Flight Simulators

            SOME GAMES ARE better than others.  It is a fact.  Growing up I have indulged in many and I have come to appreciate some genres more than others.  There existed a few years where I readily engulfed myself in role-playing adventures, like the Final Fantasy series, Dragon Warrior, and Chrono Trigger (which was made by the same company as the first aforementioned one).  There was also a time when I enjoyed sports games, as my brother and I acquired a few of the hockey and football ones made by Electronic Arts.  Any game involving many players is usually a plus in our books.

            We came across one particular genre to catch us by surprise.  I had never considered flight simulators my forte.  The first one I played was one installed on my old 286 IBM, called A-10 Tank Killer.  I never really got the point of the game, but years later I realize the title should have tipped me off.  I suppose two decades ago I was simply not that observant.

            The first flight simulator game we purchased was Wings 2: Aces High for the Thuper Nintendo.  I found this a peculiar acquisition because it had failed to make my list of video games I wanted to play.  My brother had convinced my parents to purchase it as a gift for my birthday in 1992.  When I opened it up I was more than surprised to see it.  What had inspired this decision, pray tell?

            I asked my brother later on.  At the time there certainly had been other options but he chose this one.  Certainly rationale exists.  He stated that it had been featured in the same August 1992 issue of Nintendo Power with two other games we had already purchased, them being Mario Paint and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time.  He wanted to collect all three.

            I blinked.  This is the best reason to he could have come up with?

            Despite that we still played it.  I had no expectations for Wings 2, since I had skimmed over its review in Nintendo Power.  The game was definitely dissimilar than to what we were accustomed.  We had not really played any other flight simulators.  All I knew was that this game took place during the Great War.

            It took a while to get used to the reverse controls, how pushing up on the directional pad makes the plane go down, whilst pushing down makes it ascend.  Whose idea was that?

            We also discovered just how difficult Wings 2: Aces High was.  When starting off the player can select from five different pilots and after successfully completing a mission they obtain status points to improve their combat effectiveness.  For the first time a pilot is used, they are virtually incompetent; hence the first few missions are relatively simple.  After one or two upgrades they are better for achieving mission objectives.  However, with five pilots to choose from, it is better to focus on three and ignore the remaining two.  There are not enough missions to upgrade everyone to the maximum.  Also, as the game advances the stages increase in difficulty and having the best pilot in the field is important.

            My pilots’ mortality rate became alarmingly high.  I know when starting off with a new game one can expect to perish often, but Wings 2: Aces High was ridiculous.  The strafing missions were exceptionally difficult, due to the shakiness of the Sopwith Camel, whilst trying to keep it on line with the target (which moves).  Most of the time the targets approached too quickly, which prohibited me from properly adjusting my gun sights.  Before I knew it I had overshot the enemy (who were obviously the Boche but never actually stated). 

            The bombing missions were even more difficult.  Here, the enemy attacked back in kind.  The skies were constantly filled with flak and flying too low resulted in death.  However, one needs to be low enough in order to either take a picture of the target zone, or drop a bomb—only one bomb!—on it.  I found my pilots dropping like flies.  Luckily the game was kind enough to give a save password as I progressed, but it only prolonged my masochism.

            The dogfights were no better.  Taking one only one rival was not too difficult, but adding in a second and then a third increased the intricacy tenfold.  Keeping tabs on all three requires extreme mental gymnastics.  Also, there is always one enemy combatant willing to implement a suicide collision with my pilot.  This was difficult to ascertain until mere moments before impact.  Once more I found myself shot down.  Had casualties been as rampant as this during the actual conflict in northern France, four score and seven years ago?

            Wings 2 proved to be one of the more difficult games I acquired for the SNES.  I learned early there was a code to install a radar circle in the lower right corner during dogfight missions [suspiciously, this item would not be invented until a generation later].  It came in really handy, as I could zero in on a bogy’s position relatively quickly and could determine right away if they were coming in for a suicide collision course, rather than finding out at the last second and praying we avoid contact with one another.  Nintendo Power then released some passwords which take the player to the final stage with three pilots maxed out.  The final stage consisted of six missions, including two strafing missions and four dogfights, the last of which involved a duel with the legendary Red Baron.  It took a year to finally finish this game because I kept either getting shot down or just ran out of fuel, which is equally frustrating.  Once I had finished the game I wondered if it would have been possible to have enough patience to last from the beginning to the end.  I imagine aficionados of Thuper Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts experience something similar.

            The following year my brother and I acquired another flight simulator for the Thuper NES called Star Fox.  It was produced by Nintendo of America, so it got recognition rather quickly, with the hype its affiliate magazine Nintendo Power gave it, and the awesome commercials.  Having a familiarity with Aces 2, I wanted to absorb myself into another flying game.

            Star Fox delivered.  For its time, it blew away players with its exceptional graphics and game style.  The soundtrack too, was catchy.  I learned to operate an arwing and lead Fox McCloud’s team across the galaxy to defeat the malevolent Andross.  The technology in this game vastly outshined that from Wings 2.  I suppose being able to travel through Outer Space greatly contributes to that.  I never really learned how the arwings could withstand the reentry of a planet’s atmosphere.  Nintendo overlooked explaining that one aspect.

            If I had to complain about Star Fox it would be it lacked a two player option.  Having a copilot during the missions would have been a fabulous addition, or even a battle mode.  The idea is not too farfetched, considering Nintendo had done something very similar with Thuper Mario Kart, which had come out half a year earlier.  It was that two-player option that helped make the game so popular.  This idea should have been given more thought for Star Fox.  Bygones.

            To this day, I am convinced that Falco is supposed to say the words, “Couldn’t be better,” whenever he talks to Fox on the com link.

