds an event for these announcements. 2. Major versions of (Mac) OS X are usually released every three years. Lion was released to the public last summer.

As for the name? You heard it here first. Five whole months ago, I predicted that the next major version of OS X would be named Mountain Lion. And what better day to find out I was right than today  yesterday (my birthday)?

Edit: I began writing this review on the 16th; my birthday, and the date of the announcement. However, I published the post a little under an hour late – on the 17th. Most of the post is intended to be read in the context of the announcement date as opposed to that of the publishing date.

Finally, my apologies for the nearly three-month hiatus I’ve taken from blogging. I’ve been busy playing Glitch. It’s fun. You should try it. Furthermore, there really just hasn’t been much to discuss lately. However, I have much additional content planned for the [very] near future, so I think I’ll more than make up for it.

Now, on to the actual review. For this review, I’ve upgraded my MacBook Air from 10.7.3 to the Developer Preview (I haven’t tested it thoroughly yet, but some apps indeed don’t work, and I wouldn’t recommend using it outside a test environment simply because it’s pre-release software; besides, I’m testing its suitability for day-to-day use so you don’t have to ).

The testing system: my trusty MacBook Air!

On first glance, Mountain Lion isn’t all that different from its predecessor. In fact, take a look at the desktop (click for a full-size view).

A 10.8 Desktop: Look familiar?

As a matter of fact, the only obvious difference from Snow Leopard is that little target icon in the upper-right corner, where the Spotlight icon (which is now immediately to its left) used to be.

Before we get into what the little target icon actually is, let’s summarize some of Mountain Lion’s major features: Messages, Notification Center, Game Center, Reminders, Safari 5.2, and Gatekeeper, just to name a few.

The target icon is for Notification Center, which, much like its iOS counterpart, and the name itself, suggest, is intended as a central place to view notifications.

When clicked, the target icon will display Notification Center, which is currently limited to Apple’s own apps. Third-party apps will most likely need to be updated using the new SDK in order to support new notifications. As iOS already had notifications, that just underwent a style change in iOS 5, no developer intervention was required. However, since OS X never had an official notification system, apps will require modification (and will hopefully move away from Growl, which has since become yet another example of Sonyfication, a topic I plan to revisit [again] in the near future).

Notification Center in Mountain Lion can be configured using options extremely similar to those available in iOS.

As in iOS, notifications have two styles, Banners, and Alerts. However, while these notifications look completely different in iOS, the two look fairly similar in OS X, with the only major difference being in their behavior: banners slip out of view on their own; alerts require confirmation.

This is a Banner (if the text of the message that caused the notification didn’t make it clear enough)

Above is an example of a Banner, triggered by the Messages app (which will be another main point of my review – covered shortly).

And this is an Alert

Next up: Messages.

Apple’s new Messages app apparently serves as a replacement of sorts for the old iChat app. It now supports Apple’s own iMessage service, as well as a couple of other instant messaging services.

However, this review will focus solely on the iMessage functionality of the app. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be sending messages to myself, on the same Apple ID, using my Air on one end, and my iPad on the other. As a result, all messages will seem to echo. Note that under usual circumstances, this would not happen.

An iMessage conversation. With myself.

You can also add media to iMessages (to do so, drag an image into the message text box). And as expected with iMessage, read receipts, as well as delivery and typing notifications are also present.

Interestingly enough, the emoji didn’t show up on my iPad. They showed up as the text “:-)”

I’ve been wanting iMessage on the Mac since it’s been introduced to iOS. But it does have one rather annoying and major flaw: its behavior when the app is closed.

This is all you’re getting

If the Messages app is closed, the only indication you’re given is the little red bubble on the app icon; assuming, of course, you have it in your Dock. Is that really expected to get my attention? Obviously, some push service is running in the background to activate that little red bubble, so why not give me a notification, like the ones I’m presented when the app is open? If notifications are to be truly useful, as they are on iOS, they need to be able to notify you even when an app isn’t open. Now I do realize something here: Messages is a chat/IM client, and most software of that type does have to be open in order to notify you of new messages. However, Messages and Notification Center take cues from iOS, and the expected iOS behavior is to provide notifications, even if the app is not running. Besides, the infrastructure already exists. Just make the push service trigger something a little more… substantial.

Moving on to Gatekeeper. Gatekeeper is a new security feature in Mountain Lion intended to protect the user from malicious software. It allows the user to allow only software from the Mac App Store to run (similar to how iOS devices work), software from the Mac App Store and Apple’s new developer identification program, and then the option that represents the way things have always worked: the option that allows the user to run everything.

If the option is changed to one of the other options, software that has not been signed with an Apple-provided certificate will not run (unless the application has always been run before, in which case it is “grandfathered in” and will run anyway).

If one attempts to run such software, they are greeted with this somewhat intimidating message:

I will personally keep this feature disabled.

Also in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion is Safari 5.2, which brings with it a few interesting features.

Perhaps the most obvious is that it ditches separate address and search bars in favor of a combined bar in the spirit of Chrome’s Omnibar.

