With an entirely built from the ground up engine, Aero Empire seems to be a ‘rising star’ in Moddb’s indie development community. A small but focused Aerosphere Studios has been working away at the project, and obviously have made a great deal of progress. The project’s lead, David (terra0nova), who has been programming since he was 13, was inspired to create the project from a desire.
His desire was to create something ambitious that he could not complete alone, and to motivate others, as well as be motivated from others. Starting with a few members, ideas were tossed around, but in reality there wasn’t even a game idea, genre, or concept art yet.
“The only people who stuck around since the beginning were people I had known beforehand, our core team members, Timmon and RedOwl” says David, “In retrospect, I should have worked with just the core members and finished the game concept before trying to recruit others from the Internet. However, since the others who joined didn’t stick around, that is more or less what happened in the end anyways.”
Working with these few core members, an idea finally caught.
“The original idea of Aero Empire was suggested by Timmon, who took inspiration from the Aubrey Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’brian, and described the art style as ‘Da Vinci steam-punk with an oriental flair’.” He says.
“From that idea, we brainstormed and expanded upon the world, the game play, and what features we wanted to include. Fitting the style of Aero Empire, we decided upon a rise the ranks structure, where you could play through different stages that corresponded to different ranks and had different styles of game play. Within a month, we had written a design document and had most of the features hammered out, with only a few changes and clarifications made since.
We have stuck to the original idea closely, and I think that is important, as it keeps a common and consistent goal in mind, and keeps the project from growing out of control.”
"We have stuck to the original idea closely, and I think that is
important, as it keeps a common and consistent goal in mind, and keeps
the project from growing out of control.”
David (terra0nova), Director of Aerosphere Studios
A large part of game development is keeping a project consistent and keeping the team in focus,
even when the going gets rough. Often times because artists are needed. When a project can’t make progress to attract artists to make progress, a project’s consistency drastically falls. The team at Aerosphere Studios was no exception.
“The hardest part of the game’s development was producing enough of the game to entice others to join the project. When we designed Aero Empire, we had 3D modelers on the team and so decided to make it a 3D game. However, when the modelers became inactive and we had no models to showcase, all we had was the beginning of the 3D engine and some concept art. I don’t regret making Aero Empire 3D, but it sure would have been a lot easier if we had a core modeler working with us since the beginning.” Explains David.
“I posted numerous requests for modelers using what concept art we had and screenshots from the rendering engine using free models online (which didn’t fit the style of the game), and eventually a modeler took interest in the project and decided to help us out. There were still tough times ahead, and the modeler who joined also disappeared, but at least we had a model of the small broadside class airship.
One important lesson learned that I think applies to all game development is that you need to have a core team of people you know, a basic game idea, and some assets already finished before you ask others to join the project (especially if you are not paying them).
The reason we struggled during early development was because we didn’t have the necessary talent to create model assets on our core team. It is tough to get people who have no connection to you or the project to continue working for free – so having game progress and assets to keep the newcomers interested is essential.
When deciding on core members, you need to find people who know you, have a reason to work with you, and share a common interest. They can be close friends – like RedOwl was, or someone you met previously online through a common interest, like Timmon was.”
“One important lesson learned that I think applies to all game development is that you need to have a core team of people you know, a basic game idea, and some assets already finished before you ask others to join the project (especially if you are not paying them)."
Aero Empire is certainly hitting a rise of popularity. A refreshing change compared to early stages of development. Aerosphere Studios already seem confident to make a rough late 2010/ early 2011 release. With a unique art style and ideas still flowing, this seems to be very much a reality. “Aero Empire is now on an upswing of activity and interest, one that I expect to continue for a while.” David notes.
Getting into the game play aspect of the project, Aero Empire is a cross-genre project, incorporating aspects from role playing games, shooters, flight simulators, and real time strategy.
Although back story is being hammered out for details, the world of AE and major events have been decided. David describes the scene:
“Aero Empire is set in a world where the majority of the landmass lies below a thick layer of clouds called the “Twilisphere.” Scarce, tall mountains peak through the Twilisphere, creating what little landmass lies above. Below the Twilisphere, the climate is not earth-like, and cannot support life as we know it.
The Twilisphere is really a permanent artifact of the boundary between the two different climates of the planet – the alien one below, and the earth-like one above. Because of this, the Twilisphere is perpetually turbulent and stormy, with frequent lighting strikes. Venturing into the Twilisphere is akin to committing suicide; even if you survive the Twilisphere itself, the inhabitable climate below would kill a person in a matter of minutes.
In this world, all human life evolved on the tops of mountains above the Twilisphere. Tribes formed on the different mountaintops, isolated and without knowledge or concern for the other tribes. Even as the first airships were developed, and travel between mountains became possible, the difficulty of travel kept interactions between the nations to a minimum.
However, this all changed with the invention of the steam engine, which facilitated air travel and allowed the nations to expand and interact with each other. A great war broke out, almost resulting in complete domination by the nation that first militarized the steam engine and put it to use on airships. The game takes place 100 years later, where the world is once again on the brink of war, locked in a power struggle.
The game play of Aero Empire, as mentioned above, is multi-staged, based upon one’s role in the military.
The lowest stage is Gunner, where you fly aboard an airship (commanded by a captain) and aim and fire at incoming enemy vessels. This stage is similar to a first person shooter. The next stage is Pilot, where you pilot a gyro, which is analogous to a fighter plane which launches from carrier airships. This stage is similar to a flight simulator.
The next stage is Captain, where you pilot an airship, trying to align the airship’s broadside with the enemy vessel to fire cannons, and giving orders to Gunners and Pilots working aboard your airship. This stage is a cross between a flight simulator and a real time strategy (RTS). The next two stages are RTS-like stages, where you command numerous airships and larger fleet battles.
The final stage is Admiral, where you get control of the entire nation. This includes control of all armies, planning of missions, and managing resources. While this seems a daunting task, your subordinates will do a lot of the work for you, and you only have to manage and direct them.”
One interesting built-in feature of the game is the ability to become an admiral/leader of a nation by performing a successful coup d’état or rebellion.
If you gain enough followers (through dialog and proving your ability), you can start your own nation even without relying on the help of story events (which could put you in charge of a nation through plot devices).”, Explains David, “In the single player version of the game, all other characters (subordinates, coworkers, superiors, leaders of nations, etc) will be NPCs with their own AI and personality.
“One interesting built-in feature of the game is the ability to become an admiral/leader of a nation by performing a successful coup d’état or rebellion."
The NPCs will pursue their own goals, interact with the player, and create a dynamic world for the player to play in. In the multiplayer version, large groups of players online can join one world and interact with each other and the NPCs in that world.
You could become the commander of your friends and other players, or the subordinate who has to listen to the orders of other players. But both NPCs and players get to decide for themselves whether to obey the orders given or not. They can even leave for another nation or perform a coup d’état or rebellion to start their own nation. There are consequences to these decisions (being fired from your post or banished from your nation), but they are available options nonetheless.”
Aero Empire obviously will have many more difficulties to overcome, but the perseverance of the team has proven successful so far.
The team at Aerosphere Studios has put a lot of time into the artistic style. A successful artistic style doesn’t always mean a great indie project, but no doubt AE is an ambitious project with a lot going for it.
We hope to see this ‘rising star’ to make a name for itself, and if all goes well, no later than late 2010.