10 July 2012

To the Skies

Want to be the next Richard Branson? Want to spend your free time flying planes around the world and earn honor, prestige, and fake money? Have I got the game for you. Pocket Planes from NimbleBit, makers of Tiny Tower. I briefly mentioned Pocket Planes a few weeks ago but now that I'm deep into it, I thought I'd come back to tell you more. Short verdict: I love it.

While it took a while to ramp up and get enough capital to really start moving people around, by the time I hit Level 7 or so, I was totally invested in my mini-airline. Pocket Planes is one of those games that seems a little boring at first but once you get into it, the options multiply. Which routes are the best? What planes should I invest in? Do I want to go East toward Asia or West toward North America? Is it worth spending precious bux to outfit my pilots in fun costumes? These are the kind of things you'll be thinking about the further you get into the game.

Another side benefit of playing Pocket Planes is that I feel like I'm learning a bit of world geography. I totally suck at knowing where cities are -- the only map I studied growing up was the one used in Risk -- but Pocket Planes is helping me out with that. My start city was in Recife, Brazil and now I cruise through Fortaleza, Teresina, Araguina, Porto Velho, Cuiaba, and Asuncion on the daily. Next up I'm gonna conquer Central America.

While the in-game population numbers and flight distances aren't entirely accurate, it's close enough to gauge the size of a city. Helpful info nuggets also let you learn a bit about the cities you're flying in and out of. For example, did you know Bogota was "The Athens of South America" with its many universities and libraries? I sure didn't. My recommendation for starting off is to pick the continent you know the least about. Then you can say you're getting educated while obsessing over your planes. Or you can try your hand at either of these Sporcle quizzes: countries of the world and countries by capitals. I did pretty terrible.

Usually I like to check out a few strategies before playing these sort of games but for Pocket Planes I just leapt in. That meant I made some major mistakes. For example, in my eagerness to expand to another continent, I immediately opened up an airport in Monrovia. Unfortunately my planes from Recife didn't have the range to cross the Atlantic. Whoops.

After some early hiccups, I've been testing out the hub and spoke model because I want to rack up cash. Previously I just flew around to cities that sounded interesting. Now I feel like I was hired to transform a regional airline into a global powerhouse. That means eliminating small airports, upgrading airplanes, and concentrating on using cost effective strategies. My goal is to be the airline of choice for all those little digital Phileas Foggs in my life.

Also, closing an airport costs money, sending parts to your friends costs bux, recommissioning planes from the airport, and just about everything needs a bit of pre-planning. Of course you can't really mess up in Pocket Planes but it really hurts to lose valuable bux because you didn't plan ahead. Tips that I initially scoffed at but now wholly recommend:

  • Rename your airplanes for easy identification. For example, I'd use "2P1C7" to indicate that the plane carries two passengers, one cargo, and has a range of 700 miles. Or "4C945" to show that it carries four cargo and can go 945 miles.
  • Color code your fleet. This helped tremendously. My long-haulers are white/orange while my regional airplanes are splashed in red/yellow. This visual identification allowed me to select planes easily and also had the side benefit of making me feel like I was controlling a real fleet. "Everything is painted the same, this must legit!" If only they let me make Shamu planes. Future partnership idea?
  • Join a flight crew. At first I just wanted to start my own crew but then realized that I'd never win any prizes that way. By joining up and doing world events, you can win exclusive airplane parts and bux. This wiki explains how Events work. (Make sure you do the five required drop offs or you won't get the prize.) I feel like a bandwagoner but for now I'm hopping aboard #jayisgames for a bit to get free bux. Until NimbleBit adjusts flight crew sizes -- there's no incentive to keep your team small right now, which is lame -- I'll be piggybacking off the work of others. Just like in real life...
Have I sold you on Pocket Planes? Are you ready for take off? If you do end up playing, come find me and we can trade parts and have discussions about why it matters that all our fake employees are upbeat and that our costumer service is spot on. Then we'll go find out which IRL airlines most closely matches ours. It'll be grand.