Fire in the Sky: Ace Combat 6 Interview
Namco Bandai's Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi tells us about this new, online-enabled, Xbox 360 exclusive series entry.
Page: 1 2
You've got to hand it to the Project Aces team. They know their audience. What other Japanese developer would willingly commit to an Xbox 360 exclusive at a time when squeezing profit out of a game is crucial while knowing full well that the console's presence in Japan is marginal at best.
"Obviously Japan doesn't have much of an army or an air force of its own," explains Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi, R&D producer at Namco Bandai. "Historically the Ace Combat series has done better in the West - particularly Europe. It does really well in Europe, which we're really happy about. We'd like to try and increase the sales in Japan."
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation is the latest in a long line of aerial combat games, the most recent entry in a series that began way back on the PlayStation in 1995.
Even though he was always a fan of the series, Ichiyanagi didn't begin working on the series until more recently. He got his start with Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, released in early 2002 on the PlayStation 2. Since then he's flitted between consoles and handhelds, going to the PSP and now to the Xbox 360.
Making a game that both hangs on to its existing audience while still trying to bring in new players is a challenge the team is faced with once again. Ichiyanagi concedes that Japanese tastes do tend to swing more towards RPGs, but everywhere there are signs that this is changing.
To entice new players, Ichiyanagi and his team have skewed more towards an arcade style of play than the heavy simulation so loved by some PC series. "It's definitely arcade," he says. "We wanted the player to be able to get in and enjoy it and blow stuff up very quickly without having to worry about strategies and tactics and fuel and stuff like that."
To this end, the controls have been refined, making them more accessible for new players. The difficulty has been scrutinized too, and players will be able to choose how forgiving they want the system to be. Feeling a little shakey with the flight stick, then choose the Easy mode. You won't die when you crash into the ground but you will lose a fraction of your health bar.
There's a new feature to the controls in this latest Ace Combat game and that's the addition of high-G turns. Essentially, by jamming down on both the brakes and the throttle, you'll be able to zig and zag in the sky - very useful for getting out fo the way of incoming missles.
Just don't take this ease-of-use as shorthand for a lackadaisical approach to authenticity in the rest of the game. From the aircraft above to the plains below, Ace Combat 6 has been developed over the past two-and-a-half years with good looks in mind.
There are 15 licensed aircraft in the game coming from manufacturers from around the world. But not everyone was eager to jump in at the start. "At first the manufacturers were a bit hesitant about giving permission to use them," explains Ichiyanagi, "but once they saw the quality of the graphics and the models these guys had created they were on board. They were very impressed."
The aircraft all have fully functional cockpits, which you'll be able to absorb using the player-controlled camera. There are even working readouts on the various dials and displays in the cockpit, but you may find it easier to stick to the on-screen heads-up display, which gives you all the technical information you need to keep your bird soaring.
Outside the cockpit, things are just as impressive. The team used real-world photographs to bolster their designs, giving everything that extra touch of reality. "We're actually using satellite photo imagery," says Ichiyanagi. "We don't put it in as it is actually. We massage it in to make it add more to the gameplay. Sort of like Google Earth [laughs]."
It's not just vacuous valleys and forlord fields either. Ace Combat 6 is promising 15 distinct missions set in locations around the globe. There are the familiar desert, ocean and night missions but also others set over the Arctic and even one that takes place in a wanna-be San Francisco, complete with faux Golden Gate Bridge.