After establishing the basic system, the "Ace Combat" series focused more resources on plot performances.

The operation part of a game is oil, and the plot part is water. How to blend the two? Different game types will give different answers. For the "Ace Combat" series, the key to success is to maintain the freedom of flight while advancing the plot. The development team has summed up its own unique performance method for this.

From Japanese science fiction animation, to European literary film style illustrations, to radio voices in the form of radio dramas, after various attempts, the performance effects of the "Ace Combat" series have reached the first-class level in the gaming industry.

With the continuous upgrade of the engine, the series has introduced more technologies to improve the quality of audio and video: satellite maps, Doppler sound effects, rain and snow weather, more realistic atmosphere, more complex aircraft… All these advances, coupled with first-class The plot performance has enabled the "Ace Combat" series to achieve a leap in evolution and reach its peak.

electronic space

In the 1990s, Namco's "Ridge Racer" and "Ace Combat" series shared many developers, and new games were cross-released, which can be said to work in tandem. "Ridge Racer 4" in 1998 and "Ace Combat 3" in 1999 are both classic masterpieces of the later PS consoles.

Kazuo Kono was promoted to art director in "Ridge Racer 4". As a control freak, he also wrote the script himself, bringing a wonderful plot experience to this racing game. However, this all-out masterpiece also left him physically and mentally exhausted. After the release of "Ridge Racer 4", Kono did not fully devote himself to the development of "Ace Combat 3" like many colleagues. He retired for a while and chose easier work such as making fonts and finding bugs to adjust his body and mind.

"Ridge Racer 4" is Kono's hard work

"Ace Combat 3" deeply explores the performance of the PS console, greatly improving the engine efficiency, adding weather effects such as raindrops and snowflakes, and the model has become more complex. The polygon generation rate of this game is 50% to 80% higher than that of the previous game, and the specific number is determined by the special effects.

The movable parts of the aircraft have also undergone qualitative changes. The canards, tails, flaps and speed brakes are all movable. The vector nozzles of some aircraft have also been intuitively presented. Every subtle operation of the player will be immediately reflected on the aircraft. , it feels very flexible.

Delicate body mobility

Cruising in a rainstorm

Because the engine efficiency of "Ace Combat 3" has been greatly improved, there is no need to delete some body models to save resources. Players can also change the perspective at will through the right joystick. Coupled with the stall reminder that the handle vibrates, the game's operation scheme has reached modern standards. , is still used by the series to this day.

However, more complex mobile units also increase the development process, making it difficult for the team. If the game is to be released on time, the number of mobile units will be reduced. In order to solve this problem, the team's initial idea was to outsource part of the body setting work, and the partner chose animation company IG.

At that time, IG was in its golden age. The brilliance of the theatrical version of "Ghost in the Shell" brought them a world-class reputation and became one of the few Japanese animations that was popular in Europe and the United States. After discussion, Namco decided that in addition to part of the machine, the game's cutscenes would also be outsourced to IG. This would not only improve efficiency, but also attract the attention of European and American players.

Outsourced cutscenes

After the first version of IG's animation storyboard was released, Namco thought it was "too complicated and the budget may exceed the budget. Please delete it." Unexpectedly, the second version of the storyboard was even more complicated. In the end, IG completed the cutscene within the time and budget plan, which can be described as profound strength.

The world view style of "Ace Combat 3" was handed over to Namco's internal planning by Mizu Katsura. He was responsible for the opening animation of the "Ridge Racer" series, and the virtual idol Nagase Reiko was also his handiwork. "Ace Combat 3" is set in 2040, an era of unprecedented computer and network technology, and the plot has a strong cyberpunk style.

However, Yumizu doesn’t like the term “cyberpunk”. He believes that after the release of “Blade Runner”, many viewers have stuck with the stereotype of “damp and dark” cyberpunk. He does not want “Ace Combat” 3" also left this preconceived first impression, so he used the word "Computer Space" as the subtitle of the game.

The art style of "Ace Combat 3" is indeed very different from "Blade Runner". The buildings in the game are mostly white curves, giving people a refreshing feeling. This style originated from the Osaka World Expo in 1970 and represents the future in the hearts of Japanese people.

Responsible for the opening animation of the "Ridge Race" series, Yumizu Katsura

Refreshing architectural CG concept map

The interface and icons of this game were handed over to Minoru Shida, another futuristic artist from Namco. The rounded interface style is trendy, and the rotating turbine icon also intuitively displays the flight speed. However, due to the limited video memory capacity of the PS console, the interface resolution of this game was also forced to be reduced, and the ideal rounded corner interface eventually turned into a jagged mess.

The theme of "Ace Combat 3" is "Corporate War", which tells the story between giant multinational enterprise groups. Zhitian designed different icons for this purpose: "General Resources" (GR) corporate culture tradition, the icons are quite satisfactory; "Nervous" "Yuan Electronics" () is an emerging enterprise with bright and lively icons; "UPEO" is a peacekeeping force with a dove of peace as its symbol; "Ouroboros" () is a mysterious legion hiding in the dark, and its icon is also the most Weird.

Icons designed by Minoru Kashida

UPEO is supposed to remain neutral in the war, but GR and the two major groups are trying to win over UPEO by giving away airframes. In reality today, we can easily find the shadow of two major groups: GR represents General Electric, an old group covering all walks of life; GR represents Tesla, a company focusing on clean energy, automobiles, aerospace and brain-computer interfaces. Emerging businesses.

However, in 1999, when "Ace Combat 3" was released, Tesla had not yet been established, and the game's predictions were quite advanced. Shida joked that he actually represented the future Namco. This was not a complete joke. In the past, Namco often developed projects that had nothing to do with games. Shida once participated in the design of reception robots, but these projects were all eliminated after the merger between Namco and Namco. Stopped.

In terms of airframe, most of GR's aircraft are improved from prototypes based on realistic designs. If there is no large-scale war in the future world, the development of aircraft will also slow down. Classic models such as the F-15 will be enough to last until 2040 after being repaired. Therefore, GR has chosen a conservative route. The same is true for all countries in reality today.

Those aircraft that imitate marine life are more sci-fi. The seams of the aircraft body are minimized, and the streamlined appearance is like a dolphin in the water. According to the settings, the surface of the body is covered with breathable nanomaterials, which greatly increases the lift, but the function of PS cannot display such special materials.

For the original machine, Shui Gui first came up with the original design of the machine body, and then handed the sketch to others to perfect the details. X-49 is a classic design by Shui Gui. The double-layer flying wing structure and pitch-black paint give people a powerful and weird feeling.

R-101 fighter

The X-49 is very unique both in appearance and sound effects.

Tetsuichi Nakanishi is responsible for most of the music and sound effects of this game. In fact, the high-frequency engine noise of the X-49 was processed by the computer based on his own screams. In order to allow players to intuitively hear the distance of sound effects, he also invented a Doppler simulation program for the game. This program was registered as a patent by Namco and did not expire until 2019. Tetsuichi Nakanishi sometimes deliberately removes the soundtrack from a level to allow players to listen carefully to various unique sound effects.

"Ace Combat 3" contains 52 levels and 5 endings. The levels are full of branch designs. The number of enemy planes can reach up to 30. The scale is unprecedented. The styles of different companies are also reflected in different level routes. GR is accustomed to maintaining dense formations in air battles, and likes to attack the protagonist from different directions. In the final level of the GR route, 8 drones flew in a neat formation and dispersed at the moment of the battle, which left a deep impression on the players.

The 8-machine formation dispersed instantly

Branch design for a single level

The capacity of this game once reached 4 CDs. Namco's previous games were all on 1 CD. The marketing department asked the game to reduce the capacity as much as possible. The programmers racked their brains to reduce the capacity to 2 CDs on the eve of sending to the factory for pressing. Some of them Cutscenes were removed, and those that remained were reduced in resolution.

In fact, the development process of "Ace Combat 3" was a process of Namco constantly challenging the functional limitations. The team succeeded in the special effects of rain and snow, but was stumped by the most ordinary sunny weather. Of course, the PS console does not have HDR function. In order to express the sun on a sunny day, this game finally chose to make the interface translucent, so that part of the interface is faded by the light when facing the sun.

