Joint Strike Fighter: Part I
Test System One:
- AMD K6 233 with 1 meg cache
- 4 gig Cheetah SCSI 3 Hard Disk
- 64 meg of SDRam and 32 meg cache
- STB Velocity 128 3d
- AWE 64 Sound Board output to Jazz 3d stereo
- 17" MAG monitor
- TM gear
- Saitek gear
- CH gear
Test System Two:
- PII 337.5 with 512K cache
- 4 GB UDMA Quantum
- 32 meg of EDO
- Matrox Millenium 4 meg
- Canopus Pure 3d 6 meg
- Game Theatre 64
- 17" VOXON monitor
- CH gear
The Joint Strike Fighter jetfighter project has been conceived by the Pentagon because it can afford only one major aircraft engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) program in the period 2000-2010. The program is set to replace the F-16, the AV-8B Harrier and is producing a multi-role fighter to carry out ground strike-missions, interception and patrol while making use of the latest advances in stealth-technology, weapon-systems and computer communication. In November 1996, two contractors were selected to meet this challenge: Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. For more information on the actual program go to: JSF Program
If you're a serious gamer and a reader of Next Generation magazine, you may have heard of a small team of programmers called Innerloop. These guys are basically a "demo group" from the Norway scene where they had invented a new way of drawing detailed terrain at long distances and high speeds. They were known for a little demo of a snowboarding girl on amazing terrain and were investigating some kind of flying game.
As it turns out, they ended up getting very serious about that flying game and got picked up by Eidos to make JSF: Joint Strike Fighter. JSF is basically the Innerloop equivalent of Jetfighter III. It's purpose is to let the player fly either the Lockheed Martin or the Boeing Joint Attack Strike Fighter (JAST) proposed aircraft for the upcoming competitive flyoff. You will get to fly both jets yourself and see which one you like the most across four campaign scenarios.
I must have been making some rather LARGE assumptions about JSF. I was expecting a very light simulation, perhaps close to Novalogics F22 Raptor. But after about six hours with this sim I am impressed! JSF comes in at intermediate level; I would wager it will appeal to the light weekend sim crowd as well as to many hardcore fans. I think the best comparison should be to EF2000, although the terrain is even more beautiful. Nuff said, on to the nuts and bolts!
Into the Wild Blue Yonder
Installation options are 50, 70 or 150 megs though 150 is recommended for best performance. I think that the difference between the medium and large install is primarily sound files. Install calls for DX5 which most of us run by now. I had no problem whatsoever with installation.
The opening MENU lists these options:
- Select Pilot
The game looks extremely good. You have detailed, light-sourced graphics that look amazing even without a 3d card. The terrain has much more physical shape detail than you would expect in a non-accelerated game. Additionally, first impressions of the game's physics modeling and ground-landing gear physics make it appear to be approaching that of A-10 Cuba!
Maybe it has to do with InnerLoop's physical proximity to Britain, but the game has some remarkable resemblances to a next generation EF2000. The whole cockpit/MFD interface feels very similar, with a persistent virtual cockpit and familiar looking MFD screens. You can move between MFDs with your mouse and the cockpit is interactive when you pull up MFDs. However, when you look down at your hands and feet, they all mimic your movements on the controls! Even your knees can be seen moving as you work the rudder pedals.
While the game runs fine and looks great without 3d hardware, I also tested on my 3dfx board for good measure. Special effects are also provided in software, so that in fact the only gain derived by running under 3dfx acceleration is higher resolutions at good frame rates.
I liked 640x480 16-bit color on my 233 system (non accelerated). With all effects toggled on and detail at medium for terrain and high for objects I was averaging about 10-12 fps on this system. At this resolution and detail level you will not see anything else on the market that looks this good. Skies, aircraft, the ground with trees and snow is quite incredible. Even the sense of speed at low level is comparable to the best out there, and this is WITHOUT 3d hardware! JSF will allow 16-bit color for every resolution up to 1280x1024!! Obviously you can't run in software mode at that resolution with a 233, but by next year who knows?
