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Veni Vidi Vino - Vineyard Valley will be a Freemium Sim Worth Playing

Posted by Rob Rich on June 14th, 2013

Sometimes it seems like the majority of free-to-play games focus more on arbitrary time limits and less on actually making a compelling experience. Dave Calabrese, President and CEO of Cerulean Games, feels pretty much the same way. Not content with many of the current freemium sim-style games out there, he and his team set out to create something more akin to one of those meticulous “tycoon” style games that were all the rage back in the 90s. It’s a tall order, but it looks like Vineyard Valley is coming along quite nicely.

148Apps: What inspired you all to create a virtual free-to-play rendition of that "build a vineyard" dream most world-travelers seem to develop?
Dave Calabrese (DC): This entire venture actually started because a friend of mine from school contacted me one evening. She informed me about a large community who used to play a game called My Vineyard. That game went offline over a year ago, however the community has been dying for something new, and nobody would listen. So I did the research, and felt it was a viable business direction! We spent 3 months just having fun and planning out something awesome. So we took all our notes – everything from the community, all of our own ideas, and ideas of what the general public wants and nobody is giving them – and assembled it into the Vineyard Valley that you see planned today!

148Apps: I see in your Kickstarter description that Vineyard Valley won't be using typical free-to-play "pay to win" models or rely on energy. So how *are* you making use of the freemium model? Is it primarily through Vinos? And what exactly are Vinos, anyway?
DC: We have a pretty cool system that we are using to monetize the game. We call it the Five Point monetization system. The concept is – as you may have guessed – something where we monetize on 5 separate levels. Only one of those actually has the players spending real money – and that is where Vinos come into play. You earn them by running your business properly, and you can purchase them using real money. Aside from that one and only currency exchange, the player won’t have to spend physical money – which allows us to keep it freemium. The other four methods incorporate partners, advertising and more.

148Apps: I'm intrigued by the more classic approach to a business sim you're using for Vineyard Valley, especially the idea of trading wine between players. But why exactly would players want to buy and sell wine from each other? Is there some sort of added incentive to exchanging with someone else aside from simply seeing what other players have created?
DC: Good question – and I think you are going to really dig the reason. Part of your vineyard is you have a shopping village. This shopping village is something you design and build just like anything else in the game. You start from essentially a wooden stand on the side of the road, and build it into a full blown village with shops, cafes and more. This is where some of that classic business sim comes into play. Your vineyard in the game – just like when you go to a real life vineyard - sells bottles of wine. This wine shop is located in your shopping village. You choose what is sold there. Now, each wine will have a type of rating which denotes its quality, uniqueness and more. Say you create a wine that has a very high rating. You can choose to put a bunch of its bottles in your shopping village, however you could also sell a bunch of bottles to your friends. Just like in classic business sims such as Theme Park, NPC visitors come and tour your vineyard, and shop in the shopping village. The higher rated wine you have, the more it will attract more visitors. Not just rating, but also the proper time for the right wine – a pumpkin wine might attract more visitors around Halloween, while a refreshing Ice Wine might attract more visitors in the middle of summer.

148Apps: Since you're obviously trying to avoid making Vineyard Valley too much like the majority of other freemium sims, what other games might you be using for inspiration? My guess is older PC business/tycoon titles, which I'm all kinds of okay with.
DC: Exactly, older business sims. Specifically, the original Theme Park from the mid-90s. Today’s business sims are nothing more than seeing how well you can follow the leader while mindless clicking things. See, that’s also what made My Vineyard different – there was a lot more you could do than just mindlessly click and follow the leader. We’re of course staying as far away from cloning My Vineyard as possible, however the base inspiration is still there – design and build in a sandbox environment, and have fun with your friends.

148Apps: Are there any pointers you'd like to share with prospective winery managers eager to jump in to Vineyard Valley once it's released?
DC: Once you finish watching the game introduction (yes, the game has an ongoing story), think through the base options and decide on the initial kinds of fruit crops and wines you want to develop. Just like the wine, you can also sell and trade the raw ingredients with your friends. Maybe your vineyard will specialize in grapes along with citrus fruits, while your friend’s vineyard specializes in grapes and stone fruits. That’s a great opportunity to trade with each other. Maybe you will also become an expert in citrus fruits and have very special fruit types available that others won’t so easily get…

Thanks to Dave for setting aside a few minutes to discuss digital wine with us. Anyone interested in backing Vineyard Valley’s multiplatform development can do so on its Kickstarter page, and the sooner it gets funded the sooner we can all presumably start with the fruit fermentation.

Men in Black 3 Review

Posted by Rob Rich on May 25th, 2012
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Developer: Gameloft
Price: FREE
Version: 1.0.0
App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS

Graphics / Sound Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar
Playtime Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
Replay Value Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar

[rating:overall]

It’s hard not to expect the worst from a freemium movie tie-in game. There’s just so much potential for things to go wrong. Fortunately things went right for Men in Black 3. Very, very right.

As soon as the initial loading is done players are thrust into the boots of a MIB rookie. Agent J (or at least a somewhat reasonable facsimile) is present to direct them through most of the tutorial stuff like fighting aliens, neuralizing citizens, and managing headquarters. Much like other genre offerings structures must be built and managed to earn cash, heal between missions, research new tech, etc. But playing Where Will This Room Fit is only a part of Men in Black 3. The other parts are comprised of investigating various happenings around New York (both in 2012 and 1969), combating hostile aliens in turn-based combat, and recruiting/utilizing MIB agents for special missions.

Seeing as Men in Black 3 is a Gameloft game I feel compelled to mention that I was thrilled to see it takes up less than two-thirds of my iPhone’s storage space. In fact, it takes up next to no room at all (just under 90 MB). It might sound callous but most of their games are so big I can’t actually keep them for long, so something like this is a rare treat for me. For everyone else who doesn’t care about rationing memory, it’s still a very well put-together game. Everything features the slick style we’ve all come to expect from MIB facilities and gear, exploration and combat do a good job of keeping the management aspects from becoming tedious, and hiring new agents recalls a few of those old X-COM feelings.

As impressed as I am, I wouldn’t mind having the ability to adjust the camera distance. The view feels just a tad too far away from everything for my liking, making characters and aliens seem almost insignificantly small. Floating icons ensure that tapping the correct person, place, or thing isn’t an issue, but it would be nice to get in closer to see a little more detail. Conversely I wouldn’t mid seeing a little less of the “OMG THEY WERE IN THE MOVIE!!!” characters. Not that I don’t think Agents J and K and friends aren’t awesome, I just got sick of them getting in my face so often. Granted this doesn’t happen as often once the tutorial is completed but they can still be somewhat overbearing.

It might be heavy on the exposition and light on the camera control, but this is one solid free-to-play that usually always has something for players to do. Being the boss of a secret organization created to deal with extra-terrestrial activities sounds like a fantastic job, and thanks to Men in Black 3 I’m even more inclined to believe it.

Mega Mall Story Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Rob Rich on September 1st, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: CONSUMER-FRIENDLY
The developer with a reputation for fun, super-addictive sims does it again.
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Chocolate Tycoon Review

iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
By Chris Hall on February 16th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: CHOCOLATEY DELICIOUS
Business sim games are all the rage these days, and Chocolate Tycoon definitely fits in with a fun, albeit slow, little package.
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