Saturday, July 29, 2023

Red Baron: Won

Me, Georges Guynemer and Charles Nungesser, going off to bust some balloons. While I've been under the impression that balloon busting missions were a barrel of laughs, but in actuality they've been the most brutal missions the game has. These have usually been the missions that consume all my time and energy. Usually I am the only aircraft still above the ground. Which isn't a problem when it's me and two of the Allies anonymous, but here? I don't really want to see two aces dead. At least Guynemer isn't too far off from his real death, this mission takes place in August 1917.

In theory, I understand this mission's composition. Send three of likely the best the Allies have to stop the Germans from photographing our lines or whatever it is the balloons do. Kind of feels like a flying version of Where Eagles Dare, minus the spy stuff; and Richard Burton and whoever plays Guynemer in this situation aren't coming back. I don't actually know of a good WWI comparison, Wings is the only WWI film I know of.

Things go well. I spot the enemy well in advance, like usual, and end up approaching them head on, but below just enough that they don't go lower. Things are looking good. I find myself at the back of two different planes dealing excellent damage, and then I get wounded, lethally. I don't walk away from the crash.

All England mourns my death. Does France or America not care? That's basically it, we were all shot down, and then the campaign ends, uneventfully. No big anything, no newspaper, just a single message. Considering that three of likely the best aces the Allies had just died, I would have expected a bigger hurrah than that! Are you telling me that losing three of the best aces did nothing to the Allies morale?

Maybe I'm just expecting more from a game like this, but I feel slightly cheated.
Anyway, I just wanted to see what would happen if I died at the height of the fighting, while at a pretty good killcount. I did this by making a back up of my career, which, incidentally, works as a method of saving the game properly. Were I playing this on a real DOS computer, I would probably have figured that out by now.

Playing the mission properly, I get it done a lot quicker than usual, something I attribute to the Sopwith Camel. These guys, despite flying the regular German planes, are practically aces. My companions do little but buy me time to take them out. It's telling that when I won the mission I have literally killed every hostile myself. This gets me a bar on one of my medals, but it won't bring them back. The Allied skies are a little darker today, but at least they didn't die completely in vain.

Except that isn't what happened either, turns out my bright idea that backing up my pilot to save progress doesn't work. Yippee, another half hour getting to watch France's finest die at the German's hands. Alas, someone else takes out one of the balloons when the final mission rolls around...but Guynemer lives. Someone got real lucky. I hope this luck extends further, because I would hate to have a survivor for once, only for fate to intervene.

Next up is a zeppelin mission, a blessed relief. At this point the mission is something of a breather, I can do it solo and win more or less every time.


Back to simple dogfighting. Or not so simple. My group of four encounters a plane, I shoot it down. I turn around, and there's nothing else flying around, except me and my guys. Okay...I look around some more and my guys have disappeared. What the heck? Turns out there was a single plane below me. And this simple task, three against one? Well, while the German plane is smoking, so is one of ours. I was going to check to see if allied planes just go straight for the balloons during balloon missions, thus dooming them, but I can see even in the best of times they're not doing great. Anyway, the Spad 13 is now available, which seems to be slightly better than the Camel. I'm unsure if I'm going to switch when it's available. Or not, I can get it straight away.

Lothar von Richtofen has challenged me to a dogfight. He's the Red Baron's younger brother. Unlike him, he did not die during the war, but afterwards, in an aviation incident. It's surprising how many aces died after the war like that. Anyway, I shoot Richtofen...wait a minute, there are three planes here. You cheater! Upon realizing this, I was expecting to lose badly multiple times, but as it turns out, it didn't help him too much.

This one was actually a little bit interesting. Richtofen's plane was red, which if I may indulge in some amateur psychology, means he worships his big brother. He was the first to go. His fellows weren't so much difficult as annoying. They're very agile, possibly down to them being triplanes. There is a marked reduction in agility with the Spad 13, and I'm not sure the speed is that much better. For the most part with the last two, I just went around in circles a lot.

This puts me at 49 kills, or 39 against planes, making me a really juicy target. Germany still has three aces nearby, including someone who should have very good reason to want me dead. Granted, I know the game isn't built like that, but it all feels kind of eh to have these people as targets and none of them want my head on a platter.

Next up a patrol. Myself, two veterans and Fonck. Someone has a death wish. It goes pretty well once I master just how slowly I can make my aircraft go. Just let the Germans above me eventually make a mistake. It's okay, I can wait. It gets even better, after I take out most of the first wave, out of nowhere comes the second and they more or less just give up. Four out of five Germans prefer to get gunned down by a Spad 13.

For this, I am given the Victoria Cross, the highest honor that is given by the British Government, often by the ruling regent. This, incidentally, would if it actually happened, be the only example of an American pilot to receive the medal, as the real life Americans, all five of them, were infantry. I now have 53 kills, which swiftly increases to 54 the next mission, another zeppelin. If these things are supposed to be impressive, the game failed at depicting them correctly.

Guynemer transferred out of the Storks, which is probably code for "he's dead".

No time to worry about that, I've got some balloons to defend. The Germans are not sending their best. They certainly get one in during the initial confrontation, but I still fly. More a matter of hunting them down at this point than actually fighting them. One balloon is lost, and for a moment I could have sworn they shot down my wingman, Fonck, but no, it was just taking him forever to take out the other plane. Following this is another zeppelin mission.

Russia is out of the war. I mean, yeah, not technically, but come on, like anyone can continue fighting a foreign war while fighting among themselves.

Scramble, German fighters have headed for our aerodrome. Ah, it's going to be one of these days, isn't it? Three of us are sent out to take out four planes. Good, just what I needed. Considering the events of a scramble mission I start off in a poor position, the ground, while the AI gets to decide how we fight most of the time.

That said, this mission went well. The AI pilots weren't the crack pilots they usually send, or we just got lucky. And it might just be lucky, because the end of mission bit said all the planes were shot down, yet the entire squadron shot down three. I'm pretty sure I saw some flak explosions, which seems dangerous at this height. (a few thousand feet)

Luck is apparently not the operative word. Watch how if/when I do my German campaign I'm more of a danger to my fellow Germans than the French. Once Dunkirk was filled with Allied aces, now it's just me, alone.

