SOS's hit-or-miss improv comedy battles can be awkward, funny, or just get you shot

A game of SOS typically ends with a violent showdown between improv groups armed with guns and skulls, like a prop comedy workshop gone terribly wrong. It's framed as a reality survival show in which 16 players have to avoid monsters, find 'relics,' and escape on a helicopter—but there are only a few seats on the chopper, so conflict is inevitable. The real goal, though, is to be more entertaining than everyone else, to attract stream viewers and get emoji reactions. Mics are always on.

It can be an absolute disaster, but probably fun with the right people—if you can find them when SOS releases in Early Access tomorrow. In the meantime, James and Tyler got to play a few early rounds today and last week. Here's how they felt about being on the big stage.

Coming up with a character

Tyler: I sure love coming up with an improv character on the spot!

James: It’s a nightmare, Tyler. During that pre-match sequence where everyone gets a few seconds to say something and wiggle their digital avatar around, I clam up. I’m worried about what the hell I’m going to say, but my bigger problem is watching everyone else fumble to come up with something.

Tyler: It can be awkward. You have to have a desire to perform and be liked, or at least be notorious in some way. You have to want attention. I can be that person—not to the degree a popular streamer is, but to some degree. It's exhausting to be a part of at times, though. You can tell who's thinking, 'Oh God, what did I do? Why am I here?' and sometimes that's you, too. 

James: Yeah, I don’t want to write it off as bad just because I’m uncomfortable with it, but it’s tiring as hell. The cartoonish reality show island motif might be too wide of a starting point for me. Maybe some prompts for characters to play as or secret goals to set for yourself would be helpful. 

Tyler: Yeah, a more specific motive than 'escape' could help. I mostly went with 'friendly Canadian man who wants some Timmies,' but I had a harder time trying to be cruel or flippant, or really pursuing the goal I was supposed to. I didn't want to kill anyone. Even though I'm acting, it feels more like it's 'me' in the game than it does with PUBG. And the prompt is basically: 'Be funny. Now.' That's probably the hardest task a game has ever given me.

James: Yeah, it’s like a hardcore flight simulator, but for comedy. 

Meeting other players

Tyler: One guy noticed I was infected, said, "You have AIDS," gave me a syringe and then shot me in the face. That wasn't a great experience. How'd it go for you?

James: I didn’t meet anyone quite as rude, but my time with SOS hasn’t been too surprising. Most of the people I meet are either as naturally quiet as I am or they’re just doing an impression, mostly bad Russian and Italian caricatures. No grand betrayals or tense standoffs so far. Some YouTube-sounding guy pulled me aside and told me I was beautiful, after which we starting making kissing noises for a minute. 

Tyler: That last thing actually sounds pretty great.

For every bizarre and cool interaction I have, I experience a dozen more awkward misfires.

James: It was funny! But it was also totally random. I had fun playing along, I just think everyone is trying to find their improv legs, even people who would otherwise never dabble. For every bizarre and cool interaction I have, I experience a dozen more awkward misfires. That’s to be expected—not everyone is natural comedian, including myself. It’s just painful to be a part of.

Tyler: I like the challenge of making our own fun, the game acting as a framework for social comedy—but that framework is going to determine a lot about the comedy. It's not just the players. I loved Friday the 13th for a while because I was playing with funny, giddy people, but I think the violent, predatory structure invited a lot of assholeish behavior as it grew, and it became less fun. SOS could be a real shitshow depending on who it attracts, and the behavior it encourages. For now, I wish it were a bit sillier.

James: Yeah, I mean the only expressive tools are your mic, a few emotes, and the objects you can carry. And the majority of those objects are weapons and healing items, which communicate cooperation or death. I want more pointless props, but pointless in that their only purpose is to be played with.  

Tyler: I'd love that too. I threw a piece of fruit, and then a knife at my partner while pretending they were just slipping out of my hands. But I couldn't think of many other jokes to make with what's provided. We're not professional comics. We need prompts, scenarios and objects that naturally create opportunities for comedy.

