Report by David "Cap'n Trips" Finkelstein
Click the image for a larger shot...
I am a former employee of Interactive Creations Inc. (now iMagic online), the company that produces WarBirds. It is not my intent to "sell" or promote WarBirds via this article. The full working version is always available as a free download from Interactive Magic Online. Interested readers may obtain the software free of cost and make their own judgements, thus it is my opinion that any conflict-of-interest issues are thereby mitigated.
- Intel Pentium Pro 200 CPU (512K internal L2 cache), OC to 233 MHZ
- Tyan Tacoma (S-1672) motherboard, 32Mb 60ns EDO RAM
- Quantum Fireball 2.0Gig EIDE HD
- Acer 18X IDE/Atapi CDROM
- STB Lightspeed 128 (Tseng ET6000) 2.25Mb MDRAM
- Sony 17sfII monitor
- Creative Labs Soundblaster 16 (non-PnP)
- USRobotics Sportster 33.6 internal PnP modem
- Thrustmaster F22Pro, TQS, and RCS
- CH Products Gamecard3 Adjustable gameport
- Microsoft Windows95 release2 (OSR2), DirectX5
WarBirds is an Internet-based large scale multiplayer flight sim based on WWII era aircraft and weapons. At any given time, you can find people from all over the world online on the iMOL server, slugging it out for air supremacy in the unfriendly skies of the Warbirds arenas. Considered by many to be the most realistic re-creation of WWII aerial combat, WarBirds is probably best known for its painstakingly modeled aircraft and its ultra-realistic gunnery and damage system. WarBirds supports both Windows 95 and Macintosh platforms.
Version 2.0 is the latest release in the WarBirds series, and the first to get a new version number in front of the decimal point since version 1.0 made its debut in December of '95. In this article I will attempt to report and detail the changes in this latest release.
DOWNLOAD and INSTALLATION
WarBirds 2.0 comes in three flavors for downloading. The full version is a 15.8 megabyte file containing the WarBirds application and the entire suite of 640*480 resolution artwork. For those who don't want to spend quite that much time, a 6.6 megabyte "base" version is also available. The third download option is a small 2.2 megabyte updater, but this file will only update the 1.99r2 beta version to 2.0. Users of version 1.11 will have to bite the bullet and download the base or full version of 2.0
The base version is fully functional, but only contains cockpit artwork for the F6F Hellcat. You can still fly any of the aircraft, but the cockpit will always look like that of the Hellcat. Most WarBirds aircraft enjoy a significantly better rear view than the F6F, and most players will want to download additional artwork for their favorite planes. Individual art files are available at iMOL's website, or players can grab the full art packages which contain the art for all the planes. WarBirds art files are available in both 640*480 and 1024*768 resolutions, but all but the fastest machines will probably choke trying to run version 2.0 in the higher resolution mode. The complete 640 and 1024 art packages are a 9 and 20 megabyte download respectively. Good news for WarBirds 1.11 players... your 1.11 art files will work in 2.0, and you'll only need to download the Hurricane, Bf109E and Bf110 art to be current.
All three installation packages downloaded and installed without problems, with one minor exception; the 1.99 to 2.0 updater did not include the new terrain file that the online arena expects... anyone using the updater to go from 1.99 to 2.0 will need to download the terrain file from iMOL's ftp site. This fact is not mentioned on the iMOL download page. To grab the terrain, point a web browser to: "ftp://icigames.com/pub/wbfiles/terrain/" and grab the "wbsea1.exe" file. Place it in your WB2.0 directory and execute it to unpack the terrain file. Both the full and base install packages did contain the necessary terrain file.
WarBirds 2.0 now installs to a different directory than previous versions. I always recommend installing software to the default path, but in this case it's an especially good idea. Some of WarBirds 2.0's config files are different and possibly incompatible with older versions, and attempting to install to a directory that contained version 1.11 may cause problems.
NEW FEATURES AND CHANGES
A. ROLLING TERRAIN RETURNS
A modified version of the Graphic Simulations Corporation's Hornet3 graphics engine brings a whole new look and feel to the game, providing the naturally rolling terrain that had been absent (and missed by many) since the beta test and version 0.91(versions from 0.92 through 1.11used the Hornet2 graphic engine, which featured flat terrain.) Terrain and objects are still flat-shaded, with no texture mapping, but the overall result makes for a very attractive change from prior versions. In addition to the rolling terrain, light-source shading of objects, atmospheric haze and sun glare are now supported.
