Swiss planes, overfishing and pirates — the way to our first console game
Our Game Studio «Blindflug Studios» from Zürich (Switzerland) releases at the 24th of July our newest game «Airheart». An airplane shooter inspired with overfishing. It comes to Playstation and Steam on Amelia Earhart’s 121 birthday.
My co-founder Jeremy Spillman explains, why and how our team created our first console game.
How did you came up with an idea for «Airheart»?
We always wanted to make an airplane shooter. After the release of «Cloud Chasers» we had this whole new universe in our hands. We were very proud of it and it was clear for us, that we want to set our next game in the same universe. The world in «Cloud Chasers» was very imaginative, so it felt like a good idea tell Amelia’s — the nine year old girl from «Cloud Chasers» — story and her adventures further and make the setting the world above the clouds. It was a good start to create an airplane shooter.
What is the difference between «Airheart» and the other airplane shooters?
Well, we love shoot’em ups. But in most of them the coherence of the world is kind of meaningless. You fly around in a lava level and then, a minute later in an ice level. There is really no connection between them. We wanted to create an airplane shooter with the simple gameplay of a two-dimensional airplane game, but in a three-dimensional space. In «Airheart» the levels are built on the top of each other, so there is a clear direction. You want to go higher and then you have to nosedive to you base. This way you can really see the distance you have traveled. Also the whole game is filmed like an one-take movie style. There are no cuts, the camera is focused on you.
What’s the story of «Airheart»?
It’s the story of Amelia. In «Cloud Chasers» she and her father crossed five deserts to find the land above the clouds. Granaria is an isolated flying city. Many people who live here, hunt fish to survive. Amelia is now 19 and has got her own workshop. But she wants more. She is obsessed with the legend of the whale which lives in the stratosphere. A gigantic whale, catching of which would give you enough oil to live a rich life. But even to come close to the stratosphere is very dangerous. There are pirates, drones and other hunters flying everywhere.
Why overfishing as a topic?
We always try to make games with an interesting and important topic. Overfishing is a problem which almost noone sees as his/her own, but from a global point of view it affects everybody. Still nobody thinks that he/she is responsible. For the game it simply means that the world is not static but rather dynamic.
How do you introduce that topic in the game?
Very subtly. It is more a meta-rulebreaker because in video games foes respawn. But in «Airheart» the fish do not simply respawn. So most of the players will actually hunt until all the fish are gone. Which makes sense because you want the oil for your airplane. Then you have level with no fish and you have to go up to the more dangerous level to catch the fish that are still alive. We wanted players to experience this effect, to make this discovery on their own.
Is it possible to empty some level from fish?
Yes, it is possible. It’s actually even a bit more complex. Like in the real world — if you kill a species in «Airheart», another species will take its place. This secondary species can be worthless or even dangerous — like jellyfish or sea urchins, that quickly take over the overfished sea regions.
So this mechanic makes the player to go higher?
They would go higher anyway. But, in theory, you are more successful in the long run, if you hunt a little bit and leave some fish, so the can reproduce.
The moral of the game is the conservation?
You can probably say so. But we don’t want to moralize with our games. We rather want to surprise the player with new gameplay ideas. If you care more about overfishing problem — that’s awesome. But it is also possible to win the game if you just fight your way through. Also: if the player upgrades the plane with heavier weapons, more fish will die because of collateral damage.
Isn’t it ironic that the main character wants to kill the last whale?
Yes, sure. She will actually erase a species. It is also a wink to the American Dream. But the motivation of Amelia is understandable.
Are you experts in fishing?
No, «Airheart» world is a product of imagination. A common question is: Why flying fish? We just thought they would be cool. And it fits the game.
«Airheart» is a tough game. If you die, it’s over. How did you handle the difficulty?
We wanted to make a rogue-like game with permadeath. But the longer we worked on the game the easier it got. Also we did not want to force the player to have heavier weapons but rather slowly work their way up. That’s why we have a crafting system, in which you can use scrap to build stuff. So you can constantly make your progress. But a nosedive is still very dangerous. If you can’t land on Granaria you will land where «Cloud Chasers» ended, in the middle of the desert. All that Amelia worked for in those 10 years is lost.
The dangerous nosedive.
How did the developing process look like?
We expanded the universe of «Cloud Chasers» and still left some space for new ideas. It is possible, for example, that there could be other flying cities. We worked on «Airheart» for two years. We really wanted to create our first game for both PC and consoles. For us it’s a huge deal. That’s why we started with an early access for PC. With the feedback from the players we continued to update the game over months. And now with a lot of new features «Airheart» is finally ready to be launched on consoles. Sure it was a hell of a ride. By the way, to our delight, the release date fits perfectly the birthday of Amelia Earhart — 24th of July!
Interview by Dominik Wolfinger