Starfighter Inc., said to be the spiritual successor to X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter (1997), is one of the most interesting space combat simulation projects currently in development. Recently relaunched on Kickstarter, developers Impeller Studios’ new crowdfunding campaign has a smaller goal but much more to show.

Impeller Studios formed in 2013, launching their initial Kickstarter campaign for Starfighter Inc. in 2015, looking to raise $250,000 to assist the development process. Unfortunately, the campaign failed to reach its goal, stopping just 10% shy of the required funds. The team had already committed to completing the project, so development continued as promised, and now the project is back on Kickstarter, with a modest $150,000 goal, and a “stronger, clearer, and more detailed vision”. This time, the campaign’s path to success looks much more likely; with a healthy 21 days remaining, the project is nearing the halfway point of its fundraising goal.

Starfighter Inc. Kickstarter

The renewed appetite for space-based cockpit games over recent years has been partly fuelled by the resurgence of virtual reality technology, demonstrated by the success of Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen, and EVE: Valkyrie (2016). But Starfighter Inc. intends to tread a unique path, aiming to be the most realistic space combat simulation ever created.

Set in the year 2230, every piece of future technology has been imagined and extrapolated from a logical, engineering perspective, meaning “no stealth, no artificial gravity, no force fields, no FTL drives,” according project designer David Wessman, in an interview with The Escapist. Involved with all four iconic X-Wing games, Wessman leads a team of industry veterans at Impeller, alongside Jack Mamais, lead designer on Crysis (2007).

“Pure, unadulterated tactical simulation combat” is how Starfighter Inc. is described by the studio, with its gameplay focused around real Newtonian physics and heavy component damage simulation. The game aims to be more realistic than Star Citizen or Elite Dangerous, yet its PvP multiplayer space warfare centres around dogfighting, something that would be far more approachable with arcade-style physics, as found in EVE: Valkyrie. A brave combination, one that could be overly intimidating for the casual gamer, but Impeller’s hard science objectives are set in stone.

“All the game rules are based around hard science fiction, we’re not going to cater to a mass market, we’re going for a specific type of game”, insisted Mamais in a 2015 developer Q&A session. “When you finish our playing game, I think you’ll be able to really fly a ship in space, let’s put it that way.”

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Perhaps it will ultimately pay off, as virtual reality and simulation go hand in hand; experiencing realistic physics while using a VR headset intrinsically feels correct, so there’s no doubt that VR will be the recommended way to play the game. VR support is comprehensive, covering all the major PC hardware – the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and OSVR. Whether the unforgiving combat systems, frictionless flight model and dedication to hard science consolidate into a compelling product remains to be seen, but Impeller Studios’ boundless enthusiasm suggests they’re onto something they believe in deeply.

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  • victor

    glad to see a space game (or any game for that matter)l be built from the ground up specifically for VR!!

    • Jerald Doerr

      I didn’t here them say a single thing about VR.. maybe I missed it.

      • victor

        uhhhh the TITLE?!

        • Jerald Doerr

          Come on dude… I’m not that dumb… but if you watch the “Video”. It’s just another game I that supports VR.. it’s not built from the ground up for VR only…

          • victor

            No offence intended, you had just stated that not a single thing about VR was mentioned, when in fact even the title mentioned it as headline. However, you may be right that in fact it may just have VR support but not actually be built from the ground up for VR.

      • Caven

        The Kickstarter campaign (which is linked in the article) explicitly promises “full VR support”, and the final paragraph of this article acknowledges that the game will be supporting all three of the major PC VR platforms.

  • VirtualBro

    I don’t understand how you could have dogfighting in space with realistic physics

    The speeds, distances, and amounts of energy don’t really leave any room for human reaction times

    • PK

      exactly! but if they can do it i’d probably enjoy it, i love what they’re saying but instantly i was hearing explosions in the distance, from inside the ship. realistic audio is a big part of any experience and if you’re just going to paste it on as if there’s an atmosphere outside, you lose me. all non-written science fiction other than 2001 seems to feel the need to at least include muffled audio from the vacuum of space. it’s really frustrating.

      • PK

        at the same time i get that many will find it boring if it’s too quiet, it’s a compromise they all make. just don’t swear up and down this is real.