Justin Bieber, in my search bar? Gross…

Also among Safari 5.2’s new features is Twitter integration, once again, much in the style of its mobile counterpart (Tweet Sheets, as they are called, are also available in a few other apps, and will most likely be accessible to third-party apps via the SDK).

Also worthy of mention are the following changes:

1. The address bar will now highlight the domain of the URL, and lighten the remaining parts.

2. The Reader button is ever-present, even when not available for use.

3. Rather annoyingly, tabs will span the width of the window… even if there are only one or two. Looks a little tacky if you ask me.

Features I have not covered in this review include AirPlay mirroring (which is once again something I’ve always thought the Mac should have; and pushes me ever so slightly closer to considering an Apple TV, although I think I’ll still hold out for apps), Reminders, Notes, and Game Center. As I do not have an Apple TV, I won’t cover AirPlay mirroring. As Reminders, Notes, and Game Center are almost painfully identical to their iOS counterparts (furthermore, all but Game Center are painfully simple and borderline useless; and Game Center doesn’t do much thus far, for lack of compatible games), I’ll mention them briefly in passing; however, they do not really merit much attention.

Reminders: It’s that built-in to-do list app you may or may not have always wanted

Reminders in Mountain Lion is basically the same as its iOS version, sans the really cool geofence feature. And without that, it’s generally a really basic to-do list app. I’ll most likely never use it, but I do give it props for looking cool.

Notes: Noteworthy, or not?

Snazzy-looking? Yep. Useful? Debatable. On iOS, Notes is a useful app. The user generally doesn’t want to mess around with files and their organization on a handheld device, so a note-taking app with its own internal database works there. But on the Mac, there already exists TextEdit. Do we really need this? Apple’s site mentions a feature that allows you to “pin notes to the desktop.” Not exactly. You still have to have the app running for them to show up, and they still retain the basic appearance of app windows, complete with the stoplight buttons.

Finally, of what are the three most seemingly direct iOS ports, the most significant: Game Center.

Just like Reminders and Notes, Game Center looks like a blown-up version of its small-screen sibling. And for now, serves the exclusive purpose of displaying games and achievements from those small-screened siblings. While Game Center’s cross-platform nature is its greatest strength, until it’s improved upon, in both its iOS and Mac forms, I don’t really see it altering my Mac/iOS gaming experience. Its use is somewhat limited as compared to something like Xbox Live. However, it would most likely be best to wait to pass full judgment on the OS X version of Game Center until games that support it are available (which most likely will be after Mountain Lion’s release this summer).

In conclusion, Mountain Lion is a minor release mostly similar to its predecessor. Notifications and Messages will most certainly be the most significant attractions, if Apple can work out the kinks. With the summer deadline they’ve given, they’ve got more than enough time to do so. The question is, can they polish these features enough to make their new “minor-ish major release every year” release schedule attractive to users and developers? Only time will tell.

Sonyfication, Revisited

Roughly seven months ago, I posted about what I called Sonyfication, a term I created to describe the acts of a company that promises and delivers features, then, out of nothing more than pure greed, removes them. The namesake of this term was, of course, Sony’s removal of the OtherOS feature of the PlayStation 3. My first usage of the term was aimed at Spotify, who initially offered free (but with advertisements) unlimited listening, then altered their free plan to enact severe limits on listening after six months of membership.

Today, Glitch has announced that it’s “unlaunching.” That is, they are returning to a beta stage. As an end-user, and as a developer who understands (at least to some small extent) his responsibilities to the end user (oh, and let’s not forget, a huge fan of Glitch), I figure I have a few things to say about this.

Before I begin, let me make one thing clear: I am not comparing Tiny Speck (the developers of Glitch) to Sony, or to Spotify. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Tiny Speck, and nothing but the utmost of loathing for Sony and Spotify. Tiny Speck is not doing this unreleasing of Glitch for profit, but to make the world of Ur a better place (unlike Sony and Spotify, who clearly performed their actions as a malicious act of greed). I applaud their motive, but I’m worried that the results may still be disastrous. So I’m not entirely confident that the term Sonyfication is appropriate here. However, for lack of a better term, it’s what I’m using.

Quoted below is my comment on the Glitch forum topic on the issue, verbatim, and in its entirety (but with some formatting added):

I’m going to add myself to the list of “please no reset” people. As much as I’ve always wanted the honor of “being in the beta” and getting a pickle and all that jazz, I’ve realized something. None of that will make up the 99 hours I’ve devoted to accomplishing stuff in the last three-ish weeks. I’ve more or less renounced real life in favor of spending more time on Glitch, although if I lose all I’ve got on here, I may not come back. I feel really sorry for those who are up at levels 50-60. The amount of time they’ve had to spend doing rather menial tasks in the game (I’m looking at you mining) is incomprehensible to me. The previous resets (while I can’t actually speak for those who had to deal with them, as I had not yet signed up) made sense. If people sign up knowing it’s in beta, then they sign up expecting the worst. However, many people, myself included, signed up after this period, and expected smooth sailing (I’ve written about this kind of thing before; companies like Sony and Spotify have promised features then later removed them, in an act I’ve termed “Sonyfication”). While I’m a developer myself, and certainly acknowledge the fact that software can have bugs after launch, as I am also an end-user, I realize my responsibilities toward the end-user as a developer (e.g. making it a priority to cause as little disturbance to users as possible when there are indeed bugs).

