Tuesday, I ran a session of Look! Up In The Sky! over Google Hangouts. Though I have participated in Hangouts before, this was the first game session I had ever run. I have been running various games for over a decade on IRC, which is a wonderful medium, and I will be comparing and contrasting the experience with both that and running face to face.
First, it was a struggle to get everyone together. The first session, where we built the City, the Association, and the Characters, went off fine, but this first game session was tough to get rolling. We tried and failed for two weeks to get people coordinated, but we would end up without a quorum. Anyway, we finally got started - late, but started. This is just a fact of life when you are getting together with adults who have Real Lives, and is no different than with IRC, though my older groups have no problem, having been committed for years to the game.
The city was New Haven, a new city built on seven hexagonal artificial islands arranged in a super hexagon and connected by bridges. It had been built on a seamount in the Pacific, off the coast of northern California, and was no more than fifteen years old. Each of the seven islands was a neighborhood, with its own topographic, ethnic, and cultural characteristics - all defined in the city building process.
Our Association was Captain Cook's School, a school for talented but poor kids, which ran a Grade School through High School program. The PCs were a school-supported and authorized club. They had after-school access to a clubhouse - a storage container with a garage and a single room, both with power - and a classroom in the school building, three school bus/minivans painted yellow and black with signs and lights, an old computer with internet access running Windows ME, and two poor databases.
The player characters were all seniors in the High School program - Nate, a geeky boy with Weird Science! skills and elastic limbs; Sigurd, a nice but oddly naive lad who claimed to be a reincarnation of the Germanic hero of the same name; Kilauea - AKA Kila - a mountainous Polynesian girl who could grow much larger and stronger; and Eric, a redneck kid with strange light powers.
The session went well as an introductory session. The characters were great and worked well together, and the setting was interesting. They came in after class to find their clubhouse door smashed in by a single blow from a giant fist, and evidence of a fight or other violent encounter inside. This led them to a search for a kidnapped girl, with glimpses of something bigger behind and beneath it.
Playing over Hangout was different from either face to face gaming, or IRC gaming. Hangout is a video+voice medium, and when several players were talking at once, things could get garbled. Only one voice source at a time can transmit, and the players' voices could be chopped and mixed, with whoever was loudest at that moment coming through. One of the players and I did not have video enabled. This is intentional on my part, as I think playing a dozen NPCs would be easier if the players only had the NPCs' distinctive voices to go by, and were not distracted by the old geezer face.
I have found IRC with its text over various channels to be superior for the roleplaying aspects of gaming. It's really good for immersion and for back-channel communication. The Hangout was more like a face to face session, though with the camera off and different voices, it was a little better than real life. Over IRC I have to do voices entirely with odd spelling mimicking an accent and/or peculiar methods of expression and stock phrases to give characters real shapes.The last thing that was tricky was that there is no log for sessions. You can record a hangout, but I had no wish to publish it. i have come to depend on a log for reference and AP reports later.
All in all, a very good start! Mix interesting characters, an interesting setting, and a cool situation is my tried and trusted ingredient for successful gaming.