The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT
You also have to keep an eye on the bottom line (the supply of expensive toys like the $500,000 AIM-120 medium-range air-to-air missile is limited by budgetary constraints), and, above all, the Rules of Engagement (RoE). Just as in real wars, you can't engage a target without permission. Since by the time you see the blip of a MiG-29 on your Westinghouse APG-66 pulse-Doppler radar it's too late to ask for permission, you'd best study the RoE before you take off. (I can only imagine all these rules and regulations are there to make you mad enough to kill with your bare hands when the appropriate moment finally arrives.)
And lastly, just as in the military, if you do everything by the book, exactly as you're supposed to do—even if you lose your whole squadron and get yourself killed without putting so much as a scratch on an enemy target—you're a hero…when they bury you with a chest full of medals. Or lead.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that this program is a barely tamed version of software that Spectrum HoloByte developed for the military—instructing F-16 pilot-wannabes in the finer points of SA (Situational Awareness, keeping an eye on your enemies; from the old pilots' adage "A fool and his target are soon parted"). As its fans are wont to repeat, if Falcon were any closer to the real thing, it would have to be classified.
And "fiendishly complex" barely covers it. For example, consider the options available before you even start the game.
- 1. The basic skill level of the whole game, from relatively tame to "you-fly/you-die," or any combination of the following:
- 2. Enemy AI level; from Dufus to Ace. (This is key: it's not the aircraft that get better, but the pilots who fly them that get smarter.)
- 3. Flight model; from easy-to-fly (with, among other things, a slower roll rate) to realistic (which requires your computer to have a math co-processor, but which provides a totally different flight envelope when "clean," for example, than when topped off with ordnance hanging from the hard points).
- 4. SAM/AAA effectiveness: antiaircraft missiles, for example, don't get more accurate, but green recruits will waste all their missiles on the first plane to appear on their 'scopes, while wily veterans wait longer and won't all target the same aircraft.
- 5. HUD display; a choice of two subtle variants (F-16A or F-16C).
- 6. Radar; from arcade game simple to a dead-nuts copy of the real thing (only in kiddie sims does your radar show you a "God's-eye view," 360 degrees around the aircraft; in real life, the radar sees only a narrow cone directly forward).
- 7. "Campaign" mode; difficult or gruelling.
- 8, 9, 10. Limited fuel/ammo/chaff and flares; yes or no.
- Air-to-air collisions; yes or no.
- Redouts or blackouts in high-G maneuvers; yes or no. (The game is so smart that if you pull high G's all day long, you'll start to black out earlier and earlier…just as you would in real combat.)
And this is before you go to the next screen to set up your system parameters, where in addition to the usual choices (joystick or ThrustMaster FCS, and so on), you can opt to employ not one but two sound boards simultaneously (providing one is a Roland), to have your digitized speech interrupted by, say, the hair-raising sound effect of a near miss by an AA-10 Alamo.