One possible solution (I realize I’ve never developed anything on as large a scale as Glitch; so correct me if I’m wrong on this) would be something like what Chrome does. Have a “stable channel” (e.g. Glitch as it is now), and a “beta channel.” Then, completely informing them of the possible repercussions (resets included), allow them to opt into the “beta channel.”

That said, and to attempt to end on a somewhat positive note, I’m glad to see that things like housing and the ability for more player control over the world are being addressed. Remove the ability for players to kill each other by splank fight, and I think Glitch has the opportunity to become the perfect game (the lack of violence as a core gameplay element is key, in my opinion, and I applaud Tiny Speck for making such strides in this arena; also, I realize that the term “perfect” is subjective). For what it’s worth, I’m not offended by or opposed to violent games. It’s just not my cup of tea.

You already posted that there. Why repost it here?

A couple of reasons. First is visibility. My comment will quickly be buried in that forum post. Here, it will remain at the utmost level of visibility for, at the very least, the better part of a month. Second, is out of my respect for Tiny Speck. The Glitch forums are theirs, not mine. I have a bit more I’d like to say on the topic than what I said there, but I respect that the Glitch forums are their home turf, so I’ll instead post the extended version here.

So I’ve always wished I were in the Glitch beta, as I felt, until today, that in order to really be part of the community, it’s a prerequisite. Furthermore, and partially for the same reason, I’ve always wanted the Special Item That Only Beta Testers Get (aka Señor Funpickle). However, what I never really gave much serious thought, is that sure the pickle says you were in the beta. But that’s not much of a real accomplishment. It’s actually just a stroke of luck, being in the right place at the right time. What really struck me in light of this was my reconsideration of a Glitch who was level 59 for as long as I could remember, then finally accomplished reaching level 60 (by comparison, I’ve attained level 30 at the time of this writing), and another Glitch who was in the beta, but has only attained level 8. Let’s assume the level 60 Glitch wasn’t in the beta. Still, it’s obvious as to which one was more devoted to the game. So really, a special item doesn’t properly make up for resetting one’s level, as it isn’t an accurate indicator of the amount of effort and time one has put into the game. Upon giving this some consideration, my advice to Tiny Speck would be to provide an additional piece of information on each player’s profile, stating “Pre-Reset Level: [level number].

In addition to level number, the other thing I’m most concerned about is cubimal collections. I’ve, admittedly, only recently started collecting cubimals (for those who do not play Glitch, just know that a cubimal is a collectible in-game item, often of excruciatingly high value). However, I have a little over half the different kinds of cubimals in my collection (sadly, the more common half of the cubimal spectrum, in general). Of these, a couple were obtained from Cubimal Boxes, and the rest were obtained by trading with other players. This is cause for alarm. What if, after post-reset, these other players are no longer able to trade cubimals at the same prices I paid for them the first time?

At this time, I’d like to reiterate the ultimate moral of this post: the responsibility of developers toward users. Especially after launching my first paid iOS app, I’ve learned some of these responsibilities quite well. Like see that “App Support” link up top? In my opinion, it’s unnecessary clutter. It’s also the first time that my blog contains content that I don’t really want. But Apple requires that I offer a support page (maybe in the future, I’ll create a support page separate from my blog), so I have to put it there. Returning to Glitch, the subject of this discussion, I understand the previous resets. As far as I am aware, it was made quite clear to users that they were part of a beta, and that there would be resets. However, for those of us now, who signed up to what we thought was a finished product, the ethics of the situation have changed. A beta was not what we signed up for. Stuff like resets wasn’t part of the deal. So I leave Tiny Speck with this challenge: No more resets, please. And I do understand that you’re working for the good of the community (and I’m deeply sorry that I had to mention the likes of Sony and Spotify in this post along with the good guys). Even if you do have to perform a reset in the course of this (and I’d also like to remind the reader at this point that they said it’s extremely unlikely, and to apologize for my “the sky is falling” tone), I won’t lose any respect for you. Will it perhaps preclude my return after such a hypothetical reset? Yes. But that’s more so my fault than theirs. I simply can’t bring myself to spend the many hundreds of hours to get back to where I was. Ultimately, Glitch is a free game, and I suppose Tiny Speck doesn’t really have an obligation to go out of their way to avoid a reset. But I challenge them to go above and beyond what’s expected, as they’ve already more than proven that they can, and to ensure a seamless user experience by avoiding a reset. I have faith in them, and until some terrible reset comes, I shall continue to play Glitch in every possible minute I can find.