“Fantage” is a contraction of the words “Fantastic Age”, with dual meanings: that the target audience is 7 – 14 year olds, which is presumably a pretty neat age to be, and that the virtual environment itself is fantastic.
I was not overly impressed by Fantage, having previously encountered “Super Secret“, though a good friend of mine, who is within the age range for which the environment is intended, found Fantage to be fun and interesting. Fantage has been around since 2007, and their 40+ servers are often packed to capacity; it would seem that despite my personal misgivings, it is a very popular place to go.
The registration process is quick and simple, getting you into the virtual environment with a minimum of fuss. You get to choose the gender of your avatar, and do a little customisation of hair and outfit. Choosing a user name with a number in it is typical – when I was online, every avatar except mine had a number in the user name.
The Premium Membership price compares favourably with that of Club Penguin. A membership confers some advantages: you have much greater choice in what you can buy, you get access to luxury rooms to entertain guests in, and you are given 1000 stars when you first join. At USD$5.99 per month (less for more months paid for at a time), memberships cost little more than a pocket money allowance for that age.
Overall Look and Feel
“Eye candy” is the term that comes to mind in describing the overall look of Fantage. Eye-wateringly bright colours and pretty pastels coat the surface of all buildings, and exterior and interior landscapes. Everything that can be shiny has been made shiny. Everything is smoothed and simplified in shape, like a baby’s stuffed cube. It’s all a bit reminiscent of a child’s TV program, more than of a child’s painting or drawing. It all seems much more geared towards the tastes of girls rather than boys, though there were no shortage of male avatars present online each time I was there: everything is super cutesy.
Avatars are tiny; in anime or manga terms, super-deformed, with overly large heads, huge eyes, and tiny bodies. It makes for a very cute, though entirely unrealistic, appearance.
When the servers are heavily loaded, there is an amazingly large amount of lag. You can wait minutes to be able to move from one place to another, or have huge pauses in the middle of mini-games that make them unplayable.
Navigation and Movement
Navigation of the world of Fantage is accomplished via the world map. There are several places to access, including Uptown, Downtown, and the Carnival. You mouse over a location to bring up the title of the area and a listing of which games and places can be found there, and left click to travel there.
For the most part, movement in Fantage is by left mouse click; you just click on the location you want to travel to. Every avatar owns a skateboard, and floats from one location to another within each local map. Therefore, there’s also no walking animation: avatars never get off their skateboards. There are however animations for gestures, like waving, or jumping, for example.
Purchase of Goods
“Stars” are the currency of Fantage. Stars can be earned by playing mini-games; you also get an initial payout of stars when you begin a premium membership. Considering how difficult it can be to make hair and outfits for avatars of this size and shape, there’s a surprising range of goods available.
Hair, clothing, shoes, accessories, and skateboards, are available for purchase, as you might expect, however there are also extravagant costumes, phone accessories, and furniture on offer as well.
For the most part, you need to be a premium member to be able to purchase items. While each shop is packed full of things to look at, the only thing you can do once you have entered the store is to look at the store catalogue and interact with that.
Meeting People and having Friends
As with other “tween” oriented virtual environments, there’s not a whole lot of communication action to be seen. Possibly on the days when there are lots of people online, they are just IMing each other, instead of chatting out loud. I didn’t manage to have any contact with anyone else while I was online.
You get a buddy list which will hold up to 200 names.
The mini-games have two purposes: to entertain, and to allow the player to earn stars to spend on items.
The mini-games are essentially casual, with low entry requirements. The rules are simple, and are usually encapsulated in a sentence or two of explanation. Most of the mini-games are single player, though there are at least a couple of multi-player games. The mini-games in Fantage cross a fair spectrum of game types, some requiring good hand-eye coordination, others needing good estimation skills, yet others requiring good pattern-matching skills.
Despite these benefits, I found the games to be unsatisfactory. The games failed to engage me, being either far too simple, or too difficult. The difficulty often did not ramp up well either, in games where the difficulty was variable. I found there to be an insufficient number of games; if you were drawn only to one type of game, likely there’d only be one or two available for you to choose from.
Missions lump together several mini-games not otherwise available into a theme-consistent whole with a storyline.
I didn’t find the mission itself to be all that attractive, but, despite some grammatical and punctuation errors, the interplay between yourself and some of the characters is decidedly amusing and entertaining.
Missions are probably the best part about Fantage.
Overall, Fantage is a pretty good environment, but not outstanding. It would be a nice, safe place for a child to start learning about virtual environments, however I think that most children would grow out of it quickly.