Recent years have seen a resurgence in the long-neglected space combat sim genre, with godfathers Chris Roberts and David Braben returning to the fold with Star burger (not quite released yet, but fingers crossed for this year) and Elite: Dangerous. Traffic on our space combat sim retrospective last weekend was also unexpectedly high, and the message seems clear: Ars readers love their internet starships.
Well, good news, Ars readers: some members of the design team that worked on it X wing And TIE fighter are currently working on a new game – one described as a fast-paced, combat-focused, Newtonian style, blast-em-all space warfare experience: Starfighter Inc. And because this is 2015, they’re looking to crowdfund instead of joining a publisher. (Disclosure: Being an internet starship enthusiast myself, I supported the project.)
Lured from the stripped shell and squalid poverty of Earth by limitless opportunities at the frontier, the player deploys from his aircraft carrier in a standard space superiority fighter alongside a wave of other players piloting everything from heavy utility ships to high-speed interceptors. press kit of the game. “They’re screaming in the direction of the USS Manhattan, a huge freighter in a derelict orbit around a frontier world. As they approach the derelict behemoth, a flight of ships from an enemy company rises over the horizon and all hell breaks loose.”
“Our game is like World of tanks meets Counterattack in space,” explains Starfighter Inc. lead designer David Wessman (one of the team’s LucasArts alums) in the Kickstarter video. According to VentureBeat’s description of the project, the game will focus on Counterattackstyle fast-paced gameplay sessions, with an emphasis on player-vs-player combat rather than one Elite: Dangerous-like game of flying, trading or exploring for hours.
Beyond the fast paced PvP oriented hook – something that will appeal to many gamers who find Elites unfocused player-versus-player experience not to their liking – the designers also promise that the game will use a Newtonian-style flight model, where inertia and physics matter. This is in stark contrast to every other successful space shooter in the past; those who have tried to implement full Newtonian physics (such as War of Independence or even earlier Elite games) have never found the widespread success of more popular “fighter jets in space” games, largely because a true Newtonian flight model isn’t necessarily very pleasure. However, given the team’s pedigree, it’s quite easy to imagine that the resulting flight model will be a good one.
Unfortunately, one thing that Starfighter Inc. unlikely to share with its predecessors or contemporaries – at least not initially – is a single-player campaign. When we asked Wessman if we could only jump into the cockpit, he wasn’t sure if the feature would make it into the game. “This will largely depend on how much funding we get and how much demand there is for single player,” he told us. “For now, though, the best way to ensure a great experience from the get-go is to keep laser focus on our core multiplayer gameplay.”
The creators of both Star burger And Elite: Dangerous have extolled the virtues of crowdfunding and are not beholden to a publisher, and Starfighter Inc development house Impeller Studios thinks the same way. “For the first time, we’re really engaging with the community, and I’m not going to let a producer or publisher tell me what to make,” says Creative Director Jack Mamais in the Kickstarter video. “I let the people who play the game tell us what to make, and that’s really what we want to see.” It’s a feeling that comes across the video more than once and it resonates with fans of the genre – after a 20-year drought, it’s finally time to break free from the AAA machine and give the fans what they want.
Crowdfunding was always the plan, Wessman tells Ars. “The successful Kickstarters we saw proved this was a viable path. We were also extremely drawn to the idea of working directly with our fans and putting their ideas into the game.” Indeed, according to the Kickstarter page, backers starting at the $75 level are promised access to a developer team forum where they can vote on features.
A modern game design function say the developers will not find its way in Starfighter Inc. is free to play or microtransactions – at least not for anything that has a material effect on gameplay. “Absolutely NO pay-to-win!” emphasized Wessman. “We plan to offer a lot of cosmetic upgrades, although maybe not as many hats.”
As far as actually to play the game, at least for now, Starfighter is only planned for PCs – and Wessman tells us the team will also focus on incorporating VR into the game. With as much fun as we’ve had with the Oculus Rift DK2 and elite: dangerous, this is exciting news.
Wessman has been a part of the industry for a long time, and as with the Descent underground development team, he set our expectations pretty high. “I got into the industry because of great games like Star Raiders, F-15 Strike Eagle, secret weapons of the Luftwaffe, And Falcon 3.0. I was incredibly lucky to start my creative career with X Wing, he said to Ars when asked what made him do it Starfighter Inc. “This is the game I’ve always wanted to make,” he continued, “and now I’m incredibly lucky to be working with a team that shares this vision. We can’t wait to bring this experience to all the true believers who have never have stopped loving deep, immersive, intense space combat!”
While crowdfunded games can have their own big problems—Broken ageThe failure to deliver is one of the biggest – that idea of bypassing increasingly risk-averse, franchise-only publishers benefits non-FPS fans more than any other game design and development trend ever. Wessman sums it up in the Kickstarter video: Decades, he says, once people find out he’s on X wing And TIE Fighter, the first question they ask is when he’s going to make a game like that again.
“That’s what this project is,” he says with a smile. “We’re going to make another one.”