Aces at War 2011: Talk Dog Fight R01

Update: May 15th, 2020

Original Post: February 10th, 2019

The first of three interviews found in Aces at War 2011, an Ace Combat art and canon information book released as part of the Japan-exclusive Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Special Edition (2011). 

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Those who reign over the sky, be magnificent--- How were the state-of-the-art fighter jets that grace the series brought to life?

Shoji Kawamori, the genius who designed the state-of-the-art (fictional) fighter jet that was introduced in the newest title, “Assault Horizon,” and Masato Kanno, who was heavily involved in all of the state-of-the-art fighter jets throughout the series. Along with these two creators, who have immeasurable influence on the series, we had active-duty Eagle driver (an F-15 pilot) Kenji Ogata join and talk passionately on the inside stories and mystique hidden behind aircraft design.

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Masato Kanno


Head art director of Bandai Namco Games. Born on April 19, 1971, has worked mainly on the art direction, superweapon designs, and graphics of the scenery in the Ace Combat series. Is also knowledgeable in developments in space exploration, and his college art project that used the space shuttle as the theme was selected to be exhibited as part of the Joint 6 University Art Exhibition in the past. Also spares no trouble in getting real experience for the sake of [game] development, and has flown in Cessna aircraft and parachuted many times. Admits that he is a huge fan of Shoji Kawamori, and went all out in displaying his aesthetic “Kawamori-isms” in Assault Horizon.

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Shoji Kawamori


A satellite senior managing director. Born on February 20, 1960. Excels at mecha design, creating original work, directing, production, screenplay, and storyboarding and calls himself a vision creator due to his comprehensive role. Supervised the mecha designs in media such as the TV series “Super Dimension Fortress Macross” (aired 1982), debuted as a director at the young age of 24 with the anime movie “SDF Macross Do You Remember Love” (released 1984), and still works at the forefront. Supervised the mechanical design of the state-of-the-art fighter jet (fictional aircraft) in Ace Combat Assault Horizon’s DLC.

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Kenji Ogawa


An active-duty Eagle driver (F-15 pilot) that also serves as the JASDF Komatsu Air Base 6th Air Wing Supervision Department Public Relations/Communication Group/Communication Group Leader. His rank is Captain First Class. Born on July 2, 1976. As a man who knows what the sky is truly like, we had him join as a guest in this discussion. Hobbies include camping with his family, fishing, and ham radio. Very knowledgeable, especially with ham radio, and says that specific knowledge regarding radio waves is hugely beneficial in his current job. Always has a gentle smile when talking about subjects, but when the topic changes towards missions, his masculine face sharpens to resemble that of an eagle. He truly is a man of the sky.

Looking back at the paths each of them took and uncovering the origin of their hearts.

Kanno: When I was in middle school, my dad told me in the living room, “Masato, looks like there is an anime about airplanes that’s about to start,” and started recording the videos saying “maybe you should study airplanes with this.” That was with the latest VHS tapes of that era. And those happened to be the first two episodes of an anime Kawamori-san worked on.

Kawamori: Wait really? I couldn’t imagine it being used as teaching material. Your father is interesting (laughs).

Kanno: It might seem like a lie, but it’s a true story. My father was an English teacher, so maybe he wanted to show that “I also know what’s popular among the younger generations!” Anyhow, this is how I was introduced to Kawamori-san’s work, and it has really affected me as I engage in game development work currently. Where did your interest in design begin Kawamori-san?

Kawamori: I first became aware of me thinking “that design looks cool” around the time when the marionette show “Stingray” (started airing 1964) and “Thunderbirds” (started airing 1966) came out. I’ve always been incredibly curious, and when I was in the fifth grade, I traveled from Yokohama to Nagano alone to take pictures of a steam engine. I looked up the timetables, railroad magazines, and maps all by myself and figured out, “since it’ll be a certain time of day with this timetable, I should be able to take a great photo at the bridge in this gorge.”

Kanno: When you were in fifth grade, huh. You were really active.

