“Hello, it’s Bong Jae Jung from iBong Creative. I am sending an email to introduce our secret project, or rather a final project that we are working on right now.
Many developers, small ones in particular, are closing down nowadays, and we are no different from them. In order to overcome this, two small developers - Grumpy and iBong - have united to make a game that major companies would be going for. It may be a reckless challenge, but the fact that we’re taking this on may be an accomplishment in itself.
We are working hard to make this project happen, with a group of 5 in a poor environment. We are trying to put forth our best effort within the given time and make a solid result.”
It was a simple email requesting an interview, but it was hardly a mere request considering what the writer has gone through and is going through right now. The mail was from Mr. Jung, who knocked on the door of Inven with a wooden sign around his neck which had the name of a game on it. He made and released unique games even in a poor environment, and we are well aware of the struggles he has faced in order to survive in this harsh gaming market.
Seeing the word “final” in his email made us think that he really is making one last title. It is probably because he is making this game as a last resort, but it surely is different from the games that he’s been making. The concept is more serious than previous titles. It’s quite difficult to imagine a small developer in South Korea making a game based on the dogfights of World War 2.
Two days after we received the email, we did an interview. They answered questions as developers who are making what they have always wanted to make. We met Bong Jae Jung and Sung Geol Shin, who are developing PlagueSky in a small office in Jamsil.
PlagueSky gameplay footage
Inven: Firstly, we were astonished. You’ve been making weird, no offense, rather distinct games such as “My Girlfriend Would Never Be A Gold Digger” and “Bear My Child”, and you are now making this game with a serious concept.
Jung Bong Jae (Mr. Jung): The initial planning was done by Mr. Shin. We, iBong and Grumpy, have always been small developers. Due to the size, we’ve been making small-sized games, and we felt that our mindset was becoming shallow as well. We then realized that it won’t be easy to break through in the market at this pace.
I’ve been thinking about a game that might be difficult for us but would surprise the world. Then, I had a chat with Mr. Shin early this year, and he suggested making this type of game, and that’s how we started it, around last July.
Inven: We heard that there are 5 members in the development team. How do you assign the roles?
Mr. Jung: Mr. Shin is dealing with the whole project and design. There’s one for planning, one for development, and I’m in charge of business and product management.
Inven: The graphics are better than we expected, what engine did you use?
Mr. Jung: We used Unreal Engine 4. It’s free to use, and we have to share the revenue when it hits more than 500,000 dollars of sales. We are more than happy to share it as long as it exceeds that amount. As our objective is to launch the game on Steam, it seemed better to use Unreal Engine in order to maximize the graphics quality.
Sung Geol Shin (Mr. Shin): It was my first time using the engine, and it wasn’t that difficult.
Mr. Jung: He’s a true master in graphics. He barely sleeps. With the scope of our project, he’s dealing with the amount of work that 10 people would do in a major company.
Mr. Shin: That’s a bit exaggerated (laugh). I’m not an expert in all aspects of graphics, although I do it comprehensively and that’s why he sees me that way.
Inven: Have you always had interest in the concept of World War 2 dogfights? It looks like you are putting everything you have in this game.
Mr. Shin: I watched the movie called Dunkirk, and it made me want to develop an aerial combat-themed game so much. I gave a call to Mr. Jung asking to make this and he agreed without hesitation, and here we are.
Mr. Jung: It was kind of surprising to me as well because I used to watch a documentary about fighters in the Pacific War on YouTube National Geographic Channel when I couldn’t sleep at night. I remember the scene with a Japanese Zero and American Hellcat fighting each other - A bullet shot by the Hellcat penetrated the Zero pilot’s head, and even though the American pilot could end the Zero for good, he didn’t finish it off as a way of acknowledging his good piloting skills and returned. However, the wound wasn’t severe enough to kill him, and he flew another 3 hours and managed to return to his motherland and survived. After a few decades since the war ended, the Zero pilot, who had become quite old, visits the American pilot.
Ever since watching that scene, I had this vague desire that I want to make a game like that, and Mr. Shin made that proposal to me. It almost felt like destiny (laugh).
