In Impeller Studios’ Starfighter Inc., space warfare isn’t just the stuff of movie magic– it’s a take on space warfare that enters the realm of hard science fiction. Lead designer David Wessman, a developer from the Stars Wars: X-Wing series, has envisioned a hardcore space shooter that puts its respect to science first and foremost. Starfighter Inc. presents you with space, the final frontier, unlike any other game that’s come before.

At PAX East, we had the chance to sit down with David Wessman and try the game. The game is available with VR support, but we only had the chance to try the game with mouse and keyboard controls.

The Concept

Starfighter Inc. is a team-based PvP multiplayer space shooter. Players are mercenaries, who align with different competing mercenary companies. At the game’s core, you’ll sortie in space battles against rival companies, trying to blow up the other team’s ships and their base. There’s an enormous selection of spaceships at your disposal, whether you choose to pilot a smaller recon ship or a multi-seat gunship. Each ship has different advantages and handling that you’ll need to take note of.

The draw of Starfighter Inc. is its intense realism. Starfighter Inc. nails the realism in every aspect of the game: gameplay design, visuals, and the game’s core physics. To David Wessman, respecting the science is number one. “I love imagining a future that I can believe in,” he chimed.

Wessman wants to push our imagination from what we’ve previously seen in space warfare. He’s known for his work in the X-Wing games, but he believes he can move the space shooter genre further. Space warfare, as we see in the X-Wing series, “isn’t real.” As he described it, it’s “World War II physics in outer space.” By incorporating Newtonian physics and six degrees of motion, players will find that moving around in space is tougher than it looks.

Wessman was particularly proud of their chief spacecraft designer Zach Hajj, who has a background as an engineering student. When the team recruited him, his spaceship designs on the Atomic Rocket, a hardcore sci-fi website described as the team’s “bible,” were very well received. Hajj has brought realistically and practically designed, but wildly imaginative ships to life. With Hajj on board, the team even reworked a number of their early ships with some of his advice. “You’ll see ship designs like nothing else; like nothing else in any other game,” Wessman said.

Hands-on with Starfighter Inc.

Immediately, when we were dropped into the game’s hangar, we got our first taste of the game’s unique motion. You’ll start to catch on with the game’s detailed Newtonian physics as soon as you’re given the chance to control your character. What does it mean to move in zero-G? How do you move forward, back, up, and down? How do you handle yourself with the apparent drift with such low gravity? And how do you handle yourself with the game’s axises to look and move around? Gamers will need to rethink their conceptions about how movement works, and to learn the game’s realistic sense of movement.

There’s no better display of the game’s realistic sense of physics than when you’re piloting a spacecraft in battle. You don’t just turn on a dime; in order to turn, you need to go through the proper movements while controlling the ship. You won’t see the kind of “swooping and banking” movements that you’ll see in the X-Wing games. “You thrust in a direction and you’re going to keep going until you thrust in another direction,” Wessman had stated.

Movement is Starfighter Inc.’s biggest learning curve. However, figuring it out is addictive and fascinating, rather than the janky or frustratingly difficult. Once you do get the knack of it, though, you will be able to pull off satisfying and visually dazzling skilled maneuvers in your ship. Wessman told me that one thing he does a lot is this: “I’ve got the nose of my ship pointed towards you and I do a little bit of roll. My ship is still going like this, and I set my shift to spin and I’m firing off missiles”

Once you do get that down, engaging the enemy is a joy. You’ll learn how to dodge your enemies’ laser weapons, homing missiles, and more, and then show off the skills to fight back and take them down.

But is it “too” hard?

Getting the knack of the controls is a tad difficult, for sure. You’ll find yourself possibly crashing into things when you first start, as some of the players did at Impeller Studio’s PAX East booth. However, it’s not unforgivingly hard or off-putting. Learning the controls was really cool, and in VR, I imagine that it’s a blast.

Starfighter Inc.’s appeal isn’t solely to a hardcore crowd. It’s really the experience that keeps you coming, especially in VR. According to Wessman, one of the biggest lessons he had learned while working on the X-Wing series was to make difficulty reasonable. “I’m a hardcore gamer, I love a challenge and put it [the game] on maximum difficulty,” he said. But after a run-in with hate mail in his time as a novice developer, he’s learned the importance of keeping difficulty reasonable in game design. He’s a firm believer that the game “should be accessible to everybody.” Naturally, that philosophy applies to Starfighter Inc. too.

What’s Next

The alpha build we played at the show is missing a number of features. You’ve got the core action and PvP gameplay, but there are some cool features we learned about at the show. One of them was the game’s reputation system.

Wessman suggested that the reputation system would allow other players to see your habits as a player. “You’re going to build a reputation,” he told me. “Are you a black hat? A biker gang, ruthless type? Or a white hat, a ‘No, I’m a good guy. They hired me to protect this convoy and I’m going to play by the rules,'” he stated.

There’s no release date just yet. For now, we’re still in the game’s alpha phase and a new Kickstarter has just gone live. We’re incredibly excited to see the game progress towards launch. For VR gamers looking for what could be one of VR’s most immersive gaming experiences, Starfighter Inc. shows strong promise. In one large step for its space shooter genre, Starfighter Inc. strides into the future with its presentation of space warfare in the realm of possibility.