Ace Combat 7 VR was announced at PSX and we recently had a chance to talk with Ace Combat Franchise producer/director, Kazutoki Kono about the experience of flying a fighter jet, managing the expectations of being the next numbered entries in the series as well as our hands-on with the playable PSVR demo.
Initially, Ace Combat 7 VR was going to be a one to one experience with the main game but as Kono-san elaborates, “it turned to be a little tricky than we thought. So we’re actually in a way developing the Ace Combat and the VR experience independently.”
Capturing the feeling of flight and the physics involved can be difficult to convey in a video game, especially in a VR environment. “You can’t just turn right like you would in a car. You have to roll and then increase your altitude, and that’ll result in a turn,” Kono-san explains. “So someone understands that, puts on the VR headset, it really gives them a fully immersive experience. They know what’s happening to the plane, how it’s oriented, looking around.” For those that simply want to fly without all the know-how, Ace Combat 7 VR offers a free flight mode “so they don’t have to worry about dogfights, barrel rolls, or anything too advanced.”
What’s it like to be leading the charge of a historic brand with many numbered games and spin-offs? Going back to the pillars of what a numbered game represents was one. “Since Ace Combat 7 is a so called numbered title, it represents the core of the brand,” Kono-san says. “While we were in development, the artists, or director, or art director will give me assets or pieces of the game. I’ll have to constantly evaluate it, check it against what I believe is worthy of a franchise flagship title.” The direction and maintaining the signature line of Ace Combat was another. “Fly freely as you like and choose to engage or disengage from certain dogfights at your own accord.” Kono-san furthered, “I feel must be protected at whatever the cost.”
Those looking for innovation and improvements, don’t fret. The team put a lot of work into the clouds. “Instead of having layered flat clouds, we have 3D clouds now. Which changes, not just the visual experience but also the gameplay experience, so there’s gonna be some turbulence,” says Kono-san. “Because that was never something you could do before.”
We joked around about Kono-san’s fascination with Twitter as well. So I asked him what he thought of the community, as well as interacting and responding to fans. “One thing we do have to be careful about is the loud voices are not necessarily the majority ones,” Kono-san cautioned. “We did, take into a large consideration was people thought, to go back to the original core, the fictitious world that we created was a great setting in which the story and narrative can take place.”
The subject of virtual reality is a hot topic in the games industry. With many developers taking existing franchises for the first time into VR, Ace Combat wants to make its case for bringing an immersive flight experience into your household. The possibilities of VR and how we traditionally engage with video games are being explored as Kono-san explains, “There is a lot barriers between what the brain thinks it’s seeing versus what’s happening on the screen. And what VR allows you to do, is bring that one step closer.”
I had the opportunity to try out a brief hands-on demo and while it felt like being in an actual fighter jet, I had some concerns on how this effect those who are putting on the VR headset for the first time, especially those who are uneasy about motion sickness and experiencing vertigo. “We have put in many precautions to ensure people don’t get motion sickness,” Kono-san mentions. “Which is why the cockpit is always fixed in 3D space.” However, the effects you feel from flying in a fighter jet, particularly in VR, should not be sacrificed because it is integral to the experience. “I do believe that is part of gameplay because when you are in a fighter jet at so many thousand feet in the air and you’re doing twists and turns. You should feel a little bit of that.” Authenticity is a strong case here. “I think if you felt zero vertigo or absent that sense of dizziness, then we would have failed our job as a game developer,” Kono-san laughs.
As our time came to an end, Ace Combat 7 and VR seemingly has a bright future ahead of it. “We tackle some very complex themes in the game as well including pilot vs drone aircraft and what that means in terms of warfare,” Kono-san says. For those fans waiting for almost ten years for a new numbered entry in the series, there’s a lot to look forward to, in both the main game and the VR experience. “I hope that and I believe every single person out there has this sort of dream to experience flight,” Kono-san concludes. “And if their first experience is with Ace Combat 7, I think and believe it should be a good one.”