Video Games
A Behind the Scenes Glimpse Into Starfighter Inc.

Impeller Development Team | 12 May 2015 15:00
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Editor's Note: Newly formed Impeller Studios recently launched a Kickstarter for its new game, Starfighter Inc. We asked the team to give us a bit of insight into the game and what creating the game will entail.

David Wessman, project designer on Starfighter, Inc.

I'm writing this on Day 4 of the Kickstarter campaign for Starfighter Inc. I'm both proud and humbled that we've already attracted more than 3,000 backers and $100,000 in funding.

I joined the project following a chance encounter at Epic's GDC party in 2013. I had just met one of the leads on the project and we were discussing games and technology. Once I'd revealed my background on the X-Wing series he told me about this "cockpit shooter" they were working on and asked if I'd be interested in helping out. I believe my immediate response was, "hell fucking yeah!"

Over the next few weeks I got to know the team and where they were at with the project. They had a very clear vision of recreating the classic space combat shooter experience, and making it even better using today's technology. This seemed pretty straightforward, but in light of Star Citizen's massive success and the fact that there were about two dozen other games competing for attention in the same space, I felt we needed something special to set us apart.

When everyone else is zigging, try zagging. I proposed that the best way we could differentiate Starfighter Inc. would be to make it as realistic as possible. While World War II in space is obviously a lot of fun, I wanted to see what would happen if we respected the science and avoided all the hand-waving, "unobtanium" and technobabble that most science fiction games rely on. This means no stealth, no artificial gravity, no force fields, no FTL drives.

The team was skeptical. We wondered whether the fact that nobody else was taking this approach was because it just wouldn't be fun, or maybe it would simply be too difficult to implement? We all agreed that it was certainly worth trying, and we set out to create our first playable as a proof of concept.

It was crude. There was no proper HUD, the controls were mouse and keyboard, and the assets were borrowed from other games. It was frustratingly difficult (at first), but we quickly recognized that it just took a little practice to begin to get the hang of it. And then we started to get our first kills and the excitement was palpable. We had found our kernel of fun that we knew we could build on!

starfighterinc_cockpitvisualtarget

There was so much more that needed to be done. We didn't have the resources to build our own engine, so we had to find one that would support our vision. This was a significant challenge by itself that took longer than expected.

And, of course, Jack and I had a lot of work to do in fleshing out the revised design vision. How far in the future should we go? What's the backstory? What exactly is the player fighting for? What about interstellar travel? Will there be aliens?

The next big challenge was designing the ships and weapons. No one on the team has a degree in aerospace engineering, but we understood that "pure" spacecraft shouldn't look anything like modern jet fighters, and our capital ships shouldn't look like aircraft carriers or submarines in space. We have a great art team, but their engineering knowledge isn't any greater than ours, and it's taken a while to get everyone on the same page.

Early on, I turned the team on to the Atomic Rockets website created by Winchell Chung. This has been an invaluable resource, but it's huge and can be overwhelming when you first start exploring it. It was there that I discovered a sketch for a realistic space fighter that was good enough to get the Atomic Rockets seal of approval. I tracked down the creator's profile on deviantart and reached out to him to see if we could use his design, or even better, if he might be interested in joining the team.

While he wouldn't let us use his design (he had other plans for it), he said yes to joining the team to create new designs just for us. And to our great delight it turned out he was actually training to be an engineer! Jackpot! With that, allow me to introduce Zach Hajj, our lead ship designer:

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