Tag Archives: Air Warrior

EverQuest: More Popular at Launch than WoW is Today…

But only if you use the Bizarro metrics.

For example, on Planet Tobold, it ISN’T how many who play your game that matters, but how many people DIDN’T play you game.

Taken to logical extremes, there are more than 7 billion people today who do NOT play World of Warcraft today.

However, back in 1999, when the first player logged into EverQuest, there were only 6 billion people not playing it!

A clear victory for SOE, putting it a whole billion “non-players” ahead of Blizzard!

But wait.  Back in 1987 when Air Warrior was finally rolling, it only had 5 billion people not playing it!

Who is the most successful online game now, bitches?

Meanwhile, SpaceWar, running way back in 1961 had a mere 3 billion people not playing it!

A clear victory in the unpopularity race!

And yes, I am stretching Tobold-logic to humorous extremes on purpose.  But even trying to work the negative player numbers in a serious manner… potential player populations, target populations, subscription rates, and what not… seems like building a castle in a swamp.

Of course, so does trying to measure how many people remember a game.  I suspect there are games out there that more people remember than actually played them.  But how do you even begin to measure that and, more importantly, how does that equated to success?

Being remembered certainly doesn’t pay the bills.

Nor does historical significance which, by definition, is an assessment of something that happened far enough in the past that  it has ceased to be contemporary and actual becomes history.  Real history, in the serious academic studies sense, only starts when those who were there to witness it… and thus have invested opinions about it… pass on and things that had to be held secret to protect governments and individuals alike are released to the public.

Which is to say that neither I nor Tobold can really make anything besides guesses now about how the future may view this era when it comes to MMOs and the like.

But when you’ve soured on a genre to the point that your agenda seems to be deny that any MMO with numbers south of 250K can possibly be a success merely because WoW exists and heap scorn on anybody who wants something different, I guess you have to take whatever crazy ammunition you can find.

I am certainly not saying WoW isn’t a success.  It is certainly what keeps Activision-Blizzard funded for the three quarters each year when they don’t ship a new Call of Duty game.   But success is not an absolute bar, now set so high by WoW that nobody can ever succeed again.  Mark Jacobs’ Camelot Unchained plans are not an automatic failure merely because he is targeting a small audience.  It is an experiment.  It has risks.  It has to live in the current MMO ecosystem.

But that alone doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Of course, even Mr. Jacobs isn’t above pulling out a silly metric himself now and again.

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)

In Space, a Positive Kill Ratio is the Norm

Being in null sec and in actual fleet battles, I have naturally become more interested in the kill boards available.  Who blew up whom and, more importantly, who have I blown up, is now of more interest to me than ever before… primarily because I have now actually blown a few people up.

And something that was initially impressive to me was the fact that I have a positive kill ratio.

This was in my mind because in many past PvP games I had played, the ratio of kills to deaths was an important measure of player skill.  This goes all the way back to the beginnings of my online gaming.

In games like Stellar Emperor, MegaWars III, Stellar Warrior, and Air Warrior getting more kills than you had been killed was an key indicator of who was the better player.  In Air Warrior, where for a while the rankings were based on kill ratio and kill streaks… how many kills in a row you got without dying… it reached a level of obsession at times, with players husbanding the kill streaks by refusing combat except on the most favorable terms and people bailing out of undamaged planes… which granted no kill to the opposition and thus preserved your streak… when cornered and potentially forced to fight on terms not of their own choosing.

And even later on, when I was playing games like Delta ForceDesert Combat, or Battlefield 2, match results and clan kill boards often elevated the kill to death ratio as a key measure of player capability.

So when I go into PvP, that is one of the measures that is ingrained into my mind.  Did I kill the bad guys more than they killed me.

Unfortunately, in EVE, that measure is bogus for an individual.

It did not take me long to realize that everybody I ever ran into, red or blue, had a positive kill ratio.

And of course they did.  If we go to my kill board for February and look at my kills, you see things like this.

That is a kill from the battle at EWN-2U, one of the targets that FC Boat was particularly obsessed with bringing down during the battle.  I got credit for that kill along with 177 of my fleet brethren.

All told, Mistress Zhantine’s tengu was hit by:

  • 123 Drakes
  • 22 Maelstroms
  • 3 Manticores
  • 3 Nemesis
  • 2 Huginns
  • 2 Hounds
  • 1 Tornado
  • 1 Nighthawk
  • 1 Vulture
  • 1 Hurricane
  • 1 Lachesis
  • 1 Purifier
  • 1 Scorpion
  • 1 Bellicose
  • 1 Stiletto
  • 9 Capsules
  • 5 Unknowns

I am not even sure how those last 14 figure into things, unless it is via drone damage or damage done before they were reduced to pods.

But that was 178 people over 14 alliances who hit that tengu.  And while the only the person getting in the final blow gets the kill mail on their in-game character sheet (that person did 0.15% of the damage… which isn’t that bad considering the top damage dealer did 1.44% of the damage) we all got the credit.

In fact, if the kill boards broke down what percentage of a kill was actually due to my own efforts, I would have about a single cumulative kill.  I have gotten top damage dealer exactly once, as part of a VFK Homeland Defense Fleet operation, for which I clocked in at an amazing 16.8% of the damage for the kill.

So kill boards, at least when it comes to individuals, are a nice record of where you’ve been and what you have done, but the number of kills and ratios of kills seems to be best applied to individual battles or the success of a large organization, say an alliance, over time.

Could World of Warplanes be the Second (or is it the third?) Coming of Air Warrior?

Wargaming.net has been talking a little bit about their next title, World of Warplanes, but the details are not yet out in the public domain.  They do not even have a site up for the game yet.  All we really have so far is this:

World of Warplanes is the flight combat MMO action game set in the Golden Age of military aviation. The game continues the armored warfare theme marked in the highly-acclaimed World of Tanks and will throw players into a never-ending tussle for air dominance.

Based purely on aircraft setting, World of Warplanes will allow players to build full-scale careers of virtual pilots offering machines of several key eras, staring from World War I period with “Biplanes” and up to jet fighter prototypes that led the way to modern air forces.

World of Warplanes will feature a wide range of warbirds, each of them unique in their effectiveness and behavior. Virtual pilots will choose from three main warplane classes – single-engine light fighters capable of engaging enemies in close dogfights, twin-engine fighters with their deadly straight attacks, and strafing aircraft, the fearsome threat for ground targets.

Which, frankly, isn’t much… but that never stopped me from speculating wildly.

While Darren was taking something of a pessimistic view of what may come of this game (airborne World of Tanks, to stuff his viewpoint into the tiniest possible box), I think it will have to be somewhat different to survive and make sense, and thus I speculate.

And the reason I feel I have license to speculate over the game that Wargaming.net is making is that I think I have played it already.  And I was playing over 20 years ago to boot.

Back in 1988 the online gaming pioneers at Kesmai launched Air Warrior on GEnie.

I’ve written a little about Air Warrior before, but I will recap.

Air Warrior was an online, multiplayer (allowing something over 100 people on at once, if I recall right) air combat game that took place in something we would recognize as a persistent world.  The world was divided into three factions (creatively called A, B, and C… no wasted bytes there!) in what was initially an asymmetrical world layout with airfields for each faction and a few mountains thrown in to keep people on their toes.

While you could fly the planes of any nation in the game, you were required to commit to a specific faction for a minimum amount of time.  So you might fly for team B, but you could be flying a Spitfire, a Focke-Wulf 190, or a P-38 Lightning.

The world itself persisted while you were off-line.  You logged on, went to an airfield your team controlled, checked out an aircraft, and took to the sky.  Your airfield was protected by an anti-aircraft gun of annoying accuracy to keep your runway from being camped, but you were allowed to mount bombs which could temporarily disable that gun and even the airfield itself, at which point you would have to divert to one of your auxiliary fields.

And while primitive technologically compared to today’s games, Air Warrior worked… most nights.  Okay, the tech of the time was barely up to the challenge, but these were the days before 3D acceleration, when a 32-bit processor was a big deal, and most of the players were using 1.2-2.4 Kbps connections.

All of which is a nice little history lesson.  But why, you might ask, do I think Wargaming.net should/could go this route?

Well, certain bits fit naturally, such as the ability to fly planes from different nations on a given side.

While other realities make a direct translation of the World of Tanks model to airplanes problematic.

20 minute long 15 vs. 15 battles seem unlikely to me to be a viable game model for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1 – The Sky is Big

It is easy to corral 30 tanks into a relatively small area.  Tanks move slowly on the ground and are often best deployed in stationary positions awaiting the enemy.  While the guns on bigger vehicles in the game can reach out a good percentage of the way across the battlefields, cover in its various forms help keep the game from turning into an immediate blood bath.

Airplanes live in a much bigger environment.  If we are talking about WWII aircraft, their environment extends easily to 20,000 feet upwards.  Even limiting the geographical area to the size of a WoT maps, there is a lot of volume in which to run around in a prism 20,000 feet tall.

Meanwhile planes, fighter planes at least, are small.  Yes, they seem big on the ground, but they get lost pretty easily in the sky and can become devilishly hard to see.  And when you see one and want to shoot at it, you have to get pretty close if you want a chance of bringing it down.  Call it 200 yards if you want any reasonable hope of a kill and under 100 yards if you want to stick the knife in good.

