Happy Birthdays and Birthdays the Beginning


I was recently reminded of this game when my dad and I were talking about Spore because one of the kids was playing it. This, of course, led to a conversation about various evolution theories…

In the blink of an eye, something happens by chance – when you least expect it – sets you on a course that you never planned on, into a future you never imagined.

Nicholas Sparks

So, this sandbox game has been released in 2017 under two different names: Happy Birthdays on the Nintendo Switch, and Birthdays the Beginning on the PS4 and PC (via Steam). They are all the same game, the only difference is the platform it’s being played on. The creator is Yasuhiro Wada, known for his work on Story of Season (aka Harvest Moon) and Little Dragons Cafe.

click for website
click for website

But what is it?

The premise of the game is you find one of your grandfather’s books and inside is a magic map to an uncharted planet. You are transported to said new land and have been promoted from a child into a deity where you get to terraform your land.

Add water, determine how deep or shallow you want it. Add hills and mountains, the possibilities are endless. However, what you do to your land directly affects what species are able to live. If not enough food sources are available, species can die. Temperature changes will alter what type of land it is (snowy, tropical, desert, etc), and ultimately determine what species are available to you. You will also affect evolution with your changes. Species already present may change to adapt, while you can end up with totally new species.

using the capture tool

There are several different playable elements to the game. There are the standard and timed missions you can complete, hidden achievements, and completing your evolution chart. When a new organism shows up, you “take a picture” in game and it is automatically studied and is added to your data.

part of the evolutionary tree

The most common complaints I hear about the game are the graphics. The game was designed using clay figures so you can turn the camera at any angle and your animals and plants will still maintain their shape integrity. Unlike many sim games, you are in control of the camera, rather than having a static view. You essentially have an active 3D model of a diorama.

Please note, this game is not considered an educational game. That being said, it does contain basic elements in regards to evolution, ecosystems, habitats, and is a nice intro for learning how to identify organisms (via their data cards, which are mostly comparable to organisms of the same species not in game.) It is possible for extinct animals to reappear once the ecosystem fits their needs, which can be amusing if you have humans on your planet.

Pros:Cons:
The tutorial walks you through everythingThe tutorial is not skippable
The evolutionary tree gives tips on how to evolve new organismsSometimes you have to wait billions of years for that new evolution to trigger (most often it is due to a lacking population of a food source)
Excellent music, very relaxing (link is to entire soundtrack)… that you can listen to while waiting for things to evolve
You can see changes happening real timeWhich may not work for a child with attention span issues
The game gets more challenging to balance the ecosystems as organisms advance (critical thinking and problem solving)Some children may need help
There are “rare” species to find, thus making the game challenging and ongoing once the missions are already beatCurrently there are only 10 missions, but they take a long time to complete each one. Don’t worry about someone beating this game within a couple of hours…
The game has a story line behind it, unlike most sandbox gamesBut the story line isn’t the heavy part of the game and you will often even forget the story as you play.
DLC’s for placing objects in your world (and possibly more missions) are planned for release.

PS4 has 9 cosmetic DLC’s available, where as PC has one so far.

Currently, if you beat the entire game and fill out the evolutionary tree, there is little replay value. At least as an adult, the kids haven’t filled out the tree yet.

This is the original trailer

In closing

It’s a cute game worth looking into, especially if you are trying to get your child interested in science or they already are. You are rewarded for your critical thinking and hard work vs many instant reward games you see on smart devices.

Currently prices vary for digital downloads, $40 on PS4, $40 on Nintendo Switch, and $20 on Steam. Physical copies for PS4 can be harder to come by, but used ones are usually under $20, where as used games for the Nintendo Switch are often more expensive than the digital download. (If you do find one cheap, it’s often not in English, so be alert).

Summer is too hot… and HOGs


cover art by AAAGameArtStudio

There’s a heatwave everywhere. Our gaming area (and my filming area) is near windows and with the removal of several trees thanks to the winter storm and our tiny tornado, we have a lot more sun. This makes the house hot. Thing 2 and I have fans running almost where ever we go. This has made it hard to do some board gaming.

I have allowed more video games during this time. I found myself busy with crafts and working on links for special needs camps (available on the links page). I’d be doing more crafts, except my fingers have blisters.

HOGs:

What are HOGs?

HOGs are an acronym for Hidden Object Games (not to be confused with the hog pictured). The object of the game is to literally find objects hidden in pictures, some games will include puzzles with them. I’m sure you’ve seen tons of adverts for HOGs on your smart devices that require energy to play. Once you run out of energy, you have to come back later. I find these games annoying. Good news is there are full games that you can purchase and never have to worry about energy.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The history of HOGs

excerpt from I SPY

Hidden object books were the first in this genre. The oldest being Where’s Waldo in 1987. (I thought I had all the books, but apparently 2 more were released in the 2000’s…). I Spy followed suit in 1992. Look and Find decided to follow up and incorporated major franchises into their hunting books. These books are still popular today.

Then came the disaster of the Saturday Morning cartoons trying to bring the books to the “boobtube”. Followed yet again, by more disasters of HOGs on early platform gaming.

Case in point, the original Nintendo, aka NES, released the Where’s Waldo game. Even if you were a master at the books, the pixilation, the poor movement controls, plus the timer made this game extremely stressful and unenjoyable for many. It’s right up there with Atari’s ET in my opinion.

Thankfully things improved as computers evolved.



An in-game screenshot from the 1991 NES video game Where’s Waldo?.
Fair use

How are HOGs beneficial?

  • HOGs promote attention to detail. Children who play HOGs get better at focusing on details of other visual challenges
  • HOGs increase vocabulary. Most have a list for the player to find. If the player doesn’t know what an item is, they can use hints to learn where (and what) the item is. The only issue I have with this is the game developers often get musical instruments wrong. It’s a pet peeve of mine. This is also beneficial depending on where the game is developed as other countries may have other words for items.
  • Instills good work habits. Because most HOGs now come with a story line, many kids want to continue the game to see what happens next. This promotes longer attention spans and focusing on the end goal rather than getting quick and easy achievements.
  • Self confidence boosting! Having a child finish one on their own, even with hints, is a huge boost in their confidence.
  • Improved visual perception. Children will be better at recognizing shapes and objects when they aren’t in their “typical” environment.

Benefits of HOGs for special needs kids?

Including the list above…

  • Most HOGs you can’t die in or have minimal consequences for mistakes. This can help with anxiety or anger issues
  • Most newer HOG’s have a relaxed mode, meaning there is no timer.
  • HOGs are run with a mouse or your finger on a smart device
  • Story driven… most have closed captions or the option for captions and newer ones have voice overs for those struggling to read

Suggestions on games?

We have tons of HOGs. Many of them come in a series. It all depends on your fav genre. Please note, I have found the best place to get HOGs both on the computer and the smart devices is from Big Fish Games. You do purchase the game, but that means no adds, no energy, and you can install and reinstall as much as you want. They also give you the feature to try games before you buy. That feature has been a major game changer in this house. Here’s a list of our favorite series by genre (all photos provided by Big Fish Games). Note: if you see one that says “Collector’s Edition”, it includes DLC and the strategy guide. Usually the strategy guide is sold separately and the DLC is exclusive to the Collector’s Edition.

Super natural and horror
12 games and counting. This is a fav in our house. It takes stories written by Edgar Allen Poe and turns them into playable stories where you are the assistant to a detective and need to solve them. No timer, added puzzles, spooky themes. Thing 3’s fav series. (warning, horror themes and murder).
fantasy
2 games in the series. You attend a magical school much like Hogwarts. There is a “timer”, your cauldron fire can go out.
other
9 games in the series thus far. Super cute game series when you are in the holiday mood. Some are versions of Christmas classics, others are blended fairy tales. No timer.

4 games and completed, this is definitely a spookier one. No timer, added puzzles. Warning: lots of ghosts and mention of how they became ghosts.
I think there are 7 games in this series. It follows a human princess in a fantasy world. There are various puzzles mixed in. No timer. Thing 4 and 5 love this game series.
5 games, all different locations or time periods. Beautiful scenes.
6 games in the series and completed. The theme of the series is you are visited by ghosts of famous historical figures, but they need your help to solve mysteries from the past so they can rest in peace. No timer, added puzzles, spooky themes/historical fiction
16 games and still going. One of our favorite series by far. This series tells the “true” stories behind your favorite fairy tales. All have a Grimm or Anderson like twist to what’s going on.
3 games in the I Spy franchise. Just like the books, except with a voice over. No timer, some easy puzzles added, and replay changes some of the riddles.
22 games and counting, not including the spin off games and novel series (this is a huge series). This is a favorite of the house, we often play it as a whole family. The first couple of games start out mundane, with normal crime solving HOGs, but by the 3rd one, it quickly goes supernatural. After the 3rd case, you are now specialized in the supernatural… all the games tie together (except the first 2). I suggest you play them in order. Timer leave by 5th or 6th game, if memory serves. Lots of added puzzles including Rube Goldberg machines. One of the harder HOGs. warning: “freak shows”, haunted houses, general macabre. Thing 2 avoids many of these game nights.
This is a stand alone game, but all the kids loved this one. Along with the hidden object scenes, you also make potions. No timer, simple enough for preschoolers.
7 games in series. This is just a relaxing game with interesting scenes on cruise ships. The kids like to find objects belonging to the lost and found and we make up stories about what kind of people would lose such items everywhere. No timers, added puzzles
3 games and completed. This is a pirate trilogy following a cursed pirate, a cursed town, and the scariest name to all pirates, Davy Jones. No timers, added puzzles. warning: sea monsters and ghosts. This was Thing 2’s favorite for years, she had a pirate fixation.
12 games in the series. Theme is a princess has to save her kingdom and her family form evil forces. No timer, added puzzles
11 games in series. I’ll admit I prefer Park Ranger or the Cruise Director. The scenery is prettier… except for the trash you have to clean up. It still has the lost and found bonus items and recyclables. No timer, added puzzles.

In closing…

I’d seriously recommend an HOG for you to try. Figure out what genre works best for you. Try before you buy! Play the games with your child(ren) so they can learn how to do them. Pick series you may want to play as a family. Remember, the family that plays together stays together!