Recently, we caught up with Jimmy Soga, Product Manager at Xseed, to ask a few questions about Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, Project Aces’ Wii dog fighting game, and how it compares to Mamoru Oshii’s critical darling anime film — The Sky Crawlers — which it draws inspiration from.
First off, when exactly does Innocent Aces take place with regard to the Sky Crawlers movie?
Jimmy Soga, Product Manager: The game is a prequel to the movie. In the film there are these special pilots called “Kildren,” who are destined to live eternally in their adolescence. The game takes place when these Kildren are integrated into the war and start to replace the adult pilots. The game will be told from the perspective of one of the adult rookie pilots, codenamed “Lynx,” who becomes involved in this special military project with the goal of making pilots immortal.
You’ve mentioned the protagonist, Lynx, a number of times, but I don’t think we’ve seen him in any official media yet. Is it even a guy? It’s not Maumi, is it?
No, the protagonist Lynx is not Maumi Orishina. He’s one of the last adult rookie pilots to join the war and is working his way up the ranks through the various missions. You won’t see any character art for him since most the game is set through his — which also happens to be the player’s — point of view.
Sky Crawlers (the movie) was very much about depicting the day-to-day lives of the Kildren, their habits and their way of dealing with their lifestyles. It drew some parallels with the way Japanese society sometimes seems to be stuck in a rut. What made it unique was there wasn’t much of an emphasis on the combat aspect, whereas Innocent Aces — being a game — obviously seems to focus more on that. How do the two compare thematically?
Since the game is an air combat simulator the majority of the gameplay will take place in the sky, meaning the combat aspect. However, the players will be able to see and learn about the Kildren in the high quality anime cut-scenes seen throughout the game, as well as conversations through the com-link during missions.
Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces will be dubbed in English when it releases next year. How did you go about choosing voice actors for the different roles? What’s the process like?
Regardless of the title we’re working on, we first play the game through (usually multiple times) to get a more complete sense of the part they play in the story and how each character thinks and feels. Once we have a fairly good idea of what we want, we coordinate with the recording studio we are working with for auditions and sample reels to select the actors. One thing we do not do is try to match the Japanese voices. It is not that we actively try to make the voices different; it’s simply a matter of what works for our US audience.
How many people did it take to localize Innocent Aces? Could you give us some insight into how the team was split up?
Basically we have one translator and one editor assigned for all our projects for the sake of consistency in style and presentation, which is the case for The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces. Of course, for larger projects or those with tighter deadlines, we tend to bring in others to help out, but we always have one lead translator and editor overseeing the localization for every project.
Did any elements from the Sky Crawlers movie inspire the English localization?
Chronologically speaking, The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces takes place before the movie and actually serves as its backdrop. That said, the story, while connected, does not overlap, so we considered the two to be essentially independent of each other.
You can customize your planes in the game. What are the aspects you can change aside from colour, weapons and armour, and how do they affect your machine’s performance?
Before you go on a mission the player can access the “Hanger” option where they can fine-tune planes that they acquired. This can change the plane’s capabilities, either by playing up its strong points or cutting back on its shortcomings. All together there are 6 types of categories to customize (Engine, Wing, Armor, Weapons, Cockpit, and Coloring) as well as an “Entrust” option where the computer will equip the parts for the players automatically.
How the player customizes their plane can affect how they handle the craft, especially with what type of weapons they equip such as shotgun, long range gun, napalm bomb, etc.
The game supports the Gamecube and Classic Controllers, but could you tell us about the Wii remote / Nunchuk control customization options?
Holding the Nunchuk in the dominant hand as the flight control stick and the Wii Remote in the other as the throttle, the controls simulate the controls of sitting in an actual cockpit. There are three control types: Beginner, Normal, and Expert.
In Beginner and Normal, the player can easily turn the plane, and it will always return to a stable level position. In Beginner setting, the plane has limited climb and dive capabilities. In Expert, you can roll the airplane right into a pitch up and turn. It takes more skill to fly in this mode but it allows for tighter turns. With this option the player can make minute directional changes with the yaw control using the Directional pad.
Something that’s interesting about Sky Crawlers is that it’s a licensed property. It’s based off of an anime adaptation of a series of Japanese novels. Are you going to promote it that way so the anime fanbase catches on, or do you think pushing it as its own thing is the way to go?
The game is based on a licensed property and the fans of Sky Crawlers will definitely enjoy it, but more than anything we were really impressed with the gameplay mechanics. When we played the game none of us had watched the movie or read the novel, but still understood what was going on and really enjoyed the depth of the story. With that said, since the game was created by Project Aces of the Ace Combat series, the gameplay is really solid. Using the Nunchuk as a flight stick really makes the player feel like they’re in a dog fight, which will definitely please the flight shooting/ simulator fans. So we will reach out to the anime fanbase but we’ll push it as a Project Aces title first and foremost.
Did Xseed make any changes or upgrade any features for North America?
There’s no changes gameplay wise. The game was a solid game as it was so there wasn’t much we could have done. The only difference will be that the game will support English, Spanish and French, depending on the user’s Wii settings.
Innocent Aces is quite different from the typical Xseed game. Is branching out and tackling more genres part of Xseed’s growth strategy?
Wow it sounds really cool when you say it like that. (laughs)
We’re always looking for interesting games to bring over to the US audience so we’re certainly not a stranger to branching out to different genres. Looking at our past titles, you can see that there’s a lot of RPG’s, but we’ve published other genre titles such as Victorious Boxers: Revolution, Retro Game Challenge, KORG DS-10 Synthesizer, and we just announced KORG DS-10 Plus for first quarter of next year as well.