We sat down with the co-founders of Reactor Interactive to talk to them about the studio’s first game, Sector 13, an ambitious, adrenaline-fueled arcade flight game that puts you in the seat of a pilot in the midst of a galactic war. More than just the faces of the Tampa-based studio, Ryan Buhrand Drew Clark are the lead programmer and lead artist respectively. Both were more than happy to discuss the studio’s first title, and their enthusiasm towards it was positively infectious. Find out what makes Sector 13 such a unique game in this GIZORAMA exclusive!
The world of Sector 13 has changed since the discovery of a phenomenon known as “foldspace,” which has ushered in a new era of exploration that’s led to new advancements in technology, and has expanded mankind’s horizon. Beyond the Great Rift lies Sector 13, a name given by the Galactic ConFederacy to the new, virginal region of territories that have an abundance of much-needed resources, and which has been placed under military control and protectorate. But now, the Galactic ConFederacy has invoked the first, full-sector charter for corporate action within this region, meaning any and all industries can now claim land and space within the sector. As continuous blood is shed in this wealthy region, control of Sector 13 has shifted to the Daetrexx, the Magnarri, the Ourobine, and the DrakCon. These mega-corporations make up the Great Four, and this is the story of their war–your war.
Sector 13 has been in development for 11 years since its inception. What initially sparked the idea behind the project?
Ryan Buhr: I grew up desperately in love with the Wing Commander and X-Wing series of games. I always wanted to make a game like them, but on a much larger scale. Something that was basically Grand Theft Auto in space. So I taught myself how to write code and started rounding up my college buddies to help me make it. As I began to recruit some like-minded individuals, I met Drew, who was in college actually studying game design and multimedia project management. He joined the team and immediately (and wisely) implored us to pare down this grand, overly-ambitious vision to just the space combat portion of the game and to call it Sector 13, named after my dorm unit number, Lawlor #13. The rest is history.
You describe the game as combining “the adrenaline-fueled action of games like Halo and Quake 3 Arena with the combat flight mechanics from games like Starfox and Crimson Skies”. What else did you take inspiration from?
Drew Clark: Gameplay-wise, we love the classic greats like X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter,Wing Commander, Descent: Freespace, but also some great console titles like Colony Wars, Warhawk, and even first-person and third-person shooters like Freedom Fighters and Gears of War. When it comes to art, I gladly wear my inspirations on my sleeves: I love the design aesthetic of Macross and Robotech, as well as Star Wars of course, and modern jet fighter design.
Tell us what makes this game unique and gives it its own identity amongst other arcade flight games.
Buhr: There are actually a number of things that make it unique. For one thing, all of the starfighters are the best starfighter. The core conceit of Sector 13 is that there isn’t one starfighter that’s fundamentally better or worse than another one – they’re all just different from one another with different strengths and weaknesses. I like to compare it to a fighting game like Tekken or Street Fighter, where there isn’t one character that’s any better than the rest. You might be more skilled with one or the other because it suits your play style better, but the character itself isn’t fundamentally more powerful than any other. That’s how the starfighters work in Sector 13. And then you can swap out weapons and defensive countermeasures and other modifications to your starfighter, which are, again, all balanced against one another.
Another big thing that sets us apart in the space game genre is that our space environments are the opposite of empty. You’re constantly dodging asteroids, flying through the tunnels and docking bays of huge space stations and weaving your way through the superstructure of under-construction capital starships. To us, dogfighting in the middle of wide-open empty deep space is boring. So in Sector 13, there’s always something to fly around and through, plenty of ways to find cover, dodge missiles and out-maneuver your enemies. And our flight model is so easy to pick up and play that it makes you feel like a badass starfighter pilot on day one.
The game has quite a rich backstory, but I’m curious if that will really be a major factor. Will there be a single-player story mode, or is this strictly a multiplayer game that has its fair share of lore?
