We started Luftrausers halfway through 2011, when Jan Willem at Vlambeer was staring out of a window on a late flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam after the annual Game Developers Conference. He decided he wanted to expand on a little prototype we made back in 2010.
The pitch Jan Willem had for me was simple: the prototype had been made in two days, but had been played by hundreds of thousands of people. Jan Willem felt we might’ve run into something special with the simple high score game we had released for free to the internet. We started working on the very first version of our little 2D dogfighting game in just four colors.
We made a deal not to play the original until the new version was as good as we remembered the original to be, and we were surprised at how much of a struggle that was. We added bigger explosions, we worked on a dynamic camera system, we added trails of smoke on crashing jets, and we even added extra colors to the palette. It still took us almost a month to achieve the same level of speed, of chaos, and of impact that the far simpler original had.
When we played the original again for the first time, we were baffled. Compared to our updated builds of Luftrausers we’d been playing, the old version felt stale. You know that feeling when you’re talking about an old game that you love, and when you play it it falls flat? That’s because your memories of a game aren’t as much about what actually happens on screen, but about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking while playing it.
Our original game made people feel like the best fighter pilot in the world, as if they skimmed right over the water line taking out a squadron of enemy fighters. Luftrausers actually allowed you to do that.
In other words, we decided to commit to Luftrausers. We reached out to our good friends at Devolver Digital to help us out. They looked at it, nodded sagely, and proceeded to send us a contract for us to sign without question.
Shahid was next on our list of people we wanted to talk to. We loved working with him on Super Crate Box for PlayStation Mobile, so we met up with him in a little food place just across from the PlayStation offices in England. He asked what we were working on and we pitched Luftrausers to him. Shahid, without exaggeration, proceeded to negotiate with us on the spot, scribbled down the name of the game on a coaster, added a few terms to the thing, and went back to the offices.
We expanded the team on Luftrausers with additional programmers. We thought we’d be good to hit the spring of 2012. That turned out to be overly hopeful.
Vlambeer has made games for PC and for mobile — successful games that have won awards and had hundreds of thousands of players. Console development is a completely new story for us, though. We needed time to adapt, to figure out how to make things work, and make them work perfectly. On PC, the variety of configurations means you have to accept that it won’t work exactly the same on every computer; with a console, you have the one exact specification and there’s this automatic urge to make everything flawless. In a strange way, it’s kind of addicting.
We got stuck in that little loop of trying to make Luftrausers better for almost a year and a half, and we started showing what was essentially a finished game at events around the world. If you’re a fan of ours, chances are that you’ve played it and talked to us at one of those events. We took your feedback home, and we’d polish the game a bit more before taking it out to the next event.
Instead of one airplane, Luftrausers suddenly allowed you to build 125 airplanes. Instead of one pumping KOZILEK soundtrack, Luftrausers now features one for every airplane you can build. The amount of enemies doubled, the amount of colors doubled, the amount of effects quadrupled, and mechanically we added missions and combos.
We had scoped small, but we knew we weren’t doing the game justice that way. We kept working as the launch date slipped, and then the new launch date slipped as well. We weren’t quite where we wanted yet. Eventually it was 2013, and people stopped giving suggestions on how they’d improve the game at events. We were ready to wrap up.
Throughout the difficult QA process, the teams at Devolver Digital and PlayStation have been extremely supportive of a new studio trying to find its place in the console world, and we really appreciate everything they’ve done for us over the past year and a half. We know how to make good, tight arcade games, and they helped us figure out how to bring that Vlambeer-style gameplay you know to consoles.
Luftrausers is ready. We’re proud and excited to bring it to PS3 and PS Vita today, and we can’t wait for you to finally get your hands on it. With more than 125 Luftrausers to build — each with a unique soundtrack — there are many ways to take on the ridiculously overwhelming amount of action we’re about to throw your way.
Get ready to raus!