Over the past couple of weeks I've powered through my personal back catalogue of WH episodes, mostly for my own fanbot gratification but also to minimize the knowledge gaps in this column. And as I was watching, the strangest thing happened. I began to care about the people involved. Not care as in I'm-going-to-go-stalk-Eric-Peterson, but care as in the sort of distanced-but-semi-invested attachment that I form with characters in a particularly effective documentary film.
Let's back up a minute. If you're new to SC fandom, you probably don't even know what the heck Wingman's Hangar is. It started out as producer and longtime Chris Roberts collaborator Eric "Wingman" Peterson sitting in front of a webcam and hamming it up whilst delivering a few minutes worth of early Star Citizen fundraising news. It's since morphed into a fairly pro behind-the-scenes look at a gaming juggernaut in the making, and it's the kind of glimpse under the development hood that any interested fan or would-be developer should make a point of watching every week.
I don't know what the future holds for the released game, but I do know that there's never been a game industry project quite like this one. And I'm not talking about the massive crowdfunding numbers or the defiant return of the space sim and Cloud Imperium's herculean efforts to give PC gamers something (else) to crow about.
I'm talking more about the unprecedented access granted to fans very early in the development process and the resulting opportunity to see a triple-A indie game literally take shape before your eyes. Some of this is visible on the website and the accompanying forums, of course, but a lot of it is communicated through Wingman's Hangar, particularly the newer episodes where the running time bounces between 25 minutes to nearly an hour on some of the meatier segments.
In addition to the regular gameplay info drops and the endless stream of developers taking their turn in front of Senor Microphono, WH also tickles my inner space nerd fancy via a segment devoted to current and historical aviation and spaceflight news that serves as both a nostalgia vehicle and something of an educational starting point for younger Star Citizen fans who may be interested in space exploration and the associated science.
Apart from that, Wingman's Hangar is almost like a little game-specific reality television show. Through the guest segments, the impromptu nosecam tours of Cloud Imperium's cramped offices, and various and sundry fan contributor antics, regular viewers can get a sense of the personalities behind the game and the community in much the same way that sports junkies can cozy up to their favorite teams.
Of course, there have been proper game industry documentaries before, but Star Citizen and Wingman's Hangar offer the dual benefits of a much longer running time and a conspicuous lack of primadonna blowhards with vastly overinflated senses of self-worth. As near as I can tell, the people making SC are humble folk across the board. They're also uniformly and genuinely excited as all hell to be there, and that enthusiasm is contagious given some of the negativity that has attached itself to gaming in general and MMOs in particular in recent years.
From customer service rep Peter Mackay's inspiring living-the-dream story to lead artist Mark Skelton's weekly hookah bar "hazy thought" segments, Star Citizen as presented on Wingman's Hangar is an easy game to cheer for, and were the title itself devoid of the kick-ass mechanics that I crave, I'd still be tuning in at this point just to see how this particular motley crew is getting on.
Above all else, Wingman's Hangar and SC's "merry band of developers" -- as one fan christened the Cloud Imperium crew -- manages to give off a vibe that's both sophomoric and highly competent. When you watch most of the installments, you get the sense that SC is quite special and in quite capable hands, though that's also somewhat obvious given the groundswell of fan financial support that the project continues to receive.
In any case, I suspect that the finished game won't disappoint, but even if it does, watching the development unfold in quasi-real time has and will likely continue to be a hell of a fun ride.