Every so often, a mod is released that takes a fresh look at what can be done with the Unreal Engine. Air Buccaneers from Finnish developers LudoCraft is one such mod, which features air-based combat with air balloons equipped with cannons. I took some time out with producer and lead designer Tony Manninen to ask some questions about Air Buccaneers, modding and the Finnish community.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself and your role at LudoCraft.

I have been quite an enthusiastic gamer for more than 20 years, so I suppose that's where the game design itch originates. I have done some odd games earlier, but it is only during recent years when games have taken a strong part as my profession as well. I am the leader of LudoCraft and in addition to that my main roles include that of producer and lead designer. Basically I am responsible for the whole team and all our work.

How did LudoCraft originate?

It all started in 1999 when I joined the University to do my PhD degree. By that time I was pretty sure that games would be the main target for my research. I managed to get some resources and we started the initial game productions during 2000. First there were only a couple of people doing the core work, but since then the group has grown gradually. Due to the nature of our interests, we wanted to brand our group more distinctively. LudoCraft is currently a Game Design and Research Unit at the University of Oulu. Most of us still teach and conduct other academic activities, but the majority of our free time is invested into odd projects like AirBuccaneers, which are not funded by the university.

How did the Air Buccaneers project first come about?

Initially we were in the middle of a project called eScape, which was a team adventure game experiment for four players. When we heard about MSUC, we eventually decided that eScape would not be a very potential concept for a competition. Therefore we needed something else instead. By that time we already had a fully functioning cannon, a rudimentary hot air balloon, and some weird looking player models. Because creativity has never been an issue among our group, it was not long before the idea of combining the cannons and balloons came about. Instead of adventuring, there would be two teams blasting each other to smithereens with those slow-moving airships.

Air Buccaneers has a very distinctive theme. What were your team's influences while designing and developing the project?

We always thrive for something different. The original concept of AirBuccaneers combined tall ship sea battles, aerial warfare and "there-is-time-to-think" tactics. We did not want to venture into the traditional FPS genre. Instead, we wanted to create a true team game with a twist. In our earlier projects we had been using a lot of material from the traditions and folklore of the north. Therefore, the main theme of the game is relatively dark and harsh. When you add this up with our aspiration for solid teamplay and unforgettable images of sea battles, pirates and such, you get quite close to AirBuccaneers' theme. Thematic environment and pseudo-historical gadgets are all there to create an illusion of someplace somewhere in time.

Why did you choose the Unreal Engine (and, specifically, UT2003/2004) as the platform for Air Buccaneers?

Heikki Korva (currently in charge of level design) joined me as a lead developer for our first project back in 2000. His previous experience with UT was the main deciding factor for using that technology. After developing several projects using UT as the platform, it was relatively natural for us to upgrade into UT2003 and UT2004. I suppose it was all just good luck instead of careful planning. I myself had previous experience working with the Quake engine and the WorldCraft editor, so that was another serious contender.

AirBuccaneers was initially developed for UT2003. Because of the non-existent vehicle code, we had to build everything from scratch. Our lead programmer and developer Tuomo Korva had to do some serious ludocrafting in order to tame the engine. However, those kinds of challenges are something we live for. We do not want to restrict our creativity within the limitations of technology platforms.

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