Aloft Dev Log 1, Why Airships?
I had planned to write about some more technical things, but I'm a little strapped for time this week so I thought I might talk about what inspired me to make a game about airships.
Airships are COOL
Any of my friends will tell you, with a weary expression, that I think airships are very cool. I also think it's pretty obvious that lots of other people thinks airships are cool - for a type of aircraft that went almost completely extinct over half a century ago, airships are all over the place in video games: The Order 1886 had an entire level set on a fantastically detailed airship; Batman Arkham Knight features airships over Gotham linked to side quests; in Bioshock Infinite the entire city of Columbia not only features loads of airships but is inspired by a (broken) version of the futurism/utopianism that existed around flight, and airships in particular, in that time period (see H.G. Wells "The War in the Air" and "The World Set Free"). Now it could reasonably be argued these games feature airships because it is suitable for their setting, but what about the multitude of other games that feature them for really no apparent reason - Final Fantasy has fantasical airship throughout, Just Cause has a big airship casino, GTA V has a fully working not-Goodyear blimp you can fly around the city in, one of the more popular mods for Skyrim adds an airship house, Fallout has had airships in the past and looks like it will again in 4; they even appear as background dressing in Viva Pinata, which has about as little to do with airships as it is possible to get.
I've belaboured the point here but I think it's pretty obvious people are desperate to include airships in their creations, regardless of setting or suitability, simply because they are almost intrinsically cool. And if I am going to make a game about something, it might as well be something COOL.
Airships are INTERESTING
So people like airships, but conversely people don't really know much about them - at all. This is hardly unexpected for a form of transportation that was only every produced in the low hundreds, operated for the most part decades ago and by crews who have now sadly mostly passed away. Fortunately there are still good sources of information about airship flight and operations, mostly in out of print books and a few online resources such as The Airship Heritige Trust. A bit of digging turns up lots of interesting information, both on the technical sides of airship flight and on the human side too - how about this chap who stowed away on one of the first transatlantic airship crossings and was almost chucked out over Ireland? Or that the first British rigid airship snapped in half before ever flying in a farcical episode dubbed "The work of an idiot" by an Admiral viewing the aftermath? Or that the foundation of the company that would build the famous Zeppelins rested on what was essentially a crowd funding campaign to get started?
Aside from factoids about airship history, the mechanical (in game terms) details of airship flight are much more involved than most people realise. Once an airship is off the ground, it isn't just a case of flying in a straight line towards their destination. Being a giant bag of gas means airships are very sensitive to weather, and must navigate weather systems in much the same way that ships do at sea - for example, airships can take advantage of the prevailing winds that circles a low pressure weather system in order to boost themselves to their target; or they can use cloud cover to hide themselves from the direct heat of the sun, that might otherwise overheat their lifting gas.
I'm convinced there is more than enough detail to make airship flight itself a really compelling adventure and, importantly, that it can be presented in a way that is accessible but very deep - where people can compare notes about the best way to build their airship or the best way to navigate a storm and while doing so learn INTERESTING things simply by engaging with the mechanics of the game.