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Fighter Duel 2 Interview
by Leonard (Viking1) Hjalmarson

The original Fighter Duel is a high-performance dogfight simulator where you can fly one of sixteen classic World War II warbirds against up to eight enemy. It is connectable, which is its design goal, to allow you to fly against friends via network or kali.

FD has been renowned for a very sophisticated flight model which makes flight quite challenging. To date Fighter Duel has used the standard fixed view system familiar to the Warbirds and Air Warrior crowd. Terrain has been decent and unobtrusive, and aircraft detailing has been quite high, relative to the high frame rate on a fairly basic system. But times they are a changing! Fighter Duel 2 has been in the works for quite some time, and recently I spoke with Matt Shaw of SPGS about the project.

Realism in instruments! The ME262 Panel From Fighter Duel II

Csim: Matt, what is your role in the production of FD2?

Matt: I am the lead designer on FD2. The head design team at SPGS is myself and my partner Ted Jump.

Csim: Do you have a favorite military sim on the PC, and why?

Matt: My personal favorites are the Lucas Arts WWII sims from way back and Falcon 3.0.

Csim: Can you tell us something about the design goals of FD2?

Matt: Our goal always has been to recreate the dogfight and to allow you to do interesting, but reasonable "what if" scenarios.

Csim: What aircraft will we fly?

Matt: There will be more than 25 WWII aircraft to fly including multi-engine, jets and experimental types. Aircraft 3D models are completely new, high-resolution models with hi-res artwork.

In addition to all the aircraft in the original FD, the following are some of the new aircraft that will appear in FD2:

  • Me 163 Komet
  • Me 262 (jet)
  • J7W1 Shinden
  • P38 L Lightning
  • Tempest V
  • P-47 D Thunderbolt
  • Brewster Buffalo
  • FW190A8
  • P51D
  • Hawker Hurricane
  • Mosquito
  • Me109e

Csim: Matt, Fighter Duel is considered by many to be the best h2h sim out there out there, even if it is limited to dogfights. Can you give us some history? When was Fighter Duel first conceived?

Matt: We've been working on the basic Fighter Duel metaphor for about 8 years. We originally programmed FD for the Amiga computer, releasing our first product Fighter Duel : Corsair vs. Zero back in 1991. We made several follow ups for the Amiga platform and came out with the PC version in December of 1995. Our goal in FD was/is to bring dogfighting to the personal computer.

To have the feel of flight, aerodynamics must be simulated correctly, screen resolution must be high, frame rate must be good and aircraft must be distinguishable from each other when you fly them. Toward those goals we have done what it takes over the years, (lots of assembly) to get there. As we are total flight enthusiasts, we like to add features and nuances to make FD more enjoyable and playable.

Csim: What kind of training will be available in FD2?

Matt: In Fighter Duel 2 you will have the option of being checked out on the aircraft before you engage in combat. You can take on an unarmed drone to try high deflection shots, or try your hand at ground targets, or just fly around to get the feel for the particular aircraft. This kind of training won't be for everyone, but it will make some high performance airframes accessible to novices.

We have included the AT6 Texan, which is a classic trainer. This aircraft is a lot more stable and forgiving than something like the Mustang!


Csim: I understand that FD2 will include both the cardinal views as well as a virtual cockpit. Can you tell me about the new views?

Matt: Sure. We've added a number of outside views as well as the virtual cockpit. Its true that cardinal views are often easier to manipulate, but they don't always give you a quick fix on the bandit. Furthermore, a virtual view allows for a flexible padlock system.

We are designing a padlock system that is close to the way a real pilot reacts to a target. The view will be limited appropriate to the specific aircraft. For example, in the ME109 which has no bubble canopy, you can't see straight back. And the angle of visibility will also be limited in accordance with natural human limits.

The way this will work is that if an aircraft is visible to a real pilots eye, you can padlock it. However, the padlock view is easily loseable. A quick manouever on your part or the targets means that you might lose your view, or if he suddenly drops on to your tail, you will lose the view. If another aircraft pops up in front of you while the target drops behind you, the padlock will move to the new target,since a real pilot would take that opportunity (though you might be wise to get your butt out of there with another bandit on your six)!

Csim: Sounds good. Thinking about views I remember the cockpit panels from Fighter Duel 1. They were absolutely amazing! What will see in FD2, and will there be unique panels for each aircraft?

Matt: We have four basic panels, with some variation of each for a particular aircraft. So for example, the twin engined P38 uses one of the four but with minor changes. The artwork is quite unique, being done in 24 bit color at very high resolution and then scaled down. They wont' be the photo panels of version one, but they look as good.

In addition, you will be able to customize your panel to some degree. So for example, if you want to add a photo of your wife or girlfriend, you can do that.

Mosquito under 3dfx. Click for a larger shot...

Csim: Tell us a little physics, ballistics and flight modeling.

