Friday, June 30, 2023

Red Baron: Introduction

So for the fifth anniversary of this blog I at first tried to rush to the finish line of Star Fighter 3000, but that's going to have to wait. A good second choice struggled to come up, I at first considered a later game, but decided that would be best for the 200th game. Instead, we shall play a sequel of a game that was the first I hadn't ever played before, A-10 Tank Killer. Technically not, but in a sense it is, as the apparently Dynamix's flight sims were all in a series, though an official sequel exists in Silent Thunder.

This is also the first game of Dynamix's that Sierra published. The company previously either self-published, as with A-10, or published through EA, as with Deathtrack. This relates to the other reason why I wanted to play Red Baron, it's rumored that Id, once upon a time, tried to sell themselves to Sierra, and they weren't going to get a deal they wanted because Ken Williams showed them Red Baron and doubted it would be any better. History, of course, condemns Williams choice, as Id and everyone involved became filthy rich and be credited with everything of note regarding the FPS genre, short of regenerating health; Williams, after a series of bad choices throughout the '90s would eventually retire.

Incidentally, Damon Slye attempted to make a modern remake of Red Baron back during the first Kickstarter craze. Which is rather indicative of that historical condemnation, it didn't get funded at a time when practically any half-baked game from a classic developer would see millions in funding.

The Red Baron, of course, is the most well known fighter pilot of all time, though Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong are arguably more famous, just not for their flying abilities. Chuck Yeager is probably super famous among people older than myself, but I suspect his popularity will be short-lived. Then there are pilots like Jack Broughton, Pierre Clostermann or Hans Rudel, who aren't known for their flying as much as for having written books about their flying.

You can read about our good title character elsewhere, but the short version is that the Red Baron, or Manfred von Richthofen was the WWI ace with the highest confirmed kill count with 80 kills, some shared, some not. Richthofen was something of a late addition to the war, getting his first combat air time in 1916, but as that kill count suggests, this didn't hold him back any. He's known for flying in red planes, usually stylized as a bright red plane with a German iron cross in a white circle. He did not survive the war, but rather than dying in an air duel, he was merely killed by some form of AA.

So in addition to being a simulation of this period, there's also the subtle desire to give Richthofen a hero's death, rather than uninspiring one he had in real life. And hopefully not have a legacy consisting of plastering his face on mediocre pizzas.

Firstly, I note that I'm using the same version from the combo CD with A-10 Tank Killer, which comes with the Mission Builder expansion pack. I don't know if this is the best version of the game per se, but since the A-10 version was, I'm sticking with this. 

I'm not going to start off with the campaign, instead, I'm going to start off with individual missions. To start with, fighting a flying ace in single combat. Now the main campaign offers the player the choice of playing as the Allies or the Central Powers, I'm not sure which one I'll play just yet. At first there was no question of the Allies, it would be robbery to not shoot down the legend himself in the main campaign, but looking up the Allies best flying ace, or ace of aces, Rene Fonck, it seems like he might very well be a better pilot despite his lesser fame, at least here in the States. So, first a practice ace of less skill, and then a fight against the two great aces themselves.

I suppose that's one way of putting it.
Who's my practice ace? Hermann Goering, the only other name I recognized.

The game allows quite a bit of control over the simulation, from simple things like the weather to how your controls can act up. I have chosen a middle of the road approach, I may make it easier later, I've already done a few practice things and running around with no ammo limits is a bit too easy, and I want the weather to affect things. Or at least it would if the day I chose to fight Goering wasn't a cloudy day. Later on, despite not wanting the game to be too hard, I figured I should play with the highest flight model setting, but not necessarily with all the rest of these optional things.

The battle begins. Me in my Sopwith Camel, Goering in his Fokker D VII. A grey plane, which you would think would be hard to spot against the grey skies, but isn't. No, the problem is I can't genuinely spot him at first. Even though going around and around in circles probably isn't the best flying approach, I do it. Huh, can't spot him. Better level out and try to look from other angles. Which is something the game allows you to do, much like in A-10. the first six function keys change your view.

That's an image you don't want to see.

F2 changes to the rear view, in which Goering has just gotten me. Curses. But he's not on my tail for long. In the ensuing twists and turns in the sky neither of us gets a good shot off for a while, I just barely miss him every time and I don't quite know what he was doing. After the first attempt I switch up my circling, if didn't spot him in a while, do a barrel roll and circle in the opposite direction. With the odd looking around.

