|Flight Unlimited III Interview
by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson
Some years back Looking Glass Technologies released their first foray into flight simulation gaming in Flight Unlimited. While it was an entertaining game, it was difficult to classify, not falling into a specific genre of simulation.
Flight Unlimited 2 was definitely a civil simulation, and was innovative in many ways. In a genre which was rarely revolutionary, FU2 took some broad steps forward.
The planes available out of the box in FU2 gave a good cross-section of light-duty civil aviation. Included were a classic example for each of the categories of high-wing, low-wing, twin-engine, and amphibious planes - represented by the "Trainer" 172, Piper Arrow, Beechcraft Baron, and the DeHaviland Beaver. Additionally, a P-51 Mustang was in there for some joyriding.
In short, FU2 attempted for aviation simulations what Battlespire did after Daggerfall. That is, rather than trying to cover virtually everything imagineable and end up sacrificing detail, FU2 concentrated on a more limited scope, but far more thoroughly: the Bay Area and much of the surrounding countryside was brought together in a level of detail that was simply unmatched.
We're not talking about repeated textures, either. The entire landscape was basically one huge texture, covering every street and virtually every building there is (although technically only the larger structures had 3d models).
The feature of Flight Unlimited 2 that stood out the most among the competition (aside from graphics) was the extensive communication system. Most other sims left one feeling utterly alone. In FU2, cranking up the traffic density for Christmas, scheduling a departure from San Francisco International, and then tuning your radio into the ground control frequency suddenly gave one a feeling of immersion in reality that was unparalleled in the genre.
With this history in mind, we asked a few questions recently of Tom Sperry, Project Director for Flight Unlimited III.
Len: First, what were your goals in designing FUIII over your previous versions?
Tom: We really wanted to create a flight simulator that gave each user the true joy and sensation of flight in the most realistic environment available. We are creating a simulator that will challenge the hard core user and be easy enough for the casual user.
Flight Unlimited III will be a rich and dynamic environment. You are not just flying alone anymore. There will be interactive ATC, other planes flying in the sky, moving ground objects, richly detailed scenery and objects, dynamic weather fronts, plus a lot more!
We also have a licensed flight instructor creating a whole suite of lessons that will help the beginning pilot with all the basics and at the same time, train the advanced pilot on more demanding maneuvers. Pilots will learn how to deal with emergencies, flying in bad weather, and lessons on each plane as well. This is a complete flight simulator that will give the true sensation and joy of flight!
Len: One of the FU2 highlights are the adventures and the ability to create your own. What can we expect with FU3?
Tom: We have decided to create what we are now calling Challenges for Flight 3 instead of the old adventure theme. You'll still find some fun themes, but you will also find more serious themes that will take to task even the most advanced pilot. Since we are in the Seattle area, the terrain is perfect for Challenges. There is some awesome mountain flying, plus all the lakes are perfect for the seaplanes. I also think there is another flight sim company out there but I am not sure :-)...
We will definitely continue allowing the users to create their own Challenges in Flight III.
Stemme over Mountains.
Len: The graphics engine is obviously far beyond FU2. Tell us about the engine and its features.
Tom: The biggest enhancement we made was going to 16 bit. The scenery for Flight Unlimited 3 is satellite imagery and the resolution throughout the entire environment is 4 meters per pixel. We are also working on much better cloud rendering as well as issues such as popping and terrain cracking that can take away from the realism. Maximum resolution will be 1024x768.
Len: What will be your recommended system requirements, and what framerate should that user expect at medium res, say 800x600?
Tom: We are still working on what our minimum system requirements will be. It is going to support software and hardware modes.
Len: Flight modeling has been considered a highlight of past Flight Unlimited titles. What are the main features and how have you moved beyond FU2?
Tom: The flight models are based on real physics, aerodynamics and lift theory. We even have our new jet model based off swept wing knowledge, jet engine modeling, mach speed relationships, the effects of high altitude, temperature and pressure.
The fidelity of all the airplanes is very high. The new ones sporting the knew flight models we've developed, and the original ones getting the same treatment - to bring them up to the new Flight III standard.
Tom: The flight models will have better stability on takeoff and roll right after liftoff. No more spins unless you really get rough in a stall. Much like a real plane. Sensitivity has been dampened out... sensitivity to input but not responsiveness. Real planes respond very quickly (at certain speeds) but are not overly touchy.
While to some, the flight models may seem easier to fly - they in fact are. Real airplanes are not hard to pilot, but the physics we've formulated to do them this way is in fact very accurate. Flight modeling is undergoing months of tweaking by our programmers and real pilots for the life of FU3 development.
Len: Physics modeling is another huge growth area in flight sim products, and the beta testers of Fighter Squadron have been bragging for months. Where is FU3 going in this department?
Tom: Physics has always been a strong point in all the previous Flight Unlimited releases. Flight 3 will carry on the tradition and once again set the bar.
Beech Interior: Click for larger.
Len: The interior detailing looks fantastic. Can we expect this level of detail throughout the product?
Tom: We have made huge efforts to make sure all the details are there in every aspect of the game. As a flight sim fan, realism is very important throughout a simulation product in order to maintain the immersive feeling that a sim should provide.
Len: You also plan to model a P51, as in FU2. Why model combat aircraft at all? Tell us about your goals for this component of FU3?
Tom: Let's be clear on this, we are a general aviation sim. There will not be any combat modes in Flight Unlimited 3. This does not mean we will not accurately model combat planes and give the user the joy and sensation of flying that particular aircraft. The idea behind this is to provide a wide array of planes for our users to experience. Who wouldn't want to feel what it was like to pilot the aircraft of the infamous Red Baron?
Len: Dynamic weather... this is one of the product main features. Tell us about it.
Tom: Our weather system will live and grow based on real world factors like humidity, temperature, sun, frontal movement, seasons, time of day, mountain uplift and phases of the moon. Keep an eye out for new weather screenshots in the near future and then we will tell more.
Mooney over City.
Len: Tell us about API support.
Tom: We will support Direct X 6.0 and Force Feedback.
Len: From FUII - what new/different aircraft can we see over FUII?
Tom: We will have the Stemme Motorglider, Lake Renegade (seaplane), Beechjet 400A, Fokker DR.1, and the Mooney Bravo, along with the Trainer 172, Muskrat Seaplane, Beech Baron, P-51D, and the Piper Arrow.
Len: What improvements in AirTraffic Control will we see in Flight Unlimited III from the previous version?
Tom: The ability to have IFR clearances on the ground and the resulting IFR flight following from takeoff to enroute, just like in real life.
CSIM: Tell us about other aspects of the COMMS in FU3.
Tom: The communication system is basically the same. We've done some fine tuning and added more realistic verbiage used in both AI and player aircraft.
Len: What excites you the most about this new project?
Tom: I love to make realistic flightsims. I love cool planes and I love to fly. I also lived in Seattle for 5 years, and it is great to see it come alive on my PC. I am really excited about expanding the Flight Unlimited franchise and take it to a new level. The team of people we have here is super talented and they know how to make great products.
Len: Where are you going in the future? What areas would you like to improve/enhance?
Tom: That is for another interview... :)!
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Last Updated February 16th, 1999