Monday, 11 March 2013

How the Candy Crushed me: A Saga

by Jak Marshall

If you've been on Facebook recently, many users who should know better (including myself) have been sucked into playing variants what has become the viral social game, Candy Crush Saga which boasts a rather phenomenal 10 million plus count for monthly active users, which puts the game in the same bracket as FarmVille for general maddening ubiquity.

I personally think that the character design is just off-putting... 

I should put a disclaimer on this article because the game is highly addictive and something you feel dirty for coming back to time and time again. Here's how it pulls you in.

First of all it's a match-3 game of the Bejeweled ilk which means it's already dead set to be a time sink. But there's missions and social elements and lovely little graphics of delicious sweeties galore on top of all that.

The thing is that the difficulty curve rapidly steepens. If you've ever studied the mechanics of puzzle games you will know that the developers can make a level as hard or as easy as they bloody well choose through the clever tweaking of parameters buried in the mathsy code parts of the game.

That's why the genre is so varied and popular. Also check out Puzzle Quest...

Candy Crush has made most of its non-tutorial levels just hard enough that it's only barely possible to beat them without resorting to other options that make the game a lot easier.

First of which is the obligatory "pay to win" option where you can use real cash money to buy 'booster' power-ups which might not even bloody work without some degree of skilful use and (largely) luck on the part of the player. But no reader of mine is about to spend money on such a game (are you?) so we won't go into that. There is one other way to make the game easier though. But it involves Diplomacy!

You see, as well as requesting extra lives from friends of yours who may or may not be Candy Crush addicts you can also ask them to send you extra moves and other aids (at no cost to them) to help you get through the level you're currently stuck on. There are also certain parts of the game where you need to have at least three of your friends take the time out of their busy candy crushing days to send you 'boat tickets' to progress from episode to episode, meaning that you actually do need some friends to play this game and you have to publicly admit that you have a problem in order to keep playing. It's like having to show your AA badge to get into a bar, and it also increased the visibility of the game.

Despite having a built in lives system to stop you playing for hours... you still find yourself playing for quite some time.

But it's all very well asking your friends for help except when you realise that they probably want your help in return. This would be fine if the various game's overworld map wasn't laid out like a giant race to the finish type board game with all your friends on it. Friends that you would quite like to overtake on this board and (using a built in feature of the game that allows you to) publicly boast that you are ahead of them.

It's a symbiotic relationship and it is often that the case that you can't make swift progress without assistance. I'm on a meager level 38 and it's because I am too stubborn to ask for help but my resolve is wavering as of late. Especially since people who I consider myself ultimately better than in every single way are outperforming me and this can only be because of 'politics' .

Because I'm really good at video games.

But ultimately, Candy Crush is to the social puzzle games genre as Dark Souls is to the Western RPG genre. You can make no progress for the longest time because of a steep difficulty curve, feel a great sense of accomplishment when you do make progress and there is a multiplayer element to the game which one is reluctant to use at first, but is ultimately the best way to make swifter progress, even if it isn't as satisfying. I just can't wait for Candy Crush: Prepare to Die Edition. Peace out.