Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Day With Charlie Junior

I had an opportunity the other day to do some game playing with my son - so I had the constraint that the games had to be playable by a 7 year old, meaning favourites of mine like Fish Fillets were generally ruled out.

First up was the ever-popular Super Tux. The young lad was an experienced campaigner at this so it didn't hold his attention for too long. However, whilst we were playing, I did notice a number of things that I think need addressing in the game:

  • Complete lack of originality

    They have copied Mario down to the core. It's a clone with different graphics. Every Mario aspect (gameplay, enemies, etc) has a "skinned" equivalent in Super Tux. Really, it's one thing to be inspired by another game, but to clone it down to the last detail? I don't know, maybe I'm being harsh (after all, I'm a Freeciv fan) but I feel there's a big room for improvement in this regard. I especially don't like the fire flower; can't we come up with some good alternative upgrades?

  • Very unbalanced levels

    The first level is really easy - as it should be. However that quickly changes. After 3 or 4 levels I'm starting to struggle to complete them. After 7 or 8, I find myself quitting the game in frustration at missing another long-jump-to-narrow-platform. The game is completely unbalanced and way harder than it should be at an early stage. One of the reasons the Mario games worked so well is because they were very well balanced. The game never really got hard until about half-way through (and that's a lot of levels). There is far too much acrobatic jumping required in Super Tux. They need more levels where the acrobatics required are compensated for by having a floor to catch you so you don't die repeatedly. The level designs are just too unforgiving.

Moving on, we went with Super Tux Kart. This went down quite well with the young'un initially but interest quickly waned. Again, the culprit is the design of the levels/tracks, which are generally atrocious. One of the keys to the addictiveness of Mariokart was the simplicity of the majority of the tracks. They had straights and few tight corners, meaning you zipped around them, the nuance being in how to get around them with minimum slowdown. Super Tux Kart levels have no straights (none of them) and are all mazes. Just staying on the track can be a challenge. The AI itself is not challenging at all. The physics is diabolical (but this has been fixed in STK SVN which now uses the bullet physics engine). Still, a lot of work needs doing.


Going for something simpler but more complete, I installed Barrage and Those Funny Funguloids. I was having a great time but then I got a jab in the ribs and a stern look, so we moved on.

Bomb Attack (happypenguin entry) was the first game we played that he really got into. It is a well executed bomberman clone with cute graphics, although it is still a bit incomplete.

NJAM also was popular. It manages to give Pacman depth, an accomplishment in itself. Whilst he played those two games I had enough time for a nap!

Next up was Freedroid RPG. This game has some really lovely graphics - although the main character graphics look awful. It was a good game but there's a lot of reading required, a lot of talking. Also it's not exactly obvious what you need to do - places are mentioned but are not easy to find. The level of gaming knowledge required was just a level too high to retain the attention of a 7 year old.

The final and most popular game of the lot was Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid. This 2D platform game looks nice, is fun to play, and is not so difficult that you find yourself repeating the same few seconds of gameplay over and over again - yet isn't so easy that it is boring to play.

All being said, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't come up with more good Free gaming options. Other than stuff like GCompris and Tux Paint which he is starting to grow out of, it was difficult to find him a good Free Software game that held his attention yet didn't require a degree of experience beyond the reaches of a typical 7 year old. In the end, he spent most of his time on the Play Station 2 with Lego Star Wars (which was actually a lot better than I expected it to be).

Are there any obvious open source games I missed out? Suggestions welcome. :-)


  1. I felt the same when I tried out super tux a few months ago.

    Too difficult because there are too many long jumps involved.

  2. Anonymous5:13 p.m.

    Congratulations! This is the best article on this blog!

    The other best article on this blog is the interview with Grumbel.

    You are pretty cruel when criticizing. But I prefer this to "I don't want to hurt your feelings but in my humble humble humble opinion..." anyday.

    Thanks to your son for helping out! =D


  3. Obviously missing: Frozen Bubble, Mania Drive, XMoto and perhaps Alien Arena (all though that one might be too scary for a 7 year old)

    Also, aren't there some bubble bobble clones?

  4. Anonymous6:47 p.m.

    I suggest trying out Super Mario Wars game. Its not open source but its damn nice Mario game. I played with my 6 year old nephew, it was a blast. Especially the Tag game mode.

