Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Omega Run (1984?)

Name:The Omega Run
Publisher:CRL Group
Developer:Richard Brisbourne
Genre:Flight Sim
Time:1 hour
Won:Yes (75W/62L)

Ah, lovely, back to the flight sims where the ground is one color and the sky is another and that's all you get. "The ultimate war flight simulator". Even in 1984 I doubt the veracity of that statement. Or 1983, maybe. I dunno. World of Spectrum says one thing, everyone else says another, and I'm not exactly treating this one with the highest level of respect. Sorry, Mr. Brisbourne.

You have 25 minutes to reach a nuclear bunker 100 miles away. The heavily defended bunker was taken over by "fanatical elements" of the enemy power, and they have the ultimate nuke inside. There are four types of enemy defenses, laser fields, other fighters, AA fire, and SAMs. Because of the long distance of the journey, I have to meet up with a fuel tanker half-way there.

Oh, god, it's 1984 and I have to rendezvous with a flying tanker. Well, I don't have any speed controls, which is a good sign. Instead I just move around with 5678 and shoot with 0. Actually, I will say this briefing is very helpful in an age when games liked to just drop you in with a manual where some important part of the game was easy to miss or misinterpret. This pretty much clears up any part of the game you might have an issue with.

It's another game that's very difficult even on the easy setting. This is of course, partially down to those controls, simple as they are. On a modern keyboard, you're going left and right with 5 & 8, up and down with 6 & 7. One doesn't need to take a long look at a keyboard to know these are pretty awkward keys these days. This really should have been apparent then, too, because every Speccy keyboard I can see has the numbers like normal, and the C64 version I'm sure is much the same.

So you get used to that. Now you have to deal with enemy planes like locusts. They're annoying and there seems to be a lot of them. Individually, they are no threat, they merely slowly peck you to death. It's very annoying having to turn around completely to shoot them. This doesn't work like you expect, there's only a certain amount of turn you can go in any direction. It works like a weird Wolfenstein-style FPS rather than a flight sim. This even goes down to shooting; the game doesn't seem to register height when you shoot. At the very least it's generous to a fault.

See that GUI? That's really helpful here. Because you can't see behind you, instead whenever there's a plane behind you, it appears there. You get your usual stuff, clock, compass, and various meters. Both a general heading and a specific, destination is here heading. Useful when your view is endless void.

There are other hazards too, of course. AA fire happens whenever you fly over a certain height, so don't do that. Sometimes there are just random shots coming at you...for some reason. This must be the SAMs. Then there are the laser shots. None of these are all that annoying to dodge, more because of how it disrupts your movement. However, this usually indicates a break in enemy fighters, so it's not too bad.

Eventually, you make it to the tanker. You're supposed to precisely match up with the thing, somehow. This requires a lot of precision yet the game sort of wings it in telling you what you need to do. So I match up with it, something made difficult by how much the plane seems to duck and weave. I'm practically losing more fuel trying to do this than getting here, and I wasn't handling the getting here all that well either.

On my second playthrough I manage it. Then it's another 50 miles of flying. I note this second time around that despite the aimlessness caused by having to gun down enemy planes, sometimes when you turn around and finally get one in front of you, you're actually still facing the direction the target is in. It's weird.

The final stretch, the bombing run. You know, I can't help but think of this now like some kind of realistic attempt at the Star Wars bombing run. It's just a matter of getting the building right in front of you, and being below 100. Strangely, it seemed to me like this section changed the controls and now I had less control over turning than before. Even with that it doesn't take more than a few runs to destroy the target. And then the game ends.
The final stretch, the bombing run. You know, I can't help but think of this now like some kind of realistic attempt at the Star Wars bombing run. It's just a matter of getting the building right in front of you, and being below 100. Strangely, it seemed to me like this section changed the controls and now I had less control over turning than before. Even with that it doesn't take more than a few runs to destroy the target. And then the game ends.

Simple bombs and lasers. 1/10

You have your basic plane, which doesn't provide much of interest, then things to be avoided and the final target itself. 2/10


Randomly generated, with a few obvious designs the game constantly reuses. 1/10

Player Agency:
It works, but between the stiffness of the controls and the awkwardness of the layout, not nicely. 2/10



Very simple, with only the odd sprite breaking up the monotony of black ground. 1/10

Sort of a non-entity. 0/10

Very basic sound effects. 1/10

That's 8.

I didn't like it, but I did appreciate it slightly. It's nice to have something lower stress than some of the games I've been playing lately. It's not bad as much as incredibly crude by today's standards.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Dead Ash (1991)

Name:Armored Trooper Votoms: Dead Ash AKA 装甲騎兵ボトムズ DEAD ASH デッド・アッシュ
Genre:FPS/Rail Shooter
Time:2 hours 00 minutes
Won:Yes (74W/62L)

So, let's talk about anime for a moment. Long-time readers of this blog probably have an inkling that I have an interest in Japanese culture and media, considering how many bizarre Japanese-only titles I've played over the years. Naturally, that includes an interest in animation from Japan, despite what you'd think not all that much. You can pretty much center my interest around a specific time on Toonami and then various random titles I've seen over the years. I've still only seen one Gundam series all the way through, and not even one of the main shows. This is partially down to what people talk about these days, it seems like it's all isekai, moe, with the token Japanese take on something popular in the western culture zeitgeist. (I now feel someone vindicated for not caring about Attack on Titan)

When I saw this game, I was intrigued by the concept of the series, so I decided to watch it before playing the game. A lot of what seemed cool to me as a teen were these series from the '80s, and this is one of those series. This is the sort of thing I'd have just resigned myself to never seeing. These days that honor goes to older live-action series, you can find any random old anime or sentai show, but try to find something like Tokyo Megure Keishi and you'll be looking forever.

The gist of the series is that Chirico Cuvie (pronounced Kiriko, like the Japanese woman's name) is a special forces soldier for the Gilgamesh Confederation, one of two galactic powers. It's near the end of a great galactic war against the Balarant Union, and Chirico has just been transfered to a new battalion. His first new mission results in his battalion attacking what appears to be a friendly asteroid outpost. After getting placed on guard duty, he finds a mysterious nude woman in a capsule, before getting nearly blown up. It turns out that yes, his compatriots did attack a friendly outpost, to kidnap that woman among other things. Intelligence agents interrogate him, suspecting he was in on the scheme, but he escapes. Most of the series is involves him trying to figure out what happened and who that woman is.

The so-called armored troopers of the title are mechas, and on the realistic side of the mecha genre; Very fragile. The name VOTOMS was chosen as a pun, it sounds like bottom in English, they get blown up a lot. To the point where even having plot armor doesn't guarantee that your VOTOMS won't get destroyed. Even the token super-powered beings don't survive the series without losing a half-dozen. One funny note is that every major faction has its own VOTOMS design, but they only ever seem to have that one design.

It's a good series, starts off very strong in the first two arcs, kind of goes south, then the last arc is not great. (but by the time you're there you're along for the ride anyway) This is the kind of anime people are imagining when they say the medium is mature and adult. Sure, there's a lady who gets naked a lot, and there's a lot of action, but the series has a good grasp on the ideas and conflicts that would spring up in the aftermath of a great galactic war. Its philosophy isn't just "we are like cherry blossoms in the wind" or "believe it".

It seems like the series was decently popular, so in the aftermath of the original series, there were many further entries expanding on the events of the show, some to do with Chirico's time with the Red Shoulders, a vicious special forces unit akin to the Spetsnaz. Most just relate to some side character and their interaction with Cuvie. So unfortunately the series takes this nice, interesting galaxy and basically condenses it down to what one character does, with anything focusing on other characters focusing almost entirely on their interactions with the lead. Sort of the opposite of what a good space opera series should be based around.

This is not the first game based on the series, before this was Black Unicorn, a game I'm not super clear on the specifics of, but seems to be the kind of RPG like Wibarm where you walk around like a normal RPG, but when battle happens you get teleported to a weird side-scrolling scene where you can shoot things. I'm guessing it didn't go over well because I found very little about it. Dunno if I'll play that, not super keen on that sort of thing. Later, there's a more traditional RPG/strategy game on the PC-98, action games on consoles (which I hope to get to) and then they sort of get absorbed by the all-encompassing Super Robot Wars strategy game series.

Dead Ash is another weird empty void of a FPS game. You play as a former soldier whose actual name I'm not clear on, but calls himself Dead Ash. In the aftermath of the great war he's found himself working with a Quent, a member of a race of stoic Conan the Barbarian-types. I don't know if this is intentional, but he looks exactly like one of the characters from the series. The first mission seems to be set in "Battling", which involves former military pilots fighting each other in an arena.
I could be wrong, but there's an undercurrent of being tired with fighting. Though I'm not quite clear on why Quint is on friendly terms with our hero or why he's getting back in the mech.

I want to point out two very big issues this game has. It's relatively long, yet the game seems to lack a save function. Why is a long story-based game forcing me to do this over and over again? Perhaps because of the second issue, the text speed is way too fast. There's that pesky bit that I'm not a native and thus require more time, but in English I'd have trouble reading this fast.

The game has three difficulty levels. I'm on the easy level. Bear that in mind when I talk about the game.

The mechs in the series never had any names to my knowledge, but apparently there are.

At the beginning of each mission you can select what kind of mech you'd like along with every weapon. This is really cool if you watched the series and it mostly feels like an accurate screen-to-game change. Since you'll be replaying missions a lot, you'll obtain the ability to perfectly foresee every weapon you'll need. For practical purposes, you're deciding whether or not to trade ammo for power, which depends on the forces you'll be fighting.

Even after finishing the game, I'm not sure what that button on the left side is for.

Level 0 is in Battling, and it goes sour quickly. You can take out one regular enemy, but then it turns into a game of gang up on the protagonist. Exactly like in the actual show. Three enemies appear at once and you cycle through various kinds until you end up killing 36 enemies in total.

The game controls how you'd expect a game adapted from the series would. To a certain extent. There's a certain weightiness, in which you start off slowly before suddenly going to max speed without much turning ability. If you didn't see the show you'd think something was wrong, but that much is working as intended.

No, the problem is that fighting back against the hordes of enemies is a bit wonky. You cycle through weapons here, which doesn't feel right. Votoms could use all their weapons independently, their primary gun weapon, the secondary missile or the last chance punch. That last one is rather lame now. In the show it had this cool shotgun like effect, punching someone and then pumping out a shell. Here you punch things out like you've got an automatic shotgun.

It doesn't help that aiming feels off. This game relies on autoaim, which might not be so bad if you weren't dependent on it. It's so bad that even with it I miss shots it seems like I should make.

It's also one of those games. You know the kind, where you play it for a little while and then you get a headache for much longer.

I don't know why the game has these consistent graphical glitches during the cutscenes, but it always happened.

There's a between mission cutscene where Dead Ash talks to Doma, who seems to be the owner of Battling. It seems someone really is after him, and he has to escape. I'm not clear on who's attacking him, but Doma is on his side and he promises to tell her his name, when he knows. Guess he's an amnesiac.

After this the next mission starts up pretty quickly...and it's a rail shooting section. Kind of, because you have to dodge stationary objects lest you get hurt, while also trying to move yourself to shoot enemies. I'm hoping the game isn't going to just turn into a series of on-rails sections, because they're terrible.

No matter what strategy I took here, I kept dying. Holy crap, this level is hard. I feel justified in my hatred of these kinds of sections now. I developed part of a plan to get past most of the mechs, when they're stationary you can go past them, when they're driving past you, shoot them. But then we get the helicopters. These guys are tough, tougher than they have a right to be.

You just can't gun these things down, you need missiles for them. But if you wait for the missiles to hit them, you've already taken too much damage and dodging is painful, I'm not sure the the threshold for getting hit by these objects. You have to just play through this level hundreds of times just to figure out when to dodge so you don't end up trapped in an awkward position.

And even then it's a slog. It goes on for much longer after the second helicopter attack, like crap, why are you doing this now?

After mission novella, whoops, looks like we were captured by Gilgamesh. Every one of these I have to take like 50 screenshots of it because there's just that much text. So, Captain "Nian" is holding Ash at gunpoint. He refers to Ash as a second lieutenant and makes what I think is a sarcastic statement about honor. Then he takes Ash and Doma to the major.

Ash is not fond of this or Nian, while Doma is surprised by this revelation. Ash doesn't really know what to say. You'd think they'd make another picture for how Doma looks here. Wait, she has a red rose on her shoulder? That seems weird in-universe.

I think this game might be a bit beyond my understanding, Nian says that Ash has come to recieve something, Ash says he's not a civilian in the military and he resigned. Someone named Makisukan says that Nian came from a stone wash basin (!?!), so hear him out. I feel like I understand more of the game from general context of the series rather than actually reading this.

Ash says he doesn't need this. Makisukan replies that he wants him to attack something they cannot. We'll protect you. He says to Nian to give them an explanation. Nian replies, "Yes, colonel" something that surprises Ash.

Ash then narrates to himself about how he used to be a soldier and how he's getting a rematch. Huh. He calls the man he found in Battling a barbarian. I'm kind of loosing interest and track of what is referring to what. We get a briefing where the two officers give a briefing on what I imagine is the next mission. Destroy the enemy base. Ash obeys, not out of duty. Then a bunch of stuff I don't understand in the slightest and offer no pretense at attempting to understand or even care at this point.

Two observations about the game's cutscenes. It's very hard to read, not just because of the speed thing, but because the font isn't built for any of the larger Kanji. Of which the game uses several. Secondly, I like the way the cutscene graphics are drawn a lot. It's both simple yet very well-drawn, an unusual combination.

And it's not a rail shooter level? Huh, I thought it was at first. No, this is another FPS level. It's weird, because you're in space, yet you move like you're stuck on the ground. I can't think of any other game that's done something like that. It's strange.

Anyway, this level was easy. I don't know if that's because this level the game allowed me to get a super powerful gun as a primary or if it was just an easy level. Every level throws some new stuff at you, usually a mech or a gun, I've been picking the strongest mech, since survival is more important than speed.

More dialog. Who drew these characters looking like this? It looks goofy. Anyway, it seems like Doma and Ash have been captured by someone, and uh..."Battling is crafty"? Anyway, Doma is apparently the messenger of an invitation for Ash to engage in an AT battle. Ash is reluctant but seems to agree anyway.

This mission I've gone for a different kind of mech, a hybrid, it's faster than the tanky mech I've been using, but it isn't much weaker. It's another FPS level, thankfully they're sticking with that bit. It's in the jungle, and it's actually fun. 

Though I'm quickly discovering the game's remaining annoying quirks. You know how a lot of games with an open area loop around? This does that, but it's on a really small scale. It's weird, you ever get that feeling from watching a show or a movie where it's obvious it's fictional because the way it's shot is obviously on looping sets or where different shots aren't connected properly. It's like that.

Anyway, I gun down the usual assortment of mechs and helicopters, but with an enemy I haven't seen in a while, the mortar team. I manage to face down a team of enemy mechs with just my punch and win. Huzzah, the game does its usual victory dance and...wait, the level is continuing.

"Wait, Ash, you've come, this will be enjoyable." And I fight a boss. An easy boss, because I have no ammo and punch him to death.

And, wow, that's graphic. Votoms functioned more off the implication of horrific violence rather than actually showing it. This isn't what it looks like though, those are wires. Hang on, have I been misunderstanding the story the entire time? Hasn't helped that I've put off reading some of the mission briefings before now. I'm not really clear on this change at all.

I didn't see anything that directly said it, but I think that this Quint was someone who fought Ash at Battling, and perhaps put him in the hospital to begin with. The game seems to constantly use Battling, what, is that this guy's name? If so, that's a bizarre screwup. Further, at this point it's clear that this game is well above my reading level, yet isn't worth the effort. Not helping my confusion, there's a character named Damu. What, a character named Doma and Damu? There are six characters in this game and I'm barely sure whose name is whose at this point.

Ash tells Damu that his platoon has destroyed his forces. I missed some text, but Damu tells Ash about a position somewhere. Frankly, I don't really care anymore, but I'm just going to assume that Ash is trying to take revenge for something Damu did to him at the end of the war, and it turns out someone hired him. That's all I'm getting out of here.

And it's another rail shooter level. There's not much more to talk about. Just carefully take a path through the enemies so you don't crash and don't get shot, then avoid some rocks, and repeat until the game decides to be merciful. Scratch that, now we get some weird tanks that weren't even in the show. This level is really upping the difficulty. You can't dodge the rocks anymore, you have to shoot them. It gets better, it takes two missiles to destroy the red rocks, not that you should be doing that anyway. I manage to win this eventually, not even thanks to abusing save states and using the fist against the rocks, but only thanks to using a memory editor so I had infinite health.

I just want to point out, that I have no idea how anyone, in an age before savestates, managed to win this stage. Remember, I'm playing on EASY. My mind has zero comprehension as to how someone could beat this legitimately, because I'm here barely figuring out how to advance past all this crap with foresight, an actual player would not get that, and they'd have to beat all this in one go. I might be the only person to ever beat this, at this point. By the end I was completely out of ammo and I was for basically the entire level at that point.
The story continues...and I see PS. Perfect Soldier, the driving question in the series, the thing that caused the betrayal that set in motion everything. And this game just goes over the same old, same old. Perfect Soldiers were genetically engineered people that, while having a short life-span, were absolutely unstoppable in a VOTOMS. Well, mostly unstoppable. It doesn't seem to straight up say, but the implication is that Ash is a Perfect Soldier. Ash and Doma or whatever her name is stew over this revelation, exchanging many paragraphs of words I no longer care about, and Ash eventually decides to take out Makisukan, who had something to do with the creation of Ash. Next mission.

At this point, I don't care about the gameplay, I'm just here to finish this, so cheats are still on. Still, this is a weird level and I got a strange new mech, which has a different melee attack. What goes on here is I'm in a weird warehouse looking place with crates on the floor. Kill three mechs, you spin around and then move to another place with three mechs. It's weird.

I haven't mentioned it, but briefings tend to shift across as many songs as they have graphics, which is a lot. Nian has Ash at gunpoint, despite presumably being in bad shape. The two have a touching conversation despite the circumstances, and after some conversation, Nian dies.

Makisukan then sends a message to Ash, not surprised his underling fell. More talking on and on, and I guess somehow Ash finds out how to go after him. Huzzah.

Another space mission, this time a rail level. Don't care, I'm cheating. This level adds the fun aspect of constantly moving until you go in the other direction, and you have to avoid space debris that is in a big bunch for some reason. I'm sure I'd hate this if I were still treating this as anything other than something to be beaten.

Another mission finished, another novella to translate. Or not, since apparently this one is just a few paragraphs of text, like manna from God. More like a lock and load intermission than a real text.

Can I just say how much it stinks that this game, with it's absolutely awful levels is somehow killing it in terms of weapon and mech selection? Every new level it's like I'm a kid in a candy store, except the end result isn't going to be any more interesting. It doesn't really matter if I have a new, faster mech with great armor and a new melee weapon, because I'm still playing Dead Ash. Another rail shooter level, except you're in space and there are walls. Walls that hurt you if you hit them, I might add, but at least you get knocked away. And that music is great too, why did it have to be made for THIS game?

One thing I do note, with the new mech you can really feel that speed increase, I'm just zooming by enemies.

Another boss? He even does the same message. This guy is actually annoying, I can imagine being really ticked off fighting him normally.

Wow, this is really just a crappy version of the anime, isn't it? More talking. I'm sure Makisukan is expounding something that doesn't paint him as in the wrong for all the evil I presume he's done. An explosion sound happens...and now Doma is narrating.

That's it? He's dead? It's over? That's the end of it?

Advancing brings me to the credits. Which means it's over. There's no secret bit at the end, it's over. I have one thing to say about that.

Despite the wide variety of wepaons, you basically only need to care about damage and ammo capcity, there's no real fire rate difference, at least none that I noticed, and missiles miss way to easily for their supposed advantage. 1/10

There are a lot of nice enemy designs, but in the heat of battle they come off more as noise than distinct targets. I guess mortar teams are different than helicopters are different than mechs, something that continues even to the rail shooter stages, but they feel oh so limited. 2/10


Randomly placed enemy spawns in a nominally pre-determined set of corridors and pillars, but in practice feel completely random. 1/10

Player Agency:
This is a very nice implementation of how the VOTOMS moved in the series, at least circa the early '90s. It's not terribly clear what your hitbox is, which is a problem with the rail shooter stages. You can also only change weapons in one direction, when there's no reason you can't just have three buttons dedicated to each weapon. 4/10


It does a nice enough job of translating the feel of the series, before the harsh reality of the rest of the game sets in. 2/10

There are some very nice sprites here, and I like the background. Alas, most of the enemy sprites don't look too good in motion, I think it has something to do with their chosen method of sizing up sprites that makes them look funny. 3/10

It's a better game when you don't know what's going on. 0/10

Sound effects sound weird and badly compressed, but you get everything you'd expect. The music is really nice, whenever you aren't listening to the same track for what seems like a hour on end. 3/10

I'm applying a three point penalty, so 13. It's been a long time since I had to do something that drastic.

Dead Ash, simply put, is the first chronological FPS I hate. No, it's not the worst rated FPS by this point, but that's just because the game has a bunch of nice, shiny things to distract you from how crap it is. For all the crap I gave Cybercon III or Corporation, those were lofty ideas that didn't work the way they executed them. This is your usual FPS, done very badly, even by 1991 standards. Star Cruiser, even if that was kind of bland and had a mediocre story, was funner than this and by this point it was out for 4 years. It was more interesting than this; Frankly, it was more technologically advanced than this. Outside of the music and maybe the cutscene graphics, this has nothing going for it.

That was the last FPS of 1991. No more replays either, if I play Midwinter 2 again it's going to be a long time from now. 1992 is going to be much the same as 1991, replays of the most important titles, along with the usual weird Japanese games and ugly 3D abominations. About 9 games in total. As two titles are going to be in Japanese and have an extensive and probably important story, I doubt I'm going to be done with 1992 by the end of the year. So, despite the fact that I really don't want to do it, I'm going to not play any more FPS games until after Halloween. The good news in that statement is that by the time I get going again I should be able to blame through the rest quickly. I'll also have hopefully three more Japanese games in the finished pile, all of which are strangely enough less complex than this one despite the content of some. Hopefully the next two games are more in the less complex category than this.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

F-15 Strike Eagle (1984, PC-98)

Name:F-15 Strike Eagle (PC-98)
Genre:Flight Sim
Time:5 hours
Won:No (73W/62L)

This has been an interesting road back to this game. At first I wasn't so sure I was going to play this again after all, but then I got around to playing some of the different versions. I found myself playing the C64, Atari 800, PC-88 and Atari ST versions before deciding on this one. Despite technically coming out four years later, this is close enough to the original experience that there's no much point in considering it a different game. It's just enough that it feels like cheating, yet close enough that there's not much point it not playing it over the DOS or Atari ST version. I know enough of the others to bring up any comparisons.

The F-15 was the aircraft. It can do anything you can imagine, and it can do it pretty well. When it was introduced, it was basically unstoppable in air-to-air combat, as the only time it was ever shot down by another plane was...another F-15. It's not even some cool thing, one Japanese F-15 pilot accidentally shot a Sidewinder at another F-15 pilot. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when that happened.

And further, judging by that link, outside of maybe three shot down by AA fire, F-15 losses have been mostly crashes in exercises and mechanical faults. As some dumbass LARPing as a pilot in video games, it makes me feel less dumb to know that a lot of people in real planes crashed into each other. That said, considering the port I'm playing, it's mildly amusing bit of dark comedy to consider the possibility that the only person to ever shoot down a F-15 played this version of this game.

With a nice fancy title and a tune that brings to mind the vastness, the game starts up. There are seven loactions, Libya, Egypt, Haiphong, Syria, Hanoi, Iraq and Persian Gulf. This is similar in practice to the Ace games that Microprose previously made in which you had a bunch of missions and playing through them all counted as a campaign. Unlike in those this is actually a rough implementation of that as opposed to, you're in the sky over somewhere, it doesn't matter where, shoot down 1 plane.

Now you can fight multiple planes and now there's a whole game world to it. That actually kind of exists. There are mountains in the distance, below you is shifting ground and sea, and by following your little map, you can see various targets, SAM sites and landing strips. It's like you're really there!

Okay, technically that's just the PC-98 and PC-88 versions, most versions are just an endless wireframe landscape. You can make this version that too. It's honestly amazing to me how much this small change improves the game, because without it this gameworld is very easy to get lost in. Your map doesn't show what direction you're flying in and the heading is in rotational degrees, for some reason that I don't understand. (in every version it's rotational degrees) I understand it in context of 3d design and creating 3d game worlds, but when it comes to actually playing a game, call me old-fashioned , but I like compass directions.

Controls are very nice. The numpad moves you around, while pressing a direction + shift changes your view. This was what had me most concerned about this version, because it's very similar to the Dynamix games in execution, very smooth and the problems are more with the plane than the controls. Well, kind of. It's just good enough to be workable, yet that makes the flaws all the more apparent.

While I'm sure some of this is down to the plane, it feels like the plane stalls out a lot. Even in places I wouldn't otherwise expect. I'm assuming high up the problem is too little air resistance, but down below it if I take a turn too hard suddenly beeping starts and I start falling. Joy. It also feels too imprecise, which wasn't a problem originally, because you didn't have to do too much, but...well, I'll get to why that's a problem.

Originally, the game was less smooth, though still far better than any other game I've played chronologically, with only a back view. In that case you wouldn't even know you had a back view unless you checked the manual.

 You get quite the decent selection of weapons. Space shoots, while G selects the gun, M & S select short and medium range missiles, while B selects the bomb. Pay attention to the target indicator on the front, missiles only track targets while in that circle. You do not want to miss with a missile. Because you don't want to have to shoot an enemy. Having to shoot another plane is practically impossible.

Bombing a target is similarly precise, but at least the target isn't moving. Though bombing has it's own problem in that if you have multiple targets within your viewfinder and the autotargeting system picks the wrong one, you aren't hitting it, ever.

Sound is pretty good, far better than a game from the '80s has a right to be. The engine is a gimme, but missile firing and hitting sounds are just so satisfactory. Even if you miss it feels pretty good. A lot of beeping though, which is good/bad, since that's just like a real plane. It does work to heighten the tension, perhaps too much.

There's still a lingering feeling that I have no idea what half the equipment on my plane does. Missile heading my way? Just toss out chaff and a flare, one will fix the issue. What's a flip? It wasn't in the western releases and I'm not sure what it does.
I like the GUI here. You know, except that little rotational degrees thing. All the bits of information you need, right in front of you. Height, speed, and anything else. 

Map on the left, ammo on the right, and the rest in the middle. I do wish there was some way to have the radar activate all around you rather than just in front, because it's just not fun trying to find an enemy plane by sight alone.

Your objective in all missions is to bomb a target labeled primary objective, a box on the map. Other targets are SAM sites, which look like little mountains and airbase, which look like crosses. Your friendly landing site is a filled in box.

The modern problem of air warfare basically taking place so far apart that the two planes are just specks in each other's eyes is irrelevant in 1984, because we can't actually depict anything else anyway. It doesn't really matter if you see a wireframe plane, because you should have shot him down already. I know I should have, yet somehow I end up in long drawn out fights against enemy planes. Despite the general difficulty of the game, I rarely feel like I'm in danger from dogfighting, at least as long as I still have missiles and defensive measures.

Difficulty only plays a role in how much is thrown at you, on practice, you're safe, this replaces western releases arcade mode. On rookie, enemy planes start appearing, but nothing that should cause you any problems. On pilot SAMs start shooting at you and there are a lot of planes. A lot. Ace turns the game into a rousing session of "get shot down and die". I played for a while on rookie, but decided pilot would be the fairest rating of the game.

But mostly enemies themselves stay the same, it's just volume that changes. Even in the first mission, enemies are weaselly and do not want to get shot down. Each time you start there's already an enemy on you, and you have to shoot these guys down fast or risk ending up with three on your tail. You can run away to your objectives, but taking out airfields doesn't stop the onslaught and SAMs only buy you safer airspace. So, rush the objective, then rush home. Fight enemy planes as little as necessary. Unfortunately, that's difficult.

Libya, the second mission, isn't too bad on rookie. On pilot? Well, I saw two enemy planes straight out of the gate and the west is just swimming in SAM sites. This is what happens every single time you start this mission. There is no change, ever. You better be the air superiority fighter alone, because you are going to get hit by an unrelenting barrage of enemies while trying to take out something so you have a chance of actually taking out the primary objective sometime this century. It feels almost impossible to do this in the sheer amount of crap the game throws at you. I can land to resupply, but...

So in most regular versions you land the plane by just flying low and slow enough over a certain area and you get repaired and resupplied. Flying low is true here. Thanks to the increased fidelity of the game, you kind of have to land the plane. Kind of, because it is and isn't landing. You approach the landing strip/air carrier, you decrease your speed, and you lower your altitude until you're under 500, but not likely to crash. As you get closer, you decrease your speed and you hit the ground the strip is on at a slight angle. It's landing in the technical sense, but actually doing it is bizarre, it's more like crashing.

If this is too hard for you, you can always just ditch the plane near the carrier and get the chance to do it all again. Screw the American taxpayers! Considering how dangerous it is to land the plane, worse if you got hit, this is probably what you're going to be doing unless you're a crazy person trying to do all 7 missions in one run. At least I assume you can't just ditch a plane and continue when you're playing all 7 missions.

This weird landing thing doesn't really work. Yes, we have enough fidelity to depict this thing, but we don't have enough to depict the kind of landstrip that feels like you could land on. This bears out with how landing actually works, you can land just as safely from the side as from the front of the landing strip. You know, assuming the place you end up bailing out from doesn't cause you to get captured. There's a lot of time wasted in this game.

What I've been doing is the A-10 kind of thing, hug the ground as much as possible in the hopes that your enemy can't shoot low enough. That doesn't work here, because on pilot and higher, there's turbluence there, meaning you aren't steady. Thus it's difficult to keep your plane out of the ground, let alone bomb something. So I try the other way, going from 36k feet down. The first time I do this the game kills me just as I bomb the target, VMax. Which is apparently something to do with my arteries, in short, I probably exploded from the inside out or something. Or a super heart attack. I'm not looking that one up too closely.

It doesn't help, because turning at this height is impossible for me, yet my enemies are zipping around like it's nothing. I am literally worse off up here than near the ground. Sure, the SAMs can't hit me, but it doesn't matter if I get shot down by an enemy fighter for once and I lose anyway if I try to bomb the target. This bodes extremely poorly for later missions. I suppose I could knock the difficulty back, but without SAMs every mission is a cakewalk once you have the controls down. It would be really nice if one of these difficulties struck a balance between "the computer is going easy on you" and "NATO has been nuked so hard there are holes where the countries used to be, the entire might of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact is coming after you, you will die".

Which begs the question, how difficult is ace difficulty? No more difficult than pilot, well, except you don't seem to be able to ditch. At all. Clearly, someone somewhere along the line screwed up a line of code describing how insane the game gets, and somewhere along the line everything from ace except the score got copied over to pilot. Right, well, it looks like I can't really finish this version. Yeah, I can play on rookie, but there the only problem is that is boring, fighting off the occasional plane. But I would have to, otherwise the second I get near a target my radar is going to light up like a Christmas tree and I'll get hit by so many rockets that only ash will remain.

I think that's a shame, but what can you do? Later missions up the stakes, increasing the number of SAMs and primary targets, until the final one in which three primary targets are just surrounded by SAMs.

There are four weapons, which can be divided into one ground and three air targeting weapons. One of the air targeting weapons is useless while the other two are range dependant. They're mostly satisfying to use, though difficult to aim. 3/10

Enemy planes do not play by the same rules that the player does. Which would be fine, if they weren't really competent. I can only thank my continued survival to the F-15's superior capabilities rather than my own skill. Ground targets are varied, but only one fights back. 4/10


The game doesn't really have a lot to successfully balance, and it shows, considering that the game's only method of increasing the difficulty is to just spam more SAM sites. 1/10

Player Agency:
Controls beautifully at first, until the cracks begin to show and you wonder why someone thought this would be a great game to have something resembling a landing in. 5/10

Technically none.

Despite the broken nature, it did a good job of emulating a jet fighter environment. You can feel like you're there, for a moment, until you have to bomb another wireframe building. 3/10

This feels like the bare minimum of what you can get away with that technically depicts a world. It's not very appealing, but you can find your way around once you get used to it. Sprites are nice, but I'm not looking at any of those outside of the GUI for any length of time. 1/10


It's just 8-bit stuff, but somehow the roar of a missile or the pounding of a successful hit just feels great. 3/10

That's 20, which is actually twice what it was before. I actually gave both the same amount of agency. Fancy that. It also puts it as the current best game of 1984, though I hope that changes.

I'm not sure I recommend F-15 Strike Eagle. It blows previous flight sims out of the sky like you blow MiGs out of the sky, but each version has it's own unique problems which make it hard to play. Western releases have awful framerates, this release has no medium mode, and the PC-88 version has broken controls. Nobody wins. Of course, as a game of historical relevance, it's very important.

Next up, we're finally going to put an end to 1991 with Armored Trooper Votoms: Dead Ash. It's gonna be weird.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Red Baron (1990)

There's a nice little animation of the title getting shot.
Name:Red Baron (with the Mission Builder expansion)
Genre:Flight Sim
Time:21 hours 50 minutes
Won:Yes (74W/60L)

The great plane game about the great war. Red Baron feels like the poster child for this era of flight sims, approachable yet realistic, and most importantly, fun. All the harsh reality of the first World War into a fun, idealized dogfighter.

The area depicted by the game.

Red Baron is quite a large game, depicting the most if not all of the French-German border, quite possibly the first game to do so with this level of detail. Granted, this is hard to appreciate in an era when we have games which depict the entire world in more detail.

You are given the choice of playing as either a member of the German Air Service or the Royal Flying Corps, though in the later case closely connected to the rest of the Allied forces. Select a career starting from the very end of 1915, to the very beginning of 1918 and ending a few months before the end of the war. Or you could play some random missions, possibly even make some yourself.

I fought this guy a lot. Not sure why.

I did two things, I fought a bunch of aces to get myself used to the game, then tried all the missions and then I did the campaign. A vast difference in opinion on everything ensued from the times I fought Herman Goering to the time I ended the war, and all of it doesn't quite work out the way you'd think.

Not quite the final situation I had, but the one I had for most of the practice runs.

The game vastly changes on two factors, the first are the various settings you can pick, ranging from general flight realism and difficulty, to minutae like if certain bits of equipment fail like they should in real life. While it all does affect score, it does allow you to have the kind of experience you want. While I put the difficult at a 4 out of 5, that's with a mostly realistic gameplay setting, I only turned off limited ammo and realistic navigation from the intermediate settings, while keeping flight experience at realistic. I think that I could have survived with realistic navigation. Other things, like limited fuel or you blacking out if you fly high enough, were basically non-entities.

The second are the planes. Planes range from crappy ones which are barely airworthy to planes so badass they were banned after the war, and every bit in-between. Yes, we have the legendary Sopwith Camel and whichever German plane people recognize off-hand, like they would make a game without the most famous planes of the war.

Nevertheless, different planes perform very differently. There are four broad categories of plane; the crappy ones you're stuck with at the start of the war, that the game forces you to use for a long time if you start early. The agile ones, they don't have as much speed or health as the sturdier ones. Then there are the occasional planes which function as great in all respects.

Planes each function differently than the others beyond the broad categorization. There are planes that fall apart easily if you start diving, though if I flew one, I never had it happen to me. The Sopwith Camel has an incredibly loose steering, to the point that it's hard to be level and takes getting used to.

 What I did find to be an interesting annoying bit was, I think the Spad 7. Many planes couldn't do this, but the Spad 7 was one of the faster, and thus surprising incidents of this. If you want to turn around, left or right aren't necessarily the most effective, you won't be facing at what it is the way you want. Since you have a z-axis with a plane, you can turn down or up.

The problem is that some planes, well, they can't turn up. This isn't surprising when you're in a flying coffin, but for a not inconsiderable number of planes, doing an upward 180 degree turn was impossible, you'd stall out. This is both annoying and probably accurate. It's this sort of thing which creates an interesting thought process to plane selection. Do you want to actually turn around or do you want to survive getting shot?

This, of course, isn't necessarily the only factor in a plane's agility or constitution, but it's an easy quirk to point to compared to you and your enemy flying around in circles hoping to make the right turn before the other. Every new plane is a new experience and has to be adapted to.

Before every mission you get the option to change various flight features. Like what formation you're in, how many pilots you're bringing, whether you have regular or inciderary ammo, and what plane. That last bit is only relevant if you have your own plane, I.E., when you're a captain in the campaign mode. In case you needed a stock plane for this mission.

Controls are more or less the same as with A-10 Tank Killer. Numpad turns, space shoots, 1-9 control speed with plus and minus making minor adjustments. The first 7 function keys control your view. C compresses time, which is very important on the longer missions, though it automatically turns off if enemy planes are detected. It works differently depending on if you're the leader or if you have to follow someone, with you being in rough control during time compression being weird. Various other keys control commands you can give your wingmen. You don't get a heck of a lot in that last department, so little that I ended up just using simple attack commands whenever I felt the need to use them at all.

Thinking back to the rest of the flight sims I've played, I can't help but think that this is about as well as a flight sim can be expected to control and I was a bit too harsh on A-10. The keyboard controls work so beautifully that I never felt the desire to use the mouse or break out a joystick. Though from what I did do with the mouse, it works very well. I never felt like blaming the controls on my failures, rather the plane itself. A game has to have done something very right when I sound like a pilot blaming anything else for his mistakes rather than a gamer.

Combat is chaotic and frantic. Initial charges, if you have a good approach, can take out one or two enemies, which depending on how many there are could be quite fortunate. I've found that in opening approaches, the AI tends to fare worse if you're considerably above it or below it. Though being below has it's own disadvantages for you, like stalling out trying to shoot the enemy. From there, enemies and allies break off to do their own little turns, hoping to catch an enemy before an enemy catches them. I did decently enough with a smattering of practical knowledge. (remember to lead your shots) Considering how much credit is placed towards sneak attacking planes in what I've read, I think it's a shame that doing one yourself is, at best, practically impossible.

It's hard to figure out how well the AI is truly handling here, because missions feel quite random in how difficult they are. Sometimes enemies just let me kill them, presumably those were novice pilots. Others they put up a fight. Those must be regular pilots. Some are hard to kill, which means those are the veterans. Then there are the flying aces, men of historical reknown for killing at least 5 aircraft during the war.

This is with the crappiest plane the Allies have...
 They were all quite easy. Even when I was fighting them in the campaign and I had to "duel" an ace and his two companions, including the Red Baron himself. So, what gives? I note that the hardest fights were usually in missions that weren't just straight aerial fights, there was always some defense gimmick. I'd be much more charitable towards the idea that this is just the varied skill of enemy pilots if I didn't gun down aces like they just got off the ground. Painting your paint red is like painting a giant target on it.

Friendly planes were greatly improved from A-10, though any plane capable of independent action as opposed to just following a pre-set path is a great improvement. That said, I also didn't understand friendly AI. Sometimes they took out the enemy easily, making me sort of unimportant, others they only exist to buy me time to take out the enemy planes. While part of the latter could be put down to being outnumbered, other times I didn't understand what was going on with my wingmen at all.

An important bit of fun in all this is the paint planes have. Each type of plane has a design, which you have to get close to see, and obviously an emblem of the service they belong to. However, at a distance planes are only visible by color. This isn't terrible in theory, but there are a lot of things that can cause you to be seperated from your wingmen...and German and Allied planes can have the same color.

Because of this, missions tend to have no logic to their difficulty, sometimes enemies prove to be a nuisance, others they just fall from the sky, practically just letting you shoot them. Boss missions, such as they are, consist of the aforementioned ace duels and if you're with the Allies, taking down a zeppelin. In the latter case, once you figure out they can't shoot at you from the back you can basically take them down with a 100% success rate solo. They are that easy. This puts the game in a weird dynamic where missions that should be these grand affairs are fairly relaxing, while some of the more mundane ones turn into slogs.

Escort missions are also varying in whether they're easy or slogs, but more importantly it's determined more by the number of enemy groups rather than their strength. (this also applies to patrol missions, but in that case you just fly over a certain piece of land and as long as you're alive it doesn't matter) Everything you escort basically goes along a set path, does whatever it is they do, with no deviations. This makes it really important in spotting enemies and taking them out in the initial confrontation, and then making sure nobody breaks off to take out a friendly. You've got a lot of waiting around to do and carefully matching speed in each of these. By the way, the AI can't cope with this and if you use time compression, your plane will jerk around like you're trying to turn into a tornado, and your wingmen will crash into each other.

It's a lot more fun when you're the one gunning down the escorts and the escortee.

Balloon missions, these were practically guaranteed to be a slaughter. A problem I didn't realize until much later is that the game is in a habit of giving you less planes than you need here, so you get shot down. Which isn't great, because pilots here are almost always deadly. To top it off, you're in enemy territory, which means they're firing flak at you. And because of realism, spotting enemies is wonky, you can see them at a great distance, but then you aren't seeing them again until they know you're here too. Far too many times I was the only survivor of these missions.

Meanwhile most defense missions are considerably less stressful, even if you have to prevent the enemy from blowing up a balloon.

I feel like at this point I should be able to put a name to the face, considering Dynamix's habit of having staff be the actors in their games.

The game's primary attraction is the campaign mode, in which you fight out the war roughly as it happened in real life. Roughly, there are presumably several historical errors in addition to the game giving you 2 or so missions a month compared to how real pilots would get put in the air daily if possible. Remember that one. Progress is measured by your points and kills, with the latter being more important for rank. Being able to lead your flight and getting to select a plane rather than getting any old one is far more vital than the various medals you'll get over the course of the game.

When I played the campaign mode I stuck with it for the entire thing, and that meant starting from the very beginning. Which meant using a very crappy plane for months. Even though I played as the Allies', the German side was no better, because both of the earliest planes are flying pieces of crap that deserve the nickname "flying coffin". This was an incredibly painful period which drags down the game quite a bit. Considering the historical record versus this, why should I have to fly a dozen or so missions in these pieces of crap when the game could start after a plane that isn't more dangerous to me than my enemies is introduced and just increase the length of the game that way? Why not three or four missions a month?

This is one of two times you get a newspaper about the fighting itself as opposed to someone entering or leaving the war.

While the game is good at offering the illusion of choice, it's just an illusion. While you can join any number of squadrons, fly alongside famous aces and shoot down others, you don't really do much. The war is going to go as it always did, the only change you offer is to provide an early release for the great aces. Unfortunately for me, that meant both the Germans and the Allies. No consequences for your actions like in A-10. Reading about the game on the internet later, I saw two things that could happen that didn't. Aces were supposed to randomly be on regular missions, assuming you were in the area, but I never encountered one outside of a duel challenge. If you transfer to the Home Guard, you fight against only zeppelins. Talk about leaving the war in style.

Worse still, real life events that brought horrible things upon either side...just didn't really happen here. Bloody April was an infamous event in which German pilots, equipped with planes with 2 machine guns, started gunning down Allied pilots in far greater numbers than they lost. And in my campaign...I never saw a double machine gun plane until I already had one. Some of the German's end of war planes were so deadly the Allies demanded all of them in their treaty...and by the time I fought them it didn't matter at all. Despite my complaints, each mission felt organic, but the campaign overall felt very gamey and predetermined.

You can get so close to the other planes you can practically touch them...and then you hear the sound of the two planes crashing and begin seeing the ground get closer...

Visually, the game looks pretty good for 1990 3D. It's aged badly, but worst of all I think, is spotting planes. There's no sense of slowly seeing a small shape get bigger, it's just there's a plane, watch out for it. I will note that the game does a pretty good job of depicting the game world, in the navigational sense. Multiple missions require you to pay attention to a map, which came with original copies of the game, but not my disc copy, and it works out beautifully enough that even without one you could get used to the area pretty well.

Various other bits of graphics look pretty nice. HUDs are nice and every bit as view obstructing as the real things. You can even see bits of your plane getting damaged. Effects are sprites, so if a plane is having engine trouble, expect to see little clouds of smoke. If something explodes, well, don't expect that good an explosion. If you get wounded the screen fades red in and out. Menu graphics are mostly real photos, some historical, others made by getting a couple of Dynamix dudes to pose in period military uniforms and just look cool. They look cool.

Despite all the complaints, I think that Red Baron is a pretty good game, which can be as simulationist or as arcadey as you want. Even with the campaign's shortcomings, it captures pretty well that naive sense of optimism and valor we have about the air part of WWI. That even as thousands are grinded down in the trenches there are still knights in the sky, nobly dueling each other until only the greatest emerges...or some jackass comes to a duel with two wingmen.

Despite basically boiling down to having one or two machine guns with fancy ammo for special missions, the game really makes you appreciate those duel machine guns. 2/10

I'm not sure what determines the skill of enemy pilots, but the game sure as heck makes you notice the difference between some pilots and some planes. 5/10

The shortcomings of friendly AI is far more noticeable than the shortcomings of hostile AI, but still, these are the only ones I've had that could actually win a mission on their own. 4/10

While the campaign is flawed, each individual mission is original enough that it doesn't matter too much. Just hope you don't have to fight in the clouds. 5/10

Player Agency:
I think that beyond having the order commands be all across the keyboard, the controls are flawless. With the caveat that flawless in this case contains a certain bit of replicating flaws. 9/10


Practically the perfect depiction of a noble WWI air war. 9/10

Very aged, but solid in multiple places, just be cautious of planes which share the same color as friendlies. 3/10

Despite the rather free form of missions, the story feels entirely on-rails, but with the barest ability to kick people off the train early. To a certain extent this makes sense, you are but one pilot, but it also creates the sense that you as a player only ever make things worse, either for your side or the enemy's. 2/10

Outside of theme music, there's no theme music. The game survives exclusively on Adlib sound. Bullets hitting, missing and the sound of canvas tearing. Oh, and we can't forget the roar of the engine. It's all rather soft-spoken. 2/10

That's 41. It's actually the first game to get a 41, as 40 and 42 have been the score of many of the better games so far.

I for one am looking forward to 5 years from now when I get to play Aces of the Pacific. Hopefully by that time I'll have some idea of how the air war went beyond "Allies won, Axis lost". Oh, come to think of it, I don't know which side I'll be playing in that one. I have no idea how I'm going to treat that, considering that to my knowledge, games where you play as the Japanese are rare, whereas everyone wants to play as the Americans. The only ones I know that are specifically about the Japanese side are the Japanese developed Zero Pilot series, so I might want to get an American perspective on the Japanese side.

Next up, however, is going to be F-15 Strike Eagle, which might not be the best follow-up to Red Baron, but I'm sure that'll only reflect better on both games.