Flight Simulator: Your Thoughts on the Classic and the Genre in General

Bill Loguidice's picture

Hey all. I'll be tackling the Flight Simulator chapter next and would love to know your thoughts. While obviously Flight Simulator really started with Bruce Artwick's original game for the Apple II and TRS-80 computers, I personally didn't play a true flight sim until Flight Simulator II on the C-64. I remember finally taking the time to go through the tedious manual to learn the controls and actually felt a sense of accomplishment as I "learned" to fly (in both the game's main flight mode and secondary combat mode). Sadly, I let about a month pass between Flight Sim II sessions and I forgot a lot of it and never really had the heart to go back and try again on anything more than a very casual basis!

I played a few combat sims on the C-64, like Sid Meier's F-15 Strike Eagle, but really never got into those types of games much as I always felt like I was flying in circles to either avoid or catch enemies. I remember very distinctly getting one of EA's combat flight sims for the Amiga (name slips my mind) and being impressed with the crude polygonal graphics, but my friend at the time (I think we were seniors in high school) who aspired to be in the air force, wasn't duly impressed. After that, I've tried such games on and off, but really, I"m no expert in the genre, though I do own some of the classics (like Falcon for the Amiga/ST and a few of the later combat flight sims from Ubisoft for PC).

So, anyone have any thoughts about the genre in general and what I should look out for? I'd love to hear some stories and what some of your favorite games are past and present. Thanks!

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Matt Barton
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Flight Sims

I played flight sims heavily in my teenage years, my favorite being F/A-18 Interceptor (think that's right) for the Amiga. I played this game a lot, trying to master the controls and very difficult landing and combat sequences. I actually thought that playing these games would give me some idea of how to fly an actual plane, though I've yet to get the chance to do that. I played around with other Amiga flight sims, such as Combat Air Patrol, and of course played Top Gun when I could find it in the arcades. I didn't enjoy Top Gun, though, since it didn't seem nearly as realistic.

Other flight sims I remember are Man-Copter for the C-64, which I know most people wouldn't consider. Still, it was fun and did involve a flying vehicle. :)

I spent some time with a crude WWI flight sim for the C-64; can't remember the name now, though. I just remember it was grayscale and was probably a Mastertronic title, since I got it from a bargain bin. Of course I played the crap out of Elite and Wings, those again those don't seem to fit. I really wanted to play Dam Busters, but just couldn't figure it out at the time.

A few things that should probably be discussed in the chapter is the military background of this stuff. I've read some people who claim one reason we have 3D games now is that the military was pumping money into simulators to train pilots. The technology just happened to be good for gaming as well. I also think it's plausible that the techniques worked out in flight-sims paved the way for FPS, which I still think of as "ground-based" flight sims.

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Bill Loguidice
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Flight

Yeah, FA-18 Interceptor is the one I was thinking of! I was blown away by it on the Amiga, though like I said, my non-gamer friend was not impressed. Typical story though - if you don't know the technology you want to know "why can't it look real?".

Ah, you said, "Mancopter". One of my favorite all-time games. More a side-scrolling racing platformer Joust clone. ;-)

The only modern flight sim I play with any regularity, and, frankly it falls firmly in the arcade-centric category is "Blazing Angels: Secret Missions of World War II", which I have for the Xbox 360. That one I actually enjoy and don't mind flying about in circles... I actually only own the sequel, only having rented the first game (though I've wanted to own it).



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Matt Barton
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Actually, the game I was

Actually, the game I was thinking of wasn't "Top Gun," but "Afterburner."

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Rowdy Rob
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The Attraction of Flight Simulations

This topic is really going to make me feel old, but one of my fondest "gaming" memories is my experiences with "Flight Simulator" by Sublogic (I think) for the TRS-80 Model 1. As you can imagine, it was really primitive, yet it was quite a feat of programming for the 16k machine!

You basically "flew" over a bare grid with what looked like a cardboard-cutout "mountainscape" in the background (and yes, you could crash into the mountains). The framerate was probably no more than four frames per second (if even that). And keep in mind that the graphics were black & white, at a resolution probably around 80 x 48, and that there was no sound.

Yet, despite the technical limitations, there was a real sense of exhilaration as you flew your plane around the grid, and the game seemed to get the basics of flight mechanics right (wind speed, stalls, ailerons, etc.). If you suspended disbelief and looked past the technical limitations, your imagination allowed you to really feel like you were flying! Considering that I was living on an Air Force base at the time, you can imagine that this simulator was quite popular with my computer-geek peers!

You could also switch to "WW I" combat mode, where you dueled with an enemy biplane. Of course, this was quite primitive as well, since the enemy plane was represented by a white dot and was difficult to follow (especially at the low frame rate). Still, it was quite fun, but l generally stuck to the regular flight mode, enjoying the sensation of free flight.

I purchased the Atari 8-bit version ("FS II") and a few scenery disks for it and flew that one quite a bit too. Again, it was an amazing piece of programming, and I was once again immersed in the imaginary sense of flying. Probably everyone who played this version has crashed into famous landmarks on purpose just for funsies. This version really pushed the realism far (perhaps too far for casual gamers like me), introducing concepts such as IFR and radio beacons.

The graphics load also meant the frame rate was inconsistent; if you were flying over a city with famous landmarks (like the Statue of Liberty), the frame rate would really slow to the point where it took you out of the simulation. At some points, the game seemed to drop below one frame per second, making it hard to correct your flight maneuvers. And the Atari version was heaps faster than the C64 version.... how did you guys deal with the C64 version?

"Solo Flight" for the Atari (and C64) was also a major game for me at that time. It was noteworthy in the fact that it was a THIRD PERSON flight sim. It had much in common with the Sublogic's FS for the TRS-80 in the fact that it was a pared-down flight sim with no IFR, scenery disks, and it had a mountain backdrop. The graphics were very cool, though, and the game gave me much the same exhilaration as the TRS-80 "Flight Simulator." The third-person perspective was unrealistic (your viewpoint was actually BEHIND the well-rendered sprite airplane), but it made landing your plane much easier. Landing, BTW, is still considered the hardest thing to do in a flight sim, due to various factors. It was a "game" in the fact that you were a pilot for a air mail delivery service, meaning you had to deliver mail between various airports. It was more approachable than the by-then complex Flight Simulator II, yet still delivered the exhilaration of freedom of flight.

FA/18 Interceptor for the Amiga was a graphics knockout, but it turned flight simulation into a "game," and from a gaming standpoint, it meant that I was supposed to line up my targeting cursor with a distant dot on the screen. It wasn't exactly thrilling to me. I spent most of my playing time on FA/18 Interceptor just flying around and enjoying the sensation of flight.

On my PC, I just happen to be getting back into flight sims (one of my best friends is a "virtual flight instructor" online and a real pilot as well, and has been goading me to get into Flight Simulator X), and have a specialty "virtual pilot" peripheral that I'm enjoying. For once, I can say the thrill is still there, gaming wise. Modern graphics really deliver the goods. The exhilaration of freedom of flight is still there. Landing is still a major #&*@$, though.

Okay, I just wrote a book on the subject, my apologies! I think the attraction of non-combat flight sims is the almost zen-like feeling of flying around in the air with complete freedom. There's no pressure, no goal, no score, and no boundaries (except Earth itself). On top of that, it's educational as well.... there really are airplanes, and those who fly them. Perhaps this is the attraction of flight sims.... it's a world that really exists, and is presented more realistically than nearly any other genre, but it's a world that most of us will never see or experience.

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Matt Barton
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Excellent response, Rob! I

Excellent response, Rob! I think you did a great job describing what is so fun about these games.

I did remember another one from my youth that we played EXHAUSTIVELY!!!

Skychase
Man, we loved that game. The dog fights were awesome. I doubt it's accurate, but the Moby Games "trivia" section claims it's the first multiplayer simulator. Anyone confirm or deny this?

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Bill Loguidice
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Skychase

Boy, Skychase looks fantastic. Never got to play that one myself...

One day when the dust settles on these two books, we really need to explore some of these obscure games in detail for the site.



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Rowdy Rob
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First Multiplayer Simulator?
Matt Barton wrote:

I did remember another one from my youth that we played EXHAUSTIVELY!!!

Skychase
Man, we loved that game. The dog fights were awesome. I doubt it's accurate, but the Moby Games "trivia" section claims it's the first multiplayer simulator. Anyone confirm or deny this?

There was a two-player combat flight sim on the 8-bit machines (originally the Atari 8-bit, I believe) called:

Mig Alley Ace

It was one in the "Ace" trilogy of combat flight sims by "Microprose" written by (I believe) the legendary Sid Meier , the other two being Hellcat Ace and Spitfire Ace, both of those being single-player sims.

Mig Alley Ace was a split-screen two player game. The one-player game variation just blanked out one of the screens, I believe. As you can see in the ad, it claims to be the FIRST two-player sim.

It actually looks like Skychase is substantially similar in many ways, gameplay-wise!

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Matt Barton
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Yup, Skychase is one of

Yup, Skychase is one of those forgotten classics. I'm not sure how many people actually played it back in the day. The main appeal was its "no frills" dogfighting. The game started like a joust with the two planes headed towards each other. Then it was time to maneuver like hell. We'd get a group of us together (this was in the dorms of McNeese State in Lake Charles) and cheer each other on.

The funny thing was, the paper airplane was by far the best choice. However, people who didn't know better would assume you were taking that plane just to show off--like you were handicapping yourself by selecting it. Little did they realize it was actually the best!

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crcasey
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Flight Sim Madness.

First flight sim..

Red Baron - Arcade.

Second..

Tail Gunner - Arcade.

Third..

The affore mentioned SubLogic on the Apple][

I know you all mentioned FA-18 on the Ami, that sticks in my mind as a classic. Can you say carrier flight deck landing. WOW. HARDCORE.

-Cecil

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Bill Loguidice
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Arcade Sims

Good catches, Cecil, thanks, I was pretty much going to leave out the arcade, but it's certainly worth a mention.



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