Click the image for a larger shot..
"Suspension of disbelief" is a hot phrase in PC simulations. Some key elements of suspension of disbelief are communications and interaction with other elements, object modeling and graphics detail, and the campaign structure. Most developers have moved in the direction of a dynamic structure to give the illusion of a real time environment.
One example of this structure is the WARGEN engine which Digital Image Design developed for EF2000 and TactCom. WARGEN oversaw every element of the virtual battlefield, with two levels of AI: WARGEN and SMARTPILOTS.
In the virtual battlefield, stuff is happening all over the place, and it is NEVER predictable or repeatable. This feeling of dynamism, and of an unpredictable tactical environment in a larger community of interaction moving toward a specific goal, has become the great diamond in the sky for sim developers. Or, the "grail" for those in the know... ;-D
Since this interview involves more than one member of the DiD team, they have asked to give credit where credit is due, so here are the dudes!
The TFX Team:
Simon Kershaw - Producer Roger Godfrey - Technical Producer
Stephen Powell - Lead Programmer Derek Johnson - Mission Logic, Game Logic, Game Data Files, and Avionics David Ewing - Aero Engineer Gareth Clough - GUI John Williams - Network Communications System Michael Hocking - Campaign Design and Coding Jeremy O'Brien - Aero Engineer - Flight Logic, aircraft Messaging Steve Hunt - AI Code, Mission Planner design and coding, ACMI, Visual Effects Code, Smart views, and Campaign Extensions Steve Monks - Basic Avionics Modules, Program Module Integration, TFX3 Game Logic Dr. Tim Preece - Ground War Code and Campaign Modules Mark Lomas -Localisation
Bill Bird - Manual Lay-up and Production, Keyboard Insert, Box Artwork Design and Production, Game Typography Research & Development Ian Boardman - Head of Art & Design Paul Hollywood - Head of Art & Design Andy Bate - Senior Artist Andy Gahan - Senior Artist Martin Carter -Senior Artist Donna Chippendale - Senior Artist David Ambler - Artist Neil Ambler - Artist Damian Edwards - Artist Matt Green - Artist Andy Mann - Artist Ian Tasker - Artist Chantelle Thacker - Artist Rev. Stephen White - Lead interface artist, Online Help R&D
Mike Burrows - Programmer - Win95 Research, Development, and Integration Scott Kirkland - Code and Integration for Accelerated Cards Robin Anderson - Programmer - SmartMuse
Tony Buckley - DID Quality Control Manager, Publisher Relations, Game Testing Jon Spencer - Head of Testing John Knight - Game Testing, Mission Building Carl Jackson - Game Testing, Mission Building Phil Owen - Game Testing, Mission Building Matt Pearson - Game Testing, Mission Building Phil Mervik - Game Testing, Mission Building Dave Armsby - Game Testing, Mission Building Simon Livesey - Lead Game Tester for TFX3, Mission Building Jonathon Radcliffe - Game Testing, Mission Building Robert Lunt - Game Testing, Mission Building
Martin Kenwright - Managing Director Don Whiteford - Projects Director Colin Bell - Director Russell Payne - Director Chris Orton - R&D Director Nick Clarkson - PR & Media Manger Paul Chaffe - Logistics and Exhibitions Manager
Q: I can still recall TFX: Tactical Fighter Experiment. When I first loaded it the graphics were quite impressive, but I think it lacked a manual and that plus some other distractions put me off. How did you get from there to EF2000?
Roger G.: TFX was DID's first stab at a relatively serious flight simulation product. Previously we had produced 'F29 Retaliator' on the Amiga, ST and PC. F29 was fairly basic compared to today s flight sim's, but it was good fun. TFX allowed us to experiment with more sophisticated flight simulator concepts such as accurate flight models.
The TFX2 project began in earnest in October of 1994. The idea was not just to take the original TFX code base and produce a sequel but to really push the envelope and produce the best combat flight simulator possible. We developed a lot of risky new software technologies for the product such as SmartPilots, the EF2000 model and WarGen. These are risks that have now all paid off. The fact that EF2000 is still selling after 2 years proves their worth.
Q: What were the major design goals for EF2000?
Roger G: One of DID's holy Grail's (we have several) is photo realism. EF2000's graphics were a real big step towards that goal; F22 is a step closer still.
The other major design goal was to create a flight simulator that you can completely lose yourself in. In EF2000 the war happens around you regardless of whether you participate or not. However you have a nice shiny EF2000 to play with so you can select a mission and lose yourself in this virtual world. However to do this we had to create a lot of graphics and write a lot of code to make the elements in the world behave in a realistic fashion.
F22: ADF, Click for larger image...
Early on in the project we realised that to give EF2000 any long term appeal to the virtual fighter pilot we needed a realistic campaign system (a lesson learnt from playing Falcon 3). WarGen was created to provide the pilot with an inexhaustible supply of new missions as well as game play progression. The aim of playing EF2000 is to defeat the invading forces. The theory was that the challenge of defeating the invading enemy forces would keep the pilot coming back for more. The fact that EF2000 players are still playing campaign missions after two years on the market proves that the concept works.
The other goals involved getting the player plane model to behave correctly, getting the SmartPilots to dogfight (and not plow into mountains in the process - not easy) and having a realistic suite of interactive avionics.
Q: EF2000 won sim of the year from at least one major magazine. Were you expecting that?
Roger G: We are quite proud of the trophies we have in reception here at DID towers. We knew we were in with a chance of winning a few awards. At the time of EF2000's release we had a real technical lead and there was little competition out in the marketplace. The sim market is now more competitive that ever before so those prestigious awards are going to be that much harder to earn. We are quietly confident in F22 ADF; however we only have limited shelf space for those trophies in reception!
Q: DiD was very active on the internet forum as EF2000 evolved. EF2 may have been the first serious simulation product that was built in part to the specifications of the sim community. Was that a learning process for DiD?
Roger G: Yes, very much so. Most of us here are keen flight sim players and hang out on the flight sim forums. It seemed natural to ask people to send us their comments and ideas. The multiplayer network campaign patch happened after several hundred emails arrived here at DID. It took a while to write and actually cost quite a bit to do but it was well worth it. We spent many nights testing that!
Another feature that we have taken our time with on F22 ADF is ACMI. This was one of the most requested features for EF2000. The new F22 ADF ACMI is really cool. It allows you to record and then view engagements within the 3D system. The player can then view the action from any point of presence within the 3D; for example you can view the whole engagement from the view of an enemy pilot.
Q: As the revisions took flight I was impressed at how much the original product had grown, to the point where TactCom and now version Two are really very mature combat flight simulations. Are you happy with where Version Two has arrived?
Roger G: Yes. Graphics + and Version 2 are the final chapters of EF2000 (for the time being at least). There are still features that we wished we could have added; however most of these will be appearing in F22.
Click for a larger image..from EF2000 v.2.0
Q: How much was the military involved in the production of EF2000?
Roger G: Quite a lot really. DID produces military training simulators as well as the domestic flight simulations. DID's military work was in it's infancy during the early part of EF2000 but as the project progressed our military work really took off. We have many contacts now in various organisations that we can call on. In fact during the development of EF2000 one of the real EF2000 prototype test pilots came in to the office to have a look. He made several constructive comments about the model and flight control system (which were implemented of course).
Q: I understand that World Air Power has forged some kind of alliance with DiD, sort of paralleling the alliance of Janes and Origin/EA. Tell me more about that. How is it impacting the development process of TFX3?
Simon K: We have access to all information held by World Air Power, which is a considerable collection of every kind of media, plus their knowledge, very few companies in the world are as clued up on military aviation, and its surrounding subjects as they are today.
In addition World Air Power have been invaluable in gaining insight into the F22 and its systems, and in verifying our conclusions on the way the F22 works.
Q: What were the design goals for TFX3?
Roger G: The general ethos behind TFX3 was that it should be as big a jump over TFX2 as TFX2 was from TFX1. To do this we have had to develop several new software technologies:
- · WarGen 2
- · SmartViews
- · Smart Muse (interactive music system)
- · Smart Sound (3D sound effects system)
- · New high fidelity F22 flight model
- · New six degrees of freedom smart pilot models
- · Advanced mission planner
- · AWACS tactical system
And the list goes on. 'F22 ADF' and 'Total Air War' will now probably be a far bigger step over EF2000 than EF2000 was over TFX.
Q: How much has feedback from the simulation community impacted the design goals and the process of design?
Roger G: For the most part we knew what was going to be required in the sequel quite near to the end of the EF2000 project. We received a lot of requests for features that we intended to be incorporated anyway; which is good because it showed that we were on the same wavelength as our players. However we still get requests for things that we never thought of and we go - 'hey, that's kind of cool'; and if we have the time in the project plan we will try to incorporate the changes.
We have had requests for some extraordinary features. One of my favourites was a request for Godzilla to make a cameo appearance in F22 destroying Tokyo. Unfortunately we could not do this in our time scales (maybe next time :).