So, they send me on an escort mission. Things go from zero to 100 quickly, the Germans aren't far off from where we start. Things are looking easy. Everyone flies off to do their own thing, I track down the one going after the recon plane, I seem to scare it off, then shoot it down. Then the mission ends. One victory for me, one downed recon plane for the Germans. Whoops.

And Russia is now officially out of the war. Like I said, nobody's nutty enough to fight at that point. The Storks are then transferred to Toul, which I don't want to be, so I request a transfer to the No.3 Squadron at St. Marie Cappel, basically where I was. I'm practically a stone throw's away from the German border here.

The new squadron doesn't seem to be that far below my old squadron in terms of quality. Obviously I'm not going to get all veterans like with The Storks, but I'll survive. Crud, that sounds a heck of a lot more ominous than I meant it. Next mission, stop a bombing.

It doesn't go well in one sense, and very well in another. I manage to nail the two escorts on the initial attacks, but get wounded. Okay, I'll just try to land this, while I have my allied attack the bomber. Damn, they don't see the bomber, guess I'll have to take it out. As the screen fades red in and out, I finish the bomber too. Can I survive? I'm very close to the ground, so I make my landing, my plane crashes.

I survive. In the real war it was a heck of a lot more common for people to get injured than the total kill fests it's been for me. If you're in the hospital, or heaven forbid, in an enemy prison, time passes while you recover/escape. Thankfully, for me, it's just two months.

This, surprisingly, is not the best mission I ever did by score. It's funny, by surviving a crash and killing all the enemy planes I feel like I did a hell of a lot better than if I just took out all the enemy planes. I should have saved the mission to a tape so you could see it, legitimately, this is the kind of mission I should have won a medal on. I mean another one, I just got another bar on my Distinguished Service Order.

New plane, the Nievport 28. I don't have the mission builder manual right now, so I'm not sure of the exact stats, but nothing about this implies I'm getting a better deal in any way. Keeping my current plane. We get transferred to Bertincourt, but that's okay, that's where all the German aces are too.

Speaking of which, Manfred von Richthofen has decided he wants to fight me now. Makes sense, our violent deaths are all but guaranteed in this war, as close as it feels to the end. Unquestionably, I am the best ace the Allies have, he is the best ace the Germans have. Better for one of us to die at each other's hands than uneventfully via flak. An attempt to retain the noble intentions of warfare, mano-a-mano.

I have taken a video. This won't be as epic as the aforementioned defense mission, but that didn't have the legend himself. Oh, yeah, and despite being a "one-on-one" duel, the Prussian...prince, has decided to bring along two of his friends. Just for once I'd like to be the asshat who brings along his friends.

For those unable to see the video, in the opening salvo, I take an under approach, easily taking out the man himself. His companions prove to be far more annoying. Far too many turns just a bit too late to attack one, but once one is down, the last one falls easily. The Allies ace is better. Not only is the Allies ace better, it has been done so defacto better there is no excuse for the German side. If I were to have lost this duel, the Allies could rightly point out that it was three against one. Now all I have to do for the rest of the war is just not get shot down.

My next mission, a bombing run, is practically pedestrian in comparison. Or it would be if my companions knew how to fly their planes. Another friendly mid-air collision! I wasn't even doing anything fancy, apparently my AI allies have lost their artificial minds! I'm guessing this has something to do with how the bombers start off 10-15 yards away from me at the start.

I sort of don't really contribute to this one. My companions handled the enemy planes mostly swiftly, though some key positioning at the start is thanks to me. I'm not even sure I got off a single shot.

But I get my chance with a dogfight mission. I decide to test myself this time around, going out solo. This turns out to have been a mistake, although the game originally was going to give me one friendly, against four hostile. Curious, it's really hard for the AI to take me out when I'm constantly turning in one direction, though they get me eventually. Throwing in that trick the Germans do, occasionally going straight up for a moment, seems to work nicely too.

After this mission I get requests to join a couple of squadrons. I forget what one of them was, but I ended up joining the 94th Aero Squadron, including America's best ace, Eddie Rickenbacker. (which I checked after the fact, I mean, they were both seemingly random squadrons) Interestingly, checking the man's history, it's April 1918, practically his start in the war. I also like how his early days were described as incompetent, firing on friendly planes. He seems like a likeable guy, shame I've probably condemned him to death.

First mission with the 94th. Balloon busting, and my first secondary pilot is Rickenbacker. Oh, no. No no no no. No. Okay, we're going to try something else. Normally I go with whatever stuff the game sends me with. That's fine. Here, I'm going to go with four full planes. Hopefully this time, we'll all be going home. Enough people have died on these flights that I'm going to try my damnedest to get everyone home alive.

The good news is that by getting four planes we have one more than the enemy. Better still, we approach the enemy in the perfect situation, from below, and while I don't think I got any hits in, things went well. As I look around in the chaos of battle, I don't see any enemy planes I can easily reach, so I break off and go for the balloons. Leaving me alone against the flak fire, which is fine. My compatriots gun down the German planes and I take out the balloons unopposed. Everyone is alive.

This is by far the best balloon busting mission I've ever been on. For this I have gotten the Distinguished Flying Cross, and you know something? For once it is richly deserved. I'm proud of that mission. Applying my accumulated knowledge of the situation to success. Shame I'm mostly going to be taking advantage of that when I play the German campaign.

My next mission is far more mundane with lesser stakes, no aces, just regular pilots, well, veteran and regular pilots, against a bombing raid. It starts poorly, I don't spot the Germans until they're at my left side. Panicked, I order my flight to attack and begin chasing after them myself. I don't quite remember how the initial chaos went, but while going after an enemy plane, I noticed that two planes were slowly flying away.

Seeing my chance to stop the bombing, I chase after them, taking out both. They were sitting ducks. Somehow though, the fighters are still kicking, even taking out one of my own. Checking afterwards, they apparently had very few planes, so either an incompetent pilot or an extremely unlucky one.

And it's another balloon busting mission. We're going to see if success can be replicated, full four pilots, though no ace this time around, and approaching from the below. Apparently not, because I have the same old, same old troubles. Well, kind of new. If I take out the balloons, I get trouble with the planes, if I try to fight the planes, I never seem to actually hit them.