        • Flynn Pierce

          I liked the way Shattered Horizon handled this. In-universe, the audio was generated by a simulation of the battle, via your suit’s HUD. If you went into “silent running” mode it would disable most of the HUD, along with the sound, in return for being invisible to the enemy’s HUD. All you heard was your breathing and any sound transmitted through the suit.

          • PK

            haven’t played it, sounds promising. a show like The Expanse has sound in space, but muffles it, that’s their compromise. i don’t like it but it’s something. some have explained away space sounds as simulations for people so they know what’s going on, but that explanation is way too much of a ridiculous copout. however if it was optional, then i could live with it, they could say we have reality and also we have this feature to liven up the world and give more feedback.

          • Zach El-Hajj

            Flynn Pierce is dead on the mark; if you’re seeing or hearing something you shouldn’t (for instance, lasers should be invisible in space, and explosion flashes don’t last nearly as long as is shown), it’s your Decision Support System creating a simulation to increase your combat awareness. The DSS is a system just like any other and so can be disabled: you can turn it off, or an enemy could damage it, hack it, or knock it out via an EMP. In this case there will be no external sound, just what you could hear transmitted from within the material of your ship – your breathing, propellant pumps, sliding of your weapons due to rotation, etc. You can disable that too, but that’s more for the player’s sake, rather than in-game justified. Some people get really annoyed by the sound of breathing.

          • PK

            well that’s better, i do wish that film and game designers would dispense with implausible compromises of this nature, at least i don’t believe this is what it’s going to come to but hey i could be wrong. i didn’t like hearing space sounds instantly in a supposedly hard science effort, but everything you guys said i believe in a hundred percent. looking forward to playing this!

          • This could be handled by some sort of biometric accessory? I’m sure your own breathing would be far less annoying as well as more immersive if you could hear it quicken after dogfights etc. I love it in films like 2001, but some canned breathing in VR is just going to be confusing. I’m keen to see more about this game, cheers!

          • Zach El-Hajj

            Shattered Horizon is a huge inspiration for our audio designers. ;)

    • Zach El-Hajj

      Hi! I’m Zach El-Hajj, technical designer and engineer on Starfighter Inc. We dealt with this in one of our updates (here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/impellerstudios/starfighter-inc-0/posts/1835240 ) if you want the details, but here’s a hugely summarized version. The reasons you’re fighting so up close are:
      a) You’re typically fighting around targets.
      b) It gets much harder to aim at distance, since your projectiles take a while to travel by which point your target has moved, and lasers that can hit semi-instantaneously can’t focus that far.
      c) Weapons that can reliably hit at distance are probably too big to fit on a starfighter and require a capital ship to field. As for why you don’t use capital ships…
      d) In a world with ubiquitous nukes, a starfighter can potentially take out a capital ship with a single blow; on the other hand, you could build a thousand starfighters for the same cost, which can be dispersed to require a thousand missiles, and it’s more likely you can afford to lose a few of those.
      e) This universe is not in open war, so a dedicated capital warship is overkill for most situations, and moreover, could cause political panic by implying a war is imminent. A starfighter skirmish is much easier to explain.

      As for why you’re using manned fighters instead of long ranged missiles or drones:
      a) The longer a missile has to travel to its target, the less likely it is to make it, between the target’s ability to evade (if it’s far enough, it can simply run long enough to burn out the missile – and ships can afford more expensive fuel efficient drives than missiles), shoot down or disable it.
      b) Our fighters don’t have life support, the pilots rely on their suits during skirmishes, plus the corps that built the fighters don’t care very much about human life, both of which (slightly) reduce the difference (mostly in cost) between manned and unmanned ships.
      c) There’s a lot of hacking and EMP weaponry in use which could disable entirely electronic platforms, where a manned fighter could keep on fighting or, at the very least, use its pilot as a failsafe.

      Hope that answers your question!

      • NullReference

        I liked the relatively low tech in BSG because of the vulnerability of comms tech to Cylon hacking.

  • Gamevid4

    Thanks for posting this. I did not know about it and just backed it. VR support one of the main reasons.

  • Hmm, Talking up the X-Wing pedigree of the Dev team then making a game the complete opposite of X-Wing in terms of handling and experience. I personally think we really need is a modern VR Descent Freespace or X-Wing/Tie-Figther with A+ Single player campaign and Fun dog fighting mechanics and a good amount of systems modelling. I’m still not sold on this…

  • towblerone

    Are there any VR-related websites out there that focus on PC-VR only?