Red Baron I
The sense of being alone in a vast and dangerous sky, unable to talk to anyone by radio, relying on a handful of primitive instruments, flying aircraft equipped with weak engines and even weaker wings - all this comes through powerfully in the legendary World War I flying simulation, Red Baron, by Dynamix. The game still retains the dramatic impact it had when it first hit the stores. I am amazed it has been a full ten years since I first played it.
Dynamix took a lot of time and care with this product. The designers, in fact, virtually rethought the whole concept of flight simulators and created a program that makes it easy for a novice to jump right in and start having fun. Yet Red Baron retains such remarkable depth in its several layers of options that even the most experienced joystick jockeys can find all the challenge they could ask for.
At the heart of Red Baron's gaming system is the "realism panel," where, before each mission starts, you can fine-tune the simulation precisely to the degree of difficulty commensurate with your skills. By starting off at the "novice" setting, you'll get aircraft that handle reliably and which fly without the sometimes-deadly quirks and idiosyncrasies of their real-life counterparts You'll also get on-screen grid references to make navigation simple, and a machine gun that never runs out of bullets. About the only thing bad that can happen to you is being shot down. Bad enough, true, but if you manage to land a damaged plane, you'll probably walk away without serious injury.
As you fly on these beginner settings, you still get to practice the basic tactics and skills that you'll need in order to stay alive on the harder settings. Whenever you feel ready for it, you can go back to the realism panel and start adding features: realistic weather, for example (so that when you fly into a cloud, the whole screen goes gray), or guns that sometimes jam. If you think you're up to the challenge, you can opt for realistic flying characteristics, instrumentation, and mechanical reliability; then you'll be facing the same odds the real World War I pilots had to face. Chances are you'll come away from that experience with new respect for the men who flew these crates, and new comprehension of why their mortality rate was so high.
You can fly single missions, including balloon-busting missions that provide a lot of gratifying fireworks, or you can opt to enlist in either the Imperial German Air Service or the Royal Flying Corps for a whole tour of duty. Careers may be started early in the war, halfway through, or in 1918, when aircraft development and aerial tactics had reached a new level of sophistication.
In the career mode, you'll fly every sort of mission, including routine patrols during which absolutely nothing happens (the potential for boredom from this realistic touch is mitigated by the thoughtful inclusion of a "time compression" feature). If you choose to start early in the war, you'll fly those missions in some pretty flimsy and underpowered aircraft. As time passes - assuming you survive - you'll be assigned new planes, transferred to new squadrons, and perhaps given a chance to custom-paint your personal aircraft, just as many of the real aces did (the German and French ones, at least; the R.F.C. frowned on the practice).
Another feature that many players will enjoy is the option to refly actual historical missions. These scenarios allow you to relive, vicariously, highlights in the careers of such great fliers as Max Immelmann, Frank Luke, and Ernst Udet.
Perhaps the greatest challenges in Red Baron are the one-on-one dogfights you can have with the great aces. Want to challenge Baron von Richthofen to a duel? Want to see if you can outfox the young Hermann Goering? Want to see how long it takes the vain but deadly Rene Fock (who twice shot down six German planes in one day) to splatter you all over the French countryside? All of the great sky knights of legend are here, awaiting your challenge to do battle, and each computer opponent has been programmed to fly and maneuver in the style of the historical character chosen. Your only chance against most of these guys is to study their tactics diligently, and use your knowledge to try to anticipate their moves.
Graphically, Red Baron is a state-of-the-art product for 1990. At the touch of a key, you can move from your cockpit into a chase-plane position behind your aircraft for a thrilling cinematic view of the action. All missions can be recorded and played back later from any viewing angle you choose. Moreover, Dynamix has made it possible to stop the replay and jump back into the mission at any point, in order to try out any ideas that may have come to you as you watched the tape.
In fact, every aspect of Red Baron shows a degree of care and imagination that set a new standard for flight simulators. It's both "easy" and "hard," with all sorts of gradations in-between. Even if you've never tried a flight simulator before, Red Baron makes it easy to start having fun right away. And if you're a veteran of conventional flight simulators, you'll find it quite challenging to put the realism settings on maximum and pit your skills against not only the enemy, but also against engines that freeze at high altitudes and wings that fall off during power dives.
It's hard to think of anything Dynamix could have done better in this product. Red Baron, the simulation, is as much an aristocrat as its namesake.
A-10 Tank Killer
A-10 Tank Killer is the first flight simulation to feature the Air Force's much-maligned close air support weapon, the Thunderbolt (better known as the Warthog). Sometimes known as "Death from Above" (with apologies to the Airborne), this plane is capable of destroying any tank in the world. The Army loves it, while the Air Force would like to see it disappear.
The real A-10 and Dynamix's simulation were given a new lease on life by the Persian Gulf conflict. Before the war, the Warthog had been scheduled for retirement without ever seeing action in its 20-year life. Designed for use in the Eastern European theatre of operations, the Warthog quickly proved its mettle at desert warfare ground support and short-range tactical strikes. The Air Force subsequently rethought its decision to mothball the plane.
While close air support is a military necessity, it is not the glory role that the Air Force envisions. Instead, it is a dirty vicious mission which may well be determinative of victory. Now, no matter how much the Air Force dislikes the A-10 and no matter how much the Army would like to add it to its own inventory, the Key West Agreement (1948 - which stipulates the respective spheres of the Army and the former Army Air Corps) keeps the planes under Air Force jurisdiction. Note that in Vietnam, helicopters were strictly Army vehicles due to Air Force indifference and hostility to close air support.
The operative words with the A-10 are low and slow. With a top airspeed of only 450 miles per hour, the Warthog is a veritable tortoise compared to most of today's jet aircraft. Most of the fun and challenge comes from flying at the plane's normal attack altitude of 100-400 feet. Version 2.0 (the final form of the game) of A-10 Tank Killer incorporated new flight models that accurately reflect the quirky low-speed handling of the Warthog. By adding a punchy new soundtrack, improved VGA graphics, a nicely revised manual, and scripting seven new scenarios based in Iraq, Dynamix breathed new life into an old friend. With these improvements A-10 Tank Killer was discovered by a new generation of gamers.
The upgrade offered 21 different missions to be successfully completed by would-be Warthog cowboys. The 14 Central Europe missions from the original version have been retained, although the appearance of the ground terrain has been notably improved with redesigned groundscapes. Seven of the missions are brand new, and are based on actual Desert Storm operations. As one might expect, the cast of characters from the original simulation has been expanded to include Scud missile launchers, Iraqi artillery and antiaircraft hardware, and Soviet T-55 and T-62 tanks.
Flying the A-10 in the original version was almost too easy - the aircraft was far more forgiving of maneuvers that danced beyond the razor's edge of reality. The flight models used in version 2.0 mirror the actual handling of the Warthog much more accurately. The armament is also much more realistic - the aircraft's decidedly destructive 30mm Avenger cannon will overheat and jam if you lean on the trigger too long. Weapons loads are customizable as well as pre -rolled, and adhere to the ordnance limitations of the real thing.
The original A-10 lacked good sound effects, a surprising omission for a company like Dynamix. This was a concious choice because of the scant sound card user-base of the mid 1980s. The addition of good sound effects during missions, along with a well-written musical soundtrack, makes a noticable improvement to the overall look and feel of the sim. Similarly, the photographic backdrops used between missions are much improved and tastefully rendered. The manual was revised to include a detailed recount the A-10's performance in the Persian Gulf war, as well as provide an excellent overview of the aircraft's history.
Both greenhorns and well-seasoned sim buffs found plenty of challenge in the upgraded A-10. The plane itself is relatively easy to fly if you maintain airspeed and stay away from violent maneuvers. Even if your reflexes aren't fast enough to avoid everything the enemy throws at you, it takes more than one good whack to knock your A-10 out of the air. The plane is incredibly tough - it can actually remain airborne after losing most of a wing and one of its two engines. If you think you've got your foes beat, the enemy threat level can be adjusted upward to further test your mettle.
A-10 relies heavily on digitized photographs - the credits even list the actors who portrayed the pilots - the first game ever to do so. Critics of this game development trend equated digitization as a substitution for programming. This argument is baseless. It is equally refuted today, with the latest crop of true-color titles, because breathtaking visuals cannot fully mask a flawed design. A-10 offered an excellent program in addition to then cutting-edge digitized pictures. Nonetheless, it is impressive. Basic weapon loads shift before his eyes as the user makes a choice (preparatory attack, general purpose, insurgency, and so on). One is restricted to the program loads, but this was a design choice. Generally, one particular load is recommended.
Dynamix emphasizes the playability of A-10, stressing its feel over detailed historical accuracy. Overall, the program succeeds in imparting the necessary feel. It is easy to learn and play. In fact, it is quite interesting. Just remember, the A-10 is optimized for close support; most flying will be done under 400 feet and this requires concentration. SAMs (surface-air missiles) are shown with their umbrella of coverage and an optimal approach run should evade such coverage. If such coverage cannot be avoided, of course, the first run should be to take out the SAM launch platforms.
A-10 sports three threat levels -- wimp, pretty mean suckers, or major bad news, the last of which is most likely historical. If you feel you have mastered the sheer quirkiness of the A-10 try the Mother Hen scenario, a intensely realistic mission. Here you must protect four armored platoons in their drive to open a corridor through the SAM umbrellas. Once that is accomplished, the A-10 must then penetrate such corridor and destroy a supply dump. Time is of the essence; a missed pass with an enemy element may well doom a friendly platoon elsewhere on the front.
A-10 comes as close to a flying tank as can be found with actual military hardware. The missions are nerve-wracking because of their down-in-the-trench nature, and the danger is constant. With the Warthog you will never have the opportunity to languidly coast above the clouds to the next nav point. You have to get down and dirty -- there is no other road. Watch your six!