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F4: Gilman Louie Interview

by Leonard "Viking1" Hjalmarson

An interview with Gilman Louie, Chairman of Microprose.

Thanks for taking the time, Gilman. And a big thank you from our readers, who have really appreciated your presence on our F4 forum!

GL: The forums are great and it's been fun to be there...

One of our writers wants to know: Is that you in the intro movie in F4?

GL: (laughs) Yes, that is me in the intro movie! I went up in the F16 ride and our art department got a hold of the footage.. I'm not sure what I'm going to see happen to me next!

Great.. What was the first sim you flew on a computer?

GL: The first sim I actually flew on a computer was Sub-Logic's flight sim on the Apple II. And the first military sim I flew was that Buckley.. the A7 sim... back in '86.

Wow, its been a LONG time!

GL: Yeah, it has! And I still have that cassette tape! I mean, the most frustrating thing about that sim was trying to get the loader to load the game without crashing the Apple II... (laughs) see, we even had these problems back then!

How long has it actually been since F3?

GL: F3 was 1991. Eight years...

Wow, THAT is amazing!

GL: It's even more amazing that people still play it!

Yeh, isn't it? Actually, I was visiting Chips and Bits site yesterday to see their current price, and they list Falcon 3, Gold I think, for about $15!

GL: It's the most amazing thing. I mean, to get that thing to run on today's required 604 K in DOS, so people used to run QEMM to get all the features. You have to rub sticks together to get that to run in today's operating systems...

What stands out to you about Falcon 3? What made it a classic?

GL: The most important thing was the campaign. We were sitting around after doing AT, and Bill Stealey had released F15 Strike Eagle. It was the most awesome product at the time, so he had really cleaned our clocks. So we were sitting around the room and thinking... we could see where people were going with these games.. more planes, better missions, improved avionics.

But what could we do that would be different than everybody else.. that would make it special. The concept was: let's start off, instead of building a flight sim, let's build a simple strategy game where the flight sim is a participant in the strategy game. Build that as a framework for both single player and then eventually multiplayer. And that became the foundation for most of Falcon 3 and then the Falcon 4 series.


GL: And I owe it all to Bill Stealey. The part of the story that goes untold is that we were owned by the Maxwell organization, the British publishing tycoon. A couple months before Falcon was to be published, Robert Maxwell died in the middle of the Atlantic, and basically his whole empire, like 3 billion dollars worth, went bankrupt immediately. That meant we had no resources to publish Falcon 3.

It was Bill Stealey who then loaned us the money to get F3 published. That later turned into a contract that he could publish it in Europe. So Bill Stealey had a lot to do with our getting Falcon 3 published, even though we were his number one competitor.

Wild! Quite a story! Ok, is Falcon 3 still your favorite, or has something else taken it's place in your heart since then?

GL: It's hard to say when we look back at all the games we have produced and what others are doing... we look at every game, we break it down to little pieces.. if there is redeeming value in game we look and say, what did it do right, and what did it do wrong?

And it's hard when you create games, because you end up asking yourself more, "What did we do wrong?" than "What did we do right?" It's a very obsessive profession. In your mind there are a thousand things you would do differently.

And you NEVER want your product to be released. If anybody ever offers to a developer, "Would six more months help you?" everyone takes it. But at some point you have to cut it off.

But I think Falcon 3 was a big achievement for all who were involved. Frankly, the Falcon 3 team took a design that we had submitted for a trainer, in conjunction with General Dynamics, and submitted it to the Air National Guard as a design spec. But the ANG came back and said that they did not think we were qualified. They said the spec was overly ambitious and could not be accomplished by the quality of staff we had at the time.

It was the best contract we ever lost. Six months later we built the game, and a year later we published it. And the company that won the contract never actually finished the cockpits!

MiG 21 kill

Wow, amazing. Yeah, it's funny what stands out in my memory on F3. I recall walking into the computer department of a London Drugs store in Vancouver, Canada, and gawking at the hot new seventeen inch monitors. Turns out they were running a demo of this hot new flight simulator: Falcon 3. I was pretty impressed.

The obsessiveness is intriguing too. I think you have to be obsessive to be a sim nut.

GL: Yeah! THe equation of people to flight sims is the same one I use for people and bass fishing. The same level of detail and attention to their hobby and their sport. Think about the guy who goes out and buys the latest hull, the latest composite pole, the latest radar. Just replace this stuff with the latest TNT or Voodoo2, the latest CPU... Just by changing one or two of the words you could confuse one with the other very easily.

Not to mention I guess that in the fifties it was the fast cars, the latest manifold, the hottest carburetor. Now we all sit in front of a monitor and see how fast we can fly, and instead of the new high rise manifold we have our hot new HOTAS.

