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ACAH Behind the Scenes: 'Destroy to Create' and a Retrospective


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#1
Scherzo

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This is an old promotional video Namdai put out around the time of ACAH's launch window, but I find it fascinating to look back on because it's actually rather frank about what ACAH was trying to do and the context it was created in. I think one thing I find striking is that Kono considered himself done with AC following AC5 and was only brought onto ACAH as more or less a ringer to create a 'new concept' of AC Gameplay. I think the usage of the term 'destroying' in regards to the AC series is particularly telling.

 

The idea of creating a dirtier aesthetic was interesting conceptually, but in practice it just ends up looking uglier and grimier than AC6 (and missing the gorgeous contrail effects as well). But I think the biggest philosophical issue on display here is a fundamental misunderstanding of what 'fun' means in the context of an Ace Combat (though really it's also a fundamental issue a lot of game designers had in that era).  Kono equates the 'fun' of Ace Combat with exhilaration, which isn't in itself 'wrong' per se, but in practice he goes on to  describe it primarily in terms of Audio-Visual feedback. The problem is that really doesn't capture the totality of 'fun'; it isn't just the reward of the action that makes it enjoyable but the very nature of the act itself. Strip out the A/V spectacle of CRA and you're left with the world's most boring rail shooter. In reality, agency is the primary factor in good gameplay, that you had meaningful control over your actions in order to accomplish your goal, and that the way of getting from X to Y simply felt good. It's the "Press X for Awesome" problem; no matter how fancy you make the execution animation, a button press will always just be a button press to the player.

 

I just think it's funny that we've gone from the ACAH marketing strategy, which through PS2 ACs under the bus for 'failing to evolve', to championing the PS2 ACs as allowing player freedom and specifically playing towards the nostalgia of the PS2 era. Makes me sort of think how has the corporate culture at Namdai changed since then. Was ACAH's spunkgargleweewee tone/philosophy an earnest hail mary by PA to keep the series going, or was it imposed on them by corporate? And is AC7 the game they wished they were able to make after AC6?


Edited by Scherzo, 08 December 2016 - 01:58 PM.

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#2
PositronCannon

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Exactly, couldn't have put it better myself. I had completely forgotten about this video, but in retrospect, it looks even more ridiculous than when I first watched it.


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#3
Scherzo

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Exactly, couldn't have put it better myself. I had completely forgotten about this video, but in retrospect, it looks even more ridiculous than when I first watched it.

 

It was amusing going back and reading your initial response your response (and the general tone of the thread) in the impressions thread and how it changed as days were removed from launch. Sorta like:

 

 

After I posted this thread I actually saw Kono's navel gazing tweets Nemo translated (linked to here ), and frankly I really can't make sense of what he's trying to get across. Does he recognize why people fundamentally turned on the game? He says he took responsibility there, but there's such an undercurrent of bitterness to it, that the people didn't 'get' his magnum opus, that it makes me wonder what exactly he took away from the experience. I mean yes, Project Aces took a huge risk on CRA, and yes, the quality of the content (besides the story, sorry DeFelice) is pretty good, but the fundamental premise of the game completely misunderstands why people enjoy Ace Combat. That's one thing I don't get about Japanese apology culture; Kono seems to be saying he takes responsibility for ACAH failure without actually admitting he did anything wrong. He just seems too in love with his own vision and unwilling to accept it was a failure.

 

I mean it's funny, Infinite Warfare's Jackal sections which take up a decent chunk of that game's content actually, essentially crib DFM and you know what? It works rather well in the context, the context of a silly space fighter game more akin to Star Fox and Descent than Ace Combat. I'm not saying Ace Combat is a sim, far from it. But it demands a respect for its core gameplay mechanics, even if you want to renew them, that I don't think Kono had. But I mean, he nailed the gameplay core in ACI, so who knows what AC7 will be like.


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#4
Hue

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The idea of creating a dirtier aesthetic was interesting conceptually, but in practice it just ends up looking uglier and grimier than AC6 (and missing the gorgeous contrail effects as well). But I think the biggest philosophical issue on display here is a fundamental misunderstanding of what 'fun' means in the context of an Ace Combat (though really it's also a fundamental issue a lot of game designers had in that era).  Kono equates the 'fun' of Ace Combat with exhilaration, which isn't in itself 'wrong' per se, but in practice he goes on to  describe it primarily in terms of Audio-Visual feedback. The problem is that really doesn't capture the totality of 'fun'; it isn't just the reward of the action that makes it enjoyable but the very nature of the act itself. Strip out the A/V spectacle of CRA and you're left with the world's most boring rail shooter. In reality, agency is the primary factor in good gameplay, that you had meaningful control over your actions in order to accomplish your goal, and that the way of getting from X to Y simply felt good. It's the "Press X for Awesome" problem; no matter how fancy you make the execution animation, a button press will always just be a button press to the player.

 

Yep, that's the common trap for many dev teams: focusing too much on aesthetic. The second trap is focusing too much on non-interactive story exposition: a trap AC 5 not just fell into, but believed it was its true home. It kind of scares me at that point because this already rules out the possibility of my dream of a remastered AC 3 JP not coming to life with the patrician gameplay, at least in regards to Ace Combat standards.


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#5
PositronCannon

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It was amusing going back and reading your initial response your response (and the general tone of the thread) in the impressions thread and how it changed as days were removed from launch. Sorta like:

 

 

After I posted this thread I actually saw Kono's navel gazing tweets Nemo translated (linked to here ), and frankly I really can't make sense of what he's trying to get across. Does he recognize why people fundamentally turned on the game? He says he took responsibility there, but there's such an undercurrent of bitterness to it, that the people didn't 'get' his magnum opus, that it makes me wonder what exactly he took away from the experience. I mean yes, Project Aces took a huge risk on CRA, and yes, the quality of the content (besides the story, sorry DeFelice) is pretty good, but the fundamental premise of the game completely misunderstands why people enjoy Ace Combat. That's one thing I don't get about Japanese apology culture; Kono seems to be saying he takes responsibility for ACAH failure without actually admitting he did anything wrong. He just seems too in love with his own vision and unwilling to accept it was a failure.

 

I mean it's funny, Infinite Warfare's Jackal sections which take up a decent chunk of that game's content actually, essentially crib DFM and you know what? It works rather well in the context, the context of a silly space fighter game more akin to Star Fox and Descent than Ace Combat. I'm not saying Ace Combat is a sim, far from it. But it demands a respect for its core gameplay mechanics, even if you want to renew them, that I don't think Kono had. But I mean, he nailed the gameplay core in ACI, so who knows what AC7 will be like.

 

Yeah, I thought the exact same thing back then about that AH retrospect. It's probably the main factor why I have trouble believing he learned anything from AH's poor reception at all. While you mention ACI and I also try to see it as proof that lessons have been learned, I'm really not sure how much creative input Kono had there considering he acted as producer instead of director (director being Natsuki Isaki of AC6 fame, although considering he was also lead game designer for AH one has to wonder if any of this is any indication of anything ever), but the same goes for AC7, so I guess it doesn't really matter. It's not like we know how development works at PA regarding roles anyway.

 

And yeah, not surprised at your amusement to my initial response to AH, I was just as amused myself. That's what happens when a game is all wow factor and no real substance or replayability. But it is a sad reality for me that most single player games nowadays are catered towards people who will only play them once.


Edited by PositronCannon, 08 December 2016 - 02:28 PM.

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#6
Scherzo

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Updated the OP with a different video that cobbles all the Behind the Scenes stuff together because oh boy, there is a lot to go through here.

 

In the first new section it's even more apparent how they're throwing the earlier games under the bus, especially with the now ironic "You have to realize that Ace Combat Assault Horizon is not Ace Combat 7" (Thanks Kono, I'll keep having to remind myself of that next year). It's really striking how singular the focus of CRA is as the core gameplay backbone of the game, which is totally corroborated by my experience of playing it (Missiles can't track for shit outside of DFM, and the guns are worse than useless). It totally destroys the traditional tempo of the games (both from nerfed non-DFM mechanics and lousy encounter design), which puts the lie to their claim that this is for old fans as well as newcomers. There's also a bit of revisionism going on in AC7's marketing, with the claim that AC7 is the first game in a decade to truly have the right to be a numbered sequel -- essentially contextualizing ACAH as a spin-off -- while at the time ACAH was treated like a tabula rasa for the series.

 

And I know Nemo was defending the accusasions of it being a CoD grab from Skope back in the day (I read through most of the review thread last night), but watching this video, it seems like Kono is clearly trying to move the series into the realm of, if not CoD, then at the clancyverse style of game; especially how he terms ACAH as a 'Action Shooting Game'. The Aesthetics and Tone they're going for are all very consciously attempting to replicate that style ("State-Of-The-Art Storytelling" lol). I think to an extent Kono wanted to try that, with how he talks about wanting a grittier feel, and may have sincerely thought that adopting U.S. Military gaming tropes would help sell the core aesthetic CRA was pushing.

 

Finally, touching on some of the things Kono and DeFelice say about story and pacing (DeFelice's comments about Bishop's 'personal arc' are particularly hilarious), I think again we see them espousing a philosophy that runs counter to good gameplay fundamentals. DeFelice speaks of 'making every kill meaningful' which in practices means interrupting the game flow nearly constantly with scripted events that, again, rob players of agency. Kono doubles down on this by talking about being immersed in 'the story', as in transitioning 'seamlessly' from shooting to story beats, not recognizing what he considers immersive is actually irritating for anyone who actually enjoys playing the game. I get from Kono a sort of feeling of someone who finds player agency as irritating, a problem to be dealt, sort of in the same vein as Ready at Dawn's infamous quote "Well, it's a game, we kinda can't get around having gameplay."

 

 

Yep, that's the common trap for many dev teams: focusing too much on aesthetic. The second trap is focusing too much on non-interactive story exposition: a trap AC 5 not just fell into, but believed it was its true home. It kind of scares me at that point because this already rules out the possibility of my dream of a remastered AC 3 JP not coming to life with the patrician gameplay, at least in regards to Ace Combat standards.

Did you hear about the AC3 fan translation and re-release? Should meet what you're looking for


Edited by Scherzo, 08 December 2016 - 02:43 PM.

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#7
Scherzo

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Two things; First I'm probably gonna turn this into another quasi-Lets Play, though I'm probably gonna finish my Aristotle paper first.
 
But also Nemo was kind enough to retranslate a portion of the retrospective Kono did last year, and I think the correction is more enligtening than the original:
 
"Now when I look at ACAH, the individual assets, the individual directoral decisions, the presentation, they're all very well made, and I think they're wonderful. But I completely failed to communicate and coordinate the core concept of the project. In evaluating the game, while it has many pros and cons, at the concept level it's like a whole different project."

In this context it doesn't sound like he's saying that Marketing failed the game, but rather he failed to properly communicate and coordinate with his staff. Given how tumultous the development of ACAH was, this sounds highly plausible. And it also means he recognizes how he failed to properly coordinator the project, which I think is good, or at least better than the original translation made it out to be.
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Well hopefully they learned from all this while they were working on Ace Combat 7. That's really all I can say here. 


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#9
Hue

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Updated the OP with a different video that cobbles all the Behind the Scenes stuff together because oh boy, there is a lot to go through here.

 

In the first new section it's even more apparent how they're throwing the earlier games under the bus, especially with the now ironic "You have to realize that Ace Combat Assault Horizon is not Ace Combat 7" (Thanks Kono, I'll keep having to remind myself of that next year). It's really striking how singular the focus of CRA is as the core gameplay backbone of the game, which is totally corroborated by my experience of playing it (Missiles can't track for shit outside of DFM, and the guns are worse than useless). It totally destroys the traditional tempo of the games (both from nerfed non-DFM mechanics and lousy encounter design), which puts the lie to their claim that this is for old fans as well as newcomers. There's also a bit of revisionism going on in AC7's marketing, with the claim that AC7 is the first game in a decade to truly have the right to be a numbered sequel -- essentially contextualizing ACAH as a spin-off -- while at the time ACAH was treated like a tabula rasa for the series.

