A new Ace Combat series project was previously announced in its 25th anniversary stream, and developers further discussed this new project in the 9th December 2021 issue of Weekly Famitsu.
Participating in the interview were team manager Yasui Akira of Ilca, Sekiya Makoto of Ilca who has been working on the series since Assault Horizon, Shimomoto Manabu of Bandai Namco Entertainment who was producer of Ace Combat 7 and will continue to be producer on the new project, Itomi Kosuke of Bandai Namco Studios who was narrative director on Ace Combat 7, Kanno Masato of Bandai Namco Studios who was art director on Ace Combat 7, Kobayashi Masatoshi of Orca who is a software engineer, Iwasaki Takuya who is CEO of Ilca and Orca and has worked on development on the series since the first game, and Ace Combat series brand director Kono Kazutoki of Bandai Namco Entertainment.
The interview begins with discussing Ace Combat 7 and its release of the JASDF Skin Series DLC. Kanno says that players are participating in multiplayer with all sorts of combinations, which the developers are happy about. He also says that the team is indebted to the JASDF: When development began on Ace Combat 7 in 2015, they interviewed F-15 pilots at Komatsu airbase in Ishikawa prefecture, and that is what lead to them coming up with the theme of “clouds” for 7. Shimomoto adds that they also had playable demos of 7 available before release at JASDF airshows (at Matsushima and Nyutabaru airbases), and that the JASDF skins were also well-received by foreign fans, while Kono says that their ability to do such things is indication of the how Ace Combat has grown as an IP and is now more recognized.
The interviewer next mentions how the BGM tracks for multiplayer in Ace Combat 7 were chosen by polling fans, gathering over 3500 votes. Itomi says that they did not have all tracks from the series available in the poll, and that the developers first chose tracks that would match multiplayer battles before having fans vote.
The interviewer mentions being glad that Transparent Blue from Ace Combat 3 was included, and Iwasaki says that 3 had a very different approach to music from the previous games. This was because the writer, Sato Dai, was also well-versed in music, and came up with ideas for the type of music to be used as he wrote the story. Itomi mentions that when meeting designers and artists from other companies, they mention Ace Combat 3 a lot, and he thinks it had a lot of impact.
The Cutting-edge Aircraft Series DLC is mentioned next, and Kanno says that the licensers were especially thorough in their checks this time: They always perform checks before release, but using the latest aircraft meant that they were particularly rigorous, resulting in the time taken for them to approve taking longer than usual. He feels that this was at the same time indication that people are recognizing Ace Combat 7 more, and Kono adds that development on a larger scale also means having to live up to higher standards, both for players and others.
The interview moves on to talk about the new Ace Combat project next, with the interviewer asking when the project started. Shimomoto says that it is hard to say, with each team member probably having a different idea of when the project started, but for him it is when they started to discuss what to do for the next game when Ace Combat 7 sales hit 2 million copies. For Kanno it was when the DLC missions were released and well-received by fans, which prompted him to start thinking about the next game. Kono on the other hand started thinking of the next game immediately after Ace Combat 7 went gold, saying that, as brand director, this is what he always does.
The interviewer points out how fans might not be familiar with Ilca and Orca, and asks for details about them. Iwasaki says that Ilca and Orca are companies started in 2010 and 2011, with Ilca specializing in graphics and consisting primarily of CG designers, and Orca consisting of programmers and software engineers. The two being split into separate companies was to help projects go smoother.
At the time there were people in Ilca who were more interested in making videos than games, wanting to make high-end pre-rendered things instead of realtime graphics, and so Ilca handled things like movies for pachinko machines and opening animations for TV programs as well. Yasui and Sekiya joined around then, Yasui having been someone who previously worked alongside Iwasaki in game development, and Sekiya having formerly worked on CG graphics in Casio Entertainment, on things such as Halo Legends.
Meanwhile, Orca was working with Square Enix a lot, such as helping with Dragon Quest X and developing its smartphone companion app. After that both Orca and Ilca were asked to work on Dragon Quest XI too, and they moved to Higashi Shinjuku to be closer to Square Enix.
Eventually, Ilca was hired to do a video for Ace Combat 7 around the time of that year’s Tokyo Game Show, and he also talked to Iwasaki saying that he needed help with development as well due to a lack of engineers, and so Orca took this up, with them sending Koike Toshiyuki, who had worked on the Ace Combat series since the first game and was chief programmer on Ace Combat 3, over to Bandai Namco. This resulted them in building up an environment where it became easier to work with Kono, and they will be working on the new Ace Combat project as well. While the current partnership is under Ilca’s name, both Ilca and Orca are working together.
Kono says that the business partnership is due to the project, and a result of him talking with Iwasaki and saying that they should work closely together on it. Ilca then started hiring, but Kono felt that it was difficult to see how Project Aces was involved, and so they announced the new Ace Combat project and how they were looking for people to work on it.
The interviewer asks what kind of people they are looking for to work on the project, and Iwasaki says that they hope that by gathering people with all sorts of talent, the development itself will change, and that they will help come up with new ideas.
