by Daniel "Crash" Crenshaw
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The SU-27 Mission Disk is the Version 1.5 Upgrade with 150 extra missions. So just what IS the 1.5 upgrade and what does it do? Well here is what SSI says:
- •Greatly enhanced graphics featuring Gouraud shaded 3D objects.
- •16 player head to head capability over local area networks.
- •Includes over 150 new missions to fly.
- •Extended Mission Editor allowing single missions to extend over many days.
- •Automatic mission generator, allows the player to go beyond the 150 mission provided.
- •Comprehensive training manual for novice & experienced pilots.
- •Further significant enhancements to enemy artificial intelligence.
The BETA testing teams were very well organized with different teams assigned to different areas of the sim. I was involved with the NETWORK portion of the program (big surprise, eh?), but was also exposed to many other additions and enhancements to the sim as we tested.
If we work our way down the SSI list of enhancements we start off with the:
Gouraud Shaded 3D Objects. This was called "Smooth Shading" in the options menu. You may have seen some posts on the news group regarding this feature between some of the beta testers. This is optimized for OPEN GL. It does run on systems with out it, but it is slow and has pretty hard frame rate hits. I saw it run on systems without OPEN GL, systems with full OPEN GL and even with beta OPEN GL drivers for existing 3D cards. To be honest, they all ran about the same. Also the use of "Smooth Shading" created instability in a NETWORK environment. And the final draw back is the added shading is only visible from outside the cockpit. The enhancements do look great and give us all a taste of things to come. Basically, this is the proverbial "Eye Candy" and adds little to the package in my opinion.
16 player Head to Head over local area network (LAN). Well, this is misleading. Not only can you go Head to Head, but you can create missions to fly co-op. Or even side vs. side. Stability is pretty good, if you get a lot going on, human and AI, then sometimes the stability starts to become a problem, but on the whole stability was more than acceptable. During a NETWORK test session just before the release version, we had 10 pilots in the air, a dedicated AWACS station, and over 50 AI enemy aircraft at one time. We ran a dedicated server or "MASTER" because if the "MASTER" dies, he can not re-enter.
This is probably the only real flaw in the NETWORK code. I mentioned re-entering. The beauty of this set up, if you die, you just leave the mission on your own, re-enter the mission and there you go. No waiting for the rest of the wing to finish that 1 hour plus mission because you flubbed on take off or have a mid-air collision while flying in close formation.
Other than the "MASTER" dying and not being able to re-enter, which could be a real problem if you are running a 24 hour or multi day mission, the other problem is entry. When each pilot enters, they arrive in the exact same place. Easily remedied by coordinating entry and moving off the staging point.
As far as NETWORKING goes, we have a winner here. SSI makes no promises for INTERNET play, but via KALI and KAHN, 2 pilots are still very stable. Via TCP/IP connections 2 players are rock solid. As you go beyond 2 to 3 or 4, stability drops. We have had 4 pilots in the air at once via TCP/IP and it seemed fair. Mission size becomes a factor in stability. I would not recommend more than 2 pilots in H2H or co-operative missions unless you are not easily frustrated. There is also no CHAT feature, so flying over the NET becomes even more difficult for strike and attack coordination.
150 New Missions. What is there to say? If you tire of creating your own, these should keep you busy for quite a while. I flew a few of them and there are some that are just insane. There is one night mission where by the time your gear is up, you have Air to Air missiles and SAMs both coming at you. Some of these are great for co-op mission, but over the net, the lack of comms is a real problem. There are some very good mission here, a lot of fun.
Extended Mission Editor allowing single missions over several days. Known as the "Complex Long Mission" or CLM. I believe that the claim is actually 100 day missions. The potential here is truly incredible, especially for extended LAN sessions. The big test session we had with the 10 pilots was in the planning stages for nearly a month. We had sectioned the planned 24 hour mission into 3 hour pieces with different people taking the role of Tactical Air Command for the invading Russians. The Ukrainian ground forces were planned by one person and Defensive Air Missions for the Ukrainians were planned by another.
All of these missions were merged with a 3rd party utility that is being developed by Mike Barnes of the 62nd Fighting Falcons in Australia that is called "MERGE". This utility allows you to pick and choose who and what type of objects you want to merge and allows you to change an existing mission or create a new one. This will be available on the 62nd’s web site at: OntheNet. Great utility, I highly recommend it.
This created an ENORMOUS mission. With a dedicated server, it ran pretty smooth. We found that the AWACS view seems to tax the system with missions of this size, so we dedicated an AWACS station (there are some Comms recordings on the Delta Hawks Web Site). While we did go into day 2 in this mission, I am uncertain of the stability of multi day missions even if played solo if the mission for a one day assault is this big. We really didn’t have any problems, but I suggest the fastest system you can find for a big multi-player mission and use it as a dedicated server so if you die, you can get back into the action. AWACS or F10 view gives you information by clicking on the desired item. Data includes plane type, altitude, speed etc.
Automatic Mission Generator. I did not get to see this feature so I can not comment on it.
Training Manual. Again, I haven’t got a chance to see this yet. But based on the quality of the original, I would expect good things.
Enhanced AI. This I can talk to. The AI is much improved. Enemy aircraft are much more aggressive and smart in their tactics. Go up 1V2 and watch them bracket you and make life generally miserable. GAI is dedicated to keeping you away from their base … at all costs. Specifics are difficult to pin down, but with the hours I have spent testing, they should be getting easier to kill. If I run 1.2, I have no problem dusting the AI, in version 1.5 … these guys mean business.
A few more items not listed. There is a 40X time accelerator (F11). There is a number of new paint schemes to choose from (I really like the all Pink one and the all Black one depending on my mood). There are several other small enhancements all throughout SU-27, but these two with the others discussed are the most noticeable and play impacting additions.
This package is another step above an already excellent sim. The main and probably most significant addition in my opinion is LAN support. While not everyone has the opportunity to fly LAN, the enhancements made to directly effect the networkability of the sim (Mission Editor and Generator etc.) add to the over all enjoyment of the sim. And the 150 extra missions will keep many busy for a long time.
While there is nothing that I think was done wrong, I think that the Gouraud Shading is the most un-useful item included. While it is nice to go outside and watch once in a while, the lack of shading visable from the cockpit make this feature marginal in my opinion. I am looking forward to a full graphic enhanced version of this sim in the future.
If I could pick one thing that is missing, that would be a dynamic campaign, but there are rumors. …
Overall? For LAN fanatics, a must buy. For Flanker freaks, including those that fly over the net with 1 other pilot, a must buy as well. The improved AI and extra missions will give you and your Internet wingman hours … or even months of fun. For solo players, I would strongly recommend. The improved AI and extra missions alone will keep you engrossed in one of the best flight sims ever for a long time to come.
Last Updated August 30th, 1997