 

And I know Nemo was defending the accusasions of it being a CoD grab from Skope back in the day (I read through most of the review thread last night), but watching this video, it seems like Kono is clearly trying to move the series into the realm of, if not CoD, then at the clancyverse style of game; especially how he terms ACAH as a 'Action Shooting Game'. The Aesthetics and Tone they're going for are all very consciously attempting to replicate that style ("State-Of-The-Art Storytelling" lol). I think to an extent Kono wanted to try that, with how he talks about wanting a grittier feel, and may have sincerely thought that adopting U.S. Military gaming tropes would help sell the core aesthetic CRA was pushing.

 

Finally, touching on some of the things Kono and DeFelice say about story and pacing (DeFelice's comments about Bishop's 'personal arc' are particularly hilarious), I think again we see them espousing a philosophy that runs counter to good gameplay fundamentals. DeFelice speaks of 'making every kill meaningful' which in practices means interrupting the game flow nearly constantly with scripted events that, again, rob players of agency. Kono doubles down on this by talking about being immersed in 'the story', as in transitioning 'seamlessly' from shooting to story beats, not recognizing what he considers immersive is actually irritating for anyone who actually enjoys playing the game. I get from Kono a sort of feeling of someone who finds player agency as irritating, a problem to be dealt, sort of in the same vein as Ready at Dawn's infamous quote "Well, it's a game, we kinda can't get around having gameplay."

 

 

Did you hear about the AC3 fan translation and re-release? Should meet what you're looking for

 

Skope's idea for CRA's limitations was pretty ok. It involved just making CRA costing some arbitrary points to use just like VATS, so that the mechanic turns into a true precision kill mode. The silly part is that having such a mechanic was not new to PA, for Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces had a similar mechanic, but it was balanced by the moves taking time to charge, with shorter charge times resulting in maneuvers that aren't precisely going to place the player into the perfect position, but a mere approximation. CRA recharge and duration could have even been stats of their own, possibly giving them to planes with lower overall stats so that the player would rely on them at first but then would go to superior planes and maybe not require such crutches. Also making CRA not frighteningly stick to the enemy like glue no matter what would have worked, with too much angle or too long a distance depleting all CRA points. I'll just assume Kono merely fucked up in the pre-production department by jumping the gun on a mechanic without thinking about how it would play like especially in PvP. I can actually see why he would do that considering AC 5 style gameplay is a dead end, but he has not thought this out completely. This makes me more skeptical of AC 7 because even in the off-chance that it will be loved by fans, will it actually send the series in the right direction? Arcade flight games have this issue of shit standards, and thus need correction there.

 

However, one thing that bothered me the most was how Kono was highlighting the issues with targets being taken out from far away.  This had been taken care of with AC 3 JP's AI ironically enough. Never have I been able to really hit enemy aircraft at long range in later levels because their flight patterns were so erratic. This is also seen in AC 6 to some vague extent, so it's not that forgotten. I wonder why he didn't just improve on the general aesthetic of the death animations and make missiles feel more satisfying to use instead of CRA.

 

Oh btw, I am aware of Project Nemo's translations. However, the key here is not the product only, but equally an act of redemption from PA. They owed people that shit for one. The remastering of AC 3 JP, provided the core stays unchanged, would possibly result in changing the minds of multiple Ace Combat fans that still believe that AC 5 was legitimately the best and generally make them see how PA dropped the ball in terms of gameplay. Maybe the feedback will echo through the Namdai offices, thus giving us superior Ace Combat titles based off the general core of Ace Combat 3. Maybe they will get even more creative with the standard missiles and stuff.


Edited by Hue, 08 December 2016 - 07:22 PM.

