Famitsu Ace Combat 25th Anniversary Special - Part 3
Translation Posted: July 21st, 2020
On July 2, 2020, Famitsu published a colossal 25-page special feature in their weekly magazine to celebrate Ace Combat's 25th anniversary. In it, the Famitsu staff discussed the various appeals of Ace Combat, highlighted noteworthy aspects from each title in the series, and held a round-table discussion with Kazutoki Kono, Manabu Shimomoto, Masato Kanno, Masashi Koyanagi, and Kosuke Itomi. In part 3, we take a look at this round-table discussion on pages 50 - 53 where the devs look back on the series and reveal some behind-the-scenes stories.
Celebrating 25 years! Creator round-table discussion
The Men Who Keep Creating the "ACE" Series
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the series, Brand Director Kazutoki Kono, Producer Manabu Shimomoto, Bandai Namco’s Masashi Koyanagi, Masato Kanno, and Kosuke Itomi gathered together. A round-table discussion was held for these members who had been involved with the “Ace Combat” series for a long time so that they could talk about their past experiences (the discussion took place on June 11 remotely). This discussion is filled with topics not covered elsewhere, so make sure to read all the way to the end!
More and more discoveries as you look at the 25th anniversary commemorative wallpaper!
---Congratulations on the 25th anniversary!
All: Thank you very much
---I looked at the 25th anniversary illustration (on page 30) and there were so many easter eggs that I unconsciously became fixated to it. There also seems to be some kind of meaning to the way the fighter jets are lined up…
Kono: Is there any meaning to the arrangement of the jets?
Kanno: Of course there is, but I want to leave it to the fans’ imaginations, so I won’t say anything.
---What kind of themes did you have in mind for the 25th anniversary illustration when creating it?
Kanno: I wanted to make it an extravagant [piece] worthy of the 25th anniversary, condensed with many Strangreal elements. Additionally, the year 2020 has a special meaning in the “Ace Combat” series. I aimed for an illustration that made you feel something which was left behind in this world by a former president of the Osean Federation.
Shimomoto: In 2020, the truth will be made public, so.
---Ah! The existence of the Razgriz (an unofficial squadron under direct command by the president of the Osean Federation in “ACE5.” A unit formed from the protagonist’s Wardog squadron to escape the plans of the enemy and work in the shadows.) was planned to be made public in 2020 in their world.
Kono: But the Razgriz Squadron isn’t there.
Koyanagi: Aren’t they the 4 shadows?
---I would like to walk around that base created for the 25th anniversary illustration in VR.
Kanno: It’s created in 3D, so you probably could if we tried. There’s a lot of fighter jets lined up, so it must be quite the spectacle. The resolution of this illustration is 8K and you could zoom in quite a bit, but I was told by Kono “If it’s too clear it won’t look like a photograph.” So I made the rear look a little blurry. We also have a wallpaper for smartphones available via the official Twitter, so please use that as well.
---I already am using it! And now, what are your thoughts having reached the 25th anniversary?
Koyanagi: I’ll start off. I honestly think that the fans are really steadfast. They love fighter jets and the world of “Ace Combat” and have cheered us on for 25 years. Though the nature of the game where you lock onto a target and fire hasn’t changed for 25 years, the fact that it gets enjoyed every time makes me grateful as a creator.
Kono: Next is Kanno.
Kanno: I am grateful to those who have supported us for a quarter of a century, and those who have just started playing and enjoying the games. I feel the same way with the developers who have been involved in the series. Beginning with veterans and companies that have worked with us like Production I.G and STUDIO 4°C, Dai Sato, Sunao Katabuchi, Shoji Kawamori, Hibiki Yoshizaki, Yota Suzuki, among others, we have been blessed with various collaboration opportunities.
Kono: How about you Itomi, who’s been with the series the longest after Kanno and me?
Itomi: For me the first title that I was fully involved in after joining the company was “ACE3.” Back then, I didn’t think the “Ace Combat” series would become a franchise that would last to have a 25th anniversary.
Kono: I think everyone here thought that too (laughs)
Itomi: I guess you’re right (laughs). I sincerely think that it’s amazing that with the support of the fans, we’ve continued for this long. Also on Twitter and other social media, there are those that make fan-art for older titles and make plastic models and such. I get really happy when seeing their creations.
Kono: Alright then, Shimomoto, the youngest one, you’re up.
Shimomoto: I was in middle school when Kanno and the others were making “ACE2.” Back then I played the games like crazy, but I never thought that I would be involved as a member of the development team for these games by the 25th anniversary. I’m sure we’ll be celebrating anniversaries in 5 year intervals like the 30th and 35th hereafter, but for the 50th anniversary, I think I might be the only one able to welcome it age-wise (wry laugh).