Another of my favourites was from a very enthusiastic player of EF2000 who had bought himself a G suit and designed a device to inflate and deflate it depending on outputs from the serial port. He wrote to DID asking for a patch for EF2000 to make use of his gizmo. We were unable to accommodate him for technical reasons: what would have happened if the program goes wrong? This guy could have got squished.
Q: WARGEN seemed an incredibly ambitious project, and it succeeded beautifully in some ways and failed in others. Tell us about WARGEN II...
Roger G: During the development of EF2000 WarGen was regarded as being very experimental. It was (and still is) a very complex piece of program code and took a long time to perfect. In fact at one time we were worried that it might not make it in to the final version of EF2000; however it was completed and it did work.
WarGen II is very different in that it works in real time. It is a truly dynamic campaign system; no more refreshing of the campaign system every eight hours! WarGen is continually working away creating new missions and forming new tactics. We have two specialist A.I. programmers working on the campaign and it is looking good.
Mission Planner. Click for a larger image..
F22 ADF also has a very powerful mission planner attached to it so you can easily co-ordinate your forces. Flights can be instructed to take off from different bases and different times but still rendezvous to achieve their objective. For the player who wants to control every aspect of his attack you can edit attack patterns and design weapons packages. The depth of the campaign and mission planner systems is truly astounding.
Q: What kind of opponents will we take on in TFX3?
Roger G: The game is set in 2010, roughly about the time that the F22 finishes it's production run. By that time we expect the next generation of fighters such as the SU35 and SU37 to be in common use. The game still features old favourites such as the Mig 29 and SU27 as front line fighters. We even have a few Mig21's with BVR capability. Because of the nature of the campaign scenarios you could also come up against other F22's and some other little surprises…
Q: How will the interface have changed for TFX3?
Roger G: We have completely thrown away the original EF2000 GUI system and adopted a new system. From the players point of view the new interface is more colourful and better presented. The user interfaces themselves have had more time lavished on them. We are very pleased with the new interfaces and we can not wait to see the user response from the F22 players.
Q: Reference is made to an interactive cockpit design. Will we be able to control most aircraft and weapons functions by clicking on the appropriate switch?
Roger G: The two biggest differences between EF2000's MFD system and F22's is that the displays have a far higher resolution and the displays themselves are interactive. In EF2000 you could only interact with the MFD's using the surrounding buttons. In F22 you can actually click in the screen display.
For example in the autopilot MFD display you can change modes by clicking on the appropriate box in the screen. This enables us to create far more intuitive pilot to plane interfaces.
Also in the Attack, Situation and Defence displays you can click on to units to gain more information on them.
Q: One of the major gripes on the sim forum regarding EF2 had to do with wingmen AI and control. How much more control will we have of our flight in TFX3?
Roger G: The menuing system is still on the TAB key. However it has little in common with the menu system in EF2000. The menu system has been completely redesigned to incorporate more flexible communications between the player and other units and installations within the game.
Q: Suspension of disbelief is almost a mantra among serious sim fans. EF2000 went beyond most other sims of its time by giving us a dynamic environment where randomness was extremely high and where one felt that one was participating in a real battle environment. One area that seemed ripe for expansion was the area of comms, where one could listen in on other flights and observe their interaction with targets and one another. Will TFX3 give us that ability?
Roger G: Yes. The new in-flight communication system allows you to change the frequency of your radio. This allows you to eaves drop in to the computer controlled planes communications. At first it's kind of strange hearing them giving instructions to each other independent of your actions. We like it though.
Click the image for a larger shot..
Q: How much will flight modelling have evolved for TFX3?
Roger G: We have two aeronautical engineers working away on accurate models for DID's products; both military and domestic. The model and flight control systems are being honed as I type. We expect to have the most realistic flight model for a F22 available on the market. The flight model also has a high alpha flight mode to take advantage of the vectored thrust on the F22. This is major amounts of fun in close quarter dogfights.
Q: What is SMARTPILOTS and how has it evolved for TFX3? Will we see skill levels grow as pilots fly more missions?
Roger G: SmartPilots is the name we gave to our computer controlled pilot AI. The idea was that SmartPilots would be able to perform all the actions of their human counterparts; fly, fight, bomb, land etc. Jeremy O'Brian, our lead aeronautical engineer has recently re-written the SmartPilot system do give them 6 degrees of freedom (6DOF) flight modelling. In other flight sim products planes fly in the direction they point and have very limited flight modelling. This is not so in TFX3. 6DOF makes them subject to the same physical laws as the player. They even flare out when landing correctly. It really adds that extra dimension of realism to the game. SmartPilots also now have skill levels. If you have a squadron of pilots in the campaign they will improve over time (assuming they don't buy the farm during your missions :).
