Interview: Flashpoint Studios, Developer of 'Aggressor'
It has been roughly six weeks since 'Aggressor' began its early access period. During that time this visually striking lowpoly arcade flight simulator has received multiple updates. Flight model tweaks, user interface changes, bug fixes, new aircraft added to the roster and more. Skyward Flight Media reached out to Flashpoint Studios to discuss the game, initial user feedback and to get to know the developer a bit better.
Hello, and thank you for accepting our interview request. Congratulations on the release of Aggressor into early access. Can I ask you to introduce yourself?
Thank you very much! My name is Mark, solo developer of the flight action game Aggressor. I live in the Netherlands and I'm currently in my first year studying the programming side of game development. I'm 19 and I've got around 4.5 years of experience developing simple light-sim and arcade flight projects. I started out doing game development in my free time just for fun and went from there as ideas started flowing, it's honestly great for me being able to turn this into something more than just a hobby. Right now I'm working pretty much full-time on Aggressor. My goal is to develop it into a complete game with a well-defined start and ending.
Before we get to Aggressor, we'd like to get to know you a little better. How did you become interested in aviation?
It started early for me since I grew up close to an airport. Was always fun going there and it sort of sparked my interest for aircraft, it's the classic story really. From there on I picked up flying in air combat games and got hooked pretty fast.
Were there any flight games or flight simulators that you have played in the past that eventually inspired you to become a game developer?
Absolutely. Among the first was IL-2 1946. This game was my first experience with a simulator, essentially it's where I learned how to roughly control an airplane. I played it for about 4 years. During this period there are a few other flight games that I tried along the way such as IL-2 Cliffs of Dover, War Thunder and briefly FSX. In the end I stuck with 1946 because of its seemingly endless possibilities with the mission builder. Before 1946 there was another IL-2 game I had on my Nintendo, but that's really long ago. I've also played SimplePlanes for some time where I got into modding that eventually led me to pursue game development.
Interesting, we did not know you were a mod creator. Which games did you create mods for? Are you still actively creating mods?
I used to create them for a game called SimplePlanes. I made a variety of mods that are still available today, though I'm not sure if they are in working order. I did this until late 2018 when I stopped to focus fully on game development.
Have you always had an interest in game development?
Not always. Honestly it was not until I started making mods that I realized how nice it could be to create something yourself and have it work. You can credit SimplePlanes for that.
How did the concept for Aggressor form?
Aggressor went through many design phases before becoming what it is today. Prior to Aggressor I had been experimenting with flight physics and damage models for a while. I knew I wanted to make a low poly air combat game, but wasn't sure what it should be about. Last year in August I continued work that I abandoned earlier on a sort of part-based flight model that allows aircraft to break apart. To my surprise the initial concept was a lot of fun to play around with.
This was all before the project even got a name. At first I was actually going to call it Overkill, having no missions and only a gamemode where you take down waves of aircraft in a sort of roguelike fashion, it would have been a much simpler game for sure. As development went on, the concept for Aggressor kind of formed along the way. The one thing that has always remained the same though is the art style; a lowpoly aesthetic with console-like graphics.
This game has many aircraft that are hardly seen in other games. It’s not the same set of somewhat expected fixed-wing fighters that people are used to seeing. How do you think the aircraft selection has been received by players so far? What are your thoughts on the aircraft selection?
I've had surprisingly little comments about the variety of types available, but those that do comment are generally positive about it. Personally these sorts of experimental aircraft that you see in the selection interest me the most. It's great fun for me to be able to fly these in a game. Only downside is that for some of them it's hard to find info like handling/performance stats. Though I later found that's not too much of a problem since it's an arcade and the only true-to-life values I really want are weight and thrust, everything else I can estimate from that in flight testing.
It's exciting to see some old experimental and prototype aircraft from the 50s and 60s flying. There are a few other uncommon but familiar aircraft in the roster as well. Are there any aircraft you are particularly happy to have in Aggressor?
