F22 Air Dominance Fighter
What Kind Of Person Would you have to be want to program a flight sim? I asked myself this upon arrival at Interactive Magic's spacious new offices in Raleigh, North Carolina for an early peek at their new F22 sim. I had a mental picture of the flight sim programmer: living his life from within a darkened cave of stained Jane's manuals and moist assembly language printouts. I hoped I wouldn't be bored to death, or have an over-enthusiastic flight nut spitting in my face for three hours while extolling the virtues of thrust vectoring.
Okay, I saw the odd Jane's manual, but the darkened cave populated by I-Magic's development teams turned out to be a surprisingly lively mixture of the creative artist-type, the serious number-crunchers and the hard-partying flight model programmer with an ear for a good joke - in other words, they were all normal.
Phew, dry face
Mike McCoy, the lead designer of iF22 Air Superiority Fighter, seemed a pleasant enough chap and it became clear from my early questioning that I wouldn't be machine-gunned by mind-numbing jargon, so at least my face would stay dry. I asked Mike what an average working day consisted of.
I get in in the morning, test the game, test what we put in the night before, figure out what problems we have, answer questions... actually, 50 per cent of my day consists of people coming in saying, Hey, you know that code you had for whatever - those equations - well, they don't work,' so I then try to figure out what's going on. There's a lot of tweaking.
iF22 had three different game designers working on it, all of whom had been involved in the conceptual and early development of the project. Together we produced these design documents. McCoy pulls out two doorstop-sized binders so chock-full of information it'd take a team of four to lift them. They're pretty immense. We didn't just throw this together! Yeah, so you'd read a couple of books, but what about access to a real F22? We went down to Lockheed for a demo of their unclassified simulator. It was interesting - it had a lot of things in there that we knew about already, plus a few that we didn't. Congress has allocated more funds to the project so the F22 has still to go into production. But then, what did I know about real world flying?
Gotta have a USP
I did know something about flying on a pc, and, taking note of iF22 ASF's impressive USPs (Unique Selling Points: fully light-sourced 3D engine, state of the art flight model, revolutionary new terrain engine), I asked Mike what he'd do to make Interactive Magic's F22 sim better than the efforts of everyone else. I
"Well, we're going to have a dynamic campaign system. I What's that when it's at home?
I "The only thing that has been predesigned by our guys here is the environment itself, the world in which the player flies around. For example, we know that in this scenario we're going to be in the Ukraine and that we're going to be fighting against a particular kind of enemy.
I What's going to happen is that when you go into a mission or campaign, it'll set up the world first, then the program will look at the terrain and assign ground objects accordingly. So it will populate the world with enemies, allocating targets, as well as your F22 bases and support vehicles. We have some really good algorithms which will do that. It will say Here's the frontline - so we need tanks over here, fighting other tanks, some Bradleys, and the sam sites go over here'.
Top marks for homework
The box of a competitor's product is by this eagle-eyed reporter on a nearby shelf. Both NovaLogic and EIDOS have recently released F22 games in the States, setting a benchmark in the process. Pointing this out, I wondered if either game was cause for concern for Mike and his team.
I don't think that they were trying do the same kind of things that we are. They were a bit more arcade-like, whereas while we want to make our game accessible to everyone, it's actually geared mainly toward serious flight sim Cgurus'.
In that case, how would his game compare to heavyweights such as Falcon 4.0 or DID's forthcoming F22 sim?
We're all aiming at the same type of player, but where we're really going to excel is with avionics, campaign system and the terrain.
As far as the avionics are concerned, we'll have to wait and see because they're not actually finished yet. The terrain system, on the other hand, is steaming along at a rate of knots, the results of which are plainly obvious when you watch the game in action. All three scenarios - over Bosnia, the Ukraine and the Gulf - are being photo-realistically reproduced using a combination of satellite photography and clever programming. Mike was on hand to explain.
We get real world digital elevation data (which is the height information) from companies that specialise in mapping out terrain by bouncing radar from their orbiting satellites. There's a lot of correction to be done afterwards because sometimes radar goes right through water and you end up with deep valleys that shouldn't be there.
Once you have the depth and elevation map, the next step is to overlay the satellite photo on top. If they don't match up you sometimes get what appears to be a town with a mountain stuck in the middle of it. It's real tricky, but the results are astounding.
And were they?
And, yea verily, the results were truly astounding. But was it Mike's idea to do all this fancy texture-mapping malarkey?
When I joined the company last January, they had already come up with the idea for the terrain. We knew what we wanted to do, so I then had to figure out how to do it. He then went on to tell me that at a recent demonstration of their program, 1-Magic had been confronted by a genuine Russian pilot who recognised a town he used to fly over on part of their texture-mapped terrain. For I-Magic it's a story that will run and run, and will no doubt be of interest to their rivals.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode