I don't watch that many trailers for upcoming videogames—I know, I'm a bad games journalist—but I did hit play on the trailer for Blazing Legion: Ignition as soon as I saw the thumbnail, and damn I'm glad I did. Giant robots, strobing lasers, first-person piloting through a storm of missiles, a wailing guitar solo—in under a minute it grabbed my attention completely.
Its description calls it: "an introspective, character driven, tactical first person bullet-hell about mecha and the consequences of becoming who you have to be." First-person bullet hell is a nice description—in the trailer we see the main character barrel-rolling past projectiles in space and over a city, then landing to engage in a punch-up with another robot in the streets.
I reached out to Ethan Redd, the game's producer and lead developer, and one-third of indie studio Virtuoso Neomedia Enterprises, to get answers to all the questions that brief trailer raised about his forthcoming game.
PC Gamer: What's the "if we were in an elevator and you only had a minute to tell me about your game" pitch for Blazing Legion: Ignition?
Ethan Redd: Blazing Legion: Ignition is a bombastic, introspective first-person bullet-hell tragedy about seven-story-tall mecha and consequence. If the action genre is rock'n'roll, Blazing Legion is black metal. I've also affectionately used the shorthand "Top Gun meets Gundam".
What inspired it?
It's got kind of a weird history! The story universe was something I started thinking of back in 2015 without any particular gameplay ideas in mind (it actually started as a 2D game). One day I was hanging with Steve [Lukens] (half of SKYBRIDGE, and audio lead for Virtuoso) playing TIE Fighter and we had the dangerous thought of "eh, we could do this in a weekend" and got to jamming a piloting game. I was never a piloting sim guy and I love working in genres I don't like and "fixing" them; everything kinda snowballed from there.
I don’t play a lot of modern games, so I try to build everything from the ground up design-wise—although the game is played in first-person, the most direct inspiration gameplay-wise is probably Darius Silverhawk and the memory of some mech arcade game I played in Lasertron when I was like seven and can’t remember the name of. I want it to play like something Yu Suzuki would be proud of.
Inspiration is all over the place for the game. All three of us love sci-fi, anime, those action movies dads watch on TNT on Sundays, and '80s synth-rock. Blazing Legion is us sorta synthesizing that with our own special sauce into something I think feels fresh and new.
Tell me about Vana, your protagonist. What's her story?
Without spoiling too much, Vana's a rebel fighting for The New Coalition, a populist reform movement on the cusp of full-scale revolt. An ex-member of the titular Blazing Legion elite fighting force, Vana's ungodly skill and training place her at the forefront of the Insurrection, despite her turncoat status and the distrust of her comrades. Over the course of the game, we follow her role in the events that could spark an all-out galactic civil war, while reliving memories of defining moments of her life that personally led her to this point. She's been through a lot and knows the stakes on both sides of the figh. During Ignition, her actions will seal the fate of not only the masses, but herself as well.
At the core of the narrative, and game at large, is this idea of equal opposites; there's these huge missile circuses and megastructures and whatnot, and then quiet introspective walks smoking a cigarette in the hangar, or stolen moments collecting yourself in a bathroom mirror before a suicide mission. The best action is grounded in genuine emotion and visceral, personal danger, and I try to bring that sense of reality to these fantasy situations and places.
On a meta level too, I'm not trying to make a "dude game about dudes doing dude things with dudes". I think media in general can do a lot better in representing women and POC, and with Vana and the story at large I'm trying my best to do so. She's no damsel-in-distress by any means, nor a Mary Sue, or Strong Woman with no soul: she's a capable and somewhat flawed person, dealt a raw hand in life and still asked to play.
The trailer reminds me of the kind of anime you'd get on VHS tape in the early '90s. Is that the vibe we should expect, and what is it that appeals to you about that aesthetic?
This is exactly the vibe I'm going for with the overall direction of the game! I started writing Ignition with that OVA mentality in mind. It's a tight, personal look at a huge world I've been developing for a while now with a much larger overall plot and history. In my head, Blazing Legion is that cool action/drama seinen that comes on at like 1am on Toonami.
Honestly there's a lot to love about the anime style of zany-yet-real storytelling. I love symbolism and using events and people for allegory. I especially love the earnestness; I think there's a lot of like, 'meta'/self/genre-awareness, or conceit in a lot of stuff dominating the current cultural landscape. I like stuff that's unabashed just being what it is, and I think it's possible to tell good stories and make good art that's unconcerned with all the outside bull.
Tell me about the music. What do you want it to evoke?
Steve probably said it best: "We're trying to create the feeling where you grip the controls a little tighter and slow down your breathing, knowing that a single mistake could send you to a lonely death in the vacuum of space".
I give the guys a starting point with a tonal/genre reference, and both Vana's story beats and what emotions I'm trying to direct out of the player at the moment. Other than that I try to get out of their way and let them go nuts. I've been working with the boys for almost three years now, we've got a Jordan-Pippen relationship going on now.
Those are some very bright colors. Will this game damage my eyes? I'm an old man, Ethan.
The legal department has instructed me to inform you that Virtuoso Neomedia takes pride in our Raddical™ aesthetics and will not be held liable for any burnt retinas, melted faces, and/or any other gnarly injuries.
What is the ideal size for mecha?
It's kind of a non-answer but I really do believe there's a time and place for all scales. In Blazing Legion's world mecha are divided into size/power classes (think Attack On Titan meets industrial machinery), and I love playing with designs ranging from man-sized exoskeleton to skyscraper crushers.
That said Gurren Lagann is one of my favorite anime so I don't know man.
When will your game be playable?
The release date is currently When-It's-Done 2018, but we're shooting to have a slice playable for press previews by GDC in mid-March. We might drop a demo or a private beta at some point, but no promises! We'll have more info as it’s available on our Twitter and mailing list.