Part of the interface is faded by lighting

Takuya Iwasaki, the director of "Ace Combat 3", served as the planner for the first two games, and innovation and transformation became his goal. The previous missions in the series were designed entirely around the machine body and difficulty, with simple plots and no character development. The missions of "Ace Combat 3" are centered on the world view and characters. Players choose branch routes, and the characters will lead to different endings.

Iwasaki wanted to appeal to both old and new players through the change in style, but the end result was mixed. The sales of the Japanese version of "Ace Combat 3" dropped slightly compared with the previous game. The Japanese animation-style plot attracted some new players, but lost more old players. Iwasaki himself accepted this result. In his view, brave innovation may be risky, but he must not rest on his laurels. All of this is a process required for the evolution of the series.

In fact, the development team also considered the reaction of old players and tried to change the game title to "Ace Combat Sci-Fi Edition" instead of "Ace Combat 3". Namco's publishing department believed that sales would be guaranteed only if the title had an official serial number. Suggestions to change the title were rejected.

"Ace Combat 3" director Takuya Iwasaki

Early development sketches for Ace Combat Sci-Fi Edition

On the other hand, in order to save localization costs, the distribution department deleted most of the plot animations in the European and American version, canceled all level branches, and reduced the capacity to 36 levels and 1 CD. The original intention of expanding the European and American markets came to nothing. The global sales of "Ace Combat 3" are 1.16 million. Under the premise that development costs have soared, global sales are only 70,000 units higher than the previous game. This result is not optimistic.

However, as time goes by, Japanese players' evaluation of "Ace Combat 3" has become higher and higher, and now it has become a recognized classic. European and American players spent 7 years and finally launched a complete patch with English subtitles for the Japanese version in 2016, making up for the regret. This perseverance also impressed the development team.

strange reality

When "Ace Combat 3" was released, Sony had already announced the new console PS2, and upgrading it became a top priority for the development team. After that, Takuya Iwasaki and Katsura Yumizu left Namco, handing over the business to Kazuo Kono, who returned to the series. As game development costs continue to rise, teams need to find ways to reduce risk. Kono believes that "Ace Combat 4" must take advantage of the PS2's performance, and the development budget will be mainly used to improve the 3D engine, and cutscenes can be turned into slideshows to save costs.

The level area of ​​this game has been expanded to 100 square kilometers. The game uses photos from satellites and ground height data to create scenes, supplemented by semi-automatic terrain filling tools. Even so, the workload of art has not been reduced, because the level map cannot be copied directly from the photo, and the textures of the fighter jets are still hand-made, and the coordination of the overall picture needs to be carefully adjusted.

If the game scenes only copy reality, even if the picture quality is excellent, it will lack personality. Level artist Masato Kanno proposed to add several craters on the map, which is not only eye-catching, but also has the effect of environmental narrative, making players intuitive through the scenes. Get the backstory. The team had different opinions on this, but ultimately passed the plan. In order to allow players to enjoy the scene at will, this game also adds a sightseeing flight mode without combat.

Striking craters

Around the crater, the story of the game gradually takes shape: the asteroid "Ulysses" is about to hit the earth. Countries work together to build rail guns as a means of defense, but they are still unable to intercept all meteorites. Since then, frictions between countries have continued over the refugee issue, which eventually led to war. The military power seized the rail gun, and the neighboring small countries that faced tit-for-tat formed a coalition to join the war.

The world view of "Ace Combat 4" is still fictional, but it has a hint of reality. The development team called the world view of this game a "strange and realistic parallel world". In the end, "strange reality" () became synonymous with the world view. , this word comes from Kato Kazuchi, the designer of the "Mobile Suit Gundam" series. He believes that "although fictional works are entertainment products, they should also find a balance between fantasy and reality." This idea has since been called "Ace Combat" "The series continues to draw upon.

The body model of this game has become more detailed. The F-14A will extend small wing fans at supersonic speeds. Stealth fighters such as the F-22 contain missiles inside the bomb bay. Each controllable body provides a cockpit. perspective.

