Creator Highlight Month 2022: Shadé
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
Besiege Flight Machinima Creator
Those enamored by flight will pursue it wherever it can be found. It's the type of passion that drives people to look up when they hear an aircraft overhead during their everyday lives. In the virtual world, that same passion drives people to bring flight to places where it was never intended to be. Our first interview for Creator Highlight Month 2022 is with Shadé, a machinima maker creating aviation-focused content on a rather unexpected platform: Besiege.
For many years now, Shadé (pronounced zah-day) has created aircraft to fly in the medieval skies of Bisege and made elaborate videos of fictional and non-fictional aircraft in a wide variety of settings and situations. After years of being curious about how this was possible, we got an opportunity to discuss this subject at length with Shadé.
There is a lot we do not know about this subject, so it is great having an expert here. Pleased to meet you.
Hello! My name is Pascalis Sadewa, but the community knows me more by the name Shadé. I’m from Yogyakarta, Indonesia but now I have moved to Bali to pursue my dream of developing video games. I’m the one behind a YouTube channel called Dawn-Shade where I upload machinimas (animated films using video and computer games videos) using a game called Besiege.
I’ve seen videos of your work for years without completely understanding what is happening. Let’s start from the top. What is Besiege?
When I first played Besiege in 2015, just a couple of months after it launched as early access on Steam, I thought it was just a fun silly medieval destruction-building game at first. Besiege is a physics-based builder game in which you build medieval siege engines to solve puzzles, destroy opposing armies and structures. You start with a single 1x1 block, then you place more blocks connected to said starting block. Each block type can have its own function: Wheels can rotate, springs can contract, hinges can bend, blades cut, armor protects, etc.
For example, if you want to make the most basic car, you start by making a chassis from wooden blocks, then you place two steering hinges at the front, then add four wheels. If you bind the wheel to Arrow Up, then steer left/right to Arrow Left/Right, you can get a basic working car.
You then make machines this way giving them whatever functions you can think of to complete the objectives, solve puzzles, and finish the campaign.
Does the base version of the game have a single player campaign or multiplayer? What is the goal in those game modes?
Besiege has a single player campaign spanning four chapters. The first chapter is more like a basic tutorial, acquainting players with what each block does. Some levels have how-to-build guides that players can follow. Each subsequent chapter introduces new challenges and gradually makes it harder. Not every stage has destruction as its main objective, some need you to take and deliver a certain object into a specified place, some have a Zelda-like puzzle.
If you’re more keen on just building creatively, there’s a Sandbox mode where you have a flat, vast area to test and play your machine. This mode is where the majority of players spend their time in Besiege, building machines and sharing it to the world via the Steam Workshop.
Besiege also has a level editor where you can design your own levels or combine them into a campaign of your own. The levels you have created can then be used for multiplayer mode.
Besiege multiplayer mode is where players can create a lobby and other players can join directly, playing custom levels with their machines. You can do racing, tank combat, just hang around, simulating battlebots, or PVP dogfights, with the last one being very popular in Besiege’s Japanese Community.
Because of the medieval setting, machines like trebuchets and battering rams were probably was was expected by the Besiege developers. Users can build machines with various types of building blocks. Is flight as simple as placing a single flying block?
Fun fact, the developer actually never expected that players could achieve flight like we did. There is only one flying-based level in the campaign. You’re supposed to make a flying machine to hit target balloons, but in actuality it can even be completed without flight, by simply shooting the targets from the starting point.
In the early days of Besiege, planes were an elusive technique that only a handful of players understood. It’s surprisingly easy to get something into the air, however getting it to fly will require some basic knowledge of how planes work in the real world. Most players default to a quadcopter design, because it’s one of the easiest ways (and cooler than simply making balloon airships) to make a controllable flying machine.
It took awhile for players to realize that the Wing Block and the Wing Panel the developer provided is not a good block to build the wing part of the plane. Turns out, building wing parts with the Propeller Block make things fly so well that now it has become the standard.
You can dissect someone else’s machine they uploaded in the Steam Workshop to see how they work. But copying the mechanism without understanding how aircraft works will lead you nowhere. Aircraft that work in real life can work in Besiege, so knowing how real aircraft works helps. Small bit of trivia, on my earliest attempt at building a plane in Besiege, I put elevator control on the main wing. My brain thought aircraft gain altitude that way. I learned a lot about aircraft after that.
After I’m confident enough to know about flight and the easiest way to build one in Besiege, I then created and uploaded a tutorial video on how to make a plane in Besiege. It’s a very basic plane that works well enough, but still covers a lot of knowledge of mechanisms needed to build your own. And the most important part, this should be possible even for players without any mods installed.
Are mods to enhance or alter the game needed to create aircraft?
