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The Indie Devs gets a sneak peek at a up-coming project called Aero Empire, a cross-genre project that has quickly made a name for itself.

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With an entirely built from the ground up engine, Aero Empire seems to be a ‘rising star’ in Moddb’s indie development community. A small but focused Aerosphere Studios has been working away at the project, and obviously have made a great deal of progress. The project’s lead, David (terra0nova), who has been programming since he was 13, was inspired to create the project from a desire.

His desire was to create something ambitious that he could not complete alone, and to motivate others, as well as be motivated from others. Starting with a few members, ideas were tossed around, but in reality there wasn’t even a game idea, genre, or concept art yet.

“The only people who stuck around since the beginning were people I had known beforehand, our core team members, Timmon and RedOwl” says David, “In retrospect, I should have worked with just the core members and finished the game concept before trying to recruit others from the Internet. However, since the others who joined didn’t stick around, that is more or less what happened in the end anyways.”

Working with these few core members, an idea finally caught.
“The original idea of Aero Empire was suggested by Timmon, who took inspiration from the Aubrey Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’brian, and described the art style as ‘Da Vinci steam-punk with an oriental flair’.” He says.

“From that idea, we brainstormed and expanded upon the world, the game play, and what features we wanted to include. Fitting the style of Aero Empire, we decided upon a rise the ranks structure, where you could play through different stages that corresponded to different ranks and had different styles of game play. Within a month, we had written a design document and had most of the features hammered out, with only a few changes and clarifications made since.
We have stuck to the original idea closely, and I think that is important, as it keeps a common and consistent goal in mind, and keeps the project from growing out of control.”

"We have stuck to the original idea closely, and I think that is
important, as it keeps a common and consistent goal in mind, and keeps
the project from growing out of control.”

David (terra0nova), Director of Aerosphere Studios

A large part of game development is keeping a project consistent and keeping the team in focus,
even when the going gets rough. Often times because artists are needed. When a project can’t make progress to attract artists to make progress, a project’s consistency drastically falls. The team at Aerosphere Studios was no exception.

“The hardest part of the game’s development was producing enough of the game to entice others to join the project. When we designed Aero Empire, we had 3D modelers on the team and so decided to make it a 3D game. However, when the modelers became inactive and we had no models to showcase, all we had was the beginning of the 3D engine and some concept art. I don’t regret making Aero Empire 3D, but it sure would have been a lot easier if we had a core modeler working with us since the beginning.” Explains David.

“I posted numerous requests for modelers using what concept art we had and screenshots from the rendering engine using free models online (which didn’t fit the style of the game), and eventually a modeler took interest in the project and decided to help us out. There were still tough times ahead, and the modeler who joined also disappeared, but at least we had a model of the small broadside class airship.

One important lesson learned that I think applies to all game development is that you need to have a core team of people you know, a basic game idea, and some assets already finished before you ask others to join the project (especially if you are not paying them).

The reason we struggled during early development was because we didn’t have the necessary talent to create model assets on our core team. It is tough to get people who have no connection to you or the project to continue working for free – so having game progress and assets to keep the newcomers interested is essential.

When deciding on core members, you need to find people who know you, have a reason to work with you, and share a common interest. They can be close friends – like RedOwl was, or someone you met previously online through a common interest, like Timmon was.”

“One important lesson learned that I think applies to all game development is that you need to have a core team of people you know, a basic game idea, and some assets already finished before you ask others to join the project (especially if you are not paying them)."

David (terra0nova)

Aero Empire is certainly hitting a rise of popularity. A refreshing change compared to early stages of development. Aerosphere Studios already seem confident to make a rough late 2010/ early 2011 release. With a unique art style and ideas still flowing, this seems to be very much a reality. “Aero Empire is now on an upswing of activity and interest, one that I expect to continue for a while.” David notes.

Getting into the game play aspect of the project, Aero Empire is a cross-genre project, incorporating aspects from role playing games, shooters, flight simulators, and real time strategy.