James: Skulls are one exception, I suppose. You bet I roleplayed Hamlet for a bit, pausing over the corpses of dead players to consider whether I knew them once or not, Horatio.

Tyler: I wish I'd been there for it. My best moment was throwing skulls and papaya at some unsuspecting targets. I died pretty quickly in most of our matches, but I followed you for a bit. Looked like you were in a squad of dancing streamers. I watched you guys declare my former teammate the most beautiful man in the world before slaughtering him. That was kinda funny. Again the props and premise didn't really lend themselves to anything but violence. When it gets to the end of a match, you've got to start killing if you want to 'win.' You got pretty close, actually.

James: Yeah, it was pretty startling. We had two relics and the chopper was just about to come down, so we started dancing. Well, I didn't have the dance emote equipped so I just held down the OK emote. Then, right before we’re about to dip out, gunfire rains in from all directions. I died right away, too surprised to react properly. Most matches climax like that, but I wish they were less inclined to. With only three seats on the plane, bashing someone over the head is a quicker route to victory than bartering. Then again, the audience can ‘react’ to your performance, which has the potential to propel you into first place, even if you die. I got second after that match. That time I said hello to my teammates must’ve put me over the top. 

Tyler: Dang, was I trying too hard? I goofed off for a bit with a guy because we couldn't figure out how to get into a base, and we were punching locks, trying to climb over each other, and all that. But eventually you have to go, 'OK, for real, we're not getting anywhere. We need to progress here.' The urgency can undercut the comedy.

James: The urgency is always there too. It makes pulling a trigger a much easier choice than spending anymore time than you have to with some guy doing a bad Rocky Balboa impression.

Being streamed to the world

The first moments in a match remind me of those awkward workplace icebreakers, where you need to wander the room in search of a partner for some goofy game.

Tyler: In a bad round of PUBG, you land, find nothing good, get sniped after wandering alone for 10 minutes doing nothing. But having a bad round of SOS is worse. It means not clicking with whoever you run into, not enjoying their sense of humor or finding any rapport, or being uncomfortable around them—like a guy who made a homophobic joke when I ran into him. We just disconnected right there. We couldn't be friends. A bad round can be humiliating, because you know nearly every player is streaming and you become complicit in their jokes, a prop for their audience to laugh at. Even if you try to outshine them, you're just helping them and their stream. So I just retreated. The highs of SOS are probably real high—a perfect comedy rapport—but the lows are disappointing as hell.

James: The first moments in a match remind me of those awkward workplace icebreakers, where you need to wander the room in search of a partner for some goofy game. Who you end up with likely determines how much fun you’ll have. Except there’s no immediate penalty for being an asshole, and the viewers at home might actually reward those assholes for toxic behavior. How the ‘humor’ is moderated will be a big task for Outpost Games, and the team will need to set a strong precedent early on. 

Tyler: There is a well-written set of rules that appears when you first launch the game, so hopefully those are enforced. For now, I'm still looking for that brilliant moment when I get someone and they get me, and we make it amazing. I think it can happen in SOS, but I expect it to be a pretty wild scene which it launches wide tomorrow—you know every streamer is going to be picking it up. It's perfect stream material.

James: And therein lies the hope. With enough of the better Twitch performers showing their audiences how much fun simple roleplaying can be, I would like to think that SOS can find an audience that wants to play along rather than throw cold joke spaghetti at the wall. It’s on Outpost Games to enable and encourage more ways to roleplay than loud ethnic impressions through garbage mics—not everyone should feel like they have to be funny—and our time with the Early Access build feels like a promising dress rehearsal.

Tyler: At least anyone who isn't sure about it—and I'm not sold—should have plenty of streams to watch. If it can be anything like Steven's experiences roleplaying in ARK, then it'll be a delight. That's my benchmark.