Although we got to see little more than an announcement trailer, with fighter jets tearing through the city of Miami blowing up buildings and shooting enemy planes out of the sky, we did get to sit down with Kazutoki Kono, Producer of Assault Horizon to talk about the rebirth of the franchise.
Q: Do you think many gamers are frightened by the Ace Combat series? Is this a scary franchise to jump into uninitiated?
Kazutoki Kono: For previous titles in the Ace Combat series, a lot of players actually gave us feedback saying it looks too complicated. It's not frightening, but it's a little bit too high a hurdle to jump over to get into, and that is why with Assault Horizon we've changed all the gameplay. We made the gameplay with a new system called 'close range assault' in order to make the game more accessible and open to new players.
Q: Some people have said that Assault Horizon blends Ace Combat gameplay with that of Modern Warfare - is this a fair comment?
KK:It's not that we were trying to make a Call of Duty game [laughs]. We tried to take the good parts of the Ace Combat franchise and take it out, and make it reborn so more people can enjoy it. Hearing "it's Call of Duty in the skies" or "oh it looks like Modern Warfare" actually fills me with confidence, because Call of Duty is doing so well, and a lot of people on the development team, including myself, love Call of Duty.
Q: OK, so can you give me a brief overview of the story driving the game?
KK: The main character is called Bishop, and he's the ace pilot of the fighter jets. And he starts out on a mission in East Africa, and finds out they have a huge nuclear bomb made. He goes off in search of this mysterious bomb and the world is slowly becoming involved in a war situation with this bomb. As the story goes on, it's told not only from Bishop's perspective, but from that of helicopter pilots on the same team and other fighter pilots too, so we can look at the whole storyline with a different vision.
Q: You spoke earlier about how the game would be more accessible to new players. How have you gone about achieving that from a control perspective?
KK: For those newcomers the control system is made so that it's more intuitive. It's not necessarily really really easy to control; players don't have to worry about being the best to really control the fighter jet - obviously fighter jets are incredibly complicated to control in real life - but they don't have to worry about that part. Especially for players used to FPS games, they'll be capable of doing this.
Q: What are players doing minute to minute? Can you give me an example of a particular mission?
KK: In this one part of the game, you start out controlling Bishop - the fighter jet - and you go about attacking the enemy base. After you do that, in the middle helicopter allies come to help Bishop. The game then changes perspective, and the next section sees you as a helicopter pilot helping Bishop out from elsewhere. So you get to see the storyline from a different point of view.
Q: So there are helicopter missions too?
KK: Yeah, there are. And as you control the helicopters you can take down enemies on the ground. It's made so the controls aren't confusing, it's made so the players can enjoy exploring and shooting down enemies on the ground, so it's very intuitive.
Q: The trailer shows a city environment. Will the whole game be in this urban setting, or can we expect other environments?
KK: For the purposes of the trailer, we're only showing Miami Florida. We do have more wooded areas, and desert areas too, so not just cities.
Q: And can you reveal anything about multiplayer at this point?
KK:They're actually making the multiplayer right now. Online multiplayer is really important to us, especially for this title. So what we're trying to do is include that close range assault system and manoeuvre system and make it enjoyable for players in a multiplayer context. We want people to enjoy dog fighting, as seen in the trailer. So we're figuring out a way to make that as exciting as possible.
Q: A slightly more general question: racing games, and vehicle based games seem to work incredibly well in 3D. Is this something you might look at for Assault Horizon, or even future Ace Combat titles?
KK: Depending on how well 3D games take off, and how many people start playing 3D games - actually, they're doing experiments on making Ace combat in 3D, but we're not really sure yet.
Q: The same kind of question for motion controls then. I played Project Aces: Sky Crawlers a little while back, which obviously used the Wii's motion controller. Is this something you think might work for Assault Horizon too?
KK: For Assault Horizon in specific - since the game has been changed to high speed action - it's kind of difficult to use motion controllers, especially with Kinect, because you'll have to do this - [holds hands out in front of him] - it might look a bit funny.
Q: The game is currently planned for PS3 and 360, can we expect a Wii alternative in the future too?
KK: We want to make the game in high def - like it is now - so moving it to the Wii would be difficult. But if there's a lot of voice from the community that they want it on a certain platform, maybe we'll think about it.
Q: And when can we expect the game to launch?
KK: We can promise that the game is coming out 2011, but we can't be more specific because it's a new challenge for us and we're unsure of the milestones involved.
Q: Thank you very much for your time
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon is due for release on Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2011.