Strike Fighters: Project 1

by Douglas Helmer

Article Type: Preview
Article Date: May 14, 2002

Product Info

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

Vietnam Era, But No Jungle. Whaa!

Strike Fighters: Project 1 is a Vietnam-era air combat simulation developed by Tsuyoshi "TK" Kawahito's Third Wire Productions and published by Strategy First. The folks at Strategy First were kind enough to send us a beta version for previewing. Rather than judge the sim at this early stage, I just want to give you a tour of what's included so far and share some of my initial impressions.

'Strike Fighters: Project 1' main screen

The setting for the conflict is "somewhere in the Middle East" and the preview contains three missions: one instant action and two saved single missions. The instant action mission features the F-4E Phantom II as the player aircraft, while the saved missions have the F-100D Super Sabre and F-104G Starfighter as the player aircraft. Although not included in the saved missions, I was able to fly the A-4E Skyhawk in a single mission.

Install and Docs
Because this is a pre-release demo, the install consisted of unzipping the file on the CD onto my hard drive—painless. The entire install occupies only 148 MB and this is no doubt largely due to the limited terrain and sound files at this early stage of development. There are no docs to preview at this time other than a brief README. The initial setup was uneventful and the install did recognize my graphics card without any difficulty.

The current docs consisted of a very limited README file which gives only the most cursory info on targeting both air and ground targets and selecting air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. I'm sure there will be at least on online manual in .PDF form if not a printed manual.

Configuration options are straight-forward and all the standard choices are available. These include the following main config areas:

  • Gameplay
  • Graphics
  • Sound
  • Control
  • Network
  • Other
Within Gameplay you can set the following parameters:
  • Mission Start Position: (Near Target, Air, Runway, Ramp)
  • Default Viewpoint: (External, Cockpit)
  • Enemy Skill Level: (Easy, Normal, Hard)
  • Simulation Difficulty: (Easy, Normal, Hard, Customize)

Gameplay options

If you choose "Customize" for the above "Simulation Difficulty" parameter, you can set the following sub-settings as either Easy, Normal, or Hard:
  • Flight Model
  • Weapons
  • Radar Display
  • Visual Targeting
  • HUD Display
  • Landing
  • Collision
  • Blackout
  • Ammo Usage
  • Fuel Usage

Graphics options let you select your primary video card and from the list of resolution options it appears the game supports up to 1600 X 1200 resolution at full 32-bit color depth.

All of the user interfaces are very easy to understand and navigate. No problems here.

Graphics: Technical Aspects
Technically speaking, the sim's graphics on my machine, albeit not the most current in terms of power, looked great. I didn't experience any stuttering or perceived slow-downs that might affect gameplay. The light reflections on the exterior of the aircraft are, in a word, superb. I can only imagine how beautiful they must look with a GeForce2,3, or 4 video card.

Graphics: Environmental Effects
Although this pre-release code shows various weather effects as settable options, it does not appear that they have been implemented. So far, all I've experienced are blue skies and maybe a touch of overcast. Perhaps my video card is not up to the task, but I've had no problem seeing most cloud and weather effects in sims like IL-2 Sturmovik…let's just say the jury is still out on this one.

Once nice environmental effect that is implemented are contrails. This will certainly be a welcome addition for the dogfighting fiends in the crowd as contrails are a great aid in this respect. Engines produce no noticable smoke trail when engines are on full afterburner, but as soon as you back-off from the firewall you start leaving a nice black streak across the sky.

Afterburners off and I'm leaving a telltale plume of black exhaust in the sky

The weather options are as follows:
  • Random
  • Clear
  • Scattered
  • Broken
  • Overcast
  • Increment
Not sure about Increment (should that have been "Inclement"?).

Graphics: Object Modeling
Ground object modeling is rudimentary at best at this stage. Buildings around the airports are pretty basic and those in the cities are practically just boxes with black rectangles for windows at this point. Tanks move across the landscape and create dust plumes, but the armored vehicles don't seem to have any actual moving parts (e.g., wheels don't rotate, yet the tanks move anyway). I hope we see improvements in the static and dynamic ground object modeling area.

