Drones

Liftoff – Taking to the Virtual Skies, Interview with Kevin Haelterman

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Kevin Haelterman is a cofounder of LuGus Studio, the Belgian gaming studio behind Liftoff, a popular drone racing simulation game

We spoke to Kevin about the development of the game and how drone racing pilots themselves have had a major hand in it. Today, July 27, Liftoff released the first version of its multiplayer featureKevinHaeltermanLiftOff

Third Law Sports: Where and when did the idea for the game come about, and how long was it in the development stages?

Kevin: We discovered drone racing on YouTube by watching the now famous video “FPV Racing drone racing star wars style Pod racing are back!” by Herve Pellarin.

We were excited by what we saw; and we knew that it was something we immediately wanted to get involved in. Since we didn’t have access to a drone at that time and hardly had any knowledge about them, we figured: let’s make a quick proof-of-concept game demo that replicates the excitement of the Youtube video.

Almost jokingly we worked on a small prototype for two weeks, made a video about it and released it on YouTube. We had fun working on that prototype, but had no real plans to do anything serious with it. It’s just one of those many little game experiments we make at the studio in between bigger commercial projects. Game development is all about having fun and doing what we love doing and sometimes we love creating fun, useless game prototypes. About six months after we uploaded our prototype video on YouTube, we were called by a French guy called Herve Pellarin… he seemed to be as excited about what we did as we had been watching his drone racing video for the first time. That’s how it all started for real!

Development on Liftoff started a year ago, and it’s still ongoing. An early version of the game was released eight months ago in our Early Access program. Early Access is a common release strategy within the game industry, where players gain access to early versions of the game while it’s still in development. The idea is similar to crowdfunding, but instead of waiting to get your product months later, you get it immediately. As a result players can give us early feedback and participate in the development of the game. All future updates are completely free for those who buy Liftoff, so not only do you get the final product, but you also get to enjoy and participate in the excitement of game development. We now consider Liftoff to be 70% complete and we expect full time development on it for the rest of 2016. Even after our final v1 release, we still plan to update the game for months to come.

Third Law Sports: The drone racing community is known for being friendly… how involved has the pilot community been in the development of tracks and the recreation of as true to life a piloting experience as possible?

Kevin: The drone racing community is an amazing community and we enjoy being a part of it. Everyone is very much involved in the development of the game. We can proudly say that Liftoff in its current state is far from what we originally had in mind. It’s completely been shaped by the feedback of the community, for the better!

That said, it’s also a community of people who expect nothing more than the best, which motivates us to give it everything we have. A major challenge has been the complexity and wide variety of drone technology and applications, specifically the hundreds of different remotes available on the market and their lack of industry standards. Supporting this has been a huge challenge for us, but with the help of the community I think we are doing fine in that department.

Last but not least, Liftoff has many features for players to create and share their own content. We are especially proud about our track builder tool that enables players to create fun, crazy and exciting tracks and share them with other players. Our next update will add Steam workshop support, which will mean that creating and sharing should be even easier to do.

Third Law Sports: This year’s E3 saw a lot of virtual reality offerings by game developers. Is this something you’re looking into to enhance Liftoff? Or else is augmented reality a better suited path to go down?

Kevin: Both VR and AR are technologies that excite us and we see a lot of potential in both with Liftoff. While advanced commercial AR systems are still some time off (take a look at Hololens), we already have access to a Vive VR set and have been experimenting with ways to apply it to Liftoff.

You can see what we’ve been experimenting with for yourselves here:

Third Law Sports: What’s the feedback been like to date and what we can expect from Liftoff 2.0?

Kevin: We get hundreds of new e-mails, Facebook and forum posts every day and we read every message we get.

Additionally, we make sure to read as many online forums and websites and watch as many user-created Liftoff videos as possible. We put a lot of effort in finding out what the community thinks about Liftoff and what they want to see improved. The community has a huge impact on every development decision we make, and while at the end of the day we won’t be able to make everyone happy at the same time, I think a majority of the community enjoys what we are creating. Our current user score on Steam is around 85/100 and we are quite happy with this amazing score, considering the game is still very much in the development stages.

Since Liftoff is still being worked on, we currently have no concrete plans for Liftoff 2.0. In fact our dream is to keep updating and improving Liftoff as long as we can. However, we do have some crazy ideas of what Liftoff 2.0 could be like (we would love to get rid of game borders for example) but that’s just ideas at this point. Furthermore we are also working on some small spin-offs/variations of the current Liftoff project. Liftoff VR will be one of them.

Third Law Sports: Is there scope for Liftoff to be used in a competitive gaming environment?

Kevin: With the addition of multiplayer, and leaderboards later, competition will always play a role within the Liftoff community. Liftoff simulates the drone racing sport and as a result healthy esports competition should not be ignored.

We’ll definitely put more efforts in supporting this aspect in coming updates.

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