Nintendo fans have always been partial to a good dogfight or two. From the barrel-rolling shootouts of Star Fox 64 to the trench-running action of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, we've always been up for leaping into a virtual cockpit. However, the skies have been unusually quiet on that front as of late, but a slew of indie developers are stepping in to fill that void once more.
First there was the WW1 aerial warfare of Skies of Fury DX (check out our review here), and now there's the side-scrolling dogfighting of Rogue Aces, which mixes roguelike exploration, shmup gunfights and more. We sat down with creative director Mike Daw and CEO Charlie Scott-Skinner from developer Infinite State Games to learn a little more about this genre-mashing ace...
Nintendo Life: Could you introduce yourself?
Mike Daw: Yeah! We're Infinite State Games and we're basically two old pals who've been making games on and off together for over 10 years.
Charlie Scott-Skinner: We'd worked on projects together in the industry since way back. We started knocking out our own games together in 2008 under the banner Infinite State Games and have been slowly rising from obscurity since!
Rogue Aces is rather different to your previous titles, was that a conscious decision?
Mike: Nah, we very much go where the wind blows us in what game we decide to make!
Charlie: Yeah, all our games are very different to each other because we are easily bored, but Rogue Aces is something we've both been dying to make for a while. The thing holding us back was being able to afford the proper art to really do it justice, but I think it was worth the wait!
What attracted you to making a game like Rogue Aces?
Charlie: For me the single largest influence for Rogue Aces was a little known Atari ST game called Sky Strike+. I spent many hours on that game and have dreamed of making something similar ever since. The main essence that I wanted to capture was the feeling of an open world that you could influence, but with a loose structure of missions over laid on top of the chaos.
Mike: The elevator pitch is basically an aerial combat arcade roguelite with MIT flight model controls that evolves to become a super intense zone experience. Instant attraction.
Were there any elements that you wanted to carry forward into Rogue Aces from your previous games?
Charlie: We are both gamers so all we really want to do is make something we both enjoy playing. A core gameplay loop that satisfies us both is a constant thing we carry through all our games. And explosions. We're both big fans of explosions...
Mike: I think I'd definitely experiment with more guitars in game soundtracks in the future! And I imagine we'll probably always have massive score numbers coming off things when they are destroyed in pretty much most of our games going forward, that's always been a trademark.
So, why the 1940s setting?
Charlie: Because from a plane combat point of view, that was the best time - which is probably why George Lucas famously used WW2 footage to mock Star Wars dogfights, too. Earlier era biplanes were slow and underpowered that made for boring dog fights, while later era jets with missiles etc. It tends to a very different fire-and-forget style of dogfighting. The '40s era provides that sweet spot in between.
Mike: It's not really the 1940's in our world, it's definitely not anything to do with any real conflict that's ever happened. The fact is that Rogue Aces doesn't have a story. The girl pilot is the commander's daughter and the male pilot is some new recruit from a far off land. That's all we're giving you... but totally totally feel free to write your own backstories and send them to us! Nothing creepy though. Send them to Charlie.
Charlie: Don't send me creepy backstories.
What influenced the art style?
Charlie: We are both fans of seminal '80s/'90s classics like Cannon Fodder, Chaos Engine, SWIV, Gradius V, R-Type, Metal Slug et al. We were very lucky to get Tony Hager on the project who excels at that old school cartoony sprite style.
Mike: He worked on some big Amiga games and has a style that's, well to me it's like an ultra polished Amiga era style. Like if an amazing artist from the Amiga era had spent the last couple of decades honing his 2D pixel art skills to perfection. That's our tone.
How many pilot and plane options are there?
Charlie: There is a male and a female pilot and only one type of plane - although you can steal enemy planes mid-flight, so does that count as two...?
How do the planes and pilots differ?
Charlie: The pilots don't offer any gameplay differences, only audio/visual. The plane evolves over the course of the game as you complete missions and collect upgrade crates. We think you'll find the end-game plane a very different beast from the one you start in!
There seems to be a lot going on - what will we be doing besides dogfighting?
Mike: You will at first be mostly crashing. Then when you've got combat and landing down, you'll be coping with an emergent war of your very own! The proper water-cooler moments from Rogue Aces are those moments where a load of absolute random crazy interactions happen and all hell breaks loose.
Charlie: Yeah! Mostly blowing stuff! You may be defending against incoming bombers, rescuing some POWs, strafing ground troops or capturing enemy bases to push your troops forward. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Everything seems to happen at breakneck speed. Is there any resource management or strategy involved?
Charlie: Yes, there is a strategy around pushing forwards into enemy territory, but not so fast you out pace your upgrade level, as you will quickly get overwhelmed. Capturing enemy bases gives you forward refuel and rearm points and also means new enemy planes have to fly further to reach you.
