How MicroProse returned to making military sim games
I was delighted to discover that MicroProse, the military simulation game company that was once the pillar of the war game community, was reborn under the leadership of game developers David Lagettie and John “Wild Bill” Stealey.
Hoping to capitalize on nostalgia and the hole in the market left by the dearth of military strategy games, the new MicroProse has announced three games coming to Steam soon, with more on the way.
This is another post for the geriatric gamers crowd, like my interview with Joe Kucan of Command & Conquer fame. I first interviewed Kucan, who plays the villain Kane, more than two decades ago. The same is true for my first interview with Stealey, who was the cofounder of MicroProse. Stealey taught me how to fly WWII airplanes in the simulation game Warbirds from.....................
Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away……….it would appear that games developers started projects based on what they could achieve rather than what time and money constrained them to achieving!
…..So brings our hero in this story a certain Mr Kevin Klemmick who on his first ever job found himself being given quite a challenge:
Initially I was hired as an intern and asked to design and develop a dynamic campaign. For better or worse there wasn’t a lot of direction on what that would entail – the directive was mostly to make something that would be a persistent world and generate dynamic missions instead of the pre-scripted model which was the norm.
In case you are wondering the Dynamic Campaign of Falcon 4.0 is still a gem of the modern flight sim world, so some brief quotes on what it involved to create such a thing are in order:
I was given a pretty blank check in designing the Dynamic Campaign, so I approached it as I would a strategy game. The idea being that this game would be running in the background whether or not the player flew any missions. In fact, it could be played as a strategy game from the tool I wrote to monitor it. The AI was broken into three tiers, a strategic level, operational level and tactical level. Yet another level of AI would operate in the Simulation itself to drive the vehicles or aircraft.
The missions were generated as a by-product of this AI, and in fact used real world planning techniques. For example, once a priority list of targets was determined, a package would be put together to time suppression of air defence, air superiority, refuelling, AWACS, etc. All these missions would be timed out and planned much like a real-world commander would, but were generated as a response to decisions made by the campaign’s AI.
While my primary goal was to make something fun to play, we were very fortunate to get a lot of advice from military sources about how things work in the real world and I tried to match that as closely as possible while keeping the game play elements that I felt were important. However, all of this had to work within a very tiny slice of the CPU, which was a huge limitation given all the AI/planning work that was going on. That was probably the biggest challenge of this system.
So, got that right.
What was the difference between this dynamic thingy and a pre-scripted model?
An example of pre-scripted from the Strike Fighters series would be someone creating missions with the Mission Editor or before the Mission Editor existed, Yankee Air Pirate creating missions for players. There are some advantages to this such as recreating historical missions or providing a story or backdrop for the player beforehand. The main disadvantage is that once you have played the mission a few times it’s basically the same thing each time.
Of course, Falcon 4.0 does also have a Mission Editor (Tactical Editor) and you can create missions or training scenarios. DCS also has a Mission Editor that includes some quite advanced features for mission designers.
Nostalgia and story based missions from yesteryear (Novalogic)
Although it can appear to be just a set of single missions Strike Fighters does have a basic dynamic campaign. DCS campaigns on the other hand are currently a set of scripted missions, but that doesn’t mean you cannot have some very good campaigns in this sense!
A Falcon campaign starts with a ticking clock on day one, and the whole thing runs on a massive scale putting the player either in a 2D map mode or joining the campaign by flying in the 3D world as part of it.
Even in the 2D map mode the player can see most of the things happening (there is still a fog of war) and also gets news updates on major events. Of course, the missions you do fly will be different and often unpredictable, and that is the extra challenge!
Here you can plan and influence things.........bet you didn't plan for that big purple blob.........looks like the space ship from Independence day is here!
Yes, the player can run the campaign as default and just join auto fragged missions every now and then – or they have a lot of power to create packages, flights, to frag their own missions, change package loadouts, join other squadrons etc, etc. Anyway, I won’t go any further because the scale is rather large.
Note, that if you do just run a campaign without changing the initial mission types and PAK's you will be given non-stop suicide missions and so will your AI buddies! (so, change them!)
And yes BMS 4.33 comes with a full set of manuals created by other heroes telling you all you need in the Docs folder in your install (e.g. C:\BMS-433-U1\Docs\Falcon BMS Manuals)
The default campaign is Korea in which you can club Kim Jong Un's Cold War museum collection with a multitude of modern weapons like AIM-9X and HMCS. For an extra challenge select Korea Strong and prepare to eat AMRAAMSKI from the Flanker Hoards.
By 2014 the North Korean air force went through a massive modernization program which included (or perhaps involved entirely of) employment of beautiful young women (Yonhap News / Aviationist)
Of course, as mentioned in part 1 there are many other campaigns and theatres to try from the modding community for BMS 4.33.
Totally new Allied Force campaigns - joy!
New additions & changes to BMS 4.33
Thank the maker! Any past players may have noted that when 4 x Su-30s appeared on the horizon, your escorts armed to the teeth with 2 x AIM-9Ps and a CBU-52 would be nothing more than useful missile decoys! This may have prompted some like myself to spend ages before missions tweaking loadouts of other flights! But it seems someone has finally improved things here for the better!
You can now control the ground units if you like, one benefit of this is to finish campaigns a lot quicker. And yes, this feature was in the 2005 Falcon 4.0 Allied Force.
