Page 1

The Return of MiG Alley?
By Robert Mitchell

Article Type: Interview
Article Date: November 19, 2001

Rowan's MiG Alley received rave reviews upon its release back in 1999. It was awarded the title of “simulation of the year” by Computer Gaming World, PC Gamer, Gamespot, Gamecenter, MiGMan’s Flight Sim Museum, and the EMMA Foundation. It was also a COMBATSIM.COM Top Pick. MiG Alley (heretofore referred to as MiG) has great dogfighting action in it, a dynamic campaign, and it’s really very unique. After all, there aren’t many Korean War sims around.

Now that we’ve established MiG's credentials the question looms, “Why didn’t MiG gain much of a following if it was so well received?” Well, a few things really. The poor performance of the multiplayer component of MiG put a serious hurtin’ on its chances to build a large and loyal community. For confirmation of the importance of multiplayer, just look to how the huge pre-release community that formed around B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th! all but completely abandoned that sim after Wayward announced that the multiplayer component was being dropped.

Generally speaking, large communities don't form around sims that don't allow LAN or TCP/IP multiplayer. In addition to the poor multiplayer, there were a few bugs in MiG too. These were major or minor bugs depending on whom you listen too. The Spring Offensive campaign, the MiG Alley campaign that’s truly a “dynamic” campaign, has some bugs in it that are annoying. When Rowan released Battle of Britain (BoB) last year, rumors swirled that they would patch MiG again and finally wipe out those bugs. Alas, that never happened. BoB also suffered from some bugs, but my understanding is that the multiplayer portion works considerably better than MiG's does, though since I don’t own a copy of BoB, I can’t verify that.

As we all know, Rowan released the BoB source code to the general public and there’s an active BoB development group working with it now and they’ve released a beta of their work that you can get here. That’s all well and good for all you BoB fans, but what about MiG? Luckily for us MiG fans, Rowan has released the source code for it too, and yes, there’s a MiG development group forming up as we speak to eradicate those nagging bugs that were still left in the game. Great news, eh?

Being the curious type I couldn’t help but wonder why Rowan released the source codes to both MiG and BoB. Soooooooo…not liking to stay up late dwelling on such mysteries I contacted Dave Whiteside of Rowan Software and asked him about it. Here’s what we discussed:

Bob Mitchell: What has prompted you to release the source code for MiG Alley and Battle of Britian?

Dave Whiteside: Because we are no longer doing flight sims [after Empire took us over at the end of 2001], and we would not be able to publish any patches that were required [no money was allocated to this], rather than let MiG die and all the code sit doing nothing it was considered a good idea, a swan song, if you like, for Rowan [after 13 years in the flight sim market].

B.M. Aside from the members of those communities being grateful, what, if anything, does Rowan or Empire Interactive stand to gain from the release of the source code?

D.W. Absolutly nothing—apart from a few extra sales maybe [nothing to shout home about]

B.M. Did you have to get permission from Empire Interactive, or could you release it by your own determination?

D.W. Yes we got Empire's permission—as they hold the copyright—it was bought lock stock and barrel from Rod [Hyde] when he sold us to Empire. The reason that the MiG source was not issed when the BoB source was was because we [Rowan] did not know the ownership of the code. When it was found to be in Empire's hand, a couple of emails later and we where given leave to release it.

B.M. Were there any legal issues that had to be addressed or was it pretty simple and clear cut? By that I mean could you just decide that "Yes, we'd like to do this", or was it more like "We'd like to do this but there are some things that have to be agreed to or decided with Empire Interactive first"?

D.W. There where legal issues—though these are mainly to do with not allowing the code to be used to build a product that could be sold…I was not at any meetings with the lawyers so I don't know any of the in's and out's. The majority of the time that was spent waiting for the code to be released was waiting for the licence agreement to be finished.

B.M. Did the release of the Falcon 4.0 source code, with its huge community working nonstop on addons and enhancements, and a small movement toward more open-source flight simulations (such as the coming Project 1 by Third Wire) play any role in the decisions to release the code for MiG and BoB?

D.W. No. It was just purely to give the BoB, MiG & Rowan fans something for their years of support.

B.M. Will Rowan or Rowan employees be able to or be willing to support any development group that may spring up to work with the MiG source code?

D.W. I may be able to help every now and again but not give any real time to help. There are no others left at Rowan who coded on these products

B.M. Is it the complete code or 'just enough' to help developers enhance the simulation?

D.W. Complete code. The only things that are missing are the shape / landscape / artwork source material. You can build the main mig.exe

B.M. Will the code to MiG be of any possible use to the BoB development group that's currently operating? Is there anything in the code to MiG that the BoB development group could learn from or use? Or, could the BoB code, being the "newer" code be of any help, use, or point of reference to any MiG development group(s) that may form?

D.W. In general the code in BoB is an advanced version of that from MiG - there is one bug fix in the Mig code from BoB ... found in src\math\math.cpp - in the tan routine. major differences are in the campaign areas.any other bug fixes should be compatible between the two - if in the same routine…

B.M. You said that "there is one bug fix in the MiG code from BoB". Is that right or did you mean one bug fix in the BoB code from MiG? What I mean is are you saying that there can be a bug fixed in the recently released MiG code by referring to src\math\math.cpp in the BoB code?

D.W. What I meant was in general the code for BoB is an advanced version of the MiG code, however there are several areas where the MiG code is better [IMO] :-) That fix I was on about never made it into any MiG patch, but it is in the source code as distributed. In some situations the tan routine could be made to give an incorrect result (it uses a look-up table and it was possible for it to read off the end of that).

B.M. Are the codes to MiG and BoB similiar enough that development groups for the two could "borrow" code from one game to another?

D.W. Yes…and no :-) in general you should be able to move things from one to another, or better still, split off areas; i.e., make the flight models more like a seperate .dll for each A/C and then load them when needed. A big job but could be useful to combine the two sims together.

B.M. Will Rowan make flight sims any time in the future? If so, will they be an "open source"?

D.W. No. Empire have decided that they don't want any more flight sims…and we are 100 percent controlled and owned by Empire now. So it was our swan song. :-(

B.M. What are you and Rowan working on these days?

D.W. Now that would be telling…but we will be writing for X-Box.

Join a discussion about this article.