The new look has its price; iMOL has upped the minimum system requirement from a 486-66 to a Pentium 90. Initial reports seem to indicate that while a P90 will indeed run WarBirds 2.0, the frame rate on machines below P166 class may drop to unacceptable levels when many objects are on screen. Frame rate is an issue unto itself, and acceptable performance is a highly subjective matter, but there can be no doubt that there will be some complaints about the new graphic engine's speed by some. Hardware upgrades are one solution, and an even more attractive option is in the works; an OpenGL version is in the final stages of development, which will offer texture mapped graphics and harware graphics acceleration on OpenGL capable machines.
My PPro test machine handled 2.0 quite easily, with good frame rates in either 640*480 or 1024*768 resolution. I like the new look of the game, and I think most people will be quite pleased by the rolling terrain and atmospheric hazing effects. Light sourcing is a more subtle effect, but once i noticed in a close-in dogfight I was truly impressed. One effect that I can live without is the sun glare. In my opinion, the implementation is too severe, and I believe it presents more of an annoyance than an enhancement in its current form. I'd much prefer to see a more gradual sun glaring effect, strongest near the sun and fading with distance, but I don't know if the graphics engine can handle such an implementation.
Every update of WarBirds has been accompanied by the addition of new aircraft, and version 2.0 continues this tradition. The following aircraft are new to 2.0:
The Luftwaffe's standard fighter throughout the war, the Bf109 in its many variations was the most produced fighter of WWII. The E model was considered by many to be one of the best variants produced. The Bf109E was more than a match for the Hawker Hurricanes and Spitfire MkI's flown by the RAF during the battle of Britain, but limited operational range reduced its time over target capability severely during that conflict.
The Bf109E-4 joins the F-4, G-6, G-6/R6 and K-4 variants. While it will be the slowest of the variants, it will enjoy the best turning performance. The 109E sports a pair of 7.9mm machine guns in the cowling, and a pair of 20mm cannon in the wings.
Messerschmitt Bf110 (C-4 and G-2 variants)
A big twin-engined aircraft, the Bf110 was designed as a bomber destroyer and also saw fighter/bomber and escort service. It may have acquired a poor reputation due to its use as an escort fighter during the Battle of Britain; it was too vulnerable to attack by single engined fighters of the day. It went on to see duty as an interceptor and later night-fighter variants were especially successful.
The Warbirds 110C-4 will carry four forward firing 7.9mm machine guns, a pair of 20mm cannon, and a single flexible 7.9mm rear mounted machine gun. While it will enjoy better turning performance than the G-2, it is not likely to be a match for most single engined fighters, and will probably see little general arena use.
The 110G-2 will be the firepower king of the arena. Four forward firing cannon (a pair of 20mm and a pair of 30mm!) will rip anything in its path to pieces. The WarBirds 2.0 online documentation sums it up like this: "Can you say buff hunt?" I expect this plane to be the headon champ; anyone foolish enough to attempt a headon against a G-2 will likely find their plane in several pieces during the merge. Those few who are lucky enough to survive the inital pass with a somewhat flyable airplane will likely be little more than fodder for the twin 7.9mm equipped gunner in the rear.
Hawker Hurricane (I and IIc variants)
One of the RAF's early monoplane fighters, Hurricanes were more numerous during the battle of Britain than the more famous Spitfire. A fabric covered steel-tube fuselage and metal covered surfaces made the Hurricane strong and easy to produce, but performance was not quite up to the standards of other fighters of the era. After the Battle of Britain, Hurricanes were typically used for ground attack and anti-tank duty.
The Hurricane I may see little arena use; its performance is not likely to be up to the standard of more modern aircraft available. Those who do choose a Hurricane for arena use will probably opt for the IIc variant; with its four 20mm cannon should help it out considerably against the more lightly armed dogfighters.
Supermarine Spitfire MkIa
More than a match in most respects for anything in the Luftwaffe inventory, Spitfires in all their variations kept pace with their rivals throughout the war. Famous for its unique elliptical planform wing and high speed, the Spitfires were perhaps the most famous fighter aircraft of all time.
The MkIa joins the later MkV and MkIX variants. Armed with eight .30 calibre machine guns, the MkIa will probably be the best turning but slowest Spit in the arena. I expect this variant to see the most use in scenarios, as most later war aircraft should prove to be more than a match for it.
Warbirds 2.0 continued...
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Last Updated Sept.8th, 1997