In Your Facebook: Outernauts Out Now

By Adam Smith on July 26th, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

Grid-based asynchronous battles await in Insomnia’s first Facebook game, which is now available to play. I like every word in that sentence except ‘Facebook’, although I also dislike ‘first’ if it appears below one of my posts, orphaned from the rest of the English language. I didn’t get on with Resistance but Ratchet & Clank was a fun time and Outernauts’ character designs have more in common with that series. Nathan dubbed the game “space Pokemon” and that seems accurate, with alien creatures to capture, train and pit against one another. It looks quite decent, but takes the approach of having players pay or wait to take action, which means that now I’ve run out of energy I’ll probably forget to ever go back. Trailer and brief thoughts below.

When Jim wrote about Zynga earlier he had this to say:

Facebook could be an amazing platform for a game. There is nothing stopping that. There are even games worth playing, as we occasionally point out.

Outernauts is easy to understand, seems well designed and suits the sort of dip in and out multiplayer that games like Hero Academy do so well. It’s the sort of game that could well be worth your time if you fancy learning about its creatures and their powers, having a few battles on the go and breaking up a boring day at the office by dipping in occasionally. Obviously I don’t condone playing games or using Facebook while at work but of course I absolutely do.

The problem is, I can’t actually tell you whether it continues to be fun because I’d have to pay to get more fuel so I can capture more beasties or wait until my energy has replenished. It’s as if the game is telling me, “you’re probably too tired to carry on with all this, huh? Probably time for bed.”

I’m shaking my head frantically, “no way, Outernauts, I’d like to see a little more because you’re cute and a bit of a tactical sort. Let’s hang out.”

“No, it’s cool, you’re definitely tired right now. You’re slumping in your seat…”

“That’s just my terrible approach to posture!”

“…and you’ve got those bags under your eyes that you could carry your groceries in…”

“I ALWAYS have those!”

“…but I guess I could stick around for a while if you were to spot me some cash for a drink later?”

“Oh, screw you, Outernauts.”

“Alright. See you tomorrow.”

I doubt it. Outernauts might be a fun little game, looks like it really might be, but I don’t have the patience to find out.

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40 Comments »

  1. Suits says:

    Sounds awesome, or nauts?

  2. Smashbox says:

    The designers who pour lots of heart and soul into these scrappy little games must just feel heartbroken when they’re told that its one of THOSE games. The ones that don’t really want you to play them much and constantly remind you that you’re not giving them enough of what’s in your wallet.

    How could the constant feeling of needing to shell out cash ever be fun?

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      How could the constant feeling of needing to play ever be fun?

      It’s as useful as asking what’s behind any base compulsion. Does a slot machine player ever question himself about it? Does the player who absolutely needs to have every single DLC for his favorite games or odds and trinkets for his online not-so-F2P game? Does a gambler?

      It’s not the paying that’s fun, it’s what the paying offers (or “unlocks” if you will) to the player.

  3. Brun says:

    In related news:

    http://www.wired.com/business/2012/07/zynga-tanks/

    Love the first comment there – “And nothing of value was lost.”

  4. Mbaya says:

    Well, if Space Pokemon isn’t going to get me to finally use Facebook, I don’t think anything will.

  5. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    which means that now I’ve run out of energy I’ll probably forget to ever go back.

    This is interesting and kinda similar to many criticisms I see aimed at Facebook games. The idea that upon reaching the maximum number of actions per play session frustrates players or sends them somewhere else.

    Is it the format of the game or this particular mechanic? Neptune’s Pride seems to get by pretty well with its slow speed and a “session” that takes weeks to end.

    • pakoito says:

      Because they don’t care if you don’t come back. You are either a person prone to addiction and impulse buys (a.k.a. a client) or you are just someone leeching from their game. No “fun factor” is involved in creating this games (ok, maybe this one at least has a game part to it). If they wanted a free to play with a big player base, and mildly profitable, they would had set up another platform, and sell ingame account services instead. Or booster packs, á là Magic. Not *energy*.

      • Diogo Ribeiro says:

        You’ve just described the basics of every business in the wonderful world of purchase power. Once your money is theirs, that’s it. No company is different; singling out FB games and their creators is a myopic exercise when you are seen as a statistic by every other company, no matter which one you’d like to think is loyal to you.

  6. AmateurScience says:

    I will never understand a game mechanic that forces you to stop playing the game. Surely even continuing to play but not paying is better than forcing someone to put the game down and hoping they’ll come back later?

