Interview: Tomcat 171, The First Large-Scale Ace Combat Video Content Producer
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Today's interview is with a very special guest. He is a video content creator on YouTube and has been active for quite a while now. He goes by the nickname Tomcat 171. This interview is very extensive with links to his YouTube videos and an exclusive picture or two from himself. The subjects range from how he got started with the Ace Combat franchise, his experience at EGX 2018 and several other things. We thank Tomcat 171 for his participation. Be sure to check his video channel and social media after reading the interview.
First, let’s start by briefly introducing yourself.
Well, my name is Jon, but I suppose I’m better recognised by my callsign, ‘Tomcat171’. I’ve been a big fan of the Ace Combat series since 1998, and have operated an Ace Combat-related YouTube channel since 2008.
When did your start playing Ace Combat? Do you remember your first experience with the franchise?
My journey with Ace Combat began in 1998 when I was given Air Combat for the PlayStation as a birthday present; for an impressionable 8-year-old whom already had an interest in aircraft, it was the perfect gift. I doubt I’ll ever forget the wonder of witnessing the opening cinematic, with the Phoenix Squadron in formation, the YF-22 downing an enemy and, of course, all over an action-packed techno-rock backing track. It was the first time I’d played a game like it, so I was using the novice controls to get used to it, but even while using it I felt like a young Ace.
Could you share a fond memory that you have with the franchise?
One of my best ever memories with the series is the awe and joy I felt when I first unlocked the X-02 Wyvern in Ace Combat 04. For context, I owned and had completely played through AC04 before I ever owned 2 and 3. Because of this, I had only ever believed Ace Combat games to use real aircraft in their rosters (outside of the Aerial Fortress at the end of AC1, of course). I found myself confused as to why I hadn’t yet unlocked one final plane in AC04’s line-up, and after a slowly-traveled internet search (we’re talking 56k, still!) discovered the unlock criteria for a mysterious aircraft designated ‘X-02’. After hours of going through Normal difficulty and achieving an S-Rank on all the missions (since I was still pretty inexperienced by that point), I found it waiting in the hangar ready for purchase. It was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on a fictional AC aircraft, the sharp angles and sleek design reminded me to a degree of an X-Wing (my favourite Star Wars fighter), and when I used it to play Sitting Duck for the first time and saw the wings fold in, I knew I’d found a new favourite AC aircraft. And knowing I’d unlocked it through my own grinding was the pinnacle of achievement for a 12-year-old me. Unless Ace Combat 7 is hiding something truly special, I doubt anything else will dwarf that sensation.
How did you decide to start doing YouTube as a hobby? Was there any external influence for your decision or was it something personal?
The earliest influence that comes to memory is when I frequented the Ace Combat Skies fan forum, in fact it may have even been before it adopted that name. A user had posted a video on how to complete Ace Combat 5’s ‘8492’ (Mission 18+) on Ace difficulty by destroying all the enemies therein. During the time I myself had been playing the game, I’d only ever done the safe thing and flown to the end of the map to complete the mission. The video featured commentary and annotations, and my passion for the Ace Combat series was such that I felt compelled to ask how they captured their footage. I’d already had my YouTube channel since mid-2007, but I had very random content on it and wanted to start fleshing it out. About a year later I had some money saved, and a little more financial independence, and remembering back to that video I took the opportunity to acquire a capture card for myself, a little Dazzle DVC170, and some RCA splitters. By that time Ace Combat 6 had already been out around half a year and I’d already unlocked everything that could have been. YouTube was still in relative infancy and I hadn’t noticed any other proper AC6 material, so I felt I had the chance to be one of the first. That’s when I made my first AC-related video, a rundown of all possible medals and how they were unlocked. As mentioned before, I had a very strong passion for the series by this time, and I had a compulsion to share that passion with the web and possibly help other struggling future aces with tips and tricks I’d learned.
Is there any video that you feel is the sole representative of your channel, one that you value above the others?
Honestly, there have been so many different kinds of Ace Combat videos I’ve made that I couldn’t say any one in particular speaks out above others. But if I were to highlight one as the epitome of what my content is about, gun to my head, I’d choose Part 22 of my Ace Combat 6 100% series.
I’m tempted to believe that my temper when playing games is one of the things that is remembered most fondly (somehow) amongst my subscribers, more-so than the actual flying! This part has that in droves as I rage at Pasternak and his countless salvos of ADMM fire, inhuman manoeuvres, and swarms of annoying drones...and it wasn’t even on the hardest difficulty! It’s testament to how tricky Liberation of Gracemeria can be to S-rank. And, of course, there’s some of the typical Tomcat banter all the way along, too, as well as some rather colourful language, to boot.
We’ve heard that you have quite the collection of Ace Combat goodies, could you tell us how you got started on this and talk about some of your most rare items?