That said, I'm genuinely surprised at how often my AI companions manage to survive the mission, as I had to play through this one twice. Rarely do they take out enemy planes, but just as rarely are they actually shot. This mission gives me a Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar.

This makes me the highest scoring ace from the Allies. Not just England. In actuality, Rene Fonck has been dead for a little while, and the Red Baron has not achieved his full count, as he's also dead. In short, most of the people who were supposed to get near my count...can't.

Next up a patrol mission. Wow, talk about a blast from the past. Were the campaign capable of such intelligence, I would assume the generals were trying to get me away from the worst of it, you know, so I don't end up like the rest of the really good aces.

It's not that interesting of a mission, for the most part. The usual initial confrontation followed by one a little bit later on. Only this one happens near a cloud. You know, grey plane, grey cloud. I practically miss the guy at first, if I weren't compressing time I'd have never noticed him. Unfortunately, I never found him again after the initial spotting, so I eventually just ended the mission.
Hey, a new plane, the Germans now have the Fokker D. VII, which doesn't seem interesting at first glance.

Another patrol, normal at first. I dunno if this is just a trick with this particular section of the map, but I realized the game's coordinates match up with what I've always guessed are the trenches. Useful if true. Anyway, the initial meeting of enemies goes as usual...until I realize the Germans have stolen my paint design.

This might very well be the new plane, by my allies seem to have no trouble dealing with them. Curiously, it seems like the enemy has sent out a bunch of bombers or recon planes, I usually don't see those in patrol missions. Which seems like a wise idea because here they were sitting ducks.

A scramble mission, all hands on deck. Is it the Germans new plane? Yes. Good thing I don't have to distinguish myself from the others. Though I suspect were I actually doing this I would paint my plane red after seeing these guys. Sort of a, "I beat the Red Baron, now I am the Red Baron." Although I guess painting my plane red would be more appropriate for the self-styled "angel of death" moniker I've given myself. Though even that hasn't been true for a while. My allies have actually been surviving the mission, sometimes even the whole squad. This one I didn't even really do much, beyond shooting a couple planes a bit.

The red paint scheme appears earlier than it should, but it just seems like the final missions were not interesting enough for many screenshots.
More defense, this time stopping a bombing raid. My usual tactic of coming from the ground up doesn't really work because of how low the enemy I lose a few times while I restrategize. I instead go from above, which works so beautifully I take out both escorts myself. Leaving my AI companion more or less just sitting around watching while I gun down the bombers. Apparently the AI can't figure out the Z-axis too well here.

Revenge, except instead of a bombing mission, a recon escort mission. I now have the dubious honor of being able to claim I accidentally crashed into two recon planes at once. The worst part is that it was after I had already downed the enemy planes. Once I did the mission through properly, one recon plane got shot down, even though I had advance knowledge of where the Germans were and sped towards them.

Next up, patrol, me and Rickenbacker. This won't end badly. It really will since I forgot where I was supposed to be patrolling to. Well, let's test out my theory about following the trenches then. Starts off pretty good, I find an enemy plane, which might very well be a bomber who lost his escort. He doesn't fight back and doesn't turn around. No, it's just a single German plane, all alone, desperately trying to get home. Rickenbacker didn't even need to be on this mission. And my theory turned out to be true, you can finish a patrol just by following the trenches.

More protecting recon planes. Escort missions these days tend to have a full squadron of planes, making any enemies that fly towards us easy to deal with. This mission I had to worry more about flak than any actual enemy. It's funny how absolutely tedious it can be matching the speed of these things when you have four planes who just won't go to say, speed 2 or 3, when they're flying the same plane as you and somehow have troubles going below 80, while you and the plane you're escorting have no trouble.

And it's darkly hilarious to have finally finished off all the Germans, met back up with the recon plane, and start looking around for your fellows, only to see one come crashing into you. For god's sake, I'm only going 80 MPH, in the sky, where there is nothing around for miles and miles. Who the hell taught you how to fly? Time compression is awful in these missions, because the planes snake around a lot, preventing any semblance of being able to spot enemies from a distance. I have just now realized these things are connected.

On my final attempt, I make it to the final dogfight, only to get hit by flak -- My oil pressure is dropping. Well, there are two of them, I can try to take out one, then try to land gracefully within friendly lines. My luck holds, the blue plane is gunned down. I almost take out the other one, but I just give him a hardy seeing too. Not wanting to press my luck, I begin my descend, hoping my allies will continue the mission and take out the German plane.

Thankfully, the oil pressure stays relatively steady at 40%, so I ever so gracefully land. In a spare moment, I look around, to see all the friendly planes following me, despite no reason to, along with the enemy plane. Hey, at least the recon plane completed its mission.

Rickenbacker transferred out of the 94th Aero Squadron, which I'm not quite sure what that one means. The Germans get a new plane, the Siemens Schuckert. A Mission Builder plane, and attempting to look it up on the internet reveals that it's the manufacturer...which is a bit like calling a plane the Sopwith. It seems to be the D.IV, not that it seems special. And why do all German planes sound like something I can't say?

Finally, the 94th has been transferred to the Chateau-Thierry...which is pretty far south as far as combat goes.

Balloon busting. Sigh...and after that truly interesting flight, one that guarantees I have another mission in my session. It's not easy, but that's less because the enemies are hard as much as my three wingmen practically fall from the sky. Flak mostly served as my foe, as I more or less handled even three enemies at one beautifully. The time I won I was even the only person to have knocked out a plane.

The Germans decide to have their revenge, so we have to protect our balloons. I swear, my own allies are shooting the flak directly at me...wait, I'm still blue. IS THIS INTENDED BEHAVIOR? Well, this mission wasn't too difficult the first time around, so I quit afterwards, meaning I have to play it again. This time, I do so with a red plane. Does it change anything? Nope...which means the game starts me in front of enemy flak. Wow.

New plane for the Germans, the Fokker D.VIII, which is not in the manual. Presumably, it's better than the Fokker D.VII.

Scramble, will the Germans bring their new Fokkers around? No, it's the usual Fokkers. Today on Morpheus Kitami's Flying Circus, witness so many vehicle on vehicle collisions and gun shots you'd swear you were in Chicago on a wet summer day. At least this time it's the enemies randomly crashing into me and not friendlies.

