by Leonard (Viking1) Hjalmarson
Razorback was founded by former Digital Integration employees whose credits include Tornado, Apache Longbow, and Hind. Yes, these guys have some solid simulation experience! In fact, Tornado is still considered one of the best simulations ever made and maintains a solid following.
Here are new shots from their first project, helping to relieve the pain of FN2s loss. Razorback’s first title is ‘Apache Havoc’, a combat flight simulator featuring two adversary attack helicopters, the American ‘Apache Longbow’ and the Russian ‘Havoc’. Razorback also intend to create a follow on sim titled ‘Comanche Hokum’ which features two scout/attack helicopters, the American ‘Comanche’ and Russian ‘Hokum’. Both titles will be fully interconnectable creating an awesome combat helicopter package! Here is our interview.
Csim: Tell us a bit more about Razorback. What do the team bring to sim design?
RZK: Razorback Studios was formed by myself, Matt Smith, Todd Gibbs and Dave Proctor. We are based near Oxford in the UK.
At some time or other we have all worked for Digital Integration on their titles 'F-16 Combat Pilot', 'Tornado', 'Apache Longbow' and 'Hind'.
With the help of Empire Interactive, Razorback and the 'Apache Havoc' project began in February 1997. The team has now expanded to 8 people (4 programmers and 4 artists).
We are a small but focused team. Everybody has an input into the design of the simulation as opposed to one person dictating it. This means that we are all driven to produce the best work that we can.
We view Apache Havoc as a platform to build from. We started a year ago with zero lines of code and no graphics. In a sense this helped because we had no legacy code to hold us back and we were starting afresh with DirectX. Apache Havoc has been designed as a multi-player game from the ground up and this will be self evident in the finished product.
Attention to detail is an important issue for us. For instance, we are determined to bring a product to market which has the best looking cockpits to date. Our Apache and Havoc cockpits have been painstakingly constructed as 3D models (we even built a 3D pilot to sit in the cockpit so that we knew the cockpits were ergonomically correct and so that we could position the viewpoint exactly where the pilot’s head is). From the 3D models (which have in excess of 100,000 polys each) we have rendered 30 different views per aircraft. With all the instruments backlit for two different levels of night lighting that adds up to 180 rendered cockpits.
Csim: Out of all the possibilities, why was Apache-Havoc chosen as the first project?
RZK: Firstly, we have a preference for helicopters as opposed to fast jets so it was always going to be a helicopter sim. Secondly, we wanted to create a real multi-player game and that meant that we needed two adversary aircraft for competitive games.
The given choice was 'Apache Havoc' and 'Comanche Hokum' as these pair better with the Apache and Havoc being attack helicopters and the Comanche and the Hokum being attack/scout helicopters.
We went with Apache Havoc as the first project as at the time we had more information available. However, we have now compiled enough data to go ahead with the Comanche Hokum project.
The great thing about pairing the Apache and the Havoc is that there is so much contrast between them. For instance, the Apache has the glass cockpit whilst the Havoc has more traditional analogue instrumentation.
In Comanche Hokum we are actually simulating the two-seater Hokum, the Ka-52 Hokum-B, sometimes referred to as the 'Alligator'. Again there is plenty of contrast with the Comanche. In the Hokum the pilot and CPG sit side-by-side as opposed to tandem so this should make the cockpit graphics interesting having to include people! Also the Hokum has ejector seats. The co-axial rotor blades are blown off and out come the crew. Could be interesting if your flying in tight formation!
Csim: Screen shots look very, very good. Can you compare the graphics engine of A-H to other sims we are seeing this year: DiDs Total Air War, Janes Longbow, Falcon 4?
RZK: Our graphics engine has been specifically designed for low-level helicopter combat where ‘line of sight’ tactics are essential. Therefore our terrain is smothered in dense forest canopy with roads, rivers and lines of electricity pylons cutting through it. All of the fields are encompassed by hedges and brick walls so ‘hedge hopping’ is possible.
With fast jet sims the action usual takes place at higher altitudes so the priority is different. Recent fast jet sims I’ve seen use large textures to cover the terrain which works fine unless you are flying very low then you notice that the roads and rivers lay at an angle on the terrain. In our system roads, rivers, etc. are ‘cut’ into the terrain with terraced banks so that they lay flat.
