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Hardcore space sim Starfighter Inc. is back on Kickstarter with a lot to show

We went hands-on at PAX East, here’s what we learned

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Starfighter Inc., the hardcore space combat simulator, is back on Kickstarter with a smaller initial ask and a lot more to show for itself.

Impeller Studios has had a rough time. Its first crowdfunding effort launched nearly two years ago, and eventually fell short of its $250,000 goal. But the team vowed it would continue development. The new campaign features a much smaller ask, just $150,000, and doubles down on the amount of functional content it has to show potential backers.

An early build of the game was also on display at this year’s PAX East. Polygon spent just a little bit of time with the game, which we were only able to play using a keyboard and mouse instead of a flight stick. It was a surprisingly effective control method though. That’s because the game uses a fully-realized, frictionless flight model.

Put simply, with all the assists turned off, flight control felt nothing like a terrestrial sim.

Launching out of a capital ship was like being pressed back in the seat of a heavily-armed projectile. Changing my attitude could only be done with a series of gentle taps on on my thrust keys. Hitting a key to roll the ship left put me in an endless spin until such time as I countered that force with a thrust from an opposing vector. Losing control and plunging into an unrecoverable spin was a real possibility, and the developers on hand told me they’re modeling the effect that would have on the pilot trapped inside.

Ships are also much, much more fragile than I expected. I barely nicked the edge of an asteroid with the belly of my brightly-colored Shrike fighter and exploded into a shower of rapidly cooling particulate.

Compared to games like Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous, which I have lots of stick-time with, Starfighter Inc. appears to require much, much more skill.

The campaign promises single-player combat training, Counter-Strike-style player-versus-player matches and even larger, multi-crew ships with “specialized roles such as weapon systems officer, electronic warfare officer, and drone operator.” All the while, the team at Impeller Studios says the game will feature World of Warships-style ship customization.

Starfighter Inc. will also have virtual reality support. The teams says it’s working with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and open source options.

The team has some impressively experienced members leading it, including Jack Mamais and David Wessman. Their credits include games such as MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, X-Wing vs TIE fighter and The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. They’ve even brought on an engineering consultant to keep them on the straight and narrow when it comes to the game’s hard science roots.

“We’ve hired an engineer to work on our spacecraft and weapons systems,” Wessman said in the Kickstarter video. “He knows the math. Everything checks out. Everything in the game is something that could actually exist.”

The campaign runs through April 15. A pledge of $25 will allow backers to reserve their callsign and get them a copy of the game. A pledge of $35 will also include access to the beta. The delivery date is listed as April 2018.

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