Kawamori: And when I was in second grade, I saw an Isuzu 117 coupe and my mind was enchanted by its overall elegance and the bonnet’s delicate curves. I heard from my father that an Italian designed it, and I was impacted by that word, “design.” I realized “One design can make a car look this cool!” By the way, why did you want to be an Eagle driver, Ogawa-san?

Ogawa: I’ve been attracted by passenger planes since I was a child and thought, “how do they fly those things?” After that, I saw an F-104 fighting a monster in a rerun of the “Ultraman” series (started airing 1966) and was then attracted to airplanes that battled [things]. That feeling never went away even as an adult, and I chose this path once I learned Japan had an air self defense force. After studying again, my interest shifted to the F-15 which was being equipped with new technology, and now I’m an Eagle driver. I wasn’t always looking at the F-15.

Kawamori: I’m the same way. In the beginning, I said that I wanted to be an engineer/designer of real airplanes and spaceships. In that sense, I’ve strayed a little from that path (laughs).

Kanno: I also try to distance myself from actual game creation to experience things first-hand to try to bring that feeling to the game. Taking a ride in a Cessna in Hawaii or falling with a parachute. One time, the main parachute didn’t open and I had to open the reserve chute around 300m altitude and survived. A situation similar to that experience is also included in Assault Horizon. I heard you have lots of experience as well, Kawamori-san.


Kawamori: Yes, my intention has been to do those kinds of things as they come along. I’ve been to Air Combat USA, where after an hour of training on the ground, you get to fly an italian piston engine plane with an instructor. I didn’t know until I tried it, but you surprisingly don’t spend a lot of time looking forward during aerial combat.

Ogawa: In a real flight in an F-15 you have to maintain battle formation, look at the radar, look around when on alert against enemies, and change the direction we’re looking at continuously.

Kanno: It’s an incredible feat of multitasking, Also, the amount of Gs you pull likely doesn’t compare to that of a Cessna aircraft, but how is it like specifically?

Ogawa: Even with 2Gs or 3Gs, you can immediately feel your body getting heavier. Once you look to the side, moving your neck might be difficult since it’s too heavy. When it's 8Gs, it feels like your whole body is being squeezed. You can feel this the most in your toes. In these situations, G-resisting actions are vital, and we tense up our feet and abs to prevent the blood flow in the brain from being pushed down. We work on this with daily weight training, but it’s still really tough trying to fly when you’re being compressed so hard that it’s difficult to breathe.

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Kanno: Making [players] feel Gs is one of the ultimate goals of our games, but just shaking the camera only makes people nauseated, and it’s still hard to present (laughs). It just further reminds me that there are physical and physiological phenomena that occur in the sky that cannot be experienced by humans going about normal life on land.

Ogawa: I even had this rare experience. One time while we were night flying, I saw what looked like a blue wave on the HUD. I first thought it was an instrument malfunction and adjusted the brightness, but even when I made the HUD completely dark, the blue thing didn’t disappear. I thought, “Huh?” and when I looked forward around the HUD, I saw that there was a hazy light coming from the area where the canopy and the nose joined and was covering the front half of the canopy. It was blue, pale, and pretty. I was startled at first but I was moved by this mystical sight. It's called “Saint Elmo’s Fire,” and is an extremely rare atmospheric-electromagnetic phenomenon that occurs on aircraft.

Kawamori: Amazing, that’s really amazing! I’ve heard of it in sailor’s legends, but this is the first time I’ve met someone who actually has seen it. How frequently can this be seen?

Ogawa: I’ve flown around 2600 hours including other aircraft, but I’ve only seen it twice. And that was only for a few minutes, so I don’t think it happens all that often.

Kanno: That’s a rare event for sure. Hearing stories of it only deepens the desire to see it. Until I see one, I can’t die as a creator! (laughs)

A state-of-the-art fighter distinctive of Director Kawamori. Its features and mechanisms revealed!

Kanno: The Ace Combat series originally focused mainly on real-world military aircraft, but there were calls by users that wanted something special. Our answer to that were the state-of-the-art fighters (fictional aircraft) shown in pages 62-77 of this book. And then for Assault Horizon, we decided to prepare a DLC specific state-of-the-art fighter and asked Kawamori-san to design it, but we were really impressed with the result.