When "Ace Combat 2" was being developed, Yasaki Isshin planned to design the XFA-27 with a variable forward swept wing, but gave up because the structure was too complex. It was not until the original X-02A of "Ace Combat 4" that this was realized. Change forward swept wings. In addition, the X-02A's canards and tail are also fully-motion designs and can be laid flat to reduce drag when cruising. The fuselage has four built-in bomb bays, taking into account low-speed, high-speed and stealth performance, making it a classic.

For 10 years, the X-02A was the most complex aircraft in the series. This sci-fi masterpiece was also Kazuo Kono’s favorite original aircraft. He designed a trendy digital camouflage for the X-02A.

F-14A wing fans during supersonic flight

X-02A painted with digital camouflage

In terms of sound effects, the team was qualified to record a realistic fighter engine for the first time. Radio conversations were added to the cacophony of communications, filling the air with a battlefield atmosphere. After being taught by pilots, a large number of tactical terms have been added to the radio of "Ace Combat 4", such as "Fox 2" for launching infrared anti-air missiles and "Fox 3" for active radar anti-air missiles. The early warning aircraft will also directly contact the player through the squadron number. The number of the protagonist in this game is 1.

Kazuo Kono's position in "Ace Combat 4" is still the art director, but he often handles plot details. This is not a control freak's habit. As the game becomes more and more complex, all kinds of details affect the whole body. Every creator in the team needs to communicate and coordinate well with others.

The game director of "Ace Combat 4" is Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi. He is very interested in the series, but this is his first time joining the team. Ichiyanagi Hiroyuki hopes to create the illusion that "the game is full of human consciousness" for players. For this reason, the number of radio call voices in this game has soared to 4,000, and voice feedback will appear almost every moment.

In order to achieve the director's goal, this work has two people specially assigned to handle the radio coordination work – Imi Kosuke, who is responsible for the level performance, and Kito Masahide, who is responsible for the radio screenwriting. Imi Kosuke had previously drawn textures for "Ridge Racer 4" because he was more familiar with animation, and later he edited cutscenes for "Ace Combat 3". In this work, Imi is responsible for handling all real-time plot developments, most of which are radio lines. Imi needs to ensure that the triggering conditions of the lines are consistent with the actual situation of the level, while Kito is responsible for the specific writing of the lines.

"Ace Combat 4" director Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi

Iomi Kosuke, who is in charge of the stage performance

Kito Yaying, who is in charge of radio lines

Guitou believes that the operation and plot parts of the game are like oil and water. When poured directly, it will not turn into a solution, but it can be processed into an emulsion. The coordination of performances and lines is this process. "Ace Combat 3" has a rich plot, but most of the radio conversations take place in the fixed communication section outside the level. There are fewer real-time performances within the level. It is still essentially a state of separation of oil and water, not an emulsion.

In order to achieve a performance effect that integrates operation and plot, radio lines need to respond to various player behaviors in real time. The lines outside the fixed plot should be diverse so that players cannot hear all the lines in one pass, and the game's replayability can also be improved.

The early warning aircraft and wingmen in the original "Ace Combat" and "Ace Combat 2" often chattered around four or five lines, giving people the impression of being repeaters. If the game wants to create a sense of immersion, it needs to reserve enough lines to play randomly. The player's attention is also limited, and the lines cannot stop for a moment during the battle. The essence of radio lines is similar to that of radio dramas. Appropriate blanks can create a sense of mystery of "why the pause" and attract the player's attention.

Ichiyanagi Hiroyuki believes that the most important radio lines in the game do not originate from close teammates such as early warning aircraft and wingmen, but from distant friendly forces or even enemy forces. Due to psychological factors, when you are praised by someone around you, you will doubt whether he is sincere. Only unfamiliar people and opponents can give more objective evaluations. This inspiration comes from the first generation of "Mobile Suit Gundam". The Gundam driven by the protagonist was called "the white guy" by the enemy, which frightened the enemy. This evaluation is obviously more convincing than the praise of teammates.

In order to strengthen the legendary color of the story, starting from this game, in addition to a personalized squadron number and logo, the protagonist of each game also needs a title that makes teammates cheer and enemies tremble, such as "Ribbon Death", "North Sea Devil", "Round Table" Thunderous titles such as "Ghosts and Gods" are about to come out.

