The Indie Megabooth is increasingly the star attraction of PAX. While the lines for games like Evolve and The Evil Within were hours-long at PAX East, the Megabooth was frequently “walk up and play” for some of the coolest, most exciting games around. Sometimes you’ll stumble across something that just stops you dead in your tracks.
That’s how I felt when I saw people playing Enemy Starfighter. On a split-screen demo monitor showing the view from inside the an Oculus, I spotted what looked an awful lot like Homeworld. Except someone was piloting a fighter, engaging in twisting dogfights that were straight out of TIE Fighter. It was like someone had turned my daydreams circa 1999 into a space sim.
I dropped what I was doing and went over to talk to developer Mike Tipul.
Tipul is a former Bungie developer who joined the studio in part because he admired the Myth series so much. Unfortunately, he spent his Bungie career as a part of the Halo assembly line, working on blockbuster shooters, but never the kinds of PC experiences that had resonated so deeply with him.
Now independent, he started work on Enemy Starfighter right as the Oculus Rift Kickstarter got under way. He’d been following news of the device ever since John Carmack started evangelizing for it. While he wasn’t sure how things would work out with the Oculus, he knew the device had huge potential to revitalize the space shooter genre.
“The Oculus is hard to develop for in some ways, but it makes some things so much easier.,” Tipul said. “Like, knowing where you’re taking fire. That’s a problem where, in a 3D space with a traditional display, you don’t have a lot of good options. We usually try to solve it by spraying the red mist in from the direction where you’re getting shot, but that only sort of works. With the Oculus, that problem goes away. The player can just turn and look.”
Superficially, then, Enemy Starfighter bears a resemblance to EVE: Valkyrie. Both drop you into a starfighter cockpit and let the Oculus do the heavy lifting of orienting you to the action. But where Valkyrie is very much a multiplayer dogfighting game, Enemy Starfighter more mission-oriented, in the vein of TIE Fighter or Freespace.
It’s evident just from the avionics aboard your spacecraft. Turn your head to the right and you see a list of ships in your fleet projected onto the cockpit canopy, along with their current status. Look down, and you have a gun-camera display that lets you see what your current target is up to long before you enter visual range.
Nor does it stop there. While I didn’t get a chance to see it, there is a Flotilla-style command interface that will let you direct allied ships in combat. The demo focused exclusively on the dogfighting, but Enemy Starfighter’s campaign structure makes it sounds like the tactical angle may wind up being important.
“At the start of the game, you pick your House and that determines your fleet. And you are carrying those guys through to the end of the game, where the goal is to nuke the enemy homeworld,” Tipul said. “ And they will level up, and they will be there at every jump as you go. So you will always have your starting fleet with you. And you can rename them; that’s a fun little thing I’ve picked up from games like Myth and X-COM.”
It all sounds a bit like Ender’s Game, although in this game you’re playing as someone who is not even arguably a good guy.