The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PLANES
When things go awry, you get very, very busy. Pull too many positive G's and you black out, which is preferable to the redout condition caused by too many negative G's. (In some sims, getting wounded will also make your vision swim red.) You can be blinded by flying into the sun. If your plane stalls, it may judder violently and nose over into a fatal spin. Exceed your airframe's speed limit and your wings could get ripped off. Ditto for your flaps and landing gear. Encounter the dreaded compressibility phenomenon and you might not be able to pull out of a dive. If you get too close to the ground, "Bitchin' Betty" may repeat "Pull up!" endlessly, in an incongruously soothing voice. If your plane is hit, you might see gaping bullet holes, your instruments could get shot out, your engine could leak oil all over your windshield…or smoke…or catch fire…or explode. Meanwhile, it's hard to think because warning horns are hooting and red lights are flashing like the scene in Alien where Sigourney Weaver is trying to eject before the nuclear detonator counts down to zero. When you finally do hit the silk, it can be a relief….
A word to concerned parents. While these sims may celebrate combat, none glorifies death. If you manage to shoot down an opponent, he doesn't turn into dogmeat in front of your eyes; he bails out and floats serenely down to earth as the battle rages on about him. Any attempts to machine-gun the hapless pilot hanging beneath his parachute are unavailing (I know; I've tried). Likewise, no amount of carnage wrought on the ground (or at sea) produces anything like gore. Your kids may fret that they didn't spoof that SAM, but they won't lose any sleep over man's inhumanity to man.
All of this implies a certain learning curve. Some may find it easy, others frustrating but doable, still others so intimidating as to be not worth the effort. The trick here is to strike a balance between authenticity and playability, between needless complexity and no-brainer simplicity, between realism and fun. The best sims are the ones that give you some immediate confidence (with an "Instant Action" mode at least you're already up in the air), and yet have enough depth that you're forever being drawn into further explorations.