Mr. Shin: The different fighters become more interesting as you learn more about them. I only knew the name of the British Spitfire before, and in Dunkirk they even took note of its small fuel capacity. German and British planes could only fly 600 km, whereas American and Japanese planes flew up to 3,000 km due to their large fuel capacity. The movie became more interesting after knowing these details, and I want to produce that same feeling in the game as well.
Inven: The controls themselves didn’t look too difficult judging by the footage. Are the controls more arcade-focused?
Mr. Shin: Yes, it is more arcade. We played many flight simulation games before starting to make the game, and the controls were extremely difficult. It’s almost to the point where you lose interest in playing even before you have some fun. The player’s accessibility to the game is more crucial than anything else from our perspective, so we decided to make the controls quite casual.
Inven: We saw a 360 degrees turn as well. Is there a special skill button for that?
Mr. Shin: Yes, a complete turn has a separate button. There’s also a separate button for a rapid turn, for example, it’s like “drifting” in racing games. They will help you escape from your enemies if you use them with the right timing, but they obviously require more fuel. There are pros and cons to doing it.
Inven: When Mr. Jung introduced PlagueSky for the first time, he mentioned that it has a Battle Royale dogfight concept. Can you please elaborate more on this system?
Mr. Shin: There’s a loot system just like any other Battle Royale games. Germany used a hot-air balloon during World War 2, and this inspired us. There are hot-air balloons with items across the whole map, and you can retrieve various items by capturing these. There are items that increase the turning speed, movement speed, attack damage, armor, and so on. There are also air drops from the sky, and these give additional health, bullets, and fuel.
Inven: The biggest feature of Battle Royale is the “restricted area”. How is it realized in the game?
Mr. Jung: It’s similar to the Battle Royale web games which were popular in the past. The area is set randomly as the time goes, and you get bombarded by anti-aircraft guns when you enter the area. The circular restricted area that becomes gradually smaller is also in the game. Ultimately, it is a system that forces only one player to survive.
Inven: How big is the map, and how many players can participate in one game?
Mr. Shin: The size is about 30 times bigger than that of the most viral Battle Royale game right now, but you won’t really feel it much as the fighters are pretty fast. It’s a speedy Battle Royale game.The number of players in one game will be around 40 at least. We’re still considering whether to make it 100 or not. As does involve aerial combat without any cover, the pacing of battle with 100 players will be quite different from what we expected in the beginning. Most players will just get shot down as soon as the game starts.
Inven: As you’ve already said, the concealment in ground warfare is a fundamental tactic of Battle Royale games. But, PlagueSky takes place in the air, and the surrounding environment is wide open, making strategic aspects less important. Is there any core feature that would change the tide of battle?
Mr. Shin: As the game takes place in an era where everyone fights with firearms, every weapon has its own ballistics. It’s not just that you shoot and expect it to hit the target some time later. The speed of projectile differs whether you shoot downward or upward. It is obviously more advantageous to shoot downward, so you need to raise your altitude, and this uses up so much fuel that it eventually decreases the speed of your fighter. All these features affect the battle. The game relies on the player’s control to a great extent.
Inven: When you think about games that need control, you often see a skilled player dominating other ordinary players. How will you handle this?
Mr. Shin: We did an AI test with some intelligent programs, and it’s extremely difficult to even escape from two fighters even if you are really good. Unlike an ordinary FPS, a fighter can’t shoot sideways while moving forward, so it can be very vulnerable to others who are aiming at me from behind or the side. This naturally makes the scale of battle a bit minor. Also, the cooldown of turning the fighter is set from 7 to 8 seconds for this purpose. We think that you will get shot down instantly no matter how skilled you are if you play recklessly.
Inven: What do you think is the ratio of luck and skill in PlagueSky?
Mr. Shin: Half and half, I guess. If you use up all of your weapons, you will soon fall regardless of how good you control the aircraft. Also, items are dropped randomly, so there’s a bit of luck as well. As it’s a dogfight theme game, it’s never easy to be on top of the leaderboard without any fights. You will need more skill than luck to get within the top 10.
