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The perfect combination of flight and performance: the leap evolution of the “Ace Combat” series


To undertake the above: From arcade to console: “Ace Combat” veterans recall the source of success of the series

After establishing the basic system, the “Ace Combat” series put more resources on the plot performance.

The operation part of a game is oil and the plot part is water. How to make the two blend together? 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 methods for this.

From Japanese-style sci-fi animation, to European art film style illustrations, to radio speech in the form of radio dramas, after various attempts, the performance effects of the “Ace Combat” series have reached the top level of the game industry.

With the continuous upgrade of the engine, the series introduces more technologies to enhance the audio and visual quality: satellite maps, Doppler sound effects, rain and snow weather, more realistic atmosphere, more complex body… All these advancements, plus first-class The drama performance of the “Ace Combat” series has achieved a leap forward and embarked on the road to the peak.

■ Electronic space

In the 1990s, Namco’s “Ridge Racing” and “Ace Combat” series shared a lot of developers, and the new works were cross-sold, which can be said to be one after the other. 1998’s “Ridge Racing 4” and 1999’s “Ace Combat 3” are both classic masterpieces of the PS console.

Kazun Kono was promoted to the art director in “Ridge Racing 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 made 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 of his colleagues. He retired for a period of time, choosing to make fonts and find bugs and other easier tasks to adjust his mind and body.

“Ridge Racing 4” is the work of Kono

“Ace Combat 3” deeply digs into the performance of the PS console, the engine efficiency has been greatly improved, the weather effects such as raindrops and snowflakes have been added, and the model has become more complicated. The polygon generation rate of this game is 50% to 80% higher than the previous game, and the specific number is determined by special effects.

The movable parts of the fuselage have also undergone qualitative changes. The canards, tail, flaps, and speed brakes are all movable. The vector nozzles of some fuselages are also visualized. Every subtle operation of the player will be immediately reflected on the fuselage. , Feel very flexible.


Exquisite body mobility

Cruising in heavy rain

Because the engine efficiency of “Ace Combat 3” is greatly improved, there is no need to delete part of the body model to save resources. Players can also change the angle of view at will through the right joystick, plus the stall reminder of the handle vibration, the game’s operating plan has reached modern standards , Has been used in the series today.

However, the more complex body also increases the development process, which makes the team feel difficult. If the game is to be released on time, the number of the body 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 the animation company Production IG.

At that time, Production IG was in its golden age. The brilliance of the theater version of “Ghost in the Shell” brought them a world-class reputation and became one of the few Japanese animes that could be popular in Europe and America. After discussion, Namco decided that in addition to part of the machine, the cutscenes of the game should also be outsourced to Production IG, which not only improves efficiency, but also attracts the attention of European and American players.


Outsourced cutscenes

After the first version of Production IG’s animation storyboard was released, Namco thought “too complicated, the budget may be overrun, please delete it”, but the second version of the storyboard was more complicated. In the end, Production IG completed the cutscenes within the time and budget plan, which is very powerful.

The world view style of “Ace Combat 3” was entrusted to Namco’s internal planning by Mizuka, who is responsible for the opening animation of the “Ridge Racing” series, and the virtual idol Reiko Nagase is also his handwriting. The time of “Ace Combat 3” is set to 2040, an era of unprecedented development of computer and network technology, and the plot has a strong cyberpunk style.

However, Yu Shui Gui did not like the word “cyberpunk”. He believed that after the release of “Blade Runner”, many viewers felt that cyberpunk was stuck in a “damp and dark” stereotype. He didn’t 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 and curved, giving people a refreshing feeling. This style originated from the Osaka World Expo in 1970 and represents the future of the Japanese.

Katsura Yumi in charge of the opening animation of the “Ridge Racing” series

Refreshing architectural CG concept map

The interface and icons of this work are handed over to another futuristic artist of Namco, Minoru Shita. The rounded corner interface style is trendy, and the rotating turbine icon also visually shows the flight speed. However, due to the limited memory capacity of the PS console, the interface resolution of this game was also forced to be reduced, and the ideal rounded interface eventually became a jagged.

The theme of “Ace Combat 3” is “Corporate War”, which tells the story of multinational giant enterprise groups. Sada has designed different icons for this: “General Resources” (GR) corporate culture tradition, the icon is quite satisfactory; “Nerve As a new enterprise, Neucom has bright and lively icons; UPEO is a peacekeeping force and is marked by a peace dove; Ouroboros is a mysterious army hidden in the dark. Also the strangest.