Less welcoming from Allied Force is the addition of MANPADs that make going below the clouds a bit of a no no unless you like jumping out of airplanes! MANPADs were there before 4.33 but were somewhat lackluster in comparison.
Reduced weapon supply
You may want to try to hold onto those drop tanks a bit longer because unlimited supply may no longer be the case……………you can of course just frag those super brave tanker boys to get you that juice.
The little things
Adding detail onto the campaign map to be saved to your data cartridge for use in flight is now made better just by the fact that it persists after each mission instead of having to redo it every time!
Be a king of Situational Awareness with Bullseye positions, FLOT, Radar coverage, flight path SAM rings and data link tracks!
Weather with you
Weather management has been drastically improved, with a dynamic weather system which changes with time as it moves across the BMS terrain. Bad weather effects have also been improved, with better visibility management and new cumulus cloud layers.
If you like a challenge you can get pretty good random weather in the campaigns that will require some thought on how you do things when neither you or a targeting pod can actually see the targets! Anyone who learnt their A-G radar mode skills back in the day will still find they still come in handy.
A shout out to the rain effect in Falcon which is by far my favourite in any sim so far:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The AI is now much better at energy management, timing and fuel efficiency thanks to updated climb profiles, top of climb and top of descent management. Holding points and push points have been improved. AI now perform baseline intercepts much more effectively (be warned). This is important for BVR combat but also for tanker rendezvous. The ATO features new target selection logic and package constitution.
AI ATC has been drastically improved, providing reliable management of the traffic queue. New options for autonomous approach have been created to allow human players to approach airbases without having to listen to ATC vectoring you through the pattern (useful when you are flying IFR for instance).
Note on the last paragraph, which provides a happy medium between the full talk down and the emergency landing…………the full talk down is still fantastic in pea soup weather where there is no ILS at the air base.
So, there you have it, still an addictive pleasure that will lead you into a false sense of security before kicking your A!
Well, it’s just really hard to do. Looking back on it, I think the only reason we took on what we did is because we were too inexperienced to know better. Knowing what I do now, even given my experience on Falcon, the cost to develop such an engine would be substantial. Since flight sims don’t bring in that kind of revenue companies look at it from a cost to benefit standpoint and Dynamic Campaigns score pretty low in that regard. There is also the argument that scripted missions are more interesting which has some merit. I think if I were to do it over I would do a mix of scripted/generated missions, so that the player still feels like they’re involved in the world, but there is also some variety thrown in to keep things interesting.
Kevin Klemmick 2012
Disclaimer - this article may contain Star Wars quotes.
Now for a quick look at an F-16 flight combat simulator you may have heard of, in particular the only version of Falcon 4.0 currently in development.
Benchmark Simulations official add on to Falcon 4.0 is called BMS 4.33 (currently upgrade 4) and to use you need to buy the original 1998 Microprose Falcon 4.0 from places such as GOG.com and then install that first. Then you install BMS 4.33 after downloading via the torrent from the BMS web site.
Now if you are lucky you perhaps played the original or one of the other versions, or even the other official release Falcon 4.0 Allied Force from 2005 (that I will confirm BMS most certainly DOES NOT work with). However if you have not, you will be starting a learning and somewhat challenging journey, which is about what these types of things are all about after all.
Things like the Avionics go very in depth and 4.33 brought with it a Maverick Handoff procedure with the targeting Pod that will make grown men cry – although I am not entirely sure a certain defence contractor couldn’t have made it easier if they had tried!
You might also have noticed the Avionics Configurator option on the splash screen that already caters for about 40 different versions of the F-16. That’s right if you are not familiar with F-16s then erm well even a Block 50 for example has different versions with different avionics and capabilities depending on the year (upgrades) and the country it was sold to and this is impressively catered for.
I will have a Block 30 with GE-132 and go faster stripes please
Although Falcon BMS does still trounce all in its path in certain aspects I am going to briefly start on one of the less impressive parts of Falcon, that being the visual environment. Despite its 1998 origins, limitations have been progressively overcome to improve this area also. BMS 4.33 Came with many new ground and air objects as well as a new terrain set with trees by Polak.
Like Strike Fighters there are some very talented individuals who have spent years providing professional level mods for free. I will give mention to Falcon Legend JanHas (http://www.janhas.net/) who has been around for…ever it seems. Real credit to the guy and rest be assured every rivet is polished to perfection to provide models as good as or better than anything else. His mods also come with comprehensive install documentation – and yes you do need it.
New afterburner flame most welcome
Installing mods is not as easy as Strike Fighters, there are bits you copy and paste but the models still need LodEditor to install them. Having just installed pretty much all of the JanHas mods I can tell you that despite it looking complex initially you are just pressing buttons and changing a few numbers at the end of the day so after the first few it becomes pretty easy – just time consuming having to do it manually.
Why are these mods not in the baseline install making my life easier? - Well the reason is I have read that BMS have certain standards they keep to so it still runs on lower spec hardware.
After a Herculean effort to get the mods installed!
Also as with Strike Fighters, Modders have created different theatre’s for Falcon 4 over the years including the middle east, Balkans and Germany (Ostsee by TomKatz) that even makes an attempt to populate the terrain with well placed 3D buildings.
So there you have it, graphical improvements have been slow because it requires good samaritans with free talent with free time, but it’s always nice to see there has been progress in that area. I have not mentioned the internal view because that is already more than good enough, especially considering most of a campaign is where I’m at anyway!