Although back story is being hammered out for details, the world of AE and major events have been decided. David describes the scene:

“Aero Empire is set in a world where the majority of the landmass lies below a thick layer of clouds called the “Twilisphere.” Scarce, tall mountains peak through the Twilisphere, creating what little landmass lies above. Below the Twilisphere, the climate is not earth-like, and cannot support life as we know it.

The Twilisphere is really a permanent artifact of the boundary between the two different climates of the planet – the alien one below, and the earth-like one above. Because of this, the Twilisphere is perpetually turbulent and stormy, with frequent lighting strikes. Venturing into the Twilisphere is akin to committing suicide; even if you survive the Twilisphere itself, the inhabitable climate below would kill a person in a matter of minutes.

In this world, all human life evolved on the tops of mountains above the Twilisphere. Tribes formed on the different mountaintops, isolated and without knowledge or concern for the other tribes. Even as the first airships were developed, and travel between mountains became possible, the difficulty of travel kept interactions between the nations to a minimum.

However, this all changed with the invention of the steam engine, which facilitated air travel and allowed the nations to expand and interact with each other. A great war broke out, almost resulting in complete domination by the nation that first militarized the steam engine and put it to use on airships. The game takes place 100 years later, where the world is once again on the brink of war, locked in a power struggle.

The game play of Aero Empire, as mentioned above, is multi-staged, based upon one’s role in the military.

The lowest stage is Gunner, where you fly aboard an airship (commanded by a captain) and aim and fire at incoming enemy vessels. This stage is similar to a first person shooter. The next stage is Pilot, where you pilot a gyro, which is analogous to a fighter plane which launches from carrier airships. This stage is similar to a flight simulator.

The next stage is Captain, where you pilot an airship, trying to align the airship’s broadside with the enemy vessel to fire cannons, and giving orders to Gunners and Pilots working aboard your airship. This stage is a cross between a flight simulator and a real time strategy (RTS). The next two stages are RTS-like stages, where you command numerous airships and larger fleet battles.

The final stage is Admiral, where you get control of the entire nation. This includes control of all armies, planning of missions, and managing resources. While this seems a daunting task, your subordinates will do a lot of the work for you, and you only have to manage and direct them.”
One interesting built-in feature of the game is the ability to become an admiral/leader of a nation by performing a successful coup d’état or rebellion.

If you gain enough followers (through dialog and proving your ability), you can start your own nation even without relying on the help of story events (which could put you in charge of a nation through plot devices).”, Explains David, “In the single player version of the game, all other characters (subordinates, coworkers, superiors, leaders of nations, etc) will be NPCs with their own AI and personality.

“One interesting built-in feature of the game is the ability to become an admiral/leader of a nation by performing a successful coup d’état or rebellion."

David (terra0nova)

The NPCs will pursue their own goals, interact with the player, and create a dynamic world for the player to play in. In the multiplayer version, large groups of players online can join one world and interact with each other and the NPCs in that world.

You could become the commander of your friends and other players, or the subordinate who has to listen to the orders of other players. But both NPCs and players get to decide for themselves whether to obey the orders given or not. They can even leave for another nation or perform a coup d’état or rebellion to start their own nation. There are consequences to these decisions (being fired from your post or banished from your nation), but they are available options nonetheless.”

Aero Empire obviously will have many more difficulties to overcome, but the perseverance of the team has proven successful so far.

The team at Aerosphere Studios has put a lot of time into the artistic style. A successful artistic style doesn’t always mean a great indie project, but no doubt AE is an ambitious project with a lot going for it.

We hope to see this ‘rising star’ to make a name for itself, and if all goes well, no later than late 2010.