    The much feted (and cloned) Triple Town on android did this. As a result it gone binned with prejudice.

    • pakoito says:

      This games are not made, they are CRAFTED by COMMITEES of SHRINKS with EXCEL files that state exactly how much energy, time and money has to be spent by the player for him to be tricked into addiction without making the paygrindwall obnoxious in the process.

      But seriously, tricks, psychology and deception to make games worse based on the excuse that the first dose is for free.

      Pass.

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      I will never understand a game mechanic that forces you to stop playing the game.

      Like a cutscene or tutorial? kekeke

      The mechanic is actually easy to understand. It’s meant to delay a player’s access, to prevent him or her of exhausting a game’s appeal right away. The only difference to what has come to be known as “real” games is the duration. Most modern games opt instead of unlockables, hidden colectibles, DLC or harder modes to dilate a playthrough. Being usually shorter, “finishing”, or reaching the higher play tiers in an FB game is usually a bigger concern.

      • AmateurScience says:

        It’s nothing like a cutscene or tutorial, not one bit. A cutscene either sets you up for further play or rewards you after a stretch of play, a tutorial, by it’s very nature is supposed to encourage you to play more, and has the good grace to allow you access the rest of the game when you finish!

        Here what they’re saying is, ‘no matter how much fun you’re having, you have to stop now or give us money to continue’. It forces you to put down the game, even if you were really enjoying it, until you pay or wait a few hours. That’s not the kind of approach that would make me want to pay. It’s the kind of approach that makes me think as Adam puts it ‘now I’ve run out of energy I’ll probably forget to ever go back’. It’s an F2P approach taken to the reducto ad absurdum, and it stretches the concept of ‘free’ to breaking point.

        tl:dr I don’t like the ‘energy’ concept YMMV

        • Diogo Ribeiro says:

          i guess you missed the kekeke part. of course it’s not exactly like a cutscene, that wasn’t the point – i just picked on their outcome. they’re functionally different but the result is the same, even if a cutscene ends moments after.

          regardless, you said you didn’t understand why a play mechanic would do this – my response is just an explanation. i’m neither pro nor against the idea, but it’s not different than most other micropayment systems or rules. the time i have to wait isn’t an issue, really. i like turn-based games, i played my fair share of play-by-email games (some of which took longer to resolve than an FB game). i’m sure it messes with some people, but at the end of the day, any game that offers an additional service for a cost does this to varying degrees. if the player likes the game, they’ll come back. simple as that – so simple that it’s become their main form of transaction.

          would i prefer a game that didn’t do this? probably, yeah. but if i’d stop myself from playing games with a similar system, i wouldn’t play many other games who make extensive use of microtransactions or DLC.

    • The Random One says:

      Go play Kingdom of Loathing, a game that has a daily gameplay limit but predates all those Facebook games and, despite being free and sustained by donations (which in this heartless economic context are indistinguishable from microtransactions) doesn’t have an option to pay to play more turns instantly. Then go read about “speed ascenders”and their strategies. You might discover that as much as the concept of turn limits has been appropriated and bastardized by the Zynga crowd it can be used to enhance gameplay, like any design tool.

      • Diogo Ribeiro says:

        I already know about KoL. I wasn’t addressing how it was used in other games when answering him, I was explaining why it’s used in a specific subset.

        “Bastardized by the Zynga crowd” is a fascinating reading of something that’s not exclusive to them, btw.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Another really well done game that uses ‘Daily’ gameplay, that people should check out is called Billy Vs SNAKEMAN. I suppose it’s likely it won’t grab a lot of people, as the world the game takes place in is a parody of bunch of Animes, namely Naruto, with some games and other things thrown in. However, if one can deal with that, the game has a pretty massive amount of depth and really clever gameplay mechanics. It takes the daily energy allotment thing and does things which I would consider much more original than KoL, for instance, many of its mechanics involve interacting with other players, competing with them and working together with them, (The ‘endgame’ is running a village, which basically involves keeping a bunch of systems working for and managing a community of players) and the game is very carefully crafted to work with the smallish player base it has.

  7. JackDandy says:

    Damn, I really liked Insomniac. Were they bought out by EA, or are they still on their own?

    Not touching this stinking turd by the way.

    • maicus says:

      They have a deal to make a few games, and then they get to keep their IP afterwards. So hopefully this thing will grow and get an actual retail release at some point after the deal expires.