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#10
PositronCannon

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Skope's idea for CRA's limitations was pretty ok. It involved just making CRA costing some arbitrary points to use just like VATS, so that the mechanic turns into a true precision kill mode. The silly part is that having such a mechanic was not new to PA, for Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces had a similar mechanic, but it was balanced by the moves taking time to charge, with shorter charge times resulting in maneuvers that aren't precisely going to place the player into the perfect position, but a mere approximation. CRA recharge and duration could have even been stats of their own, possibly giving them to planes with lower overall stats so that the player would rely on them at first but then would go to superior planes and maybe not require such crutches. Also making CRA not frighteningly stick to the enemy like glue no matter what would have worked, with too much angle or too long a distance depleting all CRA points. I'll just assume Kono merely fucked up in the pre-production department by jumping the gun on a mechanic without thinking about how it would play like especially in PvP. I can actually see why he would do that considering AC 5 style gameplay is a dead end, but he has not thought this out completely. This makes me more skeptical of AC 7 because even in the off-chance that it will be loved by fans, will it actually send the series in the right direction? Arcade flight games have this issue of shit standards, and thus need correction there.

 

However, one thing that bothered me the most was how Kono was highlighting the issues with targets being taken out from far away.  This had been taken care of with AC 3 JP's AI ironically enough. Never have I been able to really hit enemy aircraft at long range in later levels because their flight patterns were so erratic. This is also seen in AC 6 to some vague extent, so it's not that forgotten. I wonder why he didn't just improve on the general aesthetic of the death animations and make missiles feel more satisfying to use instead of CRA.

 

Oh btw, I am aware of Project Nemo's translations. However, the key here is not the product only, but equally an act of redemption from PA. They owed people that shit for one. The remastering of AC 3 JP, provided the core stays unchanged, would possibly result in changing the minds of multiple Ace Combat fans that still believe that AC 5 was legitimately the best and generally make them see how PA dropped the ball in terms of gameplay. Maybe the feedback will echo through the Namdai offices, thus giving us superior Ace Combat titles based off the general core of Ace Combat 3. Maybe they will get even more creative with the standard missiles and stuff.

 

It would have been as simple as making DFM truly optional, by not nerfing the hell out of every weapon when outside of it and completely scrapping the concept of TGT Leads being unkillable without DFM, and getting rid of the non-jet nonsense missions. Even then, issues with over-scripting and overall mission design would mean it'd be about the level of AC5 at best, but that's still far better than what AH ended up being.

 

Though man, I really can't agree with you about AC3. It was my first AC and as much as it blew my mind at the time (seems to be a pattern with me - same goes for AC5 which was my first PS2 AC), I only had to play AC2 to start feeling that AC3 was way too clunky and just not very fun anymore (very slow aircraft handling, random missile tracking, guns being almost useless though to be fair AC2's are even worse), let alone after playing later games in the series.


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#11
Hue

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It would have been as simple as making DFM truly optional, by not nerfing the hell out of every weapon when outside of it and completely scrapping the concept of TGT Leads being unkillable without DFM, and getting rid of the non-jet nonsense missions. Even then, issues with over-scripting and overall mission design would mean it'd be about the level of AC5 at best, but that's still far better than what AH ended up being.

 

Though man, I really can't agree with you about AC3. It was my first AC and as much as it blew my mind at the time (seems to be a pattern with me - same goes for AC5 which was my first PS2 AC), I only had to play AC2 to start feeling that AC3 was way too clunky and just not very fun anymore (very slow aircraft handling, random missile tracking, guns being almost useless though to be fair AC2's are even worse), let alone after playing later games in the series.

 

Thing is AH shouldn't just be on the level of AC 5. From what Kono suggested, the game was supposed to revitalize the AC series for the modern playerbase. This requires a better product than the classics. But yes, what you have stated improves upon the way CRA was implemented. The game could have been pretty damn good, but the team just failed to properly understand the game's own core and how it plays out in the long run.

 

For AC 3 JP, I can understand the bad guns (cannon could have been ok if it had a bit more damage per shot, laser really needed a special crosshair, anything below needed a general damage buff maybe). To some extent I can understand the planes somewhat feeling slow to respond, which I personally find ok. The missiles being random I don't necessarily agree with as much. I found them rather predictable by the time I got to Rena, and after a while I even managed to consistently evade with a Berkut through turning, which is my least favorite top tier plane because it loses speed far too quickly for the standard hit and run. That is unless you're talking about the missiles you're shooting, but that's more of an AI issue. While I like the AI's behavior over multiple AC titles, I feel that the pattern recognition process is too binary and too predictable, but that's every Ace Combat AI.


