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Q&A: Why Vlambeer returned to its roots with Luftrausers Exclusive
March 17, 2014 | By Kris Ligman




Luftrausers, the latest title from prolific Dutch studio Vlambeer, is an update on a World War II dogfighting game produced several years ago over a two-day game jam. Reproduced from scratch without direct reference to the original, Luftrausers is what co-developer Rami Ismail considers to be the "summum," or pinnacle, of the studio's essential style.

Gamasutra: For the uninitiated, how would you describe the central motif of Luftrausers?

Rami Ismail: It was inspired by a fascination for the many stories describing completely ridiculous enemy super-weapons during World War II and the Cold War. Both sides were terrified of weather control machines, UFOs, weaponized dolphins and fictional airplanes.

Luftrausers is putting the player in one of those superweapons. In other words, it's a single pilot against an overwhelming army of actual things that existed in that era, but they have lasers, underwater engines and melee-capable airplanes at their disposal. It is an arcade game at heart -- it's challenging, short and bite-sized. If you're good at it, you can beat the entire final boss in three minutes without unlocking a thing. If you're not good at it, you'll die in thirty seconds regardless of what you're using. It'll take hours and hours before you're that good.

Our focus was on creating a game in which everything feels great. It's about momentum, about spectacle, about barely surviving against all odds and about knowing when you messed up before it actually happens. It's about turning off your engine, flipping the plane over to shoot the enemy behind you, and then turning the engines back on just above the water with splashing water and jet streaks.

You've written a bit before on this game as a sequel/spiritual successor of Luftrauser, which was a free title. How has the game evolved, in terms of gameplay but also artistically, since that version?

R.I.: Luftrauser was just crazy jam game that we made in two days back in 2011. It was this simple Flash game that we really liked, so we decided to follow up on it. Luftrausers was mentioned [proposed] first when we were pulling out of a deep depression caused by Ridiculous Fishing being cloned, and Jan Willem prototyped the first build on an airplane out of 2013's Game Developers Conference.

Luftrausers changes a lot about the original. Players can now build one of over a hundred different airplane combinations, there are missions to be completed to unlock the game and the enemy roster was upgraded significantly.

We refused to look at the original game while creating the first few prototypes of Luftrausers. One of the most interesting stories from development is that, while the original jam game took us less than 48 hours to create, the sequel took weeks to get up to that same level of quality we remembered from the original. It wasn't until we recreated the feeling we remembered from the Flash game in Luftrausers that we allowed ourselves to play the original.

When we opened the original Luftrausers we were baffled. The original game was so boring and flat compared to the new prototype we had. We'd been building Luftrausers to equal our memories of a game built to make you feel good. In the new game, we had made the game to feel as good as we remembered the original game to feel, and the nostalgia goggles definitely were part of that.

There're a lot of WW1/WW2 games out there these days, and even more criticisms about "brown shooters" in games, but this manages to feel very refreshing. Could you riff a bit on how you manage to differentiate Luftrausers from some of its contemporaries?

R.I.: More than anything, I think that Luftrausers is really strict. It's a really strict game, in that it uses only seven colors for everything and every single thing in the game had to adhere to really strict design standards. Luftrausers was oddly exhausting to create, because at some point strict design restrictions turn from challenging to stopping you from doing things you'd like to be doing.

Luftrausers is sort of a summum of the 'Vlambeer' we started with -- the idea that we can create games that should've been made in the 80s, weren't created back then, and then create them as a modern game. One thing people keep telling us is that Luftrausers is one of the most overwhelmingly spectacular games they've played, and it only has seven colors.

I think the other thing that Luftrausers manages to do really well is subvert expectations of what a game that looks like it should play. It's been challenging to communicate exactly what Luftrausers is, because a lot of people expect a side scrolling shoot 'em up. That's not what Luftrausers is - it's a game in which people are free to go in any direction, to focus on whatever enemy first, to skim the water or soar just beneath the clouds. It's familiar but new. It's not novel, but refreshing.

Kozilek (Jukio Kallio) is again collaborating with you for the music for this game. What is that collaboration like? Do you work closely with him to establish a certain mood or tone?

R.I.: Like with all of collaborators, we leave them really free in how they approach the project. We sit them down, walk them through the project goals and technical specs, and then we basically explain the lore of the title and leave them do whatever they want. For Luftrauser, Jukio Kallio created this really powerful soundtrack that fit perfectly, so he departed from there.

Luftrausers had an additional challenge for Jukio, though: we came up with the idea that every airplane you can build - 125 in total - would have a unique soundtrack. To achieve that, he had to create layers of music that could combine with each other in every possible configuration. It was easy for the first few layers, but as the number of permutations became larger, it became more challenging to create new layers that could combine with all the layers that already existed.

It's humbling to work with people that are good enough that you can just simply tell them what your world is and then allow them to fill in the blanks. Paul Veer really nailed the art style, and Jukio built upon that with the music. The two of them gave a lot of character not just to the game as a whole, but also to each of the 'rausers' we designed.

Be sure to venture over to Luftrausers' official website for more. The game launches on PSN, PC, Mac and Linux on March 18th.


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