  8. angrychair says:

    They started with a great idea. Space explorers traveling the universe and hunting down/capturing cute alien life forms. That is a concept that I can seriously get behind. Then they made a series of puzzling decisions.

    1) Facebook only.

    2) Flash. There is too much going on in this game for flash to run smoothly.

    3) Energy. Yes, limit my playtime and charge me more to play. Just what I always wanted.

    4) Fuel. Not only am I restricted by energy, I have to deal with harvesting fuel.

    5) Puzzling, Farmville-esque base building game play. It’s like they felt they needed to add a second game on top of a good formula to bring in more cash. It’s painful and not fun at all.

    6) Legitimately pay to win. I know everybody screams this about games, but it is true with this one. This is a monster battling game and is somewhat competitive. With the Gems, which can only be bought with cash (as far as I can see) can be spent on your monster’s stats every time they level up to increase them. Anyone that pays money is going to have a serious edge in this game. Since there is a big pvp element to it this is despicable. Oh, you can also use gems to heal in battle. That’s fair.

    I am very, very disappointed with this game. Looks like it is back to waiting for someone else to come along and make the pokemon formula work. The really sad thing is that the monsters are great and the battle system is pretty good. There is a good game underneath all of the manipulative crap.

  9. Flint says:

    Space Pokémon from the creators of Ratchet & Clank sounds pretty awesome, shame about the Facebook-exclusivity.

  10. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    Cool combat music, horrendous sound effects.

  11. MistyMike says:

    Enough with the -Naughts! I get the impression all these devs are trying to create a positive correlation with the cult classic Psychonauts, and so we have Awesomenauts, Outernauts, Necronauts, not to mention the original Argounauts. It doesn’t even make sense! X+naut means ‘person travelling on a ship named X’.

  12. maicus says:

    I played it up until it told me I could pay to revive my space pokemon in battle. Also, paying is the difference between upgrading ALL your pokemons attributes and just one or two of them. It creates this mental loop where I felt like I was wasting every level up by not upgrading to the best of my ability(i.e. wallet). And then I quit to get a coffee and I haven’t looked at it since.

    Except for the five WELCOME TO OUTERNAUGHTS emails it has sent me.

    • maicus says:

      ACTUALLY, now that I think about it, I know what made me quit that game. There was absolutely no context as to who you were or what you were doing. In comparison to pokemon, digimon or monster rancher, there was absolutely no fluff or story context to bring me in. It literally opens with;

      -Whats your gender?

      -Whats your pokemon? (Here are all its evolutions so you know exactly what you will get later with no sense of discovery!)

      -Here is a pokeball (spend money to catch automatically!)

      Theres not even an opening cutscene or a motive for your character! Just like a slot machine I guess.

      • Uthred says:

        Thats blatantly untrue, the story isnt exactly dripping with genius but the game starts with a short semi-animated introduction explaining what the outernauts are and that you are one and nearly every mission is tied into the (simple) overall story

        • maicus says:

          I must have missed it or skipped it, I don’t remember seeing anything when it started up. Flash was acting up at the time though.

  13. Screamer says:

    What is the facebook?

  14. Groove says:

    Yeah, all the zynga-style shit is a real shame here, the concept sounded like great fun.

    The real problem I have is in pay-to-play on an infinite loop. If they charged once to play (regular game) I’d be fine. Or if they charged for areas of content, or particular aspects of the game. It’s just…if I got really into this game I’d end up quickly spending multiple times the cost of a regular game just to keep playing it. I KNOW that’s the buisness model, but it it’s terrible and I’ll never be able to justify p(l)aying it.

  15. superstepa says:

    While this game is obviously pay2win, it is quite fun. Much more fun than all the other facebook games anyways

  16. RizzleSizzle says:

    I thought the graphics, initial story-line and music were all pretty solid. The pay-to-play mechanism is definitely no fun and I stopped as soon as I ran out of energy (I’m super cheap). Also didn’t love the WELCOME TO OUTERNAUTS emails, but I only got them for one day.

    It’s a tough balance for a lot of these games coming out. Make the game free with purchasable DLC or make it $1.99 to download (although not when it’s a FB only game, obviously).

    The key, in my opinion, is making games where you CAN get everything for free if you’re willing to really grind but doesn’t require stopping game-play. Fight extra battles, conquer extra worlds, etc in order to earn enough currency to buy what you want. Sure you can pay if you want to accelerate the speed that you get the powers/levels/characters, etc but it’s not the only option. Thoughts on this?

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