Front office of the F-100D Super Sabre

The aircraft modeling is spectacular. It is obvious that a significant portion of the sim's development has gone into getting the aircraft exteriors and control surfaces perfect. The superior modeling even extends to the pilot who, rather than sitting and looking forward like a zombie, actually moves his head around as if looking for bogies or turning his head toward the inside of a banked turn. Very, very cool and a nice touch that just shows how much attention to detail is being expended on the entire sim.

The pilot moves his head and appears to be looking into the bank turn I've just initiated

Another area of aircraft modeling worthy of special mention is the undercarriage animations. The undercarriages are finely detailed and the gear up and gear down animations look like the real thing.

Extreme detailing. The under carriage of this F-4E Phantom II is a pleasure to behold. The gear up and down animation is spot on in every regard.

I'm hard pressed to find anything wrong with the iron bombs, missles, rockets and other gear mounted on the various hardpoints under the wings. All of these objects are very well done. Even the LAU-3/A and -10/A rocket pods have nose covers before the first rocket gets fired, then this is blown off when the first rocket is launched. The nose of each rocket sticks out of its launching tube and then this tube is left empty after the rocket is launched. Nice touch.

Starfighter launches an air-to-ground rocket

Graphics: Terrain Modeling
Can't comment too much about the terrains as the pre-release version only comes with the desert terrain. There are some undulations in altitude as you cross over the actual barren desert, and there is one big hill near the airport and some green farmland-like areas near the airport. The green spaces look very reminiscent of European Air War's terrain. This terrain similarity comes as no surprise as TK was the lead programmer on that classic sim. Perhaps it is just a coincidence.

Graphics: Damage Effects
Damage effects on aircraft are modeled and bits of stuff can and do fly off your aircraft. I've lost trailing edge control surfaces without too much loss of control, but if a Shilka gets you in its sights, the last thing you see will be bits of your aircraft scattering about a puff of black, oily smoke around you.

The damage modeling of things such as total blow-ups doesn't appear to be as sophisticated as IL-2 Sturmovik's but it is there at least. Flames and fire are present but I can't say for sure if various types of smoke from leaking oil, hydraulic fluid, or even steam from water are modeled.

There also doesn't seem to be too much of a hit bubble around aircraft or I'm not as good a shot as I think I am. You pretty much have to put your shots dead-on target to inflict damage, and that goes for both air and ground targets. We'll have to ask TK if there is a hit bubble or not.

I've lowered flaps and landing gear at top speed without any ill effects, and even touched-down on the ground while speeding along with full afterburner while the gear was lowered and nothing broke or jammed. This was with all settings at their most difficult and realistic and since "collision" is an option, the lack of catastrophic damage as a result of that supersonic touchdown must be due to the early nature of the code.

Flight Modeling (FM)
The flight models feel quite realistic (again, the usual disclaimer: I'm no pilot, so all opinions on FM are simply a function of my experience with past sims). The FM also seems to be very much affected by your loadout as well as how balanced, or unbalanced your loadout may be. If you have two 1,000 lbs. bombs strapped under you wings and you drop one, expect to yaw rather abruptly toward the wing with the remaining iron bomb.

A-4E Skyhawk with leading-edge flaps deployed

The F-104G Starfighter is pretty much a jet-powered telephone pole with pub dart fins bolted to its sides and it flies as such too. This, to me, seems very authentic based on what I've heard about it. You really want to just point it in the general direction of the enemy and then just go to full afterburner and hope you have a good angle for a snap shot when you get in range. If you plan on doing any fine maneuvering in close proximity to the enemy, forget it. The other aircraft all seem to handle in appropriate ways for their conformation and engine configs. The F-100D Super Sabre is really nice to fly in a dogfight and the F4-E Phantom sure has plenty o' power.

