Digital Image Design set out to redefine the combat flight simulation genre in 1997. After their award winning simulation of the EF2000 and its ongoing improvement with 3d acceleration and the TactCom enhancements they set their sights even higher. F22: Air Dominance Fighter and Total Air War will integrate the tactical battlefield in a comprehensive new stealth fighter simulation.
In December of '97 DiD released F22: ADF. Virtually every area of game play was expanded or improved beyond EF2000. The graphics component improved terrain, objects, effects and damage textures and even added multiple cloud layers. Lighting effects aren't up to Longbow 2, but missiles glow, explosions can be spectacular and flares at night are impressive.
Between EF2000 and F22: ADF maximum resolution moved from 640x400 to 800x600 in Glide. Viewing this spectacle on a 19" or larger monitor is quite stunning. Direct3d support expanded greatly with the release of a later patch. Voice and comms were vastly expanded, so much so that there is little comparison to EF2000 in this area and the experience has become much more immersive, providing the ability to listen in on other flights while you fly your F22.
ADFs avionics were finely detailed, bringing us the best yet in an F22 simulation. In-flight refueling was also improved and was the best yet represented until Janes F15 arrived on the scene. ATC was also beyond the standard until the release of F15. ACMI was modelled in detail, in spite of some small requests for improvement.
Even though the missions in ADF were scripted, the environment was very active and "felt" dynamic (at least until you had flown the same mission a half dozen times). Air and ground action abounded, showcased beautifully by the Smartview system which was upgraded to supply voice interaction simultaneously. Finally, the AWACS component was an entirely new direction for this level of simulation design, adding a component of immersion not previously seen in the genre; a percursor to the Theatre Commander mode of Total Air War.
Its no wonder, then, that DiD scooped TWO Top Games Industry 'Oscars' at Milia d'Or Awards Ceremony in Cannes, France in February for F-22 Air Dominance Fighter. F-22 ADF secured the 'Best Simulation' award and went on to win the 'Grand Prize Game' award. It was the first time the Award for Best Game was awarded for a simulation at Milia. Milia d'Or 98 saw a record attendance, with over 8,000 participants, 2,800 companies and more than 50 countries represented.
TAW: the Second Coming
Second Comings are becoming commonplace in the computer gaming industry. Not all are worth the price of admission. But Longbow 2 was an exception, adding 3d hardware acceleration, vastly increased object and terrain detail, dynamic lighting, a fully dynamic campaign, new vehicles to fly, two seat multiplayer ability, and tactical command via the mission planner. Total Air War may not be quite the same value, but it will move us far beyond the limitations of ADF.
In spite of the beauty and breadth of F22: ADF, the lack of dynamic campaign AI and mission planning locked us into a battlefield that was too predictable and sometimes left the player attempting to beat the script rather than the enemy. Moreover, the separation of Total Air War into two products meant the loss of mission planning capability, including the ability to choose one's loadout. We get these basic abilities back in Total Air War.
Total Air War integrates the AWACS Theatre Commander perspective with a dynamic campaign AI. Although the ground war integration hasn't been pursued as much as we had hoped and we won't have the ability to call up new flights where we want them, the dynamic engine takes care of the frag order and we can step into SCRAMBLE missions when available. Naturally, there is also a Custom mission builder and a training module.
Click to continue
. . .
Click for 800x600 -260K.
The heart of TAW is the dynamic real time campaign. Around that hub are laid the critical spokes, one of which is the AWACS interface. When you first enter TAW you must choose a campaign from the list presented. The campaigns vary in difficulty mostly by virtue of the amount of territory you occupy and the strength and position of your allies. Campaign One as displayed in the screen above gives you a lot of space and power. Campaign Two, on the other hand, pits you against the rest the Arabian theatre. There are ten campaign selections in total.
Click for 800x600.
After choosing your campaign you are vaulted to the WarRoom and the Theatre map. Here you are presented with a real time god's eye view of the battlefield with the battle in progress. At the top of the map is a clock that counts the hours, minutes and seconds of the ongoing battle.
In ADF we had a chance to experiment with the AWACS interface, but the AWACS component, while it gave us strategic control of allied aircraft, was severed from any ongoing campaign and was likewise severed from any immersive reality. It was cool and interesting, but it didn't connect in a way that involved the player in a real and unfolding battle universe.
In Total Air War, however, both the WarRoom map and the AWACS interface are part of the unfolding universe. Both give a real time overview of the campaign (though this all changes if you happen to lose your AWACS!)
From the WarRoom you have access to tactical data, damage plots, event logs and even the latest intelligence. You can also see the real time battle unfolding before your eyes as the clock ticks above.
Just as critical, you can select SCRAMBLE and have the opportunity to fly any allied F22 mission that is scrambled to deal with critical threats anywhere in the theatre. Or, you can select FLY and access the current FRAG order, choosing any mission that fits your current rank and abilities.
No matter which way you go, you can land and rearm and take off again, just as you could in EF2000 or F22: ADF. My current record is 34 kills, but I don't doubt that will be surpassed quite quickly. Its quite a kick to be scrambled after an inbound strike force. Early in the campaign these groups can be quite large and you will have your hands full!
And yes, you heard right. You can't fly just ANY mission in this man's army, you will only be allowed to fly missions that you are likely to survive and accomplish effectively. Every mission you fly in TAW will be awarded points, and when you have sufficient points to warrant promotion, you will find yourself climbing in rank. Mission choices are rated so that you can even choose the mission you fly in the hope of acquiring points more rapidly.
Click for larger image.
This accomplishes a number of things: first, it increases your chance of successfully completing a campaign. Second, it reduces your likely frustration with ongoing defeat. The down side is that you may find yourself flying a significant distance from the action, but that is quite realistic! No one puts the newbies on the front line on the first day of battle! On the other hand, you will find yourself flying a dull CAP one moment and suddenly receive an AWACS order to intercept recently discovered bandits!
When you spot a mission on the list that is not restricted, you can select it and proceed to the mission planner. Here you can adjust waypoints, customize your loadout, and even adjust waypoints and loadout for any other units in your group. Yes, that means customizing the loadout of those F16s and F18s. Nice touch!
The other component, now fully integrated, is the AWACS interface.
For more go to TAW Part II.