As I am not too sure how I would do a review of a free, Internet-based game that strokes both my basest gaming urges and my basest sexual urges, I decided to forego a classic form of a review and just do a freeform take on Taboo Snaps, a game that tickles and giggles amusingly but never strays towards uncomfortable.
A question of survival
How do you stand out in a market as crowded as is the market of free, browser based Flash games?
Let’s look at it this way: browser based Flash games are the absolute bottom of the list when it comes to interactive pastimes. You only play them when you’re bored in the office and since you’re supposed to be working you can’t just whip out your telephone and have fun playing R-Type and also you happen to have a hostile sysadmin who won’t let you install Zuma. What a dick. So, it’s either Minesweeper or taking the Internet plunge and having some browser based Flash fun.
Looking from the developer perspective, this is a type of product targeting a special kind of customers: extremely bored people. On the positive side of things, this is good because it means they will be amused when offered the slightest distraction. Your game doesn’t need to be complex, deep, elaborate or even pretty. It just needs to nail down one thing about it that makes clicking your mouse moderately fun and it’s a winner. So, it is potentially quite easy to design and not difficult to code.
However, on the flipside of that coin you get exactly what you’re looking for: extremely bored people who will promptly click away from your game when offered slightest other distraction. Add to their boredom and you will lose a player. Lose a player and your business model based on free content subsidised by advertising goes bust.
There’s a serious market out there for this kind of thing. Thousands of people program stuff in Flash, have basic understanding of game design (it helps when the expectations are low, as explained above) and are trying feed you as many ads as possible hoping you stay with their game due to having fun with it.
Yet, it’s a cutthroat world out there. There’s an interesting quote over at IGN, reporting from this year’s Game Developers Conference, describing how actually difficult it is to turn a profit in this market:
As you may or may not know, the issue with Flash games right now is it’s pretty difficult to make a living. As one example: the guy who did Hunted Forever, which is a pretty good Flash title, he made all his stats available. He released five games in a year, which is quite a lot, and one of them was massively successful. The rest did pretty good. And he still only made $35,000. I think he was on the high end of what most Flash guys can expect to make if you’re trying to monetize by sponsorships and advertising.
So, you see, the question we asked at the top is a question of survival.
Well, then, how do you make a free, browser based Flash game stand out from the rest? People have come up with different answers to this one. Some of them are just very beautiful (think Samorost). Some of them are controversial (think… er… I think I’ll skip the examples). Some of them are complex and beautiful (think Chronotron or Scarygirl) while some of them are simple but irresistibly playable (think MyBrute or Canabalt). But you know what’s the easiest way? Four letters:
The answer to the question of survival is, unsurprisingly: sex
Sure, sex sells, even when it’s free (especially when it’s free, that is) but, I hear you thinking, why would anyone play a dumb game when in the mood for love? Why not just skip to watching Flash pr0n?
Good question. Therefore, I hasten to add, it’s not enough to just have tits. You have to attach a game to them, make sure the game is fun in itself and that the nude content is merely the extra incentive. Then you could be onto something. Otherwise you will join the metagenre of sex-based video games that failed miserably as games and failed miserably at being arousing but are great when you need to blog about the blind alleys of the videogaming industry.
When Steerpike asked the Tap-Repeatedly! posse about who’d like to play some Taboo Snaps, I fought my way to the front row using my ninja diplomatic skills and my massive erection. Pac-Man with boobs, I thought to myself. So life can be good after all!!!
Wipe that filthy image from your mind right now, dear reader, because no, Matthew Ford did not just take beloved Namco’s gaming icon and savaged it via trademark infringement and image desecration. His free, browser based Flash game, Taboo Snaps is not Pac-Man and it’s not just about breasts but it contains just about enough light-hearted eroticism and solid game design to be enjoyable.
Apparently, the inspiration for this game came from watching Fantasy Island, whatever that is. I don’t recall having a show with that name on our TV at any time during my childhood but then again I did spend my childhood in a somewhat… exotic country. Anyway, I take it that Fanatsy Island is some kind of a show about… er… beautiful people on a tropical island having fun and drinking cocktails all day and dancing and swimming in pools all night and Taboo Snaps is a light-hearted sexualised, Pac-Manish parody of that show.
The main character of this game is called Taboo. Not a usual name where I come from, but then again it seems that this is a reference to a character from Fantasy Island called Tattoo (now, that name is much more common!) so all you people in the know can go on chuckling and I’ll go on being too lazy to open another tab in my browser and wiki that sucker.
Anyway, Taboo seems to be a photographer which is a respected profession and somewhat even considered fine art. However, Taboo, a dark skinned, Latin-lover type (albeit a pocket sized version of the type), prefers to drag himself through the mud and aim his trusty camera’s lens in the general direction of unsuspecting supermodels. In other words, Taboo is not just your ordinary shutterbug, he’s a sleazy paparazzo!
It would seem that there is this wealthy guy, whose name now escapes me, who likes sharp dressing and has tasty licks of grey in his dark hair and who is the owner of the Ecstasy Island. There he uses every opportunity to throw wild parties for young, attractive women. By “every opportunity” I mean “every single day of the week” and by “young attractive women” I mean “an assortment of starlets, erotic models and whatnot”.
His parties seem to be quite popular as there is an unending stream of beautiful ladies hitting the island every day, but the guy is also a bit of a perv. You see, he employed Taboo exclusively so he can drag himself through the mud and snap unsolicited photos of guests.
At the beginning of the game, you (who play as Taboo) are instructed to go wild and get every photo possible using your mad paparazzo skillz, but here’s the catch: the models don’t seem to mind. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite, they will frequently tell you how excited they are to have their photos taken and how they never looked as sexy as they do in your photos.