GL: It's amazing, there are guys out there getting NT beta 2 to run with dual processors and DX6 for Falcon, and the operating system won't be released for another year! (laughs)

Click to continue . . .



Exactly, we're obsessive! ... Were there times when you wondered if F4 would ever fly?

GL: Yeah, let me give you some background. The F4 team is very young, many guys right out of school. The Falcon 3 team had graduated, many from other areas of the company. All these individuals on the F4 team were very talented, but for the most part had no experience in the game industry at all. A couple of programmers were from a military background. The lead engineer, Leon, had done F16 simulators and trainers before. But really no one from the industry, most of them directly out of school.

So they struggled. We told them your first project will be the largest ever to be published in the industry, and you have to get this product out, and it has to follow Falcon 3, and be better than Falcon 3.

So, they did their best effort. There were a lot of good ideas, but no one was really giving them direction that they needed to get the game done. At one point we had discussions of cancel ling the project, and just buying the rights from another game and just publishing that sim. I had just come back from Harvard, and I sat down with the team. The management here asked me to take a look at the game.

So I did, and I came to them and said, "There is good news and bad news. The good news is that I believe we can have this game out by Christmas. The bad news is that I don't know how close to Christmas, might be right to the end. But the game is saveable and will be a great game. But someone has to make some good decisions because this is a very talented team.

So about eight months ago the Board of Directors gave me the green light to take over the project. Kind of unusual, you don't usually ask the Chairman of a publicly held corporation to take over a project. And I took over and brought back a lot of the Falcon 3 people. We found some of the Falcon 3 programmers, and they all worked with the younger guys and built Falcon 4.

Leadership must be critically important in this kind of team.

Yeah, and it was a very large team. Basically, including core engineers, supporting engineers, half a dozen artists, sound people and video people and an army of testers. If you were to take a body count in the building, just look at everybody that's lying on the floor because they've been up four weeks straight, there are probably forty people.

Incredible... maybe the biggest single team ever! Ok, lets talk F4. First up, will we see the high res cockpits in time for the holidays?

GL: OK, the current game that we will ship has the high res modes but you don't get the cockpits. Which means you can't do certain functions. But we got such a big demand on the newsgroups and on originally, that was something we were testing.. but all our testers and various web sites were publishing pictures and everybody really wanted it... so we put a command line switch that allows access to higher resolutions. So we will support the doubling mode right off the bat.

You can take the 640x480 cockpit or the 800x600 cockpit and double pixel them. So the resolution will still be the same and you will have accessibility to all the panels and controls. But out the window will be the high resolution.

And then we'll start building the higher res cockpit, 1024x768. It literally takes about forty five days to build a cockpit, there is that much art involved. Every switch in Falcon is operable. I mean every switch ... you can flip the switches and do all your procedures. Everything has to be aligned, and each switch has from two to ten animations... and all the dials have to be redone... a lot of work!

Are we going to see cockpits beyond 1024x768?

GL: Later on you will, but it will be in later revs of the game.

Great. One of the questions that I get all the time is this: Will there be a new demo?

GL: F4 has the best screen saver in our building. When everyone goes home we always leave in running in Action Cam view. I don't know if you have tried this, but we wrote it up in the readme.

Take F4, turn on Combat AP in the Settings (Simulation tab.. it's a good idea to turn on Invulnerability too), and then go into the Campaign (usually the third one because action happens very fast), take off, and as soon as you take off turn on AP, and then go to Action Cam view (SHF ~).. it's like watching a movie.

While we're on the topic, it would be great to be able to have a few choices within the Action Cam view. For example, give us the ability to filter for Enemy or Friendly action, and maybe A2A or A2G action. And give us the option to shift to the next object.

GL: Some good ideas, and they would be easy to implement. It's an amazing view in F4. You can have a couple hundred vehicles in the screen at one time. If you have the horsepower, like a PII 450, increase your settings to max and you will be amazed! Radio calls out the wazoo, fifty tanks on the ground, SAMs flying all round, aircraft intercepting aircraft... Just leave it running in that mode. People here are convinced that all we need to do is a stripped down version of just this and put it on a demo disk.

Hm. Cool idea.

Yeah, a great screen saver. It won't let you fly the game, but you can see the war. And that's what makes Falcon 4 special over any other product. There is a full scale war, non scripted, not staged that we link together. You don't even have to fly, it's a great war game. Turn on your labels with SHF L and some of the invisible action will become more visible. It's a huge war.

Yeah, it really IS amazing. And that's also one of the arguments for the higher res modes. It's incredible how some of this leaps into view on a large monitor at high resolution.. visibility of detail is increased and there is SO much happening...

But let's move on and talk about the campaign itself. One thing not really appreciated yet is that F4 completely integrates two independent and fully dynamic wars: an air war and a ground war. Tell us about the thought and method behind this.

Go to Part II.


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