There’s no shortage of dogfighting games in the market, but Tomas Sala’s upcoming The Falconeer promises something unique and interesting. With its beautiful art style, an open world that promises haunting views and mysteries, RPG mechanics, and more, it certainly seems like the game plans on delivering an experience that’s very different from what games focusing on aerial combat and exploration usually offer. Due out for the Xbox One and PC, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about The Falconeer, and hoping to learn more about it, we recently sent across a few of our questions to Tomas Sala, the developer. You can read our conversation below.
"Nowadays I find a lot of games look very “noisy” and busy in an attempt to look gritty and photorealistic. The style I use is much more an attempt to make a 3D game look like an illustration."
The Falconeer’s art style looks excellent. Can you talk about how you visualized the game during early development, and how you settled on this art style in particular?
I’ve been working on this style for quite a long time, after the Moonpath to Elsweyr (a series of Skyrim mods I did back in 2013). I wanted something simple and clean and really the opposite of the sculpted/photorealistic art Skyrim mods required. I started up my first solo project called Oberon’s Court and truly developed the style for that as a textureless, minimalist look.
I never finished Oberon’s Court due to various reasons, but the style has stuck and become a bit of a trademark for me. The core is a very tech-art heavy style, where atmospherics and shading can be quite advanced, but the models and geometry are relatively modest in complexity. I like that you can see how it was made, and it’s not hiding that it’s an abstract representation of the world. Nowadays I find a lot of games look very “noisy” and busy in an attempt to look gritty and photorealistic. The style I use is much more an attempt to make a 3D game look like an illustration, something clean that conveys atmosphere and action with the smallest number of elements.
How did the concept of a dogfighting game where the playing is mounted on a bird come about?
To be honest, once I scrapped Oberon’s Court I had a lot of art assets left over, so I decided to do a small gamejam as a homage to the games I enjoyed growing up, Tie Fighter, Crimson Skies, Drakkan, Freelancer and so forth. And for that I used a dragon model I still had. Which worked amazingly well, except that I found I had my fill of dragons… so I did a little test with a bird and a rider, and it just clicked. It had a magic appeal from the get go!
Can you tell us how the mechanics and ideas of a traditional flight-oriented game translate riding a bird?
I started off with fairly straight forward flight physics, but the gameplay only really took off when I added a way to do acrobatics and barrel-rolls. Then suddenly it felt a lot more “biological” and natural, as well as adding something really different to the mechanics. Another aspect is that you want the bird to have a little bit of agency, the feeling that it isn’t a vehicle and will avoid crashing into obstacles, that needs to be very carefully balanced against interfering with the player’s choices. At the moment it’s really subtle, so only a hint, but just enough to give you that feeling.
"I’d love there to be a good chunk of content, and all I can say now is that what’s on the drawing board isn’t a short linear story experience, it’s much more, but something that I’m not ready to confirm just yet. "
What sort of progression mechanics can players expect from The Falconeer, as far as upgrades and customization go?
There are a number of paths to upgrade the performance of your bird as well as the weaponry you can equip. Your bird is upgraded through mutagens, light mutagens can be swapped around but heavy mutagens are permanent buffs to speed, agility, healing and so forth. Weapons come in a variety of sorts, from heavy cannon type fixed weapons to gimballed magnetar rifles and lightning casters. These come in a variety of qualities, which you can acquire from the stores in the world.
Can you talk about how combat evolve through progression as players get further into the game?
The core will always be air to air dogfighting, but as you progress the enemies you encounter will change, from other Falconeers and warbirds to airships, large and small, right up to airborne capital ships. There will be a number of chapters in the storyline each with their own style of enemies, including dragons and the more fantastical creatures such as flying Mantarays and giant eels.
There is also a large selection of ground or surface targets you’ll encounter, from trading ships and regular battleships up to large dreadnoughts and again a selection of fantastical creatures including a crab-based walking fortress.
How much of an emphasis does The Falconeer put on exploration? Are there, for instance, several islands or places of interest to encourage exploration?
It’s an open world so the player can explore a decent size of ocean, I’m trying to keep things compact enough that it won’t feel like you are needlessly flying over empty ocean. That said, the player will have the opportunity to discover lost temples and secrets hidden beneath the waves. There are also faction and independent settlements and towns dotted about where you can find shops or side missions and a fair amount of really special set pieces to discover.
Roughly how long will an average playthrough of The Falconeer be?
I’m currently working on the chapter/campaign content, so that’s hard to say, as a solo developer everything can be a speed-run as you rush through your content to test and create it. I’d love there to be a good chunk of content, and all I can say now is that what’s on the drawing board isn’t a short linear story experience, it’s much more, but something that I’m not ready to confirm just yet.
"Of course, I don’t think you can make a game in 2020 and not think ahead to the next gen, but right now my focus is on the initial PC and Xbox One release."
With next gen approaching, might you consider porting the game to newer upcoming hardware?
Of course, I don’t think you can make a game in 2020 and not think ahead to the next gen, but right now my focus is on the initial PC and Xbox One release.
Will the game feature Xbox One X-specific enhancements? Is 4K/60 FPS on the cards?
I’d say 60fps should be possible even on a regular Xbox One. I’m a purist that way, and I would hate to downgrade to 30 fps. There will be a resolution increase for the X, but that’s TBC as some of the VFX I’ve created such as the volumetric clouds do take up more performance as resolution is increased. The game does look incredibly crisp at higher resolutions, so I’d love to support 4K eventually.
There’s been a lot of talk of SSDs, which the Xbox Series X is confirmed to feature. What’s the biggest impact it’s going to have on development, according to you?
I think it’s going to help with loading times a lot, SSD’s are just a factor faster. I think that’s the major point where they’ll be helpful
The Xbox Series X also features GDDR6 memory- what’s the impact it will have on games in conjunction with the other advancements we’re going to see in next-gen consoles?
There are some quirks to develop on console having to do with memory management and instantiating content at runtime. Basically, on PC you can create enemies and explosions on the fly, but on console you always have them waiting in the wings, pre-created or pooled for use. That’s the kind of workaround that might not be required anymore in the future, and as a developer that might mean some complex effects are easier achieved and thus more often used. I think like before it might lead to more complex simulations and a general increase in lifelike fidelity with regard to behaviours and content rather than visuals.
"Bringing out a new title at the end of the lifecycle, it’s a comfort that people who invest in Xbox Series X will still be able to enjoy The Falconeer."
Backward compatibility is something else both new consoles are banking on quite heavily. How much of an impact do you think it will have from the perspective of both, developers and consumers?
I think most developers are already cross platform focused, in that sense it’s become less of an issue than it was say 10 or 20 years ago. That said, bringing out a new title at the end of the lifecycle, it’s a comfort that people who invest in Xbox Series X will still be able to enjoy The Falconeer.
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