Just days after a short, worrying episode during which Facebook suspended all of its apps, LOLapps is anteing up with a new title: Ravenwood Fair, built by a team led by the legendary id Software co-founder John Romero. He’s currently working with the developer as a consultant.
Ravenwood fair follows in the footsteps of LOLapps’ last game, Critter Island, featuring a cast of cute, bobble-headed animals perusing attractions. But the island has been swapped out for a forest, and the foundation laid for a more in-depth game.
In most Facebook games, it’s hard to find anything remotely unfriendly, whether in the characters or the scenery. Ravenwood Fair starts the player out alone in a scary-looking forest, with only an odd-looking raven, Huginn, as a guide. (In Norse mythology, Huginn and Muninn are Odin’s pet speaking ravens.)
Another moment, and seasoned Facebook players will sense an influence: FrontierVille. Your first job is to chop down a tree. When you do, prizes representing coins, experience and various items pop out to be picked up. Just as in FrontierVille, it will be a constant job and battle to keep the encroaching forest back.
But where FrontierVille merges in elements of FarmVille, ultimately becoming a farming game, Ravenwood’s heart is still in island and business sims. After the tree is down, you get to build your first attraction, a hotdog cart. Each new attraction adds to the “fun” of your fair, with successively higher levels of fun attracting more guests.
Your guests will wander the fair for as long as the fun level is high enough, and if you click on them, they’ll talk. Sometimes they spout one-liners, and other times make a statement or question that can be answered. While there’s nothing like a dialogue tree yet, and the responses are usually little in-jokes (one of my fair-goers mentions that he liked the fair in Chrono Trigger), there’s clearly potential in Ravenwood to grow an interactive single-player game.
The trees, by the way, are more than a barrier, harboring various unseen monsters that can scare your guests silly. When this happens, it’s necessary to sooth the guests. There are also protective objects that can be placed around the fair, like a “Happy Oak”, that keep back the bugbears.
Deeper in the forest, there are also prizes: new fair attractions that would otherwise take resources and money to build. If you can cut a path to these attractions and cut away the thorns, you’re free to claim them. Since the starting forest is fairly large, there’s a light exploration element here that will keep players happy chopping away at trees.
Overall, Ravenwood manages to pull off the combination of cutesy and creepy well, with an art style suggesting a certain Victorian eccentricity.
Single or Social?
One of the characters in the game innocently asked me: Do I prefer to play by myself or with others? I have a question of my own: Is LOLapps running a sneaky user survey?
Ravenwood comes, of course, with all the standard social appurtenances. You can make and visit friends; when at a friend’s fair, instead of playing lackey and cleaning up trash, you actually get to play their games, and get experience for it to boot. Of course, there’s also an endless supply of trees to chop.
At your own fair, the main incitement to interact with friends is to ask them for resources needed to complete an attraction. But the resources are also pretty cheap, running one Facebook Credit per (or 10 cents), and you can always chop trees or break rocks to find them.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied, in fact. To draw one more comparison to FrontierVille, in that game the average session is quite short — chop down a tree or two, and you’re done for the time being.
In Ravenwood, you can chop trees or refill attractions for uninterrupted minutes at a time without running of out energy; in fact, one of the resources that pops up most often is more energy. There’s also a constant supply of mostly resource-based quests to complete.
And there are always your non-player visitors to talk to. For now, the dialogue options are pretty limited, but as noted above, there’s clear opportunity to flesh out the interactions. One reason to do that might be questing; another might be to simply keep the player company. After all, even most single-player games are full of non-player characters (even if you’re generally killing them).
The point is that Ravenwood might be spending less time on deepening social interactions, and more on making a game that people want to play for itself. The involvement of Romero, a traditional game designer, only strengthens that theory.
As it is, Ravenwood Fair is a pretty good game. If you don’t like chopping trees or watching anthropomorphic animals play games, it might get boring, but both of those activities will be engaging enough for the typical Facebook gamer.
What’s more interesting about Ravenwood, though, is its potential to develop from a sim into a more interactive RPG. That’s a short step away, but we’ll have to wait to see if LOLapps decides to go in that direction.