Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Interview with Christopher Kassulke of HandyGames on Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron


For anyone who hasn't already read my review of the new vertically-scrolling shooter Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron I went from knowing next to nothing about it to a major fan in the span of the first 30 minutes. It is the first title released on the Switch by HandyGames and hopefully a strong indicator of what's to come! I was able to get some time from the company's Founder, and CEO, Christopher Kassulke to discuss the game, the industry, and their future plans for the platform.

Tradition demands that we start with the basics. What is your "elevator pitch" for Squadron?

CK: Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is a classic Shoot'em Up with a fantastic co-op Multiplayer mode for a very fair price which we released exclusively on Nintendo Switch. We believe that this game fills a gap for Shmup fans who want to enjoy something new with a crazy action, full voice over, and fantastic sound.


There was previously an Aces of the Luftwaffe, is the distinction of Squadron that it supports co-op gameplay for up to 4 people or were there other significant changes as well?

CK: Aces of the Luftwaffe is a game back from the days of Feature Phones. We later developed a new version for Smartphone which we also ported to PC and Consoles. Two years ago we started developing Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron as a sequel to that game around the time Nintendo started talking about the Switch. We totally fell in love with the Switch and we wanted to release this game first and exclusive on that platform as we saw a need for cool multiplayer action.

On Smartphones you cannot offer such an experience that you can and will play with up to four players offline. As we are no more limited to the Smartphone platform we could implement way more like total voice over which brings, for sure, something in the game you do not expect for that price point. Besides that we also implement completely new graphics. The layer system we use is totally new. In total it feels and plays totally different the the old version. If someone say it is just a port I can say they are complete wrong.

While my personal favorite vertically-scrolling shooter was 1943, what classic shooters would your team say they derived inspiration for in making the game?

CK: I think we all grew up with good shooters like Galaga, Gradius, Star Goose, R-Type, and 1943 but the key for us was not to have another one we wanted to bring back the experience to play together. The best experience for a lot of gamers were the times when you played a game together with friends, families and worked together to beat a hard game. The current games we see are so easy with no challenges anymore. In Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron you will fail, you will fail a lot and you will still have the "just one more time" or "just one more level" feeling. We really invested and we will still invest a lot of money in the game itself.


What impresses me most with the game is its variety. Rather than simply throwing waves of fighters at you, pretty well every level has a variation to keep things interesting whether it is one of squad members having issues, the type of mission you're engaged in, or a combination of both at times. I take it this was a central goal from the design phase?

CK: You are one of the few editors who realized the small details. We wanted to tell a story and implement different kind of side missions. My favorite ones are to protect the planes with refugees, rescue soldiers, sneak thru the night without getting spotted, or when you have to support your troops on the ground. The issues with the characters was a crazy idea from our game designer and you will like it by playing multiplayer as you will protect your comrades or be happy when your wingmen gets crazy and kill every enemy by no damage so the hinderance can be a plus sometimes.

An element that throws additional variety into the mix is the upgrade system. There are far more upgrades than you're likely ever going to be able to amass credit for (unless you're simply playing the game past beating it to try to do precisely that). I take it this was also a design goal, to force people into making some decisions on whether to go with offense, defense, buffs, etc?

CK: You can change your skills during the game of course and again it is about team play. If you think you only have to upgrade the main character it will not be good at all. You have to push your team in total thats why you are the Squadron. For example the repair skills are extremely important as this will save you a lot of extra lifes in the end. We're planning some additional DLC in the future as well and I am sure you will love what else will come.


I really like that as you go we along you're able to unlock new aircraft and then change up which fighters in your group, and are even able to assign 2 members to the same craft. This adds yet another layer of customization and choice. Even having beaten the game I still haven't unlocked 2 of the craft though, what must I do to get it all?!?

CK: The different Airplanes have different skills so you need to find out how to use them best or partly change the Planes after a Mission to beat an Ace even easier. How to get them all? Do you think I will tell you this? Never! Find it out and share it if you want ;)

The art design and voice acting in the game really help to give all of the characters a sense of personality, but then with the bosses their ships are also all very unique. What was the process your creative team went through to try to ensure everything would have its own signature look and feel?

CK: Developing games is fun! The team came up with the ideas, of course, and the first Boss fight is what you expect but later when you play against the Lokführer or the Captain you will say "WTF!" and when you hear them talking you will have a big smile on your face. Ok, perhaps the team had too much beer as well ;) For example we did all the voice recording in-house and it was extreme funny. Even I had a role in the game and it was damn frustrating for me to fly against "my" boss several times and it took me over two hours to beat him. ;)


If Squadron finds success on the Switch would you say there's a possibility of them taking to the air again? As is noted as you finish the campaign evil never dies... From the looks of your company's overall catalog you've got a lot going on in a variety of directions including mobile, the other consoles, and even some VR. What has drawn your attention to the Switch specifically?

CK: The evil never die sounds like the story goes on. We believe the game is a console game so perhaps we will bring it to other consoles or even the PC later. Will mobile be an option? Not as it is for sure as multiplayer will not work like that. The game is too big the game is a premium game and on mobile everyone expect F2P games... So lets see what will come next.

In terms of structure are you more a publisher or a development company or a strong combination of both?

CK: We are one of the biggest Indies out there. We develop our own games internally with our own money and publish them on our own. HandyGames is 18 yrs old that's a lot and if we would develop bad games we would not be around anymore!

With the developers you deal with what would you say is the buzz on Switch specifically and do you see a lot of them trying to shift to developing on the platform over others?

CK: You have to develop games that fit on each platform. We believe the Switch have potential and specific genres are still missing content there. EA announced they will no longer invest in the Switch. In my opinion thats a failure. But using games from PC or other consoles and squeeze them into the Switch is harder. For us it is awesome as our core platform was mobile before and now we have more freedom and we can build stuff we could not before. The Switch is a new platform so it is the new Wild Wild West. Some devs think its a new Goldrush but every new platform is a long-term investment. Developing a game like Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron cost a lot.


Recent announcements are showing you all making a substantial investment in moving games to the Switch in the next year from a variety of genres. Do you have any that are coming soon you wanted to give a little extra info on?

CK: We announced we will bring some of our brands and IPs over to the Switch. Saying that some religious anti-mobile guys think we will do a dirty quick and easy port. I can tell you this will not happen as it will not work. Our next release will be Townsmen for the Nintendo Switch and this is a great building up strategy game. We are currently implementing a completely new UI, new HD graphics, and a lot of feature changes so the game fit to the Switch perfectly. We also do not plan to release any AAA games or charge 60 bucks for it but we want to develop awesome and funny games that players can enjoy on this very unique platform and as we announced we love to bring co-op multiplayer to the platform.

I wanted to thank Christopher for his time, his thoughts, and his candor. Aces of the Luftwaffe Squadron is currently available in the Nintendo Switch eShop and is highly recommended if you love classic shooters. Be on the lookout for more from HandyGames as well in the future!

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