Interview with Costin Benescu, Ace Combat Northern Wings Game Vehicle Artist
Updated: Mar 17, 2022
Ace Combat: Northern Wings was released in December 2011 as game for mobile phones. After this game was no longer available for download commercially, Northern Wings resurfaced by way of Java J2ME emulators. With fans of the Ace Combat series now pursuing emulation to experience this game, we reached out to the Northern Wings Game Vehicle Artist, Costin Benescu for an interview. Our social media manager, Growler, conducted the interview.
First and foremost, can you introduce yourself and your team?
Hello to everyone reading this! So I am Costin Benescu and my very small team at Namco was composed of: Dan Oprea (Senior Art Director), Daniel Horia (Junior Art Director), Adrian Ichim (level design art and icon design, FX, UI and we worked together on porting), Alexandru Borcanescu (Lead Designer) and Daniel Ciocilteu. (Game Designer), Cristian Boghina (Game Developer) and Bogdan Bodistean. (Game Developer). Some people came and went but this was the core team hands on working on the game most of the time. I truly hope I did not forget anyone important!
Can you tell us how you got involved with this project?
How I got involved with the project was kind of interesting. Usually at Namco Bandai Networks Romania people work on multiple projects at the same time. But for this project they wanted a dedicated team, so I was asked something like “hey do you want to work on this airplane simulator game?” And I must have replied: “Airplanes, hell yes!” Before I helped on production for Puzzle Quest 2, Galaga, Pac Man Party, Final Fantasy 2, Soul Calibur Mobile so this was an interesting change.
Did you have any experience with Ace Combat series before? Do you have a favorite Ace Combat game?
No previous experience and no favourite AC game, sorry to disappoint, I am not an avid gamer. My father worked in the Romanian army and he always dreamed of being an airplane pilot. So he used to bring a lot of model kits at home back in the 80’s. I vividly remember working on a Huey helicopter kit with him back in the day… so my excitement slash nostalgia pumped me up to work passionately on this game.
Why did the dev team choose a Norse Mythology theme for the game? (title of the game, name of the protagonist's squadron, name of the plane, etc)
I honestly don’t remember. Might have been a discussion where I was out of the loop.
Many of ACNW's aircraft designs take cues from real aircraft such as F-22, Su-47. As the game's artist, was it difficult to design those planes? What is the hardest part of the job?
Yes it was a difficult experience for me but I got a lot of help from my team and outside it. Alex (Lead Designer) was very knowledgeable about all things aircraft so that helped immensely! I think the hardest part was figuring out the pipeline. I ended up modeling and texturing, rigging, animating and rendering in 3DS Max then bringing the renders in Photoshop, indexing the sprites to a limited color number BMP files and then clean-up the artwork to a pixel perfect asset for multiple resolution sets.
Did you need to study real aircraft designs first before making those models? What's the most complicated model of the game that you made?
Yes, I had to study models and blueprints and learn 3D modelling, rigging and rendering to make this happen. I am not sure what was the most complex model but… it’s a close tie between Arvakr V-55 and the super weapon (the big ground boss crab-like with the force shield).
Talking about planes, what's your favorite aircraft both in the game and in real life?
Hm, that’s a tough one! I really love the Arvarkr V-55 (so F35) for the functional coolness of it but for looks I think the Vargr P-46 (inspired by the Su-47 Berkut) is my favourite, has such a beautiful profile!
What was your most memorable moment when designing vehicles for the game?
Hm, I think the most memorable moment for me was when I showed my first draft renders of the boats and planes and the Art Director was “…so these are placeholders, right?” That’s when I decided I need to learn a lot more about rendering!
One of the most unique moments of Northern Wings is the mission where you control the Arkbird, the superweapon from Ace Combat 5. Why did the dev team choose to bring it into the game and let player control it?
If I remember correctly Alex (Lead Designer) was really pushing for this multilayered gameplay that is rarely seen in a mobile flight simulator. So I think choosing to let the player control to Arkbird but also fight against it through the levels added much more depth to the gameplay experience!
About the gameplay, ACNW has some familiar gameplay features from such as Air Strike mode, Countermaneuver and Flares. Why did the dev team choose to implement these features in the game?
I think I can answer this one same as before, to offer a rich gameplay multilayered experience.
ACNW's gameplay is very similar to other shoot'em up games such as Aero Fighters and Strikers 1945. Was inspiration taken from these games?
To be completely honest I don’t know, was not part of those discussions. I personally did not get inspired from any other games except previous Ace Combat games for visual reference on the airships.
Besides ACNW which other games have you worked on? Do you have any ongoing projects at the moment?
So at Namco I also worked on Soul Calibur, Final Fantasy 2, Puzzle Quest 2, Pac Man. After leaving Namco in mid 2011 I worked on a freelance Facebook game project Love Factory. It was condom factory management game, I learned much more about rendering and texturing with various materials. After that I also worked at King helping them adapt Bubble Witch Saga to mobile (2012-2013). Since 2014 to mid 2016 I worked in Malta as a Game Art Manager for a small Swedish company called Yggdrasil. There I art-directed a bunch of video slot games like Magic Mushrooms, Cazino Zeppelin, Fruitoids, Pyrons, Draglings etc. Since 2016 I started to work in the toy industry as a Concept Designer in Denmark, I helped with the 2018 re-branding of LEGO Friends. But my most recent project is MechXhibition - a curating effort that brings together kit bashing, 3d prints, VR art, sculpture, painting and digital art. If you are interested in what I am up to just check out my instagram! Thank you for having me for this interview!