Saturday, January 24, 2009

kingdom of loathing

Although my sabbatical is fast becoming a distant memory and the school semester has begun, I have been lucky enough to stumble upon a couple "casual gaming" gems as of late. Casual games allow you to blow off some steam after a long day without taxing your brain too much, and take a break from writing without wasting hours of your time. You should be able to get in and get out quickly and safely. Ya know?

Today I'll tell you about Kingdom of Loathing, which just might be a unique experience in the gaming world. First off, it's completely free (although the hosts do accept donations to keep the site up and running). You can visit here now and get started immediately. Ostensibly, KoL (shorthand) is a browser-based role-playing game with loads of content, pop-culture references, and absurd humor. It borrows (and mocks) heavily from classic RPG-systems, like Dungeons & Dragons, allowing for character creation, development (levelling), questing, and item collection. But trust me, you'll never take it too seriously - and if you do, it just means you're probably having one hell of a good time.

So, you're an advtenurer ("An Adventurer is You!") in the Kingdom of Loathing. You can choose one of six classes: Seal Clubber, Turtle Tamer, Pastamancer, Sauceror, Disco Bandit, or Accordion Thief. These sound meaningless, but it turns out that the first two are melee-oriented, the next two magic-oriented, and the last two, roguish. Your interface looks like this:

This is all browser-based, so you'll be playing in Firefox or Safari or whatever you use. To visit a location, or check your inventory, you simply click on the corresponding icon. Pretty intuitive. Once you start playing, you'll soon find yourself on a quest, fighting monsters, looting items. Everything in this game is tongue-in-cheek, and the humor is obscure and witty. I often find myself looking up pop-culture references that I don't recognize. For example...

Can you place the "I'm comin', Elizabeth!" reference?

You'll also note that the artwork is predominantly of the stick-figure variety, which suits the experience perfectly. Remember, this is a casual game - not a multi-million dollar effort like Fallout 3. Here's another example of a recent scenario I encountered, in a location called "South of the Border"...

So, who are the two roosters fighting in this cock-fight? And who would you bet on? I decided to opt out, walking away in disgust and this is what you get...

Great. This is what I mean by clever writing that keeps you smirking all the way through. There is so much of this, you almost can't believe it - but then you realize that the creators have been adding content to this since 2003 and the process is still going on. It's the ultimate in expandable, modifiable content.

Even the descriptions of items and your equipment are amusing:

Warning: KoL does possess some serious "adventure-game" obscurity. If you don't know what that means, think back to Zork - or Myst - and remember some of the wacky things you needed to do to move the game forward. As in "climb the tree to find the key in the bird's nest which you then use to open the fireplace to find the zombie finger which you use to poke the dragon...etc..." KoL isn't quite that bad, but you will have to think outside-the-box on occasion and engage in some trusty trial-and-error.

But I still haven't mentioned the best part of KoL. To do anything meaningful in the game (like fight a monster, or craft an item, or make some food), you need to spend an "adventure" point. You only get 40 of these adventure points per day. And that's a real day, like our own 24 hour cycle. This puts a brilliant, creative limit on how much time you can actually waste playing KoL on a daily basis. You can usually breeze through your allotted 40 adventures in under an hour. Of course, you can drink cocktails and eat meals to gain adventures, but ultimately you'll have to put it all aside and wait until tomorrow (or the next day). I actually wish more games had some kind of built-in time limit like this. It extends the experience, and forces you to appreciate every moment the game offers you - much like slowly chewing every morsel of a delicious meal.

Overall, I give it a hearty recommendation, even if you decide to give up on it after a few sessions. And thanks to RPS and FP for pointing me in the direction of KoL.

1 comment:

  1. If anyone needs more convincing-

    "Perhaps you can defeat him by kicking him in the nards. That's right. Wolfman's got nards."