Category Archives: World of Warplanes

War Thunder Weekend

I had been looking forward to World of Warplanes.

I liked what Wargaming.net had done with their previous title, World of Tanks, and so was looking forward to seeing what they would do what it came to planes.

Unfortunately, as WoWp entered open beta and I started trying it out, my enthusiasm was cooled.

This was no doubt in large part my fault.

While I have grand memories of past games like Air Warrior, I haven’t actually done the flight sim thing with any level of dedication since some point in the mid 1990s.  I think my last real go at something akin to a flight sim was trying to fly aircraft in the Battlefield 1942 mod Desert Combat, and that was mostly a series of spectacular crashes until I was asked to let somebody else fly.

We speak a lot about MMOs and their three dimensionally rendered worlds.

But it is one thing to move over three dimensional terrain and another thing altogether to move and fight and keep situational awareness in three dimensions in the sky while people are trying to shoot you down.  We have flying mounts in various games, but they pretty much just move in a two dimensional plane that is higher than the ground.  Yes, you can change altitudes and otherwise move in three dimensions, but it isn’t quite the same thing, mostly because you can generally just stop and look around it you get disoriented.  And, of course, nobody in a Polikarpov I-15 is trying fill your hippogryph full of lead.

Even in EVE Online, in which you play in a huge volume of space, battles tend to be oriented to the equatorial plane of the star system, while range and speed tend to be the only aspect of positioning that matters in most engagements.

So it was a bit naive of me to imagine that I would return immediately to my late 80s state of Air Warrior glory.  I am totally out of practice and have lost the deft touch necessary to move and shoot at a couple hundred miles per hour.

This loss of edge was not helped by my choice of controller.

Kensington Expert Mouse

Kensington Expert Mouse

That picture is almost seven years old at this point and shows but one of a long line of Kensington trackballs I have owned over the years.  For somebody with junk all over his desk and a propensity towards knocking over drinks while making sweeping motions with a mouse it is a handy input device and works as well or better than a standard mouse for about 80% of things I do.  Unfortunately, that 20% of situations where it isn’t as handy mostly involves games.

The trackball is crap for first person shooters.  It does well enough in games like World of Tanks, where the physics of the turret are your biggest limiting factor (and it rocks for arty) but you don’t get the same second nature aiming ability when bunny hopping and circle strafing as you do with a mouse.  I literally could not play Chivalry: Medieval Warfare with the trackball.  The the click and move attack combos were just too awkward.

And, of course, there is a reason that combat aircraft are generally controlled with a stick and not a Missile Command trackball interface.

But I knew that part going in and expected to struggle a bit on that front.

What I was not expecting was to be completely unable to get through the World of Warplanes tutorial.  That should be easy part, the introduction for new players, the bit that makes you feel like maybe you can conquer the game.  But it just wasn’t happening.  After a few tries I gave up and uninstalled the game.  I expected the trackball to be awkward, but it made the game unplayable for me.  So I was back to pursuits more compatible with my input device.

But this seems to be the season of flight sim-like online combat games.

In addition to World of Warplanes being out, a friend was going on about a space sim called Star Conflict.  It is another game in the World of Tanks mold, a free to play online game with multiple currencies where you upgrade your ship and train into new ones.  I am pretty bad with the trackball in Star Conflict as well, but at least I got through the tutorial.  Then there is SWTOR going on about their epic (their word) new Galactic Starfighter expansion plan which, while not exactly Jump to Lightspeed, might at least hearken back to some of the better Star Wars games of old.  Or such is the hope.  And then there is Star Citizen somewhere on the periphery.  If you give Chris Roberts some money, he might let you roam around a hangar module and maybe beta test combat some day.

Finally, there was War Thunder, which Potshot has been playing of late.  He had been poking me to give it a try, but after my WoWp woes, I was a bit reluctant to invest the time to download it.

But the past weekend was a quiet one.  Our deployment to Curse was wrapping up in EVE Online and my daughter had a cold so we were hanging around the house.  This, combined with our recent internet upgrade gave me the option to try a few new games.  After a few “bought it at the Steam Summer Sale but then never played it” runs, which were of mixed success, I decided to grab War Thunder and give it a try.

Things worked out pretty well in that regard.

I was able to get through War Thunder’s tutorial without much fuss.  In part this was because it was not nearly as involved as the WoWp tutorial, which might not be a good thing.  But it was also because of War Thunder’s approach to controls.  The game starts you off in mouse mode, where your plane follows your cursor around the sky.  In this mode the trackball is at no real disadvantage.  You are quite limited in how you can fly… this is pretty much “I’m a target” mode as well for battles against other players… but you can actually do something.  Or I could once I inverted the Y axis.  As out of practice as I am, pushing forward on the control still means “nose down” to me.

Through the first couple of tutorials I grabbed the British starter biplanes… you get three and unlike World of Tanks, where once you are dead you are done, you get to fly each one in a match until you have lost them all… and proceeded to get slaughtered. (I did see reader/commentor UFTimmy on my first flight!)