Creating aircraft never strictly requires mods. Some mods that add handy tools can speed up players' build and can increase the detail on their machines, but after the developer added an update that contained Advanced Building Tools, players now can make detailed planes even in base game. The Besiege Japanese Community in particular are very fond of this tool. So much that the mainstream players are all about making powerful planes in vanilla and duel them together in PVP fashion.
My old F-104 Starfighter was one of the first realistic planes that could break the sound barrier in the early days. At that time it was very challenging. From making an engine that doesn’t spontaneously burst at high rpm, then building a fuselage that can withstand that amount of Gs, and even making control surfaces that still work at high-speed. But now Japanese players say that 1000km/h is the bare minimum if you want to PVP. Initially they were strictly going vanilla, but as they discovered more techniques, vanilla Besiege cannons were considered underpowered. Now they use vanilla fighter + Weapon Block Mod.
There are various other types of mods. Weapon Block mod is the type that can add custom blocks to the game. This mod adds fun real life modern armament you can place as blocks on your aircraft. I like these because they are useful for making action scenes more fun. But if you share something that contains modded blocks, you have to keep in mind that whenever other players that don't install the mod try to load it, that block would be missing. Before sharing you have to make sure with the block missing, the machine should still work.
Other mods add many various things, like adding custom HUD similar to what Ace Combat has for that game’s camera, or add ocean to the game to test out ships or seaplanes, or allows you to write Lua to a machine you build, or change the game’s physics calculation speed, making things very accurate and laggy, or very wonky but smooth. The Ace Combat HUD mod is a mod I co-developed with another modder from the community.
Besiege is a physics-based builder. Does this mean that aircraft design matters in this game? Can designs that are too heavy, unbalanced or just too unconventional still fly?
Very much physics still matters. If an aircraft is too heavy, it won’t take off. If it’s unbalanced, it will require constant correction because it won’t fly straight. Wing aspect ratio too wide? Your plane will glide easily but rolling would be very sluggish, You make your wings anhedral? It will react to movement quicker at the cost of being more unstable.
But with the Besiege, some limitations of the world don't apply, like airflow. When the design can’t take off, you can solve them with various things like increase the lift by adding more aerodynamic blocks, or increase the engine power. You can even reduce the weight by strategically adding strong hidden balloons inside.
People who have full knowledge of what things affect the flying physics and what doesn’t affect can make anything fly. Examples are this CCC-166 Gharial Attack Helicopter which is an Attack Helicopter shaped like a tank based on a meme; or this majestic Swan ‘Boat’ that’s a boat but can fly and it comes with its own passenger; or a flying Ricardo Milos.
You mentioned key bindings in your basic car example earlier in the interview. Can aircraft be controlled with gamepads? Have other types of controllers been tried?
The developers said not to expect official analog support. Besiege uses Unity Engine so it should read XInput just fine, but currently you can only use gamepad buttons. When remapping key bindings, the inputs from analog or trigger won’t be detected, so all input you can use is digital.
There was a mod that added controller support into older versions of Besiege. This is why on some of my uploaded planes, it has a control scheme for controllers written on its page. It’s quite powerful, you can even utilize the sensitivity of the analog or trigger to control, for example how fast the Wheel turns, or how much the angle a Steering Block turns. You can even use HOTAS to control the movement. Sadly it has never been updated to work on the current version of Besiege.
The aircraft you’ve assembled in your Steam workshop collection, “Shadé’s Skycruisers”, covers a wide array of aircraft. From World War I biplanes, to modern day jets and helicopters to fictional aircraft from various other games. In your opinion, what are some of your best works?
That is a very hard question! Each new upload I always strive for something new like trying different tech or try to not have weaknesses previous aircraft had.
If I decide based on the stats alone, I don’t think the Gypsy Danger video counts because my helicopter there only has a supporting role. So then the Su-25TM “Frogfoot" with the most popular showcase video is the best. I like that I managed to design bombs with satisfying explosions and fit plenty on that plane.
If based on the most subscribed on Steam, it’s the Aurora Alpha Bomber. The Aurora bomber has this one downside where it was really laggy, particularly because it was made from the period where I don’t know that a certain block is more laggy than other blocks. If I can redo it I would rebuild it without the block.
Maybe my personal favorite is the F-4E Phantom II. It’s my go-to plane for testing new levels I designed. Something on it’s engine design makes the flight the smoothest, it has sufficient armament to destroy targets, and it’s agile enough to evade obstacles. If I remember correctly, at a certain point it also became one of my most reuploaded planes. Some of them asked for my permission first, which I always agreed to as long as they mention that it was originally made by me, but often others just stole it and reuploaded it to the Steam Workshop without any credit whatsoever.