Time for an ordinary dogfight mission. These guys are the new Fokkers. The planes are black, which is unfortunate, because the black of the Germans and the olive green of the friendlies is very difficult for me to distinguish. That honestly makes the mission a lot harder than it should have been.

Finally, the Sopwith Snipe, technical stats don't really matter, but it is supposed to be the Allies best plane. No more awkward turns. Also, the game didn't mention this, but Rickenbacker has returned, and Udet is roughly in the same area I am. Does this mean I'll be able to take him out? Probably not, I seem incapable of creating change for the better.

Another dogfight, which means it's time to test out my new plane. Two far weaker enemy planes, which means I really shouldn't have brought two people. One friendly dies, sadly. The Snipe is flawless, basically a Camel with 120+ MPH speed at level.

Defense against bombers mission, and unfortunately, I'm the second in command here. Rickenbacker, who I should point out hasn't been with this squadron for a couple of months, is the leader. Now I have to protect his behind while not getting out factory bombed. This is easier than I would have thought, the Germans decided to send three bombers with no escorts. I just have to get them before Rickenbacker decides that the only way to win is to collide with the enemy.

Another dogfight. Perhaps it's just because I know the war will be over soon, but there's an air of resignation in these missions. Like the Germans are running out. They do put up good chase, but we win without a loss.

You know what I like after a dogfight? Another dogfight. The game tried to send me with three wingmen, I went with two wingmen and fought two planes. Even that felt like overkill. The worst threat to my fellows was me, trying to make some leading shots, only to shoot a friendly as he shot past the hostile.

Recon mission, hopefully for the final big push. The real test for the Snipe, protecting friendlies. And it goes so-so. It's more about ensuring enemies don't get the chance to get behind the recon planes, they're defenseless. Unfortunately, when they're behind recon planes, you have to be very careful about shooting them, or you've just downed a friendly.

The war is over. That was rather a mundane ending. It's told through a series of newspapers and then I get my final score. 105 kills and basically all the medals. Allied ace of aces, and probably ace of aces period for this war, but I don't know if the game tracks that.

So...playing this game again as the Germans. I've given it a lot of thought. This game has gone on for a month, which isn't too unusual for the longer games, and even though I would be forced to reuse earlier, crummier planes against the Allies, I don't think I'll do so. I don't think I'll get anything more out of it than I did from the Allies. Certainly, the Germans have a better game, albeit with an easier period when they first get the double machine gun planes to when the Allies get them, but I'm not going to get anything more out of it beyond a better understanding of how the Germans planes work, which isn't necessarily required. I also don't want this game to overstay it's welcome, either for me or my readers.

This Session: 7 hours 30 minutes

Final Time: 21 hours 50 minutes

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Sopwith (1984)

Publisher:BMB Compuscience
Developer:BMB Compuscience
Time:1 hour 10 minutes
Won:No (72W/61L)

BMB Compuscience was a primarily business related company making products for a primarily business related computer, the IBM computer. Seemingly their only released game was this, a WWI-inspired MP game with a single player practice mode. Sopwith continues the tradition of exclusive DOS games of this era either being absolute dogs or surprisingly interesting games with the latter.

There are three modes, MP, which I can't play, SP and SP with computer opponent, AKA enemy planes. Both SP modes are the same map, a valley with many targets to blow up, either by shooting them, bombing them, or surprisingly enough, crashing into them. Feel the power of British steel! Muahaha! As you can tell by that statement, this game isn't going for realism.

Each time you start the game, you start at the center of the map, at your home base, cyan to your targets purple. You can return here by pressing H, the computer will automatically land. I'm not sure if you can manually land, my attempts at testing it always end in failure. This is important because ammo is limited. To take off, you turn up, which is always / when you start, , turns down and . flips the plane. That's going to be important, because there are minor bits of realism where that's important to handle.

Once you're off the ground, things are fairly simple, albeit confusing thanks to the obnoxious distance between controls. X and \ control speed, but even at the lowest speed you can climb straight up...just don't hit the ceiling. It works fairly well as presented, just try not to press two buttons at once, because it's still 1984.

Down below you get a GUI, including a map of the game area, and four bars indicating your ammos, fuel and lives.

Eventually, you'll want to destroy some of these purple buildings. Space shoots, while B drops a bomb. The gun doesn't have great range and you have a very limited number of bombs. Also, don't drop a bomb while you're upside down. It will land on you. I say this, and trying to hit things is very effective. If you don't hit a building, congrats, now there's a hole in the ground. Learning how to properly lead the bomb is pretty neat, and aiming your shots to hit a building is too.

Most of the targets are fairly simple shooting, you could easily take them out given enough time. No, the big problem children here are the buildings at the edges of the valleys. One on the very top of the edge, requiring some needle threading. These are probably the ones you'll want to take out first, you can't bomb them, and if you lose a live early on it's not that big a deal.

Eventually, you either run out of lives or you win, with a nice little animation of your plane flying off into the sunset. Either way it's straight back to the DOS prompt. That's basically Sopwith these days, a bit difficult to figure out, but simple and fun once you do. Let's get to the rating.

Okay, you already know where this is going. The enemy plane mode. This is where things go from a fun little novelty to insanity. Up until now, the only real enemy has been your ability to not hit the ground/sky and having four lives. Now, all of that is gone.

The AI plane is much like yours, though the AI sticks to just shooting. If you let it, it's very good at that. Hitting it, is not very easy, but I generally had a pretty good record of taking them out. There's a curious blend of AI perfection along with computer stupidity. They'll just as soon gun you down with absolute precision as crash into the ground.

This is half annoying and half hilarious, because more often than either one of us got shot down, we crashed into each other. Each time it happened was another new glorious explosion. Even better whenever two enemy planes were in the air at once, that was truly special.

But it was annoying as well. Shoot one down, and another one pops up. Enter a different section of the map? Well, now there are two, maybe three planes at once. Some pretty spectacular crashing going on, but avoiding becoming a statistic yourself is just painful.
No matter what I tried, I just couldn't seem to get past them. I could shoot them down, maybe even more of them down than I lost, but I never could take both them down and enough damage to the buildings to stop whatever was causing them to spawn. They just never ran out, and unlike them eventually my desire to win did.