Clark: We have a designed what we consider to be a fairly brilliant single-player mode that combines elements of a choose-your-own-adventure novel with the idea that every faction gets to tell their own story as you progress as a pilot from that faction’s point of view. Whether we get to tell this story is up to the level of funding we can procure, as the single-player campaign will require far more work, time, production level and budget. We desperately want to do it though, and hope the means to do so will be there in time.
Buhr: The story we’ve cooked up for this is actually much richer and more detailed than a typical game of this caliber would call for. We’ve even gone so far as to come up with our own version of the NATO phonetic alphabet that the pilots use to communicate over the radio – it’s that detailed. But this is just the first game in a much larger universe that we would like to flesh out and expand upon in future games.
Obviously there’s a huge focus on customizing your Starfighter and truly making it your own creation, but could you theoretically be dominating in matches without having tweaked your Starfighter at all? Just how important are the customization mechanics?
Clark: It’s extremely important to us, and especially to me, that the game be balanced among all the fighters. My hope is that players will start out curious about each fighter based on looks and aesthetic appeal, but then fall in love with one after some play time based on how it flies, how it feels, how it complements the way they play. The customization aspect is supposed to help ensure balance by making certain key elements available to all fighters.
There will be a large and varied assortment of hardpoints available, and all of them will be interesting and help enhance the fun of the game. Stat-boosting hardpoints will be as important as offensive or defensive weaponry, with default loadouts expected to be as useful and in balance as any player-created customization. Keeping the multiplayer fair and balanced will be a huge emphasis of our development efforts.
With over 25 Starfighters, four combat theaters with three different arenas each, four different game modes, and dozens of Hardpoint weapon configuration options, Sector 13 is an ambitious project that’s absolutely packed with content. Considering how publishers nowadays like to charge people just for new skins, the amount of content seems like a big selling point for the game. Was making sure that players get a big bang for their buck an important focus in development from the very start?
Buhr: Absolutely. Drew and I have a fundamental aversion to predatory monetization schemes like micropayments and Pay-to-Win models, so we will never adopt those methods for Sector 13. We want players to be able to buy the game once and own it forever without ever feeling like they’re missing out on something just because they didn’t buy all the individual puzzle pieces. So yes, we’re putting in an extraordinary amount of day-one content that everyone will have access to immediately and forever.
Now, if the game becomes wildly popular, the design of Sector 13 lends itself very well to us being able to create more content for the players in the way of new starfighters, new hardpoint weapons, new arenas and new gameplay modes. A lot of that will come in free updates to anyone who already owns the game because we don’t ever want to divide our playerbase between people who own the vanilla game and those who have purchased the DLC map packs, for example. So things like map packs and new game modes might come in a free update to everyone, while things like new starfighters and weapons (which just add variety to the game, not fundamental advantages) might come in the form of paid DLC.
What’s your personal favorite Starfighter?
Clark: Currently, it’s a tie between the Rapier and Guardian… but they are all my creations and I love them dearly. This is a tough question for me.
Buhr: For years my favorite design has always been the Falcon. Named after a certain famous smuggling ship, the Falcon is an old, beat up fighter that doesn’t look like much, but definitely has it where it counts. After some of our gameplay testing, I’m now starting to gravitate toward one of the wilder designs called the Hellfolly – the only ship in the game without shields. Really powerful guns, super fast and maneuverable, but it’s toast if you even sneeze on it. Tons of fun to fly.
Can you explain the concept of Hardpoints to us? What Hardpoint do you two have equipped on your own Starfighters?
Buhr: Hardpoints are the way you customize your starfighter in Sector 13. Hardpoints come in a variety of forms. Offensive hardpoints are new, more powerful weapons that you can sling under the wings of most starfighters, such as Area Nukes, Swarm Missiles, Sniper Cannons, etc. Defensive hardpoints come in the form of invulnerability shields, mines, which can be dropped out the back of your ship directly into the path of a pursuer, and flares, which can throw off incoming missiles. Finally, passive hardpoints can be mounted in your fuselage to boost the base attributes of your starfighter, such as speed boosters, shield boosters, weapon boosters, etc.
