by Steve MacGregor
Article Type: Interview
Article Date: September 21, 2001
Product Name: Strike Fighters: Project 1
Category: Jet Simulation
Developer: Third Wire Productions, Inc.
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: 2002
Files and Links: Click Here
Project 1 is a flight simulation currently in development by Third Wire Productions, a company formed by veteran flight sim developer Tsuyoshi Kawahito (TK). TK was involved in the development of the seminal Jane's Longbow 2 and MicroProse's European Air War before leaving Microprose to form Third Wire with another member of the Longbow 2 team.
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So, if it’s a flight sim, most likely it’s got some aircraft in it (it’s called an intuitive leap, we reviewers have to do it all the time). When this assignment first hit the mat, I knew nothing about Project 1 or Third Wire, and, I confess to feeling less than enthusiastic about reviewing another jet-age flight sim. I mean, c’mon guys, just how enthusiastic can you get about flying yet another F-15, F-16 or F-22, no matter how spiffy the graphics or accurate the avionics. I mean, what about something different?
One of the enduring memories from my childhood is of watching a pair of Belgian F-104 Starfighters doing a display at an airshow in the UK. These two jokers began their display by approaching the crowd from behind, masked by hangers, at low level and near supersonic. I was hit by a visceral wall of sound and my eight-year-old internal organs seemed to have been turned to jelly as two screaming silver darts arrowed over my head. Bliss. At the same show a short time later, two lightly loaded RAF Phantoms did a fair impression of vertical take off in full re-heat. Dunno if it’s true, but the nice man doing the commentary claimed that they were at 10,000 feet by the time they passed the end of the runway. Fuel consumption? Pah! Stealth? Not a chance! User friendly? Are you kidding? Just brute power and noise. But kind of wonderful.
Which brings me (rather neatly I thought) to the flyable aircraft in Project 1. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Project 1 eschews the technology of modern combat in favour of some classic aircraft from the sixties. The F-4 Phantom II is there, as is the F-104 (oh joy!), as well as the A-4 Skyhawk and the F-100 Super Sabre. Non-flyable aircraft include the MiG-17, Mig-21, Sukhoi Su-7, Tupolev Tu-22, IL-28, AN-12, C-130, B-57 and A-1.
So, coming as it does from the man who brought us EAW and Longbow 2, you might be expecting Project 1 to cover a historical 60’s conflict, such as the Vietnam war. Wrong. What you have is a hypothetical conflict between forces of the Soviet Union and the USA, set in a fictional location during the decade from 1960 – 1969. The stock campaign will introduce new technology at appropriate times. The player will start flying the F-100 against MiG-17s, and by the end of the conflict will be flying an F-4 against MiG-21s and a fully integrated ground defense system.
Even more surprisingly, the player has the option to fly as a regular air force pilot, or as a mercenary who earns money by completing missions, and can use this to repair and upgrade equipment. Sadly, no carrier operations or helicopters are included. There will be multiplayer capability in the game, but details haven’t been finalised yet.
The game boasts a graphics engine that is designed specifically for Direct3D 8.0. Third Wire claim “unprecedented amount of details in terms of terrain and objects - each aircraft model has over 5,000 polygons”. Certainly, the screenshots available so far look absolutely sensational, especially the aircraft. However, as ever, all this will need a pretty hefty rig to make it fly smoothly. The current target “recommended” machine is a Pentium III-650, 128 Meg RAM, and GeForce2 video card or better. You can probably safely assume that you’ll need something rather faster than this to see the game in its full graphical splendor.
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The game is currently in the pre-Alpha stage of development, and release isn’t expected until around Spring 2002, but don’t hold your breath as this may change. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tsuyoshi Kawahito on the progress of development of Project 1.
S.M. First of all Tsuyoshi, thanks for taking the time out of what is undoubtedly a busy schedule to take part in this interview.
T.K. Hi Steve, you’re welcome, and thank you for the opportunity.
S.M. Have you been involved in the development of any other flight simulators besides “Longbow 2” and “EAW”?
T.K. The first flight simulator that I worked on was the Jane’s AH-64D Longbow, where I was the simulation programmer. I then worked on its mission disk, Jane’s Flash Point Korea, where I started to get involved with the design side as well as programming. After that, I worked on the Longbow 2 and European Air War, the two titles you’ve mentioned.
