Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It's time to talk about Draw Something!

My iPhone emits its customary "googoolee" sound to let me know that I have a notification. Usually, this causes me to groan, because it simply means that someone has said something on Facebook DESPITE me turning those notifications off ages ago. But not any more. Not now.

This is because, lately, a notification may well mean that somebody has sent me a new drawing in Draw Something, that game that is currently THE game that everyone seems to be talking about. Yes, the one that is being mentioned constantly all over your Twitter and Facebook feeds. The one that literally came from nowhere to top the App Store charts. And the one that has made OMGPOP, its creators, rich beyond their wildest dreams when Zynga took notice and bought them out, seemingly purely because of this simple, yet dazzling little toy.

I said that. Toy. Because, that is all it really is. If a game is a progression towards a goal via a set of rules, then Draw Something fails this test. There are rules, but they are sparse in the extreme. Take turns to draw, guess what the other player drew, score a point and some coins if you get it right. If you get it wrong, no coins, and start the count again. But, it doesn't matter how many turns you take, there is no end in sight. My partner and I have been on 99 "scored" for the last few days now.

To further compound this lack of a concrete goal, the coins themselves are only useful to unlock more colours in the game. Each word is assigned a difficulty level of 1, 2, or 3 coins, and you choose which to draw. The option to use a bomb to get new words is present, and new bombs can be bought by ... coins! But, as I have already noted, the coins are only to be used in-game for your own benefit, and do not affect the "score" in any way. So, you may as well just always pick the easiest one you can actually draw.

And, if played like that, this is a game that will last you precisely one night. You will giggle, realise the ultimate futility, and may be tempted to blow some cash on buying green. Especially when there is absolutely nothing stopping you from just writing the word on the screen if that is all you care about.

This would be the wrong way to play. For, the real hook comes once you have a partner that you know really well. In these circumstances, you can utilise your in-jokes to draw something that would be completely meaningless to anybody else looking in, but absolutely nailed-on as a perfect clue for your friend. (Several years back, my friend drew a Dime bar in Yahoo Grafitti, and I knew that this meant Armadillo because of an advert starring Harry Enfield, to the total bewilderment of the Americans also playing it with us.)

The second slice of genius comes from the way that your partners drawings are presented to you. Rather than just slapping the finished article in your face, you are treated to an actual recording of the entire drawing process. (They, in turn, get to see your guessing process.) And this often leads to fascinating and hilarious insights into what makes people tick. Once you know how someone thinks, you don't need to have any artistic ability whatsoever in order to work out what you are looking at. Hence, my stick drawing of a woman holding an umbrella was guessed as 'Rihanna' even before I wrote "Ella ella eh eh" on it, much to my surprise and pleasure.

Hence, I look forward to discovering that David has sent me a new drawing, because his drawings are universally hilarious. Sarah and I tend to indulge in a little pre-drawing conversation. Paul takes a long time to get to the point, drawing everything EXCEPT the bloody word, before finally adding it as a perfect coup de grace. And Jeni can literally read my mind! (Which is how it should be being that we have lived together for over 7 years now.)

This learning process, in which you develop a rapport with somebody, in turn leads to you getting braver with them. My first drawing of 'palmtree' was before I had green and brown available to me. (The game starts you off with black, red, yellow, and blue only.) I drew the sea, the island, and the tree. But now? I have sky, with clouds, and even coconuts on the tree. One or two of them have dropped off onto the island itself, and my next drawing may well have Tom Hanks and Wilson on it. Earlier today, I attempted 'Kanye', and 'Snoop', to success in both. Although I don't think I will ever be brave enough to tackle 'Rza'...

And it even works that, because you know somebody, you will choose easier or harder drawings just so that they can have a go! I turned down the fairly straightforward 'Ladder' so that I could instead go for 'Pitfall' for one of my gaming friends. AND HE BLOODY GOT IT! This friend happens to be American, and so his drawing of 'Parrot' naturally referenced Monty Python.


This is where the magic happens, when no two "games" with people are the same.

Soon, Zynga will come in and instigate changes to this marvel. They will almost certainly add the concept of Energy into it, as this is their chosen method of monetisation. And, hey, it works for them. The evidence suggests that they don't need to touch it, but we have been warned in advance about the "Exciting new features" that will be coming to the title. No doubt they will just be to tempt us into more microtransactions, and may well destroy the spirit of the title. But, until then, grab this slice of gaming Nirvana and milk it for all you can!

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