Liftoff flew into the FPV simulator scene back in late 2015. Over the past year, the team has added a huge number of features – everything from multiplayer freestyle to track creation and sharing. We love the fact that they are so community driven and release updates at an absolutely crazy pace.
We reached out to the development team to ask some questions about the process of building Liftoff and the community that surrounds it. Kevin Haelterman, one of the co-founders of LuGus Studios and lead designers of Liftoff, took the time to answer all our questions! They were even generous enough to share a ton of screenshots showcasing new features from their upcoming 0.8.0 build (which should be released within the next day or so).
Here’s the release video that covers some of the new workbench features in 0.8.0:
So without further ado, lets go behind the scenes with the guys at LuGus!
Tell us a little about LuGus Studios! How did the development of Liftoff come about?
LuGus Studios is a small game development studio, currently consisting of 6 team members. The company turned 5 a little while ago. Liftoff is not our first project, as we mainly did work-for-hire projects before work on Liftoff started.
We discovered drone racing on YouTube by watching the now famous video “FPV Racing drone racing star wars style Pod racing are back!” It looked exciting and we knew that it was something we wanted to get involved in. We figured: let’s make a quick proof-of-concept game demo that replicates the excitement of the YouTube video.
We had fun working on that prototype, but had no real plans to do anything serious with it. About six months after we uploaded a video of the prototype on YouTube, we were contacted by a French guy called Herve Pellarin, the guy who created the original YouTube video that inspired us. Everyone got excited and that’s how it all started for real!
What, to you, sets Liftoff apart from the other simulators on the market?
I think Liftoff has always had some feature that other sims didn’t have at first. We introduced features like the “workbench” and “track builder” for the first time. Other sims followed suit soon after with the same features, even giving them the exact same name and description. We see that as a big compliment :). We feel that investing in variation and differentiation of content and features should always stay an important aspect of game development. Just like in other game genres, players should be able to use multiple sims, each for different reasons.
Currently I feel our community related approach is what sets us apart the most. Our regular updates are always focused on community feedback and suggestions. We don’t only listen to the community, we also let everyone participate in creating content and the experience as a whole. Players can create and share their own race tracks, create their own multiplayer experiences, and will soon get more options and tools to create unique looking drones to share on the Steam Workshop – just like they do with tracks.
We’ve put a lot of effort in our multiplayer features: everything has to run smooth, players are able to create multiplayer rooms with their personalized rule sets, favorite track, and are able to change anything “on the fly”. My favorite feature of Liftoff demonstrates our philosophy best: when someone creates a custom racetrack, he can make it available in a multiplayer room. Everyone who joins that room downloads the track in just a couple of seconds and can join the fun immediately, and save and rate the player creation while they do so.
We have mentioned many times here at Propwashed that we think simulators are one of the best ways to learn how to fly cheaply and safely. What are some recommendations you have for novice pilots using Liftoff as a tool to learn how to fly?
Main tip: if you are not having fun, you are doing it wrong 😉
Liftoff has a new tutorial system that helps players new to the hobby get started. It’s still a hard thing to learn from scratch, so take your time to practice every step as long as you want. Flying FPV is something you get better at over time, so don’t feel bad if competing online doesn’t always result in first place. Slowly getting better at it is part of the appeal of the game and the sport in general. If you are not enjoying it, it might not be the experience you are looking for.
Last but not least: I’ve seen a lot of beginners win from top-players by simply taking it slow and easy. Top pilots are all about speed and taking risks and, as a result, they also make a lot of mistakes. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who started the fastest, it just matters who crosses the finish line first 😉
One topic that tends to pop up on any simulator review or recommendation thread is someone complaining about the “physics” of the software. This isn’t limited to Liftoff, but rather something we have seen for every simulator on the market. You even wrote a great article addressing this on your blog back in September. Are there any additional measures your team is working on to help combat “feel” arguments?
It’s a complex and delicate matter and we are constantly working on improving those things. Understanding what’s happening exactly is a big part of improving our flight systems, and that’s part of the challenge. It’s not always as straight forward as some people might think.
We notice that the conversations we are having with our community about physics and flight behavior are the exact same conversations other sim developers are having. They face the same challenges, and come up with the same conclusions and results. The issue is often that what players “feel” is not always a real thing, yet the illusion of it is, and that seems to be a reoccurring thing with all simulators.
In our blogpost we have mentioned a lot of things we are working on to further improve our flight behavior. That’s still months of work to focus on 😉
What feature was your biggest challenge to implement into Liftoff?
We have created about 30 game projects in the last 5 years, and every single core system in Liftoff is multiple times more complex than any of those 30 project on their own. Many of our features are worked on months before they get released to the public.
I think multiplayer might not only be the most requested feature, it’s likely one of the most complex features of the game, taking a staggering 6 months of work. It’s still being worked on and improved with every update we release.
The quadcopter customization feature is a fun way to try out different setups. Any plans to add more quadcopter components into Liftoff in the near future?
For the last 3 months we have been working on a complete revamp of the Workbench, this will be released in an early form in our 0.8.0 Milestone update. Part of this update will include a lot more frames and parts to pick from. I’m very excited about this feature and can’t wait to see what unique drone setups our community will create and share.
What’s your (or the team’s) favorite Liftoff level?
Everyone at the studio has a different favorite. I personally like Pine Valley a lot! I also enjoy the challenge of flying in Minus Two. Last but not least, while its the most minimal environment, I love The Drawing Board for the fact that our community has complete freedom to create anything they want in it with the track building tools. I love flying all these crazy contraptions people have made in it.
Speaking of the Drawing Board, we love the fact that you hooked in Steam Workshop for easy level creation and sharing. Any favorite community created levels or tracks that people should check out?
With over 500 unique and creative tracks available on the Workshop, and more being added every day, that’s a really tough question to answer. I noticed the community seems to enjoy a lot of DerHonks creations, and I love them too!
We know that you guys do a ton of interaction with the community, including highlighting videos from players! How often does the team drop into Liftoff and fly with the community? Any names we should look out for in game?
I think regular players have definitely seen us play with our LuGus Studios account. This account is mostly used to monitor how everything is working, and we often stick around to answer questions players might have in the chat. You will hardly ever see us compete in a race with this account, it’s not really used for gaming purposes.
However, we are playing more often than most people might think. All developers have their own personal Steam account and play Liftoff on a regular basis. That’s often when we get the most honest impressions and reactions from players because they don’t know a developer is around. As a result we won’t say what Steam name we use 😉
How often does the team go out to the field to fly real quads? What are you guys flying these days?
Not often enough. Early on I played around with a lot of drone toys and later flew a Vortex. I would love to get my hands on a Vortex 150 in the near future and actually start participating in local events. Right now I don’t consider myself to be a real pilot, although I’ve spend hundreds of hours flying in Liftoff
You guys have been updating Liftoff constantly over the past year. We have been trying to keep our review article up to date, but you guys have made it difficult with so much new content! Do you have any other new features planned for the near future you can tell us about?
We’re sorry! We have an ever growing to-do list with hundreds of features yet to make. I think the biggest things to come in the next couple of months are the revamped workbench, tournament features, and a couple of new game modes – stunt mode being one of them.
Again, big thanks to the guys at Liftoff taking the time during the busy holiday season to chat with us. They are frantically getting everything ready for their 0.8.0 release, so it was awesome of them to carve out a bit of time for us.
If you are thinking of getting Liftoff, now would be a great time! They are participating in the Steam Winter Sale, and currently have the game discounted 30%! At $13.99, the game is an absolute steal! Need more information before buying? Check out our review + guide article that we put together for Liftoff!