|E3 1998 Modern Sim Survey
by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson
Falcon 4.0, as we all know, is looking hot! F4 is the only coming simulation that I get daily email requests for more information and release dates... although lately Team Apache and EAW are running close seconds.
Why the booming interest in F4? Switch to "legacy mode." F3 is a classic and is still played by some LAN squadrons. F4 has been in development since the late Jurassic period, and we all know that extended development time should equal depth of game play!
In fact, Falcon 4.0 is the only simulation I know of that has two separate sets of programmers working on two fully dynamic air and ground wars in the same theatre. The ground war in F4 models approximately 40,000 objects. If every bridge has three sections this number might be higher. Repair and replacement rates will also be realistic. Microprose is very big on the ground forces ability to repair bridges with engineer units. The ground war team don't care much about the flight sim: their sole interest is in a realistic ground war.
Based on previous arguments with regard to dynamics in campaigns, F4 is certain to up the ante, if not redefine entirely what the ultimate simulation should look like. Factors such as resources, weather, intel and strategic considerations will all be important in F4. Factor in multiplayer goals and plans for adding additional aircraft including the MiG 29 this fall, and the only simulation that we KNOW will compete this year is Su 27 2.0 (TAW will be close but there is no promise of an opposing aircraft in the same theatre).
With about fifteen minutes of stick time in F4 at E3, I don't feel qualified to comment in depth on flight modelling or avionics. What I can tell you is that the Falcon 4 I saw is far beyond the demo released late last December. Graphics and effects, and especially the padlock, are looking great.
The padlock in F4 has been troublesome. Its a critical factor in this simulation, and its probably only quite recently that the features have been finalized. The result? WOW. It works perfectly and is quick to master. Having not flown F4 for six months I was able to jump in and in five minutes I had a kill H2H against another player. In about a minute I was able to orient myself completely and fly fluidly, even though I was still unfamiliar with the flight modeling and feel.
Damage modeling is moving to a new generation of detailing and effects. Quote:
When a weapon hits don't expect the target to be simply replaced by a smoking crater. Each weapon is evaluated against about ten different target types, from soft (troops) to hardened fixed sites. Different weapons have different effects on each type of taret. Cluster bombs are great against troops in the open but don't do anything against a tank or someone in a shelter.
Large objects such as bridges are modelled in pieces, so you don't take out the whole thing with a hit. You'll see parts of damaged and destroyed objects lying on the ground after a successful hit. After some time has passed in the sim you'll see destroyed objects replaced by objects under repair and eventually by fully repaired objects...
The attention to detail in the game is impressive. Clouds are not simply a semi-transparent textured plane, a squarish polygon, or a solid ceiling (unless appropriate for the weather condition at the time). Game clouds will be complex polygons with irregular "puffy" shapes, and more than one type of cloud is modeled. Colors become darker and subdued when flying under a cloud, and correspondingly brighter when flying out of its shadow into the clear. F-16's have the appropriate "stealth" gold tint coating to their cockpit canopies, and the other craft have a similar attention given to their models.
M1 Tank Platoon II was another ground breaking..er, no pun intended... release this year. We knew that it was the first instalment of a digital battlefield from Microprose, but no one was too sure what the first followup would be. Would it be an A10? Would it be a chopper?
When we arrived upstairs in the Microprose hangar we found Tim Goodlett demoing a very early concept of Gunship III. Initially designed as a stand alone product Gunship will connect to M1TP2. Good news! The following shots are from Gunship III under 3dfx.
The game structure will be similar to M1TP2 in that players will select from Marine, Army or Cavalry units, and that choice will also decide the support units you can access. If you enter the Marines you'll fly the AH-1W Super Cobra. Sign up for the Army and climb into an AH-64D Apache Longbow. And better yet, both front and back set will be modeled for all choppers! I was a bit surprised that the RAH 66 Comanche will also be available for recon missions. But after all, it is present in M1 TP2!
As Tim was cruising around I felt familiar with the terrain; it looks virtually identical to the terrain in M1 TP2. But then I noticed trees! Tim had made reference to the fact that they had been playing with tree lines in M1 prior to release but weren't happy with some aspect of the modelling, maybe the performance hit. But by the time Gunship III arrives hardware will have advanced another notch and boards like the Riva TNT and beyond will be pushing pixels faster still. So Gunship will bring us a tactical advance to M1 TP2.
Even in this early demo Tim was able to use trees for cover. But there are more plans afoot, and we may also see deep grass and brush modeled. Tim hasn't been happy with the use of infantry in M1 TP2 and would like this tactical dimension advanced also. The ability to hide in grass, or to take your tank into deep grass, or even for infantry to dig in... mind boggling!
Other possibilities include the addition of a Havoc or Hokum for multiplayer. Will we see the addition of an A-10 in 1999? Heres hoping! Tim Goodlett and Scott Spanberg are the producers of Gunship III.
Since Gunship will arrive long after DX6 and maybe even DX7 we can expect full Voodoo 2 support. Connectability will mean an upgrade to the M1 TP2 engine, and hopefully we will be running at 800x600 or beyond. Explosions and effects will likewise be upgraded. Its likely that we will see much better use of fog, smoke and dynamic lighting. M12 TP2 may even take us beyond the graphics of Longbow 2 sometime in 1999.
Whew! Thats a mouthful. Go to Part V, covering MiG Alley, MiG 29 & F16 by Novalogic, Su 27 2.0, Team Apache, Total Air War and World Air Power: IAF tomorrow.
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Last Updated June 5th, 1998