Icon designed by Minoru Sashita

UPEO should remain neutral in the war, but the two major groups GR and Neucom have won UPEO by donating bodies. Now in reality, we can easily find the shadows of two major groups: GR represents General Electric, an established group covering all walks of life; Neucom represents Tesla, and the other focuses on clean energy, automobiles, aerospace and brain-computer interfaces. Emerging companies.

However, in 1999 when “Ace Combat 3” was released, Tesla had not yet established, and the game’s predictions were quite advanced. Sashida said that Neucom actually represents the future of Namco. This sentence is not a complete joke. In the past, Namco often developed projects that were not related to games. Sashida had participated in the design of reception robots, but these projects were after the merger of Namco and Bandai. They were all stopped.

In terms of airframe, most of GR’s aircraft are improved 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 repaired and repaired enough to be used until 2040. Therefore, GR has chosen a conservative route, as is the case in countries in reality today.

Neucom’s airplanes that mimic marine life are more sci-fi, with the seams of the body minimized, and the streamlined appearance is like a dolphin in the water. According to the setting, the surface of Neucom’s body is covered with breathable nanomaterials, which greatly improves lift, but the function of PS cannot show such special materials.

For the original machine, Shui Gui first took out the original design of the machine body, and then gave the sketch to others to refine the details. X-49 is a classic design by Shui Gui, with a double-layer flying wing structure and pitch black paint, giving people a powerful and strange feeling.

Neucom’s R-101 fighter

The X-49 has a very unique style and sound effect

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

“Ace Combat 3” contains 52 levels and 5 finals. The levels are full of branch designs. The number of enemy aircraft can reach up to 30. The scale is unprecedented. The styles of different companies are also reflected in different levels. GR is accustomed to maintaining a dense formation in air combat, while Neucom likes to pinch the protagonist from different directions. At the final level of the GR route, 8 Neucom drones flew in a neat formation and dispersed at the moment of the battle, leaving a deep impression on the players.

The 8-plane formation instantly disperses

Single level branch design

The capacity of this game once reached 4 CDs. Namco’s previous games were all 1 CD. The marketing department asked the game to reduce the capacity as much as possible. The programmer racked their brains to reduce the capacity to 2 CDs on the eve of delivery to the factory. The cutscenes were deleted, and the remaining animations were reduced in resolution.

In fact, the development process of “Ace Combat 3” is the process of Namco’s continuous challenge of functional limitations. The team has fixed the special effects of rain and snow, but is stumped by the most ordinary sunny days. Of course, the PS console does not have the 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 lightened when facing the sun.


Part of the interface is faded by light

“Ace Combat 3” director Iwasaki Takuya served as the planner in the first two games, and seeking new ideas became his goal. The missions before the series were designed entirely around the body and difficulty. The plot was simple and there was no role shaping. The mission of “Ace Combat 3” is centered on the world view and characters. Players choose branch routes and the characters will go to different endings.

Iwasaki wanted to attract both old players and new users through a change of style, but the final result was mixed. The sales of the Japanese version of “Ace Combat 3” is slightly lower than its predecessors. The Japanese animation-style plot has attracted some new players, but it has lost more old players. Iwasaki himself accepted this result. In his opinion, brave innovation may be risky, but it must not rest on its laurels. All of this is a process required for series evolution.

In fact, the development team has also considered the reaction of the old players and tried to change the title of the game to “Ace Combat Sci-Fi Edition” instead of “Ace Combat 3”. Namco’s publishing department believes that the title is guaranteed by the orthodox serial number. Rejected the suggestion to change the title.

“Ace Combat 3” director Iwasaki Takuya

Developed early sketches of “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 related card branches, and reduced the capacity to 36 levels and 1 CD, thus failing to expand the European and American markets. The global sales volume of “Ace Combat 3” was 1.16 million. Under the premise of soaring development costs, the global sales volume was only 70,000 units higher than the previous one. This result is not optimistic.

However, with the passage of time, Japanese players’ evaluation of “Ace Combat 3” is getting higher and higher, and it has now become a recognized classic. European and American players spent 7 years and finally released a complete Japanese version of the English subtitle patch in 2016, which made up for the regret. This perseverance made the development team also admired.

■ Strange reality

When “Ace Combat 3” was released, Sony had announced a new console, PS2, and upgrading became a top priority for the development team. After that, Iwasaki Takuya and Yukatsu left Namco and handed the stall to Kono Kazun who returned to the series. As game development costs continue to rise, the team needs to find ways to reduce risk. Kono believes that “Ace Combat 4” must play to the performance of PS2, the development budget will be mainly used to improve the 3D engine, cutscenes can be turned into slides to save costs.

