Royal Dutch Airforce, X-Base
In 2008 the Royal Dutch Airforce launched a huge recruitment campaign with the goal: give future employees an idea what it’s like to work for the Airforce. X-Base (experience-base) turned out to be an absolute breathtaking experience! Which I dare say, the site was well ahead of its time and absolutely amazing: blending video, 3D and games all into one online environment. A special team at Ranj was formed to develop five ‘hands-on’ games to be incorporated into the site. I was personally involved in the game design of three of these games. The agencies behind the project are ARA, Momkai and INDG. Ranj was only tasked with the creating of the five games.
Opening closed worlds, that was the main idea behind X-base. Airforce bases are usually closed to the general public, which means the sites was creating to give an (awesome) sneak-peak of the world behind closed doors. Since it was the idea to speak to potential recruits a lot of information and the games where aimed at ‘measuring’ yourself. Most games could be played for highscores while some could even be played against for friends!
Have you got what it takes to join?
What happens when un unidentified objects enters the Dutch airspace? This is exactly what was the case in QRA. Functioning as an airspace controller you need to guide civilian aircraft away from collision courses, warn military aircraft and indeed send F16’s on a collision course of UFO’s! However, as an airspace controller you do things proper. This means giving plains the correct ‘calls’, international code languages for giving planes instructions. This means that everything the player wants do to, he needs to contact the right aircraft and give them the correct codes. Please don’t mess up the codes, we provided you with the correct calls you would need to make.
The game mixes dexterity with actual strategy and quick wits. The first second everythings seems to go smoothly, and the next planes and UFO’s will all start to collide and before you know it you got a real disaster on your hands! The screen turn red, airplaned become blinking dots and you pray that you just gave the right call before it’s to late!
Did you know that fighter aircraft’ jet-engines are almost leaky when they are on the ground? This is because everything expands so much due to the immense heat of the jet engines that screws and bolts have to be turned half lose otherwise they break during flight. The problem: you cannot check if the bolts and screws are screwed on right in mid-flight (multiple reasons). So aircraft engineers test engines under extreme circumstances. This is where the game starts.
Players have to check out multiple sections of the engine. Are the signs of failures, leakage or maybe even undone pipes. Players must fix those, replacing parts and screw on the bolts with the right amount of force. Ready to go full throttle? Or, … do you think you are ready? By having missed repairs, you can actually ruin more than was initially broken while testing.
The game is a fun mix of a puzzle mechanic (finding the problems), getting the details right (pipe choice, right force) and intense listening while testing. Off course we had a leader board set up, so dexterity and game knowledge of the many pipes became a must read for most serious players. I don’t know for sure anymore, but I believe after the first months this was by far the most played game which exceeded everyone’s expectations with players.
Simulated flights happen a lot more than flying hundred million-dollar aircrafts around. So why not use that to our advantage! In the Dogfight Simulation Battle players fight against each other while not playing simultaneously. The first player will try to lock on to a simulated aircraft and will try and make combat maneuverers to stay out of trouble. We record his flight, let him pick his opponent by sending a game-invite to a friend. The friend then tries to beat the first player by getting more/better locks or outmanoeuvre the first player. With one added twist, the players could replay their own flight and deploy flares on key moments before submitting their flight. Flares would throw of enemy locks and let you escape on key moments unharmed (a joker-based system). The competition element in the game combined with friends invite made this one of the unique features to lure more visitors to the site.