Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

I joined Bandai Namco Studios for another project, but as luck has it, I was assigned to AC7. How fortunate!

Primary role: Senior Level Designer
Helped to design, implement and iterate three missions in total: two from main campaign and one VR mission. More details below.

Each level started with meticulous planning to ensure the gameplay is engaging and immersive while still fits the narrative of the game. Among others:

  • level overview
  • beat sheet
  • detailed minute by minute sequence of events
    • ally and enemy configuration and formations
    • locations of objectives, spawn points, enemies
    • detailed dialogue lines to be triggered based on timing or specific event
  • papermaps
Sketches and storyboarding were heavily used to help illustrating my design intention.

The next step was to implement the playable prototype. Unreal Engine 4 was used for rapid prototyping by combination of Blueprint scripting and close collaboration with programmer team.

What seemed great on paper, might be totally off the target once it is implemented. So, countless iteration and playtests were unavoidable, in fact, that’s the way it should be. Game design is a collusion between science and art. There are plenty of subjectivity as there are logical and rational decisions to be made.

I had a great time working together with talented team of programmers, artists and project managers, both from Singapore and Tokyo. It was intense, tons of discussions, even arguments and compromises, but we all knew each of us just wanted the very best for the game. Wonderful time.

Stonehenge Defensive (Mission 12)
Challenging mission to design and implement, as there are a lot of permutations of how the player would approach the mission. Enemies appear in waves and come from various directions. In the end, the battle with unmanned Aerial Arsenal Ship and swarm of autonomous drones were quite tough to pull off, but fun to work on. We needed to find the delicate balance where it is exciting, but not frustrating.

Cape Rainy Assault (Mission 14)
Very challenging mission to work on as it started with a night canyon run which required careful placement of enemy’s searchlights to make it highly intense yet not impossible to play. The main course was an enemy airbase, it feels like a buffet with all of the ground targets for the player to destroy. It is delicate balance, still, to encourage player to think ahead and plan the right loadout for their plane’s ammunition.

I still have nightmares of blinding searchlights hitting my cockpit canopy after all those hours playtesting the level.

Operation Sentry’s Brunt (VR Mission 03)
Arguably one of the most exciting level I’ve ever worked on, solely for the fact that it was entirely playable on VR! The mission itself was great as the enemies were unmanned aircrafts and ended with crazy showdown against stealth planes. Dizzying maneuvers in and out of the cloud to dodge and find out the bogeys (in VR!). Admittedly the heavy liftings were done by the programmers, but level designers still had to find out the right variables to set for the enemies spawn location, how many, what are height and distance limits, number of possible maneuvers that the enemy planes can do, in what condition, where and when.

Thank you for the opportunity, Bandai Namco Studios!

Closing credits