Hi, all! I’m not going to talk about why it’s been months since I’ve published a post with LTG. I can complain that life gets in the way all I want, but there are excuses and there are results (and this post is the result of one too many excuses).
So on to the not-playing of games.
Many of you have heard of the term “idle game.” The first inclination is to proudly exclaim from your soapbox of so-called “active gaming” that the concept of an idle game doesn’t make any sense! Well, open your eyes, ears, and any other orifices required to play video games, you plaster saint, because we’re going to expand your horizons.
An “idle game” is a game in which you’re allowed to progress by simply doing nothing. It’s not exactly a new concept: farm elves have existed in Harvest Moon for ages, who assist you on your farm with planting, watering, weeding and harvesting. If you put in the right amount of time and effort building up your assistants, you can have a functional, modest-sized farm and do absolutely nothing! Granted, lots of people would say that’s no fun and they’d probably be right. Harvest Moon isn’t designed for you to sit on your bum and watch the cash roll in while your romance options marry their appallingly obvious “rivals” for your affections! Go do stuff! Kill monsters! Catch fish! Throw turnips into a specific pool of water because you’re masochistic enough to marry the Harvest Goddess!
But what if a game was designed specifically to make the building up of your resources and assistants as engaging and entertaining as possible? What if, by merit of your clever planning in the way you buy upgrades, spend resources and manage your time, your automatic progress through the game was significantly accelerated? What if significantly accelerating your progress continually was the only way to get through the game at all?
Out of all of these annoyingly theoretical questions comes the first idle game we’re looking at:
I love talking about idle games with someone who dislikes the concept and then dropping this on them, because more often than not, they’ll say, “Oh, yeah! I… uh…
played that game for 18 hours straight I’ve heard of that game!”
The idea is that you click to generate cookies, and then buy extra clickers to click automatically, then buy grandmas to bake cookies, then buy cookie factories, and mines, and cookie demon portals, and etc. etc. until all of the grandmas that you’ve enslaved gain superpowers, unite to become a hive mind and try to destroy the world.
No, I’m not joking. Google “grandmapocalypse.” It’s the first suggested result when you type in “grandma.”
Now, surprisingly, there are a multitude of idle games out there. The clicker games (of which Cookie Clicker is the most famous representative) are but one category of a large, interesting, kind of strange genre of games that all share the single quality that waiting is rewarded significantly. Somehow.
I’m going to go through my favorites of a whole bunch of different kinds of idle games. I’m sorry in advance for recommending you play all of these, but I do.
A Dark Room
This game, which began as a text-based “incremental game” here, sold tremendously well in the App store last year, and was even popular enough to be mentioned by The New Yorker. That’s right: idle games in real-people news.
The idea is that you start by lighting a fire in a dark room. I can’t believe I had to waste a sentence telling you that. The game slowly gets more and more complex as a result of your actions: a stranger walks into the now not-so-freezing room, and offers you the opportunity of a lifetime: to wear porkpie hats and cook meth.
Just kidding, it progresses a lot more slowly than that. You gather wood, which turns into houses, which are then occupied by villagers (who can gather wood while you wait, of course), which slowly expands until you’re worrying about whether or not you should be spending more of your resources gathering furs, mining iron or training chefs to work in your charcuterie.
But the best part of this game is that there is a definite story (no, it doesn’t involve grandmas), that unfolds in a very visceral, environmental way. You are the character, you make the decisions, you find out about the world’s past and find out about your own past as a result. It’s glorious, and it wouldn’t work if it weren’t an idle game.
All the Other Games
The fact of the matter is that with idle games, there are more exceptions than rules. You’ll find that some games resemble others more closely, but the vast majority of them have their own niche. So let’s rapid-fire some of the most addictive:
In this game, you manage a completely modular nuclear power plant. You have heat sinks, fans, plating, reflectors, capacitors, and (of course) LOTS of fissile material! I love this game because it doesn’t smack you in the face with its “idle-ness,” meaning it’s possible (and often preferable) to play the game in your computer chair instead of while making a sandwich for your girlfriend.
I also like it because it doesn’t hold your hand the way most idle games do: if you screw up in a clicker, you just have to click to get more resources. If you screw up in an idle fighting game, it just takes a long time to kill that next bad guy.
If you screw up in this idle game, your reactor melts down and everything blows up. Huzzah.
It also doesn’t seem to be as easy to crunch the numbers for this game. In so many games, it boils down to: “Well, getting that next upgrade will cost me 1.7 million golden turkey droppings, which yield altogether 97,000 bowling balls per second, and the upgrade will only give me 96,000, so I’d better wait until I have the laser eye surgery upgrade.” But in Reactor Incremental, we’ve got so many options and configurations that require differing amounts of attention and stability, so you can build your setup without worrying about if it’s maximizing efficiency.
Yes, the creator of XKCD made an idle game. It’s loosely based around his comic “Time”, and really doesn’t care if you play it or not. The pacing is much slower than many idle games, and the interconnectedness of everything you do in the game makes it unique and interesting. Also, watching the story unfold at only a slightly less glacial pace than the original comic unfolded is kind of cool. As idle games go, this is the most idle you will get, but it’s still worth playing if you work a desk job.
Finally, the game that will utterly destroy your life:
I’m not even going to put its picture here. It’s too dangerous. This game is 5 years old and is simply the perfect destroyer of time. The title of the game is true: it is the Anti-Idle, in more ways than one. It is the idle game that will obliterate all other idle games and conquer the universe, and it is “Idle in name only,” in that you can technically progress just by idling (and trust me, you will leave your computer on all night to that end), but there are so many different things to do in the game that you never get bored, that there is always some other bonus to get, that there is always another unlock to achieve, and a level to ascend. It is massive, glorious, and incredible.
Play it at your own risk. Cookie Clicker’s addictiveness is like diner coffee compared to Anti-Idle’s crystal meth (mentioned twice in one blog post! A new LTG theme, perhaps?).
I know. It’s a lot to process. I should also warn you, that in many idle games there is an option to “ascend” and gain some sort of super-powerful resource that dramatically increases your normal resource production… at the cost of starting over from level 1 again. Many things are only unlockable with these special resources, and that means that you’ll be wasting all your time again, and again, and again.
If you still don’t get why they’re so addictive, just try one for a bit. If the next time you get up from your computer, it’s 2am in the morning and you don’t know on which day, don’t blame me.
I’m just expanding your horizons.
About Isaac Smith
Isaac Smith is a lifelong gamer and musician. He is deep into the indie game scene, and is a dabbling programmer who enjoys making games and writing music for them. As a writer, he began at Another Gamer's Blog, a blog dedicated to the discussion of video games, their history, construction, social impact and artistic merit. He does much of the same at his new home, here at Last Token Gaming!