Windborne and the Soul of Games

Early access is often hit or miss on Steam, Kickstarter, and elsewhere. It’s not just about setting expectations, but about communication. I find that the best thing is to head for the forums. If the customers are clamoring for communication, it will probably be bad. That’s why I haven’t funded Godus or Castle Story even though conceptually they are a must-see. Communication is why I funded Windborne, and thus far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

What the Wooly is Windborne?

There will never be a Tweet-length review that won’t compare Windborne to Minecraft, at least right now. Hyperbole, perhaps… in concept Windborne is going to attempt to be much more. For now though the $30 will get players a build-a-block sandbox with three biomes and a bit more.

There are already many critical differences that sets Windborne apart from Minecraft clone. The first is that blocks can be shaped. Their corners can be sheared so that there are rolling hills or rounded pillars. This small feature is a huge change for anybody used to forcing square blocks to be used as round pegs in Minecraft. It goes a lot further too with arches, windows, beds, lights, flower pots, and all sorts of architectural goodies that simply blow Minecraft’s options away.

The other main differences are unlocking recipes, tool-free resource gathering, and quest tutorials. Minecraft has the clunky achievement tree, which I felt never really worked. Windborne narrows the sandbox scope a bit to guide players towards learning the system and world. It’s still fairly free form. In one tutorial quest I was told to build a house in the desert using desert-style blocks. So I built a rather ornate temple. It then wanted me to build desert windows, so I just tacked them on the temple.

Alternatively, I could’ve just gone to the desert and lined the windows up along the ground to beat the tutorial quest. This is what I did when it asked me to build another house in the forest biome. I was kind of in “moving along” phase and just placed the most mundane forest blocks in a cube. I liked that the tutorial quests allowed me to be as creative or gamist as I wanted.

Watching TotalBiscuit’s impressions on Windborne, he completed a quest to get a Jin, a cutesy version of Minecraft’s squidward people, across a broken bridge (was a demo version, different from current early access version). Instead TB built a row of blocks next to the bridge, and the Jin dutifully crossed instead of demanding that he build that bridge. I feel that as long as Hidden Path Entertainment keeps to this alternative-resolution quest style, it will be a fine thing.

Early Access Communication

I liked all that, but seeing it wasn’t enough to justify buying Windborne yet. What made me want to pre-purchase the game was the communication. The devs and community manager are very responsive to all feedback in multiple forums. They built a “vote on what we work on”-feature in to the game. It felt like what an early access game should be.

It should not be just gaining the chance to play an unfinished game. Developers are opening their doors, and they should be ready to be praised and humbled. They should be showing how hard they are working, not just telling. I felt all this in Windborne’s Steam forum, and that definitely got me over the hump.

Windborne’s Soul

I am inundated with content. I live in such a content rich society that I know I have to pick and choose. I wish I could write about each and every MMO, and other neat game, ever. I can’t. I find I can usually only play one and sideline one. I like other games too. Guacamelee is a fantastic game I am trying to burn through. I still want to beat Star Wars Lego, which I have owned forever. Someday I will get back to the Assassin’s Creed series.

What I have time for is games with souls. Guacamelee is a game with soul. It just isn’t a luchador-themed metroidvania. It is a carefully crafted piece of art. It is not mere content.

Another reason to praise Windborne is it has already found its soul. There are other neat Minecraft-y or voxel-y games I have Kickstarted or bought in alpha that where still finding their legs. Windborne has a feel to it, and I want more of it. (I also want to say that my girls were overjoyed that the alpha character was a girl.) I feel everything the art team crafts or the dev team adds is made to answer the question: does this feel like Windborne?*

Swept Away

While I am really enjoying my current early access to Windborne, I did buy it for the future game. Hidden Path Entertainment plans on adding some character progression, combat, and a world where the player is tasked with rebuilding a civilization. Their inspiration goes well beyond Minecraft and pulls from Dwarf Fortress (mega-yay!), Animal Crossing (yay!), and even early Zeldas** (yayay!). I feel the game will come along as just breezy.

–Ravious

*this is a huge problem with many “great” Minecraft mods. It breaks the game’s soul when it doesn’t feel like Minecraft.

**This better include Windwaker, Windborne people.

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