Yes, we go into the night as brave men go,
Though our faces be often streaked with woe;
Yet we're hard as cats to kill,
And our hearts are reckless still,
And we've danced with death
a dozen times or so.
Along with everyone else in the entertainment industry, I was looking forward to E3. E3 presents everything we want to see. With 37 football fields of floor space, there is more E3 than any group can adequately cover in 4 days.
But even more than the games and hardware, there are those events we just can't wait for. For myself and some of my colleagues, the Falcon 4 H2H Competition was such an event.
Falcon 4's anticipation has been so overwhelming that Microprose decided a to sponsor a competition for those attending. I was notified like my fellow Combatsim writers about the competition and that we needed to sign up before we left for Atlanta if we wanted to participate. I thought this was an excellent marketing tool for Microprose: not only does it give us access to the game but also we get to see how the game is laid out in terms of multiplayer, campaign, quick action and combinations of each during actual gameplay.
The rules for the F4 competition were laid out as follows: 5 minutes of instant action (just like the DEMO) with unlimited AMRAAMS, Sidewinders and guns. Just like one can do in the demo, the level of competition was set at Rookie and with various options set. I did not look at all the options but a couple of noticeable options that were selected were simple radar coupled with a realistic flight model (I urged Pete to push all the options to REALISTIC but the decision had already been made).
An excellent weapon and luck had been on my side. To be successful the best fighter pilot needs both.
Lt. General Rudolph Galland
General of the Fighter Arm, Luftwaffe, 1941-45
All participants played with the same two computers and options (there were a total of four computers showing Falcon 4 while the two used for the competition were linked for multiplay) and no changes were made by any players to keep play fair and equal. I would guess that a total of 50 people played the five-minute instant action mission on Thursday. The top eight players would then go Head to Head on Friday in a bracket system, guns only with some specific ROE. At the end of the day I had qualified 2nd overall.
The Microprose room was bristling with activity all day. I was not due for my instant action flight until 4 PM but we (Combatsim.com writers) had a meeting with Microprose at 1 PM so I happily marched down to get my first look at Falcon 4 and everything else Microprose had to offer us. Upon entering the room we were met by various Microprose designers and press personnel. Eric "Snacko" Marlow and I immediately went straight to the F4 booth and watched a couple of my fellow competitors try to qualify for the Head to Head play the next day. Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson took a quick peek at F4 and continued on to the EAW booth.
Just as Eric and I were gawking at F4, someone whispered in my ear that Pete Bonanni was also standing at the booth helping the competitors. For those who do not know, Pete is a current F-16 pilot and is VERY well respected as one of the best in the USAF. In fact, according to a friend of mine and a former F16 pilot, Mr. R. Price, Pete had actually saved a couple of F-16's whose engines had "flamed out". Saving an F-16 with no engine is an AMAZING feat once, but twice? That is stupendous. I got Pete's attention shortly thereafter and introduced myself.
Meeting Pete Bonanni is one of my E3 highlights. He is just as I would picture a perfect F16 pilot. Stocky, intelligent, honest, full of integrity and pride, VERY passionate and abounding with personality. Pete is the kind of guy that after five minutes of contact makes you feel like he is your best friend.
Probably what is most amazing is that he is chock-full of energy. And his enthusiasm for Falcon 4 is boundless. He could not describe the game and it's plethora of features fast enough. After a few minutes of small talk about the game in general, he grabbed one of the machines, sat me down and proceeded to go straight into the heart of Falcon 4: the real time dynamic campaign.
After a minute of explaining the background story behind the Korea campaign, Pete went right to the meat and began showing me the complete ATO that F4 evolved around. People were swarming all around us and as you can imagine Pete's name was being called almost continuously. He furiously answered questions and almost between breaths continued to explain what I was seeing.
First there was a list of all the flights scheduled for the day and where the planes were, whether they were in Briefing, enroute to the target area, or egressing back from the target. There was a map showing the route of the flight selected and if that flight selected is airborne, the map shows how far along the F16's are. And then there was a clock displayed in Falcon time so players can keep track of the war in terms of actual game hours. Players can jump into ANY F16 whether it is enroute or not similar to F22 ADF using the AWACS mode.
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Pete began the unenviable task of trying to compress the F16's entire inventory of weapons, options and capabilities into a very short period of time before finally prompting me to selecting a SEAD strike mission from the ATO. This flight was still on the ground and was awaiting its briefing.
Take off time was still two hours away in Falcon time so when Pete clicked "Fly" the Falcon clock quickly proceeded to the scheduled briefing time where I was prompted by a FULL briefing: more than I could ever regurgitate here. It was a COMPLETE briefing: more than any game I have ever seen including Janes F15.
After taking 10 seconds to scan the briefing (Pete, like me, wanted INTO the cockpit) we moved on to the mission itself. We started on the runway and after moving the throttle to full (MPS was using a Thrustmaster HOTAS with an FLCS and TQS), I rotated the jet off the runway at 160 knots (as Pete suggested). Quickly we were airborne and Pete was calling that I needed to quickly raise the gear or risk damage with my rapidly increasing speed. We were off the ground and Falcon 4 made had suddenly made a very attractive impact on me.
For those of you who are worried about framerates, let me put your fears to rest. Falcon 4's framerate was AWESOME. Granted, during my entire stay at E3 I never saw a computer slower than a PII 300 (clearly there were a LOT more PII 333, 350s and 400s though).
Microprose was no different. They had F4 running on a PII 300 with 64 MEGs of RAM and a 1st generation Voodoo card. Based on what I saw, I cannot imagine any reason that anyone with a P166 and a Voodoo card (Glide only for 3D acceleration) could not enjoy very satisfying framerates with F4. Given all the CPU was having to do to monitor the real time campaign, AI (both enemy and allied planes and ground movements) flight model and everything else, it was clear to see that this was indeed a VERY mature game. Graphics were like the demo but appeared much sharper.
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Unfortunately, Pete had many responsibilities and kept getting pulled away from me. I was only one of many who wanted his undivided attention and there was only so much of Pete to go around. Not long after I was in the air, it was decided that the line for the competition was getting long and the second computer I was on was needed. Thus, I quit my campaign and conceded my computer to another competitor. But, I had gotten a big taste of what Falcon 4 had to offer.
To say that I was impressed would be a gross understatement. By the end of E3 I had accumulated quite a bit of stick time with F4, enough that I can confidently make the following BOLD statement; what I played was clearly the best modern flight simulation ever made PERIOD. Microprose made a huge commitment to offering us the best flight simulation we have ever seen and assuming MPS releases F4 with everything I saw and can get the code stable, Falcon 4 is going to meet every goal set forth and wipe the floor with awards.
There are only two types of aircraft - fighters and targets.
Major Doyle "Wahoo" Nicholson, USMC
The flight model of F4 immediately brought back memories of my many hours in the real F16 simulator I fly occasionally at an air base near my home. Pete has the model tweaked to what felt like perfection to me (VERY different from the DEMO). I hung around for a bit longer watching competitors come and go during the meet and finally, after playing my instant action mission, I reluctantly forced myself to leave.
The next day (Friday) I knew the competition started at 12 noon. I forced myself to stay away from the Microprose booth until 1130 to continue with my responsibilities for the magazine. The morning tended to drag a bit and finally at 1130 I moved to the MPS flat. As I proceeded into the MPS suite, there were many people around the table awaiting the competition and in the middle, as usual, was Pete giving quick pro advice to those who were flying practice Head to Head.
Go to Part 2