The level of the game is 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 is still not reduced, because the level map cannot be copied directly from the photo, and the texture of the fighter is still handmade, and the coordination of the overall picture needs to be carefully adjusted.

If the game scene just copied reality, even if the picture quality is excellent, it lacks personality. The level art artist Masato Kanno proposed to add a few craters to the map, which is not only eye-catching, but also has the effect of environmental narrative, making the player intuitive through the scene Understand the background story. The team held different opinions on this, and finally passed the plan. In order to allow players to enjoy the scene at will, this game also added a sightseeing flight mode without combat.


Eye-catching crater

Around the crater, the story of the game gradually takes shape: the asteroid “Ulysses” is about to hit the earth, and all countries have worked together to build orbital guns as a means of defense, but it still cannot intercept all the meteorites. Since then, there has been constant friction between countries around the refugee issue, which eventually led to war. The military power Erusea seized the orbital artillery, and the small neighboring countries diametrically formed coalition forces to join the war.

The world view of “Ace Combat 4” is still fictitious, but there is a shadow of reality. The development team called the world view of this work “a bizarre and realistic parallel world”. In the end, “Strangereal” became a world view. Synonymous, this word originated from Kato Kato, the designer of the “Mobile Suit Gundam” series. He believed that “Although fictional works are entertainment products, they should also find a balance between fantasy and reality.” “Air combat” series continue to learn from.

The body model of this work has become more refined. F-14A will extend small wing fans at supersonic speeds, and stealth fighters such as F-22 will contain missiles in the bomb bay, and each controllable body provides a cockpit. Perspective.

When developing “Ace Combat 2”, Yabuki Yishin had planned to design the XFA-27 as a forward-swept wing, but because of the complexity of the structure, it gave up. It was not realized until the original X-02A of “Ace Combat 4”. Change forward swept wings. In addition, the X-02A’s canard and tail are also fully movable design, which can be leveled to reduce drag when cruising, and the fuselage has 4 built-in bomb bays, taking into account low speed, high speed and stealth performance, and has become a classic.

For 10 years, the X-02A has the most complex structure in the series. This sci-fi masterpiece is also Kazun’s favorite original machine. He designed a trendy digital camouflage for the X-02A.

F-14A wing fan during supersonic flight

X-02A painted with digital camouflage

In terms of sound effects, the team was qualified to record realistic fighter engines for the first time. Communication noise was added to the radio dialogue, which filled the atmosphere of the battlefield. After being taught by pilots, the radio of “Ace Combat 4” added a lot of tactical terms, such as “Fox 2” for launching infrared-to-air missiles and “Fox 3” for active radar-to-air missiles. The early warning aircraft will also directly contact the player through the squadron number. The protagonist’s number is Mobius 1.

In “Ace Combat 4”, Kono is still an art director, but he often deals with plot details. This is not a control freak. As the game becomes more and more complex, all kinds of details affect the whole body. Every main creator in the team needs to communicate and coordinate with others.

The game director of “Ace Combat 4” is Ichiyanagi Hiroyuki. He is very interested in the series, but this is his first time joining the team. Ichiliu Hiroki hopes to give players the illusion of “the game is full of human consciousness”. For this reason, the radio call voice in this game soars to 4000, and there will be voice feedback almost every moment.

In order to achieve the director’s goal, this work has two people to handle the radio coordination work-Itomi Kosuke who is responsible for the stage performance, and the ghost head Masahide who is responsible for the radio screenwriter. Kosuke Itomi had painted textures for “Ridge Racing 4” before, because he was more familiar with animation, and later he edited cutscenes for “Ace Combat 3”. In this work, Itomi is responsible for handling all the real-time advancement plots in Guanzhong, most of which are radio lines. Itomi needs to ensure that the triggering conditions of the lines match the actual situation of the level, and the ghost is responsible for the specific writing of the lines.


“Ace Combat 4” director Ichi Liu Hongzhi

Kosuke Itomi in charge of the stage performance

Yaying, the ghost head in charge of radio lines

Guitou believes that the operation and plot of the game are like oil and water. It will not become a solution when poured directly into it, but it can be processed into emulsion. The coordination of performance and lines is this process. The plot of “Ace Combat 3” is rich, but most of the radio conversations take place in the fixed communication part outside the level. There are few real-time performances within the level, and the essence is still oil-water separation, rather than emulsion.

