Review: Chaos of Three Kingdoms on iOS

Chaos of Three Kingdoms by Huayu Games

ESSENTIAL INFO

  • Publisher: Huayu Games
  • Origin: China
  • Players: MMO
  • Rating: 12+
  • Price: Free download through iTunes plus virtual currency
  • Format: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod Touch (3rd and 4th generation), and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later. (Reviewed on iPad 2.)

REVIEW

Chaos of Three Kingdoms is a turn-based strategy game (TBS) developed by Huayu Games. Based on the historical battles of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient China, it has been available in Chinese for some time but recently released in English for iOS mobile devices.

It’s been a while since I’ve played a TBS but I soon adopted the familiar position of trusty spreadsheet by my side helping me plan future battles and conquests. Information is provided in a need-to-know fashion, as the player levels up or via the quest prompts. This has the advantage of not overwhelming the player but a more detailed overarching introduction would be welcome and helpful for those not familiar with the Three Kingdoms narrative.

Following a brief encounter with the Yellow Turban Rebellion, you are introduced to your home base from which you must build your army and resources. Through the acquisition of resources such as silver and food (obtained by occupying silver mines and farms respectively) you can upgrade your base and improve specific areas including the Academy (technology and science), Market (purchase and enhance equipment), Training Ground, Vault and Barracks for your ever-ready to battle troops. Thus core gameplay focuses on the development of your strategy (diplomatic, technology, military and economic resources) and military tactics required to win each battle (troops, training, equipment, formation).

Then it’s on to the grand battle! Initially, battles are against NPC (non-playing characters) enemy and ally opponents. This serves as an introduction to different Heroes (generals), their skills and strengths, equipment and how to employ military tactics to defeat your opponent. Success in battle is largely a function of strategy and your ability to make effective choices. After attacking an enemy NPC you have the option of recruiting them to your own army, bolstering your strength and skill sets. Different Heroes possess various strengths in blocking and attacking that are later developed through training. Purchasing and enhancing equipment (weapons, armor, horses, and stratagems) will also ensure your Heroes abilities are maximised.

After choosing a country (Wei, Shu or Wu) and joining a Legion you can challenge other online players through PVP (player versus player) and Legion battles. It was difficult to ascertain which Legion to join as only minimal information was provided in-game (perhaps developers intend for players to seek out additional information on the forums) but becoming a Legion member is essential to acquire more resources such as gold as well as participating in Legion level battles and tournaments.

As with most freemium MMOs, one of your greatest opponents will be time. Silver is required to build your base and army but there are opportunities to speed build times or buy outright the resources or equipment needed by using Gold, which is purchased using real world currency or through Legion members bombing your gold mines. Gold becomes more important as you ascend through the levels of the game, allowing you to expand your equipment slots, train faster, purchase items to synthesize and create stronger battle skills.

The graphics and music are good for this type of genre, which usually focus on game play rather than aesthetics. However, a minor complaint is that given the amount of instruction and dialogue provided in-game and the obvious desire to appeal to an English speaking market, the developers may want to polish up the English content which at times detracts from otherwise strong game play.

If you love the mythology of Ancient China and turn-based strategy games but want the ease of going mobile, this is a game you can conquer with relish… and of course with the added bonus of being free.

Note: This review was undertaken with the assistance of a gift pack from RenRen Games.

This blog post first appeared on http://www.recognitionpattern.com

Zombies: Helping You Get Fitter

We’ve all turned to mobile running apps at one time or another to motivate ourselves to go for that early morning routine run. With the ability to track features such as distance, pace, route taken and calories burned, these apps can provide useful information to monitor our progress over time. But the features that seem to best motivate or encourage long-term habits appear to be those that incorporate strong game or community elements.

For example, Nike+ Running lets you to track and view your run data online but setting your own challenges to achieve a personal best or compete with friends harnesses the power of friendly competition to run a little harder. While MapMyRun, with a focus on running routes, introduced corporate sponsored challenges featuring participants on leader boards and the opportunity to win prizes as a source of extrinsic motivation.

These examples of gamification (using game elements in non-game contexts) have proved popular with runners but several new apps and game-like experiences are taking the level of motivation to a whole new level: running for your life!

Zombies make you run faster

Image courtesy of Zombies, Run! mobile app.

Initially funded as a Kickstarter project last year, Zombies,Run! is a mobile app developed by Six to Start and writer Naomi Alderman. Described as a “running game and audio adventure” the interface and pre-recorded audio create a realistic post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world where the player completes challenges by running and receiving rewards in the form of precious virtual items like medicine, ammunition and batteries.

Using an app and your imagination to immerse yourself in a fictional world is pretty cool but what about adding some real world features like a groaning zombie breathing down your neck and reaching out for your warm flesh?

