Today we bring you a sound barrier smashing XCN Q&A for you lucky Top Guns out there. This Q&A session is with Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi, Producer on Ace Combat 6, so lets scramble and find out more on this recently released title.
Ace Combat series has always been something very similar to a PlayStation exclusive. Why have you decided to change the platform?
The initial ideas behind Ace6 had existed for some time even before the development started. Therefore, making the title available at the earliest possible opportunity was our first priority which resulted in us going for the 360.
Graphically the game seems amazing and easily the best looking game of the genre among all platforms. How did you achieve environments that look beautiful both at a distance and close-up?
It’s great to hear such compliments. In order to recreate an environment where two giant forces collide within a given mission, our tasks were not limited in simply making HD quality aircrafts and sceneries. The visuals and effects which reflect the ever changing war scenario during the missions were also important.
Due to the nature of the game, we are required to make sceneries which stretches to the horizon but it’s a fact that more resource went into the visuals and effects which reflects the ever changing situation of the war to make sure the players were aware of their surroundings. Keeping a steady frame rate tends to become a challenge when you start adding the numerous key aspects which makes up the real looking graphics but we’re confident that we’ve achieved our objective for Ace6 in that sense.
Ace Combat has always been a game where realism and accessibility go together. Does ACFOL follow this way?
That would definitely be the case. Thanks to the excellent graphic capabilities, you can now fly through photo realistic environments which were not achievable in the past. Also pushing the hardware capabilities has enabled us in recreating a huge scale war zone in the missions through an ace pilot’s visions.
The level of ACFOL demo was quite easy. Do you have reduced difficulty level, comparing it to previous titles?
Interesting point but we definitely didn’t plan in altering the difficulty for Ace6. However, since we did cram in as many units as possible for the demo mission so everyone can see how “large” we intended to make the scale of the missions, we did alter the enemy AI to make sure we don’t scare anyone off from the title thinking it was too difficult. This may be the reason for some feeling the difficulty being reduced but such feedbacks are always welcome since they are valuable input for us when we are to start considering any future titles.
From a visual standpoint it looks like Ace Combat 6 pushes the Xbox 360 hardware to its limits. How well do the developers currently know the hardware? Can we expect to see that they will go beyond that or has the hardware already reached some kind of limit?
Since our previous instalments were based on the Playstation, it was the first time for us in developing the game based on the DirectX engine. Updates of the engine were quite frequent during development and this always brought new hopes and challenges for the programmers. In that sense, we learned the strength of the 360 hardware as the development went on.
From our experience, it’s normal to see the processing time increase as new features are added in trying to step up the graphics but it was definitely a surprise when the programmers managed to cut the processing time dramatically after a while in development. This definitely shows how flexible the 360 hardware is but also made us rethink our approach in development to some extent at the time.
Considering the above, I feel that we can go beyond Ace6 in terms of visuals in the future if we are to plan something.
The new online modes are fantastic. What was the biggest challenge bringing Ace Combat online via Xbox LIVE?
The challenges we faced were countless since it was the first time we adapted online play in the series. Everything was the first time for us including the basic programming such as implementing the correct procedure for disconnections as well as creating the game content itself which will be challenging for the players. However, we are confident with the overall online package and have gained valuable experience which we can carry forward into future projects.
Is it hard to control plane while using Flight Stick? Was it designed for hardcore players? Is the experience much better?
Using the flight stick might feel unnatural at first but once you get the idea, it is quite easy to control. The flexibility and the wide tilt angles allow you to execute precise aircraft manoeuvres as you intend. Also the throttle enables you to take full control of the aircraft speed as required which definitely adds to the realistic feel during the missions. It’s a real pity we couldn’t make them available in Europe.
Are you going to be releasing more planes variants? Can we expect new missions, maps and planes as downloadable content?
More planes are on the way with higher specs and different liveries. Also new missions will be made available for both online and offline play.
Was it hard to add online co-op mode to Ace Combat 6?
Online was something new for us so it was definitely a huge challenge. Getting the right balance for the missions were another struggle since we had to think ahead of all the players in terms of how they are likely to react at certain circumstances rather than tweaking the AI of the NPC (non players character) planes which will be the usual case.