Inven: How many fighters will be in the game at launch?
Mr. Jung: 4 in total, each from a different country - Germany, UK, USA, and Japan.
Inven: Did you manage to get licenses in order to have those fighters in the game?
Mr. Shin: The fighters we have in the game are the American “Mustang”, Japanese “Zero”, British “Spitfire”, and German “Messerschmitt”, and they have no particular license, even though they are really well-known subjects. I’m using them to the fullest right now. From my perspective, I feel like I’m using Super Mario for free (laugh).
Mr. Jung: Mr. Shin did intensive research on the features of each fighter, and is implementing them into the game with an artisan spirit. Players will truly be astonished. I was somewhat skeptical thinking if we should really add these tiny details, but that’s how detailed he wanted to make it (laugh).
Inven: Then, please tell us about the features of each fighter.
Mr. Shin: The American “Mustang” has a maximum speed of 704 km/h and cruising distance of 3,600 km. Although it is the best fighter in terms of speed and distance, it has the biggest roll angle. So its back can easily become exposed against a fighter with a smaller roll angle. It is, however, formidable in straight line fights. I recommend you use the Mustang if it’s difficult for you to calculate ballistics. Its armed with only 12.7 mm machine guns, making it easier for players to adapt to.
The British fighter is called the “Spitfire”, with a 604 km/h maximum speed, and 690 km cruising distance. The speed is not that great, and it has the lowest fuel capacity out of the 4 fighters. The roll angle, turning, and climb rate are all on an average level. You might think that this one is not very special, but it a loads 7.7 mm along with 20 mm cannon, allowing it to put up a fight against all types of enemy.
However, the 20 mm isn’t always good. Although the damage is formidable, the number of rounds is relatively low, and you need to consider its ballistics more than any others due to the size of the bullet. The flying and shooting speed of the projectile is a bit slower. It would be a sniper in a normal FPS.
The Japanese fighter is “Zero”. Although its maximum speed is only 550 km, the cruising distance is considerable with 3,000 km. The biggest merit is its rotation speed. It delivers the best performance at low altitudes thanks to this feature. Its armaments are the same with the British one - 7.7 mm and 20 mm. It’s a decent fighter for beginners along with the American one. Whereas the US plane is specialized in pursuit, Japanese fighters are strong for dogfights that require agile movement.
The German fighter is the “Messerschmitt”. The performance is almost the same as the Spitfire. The differences are the better climbing rate and converging fire, and slightly less power of traverse. Also, it can react quickly thanks to its small size, but the comprehensive power is less than the others. The reason why the British and German fighters are similar in scope of performance is that they were the main protagonists that always fought each other throughout history. The actual fighter experts also say that their performance is pretty much the same.
Inven: Which one do you prefer the most personally?
Mr. Shin: Spitfire. I’ve been in love with it since I watched Dunkirk (laugh). I was moved by the scene where it shot down the enemy fighter even when it had no fuel left. Also, I prefer to make a prediction shot, and Spitfire suits me well because of that.
Inven: The modes are crucial in a multiplayer fighting game like this. How many modes will be in the game at launch?
Mr. Jung: There will be two. As we mentioned before, the “Dogfight” mode that is very similar to the Battle Royale, and the “Munchkin” mode with unlimited ammunition and fuel will be in the game. You can play both modes as solo, duo, or squad, and rankings will be managed by each mode separately.
Inven: Do you have a plan to add a campaign mode by any chance?
Mr. Shin: We suppose that a tutorial will be good enough for single play. Players need to think about which one is the most suitable after all. You can’t change the fighter once you select one, as it’s bound by account.
Inven: What? You can’t change it later?
Mr. Shin: No, and we’ve thought about this extensively. During World War 2, a fighter pilot was greatly honored when he returned safely, and we wanted to give this feeling to players, and also wanted them to have an attachment to their aircraft.
