by Leonard (Viking1) Hjalmarson
Falcon 4.0 is a Windows 95, multiplayer air-combat simulator set in the Korean peninsula, with a real-time war in progress in which you take the role of a single pilot in an F-16C Block 52. Even Andy Hollis will have to scramble to top F4! Look for it in Q1, 1998.
With a dynamic campaign, a fully integrated ground war, and sporting the latest technology in radar (APG 68) and avionics, F4 will simulate the newer Block 52 model F16. Naturally, F4 will run under Direct3d as well as Glide.
Recently I had a chance to interview one of the key team members who participated in the first outside focus group looking at an early alpha. Jeff Babineau of the Deltahawks answered most of my questions with regard to his experience.
Csim: When the demo was released some months back many fans were greatly disappointed. You and the Deltahawks have been involved in testing Falcon 4 for some months now. What are some of the most recent advances?
Jeff: More recently there has been a huge jump in frame rates. Instant action will now give frame rates as high as 90 on a P166 with a 3d card. They have LOWERED their minimum spec machine to a 133 with 3DFX and 32 megs ram.
Csim: Jeff, the Alpha demo left a bad taste in many mouths. Combat was too limited and the frame rate was terrible. How far beyond the Alpha demo have we come?
Jeff: Considering that the alpha demo had only Instant Action could we say about a globe of difference? If I just consider the instant action scenario, then the virtual cockpit has had some improvements in graphics and the frame rate has been improved. They eliminated the hand in the cockpit and now there is a little dial that disappears when its not used. I couldn't understand why everyone got so twisted about the hand. I mean so what? Wouldn't it have been better to have discussions about views, weapons, frame rates, weight modeling etc? Big changes in blackout to.
Csim: We've been reading about F4 for the better part of a year now. Were you in any way prepared for the experience of F4 itself? (Aside from general knowledge of sims and F3 that is...)
Jeff: That's funny. I don't think you could describe my feeling when Marisa called to say, we were getting an alpha by Friday. Later when "Falcon 4.0" came up on my screen, it was such a relief. Finally! It's great to see many of the same features installed with reference to F3. Padlock, Instant action, squadron records, campaign, and of coarse, multiplayer. I'll be they didn't call "Tactical Engagement," "Red Flag" because "Red Flag is in Nevada. The attention to detail IS there.
Csim: Give us an overview. What is the heart of F4 and why is this sim SO big?
Jeff: The biggest reason is F3's legacy. The second is that this will be the first sim to give us everything we want. No one is left out. Arcade? Realistic? Campaign? Multiplayer? Mission editing and creating? Squadron management? It's all there and it is ALL integrated in to the whole game. They don't do something silly like "Only H2H play for multiplayer." I've heard it said at MPS that if a game doesn't have multiplayer now, it'll die. That's the mindset.
Csim: What kind of hardware are you working with?
Jeff: At MICROPROSE I fly whatever I get. At home I fly a P233, 64, 3DFX. My frame rates are in the high 20's. Thrustmaster gear all around and now that Quickshot has allowed a programmable cartridge in the Masterpilot, I'm using one right now. I see myself going to 2 just to get the "look " right. F4 is set up to take advantage of this as well as each MFD button has its own keyboard command.
Csim: Yeh, that is one COOL unit and its changed my own setup permanently. Now lets get into the nitty-gritty. What do you think of F4s graphics?
Jeff: I like them but it's not my most observed feature. They are doing more work on them all the time so it's hard to say. Clouds have changed a bunch and they are really starting to look good when flying below the cloud layer, especially with the overcast clouds.
Csim: Does F4 use a "hierarchical" engine? Were the visuals down low as detailed as up high?
Jeff: I spend way to much time lining up a gun shot to notice. They look good. Better than ADF? Not really but in some respects, yes. Frame rates higher so I'm happy with that.
Csim: Well, I know you aren't into eye candy, but what were your impressions of terrain, objects, sky etc?
Jeff: Enough already. ;) Objects? You mean an 8 mile maverick shot? The tank looked real good right up to the point where I made it burn. The sky was blue. Will wants the rivers to be more brown because he's been to Korea, as have I, and he's right. But I'll bet someone will complain that water is blue. The roads and buildings look much better. I'd compare the roads to LBII. In other words, worked into the terrain instead of laid on top like EF2000.
Csim: I understand lighting is dynamic and includes moonlight effects etc. Janes has really pushed the limits on lighting effects in LBII and F15. What did you think of the lighting in F4?
Jeff: Again, I haven't spent much time looking at it, especially at night. I'm much more concerned about the views, weapons and avionics modeling.
Csim: What about special effects. Any surprises there? What are the explosions like?
Jeff: OK you got me on that one. I love the flame effects. In some cases it actually looks like the aircraft is spewing fuel and it's igniting. The more fuel, the more fire. Tankers burn good. HIPS blow up quick. I did want them to make the smoke effects fill the sky but they reminded me that I wanted 30fps all the time too.
Csim: What were your impressions of physics modelling, ballistics etc.
Jeff: I'm seeing pretty good effects on landings but more work is being done in this area. I'm hoping that ground turbulence will be played but more importantly, weather.
Csim: In early versions damage modelling was somewhat more general than the state of the art as in A10 Cuba. Has this changed?
Jeff: Can't comment yet.
Csim: Janes F15 feels completely different to me than anything I've flown before, especially at low speed where nose high authority disappears and its VERY easy to lose control. The next nearest example of this level of realism might be Su27. How is flight in F4?
Jeff: The flight model has changed very little from the demo. The reality is that many F-16 pilots are flying the game and making recommendations.
Csim: What weapons are available to you? What are your impressions of weapons modelling, blast effects etc.
Jeff: When I entered the campaign and went to edit my loadout, I was stunned. I instantly grabbed the flight manual to see what they all were. It looked like every weapon in the flight manual is in the game. Effects are even better aside from the normal, "I drop bomb, it blows up." In the campaign you can drop an anti runway bomb on a runway. the repair time might be 4 hours. If you drop mines on that location, the repair time might be 6 hours. Do you want air burst or ground impact? Very different effects.
Csim: What is your impression of enemy AI, and is the AI fully developed?
Jeff: Can't comment yet. Nice thing is that different aircraft will use different AI.
Go to PART II
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