S.M. What made you choose this particular period and these aircraft for the game?
T.K. We wanted to do something slightly different for our first project, and we also wanted to do a game that has a “built-in” appeal to both casual and hard-core simmers. And after some careful thought, we decided the sixties would be a perfect starting point. This is a very fascinating period of aviation history that has never been done before, and it allows us to focus more on the dogfighting aspect of the air combat. It has all the exciting jets to choose from, and the player can jump right in and mix it up with the MiGs without worrying about all the complex modern avionics. And besides, F-4 Phantom II is one of my favorite aircraft, so I’ve always wanted to do a Phantom sim. :)
S.M. How do you research and verify flight models of older aircraft such as the F-104 and F-100?
T.K. Well, we don’t feel this is any different from any other historical flight simulators in this regard, there are just as much F-104 flight data available as for P-51 Mustang, for example. And the process is essentially the same, we compare them to whatever data available – aircraft specifications, flight reports, and combat records (which can be subjective and relative)—and when appropriate, have it tested by pilots with real-life experience in the particular aircraft type.
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S.M. The F-104 in particular was said to be notoriously difficult to fly safely. Will this be modeled in the game?
T.K. The flight model is based on the flight data, not on notoriety. These early jets are unforgiving to pilot errors, and our flight model will reflect that. But they are not necessary difficult to fly. F-104 in particular received bad reputation due to the high accident rate suffered by the German Air Force early on, but you have to keep in mind that there, pilots were transitioning straight from early subsonic jets to this mach 2 supersonic jet without much experience or training, and they were flying a fighter designed for high-altitude clear-weather operation in a bad weather low-altitude strike role. Other countries like Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Greece, and Italy have operated F-104 for over 20 years with very low attrition rate.
S.M. One of the most appealing aspects of these older aircraft is the incredible sound they make. Will this be modeled in the game?
T.K. All the sound recordings will be done much later in the development phase, so we can’t say for sure how they’ll turn out, but we’ll try out best to capture those unique sounds.
S.M. It is said that the aircraft in the game will have “simplified” avionics. Can you explain this in terms of, say, F-4 radar operation?
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T.K. We’re planning for simplified avionic controls to let the player focus on the combat aspect of the game. In real life, F-4’s radar control panel has about half-dozen selector knobs and over a dozen switches and buttons, all controlling various radar modes and allow for all sorts of manual control over the radar operation—it’s a full-time job just operating the radar! But for the game, we’re planning to distill all that into three basic operating modes: Radar (RDR) mode that provides the basic air-to-air operations, boresight (BST) mode to align the radar with the gunsight for quicker lock-on while maneuvering, and air-to-ground (GRD) mode for ground targets. Locking up a target will be as simple as hitting a key to cycle through the available targets, and pressing another key to lock it up—provided that you have all the parameters setup correctly, of course.
S.M. In games like “Eurofighter Typhoon”, flight and combat are extremely simplified (to the point where it’s more a flight game than a true simulator). In contrast, the ever changing incarnations of “Falcon 4” seek to model a wide (some would say bewildering) range of aircraft systems and capabilities. Where does “Project 1” fit into the complexity spectrum between “Eurofighter” and “F4”?
T.K. Well, if we’re measuring complexity just in terms of systems modeling, the game will be very simple. There is no advanced look-down radar, no infra-red search and track system, no automatic ECM, and no fire-and-forget missiles. Shooting your opponent will come down mostly to your pilot skill, as you’ll have to obtain a gun solution by out maneuvering your opponent.
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S.M. “Project 1” is set in a fictional world during a fictional conflict, but the aircraft and equipment are those operated by the USA and the Soviet Union during the 1960s. What’s the story behind the campaign? Is this a hypothetical conflict between the USA and Soviet Union, or does it feature opposing sides who just happen to operate US and Russian equipment?