Each starfighter has a different number of offensive, defensive and passive hardpoint slots depending on the starfighter’s role in combat. Bombers might have many offensive slots and fewer defensive slots, while advanced fighters might have a larger number of passive slots. Space superiority fighters might have a more balanced array of offensive, defensive and passive hardpoint slots.
I can’t yet say I have a favorite hardpoint loadout. I love to experiment with all the different ways you can kit out your favorite starfighter, so I’d say I’m pretty eclectic when it comes to hardpoints.
Clark: Hardpoints are also another way I want to emphasize the classes of fighters in the game. Similar to how many shooter games will have “assault”, “heavy”, “scout”, etc., Sector 13 will have classes of fighters such as Interceptors, Strike Fighters, Fighter Bombers, Tactical Fighters, etc.; the hardpoints are another opportunity to differentiate the classes from each other.
By separating the wing-mounted hardpoints from the fuselage-mounted hard points, the number of slots available to mount customizations and the types of hardpoints available by class will give players more reasons to choose a fighter based on the mission the player is being asked to accomplish, or the role on the team the player is hoping to fill. For example, a mission where the objective is to take down an enemy capital ship will require a team of players to cooperate using escorts, strike-fighters and bombers to effectively tackle the objective.
Sector 13 seems to have absolutely wonderful music that nails the epic atmosphere of space and the intense nature of the combat—it really draws you in. How important is it that each piece of music fits perfectly into every battle?
Buhr: I have always been a connoisseur of fine video game music. I grew up on classical music, played concert piano for a decade and a half, and generally have the same musical tastes as your great grandmother. I am a great admirer of John Williams and his famous movie scores, so it was hugely important to me to have an epic, modern, orchestral soundtrack for Sector 13.
We have been extremely blessed to work with composers Evan Arnett and Natanel Arnson, who have had unwavering dedication to the project and are two of the best musical talents in the industry. Their work has resulted in a soundtrack for this game that will always find itself in my personal playlist among the works of Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo and David Wise.
We’ve thought very deliberately about the music for Sector 13. Each of the five factions in the game have their own theme song, and then each of the four battle theaters have their own musical style and tone. There are three battle tracks in that style and tone for each theater, with a fourth track whose melody fits the theme of the faction for whom you are currently flying. Those four tracks are then shuffled during the battle so that the music always feels appropriate to the environment, recognizable to the faction, and never aurally fatiguing.
Unfortunately, you weren’t able to reach the funding for your Kickstarter campaign. How is this going to affect the development of the title? For example, can we no longer expect the game to release on Xbox One and PS4, or will you still strive for that once the PC and Mac versions are released?
Buhr: We won’t stop working on Sector 13 until it’s done, funded or not. We will always be striving to raise money to release the game on as many platforms as we can, and I’m confident we’ll find it eventually. Our primary goal is PC and Mac, distributed on Steam, on which we were recently Greenlit! We’d also like to release a Linux version for Steam. Following that, if we have the funds, we will begin work on a PS4 and/or Xbox One release. This is one of those questions that just comes down to money.
When can we expect the game to launch?
Buhr: If we can secure enough funding for me and one other artist to remain focused on Sector 13 full-time without having to pick up contract work to be able to eat once in a while, we can complete the game in about a year. If we can’t do it full-time, it will take a little longer. It all depends on the amount of funding we can secure.
One last question: With such a long period of development, it’s obvious that so much work has went into this project. Do you think that the amount of heart and care your team has put into Sector 13 will be evident, and do you think that ultimately, it’s what’s going to truly make it stand out against other games in the genre?
Clark: With all my heart, I hope so. We are a small team with big ideas that we are passionate about to the point of dedicating a huge portion of our lives to it. We are creating a game that we love to play. We can’t wait to share it with a whole world of space game and shooter fans out there.