Interview with Kazutoki Kono, Director of Ace Combat Infinity

ACI logoIt’s not long now until Bandai Namco Games release Ace Combat Infinity here in the UK, and we got the chance to speak to the game designer and producer Kazutoki Kono about some of its’ characters, gameplay, and world building features.

The jet-fighter series has given its setting a new twist by bringing it to the real world. Kazutoki told us what this means for popular characters like Nagase and the fictional depth of the settings. He had much to say, and he even revealed a little bit about the writing process.

Are you excited to be here? Is there anything at MCM Comic Con you’re eager to see?

Kazutoki: It’s actually our first time attending Comic Con – we’ve never even attended a San Diageo Comic Con. We’re really interested; we want to go outside and actually see how it is, but we still have interviews.

I’ll try not to keep you too long then! Have you looked at the panels? Is there anything you want to go see later?

Kazutoki: There was a Xion flag from Gundam, so I want to know what’s up with that. Since it’s Comic Con, rather than seeing a particular panel, I’m interested to see how Japanese manga and Japanese anime is perceived within the event.

Yeah, and of course MCM Comic Con goers can try out Ace Combat Infinity while at the event. It’s said Ace Combat Infinite has been designed to make the dogfights more challenging and also more personal, particularly through the use of camera. Can you elaborate on that?

Kazutoki: Since it’s a jet-fighter series, we want people to feel the speed but it’s difficult to show that because we don’t want to destroy the user’s controls and make it too difficult, for instance, we don’t want it to stress people out. So, that balance between the two is always difficult. Even the slightest change in the camera angles will affect how the people play, and how visible they are in the cockpit, so even the slightest bit affects the gameplay, and we’re always fighting to not destroy that kind of gameplay experience.

So are you trying to create a fresh feeling with the use of cameras, or is it more about improving the speed and not making things too stressful?

Kazutoki: In the game there’s actually three points of views, one is the cockpit view where you actually feel like you’re in the cockpit, and the other is you only see the hud of the plane and you don’t see yourself. The last is you see it in third person, you can see part of the aircraft, making it kind of easier for players to control depending on which one you want to use. We always have three points of view because for people who select the third person, not only is it maybe easier for them, but they can also see the beauty of the aircrafts while they’re flying. But other people want to concentrate on really being the one who’s inside the cockpit and actually controlling it, so they choose to play it in cockpit view. Some people want to just experience being in the skies, so in that instance they select the first person view.

Some fans are worried that setting the game in the real world will take away from the history of Ace Combat, because they feel that its original universe is what sets it apart from other games that regurgitate the same standard mission of: fight, fight, fight. What can you say to reassure fans that it still has its own world building aspect?

Kazutoki: It’s actually a fictional world even though we’re using real world Ace-Combat-Infinity_2013_09-02-13_002cities and making the technology sound realistic, but it’s not like we’re taking completely real world situations, so in that sense it’s a fictional world. The Japanese version of Ace Combat was launched this Tuesday, so five days ago, but seeing the user’s reactions in Japan, they’re really having fun with that kind of fictional universe. Of course, there are fans who really, really like the past settings from the series. I believe it’s a creative challenge within myself to have those fans of the originals to have fun in the new world setting.

With the new real world setting, some are also afraid of losing Kei Nagase and her sister Reiko. What can you tell us about the characters in Infinity?

Kazutoki: Nagase is in Infinity, she’s still there, and she’s still as herself. Throughout the series the way she talks and her characteristics are always out there, so you will see that in Infinity as well. It’s difficult because I originally created Nagase in Ace Combat, so if I ask someone else to write what she says, sometimes that person doesn’t really understand her characteristics and they add a phrase that she’d probably never say. So, in that case, I go on and delete those. I don’t want to say any spoilers since the game is coming out next week, but there’s a lot of things that are going on with the characters; not just Nagase but there’s a person called Butterfly Master and there are other male characters who coincide with the game, but I don’t want to say too much!

What’s fun in projects like this is that what each character says depends on the person who created them. For instance, I approve of what Nagase says, but for another character it’s actually different person who can determine if that character says something or not. So everyone needs to look at the script because each person will need to be able to decide if they approve. When I first saw the script for Infinity I replied, ‘Nagase doesn’t say words like that!’

That must take a long time to go through the script.

Kazutoki: Yeah, at the end of the day, it takes too much time and a lot of the other members just say to me, ‘Why don’t you just write the script?’ because I take so much time.

Is it possible to switch between planes during a mission, or do you pick one and stick with it until that one is complete?

Kazuktoki: No, you can’t switch during the mission. You decide on what aircraft you want to ride at the beginning of the mission and after you clear that mission you can get on another one. Within that one mission you need to use the same aircraft. It’s one of the fun things for the player, so after listening to the briefing before selecting the aircraft, for instance, once they know the operation plan they can decide, ‘I’ll ride on this aircraft with these kinds of special weapons on it, and maybe I’ll be able to win out and get a good score.’ That’s one of the ways to have fun with these missions; if you’re able to switch in the middle the immersion is kind of destroyed, so we keep it for the entire mission.

What features are you most excited about in this new title? What particularly, for you, is the best thing about this new release?

Kazutoki: That’s the first time I’ve been asked that! At the end of each mission in Combat Infinity there’s a lot of rewards. After the results screen, you can see that you receive a lot of awards, like emblems or you can see that you have ranked up, and stuff like that is visually seen, so that kind of gives you the happiness of achieving within the game. That’s probably one of my favourites.

What’s funny is that, after the results screen and your reward is a box of the emblems, you don’t know which emblem is going to come up because it’s random; and once when I was playing with others at my side I got an emblem with the number three on it – it’s a cool emblem but it only has a number three on it – and one person said it was great, but for me it wasn’t very interesting, but for the person on my left hand side they said, ‘Oh! The number three – that’s my lucky number, I want it!’ so it depends on the person if that reward is fun or not. That was weird but fun.

Nice to see those reactions first hand! Do you take Ace Combat games home then and play it with your mates?

Kazutoki: During that particular reaction I was playing at the company, but when the Japanese versions are released I do go home and use a name that nobody will figure out it’s me, and then play with the users. Sometimes the users are like, ‘You’re playing so bad,’ and I’m thinking, ‘You’re going to remember saying that; I’m gonna get you back!’

What can you tell us about helicopters within the game? Will they be controllable?

Kazutoki: Helicopters aren’t controllable. They’re sometimes flying around in the background but you can’t control them in Infinity. Since Infinity is a free to play and a live-ops ongoing title, we don’t know, it’s up to the users on what kinds of things will be updated. That’s one of the fun parts.

So it could be something available later?

Kazutoki: Helicopters? No… But I don’t know what’s going to be updated. It all depends on the users’ feedback, but maybe if the best of the users are always saying that they want helicopters and everyone says they want helicopters, then I don’t have a choice but to make it. If all of them say they want UFOs, then maybe we need to put in UFOs!

That’s quite an intense way to work.

Kazutoki: I have some pride in myself with the result of the game but it’s a very new way of working, and it’s a very interesting way to work that the users are able to decide what’s going to come up next in the game. I think that’s a great part of it.

It’s impressive that you are willing to do that, because it does give away a chunk of creative control. It’s impressive that you can do that as well.

Kazutoki: I have confidence in myself that whatever request does come from the users that I will be able to present it in the game as a part of Ace Combat.

Thank you for your time. I hope you have fun sneaking through Comic Con.

Kazutoki: As long as I don’t have any aircrafts on me, people won’t notice!

Ace Combat Infinity will be released in the UK on 28 May 2014. It is a PlayStation 3 exclusive and free-to-play. It looks incredible.


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