Mostly the more uncommon experimental aircraft are very interesting to me. Especially if I haven't seen them in any other game yet, I'm happy to be able to fly them in Aggressor.
There are a few unknown aircraft that have appeared on the official Twitter profile. Referred to as “all black planes”, is there any more info available about them? Are they still planned to be included into the full game?
Yes they are. These will belong to a third nation hostile to all the others. Such planes will see action only every now and then, but their impact in battle should be great. Under no circumstances will they be player-controllable though.
About the single player campaign, what level of complexity are you considering going forward? The current short mission format or is something more elaborate being considered?
At the very least, a mission briefing to help create some context. The short mission format is here to stay, as in campaigns made up of a list of missions. That is until I find a better way to stitch things together. The briefing would happen in 3D, with a simple representation of the map with all allied/axis units deployed. I think Project Wingman does it really well.
Right now Aggressor is focusing on air-to-air combat, but are there plans for land and seaborne enemies for more complex missions in the future?
Both of those are planned yes. Ground vehicles are work-in-progress right now. Naval targets will be added further down the line. The main motivation for adding other kinds of targets is to get some extra challenges for the player. Also since shooting down aircraft is still difficult to many, ground targets may provide an easier way to acquire cash.
There is one thing we found unusual about the gameplay. There was a lack of a dedicated gunsight. Was this an intentional design choice or is it planned to be added later?
That was intentional to keep things clean. Basically the idea was constraining most of the UI displays to first person view in order to give the player some clarity in third person. I'm reconsidering this choice though as it is difficult to aim in third person this way. All in all I think the UI needs more time to come into it's own. When done right, it can enhance the player's experience. When done wrong however it can clutter the screen and throw off immersion.
What have been some of the most requested features that you have seen since the early access launch?
Better controls. Specifically, a mouse aim control scheme like in War Thunder (WT). This is kind of a problem since WT has patented their approach. In fact, they seem to have patented the whole idea of leading a plane with your mouse. I could be wrong, but the more I look into it the more confirmation I get that this is the case! Anyhow, I'll have to get creative. Lots of the reviews on the game contain remarks about the controls and how it is difficult to aim.
To a lesser degree, things like more advanced joystick/gamepad support are desired. Also more content; like more missions with different types of targets (ground targets like tanks, AA turrets etc) which were already planned anyways. Takeoff and landing operations are also a much requested feature.
Another important thing is a minimap or some other tool to help with situational awareness. For example; variable color displays for the units on the minimap would allow IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) to take place more easily. To further help with IFF, aircraft may also receive color-coded markers in the actual 3D scene.
The game definitely has an eye catching, shiny look overall, so concerns about the UI getting out of control are understandable. Have you considered a photo mode?
There is actually a photo mode which can be toggled on/off by a button. Unfortunately the control for it was not listed in the initial game release so there was no way to know of it's existence.
Truthfully, going off of pre-release media. I was not expecting a damage model of this complexity. The negative effects on flight performance caused by aircraft sustaining damage and losing aircraft parts adds an interesting layer of realism to combat. Why did you choose to include this more simulator style damage model rather than a general flight arcade damage model which ignores more detailed damage?
It's really just something I personally missed in these sorts of games. It makes shooting down the other aircraft that much more satisfying because there are many scenario's that can unfold. I think just like anything else, the damage model should be dynamic. Besides that it's also fun for me to work on damage effects.
On itch.io there is a development roadmap that was assembled long before the early access release on Steam. Is this still a valid document or should players instead standby for new updates in the future?
Except for me not crossing off the features I've completed anymore, it's still very much up to date. I use that list as one of the main references for ideas and plan to add as much as possible from it. There is no guarantee all of it will see implementation, but it's gonna be close.
Thank you for this interview! We look forward to seeing where Aggressor goes in its upcoming updates.
No problem! The game has certainly got a long way to go and I'm excited to see what the future holds.
About the Interviewer
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 |