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Windforge hands-on: Captain Mal vs the sky whale

By the end, I'd breached the sky whale's stomach and collected the goodies inside. Unfortunately, it had taken too long to get there with the grappling hook, and much of the booty had fallen out of the whale's organic treasure chest.

"If only my custom-built airship hadn't been destroyed by those little dragon things!" I thought after my time with Windforge ended. I was sure I could have done better.

Snowed in Studios' work-in-progress was on display at GDC Play, the conference's indie-focused arcade, where we played a demo and talked with studio co-founder Evan Hahn about Windforge.

"It's a building block role-playing game," Hahn said. "Everything in the world you can create, destroy and mine. You can also create your own custom airships, like that."

He gestured at a multi-tiered steampunk-like conglomeration of wood and metal, kept afloat by a small dirigible. Armaments jutted out of its sides.

"It's just like building with Lego," he said. "Everything on the ship is functional: all the propellers will make you go faster and keep you in the air. If they break, you're gonna crash land."

Hahn said that the RPG's story will play out using a basic quest structure. The character we play doesn't speak during the demo, but he looks like a cross between Firefly's Captain Mal Reynolds and Han Solo, set for exploration and mischief.

The airship controls with the standard WASD configuration, just like the character. Within seconds of takeoff, it's under attack by what appears to be a small, red dragon shooting fireballs. These are basilisks, Hahn explains. They're everywhere, they breathe fireballs and they hate you and your airship.

"Everything on the ship is functional: all the propellers will make you go faster and keep you in the air. If they break, you're gonna crash land."

In Windforge, your airship's turrets and missiles track the cursor, so you can follow and eliminate enemies with clicks of the mouse buttons. You'll also need to take some care to keep some space between the two. Get too close, and the little red devils are likely to invite themselves onboard.

That's when the sky whale appears.

Hahn hoped we'd run into one because, in his words, they're "awesome."

There isn't much time to take in the majestic beauty when your makeshift airship is under attack by a flying whale at least twice its size. Basilisks are annoying. Sky whales are seriously dangerous. It takes a few swipes with its tail, and my airship crumbles to pieces around me.

Rather than descending into oblivion, Windforge's rogue hero falls about two lengths of the display before he trampolines back up toward the whale. Hahn says this won't be part of the final game, but my bouncing hero launches his way onto the whale's back. Several blasts of my shotgun later, and the sky whale breathes its last and flips over onto its stomach.

That's when I fall off the whale and begin bouncing again.

Hahn loads up the character's grappling hook, suggesting that attach it to the bottom of the ex-whale and swing atop my catch. After several failed attempts, all the while dodging basilisk fireballs that buried themselves in the upended whale's corpse, I managed to swing my way on top of the whale again.

This is a loot-based RPG, Hahn says as he showed me how to load the character's jackhammer. Bag a sky whale, and you can lead your protagonist through its blubber — a valuable commodity to collect in Windforge's whale oil economy — on your way to the stomach.

But by the time I get there, the fiery little basilisks have blasted most of it away. I collect what's left and walk away with a few regrets. Next time, I'll be better.

Hahn estimates Windforge will be ready for release by August. In the meantime, you can find out more about the game at Windforge's Steam Greenlight page.

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