Nestled deep within Penny Arcade Expo’s Indie Mega Booth was Vlambeer. The Dutch based studio is best known for Super Crate Box, along with the recent iOS hit Ridiculous Fishing, which was produced in collaboration with fellow indie all-star developers Zach Gage (SpellTower) and Greg Wohlwend (Hundreds).
One half of the two-person team that comprises Vlambeer, Rami Ismail, was present to show off LUFTRAUSERS, an upcoming 2D dogfighting simulator that, much like Ridiculous Fishing, is built around a very simple yet elegantly fleshed out gameplay mechanic, and which also oozes style. This time you’re helming an experimental fighter plane, which must go head to head against an entire enemy armada.
The premise is much like many other shmups, and LUFTRAUSERS can be best described as a combination of Capcom’s classic 1942 and some of the more contemporary examples of the genre. While not quite as frantic as some of Cave’s offerings, the action is fairly intense. The best part is how, thanks to the open skies, once can choose to dart in out of the fray as one pleases, as well as dive underwater. And, as noted, the action is also extremely eye-catching; the sepia tones make it feel like an old WWII movie, with a dynamic, dramatic soundtrack to match.
Your aircraft is almost impossible to control at first, but eventually, you start to understand its nuances. Though there will be plenty to take the reins off; for the purpose of the PAX demo, players were given several different planes up front. In the final game, the player will start with just one, but with the help of upgrades that are collected as one progresses, 125 different combinations will be possible. Each with its own distinctive properties as it pertains to maneuverability and arsenal, even musical theme.
What makes LUFTRAUSERS stand out from other shumps is how gravity fits into the equation, so one must keep moving to stay in control. Though not moving allows one to recover from damage. It’s a back and forth, and in more ways than one; you constantly find yourself rushing head first into the thick of things, and also knowing when to get the hell out of dodge. Or at least trying to.
My time with the game was quite frantic and messy; I didn’t last very long. The person after me, on the other hand, appeared to handle his various craft with ease and finesse. Though I was told by Ismail that I was just as proficient while playing and that everyone pretty much plays the same initially. Was simply too caught up in the moment to know otherwise.
Ismail also informed me that LUFTRAUSERS is the most recent result of his studio’s very stringent prototyping process. The original version, which created in Flash, was made in just two days. "If we can’t make something that’s playable and fun in that time frame, then it’s not worth iterating on" I was told.
The most recent version is the result of a very intense development period, which has only lasted six months, and is again the norm for Vlambeer. Then again, there was a rock solid template to guide the process throughout, correct? Yes and no. "When making LUFTRAUSERS, we actually didn’t play the original. Instead, we simply tried to draw from our memories, as to what worked." As to almost start from scratch.
The end result was the same basic game, but with some significant additions and improvements. First, the dramatic increase in aircraft. But the game’s camera, which Ismail was very proud off, which is both graceful and vertigo inducing. LUFTRAUSERS is due later this spring, for the PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, and Vita.