Sweden Game Conference Preview: Heart. Papers. Border.30 Oct 2017 0
We really like war, here at Wargamer Ltd. Napoleonic, medieval, ancient or modern -- as long as military and tactics are involved, we’re a pretty happy bunch. But peace is also a great thing, and while the virtual thing is often less pleasant than the real thing, it can be quite endearing if done properly.
At Sweden Game Conference 2017, I had the chance to spend some quality hands-on time with Heart. Papers. Border., a self-described “optimistic strategy game about travelling, freedom and changing the world!” (punctuation included). Playing as a freelance adventurer out to explore the world, the game takes place in a fictional version of Earth with different countries and geographical features.
With no objective but to travel and explore the world, Heart. Papers. Border. tasks you with learning what each country has to offer. You get to explore the landmarks of each culture, managing your time and money, and update your travel blog with your findings. In order to visit other countries, you may require a visa which take both time and money to obtain, meaning you must deal with the expenses of lodging while continually mingling with the locals.
Heart. Papers. Border. is played from a world map, similarly to Paradox' approach to historical games. When arriving at a country, you zoom into a detailed view of the territory and choose a city to stay in. From this base of operations, you can explore the surrounding region and travel anywhere in the country, in the typical tourist fashion that every experienced traveller is familiar with. As you visit places and experience their culture, you unlock hashtags which can be used on each travel blog entry. Creative use of them increases the exposition of a well written post, which affects your income at the end of the month and determines what you will be able to do.
The game is unapologetically idealist -- you are able to make a living by simply writing a travel blog, and your journey sees the world change from a series of government into a planet completely free of borders. As your blog grows in popularity, so does your horizons, and you get enough funds to cross continents or visit isolationist countries, which are affected by your presence and start shifting into the liberal. I imagine that won’t sit well with conservative folk, but then, this is certainly not the title’s intended audience.
However, Heart. Papers. Border. doesn’t forget the “game” part, and the experience is not as easy as it sounds. Upon starting a game, you get to create your character and choose your nationality, which determines your starting conditions -- some countries offer way less income or severely restrict travel, while others offer you a better starting position or plenty of freedom to travellers. Additionally, balancing your objectives with your available funds and time restraints requires a degree of strategy, so one must be aware of future objectives in order to align them to the present conditions. In the end, this is a strategy game about choices.
Technically, the game is simple yet capable. The visuals are absolutely amazing, clearly inspired by NASA's Visions of the Future retro-futuristic posters. Both the game art and UI are a work of art, with heavy stylized illustrations and strong colours popping out of the screen at every minute of gameplay. A charming soundtrack rounds up the ensemble, and the end result is a very attractive and stylish indie game.
Heart. Papers. Border.is currently in Early Access, and is aiming to launch somewhere next summer. Developers Jovian Industries practice an open game design philosophy, and welcome any feedback from its community during the entire cycle of development. If you are interested in a bit of idealism and cheesy happiness to balance all that constant war and death in most strategy games, Heart. Papers. Border. is definitely worth looking into.