Born Ready Games
Strike Suit Zero filters Colony Wars through Japanese eyes: this is space combat all grown up
It takes a few moments to get the feel for the controls of Strike Suit Zero, the upcoming PC space combat title from Born Ready Games. There is the matter of getting used to which buttons on the keyboard do what, and also the fact that the “A” and “D” keys on the game’s standard WASD layout don’t handle yaw, but roll. Space combat games may make more sense on a game pad, but I was flying cleanly and enjoying the experience very quickly on a mouse and keyboard within fifteen minutes. This is how Colony Wars may have looked and felt had the market for Colony Wars continued past the PlayStation era. I've missed this style of game immensely. I deleted my preview build after proving to myself that the controls worked well and the first few missions were enjoyable. I wanted to save myself for the finished game.
Back into space
Strike Suit Zero will be released on January 24, although the original plan was to launch the game near the end of 2012. “We knew the game was going well, but we also knew that it could be that little bit better. So we asked ourselves how to get that little bit of time.” Born Ready CEO James Brooksby told the Penny Arcade Report. They ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 to continue production, and the campaign ended with over $170,000 in backing from fans of the genre. Brooksy sounded relieved when he described the campaign. “It meant we didn’t have to rush the game, and get it out around October. That went really well for us,” he explained. Not only did they get funded, but the Kickstarter community helped to spread the word about the game. In many ways simply having a Kickstarter is helpful for promotion, especially for genre titles. Many fans of space combat games learned about the title through Kickstarter, and proved all too happy to help fund its development. The game also carries strong visual DNA: the ship and craft designs of the game were created by Junji Okubo, who had previously worked on Steel Battalion, Infinite Space, Appleseed: Ex Machina and Viper’s Creed. Homeworld composer Paul Ruskay scored the game, with Japanese singer-songwriter Kokia singing the main theme. The game may look like a mixture of American and Japanese sensibilities, but the play itself feels like a classical Western space title updated for modern gamers.“We always wanted to make sure we had the right blend. Although the aesthetic is slightly more Eastern, it’s not as Eastern as some games,” Brooksby said. The goal was to follow what Born Ready thinks Western games would have turned into if the Colony Wars and Wing Commander style of space combat titles would have continued. The game is inspired by Japanese visuals, but it isn't consumed by them. “The biggest Eastern influence is when you call the ship a mecha and it changes into a mech form,” he said. On the other hand, American gamers with no experience with Japanese-style mechs didn’t have any problem with the designs. He was slightly worried about American gamers being put off by Japanese-style mech design in a game that doesn't play like a mech title. It turned out that fear was misplaced. “Westerners are quite used to Transformers these days, and they just say it transforms,” Brooksby said.
Fixing the loop
While games like Wing Commander served as inspiration, it was important to learn from the past. “You quite often ended up in a dogfighting loop,” Brooksby said, describing past games. Players followed the arrow on the screen, trying to shoot down the enemy ship, who in turn tried to do the same, leading to both the player and enemy spinning around until one or other lost. “It was important to us to break that up.” One of the ways they fought this loop was to fill the screen with action. Your allies will fight enemies, and you’ll usually have multiple targets to chase; if one isn’t working out you can always cycle to the next. The action is much more dynamic than past games in this genre. The second strategy was the Strike Suit itself. At any point you can shift into robot form and access a different set of weapons, although you’ll also slow down dramatically and present an easier target for enemies. It’s a trade-off: you gain more offensive options, but you slow down and lose mobility. The trick was to keep either form from overwhelming the other. There are other ships, and you'll be able to earn upgrade points and change out your weapon loadout between missions, but the Strike Suit is clearly the star of the show.Born Ready spent around a year tweaking the controls to try to make the game “feel right,” and to nail the balance between arcade and simulation. This was a struggle within the office, as some members of the team preferred a very complex game and others tended towards the easy to understand, Rogue Squadron model of space combat. “We found some old magazines that had keyboard overlays from the '90s, and we saw how many keys were required in these overlays. We thought we had a lot, but we were nowhere near that,” Brooksby said. “We made a distinct effort to make sure it worked on a joypad.” They actively limited the amount of buttons needed to control the game, so people could use a controller in Steam Big Screen mode, and they knew this would also come in handy if the game were ever ported to consoles. The missions were modeled after the pacing of modern FPS titles, where the action rarely gives you room to breathe, and there is rarely a place you’d want to save your game and end your session.
But how does it feel?
It feels as good as you'd expect. You scream across multi-colored space, taking part in thundering battles consisting of dozens of moving parts. It feels like the ships you pilot in your dreams: There is a sense of weight and inertia but there is nothing overly complicated about the action of piloting each ship. There is little realism on display, as this is a game where you can take the shape of a humanoid robot and sidestep missiles, but that makes it even better. Snapping into the shape of a mech in order to go toe to toe with a capital ship, only to change back into a fighter to slide away if things go south… there isn't much like it on the market. This is space as promised by video games: Radiating from us in every direction, punctuated by amazing sights and sounds, filled with graceful, beautiful machines piloted by supermen and women dancing with each other, silhouetted by the void, moments away from a possible oblivion. Strike Suit Zero will be released on the PC on January 24.