Steam Workshop's ability to easily share user-made machines is a powerful tool. What are some of the most complex or unexpected aircraft you’ve seen made in Besiege?
There are few, the latest one is this Fully Mechanical Supermarine Spitfire. On the surface it just looks like a regular Spitfire, but on the inside it’s mechanical. Every control surface is connected to the cockpit where using the pilot camera you can see it moving. It does fly wonky thanks to a lot of the added weight of the internal mechanism but it’s still very impressive.
There is also this almost perfect replica of the F-22 Raptor. This aircraft has everything you could possibly need in a plane: accurate missiles in the missile bays, accurate gear doors, very good agility, missiles are using sensor blocks so you can just fire-and-forget, and it looks fantastic complete with a canopy you can open and close.
This one is called The Skycrawler, a giant ship using a rare method of propulsion called cyclo-gyro. It uses a horizontal-axis cyclorotor as a rotor wing to provide lift, propulsion and control. I still can’t explain it if someone asks me how it can fly.
There is also this monstrosity called Balaculus with more than 10,000 total blocks that apparently can fly in addition to melting anyone’s PC.
For at least 6 years now your machinimas have included one-off combat missions and recreations of scenarios from Ace Combat and Battlefield, for example. Can you give us a general idea about the filming process?
The spirit of these videos I made is always sharing a new build uploaded on the workshop, either by myself or by other members of the community. So naturally I decided the scenarios based on what build will be shared next.
Most animators are taught to create a storyboard first, before doing the actual take. I never actually draw those storyboards. Most of my storyboarding process is by pure visualization in my mind while listening to the music many times. I visualize what should I start with, what would happen at this part of music, when the climax occurs, and what would be the ending.
Making a recreation of a scenario is generally easier because I already know what the sequence is. I simply insert dialogues from the scenario to the music then listen to it several times so I can get a good grasp on what part I should use, and what part I should omit.
So deciding the music is usually one of the first things to do. When I make recreations of existing scenarios, the music is just what the original used. When it’s not, I pick various music from either free music library, shows, or from other games I’ve played.
Next, I list all extra machines I need and scour the Steam Workshop to find which machines have been built. If some machines are not available, I’ll find some alternatives. But if the type of the machine is very important to the scenario, I’ll ask several other community members and they are usually more than happy to help me build one.
When everything is assembled, it’s time to start recording. There are several ways to record multiple machines at the same time in Besiege. The old way is additive load another machine with a mod, so that both can appear at the same time within a world. When the machine is loaded this way, I control both machines using one keyboard. I sometimes need to remap the machine buttons so that their movement does not overlap. I fly the first machine with my left hand, and the second machine with the right hand while keeping the machines in frame (I often wish I had a third hand to control the camera with the mouse). Imagine it’s like you drive a car but instead of looking at the road, you look at the driver’s seat from the outside, while also making sure the other car behind it is still driving straight.
When the Multiplayer update came out, recording scenes just became a lot easier. I can ask other community members to fly a machine or two for me, while I focus on the camera work. I often arrange a recording session on the weekends where most people are online and there sure are many good pilots from the community. This is where my camerawork quality gets better because now I don’t have to worry about where my plane’s nose is headed. I can ask them to do certain actions over and over again for each camera angle. A downside of this is that we need to be online at the same time. I often have to stay awake after midnight because the other person is in the European time zone.
After the Replay Mod came out, my scenes can now keep their quality without having to rely on other people too much. With it, I just need to do a successful run with the machines once, then hit the replay button. The machines will accurately follow my previous path so I can just set up my camera on every angle I want without having to do the run multiple times.
Simulation in Besiege is very CPU heavy, I don’t think there's a consumer computer capable of running more than 1000 blocks at 100% speed, not to mention OBS on top of that. People have been joking that my computer must be from NASA but I only have a laptop. So then how could my mere laptop do that? It’s because I always record everything in slow motion, at max 25%, down to 5% if there’s so much going on, then speed up in the editor. The advantage is that even if my laptop renders Besiege laggy as low as 15 FPS, in editor it will be sped up 4x which means I will have a sweet 60 FPS for the final video.
This poses several challenges. For starters, everything is very slow. A 40 seconds footage is only worth max 10 seconds, usually less. Second, camera movement also needs to be very slow. You move the Camera in Besiege by dragging it with the mouse. To mimic the handheld shaking, you have to shake it with the mouse but do it very-very-very slowly. This is why in my early videos, the camera movement is not that good. This was solved with the addition of the cinematic camera the developer added in an update.
In the early days I was the one responsible for making the aircraft for my videos, some time passed and I see the number of Besiege plane builders has grown a lot. So when the Level Editor update was released, I delegated the aircraft build to other community members so I can focus on other things I am passionate about, designing levels. This is why at the end of 2017 most of my videos become showcases of levels developed by me with additional supporting aircraft provided by the community.
