INTERVIEW | Air Conflicts: Secret Wars (Games Farm)

Being the first arcade flight simulator for PlayStation 3 to fully support the PlayStation Move, Air Conflicts: Secret Wars is undoubtedly an inspirational example of how the genre can benefit from the flexibility of Sony’s device. In the following interview, developer Games Farm explains how they did it. 

Could you please introduce yourself and describe your job position within your company?
Peter Adamcik
: My name’s Peter Adamcik. I was the lead programmer and project lead on Air Conflicts: Secret Wars.
Peter Nagy: I am Peter Nagy, I was the producer for Air Conflicts: Secret Wars project.

For the records, could you please clarify the relationship between 3Division and Games Farm? Going by the game ending credits you both work at Games Farm, but Mr. Adamcik also works for 3Division, which appears to be the “inventor” of the Air Conflicts series.
: 3Division is a team which solely developed the shareware predecessor to the original Air Conflicts – Plane Arcade. After this title we started close cooperation with Games Farm (previously 3D People) on the new titles – Air Conflicts, Attack on Pearl Harbor and most recently Air Conflicts: Secret Wars. 3Division is a team working under Games Farm focusing mostly on air titles.

The announcement of Move compatibility for Air Conflicts: Secret Wars was quite surprising. How did you come up with the decision to add Move support to the game and why?
: We were trying to think of ideas which could offer a new gameplay experience to the player. After discussions with our publisher bitComposer, we all agreed that the PlayStation Move Motion Controller was a natural fit for this type of game, and it proved correct. Move capabilities are clearly great for simulating a real cockpit. A bit of a pity with PlayStation Move is the lack of buttons on the controller. Things could have been even better if the button configuration on PlayStation Move Motion Controller was more similar to that of a real-world airplane controller. However, we understand that PlayStation Move is meant to be a universal controller for all types of games, and that a configuration that we’d prefer would not work as well for all of them. We are happy with PlayStation Move implementation, despite the fact that there are still some things which could have been done better, and we will certainly do our best to improve all the reported issues for the next title. 

Did that decision negatively affect your development schedule?
: I don’t think so. The implementation was relatively straightforward and not very time consuming. There were other features which consumed a lot more time and resources. 

How far into the development of Air Conflicts: Secret Wars did you actually start implementing Move controls?
: The game was developed on PC first, and later ported to consoles (360 first, PS3 later). The PlayStation 3 port started around 9 months before the end of the development. The game was around 50% complete, with gamepad control schemes working
well at that time already. After around 2 months of work we had the game working well on PS3 so the implementation of PS Move started. Core implementation of Move took around 1-2 weeks and controls were balanced during the remaining development process (button layouts, navigator, rudder control with sphere tracking, sensitivity, etc)

It’s fair to assume you tried different approaches to the Move controls before settling with the current “flight stick” solution. Would you please talk us through the process that eventually led to the current control solution?
: We have done multiple implementations with the Wii Remote controller before, but PlayStation Move is unique and slightly different. It has more advanced detection, so we were able to experiment with a real “flight stick” configuration. This proved to be a great solution and gives the flying experience another dimension – real world airplanes are controlled exactly the same way, so it was a natural choice after getting familiar with PlayStation Move capabilities. 

The current implementation uses sphere position tracking for rudder control. It works great, but forces the player to sit in the middle of the camera field of view, not to mention it adds some yaw rotation to banking maneuvers (because when you tilt the Move to either sides, the sphere moves as well). Have you tried different solutions for rudder control like rolling the Move or doing hand position tracking via extrapolation instead of a sphere one?
: Originally we planned to control rudder yaw via controller roll but when PlayStation Move is pointed upwards the detection is not very precise. Therefore we have decided to use movement instead – sphere tracking. It has certain downsides as you have correctly pointed out, but it can be a very pleasant change for the player compared to regular flight sticks. In fact, our preferred control is to sit onto a rotating chair in the middle of the camera field of view. When the chair is rotated by player’s foot, the plane reacts. So with this configuration the player controls rudder rotation by foot as in a real airplane.

