Video Game Thoughts: Gunbound

Gunbound is a 2005 free-to-play online turn-based artillery game by Softnyx for the PC. Gunbound followed a common strategy in the video game industry: take a single player game and make an online version of it. In the most basic artillery games each player controls an artillery turret. Players then take turns firing towards each other until one player hits the other one’s gun to destroy their turret and win the game. The trick was that these games used a realistic physics calculation to determine where the turret shots would hit. Players could adjust the angle of the turret as well as the power behind the shot.

Gunbound largely played the same but polished the concept to a mirror shine. Each player controlled a “mobile” (artillery unit). Players could adjust the power and angle of their shots. They could also move a tiny bit each turn before firing. Each game was made up of two teams. Destroying all mobiles of the opposing team would win the game. Missed artillery rounds could still hit the terrain. This destroyed the terrain, potentially causing a mobile to be forced into a bad angle of attack. There were several different battlefields to play on to keep things interesting. On some of the battlefields, there were thin bridges that players could slowly destroy from under a mobile, forcing the mobile to fall through to its destruction.

The basic gameplay was easy to learn, but to do well took many, many hours of practice. The tiniest mistake in power or angle would cause the shot to miss the target. In addition, players could pick from several different mobiles. Each one had slight differences in its stats. Some could move further per turn, others could do more damage per shot, a few had better defenses, and many more. On top of that players could create an avatar to pilot the mobile. The avatar could wear clothes that would modify the stats even further. There was a surprising amount of depth here.

Gunbound was a great, polished game. I can’t really criticize it anywhere. The graphics would be considered childish to some, but they had good animations. Getting clothes for the avatar could be tedious, but a large amount of content was available for free. It was a really good value. The only real downside to the game was being a little too specialized or narrow. It was perfect as an artillery game, but there wasn’t anything else to do. If I got bored trying to perfect my aim, there wasn’t anything I else I could do in the game. Several times I got bored and took a break from the game. One day I moved on to other games though.

Part of that was because progression in the game was slow. Most of the mobiles were unlocked for free, but the clothes had pretty high gold costs. The player only got a tiny amount of gold per game, so getting new clothes took ages. A lot of players treated the clothes as cosmetic items just to create some outfit, but I went for the stats. If I wanted to improve my mobile further, I needed the clothes. Getting new clothes was just too slow for my tastes.

Gunbound was one of the best, free massively multiplayer online (MMO) games I found. I had tried out many of them by the time I played Gunbound. It was much more polished than average, the English translation was good, paying players gained almost no advantage over free players, and it was fun from the start (no slow leveling necessary). At this time a common joke was

Pick Two:

  • Good
  • Free
  • MMO

Players could find games that fulfilled any two of these conditions, but it was pretty much impossible to find a game that did all three: a good, free MMO. Gunbound was really the first game to meet all conditions. It was very common when someone asked this question to receive an answer of Gunbound. However, the downside of being too narrow was still there. The game was just too focused for some people. Also, some gamers liked role-playing game (RPG) mechanics, which Gunbound didn’t really have.

It wasn’t until around 2008 or so that good, free MMOs started to become common. Now, I could name at least ten, but I’m sure there are more. That’s not to say that paid MMOs are worthless though. They are almost always much bigger and more ambitious than the free games, but the free ones can still be really fun.

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