Kawamori: I’m really happy. With an original design, I personally define it so that if it doesn’t include brand-new mechanisms that have never been seen before, you can’t call it original. For example, in works where there is a strong element of science fiction, you can include things like transformation mechanics, but if that doesn’t exist, you can only work with the aircraft’s styling. In the case where the setting is the real world like in Assault Horizon, you have to think about a new configuration that can also be used to create a real aircraft. Only then can it be called a “design.”

Kanno: Yes. Kawamori-san always mentions this whenever he gets the opportunity.

Kawamori: It was quite a while back, but a Harrier came to an airshow at Iruma, and that demo flight was really sensational for me at the time. That sight remained with me, and when designing this aircraft, I wanted to include VTOL capabilities. However, I thought it would be a waste and dead weight if it used a lift-fan like the F-35B. And combined with the thoughts of it being operated at sea, a single-engine was risky.

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Left

Kanno: “If we’re going to work together, I thought that we had to create an aircraft that had that ‘Kawamori-isms’.”
 

Center
Kawamori: "When you think of a configuration that real designers haven’t used yet, only then can you call it a ‘design’.”

 

Right
Ogawa: “This is nice, I really want to get in this thing.”

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Ogawa: It’s just like you said. If it’s only one engine, it has the drawback that you can’t do anything if the engine fails, and also the thrust becomes important. If a strike aircraft is flying low, there’s not much of a difference in thrust with one engine or a pair of engines, but at higher altitudes, the air density decreases and the effectiveness of an engine is lowered, so a single-engined craft will always be at a disadvantage.

Kawamori: Yes. So that’s why I wanted it to be a twin-engined aircraft. But if you arrange a pair of engines next to each other, it’s really difficult to make it VTOL-capable due to center-of-mass related issues. Then I thought what if we have a layout where the engines are on top of each other with one offset to the rear. There is a real-life example of an aircraft with two engines simply on top of each other, but if we offset the driveshaft forward and back and create VTOL nozzles, it would result in a VTOL aircraft and have a pair of engines. This I can call a “design.”

Kanno: When I saw the design, there were 2 things that I thought were unique. One is the forward-swept wings that become evident when you look from above. It looked like it was really maneuverable and cool. The other was that the intake on the dorsal side looked awkward yet weirdly real at the same time.

Kawamori: Honestly, the two side intakes are enough, but if that’s the case, the aircraft is not as interesting. By putting an intake on the top as well, it can show that it is equipped with two engines better. In the case of sci-fi craft, I can make them sharp and cool looking, but then they don’t look as realistic. So for this design, I thought about not making it look too cool. By considering the required size if actual engines were used, distance from the intake, placement of the landing gear, where to put the center-of-mass, and wing area to accommodate the rest of these, it resulted in a design that wasn’t too “smart.” That’s where the sense of realism emanates from. It’s just that with this construction, the maintainability would be bad, so it’ll probably have a bad reputation among mechanics. That’s the drawback of this aircraft. (laughs)

Kanno: I think it resulted in a modern aircraft just as planned by Kawamori-san. What do you think Ogawa-san? Would you want to jump into it in reality?

Ogawa: This is nice, I really want to get in this thing. What I’m really curious about right now is how it moves.

Kanno: About that, since this time I was going to work together with Kawamori-san, I thought that we had to have what I call “Kawamori-isms,” and create an aircraft that “did not have a timid attitude.” If an enemy got behind it and it wanted to take the enemy’s rear, a kulbit would be too pretty. On the other hand, a barrel roll to the rear would be too magnificent.

Kawamori: That’s why we had it (while motioning with hand movements) climb a little with a slight [vertical] loop, then use both nozzles to nose forward into the center of that circle traced by the loop. We thought about this kind of unique trajectory.

Ogawa: So instead of a regular flight path, it’s moving into the circle?

Kawamori: Yes. I thought maybe with that, it wouldn’t lose too much speed.