In order to achieve the performance effect of the integration of operation and plot, the radio lines need to respond to the various actions of the players in real time. The lines outside the fixed plot should be diversified. Players cannot hear all the lines in one pass, and the repeatability of the game is also improved.

The early warning aircraft and wingmen of the first generations of “Ace Combat” and “Ace Combat 2” often chattered around four or five lines, which made people feel more like a repeater. If the game wants to create a sense of substitution, it needs to reserve enough lines to play randomly. The player’s attention is also limited, and the lines cannot stop in the battle. The nature of radio lines is similar to a radio drama, and the appropriate blanks can create the mystery of “why pause” and attract the player’s attention.

Ichiyanagi believes that the most important radio lines of the game do not originate from close teammates such as early warning aircraft and wingmen, but distant friendly forces or even enemy forces. For psychological reasons, when you are praised by people around you, you will doubt whether he is sincere. Only unfamiliar people and opponents can give a more objective evaluation. This inspiration comes from the original “Mobile Suit Gundam”. The Gundam driven by the protagonist is called the “white guy” by the enemy, making the enemy frightened. This evaluation is obviously more convincing than the compliments of his teammates.

In order to strengthen the legendary color of the story, from the beginning of this game, in addition to the personalized squadron number and logo, each protagonist also needs a title that makes teammates cheer and trembles the enemy, “Britain Reaper”, “North Sea Demon”, and “Round Table” The title such as “Ghost” and Lei Guaner is ready to come out.

Ribbon logo of Mobius squadron at the beginning

In Ichiryu’s memory, the radio line that impressed him the most in this work came from ground troops: “It doesn’t matter if you lie, tell them Mobius 1 is here!” The friendly forces in a bad situation regarded the protagonist as the last line of psychological defense. The player flies over the heads of the ground troops, like a weak praying and a descending god. There is no doubt that Iomi and Guitou, who is in charge of radio performances and lines, fully understand the director’s intentions.

Because radio involves a lot of level details, in the early stages of game development, Guitou Yaying needs to confirm various settings with others. When discussing the length of the railgun, the ghost head Masahiro wanted a barrel that was thousands of meters long. Masato Kanno felt that this was unreasonable. The length of 300 meters was the limit, but Kazuo Kono believed that this iconic weapon needs 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 railguns to form the “Stonehenge.” In this way, the length of a single barrel is not excessively exaggerated, and the footprint of the entire array is also eye-catching.

Radio telescope array in reality

Stonehenge in the game

Insufficient number of levels is a big problem for the development team. PS2 improves the picture standard and makes development more time-consuming. The initial plan for “Ace Combat 4” was only 12 levels, which was increased to 15 levels in the middle, but the team still felt that it was not enough, and finally managed to make up 18 levels. For example, the civil aircraft escort pass used the empty scene of the early engine test of the development. There were no buildings on the ground, only a few sporadic enemy aircraft as targets. The radio lines of this pass were also driven out by ghosts within two days.

■ Comparison performance

Kono Kazun hopes to find an excellent outsourcing company for the slideshow cutscene. Itomi Kosuke, who is familiar with the animation industry, recommended Studio 4°C. Initially Studio 4°C’s reply was “we don’t make game animations.” Kono Kazun explained that he wanted slides instead of animations. Studio 4°C took the job and recommended someone familiar with military subjects. Katabuchi must act as the cutscene director.

Katabuchi is in charge of the slideshow

Kono’s request is that “Namco is responsible for the level plot of the protagonist Mobius 1, and Studio 4°C is responsible for the slideshow mainly based on the enemy plot.” Based on this idea, Katabuchi conceived the protagonist’s rival: Erusea’s sky knight Yellow 13. Although in the enemy camp, Yellow 13 still affirms the protagonist’s performance, because he respects us, so we respect him. Yellow 13 is extremely popular among players, and Kono also appreciates this tragic hero, and even planned to develop a game with Yellow 13 as the protagonist.

The perspective of the slideshow comes from a war orphan next to Yellow 13, using his memories to outline the daily life of ordinary people in war. A supermarket that Kono likes to go to often has fighter jets flying over his head. He felt that “the perspective of the sky and the ground must be different”, so he chose the everyday perspective of ordinary people.

If the cutscenes of “Ace Combat 3” are Japanese animation, then the style of “Ace Combat 4” imitates European art films. Although the cutscenes in this work are still pictures, the details are still exquisite. Studio 4°C invited the artist Ichiro Itano from the Macross series to draw the body. The rich sound effects recorded by Namco also largely compensated for the cutscenes. atmosphere.

