At this year's E3, Eidos has returned to it's old stomping grounds for sims with four new products: Flight Unlimited II, Flying Nightmares II, Team Apache, and Joint Strike Fighter. All of these sims are amazing ground-breakers that should leave any fan drooling. Put together they are an incredible series of punches that will surely put Eidos squarely back into the minds and shopping lists of sim fans for some time to come. Could this be the same company that was once known as Domark? Read on and find out why we're so amazed.
We've already covered Joint Strike Fighter, but there is one more thing worth adding that fans should love to hear. The enemy planes are not faked at all. In most sims, the movement of the enemy planes is usually simplified to make the enemy AI routines simpler to write. In JSF the enemy AI actually is a "virtual pilot" who puts in control responses to steer the jet just like the player does. This makes the behavior of the enemy jets feel much more realistic.
Note rain drops on the windshield! Click for a larger image.
Flight Unlimited II is going far further than the scope of the original game. In the original FU, the area that one could fly around in was so restricted that the company basically described it as an "acrobatic gymnasium for planes." The sequel has expanded so much beyond that that it is now beginning to encroach into the territory of MS Flight Simulator. Technically FU2 isn't a combat simulation, but it has enough new features to make it an interesting alternative. For starters, Flight Unlimited II now covers all of San Francisco and the surrounding area in absolutely incredible detail, literally displaying every street and terrain feature.
|Lost your in-game map? Head on over to AAA and pick up a street map, it should do the job for you in a pinch.|
45 different airports are covered, all using their actual radio frequencies for communication. In addition to the standard advisory channels, you can tune into the ATC and through a simplified interface carry on a conversation with the controller. You can even listen to other craft talking to the controller and try to figure out where they are according to what they're saying. This "busy world" design should make flying much more interesting. Watch out for those big airliners though! The game will actually model the wake of air turbulence behind the various aircraft, making landing directly behind a 737 quite a dangerous proposition.
The aircraft selection in FU2 is more civilian than those of its predecessor, but represent a good cross-section of various prop craft. You can fly the typical Cessna, the Piper Arrow (a low-winger I believe), the two-engine Beechcraft Baron, the twin-pontoon Beaver seaplane, and the wolf among sheep - the P-51 Mustang.
These craft's implementations offer more than the last ones did in the game. In addition to the voice radio, IFR equipment has been added to ease navigation. This is an interesting turn of events because originally FU2 was slated to be a VFR-only simulation. Additionally fuel mixture settings and prop pitch can be adjusted on the fly. Fine tuning these can extend your speed and range, while messing them up can damage or stall your engine. These gameplay details are nice to see.
The Beaver seaplane is a delight to see. Landing it on the water makes for an interesting challenge, and the way the pontoons react on the water is very convincing combining the effects of bouyancy and angle of attack. It should lend another dimension to the gameplay and looks to one-up the competition here.
|After releasing the game, Looking Glass intends to make new aircraft available every so often over the internet, and others possibly in expansion packs.|
Things don't stop there. In a first move for sim designers the plane selection is purely modular. After releasing the game, Looking Glass intends to make new aircraft available every so often over the internet, and others possibly in expansion packs. The designers revealed that the terrain itself is also modular, and that expansion packs with more scenery will be offered so as to compete with Microsoft more directly.
There's more to do than merely wander around, however. To give a sense of actual gameplay, Looking Glass is examing the possibility of designing "missions" into the game that you can play. Some of them are to fly a set of points in a certain amount of time - kind of a time-speed-distance rally race in the sky. Another proposed type of mission sends the plane to do medevac runs at certain addresses in the city. Since all the streets are there, this becomes a kind of "Domino's Pizza" in the sky where you have to navigate to a particular city street and put it down just right.
Finally, the graphics are downright incredible. The San Francisco area is modeled with uncanny accuracy and satellite photos. You can easily get around the town just on landmarks alone. Looking Glass has done a simply amazing job getting all this detail down and fitting so much in the 3dfx card for the accelerated version. In fact, San Francisco is rendered at 4 meters per pixel. If you live in the area you should be able to find your house!
While lacking in the pure action area, FU2 looks like it's about to acheive the next level in civilian flight sims. Anyone who loves to fly or try new experiences should pay close attention to FU2's development as it approaches release.
Flying Nightmares 2 has already been covered very thoroughly, probably because it is so different than the typical flight combat sim. Despite this there are still some aspects that should be mentioned or reinforced to help create a feel for what the game will be like.
If you don't know about the strategy element or internet play, be sure to check out the preview elsewhere on this site. In a nutshell, FN2 is a strategically oriented combat sim where you can order units around in real-time or jump into a Harrier or SuperCobra to make your attack personally.
The game has come along well since CGDC. The flight model for the Harrier feels very good intuitively. You get a good feel for the inertia the Harrier pulls in its manuevers. Bryan Walker, the lead designer and Desert Storm Apache veteran, explained some of the current nuances and the status of the flight model development.
|Bryan clearly explained that since the aircraft in the game are very "hands-on" type aircraft, any event that would cause an imbalance would require the player to exert a constant force to counteract it - or make adjustments with the trim tabs to reduce its effect.|
One demonstration of the flight model for the Harrier was when it was carrying a pair of very large bombs. After dropping one, the harrier bobbed a bit as the jet settled after the weight shift. Afterwards the Harrier started a gradual roll to the side still carrying a bomb. After dropping that one it ceased rolling and maintained its angle. Bryan clearly explained that since the aircraft in the game are very "hands-on" type aircraft, anything similar event that would cause an imbalance would require the player to exert a constant force to counteract it - or make adjustments with the trim tabs to reduce its effect.