Top: The DLC exclusive state-of-the-art fighter showing off maneuvers of a different dimension in the skies of Assault Horizon’s world. Designed by Mr. Kawamori, its form is brimming with coolness and realism and will capture the wonder of those who see it. With the unique structure such as the vertically arranged pair of engines, it has a fantastical level of maneuverability and is capable of special near-hover flight characteristics. It wouldn’t be strange if it existed in reality, but no one has seen anything quite like it. This is the “Kawamori-ism.” Let’s declare it right now, it’s a must-see.

Bottom: Mr. Kawamori, enjoying the feeling of the wind passing through the hangar where the discussion is taking place, made available as a venue at the JASDF Komatsu Air Base (Ishikawa Prefecture). Inside the hangar are military planes, standing still majestically. A chance meeting between military aircraft that fly through the real sky and a creator who flies his works in the skies of a game was realized here.

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Kanno: We recreated this special maneuver that Kawamori-san just explained in the game. The player can try this out by reducing thrust dramatically and pressing both yaw buttons simultaneously.

Ogawa: With that description, I’m guessing the canards or something move when it noses up, but the initial direction of the nozzle should be up instead of down, probably. Since you’re applying a moment.

Kawamori: Ah, that’s correct, yes, yes.

Ogawa: But if you do that, I’m predicting that it’ll go into an uncontrollable state, based on my experience.

Kanno: That’s the thing! So in the game, when it gets near a vertical, it returns to horizontal, or lowers its nose. Almost as if it’s saying “that’s a little too much.” Then, it accelerates and regains lift.

Kawamori: Oh, you put in those movements? That’s great.

On the table surrounded by the 3 men are the scale models of the well known X02 WYVERN, ADF-01 FALKEN, and ADFX-01 MORGAN. Mr. Kawamori inspected the detailed models in his hand while Mr. Kanno introduced the state-of-the-art fighter’s features.

Ogawa: Excuse me then. Wow that’s wonderful. When you’re returning to horizontal, you usually cannot avoid being really slow there.

Kanno: Then when we put in this “really slow” movement, it complimented the “Kawamori-ism” perfectly. When I was thinking where this “Kawamori-ism”-like movement was going to be, I thought it should be something that makes players exclaim, “there’s no way it could do-- wait, it recovered, it recovered!” I think the sight of it forcing the aerodynamics of the maneuver with its overbearing thrust in a “slightly unattractive but fascinating way” [is the “Kawamori-ism.”]

Kawamori: I’m happy, really. I was hoping that it would be able to move like that just now. I’m honestly really thankful.

 

The three professionals draw nearer to the secret of producing beauty without pursuing it

Kanno: There’s something I think is interesting, or rather wonder about as an art director. It’s especially true with military craft, but despite the designers only researching and developing functionality, you get something like an F-15 that is really cool and has a good form. Why is beauty produced from a design that doesn’t seek it? Do you have any thoughts, Kawamori-san?

Kawamori: I think it essentially has to do with the functional beauty of living things. Of course there are ones that are unsightly.   

Kanno: Wow! Kawamori-san and my answer might be the same!

Kawamori: Wait, did our theories coincide? (laughs). Then let’s hear Kanno-san’s explanation first.

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Mr. Kanno climbing in the pilot’s seat of a real F-15 and getting a feel for it with the five senses. Whenever there was something he was curious about, he would fire question after question and would listen intently to the explanations of Naasa Kikuchi (2nd Class NCO) Komachi Base. Thus the knowledge and passion absorbed by Mr. Kanno will likely be injected into future works and reach the hearts of distant future players.

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Mr. Kawamori also got into the pilot’s seat of the F-15 and listened to Mr. Ogawa’s explanations enthusiastically. When he was heading towards the seat, Mr. Kawamori’s eyes lit up like a young boy who couldn’t hide his excitement, but the instant he lowered his back into the seat he had the eyes of a pro when looking at the instruments. I felt like I saw the source for the realism in his works.