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#12
Scherzo

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PC Froze as I was writing, fuck.

 

For now I'll just say that man the character models have not aged well at all. Colonel Bishop in particular looks like he was carved out of a watermelon, his face looks like it'll fall right off. But I guess that's what you get when you hire some baka gaijins to do your character design.

 

Just a preview for when I have my wits about me; DFM itself is not the problem, it's everything around it. Also I give Kono some benefit of the doubt.


Edited by Scherzo, 10 December 2016 - 03:01 AM.

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#13
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They were going for a grizzled look with Bishop and it went HORRIBLY wrong. 


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#14
Scherzo

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Anyways, after the unfortunate first instance of DFM on a TGT_LEAD where I belatedly remember that 'whoops, I'm basically wasting my ammo', I'm finding DFM is actually one of the least problematic aspects of the game. It honestly feels pretty good to play and there's enough mechanical complexity to keep it from being a 'complete' rail shooter, stuff like reversals and such. I wouldn't completely banish TGT_LEADs, but I'd definitely reduce them, and systematize them in such a way that they're more gratifying to play. Mechanically I would suggest there being more skill in entering DFM (perhapss holding tone for 2-3 seconds), and also have some way to more effectively chain DFMs together.

 

Where the game really falls apart so far though is everything around DFM. The flight physics are garbage, it feels like your piloting a plastic bag, which makes ACM a fidgety mess. And that's only one element that makes non-DFM air combat completely impotent; Missile tracking has been nerfed, and the lack of any leading reticule makes guns literally useless outside of CRA. I have to wonder if making combat outside of DFM so dull was part of Kono's plan to emphasize CRA; if it is then it is a huge dickslap to the face of AC fans.

 

Also, the old AC5 problem of 'Kono cannot into mission design' rears its ugly head. Virtually every mission besides Blue on Blue I've played has had shit pacing. The natural end of Inferno, for instance, would be after clearing out the enemies over the airfield, but the mission carries on for two more sections before finally stopping. It's not exactly the same problem as AC5--there's always at least a dozen or so planes on screen and in one of the later sections of Inferno there's at least a couple score of Fishbeds, but how it's presented to the player is a wet fart, with non TGT planes treated as basically optional busywork before hitting the TGTs that actually move the mission forward. And the mission just stretches on and on.... and on and on. And it's not just fighter combat that suffers either, the first Apache mission would've actually been fun if it had been a third of it's actual length--the actual gameplay elements seem the most fully robust of any of the non-jet stuff--but it's made interminable by Kono's favored 'clear the blockades to help the ground troops' bullshit mission structure which pads out a full 5-6 minutes of a 12 minute total mission. But I still think the gameplay fundamentals are there and it's kind of weird that it's used just as often as the completely superficial Door Gunner segments.

 

I don't feel anything is wrong about the Door Gunner, mind, other than it's kind of simply a waste of resources (which obviously could be leveled at much of this game to begin with), The AC-130 mission is just kinda... bleh though. 'Death from Above' was meant to be a breather mission in CoD4, it wasn't meant to be seriously challenging. ACAH level tries to incorporate some amount of skill but it just ends up being a frustrating pixel hunt.

 

And obviously it goes without saying, but the story is complete trash and somehow ends up being more absurd than most AC games because we are explicitly in the real world. And while it's pretty remarkable that they're able to so well nail spunkgargleweewee aesthetics and tone, I can't say it's particularly fun to play. It's lameness is more banal than the cheesey but earnest melodrama he series is known for. And the whole "Russian Terror Syndicate" is up there with "Insurance Fraud" in terms of dumbass AC schemes.

 

Now I previously said I do think ACAH was a conscious attempt to emulate CoD, and I stand by that to an extent. But I think between playing the game, reading his retrospective and watching those videos, I think I've gained more of an appreciation for what he was trying to do, even if I do feel like he ultimately threw the baby out with the bath water. I don't think he was trying to superficially copy CoD aesthetics, if it were only that he wouldn't have created DFM. I think he recognized that CoD4 was something really disruptive to the military gaming market and was trying to dig deep into it to see what about it made it tick.

