Competitive Ace Combat: 1st and 2nd Generations
Updated: Oct 9, 2022
We’ve come a long way from the sticky notes. The competitive side of the Ace Combat series has been a part of the identity of its online community. The number of teams and skills of players has waxed and waned over the years, but a part of its player base has always sought a higher level of game play. Ace Combat 7 is already producing the next wave of online competition which has access to technology that past generations of players wish they had. Now seems like a good time for a history lesson. This is the first part of an article series about the generations of competitive Ace Combat.
Information about competitive Ace Combat won't be found on ACES Web or Acepedia. A comprehensive history of online game play is something that will probably never exist. Parts of it pre-date the introduction of online multiplayer for Ace Combat. The internet forums, fan sites, and bulletin boards from the early years are long gone, taking much of the information about this subject with them. The only remaining data scattered among websites, conversation threads and the personal files of those that were there competing during their time - during their 'generation.' Only through self-definition can something like this be explained to a broader audience. With there being no official source and so few archived resources left on the internet, someone would have to explain all of this from scratch. Having signed up on my first Ace Combat fan forum in September 2004, I was fortunate enough to have observed, experienced and read stories of almost every form of competition Ace Combat has ever offered. Local VS mode and online multiplayer, handheld and home console. The majority of this article is based upon personal experience, knowledge passed down and internet artifact gathering done by digging through dead URLs with resources like the WayBackMachine. That being said, this could be written off as an opinion piece from an individual. All I can do is give my word and present what data I have.
First Generation 1993 - 1995
Air Combat and Air Combat 22 are the predecessors of the Ace Combat series. Both games were released as arcade cabinets using the Namco System 21 and Namco System 22 in the still active video game arcades of the early 1990s. The Air Combat arcade cabinets provided the classic level of competition only a place like an arcade could provide - the battle for the highest score. Old photos from within these locations occasionally appeared on internet forums in the early 2000s. They showed pictures of long gone Air Combat arcade cabinets in arcades, malls, and family entertainment centers. Scoreboards mounted to the walls of darkened arcades showed the top scores of the week or month for various arcade games. The boards listing off with numbers intermixed with real names, nicknames, and three letter abbreviations of the players own names. The grand prize was usually nothing more than the joy of being the top player and bragging rights with other arcade goers.
Second Generation 1996 - 2005
For the sake of clarity, the Second Generation has been listed as starting in 1996, but its start date is more in line with the release of Ace Combat in Japan (June 30, 1995; PlayStation 1).
This generation is clearly identified by Score Attack and Time Attack competitions. This type of competition would later be referred to as Legacy Challenges by Third Generation forums and squadrons. As internet access became more prolific, it was only a matter of time before fan sites, and chat rooms for the series were created. Fan sites around the world took the arcade style Top Score competition and made it an unofficial international standard. As early as 1998, scoreboards could be found on fan sites connected to BBS boards. One of the few archived examples of this being Ichirou Hiraguchi's website, which supported English and Japanese speaking players. Some fan sites allowed users to send in photos of their highest scores and fastest times on specific missions. This was done by requesting that players take a photo of the mission result screens on their televisions. Pieces of paper or sticky notes that had their user information written on them were required in the photos as well. A judge would then verify the score and time displayed in these pictures before the entry would be reviewed to see if it qualified for posting on an online scoreboard. Legacy Challenges would continue to spread to other websites in the early 2000s. Because of websites like ShatteredSkies.net, Mitoro's JP website and AC04 Hall of Fame, individual Score Attack and Time Attack challenges would continue to spread.
Twin Galaxies Championship
One of the most complex practices of the individual Legacy Challenge was in September 2002. The Twin Galaxies Ace Combat 04 World Championship.
All entrants into the championship were required to record video of their gameplay on VHS tape. It was mandatory that the video recordings show the PlayStation 2 game console boot up sequence, disc loading and mission selection to prevent the use of game enhancement software like a GameShark. The fastest times and highest scores were recorded and awarded. The top competitors traveled to California, USA for an in person time and score attack competition.
It is through the world wide web that networking and friendship building began the formation of Squadrons (Teams). The first wave of squadrons that formed operated more like Ace Combat fan clubs than competitive teams. In 2002, internet forums and BBS boards for Ace Combat supported the advancement of the Legacy Challenge format to become more team based. Members of opposing squadrons would combine their scores to create overall squadron scores to then compare against the opposing team. This indirect competition ultimately became an integral part of squadron identity — a clear dividing line between casual players and competitive teams. The continued competition lead to squadrons creating their own emblems, sub-units, training exercises and other media uniquely designed for internet forums. Some squadrons became so focused on competition they adopted certain aspects of real-world military operations. Things like having a rank based leadership structure, aptitude tests for players to receive promotions and awards, requirements to complete certain tasks to become flight leaders of four player units and the establishment of training programs to improve the skill levels of their squadron members. The preferred competition grounds remained on neutral internet forums which offered space for squadrons to operate and challenge one another. Both individual and team based legacy challenges would continue on boards like Neoseeker, GameFAQs, Ace Combat.net and other fan sites. This continued even after the introduction of online multiplayer to the Ace Combat series. A primary example of this was Ace Combat.net, one of the leading Ace Combat forums during from 2004 to 2006. Though each squadron that operated on the forum did met the minimal requirements that would allow them to have a Folder/sub-forum on the forum, the presence of large, established squadrons attracted smaller squadrons and newly formed squadrons into a centralized location.
The beginning of the Third Generation of competitive Ace Combat would come with the release of Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (October 23rd, 2007) and the introduction of widely accessible online multiplayer. The next article of this series focuses on this time period.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. A lifelong aviation enthusiast with a special interest in flight simulators and games. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating aviation related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He continues to explore past and present flight games and sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870 |