Ever wonder what it would be like to grow trees, build houses, plant flowers and interact with other real world players all on top of Google Maps? No, I hadn't really thought of that either, but the people at Self Aware Games sure have. They've brought their idea to life via Fleck, a new browser-based game that's currently in beta at Fleck.com. Fleck can be signed up for independently, or you can connect to the game via Facebook to easily start playing in less than 10 seconds. It should be noted that Fleck is technically available to play as a game on Facebook by installing the App, but I found the experience to be much more enjoyable when not confined to the small play area on Facebook. You can also play the game on your iPad.
Fleck's gameplay can be most easily thought of as a combination of MMO and the established Facebook social game. You'll enter into a real-time environment populated by dozens or even hundreds of other real-world players, depending on your geographical location, and can then interact with both those players, and the surrounding environment through a variety of activities. The novelty behind Fleck is the game's world - the real world, as seen through Google Maps. That is, each environment in the game represents a real world place, but rather than seeing a completely animated background, filled with static buildings or plant life, you'll see the white lines of streets, green shaded areas representing parks or forested areas and so on - just as though you were looking up a general location via the Google Maps service.
This isn't to say that animation isn't represented here, but that all happens in the foreground. Rather than simply looking at these plain map sections, you'll be able to plant flowers or trees in 3D to make the world come to life digitally. Like in other social games, you'll need to water plants often or they'll die and wither. In fact, all of the major social gaming elements are here. You have both a stamina and a health bar, and XP meter that fills as you complete tasks (watering or harvesting plants or trees and so on), and will unlock new items to purchase in the store as you level up. There are even free gifts to send to your friends, like new flowers that they may not have unlocked on their own otherwise.
While your actions in Fleck are your own, your alterations are seen by all players, just like the world of an MMO. In this is the beauty of the game. Due to its Google Maps backdrop, you can literally travel anywhere within the United States or Canada, so long as you know an address. This allows you to stand on top of your own real-world home, planting flowers on the nearby streets, or, will even let you travel to what may be a particularly shady part of your real-world neighborhood and make it a better place - at least within the game. You can even travel to landmark locations, such as the Statue of Liberty or the Space Needle, without knowing the address, by just typing the name of a particular landmark into the Travel bar.
One of the first places you'll likely visit is your home address, which is encouraged through the game's ample Quest system. You'll be able to place a small house on any particular address in the game, so this only makes sense. Doing so gives you an automatic spawn point whenever you next login to the game. These quests will also introduce you to the many, many features and various platform integrations available in Fleck.
For one, there's a real-time chat window where you can talk to other players, and there's also the ability to connect your Twitter account to your Fleck profile to send themed tweets. In addition, say you've found a particularly pretty area of the map and want to take a picture of it. There's a button for that too - automatically taking and posting a TwitPic if you've allowed for the connectivity. Are you a Yelp fan? Businesses may even pop-up on your map, allowing you to read that real-world business's Yelp reviews, or allow you to purchase the building in-game for coins. While this may be a lot of cross-promotion, none of it seems forced, allowing you to use as much or as little of it as you please.
Oh, and did I mention there are zombies? Every now and again, you'll come across a grave stone in the middle of a map's area. These don't seem to correlate one-to-one with real world cemeteries (that would be a bit too creepy, I think), but once you find one, you'll be able to start a new zombie battle mini-game. The Zombies of fleck are unlike anything I've seen - bright purple mounds of hair that chase you around the map or spit at your from afar. Your character will automatically shoot at the undead, but you need to click around the map to move and avoid being lunch.
With everything Fleck has to offer, along with its simple novelty, I've found myself pretty hooked right from the start. For the technologically minded, that have Twitter, TwitPic, and Yelp accounts (and so on), or just for those that would like to take a look at places like Disneyland or your local Zoo from a different perspective, Fleck should at least be given a once-over. If you're not won over by its charm, then I guess that just leaves more zombies for me to kill instead.
Play Fleck --->
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Have you tried Fleck, or will you try the game now that you've seen what it has to offer? What do you think of the game so far? Are there any locations you wish the developers would give actual landmarks? Let us know in the comments.