Posted on May 25, 2012 AT 12:35pm
Last month during PAX East I got to try quite a few fun games, but generally avoided the AAA titles like the plague. I’ll freely admit to having a paralyzing phobia of lines.
Instead I spent my time trying as many independent games as I possibly could. Tucked on the sidelines was the booth of a new company based in Cambridge, MA and a demo of their first product: Birdopolis. While the name Nuukster probably doesn’t ring any bells, the talent assembled by founder David Engel carries quite the resume. So after giving Birdopolis a quick run on the show floor, I signed up for an alpha invite.
Birdopolis is a simple and tremendously charming Facebook game with an avian theme. You start off with a yard and some bird scratch (the game’s equivalent of money), and it’s up to you to build a yard that will attract as many different birds as possible while keeping it aesthetically pleasing. Birds are attracted to different types of food, so there’s an element of micromanagement involved, and the same goes for the decorations and flora you can place in the yard. Best of all, Birdopolis requires little attention and a good upkeep can be mantained by playing once or twice a day for a few minutes.
When you have managed to build the necessary decorations for new birds to come into your yard, the fun begins. Because a game involving birds would never be complete without some bird spotting, would it? So the moment a new bird comes flying in, you can click them and begin the spotting sequence behind a pair of binoculars.
But unlike your grandma and her birdspotting club, the anthropomorphic feathery creatures of Birdopolis will treat you in remarkably amusing ways, break-dancing, showing off, or just posing nonchalantly as you try to snap a high-level photo of them for your collection.
If I sound like I’m getting excited over yet another Facebook game, bear with a little story: there has always been a bird in one of the trees outside my window, and the little fella has no concept of time. He starts singing at something like 10pm and goes on until 4am, and he’s just so… obnoxiously… loud.
I started clicking on my collection of birds in the game to see if I could finally identify the late-night prowler by the sound. Now I know that the loud, annoying fellow with the pretty call is a Northern Cardinal, and I caught a glimpse of its gorgeous red plumage last week. Before playing Birdopolis, I couldn’t have given two dimes about birds besides the occasional comment of “oh, it’s pretty”. It’s just one of the topics I have never had any interest in. I could recognize a sparrow, robin, hawk, or seagull if I saw one, but I never took time to stop and actually look.
Nuukster is a young company, and they have recently signed a publishing deal with 6Waves. Birdopolis will be entering beta testing soon, and the difference between a successful release and one full of bugs is often times not just the job of the QA team, but comes from the data collected thanks to the efforts of alpha and beta testers. The game is continously evolving, adding new items and features while perfecting existing ones, and the variety of species between East Coast and West Coast birds should add a nice social element to the mix.
I could tell you that it’s gratifying to feel like a game developer takes your feedback and suggestions into consideration, which is very much the case here, but I’ll go a step further: in a small way this game has made me, a city dweller, realize that even in the busy streets there are dozens and dozens of beautiful birds I had failed to notice my entire life. It’s a small thing, and slightly ironic that a video game would make me more aware of my natural surroundings. But it has been worth it, and I hope you will give it a try as well.
You can check out the Birdopolis alpha by clicking here and adding the app to your Facebook.
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