At Infinite State Games we pride ourselves on being completely independent. No publishers, no stakeholders, no nothing. It’s literally just two guys with a home-made game engine working out of our respective kitchens, making the sort of games we want to play, with no-one to answer to.
In November 2014, we released Don’t Die, Mr. Robot! on PSVita. It got some nice fat 8/10 scores and introduced a lot of people to the sort of games that we at ISG like to make: unapologetic, slightly unhinged, super fun, hardcore arcade games that require a bit of thought but not too much.
In this quick dev-diary, we’re gonna let you into the last 6 months of development on our next game; Wing Kings – due for release mid-2016 on PSVita and PS4 platforms.
July – The War Planning Committee
We’ve no shortage of games we want to make at ISG, so chucking ideas around at the initial planning phases is always an energizing process.
Looking through our big black book of secret game designs, we didn’t take long to agree that the next game should be one we’ve been planning for many years now. It would be a revisiting of the old 2D dog fighting games of our youth, but with modern game-play mechanics, rogue-like character development and procedurally generated landscapes. It would have to have replay value out the wazoo, a deep control scheme and gorgeous art.
We wanted the player to choose between a female or male protagonist. Charlie always likes to play as femme fatales in games, Mike always chooses a meat-head dude, so this way we both got to play as we like.
We also wanted to be conscious of the ethics of making a game based around war. Neither of us at ISG are fans of armed conflict in real life. Mike was raised by Quakers and is always casting his hippy eyes over everything to make sure it’s all morally kosher. But when you’re peppering enemies with a highly powered prop-plane mounted cannon, blasting them with rockets and pummeling their bases with bombs – there’s gonna be some violent depictions. We needed a rule. We needed internal guidelines. We came up with this:
‘As long as it’s fun, it’s fine.’
The fact is, there are many ways to dispatch enemies in Wing Kings. Not all of them pretty. What we do guarantee though is, it’s all great fun.
So with our joint vision clear, the time to make a new game arrived…
August – The Core Mechanic of Flight
Right at the core of Wing Kings is flying. If flying doesn’t feel right, the game ain’t gonna feel right. So we didn’t mess about. At Infinite State Games we strongly believe that your core game mechanics need to be very tight: everything else is just icing on that cake. And as the son of an ex-RAF pilot and a huge fan of WW2 flight sims, Charlie wanted to get as much realism into the flight and damage models as possible, while still making it feel fun.
But neither of us are aeronautical engineers though, so it was over to the good people at MIT to provide some guidance:
September – Prototyping and Experimenting
September was the month we dropped the core game-play mechanics into our engine and started properly prototyping. Initially the focus was on getting taking off and landing right, getting the firing speed right, making the bombs and rockets feel exciting and ensuring the landscape generation routines didn’t make the world a horrid place to be.
We also started making the AI for our enemies. Making the enemy planes chase and attack the player in a pleasing way wasn’t too hard. Making them not want to smash into the sea or cliff edges took a little more persuasion. https://youtu.be/xJpGabrkRzc
The more we played, the more we realized that the fun of the game was not from specific instructions and rigid missions, but from breaking off and doing your own thing. When you’re making games, you look for those water cooler moments. The bizarre collections of random events in a game which made for a great war story.
As we both played the prototype in our respective offices, texts started to fly between us with shaggy dog stories of great battles, close shaves and near misses. If we had a water cooler at ISG (or even an office) – it would have been a very busy place. We were excited.
We even sent Mike skydiving to report back on how it felt to control a parachute in real life. Felt great! Made us realize quite how much say over where it goes you actually have which has been reflected in the game.
October – Art Drop Time
A man can develop in coder art for only so long. With October, so came the art.
We’ve worked on and off with our artist friend Tony for years. He’s a games industry veteran who cut his teeth making 8 and 16bit graphics when it was state of the art rather than an imposed limitation. This guy’s the real deal.
Tony’s a fan of the genre that Wing Kings sits in too, having played many of the same inspirational titles we did back in the day. Games like Wings of Fury, Sky Strike, Jet Strike, and more recently Glory Days on DS.
His style is somewhere between industrial and cute. Metal Slug meets Speed Ball 2. When the art delivery came (in glorious HD ready for the PS4 version) we resized it, dropped it in, and as you’ll see from the follwing video – its starting to look pretty cool!
Tony decided to use a technique where the plane was modeled in 3D, rotated to create the animation frames, then painstakingly touched up with hand painted pixels until it looked perfect. We love how it looks and we reckon you will too.
November – Death to all but Metal
Sure enough, as promised, November saw the arrival of the music we’d commissioned.
You ever listen to Iron Maiden? Specifically Aces High? That’s what we were after. Our exquisite circa 1995 32-bit pixel artwork needed to sit on top of music that took elements from 90’s metal, Iron Maiden, but with a unique proggy / modern slant.
Kevin ‘Kevvy Metal’ Black (bassist from Laeto, Fat Goth) and his producer Ross Middlemiss are based in Dundee. These two are so metal, they can make pink spandex look good. So metal they piss Mercury. Tasked with writing us several battle loops, a main theme and some stings – those boys have delivered admirably. In fact, their music is so perfectly brutal I just listened to a 10 second snippet of it and my palms are now covered in coarse black hairs.
Here’s a sneak peak of one of the tunes
We also had our yearly ISG meeting in November. Now, to the casual observer, it may have appeared as if we just sat on the sofa for 24 hours eating donuts and watching movies. Indeed, that’s exactly what we did do. It’s important as a team to just let your hair down sometimes and chill. You don’t want all your memories of the best years of your life being just working. Trust me.
December – Tweaks, iteration and polishing hooks.
As the nights began to draw in, we had the guts of what would be Wing Kings, and it was now we were able to pinpoint what was fun, what wasn’t working, and what new ideas could be incorporated.
Playing the game solid for a month led us to find what would become one of the riskiest but most rewarding game-play hook in Wing Kings – the aerial steal.
We noticed that when you eject from your plane, those moments before your parachute deploys, quite often you’d fall past an enemy plane. It came to us in a flash:
‘Dude, we so need to rip the pilot out of that plane and have your guy steal it mid-air’
We implemented, tried it… and we saw that it was rad.
The tweaks and ideas kept coming. While drifting down on the parachute, we thought ‘hey, why don’t we give our player a gun here? No, not a gun, a big fat hand cannon. That way they can blast away any planes or troops that pose a threat on the way down. It’ll be fun!’ So now, after ejecting, you can fire in any direction you want as you descend. One word of advice though; don’t shoot your own parachute. That gets kinda messy. But ‘As long as it’s fun, it’s fine?’ right?
Wing Kings continues to be developed independently by Infinite State Games. They are currently investigating online multiplayer modes and tweaking missions until they’re so much fun they should be illegal.
Wing Kings is due for release mid-2016 on PSVita, PS4 and Xbox One.