Blackout and redouts are modeled using the straight-forward change of color in the cockpit view. Gradual tunnel vision like in Falcon 4 is not modeled.

The following bits of offensive ordnance can be stuck to your aircraft:
  • Mk 81 250-lb bomb
  • Mk 82 500-lb bomb
  • Mk 83 1000-lb bomb
  • Mk 84 2000-lb bomb
  • M-117 750-lb bomb
  • Mk.20 Rockeye II
  • BLU-1 Napalm
  • AGM-45A Shrike
  • 370-gal Drop Tank
  • 600-gal Drop Tank
  • SUU-23/A Gun Pod
  • AIM-9B Sidewinder
  • AIM-9D Sidewinder
  • AIM-9G Sidewinder
  • AIM-9H Sidewinder
  • AIM-9E Sidewinder
  • AIM-9E-2 Sidewinder
  • AIM-9J Sidewinder
  • AIM-7D Sparrow
  • AIM-7E Sparrow
  • AIM-7E-2 Sparrow
  • LAU-3/A Rocket Pod
  • LAU-10/A Rocket Pod

Weapons, and lots of 'em!

All of the aircraft, with the exception of the Super Sabre, have onboard radar displays. You can, however, hear the growling sound from your Sidewinder missles in the Super Sabre.

The sounds in this release are, according to the README, simply placeholders for preview purposes and not the final sounds, so I can't really comment. You will be pleased to know that MeatWater Studios have been retained to provide all the final game sounds. That said, I must say that I already like the sound of the gun cannons included in this version--they make a very low throaty "brappppppp!, braaaappppp!" sound when you pull the trigger.

From what I can see, there are no training missions planned, but you probably won't need them with these aircraft.

Missions can be created on the fly using the single mission generator. You can choose one of the following types of missions:
  • Fighter Sweep
  • Combat Air Patrol
  • Intercept
  • Escort
  • Strike
  • Close Air Support
  • Air Defense Suppression
  • Armed Reconnaissance
  • Anti-Ship
  • Forward Air Control
Other parameters you can set in these quick missions are as follows:
  • Aircraft Type (F-4E Phantom II, F-104G Starfighter, F-100D Super Sabre, A-4E Skyhawk)
  • Mission Map (I only have "Desert" to choose from)
  • Mission Start Time (Random, Dawn, Morning, Noon, Evening, Dusk, Night)
  • Mission Weather (Random, Clear, Scattered, Broken, Overcast, Increment)
  • Enemy Air Activity (Random, Light, Normal, Heavy)
  • Enemy Air Defense (Random, Light, Normal, Heavy)

Single mission setup screen

Campaign, Multiplayer, AI, and Comms
According to our interview with TK, these features will be included but none were in evidence (including AI savvy enough to avoid flying into the ground) in this preview release code.

View System
The view system, so far, is adequate with internal and external views, padlock view, and a variety of ways to cycle through enemy and friendly objects.

Pilot Logs
I am happy to report that yes, there are both individual mission and pilot record logs. Both record textual stats of missions and your career respectively. The "Pilot Record" keeps track of your total kills, total mission and campaign successes and failures, and total flight time during both day and night hours. The stats for individual missions remind me of the logs in Flanker 2 in that every event is recorded right down to each bullet fired.

Sadly, there does not appear to be a mission / gun camera recorder that would allow you to save, replay, and share your missions.

The gameplay is pretty hard to even comment on at this stage. Suffice it to say, however, I did find myself firing it up every time I had a few spare moments so there's definitely something good going on, even at this early stage of the code.

A MiG 17F is about to get a high explosive, rocket-propelled spanking

Mission Builder
Mission builder is limited to the single mission option. From what I see there is no mission scripting editor for creating new missions and campaigns, but this could be coming with the full release as TK did say in his interview with us that end-user modability was one of the prime objectives of the project.

If past experience counts for anything, then Strike Fighters: Project 1 is an air combat simulation with great potential. Even at this early stage, it looks to be a diamond in the rough.



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