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B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th!
By Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson
The AI and Gameplay
WWII simulations can involve some complex AI, but except for aircraft systems the considerations are less complicated than with modern simulations. There are no radars or guided weapons in B17.
B17 offers three components of interaction: friendly and enemy fighters, the crew on the Fortress you occupy, and the other Forts in the squadron.
Enemy pilots will vary in skill depending on your initial setup choices. If you choose Elite AI, you’ll find that your gunners will score fewer kills, and the skill of the enemy will vary more greatly in marksmanship and tactics of approach. Collisions with your Forts are excessive, however, and I recommend you turn collisions OFF in the Difficulty settings.
I have observed quite a range of approach tactics in the enemy AI. I’ve seen enemy fighters approach in a Rotte (a fighting unit of two aircraft), and in a line (as many as four passing through the formation and concentrating firepower on one or two Forts). I’ve seen them roll away out of the formation, and I’ve seen them pull high or break low.
About the only weakness in the enemy AI regards dogfighting. German fighters appear to generally ignore enemy fighters. But then, this is a very detailed B17 simulation after all!
A greater concern is that escort fighters are terrible shots. They fire at bandits that are hidden by virtue of their angle of attack, and they use ammo promiscuously, firing at extreme range.
On the other hand, climbing into an Fw190 and racing ahead of the formation, and then making a slashing pass through can be quite a thrill. My only wishes are two: first, that rockets had been included for the German aircraft, and second that a few simple wingman commands had been included to make it possible to actually lead a flight of enemy aircraft with me.
Bomber crew AI is where the effort has been spent, and it shows. The crew are fascinating to watch. Countless hours of motion capture in addition to painstaking animation have been used to generate an intelligent and living bomber environment.
The crew interact with their environment and with one another in a great variety of ways. You will see them stretch, scratch, assist a wounded comrade, walk around, peek out windows, cringe, yawn, joke, complain as well as other actions. You can give them orders, such as sending the navigator to the cheek gun, or ordering the bombardier to take the nose gun, or sending one crewman to assist a wounded friend.
There are two significant factors modeled in crew interactions: skill and morale. Skill grows with additional missions, as well as with “training,” consisting of your inhabiting their bodies and showing them what to do. Skill is also set for each crewman at the beginning of the campaign, and its good to know who has what abilities when it comes time to send someone to fix something or give first aid.
Morale is factor of your leadership, mission success, loss of crewmen and Fortresses, etc. If you as Bomber Commander take care of your crew, their performance over successive missions will be increased.
One area that could easily have been improved is the manual. The omissions are significant.
For example, the Squadron Commander game relies on your personal judgement in determining target selection. However, if you don’t choose high priority targets, your mission ratings will suffer and the letters from HQ will let you know it. But how do you know which targets have strategic priority? There is no mention in the manual, but this information comes to you via the mail IN-BOX in the SCO’s office.
Furthermore, when you first fire up the SC campaign, the skill level of your officers in the LEAD aircraft (the one you will fly) may be quite low. It is critical, however, that the LEAD aircraft have the best pilot, co-pilot, bombardier and navigator available. Again, letters from HQ will advise you to ensure the best officers are serving on the LEAD Fortress. The manual neglects to tell you how to transfer a crewman, but I have supplied that information here.
Another area of weakness is in documenting the navigator’s tasks and abilities. Some of the niceties of adjusting waypoints or selecting targets of opportunity, a function which overlaps with the bomber commanders job, you will have to discover on your own.
Most other vital information is indeed contained in the manual, though it is not always where you would expect to find it. The manual is 145 pages in length, and is one of the smallest booklets I have ever seen with a military simulation. The version with the UK release is 7” by 4 ¾”.
On the other hand, the command card is a laminated poster size fold-out, one of the nicest I have seen at 14” by 18”. On one side is the layout of the pilot’s instrument panel, with a complete listing of command keys in the game. On the other side are the cockpits for each of the six flyable fighters in the game, including side views.
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