Thursday, January 7, 2016

Windborne - 14/20 hours

I've delayed longer than usual between posts because I was working on a project and I wanted to have a screenshot of it before I wrote about the process of building it.

There you go. Building that tower, along with gathering the materials for it and exploring the world enough to determine that this is where a tower would do me the most good, took me the majority of the last nine hours.

The initial staircase actually went up pretty fast. Built out of unshaped granite blocks, it was basically just five pillars and some stairs. The central pillar kept me from falling into the hole in the middle of my spiral staircase and one pillar on each side of the building gave me a place to attach the stairs.

It was actually kind of a neat looking structure. The side pillars were not on the corners, but offset by one block, so it had a kind of twisted, asymmetrical look to it. Unfortunately, when I decide I wanted to encase the rest of the building in glass, I discovered that Windborne's glass panel blocks do not have a corner piece, so I wound up with unacceptable gaps in my walls. Thus, I had to tear down my four pillars and build up four more pillars on the corners, to give me surfaces to hang my glass upon.

It was a painstaking process of slowly going up the stairs and adding a few new layers to the wall on each quarter turn. Sometimes, when I made an error on the outside of the building, I would have to climb to the top and then drop down on the stray block in order to be able to remove it.

In other words, I had the time of my life. This sort of thing is what I love about creative games. The ability to approach a problem systematically and to make a tangible impact on the game world. Seeing my creations take shape over time, with each intermediary stage presenting its own challenges, is also a delight. I think I enjoy the half-finished superstructure of my projects more than I like the finished objects.

Where Windborne falls down for me is in the fact that I prefer my created objects to have some function in the game world. I built a tower not out of some Freudian desire to inflict a giant phallic symbol on the landscape, but because I wanted a quick and convenient way to get to the top of that cliff (my previous means of access was via a set of two crude staircases cut into some other, more distant cliffs). 

And that is pretty much the limit of what utility a building may possess. There aren't any tools and only a few workbenches, so you don't need any sort of sophisticated manufacturing chain. The more sophisticated blocks to require an abundance of resources, but there's no real way to automatically process them, so you don't need any sort of specialized rooms to increase your efficiency. Even if I wanted to make a dedicated refining room to process multiple gathered materials in parallel, the most valuable blocks can only be made in your personal crafting menu, creating a huge bottleneck for production.

I think this must obviously be a consequence of Windborne being unfinished. While I was building the tower, I also continued to do the various quests (because the quest to gather 1000 blocks dovetailed nicely with my need for prodigious amounts of glass) and I discovered a few mechanics that definitely feel like half-baked version of things that might have been cool in the finished game.

Like, you can get pets to increase your various crafting abilities (the sheep-like creature that extended my block placement range was a life-saver when it came to placing glass on the tower), but there are only three varieties available.

And there are these cute little elf-like creatures called Jin who can trade formulas for your various crafted items, and it's implied that you might be able to help them in other ways, but literally nothing else about them is explained.

I can't help but wonder what sort of game Windborne would have been. I think I would have liked the finished version, and even the incomplete version has a lot to recommend to it, but my vague sense of its unrealized potential is starting to nag at me. Now that I have my ridiculous staircase and have finished all the quests, there's very little left to distract me from the realization that half the game had never even gotten made.

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