The machine gun was pretty standard, but it was nice how accurate you had to be with the bombs, right down to the speed your plane was going. 2/10

The ground targets were standard, but I have mixed feelings on the planes. Were they limited, I would say they're pretty effective enemies, but an unlimited number of enemy planes makes the whole point moot. 2/10


Pretty standard. Not good, not bad, just sort of there. 3/10

Player Agency:
Were it just for the standard mode, I would say the game controls pretty well, but once the game made the jump to serious air combat, the flaws in the controls were pretty apparent. It is impossible to shoot and turn at the same time, anything else too, but shooting and turning is important. The keys are just so far apart it's annoying. There are flaws, but it isn't truly awful. 4/10

Some minor terrain destruction. 1/10

Depending on the mode, a pleasant flight over enemy lines or Defcon 1. Either way it was interesting. 2/10

Effective for CGA, but the constant flickering took away some of the appeal. 1/10


Despite being PC speaker, not too awful. Helps that an engine is one of the few things it does well. 2/10

That's 17, making it the current front runner for GOTY. It's early days yet though.

There is a sequel, the imaginatively named Sopwith. No, I didn't leave out a II or a 2 or anything. They named the sequel to this the same thing. Beating all those fancy modern games with their lazy remake names by at least a decade. From what I understand, it's mostly the same game, except with a campaign.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Red Baron: April Showers

Once again this session starts with me doing something I already did. There's something very annoying about having to do a mission you did very well on over again. Were this game not going for as carefree a vibe as possible one might suggest it as a metaphor for PTSD. Every damn time I have to replay one of these balloon missions it's a damn hour of doing the same mission again and again. By the time I finally beat it, over an hour later, it's the best scoring mission I've done along with an "ace in one" mission, that is, one mission with five kills.

It's funny, last time I couldn't get enough of this game, now that I have to do these missions over and over again for no good reason whatsoever, it's lost some of its charm.

I decided to paint my plane, a Spad 7, current best plane of the front, blue and green. If I could, I would paint it green on top and blue below, but I doubt that would do anything against the AI. And you can't do it that way, just the main body and the wings. So green body and blue wings. My first mission with this bad boy is to do a dogfight with Nungesser at my side, a French ace nicknamed "The Knight of Death", or perhaps that's just a name he picked out for himself. Forgive me, I've been lax with my Osprey reading. I guess I should call myself "The Angel of Death", not necessarily as a good thing. Sure, it sounds cool, but pilot names are supposed to be insulting, at least at first, and it feels appropriate for someone who's exploits usually result in massive losses for both sides. I'm actually the commander, befitting what I suspect is both a lower kill count at this point and a lower rank for Nungesser.

Despite the new plane, it doesn't feel like that great an improvement. Sure, it's faster and more agile, but it's not overwhelmingly better. Anyway, the battle goes smoothly, I take down one pretty quickly, but the other gives us some chase. He never really gets a chance to attack us, but it's some merry chase. I lose him a couple of times, as even with my speed down low it feels like my enemy can do slower, one of the advantages of a crappier plane, no doubt. For this, I am awarded the Croix de Guerre, which despite being a French medal, can indeed be given to foreigners. Come to think of it, the medals I've been getting do seem to be service agnostic. This also continues the tradition of medals being awarded to me for utterly mundane missions. Come on, two aces with 20+ kills against two random German planes?

The Sopwith Triplane has been introduced into the service. I don't know if it's going to be good or not, because I'm inclined to hold onto the plane I have for at least a little while longer. Still, next up is a patrol mission, and this time I've bothered to remember where I have to go. The flight proves to be uneventful, the Germans send a single plane, which easily goes down. But I do get some more insight into my new plane. It isn't quite as agile as I've made it out to fact, I might just want to switch to the Triplane as soon as I can, because the Spad 7 has something distinctly of the Morane Bullet, I.E., by the time you've turned around, the enemy is already gone. Which feels like it doesn't work with the high speed engine I have here. Worse yet, I'm stuck in doing side turns, going up stalls and I literally cannot do a 180 downward turn.

Now, I shouldn't complain too much, because it seems like this plane has worked out for me, I took out three planes this mission, handily. Sure, one decided he could try to flee from me, somehow. My machine has a 120 MPH climbing speed, which I don't quite believe the Germans have, yet. Though after I finish the mission, I am told the Germans now have an Albatros D. III. Which seems to be pretty close to what I have, in addition to having two machine guns.

The Storks are also transferred to St. Marie Cappel, a nice town, in the north of France. Fairly close to the Red Baron, but of more immediate interest to myself, Goring. So close, he is practically across the border. Does he ask for a duel? No, it's just a regular mission dogfight. It doesn't go well. The enemy planes just don't want to let me catch them from the side in the initial confusion and that's fine, sometimes I can survive these suicide rushes, but if I do, eventually someone ends up in the clouds and it goes poorly.

Alternatively, "The sky is falling!"

With my experiences with these planes, I decide to screw it and go with a Sopwith Triplane. Painted completely blue, theoretical defense against AA strikes me as better than trying to confuse enemy pilots. Sturdier or not, the Spad is costing me, and without that agility I am a sitting duck. And my first test is a regular patrol. I wish I could say it went well. Oh, yeah, the Germans all went down by my hand, but they basically just let me. They'd try to sneak attack, I'd notice them, then they'd try running away and I shot them all down. I practically didn't need a wingman for this. And for this brave action, I am awarded the Legion of Honor, the greatest medal the French can award.

April, America joins the war. Zeppelin bombs and Bomber raids are still pretty bit news though. If that's an actual quote, Wilson is is either lying through his teeth or the optimist. The Storks get transferred to St. Omer, which is more or less just one aerodrome over. And we have Fonck now. Obviously, we won't ever fly with each other because I doubt the French want to lose him.

Next mission is a Zeppelin hunt. Guess I can try to take out one of these without being in England. The game does seem to be under the impression this can only happen in England though, judging by the way it describes it. It took me a while to figure out a good strategy, doing anything remotely close resulted in my death, and obviously I couldn't let my companions handle it, they'd just get shot down. In the end I just sort of settled on trying to shoot the plane outside of it's aggro range, turning around whenever I was in danger of reaching it. This seems to be a winning strategy, though I am the only survivor again.