Q: Another area that was requested for enhancement in EF2 was the integration of the ground war. How does TFX3 handle the broader environment?
Roger G: We have a fully functioning ground war. The Tanks fight each other on the battlefield, trains travel around the desert (on train lines), trucks travel down the roads, SAMS trundle around taking pot shots at enemy aircraft and AAA snakes into the sky. This is great stuff for Close Air Support missions. Now the F22 would rarely be used for CAS but the game allows you to fly CAS missions as and when you like. Of course the other aircraft will perform CAS using SmartPilots as well so don't be surprised if you see A10's smashing T-80's to bits or EF2000's performing Wild Weasel.
Q: TFX3 integrates tactical and strategic elements beyond EF2000. How will it accomplish this?
Roger G: With F22 Total Air War the player has a far greater degree of control over the way the war is fought. The mission planner is not just used for you to create missions you want to fly; you can use it for positioning CAP's over your sensitive installations or create a series of missions leading on from one another - you can really do anything you like with your planes. . Also if any of the planes you send up are F22's then you have the option of flying the mission.
Say you wanted to bomb a strategically important target but it's SAM umbrella is just too hard to penetrate. You could tackle the problem in a number of ways:
Plan several strike missions to the same target with a large contingent of Wild Weasel flights. This may work but you could end up losing a lot of your planes. You could plan a F117, JSF or F22 mission to take out the targets in the night using their stealth capabilities. You could plan a continual series of Wild Weasel flights until every last SAM launcher is destroyed. Then send in your bombers. The choice is yours.
Along with the mission planner you also have the AWACS to play with. This allows you to control the planes in the air in real time. You can re-task and vector planes around to deal with threats as they appear. Also you can jump in to any friendly F22 in the theatre from AWACS. You can engineer dogfights by vectoring flights and then watch the resulting dogfight using smart views.
Q: DiD has advertised that there might be an Independence Day add on for TFX3. How did that goal come to pass? Has it remained in place? Can you tell us more about the development process?
Roger G: Sorry Len. I can not comment on this at the moment…
Q: What about VR helmets? Forte is now testing a HMD that will go up to 1024x768 with stereoscopic effects and head tracking. Dolby surround seems almost a new standard. Will these technologies impact TFX3?
Roger G: Currently we don't have HMD's factored in to the project plan. The current generation of HMD's (with a few rare expensive exceptions) just don't cut the mustard. However if a really cool piece of kit appears and if we can add it quickly enough we will try to include support in F22 ADF.
Q: Many virtual pilots are dreaming of the integrated battlefield. Will TFX3 eventually allow networking with a future DiD sim, or will there be an add-on to allow us to fly joint missions with another strike platform?
Roger G: Multi-player battlefield technology is another of DID's holy grails. One of DID's long term goals is something called EBT (Electronic Battlefield of Tomorrow). This is an innovation that will start to appear in products after F22 ADF. However no decision has been taken with regard to TFX3 add on's other than 'Total Air War'. Q: What is the coolest feature of TFX3?
Roger G: This is a really difficult question because we have so much in the product. If I had to pick something though, it would be the high alpha manoeuvre mode using vectored thrust in multi-player dogfights. It adds a whole new dimension to the close quarter air to air combat. King of The Skies will never be quite the same again!
Q: What other projects is DiD working on? How is the tank simulation progressing?
Roger G: Tank is looking really cool. The Tank team are using DID's brand new hierarchical graphics engine for the simulation and it is coming along in leaps and bounds. We also have some other really exciting projects in the pipeline but I am not allowed to talk about them yet. Sorry! Q: What is out on the horizon for DiD? Where do you want to go after TFX3?
Roger G: Somewhere hot with a beach! After TFX3 is finished the TFX team will be heaving a collective sigh of relief and be heading for some serious rest and recuperation. But when we get back…
Simon K: Don't worry Len I'll soon have them working on an even better product!
Roger G: There certainly will be a TFX4 at some point; however it is still a little too early to talk about that… Rest assured, the TFX team will not be resting on our laurels after F22 ADF and F22 TAW.
F22: ADF was released in early December and the TAW upgrade will arrive late in Q1 1998. Note that ADF will have the AWACs option but not the Base Commander option. Furthermore, the mission structure in ADF consists of Tours of Duty, scripted missions that flow through different campaigns. Graphics modes will allow up to 800x600 resolution running under Glide with specific support for 3dfx...
To read the F22 Reviews go to:
To read the F22 TAW Preview go to:
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Last Updated August 30th, 1997