On Customization

There are many reasons why a person would want to play solitaire on a computer, rather than with real cards. Most obvious is the cost; it costs nothing to play Microsoft Solitaire or any of the boatload of mobile phone versions (well, depending on your definition of “cost” anyway), while you’d be dropping at least $4 for a decent-quality deck, or upwards of $10 for a deck with a less basic design – that’s discounting the thought that you’re likely to find a deck just lying around in a sizable chunk of households in the United States, and the owner has likely forgotten that they own the deck to begin with.

But the neatest advantage to computer solitaire is that, in a handful of cases, solitaire games can include functions where the user can create their own customized decks and backgrounds, using only whatever pictures are lying around on your hard drive. Actual artists would get the most benefit from this, of course, but even if you have no artistic talent whatsoever, a customizable solitaire game can offer that personal touch, like for instance, embedding a favorite family photo in your game:

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Well, “favorite” might be an overstatement, but it’s what I had on hand.

But then you have strange and quirky people like me, who see a “customize” option and proceed to wreak absolute havoc with the very concept of aesthetics:

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I call this one “Unholy Terror.”

Sadly, a lot of modern solitaires don’t bother including customization features, because it’s so much easier to make money off the player base by charging micropayments for a new in-game deck. But there are a notable few that still do. The above screenshots are from 250+ Solitaire Collection by Alexei Anoshenko, which I plan to profile eventually, and Microsoft Solitaire Collection which I profiled previously; both of these are still available on their distribution platforms of choice. There is one that I greatly respect for its relative simplicity, though, and that one is sadly not sold anymore. I speak of Hardwood Solitaire III, by Silver Creek Entertainment, for a long time the most frivolously pretty solitaire game I’d ever played…and also the home of the best deck and background editor I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

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Hardwood Solitaire III in its more typical namesake form.

Hardwood Solitaire III offers functions not just for changing the raw background image and card backs, but also enables users to change every single common card if they so wish, upload images to use as suit pips, add multiple card backs that the game can randomly choose between, stick a unique photo in every card face, change the font, adjust the border colors, and my personal favorite: the Environment editor.

Environments are Hardwood Solitaire’s fancy, media-rich backgrounds. More than just a wallpaper, Environments can have weather effects like rain and snow, as well as a suite of ambient sound effects that either replace or play below whatever music is playing at the time. This is normally intended for things like chirping birds and distant wildlife, or the occasional thunder strike. When given to someone like me, however, it winds up a bit more like this…

And that is why customization in computer solitaire is the best thing ever.

Unfortunately, the fine folks at Silver Creek Entertainment don’t sell Hardwood III anymore. They’ve since graduated it to Hardwood Solitaire IV, which certainly looks nicer out of the box, but has dropped the card and environment editors in favor of – (ack) – micropayments. No longer can you load your own photographs of cats and, um, the last time you ate at the Black Bear Diner, nor can you load in childish sound effects of you blowing raspberries into the microphone to play at random intervals. No, you’re now expected to pay money for environments and decks of their choosing instead, which is something that honestly doesn’t jive with me. I’m more willing to accept it in a world where the cards have to be manufactured and produced at a factory, if not printed on specially perforated card stock using a template from the local Office Depot store.

But in the digital world, where a deck is literally just a collection of images from a library, why should I buy somebody else’s photos of forests and beach resorts if I’ve got my own, with my own family members standing in them, to boot? The personal touch is lacking in modern in-app-purchase-based solitaire. Give me a solitaire that lets me do whatever I wish with the cards, even at the potential cost of making them mostly unreadable.

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