Helicopters, Hardstyle & Hobbies
Being asked about what DownLoadable Content (DLC) players would expect after Hinds, I doubt many would have arrived at Take On Noisecontrollers (TON). At first glance it may not seem like a logical marriage: electronic music and helicopter games. The links between the two themes came from the personal interests of myself and several others who helped along the way. With this project I did not set out to optimize profits or find the biggest target audience. It's important to keep in mind that TON was not developed in Bohemia Interactive's work hours. Those involved contributed in their own time and because they wanted to deliver something cool. I'll just go ahead and say it: this was purely selfish, and I'm proud to have done it!
For those who don't know hardstyle: it is a sub-genre of electronic music, known for relatively fast beats and energetic melodies. Especially popular in The Netherlands (country of origin of yours truly), but also growing rapidly in other European nations (Italy, Belgium, Germany, etc.), and now spreading worldwide to places like Australia and the United States. There definitely are connections between hardstyle and games. The parties and festivals put on amazing shows to take the visitors to another world and escape reality, just like games do. They use state-of-the-art light shows, lasers, pyrotechnics, sound systems and performances to link the DJ (live)sets together in an overarching theme. The DJs and producers have grown up with games, and many of them publicly admit to playing them a lot. Outdoor festivals will usually have a helicopter flying around all day to film the event, to let visitors do sightseeing tours, and sometimes for more extreme things like parachuting. Finally, hardstyle music is fast and exhilarating, and so is flying a helicopter just over the treetops in a race against time. Some will look at the project as hardstyle becoming too commercial, but I hope it's a first step towards more collaborations of a similar type.
Why aren't we working on the game itself instead? We are! New patches are still being developed and tested, including our Downtown patch and Take On Helicopters: Rearmed. We are only human however, and working on a fun project like this helps us keep motivated, while providing players with free content. It was cool to see people in the team who did not necessarily like the style of music or did not know it, get really into it. From the sales and marketing department in Prague we heard of people repeatedly playing it in the office, and humming the melodies, no doubt frustrating some of their colleagues. After the release, one specific comment from a player was very rewarding: a real-life helicopter pilot said he would normally only listen to rock music, but he had tried the mix delivered with the DLC and actually liked the energy a lot.
Most of this project was done by myself as a hobby, but I was assisted towards the release by various great people at Bohemia Interactive H.Q. and the Prague office. Special mentions go out to Jay Crowe, who did a fantastic job of editing the trailer. Miroslav Jersenský stepped in to create the virtual heads when my own artistic skills were lacking. Finally, my brother Korneel van 't Land set up a press release and coordinated the marketing with Jervant Malakjan.
How then did we end up working with the Noisecontrollers? They are simply some of my favorite artists in the scene, and are responsible for a lot of the best tracks. After having established initial contact over a year ago, I was happy to hear Bas Oskam and Arjan Terpstra knew about our previous games, such as the Arma franchise. Next to that they have studied game music, so they were equally excited about working on a related project. By joining, Noisecontrollers have shown an admirable progressive stance towards releasing their music. Unlike many music organizations who are stuck in ancient times, they were very forthcoming with the rights to their productions. At the start I hoped to be allowed to use a single track, but was given a special 30 minute mix. Respect to them for taking part in evolving digital media!
Admittedly the project took a bit longer than initially envisioned. Relying on free time and combining that with everybody's busy schedules, progress was slow. On the other hand it was refreshing to work on a project without real deadlines. This also allowed the content to receive several iterations, fine-tuning and polish. We had hoped to release in conjunction with the X-Qlusive Noisecontrollers event in Amsterdam in January of 2012, but it simply wasn't ready yet. Our next logical target was the release of Noisecontrollers' album: E=nc2 - "The Science Of Hardstyle". Already massively popular, it's a great feeling to feature a free and exclusive mix with tracks from this album in the DLC!
Looking back, another thing we realized during development, but was proven upon release: it would have been best to release as a stand-alone game. Unfortunately the people owning Take On Helicopters (TKOH) and interested in the DLC do not number millions. We know and had to accept that far from everybody interested in a Noisecontrollers game could actually enjoy it. Doing a full release was not feasible given the resources, but I hope the success of the project creates room for future endeavours.
A little over a month ago all aspects of the project came together in a spectacular way. Q-dance’s Defqon.1 Festival 2012 in The Netherlands is hugely popular and more than 60000 party people spend several days partying to a massive line-up of harder style artists.
The year prior I had already seen a helicopter fly over the festival all day to film the spectacle from the air. Quietly I had hoped to somehow combine this with the project, but I never thought it would actually happen. Go Fast Energy is the company operating the helicopter and they were interested in doing a promotional competition. Again, no official budget existed, but everyone saw the mutual promotion and unique set-up of the event as worth it. One lucky winner would receive a prize package containing a helicopter flight with the Noisecontrollers over Defqon.1. Myself and artist Miroslav were invited to see it all happen.
Witnessing a festival so large from behind-the-scenes was incredibly interesting. Even just our competition involved many disciplines and quite some planning. The helicopter, its crew, the schedule of Noisecontrollers playing several stages and the airspace over the festival grounds all came into play. The helicopter was the same model as we had land at Bohemia for our flight lessons during TKOH development: a Robinson R44 Raven II. Initially they had wanted a larger helicopter, but various complications prevented this. The festival was situated very close to Lelystad airport, where it would regularly fly to refuel.
After arriving at the improvised landing site, the first people I met were Go Fast Energy coordinator Nine Smeets and pilot Rob Evenhuis. Waiting for the Noisecontrollers, I had time for a close-up inspection of the helicopter together with the pilot. There was a huge HD camera attached to the left side. The whole back of the cabin was dominated by a monitor and several control panels for the camera operator. The pilot himself also had a live feed so he could base his flying on the footage. Speaking to him, he said this was one of the unique skills involved in this type of work. The camera operator relied on him performing specific maneuvers and keeping the copter steady. It also meant the pilot lost some of his situational awareness. Interestingly, at some point we heard a small private plane fly over our heads. The pilot looked up and complained that they were not supposed to be flying there at all. Apparently the airspace directly over the festival is off-limits to all other traffic (up to a certain altitude of course). For safety reasons the helicopter also never directly flies over the crowds, but always circles the festival. In case of emergencies there then are many opportunities to perform emergency landings away from people.
Walking back to the meeting point, Arjan and Bas had arrived by golf cart. It was awesome to finally meet each other in real life. Up to that point the entire project had been coordinated virtually. Looking back, this is one of the cool achievements of TON. By e-mailing, using Instant Messaging and occasionally telephone, we had started and completed our project entirely virtual. Still, it was great to shake hands and have some time to discuss the project, hardstyle, games and the festival.
Video courtesy of Q-dance
The schedule of the festival was jam-packed and changing on-the-fly, so after the meet-and-greet we got straight to the business of flying. Winner Daisy Dais settled in the copilot seat and after spinning up the engine, it was time to fly. Watching helicopters never gets boring. Due to the smaller size, there were several short flights of ten minutes and we got to enjoy several landings and lift offs. In strong cross-winds the pilot showed some impressive skills and his years of experience were clearly visible. Everyone looked like they had a lot of fun and I was especially happy to see it all come together. About half an hour later the flights were over and the Noisecontrollers were due at the main-stage for their live performance. We said our goodbyes before they jumped on the golf cart again. There was another quick chat with the crew, who I found out I had already briefly met at the Lelystad simulation expo last year. Then I rejoined my friends to enjoy the rest of the party.
Take On Helicopters pilots can download the free Noisecontrollers DLC at http://takeonthegame.com/noisecontrollers/