Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Girly Games: Horse Games

Recently I finished playing two titles that I would consider very "girly". Meaning that the theme is something that would appeal to a female crowd between 9 - 12. The two games are Bella Sara Horse Adventure and Champion Dreams: Born to Ride. Horse games basically.

Part of the purpose of buying these games was to do a bit of unofficial market research on games with horses. The other reason was guilty pleasure, I love horses.

There were a few things I "learned" about these games since they are games marketed for girls.

Girl Marketing
In both games the main character was a female. One was an adult(Champion) and one was a pre-teen (Bella). Horse care or "caring" seems to be a common theme in a girl-themed game. (Baby sitting games, vet games, Sims, wow...isn't that just like handing us a baby? Er...baby doll. XD) Both games also has a collection element and a dress up element. (Both again guilty pleasures).

I'll discuss the two games separately for a moment.

Bella Sara
This game is based on a card collecting franchise: Bella Sara. The cards features fantasy images of horses and some characters. There's apparently some peaceful ranch village that takes care of these horses but I'm not familiar with the lore. I just wanted to raise fantasy horses.

The start of the game had a limited customization for the game character. So girls of multiple ethnicities could make their character. You start with a "non-fantasy" type horse. The point of the game is to do quests and collect the right cards to unlock new horses and explore more of the world. Parts of the world are locked by gates that only certain horses can open. (fair enough at least there's a purpose!)

The quests are usually collection quests of objects around a particular area of the world (for example: collect x number of apples from the orchard. And non of the apples are in the apple trees oddly enough). Or timed races.

The levels have horse shoes (currency) and Bella Sara cards scattered throughout. Collecting these cards helps unlock new horses and new parts of the world. Horse shoes allow you to buy costumes for yourself or tack/snacks for the horse.

The control scheme is basic. The horses can run and jump...that's it really.

Riding the horse makes it tired and hungry. While riding you don't see the horse's affection/hunger/cleanliness meters. Returning to the ranch these meters are apparent. Restoring these meters is pretty easy but time consuming. Feed, brush and pet the horse until all are full. Some snacks make the meters refill faster.

There were 5 horses in all. The normal horse, a "fire" horse, a "water" horse, a "thunder" horse and Bella Sara herself. I could not find anything particularly "special" about the new horses. They might have been a bit faster but I couldn't tell. I was hoping that one would be a flying horse like Pegasus. That's what I think of when I hear "fantasy horse".

Champion Dreams
This game was set in the "real" world at a dressage horse academy. There was an over-arching story and the characters were all stock characters. The game had two aspects: the human character's social life and the horse part.
Part of the game made you make a schedule of things to train for (show jumping, cross country and dressage), horse care, relax time, study time, etc.
The annoying part was that sometimes story elements would interrupt your schedule without warning.

Controls were stiff and there were lots of visual bugs. Basic horse commands like go and jump were simple enough but dressage is more than that! Pirouettes, shoulder-in, flying lead changes, extending or controlling different gaits all had different commands. (Tough to remember too).
These moves were unlocked by reading about them in the library.
There were a lot of nuances in the game that I don't really have the energy to delve into but the important thing was your academy report card. It was graded based on your training performance, your horse's happiness, and your popularity. @_@ Popularity? Really? Ugh! Anyway, at the end of your training week you'll have a score and you need a certain score to be able to compete or do the week over or get kicked out. (I don't know if this really happens or not.) After the competition you're whisked away to a new place to train.

The story was a weak melodrama where someone is trying to sabotage your horse and your performance. *sigh* Anyway, the game is quite challenging in a fun way but there are a couple of really annoying quirks. Talking to the horse and trying to decipher if he's tossing his head or "nodding" is pretty much impossible. It's hit or miss in that case. (Not to mention remembering if that means he wants a hug or needs vitamins.)

What I learned
We have two ends of the spectrum here: Light fluff and Realistic-ish.
Now, I used to have a horse of my own as well. One time I went to camp (not band camp) and had to take care of him all on my own for a week. It wasn't that hard really.
Horses need feed, water, hay/grazing, clean bedding (if a stable horse), clean hooves/coats and exercise.

Champions overdid the cleaning aspect in that you had to brush the horse, bathe it, pick the hooves, and clean the stall every time you selected "horse care". Bathing the horse is not something you have to do very often really. (Or perhaps just the awful controls made it harder than it needed to be. ^^)

Bella, because the point of the game was the completion of quests and not "leveling" a horse and rider, the "horse care" aspect took a back seat and was more simplistic. (Feed, clean, affection)

And a funny thought crossed my mind while playing these games...I wanted an option for a male character! Bizarre right? But Bella Sara wouldn't feel so annoyingly sweet if I could play a boy. Champions, because it had a story element, probably would have more trouble pulling off the "boy" element.

Elements for My Game
Since the player will be responsible for a "herd" of horses, care will be incredibly simplified or merely an optional feature. Leveling the horse will be done via training (similar to Champions) and experience. (The rider will also need training).

Fun Elements: Collecting (collecting horses), competition, completing a story, exploration, strategy, relationship sim (rider-rider and rider-horse), multi-player elements, character progression.

I would prefer if even "girly" games could be made appealing to a general audience instead of a mostly female audience between the age 4-12. But they have their place too.