Starfighter Inc Is The Star Wars X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter Successor We Needed

Jesse Collins,

May 9, 2018 6:20 AM

In a genre like space simulation, you either go big or go home. But, with a focus on space combat, Starfighter Inc. is trying to redefine the entire genre and how people see it. Enter Impeller Studios' David Wessman and Jack Mamais.

While some people enjoy battle royales and first person shooters, there’s a large percentage of gamers that want to be a space cowboy. With last year’s Kickstarter for Starfighter Inc., Impeller Studios hopes to let their players do just that.

Starfighter Inc., which is the working and not finalized title of the game, is a “hardcore team-based PvP multiplayer space shooter game” for PC and VR, in the vein of space shooter games like X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter.

Ready for take off!
Ready for take off!

The game’s director, Jack Mamais, has been in leading roles for game franchises like Crysis, Far Cry, MechWarrior 2, and Heavy Gear 2, while David Wessman, the Senior Producer (& Evangelist), worked as gameplay and story lead on the X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter series, as well as working on games like Blood Wake, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, and even Saints Row.

Not just another space simulator

From the minds of industry veterans, Starfighter Inc. focuses on the science of the world they’ve created. But, what really sets it apart from games like Elite: Dangerous and the oft-compared Star Citizen?

“Realism and flight mechanics,” David Wessman told Twin Galaxies. “There really isn’t anything like Starfighter Inc. First and foremost, Starfighter Inc. is laser-focused on creating a realistic space combat experience of unparalleled intensity and realism.”

“We’re not trying to be all things to all people,” Jack Mamais explained. “Games like Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous are BIG games that offer a lot of different play types. They’re absolutely amazing, but combat isn’t their main focus.”

Starfighter Inc. is primarily about skill,” Wessman continued off, “and the most satisfying rewards - what makes the game intrinsically rewarding to play, is gaining and demonstrating your mastery of your ship and weapons. All things being equal, victory goes to the superior pilot, and defeating another living, breathing opponent is always more satisfying than beating a machine or an AI.”

Games like Wessman’s own X-Wing series, like its Star Wars source material, didn’t focus on realism at all, with the space fantasy appeal. But, Starfighter Inc. wants to change the way people look at space shooters.

“We’re also not another arcade shooter requiring nothing more than fast reflexes and good hand-eye coordination,” Wessman said, matter-of-factly. “We’re a thinking person’s shooter that requires a high level of situational awareness and superior tactics. Most of today’s games are clearly trying to recreate the feel of the classic games we were making back in the 1990s but making them prettier. But spaceships and lasers without any respect for science is just space fantasy.”

“We’re taking space combat in a new direction,” Mamais added. “Starfighter Inc. is hard science fiction. We do our best to avoid any pseudoscience, hand-waving, or technobabble. Everything in the game is designed in consultation with space scientists, aerospace engineers, and service members and veterans because everything in the game is designed to make sense. Every ship and weapon and station could actually exist some day. In fact, our respect for the science earned us a Seal of Approval from (rocket science enthusiast website) Atomic Rockets!”

With the hard focus on science, Impeller Studios is going above and beyond to make sure all details are 100% accurate to realistic standards. This isn’t your usual laser fire and magical spacefaring adventure.

Additionally, the team has brought in some big guns to make the game look and feel polished and authentic. Tim Hoffman, whose visual design experience goes back to MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, also includes major Hollywood and Comic franchises, such as Firefly and Serenity, Pacific Rim, Transformers, Game of Thrones, and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. With such a track record and heavy emphasis on sci-fi, Hoffman is already contributing heavily to the game's look and feel, while keeping their grounded-in-science appeal.

Customized controls for input of your choice

In older space sims, joysticks are pretty commonly used to control the game. The older elite may want to continue that tradition. What joystick configurations and options will be available for Starfighter Inc.?

Starfighter Inc. already has a lot of the hooks in place to support multiple input devices,” Wessman said. “The studio has partnered with great controller manufacturers, including Logitech and Thrustmaster (who has offered not only to host T.A.R.G.E.T. presets on their downloads page, but to help us create them) and will support as many devices as makes sense. With traditional input mapping configuration, players should be able to use their favorite peripheral, if it has enough buttons.”

Different ships have different customization options and colors.
Different ships have different customization options and colors.

Talk about customization! What about those that want to just use a mouse and keyboard, or even a controller, or is joystick the best way to experience the game?

