Strike Suit Zero: the most Japanese game to ever come out of Guildford
Strike Suit Zero’s aesthetic is eastern. This PC space dogfighter is neon blue and cherry-blossom pink, and casts the player as the pilot of a spaceship-cum-mecha – the eponymous Strike Suit. Its story – a tale of Earth’s struggle against the colonists it fired out to inhabit our galaxy’s other worlds – is told via anime-esque talking heads and subtitled text. But Strike Suit Zero isn’t Japanese. It’s from Guildford, and it’s being made by a team who class resolutely western games as their core influences. Born Ready Games was raised on space-based classics like TIE Fighter, Freelancer, and Starlancer.
So where does Strike Suit Zero’s Japanese look come from? Lead developer Chris Redden puts it down partly to the game’s lead artist, James Lodge, and partly down to the designer of the game’s striking ships, Junji Okubo. Okubo is Japanese, and has designed mecha for some of his home country’s most popular anime. For Born Ready Games, he provides the eastern influence that Redden argues lets them create the “perfect blend” of eastern and western aesthetics. “It let us create a nice Japanese anime look without being too off-putting for people who aren’t into anime,” he tells us.
Okubo’s design philosophy is described as functional: in the spirit of this international co-operation, Okubo himself looks west for influences, to shows like Battlestar Galactica for chunky, utilitarian concepts of space travel. But his background has liberated the team at Born Ready Games, and allowed them to make a different kind of space combat game, Redden explains. “Because it has that Japanese style to it, it means we can push it a bit further, without making it feel like mechanical, Mechwarrior-esque stuff. We can make your ship more agile and have these cool special abilities that fit with the style.” The result: your spaceship can build ‘flux’ that allows it to transform into a mech with a stab of the space bar. This mode can be used as a handbrake, to throw off pursuing craft, to allow precision targeting of capital ship weapons with rapid-fire machine guns, or to flip around, target an entire sky’s worth of enemy fighters with cluster missiles, and loose them all at once, before transforming back into starfighter mode and jetting off into the blue-tinged blackness of space.
Born Ready see players transforming into strike suit mode during “high intensity” moments, as CEO James Brooksby explains. “We wanted to create something like the final scene in The Last Starfighter. That was an influence, and when you get really good, you can create that moment: spin around, lock on to all targets, and let all your missiles fly.” But despite the addition of the strike suit, Okubo’s art, and references to games like Steel Battalion, it’s the west’s legacy of space combat games that Redden cites as most important in Strike Suit Zero’s development.
“My first computer game was TIE Fighter. For me there’s three greats: X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter, Freespace, and Wing Commander. The X-Wing series has always done story really well: it’s got interesting characters and campaigns. Wing Commander always had really good dogfighting, and Freespace had epic scale: you felt like you were a fly in the midst of a battle between capital ship titans. We tried to draw experiences from those games into this one.” Strike Suit Zero is, we’re assured, a space combat game first and foremost. But Brooksby doesn’t want to slavishly port decades-old mechanics over for a new generation. He doesn’t think they’ll fly as well they used to.
“We love early dogfighters, but it’s like most games, we look at them with rose-coloured specs. When you go back and actually have a look at them, you realise things have moved along a little. We wanted to create the feelings from those games, but not necessarily duplicate the reality of those controls and so on.”