Sure, that sounds like mere wish fulfilment but damnit, what else do you expect from video games? I am just happy I don’t have to dodge their bodyguards and lapdogs as I am closing in for the (money)shot.
So, just like in any classical softcore movie, you are a bit of a voyeur but your victims are only too happy to be preyed upon. You now have no excuse to not go out and make the best of the great setup!!!
Pick up thy periscope and crawl
Taboo Snaps is actually a maze-chase game with clear influences from Pac-Man (and the addition of nudity). You remember when I mentioned Taboo having to crawl through mud to get to the honey pot? Well, I meant it literally. What Taboo does is navigate a complex of underground corridors, monitoring the movement of the models above his head at all times and surfacing at strategic points to make a shot or two. The models are represented by moving stars and the strategic points are usually bushes on the surface where Taboo pops out and does his magic.
At first there are shot-quotas you have to fill but no time limit, but as you move through the game (there’s a persistent stats tracking system built in, so you can come back to the game tomorrow and carry on from where you left it off) you will be given free-reign and the instruction to snap as many shots as you can in a time limit that represents a day. Then next day you do the same from start etc.
So, the mechanic is there, what about the incentive to keep playing, I hear you ask?
What part of “boobs” didn’t you understand? Taboo Snaps revolves about snapping photos of beautiful people (mostly women) and getting a steady stream of fresh photos is how it rewards the player. So, if you don’t like looking at tasty shots of semi naked and naked women, this game will not be for you.
If you however do, it’s a great little game. Maze navigation is basic but well crafted. You get powerups that allow you to move faster but, since they come in the form of psychedelic mushrooms (yes, this game is definitely AO), they also summon hallucinatory monsters who will then chase you through the maze. Stand still for a while (say, to take a snap of a model) and you become easier to catch. However, snap the shot successfully and the monsters turn to fruit temporarily. I guess adrenaline high beats ‘shrooms any day of the week. You know what to do with fruit, of course, you’ve played Pac-Man.
In the maze you will also see a bunch of periscope points. These points demand you to collect drops of cleaning fluid so that you can wash the periscope of dirt and take the shots. These drops appear randomly throughout the maze and it’s a collection game within the game. But well worth paying attention to as the periscope points usually grant you kinkier snaps. As they are located indoors, you will have the chance to get pictures of the models with their clothes off and in suggestive poses.
Currently there are about 2000 photos in the game that you get by snapping at the models and Matthew Ford keeps adding more which means there definitely is an incentive to play for anyone into pics of beautiful women. You may argue that the natural target group for the game should then be young boys but I found out that the combination of basic but well designed maze chasing and a procession of great erotic pictures managed to keep me playing and returning to this game. Maybe I am just extra-receptive to porn…
And, speaking of porn, this game makes an effort to give you a tasty, made-to-measure experience. A questionnaire at the beginning will give you choice not only of the type of women you prefer (blondes, brunettes etc.) but will actually make sure that you see only what you’re comfortable with. So, you might end up just seeing girls in swimming suits or you might go for the most hardcore option and see both girls and boys with their genitalia sometimes exposed.
Even at the hardest core level of nudity with both sexes enabled, I noticed that the boys are vastly outnumbered by girls (although you will run into a wang or two if you keep playing persistently) and most pictures are fairly innocent. Ford promises to feature more artistic shots in the future, which I applaud, but as it is, the majority of pictures are perfectly tasty and you generally feel like you’re wading through PG-13 level pornography (if such a thing could ever exist in this tortured reality of ours).
So, What I’m trying to say is: unless you are such a puritan that you think games and sex should not even be on the same planet, Taboo Snaps won’t feel offending in the slightest and while I wouldn’t call it exactly safe for work, it’s far from being a game that sweaty, balding men play in the darkness, behind closed doors, with one hand doing unspeakable things.
On the technical side of things, this is a fairly basic proposal. The graphics are stylish enough but there’s not much of them and all the sound effects seem to have been made by Ford himself. More precisely – his mouth. Not a big deal, some of them are quite useful as sound cues in the maze but you can turn them off if they start being annoying.
As for the photos themselves, they are licensed from professional erotic photographers and I am going to just go out and say that not only the quality is top-notch but that I also managed to fall in love several times. There’s one really lovely redhead in there and if you rate her photos high (a feature you unlock after several rounds), you get a chance to see her more often. I assume that means Ford will go out and license more of her photos, so this alone will keep me playing for a while.
What of the ads, I hear you ask, are they intrusive? Well, in addition to the usual sidebars of FriendFinder/ GoogleAds that you would find at any website flirting with erotica in any shape or form, the loadtimes between stages (well, between days really, as everything happens in the same environment) feature clickable ads. Some of these will take you to places featuring hardcore pr0n but again it’s the top echelon of the industry (like Hustler) so you wont have to worry about landing on any of those obnoxious blinking websites with popup windows trying to spam you with terabytes of allegedly free goat-based pornography while pumping your harddrive full of malware. I actually clicked on some of these ads, not just to be able to report of the results but because I was genuinely interested in seeing the featured girls do some nasty things. I clicked them and even tapped them repeatedly… with my penis!!!
So there you have it. The way to stand out from the crowd, it seems, is to be funny, competent and just sexier than the rest. Apparently it works in the market of free, browser based Flash games and, who knows, it might even work in real life.
To play Taboo Snaps, please kindly point your browser to:
Just make sure your boss is an understanding, warm human being, or, failing that, a voluptuous, sex-crazed woman who happens to have a thing for geeks who can’t decide between games and porn and are trying to do both at the same time. Happy snapping!!!