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if18 Carrier Strike Fighter

by Thomas "AV8R" Spann

Interactive Magic's second in-house sim debut, iF/A-18E CSF, Carrier Strike Fighter, has been released. To help us understand this undertaking, we have an exclusive interview with IMagic's Lead Designer on this project, Jim Harler (USMC Ret.) After the interview, we will take a first hand look, and then focus on multiplayer game play.


The Fighter Attack Hornet ready for launch. The best carrier experience to date.

CSIM: Jim, I understand you come from a Naval aviation background. Would you give us a brief bio so that we can set the context from which you speak with authority?

IMAGIC: I flew the Grumman A6 Intruder for the US Marine Corps for about 20 years. I was qualified as a NATOPS (standardization) Instructor, Weapons and Tactics Instructor, Instrument Instructor and Mission Commander. Most of my time was served in East Coast squadrons out of MCAS Cherry Point, NC with overseas tours to WestPac and a couple of trips to the Mediterranean and accrued a little less than 3000 flight hours. I've been a simmer for years and know what I like in a sim. I've also done the actual flying and so I know what it's like in the cockpit. I think, and hope, that gives me a unique perspective when it comes to designing a flight sim.

Military Simulator
Lead designer Jim Harler at the helm, with Wild Bill.

CSIM: With that kind of background, can you comment on what the biggest challenges you see with modeling real fighter experiences into a boxed sim?

IMAGIC: Well, the challenge centers around providing players with a sense of the excitement and difficulties faced by military pilots while still making the simulation FUN. People buy sims for the challenges but, at the same time, it needs to be fun too. Combining these two aspects into a single package that most people will enjoy is a real challenge.

if18 Terrain

Photo realistic satellite accurate terrain, looks good at high altitudes only.

CSIM: I find expectations are often the biggest enemy to enjoying a flight sim. Most of us have not flown real military aircraft, and thus are not always ready for the realistic flight modeling like I see in Warbirds, Jane's F15E, Su27 Flanker and now iF18 CSF. Would you go into more detail on what went into this aspect of CSF?

IMAGIC: This is a very difficult issue to say the least. In CSF we have two models, Relaxed and Realistic. The Relaxed model exhibits most aerodynamic characteristics but buffered to make it less 'work'. From the start, my thought for the Realistic model was to get it as accurate as possible not just so it would be a pleasure to fly but to make the Carrier Operations as realistic as possible too.

To do this we went to the company that provides the Hornet simulation software for the US Navy, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in Patuxent River, MD. Working with them, the US Navy and Boeing-McDonnel Douglas we were able to get a flight model that's the closest thing to the real thing you can find.......that doesn't cost a few million dollars. The models responses, data points and characteristics match very closely that of the real aircraft. This was a real challenge since the actual aircraft is still undergoing testing at NAS Patuxent River, MD and NAS China Lake, CA.

The Super Hornet's Integrated Test Team also allowed us to visit Pax River where we were able to fly in the E model simulator, question the Navy's lead test pilots and view the aircraft both on the line, in the hangar and from Flight Test Center while they were doing actual test flights.


Avionics comparison of a real moving map and that given in iF18 CSF (on right)

CSIM: There will probably never be THE definitive flight sim that satisfies all, so what are the elements that you, the lead designer, focuses on? For example, I look for flight model, AI, avionics and multiplayer above all else (including 3D eye candy).

Click to continue . . .


IMAGIC: I think each designer focuses on what they feel is needed in a sim within the context of their company's goals and technology. At IMagic we have realistic flight simulations as a goal. That gives me the freedom to focus on broad areas that I think are important. Personally, I put realistic flight models pretty high on my list. I sometimes will fly CSF and other sims just for the joy of flying and not the combat. I want variety in missions so the sim doesn't become repetitive in a short time and multiplayer certainly is a plus in that area. Not much more variety than your best buddies trying to get on your six.

In the cockpit, I like to see a fairly high level of realism in the avionics so there's something of a cerebral satisfaction to completing a mission. Of course, with the new hardware coming out now, graphics are gaining more and more importance and rightfully so. A nice looking world and environment adds to the immersion process. Above all I want the sim to be fun. That means finding a balance among all these areas that hopefully will satisfy most simmers out there. Each sim reflects its designer's likes and priorities and I guess that's to be expected. CSF's design pretty accurately reflects mine.


Intelligently laid out GUIs add to immersion.

CSIM: The past iF sims have not been strong players over internet, Warbirds being a whole different story of course. Where does multiplayer fit into IMagic's plans?

IMAGIC: We're very much committed to online play of our games. IMagic acquired ICI early on because we're committed, long term, to the idea of online play. This is large part of the future of gaming and we wanted to lead in that regard. Warbirds is the best known of the online sims now and we're working to keep it that way with constant improvements and additions. We just released the initial version of our WWI online sims, Dawn of Aces. I think it will become the 'Warbirds' of WWI fans everywhere.

Our in-house sims will follow this and we're working to bring up the quality of play in that aspect. CSF is our second effort in that regard and while we've made improvements, we still have goals that need to be met. Putting a full-function realistic sim online is quite a bit more difficult than simpler sims. Data transfer and synchronization schemes are dramatically different when you have a dynamic war taking place on the server and being distributed to all players. We continue to work on this everyday and commit the resources to make it work.

Scrollable virtual cockpit with active MFDs.

CSIM: Can you let us in on what is planned in CSF's update release, and then what the next sims from IMAGIC In-house will be?

IMAGIC: We're in the process of listening to our customers so that we improve CSF with a timely update. I'm on the USENET and several sim site boards daily helping folks out and listening to their comments. My old NOMEX flight suits come in handy some days. When we identify a problem we put team members on it to find the solutions and then test the solutions so we can we can get them to our customers. We're still in the identification stage right now but, hopefully, you'll be seeing something in the very near future.

As for the next sim from here at Magic Labs, I'm afraid my tongue is locked on that one. Marketing would shoot me if I let anything out too soon. I think you'll be hearing something in the not too distant future though.

CSIM: Thank you Jim.

The CV-72 Abraham Lincoln from a final approach angle.

So what is the story with its game play and multiplayer qualities? Is this just another "iF22" or is it different? What's the SIT-REP? I'll try to address these questions that we all have, but keep in mind that the developers that produce WarBirds are a different cast of characters (and have had over 10 years to work on one sim basically).

The IMagic Labs folks are a small development team that is competing with giants like Jane's, SSI, GSC and DiD. CSF is second of their in house projects. From that perspective, I think you can see the leaps in simulation technology that they must deal with.

Go to Part II


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Last Updated September 14th, 1998

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