That's an ingenious video recording solution! Your videos have multiple machines and landscapes. This makes me wonder what the stage/world/level limitations of Besiege are and how you worked around those to create your videos?
In the early days of Besiege, I can only use the campaign levels. It’s very limited, but planes are usually high in the sky so it doesn’t matter much. Then a mod came in and one of its features was adding a custom scene with terrain you can customize the texture. I used it for a long time until one day the Level Editor update came out.
The Level Editor in Besiege is very powerful. The levels are created with various Objects that you can place and edit in the world. The object includes destructible structure, trees, NPCs, basic shapes, and even environmental effects. You can set every object’s coordinates, rotation, scale, and its specific parameters. The only hard limit is what the game can run, and that depends on the PC of whoever wants to play the levels. The official levels have about 10-100 objects, while the player made levels averages at being around 1000 objects. Some extreme examples reach 15,000 objects, like the Tyrie Continent or the Illushor Air Base.
The Level Editor has a logic system that is used to make things happen in the level you create. Basically, players can script in-game events without any code or programming knowledge. You can make simple things like when a player destroys a building, a certain door moves to reveal the exit, or complex things like where you can make several rocket-shaped-objects with sets of Triggers that can track and chase the players, or even this Level Fighter, which is a playable fighter plane achieved only with logic and not physics.
I have always had a passion for making or designing games. After Besiege released the Level Editor, I went from full plane builder into full level designer. I have made several racing levels, puzzle levels, but the community mostly knows my Ace Combat missions recreated as Besiege levels. They all have mostly accurate albeit simpler, objectives and win condition you can play with Besiege machines and Besiege physics. None of them are playable with standard medieval catapult Besiege are intended, so I often provided the level with preloaded aircraft you can just pick.
A very limiting factor is that Besiege Level Editor world boundaries are very small, at 1980 m x 1980 m x 1780 m. This is more than enough for ground based machines, but for planes, it is just really limiting. Keep in mind that most aircraft made in Besiege are not 1:1, they are much bigger. Several missions from Ace Combat simply can’t be recreated because of this reason. You can mod the game to remove the world boundaries, but then you have to make sure anyone trying to play your level must also have removed the world boundaries or the level just won’t work. I’d rather have more people to enjoy my levels so I always make sure my levels are within Besiege limits.
One other thing that is hard to implement is AI for the enemies. There are some other community members that have achieved AI aircraft that have convincing flight and fire homing missiles at you, but the logic needed for just one enemy is just so complicated, having more than one will severely lag the game. This is why most of my levels are ground attack or obstacle runs, where you don’t need a lot of resistance from the opponent. Still if you wish for some dogfight action, you can simply invite a friend to play as the enemy.
Has your work with Besiege increased your passion about game development?
Honestly, I don’t feel it caused any significant increase. I have been passionate about game development since I was a child, starting from making custom levels/scenarios, creating mods, to making small games with friends in college.
I actually think that it was Besiege that has increased my interest in aircraft. Before Besiege, I knew fighter jets were rad, flying is cool and that’s it. Since I started creating an aircraft in Besiege, I've been using a lot of references from articles, photos, blueprints, video footage, and even 3D models to create an accurate representation of the aircraft in Besiege. This is where I learned a lot of things like how aircraft uses combination of aileron and elevator or sometimes elevon to turn, how aircraft airbrake work, how angling your thrust when turning grants supermaneuvrability, why helicopters must have an even number of rotor but not planes, and how different wing configurations affect flight characteristics.
If possible, could you talk about your current game dev project(s)?
I’m currently working with Engram Interactive studio, developing Fractured Core. It’s a classic JRPG with cyberpunk for it’s main theme using isometric 2D pixel art for the visual. You play as a mercenary undertaking various missions in a futuristic Germany. You can expect a standard turn-based mechanic for its battle system with plenty of customization for the magic available for each of the main characters.
My responsibilities are directing its animation for the combat and cutscenes. The combat will mostly have hand drawn animation. I am also designing the layout and gameplay for the later dungeons. The dungeons will have random enemy encounters that you can turn off or on, and some will require you to solve puzzles to progress. There won’t be any aircraft or flight mechanic involved in the game though.
There is a demo available on Steam that you can download. Our Discord is always open, feel free to join in and have a chat with me.
Thank you so much for this interview. I must admit that I am somewhat in awe after learning so much about flight in Besiege. I feel like I have to give it a try myself now. This has been fascinating.
Thank you for this rare opportunity. I would also like to thank my friends from the Besiege community: Brammer, daichi, and dagriefaa for giving me some valuable feedback when I was writing this.