“Many of us actually prefer mouse and keyboard as the primary input device,” Wessman thought out loud. “Also, mouse and keyboard represent the largest possible player base on our current platform, the PC, and it is important to us to attract as many players possible. Just as important, our game requires A LOT of keys, some with different functionality with [SHIFT] or [CTRL]. All of that functionality has to be mapped as efficiently as possible whatever a player’s setup happens to be. We’re putting a lot of time into determining what a good set of default control schemes looks like, but we also know there is no perfect or “best” mapping. The obvious solution is to support player customization, but that is something else that it’s important that we get it right.”

Mamais added that it’ll also “support an Xbox controller” perfectly fine.

The game is set to launch with full VR support as well, so the question is if players will still have access to the same amount of customization in their controls, which Wessman assured will be as simple as possible.

“The safe bet is that you will be able to use the same controls when playing the game in VR,” he explained, “but we’re working very hard to design control schemes that work well with both Oculus Rift and Vive VR controllers.”

Be the space cowboy you always wanted to be

Hard science and realism in games is notoriously known for being “snooze-fests” and incredibly tedious or convoluted. Where “core players” would enjoy them, the average gamer can’t stand being bogged down with 50 different buttons for controls. That’s just not the case in this persistent combat sim. It’s all about the dogfighting and keeping people in the action.

“There is a misconception for some people,” Wessman stated, “that realism is boring or just too complicated. The fact is that current state-of-the-art weapon systems like the F-35 fighter are easier to fly than their predecessors, despite being a great deal more complex. This is because a lot of that additional sophistication is devoted to simplifying the pilot’s cognitive load so they can focus on the mission and not be worrying about a dozen different systems.”

Take flight and be ready!
Take flight and be ready!

“The goal of the design team,” Mamais added, “is to make sure that anyone who is interested can pick up the game and play. We’re aiming at a game that is playable by all, but mastering the game is a very different story. The basics have a fairly reasonable skill floor and require some time to get the feel for flight and combat. But if the ‘core gamer’ wants to dive into the deep end, between advanced flight maneuvers and deep ship customization, they will find plenty to captivate them.”

“Really,” Wessmen explained, “the goal of most designers is to create games that are accessible to casual players, and rewarding to players of any skill level. If the game is skill-based, then the more you play, the better you get. And the better you get, the more fun you have. And the more fun you have, the more you want to play. If all goes well, we convert casual players into hardcore players, and there can be no more noble goal for a game designer.”

Games go through a lot of transitions and changes during development. Starfighter Inc. has been in development for quite a while, having already had the basics implemented into it during the Kickstarter back in 2017, so it’s no stranger to improvements and edits this far along.

“It’s gotten better!” Wessman exclaimed. “The original vision was intended to simply reignite the thrill of the classic era space combat simulators, but updated for modern audiences and aiming for a slightly more hard science fiction approach. We fell in love with the idea of making a truly realistic space combat game, and created a proof-of-concept early on that convinced us that we could actually pull it off. We’ve been refining and perfecting that vision ever since.”

Immerse yourself in the universe

One thing that is nearly absent in the minds of most people that play space-sim Elite: Dangerous is the story. While they slowly spoon-feed in story details of the world, it’s mainly focused on making your own story and discovering elements like aliens yourself. Starfighter Inc. sets up the setting pretty quick in the game, as well as through additional resources both in and out of the game, to get people into the action as straightforward and painless as possible.

In addition to the already beefy production staff, famed author and game industry veteran, Rusel DeMaria, is leading the narrative design. As a prolific author of dozens of books about games and game design, as well as Star Wars fiction associated with the Star Wars series, DeMaria is offering a detailed story that captivates and keeps players wanting to know more.

New recruits have to start somewhere, so the training simulator is available.
New recruits have to start somewhere, so the training simulator is available.

“Our setting is our solar system about 200 years from now,” Wessman expounded. “Humanity is in the midst of a great expansion into the outer solar system, especially Saturn and its moons. Giant mega corporations control everything and wage covert wars against each other for advantage in claiming and exploiting the vast resources of the solar system. Private military firms (PMFs) are employed to protect the megacorps’ interests and prosecute their designs upon each other.

“This setting provides us with really great inspiration for the combat scenarios - not just the tactical situations that emerge from various battlespace geometries, but it also lets us explore a lot of interesting worldbuilding and narrative possibilities that allow players to become even more immersed in the game.”

