Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Back to the Future with FlightSims

I still remember the first time I played anything like a Flight Simulator, it was Boxing Day 1989, and I was pawing over box of my brand spanking new Atari 520STFM and inside the "Discovery Pack" there were four games. The last one I came to was mysteriously labeled "Carrier Command", I figured it must have been something to do with this weird yellow bordered screen shot which was on the box.

I placed that diskette in that drive and for the first time in my life I fell in love with a game.

I don't say that lightly, in 1989 I was eleven. There had been computers and even an old console playing "pong" in the house since I was three. But Carrier Command was the first game which had me enthralled. Okay, first time in, and without any instructions, I couldn't make head nor tail of it. But just a few weeks later I was doing some very complex things in there [go on, hands up anyone who remembers making a Manta fly low and slow with a long comms pod, and a flotilla of Walrus chugging along below to take an island far far away from where your carrier is? Good times].

But carrier command was just a gateway for me, it in itself is not really a flight simulator, but soon the road was set out, as I encountered "Armour-Geddon" a game from the Liverpool based "Psygnosis" studios. This latter game picked up in an ill defined genre where Carrier Command left off, certainly the flight mechanics were much more advanced, and they included a helicopter in the air!

However, all that was soon blown away by my scrimping and saving, wheeling and dealing, and eventually affording the massive £48.95 to buy Falcon 1.0. Never in my dreams did I know such a game existed. To my untrained schoolboy eyes it was fantastic eye candy with buttons, switches and gaming galore. The fact it ran like a dog without any legs never really bothered me.

Though through Falcon you can see the strength of the genre, you can still buy versions of Falcon today, and even when the studio closed the modding community took it up and carried on with improving the engine. It deserves it's place as one of, if not the, most long lived flight simulation games out there today.

But is it the best? Certainly Microsoft thought very early on that they could muscle in on the Flight Simulation genre of gaming, with "MS Flight Simulator v1.0" (MSFS) released even before I was aware of computers in 1982! But, it was not until the late 1990's did the MSFS seem to come up to a par with the dedicated gaming machines like the ST and Amiga. Unfortunately, I believe MSFS's biggest contribution to the modern Flight Simulation world was not in reaching the masses, certainly Flight Simulations are always pitched at a very small gaming demographic, but MSFS did prove the PC platform as a decent place to put a Flight Sim. It also took over from games like TFX, which ironically introduced me to much of the Aircraft just entering service with the RAF and USAF all these years later.

Microsoft also pushed me towards a slightly different genre of Flight Sim, towards classic piston engined fighters. The war-birds of World War Two. This started with Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator (MSCFS) and later MSCFS2; which was the first time a game made me go out and build a whole new cutting edge gaming rig.

Unfortunately, the next game which made me go out and build a new gaming rig was not a Flight Simulator, it was an online FPS... but it included flying, or sorts... Battlefield 1942. This game though does have a kinship with Flight Sims, certainly I've met a few people who are playing console games from the likes of Oleg Maddox today, because of Bf1942 (read on).

Finally though, with a powerful enough PC and developers out there with a passion for the topic Flight Sims started to appear which were amazing. The first I came to, which really took over where Carrier Command left off in my desires to simulate flight is IL-2 Sturmovik. No screen shot you'll see for that game [and remember its nearly a decade old now] will ever do that engine justice. With the improvements made to it over time, and even a complete re-write of their game engine for Pacific Fighters the game looked amazing. It still does today!

The offerings in the IL2 series [headed by Oleg Maddox whom I mentioned earlier] are breathtaking in their depth and understanding of the media they are working with.

Worryingly though it seems we may have lived through the best or times and be in the middle of the worst of times. There are worries over the development of the successor to IL2. There has been a complete closure of the Aces Studio, whom write MSFS. Indeed, it seems in the current MMORPG fever within the gaming industry no-one seems willing to put money into developing a Flight Simulator.

Who wants to lay out the costs for a very complex engine, for such a small market share?

And where does this situation leave the future of Flight Simulators... I'd have to say, until we November 2010 we can't say whether there will be a successor to IL2... If there is, I can guarantee I'll be buying it upon release, heck I'd pay for it tomorrow just on a promise of it coming out later. But clearly Microsoft have put MSFS to bed, that's sad for a game once mentioned to me as "Bill Gate's favourite game". But Bill doesn't head up Microsoft anymore, things change and everyone moves on. I just fervently hope that today with the stagnant looking Flight Sim market is a temporary hiatus, my TrackIR & Flight stick are ready to rock and or roll.


  1. Dude, if u wanna ply IL2 again give me i shout and ill be your wingman. Well i'll try not to crash into you.

    but those were epic days when we used to play that game.


  2. Three words....DCS Black Shark.

  3. Indeed I was just looking at that little puppy... But I don't do choppers... It's also not, in my opinion, from an A-list publisher.

  4. "It's also not, in my opinion, from an A-list publisher"

    ...IMHO, you don't get good flight sims for A-list publishers. You only get them from the Russians ;)