I quickly moved from mouse mode controls to what is called “instructor mode.”  This gives you more control over the plane but still limits what you can do and keeps you from spinning out of control right away.  This, along with a bit of common sense, made things a better.  I got my first kill.  I shot up some ground targets, which are actually the deciding factor in the matches I was in.  And I started coming up against the limitations of my control scheme.  I wasn’t going to be an ace with a trackball.

I also discovered the test flight mode that lets you fly your plane around to get used to it.  That helped a great deal.

Considering my limitations I started looking into bombers.  That lead me to the Fairey Swordfish as my first upgrade, it being on the path to some bombers.  Unfortunately, a torpedo bomber, complete with torpedo on the rack, seemed a bit less than useful in what seemed to be an endless series of battles over land.  I had that, but not enough currency to move beyond to a real bomber, so I started looking at the other nations.

I had unlocked the US tree and, in giving that a try, found a plane that actually worked with my limited control abilities; the stubby old P-26 Peashooter.

P-26 in flight

P-26 in flight

The plane isn’t that great, but it put me in the right state of mind.  In a point in the game where almost all your competitors are in biplanes, which are much more maneuverable, knowing that you cannot compete in the regard right up front (even ignoring the trackball issue) meant not bothering with turning battles.  Instead I went for the old tried and true speed and altitude advantages.  Zoom and boom.

I did not get a lot of kills, though I did get a lot of hits, and more than a few head on collisions.  Ramming and impacts are clearly part of the game.

I played enough to start upgrading my initial trio of P-26s in the World of Tanks style of an upgrade here and a new part there, each unlocked with more experience with each individual plane.

I ended up on Sunday with enough earned experience/currency to unlock the P-36 Hawk upgrade on the US tree and the Blenheim bomber on the British tree.  I will have to experiment with bombing soon.

All in all, War Thunder allowed me to get far enough into the game that I actually started looking into what joysticks people recommend for the game, which was a lot further than WoWp got me.  So I am very likely to carry on playing for now.

And, in a bonus, once you have lost all of your planes in a match, you can cycle through the other players on your team and watch them play.  This is, again, akin to World of Tanks.  However, unlike WoT, you are not limited to a washed out “you’re dead, suffer!” level of gray.  You get to watch in full color, which I found almost as entertaining as playing at times.

After the cut, some screen shots I took over the weekend, most of which were in observation mode.  I tend to be too busy when flying to remember to take screen shots.

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World of Tanks Sees 230,000 Years of Play Time in 2012

And the year isn’t even done yet.

Wargaming.net sent out a press release about 2012 that included an info graphic with some statistics about World of Tanks.  And, since I like that sort of thing, I thought I would pass it along.

You really need to click on this to see it full size

You really need to click on this to see it full size

Those are some nice round numbers, which means they are probably reasonable estimates, at least if you subscribe to the theory that the more precise a huge number is, the more likely it is to be bullshit.  That particular theory arose from a study of United Nations statistics, where there appeared to a correlation between precision and simply making things up.

Interesting to see that the Soviet KV series of tanks is so popular in its various forms.  And then there is the Type 59 in China, which is still for sale on their server still and is, of course, a Chinese tank.  It is no longer an option in NA/EU.

Type 59 still available behind the Great Wall

Type 59 still available behind the Great Wall

As for next year, Wargaming.net has this to say:

Our key objectives for the year 2013 are many – deliver two new online free-to-play worlds, continued the expansion of World of Tanks with creative and passionate new content, and further reinforce our ties with our community,” said Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi. “We will also continue to explore new possibilities offered by the free-to-play MMO space to provide players with unique gaming experiences and unite as many people as possible in our free-to-play universe.

So World of Warplanes and World of Warships in 2013?

I suppose we shall see.

Monday Morning Panda Blues

Last week there was the usual rush to declare victory or defeat, at least on the sales front, when it came to Mists of Pandaria.

Pandas; heroes or not?

Retail sales were pegged at 600-700K units, which is down considerably from past expansions.  Of course, that is only physical boxes shipped.  There are only pulled-from-various-orifices estimates on digital downloads. (Some of which were pretty positive.)  Only Blizzard knows the real answer there, though if there is no press release from them you can guess that they did not set any records.  We will have to wait for the quarterly report for those numbers if that is the case.

Blizzard was pushing the digital side pretty hard, and the option does come with the advantage of having everything pre-loaded and ready to go come launch.

Did anybody NOT see these ads?

And Blizzard itself is offering free server transfers due to queues on a few servers.  Eight US servers with long queues does not seem like a lot compared to the full list of servers, but how many MMOs get queues after 3 months, much less after nearly eight years?

Another press release I don’t expect to see is one announcing how much money Trion Worlds raised from their own little jab at Mists of Panadaria.

Our expansion saves pandas… sort of

Trion Worlds announced their own “buy our expansion and save a panda” offer, where they declared… well, I’ll used their blurb.

Trion Worlds, Inc. will donate US$1.00 to Pandas International for each copy of Storm Legion that is pre-ordered through StormLegion.com, worldwide (excluding Alabama, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, even though we really wish they’d let us), between 12:00am PDT September 26, 2012 through 11:59pm PDT October 3, 2012, up to a maximum amount of US$10,000.00. Know why we have to do that? Maine. Weird, right? We don’t know what they have against Pandas, or why $10,000 is a magical number, either. This contribution is not tax deductible, but it would be pretty awesome if it were. Pandas International is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization located at P.O. Box 620335, Littleton, Colorado 80162, whose mission is to ensure the preservation and propagation of the endangered Giant Panda.

The reason I suspect that we won’t see a follow up press release on this because even if they make the 10,000 mark, it would still be during the same week when Blizzard sold more than 600K boxes.  And if they don’t make that mark… well, really nothing to brag about then.  This sort of publicity works better for somebody like The Oatmeal, who just wanted to annoy someone, than as a method to sell game boxes.

Then there is actually playing the game itself.  I have a number of friends who pre-ordered the expansion because… well… its WoW and they always get the expansion… who seem reasonably happy.  I did hear more than once a little bemusement that after the panda starting zone it was a bit of a bummer to then have to work their way through all of the old content to get to the rest of the expansion with their new character.

One friend failed to outsmart the system by using a refer a friend bonus to grant levels to their new panda monk.  Unfortunately, impatient with the starter zone, they apparently applied those levels right away and ended up with a level 30 monk they didn’t know how to play.  Let that be a warning to you.

I decided to give the new panda starting area a look.  I think one of the smarter things that Blizzard did was opening up the full selection of races to all players, regardless of which expansions they own.  Selling boxes is a good boost to income, but keeping people subscribed is the winning strategy.

Anyway, a new panda warrior was born.

Up next, the panda obesity problem…

The panda starter area is very nice and does not, I gather, degrade Asian culture for western consumption, or play to western stereotypes of Asian culture, since nobody seems to be out there protesting.  I guess pandas are too cute… or Victoria’s Secret models are too thin.

My patience for starting a new character in WoW is fairly low at this point, but I made it pretty far into the tutorial.  The monkeys who climb on your back and need to be shaken off might be a joke too close to home for some who spend too much time in Azeroth, but the whole thing is good for new players as it introduces new game concepts at a measured pace.  It might be too slow for veterans, but you will come out of it knowing the basics of the game.

The only real surprise was that on a Sunday afternoon I only saw a single other person in the starter area.  I realize that, being on the conveyor belt of such an area, you won’t run into a clump of people, but just one seemed quite sparse.  But my own server, Eldre’Thalas, seems to be somewhat sparse overall these days.  I couldn’t even take care of my item level needs at the auction house the previous week.  It has fallen quite a ways from the launch of Wrath of the Lich King, when the queue to get on during the first few days was 700+ players deep at times.

But, nice though the starter area is, it did not respark any desire for WoW in me.  I did not run out and buy the expansion or decide to stay subscribed.

There is still a great deal of nostalgia for WoW in our regular group.  The topic comes up now and again, even when I am not making videos designed to ignite those emotions.  But our own time in the game peaked about the time our server’s population did, during Wrath of the Lich King.  WoW has moved towards the point EverQuest occupies in my heart.  The disappointing part is that, unlike EverQuest, we cannot go back to revisit old WoW as Blizzard washed it all away with Cataclysm.

And the world keeps turning.

Dragons: April Fools Comes Early to World of Warplanes

Or so I hope.  This press release just showed up in my mail.

Here Be Dragons!

Majestic Dragons Add Fire to World of Warplanes

30th March, 2012 — Wargaming.net, the award-winning online game developer and publisher, is proud to announce the next faction to join the current set of nations in the highly-anticipated flight combat action MMO World of Warplanes: dragons! The all-new line of majestic creatures will set the sky on fire when the game enters its beta stage later this year.

The initial tech tree will include 12 dragons and will eventually expand to more than 60 creatures. Each mystical animal will have its own peculiarities and strategic employment. Players can upgrade several key characteristics including fire intensity level, color, number of claws, horns, wingspan and skin thickness.

The addition of these fire-breathing beasts will add more diversity to the gameplay since a dragons’ behavior requires a different approach in terms of controls and tactics.

“Adding dragons into World of Warplanes has been one of the most challenging aspects of game development so far,” said Wargaming.net CEO Victor Kislyi. “Dragons are so different from planes; they are much more edgy and self-willed, but if you put in just a little more effort, they will serve you well. I’m happy we’ve finally announced them!”

There are, of course, screen shots.

Dragon vs. Germans

Jets and Dragons

Flames and Biplanes

A dragon tech tree.

How to Train Your Dragon

And an accompanying video up on YouTube.

Just setting us up for the big “April Fools!” post on Sunday, right?  Please?

Air Warrior – Vague Memories from the Early Days of Virtual Flight

Syp, in his role as the Game Archeologist over at Massively, has not one but two GREAT posts up about one of the early powers in online gaming, Kesmai.

Granted, my enthusiasm for Kesmai is such that even a favorable passing reference to them gets you to at least one thumbs up.  But here we have two posts full of details and memories.

His first article covers the Island of Kesmai, one of the early ancestors to modern MMOs, created in parallel to MUD1,  while the second article covers the life of the company with a heavy focus on their game Air Warrior.

And while I could complain about his failure to mention MegaWars III and Stellar Emperor (a game I won at one point) along with some other titles, like Stellar Warrior, I think I will just join his nostalgia parade by adding in my own memories of Air Warrior.  All that comes after this could have been his for his article if only he had talked to me… and when you read it… if you read it… you’ll have to decide if that is a warning against ever talking to me!

The Next Generation of Games – May 1989

I have mused a bit on Air Warrior in the past.  Now I am going to try and dig deep into the recesses of my brain for really old tales.

I will say up front, to avoid repeating it with every entry, that these are all “as I recall it” memories, many of which I am sure have been distorted by the passage of time.  Some of them are, no doubt, flat out wrong.

These are thing that happened from 1988 to 1990 in my personal timeline and involve the original versions of Air Warrior running on GEnie.  If your own personal time frame is different, think a minute before you tell me, “Oh no, that is not the way it was!”  This isn’t Air Warrior II or Air Warrior III or the AOL or Game Storm version.  This is the really old shite!

I was a party to many of these things below, though surely not as many as I remember.  Time does that.  Feel free to correct or add to my recollections in the comments.  But don’t call me a liar, I swear all this is true to some degree!

On with the show.

The Game

Like any good PvP focused multiplayer online game, Air Warrior was divided into three factions.  These were named A, B, and C.  Each side had its own set of airfields.  On the original, asymmetrical map the fields never changed hands, though could be put temporarily out of commission.  In the revised symmetrical maps (one of which is pictured above) there were contestable airfields which could change sides.

Each airfield was defended by an NPC anti-aircraft gun that was brutal, but which could be bombed to put it out of commission for a short time.  In addition jeeps with a machine gun mount could be driven out onto the airfield, though this may have come later in the game.  Tanks were also available to capture contestable airfields.

In the early days of the game, planes were identified by the pilot’s number. (Mine was 3103.)  You could see who you were fighting.  This made it easy, at times, to avoid the good pilots (e.g. 5186, 3799, 5940).  Later that was changed and you could only see the type of plane being flown, not the pilot.  After that, you just had to stay clear of the Spitfire at 20,000 feet waiting to pounce on you.  Same people.

The game ran at a speed of half real time.  It was felt, among other things, that shooting at enemy planes… which were just single pixel black dots at anything but very close range… would be too difficult at the speeds WWII aircraft flew.

As soon as a plane flew within visual range of you, it put up an icon in your field of vision with the distance.  This seems like a recipe for disaster.  How could you ever surprise anybody?  Yet somehow we did.  It did help that you had to actually look in the right direction, so you wouldn’t get an icon in your front windscreen for somebody behind you.

Proposed Pacific Theater 1990

There was also a map, a sample of which is posted above.  In the upper corner of each of the grids, when the map was brought up in game, there was an icon indicating how many friendly and how many enemy planes were flying in a given grid.  This was a simulation of early radar intercept tracking.  It told you where you might find enemy planes without actually putting a big red arrow in the sky.

The Planes

The most commonly flown planes I saw were the Spitfire and the Focke-Wulf 190.  The Spit had speed, maneuverability, and the firepower of two 20mm cannons.  The 190 had even more speed in a dive and four 20mm cannons, allowing a quick, clean kill.

At one point, the Bf-109K was in the game with incredible speed and hitting power, but it got knocked back to a G model at which point there was nearly always a better plane to fly to do what you wanted to do.

The Japanese Zero also had a pair of 20mm cannons and could turn inside of any other plane it faced.  If you could tempt new players into a turning fight, you could kill them easily with the Zero.  On the other hand, any pilot who knew what he was doing and had a faster plane… and almost everything was faster… could have you for lunch by using speed.  And the Zero needed precious few hits to kill.

The P-51 Mustang was flown surprisingly infrequently.  I recall the night that Jerry Pournelle came to try the game.  While he was flying off in the wrong direction, never to be seen again, he complained on the public channel that if the game were at all realistic we would all be flying P-51s.

On the other hand, the F4U Corsair, a later addition to Air Warrior, was flown quite a bit.  It also stood in for the P-47 Thunderbolt, which Kesmai did not bother to introduce to the game as the two planes would perform close to identically in their model.  Or so they said.

The Corsair was big and heavy but fast in a dive and well suited to zoom and boom tactics.  It could play the vertical game.  The guns were a bit light relative to the 20mm cannons, but adequate.   And the Corsair could carry a pair of bombs, so was useful for fighter bomber operations, like taking out anti-aircraft guns, tanks, and jeeps.

Likewise, the P-38 Lightning found work as a fighter bomber, though it was a bit more fragile

In addition to single seat fighters, Air Warrior also allowed you to fly bombers.  You could fly a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-25 Mitchell, or an A-26 Invader.  The pilot also acted as the bombardier and could switch to a bomb aiming UI for the bomb run.

In bombers, other players could occupy the gunner positions.  The pilot had to stay in his position, but gunners could change to any unoccupied gun position in the plane.

The B-17 was sometimes abused because of its numerous gun positions.  A full B-17 would bomb the NPC anti-aircraft gun, land on the enemy airfield, and camp the aircraft spawn point.  This was not an easy thing to pull off well and a lot of B-17s went down attempting it.

The A-26 was the the over-powered bomber in my mind.  Fast, but with two rear facing turrets, a pile of guns fixed forward, an 8 x 500lb bomb capacity, and the ability to drop them one at a time (as opposed to four bomb “sticks” in the B-17), it made for a serious bombing platform.  I would climb to 20,000 feet, turn towards the enemy airfield lined up on their runway, open up the throttles and put the plane in a shallow dive.  I was tough to catch and if you went head on I had a lot of guns to play with as well.

There were also other special planes you could fly.  There was a WWI zone where you could fly biplanes (and the Fokker Dr. 1 triplane) against other pilots.  In the original version of the game, the WWI zone was part of the same map as the rest of the game, it was just really far away.

The German Me 262, a WWII jet fighter, was also available in the game, though its use was restricted to special events.  During one such special event, one pilot took a fully fueled Me 262 and used its speed to get to the WWI zone, where he shot the hell out of some biplanes.  Or at least tried to.

Later the F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15 were introduced, though like the Me 262, they were for special events.  You could, however, fly any of the planes in off-line practice mode.  You could dive the F-86 and break the sound barrier.

The Plane Models

While you started out facing forward, you could use keys to turn your head various directions.  As you looked out, part of your view was obscured by a black silhouette that represented your plane.  So there was a big black engine and dashboard when facing forward (with a gunsight of course), wings when looking left or right, and the back of the cabin and tail when looking backward.  The keys could be combined, so you could look forward and left for 45 degree angle view, with a combination of the black areas obscuring your view.  When looking up, all was clear, while looking down got you nothing but black, the bottom of your cockpit.  Down was only there, I imagine, so it could be used in combination with other keys, as what aircraft had anything at the bottom of the cockpit?

You could create bitmap artwork to replace the black silhouette of your plane.  Some people made some amazing looking artwork for the game, all in 72dpi bitmap.

Spitfire Artwork Scanned from GEnie Live Wire

The enemy in that picture… an Me 262 I would guess… is damn close to be showing up with such detail.

Of course, if you think about it, you can spot the opportunity to abuse the system by creating artwork that does not obscure your vision at all.  Fortunately Kesmai had heard about Wonder Woman’s invisible plane and put in a check.  If your artwork did not obscure a required percentage of the screen, the default black silhouette would load instead.

P-51 Mustang artwork on a Mac II

If you look closely, you can see that the P-38 in that picture is only 53 units… feet? yards? I don’t remember… away, which is very close for air combat.

Still, there were possibilities.  I toyed with ideas, like making an art set that would turn my plane into a high-winged monoplane, all the better to see (and pounce on) people below me.

And then there was the F4U Corsair.  Did you know that it did, in fact, have a window at the bottom of the cockpit.  And Air Warrior supported this, allowing a small percentage of the floor to be open.  I used this to create a graduated bomb sight that would let me use the two-bomb Corsair as a level bomber to knock out ground targets.

Tactics

In the early days of the game, before my time, when they were still nailing down the flight models, there was the era of stall fighting.

As I heard it described, during this time one of the viable ways to get on an enemy’s tail in a turning fight was to drop your flaps, put down your landing gear, set your wings perpendicular to the ground, and pull back on the stick.  All of this would put you into an impossibly tight turn with little or no loss of altitude.  If you opponent wasn’t doing the same, you would turn inside of him and be able to line him up for an easy kill.  And if you were doing this close to the ground, anybody diving on you would likely go splat.

Even after that was fixed, when I started playing and when gravity would pull your slow and tightly turning plane towards the ground, flaps down, gear down, and the tightest turn you could manage was often the tactic of last resort… or first resort for a new player.  It can be hard to fight the temptation to just keep trying to point the nose of your aircraft at the enemy.

For all of the primitive nature of the game… I was playing a multiplayer flight simulator in 1988 on a Mac SE with a 9 inch, 512×384 resolution black and white screen with a 2400 bps modem (which made me ‘leet)… the game was surprisingly well suited to aircraft combat tactics as practiced in the real world.

The book recommended in the forums was Robert L. Shaw’s Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.  My copy is still on my book shelf, and was signed by a number of players at the Air Warrior convention at Dayton, Ohio in 1989.

The things it taught were true in the game.  Speed and altitude were life.  Zoom and boom tactics were viable.  If you went head on against another guy and, after the pass, he turned on the horizontal… went left or right… while you went vertical… over the top for a loop… you were going to end up being able to get behind him because gravity gave you an extra G for your turn. (The egg-shaped loop or some such.)  Plus coming back down you gained back the speed you lost, while the speed he shed in his turn was gone for good.

Surprising things mattered in the game.  Or maybe it was just surprising that they were modeled at all.  For example, you could choose how much fuel you wanted to carry, represented as a percentage of your total capacity.  New pilots chose 100%, which in the P-51 Mustang they inevitably picked, would give them something like six hours of flight time at full throttle in the half-speed world of Air Warrior.

They were not going to last six hours, and the game modeled the extra weigh all that excess fuel added to the plane.  So they basically tied a great big rock to the tail of their Mustang.

(Flying a P-51 was like a “kill me now” sign at that time… though it could be fun to fly one and troll as an easy kill.  I shot down Tango Circus (3799), one of the best pilots in the game, while flying a P-51 because he thought he could get another kill in first, in front of me, without worry.  I got him, which gave me one kill against the hundred or so he had on me. It felt good.)

Experienced pilots never used more than 10% fuel, and there was some discussion as to how little you could get away with in a given plane.

Historical Simulations

Every so often Kesmai would run a scenario to simulate a historical encounter.  These were reasonably rare as they took time to set up and used up resources.  I only remember two.

The first I one I remember, and only vaguely at that, was a Korean War scenario, so it was MiGs versus Sabres over the Yalu.  Honestly though, my memory on this one is so tenuous that they might have just had a jets day in the regular game.  But some part of me thinks this was a scenario.

The other one I remember was a WWII Pacific based scenario re-enacting the shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto.  The setup for this was a gaggle of Zeros escorting a pair of C-47s, one representing the plane carrying Yamamoto, between two points on the map, while a smaller group of P-38s had to find them and shoot them down.

Platform Fun

Air Warrior was originally available on the Macintosh.  After its initial success, support was extended to such major computing platforms as the Atari ST and the Amiga 2000.  Also, support was thrown in for something called DOS on IBM compatibles equipped with the right video hardware.

The Macintosh client was maintained separately from the Atari/Amiga/DOS client.  Due to a mis-translation of certain constants from the Mac code base to the A/A/D code base, aircraft on the latter code base were modeled with considerably more horsepower.  As is usual, it took a bunch of complaining on the GEnie forums and demonstrations of planes driven by the Mac client getting left in the dust in level flight at 100% throttle before things changed.  Balance issue!

Despite this horsepower imbalance, Mac pilots represented a lot of the “old hands” in the game and were always heavily represented at the top of the rankings, primarily because they used proven real world tactics. (You did not want to get down to a flaps down, gear down turning fight if you were in a Mac against a pilot on another platform. The horsepower advantage would crush you. I had the opportunity to play on a friend’s MS-DOS machine and the performance difference was noticeable.)

Terrain avoidance was also handled by the client.  It was a more trusting time.  Early in the game, losing the terrain… ending up flying in a world empty of mountains, air strips, buildings, or whatever… was not an unheard of event.  On of the classic tales of the game is when the pilot of a B-17 with a full complement of gunners was flying to bomb an enemy airfield and lost the terrain.  He flew onward, since everybody else was still with him, until he flew through a mountain.  He happily continued on, but everybody else in the plane crashed and was returned to the lobby as they came into contact with the mountain.

And the game, at least on the Mac side, had a built in key command to take screen shots.  As I do today, I took many screen shots back then.  I had quite a gallery of odd-shaped black silhouettes in my gun sight, streaming smoke and such.  I wish I knew where they were today.  That was so many computers and so many hard drives ago, I fear they are lost forever.

Scoring – A kill has been awarded

There were few things as satisfying as closing in on that little black dot, just a pixel in size, that represented your foe, placing it in the gun sight (without losing it in the clutter), hitting the fire button and seeing a couple more pixels shoot out of it, indicating hits and damage.  Maybe you would get a smoke trail, and ugly black triangle hanging on the back of the plane like a kite.  And then the magic message would appear.

A kill has been awarded!

Or something like that.  At this point, the actual text is lost to me, but that is what came to mind.  That could be the kill message from Stellar Emperor or Stellar Warrior.

How to meaningfully keep score in a way to compare pilot skill was something of a pain.  A number of different methods were tried with varying degrees of success.

At first, the top score over a 4 week campaign was the pilot with the longest kill streak.  That is, the pilot who shot down the most planes without getting shot down himself, was the winner.  This, of course, modified people’s behavior.  People with decent kill streaks in process would bail out of their plane rather than fight at the first sign of trouble.

So things were changed so that if you took a hit before you bailed out, the person who hit you got a kill and you took a loss.  One loophole closed, but then people with streaks would just refuse combat unless they had an unbeatable advantage.

Then there were experiments with kill ratios.  I think the results published in GEnie Live Wire, the bi-monthly newsletter for the online service… isn’t that quaint, an online site felt the need to publish a physical newsletter… went from kill streaks to just raw kills per campaign to whatever they felt like for a given issue.  Sometimes they would list a campaign number.  Sometimes they would forget to put the scores in at all.

GEnie Scores Column – June 1988

Still, it is a damn good thing that GEnie did publish that newsletter, because I couldn’t find anything else about the old days of the game.  Where was Jason Scott when all this stuff needed saving?

Selected versions of the Air Warrior scores listed in GEnie Live Wire

Eventually in game there was a pilot rating system that was akin to chess ranking, which took into account your rating and the rating of the person you shot down for any adjustment.  Akin, I would imagine to what World of Warcraft uses for their arena rankings and League of Legends does for their ELO.

Playing on GEnie

Let’s just say that $15 a month seems pretty damn cheap by comparison, and free to play seems simply insane.

GEnie Price “cut”

That screen shot is from when they “cut” prime time pricing from $36/hour to $18/hour.  Oh, and they raised non-prime… which is when everybody used the service… from $5/hour across the board to tax the higher speed users!  GEnie sure could spot the trend in computing.  Isn’t it Moore’s Law that says computing power gets more expensive over time? (No, it effectively says the opposite. That was sarcasm.)

Anyway, that foresight no doubt explains what GEnie is today… a memory and some old magazines out in my garage.

The Game Evolving

A lot of things changed with the game over time.  My memories are of the original map and then the updated version as shown above.  But then I ran across this list of updates in the July 1990 edition of GEnie Live Wire and they sound familiar too.

Improved Air Warrior – July 1990

This article makes it sound like there was interim state for the Pacific and European theaters which I do not recall.  The persistence of memory indeed.  Everything I say might be wrong.

And then came Air Warrior II and Air Warrior III, which were sold as stand alone box games with online capabilities and which ran through the 90s.

Where Things Stand Today

And then Electronic Arts bought Kesmai in 1999.  We know how that sort of thing generally turns out when EA buys a company that makes online games.  Everything ever associated with Kesmai pretty much disappeared from the face of the earth by the end of 2001.  At least it out lived GEnie by a couple of years.

The spiritual successor to Air Warrior for many players was Aces High, which took the Air Warrior idea to new levels.  WarBirds was also a destination for some Air Warrior players.

And then there is World of Warplanes from Wargaming.net, which is in alpha testing right now, and which has potential to fill the Air Warrior niche as well, though I think War Thunder is more on track.

I am always surprised at how few people have heard of Air Warrior or its successors.  But flight sims, and competitive online flight sims especially, are something of a niche market I suppose.

Addendum: For some more memories… probably more accurate as well… check out DoKtor GonZo’s posts from about 8 years back, when this was all a bit fresher in the mind.  I should have looked at it before I wrote this, but such is life.

Supplemental material that may support or contradict what I have written.

The Air Warrior Manual – Version 1.4, November 1988

Air Warrior Survival Tips by Cap’n Trips

The Air Warrior Pilot’s Guide by R. Wolf  (Dec. 1991)

Guide to Creating Custom Air Warrior Plane Art (Mac)

The Digital Antiquarian – Games on the Net Before the Web, Part 1 (December 8, 2017)

World of Warplanes Alpha Gameplay Footage

Wargaming.net put up a video of some World of Warplanes action that was apparently part of their alpha test.

It looks pretty good, though any company video has to be cherry picked clips.  I still want to see it when it comes out.  You can get to the video here if you are reading this via RSS or mobile device.

You can sign up to be part of the alpha test at the World of Warplanes web site.

I will be waiting until thing get a little further along.

My 2012 Sorta-MMO Outlook

At about this time last year I wrote a post about my MMO Outlook for 2011.

There were six games I was looking forward to in 2011 that were… mostly… in the traditional MMORPG, virtual world, shared experience with thousands of fellow players mold.  The real question was on which of the six would I be able to focus.  It seemed likely that I would only have time for one, so there was a choice to be made.

Two of the candidates were pushed out into 2012 (TERA and Guild Wars 2), one was cancelled (The Agency), and two I played in beta (DCUO and SWTOR) and decided to pass on.  The choice ended up being Rift, which is where the instance group is playing currently.  Despite my “Oh no, not another fantasy MMORPG!” initial reaction, and probably because that was exactly what it was, it filled the niche for our group.

Sitting here now and looking out at 2012, I find that the MMOs I am looking forward too… really aren’t traditional shared virtual worlds.

There is a shared experience in each, be it cities, towns, lobbies, or chat channels.  But the actual world in which you adventure, those are instanced.  You an your group are on your own and you will never run into anybody who is not on the guest list one way or another.

Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 was actually on my 2011 Outlook list, but it fell out of 2011 and there seems to be some risk of it falling out of 2012 when it comes down to it.  That is certainly Zubon’s prediction!

The game is certainly the most traditional looking of my choices for 2012 when comparing to other MMOs.  The original Guild Wars was fully instanced with just cities available as locations where players could interact with the population as a whole.  But the people at ArenaNet never claimed it was an MMO.

This time around they are stating that it is an MMO with a persistent world, with dynamic events, described as being scalable and to “encourage impromptu group play,” seeming to be the primary draw in that regard.

And, of course, it will solve all the problems from which current fantasy MMORPGs, and their players, suffer.  Or so one might be lead to believe reading some of the fan comments.

Still, the game does appear to be trying to break some past trends while keeping its subscription-free business model.  (Hey, Guild Wars was free to play back in 2005!  What trend setters!)  That ambition alone, along with the no subscriptions, is probably enough to get me to buy the box.

But I also own two Guild Wars boxes, and it was never sticky enough to get me to stay, so we’ll have to see how they do this time around.

Diablo III

And now we get into the items that are either Diablo III or very much like Diablo III, and where any MMO pretense starts sliding away.  No shared virtual worlds here.