T.K. The fictional conflict is set somewhere in the Middle East, where one country backed by the old Soviet communist regime invades another country that happens to be friendly to the USA and its western allies. There are significant numbers of disputed oil fields at stake, so both USA and Soviet Union deploy a number of units in theater. Initially, they are there only in an “advisory” role, but soon, their roles will change and the number expanded as the conflict escalates. It’s just an excuse to bring all the aircraft we want into one single theater, but we hope the story is “realistic” enough that people can buy into it. :)
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S.M. I believe that the player has the option to play as a mercenary pilot, with responsibility for some degree of financial, as well as operational, control over resources. Can you describe this in more detail, as well as explaining how the resource management will work?
T.K. Yes, the player can also play the campaign as a mercenary pilot, where he/she can earn money for target destruction and mission accomplishment. In this setting, the player has to spend his/her hard-earned cash to buy ammo and fuel, fix battle damages, upgrade avionics, and buy bigger and better planes. So there will be some element of RPG involved, and the player will have more incentive to fly that next mission and keep playing the game.
S.M. Can you describe some of the mission types that will be available to players?
T.K. We’ve selected planes that are capable of performing multiple roles as our player flyable planes, so you'll see a good mix of both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions in our game. The player will be asked to perform everything from combat air patrols, close air supports, bomber intercepts and escorts, air-defense suppressions, train busting missions, anti-ship missions, and recon missions, just to name a few.
S.M. On your website, the game is described as having an on-going ground war, independent of, but influenced by, the air war and the player’s actions. Could you describe how this works?
T.K. The ground war is handled at two levels: strategic and tactical. Between the player missions, army units are moved at strategic level based on their strength, supply level, moral conditions, and their overall objectives. Any combat at this level is resolved using an abstract system. Once in the mission, any army units in contact will actually engage in tactical battle—tanks will maneuver to capture their objectives and engage against defending tanks, artillery will lob indirect fire at enemy positions, etc.
The player’s action can affect the result of ground war directly and indirectly. The player might be assigned to a close-support mission for any ground battle, in which case his action can have a direct impact on the outcome of the battle. And, at the end of each mission, the player’s mission result will be used as a modifier when resolving strategic combats, so the player can indirectly affect how the friendly forces are doing.
S.M. How much ability will the player have to interact with other friendly aircraft and ground units?
T.K. The player with appropriate rank will be able to control wingman and other flight members. We will also be implementing comm. system to interact with other mission objects as well, such as AWACS, FACs, escorts, and tower, but the exact details are still being worked on. And there will be plenty of radio calls from all the other friendly units, both air and ground, to keep the player updated on the current situation.
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S.M. Can you describe the multiplayer options in the game?
T.K. The details of the multiplayer options are not finalized yet, so this could change, but at the moment, we’re thinking of doing the standard fair of 8-to-16 players in both head-to-head and co-op missions.
S.M. The game is described as having open architecture. Will users be able to create new terrain and units to create, for example, Vietnam scenarios?
T.K. Yes, having our architecture at least semi-open to allow for easy creation of user mods is one of our main goals for this project. We hope to see user created terrain, planes, missions, and campaigns after the game is released, and we plan on actively supporting them by providing them with all the necessary tools.
S.M. If you had to select one feature of “Project 1” that you were most happy with, what would it be?
T.K. Project 1 is our own project from ground up, so we’re quite happy with all of its features. :)
S.M. Are you still on-target to meet your Spring 2002 release date?
T.K. Yes, we believe we are still looking good for release sometime in the year 2002.
S.M. What is your favorite flight sim, and why?
T.K. Well, there are so many of them that it’s hard to pick one. Some of the more memorable ones include: Hellcat Ace, MiG Alley Ace, F-15 Strike Fighter, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Gunship, 1942 Battlehawk, 1940 Battle of Britain, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat, Gunship 2000, Red Baron, Aces over the Pacific, Aces of Europe, Strike Commander, F-15 Strike Fighter III, F-14 Fleet Defender, Pacific Air War, EF2000, and Falcon 3.0. I hope I didn’t miss any… :)
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S.M. Is there any chance that we might see “Longbow 3” from Third Wire?
T.K. Helicopter sim, perhaps. Longbow 3, probably not. Of course, you’re looking at 3-5 years down the road, so things could change, but as of now, I believe EA owns the “Longbow” title and franchise, so unless they get back into the simulation market, any helicopter sim we do will not be from that franchise.
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