Inven: But I’m concerned that there will be claims from players about the balance after the game is launched. For example, a player would say “The Messerschmitt in this game is too OP, and I can’t help but get owned every time because I selected a different fighter already.”
Mr. Shin: That’s why we are considering providing a one-time chance to change your fighter. The balance will obviously be adjusted continuously as we run the game. But, we would be diverging from our initial path if we gave players too many chances to change their fighter, so we would like to not go for it for now.
Inven: As it is a dogfight themed game, a VR version seems also possible.
Mr. Shin: Actually, we were making it as a VR game in the beginning. However, it easily made us lose interest as we played for a long time. The screen becomes shaky as you raise the altitude, and this causes extreme dizziness in VR. So we gave up on VR and altered our design to concentrate more on delivering the fun of a dogfight.
Inven: Please tell us the direction of future updates.
Mr. Shin: We are not thinking of adding more fighters for now. If we stick to the historical data, it becomes quite difficult to balance the game. For example, if we add Hellcat, the American aircraft in the late Pacific War, other fighters such as Zero won’t be able to do as much as before.
We consider battlegrounds crucial in our game. We are in progress of designing a city map where capturing vision is important, and a cloudy map. We believe that such tweaks will be able to balance the game to a considerable extent. Lootable items will also need to be adjusted and updated along the way.
Inven: So when will it be released?
Mr. Jung: First half of next year. We plan to release it in May, specifically. We internally determined the time that it takes to develop the network system to be 3 months, and we’ll get on testing right when it’s finished. Of course, there won’t be any major pre-tests such as CBT or OBT considering our circumstances. It will more likely be FGT.
Inven: As a multiplayer-based game, you must be concerned about building a solid networking server. In cases like this, we heard that it’s quite difficult to have one for a small developer.
Mr. Jung: Indeed it is hard. There’s a limit on our side, and we need more resources and personnel in order to complete PlagueSky. That’s why we are trying to publicize the game as much as we can, and find investors from the outside.
Inven: How about a crowdfunding?
Mr. Jung: We haven’t thought about that yet. We would like to inform the press about our game first and find major gaming companies or partners who are willing to offer cooperation. I’m sure there are some who may be interested in this project. Steam also ceased the Greenlight program and changed it to the direct distribution service. The system has made it much harder for small developers like us to be seen, and this is something that we can’t resolve ourselves. We desperately need support.
Inven: Which countries are the main targets of PlagueSky?
Mr. Shin: The UK, Germany, and France. I’m not sure if it’s because there are many veterans and their descendants in those countries, but they do have a lot of interest in this subject. I was watching War Thunder streaming on Twitch one day, and one grandpa was playing with a Spitfire, but he wasn’t that good. He persisted in playing with the same fighter even though he kept getting shot down, so I asked why he kept trying. He said, “This is what I piloted in World War 2.” (laugh) Then I realized, “Ah, this is it.”
Inven: How will you set up the business model. Is it going to be F2P or package?
Mr. Jung: It will be package.
Inven: Do you have any other platform aside Steam in mind?
Mr. Jung: If we become more financially stable and meet all conditions, why not? (laugh) We need to have support in order to expand the resources and personnel before anything else. We will meet as many related parties as possible during this month.
Inven: There was a phrase in the mail you sent to us that said this is your last resort. That would definitely mean that you are working really hard as if it’s a matter of life and death, but we also thought that it hints at the desperate environment of small indie games in South Korea. Please share your final word with us.
Mr. Jung: I established this company in 2014, and there were so many indie developers at the time. However, as the market started to become saturated and the trend was with major companies, small ones like us had a hard time surviving. It was harsh but real, and we thought that we would meet the same fate if we didn’t find a way out. This project was started for that purpose, and it may possibly be our last one.
Now is the coldest time - both with the weather and the atmosphere in the market. We are doing our best to overcome this. Like I mentioned before, we will meet as many people as possible, and we welcome any type of support. We’ve done numerous cooperation projects for the last 3 years. Although many have negative views towards cooperation, I personally think that I have my own ways and knowledge that can make it a success for both parties. If there’s anyone who’s interested in our game, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org.