“The basic idea is that as we introduce various combat scenarios,” Mamais elaborated, “we will define a time period in which we are collecting data on the outcomes of each match. That data will determine the ‘official’ storyline and the narrative will evolve accordingly. After an outcome has been committed to canon, those combat scenarios remain available, but as 'historical simulator missions' that no longer influence the ongoing narrative.”

Space Combat Multiplayer, redefined

While the game does have story, Wessman explained that the primary focus is on “team-based multiplayer, but not exclusively. The core release features a series of single-player tutorials. Future updates will include a variety of standard missions that can be played solo or co-op, as well as scripted single player ‘story’ missions that tie into what we are describing as the ‘nexus events’ of the narrative.”

Could we see a space dogfighting battle royale eventually? Jack Mamais sees big things from the massive scale that can eventually come to the game in future updates. “The Kickstarter funding level we reached was for 3v3 but our ultimate goal has always been to support many times that. We plan to increase the current number as the game evolves in future enhancements and optimizations.”

Even the combat is realistic.
Even the combat is realistic.

In a similar fashion to how Elite: Dangerous started out with single crew ships and eventually added multi-crew options, Starfighter Inc. has plans to add this as well to add to the cooperation between players. “This is highly desirable,” Wessman (excitedly) said, “and two of the initial ships were designed to support this feature as soon as it can be implemented.”

How are the multiplayer maps? What scale can we expect from the game in terms of size to handle the amount of players in each match? Will the space be massive or more intimate for quick battles?

“In the current version,” Wessman said, “the typical battlespace is limited to approximately 80 km across. While this is somewhat tiny when set in the depths of the solar system, it is actually quite large for our current set of combat scenarios. By focusing on the battle itself and ensuring that the player’s objectives force them into close combat, we can ensure that the missions are always intense. Also, Epic has announced Unreal 4 engine enhancements that promise to remove this limitation, and we’ll be sure to exploit that when it becomes possible.”

Wessman, then, went into more detail on the types of gameplay that should be expected out of the game, especially at these early stages, as well as details on future plans for updates.

“Dogfighting is the core gametype of the game, of course, but depending on the mission objectives players may engage in long-range missile strikes, close-in missile defense, or even delivering espatiers to breach the hull of an enemy ship. A variety of combat support roles are planned for future updates and will include specialized roles such as electronic warfare, weapon systems operator, drone operator, and others.”

The current community is thriving on at their dedicated (and private) Discord server and the future holds more for the community to come together. Clans and guilds are “a highly desired feature that is part of our development roadmap.” Wessman told us. “We’re currently working out the details of how we may best introduce this so that we can scale it up over time to include as many options as possible.”

Look to the stars and take off!

With a goal of $150,000, the game was fully funded at $170,104 back in March 2017 and is promising constant updates as they head into their Closed Alpha for their backers. While the initial rollout of the Closed Alpha going to those that supported the Kickstarter at the “Combat Ready” and above tiers, those that are curious may be interested when they can get their hands on the game as well.

The
The "Gongheguo Si Chi Ying-class Space Superiority Fighter" is a mouthful, but one hell of a ship.

No dates are locked down, but “we are working closely with our community of players on features and polish, so we can’t provide any specific dates, however, we are currently in alpha and releasing the core gameplay feature set to a large set of backers. Pending community and partner feedback, we hope to enter Beta within weeks and will release the ‘Founders Edition’ of the game to all backers shortly thereafter. At that time, we will consider additional features needed for Early Access, followed by a retail release of the public edition of the game, which will be larger scope version of the ‘Founders Edition’. Of course, backers will receive this update at no cost.”

The name of the game, Starfighter Inc., is a fantastic name on its own, but it’s only a working title. In an email and update sent out this past week via Kickstarter, Impeller Studios went into more detail. “As soon as we receive confirmation that our trademark registration has been approved, we'll announce the final game name. Many things depend on getting that trademark approved: not just the game name, but everywhere it appears.”

Jack Mamais let us know that the trademark is finalizing, but it’s close. “We will probably do an AMA on Reddit around that time and there will be a press release.”

In any case, Starfighter Inc. is bound to fill that outer space void left by Firefly (and the currently-halted Firefly Online), as well as Cowboy Bebop. For more information on this incoming game, check out more details about Starfighter Inc. at their official website and their funded Kickstarter page. In the meantime: See you, Space Cowboy.



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