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Onder’s Game – Dragon Quest, Quiz Time, Go Karts

May 5, 2007

by Onder Skall

The following originally appeared in my column over at New World Notes. Right now I have an article running over there about Midgar that just got Slashotted… so bully for NWN. 🙂

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Onder Skall reviews some of the Grid’s most intriguing games

I’m often surprised at the amount of quality content in Second Life that I find tucked behind a corner or even inside a single prim. This week I’m going to focus on three very different games that, if you didn’t know they were there, you might have walked right by without ever noticing. Let’s take a look at some hidden gems.

Name: Go Karts
Genre: Racing
Creator(s): Sarg Bjornson
Estimated Number of Players: One to Eight
Gameplay: Deftly maneuver the track and outrace your opponents, speeding for the finish!
Top Qualities: Great carts, great control, really cool track.
Current Shortcomings: Still subject to SL’s deteriorating physics, steering is very sensitive.
Where to Play/Buy: Prim Hearts
Go Karts are fun in real life because of the low center of gravity. You can make really sharp turns in them without worrying too much about flipping over, which means that you don’t even have to be going that fast to get the impression of speed. None of that applies in SL, so I was curious to see how it all played out in the virtual world.

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If you’ve ever been to Prim Hearts you’ll understand what I mean when I say that the place is big. It’s huge. I’m not sure what it is about the layout of this theme park that makes it feel so gigantic, but after wandering around a bit you do tend to go in circles and miss things. The go carts themselves are right next to two other rides, and because of minimal signage, you might not notice it at first pass. Take another look though: it’s worth tracking down.

After a few test laps around the track I started to get a feel for it. Sarg Bjornson made some great carts here – very responsive controls, neat extras (hitting “Fly” changes the color, for instance), and even though the grid was crashing around us on a Saturday afternoon, the carts fought bravely against disintegrating physics.

I was having a really good time, but I needed an opponent. I don’t normally need to win to have a good time, but I was feeling pretty good about my driving prowess and wasn’t really interested in being shown up. I decided to look for somebody that might not be all that good behind the wheel.

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Eventually I ran into somebody named PilgrimsWalk4 Miles. Perfect. I challenged him to a race.

I took the early lead, but hit the side a bit while my opponent took the jump ahead of me. I re-took the lead when he collided with some of the road that was under construction, but then he cut me off at the beginning of the second lap. Nobody cuts me off!

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Anyhow… I won. Don’t worry about PilgrimsWalk4. It turns out the carts are non-flammable.

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Name: Dragon Quest
Genre: Table-top RPG
Creator(s):
Melanie Nadir
Estimated Number of Players: One
Gameplay
: Vanquish evil creatures, heal up in town, and steal the dragon’s treasure!
Top Qualities: Nice graphics, surprising complexity and strategy required, just 1 prim.
Current Shortcomings: Actual battles are hands-off, spectators don’t see the interface, and it’s just a bit pricey to play.
Where to Play/Buy: Games Park, SLX

At first glance this seems like a big 1-prim poster. There’s nothing really exciting about it, and poking at it reveals that it wants you to pay L$25, L$50 or L$100 to start a game. Most people think: “How good could it be?” and move on to games that make a bigger show of themselves.

For those who throw caution (and their L$) to the wind, they discover a surprisingly complex game. Through a combination of whispers and dialog boxes you are faced with battling various mystic foes in your search for the dragon, who hordes a great treasure. Whenever you beat a monster you reap a reward (which varies randomly) which can then be used back in town for healing or equipment. Your choice of equipment can mean the difference between life and death in battle.

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Visually I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the texture on the prim flips to big artistic renderings of the monsters I’m fighting. It’s not immersing, but it’s more than I ever had playing RPGs around the kitchen table. (Yes, I am a geek, and I’m ok with that.)

I’ve been playing the game for awhile now and haven’t even come close to that dragon. So far I’ve worked out how to last a really long time in the fights, which monsters are worth my time and which ones I’ll just run away from because they’re too much bother, but a lot of the game is a mystery. I think that’s the point though: there’s something to be discovered here.

A good player has a great chance of cashing out with as much money as they put in, or at least averaging out at around 90%, as long as they don’t die. The big prize is with that dragon though… and I’m going to get that thing, mark my words.

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Name: Quiz Time Lounge
Genre: Trivia
Creator(s):
The Electric Sheep Company
Estimated Number of Players: One to Twelve
Gameplay
: How much do YOU know about things that don’t matter?
Top Qualities: Nice environment, great interface, clever questions.
Current Shortcomings: If you don’t absorb massive amounts of pop culture you’ll probably be lost here.
Where to Play/Buy: AOL Pointe

Far be it from me to encourage anybody to check out a corporate sim looking for fun. These places are so clean and sanitary you don’t usually think “fun” when you see them. The thing is, ever since I first wrote up AOL Pointe their Quiz Time Lounge has been at the back of my mind. I confess: I sneak back over there whenever I get the bug for trivia.

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We’re used to things being very in-your-face in SL with minimal ornamentation, so even on a return trip it’s a little tricky finding the Quiz Time Lounge. It just looks like any other building, and the entrance, while inviting, doesn’t stand out from the other dozen or so little theaters around the Pointe. After a few references to the map I was able to locate it again and settle in for some fun.

It’s not the comfy chair or wood-paneled decor here that brings it all together, but the interface. You just sit in a chair and punch a letter corresponding to the multiple-choice question on the screen. The best part: it’s a screen everybody can see. Developers tend to avoid this kind of interface because it can get to be a bit laggy, but on a dedicated sim it runs fairly well.

Since everybody can see the screen it lends a little more meaning to the cross-talk during quiz time, and a leader board gives us all a point of reference as we play.

The questions themselves are where it falls apart a bit for me. Everything revolves around celebrity and pop culture, which I couldn’t care less about. I tend to lose a lot, but I pass the time by looking at the pictures of pretty people and joking with whoever else happens to be playing.

Besides, until Trivial Pursuit gets a sim, Quiz Time Lounge is your absolute best bet for trivia.

Onder Skall writes about SL games on his own blog, and continues to cover them for New World Notes. To tell him about a Second Life game, IM him in-world, or e-mail ruagamer at gmail dot com.

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