  5. Anonymous6:55 p.m.

    lol stupid

  6. I suggest battletoads or irrlamb. That'll turn your son into a man.

  7. I agree with you on many of your criticisms. But I also find that it's frustrating that it seems every Free Game seems to be a clone of a game from 3 or 4 generations ago.

    I understand that the scope of this article is in regards to kids, so not all of them will have been so inundated with these games when they were young, but if someone has let their kid brother or nephew or niece or what have you futz around with some emulators or play next gen games, it doesnt seem like there is a whole lot there yet to keep their attention.

    As far as teens and adults, I am a hardcore free games supporter, but I played bubble bobble and super mario, and mario kart etc. obsessively when I was young, so many clones cant really do much more than help me waste a few minutes.

  8. Check out Koules.

    Old, but a good addictive arcade game, very nicely done.

  9. mantar1:27 a.m.

    every Free Game seems to be a clone of a game from 3 or 4 generations ago.

    3 or 4 generations? How young ARE people having kids now that you could fit four generations in since the late seventies? :'p

  10. Looking for some games to play with the kids? My Game Company and Grubby Games both produce some high-quality titles that are as playable for kids as adults.

  11. Have you played the Light and Magic level in Supertux?
    Because this one is very original. :)
    It requires you to move around colored lights which make blocks of the same color appear when within the light radius.
    The level is rather easy and it's currently the only one featuring this innovation. But I think it shows that the supertux team is trying to improve things. ;)
    Here's how to get to that level if you're stuck.

    As for the varying difficulty level, I agree. But at least when you're stuck on one level, you can try another one.
    I finished the forest and ice worlds, but I'm still struggling with the contrib levels. Those are really insanely hard. Kind of like the 8 secret levels of supermario world.
    One that looks impossible to me is "Train leaves in one minute", where you basically have to run all the time in order to finish the level in less than one minute!

    As for Metal Blob Solid, I just finished it recently. Great game indeed.
    (but I cheated on the 2 ice cave levels ^^)

  12. Anonymous9:46 a.m.

    My 7 year old daughter really likes Battle for Wesnoth (, mostly for the cute character graphics. The tutorial is basically all that she can handle at her age, though.

  13. pingus is really nice.

  14. I've only got a 1-year son old myself, but how about a straightforward addictive puzzler like Friction? Anyone can play it (except my son).

  15. 3 or 4 generations? How young ARE people having kids now that you could fit four generations in since the late seventies? :'p

    I believe the GP was referring to video console generations, NOT human ones.

    Anyway, I'll add that I am also very disappointed that so many free games are clones of popular titles. Its one thing to use a game as inspiration for your own designs, but too many free games are cheap rip offs of another game's gameplay. I've already played Super Mario and Mario Kart, I don't really care to play the "free" alternative, which is always worse than the original in several aspects. The free alternative is probably more attractive to people who haven't played the original. But since only the cream of the crop are emulated, I suspect that this audience is few in number.

    Anyway to finish off my mini-Monday morning rant: To all free game developers, please please please put some effort into the design and gameplay of your games rather than cheaply copying the design of another!!!. And don't try and tell me "well that's easy for you to say", because I've already done it with my own game. :p

  16. luojie-dune5:11 a.m.

    Nice games for Old Guys or girls, perhaps.

    I recommend Pingus,OpenMortal and Gltron, as well as Lincity-NG

    while I was deep in many games -like Chip's Challenge, Rodent's Revenge,Pipe Dream,DUNE2, Jazz Rabbit, Sonic(sega emulator) and ChineseRPG轩辕剑2 at that age.

    Then I would ask for a unknown game- because I don't know much English when I was 9 years old though, which combined
    Lemmings' gameplay and goal and CrazyMachine's tools to force worms into pot to become butterfly.
    Anybody know that please post it nearby.~

    Otherwise, I can't identify the code when registering the forum
    , any suggestions?

    I am a Chinese from PRC.

  17. I had a great time playing Bubble Bobble when I was young. Now I'm playing in the never-really-die-coop-mode and it's just fun!

  18. I wrote a little Java puzzle game which is here:

    It should work on most platforms, but not the older JVM (before they included the 2D graphics extensions). Nothing amazing, but might keep the kids busy for an hour.

    I'd very much like to see more little puzzle games done in Java to make a bit of a cross-platform collection. Java is (slowly) going GPL and there's heaps of non-free flash games out there so we want to turn it around a bit.


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