It was only around 2012-2013 that I decided that the physical Ace Combat material in my possession - which equated to all of the numbered games plus Zero, X, JA and Assault Horizon for both Xbox 360 and PS3 - was inversely proportional to my actual passion for the series and for whatever reason - perhaps a matter of vain pride - I wanted to expand it even further. I then remembered that the Japanese version of AC3 had more content, so I effectively treated it as an entirely new game, and sought to somehow get a copy sent to me from Japan. It worked, and I then knew that it wasn’t as difficult to break the import barrier as I’d led myself to believe. Once I’d recalled how users in the ACS forum posted photos of earlier Ace Combat-related Hasegawa models, I knew I wanted to get in on it. In having a steady and well-paying job, I went out of my way over the space of around 8 or 9 months acquiring the models that had already been released through various sources, and after that I was able to lay down pre-orders for newly announced releases. The rest, as they say, is history. There are 2 rare items I managed to get my hands on that I cherish above the rest: a 1:100 scale ADF-01 Falken from 2006, and an official AC04 Hori Flightstick boxset, which I only acquired just under two months ago as of writing this. For the former, I knew the model had already been discontinued long before I caught the collecting bug, but by the time I was taking it seriously I wasn’t about to give up searching. I found an eBay user in Japan selling one unopened and as good as new and they were willing to ship internationally. I pounced at the opportunity, but it certainly hurt my wallet, I won’t deny! As for the AC04 stick, I had already managed to purchase both AC6’s Ace Edge bundle and the AC5 stick bundle a few years prior, and that in itself wasn’t easy because neither were ever released in the UK! However, the AC04 stick was almost something of legend, a pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow kind of affair that had only seen a Japanese release. I’d been looking for one on and off for about 3 years without any luck. By some freak coincidence, I decided to scour the web again in wake of the news that Ace Combat 7 was going to see a flight stick release. What do I find but an eBay user selling one in my own country? It was a no-brainer, I snapped it up immediately! The rarity of these two items in particular is only half the reason why I hold them in high regard, the other half is the sentimental value in remembering the joy I had at managing to finally purchase items for which I’d been searching avidly.
What has been your experience with the Ace Combat Community throughout the years?
The Ace Combat fan community as a whole has always been one of the most transparent and open that I’ve known. We have always been open to helping out those new to the series and welcoming back players whom for instance may have played a PS1 title but had their interest reinvigorated by a newer title such as 6 or Assault Horizon. At one point Ace Combat Skies was the place to be, and through that I met a great group of people in the form of a clan called the Belkan Air Force. We were all AC fans at heart, but a lot of our fun together online stemmed from a combination of playing other games online - such as Forza 4 and Mass Effect 3 - and just generally bantering at one another. I still keep in touch with some of them, but we have slowly drifted away as time has passed. Having said all that, over the past 6 or 7 years many had realised that attitudes had soured due to the relatively lacklustre titles that were released after Ace Combat 6. The fans’ attitude was slowly sullied, and alas so was their view on new ‘nuggets’ trying to get into the series. With Ace Combat 7 on the horizon, I would like to believe that a breath of fresh air will reignite everybody’s excitement once more.
How are you feeling about Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown? Any of the editions has caught your eye in particular?
Personally, I’m pretty excited! When the first teaser was unveiled in 2015 I was skeptical, mostly due to Ace Combat’s shady history in the few years before what with Joint Assault, Assault Horizon, Assault Horizon Legacy, and Infinity. Having since played some demos at EGX, my confidence in the game has vastly improved. As of writing, the Strangereal Edition has only just been announced, but I’ve wasted no time in ordering my own copy. The Arsenal Bird model looks awesome, and it will look intimidating as it provides overwatch and guards my collection! There is a unique Japanese Collector’s Edition as well... and I’ve managed to pre-order that, too!
From your experience with AC7 during EGX, how do you compare the game to any of the previous entries of the franchise gameplaywise? Is there anything remarkable that can make this entry stand out from any previous on the franchise or is it too early for that?
Playing Ace Combat 7 at EGX finally gave me the chance to give the new flight model a good shakedown, and what I managed to play definitely gave me confidence that the series is heading back in the right direction, both in how it plays and looks. After using 5 different aircraft across the demos available (F-14, Rafale, Typhoon, F-35 & F-2), I'd say by feel alone that the flight model feels like a peculiar hybridisation between the roll of AC6, the strong pitch speed of 5 and Zero, and a throttle similar to 04. The standard missiles have the same exaggerated manoeuvrability as they did in 5 and Zero as well, making the destruction of targets much simpler, especially for any new players.
Having the weather mess with your radar systems and flight path was an intriguing mechanic that gave a slightly more sim-like feel, and I definitely felt like I was more on edge when playing the Yinshi Valley mission, trying not to smash into the rocky outcrops while fighting against a rogue crosswind. As for the clouds, I'll have to be honest and say I didn't notice its effects all that much, but that could be down to a multitude of factors regarding the demo I played such as the difficulty, and whether some other mechanics had yet to be enabled to their fullest extents. From my perception so far, all I could say is that Ace Combat 7 feels like a proper throwback to the Holy Trinity with some added twists. Having said that, I believe we still haven't had a full introduction to the concept of the Post-Stall Manoeuvres; I certainly wasn't able to perform them in the EGX demo, so only time will tell as to whether they will be a helping hand or a damp squib.
Lately you have been experimenting with playing the older AC titles with flight sticks, what do you think is advantage of a stick over a controller? What would you recommend more?
Honestly, there is only one predominant advantage that playing the Ace Combat titles with a stick actually presents: Immersion. When using a stick in combination with either of the first-person cameras, there is a greater sense of feeling like the pilot sat in that cockpit. There’s also a tingly feeling of achievement when downing difficult enemies or performing tight manoeuvres and swift gun kills. Having said that, there is no real benefit from a practicality standpoint, and I would still advise that playing with a standard controller is the more efficient way in terms of speed and ease of play.
And finally, is there anything else you want to add?
Only that I hope to continue sharing my passion with like-minded fans and those new to the series alike, and that we can continue to get Ace Combat the recognition it deserves in modern gaming audiences.
We would like to thank Tomcat 171 for his time and detail in this in depth interview.
About the Interviewer
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034