The Fleeca Job: Complete - After-heist party screenshot

Trick Jumps in Grand Theft Auto V

I meant to spend most of my break between semesters catching up on reading like I did last year, but we’re about a week out from the first day of class and I’ve only read through some volumes of the comic book series Grimm Fairy Tales. It’s not bad, but it’s also not the intellectually stimulating experience I want from a book. I picked them up as digital comics a few years ago and never got around to reading them. Maybe they were part of a Humble Bundle, I don’t know. It’s hard to resist the book Humble Bundles.

I’m reading through some more interesting stuff, like Karen Armstrong’s book on Paul the Apostle, St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to HateThe End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I’m also playing Grand Theft Auto V pretty heavily. I picked it up on Steam’s winter sale a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, so I wanted to give this one a shot.

The story mode is good, but I enjoy the online play more, even though it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of load times. I also wish it had more of the story mode content, like items you can find and collect. One thing that did carry over is the trick jumps. Some of them are a headache to get right, mostly because you have to use the right vehicle and avoid killing yourself while pulling off the jumps, or you have to land in just the right spot to get credit for the jump. It’s fun, though. One of the more interesting ones to do are the jumps at the airport traffic circle off the billboards. I made the video below of the jumps, but I feel like I could probably pull off two backflips on the motorcycle before landing. I’m going to give it a shot.

The Loot Crate

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I’ve always been a bit of a geek, so when a friend of mine (at http://www.jamaipanese.com/) recommended that I try out a service called Loot Crate, I didn’t hesitate. I wasn’t disappointed. This program was a great way for me to remember to have a little bit of fun. These college semesters are grinding the life out of me. I will post more about what I found when unboxing my first Loot Crate later, but for now I want to share this image of one of the items I received.

My First FarmVille Card

A $10 FarmVille card.

Oh yes, I’m serious.  I didn’t buy this.  It was given to me as a gift.  I did certainly use it though.

You see, I’m in Georgia right now visiting relatives and I’m staying at my aunt’s house.  My mother, aunt and aunt’s mother are all FarmVille addicts.  After a few nights of laying around just surfing the net as usual, I got caught up in their constant chatter about the game.  I used to play FarmVille, over a year ago, but gave up on it as too boring.

There have apparently been some big changes since then, including bakeries, wineries and spas, as well as cooperative crop growing with benefits, all of which have done nothing but make the game far more social, and in a way, more obligatory.  It locks people in and makes them feel like they’re required to keep playing for their friends’ sakes.  It makes good sense, from a business perspective.  It snagged my attention because I used to really enjoy crafting (weird, but I did) in MMOs like UO, DAoC, FFXI and WoW.  Before I knew it I was loading up the game to see what they were talking about.

While I was overseas I heard a lot about how FarmVille was taking off, and how people were dropping real cash on FarmVille items via these cards.  I laughed it off, but now here I am with FarmVille running in full swing and 110 Farm Cash (about 20 real dollars) worth the virtual currency loaded into the thing.  Granted, I haven’t put any of my own money into it…yet.  My mom and aunt seem to think of it as an investment towards their further enjoyment of the game, but I’m probably going to be hard pressed not to grab one of these off a shelf myself sometime in the near future, after checking to make sure no one is looking first of course.

It’s oddly addictive, and yet pleasantly casual with no massive demands on my time.  Well, not too much anyway.  And what’s even more odd is that more real cash has gone into my game during the last week than I ever put out for any mainstream MMO monthly subscription.  Zynga really does have a cash cow on its hands here.

Now, whether I continue to keep up with FarmVille after I get back to NYC and start working again is up for debate, but for now… I have to go check on my grapes.

My Fish Tanks Are Empty and my Pet Is Abandoned

Like many people, I managed to get hooked into some games on Facebook.  You know the kind.  Cheesy flash games that mostly have no point, purpose, or conclusion.  Their goal is to get you to play as many hours as possible, and eventually to get you to spend real money on the game.  Or in other words, they’re a time-sink and a money waster.