 

Something that kind of clicked for me recently is something Jeff Gerstmann said in regards to IW and CoD4, saying that they were the ones that made the act of aiming down sights "feel good". Now ADS is its own can of worms for many FPS fans, the ones used to gaming on PCs in the 90s see the rise of ADS as the killer of the fast-paced KB/M style arena shooters that used to dominate the market, but I think even so there's something about the gameplay loop ADS creates in CoD4 that is simply fun to play.  So I think what Kono was going for was bringing that sense of immediacy to air combat.

 

From where I standing I don't know whether that concept was valid or not. I want to believe he didn't intend to undermine AC's fundamentals to get DFM to work; that he wanted to more create a space where a more visceral type of air combat was possible. But in the process he ended up alienating his core fanbase while eliciting a shrug from the general public. I don't think it was 'wrong' to try new things, and I hope he doesn't see the future of AC as endlessly pandering to fans of the PS2 games. His new philosophy on what the AC games are, a sense of progression, I think is much more on the mark than his 'exhilaration' comment, but we'll have to see whether it bears fruit.


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#15
Scherzo

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Haven't had much time to play between end of school bullshit, but it's given me time to get a little errr... 'obsessive' about Kono's thought process on ACAH. There's a couple of interviews out there that say generally the same stuff, "ACAH is not AC7 (lol)", "Rebirth of the Series","Fun for fans new and old". But I think this interview by Gamasutra capture's some insight into ACAH's production (and Kono's design philosophy).

 

Some of the choice quotes:

 

 

 

"Project Aces; specifically, we're really good at, of course, aircraft -- so nobody could probably get better than Project Aces for that. But interweaving the storyline and gameplay we are also really good at, so we think that there are probably no others that, we think, can beat us."

 

This, to PositronCannon's chagrin, is one of the big themes of the interview, the importance--to Kono--of the interwovenness of gameplay and storytelling.

 

The next quote is even more blunt:

 

 

 

"The gameplay and storyline always conflict with each other at some point," Kono admits. 


That said, it can be balanced. "Where to balance that out, without having the users realize it's being balanced out, is probably the guideline I follow. For instance, in a certain place within the story, there's a gameplay goal of what you're supposed to do, but users don't realize that probably it's on rails. They just do it because it's the storyline," he says. 



This will only work, he says, if the gameplay is "very immersive in the first place." That can only happen when "the story gives you a certain goal, or gives you a certain objective, within the interest of gameplay."

Still, he says "the story is like a plus aspect... story is something that is in there [that helps] the players not to be bored of the gameplay."

 

I think Kono is... greatly underestimating the ability of the player to recognize when the game is on rails. His read on the interplay of gameplay and story is weird here. I'm not a game designer by any means, but when you're an action game, no matter what the quality of the narrative, the idea that repetitve gameplay can be offset by story carrots just seems fundamentally misguided. I'm someone who loves context in AC games, or games in general, but I think trying to pass off a storybeat as 'genuine' gameplay is going to fall on its face more often than not.

 

However, I don't think Kono's core problem on ACAH was his fixation on narrative/Audio-Visuals, but rather his misunderstanding of player agency in Ace Combats:

 

 

 

His theory is that while the game can communicate with the player in multiple ways, the player can only communicate back to the game by shooting. 

"If the player shoots at the enemy, you have to give some kind of reaction -- because that's how the user communicates with the game. So if he shoots something, something's supposed to collapse. Those kinds of things are really taken into importance in Assault Horizon."

"First, the user needs to feel the sensation of shooting and destroying; that needs to be fulfilled for the users."

"What's important for Ace Combat is that what you tend to do to communicate within the game is you only shoot missiles or machine guns. That action being brought back to users is most effective." In fact, the team concentrated first on nailing that core feeling in the game -- through visual and audio feedback, controls, and even vibration -- and then moved on to production of the rest of the game, says Kono.