In the memory of the slide, the achievement Yellow 13 is most proud of is not the rising number of shots, but the record that he never lost any of his teammates. Katabuchi believes that, whether it is on the battlefield or in the workplace, if a person has outstanding achievements but cannot protect his companions, then he is not a true hero.


The Yellow Squadron in the Eyes of War Orphans

Although the perspectives of the radio and the slides in the level are different, the game still needs to thread the two story lines together, and the two companies, Namco and Studio 4°C, continue to cooperate for this. The task of destroying Stonehenge in the later stage of the game was a turning point in the war. In this action, the protagonist defeated the Yellow 13 wingman Yellow 4, breaking the unbeaten record of the rival squadron, but the player’s feelings were hard to say. When our AWACS cheered “This operation is a complete victory”, Yellow 13 asked desperately on the radio: “Did anyone see Yellow 4 ejecting?”

The protagonist has achieved brilliant results, but the enemy Yellow Squadron is regrettable. These lines give players a contradiction in the feeling, but this is the effect that the ghost writing lines want. The war itself is contradictory, there are not so many black and white existences.

Kono summed up the philosophy of game development as “contrast”: our army and the enemy, the sky and the ground, civilians and soldiers, adults and children, cheers and screams… This game is full of this contrasting contrast. The seagull in the opening screen is also Kono’s inspiration. He hopes to use PS2 to render birds in flight in real time and compare them with fighter jets to form a contrast between “animals and machinery”.

Seagulls rendered instantly

The performance of the game is naturally indispensable with music. Guitarist Goto Guide and composer Keiki Kobayashi joined the series from this work. “Ace Combat 4” was their first participation in game development, and the two showed genius strength.

Goto Guide has a strong memory, no matter how complicated the score is, he will never forget the rock music he played. Keiki Kobayashi is good at symphony. He was attracted by the soundtrack of “Ace Combat 2” in his college days and decided to join Namco after graduation. From the beginning of this work, Kobayashi participated in the composition of the series of console games, and many soundtracks became the finishing touch.

Goto Guide

Keiki Kobayashi, the most famous composer in the series

For the final stage of the work, Kono wanted a soundtrack that was “big enough to make people goosebumps”. Kobayashi proposed to use a symphony and chorus to record the famous “Agnus Dei”. Kono felt that this was enough, but Kobayashi proposed to switch to another soundtrack “Heaven’s Gate” (Heaven’s Gate) when the protagonist got into the tunnel, which extended the deadline for composition.

Recalling the development process of “Ace Combat 4”, Kono admitted that he initially lacked trust in Kobayashi, because Kobayashi’s ideas sounded unreliable and could not be dealt with on time, but the quality of the final composition really convinced him.

Speaking of “Why the final pass is drilling a hole in the fortress”, director Ichi Liu Hongzhi said that he hopes to create a climax scene. He thinks it is boring to face the two fighters. Air combat movies often use the drilling flight as the climax. So the final level of this work is the same.


Fortress of the final pass

In the polishing stage of the later stage of development, the two artists, Kazuo Kono and Masato Kanano, entered the so-called “repairing day”. They 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-layered mixed gradient. The so-called “white fish in the sky” means this. Kono believes that this game is the first game that truly shows the sense of sky.

The mission of each level is set to a specific time accurate to the minute, which is also to clarify the specific performance of the sky. Kono even checked the actual moon phase changes in detail. Even in the daytime, the player can see the sky high. For the silver moon, the exact roundness is determined by the real moon phase.


A silver moon during the day

Kono cares most about direct sky images, while Sugano is more concerned about special images outside of 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 greatly enhance the player’s sense of substitution. .

In the era of “Ace Combat 3”, the team conceived an extremely large world view, because the game cannot express all the details, most of the background information became a set album, but after all, not everyone can go to Japan to buy the set 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 “there is a parallel world in another universe.”


Stonehenge under construction

“Ace Combat 4” is not a perfect work, the game contains a small number of levels and units, but the content volume problem can be slowly resolved in the future. More importantly, “Ace Combat 4” laid the standard for the graphics and performance, allowing the series to take its own path.

Finally, Ace Combat 4, released in 2001, achieved a leap-forward evolution of the series on PS2, with cumulative global sales reaching 2.64 million. For the development team, a legendary golden age has just begun…

Author:NemoTheCaptain
Source: Touch Music
Address: http://www.chuapp.com/article/287567.html

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