Rogue Aces is the sort of arcade game that makes you fall in love with shooting things until they explode all over again. You can read our review of the game here, but we also spoke to Infinite State Games’ Charlie Scott-Skinner and Mike Daw about its development, how MIT informed the flight mechanics, what sound a plane makes when it hits a wall, and their love for Scooby Doo.
TSA: First off, Charlie and Mike, can you tell the readers of The Sixth Axis a little more about yourselves and Infinite State Games?
Mike Daw: Yeah! Well, Infinite State Games is me and Charlie. Charlie does the programming and design, I do the design, audio and production stuff.
Charlie Scott-Skinner: Yep. We’re a two man crew that live on opposite sides of the country and our company boardroom consists of various online lobbies (lately Dark Souls 2, Pure Pool and Monster Hunter World). Once or twice a year, one of us will take on ‘the great drive’ and we’ll hook up IRL.
We first met when we worked together in Croydon for a development studio working on Nintendo’s DS system. We immediately hit it off being tasked to make a bowling mini-game for the project we were both on, which ended up being arguably the best thing in that game!
After that company closed, we both went our separate ways as far as full time work goes, but stayed in touch to make games together again; first on iOS, then on Vita, expanding shortly after to PS4 and further to Switch in December.
Mike is very much inspired by frantic bite sized arcade action games, while I much prefer more involved longer grindier games. We find there is an excellent sweet spot between the two that we know we’ve hit when we’re both enjoying the project we’re currently working on.
TSA: Whilst playing Rogue Aces, I felt there were many different influences behind it. Elements of its old school arcade action reminded me of the shoot ‘em ups of my youth. Games live SWIV, R-Type and 1942. It also has an aesthetic that recalls one of Sensible Softwares’ finest, Cannon Fodder. Yet, despite these inspirations, Rogue Aces stands very much on its own.
Which games served as an inspiration for you and how did they affect your design decisions?
Mike: You’ve just listed some major games from my childhood there, for sure! I’m a huge twitch gamer that relies on reflexes over strategy, so shmups are kinda my thing.
Charlie: It’s safe to say we are both very much fans of seminal shooters from the 80s and 90s. R-Type in particular has a very firm place in my heart. Minor brag: as a school boy I used to be so proud of being able to get all the way to level 6 on one 20p credit. I’m still unsure whether that is down to skill or pure bloody minded resistance to spending money! And R-Type Final on the PS2 remains to this day one of the finest shmup packages ever made.
Mike: I’m more of a Gradius V man myself…
Charlie: However, from my point of view, 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 mission overlaid.
Mike: Yeah, my first brush with this genre was the sequel to Sky Strike+ called Jetstrike on the Amiga CD32. It’s these games where Rogue Aces inherited a lot of its genes from.
Charlie: These were the arcade roots, but I’m also a massive fan of any flight game, specifically Gaijin’s excellent hardcore console entries, IL2 Sturmovik, Birds of Steel and War Thunder. Having spent more hours than is healthy playing in unofficial competitions in sim mode on IL2, I wanted to capture the cat-and-mouse feeling that comes from dog fighting an enemy that is hard to see. You can see this most in the Veteran campaign, where the indicators are turned off on the enemy planes, and putting a few rounds in them to get a telltale smoke trail is a very viable strategy.
In terms of the games’ aesthetics, we were very lucky to work with the talented Tony Hager, who is an industry veteran that was making games such as Brutal Soccer while I was still at school. Tony and I have worked with each other at a couple of companies and always vowed to collaborate on our own project. Luckily he was also a fan of 2D plane games and was available in time for this project, so we managed to get him on board.
Mike : Stoo Cambridge’s artwork on Cannon Fodder definitely helped define the tone of humour we were going for. The perfect balance between cartoony and detailed in Cannon Fodder was definitely a guide stone. Tony of course brought a lot of his super-classy Amiga era stylings as well.
Gameplay-wise, for me, the inspiration came from three games; the aforementioned Jetstrike on the CD32, SkyKid in the arcades and Crackdown on Xbox. Jetstrike and SkyKid on how I wanted it to feel when you were playing, and Crackdown for the freedom of player expression. What made Crackdown special to me was the fact you could completely ignore the instructions, go off and take matters into your own hands without being penalised. Rogue Aces has that in spades.
