Last week, we posted our interview with the lead designers of Haunted Hollow, but Firaxis has another mobile game up its sleeve for later this week. If you’re trying to decide whether to invest time in the upcoming World War I flight/strategy game, Sid Meier had the following to share about the title, on which he served as lead designer.
Thanks for taking some time to answer questions about the new project!
What is your title and role on this project?
I’m Sid Meier, and I’m the lead designer and one of the programmers on Ace Patrol. I’m also Creative Director at Firaxis Games.
What’s the top-level game concept for Ace Patrol?
Ace Patrol is a game that puts you in command of some cool World War I biplanes in turn-based combat against enemy aircraft and aces. You’ll need to choose your maneuvers carefully each turn in order to protect your squadron and pilots, get the drop on the enemy, and succeed in your mission. Along the way you’ll be upgrading your aircraft and trying new aircraft models, as you experience a variety of missions along the Western Front.
What makes the game a good fit for iOS?
Turn-based combat works very well on iOS. Also the missions are a good, bite-sized length for mobile gaming, lasting maybe five to fifteen missions. Bigger missions might take a bit longer. You can play through a whole campaign in an hour or two, or you can play intermittently through a couple of days. The concept works well technically on these devices, and we’ve really tried to make the touch controls feel intuitive and easy. Touch controls feel like a natural fit for turn-based games, because you’re moving one thing at a time as you play the game.
Many gamers are familiar with Firaxis’ work on XCOM and Civilization. What features does Ace Patrol share with those games, and in what ways does it move off in other directions?
Primarily, Ace Patrol is a game that is aimed at a similar audience, strategy gamers who like to think ahead, make a plan, try out lots of different approaches to the game, and then discuss and compare what they do with other players. You get to use cool hardware in our games, whether it’s a biplane in Ace Patrol or alien-technology-based guns in XCOM. There are a lot of cool pieces that you get, but you get to put them together in your own strategy, and then watch yourself improve as you play more and more.
World War I-era fighter planes seems like a fascinating game setting, but an unusual one for turn-based strategy. Without the benefit of cover, buildings, and ground landmarks, how does Ace Patrol remain strategically interesting?
That’s a very good question! We actually did find cover in clouds, and we found buildings in the various targets around the world, such as anti-aircraft gun emplacements, which make certain areas dangerous or safe to fly in. Part of the strategy might be luring the enemy into range of your anti-aircraft guns, so the map actually has a really good sense of safety, danger, and cover – all the basic elements that cover provides you in a ground combat game. The map is an important part of the game. There’s also positioning in whether you’re lower or higher than your target, and that has implications for attacking and maneuvering, and so the world is pretty interesting when you’re playing in it, and is definitely part of the tactics and strategy. The interaction of the planes with each other, the landmarks, and the ground is a constantly changing, fascinating strategic problem.
[Next up: Upgrades, improvements, and multiplayer]
How does the game progress over time in terms of upgrades, leveling up, or improvements?
You’ll get lots of upgrades. Your aircraft get better over time, and you’ll have the opportunity to progress to better aircraft as well as upgrade the equipment that your pilots use, such as gunsights, armor, and better guns. Your pilots definitely improve over time as they learn maneuvers, and you’ll build your tactics based on the arsenal of maneuvers each pilots knows. One of the fundamental concepts is almost this collectible-card-game-style building up of pilots, moves, and equipment in determining your approach to any given mission. A certain pilot might be good at looping maneuvers, or the famous Immelman turn, and another might know slips or skids. The game also progresses in that you can try different campaigns, like the Germans or the Americans.
Does Ace Patrol have a structured story you’re playing through, or is it more about individual, disconnected scenarios/battles? If there is a story, who are you playing, and what’s the thrust of the plotline?
It’s a campaign, and you create the story, but the individual battles and missions are connected in the sense that the improvements you earn carry over from one to another. Damaged planes might have to sit out a mission while being repaired, and captured pilots might not come back for a while. It’s very much a connected story, but it’s one you write yourself as you decide which missions to take and which pilots to bring with you.
What can you tell me about the different types of planes or pilots you control?
All of the aircraft are based on historical prototypes in terms of their capabilities, speed, firepower, and maneuverability. All the really cool planes are there, and there are some very famous and unique planes from that era, like the Fokker Dr.1 or the Sopwith Camel. Designers in those days didn’t have computer aided design or wind tunnels, and so there was a lot of experimentation which led to a variety of aircraft types appearing in the skies. You get to fly with and against all these cool and unique planes. That’s very appealing from a gaming perspective because of the variety that offers the player.
Pilots are also individuals who improve over time with new maneuvers. They keep a journal or log of their experiences during the battle, so you get some sense of how they’re experiencing the campaign. You do develop a connection with them, in a similar way you get attached to your soldiers in XCOM, in terms of their experiences and abilities and how you rely on them in creating a tactical plan.
What’s the visual style the team is shooting for in the game? Does it lean towards realism, or something more exaggerated or cartoony?
It’s a middle ground which tries to capture some of the glamor and innocence, the bright color and design of the World War I plane. These are really iconic, like the Red Baron’s aircraft. There’s a more realistic looking world to fly over, with fields and trenches. It’s a blend of realism and some dramatic and colorful aircraft.
Any plans to include multiplayer? If so, how will multiplayer work?
We have asynchronous multiplayer where each player creates their own squadron, planes, pilots, and abilities, and then goes head-to-head with another squadron controlled by another player. There’s also a “hot pad” mode where two players are on the same device, and these are quicker, instant-action style games where you’re playing more informally for five to fifteen minutes.
It sounds like the plan is for Ace Patrol to be free-to-play. In what ways do you hope to monetize the gaming experience?
Our free-to-play model is more like the “try the demo, if you like it, buy the game” model. You get a number of missions for free which give you a good feel for the game. If you want to go deeper, then we have campaigns that are offered within the game. You can also unlock aces, or improvements to help keep your squadron operating efficiently, such as ambulances to recover downed pilots.