I forget if I mentioned the ability to have a third person view, which you obviously don't want in the middle of combat.

Next up, an escort mission. It's been a long time since I last did one of these, so long ago, in fact, I was probably still using the Bullet. No matter, this should be a piece of cake so long as my wingmen can handle some of the Germans. Things seem to be going well, they're no match for us...I took out a plane...and the mission is over and we lost. Oh, well. I get a second chance, because last time I quit after this mission. Technically I could restart until I win, but generally speaking so long as I'm not dead I try to play with what results I get.

This time, however, it goes badly in a different way. We successfully take out the enemy planes, only for my wingman to be badly damaged and for me to loss track of the recon planes. I for one am glad that the game only tracks the fuel and oil of my plane, if only for this one mission. I reach the point we were supposed to go to, and they are nowhere to be seen. Screw it, they're dead anyway.

New plane, the S.E.5a, which I had to go back and check on. I'm not changing my plane yet, the Germans have given me no reason to. I can also join the No.56 Squadron, which I guess should be a big deal, but the way things are, I don't really care to leave where I am. GORING! I SHALL HAVE MY REVENGE! Then I get another invitation, to The Black Flight led by Raymond Collishaw. This is apparently the deadliest squadron of the war, and surprisingly almost entirely made up of Canadians. That one's not too far from where I'm at, not that I could check beforehand.

Oh, yeah, it's May, which I should point out, means I missed the worst part of the war for the Allies, Bloody April, in which superior German aircraft, well, slaughtered the Allies. I didn't see that. Considering I'm not too far from the legendary Red Baron himself, it's inevitable that I'm going to encounter some of the more dangerous German planes before I can upgrade to something with two guns.

A scramble mission follows this up. Uh-oh. I get the feeling if they need me to rush out, that the Germans aren't bringing their leftovers from 1915. Unfortunately, I have to report that this is the first time I've had an allied mid-air collision. On the plus side, the Germans aren't bringing their good planes here. It's a cake walk whenever I finally get around to not crashing into my compatriots. Service good enough for the Distinguished Service Order.

Better still, the Sopwith Camel has been introduced, but uh, I think I'm going to hold off on that one. The Germans, meanwhile, now have the Albatros D. Va.

Oh, they're just giving me one. Uh...something tells me I should take this. This doesn't count as a request for a new plane, right? Damn, it, that probably does. The sad thing is, I might have been better off in the S.E.5a, but I ignored it because I could barely remember the name. Gah.

Next up, another scramble mission, with Nungesser on my side. Man, the Germans are desperate to do something here. I presume bombing the place, but the enemy is always regular planes, not bombers. Good news, the Camel is marvelous, I was under the impression from my test runs that it was hard to turn, but apparently that isn't true, it's hard to keep level. It's slightly slower than my old plane, but between that agility and the dual machine guns, it's worth it. Just so much I couldn't do in an old plane I can do here.

The actual combat goes strangely. I lose a bunch of times, guess the Germans sent their A-team here. On multiple occasions I get a friendly confused with an enemy, apparently white paint is indistinguishable from the kind the Germans use at a distance. Anyway, the Germans have a new plane, the Pfalx D. III. Will I get shot down by one? Probably.

Speaking of which, here comes a zeppelin mission. I figured out the trick to these. Because the zeppelins don't really turn, and they have a blindspot at the back, well, you can just hang in there and shoot at it relatively stress-free. Assuming, of course, you don't have to fly so slowly you stall. This brings my kill count up to 40. The big question is, can I get 50 kills before the end of the war? Another new German plane, the Fokker Dr. I. I don't think it truly matters so much anymore, since my plane is more or less good enough to last me the end of the war and no German plane truly outclasses it.

I think this is a good time to stop off. Next time, we shall see the war to it's finale. Next time, a balloon busting mission with myself, Charles Nungesser and Georges Guynemer. Will any of us survive? Will I be able to take out any of the German aces? Will the Allies win the war? Will Wilson's wishes come true? Are the answers to all of these questions going to be yes?

This Session: 3 hours 50 minutes

Total Time: 14 hours 20 minutes

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Vanguard II (1984)

Name:Vanguard II
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Time:1 hour

Arcade games this year are just proving to be one big pile of junk, even the supposedly higher quality Japanese ones. I've fired up three before this, each of which fit my definitions, but each have almost nothing to talk about, perhaps a gimmick, then just another coin muncher.

This time we have a game much in the same as Thunder Force, only by fighting game legends SNK. Vanguard I was some kind of generic Scramble clone, but this, this is something interesting. This, ironically enough, is the exact opposite of what the game's actual popularity was, the first one did wonderfully, while this one sort of flopped.

With that said, I sort of already know what to expect. The ship flies around a looping battle field, where you use missiles to take out "ground" targets and lasers to take out flying targets. In contrast to Thunder Force, the targets don't depend entirely on luck, take out most ground targets and it counts towards your ultimate goal, that of taking out the central core.

This is very slow-paced for an arcade title. It's smooth, but your ship doesn't get anywhere in a hurry. It's very slow. It's kind of weird, because you turn relatively, but "forward" does nothing while "backwards" stops. This tripped me up a lot, because everytime I had to turn around I had to do so very awkwardly. Diagonals work, but because I was using the keyboard here, not very well. It's all subtly off, and it doesn't help you die in one hit.

There's something weird about the enemy ships. They don't seem to exist as entities in the game world as much as in relation to you. You change directions and they just sort of hang where they were left, ever so strangely. This tripped me up a couple of times, but most of the time you don't have to worry about ships. A few are generally shot in your direction, but inconsistently.

Now, ground targets, or the ship, as it really is. You see that crosshair? That shows where your missiles go, and when you fire, it locks in until it hits. If you move around fast enough it might be wrong, but that's kind of rare. It's genuinely helpful, though after enough trial and error you could probably figure out where it would hit anyway.

