This week the Spotlight focuses on Impeller Studios and its mission to bring this resurrection of the space combat genre full-circle by making a game that many will recognize.
Raised in the cockpit of a spaceship
There were days in my youth that I spent a lot of time at the helm of a digital spaceship. I was a bit too young for the original Elite when it first released (1984) though I later played via DOSBox (and downloadable for free via Frontier Developments’ website). Wing Commander and X-Wing were both big parts of my formative days as a PC gamer though nothing quite compared, for me, to Tie-Fighter. The bonus missions for the inner circle of the Emperor? Yeah. That was mindblowing. The system I had at the time had trouble with it. Its Gouraud shading but damn if I didn’t put some serious time on a joystick during those days before I got lost in JRPGS and fighting games. Both the original X-Wing and Tie-Fighter titles are ones I’ve revisited over the years numerous times, and I know I will again.
When it comes to space-sim games, we’re a bit spoiled for choice these days. Players can work their way from the ultra-realism of Kerbal Space Program, traverse the galaxies in Elite:Dangerous, manage their shielding and power in FTL (Faster Than Light) or, you know, do everything as Star Citizen (please oh please deliver on those promises) seems to be building towards. There are also those games on the horizon that seek to resurrect classic franchises like Descent, merge genres and more. One of those classic franchises involving space, feats or derring-do and dogfights galore? X-Wing. It is the space sim that, maybe more than any other, made gamers all over the world fall in love with the genre.
So, when one of the most critical designers of one of the most seminal franchises in PC gaming history (David Wessman’s work on the X-Wing series) teams up with industry veterans like Jack Mamais (Far Cry, Crysis, Mechwarrior 2), Coray Seifert (Homefront, Frontline: Fuel of War) and Nat Walpole (senior animator for Halo 2, 3, 4 and Elder Scrolls Online) to, “make another one..” it is time to start paying attention. Wessman, who has seen the industry change from the motley crew of PC gaming enthusiasts to the billion dollar industry it is, constantly fields questions about his early works. Those games were important to fans not only of Star Wars but also to those who just loved gaming. They offered 360 degrees of freedom regarding movement, great space combat and an emphasis on making sure shields, power, and squads were managed. The various expansions sequels that spawned from the original were all successful in various ways but, mostly, they stand as a testament to the early innovation of game developers. Starfighter Inc. seeks to keep that legacy alive and bring it forward into the modern era.
Impeller Studios, though only unveiled in April, has been working on its first title for a while now making use of the Autodesk Stingray engine at its core. They are laser focused on making Starfighter Inc. feature “Hardcore PVP multiplayer space warfare focused on pure, unadulterated tactical simulation combat.” This is, first and foremost, a game that will follow in the footsteps (sadly way before its time) of X-Wing v. Tie-Fighter. Alright. You’re saying all the right things so far Impeller. Now bring it on home.
This is as real as it gets, kid
The what and how all of this combat in space gets done wasn’t necessarily a concern to the developers of the progenitors of the genre way back when. The team at Impeller, however, is bringing a large focus to realism into every aspect of the game that they can. Starfighter Inc., per their campaign page, is “a hard-science driven, zero-g experience where players can spin, tumble and strafe their way through a gritty frontier universe.” There is no sound other than the rumblings of your own ship, and with Newtonian physics implemented into the mix it should make for a compelling wrinkle to what will already be chaotic battles in the vacuum of space. It would be easy to make another “fighter jets..but in space!” sort of game wouldn’t it? Time will tell if the team behind Starfighter Inc. can pull it off but with the experience backing it. Other such games haven’t fared too well in the past as needing to rely on inertia and worrying about physics along with not getting shot and dealing with systems management might be too much for some. The team at Impeller, though, has enough experience behind it that I feel confident that they can make this work.
Recent stretch goals have been added as the initial reveal of the Kickstarter campaign generated quite a bit of interest. One simply does not mention X-Wing and Wing Commander in a crowdfunding elevator pitch and not get people curious about single player, however. They’re, well, lofty in some respects as a “Dynamic Single-Player Campaign” would require about 10.5 million dollars. A fully-scripted cinematic campaign is listed at 17 million bucks. That immediately generated more questions and a bit of uncertainty from interested backers regarding the game’s scope and focus. Zach Hajj, a community manager for Impeller, took some time and answered quite a few questions that are worth looking into.
Star Citizen as of now isn’t too far from the 100 million dollar mark via crowdfunding, and other Kickstarter success stories have certainly passed the million dollar barrier without much problem. It is interesting that such goals as single-player campaigns might cost so much but, looking objectively at it, it makes sense. A project’s scope can widen as time goes on, sure, but when you’re talking about making a whole other game, essentially, and jamming that into what is a multiplayer focused space combat title? That requires a lot of time. A lot of labor used writing out scripts, working on the events and doing things that, frankly, aren’t necessary when it comes to ship-to-ship combat in space.
The team has raised $98,367 of its $250,000 goal as of publishing. Kicktraq is showing a potential trend towards three-quarters of a million if it keeps rolling in at this rate. The revival of the space combat genre is in full swing at this point and I know I’m not alone in hoping that Starfighter Inc. is every bit of the successor to X-Wing it purports to be.