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Team Apache Interview
by Leonard Hjalmarson
 

Csim: Team Apache is looking to be a very unique approach to military sims in general. Can you tell us how this developed? Team Apache

Bryan: Team Apache developed from my own personal experience as an Apache attack helicopter pilot and Desert Storm veteran, as well as my frustration with the current status quo in rotary-wing flight simulation. I view TA as a breakthrough project, intended to show the player what it's really like to strap on an AH-64 and lead a flight of intelligent, highly-trained aircrews into battle.

The biggest influence the player will be able to see involves the tactical planning, and personnel management issues. TA really emphasizes good planning and employment of the available resources, both technical and personal. It also emphasizes the human side of the equation, including fatigue, morale, and unit cohesion issues. TA challenges players on multiple levels, instead of simply their ability to wiggle a joystick.

Csim: I'm curious that you chose NOT to model the AH64D Longbow. What factors contributed to that decision?

Bryan: The Longbow system certainly has potential, but it doesn't have any combat experience under its belt. In addition, I found that putting Longbow-style technology into the mix without presenting ALL the nuances of the system present makes gameplay more of a button-pushing issue than anything else. From a gameplay standpoint, I personally disklike "Super Weapon" simulations, as they remove much of the challenge of real-life combat aviation, and trivialize the experience.

Csim: What is the setting for the campaigns?

Bryan: TA features perhaps the most involved dynamic campaign engine ever created, with multiple levels of command and control dictating the battlefield environment. The Columbian campaign focuses on low-intensity conflict, where the Russian campaign really turns up the heat by challenging the player to fight in an environment where they're facing newer technology and have to simply be smarter than the enemy. Csim: Tell us about the leadership factors built into Team Apache?

Bryan: The biggest challenge will be to manage the aircrews and maintenance personnel. TA's environment is completely interconnected. Some aircrews can be flying while others are on alert and others sleeping. The same applies to the maintenance section, who can be repairing aircraft while others are deployed. It's up to the player to decide which pilots to deploy, how they're paired, which aircraft to put them in, and how to allocate the maintanence manpower. Badly-damaged airframes can be cannibalized if need be, or Partially-Mission-Capable aircraft can be sent on missions.

Working the pilots or maintenance personnel too hard can result in mistakes, crashes, and reduced effectiveness of the entire unit. It really becomes a balancing act for the player, deciding which missions to focus on, arguing with the "Head Shed" about priorities and timescales, and looking out for his men while still accomplishing the objective.

Csim: The AI that factors in experience, moral, and team cooperation must be quite sophisticated. Can you tell us some of the nuts and bolts of the design?

Bryan: Each "Artificial Pilot" is rated in 21 different categories, including technical and personal traits. Compatibility between crewmembers can come to the fore, particularly once Fatigue and Morale come into play. Some pilots will prefer different weapons in different circumstances, while others excel at night missions. The outcome of specific missions and the progress of the campaign in general has effects on not only the morale issues, but can have a great deal to do with the player's status as a commander.

If the success rate is high, then the player will have more leeway in mission selection and supply requests. If the success rate is low, then the top hats won't put up with a lot of guff while debating a mission's priority. The loss of an aircraft or pilot can have a devastating effect on a unit, and the rescue of missing aviators becomes a priority when a bird goes down. On top of that, the pilots can occasionally receive "Dear John" letters and such, causing their morale to sag. It's up to the player to decide how to cope with these issues, and it's no small task!

Click to continue . . .

 

Explosion!

Csim: I understand that these moral and cooperation factors will extend beyond the pilots to crew chiefs and mechanics! How does this actually work? What tells me that my mechanic is tired of fixing my chopper? Will there be dialogue choices for example?

Bryan: The pilots' tent and crewchiefs' tent have interfaces that allow the player to view estimate the fatigue level and guage the moral level of the personnel. The pilots can be examined individually, while the crewchiefs are viewed as a unit. The "platoon seargent" of the crewchiefs will pass along advise at critical junctures if the maintenance personnel are ready to drop, and senior pilots will also offer input when a change in assignments should be considered.

Csim: Will we see a "real time" dynamic campaign, or will we see a mission generation system where a pilot chooses from a list of missions every set no of hours of gameplay?

Bryan: TA's campaign runs in real time, with it entirely possible to have the unit divided up performing multiple missions simultaneously, while other aircraft are undergoing maintenance.

Csim: Suspension of disbelief is a watchword in the simulation community. What other factors are key to the virtual environment other than the morale and team interaction factors?

Bryan: The persistence of the environment is paramount. Destroyed vehicles from previous missions will litter the battlefield as the unit moves progresses forward. Losing a pilot brings up a screen with the player/commander writing home to his family. Certain incidents can be "remembered" by Operations personnel and come up to bite the player in the butt at a later date. The suspension of disbelief is achieved by appealing to the player from a personal side, as well as immersing him in a very dynamic environment of cause and effect.

Csim: How much control will the team leader have over his team when in action?

Bryan: The player can design tactics and formations, and then practice them in training missions with his unit. The more these tactics are practiced, the more proficient the unit becomes as a whole and individually. (This can become an issue if a pilot needs to be replaced, with a "newbie.") Tactics and formations can be activated via macros, and individual aircraft can be given specific orders in the event everything goes to hell.

Csim: I understand that the average flight in Team Apache will consist of four or more units. How does this affect an attack group? And what extra demands does it place on the team leader?

Bryan: Apache units are viewed and employed as a "big stick", with a company of 6 aircraft possessing more than enough firepower to dispatch an armored battalion. As a result, they're typically used in 5 or 6-ship elements. However, many missions will require the player to divide up the company in smaller elements to "fight fires" that crop up unexpectedly. (The Plan is always the first casualty of battle.)

Csim: Will the player start out as a team leader, or will he have to complete some training first?

Bryan: The player has a wide range of training utilities to start with, but he'll hit the ground running in the campaigns.

Csim: The screen shots for Team Apache and FN2 have been looking good, but there are differences in the two engines. Can you tell us about the difference?

Bryan: Though FN2 and TA use most of the same graphics technology, there will be some differences by the time TA ships next Spring or Summer. Most notable is the higher resolution of the terrain graphics.

Csim: What resolutions will be available to the player?

Bryan: 640x480-1024x768.

Csim: Will we see light source shading?

Bryan: The FN2 and TA graphics engine can support an infinite number of light sources, limited only by the available system memory and CPU speed.

Csim: Will wind and weather be modelled in Team Apache?

Bryan: Absolutely. This can become very critical in mission planning, as laser-guided munitions such as the Hellfire suffer degredation during rain, snow, etc.

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