Sekiya says that while many think of Ilca as a company that does not handle development, most of the projects they handle include everything including development, and several games will be released within the next 1-2 years that were developed by Ilca. While Ilca did initially specialize in visuals, 90% of their work in recent years has been game development: However, none of the games have been released yet, and so people are not yet aware of what they have done.
Yasui says that Ace Combat cannot just be fun and interesting, and has to be something that works on an international level, and that he hopes that they can get people who understand that. The number of developers that can work on consumer games that are worldwide titles are limited, he hopes that they recognize what a big chance it is to work on it. Kono adds that they want people who want to make new content with the latest technology, and Yasui says that while they are already able to use Unreal Engine 5 and make realtime cutscenes instead of pre-rendered ones, what he wants is for them to surpass even those standards, saying that there are few developers that can reach that level. Kono says that they are looking not just for people with experience in game development with Unreal Engine, but also people who have worked with cutting-edge technology on movies and other visual media.
Iwasaki says that while the staff who made Ace Combat 7’s pre-rendered movies have already been gathered, they are all quite old, and their knowhow should be passed on to not just people in the gaming industry but also those in the movie industry.
Kono worries that they might have emphasized wanting young talent too much in the anniversary stream and made veterans feel unwelcome, and Yasui says that they want both young talent and veterans.
On the engineering side, Kobayashi says that while they have to aim for AAA standards, he thinks that they will have the funding to do so from Bandai Namco, and what he would like to see from new staff is people who will not make any compromise and do whatever it takes to achieve something that they are satisfied with, even if it means delaying things to make them better, and that this is the mindset of the current members.
Kobayashi says that the kind of engineer they want is the type who know what they are lacking in and can look things up themselves, without needing someone to tell them what to do; the sort of person who only follows orders would probably not fit in. Kanno chimes in, saying that this means the kind of person who, despite being an engineer, would go around researching how clouds or the sea look.
According to Yasui, big development projects usually result in people with firmly-defined roles, such as “this person only has to makes trees”, but this has never been the case with Ace Combat: The engineers always tresspass on each other’s domains and work together to make things better.
The interviewer next asks for details on the new Ace Combat project, and whether it will be Ace Combat 8 Shimomoto says that the goal of this project and partnership is not to just make a single game, but to gather the human resources needed to keep going for another 25 years: As such, this is about not just the next game, but what comes after it.
Kono says that while it will still take some time to determine what the end result will be, the project is in fact at a stage futher ahead than fans might think, with them looking at past games and setting technical goals.
Itomi comments on how chaotic the situation is right now, with all sorts of ideas going through the developers’ heads, who are struggling to find the right answers. Usually, when modellers and artists are hired, they end up joining the project at a point where it has already advanced to some degree, but anyone who joins the project now will get the rare chance to learn how difficult it is to start something from scratch. And if anyone who has ideas joins, they may get the chance to make their ideas come true.
The interviewer next asks about when the next game will take place, if it does in fact take place in the Strangereal world. Shimomoto says that all the games in the series with the exception of 3 have taken place at a time corresponding to when it was developed in the real world, and Kono says it is hard to comment on when the game will take place. Kanno says that right now, they are actively trying to not focus on small details and look at the bigger picture, as they need to make something for an international audience, and that this is the entire point of the new Ace Combat project. Kono adds that while they cannot give any concrete details, the project’s aim is to make something for an international audience that also lives up to user expectations, based off what they did with Ace Combat 7, and that they will not make something that betrays expectations.
Finally, the interviewer asks if the interviewees have anything they want to say to Ace Combat series fans.
Shimomoto says that the project has only just started, with them still in discussions, and that they hope to able to recruit both veterans to lead the next generation, and young talent who will form that next generation. While fans will have to wait a bit more, he hopes they will look forward to what is coming.
Itomi says that they are currently at a stage where people are thinking about what the project should turn out to be like, and that they hope to recruit people who want to try creating something.
Kono says that announcing the new Ace Combat project first is akin to telling players that they have no idea what will happen next, and he finds this terrifying as the series brand director, but having Ilca and Orca on it reassures him. They have to work together to make the project work, and he has pledged to make it a success, and so he hopes that the recruitment of new talent works out.
Kanno says that the power of expression in video games has grown, and that it is now an age where artists have to be bold. Advanced game engines being used for all sorts of games means that making a game normally just results in a normal product. He believes that the project will be a success if they can do something so revolutionary that it can chance how someone looks at the world.
Sekiya says that he hopes that the new Ace Combat project will let people know that Ilca is game development company.
Yasui says that a big mission is to make an organizational structure that will let the project succeed.
Iwasaki says that when he first got involved with Ace Combat, he thought about its identity, and came to the conclusion that it is a game that is unparalleled at conveying the fun of flying through the sky, fused with the world made by Kono and others, human drama, and 25 years of history. He thinks that it is their duty to work to polish that foundation, and says that they will do their best to have players fly into a new sky as soon as possible.
Kobayashi says that Orca is a company comprised mostly of engineers, and that there are engineers who can make the ideas of project planners and designers come true. Finally, he says that they intend on making things even better than what the publisher asks of them.