Dealing with enemies is kind of crappy, because there was this distinct feeling that everything homed in on me and I never had a chance of escaping it. Both ships and shots. It's funny, at first I thought it was better in that regard compared to Thunder Force, but the slower speed just means you have more time to realize you're dead. It's not helpful that basically nothing besides you makes a sound.

Taking out the power cores gets you close to your goal of taking out the central core, and this is where the game is the best. The entire takes power from multiple locations, easily destructible outside sections and the central core. Take out all the connecting cores of a certain area, and the cores that have lost access to power are also destroyed. The more important ones shoot at you, and obviously any annoying inner cores or turrets can be taken out with missiles just as surely as the connecting pieces, though only big ones count towards the central core.

Once you take out your number of cores, you can destroy the central core. This isn't easily, because in addition to multiple turrets, the central core shoots back, with some of the only hostile noise you get, and nothing you do prevents that attack. You also have to time it, do it wrong and you have to shoot again. I also note that if you want free airspace, at least from hostile turrets, you have to spend a lot of time shooting the area around the central core, which brings in it's own problems.

With that in mind, I got to the third level, once. It seems like no matter how flawlessly I got past the first level, the second level would just drain my lives. This strikes me as the reason why this game did poorly, this is indulging too much in that SNK difficulty. That sort of thing doesn't necessarily work in a fighting game, but at least in those cases, the casual audience can fight against each other. This just has a whole bunch of conflicting bits of difficulty that requires too much effort to work against to be fun for all but the most dedicated.

This puts me into the mind that of all things, this is a really bland game. There's very little sound, merely the requisite gun effects and a few flourishes during important events. So I basically just fly around this very bland landscape, in mostly silence, slowly dismantling a spaceship. It doesn't really improve the way the game plays, it makes it feel boring.

Weapons intended for a select ground of targets each. 1/10

Some minor variety among flying enemies, but ground targets consist entirely of turrets, some bigger, some smaller. 2/10


Gradually enlargening spaceships, which can after a while feel somewhat samey. 2/10

Player Agency:
Theoretically good, your typical top-down shooter, but in practice slow and unwieldy. 3/10

Some destructible targets. 1/10

Incredibly unfun. 0/10

Nice in theory, but just feels drab and ugly. 2/10


The bare minimum of sound, with only a few not activated solely by the player. 1/10

Subtracting one point because I left the game feeling miserable, and we have 11.

I'm really starting to regret deciding to play arcade games. Even the best are just coming off as nicely dressed up coin munchers.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Red Baron: Stagnation

For the first time in a while, I've been having a whole heck of a lot of fun. Don't get me wrong, I've had quite a few fun games recently, but I haven't quite been at the stage where I'm trying to put in just a little more like Red Baron. And that's with the crappy Morane Bullet plane, the second least airworthy vehicle outside of flying an anvil into German lines. When I get a good plane, things are going to be great.

Picking up where we left off, I am now stationed at Toul, the worst place to be an Allied fighter pilot, we have several enemy squadrons of note, and worst of all, famed German ace Ernst Udet, the most vicious and deadly flying ace the Germans have. Who, since I have set foot here, has become my hated rival and Red Baron to my Snoopy. I swear I shall down him before the war is over! It's either that or we'll never even see each other.

The game starts me off easy, a balloon busting mission. Which is a real bad sign for this session. I just could not manage to hit either plane well in the initial confrontation, and inevitably they would take out the flight leader, before crashing into me/killing me. I hope there's a flying ace in this squad, because otherwise this is pretty brutal. Finally, I can take out one of the planes before the other kills the leader, take out the remaining one...but I'm too low for the remaining balloon. Flak all around me...and I die by flak.

Nearly an hour later, I check to see if this is some kind of crap the game is pulling because I'm now an ace. No. For two reasons, the first is that I'm not an ace, the shoddily coded game did not in fact save my progress after I made damn sure it did. The second is that yes, it is the exact same setting. EVENTUALLY, I win, allowing me to continue as expected, thankfully balloons do count towards ace status, as this time around my squadron leader kills off one plane before going down himself.

Now at Toul I can do a regular old, 4v3 dogfight. It's nobody special. It goes well, in the initial confusion we suffer no losses, and in the aftermath I find myself on the tail of an enemy plane. Despite one of the enemy fellows momentarily shooting at me, I do especially well, contributing quite heavily to all three planes death, taking out two myself. It goes well, which I'm thankful for after the disaster that was the last mission.

This nets me an invitation to join No 24, led by Lanoe Hawker. Unfortunately, the game offers me this choice now, with no option to actually see where the No 24 is. With that in mind, I decline. At this point, I check how the save system functions. I make sure I manually get out of the game, which should trigger whatever save system the game has. Because logically, if I was right the last time, then I should have been saved afterwards, if I'm right this time, then it should be saved here.

Except no, the game takes me back to the dogfight I just won. So the game saves at whatever the last mission is. I dunno if that's something that was fixed later on, but this seems like a pretty important thing to have missed. I assume it's a mistake, because it's hardly reasonable to put a player back a mission they've already beaten. Jesus, this is going to make this game a true pain in the ass to play. I played a few campaign missions as an one-off, which means the time I spent doing that was a complete waste of time. I'm going to try to skip over these "wasted missions" in this let's play. However, I will note that I still got a chance to join Lanoe Hawker and I still declined. I'm going after Udet.

Finally, getting away from that obnoxiousness, another dogfight, except this one is different. A scramble, I.E., we're fighting over our aerodome because the Germans, likely hoping to bomb us, have invaded. The major difference is that I start out on the ground, and on my second attempt I manage to make it into the air. While the Germans are in the air, soon enough they come down to my level, I get a good shot on one, but because I'm actually playing attention to the altitude guage, I break it off. Fortunately, my compatriots take them out.

The Nievport 17 and Sopwith Pup are now available. If I remember the in-game descriptions, they were not positive. Still, one has to be better than the Bullet...right...? Assuming I can ever even GET a new plane, the game is obsessed with forcing me in this accursed thing.

Patrol time, which goes uneventfully, at first. The first group of Germans we meet go down easily, I even get a good look behind one. Then comes the second patrol, and I have no idea what the hell is happening. All grey planes, which means that at least a couple are enemies, and I have no idea which. And if the speed is any indication, they're faster than the Bullets, shocking, I know. It is very worrying, because I don't want to shoot down any friendly planes, and if they're impossible to differ from my own and are...better, well, I'm kind of screwed. Fortunately, it seems like we won, because the planes left standing don't shoot at me. The mission then ends peacefully.

