The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
MILITARY VERSUS CIVILIAN AVIATION
Beyond these fundamentals, flight simulations vary widely. The Big Divide splits sims into two mutually exclusive camps: military and civilian (commercial and, as it's called, "general," that is, private) aviation. The same schism separates pure simulations from entertainment software. In each case, Flight Simulator and its brethren are on one side and everybody else is on the other.
It's a matter of intent. The primary function of Flight Simulator is to simulate flight—also true of its close commercial aviation cousin, Air Transport Pilot (see Chapter Thirteen), as well as several computer-based professional pilot-training programs intended as stepping-stones toward flying real aircraft and obtaining real pilot's licenses.
On the other hand, the main attraction of military sims is, of course, dogfighting. Air-to-air combat is, as World War II ace Chuck Yeager (see Chapter Eight) alleges, "the ultimate flying experience." To be sure, there are other military aviation scenarios—ground strikes, reconnaissance, air-sea rescue, close air support, and others—but dogfighting is where the action is. Everybody wants to be Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
Military aviation sims are further subdivided into fictional and historical simulations. Historical sims usually re-create the particular aircraft as well as the actual event in which it participated (example: you fly a Mitsubishi A6M Zero in the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor).
Fictional sims usually place planned or existing aircraft in a make-believe setting—past, present, or future (example: you fly the yet-to-be-operational Lockheed F-22 Lighting 2 against future Communist insurgents in the early JetFighter series—see Chapter Thirteen).
Somewhere in between are what-if scenarios, where you don't simply relive history, you get a chance to rewrite it (example: you fly an American jet fighter against a Japanese jet fighter in World War II, even though neither Lockheed's P-80 Shooting Star nor Nakajima's Kikka were operational by the end of that conflict).
Virtually all military sims come with prepackaged scenarios—all you do is pick a mission. You are assigned an objective or target, and your computer-controlled opponents are lurking in the wings, ready to pounce.
Most sims also have a campaign or career mode, where you join a squadron at an entry-level rank (you may or may not have to complete some training sorties). You are assigned a series of missions (up to several dozen, although typically less than half that number), which you must complete in a prescribed order. As you successfully carry out these assignments, you advance through the ranks (or are awarded points or medals, or all three), occasionally to the accompaniment of stirring martial music.
Sometimes the effects of your missions are cumulative. For example, if you're a squadron leader in Falcon (see Chapter Four), the performance of your wingpersons will improve with every mission they survive. But if you don't give them time to recuperate between missions, fatigue makes them careless and their performance falls off.
If you fail to complete a mission, you are usually given the opportunity to fly it again until you get it right. But if you bail out of too many expensive aircraft, you may be asked to take early retirement. If you are shot down and captured, sometimes you can escape and return to your unit, but usually not. If you are shot down and killed, sometimes you may miraculously resurrect yourself and fly again, or you may have to choose a different "call sign" and start from scratch.
A GOOD READ IS HARD TO FIND
Good documentation can make or break a game. It must appeal to the novice without insulting the experienced player. It should convey a vivid sense of the action as well as giving well-grounded advice on how it all works. And, like the game itself, it had better be entertaining as well as authoritative.
Unfortunately, as with most computer documentation, the average flight simulation manual reads like it was written by—not on—a computer, although there are exceptions.
For the best-selling sims, if you can't get the hang of the game play from reading the manual, there is a wealth of third-party "help" books [some evaluated here in "A Critical Bibliography"].