I think there’s also quite a lot of Contra in there. I play Contra III and Contra Hard Corps a lot and the over the top humour and action is something that’s undoubtedly taken root in my creative psyche. When you’re barrelling along the ground getting up close and personal with soldiers and tanks in Rogue Aces there’s definitely a bit of Contra in there.
TSA: The flight mechanics themselves are deceptively simple. There’s a huge amount of complexity to be found. I must admit that managing to land my plane for the first time without relying on autopilot resulted in a fist pump and a cry of some expletives I won’t repeat here. I understand that the physics engine was based on one from MIT. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Charlie: Absolutely! When we first started prototyping there were a number of key pillars I knew I wanted in the game, namely gliding, a damage model that degraded your ability to stay in the air and for landing I wanted you to be able to ‘flare’ the plane, where you pull the nose up to force a stall to lower airspeed. So we turned to the good folks at MIT, who just happen to have posted some handy equations for flight.
In play testing though, we needed better control of airspeed, so we capped that at a reasonable level that felt good and was balanced in terms of dogfighting, and consequently had to take some artistic license with drag. Unfortunately this broke the ability to glide, but we hope you’ll find the end result gives that depth of control we were going for.
Mike: What he said. I’m more the ‘what sound does the plane make when it hits a wall’ guy.
TSA: One moment in the game that really stood out for me was when I discovered that I had the ability to leap out of my plane and ‘skyjack’ other aircraft. It was a far more thrilling version of some of the ideas found in the Just Cause series. Where did the idea for this come from and how difficult was it to implement the mechanic?
Charlie: I’ve haven’t played Just Cause, despite it being in my backlog…
Mike: Nor have I! Actually, right from the start, when Rogue Aces was just a Rizla with some ideas on, we wanted to jump out of the plane and steal another one. I also wanted to get in Dr. Strangelove style nuclear-bomb rodeo-riding, but the one-off nature of it didn’t fit as well as aerial steals. Was it tough to implement?
Charlie: Nah piece of cake. As soon as we put it in, we knew we had just added a cornerstone gameplay hook, and even ended up (as we often do) making an entire game mode around that single mechanic.
TSA: The game is really brought to life by the utterly insane voice overs, which are all eminently quotable. Marc Silk provided the vocal cords and I read on your blog that recording voice overs is one of your favourite parts of the game making process. What is it about this aspect of the process that really stands out for you?
Charlie: Thanks! Yes, getting Marc Silk on board was fantastic! I can honestly say that despite the number of air miles I’ve acquired during development, those voice overs still haven’t gotten old!
Mike: Well, I put audio super high up on our list of things to get right. In fact at ISG, we tend to make the game’s theme music before we even start programming. Recording VO is the best though, because you get to stand in a room shouting and laughing for an hour. It’s that simple! With Marc it was just absolutely crazy because there’s this lovely dude there and out of his face is coming all these people, including blimmin’ Scooby flippin’ Doo. I loves Scooby Doo.
TSA: The in-game music, if not for having to hold a controller, would certainly have led me to attempt some air guitar. How did Kevin ‘Kevvy Metal’ Black come to be involved in the game? And, on a scale of 1 – 10, how awesome is the Rogue Aces title track?
Mike: Kevin ‘Kevvy Metal’ Black (for it is he) is an old friend of mind and an insanely talented guy. He’s basically the most amazing metal guitarist I’ve ever met. When we started Rogue Aces we knew we wanted an Iron Maiden vibe – we listened to a lot of Aces High in development – and we knew just the man who could take that theme and run with it. That man was Kevin ‘Kevvy Metal’ Black, along with his friend Ross Middlemiss doing the 90’s midi drum programming. If you like Kev’s tunes on Rogue Aces, you should check out his band ‘Fat Goth’, by the way…
And how awesome is it from 1-10?
TSA: Finally, what should TSA readers be looking forward to most when they get their grubby mitts on Rogue Aces upon its release on the 12th of April? [Ed – Uh, that’s yesterday]
Charlie: We’re hoping that people have as much fun mastering the art of dogfighting and strafing/bombing runs in a fully destructible 2D war sandbox as we did making it. Tally-ho!
Mike: Look forward to that feeling when you perform your first manual landing without smashing into the side of the carrier!
Also, you can get 20% off for the first week as a thank you for being an early adopter (exclusive to PS Plus members in Europe and Australia).
Thanks very much to Mike and Charlie for chatting to us. Rogue Aces is available right now on Playstation 4, PS Vita and Nintendo Switch. Be sure to read our review on Rogue Aces here.