Early development squadron ribbon emblem

In Ichiyanagi's memory, the radio line that impressed him most in this game came from the ground troops: "It doesn't matter even if you lie, tell them 1 is coming!" The friendly forces in a bad situation regard the protagonist as the last line of psychological defense, and then the player It flew over the heads of the ground troops, like a weak man praying and a god descending to earth. There is no doubt that Itomi and Kito, who were responsible for the radio performance and lines, fully understood the director's intentions.

Because radio involves a lot of level details, in the early stages of game development, Kito Yaying needs to confirm various settings with others. When discussing the length of the rail gun, Masahide Kito wanted a barrel that was over a thousand meters long. Masato Kanno thought this was unreasonable. 300 meters in length was the limit, but Kazutoshi Kono believed that this iconic weapon needed to be eye-catching. volume of.

In the end, Sugano referred to the arrangement of radio telescope arrays in reality and deployed eight 300-meter-long rail guns to form "Stonehenge." In this way, the length of a single barrel will not be overly exaggerated, and the footprint of the entire array will be eye-catching enough.

Real-life radio telescope array

Stonehenge in game

The insufficient number of levels is a major problem faced by the development team. PS2 has improved the graphics standards and made development more time-consuming. The initial plan for "Ace Combat 4" was to only have 12 levels, and it was increased to 15 levels midway. However, the team still felt that it was not enough, so they found a way to finally make up the length of 18 levels. For example, the civil aircraft escort level uses an open scene where the engine was tested in the early stages of development. There are no buildings on the ground and only a few scattered enemy aircraft in the sky as targets. The radio lines for this level were also rushed out by Guitou within two days.

Compare performances

Kazuo Kono hoped to find an excellent outsourcing company for the slide-style cutscenes. Kosuke Itomi, who was familiar with the animation industry, recommended 4°C. The initial reply from 4°C was "We don't do game animations." Kazutoshi Kono explained that he wanted slides rather than animations, so 4°C accepted the job and recommended Katabuchi, who was familiar with military themes. Shauzhi serves as the cutscene director.

Sunao Katabuchi, who was in charge of the slide show

Kono's request was that "Namco will be responsible for the story of the protagonist 1's level, and the slides that 4°C will be responsible for will focus on the enemy's story." Based on this idea, Katabuchi conceived the protagonist's rival: Sky Knight 13. Although he is in the enemy camp, 13 still praises the protagonist's performance. Just because he respects us, we also respect him. 13 is extremely popular among players. Kono also admires this tragic hero and even planned to develop a game with 13 as the protagonist.

The perspective of the slideshow is derived from the perspective of a 13-year-old war orphan, using his memories to outline the daily life of ordinary people during the war. A supermarket that Kono likes to go to often has fighter jets flying overhead. He feels that "the perspective of the sky and the ground must be different," so he chose the daily perspective of ordinary people.

If the cutscenes of "Ace Combat 3" are Japanese animation, then the style of "Ace Combat 4" imitates European literary films. Although the cutscenes of this game are still pictures, the details are still exquisite. 4°C invited "Macross" series artist Ichiro Itano to draw the aircraft body. The rich sound effects recorded by Namco also make up for the atmosphere of the cutscenes to a large extent. .

In the memories of the slide show, 13's most proud achievement is not the rising number of kills, but his record of never losing a single teammate. Katabuchi believes that whether on the battlefield or in the workplace, if a person achieves outstanding results but cannot protect his companions, then he is not a true hero.

The Squadron Through the Eyes of a War Orphan

Although the perspectives of the radio and slide cutscenes in the level are different, the game still needs to tie the two story lines together, and Namco and 4°C continue to cooperate for this purpose. The mission to destroy Stonehenge in the later part of the game was a turning point in the war. In this operation, the protagonist shot down 13 Wingmen 4, breaking the undefeated record of the enemy squadron, but the player's feelings are hard to describe. When our early warning aircraft cheered "This operation is a complete victory," 13 asked desperately on the radio: "Did anyone see 4 ejecting?"