Reason 2 – Planes go Fast

Keeping it simple today, aren’t I?

Again, if we are talking WWII fighters, people will be zipping around at 300 mph easily, while achieving (and surviving) 500+ mph in a dive is possible for some fighters of the era.

So you cannot limit the size of the environment to something as small as a WoT battlefield.  The sky, big as it was already, has to get bigger lest we spend most of our time flying out of bounds.

Air Warrior Pacific Theater Map

So you have to make the sky even bigger, which in turn makes opposing planes harder to spot, close with, and kill.  You can see in the picture above one of the few art assets I still have sitting around from Air Warrior.  This was after the great map revision when the world was made bigger and divided into Pacific and European theaters.  Each faction had its own island, while the center could be captured.

And both you and your enemy are both going fast, which means that unless you have the opposition at a serious disadvantage, they can pull away and evade.  And to gain the advantage you want, you can spend quite a bit of time just climbing to altitude in order to be able to pounce on an enemy.

That sends the whole match concept from WoT out the window from my point of view.  In a sky big enough to reasonably hold 30 aircraft attempting to kill each other, 20 minutes won’t be anything like enough time to get a resolution like that in a WoT match.

So my hope is that they will end up with something more like the persistent world in Air Warrior.  Less lobby, more flight time.

But…

Wargaming.net will likely be hosting more than the 100 or so players that could fill up Air Warrior, so I am sure there will have to be some division of players.  Maybe different theaters of war?

Plus, if Wargaming.net chooses to use the same equipment leveling system, where you graduate (or buy your way into) better airplanes, then they will likely have to segregate players by that as well.

Furthermore, I suppose they could force the issue of keeping players focused in a small area by making one side or both focus on defending a geographic area.  Their seeming attempt at a rock/paper/scissors with single engine, twin engine, and ground attack fighters (more like scissors/pinking shears/hedge trimmers) might mean a things won’t be wide open fights in the sky but geographically limited objectives, with people attacking/defending specific ground targets.

And, of course, there already is a game out there that is the spiritual successor to Air Warrior, Aces High, which has been around since 2000.  That is as close to a second coming of Air Warrior as I have seen.

So as much as I would like to see Wargaming.net recreate Air Warrior for the second decade of the 21st century with three factions (if Warhammer Online taught us anything, it is that open PvP needs three factions) and wide open spaces to fly in a free to play game, that might not fit with their plans at all.

What do you think World or Warplanes will end up being?

Air Warpier

Ages ago, after I stopped playing Stellar Emperor, but before I started in on Gemstone and eventually Sojourn/Toril MUD, there was a game I played called Air Warrior.

It was an online game featuring real-time, multi-player, air combat.

In 1988.

I played the game, first on a Mac SE, then on a Mac SE/30, which featured a 9″ black and white 512 x 342 display and a blazing fast 16MHz Motorola 68030 processor.  It was hot stuff back in the day.

Air Warrior could also be played on the Amiga, Atari ST, and eventually, on MS-DOS compatible machines.

Dozens of people would be online every night, on the GEnie network, flying, fighting, and dying online in a 3D environment that existed before 3D acceleration was even a consideration.

I even saw Jerry Pournelle in game one night.  Though, as I recall, all he did was fly off in the wrong direction and complain that if the game were realistic, we would all by flying Mustangs, not the Spitfires and Focke-Wulfs the knowing players favored. (It was the 20mm cannons we all wanted, they made possible a one-pass kill and screw all that dog-fighting… or stall fighting… nonsense.)

Of course, in the age of Intel 386 machines and 1200 bps modems (I was special, I had a 2400 bps Zoom modem) things were not always as smooth as everybody wished.

Some nights it was a nightmare of warping around the sky, shooting at targets that were not there, and being shot down by people nowhere near you.

It was no doubt one of those nights that spawned this parody of the Air Warrior Macintosh help screen:

Air Warpier

Air Warpier

I wish I had the real screen for a comparison shot.

I found this file deep in an old folder that has been dragged from computer to computer for the past 18 years at least.

I do not remember who put this beauty together, but I am sure that the 4-Q Squadron had a hand in it somehow.

Aside from that screen and a map of the “new” pacific theater that came along when they redid the terrain, I have no pictures or screen shots left from the game.

Proposed Pacific Theater 1988

Proposed Pacific Theater 1988

So Air Warrior and those early days of multi-player gaming is only a memory for me now.

Kesmai and Air Warrior lived on for a while after the passing of GEnie, but were eventually purchased by Electronic Arts and disappeared.  Where have I heard that story before?

The spirit of Air Warrior lives on today in the game Aces High.