Afterwards, the game tells me the Germans have a new aircraft, the Halberstadt D. II. I suspect that was one of the planes we had to shoot down.

The answer comes to me on my next mission, a patrol, and the first plane we fight is a grey biplane. The plane we've been in and the German crappy ones are all monowing, which means it has one wing through the ship, kind of like a F-16, and only like it in that respect. A biplane is what you probably think of when you think of a WWI fighter. Which means we're HORRIBLY OUTCLASSED IN EVERY POSSIBLE RESPECT. What's worse is that it's just me and one other guy on patrol, the next group of enemies has two biplanes and two crappy ones. My flight leader does not survive, something of little solstice to the Germans, as they've lost three planes, one fancy new one included. I'm unfortunately, not even sure I can technically win this mission, as I forgot what area we were supposed to be patrolling to.

This is enough to get me promoted to first lieutenant. Now I'm the idiot in charge. Which is unfortunate if we ever happen to end up trying to patrol around somewhere.

That's not important right now, because I have to protect some balloons. What does being a first lieutenant mean? I get to choose how many planes I know, as long as I don't want more than two. I might be able to chose which plane I can fly, if the game was willing to let me have something other than a Morane Bullet, which is rapidly becoming the worst plane to be in right now. Thankfully the Germans have decided to kill off their old stock trying to take these balloons, and we handle things a-okay.

And then the entire squadron gets transferred, to Bertincourt, near where the previous transfer I rejected is. So now instead of being able to take out Udet, I can take out Immelmann, Max Immelmann, a much nicer German ace, a turn was named in his honor, the one where you go up until you face the other direction, then right yourself. He also won the Blue Max, the highest German flying honor. Curiously, he also died soon from the current time. Will I be the one to claim him?

Uh, yes.

As could be expected from my training sessions, this was not a terribly hard mission. I've figured out the subtle art of not hitting the enemy head-on and instead trying to sideswipe them, and while I don't get him on the opening salvo, it's not long before I shoot him down.

Next up an escort mission. Still using the Bullet, the Germans still have the fancy plane. The Germans win, but none of them live to tell of their victory. The recon plane is lost, but they don't get either of the escorts. Hopefully now the game will not be so confident in my ability to protect these recon planes.

Wow, another bomber raid?

News, the British have succeeded in taking ground along the front. This means that the lines have been changed. And a new aircraft, the Spad 7. Neither of these changes matter much to me, who will be forced to continue to fly in a flying deathtrap until the end of the war.

Considering how much of this game just consists of the same sort of things, it's hard to come up with both good screenshots and comments.

Another escort mission, good, we needed to have less recon planes. This one certainly started off at 11, with flak firing all around us. Two recon planes, two victories for a soon to be dead German. Except, it doesn't go as poorly as I feared, instead, they send two planes, of which we handily defeat. No losses. I feel like the game is practically giving me these victories at times.

Each plane is supposed to have its own unique interface, which includes the dials, assuming you go for realistic instruments.

Balloon busting next, but that isn't the good news. No, that isn't the good news, I'm in a new plane! The Nievport 17, not quite as crap as the Bullet. Actually, that's not fair, with a 110 MPH when climbing speed, it's at least twice as good as the Bullet, it turns well. While the machinegun might not be the best, it's good enough that I, even with help, killed almost all the Germans this mission. It's like taking the training wheels off. I don't care for the very heavy GUI, makes sighting enemy planes a bit of a problem.

News of this, reaches the Germans, and they introduce a new aircraft, the Albatross D. II. Can't have me winning the air war all alone now.

Patrol again, which would almost be a side note, except that suddenly the Germans have figured out how to make a sneak attack. I spotted him, so fat lot of good it did the single plane this time, but it's nice to know I might not be so lucky in the future.

This is followed up with a scramble mission that goes very poorly. Now the German planes are the color of the ground, and while at first this is useful, when climbing, often I find myself above them, which ends ever so badly. By sheer luck, I eventually end up figuring out the pattern to their attack. Despite the target rich environment, I'm starting to loathe these scramble missions, the inevitable confusion is just too tricky for me to figure out right away.

After this, I get an invitation to join The Storks squadron, I accept. Not like there's much chance of fighting another ace where I am, and I see no reason not to join. If I want to try for Udet later, I can always request a transfer. My new squadron had two aces before I joined, Guynemer and Nungesser. Time will tell if they fly with me, but that sort of thing usually ends badly for my compatriots, so that seems unwise for their health. I also find out after the fact that the Red Baron himself was now where I was, though if duels are linked to kills it is highly unlikely we would ever meet, as we're through most of 1916 and I haven't cracked 30.

I also note that we're about as far away from the front as possible without being in England. You can transfer to there, but from what I've read in a few places that's an incredibly boring way to spend the war.

First mission with the best of the best, balloon defense. Same approach as usual, try to take them from the side, then gun them down. It works mostly well. I find myself chasing after one plane, heading towards the balloons. Constant gunfire drives him off, but his companion is clearly trying to get rid of me. He doesn't get a chance before my target is down. He breaks off, taking out one of the balloons before I can stop him, and he goes down while me and my flightmate gun him down.

Next up revenge! We shall take down THEIR balloons! Interestingly, despite where I am, the best plane I can use is still the Nievport 17. In fact, that's the only plane I can use. The battle goes well, despite the German planes probably being better than ours, we win overwhelmingly. The initial strike doesn't go well, but in the ensuing confusion, I chase after one German, and by the time I take him down, my companion still isn't dead, giving me a convenient chance to take out one of the others, while the third disappears. Then, a simple matter to take out balloons.

This gives me a promotion to captain, and with it, not just the option to pick my own plane, but the requirement. The Nievport 17 is the second best plane so far, and the only one that seems better is the Spad 7, which still only has one machinegun. Guess it was fairly late in the war when they decided to do that little bit of advancement. I'll see if I can't customize how it looks next time.

This session: 5 hours 00 minutes

Total Time: 10 hours 30 minutes