Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Inspiration and Research

So a few commenters have been mentioning different animes that may have served as an inspiration for Warbirds, so let's talk about where the ideas for the game come from. The game wasn't created in a vacuum, and there was a massive breadth of pop culture and history to draw from. Let's look at some stuff.


My degree carries the fancy name of "Military and Strategic Studies". In english that means "War History and Political Stuff". So I spent years studying wars and conflicts and strategy. One area that I enjoyed was studying the disruptive effects of technology, and looking at how new innovations changed warfare.

With Warbirds, I wanted to create a place where fighter pilots are at the apex of society. To do that, I needed to mess with technology a bit. So first I created a Guild for the pilots. Guilds are great at controlling and limiting technology to further their own ends, and they did for centuries from the middle ages through to the enlightenment. Next, I built some structures into the setting to limit the power of disruptive technology like radio and radar (radios work, but they suck. Radar is absolutely useless). Finally, I wanted a lot of diverse countries and cultures that would clash frequently. We ended up grabbing the Caribbean from history because of its diversity.

When we were looking at pilot personalities,and how they relate to fame and the media, we did a lot of research on Amelia Earheart. She was not only a skilled pilot, but also a canny self-promoter. She had her own fashion line, a long list of sponsors, and a knack for getting herself in the media. She was able to use her fame to generate money to finance her flying and become even more famous in the process. For Warbirds, when Cait designed the Fame system, she took Earheart's business model to the extreme, and made "Fame" the game's currency. It works very well.


Let's get this out of the way. When I think of dogfights, I think of the space battles in Return of Jedi. The final space battle in that movie was fast-paced, visually interesting, had high stakes, and managed to do it all using primarily minor characters (Luke, Han, and Leia were never involved in the space battle). When I decide whether not to take the dogfighting rules in a certain direction, I compare it to the Jedi space battles, and see if they hold up.

Hand in hand with the Star Wars is Indiana Jones. A lot of the game's art direction and flavour is directly influenced by the three Indie movies (I disbelieve the 4th film). Even our aircraft design is influenced by Indiana Jones. Does this look familiar to anyone?
Other movies that definitely influenced the look and feel of game include Sky Captain and the World of  Tomorrow, The Mummy (first one), and The Rocketeer. When we look at anime films, the two that spring to mind are Wings of HonnĂȘamise and The Sky Crawlers. If we are talking classic WW2 movies, then I direct you towards Tora Tora Tora, and Midway.

We need to have this conversation before we continue. I both love and hate Top Gun. It was the ultimate 80's movie, Tom Cruise's vehicle to legendary status, and the source of uncounted thousands of military jokes. Do I take inspiration from Top Gun? Yes. I think it might be impossible not to take a few things from it when writing anything about fighter pilots. Am I proud of it? No. I could go on for hours about the shit that it got wrong, but I won't. Next section.


I might get skewered for this, but does anyone else remember the old Disney cartoon Tailspin? Disney took the characters from the Jungle Book and gave them airplanes. It was a good kids show for its time, and when I look back at why I like airplanes and aviation, Tailspin was one of my starting points. It had air pirates, airships, action, and adventure. I have a feeling if I went back and watched it now I would be disappointed, but I can still hear the theme song in my head.

The other big TV inspiration is the old Macross episodes of Robotech. I have talked about Robotech before, but I cannot stress enough how smooth and flowing its aerial battles are. If you watch Macross Plus, the are even better, but they go a little missile crazy.

Part of my research for the book was going back and watching almost every episode of History Channel's Dogfights, and then digging back to primary sources from there. One thing that show was good at was distilling the air battle down to layman's terms, and I made several of my rules choices based on how the show kept things simple but still accurate and interesting.

Video Games

There are a ton of air combat flight sims out there that I used to play (I was universally terrible at them). More recently, I loved Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge. I never liked the board or clix versions of Crimson Skies, but I think the video game caught the right feel for a pulp game. A lot of the Mad Science stuff in the game is inspired by Crimson Skies.

An Incomplete List

This is just the stuff I thought of off the top of my head. There are dozens more media properties to whom I must tip my hat, but this post is already a little long for my liking. I haven't even touched cultural sources for all of the different islands (maybe that will be a separate post).

Campaign Update

As of this writing, our Indigogo campaign is at $435. We are almost halfway! Thanks again to all of the backers, and if you aren't a backer yet, then please donate

I will see up in the unfriendly skies.


  1. Awesome, the more I hear, the better Warbirds sounds.
    No matter how much money you raise please promise me that you will keep the book as a 6x9 softcover, pretty please with diesel on top.

  2. It will be soft cover, but it's going to be just a little larger than 6x9. It will be 7.5x9.25. The extra width makes sidebars and art so much easier to incorporate. Hope you don't mind

  3. No problem, that's great. Now for that annoying waiting part lol.