Flight combat titles don't often hit the headlines, but the March 31st release of Blazing Angels could change all that. Released on Xbox, PC and Xbox 360, it's the latter version which has gained this particular title that extra bit of attention, and is therefore one we're looking forward to putting through its paces just prior to its release next week.
But until then, Ubisoft granted us an exclusive interview with the Ioan Palalau, the producer of the game from Ubisoft's Romanian studio...
Eurogamer: How does Blazing Angels compare with others in the genre, namely Crimson Skies and Secret Weapons Over Normandy? Is it pitched more towards the flight aficionado or general flight combat fan?
Ioan Palalau: Blazing Angels is, at heart, a game for those who love flying WWII war birds with panache, shooting enemies like an ace and blowing things up with style. The game is easy to grasp and spectacular in the same time - you control the plane with one thumbstick, speed up with the other, and shoot with the trigger.
Because we thought that HUD arrows and 2D mini-maps are not good enough for air combat we designed a new camera system - the follow camera - which streamlines the experience of the game and adds a great cinematic feeling.
Beyond the classic air combat mechanics, however, BA gains in complexity as the wingmen's role becomes increasingly important as missions go by.
The game was built up around the idea of comradeship, of war-forged bounds between the pilots forming the squadron.
Each of the wingmen has a distinct personality which reflects gameplay-wise into his own special ability - the calm, composed Tom is the shield, the choleric and flamboyant Frank is the hunter and Joe, the rookie pilot, is the mechanic genius, able to find new ways to fix the player's plane even during the action - no need to flee and land to get your bird fixed.
Losing a wingman means losing its ability - keeping everyone alive and using their powers in a thoughtful way is the key to victory.
A key differentiation from the classic squadron you can find in this genre is that our guys have initiative. They are able to protect each other and act as a band of brothers without having to be commanded to do that. On the front line, the comrade is the one which is saving your life while risking his - without needing a command from his ranking officer.
To compare it with other titles, Blazing Angels is more like intense action air combat sequences from your favorite movies mixed with Brothers in Arms and placed in the skies of WW2 famous battles.
Eurogamer: What's the background of the developer?
Ioan Palalau: Ubisoft Romania has developed games on PS2, Xbox, GameCube, GBA, PSP and Dreamcast: the modern Chessmaster series, Taxi, King Kong, CSI and some others. An important part of the BA team developed the critically acclaimed Silent Hunter 3.
Are each of the 18 missions based on a famous WWII air battle? Which ones have you gone for, and why? Give us an overview of a typical campaign mission...
The 18 missions cover the most important air battles of WWII, beginning with the BEF retreat at Dunkirk, through the Battle for England events, fighting in Africa as air support for the Desert Rats, saving what can be saved in Pearl Harbor and paying back at Midway, defending Guadal Canal and torching Rabaul, bombing the German Heavy Water Plant in Norway's fjords, struggling for the control of the Normandy beaches and onward to Berlin till the end of the war in Europe. There is no typical campaign mission - every mission brings something new for the gameplay, tasks and landscapes but we can say that we cover all the duties a WWII pilot had to perform - and then some...
Just how far did the team go to replicate the real-life events of these epic battles? Was the research gleaned many from the history books, or have you managed to call upon veterans of the various campaigns?
We consulted veteran pilots for making sure that what we do and say in the game is an accurate representation of the real thing. We piled up another zillion of books and documentaries on our already huge archive we inherited from Silent Hunter and rebuilt the famous locations from the maps of that era. We kept close to history events and tried not to stray from the historical accuracy.
Eurogamer: With over 40 WWII aircraft in the game there's certainly no shortage of variety. But as much as they all look incredibly realistic, just how much artistic license have you taken with the handling? Have you had to make serious concessions to make it playable for the console audience, and can the serious flight buffs turn off the flying aids?
Ioan Palalau: We have 42 flyable aircrafts in the game, British, American, Japanese and German, fighters, fighter-bombers, bombers, torpedo bombers and even the mighty flying fortress. We wanted - from the beginning - that the player feels he's really flying a WWII plane and not some toy that goes up and down. Therefore, the physics were implemented correctly and in the mean while we designed a control scheme that will allow to everyone and his grandmother to pick up and fly the birds in a matter of seconds. We think that the planes of Blazing Angels fly and feel like real planes while the control is easy and intuitive.