Do you feel you have taken a step up from others who have released this type of game?
Everyone knows how difficult it is in becoming a real pilot in real life and anyone can tell that an aircraft cannot carry the vast number of missiles made available for a mission in Ace6. However, everyone tends to forget about such facts and gets pulled into the world of Ace Combat once they start playing. This fine balance of reality and game play is something unique about the Ace series which I believe distinguishes the Ace Combat series from other competing titles.
Are you satisfied with your game and did you manage to put in everything you wanted? And if not, what did you leave out?
We are definitely satisfied with the quality Ace6 has achieved. However, new ideas always kept on popping up even during development and there were so many ideas which we had to drop at the end. I’m hopeful that such ideas can be provide as download contents or in any sequels which may be developed in the future.
What kind of interaction have you added with the environments (i.e. water rippling or trees shaking when you fly low)?
There are interactions in some ways such as water effects as you mentioned but we haven’t gone into too much detail in object destructions for example. We are hoping to challenge these areas in the future.
Flying game gameplay has always followed the same basic “lock on” and shoot formula – how hard is to break this mould and incorporate new ideas? In this respect what makes AC6 any different from other flying games?
Timing and exact positioning is essential so it’s not easily noted but Ace 6 has taken an extra step from the traditional formula as stated. As well as the usual “lock on & shoot” which requires an exact lock on to the enemy aircraft, players can now aim slightly ahead in line of the predicted path the enemy aircraft is likely to take and still get a lock on. Also the missile can be blown near the enemy aircraft to give it some damage under certain conditions as well. Also, there are special weapons with different characteristics so I think Ace6 can be seen as being different in many areas.
Many people agree that Gears of War is the best looking game on Xbox 360 to date – in your opinion do you think AC6 surpasses this?
I agree with the fact that “Gears of War” is the best looking game to date. It is definitely a step ahead of the rest when it comes to excellent visuals and effects being created for visionaries based at ground level. Ace Combat is unique since we provide visionaries based from the flying through the skies which requires the creation of sceneries reaching out to the horizon. With the numerous locations the missions are based in (skyscraper cities, snow mountains etc.) as well as the numerous visual effects associated with flying in place, I feel that Ace Combat has the best visuals in its areas of expertise at this moment of time.
Flight simulations like Blazing Angels part I and part II as well as Over G Fighters are already published for Xbox 360. What will Ace Combat 6 distinguish from these games?
Ace6 is unique since you can experience being an ace pilot within a photo realistic environment which you feel as you are really flying through the skies. Common sense tells you the difficulties involved in becoming a pilot let alone the vast number of missiles which the aircraft can carry within the missions. However, everyone tends to forget about such facts and gets pulled into the world of Ace Combat once they start playing. This fine balance of reality and game play is something unique about the Ace series which I feel distinguishes the series from other competitor titles.
What technical advancements did you bring to the table on this next gen sequel of the Ace Combat franchise that you could not do previous generation?
The graphics are definitely one of the key talking points for Ace6. The visible area in the missions has increased dramatically both in terms of quality and the viewable distance. The realistic look of the clouds and missile trails as well as the weather effects are other advancements related to graphics as well.
The scale involved in the missions would be the other talking point with the war unfolding in real time at numerous locations within the mission. This was possible thanks to the hardware capability of the 360 as I simply hope the pure scale of all the aspects within the missions will catch the player’s eyes.
What are the Superweapons and what do they do?
Beside the normal missiles and the guns available on each aircrafts, you have an option of choosing a weapon associated specifically for a given aircraft. The effect of such weapon differs such as giving the player an option of taking on board weapons such as a long range missile, simultaneous lock on missiles, ground missiles, rocket launchers and many more.
Ace Combat 6 has been a huge success in Japan and boosted Xbox 360 console sales when it launched. How does that make you feel?
It was honourable to see such a trend and this simply reassured us of the strong presence of Ace Combat within the gaming community in Japan. I’m hoping that something similar will be achievable in Europe as well in the days to come.
Thank you for your time!
Stay tuned for our review on Ace Combat 6 very soon.