“Playing online would be great, if it weren’t for all the other players online.” That has often been my thoughts regarding any and all online multiplayer games since you had to call your opponent to sync your baud rates. That changed the first time I got to explore The Tomorrow Children’s first alpha. The kicker was in the odd story, and the ways in which you interact with other players within the world. Unlike most single or MMO games, you don’t play as a singular unique hero trying to save the world, instead you are a projection clone whose purpose is to gather resources, seek out survivors, and rebuild civilization. You never see what’s behind the projection clone, only the vast, beautiful void, and the few characters and monsters that roam there.
For me that’s where the allure of the game came from. It really plays out like a grand sandbox experiment. Given enough time of inaction, your town will run out of power/resources, and be overrun by Izverg (the Godzilla like monsters that roam the void). So in order to survive you have to cooperate with other players, with almost no method of interaction, save for a few gestures. If this were any other game, you’d have people using tools to block off important municipal buildings, actively trying to destroy the town, or even sabotaging the delicate infrastructure players create out at the resource rich ‘islands’. However, I never had that experience, not in Alpha, Beta, or Live. The trolls would visit, but the knowledge necessary to troll seemed a bit higher than most cared to invest, leaving you with a fairly cooperative and harmonious community.
That mostly silent, nearly invisible community is what struck a chord with me. By the nature of the game, players are not visible in the world unless they are performing an action, and even then it is only for a moment, and then they are gone (sharing a shuttle ride is one of the few exceptions). This also strangely highlights players actions, more than the players themselves. In keeping with the styles and themes of the game, your labors are more important than you yourself. All of the resources in the town square are there because someone harvested them, carried them to a loading station, picked them up back in town, and walked them over to the correct receptacle. Monuments, lights, housing, ledges, everything else added to the world was added by an industrious comrade for everyone’s (hopeful) benefit.
The game visually and aurally stood out from the crowd with its heavy handed Soviet stylizing. The team at Q Games had a field day creating their own versions of Soviet period propaganda that fit their world, including little instructional propaganda films that littered the environment. Sonically the game benefited from a unique distillation of traditional triumphant Soviet anthems, and brooding synthesizers. This created a wonderful juxtaposition after spending long stretches listening to a threatening musical drone as you explore mysterious islands, only to return to town and are bombarded with overly triumphant march music. The sum of its collective parts all worked together to cement you into this beautiful, collective experiment.
As with most great experiments however, people didn’t find enough time to enjoy them, myself included. I played the game way more before it came out than when it was live with a lot more users. By the time it went live, life had just moved on, and there were too many other shiny distractions for our collective attention. I’m not surprised that it’s sunset hit sooner rather than later given the niche appeal of the title, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Especially more because it’s the first game I can really think of that I had formed an attachment to, that I can no longer play. It’s gone, poof. There isn’t an offline mode, or single player experience, it’s just, gone. All I have left are my memories, and the screenshots/videos I captured along the way. I’m not going to get into the need for digital archiving or attempts to preserve unique online experiences, that’s an amazingly cool thing that should happen whenever possible, but most often it’s just not feasible. You wouldn’t want it as a single player experience either. Sure you would at least be able to run around and experience the beautiful engine that was built, but that isn’t THE game.
Without all those other projection clones briefly popping up as they interact, and cheering on their fellow workers, without logging in and seeing the progress others had made over night, without someone firing the defense turrets at absolutely nothing, wasting all the ammunition you thoughtfully crafted, without stairways to the heavens, without someone cutting down the apple tree, without that person who doesn’t mine, but finds fulfillment in just sorting the deposited minerals, without someone to stand next to on the shuttle, it would be a dry, emotionless, void.
I’ll close this out with a few of my screenshots from the game, along with my sincere thanks and gratitude to all the folks at Q Games who poured their hearts into this title over the last few years.
THANK YOU Q GAMES 🙂