Eurogamer: Obviously destruction is a big part of the game - how much attention to detail have you gone to in order to make this side of the experience as realistic as possible?
Ioan Palalau: All the attention in the world! It's not only about the most visible events, like tracing fire, explosions, debris, it's also about how the environments change during the furious battles, how the atmosphere changes when the huge columns of smoke clutter the scenery. Nothing was left out.
Eurogamer: Can you blow most of the landscape up?
Ioan Palalau: You can blow up anything you want in BA. The thing is you need some serious gear to blow up everything...
Eurogamer: Which is the most 'fun' of the aircraft, and have any of the team flown any of them in real life?
Ioan Palalau: We have two guys in the team which have their pilot licences. We used them as test pilots for our BA planes.
Eurogamer: How much better will the 360 version be over the regular Xbox version?
Ioan Palalau: Enhanced visuals: Highly detailed and authentic-looking planes and environments make intensive use of environmental lighting and dynamic imagery.
New improved and enlarged textures provide more detail for both planes and terrain: Players will see sun glare on their cockpits, light shafts streaking through clouds and detailed shadows on the environment. The endless cities, buildings and facilities have also been enhanced to take full advantage of advanced lighting effects and shading to create an intense, realistic atmosphere for cities and military bases.
More realistic battle damage: Bullets hit planes and smoke dynamically streams from cannons and engines. Battle damage from bullets, bombs and downed planes is visible and persistent on both terrain and buildings.
Dramatic presentation: Visual perception filtering technique' will be enhanced including extended burn effects and motion blur to create even more drama. Intense shockwaves from explosions fill the sky with debris using dynamic lighting and particle effects made possible by Xbox 360's system.
Enhanced sound effects: Perception filtering enhances the player's immersion. Sound treatment is actively managed in accordance to what the player does. Sound varies depending on the scene in order to create a more immersive, cinematic and dramatic atmosphere around the player.
Eurogamer: And how do the PC and 360 versions compare side by side? Which is the best, in your opinion?
Ioan Palalau: They're both very good. The high end PC version is very close of the Xbox 360 quality and we think we succeeded to tune the mouse control very well for the ones that don't have a game pad or joystick plugged in their machines.
Eurogamer: Tell us about the online multiplayer side of the game. What modes are there? Is there co-op support? Is there 16 player support for all three versions, and is there any specific modes exclusive to certain formats? In what way does Blazing Angels improve over, say, Crimson Skies in its multiplayer (apart from support more players, of course)
Ioan Palalau: Obviously, the gamers will be able to duke it out in classic dogfight battles. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, as you'll be required to fly bombers or torpedo bombers, race, infiltrate and carpet bomb, carry on ground support assignments, manage your squadron and also fly as a lone wolf. We think there is a lot a variety in Blazing Angels. There are three multiplayer game types: solo, co-op and squadron-based. The solo game modes cover the standard dogfight with some neat variations like Aces High (first player to kill other becomes the Ace, only the Ace scores the kills) or Search and Destroy (every player must kill every other at least once to score). The co-op allows for dogfight, kamikaze attacks or bombing runs against AI enemies, as well as playing the solo campaign missions cooperatively; as the missions are completed in the Campaign mode, they're unlocked for co-op play. The squadron modes are dogfight, capture the base, kamikaze and bombing run.
For system link and Live we support 16 players in one game session.
Eurogamer: Any plans for downloadable content at a later date?
Ioan Palalau: We're considering that very seriously since we begin to have very positive feedback from the increasing fan community.
Eurogamer: Any plans for a sequel, or a PS3 version later in the year? Would this be possible on PSP? Any plans there?
Ioan Palalau: No, not at the moment.
Blazing Angels will be released on March 31st on PC, Xbox and Xbox 360 via Ubisoft. Check back next week for a full review. Also be sure to check out the trailer for the game over on Eurogamer.tv.