Sense of speed is another important issue. The ‘texel’ size needs to suit the speed of the vehicle. The large texture map approach means that you either have a blocky low level visual or you are forced to have small maps.
Our maps are 256km by 256km in size and currently use about 40Mb of data per map so at least changing combat zone doesn’t involve going away and making coffee!
Csim: Apache-Havoc will model forests and trees. Tell us more about this, how much tactical significance will this have in gameplay?
RZK: As I’ve mentioned above, the dense forests make ‘line of sight’ tactics a real part of the gameplay. The player will have to learn to use the terrain for cover.
Also, there are hidden dangers in the forest ...
Csim: What resolutions will be available to the player?
RZK: Apache Havoc is fixed at 640x480x16 but we may include higher resolution graphics later.
Csim: Will we see light source shading, smoke and fog, dynamic lighting?
RZK: All of the above. Our artists and the 3D engine programmers work hand in hand to develop special effects. You won’t be disappointed.
Csim: The modeling of wind and weather is a real growth area, probably because of the horsepower required! Tell us about what is being done for A-H.
RZK: Weather effects are essential as they add to the atmosphere. Imagine flying a difficult mission in fine weather and then flying the same mission in poor lighting and adverse weather conditions...
We have dynamic time of day and weather effects. This means that the lighting and sky textures are constantly changing as opposed to just changing the effect when the mission is completed, the curtains close and the player goes into the menu screens.
In our multi-player dynamic campaigns, you don’t have to wait for all the other players to get back to base before the next mission starts so the time of day and weather must be dynamic too.
In fact, in our campaigns you are always active as a component in the game. Just because you got back home safely doesn’t mean you get sanctuary whilst you’re rearming and refueling. Oh no.
At the last Paris Airshow myself and Matt were in an Apache. It was there that we noticed the wiper blades are so prominent. That inspired us to make the wipers fully functional in the sim.
We may introduce seasons into the sim. We’re still working in this.
Csim: We've seen some very, very good flight modeling this past year with Janes Longbow and the design goals for MiG Alley look very ambitious. What can we expect to see in A-H?
RZK: Our flight models use a full force model which exhibit all of the required artifacts of helicopter flight. We know some Apache pilots who are coming to give Apache Havoc a test flight soon so hopefully we should be able to get things just right.
Csim: Some sim design firms have forged ties with para military organization like Janes and World Air Power. These ties provide a flow of information that contributes to realism in design of flight models and avionics. How have you acquired the info you need for accurate design?
RZK: Basically from researching the subject. Getting books, magazine articles, videos, the Internet, speaking to the manufacturers (amazingly we got some information from Mil at the last Paris Airshow). We have amassed more than enough information to do the job.
I’m not sure how much information that Janes and World Air Power give to the other sim companies that they don’t already publish?
Incidentally, World Air Power is an excellent and affordable journal. Get Volume 29 for the 60 page article on the Apache.
Csim: Systems modeling has likewise been a growth area for sim design. How much detail will we see in avionics for the Havoc and Apache compared to past sims like HIND and Janes Longbow?
RZK: We will make the systems as authentic as we can. We also want to make the game accessible to the novice player as well as challenging for the accomplished pilot. So there may be some realism options.
Csim: Weapons and physics sort of fit together in sim design. Tell us about the goals in this area.
RZK: We’ve modeled the weapons systems so that they behave as you would expect. The algorithms take account of weapon/target aspect etc. so that if a weapon has to maneuver heavily it’s range is reduced.
We have a good intercept point algorithm so the guided missiles move quite convincingly.
Csim: What will we see for AI opponents in terms of aircraft and helicopters?
RZK: Our current vehicle inventory includes 50+ models. There are 12 different helicopters and 8 aircraft.
All of our models are built accurately and have many forms of articulation. For example, on all the helicopters, the rotor blades start off drooped and then straighten out as the rotor RPM increases and then become motion blurred. It looks great especially on the helicopters that have tandem or co-axial rotors.
Go to Part II
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Last Updated March 3rd, 1998