Flights of Fantasy: Part two
Flying and fighting the virtual F-16
February 25, 1999
By Steve Baxter
(CNN) - The first operational F-16 was delivered to the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, on January 6, 1979. The demonstration flight for the assembled crowd was amazing. Showing off its complex computer controlled "fly-by-wire" design, the pilot took the aircraft through maneuvers that a few years earlier would have been impossible.
Since then the F-16 has become one of the most popular warplanes in the world. Over 20 nations have made the versatile craft part of their air forces. But the F-16 is also very popular with recreational pilots.
People never dreamed back in 1979 that they would be able to fly a realistic simulation of the plane on a personal computer. Of course, back in 1979 not many had seen or used a personal computer.
The fighting Falcons
Spectrum Holobyte started publishing the Falcon simulation series in the mid-1980s. It was fairly crude by today's 3D accelerated, surround sounding, force-feedbacking flight sims. But back then it was the best thing around and it gave people the unique opportunity to hook up two computers via-serial cable for one-on-one dogfights.
"Falcon 3.0" came and went. Spectrum Holoybyte bought its competitor Microprose, still promising a bigger and better Falcon. Microprose has since become part of the giant Hasbro toy empire. What Hasbro inherited in the deal is a series of flight sim products that have sold over 1 million units. That made "Falcon 4.0" one of the most anticipated simulation software releases in some time.
"Falcon 4.0" is being touted by Microprose as "the new benchmark in flight sim technology" and at first glance it is impressive.
There are two schools of thought in the building of simulations. One is that "boys just want to have fun." The other is that if you're going to simulate something then do it to the Nth degree, leaving no details out. Take a quick glance at the 580-page "Falcon 4.0" manual and you know which school this product came from.
For a product like this the manual is the all-important place to begin, and this manual is a doozie. It's well written, neatly organized in a nifty three-ring binder and covers everything you need to know from basic flight maneuvers to the complex F-16 avionics and weapons systems. If you don't like to read instructions, consider buying a different flight sim.
"Falcon 4.0" features four different modes; Instant Action lets new players jump right into the action and get the feel of the program.
Dogfight mode lets users form up to four teams that can fly against the computer or other pilots in multiplayer games.
The best place for new Falcon jocks to go is the Tactical Engagement area. There is a very detailed series of training missions that will fly users through all the controls and systems of the aircraft. When players get up to speed they can even design their own mini-campaigns with multiple missions.
The "Falcon 4.0" Campaign mode takes place over the Korean peninsula with a full-scale, real-time war in progress. Players take on the role of an F-16C pilot with a variety of tactical land and air missions to perform. How successful the missions are can influence the outcome of the war raging below.
"Falcon 4.0" reaches new levels of realism with great attention to detail. Glancing from side to side, players see the reflection of the inside of the cockpit on the canopy and all the controls are in place and totally realistic.
At high altitude the terrain is beautifully photo-realistic. Flying down on the deck is almost as impressive. This is one of the first flying simulations that is as satisfying at 20 feet as it is at 20,000.
The dynamic battlefield is very impressive. Flying in the campaign mode the distant thunder of artillery duels can be seen and heard on the horizon. Below, columns of military vehicles can be seen moving to the front. Players feel like they are a part of something bigger that just what is going on in the sky.
One note of warning; "Falcon 4.0" can be very finicky in the installation process. It takes the very latest versions of video drivers to get the software to load properly. And even though the program supports programmable joysticks, it doesn't support force-feedback technology.
World class dueling fighters
"F-16 Multirole Fighter" is part of the Lockheed Martin Fighter Series, a partnership between the aerospace giant company and Software publisher Novalogic.
The simulation has a unique combination of a realistic "Lockheed approved" flight model and just plain fun playability that has made Novalogic's simulations so popular over the years.
The Chief F-16 Test Pilot and the programmers of Lockheed Martin's full-scale flight simulator helped the Novalogic development team capture many of the nuances of the real F-16 flight model. When players load up their aircraft, the amount of fuel and ordnance attached to the wings will affect its maneuverability.
The layout of the avionics in the 3D cockpit is very accurate and functional. Players can operate the LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night) system for precision bombing at night or low light conditions. Many of the buttons represented on the MFDs (Multifunction Displays) can be operated with the click of the mouse to access the LANTIRN, radar modes and other system displays.
"F-16 Multirole Fighter" is one smooth flight sim. The graphics are top-notch, the flight model is responsive and its game controls are intuitive.
There is a bonus with "F-16 Multirole Fighter." Bundled with it is a copy of "MiG-29 Fulcrum," a simulation of one of Russia's premier fighter jets. It has the same attention to detail as the F-16 sim but with its own unique flight model and detailed cockpit.
Novalogic offers some hot multiplayer action at its NovaWorld Web site. Players can enter the "Integrated Battle Space" and compete against other people flying any of the other Novalogic fixed-wing simulators. IBS lets participants fly against up to 120 other opponents in two different scenarios.
Middle East air action
If you'd like to trade your boring old gray colored F-16 in for something different you might want to join "IAF: Israeli Air Force." Here you can fly an F-16D dressed in brown desert camouflage or six other IAF planes. You can also fly opposing MiG 23 and MiG 29 aircraft in multiplayer modes.
Published by Jane's Combat Simulations "IAF: Israeli Air Force" is not the best F-16 sim, but it is unique. It's the only product that simulates not just individual aircraft but a whole air force. But that is both its strength and its weakness. It's hard to compare a product like IAF with Falcon where so much time and energy was spent on simulating just one plane.
"IAF: Israeli Air Force" was developed by Tel Aviv based Pixel Multimedia. The company was founded by active-duty Israeli Air Force pilots who developed an interesting method of generating computerized terrain. They captured stereoscopic satellite images, some exceeding one-meter per pixel in resolution. That allows players to fly around a photo realistic Israel with true elevation and coloring. The technology looks good from high altitude but it suffers great degradation in detail at low altitudes.
Part three: World War Two flight sims
PC gamers take flights of fantasy to battlefields of the future
Microprose Falcon 4.0 - Mission Brief
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