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The weird case of Piloteer, the jetpack game that predates the Rocketeer reboot

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Jetpacks for all!

"It’s funny, I saw the movie years and years ago when it came out, but I don’t even remember much about it at all," developer Whitaker Trebella told Polygon when asked about the connection between his game Piloteer and the Disney film The Rocketeer, about the hero with the jetpack.

The title is a bit reminiscent of Disney's film, but Trebella was aiming for more steampunk than art deco when it came to the game's visuals, and the game is ultimately about proving that jetpacks are cool rather than being a superhero.

"In Piloteer, a whimsical and serenely challenging physics-based game about learning to fly, a renowned inventor is determined to overcome the stigma associated with flying a jetpack and convince the world that jetpacks should be revered by all," the Steam page states. "Blending elements of both physics and trick-based games, players will need to maneuver their state-of-the-art jetpack through the skies while completing a myriad of increasingly difficult missions to change public perceptions."

But the name bearing a slight similarity to Disney's film isn't a coincidence. The other thing the Disney's upcoming Rocketeer reboot and the game have in common? The hero is a black woman.

Avoiding the obvious choice

Trebella started working on the game in 2014, and the prototype was just a cube with a little jetpack attached and pointed down. He was experimenting with the mechanic, moving the cube with the jetpack and getting a sense of how it should control.

"I got far enough along that I wanted this to be a character now, and there are a million games with white guys, so why would I do that?" he told Polygon. "I was originally planning on that because it’s easy to just do what you’re used to and what you are. But I thought let’s do something different. That’s why I went with a black woman."

He said that his decision didn't seem to be controversial, although a few players did take issue with having their race and gender be assigned for them.

"The only thing I saw was some comments in the App Store and a couple emails, there was one ridiculous comment that said something like the game was sexist because I can’t be a man," Trebella explained. "I think I ended up replying to ask if they had played any other video games. That was the push back, some people didn’t like that I had assigned basically a specific gender and race and things like that. They argued that there has to be choices, that you have to be able to choose your gender and skin color."

The similarity in heroes is how he heard about the reboot, in fact. "I hadn’t heard the news of The Rocketeer reboot until people tweeted at me about Piloteer. It’s possible of course that maybe someone at Disney played the game and thought of it, but the more likely thing and more hopeful thing for me is that I would hope that this is just a natural choice in the reboot."

Piloteer is available now on Steam and mobile devices, and is a whole lot of fun. You should probably also watch The Rocketeer for good measure.