Under 3dfx at 800x600 the game is a knock out, with more atmosphere than any other light flight sim on the market although JF3 Platinum is close. On my 333 system under 3dfx I can turn detail and effects to MAX and still get around 30 fps. My Velocity 128 in the AMD 233 won't allow resolution past 1024x768 at 16 bit color, but when I swapped in the Permedia Two based board (8 meg) I went up to 1280x764. I'll be honest with you.... I'm tempted to swap this board into my 337 PII just to play around occasionally with JSF at 1280x1024. On my 233 its the most beautiful slide show I've ever seen at that resolution, but on a PII 337 I suspect it would still be playable... =)
This is great option and one that was added in later revisions of EF2000. The choices presented when you select Dogfight are these: TIme of day (random or specific), Weather (Random seems the only selection possible), No of Wingmen (None up to 8), Enemies per wave (None up to 8), Enemy Type (also locked in Random), Distance : five options from Very Close to Very Far, and you can also check Guns Only.
Obviously the BEST place to check out a virtual padlock and handling of this machine. I chose daylight, one enemy no wingman and guns only. My enemy appeared in front of me at 3.5 miles, another F22. His manouvering was fair although I don't think he ever got a shot at me. It would have been nice to have a difficulty toggle, I'm not sure if the general difficulty setting for the sim applies here, but it might. I had left the difficulty on average (you can crank it up two more levels).
The virtual cockpit is invoked by F2, and then a second press gives you padlock, much like in Longbow 2. VC when you lose front view has the canopy reflections similar to EF2000 that help you stay oriented. Because this machine can pull incredible AOA orientation is easily lost!
"G" effects are quite amazing. I've heard descriptions from jet jocks that when you pull too many Gs your circle of vision gradually narrows and if you continue you lose vision altogether. JSF models this description to the letter. The blackness creeps inward toward the center of the screen. YOu can pull high g's and keep a small circle of vision, but increase it and the screen goes black, then fades back on when you let up.
I then tried the same scenario with one wingman and two bandits. Fun! First we were up against two F22s, then two Rafales, then an Su-35 and a MiG-29. Explosions are awesome and pieces of the aircraft will go flying past your airframe. I've seen parachutes in the sim but these aren't modelled in the dogfighting. For more on the virtual cockpit see VIEWS below.
Immersion and Sound
Graphics features and effects have been carefully modelled throughout the sim. Chaff, flares and missile trails look good. Sun glare, fog and haze... all as you would expect from a late 1997 simulation (even contrails!). What will surprise you is that the terrain looks as good down low as up high, and you can crank the detail higher than you would expect and still get a good frame rate.
Its amazing how good trees look and how they improve the sense of reality. True, its a sparse forest, but crusing low over terrain it looks normal and improves the sense of speed.
JSF is the first military sim for the PC to attempt modelling rain and snow, and you can throw in wind and turbulence for good measure. Taking off into the wind is a new experience for me and I was surprised by the different "feel" this gave the takeoff experience. Its not too hard to lose control and if you take off in a cross wind you can get flipped off the runway if you aren't paying attention!
Sound modelling is good, and unlike F22 Raptor sounds are modelled for a variety of objects. There may be a bug in that I usually don't hear engine sounds until after I have requested clearance for takeoff. I'm not sure if this is because my virtual pilot has not started his engines til then..? But this doesn't make sense since I am already on the runway! Incidentally, you can click a toggle to begin each mission on the runway or on the tarmac.
If you are browsing objects (not unlike the browse views in EF2000, and you can also browse objects "after death") you will hear sounds appropriate to them, from the dull roar of a truck engine to the whir of chopper blades. You can also choose a wingman view at any time, and will hear engine sounds as appropriate. If they kick in afterburner you will see and hear it, and engine spool/up down is also modelled.
The simulation features FOUR campaign scenarios, each semi-dynamic in nature. This means that there will be less repetition, a good feeling of immersion and high replayability. It also models almost 10 MILLION square miles of actual terrain. The campaigns get progressively more difficult although you can play them in any order. I prefer the Columbian terrain and the Kola peninsula to Afghanistan and Korea so most of my test missions were flown there.
First impressions are important. While the virtual cockpit is not as impressive as F22: ADF, I liked it better than that in F22 Raptor. I didn't care for the MFD system all that much, however, and the sim would have greatly benefited from interactive MFDs using a mouse. However, that said, you can program ANY MFD function into your HOTAS, something you cannot do with F22: ADF.
Briefing and debriefing are nicely done, with sufficient detail that you feel involved and informed. From the Main Menu you can choose Dogfight, Multiplay or Campaign. Dogfight gives you a couple of choices then you find yourself in the sky for some action. You can select weather conditions and time of day and also whether you will go guns only or the full weapons options. If you launch into the campaign you can choose to start in the air or on the runway.
Go to Part II
For info on the real jsf.. JSF Program
Last Updated December 1st, 1997