Matt: Our philosophy is to do something completely accurately first. We have been using a Newtonian physics based flight model since day one. We then take all the real physics and optimize them so an average computer can handle performing the calculations. In Duel 2 we are adding even more to the aerodynamic equations. We've added things like ground effect, wind, and an entire new damage model. As areas of the aircraft are damaged, the effects will be felt aerodynamically. Loss of lift and control surface effectiveness from holes, etc.

Csim: What areas in FD2 will be ground breaking? Some of the new WW2 era simulations are sporting aircraft design options. Was this something you would ever consider for Fighter Duel?

Matt: We have considered offering options to reconfigure the wing shape and whatnot, but that isn't what FD2 is all about. Its about flying and support of actual WWII fighters. One design option we are going to allow is that individuals may customize the art on their aircraft. When I create for instance my own Corsair, it now appears as a F4U4D Corsair - Matt, effectively a new plane. These files may be sent to others in multi-player and the art can be triggered to be put into use if they fly against you.


Csim: What level of detail will we see in the terrain and ground objects?

Matt: We had basically no land in Duel 1. In Duel 2 we have heavy emphasis on land as well as ground attack options. We try to push the level of detail as possible with the current hardware. All of our 3D models are extremely high in the polygon count. So high that others in the industry think I'm lying when I state the poly count. We are able to push a lot of polys in the scene via careful code optimization and intelligent culling of the polys actually visible as well using lots of LOD (level of detail) switching via distance.

Csim: Running under 3d hardware is a big step forward. What resolutions and color depths will be offered under 3d hardware? Will there be support for particular chipsets?

Matt: FD2 is designed to be as resolution independent as possible. This means it can run on the smallest to the largest screen resolutions available, hardware or software. I've only tested it to 1600x1200 though. Fighter Duel 2 (FD2) has several different ways it can rasterize a display (fancy lingo for draw things on a computer screen). Your choices are:

1. Through brute force in software. Our software engine is pretty fast, but its not as fast as some 3D cards. Performance will depend on your CPU and 2D video card.


2. Through Direct 3D. This allows 3D acceleration via a video card's Direct 3D driver if available. This option is there to provide accelerator support for every card as all cards have either a D3D or OpenGL driver. Performance will be dictated by how well the D3D or OpenGL driver is written by the manufacturer.

3. Through OpenGL This allows 3D acceleration via a video card's OpenGL driver if available. This option is there to provide accelerator support for every card as all cards have either a D3D or OpenGL driver. Performance will be dictated by how well the D3D or OpenGL driver is written by the manufacturer.

4. Through a 3D card natively. This is a specific driver written to utilize and exploit special features of a particular 3D chipset as well as to eke out more performance. These are time consuming and are done for popular chipsets on a basis of supply and demand. Yes, and cool hardware that stands out is rewarded this way.

So therefore, just about everyone is covered. As with all sofware, overall performance will vary with the totality of your machine, CPU/memory/cache/2D card/3D card. You know we consider performance on the lowest machine every day, we won't demand an "Indignant Bawking Universium 3D II" to enjoy the game, but those that have one, will benefit from it.

Csim: What level of detailing will we see in avionics? For example, will prop pitch be adjustable in the appropriate aircraft?

Matt: Our philosophy has been to make the planes warmed up and ready for action. We have extensive support for force feedback joysticks and throttle/stick systems. I have considered allowing prop pitch control as the equations are in the flight model, but haven't really seen where it would be useful. We do allow complete feathering of an engine that is damaged say in a B-25 or P38 which would be useful.

Csim: Will the AI pilots use the same flight model as the virtual pilot?

Matt: They always have and always will as far as I'm concerned, no cheating here. One of the advancements in the AI in Duel2 is their ability to fly the aircraft as the aircraft should be flown. By that I mean that an experienced AI Corsair pilot won't turn fight, but a rookie may.

Csim: Will we see a wind model in the sim?

Matt: Yes.

Csim: How will new technologies impact FD2? Will we see surround sound, support for vr headsets?

Matt: Duel 2 has 3D sound on all systems even without hardware and force feedback support. I won't consider vr headset support until I get my hands on one that is high resolution enough and doesn't give me a headache. Our view system is more than flexible enough and fast enough to handle it.

Csim: What can we expect for later add on scenarios?

Matt: More planes ( although we have a ton in the release), more missions and land areas and such.

Csim: Janes and iMagic have begun shipping their sims with spiral bound manuals, a BIG improvement in my mind. Will we see this trend with SPGS also?

Matt: This is completely up to our publisher. I myself like spiral bound manuals.

Csim: What do you feel is the coolest feature of FD2?

Matt: Hard to say, the graphics are quite different from has been done and combining that with our feel of flight makes it quite an immersive experience. We know we have something when we see people flying the program tilting their head and ducking as they fly =)

Csim: How soon can we expect to see Fighter Duel 2?

