The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
RATING THE PROGRAMS
A Subjective Evaluation
Here's a good-faith effort to compare what's comparable among all the games discussed in this book. You—and the software developers—may not agree with my selection, but use it as a template, reshaping it according to your own perceptions and priorities.
These are the criteria I used:
Concept Is this a viable starting point or a dumb idea in the first place? For example, Flight Simulator wins Big Casino on this score because it was the first "game" to take flight simulation seriously. Tornado, on the other hand, hardly seems like a winning idea mainly because the real aircraft fetched up short in its only real test: the Gulf War.
The ultimate "high concept" is Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe—even if the graphics and flight model aren't so hot—because of the way the strategy is integrated into the game play. (We are only measuring concept here, not execution.) It's tricky rating something like Air Transport Pilot—you have to give it high marks for originality … but who would want to simulate all the endless boredom of real commercial aviation?
Playability Is the game play inviting enough to lure you deeper into its make-believe world? Does the game build your confidence by making you feel comfortable right away? Can you progress to higher levels of difficulty at your own pace? Is it fun? The danger here is that there's nothing left to entice you beyond the immediate gratification of mastering the basics, leading to the question of…
"Legs" In Hollywood, a picture is said to have "legs" if it continues to do good business long after its opening. Here, a high mark means that the game continues to challenge you and capture your imagination after the novelty value has worn off. Not just hours afterward, but weeks, months, or (in the case of Flight Simulator) years. One of the worst in this regard is Comanche Maximum Overkill, which, despite its stunning graphics, doesn't have much to offer after the initial rush of finally discovering the best-looking sim in the world.
Flight Model How faithful is the way the aircraft flys in the simulation to the way the actual aircraft behaves in the air? I keep harping on this—it's what separates simulations from boot-'n'-shoot arcade games. The only time this criterion is a tough call is in multiplane programs, where more than one aircraft is simulated. The flight model of the Cessna 182 in Flight Simulator, for instance, is impeccable, but the Learjet seems a little farfetched to me.
Interface Are the controls and commands logical, intuitive, mnemonic, and / or easy to learn? Is the switchware where you expect to find it? Does it work the way you expect it to? Or, to put it another way, can you get into the air and back down on the ground without cracking the owner's manual? Flight Simulator doesn't do too well here. My favorite interface is JetFighter II's. My least favorite: Tornado.
Graphics Is the resolution fine (or chunky)? Are the cockpit instruments well defined and easy to read (or jagged and indistinct)? Are other aircraft recognizable from afar (or are they blotchy pixels)? When they get close up, are they precisely rendered (or merely generic shapes)? Are the sky and the clouds and the horizon suitably hazed (or as hard-edged as Pop Art)? Is the scenery below like a photograph (or a schematic drawing)? Are the objects on the ground complex, individual constructions (or oversimplified geometric patterns)?
This definition is independent of how smooth the animation is (or isn't), which is usually a function of the hardware (see Chapter Two).
Sound You should hear theatrical sound (literally and figuratively), not video game sound. I'm only talking about the amplified output of a sound card (SoundBlaster, AdLib, and Roland, etc.), not about the munchkin noises from your PC speaker. To my ears, Air Warrior has the best sound (and the Falcon 3.0 demo the best music).
Documentation Only two things matter here: is it informative and is it a good read? One manual I read began with 28 pages of error corrections for the following 138 pages—not a good sign. If it isn't a good read, you hope it is clear and concise (you'd be amazed how many manuals don't even have an index). The manual that comes with Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain is both lucid and immensely entertaining.
Resources Required An "A" here means you can run this sim on a hand-me-down 286 with 1 meg of RAM, a 20-meg hard disk, EGA video, and a $50 sound card. An "F" means that even though you may not absolutely need a 66-MHz Pentium with 32 megs of RAM, a CD-ROM drive, a Tseng chipset on a PSI local bus video card, and a twenty-inch monitor, not to mention a 16-bit stereo sound board connected to a 400-watt-per-channel amplifier and speakers with fifteen-inch woofers, you'll be disappointed if you don't.
Note that when you add up all these criteria, Flight Simulator looks so good that everybody else might as well stay home. The imponderable is that you can't really determine what's entertaining to everybody. The fact that Flight Simulator has no "Combat" mode, no "Campaign" mode, no career opportunities, no theme music, and other deficiencies may seem like a bane to some and a blessing to others.
|PROGRAM||CONCEPT||PLAY-ABILITY||"LEGS"||FIGHT MODEL||INTERFACE||GFX||SOUND||DOCUMENTATION||RESOURCES REQUIRED|
|Flight Simulator 5.0||A+||B-||A+||A||B||B+||B||B-||D|
|Falcon 3.0, MiG-29||A||B||A+||A-||B-||C-||C-||B||B-|
|F-15 Strike Eagle III||C+||C+||B-||C+||C||B-||B||C-||C+|
|F-14 Fleet Defender||B-||B+||C+||B+||B||B+||B+||B-||C+|
|F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0||A-||B+||C||F||B-||C||C-||B-||A-|
|Chuck Yeager's Air Combat||B+||B+||C+||C||B||C-||C||C+||B+|
|Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe||A+||B-||A-||C-||B-||C||C||B-||C|
|Aces Over Europe / Aces of the Pacific||A-||B-||B+||B-||B-||B-||B+||B||B-|
|Comanche Maximum Overkill||C||B||F||D||B-||C||C-||C+||B+|
|Air Transport Pilot||B-||C-||B||B+||D||C+||B||C-||B-|
|Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain||B+||B+||B-||C-||C+||C-||C+||A+||B+|