Itomi: Is the 30th anniversary even possible? (laughs)
Shimomoto: It’ll be a problem if you guys aren’t around for the 30th anniversary at least!
Kono: With these 25 years, I have been spending half of my life with “Ace Combat.” All of this was possible because of the support of the fans during this quarter of a century.
“Ace Combat” Series Brand Director
Brand Director of the “Ace Combat” series. Supervised the entirety of the newest title, “ACE7.” Was also the art director for “AC04” and director of “ACE5” in the past.
“With these 25 years, I have spent half of my life with “Ace Combat.” All of this was possible because of the support of the fans during this quarter of a century.”
Superweapons were introduced to the series by one person's arbitrary decision!?
---I would like to hear about your memories of each game, focusing on the numbered titles. Let's start with "ACE1," the first title, which is worthy of celebration.
Kanno: Thinking about it now, “ACE1” was a work that stimulated the imagination of people. Due to the limited amount of polygons we could display, we couldn’t show the ground and only had a few polygons that looked liked the glimmer of waves. The clouds were only simple textures as well, but we still were able to give the feeling you were flying through the air.
Kono: For me, the Sky Fortress remains in my memory (shown on page 36). Ever since “the Admiral” put in the Sky Fortress in “ACE1,” the “Ace Combat” series was able to introduce crazy weapons.
---By the way, who is this Admiral…
Kanno: He is a great senior member. The art director back then called himself an admiral and the others around him used that title as well. And that Admiral put in the Sky Fortress into the game. Without that Sky Fortress, the Arsenal Bird may have never been born.
---So the birth of crazy weapons in the “Ace Combat” series was thanks to the Admiral.
Kanno: I think Kono called it “the Admiral’s arbitrary decision.” (Teitoku no Dokudan)
Kono: It was a pun on “Teitoku no Ketsudan” (aka P.T.O., a simulation game by Koei back then, Koei Tecmo Games today).
Kanno: Right. But it even had a proper model sheet and I was astonished by the detailed description. Back then most of the artists didn’t know of its existence and we were all surprised, but it allowed us to realize “this is a project where it’s fine for you to do bold things like this.”
Kono: The next game, “ACE2” was awful thanks to Kanno (wry laugh). He hasn’t changed at all since the time of “ACE2.” I told him the data was fixed, but he would go and mess with the data. He did the same kinds of things for “ACE7” as well.
Kanno: That’s just my nature so there’s nothing you can do about that. But you don’t change either, Kono, so you can’t talk about other people.
---I see your relationship hasn’t changed since then (laughs). I played “ACE2” for the purpose of writing this article, but I felt that it was a wonderful game that you can enjoy even now.
Kono: I believe “ACE2” became a reference point for the later titles in the series.
Kanno: The first PlayStation was a wonderful console but the specs were still low. We struggled to create wide-open spaces and increase quality with the limited capacity and specs, but I believe even in our youth, one of the correct answers we reached was “ACE2.”
Kono: With the flow of the 1st and 2nd titles, how was the development of “ACE3”?
Itomi: When I joined the company, “ACE3” was already being made so I don’t know the details, but at first it wasn’t going to be an “Ace Combat.” I’ve been told they were trying to release it with the title “ACSF,” but it was rejected by the promotional side and rushed to change it to “ACE3.”
---So that’s how it became a distinct and very sci-fi work even among the “Ace Combat” series.
Kono: During development, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (broadcasted 1995) was the craze.
Itomi: That’s right. There were lots of people in the development staff that were really hooked by “Eva.”
Kono: There was mixed reception on the use of animated scenes, but I’ve heard there have been a lot of people that were influenced by “ACE3” and was praised as part of the 25 year series.
Itomi: There seems to be a lot of people, especially those in the anime industry, that was influenced by “ACE3.” Hibiki Yoshizaki (cinematics director for “ACE7”) also said he was influenced by it. However, the international version had all the animated parts cut when it was released. Even though you can’t understand the story without the animations (wry laugh).
Kono: Right, right. We debugged a few things, but I remember playing the game without the animations.
---I didn’t know there was such a difference in the Japanese and international versions.
Shimomoto: Speaking of “ACE3,” the basic system of “Ace Combat” was completed too.
Itomi: You were able to select the weapons of your fighter, and we added a 360 degree viewable camera… System-wise, it felt like we had created the base of what we have now.
Kono: With “ACE3,” I felt that we really could do anything in the “Ace Combat” series. However, the developers back then did whatever they wanted, so it was really problematic when making the sequel “AC04” (wry laugh).
“We’re planning on delivering more content hereafter to enliven the 25th anniversary, so it would make us happy if people look forward to them.”
“Ace Combat 7” Producer
The youngest creator in the round-table discussion. First involvement in the “Ace Combat” series was with Assault Horizon. In “ACE7” he supported Mr. Kono as the producer.
Bandai Namco Studios Development Director
Helped with “The Sky Crawlers,” “ACEX2,” “ACE3D,” “ACE INF,” and became involved in his first numbered title as development director.
“Though the nature of the game where you lock onto a target and fire hasn’t changed, the fact that it gets enjoyed every time makes me grateful as a creator.”
Movie-like trailers were born with "AC04"!
---Continuing with “AC04,” the word “problematic” stuck out to me.
Kono: While “ACE3” went down the sci-fi path and the creators really put their passion into it, we were struggling to decide what path “AC04” should be taking.
Kanno: I remember discussing “we should bring it back towards a more realistic path” with Kono.
Kono: We thought about it a lot, and we partnered with Director Sunao Katabuchi for the first time for the script, and requested STUDIO 4°C to create the animations. However, there were negative opinions regarding “ACE3”s animations, so I promoted that game while hiding the fact that we were working with Director Katabuchi and STUDIO 4°C until the end.
Itomi: We only had gameplay in the trailers for “AC04” right?
Kono: We only used game footage up to a point, then showed Director Katabuchi’s name in the end. Honestly, I was worried about the reactions of the fans, but lots of people received it positively so that was a relief.
Itomi: Speaking of trailers, “AC04” was the first time we made a movie-like trailer. I still remember making a widescreen trailer since we were told that it would be shown in movie theaters.
Kono: We got clever as we fumbled around and challenged ourselves making trailers for “AC04,” and with “ACE5,” the course was set and we got close to perfection. Then with “ACE ZERO,” we made a huge breakthrough.
---That’s right. The music in “ACE ZERO”s trailer kept building up and I got goosebumps.
Kono: The amazing thing about “ACE ZERO” was that it is the only title in the series that was finished on schedule (wry laugh).
Itomi: There was only 1 year from the beginning of planning to release, but we still completed it.
Kono: For “ACE5,” during the meeting when we were uploading the master file, there was a person doing push-ups for some reason. Maybe it was so hectic that it made the person confused, but for some reason they were doing push-ups in the conference room.
Kono: From around “ACE ZERO,” we expanded and were making titles for portable devices as well.
Koyanagi: “ACE ZERO,” “ACEX,” and “ACE6” were being developed almost in parallel, and “Sky Crawlers” came next.
Kanno: “Sky Crawlers” had the subtitle “Innocent Aces,” and I thought it was forward-looking and great. It was as if it represented youth.
Koyanagi: “Sky Crawlers” is a story about puberty, so that youthful aura was perfect for the title. However, it had themes about puberty and one’s views on life and death so it was pretty hectic. Like, there's no characters in “Ace Combat” going through puberty (wry laugh). Looking back at the game as a whole, we had a difficult time adjusting for the control scheme that used the nunchuk as the stick and Wii remote as throttle.
Kono: What were we in charge of when Koyanagi was working on “Sky Crawlers”?
Kanno: I think we were developing DLC for “ACE6.”
Kono: Oh, “ACE6.” I think out of all of us, you were the only one that was really involved in it, Kanno.
Itomi: Yes, that’s right. For “ACE6,” I only made the trailer.
Kanno: Because Kono and Itomi weren’t involved, “ACE6” was a project spearheaded by a relatively young generation. The project scope was large and there were people who joined the company to work on the development of “Ace Combat.” We threw in those people to areas that needed more manpower.
Kono: Bringing in more troops, one after another…
Koyanagi: Strategically, I don’t think that’s the right way to go about it (wry laugh).
Kono: We talked a lot about the series, but Shimomoto hasn’t talked much at all…
Shimomoto: I joined the team with “ACE AH,” so it’s almost my time to shine.
---From the point of view of the newly employed Shimomoto, what was your impression of the PROJECT ACES team?
Shimomoto: There were rumors that it was a scary team and I was nervous (wry laugh). Thinking about it now, I don’t know why I was so timid, but i was really really scared of Kanno...
Kanno: I get told that a lot (wry laugh).
Kono: Didn’t Shimomoto say “I will go anywhere except for PROJECT ACES” ? (laughs).
Shimomoto: That was during my assignment interview. I learned later that my assignment was already decided at that point (wry laugh).
---I see there was drama regarding Shimomoto as well.
Bandai Namco Studios Art Director
Involved in the first “Ace Combat,” has the longest tenure in the series among this group. Has been in charge of creation of Strangreal’s setting, background scenery, and multiple original weapon designs. In “ACE7,” his role was art director.
“The correct solution we reached by creating a wide space and increasing quality with the PlayStation’s limited capacity and specs was ‘ACE2’.”
Kono: Reflecting back like this, I once again thought, if you’re talking about “Ace Combat,” it’s got to be Kanno.
Koyanagi: If asked who is the symbol of “Ace Combat,” I think it would be Kanno.
Itomi: It’s got to be Kanno.
Koyanagi: Kanno is Mister Ace Combat.
Kanno: I think that the development of the “Ace Combat” series was successful due to the blessing of having great seniors, coworkers, and passionate juniors.
What the team challenged themselves with in the latest title, "ACE7"
---Since we have the opportunity, I would like to hear about any events regarding the latest work, “ACE7,” that had a lasting impression.
Kono: Shimomoto made “ACE7,” actually the setting of “Ace Combat” as a whole more complicated.
Itomi: The part where he connected “ACE7” and “ACE3”?
Shimomoto: I thought since “ACE7” takes place in 2019 and is getting close to the age of “ACE3” [we should connect them]. But actually connecting them was an unanimous thing.
Itomi: At the time we were thinking “what should we do?” and while we were lining up the events of the whole series in chronological order and discussing things, Shimomoto pulled everyone’s attention on “ACE3”s parallel story element. We thought “this might work” and decisively connected the series to “ACE3” officially.
Shimomoto: I checked with everyone before making it official though.
Itomi: But in the end, I think it's good that we connected them. “ACE3” is a world where private corporations have made rapid advancements, but the real world is seeing some rapid advancements as well, with successful manned spaceship launches. I felt the times were catching up to the world of “ACE3.”
---That may very well be true.
Kanno: In the early days of “ACE7”s development when I was exchanging ideas with Director Katabuchi, there was one incident that left an impression on me. We were talking about elements that should be dealt with in the world of Strangreal and having him create scenarios from those. We were thinking: “The world of Strangreal will see the rise of corporations and the power of nations will be in peril. Weapons will become unmanned and the number of pilots will decrease. In these circumstances, what kind of characters will appear in ACE7?” and Director Katabuchi proposed “maybe the rival should be an elderly human who will be an instructor to UAVs.” It did a good job tying in the past and present circumstances and I got goosebumps.
---Speaking of the connection between “ACE7” and “ACE3,” the DLC had them as well.
Shimomoto: That was due to my request. However if we went too far, those who haven’t played “ACE3” would not be able to enjoy it, so we were careful in balancing it out.
Kanno: There were a lot of requests for the setting of the DLC. Other than Shimomoto’s requests, Kono said “I want an assassin squadron,” and Tago (ACE7s VR & DLC Director) said “I want it to focus on a ‘submersible cruiser carrier’ instead of a submarine for the enemy.” Itomi and I racked our brains in order to meet all of these requests.
Itomi: All while grumbling, “what IS an assassin squadron?” (laughs).
Koyanagi: Rage and Scream of the murder squadron were lively and well done.
Shimomoto: They were characters that could exist because it was DLC. We couldn’t put them in the main story.
Itomi: It would be hard to put them in the main story.
Koyanagi: They’re not characters that can show up in Mission 1 and keep on showing up until the end.
Kanno: As supporting roles that leave a powerful impression, I think they were really good characters.
Kono: What I still remember about Scream is that during development, the mission was set so that you can faintly hear her voice on the radio when she is supposed to be dead. When I checked with the staff thinking that it was a bug, they told me “we put it in on purpose.” I was surprised that “Ace Combat’ had turned into a horror game (laughs).
Itomi: That was interesting (laughs). I reflexively asked Kito, the radio [line] lead, “What’s that supposed to be?”
Koyanagi: But the person in charge still says that the voice should have made it in (laughs).
---(laughs). How was the reception to the DLCs?
Koyanagi: It was a great success!
Shimomoto: We’re planning on delivering more content hereafter, so it would make us happy if people look forward to them.
Kanno: It would make me happy if people let their imaginations run wild from the 25th anniversary illustration.
Kono: We’re aiming for the 50th anniversary with these kinds of members, so we ask for your continued, unchanging support!
Bandai Namco Studios Narrative Director
Became involved in the series with “ACE3.” In “ACE ZERO,” he spearheaded development as art director, and was the narrative director for “ACE7.” Also has been in charge of creation of trailers for the series.
“When we were making ‘ACE3,’ I never thought it would become a series that would continue for 25 years. It’s all because of the fans who have supported us for a long time.”