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Strike Suit Zero

Strike Suit Zero Preview: Dogfighting with a difference

"Lasers."

Gamers of a certain age will remember that the PC used to be the home of many a classic space combat game. X-Wing, TIE Fighter and Wing Commander were among the most famous (and you’re surely aware by now that the latter’s creator has a new project), and even the X-COM series had a crack with X-COM: Interceptor. Sadly, the genre fell into decline and was almost forgotten, but Guildford-based Born Ready Games aims to change that with Strike Suit Zero, a title that mixes space combat, giant robots and some of the biggest starships you’ve ever seen.

Strike
Suit Zero drops the player into the midst of enormous and incandescent
space battles. Gargantuan capital ships crawl lazily through the
blackness as fighters streak between them, dogfighting or making
strafing runs, while the player sits at the controls of a craft powerful
enough to tip the balance of the battle. Earth’s future is at stake and
its your job to fight off wave after wave of enemy fighters and take
apart their capital ships piece by piece.

The
titular Strike Suit put at your disposal isn’t simply another bigger
and slightly beefier fighter craft, it’s also a vessel capable of
transforming into a giant robot at the flick of a switch, a
metamorphosis that makes it a very different engine of war with its own
separate control method and special abilities. While a fighter craft can
bank and yaw, a Giant Space Robot (the correct term, I believe) can
sidestep and weave its way through a dogfight in third-person. James
Brooksby, CEO of Born Ready, says this was because the team wanted to
bring something different to space combat, and not merely echo the
classics of the past.

“We
were playing some of the old games and, as much as we loved them, they
do play similarly and they have restrictions in the way they play,” he
says. “With my rose-tinted specs on, I was arguing quite early about how
awesome these games were, but they took a while to install, they took a
while to get going, then we played them we were both going ‘Maybe it’s
not as good as I remembered it.’”

Sacrilege?
Perhaps not. “Things have come along, people have new game design
conventions, so we wanted to bring some of those new design conventions
in,” Brooksby explains. “One of the early things was, okay, we need the
ship to have more inertial movement, so we looked at Colony Wars, which
allows you to slide around things and make more dynamic movement. The
bit that we wanted to avoid, which was more in the non-physics, early
space games, was just flying around on each other’s tails. In early Wing
Commander, early X-Wing, that happens a lot.”

Adding
a new combat craft with a new kind of control scheme wasn’t just about
changing the way that dogfights were fought, it was also an opportunity
to give players control of something a little bit special that had “the
ability to truly
take people on” and that Brooksby says is “devastating” in its ability
to suddenly transform and flip 180 degrees, sidestep its way out of
enemy fire and blast off a volley of missiles.

Born
Ready have also created a campaign that they say is, in spite of its
linearity, still very much shaped by the player’s successes and
failures. Your performance on a mission will affect have repercussions
for those that follow, while the metagame tracks just how well you’re
defending Earth, leading you to different endgame states. “That metagame
not only changes things within missions, giving you different feedback
depending on what you did, how well you did,” says Brooksby, “it subtly
changes the story background. Also, it affects what happens to Earth
itself at the end of the game.”

As we mentioned last week, Strike Suit Zero is enjoying a very healthy Kickstarter
campaign, although it didn’t begin life as a crowdfunded project. The
game has been in development for well over a year and the Kickstarter
funding is only needed to see it through to completion. At the time of
writing, the campaign has gained considerable support, already raising
$89,000 of its $100,000 target. With over two weeks to go and thousands
of dollars arriving each day, it looks like Born Ready will more than
match their target and will have an enthusiastic audience when the game
is released. Not bad for a game in a largely forgotten genre.

But
the relative obscurity of space combat games doesn’t bother the team.
Brooksby says that, while publishers claim that space combat games are
“niche,” those niches can still be large enough to attract a
considerable audience, particularly if publishers aren’t part of the
equation and developers turn to digital distribution.

“The
space combat market is limited. I think it’s perfectly fair to say
these things,” he says. “It’s niche, but it’s big enough for us, as
independent game makers, who can reach the customers direct. There are
loads of opportunities to reach people directly, so we’re seeing what
were niches doing really, really well.” And, he adds, sometimes games
break out of those niches, reminding publishers that they shouldn’t draw
broad conclusions.

“The
one we often quote now is World of Tanks,” he goes on. “World of Tanks
was a tank simulator. Now, a tank simulator, to all the boxed
publishers? They turned that down, they just went ‘That’s ridiculous,
that’s the smallest niche you could possibly imagine.’ Actually, it’s a
pretty big niche and that niche is monetizing in such an incredible way
that they’re kicking themselves royally and going ‘Hang on a minute,
niches can be big.’”

I’m
not entirely sure that space combat ever was a niche or a minority
interest, but I have to concede that, all those years ago, we somehow
left it behind. Regardless of whether that niche ever really existed, or
still does, it looks like Strike Suit Zero is well on its way to
finding its audience. The game enters beta later this year and is slated
for release in early 2013, so you have a few months yet to prepare to save the earth.

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