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.
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.
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.
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.