Ryswick17 - - 416 comments

sounds awesome

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blackmodeler - - 1,015 comments

somewhat ambitious but i'm sure these guys can pull it off. so far their stuff has been amazing ^_^

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CloudAge - - 122 comments

Keep it up guys! ^_^

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vfn4i83 - - 692 comments

nice features, makes me even more curius about that game

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awesomepossum - - 997 comments

Nice sneak peak article ninjadave! And excellent work by the dev team, I am quite interested in see how this game develops.

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SinKing - - 3,119 comments

I like the art-direction, color scheme and generally bright atmosphere of this game. I hope there will be some dynamic wheather, because even the mighty Spanish Armada could be slain under certain circumstances; some ships could perform better, depending on wind and altitude.

It's really a shame I have so little time, but knowing ones priorities is important. However, many wonderful things could be done with this game and I see much of what I would want already in development! Keep it up, great work!

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terra0nova - - 178 comments

Dynamic weather is definitely planned - in fact, it's one of the next things on my to do list. Some weather effects will reduce visibility like rain and fog, and some weather effects will be dangerous (and visually stunning), like lightning. Also, the game engine already has wind currents generated for each scene, and while they are invisible, using them to your advantage to gain speed and impede enemy motion will indeed be a large advantage in game. Different ships have different engines and shapes, which will affect how easily they can fight the wind and brave the storms.

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Dragonlord - - 1,934 comments

Oh god... hearing that (painful) story of getting team members, vanishing modeler and ending up with the same core team as you started out before is so familiar it hurts. Wishing you good luck with the project and especially more luck than I had ( as I have no real life friends interest in games, just computer science, and that's not enough ;) )

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terra0nova - - 178 comments

Getting people to stick with the project when you've never met is indeed a challenge - and one we struggled with. However, even if you don't have real life friends who are interested in games, people you've talked to online and got to know well (before starting the project, so it's not just a business relationship) also tend to be dedicated and stick with you. If you can make it past the first hurdle of getting enough assets to to attract the attention of others, then getting help is easier and the game will progress faster (until you get to the second and final major hurdle in game development - the last 10%).

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Robok - - 150 comments

Holy crap, this sounds awesome, wish you guys good luck and hope you can make it through ;D

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Squeebo - - 388 comments

Looking forward to this.

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Godsend024 - - 35 comments

A fantastic looking game, absolutely amazing. I hope this works. I'd love to play it, and I'd definitely buy the game!

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spellman23 - - 127 comments

Wow, sounds really interesting.

I hope it doesn't flop around like Spore did. Give us time and good game development in each genre period!

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cobalt01 - - 16 comments

Thanks spellman; I too always dislike games that never know quite what they're trying to do. We're really working on making each section meaningful, and one thing that might help is the fact that we're really trying to incorporate a dynamic storyline into each stage of the game, so that, hopefully, everything you do feels meaningful.

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DuckSauce - - 969 comments

I like the
Gunner>Pilot>Captain thing.

Not much for managing stuff though :D but the stages thing sounds fun.
Keep it up!

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vp21ct - - 84 comments

Just one question, With the whole Twilisphere thing, will we be able to pull off moves like, I don't know, Kirk vs Khan.

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terra0nova - - 178 comments

You will have to elaborate, as I'm not very familiar with the original star trek movies. However, basically, the Twilisphere is very turbulent, it won't instantly destroy you upon entering, but no ship can last long in the Twilisphere, and the deeper you get, the more dangerous it becomes.

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DaveTheFreak - - 994 comments

Great news, seems like you really know what you want.
The game-idea itself is a good one, never heared of something like this before. So I just look forward to it!
But just one thing: you said also, it's kind of an rpg. But what is rpg about it? The dialogues between the player and npcs? Quests? Or even Skill and Talents?

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terra0nova - - 178 comments

The RPG qualities of this game is that you role play as a single character throughout the game. You can talk to NPC's, gain followers and money (and buy your own personal army), accept quests and missions - all RPG-like elements. There are no skill trees or talents, however. You "skill" is determined entirely by your actual skill at the various stages of the game. In a sense, "levels" are the stages, and when you do enough missions, you can "level up" and get promoted to a new stage.