Run for Your Lives

It's all smiles until someone eats someone else's brains. (Image courtesy of Run For Your Lives.)Organised by Reed Street Productions, Run For Your Lives is a zombie-infested 5km adventure race launched in the US during October 2011. Each race takes participants through a series of manmade and natural obstacles. Racers wear a belt with three flags and must make strategic choices to find the quickest route to the finish line. Scarce “health bonuses” are scattered throughout the course but in order to complete the race as a survivor they must finish the race with at least one flag. But you don’t have to be a runner to get fit, you can do the chasing and be a zombie! After receiving a “professional zombie transformation” you choose between the two main archetypes, traditional Stumbler Zombie or more modern Chaser Zombie. These races have proven to be a hit with runners and spectators alike with races held across the United States and nearly 400k fans on their Facebook page.

Run For Your Lives and the Zombies, Run! app can be described as basic forms of ARG or alternate reality games, where a game layer and narrative is added to the real world and unfolds in real time allowing participants to adopt specific roles and interact with other players or non-playing characters. This kind of creative context can harness some of the best things we enjoy about games: intrinsic motivation, positive pressure, team work, creative problem solving as well as getting our adrenalin pumping!

Zombies in Manila

But great news for zombie fans in Manila – if you’re in the Philippines capital this Saturday July 28, you can check out  the inaugural Outbreak Manila. Inspired by the popularity of Run For Your Lives, the event is sure to test runners’ appetite for achieving their personal best under extreme circumstances.

I wish runners all the very best and remember: if you can’t beat them, join them!

This blog post first appeared on http://www.recognitionpattern.com

PlayMoolah: Gaming the Financial System

Although the recent elections in Greece have provided some welcome relief, the Eurozone continues to fight fires throughout the region as borrowing costs rise in Spain and Italy. With the potential for another global financial crisis (GFC) looming on the horizon there’s a strong sense of déjà vu, echoing the financial mismanagement woes of 2008.

It was at that time that Singaporean Min Xuan Lee was studying in the US. With first hand experience of how the GFC mark one affected every day people, Lee at that time asked a very important question: what were the roots of financial illiteracy? Acknowledging that even adults could be uninformed about their own money management, Lee along with co-founder Audrey Tan decided to focus on children. “Our whole team has a great love for kids,” says Lee. “That’s why we wanted to start with kids to nip the problem in the bud. If adults themselves are clueless, what is happening to their kids?”

This approach is the core underpinning behind PlayMoolah, a subscription-based online platform designed to teach children about financial literacy in a fun and effective way. Recently transitioning from beta, the site has registered users from around the world and has been recognised by the startup community for it’s innovation, winning Echelon 2011 and Innotribe 2012 as well as obtaining funding from investors in Sillicon Valley and in Asia. PlayMoolah has also just released Coin Catcher, a fun app for the iPad designed specifically for younger users.

PlayMoolah introduces children to financial concepts through a virtual world with game elements. However, the founders did not initially set out to create a game. Instead their journey started with exploring what interested and engaged children. Lee says, “We started from a background of behavioural technology, persuasive technology. We didn’t set out to make a game from day one. We saw a problem and asked, ‘what’s happening in that space’? So we looked at kids’ games and what they were exposed to at different ages…. Club Penguin. Webkins. That was what kid’s were playing.”

With complementary experiences (Lee’s background is in business and finance while Tan studied new media, games and education) the founders have undertaken hundreds of interviews to inform the design and development of the platform, speaking to educators, parents, teachers, financial experts, behavioural economists, bankers and of course the end users: children. A typical day for Lee has a very wide spectrum starting at 7.30 in the morning sitting down with kindergartners through to meeting bankers in the afternoon.

Screenshot from PlayMoolah.

Although the design started with real-world behavioral tools, the founders soon added a game layer because they learned that “It was the best way and known way for kids to understand and engage in the financial concepts, and then discover the real-world layer to extend their knowledge into practice. There’s a real learning process as the child journeys from what they already know to the unknown.”  PlayMoolah allows children to create an avatar, explore the Dreamverse, learn about careers, complete games with learning activities and earn a virtual currency called Moops. Parents have an option to be closely involved, where they can monitor and track their child’s learning journey. But behind the super cute graphics and NPCs (non-playing characters) is a fundamental philosophy regarding money. “Money should serve you and your personal goals, and create even more wealth,” says Lee. “We hope more people would be empowered to take control of their money and not be a slave to it.”

Game testing using paper prototypes. (Image courtesy of Play Moolah)

However, during development the founders realized that the game structure could also serve as a vehicle for encouraging positive real world action. “It’s not really about curriculum or knowledge or vocabulary like interest, inflation, or savings and what they mean. We can cultivate real habitual change or nurture behavioural results… [We asked] Could we take the virtual world and turn it around and actually reward kids for good behaviour like delayed gratification, actually saving money or investing money and not just consuming? So we created a system for that… our curriculum is focused on action!”