The games that I took to are Zynga games.  They’re pretty polished.  When I first started playing them they really weren’t that bad.  Lately, though, they’re chock full of pop-ups demanding that you ‘share! share! share!’ everything you do.  Not to mention the ‘Become a Fan!’ and ‘Add More Friends!’ pop-ups.  There are so many of these pop-ups that the slight entertainment value is rapidly disappearing.  If you open one of their games and then let it sit for a few minutes, you might come back to a stack of half a dozen pop-ups wanting you to publish things to your Newsfeed or add friends.

Now, in addition to their demands to share nearly every action you perform in the game and they’re incessant demand that you ruthlessly hound your friends into jumping on the bandwagon, they’re trying to get my e-mail address.  Facebook is going to make some change to the way application notifications are handled sometime in the near future.  That’s fine with me.  What’s not fine with me is giving my e-mail address to Zynga.  I still consider my e-mail address to be a pretty private thing.  I have a personal e-mail address, an e-mail address that I tend to use for comment forms, and an e-mail address I use as a contact e-mail for my blog.  They all serve their purposes and have varying degrees of exposure.  The e-mail address I use for Facebook is my personal e-mail address, because these are my personal connections.  I’m not going to allow some Facebook flash game developer to have access to it.  Especially when they have a track record of spamming.

Zynga’s applications, and other players, generate quite a bit of ‘noise’ already in notifications, requests, and my newsfeed.  Why would I want even more ‘noise’ in my e-mail inbox?  As a cheap incentive, most of Zynga’s games are offering special items or bonuses for giving up your e-mail address.  I think my time and privacy is worth more than a special fish or a few extra game coins.  I’ll be keeping my e-mail address to myself Zynga.  Thanks, but no thanks.

In addition to all the noise Zynga games create, they’re big time-sinks.  I realized that I have to give up some of these games if I want to be able to do other things I enjoy, like reading the news, studying, exercising, eating, etc.

So, to that end, I’m putting FishVille and PetVille on the chopping block.  I’ll also be cutting back on the amount of space I use to ‘grow’ crops in FarmVille and the amount of time I invest into it as well.  There are more important things in life than fake fish, a fake pet (I already have two real ones that are a handful), and fake crops.

Hey FishVille! So long, and thanks for all the fish!  In memory of my fish tanks, some screenshots:

The only one that really has me hooked is Cafe World.  I’ve always been a sucker for cooking in games. I even had maxed cooking skill in Final Fantasy XI.  What I like about Cafe World is that it’s possible to get by without having to spend real cash.  What I don’t like about it is the number of pop-ups.  ‘Become a Fan’ it says, when I already am.  ‘Add More Friends’ it demands, when all the friends that want to play the damn thing already are.  It’s going to wear out its welcome soon too, if that keeps up.

Keep pushing the limit Zynga.  If I can quit playing World of Warcraft, don’t think I can’t give you up.

Twitter Social Games Are Annoying

Recently I heard of a new social game called Spymaster.  Well, not so much heard of, as much as suffered from.  The game is currently in beta right now, and is something that has been cooked up for Twitter.  I can understand social games on Facebook.  They make sense, because they’re separate and they don’t interfere (too much) with other people’s home pages.  If someone’s updates are annoying you, you can hide the updates from that particular application, to keep your stream from being cluttered.

Spymaster, on the other hand, seems to manage its notifications by posting everything a player does to their Twitter stream.  Yes, everything.  The problem with that is that on Twitter, you either follow someone or you don’t.  There’s no way to hide particular Tweets.  So, if you start putting out a lot of spam you give people two choices, put up with it or un-follow you.  I’m leaning towards the latter.  It’s hard enough to sort through all of the Tweets I get already, without having to scan through crap like “I just did damage to @XXXXX in an attempted assassination attempt!”

Twitter is all about providing useful information to your friends, either in the form of status updates, witty sayings, links, images, video… well you get the picture.  In other words, no one is following you on Twitter to read your spam messages from a social game.  I mean, who really cares?  Other than yourself of course?

I don’t see Twitter games that spam people’s streams becoming overly popular, but if they do, I hope to God that people are smart enough to create a separate account for it.  One last thing I’d like to say is, isn’t Twitter already suffering under the current load?  Is it really smart to try to build a social game that sends a lot of Tweets when the platform is already regularly overloaded?