Tuesday, 16 April 2013

"What a view"

This strip has been on the back burner for a while now, as it was accurately predicted to be a lot of work, artistically, for my brother, whose dark alchemy has finally provided us with this offering.

Guns of Icarus Online is an extremely pretty indie game, maybe it’s too pretty. If people are too busy sight-seeing to actually play it - it has the potential to become problematic. I got into Guns of Icarus Online (GoIO) a while ago – and wrote this strip after my initial impressions of the game, so it is a tad old, but I still find it amusing. I am also one of the few people who play it at the moment, which sucks because it’s so much fun. So you’re forgiven for never having heard of this game and I’d be surprised if you had. Thankfully, the community is steadily growing, and the game has recently been on the receiving end of a good deal of exposure, including a booth at PAX East, and publicity on websites such as Destructoid. They also have a kickstarter where they’re trying to establish aspects of a more persistent world, and at the time of writing they’re set to break their first milestone.

You can currently get it on steam and it recently went on sale where you could get it for a hot five damn dollars. There’s a pretty decent likelihood of the occurrence of future sales, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this gem. So what’s the game about? It’s a post-apocalyptic, steam punk setting based around combat involving air ships.

Air ships, people. Air. Ships. Ships, in the air. That alone is almost worth the price of admission, but it gets better. The game revolves around team based “naval” battles where each ship that partakes in the splendor is crewed by individual players. Four players to a ship, each with differing responsibilities, from the pilot, often the one in charge, to the gunner, who y’know, guns, and the engineer, who cleans up after everyone and keeps the ol’ gal in the air. Within this premise is where you will probably derive all of the fun, but also pretty much all of the potential frustration. Squad/team based gameplay that is reliant on tight coordination between individuals has been around for a while, usually made easier through third party software like team speak but more recently implemented within games themselves. It takes games that ordinarily might just be a mess of people running in circles hurling memes at each other in the text chat, like in most first person shooters and mmo’s, and gives it a bit more direction – almost like a purpose. It just feels like an entirely different game experience when you take out the silent gameplay and introduce active vocal input from other friendly players (douchebags with microphones are a different story and maybe a different post). It feels a bit less lonely, too.

Communication and coordination is becoming such a staple now that it’s almost expected in games. So much so that a lot of newer games that revolve around a more focused version of team gameplay like MOBAs – Defense of the Ancients (Dota), Heroes of Newerth (Hon), League of legends (…LoL), and yeah, other games like Guns of Icarus Online depend on it to get any sort of enjoyment from them at all. I’m not even talking about winning, as a more organized team will always beat a team of random players. I’m just talking about “fun” in general. This elusive “fun” can escape pretty quickly in games like Dota, when one or two guys in a team of four, a whopping ¼ to ½ of the team has the potential to wreck the entire thing. Not at all by being trolls, but by refusing to engage in active communication, doing their own thing, or even sight-seeing.  The impact of this is pretty big in small team based games like these, where one person can hurt the experience of at least 3 other people. A teammate that I play GoIO with said it pretty well when we first got into the game, it isn’t when people are new or bad that’s the problem, it’s when they don’t listen and participate in the game they are supposed to be currently playing. In these games, communication and teamwork is the entire point.

There’s a pretty big, and awesome community movement to actively teach the game to new people and to encourage positive teamwork and communication known as “Training Days”, which is a really great thing that is virtually unheard of in these kinds of games. Mostly, new players either endure the weaponised vitriol from the more intolerant veteran players, or are shouted down enough that they just give up on a game, which is something that smaller communities like this can’t afford. So it’s great to see such a welcoming player base for a game this competitive. It almost doesn’t make sense.

In short, get a headset (or turn your volume up), and the game, it’s not perfect but man, it’s pretty damn good.