Finally, we each get a good solid hit in...and by hit I mean we crash into each other. My wings are useless now, I'm falling. I uselessly try to turn, only for nothing to happen. I try to pull my plane up, but it is too late, I crash into the ground with a great explosion. Goering too, is dead, though a tie is still a failure even in a situation such as this. To me anyway, I get points for killing him regardless. Right, let's try again.

Damage forms on the bits of wood, which is a nice touch.

Attempt two, this time I didn't set up the weather right, no matter. It's a straight shot, he isn't turning, so I open fire. So does Goering. I get many good shots in, but so does he, and I'm wounded...and my engine or wings are useless, because I can't turn anymore. I can still shoot, so I'm not dead yet. For about five seconds before I crash into the ground. Once again, Goering and I are dead.

Attempt three, huh, maybe Goering is somewhat hidden against the sky. We start off like last time, but wanting to actually win, I adjust my plane enough so I'm not about to just bite it. I think he got in more hits than I did, but the game conveniently doesn't tell me when I shoot him. Nevertheless, thanks to having figured things out on this plane, I strike well the second time. Smoke pours from his plane. It's only a matter of time, I think. Muahaha.

But after one poorly chosen time to look around, Goering gets me, and he gets me good. My oil pressure starts dropping. Which means I'm losing oil. I ignored these earlier, as it doesn't really matter when the ground is getting closer and your head is several pounds lighter. This time though, I get to deal with it. It's not so first. I get another good shot in at Goering, but after an attempt at slowing my plane down, I slow down completely, and can't fire the engine back up to full power...or at all.

The mission ends uneventfully, with me landing behind friendly lines and Goering flying around as if we're still about to fight. Go home, Goering, it's over. Both of us live to fight another day. I think the sky is giving Goering a bit of an advantage, let's keep it even for now, no weather effects whatsoever. Attempt four ended like attempt two, though I tried to pull away before the deadly event.

Attempt five nearly goes like attempt four, but somehow I manage to escape without biting it. I'm okay, but Goering is smoking. I get in a few lucky bursts, and Goering is dead. Missions don't automatically end, instead you press escape and then end the mission if you so desire. I make it back safely, with of course, the thought of having beaten at least one flying ace. Considering the amount of time those two took, I'm going to fight both the Red Baron and Rene Fonck once, with whoever gives me a harder time being the side I am against.

We'll see if the Red Baron is the only (enemy) plane that has special colors.

First, the Red Baron, and we do the usual suicide dance, in which he comes out smoking heavily. I guess I'm going to be speaking German then. And then he's practically a joke, with the two of us doing a spin turn with me constantly hitting him. Gee, this is taking a while, I think. Huh, I'm low on ammo. Guess I better get a little bit closer...and I'm out. Can't run away, so the Baron shoots me down. Technically I lost, though I suspect funny stuff is going on with this guy under the hood because there is no way any plane could survive the amount of shots I put into it. What about Rene?

With Rene, despite being in a German plane that felt inferior to the Sopwith Camel I was used to using, I got him. We didn't even do the suicide dance. And I figured out why I didn't take out the Red Baron, bullets have much more extreme distance change than I was thinking, I had to lead my shots so much Rene wasn't even in my sights. Though I did see him do a barrel roll. With that knowledge, and with the way these two were flying in combat, I think in a duel neither are particularly threatening, but I like the Allied planes more, so the Allies it is.

Onward to the real missions. Ah, crap, I guess I gotta talk about all these then. We'll see about custom missions after the campaign though, but for now we're just dealing with the regular stuff. Right, let's do a regular old dogfight first of all. Four Sopwith Camels against four Pfalz D IIIs. No idea if I just created a massive power imbalance here, but I like the Camel, shame it's not going to be here much in the campaign.

Oh, cool, you can chose your flight formation and ammo here. Uh...I'm just going to stick with what we have, since some of the formations seem...stupid here.

As we enter the battle, I am blindsided by the enemy, who quite literally, flew nearly into me. Damn those Prussians and their gray planes! It slows down the default DOSbox quite a bit, but increasing the speed in combat is inconvenient. I end up being a loose wheel in the chaos, as while I get a few shots in, my squadmates all take out the enemy planes. I don't even really get a chance to try out all the lovely command keys. I guess that was a power imbalance.

