Eurogamer: What do you get for ranking up?
Thomas Simon: Better planes, which will be very interesting for multiplayer or to play the campaign in a different way. You also get different types of weapons, different skins for your planes, Achievements, etc. You unlock everything in the game through the XP system.
Eurogamer: Commercially, as a genre, flight combat games haven't done spectacular business for quite a long time now. It's almost five years since Secret Weapons Over Normandy - a real favourite of mine - and Crimson Skies. Despite rave reviews neither sold well, and neither had sequels. We've also had loads of Ace Combat games since, and the two Blazing Angels titles, but nothing that exactly set the charts on fire. How does HAWX break through this genre apathy?
Thomas Simon: The problem with the genre is that is started to be a prisoner of this very specific frame. It was mastered and working very well, but a bit limited for people who were not a big fan of air combat games or planes. And what we're trying to do here is respect what was done before, because these games were really great and brought a lot to the table. We want to open the frame, bring new features, refresh the genre and open it up to more people.
I think that with the satellite data of the real world, iconic locations and a strong storyline based on the world you know. It's not some theoretical places. It's the US, it's Rio de Janeiro. It means more to people. We also have new gameplay features, like the assistance on or off, with the external camera which completely changes the perception of the way the planes manoeuvre.
Eurogamer: That is an interesting feature - how did the external camera view come to fruition and why did it get implemented in the first place?
Thomas Simon: It's an iterative process. I mean, for me, this feature is what makes HAWX a totally new experience. We have a lot of features which are of very high quality that create the whole package, but this feature in terms of pure gameplay joy is totally new. When you look at videos of aircraft on YouTube, and you see them doing great manouevres, or you see Top Gun or STEALTH or whatever, it's great. But when you play the game you find yourself with a camera stuck behind a plane and when you move, the world moves with you. You lose all your orientation - it's not the same.
Here, you play as if you were in a replay, but you're totally in control. You see exactly what your enemy is doing, you see what your plane's doing. It's incredibly gratifying, I think.
Eurogamer: And yet, the external camera viewpoint is instantly intuitive, I found. You don't feel like you should be in control, but somehow you are.
Thomas Simon: Yes, you are. We worked quite a lot on that. Obviously it was the most difficult feature that we developed and also the most iterative. It started by us wanting a way to dodge a missile with a special camera, and we realised that, hmm, we would like to do more stuff with that camera. Suddenly you have a tool that allows you to understand who is doing what, what your plane is doing and how you can act against a specific enemy or specific threat, and this changes everything, because it's not just a plane game, it's also pure gameplay joy.
If you add the Enhanced Reality System and trajectory system - which are really new also - I think all these kind of features change the experience, and open the game to people who are not especially into the air combat genre. It also brings people in who are just into big juicy games!
Of course if you love planes, there are over 50 models with very high realism, a cockpit for each of them, etc. But if you just like pure action, like a shooter-in-the-sky game, you have the same kind of pleasure you have when you are playing deathmatch in an FPS.
Eurogamer: How do you maintain awareness of two people attacking you at the same time?
Thomas Simon: Well, when I find myself in that situation, what I do is, first, I try to take them into a spin. I don't just move, but I don't attack immediately - I take them into a momentum and I wait for one to shoot, because it means he's going to have reload time, and I'm going to have something to do. I try to take them into a loop that is tighter and tighter, considering that I will master my speed better than them. The time it will take for them to make a drift and stabilise will be longer than mine. So while they are still manoeuvring to get a shooting opportunity on me, I'll be locking and shooting and dodging. So when they will be shooting, they will already have two missiles coming to them while I'll be moving and dodging - and they will be still.
If you have two guys on you, what you have to do is wait for a good moment to do it when one has shot, so they're out of the picture for a moment. If the two enemies are on the same [skill] level as you, you have almost no chance, but that's like that in any game. But you can be really smart. It really is very organic. You have to practice.
Eurogamer: You also haven't gone for those endless boring Air Combat-style tutorials. Was that deliberate?
Thomas Simon: We really want the game to be accessible very quickly, so that you immediately feel like you're in control and can have fun killing enemies, or just manouevring, and feeling in control. As you will have seen with Team Deathmatch, you have a huge possibility to improve yourself - learn the manouevres, make more flips, and push the plane to the closest possible stall limit and give you more manoeuvrability. This is part of the skill - depth and accessibility at the same time.
Dodging missiles depends on two things: distance between you and the missile. The closer you are, the sharper you have to turn to dodge it, but it also gives the missile no time to manouvre if you avoid it. So, basically the longer you wait, the more dangerous it gets, but if you have good reflexes you can dodge it better, so you have to choose optimal timing.
The second element is who is attacking you at the same time, because stopping in midair to dodge a missile is good, but, if you have another guy who is locking on at the same time, when you do that you're a sitting duck. You're going to get two more missiles coming at you while you are still.
Eurogamer: I guess everyone asks this at some point, but what input does Tom Clancy himself (or his minions) have into the games these days, if any?
Thomas Simon: Well, the situation has changed quite a bit since Ubisoft acquired the license. The games bearing his name obviously started a long time ago. [Originally] Tom Clancy was involved - all the scripts were reviewed on his side and he approved the storyline.
Eurogamer: Do you think Tom Clancy ever bothers to play them himself?
Thomas Simon: I'd be happy to show him [HAWX] and demo it for him, definitely. I mean, planes and Clancy are a natural mix. In 'Clear And Present Danger', [there's a] special operation where planes go and bomb a car to kill drug lords, for example.
Obviously, planes are the most powerful, most technological weapon available on the battlefield, so it's really a natural 'toy' for the Clancy universe, I think.
Tom Clancy's HAWX will be released on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 in Q1 2009.