The protagonist has achieved brilliant results, but the enemy squadron is pitiful. These lines give players contradictory feelings, but this is the effect that the ghost who wrote the lines wanted. The war itself is contradictory, not so much black and white.

Kono summed up the philosophy of game development as "contrast": our army and the enemy's army, the sky and the ground, civilians and soldiers, adults and children, cheers and lamentations… This game is full of this sense of contrast. The seagulls in the opening scene were also Kono's inspiration. He hoped to use PS2 to instantly render the birds in flight and compare them with fighter jets to create a contrast between "animals and machines."

Seagulls rendered in real time in the title sequence

Game performances are naturally inseparable from music. Guitarist Takatori Goto and composer Keiki Kobayashi joined the series team from this game. "Ace Combat 4" was the first time they participated in game development, and the two showed their genius-like abilities.

Goto Takatori has a super memory, no matter how complex the score is, he can never forget it. The rock music he plays adds a lot to this game. Keishu Kobayashi is good at symphony. He was attracted by the soundtrack of "Ace Combat 2" in college and decided to join Namco after graduation. Starting from this game, Xiaolin participated in the composition of the series of console games, and many of the soundtracks became the finishing touch.

Guitarist Takatori Goto

The series' most famous composer, Kobayashi Keiki

For the final level of the game, Kono wanted a soundtrack that was "so majestic that it would give people goosebumps." Kobayashi proposed using a symphony plus chorus to record the famous "Ode to the Lamb" (Agnus Dei). Kono felt that this was enough, but Kobayashi proposed midway through that he wanted to switch to another soundtrack, "Heaven's Gate" ('s Gate), when the protagonist goes into the tunnel, and the deadline for the composition was extended.

Recalling the development process of "Ace Combat 4", Kono admitted that he initially lacked trust in Kobayashi because the ideas proposed by Kobayashi did not sound reliable and could not be delivered on time, but the quality of the final composition really convinced him.

Talking about "why the final level involves drilling holes in the fortress", director Hiroyuki Ichiyanagi said that he wanted to create a climax scene. He thought that a duel between two fighter jets was boring. Air combat movies often use drilling holes as the climax. So the final level of this game is the same.

The final fortress

During the polishing stage in the later stages of development, two artists, Kazushi Kono and Masato Kanno, entered into the so-called "sky patching day". The two sat in front of the same screen and slowly adjusted the color of the sky in each level. The real atmosphere is not a single color, but a multi-layer mixed gradient. This is what the so-called "fish belly white rising in the sky" means. Kono believes that this game is the first game to truly show the layering of the sky.

The tasks of each level are set with specific times accurate to the minute, in order to clarify the specific performance of the sky. Kono even consulted the real-life moon phase changes in detail for this purpose. Even during the day, players can see the sky high in the sky. The silver moon, the specific waxing and waning is determined by the actual moon phase.

A silver moon during the day

Kono is most concerned about the direct sky picture, while Sugano is more concerned about the special pictures outside the level. The 3D briefing map imitates radar imaging, and the clearance playback screen is similar to an air combat recorder… These details are not necessary, but they greatly enhance the player's sense of immersion. .

In the era of "Ace Combat 3", the team conceived an extremely huge world view. Because the game could not show all the details, most of the background information became a setting album. But after all, not everyone can go to Japan to buy the setting. set. "Ace Combat 4" puts most of the information on the Internet for easy viewing. Most of these materials are written in the form of virtual documents, depicting the background world view from different angles, revealing the ins and outs of the war, and giving players the illusion that "a parallel world does exist in another universe."

Stonehenge under construction

"Ace Combat 4" is not a perfect work. The number of levels and units included in the game is relatively small, but the problem of content capacity can be gradually solved in the future. More importantly, "Ace Combat 4" set the standard for graphics and performances, allowing the series to blaze its own path.

"Ace Combat 4", finally released in 2001, achieved a dramatic evolution of the series on PS2, with cumulative global sales reaching 2.64 million. For the development team, a legendary golden era has just begun…

(To be continued)

Chule is hiring:

Author's contribution丨

No good, no just cause

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *