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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

At Skies' Edge: Soaring Higher

Checking in on the current state of the game as of v00.8a


At Skies' Edge Skyward Flight Media Thumbnail

It has been a quite some time since our interview with At Skies' Edge developer, Mackerel Sky. Since November 2023, this still in development game had six updates available to the public to play via Itch.io. Just recently, the developer's personal X.com page has also seen a spark of activity. With so much going on, now would be a great time to check in on this project.


For those that do not know, At Skies' Edge (ASE) is a game that has roots from as far back as June 2017, which then vanished for six years and reappeared with a publicly accessible demo on May 1st, 2023 without any promotion. The success of this surprise project seems to have encouraged its developer to continue learning and refining their skills since then, resulting in ASE moving ever closer to what could universally be considered a "real game". I would recommend reading all the devlogs yourself, but let's take a look at a few particular updates that highlight how ASE has been developing.


At Skies Edge screenshot.
Combat beneath a scenic night sky.


Optimizations, Enhancements

Keep in mind that Mackerel Sky, the developer, is not a full-time game developer and has learned how to program over the years largely on their own time. So the addition of many important changes to the core of this game, which were key for future expansion of ASE, is heartening.


At Skies Edge was definitely not known for being the most computing resource efficient experience. When combat was especially dense, the former CPU-driven visual effects could impact the gameplay experience. With many of these processes now GPU-driven, efficiency has noticeably gone up.


Work towards larger in-game maps and tackling Unity's inherent floating point precision limit seem to hint at a potential expansion both in terms of content and in scale. The past updates have also involved a rebuild of code related to AI units for so they can perform more intricate tasks. The introduction of a mission event and trigger systems and multi-parameter events have now made complex missions possible.


As time goes on, these additions and new capabilities gradually surface in the missions players play.


Missions Showing Off New Capabilities

The easiest way to illustrate just how far ASE has come may be by discussing its currently available missions. It is the gradual increase in mission complexity and new AI units that appear in these missions that reflect the extensive work being done behind the scenes. Keep in mind that in the May 2023 release, ASE had two air-to-air only missions which largely played out the same way. As of the time this article has been posted, the game now has seven missions.


At Skies Edge 0.008a mission list screenshot.
ASE version 0.008a mission list.

These missions now include: a multi-aircraft escort mission that stretches the players to their limits, an assault on a fleet still stuck in port, a low altitude penetration mission to remain undetected while ambushing a weapon cache and now, even a multi-part "boss fight". As these missions are developed, so too are new enemy units added, their abilities expanded and new weapons introduced for players to use to counter them.


Operation Desert Fury was formerly a relatively easy air-to-ground mission, with little pressure on players to complete it in a timely manner. The opposing force had a single forward deployed base defended by light air defenses, which players had to destroy. After this mission's rework, the player has to scramble to launch their aircraft with a small, friendly ground force guiding in artillery fire - which players can see while they taxi. The player's air base is being rushed by groups of armored vehicles, attempting to occupy it by force. During combat, these groups advance in different formations, stopping to engage in combat if necessary. If the attack is successfully repulsed, the forward operating base is unlocked as an objective with its renewed air defense.


At Skies' Edge Operation Starhound
A behemoth appears.

Operation Starhound, the newest mission, puts players with a small number of allies against an aerial fortress; a massive aircraft covered in turrets, containing vertical launch system missile cells and escorted by waves of fixed-wing combat aircraft. As important sub-systems of this oversized aircraft are destroyed, mission updates introduce new target sets. This is definitely one of the more complex missions in At Skies' Edge thus far.


NRP-20 Highlights Flight Model

The aircraft roster of ASE now sits at three airframes. The NRP-20, which closely resembles the F-20 Tigershark, is the first light fighter in the game. In my opinion, when other flight arcade games use classes like heavy, medium and light fighters, I always feel as though these designations mostly pertain to the amount of weapons they carry and little else really shows up in gameplay.


At Skies' Edge NRP-20.
NRP-20 aircraft selection screen.

However, because of how At Skies' Edge handles airspeed and throttle control, the flight characteristics of the NRP-20 do make it feel different from the other aircraft currently in the game.


In ASE, airspeed defines how maneuverable an aircraft is at that moment. Much like real life. If an aircraft is travelling close to the speed of sound, there is no chance that it will be performing turns anywhere near its smallest turn radius or ideal turning rate.


Next to the airspeed indicator in the At Skies' Edge heads up display, an extra bit of information defines the flight regimen the aircraft is currently in. "Cruise" is defined as high speed flght, ACM (air combat maneuvering) is the speed range for the best turn fighting performance, "Low" is defined as the aircraft flying just above stall speed and Stall being stall speed where the aircraft begins to fall out of the sky. Furthermore, the throttle input in ASE does not automatically reset to a default position when the player is no longer providing constant increases and decreases in airspeed. Players must set the throttle to a position they believe is beneficial to them while they are in combat; something that leans a bit more into flight sim-lite territory than flight arcade territory.


At Skies' Edge NRP-20.
The NRP-20 in its element: close combat.

After flying the two existing aircraft in ASE and the new NRP-20, I can say this is one of the few times when selecting a light fighter actually felt like it had a tangible effect. The NRP-20 has low weapon payload and low armor, but its engine accelerates almost on demand, the flight controls are snappy, and it has a larger ACM speed range, making close range combat much easier.


The way the NRP-20 is presented in ASE further cements this particular part of the flight model as a potential "on the back of the box" feature of the game.


Early World Building

As early as its surprise introduction in May 2023, At Skies' Edge had traces of its fictional world's story in the descriptions of certain aircraft and weapons. Whether or not a full story was in development was a question asked in Skyward Flight Media's November 2023 interview with the developer. A part of the developer's response included:


"The tone of the story will be hopeful. My vague idea is to explore the challenges and conflicts involved in rebuilding a world that was taken to the brink of mutually assured destruction."

In April 2024, there is still not a clearly defined linear single player campaign.


Story wise, a significant step was taken recently. In the dev blog for ASE v0.08a, the first concerted effort to tell the story of the world in At Skies' Edge as available for the public to read. Done in the style of excerpts from a fictional magazine from within the fictional world, these eye-catching pages certainly grab the player's attention. This method of describing the world the players play in is similar to the style of world setting media that Project Aces produces for the Ace Combat series.


At Skies' Edge is still in early development, so it is possible that the names or information in these excerpts could change weeks or months from now. Still, this is a great first look at the setting the developer is considering (downloading these images from the dev blog post is highly recommended).



The developer of At Skies' Edge may get busy and disappear for large blocks of time due to work, travel or studies, but checking in on this project from time to time shows that this game continues to trend towards becoming a decent standalone games, rather than a one and done demo.


 
About the Writer

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.

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