The game was running on various 3d accelerators, and all versions had a clean sharp look that recreated the feel of professional military sims. Both aircraft have sharp virtual cockpits that help in managing situational awareness. The SuperCobra's flight model hasn't been finished yet, but it is coming along well so far.
|Especially intriguing is the fact that the shells don't all land in the exact same location like some kind of "ballistic laser." In fact, as the distance from the barrel increases, the spread of the shells increases, representing both vibration and slight petrubations in flight path due to imperfect accuracy.|
The cannon deserves special note in FN2. Usually the guns modeled in simulations are very idealized, and often are very weak in implementation. However in this game, both the Harrier and the SuperCobra have guns that are handled in an excellent fashion. Both of them have excellent sound effects and appropriate delays between firing and impact. Especially intriguing is the fact that the shells don't all land in the exact same location like some kind of "ballistic laser." In fact, as the distance from the barrel increases, the spread of the shells increases, representing both vibration and slight petrubations in flight path due to imperfect accuracy. Furthermore, in the SuperCobra, the cannon can be swiveled around and fired manually instead of all automatically all the time. Would you actually want to do it manually all the time? Perhaps not, but having the option is a welcome challenge when you're in the mood to lay the gun on by hand.
The way the gunfire is handled really brings to life how a real pilot can infuse new ideas into simulations that haven't been handled before. One new concept that has been brought in to the game is rules for sighting. Even if you're flying over an enemy unit you may not see them. Since 3d accelerator power isn't yet to the point where every little tree and bush can be drawn, FN2 has to kind of "fake" it, not displaying enemy units unless the computer determines that they are considered "visible". Bryan explained that there are a number of factors used in determining whether a unit is considered visible: Your speed, the speed of the enemy unit, your type of vehicle, the type of enemy unit, whether the unit is visible to other units on your side, the distance, the type of terrain, weather conditions, and whether or not they are firing. In real combat, spotting is such a real problem that having a good facsimile in a combat simulation is a welcome sight.
Flying Nightmares 2 might be drawing the most attention of the Eidos sims lately, but Team Apache deserves attention as well. Team Apache is far from a rehash of previous Apache games. It brings a new look, style, and a couple new gameplay elements.
Team Apache has a unique look to it. Designed heavily around 3d accelerator support, the game is really gorgeous. Finely detailed textured models and terrain create the backbone for the game. Great effects like transparent missile trails and 16-bit color lens flares continue the look. Many external cameras are "intelligent" - they don't lock to the Apache rigidly, but very loosely, allowing dramatic views and making it easier to see what the flight model is doing - but still manuevering to keep the Apache in good view. Again there is a virtual cockpit, fortunately - making this the third E3 sim with a virtual cockpit in a helicopter - definitely an indication of a positive trend. Finally, the framerate runs amazingly smooth.
Of special note is enemy fire. Tracers have a very dramatic, yet authentic look to them in Team Apache. They may be firing blindly in a "fill the sky with lead" mode, firing in the your general direction when fired optically, or coming by VERY close when being directed by radar. Makes for some hairy excitement as they zip by - something of a "Star Wars" feel to it. In one case, a pilot was approaching a mountain ridge and long before he got there, you could see the sky filled with AAA fire from some city on the other side, much like Baghdad in the CNN Desert Storm coverage. It's nice to see that once in awhile rather than enemy units that seem to exist only when you fly close to them.
The flight model feels pretty authentic, if perhaps a bit simplified (at least at this point in development) It models the phenomenon one would expect in a good helicopter sim, but is pretty easy to manage.
Another interesting and unique feature of Team Apache is that you have to manage the team you lead. You have to decide which people will fly which airplanes and determine pilot/gunner pairings, hopefully finding people that work well together in pairs. It adds a bit of the roleplaying feel and helps one realize that simulations should sometimes be about recreating the experience of being a pilot rather than only representing machinery.
|The game has other great touches. Hellfires climb up and drop straight down on enemy targets. While other helo sims also do this, the particular way they execute their pop-up attack looks amazingly like the TADS footage from Iraq broadcast occasionally on the Discovery Channel.|
The game has other great touches. Hellfires climb up and drop straight down on enemy targets. While other helo sims also do this, the particular way they execute their pop-up attack looks amazingly like the TADS footage from Iraq broadcast occasionally on the Discovery Channel. Also nice about the laser targeting is that you not only have to maintain keeping the target within a certain box to maintain lock, but abrupt manuevers can temporarily shake the lock until the TADS targeting can adjust properly, making it important to fly smoothly when Hellfires are outbound.
Infantry is modeled with polygons. They don't seem as articulated of those in Hind yet, but that is likely to change before release. They'll take nearly futile pops at you with their small arms until you hose them with the chain gun. Explosions are great in the game. Enemy vehicles burst into flame, sending flaming debris scattering about. Buildings crumple and collapse with secondary explosions at times and lots of burning rubble scattered around the streets. Even crashing the Apache is very impressive. Depending on how you crash, the helo can break up in many pieces along different points, and the wreckage may fall down the side of a slope. Perhaps a touch gruesome, but definitely preferable to Longbow's "Cut to FMV" technique or Hind's "EXIT TO MENU Y/N?" style.
Finally, the game play. Team Apache has a very unusual game balance. While it is designed to be fairly realistic, it is actually quite easy to get into. Even people with very little simulation experience seem to have a relatively easy time getting the hang of managing the flight and weapons models. In this way it feels like a "lite" sim, but it retains the modeling one would expect of an advanced simulation. If Team Apache continues in this path, it will make for an awesome entry sim, and a unique and entertaining helo sim for regular sim players.
Last Updated June 23rd, 1997