Matt: Sometime next spring.

Csim: Thanks Matt, and best wishes with FD2!

FD2 is a WIN95/NT Native Application and will support up to 800x600 in 16 bit color under 3dfx...

About two months ago I also asked Jim Belcher a couple of questions with regard to the campaign structure. Here is that conversation:

Csim: Your news release mentions a dynamic campaign. Is this a truly dynamic campaign with missions generated by an overarching AI with each flight? And can you say any more about mission structure?

Jim: First let's talk a little about the different implementations a developer can choose for mission development, and then I'll try to answer your questions.

The first (we'll call them Level A missions) would be straight scripted missions. These missions are stand-alone, and one mission has no effect on the next because there are no strategic elements. These missions fly the same everytime without much variation and get boring pretty quickly. A flight sim using Level A missions would probaby feature scores of these missions since the missions don't have much replay value.

The next type would be Level B missions in which they are scripted, but have many random elements thrown in to increase the repeat playability. While the objective of the mission might be the same every time for the player, the player would have control of certain aspects of the mission, like which aircraft to fly, the strength and number of enemy, whether it is day or night, which airfield to take off from. The computer might randomly throw in "spoilers" like a second wave of enemy aircraft, or targets of opportunity, or bad weather. This type of mission is a big improvement over the straight scripted variety as far as playability is concerned, but still the missions are standalone. There's no payoff for doing well on a mission except surviving or points.


The third type of mission structure (Level C) is a level B mission but adds the strategic elements of a campaign. For instance, in a level C mission, I know that if I blow up this factory then it will stay destroyed in future missions and the effect will be, say, decreased aircraft production of a particular type of enemy fighter. Blow up an oil refinery and fuel production goes down, meaning fewer enemy fighters. Get your own radar towers destroyed, and you'll see more raids in your own territory. The next mission you fly may be generated by strategic events and dependencies.

The final type would be Level D, in which you take a level C structure and overlay a separate ground war structure that functions independently. Mission generation then becomes dependent (and sometimes secondary to) the overall war structure. In other words, the overall war drives the air war.

OK, so what will FD2 have? It's our plan to implement a Level C type mission structure where there are strategic elements involved in your success and failure. The missions will have a high degree of random factors and configurability. We've chosen not to do a Level D implementation for a number of reasons:

* The development resources and time spent on a Level D implementation can be out of proportion to the ultimate gameplay value for the majority of flight sim fans. It takes a lot of time to do an intelligent ground war that functions in a realistic way and doesn't make dumb decisions. It's like programming a whole second game structure that's very hard to implement and hard to test. Frankly, we would much rather use the time/resources to build a better flight sim and improve the playability of what we *are* impementing. I'd much rather have a tuned Level C structure than a buggy Level D!


*The realities of war mean that it's hard for one individual to make much of a difference in the outcome of a global conflict. This was more true 60 years ago than today because aircraft were much less capable. By focusing on the strategic and tactical elements of just the air war, we're able to make the strategic dependencies much more important and involving for the player.

* Lastly, Fighter Duel has always centered around the tactical aspects of dogfighting, and I and Matt and Ted at SPGS are committed to bringing players the best *dogfight simulator* available. We want to stay focused on what we like and what our core audiences expects. We don't want to possibly compromise the dogfight experience for something like a Level D structure. Level C will be good enough for a great flight sim experience, I promise!

Csim: Can you say anything about use of radio, wingman commands?

Jim: I can say that we will have controllable wingmen that will function with their own AI, and that there will be radio, although I don't know how much because we haven't implemented it yet. Of course we plan on having a multiplayer mode with radio chat as in NetDuel, so that's a given. We'll know more as we get closer to alpha.

Ed. Note: Fighter Duel will also allow you to paint your own aircraft and FLY that same paint scheme on the net against other pilots! And for those of you who just HAPPEN to have invested in a dual processor system, you are going to really FLY under NT! This version will have full support for TCP/IP, so get practicing for some serious conflict!

The multiplayer missions are specially designed for net play (this is a necessary because of bandwidth and latency issues.) In other words, multiplayer missions will be different from the standard single player missions.

Other Features

  • * Scores of tailorable missions to fly, including escort, CAP, day and night interception, ground and sea attack, and bombing missions
  • * Configurable campaign mode will allow players to customize a campaign as to difficulty and aircraft available to fly and fight against
  • * New ballistics model plots ultra-accurate bullet and cannon trajectories
  • * Sophisticated damage model determines exact part of the aircraft hit by bullets for realistic aircraft damage
  • * Support for multiple Pentium processors under Window NT

System Requirements

  • Win95, (Windows NT also)
  • P90, CD-ROM, fast video card
  • Joystick strongly recommended
  • 12-16 mb of memory.

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