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Mr. Ogawa, climbing the familiar ladder and preparing to welcome the visitors on the side of the pilot’s seat. Occasionally, you can catch a glimpse of the deep affection and trust in his eyes when he gazes at the F-15. After collecting all materials, he casually answered “After this? I have a night flight” and his face gave off that feel of an otherworldly “man of the sky.” 

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Kanno: Alright then. So to humans, flying high in the sky is a dream that cannot come true without the aid of machines, right? So I think animals like birds that fly in the natural world naturally draw the admiration of humans. Then if you embody that as a vehicle, the wings of the bird become the wings of the airplane, and the shape of the bird’s head becomes the nose. The propeller bi-plane that the Wright brothers made looked like it had two planks put together, and looked completely different from a bird. And as time passes, the shape of airplanes are getting closer and closer to birds. I think the feelings of admiration for something universal made it that way, and that’s why it’s beautiful. I also designed a massive aerial weapon called the Arkbird that appears in the Circum-Pacific War, but it looks like a space shuttle that grew wings. I have my personal sentiments as well, but if something like this was made in reality, I think it would reflect the aspiration humans hold towards birds.

Kawamori: I see, I see. Design of airplanes conform to the rules of aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, but that might be a key to beauty. For example, air provides both lift and drag and works positively and negatively. I think that conflict is really interesting and believe that beauty is in aircraft that conform well to the various technologies throughout the ages and the ideas of engineers created to seek the optimal solution. That’s why piston-engined planes have their virtues and jet planes have their own virtues. There are some ugly aircraft among them, but that is also true in nature as there are cool-looking birds and ugly-looking birds. That aspect is really interesting and mysterious. What explanation do you have, Ogawa-san?

Ogawa: I feel like the answer to beauty is somewhere in the process of creating something from zero where there is no functionality. For example, even a katana looks beautiful to me. With a katana, you forge it to strengthen it from the original iron. Then since you can’t cut anything in that state, you sharpen it thinly. But then since it’s not strong enough you apply steel to the blade. It requires multiple cycles until the final functionality desired by humans is achieved. This ultimately finished katana is something made by humans, but is not something that was simply bent into shape, and instead carries a certain kind of “strength” from the process of adding in functionality. It’s the same with the F-15, but perhaps the “closer you get to what you desire,” the more beautiful it becomes. That’s the same with human beings too.

Kanno: My goodness, Kawamori-san and Ogawa-san’s explanations, both are splendid! As a single art director, I feel like I grasped important hints to what beauty is. For state-of-the-art fighter jets, we have two concepts: design it so it wouldn’t be unusual if it existed in real life, and to value the “romance” of the strength and uniqueness distinctive of fictional aircraft. I believe by playing Assault Horizon, there would be readers that think, “wow this series has changed,” but state-of-the-art fighters will continue to play an active role. I would like to show an interesting craft again using what I learned in this discussion.

Ogawa: If you’re able to fly an airplane in a game and think “airplanes are really cool,” it’ll make me really happy. JASDF Komatsu Air Base will be holding its 50th annual air festival on October 30th this year (2011), right after Assault Horizon’s release date, though we didn’t intentionally plan it that way. If there are people interested in “how does the F-15 in-game actually fly?” we’ll be showing them off, so please come visit.

Kawamori: I was able to take a tour due to this discussion, and was reminded that you don’t know how amazing the real thing is unless you actually see it and hear it. In my case, I focus a lot on emphasizing character traits in normal anime work. But when I was able to participate in this game’s development, I really pressed myself on “how much could we push the realism” and “how many layouts and configurations  have we made that no other existing craft have.” And now the aircraft that I delivered to the world with Bandai Namco Games is almost ready to be delivered to the readers. I wonder how you (the readers) will fly it when you play the game. Just thinking about it makes me excited. If you devise tactics that we on the development side didn’t even think about, that would be the best. I’ll be expecting great things!

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”I think the beauty of each era are the things that best follows the answers given by various technologies of their time.” -Kawamori
 

“I think they look beautiful because of the feelings of admiration to something universal.” -Kanno 
 

“Perhaps the ‘closer you get to what you desire,’ the more beautiful it becomes.” -Ogawa

Japanese to English Translation

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