Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The New Game is Warbirds!

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you may have noticed a lot of references to that other game without much in the way of details. Well, I can finally announce it to everyone.

Warbirds is Outrider Studios' new game about fighter pilots, pulp-comic action, celebrity culture, and exploration. We are crowdfunding the project on indiegogo.com (no kickstarter for Canadians) and I am hoping that you can contribute and make the game a success. You can learn a bunch more about the game by going to its website. Please give it a quick read before continuing here, as some of the stuff I discuss won't make much sense unless you already know the basics.

During the next month of the campaign, I will posting all sorts of little bits of insight into how the game was made, how the new dogfighting system works, and the though processes on why the game is the way it is. In this post, we'll look at the roots of the game, where it started, and why it evolved the way it did.

Why Fighter Pilots?

Right after Warbirds' first playtest a friend asked, "Steve, why the hell did you make a game about the crap you deal with every day?" He asked because my day job is "Air Weapons Controller", which means I spend my day job staring at radar screens and talking on radios to provide guidance to fighter pilots as they carry out missions. Right now I'm teaching the job to new controllers, so I spend all day thinking about fighter tactics, engagement ranges, radar characteristics, and communications priorities. Modern air combat is, in short, complicated.

So, why the hell would I bring my day job into my hobby? Well, for starts. I love it. I love fighter aircraft, I love the intensity of a dogfight, and not a day goes by that I'm not jealous of the pilots out there doing it for reals. (Full disclosure: I failed flight training after spending 120 hours in the air. It turns out that guys with poor hand-eye coordination, and frequent bouts of airsickness make poor pilots. Who knew?) 

Next, I refer to the old adage: write what you know. I know air combat. I am not an expert on it, like an actual fighter pilot is, but it's safe to say I know a lot more than the average layman. The other thing I know is RPGs, so I have a unique opportunity to try to bring them together in a fun an interesting way.

Why Dieselpunk? Wait, WTF is Dieselpunk? 

First off, here's Wikipedia's take on dieselpunk:
"Dieselpunk is based on the aesthetics of the interwar period between the end of the World War I and the beginning of World War II... The genre combines the artistic and genre influences of the period (including pulp magazines, serial films, film noir, art deco, and wartime pin-ups) with postmodern technology and sensibilities."

So why dieselpunk? Because, as I said before, modern air combat is complicated. It's also a little dull from an RPG perspective. Modern fighters start shooting at each other when they are still over 30 miles away, and most engagements end before either pilot ever sees the other. The best tactic for a modern fighter pilot is to fire his best missile at the longest range, and then run away and wait for the missile to hit. If pilots do get close, the planes have heat seeking missiles that lock on just by looking at the enemy plane, and radar assisted cannons that take the guesswork out of the ultra-rare guns kill. 

Let's contrast that with World War 2 air combat. Machine guns of the era could shoot a few thousand yards at best, and most kills happened at ranges of a few hundred yards or less. Pilots mixed it up in massive dogfights, and had to take serious risks to get a kill. World War 2 is the moment where fighter pilots had the best machines that didn't automate important tasks. It was the era of the fighter ace, and the perfect technology level to use for a game about fighter pilots. 

So What's Up With the Alternate Reality Setting? Why Not Just Use WW2?

Figuring out the setting for Warbirds was always a tricky one. The game actually started out as a sci-fi game with Star Wars style space fighters and a Battle Star Galactica style story, but the whole thing ended up being pretty 1-dimensional. There just wasn't enough to do when the pilots weren't out fighting. Setting it in WW2 worked a little better, but I found that it limited player choices in terms of character creation a little beyond what I would like. 

It was Cait (my wife and co-designer) who figured out the game's setting needs to actively affect the characters when they are not in their planes. She hit on the idea of combining the infamous ego of fighter pilots with celebrity culture and hero worship. Once we knew we wanted pilots to be famous, we worked on a couple different setting ideas, but settle on islands floating in the sky. The reason being that a society in that setting would have a huge investment in aviation, and pilots would be revered. 

After that, we looked at the cultures that we liked, and found that the Caribbean was absolutely full of different cultures, languages, and religions. Furthermore, all of these micro-cultures were already packed into conveniently shaped islands and peninsulas. So we grabbed them from our history (1804 to be precise) threw them up in the air, hit the fast-forward button on their timeline, and hit stop when they reached 1940's technology and culture (we gave them an extra century to get there; getting marooned in the sky slowed down tech advancement for quite a while).

What else can we expect in the next month?

I am going to make frequent blog posts here, I plan to make a few videos that will give you the gist of the rules, and I will keep trying to convince you to donate.

If you have already donated, thank you very much. I hope you are as excited about this project as I am. 


  1. I'm reminded of the Miyazaki film Porco Rosso - was that an inspiration? - Steve

    1. Strangely enough, it wasn't. Although now I am going to have to check out Miyazaki's work. If I were to name anime shows that inspired the game, I would have to go with Mamoru Oshii's "The Sky Crawlers", and Hiroyuki Yamaga's 'Wings of Honnêamise". They both have familiar but different settings, exciting air combat scenes, and interesting aircraft designs.

    2. The Studio Ghibli anime films are some of the most beautiful and moving works of that art. Hayao Miyazaki has an obsession with flight and flying machines from his Laputa: Castle in the Sky work, but its best seen in Porco Rosso. (pilots and air-pirates flying and dueling it out over the Adriatic and drinking in island bars during the night). Well worth a rental or Netflix- and if you are an anime fan, you have to watch the Studio Ghibli works - its the defining mastercraftsmen of the genre. Steve

    3. I looked at the filmography. I have seen Nausicaä, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. I am definitely missing a lot of his work. (Checks Netflix Account)

  2. Another anime this reminds me of is Last Exile. I can see drawing inspiration from it for the Guild, the airships, the dieselpunk (though LE is probably more WW1) and the floating islands.