            I had not really played many other console flight simulator games until Star Fox’s sequel came out for the Nintendoo 64 four years later.  The pattern at the time was to put the number 64 after each release, and this Star Fox edition was no different.  Star Fox 64 was a magnificent game.  The missions were outstanding and brought forth a tremendous replay value.  I invested a lot of time into it, eagerly attempting to constantly get better at it.  The voice acting was well done, with the possible exception of Slippy Toad, who just became annoying.  I swear he had to have been the worst wingman ever.  He always needed someone to bail him out of a situation.  I have no idea how he was able to pass through flight school.  Perhaps he used the same tactics as Lee Adama’s (a.k.a. Apollo) brother.

            Star Fox 64 introduced a multi-player mode.  Had the programmers not chosen to include that option, they would have all deserved to be fired.  Sadly there was still no two player co-operative mode, but the battle mode was still fun.  I rather enjoyed it and made myself a foe to be feared.  I learned the tricks of the trade when flying an arwing and could swindle my opponents on the battlefield.  My challengers and I were usually at the same skill level, which forced me to find an ace or two up my sleeve.  The both of us got to a point where we could easily avoid being targeted by an incoming missile, even if it were nova.  A corkscrew could get a pilot out of nearly any jam.  I decided to implement this technique to my advantage and use it against my contenders.

            I am uncertain how many other players used this following ploy, but it became quite effective.  It involves acquiring the nova bomb first, rather than weapon upgrades.  An experienced player laughs off the nova bomb, as they can easily avoid it.  However, not if they are doomed to be in the blast radius.  The catch is to make them pursue.  Chances are they will believe they have you in their sights and begin to get a lock on your arwing.  The moment that happens, do as what Peppy suggests and perform a barrel roll rather than a corkscrew.  Normally a barrel roll is implemented to get behind an opponent if they are chasing you.  This strategy falls apart because most experienced gamers will mimic the maneuver and put their opponent back into the same situation.

            The programmers of Star Fox 64 overlooked one rather dire aspect.  A nova bomb will only hurt an opponent, not the person who fired it.  I exploited this discovery heavily to my advantage.  Getting someone behind me I would execute the barrel roll and fire nova bomb straight at the ground.  My opponent has no chance to escape, as they will be too close.  They will be forced to take massive amounts of damage, tilting the balance heavily in your favour.  Having their hit points take a drastic hit, they will be forced to make more ostentatious moves to gain back some ground.  This leads to sloppy maneuvers, to which I usually take advantage of.  Victory is shortly then attained.

            I should note as well, I will not fall for my own maneuver.  If I suspect my opponent is performing something similar, I will keep my distance and fire from afar.  Sooner or later my shots must get through.  I also fly close to the ground to avoid appearing on their radar screen.  I find it irritating when my opponents implement this strategy, so their feelings must be analogous.  I could keep up with the best for Star Fox 64. 

            The only other flight simulator I got to experience was Rogue Squadron for the Gamecube.  Usually any game taking place in the Star Wars universe ends up being good, as the programmers and producers have a lot to work with.  The programmers of this particular flight simulator had enough foresight to allow cooperative mode for the missions.  Taking on AT-ATs on Hoth with a copilot was a pleasure few can experience.  However, the temptation got to be too much, as when time went by, I had to open fire on my partner.  At first he must have figured it belonged to the enemy but sensing it was concentrating too much on his position, his eyes would then glance at my screen and see himself in the crosshairs.  “Hey!” would be the next words out of his mouth and then we get into a dogfight.  The situation then turned into being shot by unfriendly fire.  I wondered how often the Rebels experienced moments like this?

            The missions in Outer Space were fun as well in Rogue Squadron.  Having a radar screen is essential, as it gets to be difficult to zero in on Imperial TIE fighters without them.  Given there is a third dimension, though, I found it confusing to use.  I could never correctly estimate where my opponents were and got lost on numerous occasions.  I was a worse pilot than that buffoon for the Star Tours Ride.

            There was another game I played which took place in the upper reaches of Outer Space.  It had its era of popularity during the mid-90s.  Most gamers from my generation are familiar with Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger.  Upon initially trying it I performed rather poorly, as I took too much damage early on and had a difficult time laying waste to enemy spacecraft.  After enabling the invincibility option I was suddenly able to advance much further.  I became fond of this game, due to its intrinsic plot and fascinating cast of characters.  It acted as a springboard for me to gain a greater appreciation for the science fiction genre.  Unfortunately I never finished the game because I never discovered how to facilitate the clocking device during the final mission against the Kilrathi home world of Kilrah.  I had to wait for YouTube to be invented before I could observe the ending.  I have actually done that with a variety of games since I discovered YouTube.  Why bother finishing games if someone else will do it for me?  I have used this same website to check out the sequels, Wing Commander IV and Wing Commander Prophecy.  Sadly, the odds of playing these aforementioned titles are now virtually nil.

            Flight simulators have gotten better with time.  At first when I play them I have little talent but as time goes on, I improve.  I begin to get a knack for the aerodynamics and learn how to use air pressure to my aircraft’s advantage.  On the same token, I also realize that a real aircraft is probably not as straightforward to manage.  I would need to keep my eye on more panels and gauges and more than likely would refrain from pulling daredevil maneuvers.  I think back to the scene on Hoth in Shadows of the Empire for the Nintendoo 64.  If someone happened to be watching I would usually take the chance to fly in-between an AT-ATs legs, just to showboat.  Would I be as cocky in real life?  If the aircraft had cost an arm and a leg with hundreds of hours of training I admit I almost certainly would refrain.  Then again, if some impressionable girls were watching I may very well throw caution into the wind.  That is what makes some of us better than others.

 

 

Essay Written: 2011/05/12