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Darthlex - - 1,050 comments

If i may suggest something .. You have a great idea in making skills be depending on .. well .. skills! - I'm a long-time addict to Y!PP, a Pirate MMORPG, and they have a few great assets, one of these being the way "ranks" work

Basically, it's a system, that in your info page, shows your Rank (how good you are at it) going from Able, Distinguished, Respected, Master, Renowned, Grand-Master, Legendary and Ultimate

And your experience with it: How much you played it, going from: Novice, Apprentice, Narrow, Broad, Solid, Weighty .. I honestly can't remember them all at the moment ..

But, it would be an awesome thing to add, without being too much of a problem .. The more you play whichever kind, Admiral .. Gunner, whatever, the more "experienced" you get .. and people then know, that you are definately a worthwhile leader/gunner, to work for/with, cause you know your way around!

On the other hand, they also know from your "stat" being "able-distinguised" (find some new words if ya please) while having a big amount of exp, just shows you have no idea what you are doing.

- I'm extremely interested in the way this Indie is going .. And i wish i could help out somehow .. Maybe once you feel like doing beta's for trial and error, if you ever do that, 'cause i doubt you need a writer =P

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terra0nova - - 178 comments

A record of how well the player has done, and how many times they have played a certain stage could be very useful - especially for the multiplayer stage. Just as a player can browse an NPC's past accomplishments and skills when deciding whether to hire or not, they should also be able to look at a player's previous accomplishments (turned the tides of a hopeless battle, etc).

And while we're still fairly early in development, we will definitely need beta testers eventually - so you can certainly help with that (we already have a dedicated writer - although we may bring on support writers to work on subplots and such later if you are interested in that).

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tschery - - 179 comments

Thanks to everybody and I think we surely will be able to keep this project up and finish it later on.

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Hendrix - - 806 comments

looks pretty good guys, good luck!

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DOLBYdigital - - 623 comments

Like the concept and it sounds like you guys are passionate and motivated to get it done :)

My only suggestion would be to have 'levels' built into each 'stage'. So the gamer can build up in one stage or just move up to the next stage.
The reason is because each player will probably like one 'stage' over another 'stage'. So instead of forcing them to move up to the admiral stage, why not have levels in each stage. So for example, you can become the top ace gunner or ace pilot if you really like those stages and play them a lot. Or you can just move up to the next stage in the line. Just my goofy little idea ;)

Otherwise this sounds great and look forward to the next update :)

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terra0nova - - 178 comments

Promotions are optional - you don't have to accept a promotion if you want to stay in your current stage. Within a single stage, you can receive upgraded equipment and receive posts on more prestigious airships in the nation's military. For example, if you want to be the ace pilot, instead of getting promotions, you can request to fly an experimental gyro, get transferred to the nation's flagship, and become the leader of a wing of gyros which follow you in formation.

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SlyFlySpyGuy - - 548 comments

Definatley looking forwards to this game...

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Mobius89 - - 438 comments

I totally agree with David (terra0nova). His quotes from the article are a very good way, IMO, to describe how modding teams really work.

In the past three years, I dealt with the classic "new" team members who start working with you on a project... only to disappear after a while. I learned that dedicated and well known team mates are much more reliable.

It's sad, however, that most players don't know how hard is to run a mod with dedication. Modders don't get money and apparently have no reason to spend time working on a project... but, nevertheless, we still manage to get the job done.

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Timmon26 - - 19 comments

So true...
Before I got into game development I never considered the amount of work that goes into it. Now every time I play a video game I get distracted by the textures and animations and wonder about the guy who spent hours getting them to look just right.

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Kyross - - 4 comments

Good ******' job guys. I see a lot of progress has been made in the past month and a half, it was a real kick in the pants to see an article on the game in the newsletter. Can't wait to get back into the fray.

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Kenlikefire - - 7 comments

Pope, U are freaking amazing! I cant wait for this!

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