I will, almost assuredly, buy this game.  But the true key to this list is whether I will play it with other people.  While I played a lot of the original Diablo with other people, Diablo II settled down into an almost all solo affair.  Part of that was the syncing of maps, where joining up with somebody would redo the random elements of your world to match theirs and your maps would be gone.  And part of it was the scaling difficulty levels in Diablo II.  Back in Diablo, we would sometimes just play in the same game but in different areas just to be chatting and such.  In Diablo II the monsters all scaled up as people were added, so three people running around solo wasn’t a viable option.  You had to stick together.

Then there is the group size aspect of things.  Diablo III, like its predecessors, will be limited to four players.  Given our regular group runs five people regularly, and can get expanded up to eight pretty quickly, this means it will be a game played on off-nights, which means no regular group.

So while I might play Diablo III, it may just get the treatment I give most games I play solo, which is a mention or two and a summary.  Unless Blizzard loses its roots and fails to capture what made the Diablo games great, in which case it likely be one complaint post and silence ever after.

Torchlight II

Torchlight II is clearly trying to be the Diablo III you want versus the Diablo III Blizzard is going to give you.  It will offer LAN play, server options, up to eight players in a game, PvP games, 100 levels, pets, fishing and so on.  Look at the comparo chart.

All done by a team that includes people who made the original two Diablo games.

The problem, for me, is that Torchlight, as solid as it was, did not capture the “feel” of the Diablo games.  Much like one of my early and often complaints about WoW, it has a very cartoon feel to it, in the Team Fortress 2 sort of style.  It failed on the atmosphere aspect of the Diablo essence, though it certainly had the simplicity part down.

So Torchlight II certainly gets past the group size issue and has many things to recommend it… and I will almost certainly buy it.  But will it end up being a side game I play solo, or something the whole group can dive into?

Path of Exile

I wrote about Path of Exile the other day.  This is another entry in the Diablo-like category.

If I can summarize the game badly, it is attempting to be Diablo 2.5 with a Guild Wars world and a free to play business model.  All of which may be very good things indeed.  Rather than the lobby system, it will have shared towns ala Guild Wars, where you can group up and then go out and adventure in instanced zones and dungeons all with Diablo style clicky game mechanics.

The problem is that while I give it high marks for graphic qualities and capturing some of that foreboding feel of Diablo, it hasn’t really grabbed me.

Now, to be fair, the game is in closed beta and has a ways to go.  And I haven’t played all that much.

It could be a contender, but I get the feeling we won’t be talking about a go-live date for quite a while yet.

Neverwinter

Honestly, I don’t even know where Neverwinter is going these days.  It started off sounding like a LAN party D&D adventure with five player groups.  Perfect.

But times have changed, Atari has been a pill, Cryptic has been bought up by Perfect World Entertainment (who is also Runic’s publisher for Torchlight II), and things seem to be bending to become a free to play MMO style game with the addition of Cryptic’s usual player created content system being added on.

All of which sounds fine on the surface.  I have been known to pine for an overland Forgotten Realms campaign MMO.

However, my experience in software development shows that things that start in one direction and then bend to another often fail to come together as well as one might like.  Ask me some day how the multi-server, no single point of failure, custom voice banking app development environment aimed at financial institutions with over a billion dollars in assets worked out when after launch it was decided it should become a canned, fits on one box, minimal configuration necessary, to be sold to the low end, price sensitive credit union and local bank market.

And only ask if you’re buying the beer.

Okay, maybe it won’t be that bad.  It is a multiplayer game that is now going to be integrated into a more MMO-like environment.  Cryptic has done the MMO thing a few of times now and has no doubt learned a thing or two.  It could go smoothly this time!

The real killer for this though is that it is not likely to be shipping in 2012.  Go Zubon predictions!  It is already slated for “late 2012,” and we know how that works out.

World of Warplanes

Finally, the “one of those things is not like the other” entry into the mix, World of Warplanes. (Not to be confused with World of Planes, which sounds sort of similar.)

I will play this.  It will be free to play, free to download, I will try it.

Yes, there are many questions, like how will controls work.  Somewhere at the simple F-15 Strike Eagle from my Apple II days end of the spectrum seems more likely than the IL-2 Sturmovik “so many damn controls I can’t keep track” end.  This will piss people off.

And it will probably be much like World of Tanks as far as business model, where money buys faster advancement, gold planes, and special ammo.  This will also piss people off.

My only real hope though is that it will capture the fun of World of Tanks in airplane form.  For all of its faults, I have fun playing World of Tanks, which should be the key metric, right?

So What Will It Be?

My list last year was in search of a single game out of six that would stick.  That, as I said, came to pass, with Rift being the winner.

This year it looks likely that I will play all of the items on my list, at least if they manage to ship in 2012.  The distinct lack of subscription fees certainly help on that front.  Six boxes to by at most, and maybe just three really, since three of the games seem to be going the online free to play route.

The real question is whether any of them will make it into the regular group as a title we play together.

As with last year, I am going to end this post with a poll.  This time around though, it will be multiple choice.  Which of the games on my list will you play if they are available.  I included a “none of the above” option, but only click that if you do not click anything else.

What else might come along in 2012 that I should be looking for and which fits in the sorta-MMO or MMO genre?