PlayMoolah features a strong emphasis on what children can actually do with their money: earn, spend, save, invest or give. It’s a radical approach: focus on the role of money in society and the actions that one can take rather than accumulating wealth for its own sake. But its something the founders believe is crucial for children to learn. “It’s not ‘Here’s lessons one to ten of how money works in society’ but rather what you can do with money. We want the child to think, in what way shall I use it towards my end goal which is my happiness or personal growth.” Consequently PlayMoolah helps children to manage their real world allowance, set personal financial goals (like buying a book or music) and concrete actions (save $3 a week).

The founders with some keen testers (Image courtesy of PlayMoolah)

The team also believes in sharing that wealth with those less fortunate. Under the “give” component of the game, children can donate their money, time or talent to charitable organisations with whom the company has established partnerships. PlayMoolah also provides free subscriptions to families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Although the business keeps the team extremely busy, Lee hopes that PlayMoolah could one day grow into something that also assists children and families in developing countries.

PlayMoolah has received positive feedback from not only parents but also financial intuitions around the world. As the company looks toward the future they recognise the growing importance and demand for mobile access, and are moving towards a multi-platform approach with web as the central platform. The team anticipates that what children learn today can have a real and tangible impact on their ability to create and manage wealth in a way that helps them to achieve their life goals. Lee also hopes that “Kids will inspire their parents. We really hope that this new generation of kids will think of money differently.”

Perhaps parents will begin to realise that not all games are the same and that some have the potential to create a positive impact on the lives of their children with benefits that reach far into the future.

This blog post first appeared on http://www.recognitionpattern.com

Serious Games in Singapore

Serious Games Conference (Image courtesy of Asia Events)

It was a real pleasure to attend and speak at the third annual Serious Games Conference in Singapore last week. The third instalment of this annual event was well attended by a variety of speakers and industry representatives from across the globe and local Singapore developers were out in force. A range of speakers including designers, developers and domain experts shared their experience, current developments and where they believe serious games are heading. Companies included Crytek (South Korea), Digitalmill (US), Eduwealth (Singapore)Littleloud Studios (UK), MOH Holdings (Singapore)National Institute Education (Singapore)Playware Studios (Singapore), Ranj Serious Games (Netherlands), Rockmoon Pte Ltd (Singapore), Serious Games International (UK) and yours truly from Hummingbird Interactive.

Education, e-learning and training were popular topics as always, however there was a particular interest in serious games applications for health. Several speakers including Ben Sawyer (co-founder of Serious Games Initiative and DigitalMill who also recently spoke at Games for Health 2012 US) and a representative from MOH Holdings both noted that the health sector is experiencing a major paradigm shift.

Day One Panel (L-R): Michael Bas (Ranj Serious Games), Tim Luft (Serious Games International UK), Dr Koh Noi Keng (NIE), Natalie Marinho (Hummingbird Interactive), Jun Magata (Rockmoon). (Image courtesy of Asia Events)

Instead of focusing primarily on treatment and disease management, health care providers are looking towards prevention and a more holistic approach to health and wellness. Some surprising statistics were mentioned including the fact that the percentage of Singapore residents with diabetes aged between 18 and 69 years old has increased from 8.2% in year 2004 to 11.3% in year 2010 (National Registry of Diseases Office, 2011). Obviously there is huge potential for serious games to contribute to behavioural and attitude change with regard to awareness and prevention of chronic disease such as obesity and diabetes, as well as in the area of mental health.

Having fun while learning about financial literacy through a participatory exercise during Dr Koh’s presentation “Serious Games as a Powerful Pedagogical Tool for Learning”. (Image courtesy of Asia Events)

Gamification was also hot topic, mentioned in several presentations besides my own and it was encouraging to hear that other delegates believe there are potential applications beyond points, badges and leader boards that are most common at this point in time. After describing the current landscape of gamification and its relationship with serious games, I enjoyed some very healthy and enjoyable debate during the networking drinks! However, I strongly believe the future of such games lies in encouraging real world action and participation. Specifically, integrating the game world with the physical world through alternate reality games and rapidly evolving technology in the mobile and augmented realty spheres.

It was energising to meet with so many passionate designers and developers working in the area of serious games and I look forward to more exciting projects being launched out of Singapore in the near future.

This post was first published on RecognitionPattern.com

Serious Games International, Singapore

As the popularity of casual and mobile gaming continues to grow so too does interest in research around how games could be used to improve our daily lives. Serious games are games that have been designed with a primary purpose other than entertainment. Business, education and health related organizations are beginning to recognise that the framework and experience of games can be harnessed to address specific problems in the real world.

Acknowledging the growing importance and interest in serious games within the region, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) initiated a strategy in late 2009 to promote the industry in Singapore. In order to capitalise on the experience of an organisation already well established in the area, MDA contacted the Serious Games Institute UK (SGIUK) based within Coventry University. Established in 2007, SGIUK’s portfolio includes research projects on serious games, mobile applications, 3D animation and virtual worlds.  This research has lead to the development of products that are widely used in the areas of clinical training, obesity awareness, disaster and emergency planning, and sexual health awareness in the UK.

Last year MDA and SGIUK announced a joint call-for-proposals in serious games, inviting established UK companies to setup or collaborate with Singapore-based games and learning companies who would then receive mentorship from SGI in the areas of game design, research and development. This catalyst for collaboration was also designed to extend serious gaming from predominantly education into new sectors such as healthcare and corporate learning. As a result of the linkage provided by SGIUK, two UK companies, Roll7 and Pixelearning, have already started projects in Singapore, and Pixelearning is even in the process of establishing a Singapore development centre.

Seeing the great support that Singapore has to offer to the serious games industry, and the tremendous opportunities within the Asian region, SGIUK also decided to establish a direct presence in Singapore, via a locally incorporated private company.  Officially opened in October 2011, Serious Games International (SGI) is a private company with an office at Block 71, Ayer Rajah Crescent. Singapore is the first location outside of the UK to host an SGI Overseas Development Centre. Chris Quek, Director of SGI Singapore, notes that serious games are very different from their casual entertainment cousins in the video game world. “Serious games are games that serve a purpose other than pure entertainment. Typical areas of application include health care, education, marketing, corporate training, and tourism,” he said. “We are open to collaborations with local universities in research activities and innovation. We are also keen to commercialize some of the serious game technologies and products created in the UK.”

Teddy’s Chocco Shop (courtesy of SGI Singapore and FrontSquare).

Since its inception, SGI Singapore has already work on some industry projects. Front Square from Dublin, Ireland is a company working in the area of game-based learning. It partnered with SGI Singapore to develop Teddy’s Chocco Shop, a training program designed to teach employees the basics of lean manufacturing. I played a couple of rounds and found the gameplay quite familiar, reminding me of other casual games with a customer order component like Gogo Sushi. As Quek, a former educator himself, points out: “That’s exactly the idea. The game should be easy and engaging, but with learning elements introduced at the right moments,” he said.

A core strength of serious games is the opportunity to present and structure content in an innovative way compared to traditional training models. Front Square CEO and Co-Founder Geoff Beggs said, “Typically my clients have at least 500 employees and are in the manufacturing industry. Using games can be a much more engaging and sustainable way of training staff over traditional methods. The employees are able to learn by doing and feel free to make mistakes in a safe environment.” There are many opportunities for serious games in the corporate training industry, but as Beggs notes the greatest challenge is to “Find the balance between scalability and customisation”. However, early stage alpha testing has produced encouraging results and Teddy’s Chocco Shop is about to begin beta trials with a large client in Canada.

But it’s not just an understanding of processes and procedures that serious games can impart. With a technical background and experience in the IT, mobile and startup industries, Quek believes that serious games can also facilitate the development of soft skills within organisations. “Virtual worlds can play a very interesting role in new ways of teaching and learning. [They can] teach things like EQ and skills in communication, management, critical problem solving and collaboration. These kinds of soft skills are extremely hard to teach in a consistent manner in real life, with virtual worlds, new dimensions and possibilities are opened up”.  In fact, Quek’s team has already started building a prototype of a multi-user game in a 3D virtual world, designed to teach such soft skills.

Is your next CEO a Blood Elf? Games can provide new models for leadership and teamwork (image courtesy of World of Warcraft Cataclysm).

There is a growing demand for employees with well-developed soft skills or “21st century skills” and gaming environments offer a host of advantages to develop and nurture these attributes including digital interfaces that enhance communication through voice and text chat, multi-media platforms, real time feedback, progress tracking and leveraging social networks. In fact, a few years ago researchers published their findings on leadership in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft in the Harvard Business Review. They concluded, “Leadership in online games offers a sneak preview of tomorrow’s business world. In broad terms, that environment can be expected to feature the fluid workforces, the self-organized and collaborative work activities, and the decentralized, nonhierarchical leadership that typify games. In more specific terms, we found several distinctive characteristics of leadership in online games that suggest some of the qualities tomorrow’s business leaders will need in order to achieve success.” Some of these characteristics included risk taking and the ability to work quickly and efficiently.

As organisations struggle to engage their employees and customers in a world full of distractions in constant competition for our attention, serious games provide a real opportunity for users to engage and interact with content and organisations, in an interactive and meaningful way.

This post was first published on RecognitionPattern.com