Mike: It's also very important to keep getting those upgrade crates from enemy planes, but to keep those coming you'll need to complete missions. All the while trying to keep your plane in the air and out flying those trying to shoot you down. And watching your ever depleting fuel reserves!
One part of the trailer had a pilot parachuting while throwing a grenade to take out an enemy plane (which was awesome, by the way). Are there more opportunities for improvisation or action outside of flying planes like that?
Charlie: Yes! You can steal enemy planes mid-flight by ejecting, but not opening your parachute. This is a very important tactic as it refills ordnance and fuel. But you also inherit any damage you did to that plane, so pick your victim wisely.
Mike: Yeah this the aerial steal! It's not explained in the tutorial, we hope people will find out about it for themselves one way or another. It's a crazy all, or nothing mechanic and we're pretty pleased with how we've made that feel for the player.
Were there any advantages or challenges with the game being 2D?
Charlie: Both 2D and 3D offer their advantages, disadvantages and challenges. From our point of view, the asset pipeline is much simpler in 2D. I also feel that 2D games have a more timeless look than 3D ones.
Mike: If you set something in the past, it'll never age. That's what they say! Well that's what they said about Dad's Army. Dunno about that but 2D and 3D are just different canvases, where you can do different things. The things we wanted to do in Rogue Aces suited 2D.
How important is it to have procedurally generated levels?
Charlie: Good question! Although, people may roll their eyes at procedural generation, it is important to us, because at our core we are just making stuff we want to play. And the best way to replay your own game and not get bored is if you don't know what the game will throw you. So you can either spend 'X' amount of time designing a bunch of fixed stuff or spend that same amount of time designing procedural generation algorithms that are fun to play over and over.
Mike: As Charlie said, the old procedurally generated levels are awesome for a game like Rogue Aces where the bulk of the actual core game design is about the way it feels and how everything behaves in this daft little Carry-On style war that's going on all around you. We have designed something that will give you a good time, that we can promise. I played it the other night just before bed and it was too hyped up after to sleep. Even after three years it's still getting the heart pounding, and that's predominantly down to the fact that it's different every time.
How much do the levels vary in terms of length or mission objective?
Charlie: There's a great variety of mission types and game modes. Some of the missions will require you to destroy just a single building, while others will have you taking down a flight of bombers or an entire train. And depending on how much you like just blowing stuff up, there's a good chance you'll have already destroyed it, which will net you a 2x score bonus!
Mike: Yeah we've land, sea and air objectives of all sorts, but the thing about Rogue Aces is that anything can happen on even the easiest looking mission. Each mission is short and punchy, but it's all about all the emergent chaos that happens en route. It's very much about the journey, man. Haha!
It looks fun and accessible but also demands practice and skill. Does it cater for different types of players?
Charlie: Yes, we've really just provided a destructive war sandbox with a mission structure players can choose to ignore or not. Players are free to do want they want, and we even provide two stock control methods and fully remappable controls on top, so empowering the player is key to us.
What was the process behind balancing the 'pick up and play nature' of an arcade experience and a longer, more in depth home console game.
Charlie: The game started as a very hardcore prototype - for instance, you could bomb your own spare planes on the runway and destroy yourself from the splash damage of your own explosions.
Mike: Yeah, it was absolutely brutal to be fair. However, over time we stripped back some of the more brutal aspects to leave a fairly simulation flight and damage model which gives you the depth. But on top we added a lot more traditional arcade elements such as score callouts, auto-eject, auto-land, things like that to make the game a lot more accessible to newer players. But if you want a small taste of a fraction of how it was back at the start, Veteran Campaign is how we think it should be played. I've never completed that mode yet I’ll be honest, hoooo boy it's tough. But by GOLLY it's satisfying.
Are there features exclusive to the Switch version?
Charlie: Yes, the in-game user switching is a Switch specific quality-of-life feature that took surprisingly longer to add than I thought it would. It was worth the effort though.
Any features you'd like to experiment with in the future?
Charlie: Multiplayer. This game is crying out for multiplayer modes, and indeed we have a tonne of great modes in our Trello backlog. But we had a short amount of time, and as there's only two of us, it makes testing eight-player lobbies somewhat tricky!
Mike: Yeah multiplayer. We went all out on the extra single player game modes, mind! But if the demand was there for going back to Rogue Aces with some new features, I'd like to get the option to play the game with a trombone-only soundtrack. Let us know in the comments if you guys are into trombones.
We would like to thank Mike and Charlie for their time. Rogues Aces is out now on the Nintendo Switch eShop. Let us know what you made of the interview, and the game itself, in the comments section below...