A look into the types of projects and distribution this long time developer
Posted: 02-02-2021 / Update: 09-12-2023
Trail of Wings (ToW) has roots starting from developing content expansion packs for a different flight game to creating an original intellectual property. The development, final product, and distribution are highly representative of the type of material Project ICKX - a developer, producer and publisher of Japanese indie flight games - has been involved with.
What's important to remember is that the "circles" mentioned are teams of hobbyist and semi-pro developers that work together and share resources to self-publish products (Japanese term being: doujin software or doujin games) because of their mutual passion for a specific subject.
Back on March 26th, 2008, a circle was formed with the goal of "making flight shooting more interesting." Known as Project Wings, under the direction of Nrtwd, they specialized in creating expansion packs for RaidersSphere 3rd, a flight action game created by circle Rectangle. These expansions added aircraft, maps, and online game modes for players to compete against each other. The expansion packs introduced real-world aircraft designs alongside the original, fictional designs from RaidersSphere. The game engine used for this was the Sphere Engine.
The 7th expansion pack had a prolonged development process that went over a year. Though a video trailer (above) and trial demo for the 7th ToW expansion pack was released for Akihabara Doujin Trial Festa 2010, a change in plans occurred after Sphere Engine Conference 2011. This meeting of different circles that utilize the Sphere Engine focused on sharing information, ideas, and presentations about the game engine. Following this event, circle Project Wings embarked on a new development path that would lead to support from Project ICKX to create and distribute their new game.
On June 6th, 2011, the new vision for Trail of Wings was introduced. Concept art for its characters and world setting was gradually posted onto the official blog, with certain assets of the 7th expansion pack reworked for the new story.
On May 5th, 2012, Trail of Wings Prologue Book was released to the public. The player flies as the second position in Silver Wolf Squadron as a member of the Republic of Ernest 7th Air Force, Combined Task Force 207 stationed at Palacebridge Island. The island's position is of strategic importance because it is one of the few landmasses between its neighbor, the Zellbell Union.
The Zellbell Union is has a history of revolutions, political defections, and economic strife that started in the 1970s of their timeline. A civil war broke out in 2020 caused by the government forces prioritizing military power rather than rebuilding the nation for decades on end. The New Government Forces overthrew the so-called "Legitimate Zellbell Union Force" (old government forces) and reached out to the Republic of Ernest for assistance. Combined Task Force 207 was created to assist the New Government Forces in their battle to do away with the old regime.
The wheels of intrigue began to spin shortly before the events of the game. There is the implication that one side of the conflict is being driven forward by a certain person or person(s) and whispers of secret weapons development projects arise. Silver Wolf and other forces at Palacebridge find themselves on the new frontline of the conflict. Hostile Zellbell combat aircraft are sent in waves to attack Palacebridge. During these attacks, one of the new conflict's primary instigators is identified, and a connection between allies and enemies is discovered.
The gameplay is true to its arcade flight shooter inspirations. The experience is very much in line with the other titles from the PlayStation and Xbox games from the 2000s and 2010s. The focus is on high-speed, high-energy combat with a limited amount of systems to manage. Aircraft are based on real-world designs with slight name changes for obvious copyright's sake. A majority of aircraft from the ToW expansions between 2007 to 2009 are not included, but two aircraft, in particular, are seen in a highly unusual formation: the SF-4 Super Phantom and SV-XX. These aircraft are part of the enemy ace squadron that appears to oppose Silver Wolf Squadron.
As cool as these two aircraft are, players can only fly the AF-15C with two weapon slots available for the alpha, though it does carry dozens of missiles and near unlimited gun ammo. There is no other aircraft that can be unlocked through gameplay, but a second aircraft can be added through other means.
The expansion disc, Sudden Dark Condor, was released by another doujin circle associated with Project ICKX. Installing both Trail of Wings Prologue Book and Sudden Dark Condor unlocks the MF-16C and six additional campaign missions. The missions follow a different cast of characters as they fight the unbelievable weapons from Dark Condor, an international private military company that is backing a conflict unrelated to the events of Trail of Wings.
Speaking of discs, the CD for the game not only contains the installation files, but also doubles as the soundtrack when played with a CD player or media player software.
The most interesting product that comes with the Trail of Wings Prologue Book is a physical booklet that explains a world timeline, map of the continents, information about the nations, biographies for the player's wingmen, aircraft specifications, and more. Included is artwork and collages of screenshots that show aircraft and locations that would have appeared later in the game's story.
While some Project ICKX games can be downloaded from online vendors, Trail of Wings Prologue Book remains almost entirely available as physical merchandise. Even in the 2020s, instead of video game retail stores, it can be found in doujin focused shops but primarily from conventions and expos attended by Project ICKX staff. The public alpha disc, 18-page supplemental book, and expansion disc are still printed and sold at these events. Physically going to a convention to purchase the game, meet the developers and producers, meet fellow fans and try out other products is a major part of the Japanese doujin style.
Though Trail of Wings hasn't gone beyond the prologue book's events, a product created by a circle with assistance from a second circle with an expansion disc created by a third circle is something distinctive to the type of products Project ICKX supports.
Note: This article was written in a way that respects Project ICKX guidelines, which asks anyone who discusses their products to avoid major spoilers. This same practice was done with scanned materials that are shown in this article. Because this product is still actively sold by Project ICKX, there will not be a file upload of the entire book either.
Posted: 02-02-2021 / Update: 09-12-2023
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.