Could you elaborate more on the roll detection not being very precise when the Move is pointed upwards? Is that a drifting issue you are referring to?
: There is an issue when all three rotations (yaw, pitch, roll) are combined – the controller is tilted to the side together with controlling rudder. In this case, to correctly detect the roll rotation (which would be similar to rudder control on flight sticks) the player would need to be always facing the camera anyway. There might be some solutions, but according to our experience the vertical rotation when controller is pointing upwards is difficult. Perhaps this could have been solved spending more time with Move control scheme, but the current implementation seemed acceptable at that time from our point of view.

You packed so many functions on the Move controller itself it almost makes the Navigation controller redundant. You can basically play the whole game one-handed. Was that intentional? 

: It was partially intentional, but it was also the result of the PlayStation Move implementation process we used. We implemented the basic controls first, then we added the basic button controls. Finally we implemented bonus functions like tail gunner and camera control. These are bonus functions however, and the game can be played easily without them.

On the point of functions, why isn’t there rumble support? Not a big deal, but I was wondering if it has anything to do with vibrations affecting Move sensors accuracy (albeit rumble is unsupported on the DS3 as well).
: Well, this is the usual problem of limited time vs resources most of the developers have to face. Move was added to the game only late in the development and it was not intended at the beginning. In combination with limited resources we had available we simply did not have time/resources to fully implement all features Move offers (the game was supposed to ship 3 months earlier anyway). We are certainly watching out for all critiques, which we will do our best to address for the next titles…

What would you say Move controls add to the experience compared to a traditional controller?
: We believe the feeling of controlling an actual airplane is much better with Move. At the beginning it is slightly different compared to traditional control schemes, which makes it surprising. However, we believe that after a few minutes the player can have at least the same control comfort level compared to a regular gamepad or flight stick. It is questionable if the rudder control with sphere tracking is more realistic compared to a flight stick, but that’s a question better answered by professional pilots.

As I have demonstrated in my analysis, chasing targets with your Move implementation is definitely easier than with a traditional controller (DS3). This is especially true at Ace difficulty, where no aim assist is in place. Would you agree that’s the case?
: Definitively. Move controller is larger and in principle offers wider range of sensitivity compared to analogue stick on DualShock. Therefore it is more sensitive after the player gets familiar with Move controller and can easily exceed regular gamepad controls.

Overall, how would you describe your experience working with the PlayStation Move?
: Working with PlayStation Move was really a great experience – the device is simple and precise. Thanks to that, the implementation was straightforward and simple. 

Is there anything you would have added or improved with regards to Move controls if you had more time?
: We would have certainly added tilting sensitivity settings. And of course, as you have mentioned in your analysis, we think that calibration for different positions within the camera field of view would have been really helpful in some cases. Ideally, this should have been addressed, but there wasn’t a lot of time and space to make this right (testers have not found this issue because their seats were centered in front of the camera).

That explains why I couldn’t notice any significant difference between the various X and Y sensitivity settings. There is no difference at all basically, correct?
: Yes, that’s correct. I think the same applies to rumble support.

Finally, would you say the PlayStation Move might help in bringing more flight simulators to the PlayStation 3?
: It certainly can help both simulations and arcade sims, but I believe it’s going to be more popular with arcade sims – real world simulations players will likely gravitate towards flight stick rather than PlayStation Move. It simply feels different compared to an actual flight stick. I don’t mean to say that it’s worse, it’s just different, and everybody will get to decide what fits them better.

Many thanks to Peter Adamcik and Peter Nagy for taking the time to answer my questions as well as to PR Manager at Koch Media Srl Tania Rossi and to International PR Manager at bitComposer Games GmbH Nadine Knobloch for making this possible.