There was a burst of activity around the space sim genre about a decade ago, with the rise of crowdfunding preceding a rebirth of a much-loved, but commercially unviable genre. Or so we thought. What actually happened in the last decade is Elite Dangerous released, the X series from Egosoft continues to try and fix its mistakes, No Man’s Sky did fix its mistakes, and Star Citizen took its place alongside classic non-console the Phantom in the ranks of ‘Probably Never Actually Going To Release’.
Plus, the space games we have had tended to err on the side of exploration, discovery, or more of a role-playing bent. There’s not been a whole lot of scooting about through space and shooting things – and that’s where Alliance Peacefighter wants to step in. It sees a gap to plug, and it’s going to give it a damn good go.
The game didn’t start out life like this, though. Instead, it was spun out from a larger project, one that’s been ongoing for a number of years now – Flagship, focused on commanding large capital ships in grand spacefaring battles.
As a part of Flagship, though, starfighter-focused mechanics had been developed, and from that, the idea to spin off into a fighter-only project started to coalesce. Alliance Peacefighter looks to the Wing Commanders and FreeSpaces of the world for its inspiration, putting the player smack-bang in the thick of things and making them the cockpit jockey hero of the tale. It’s a simpler approach, that’s for certain.
“I’ve wanted to make a space sim since I first played Wing Commander back in the 1990s,” explains Brad Jeffrey, Alliance Peacefighter’s creator. “When I first got into making games, I had my sights set on something more focused on capital ships as there weren’t many of those sorts of games around at the time… The desire to make a starfighter-focused game was always there though, and I’d made efforts to build fighter mechanics into my software framework, as I knew I’d be making one at some point. When circumstances required me to switch gears, making a more traditional space sim with a smaller scope made the most sense.”
It’s common for games to feature both VR and VR-less versions, but it’s less common for both versions to be a focus from the off – but that’s the case here, with Alliance Peacefighter being made with VR in mind alongside the flat-screen experience. It’s a challenge to develop for both forms, though, but one Jeffrey is confident the game will meet: “The biggest design hurdle was the cockpit layout; in VR, you can place displays and controls anywhere in the cockpit, but someone playing on a traditional monitor without any kind of head tracking will have a fixed view that only encompasses the top half of the front console,” he says.
“I had to ensure the most vital information was in the eyeline of this static view. There are controls that can be manipulated with VR motion controllers, but outside of VR, these can be safely out of view as their functionality is mapped to whatever controller is being used.”
But it’s not the VR angle that’s being sold as the big reason to jump in here – rather obviously, given its flat-screen credentials from the outset. Instead, Alliance Peacefighter should appeal to that certain subsection of players who still feel underserved by modern releases. As well as those grander, open-world/universe titles mentioned before, there’s been, what, Star Wars: Squadrons? And that’s about it in recent years.
“I think the main appeal, at least within the space sim niche, is that it’s a single-player game with a story in a genre that tends to be dominated by open-world and MMO-style games,” Jeffrey explains. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m partial to a bit of space trucking and exploration myself, but I don’t think I’m the only one that misses authored stories in these games. For people who aren’t generally space sim fans, it’s a pretty streamlined action game with quirky alien characters having adventures in space.”
Games like this are relatively rare in the mainstream, and it’s not just because of money. “I’m not sure how well Star Wars: Squadrons sold,” Jeffrey says. “But I’m pretty certain the Battlefront games sold far better. It’s a smaller, nerdier niche and it’s going to take developers who love the genre and don’t mind making a little less money.”
The other factor making space shooters a rare sight these days is the seeming lack of ability to do much different from those that appeared in the 1990s. “The primary verbs are similar to other genres – move, shoot, collect, and so on – but you’re limited by the setting when it comes to what the end result of those actions is, and how they provide meaning to the player,” Jeffrey continues. “Storytelling is also a challenge, I suppose because good stories are about people, and space games tend to be about spaceships. None of this is insurmountable, though.”
Despite all that, here we are: approaching the release of a new space sim/shooter in 2022, with its influences hitting the likes of Wing Commander, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, Homeworld, and Star Fox. It’s a small project, made largely by one person, and it doesn’t have the multi-million dollar backing of an EA. But it does have spaceships, lasers, and explosions, so there’s going to be a bunch of us out there who’ll be keen on it.