 

I've seen this in other interviews where he refers to AC series as a 'shooting action' series, and it feels like an inaccurate reduction of what player agency is in Ace Combat (getting back into my initial comments about misunderstanding the core of AC). He reduces playing AC to the mere act of shooting a missile or firing a gun, when in reality its equally, if not moreso, about maneuvering, prioritizing targets, , buknowing when in a turn to let off your missile. AC is no sim, of course, but one of its strengths has been creating the verisimilitude of being a fighter pilot and having the run of a large battlefront. Stripping it down to the mere act of firing a weapon strips away the sense of wonder the series has at the capacity and ability of fighter jets, which I think might be ACAH's biggest aesthetic betrayal. Since Kono in the run up to AC7 has said 'freedom of control' is one of the core pillars of AC7, I hope that he has gone back to the drawing board on how gameplay is constituted, but that remains to be seen.


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#16
PositronCannon

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Yeah, pretty much what you said. On the "making on-rails gameplay without the player realizing it's on-rails" bit in particular, the thing is that even when it works as intended, it's only gonna work once. At that point you've already destroyed replayability unless you use it very sparingly, which AH certainly did not.

 

And lol at PA being good at interweaving gameplay and story, I've literally never seen that happen, much less in Kono's games. ACZ comes closest and even that tends to leave story aspects to cutscenes (whether in-engine during missions or FMVs in between missions) and has a lot of "filler" missions that don't really contribute anything story-wise. I still don't even think it's really possible to manage such a thing without hurting one aspect or the other, and in the end it's all about the specific preferences of the player.

 

I still think AC is at its best when it uses what essentially are two separate sets of storylines as seen in AC04, ACZ, ACX and AC6, one being the in-mission story mostly concerning the progression of the war itself and the interactions between the characters that fight those battles (I personally think AC6 did this quite well, especially when contrasted with its mostly-terrible cutscene storylines), and then an alternative perspective on the war told through cutscenes. The moment they try a more "personal" story where the two things are one and the same, as seen in AC5 and AH, story starts being shoved in your face. It could just be coincidence, but so far that's been the case (then there's JA which has just terrible design all around, not even caused by this particular story style since it's actually much closer to the other style).

 

Edit: also lol at that article assuming Kono directed AC04 as well. Not even close, and it shows considering AC04 is one of the overall least scripted games in the series.


Edited by PositronCannon, 13 December 2016 - 01:56 PM.

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#17
Scherzo

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Did you hear that AC04's radio script writer is working on AC7?

 

I think having scripted moments in missions works when they're used strategically, and honestly I would've preferred a story perspective from the 8th Air Wing's point of view vis a vis AC6, but I don't think they need to make the PC a speaking role. I do think with the increased drama in the missions as the series has gone on though it makes sense for the wingmen to be an important part of the overall story.

 

Like I think what I need to explicate is that while I like AC stories to an extent, it's really the context that's created within the missions that make the series meaningful to me.

 

Gameplay-wise I think what keeps striking me is how awful the planes feel; there's like no weight to them, which makes trying to like, you know, actually dogfight them a chore. It's like the idea of non-DFM gameplay was more or less an after-thought.


Edited by Scherzo, 13 December 2016 - 02:06 PM.

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#18
PositronCannon

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Gameplay-wise I think what keeps striking me is how awful the planes feel; there's like no weight to them, which makes trying to like, you know, actually dogfight them a chore. It's like the idea of non-DFM gameplay was more or less an after-thought.

 

Pretty much. It's all terrible, it's just that the weapon mechanics are even worse so I never really thought about the flight physics to begin with.


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#19
PositronCannon

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Speaking of all this, I'm sure I've linked this before, but it's pretty funny how around the time of AC6's release, Kono recognized that they should have given the player more freedom in AC5. And yet, AH comes around and the player has even less freedom. Ooookaaaaay.


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#20
Scherzo

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Oh my GOOOOOD does Kono blow at mission design. Byeli Base was a fucking nightmare; how the missions are structured has somehow gotten worse than AC5. This is unbelievable.


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