Patrol the Front, go through some certain territories, taking out any enemy pilots along the way. It was at this point that I pulled out the manual, before now I was just winging it with A-10 experience. Patrolling is like dogfighting, except you have to go through a certain area. This also made me decide it was a wise idea to turn off realistic travel, simply because I'm not opening up a PDF map while trying to figure out where I am. It's kind of boring, you fly around wondering if those clouds are clouds or enemy fighters. Unfortunately, I end up discovering this the hard way and we all die at the hands of the Germans.

Protip, do not fire this far away.

Stop a bombing raid, your enemy tries to destroy a supply dump with a bomber. Meaning for once the enemy has multiple different planes. Unfortunately, that means I haven't a clue as to which one was the bomber, and while things didn't go terribly as far as the air fight went, I had no idea how to deal with the bombing. I did a few replays, and despite the enemy planes using a single file formation, I basically couldn't effectively deal with the attack, until I just sort of started hanging out above their formation before attacking.

Escort a bombing raid, ensure that a bombing raid is carried out. The first time through I didn't even get a chance, I got hit, presumably by AA, and lost oil pressure. Once I play through a mission that didn't result instantly in my death, I have to say it's very difficult. In contrast to other missions where failing to spot an enemy plane can be recovered from, in this case, because they know which one is the bomber and I don't. Kind of. In the middle of action I've no clue, but fighting through it? Eh...

On my second attempt things go well, we manage to stop the Germans from destroying the bombers, but because in the ensuing dogfight I haven't the faintest idea where the bombers are, it seems like disappear entirely, and they return home. Hopefully a bit on intelligence from the AI. Well, I'll worry about that when I play the campaign.

I didn't catch a screenshot of a burning blimp, but that's okay, it's not that spectacular.

Hunt a zeppelin, the big old fancy blimps, which, judging by the fact that the game defaults me to incendiary ammo, means this is about to go down like the Hindenburg. You get no choice in which party you play as, it's always the Allies against the zeppelin. Because the Germans were, as far as I know, the only power to use a zeppelin. It's another wait to get to the action kind of mission. Because of the ship's size it's very easy to accidentally do a kamikaze attack...which I did the first time I did the mission.

Trying to track this thing, especially at night, the game's real fond of that, is something of a challenge. You wouldn't think a blimp could be hard to track, but it's grey from a distance, like a cloud. And that's when it's up against the night sky. When it's against the ground, practically impossible. It's also quite different from the usual combat. By the time I usually spin around, I'm far too close to do anything but crash into the thing. If I try to build up some distance, I lose track of the zeppelin. That's not even getting into it fighting back.

The friendly recon plane, being within a reasonable distance is paramount at this point in the mission.

Escort reconnaissance, protect a recon plane from getting shot down. Ah, that's kind of not great. In the mission I ended up trying to replay to win for once, the big problem was that the game spawned four enemy planes to my two, meaning we had to take out multiple planes, and quickly. We had two photography planes, but they don't have weapons.

It goes on for much longer than I ever intended it to, because I seem to very rarely be able to actually down one of these guys. The recon planes offer no resistance and my compatriot apparently never gets one in either. Speaking of the game's graphical problems, on my last attempt, I assumed that my compatriot downed two enemies planes, leaving one damaged by myself and one intact. I think I'll get them now...only to discover that all four planes are intact.

Balloon defense, air balloons were used for reconnaissance missions too, from a great height so as to not get hit by flak. This is the defense mission. And...I didn't really contribute much to this one. Part of the problem is that I'm assuming wrongly that planes below me which aren't moving are crashed, when it seems like the game doesn't do that, and partially because the rigging, or whatever the technical term is, of a plane is getting in my way. Very immersive, also obnoxious.

Balloon busting, and I found out why it's so damn hard to protect the balloons. They really are that easy to take out. Even in this sortie, one in which I barely seem to offer much help, I took out one of the balloons.

A few observations from this point, before I end this. Early on, when you're just starting, it's a smart idea to give your squad the full number of planes, and decent ones too. The enemy is randomized, but they very much don't play fair. Which combined with something of my incompetence on the realistic flight model, resulted in these things going badly. This, I suspect, is why I had such a harsh shift from being able to take down flying aces to failing in any multi-plane scenarios.

Next time, the war begins.

This Session: 2 hours 50 minutes

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