like most people in marketing I don’t really need any more addictions. and yet, I’ve added two more in recent months, Angry Birds and Harbor Master.
most addictions are so much fun, you really don’t want to over-examine them, lest they somehow become less addictive. but some addictions are just infuriatingly big wastes of time, resources, emotional capital, etc.
such is the case with Angry Birds and Harbor Master.
they’re obviously very different games, and I’ve noticed one has a greater hold on me than the other. to help understand why, I thought a breakdown would be helpful.
OBJECT OF THE GAME
Harbor Master – the goal is to park cargo ships in various docks, wait for the cargo to be unloaded, then remove the empty ships – all while making sure no ships crash into each other. the more cargo you unload, the more points you earn.
Angry Birds – the pigs have stolen all the birds’ eggs, and now the birds are understandably angry. the goal is to use a slingshot to launch the birds toward various building structures to try and kill the pigs with whichever selection of birds you’ve been given. points are earned based on how few birds you use, as well as how much of the building structure you destroy in the process. the points determine how many stars you earn. earn 3 stars, and the next level of the game is unlocked. there are also hidden golden eggs which unlock even more content.
Advantage: Angry Birds. games are a form of escape, and there’s nothing escapist about manual labor. parking ships and unloading cargo is hard work. just ask the cast of The Perfect Storm. by essentially having people perform the duties of a real-life profession, the makers of Harbor Master are offering a cruel reminder of the world in which we live, not an escape from it.
Harbor Master – there are three different types of ships, each with different speeds. some ships have yellow cargo; some have purple; some have both. there are also occasional hurricanes, which throw ships off course just like in real life.
Angry Birds – there are six types of birds, and each type of bird has different capabilities. (imagine if the A-Team were created by ornithologists) and there are multiple levels, each with entirely different challenges and building materials you must destroy. in addition, the company that makes the games, Rovio, continues to add new levels every couple months.
Advantage: Angry Birds. combining the various bird skillsets with the various building materials gives players countless options to play each level and kill those pigs once and for all.
Harbor Master – the rich, colorful environment of a loading dock has been flattened and minimized into something just slightly above 8-bit. when boats get too close to each other, a loose red outline appears around the ships.
Angry Birds – while not exactly something out of a James Cameron movie, the Angry Birds environment does a good enough job of establishing a world that captures the anger and frustration of a bird that had its eggs stolen by pigs.
Advantage: Angry Birds. clearly.
Harbor Master – there is a simple Mario Bros-like tune that plays throughout. Other than that, the only sounds are of various ships as they honk when thrown off course, or seconds before they crash.
Angry Birds – the tension of the slingshot gives way to the birds yelling “weeeeeee” as they fly into the buildings. each building material has its own sound as well. the birds who haven’t been chosen yet make noises of anticipation and excitement.
Advantage: Angry Birds, but barely. the sounds of Harbor Master play a helpful role by alerting the user to an impending crash, assuming you can find the endangered ships fast enough to save them and their respective crews. but the sounds of Angry Birds adds to the fun and joy of the AB experience (as we veterans call it), and that’s why we play games in the first place.
Harbor Master – each game starts at zero, and there’s only one way to score – you have to unload that cargo. so once you get scores into the hundreds, it can be a good 45 minutes before you can challenge your record.
Angry Birds – because Angry Birds is broken into multiple levels and limited to a handful of birds on each level, you can easily play a whole level in under a minute. if you have more time, you can play multiple levels.
Advantage: Angry Birds. the time required by Harbor Master forces you to make a decision you might not want to make: do you go for a new Harbor Master record, or do you prepare dinner for your child?
Harbor Master – this game seems made for the iPad. it utilizes the space well, adding detail, docks, etc. that can’t be found on the iPhone version. the iPhone version seems like a tease, and no one likes a tease except an audience at a burlesque show.
Angry Birds – while this too brings additional rich detail in the iPad version, the iPhone version doesn’t sacrifice nearly as much. with a few hundred spare hours, you can get three stars on either device.
Advantage: Angry Birds. I always have my iPhone with me. my iPad is actually my wife’s, which means the only time I get to use it is when I distract her with a small kitchen fire or something. so I have to go with the better iPhone experience here.
as a guy, I like leaving a mess wherever I go. so there’s a great sense of satisfaction to play a level of Angry Birds and walk away leaving a smoldering ruin of destroyed buildings and egg-sealing pig carcass. with Harbor Master, the docks are very neat and clean. and once you get done unloading a ship, you actually have to tidy up by removing the ship. score one more for Angry Birds.
secondly, I don’t really appreciate the condescending tone of Harbor Master. if you unload, say, five or six loads of cargo before two ships crash on your shift, the game will say, “Nice job!” the fact is, that’s not a nice job at all. such a performance in the real would have you fired, and rightly so. with Angry Birds, if you don’t kill all the pigs on a level, you receive the message, “Level Fail.” harsh? sure, but at least they’re not offering false encouragement.
lastly, there’s the buzz factor. I’ve heard people talk about being addicted to Angry Birds at places other than support groups – stores, parties, parks, work. there’s even a popular video about an Angry Birds Peace Accord.
no one talks about Harbor Master. like cleaning lint from the drier, safely parking ships is something we do privately and without note.
so here’s the surprising thing: my addiction to Harbor Master is far greater than my addiction to Angry Birds. (I’m confident the BCS poll would’ve reached that same conclusion.)
is it because safely parking ships is a transferrable, marketable skill? sure, that’s in the back of my mind.
but more importantly, with Angry Birds, once you get 3 stars on all levels, you’re finished, and the incentive to play practically disappears. with Harbor Master, there’s no conclusion. you can always get a better score, so there’s always room for improvement. and the ability to continuously improve provides one hell of an incentive.
i'm thinking i should’ve learned that already from golf.