Saturday, 17 May 2014

Opening thoughts on sims and how I got here and where I'm going

I'm an old school simmer. Back from when you had to wait for a sim to arrive in the post, and it came in a box, with a manual, and a keyboard overlay. And you felt disappointed if that was all you got.

At that time Microprose ruled the skies - and the seas, and the battlefields. You looked forward to a Micrprose release perhaps just as a previous generation waited eagerly for the next Beatles record. You knew you were in for something special when that big, heavy box hit your doormat. Not only did you have a great new game to play, you had a thick manual to read for weeks.

First sim of note? That would probably be F15 Strike Eagle. When I look at it now on Youtube I can't imagine how engrossing it could be, but it was. I still have vivid memories of timing drop tank release, and climbing at just the right rate to the best cruise altitude, but still not making it back to the carrier after a particularly long mission. I'm guessing that would have been Persian Gulf.

I think there were only three terrain colours; green, yellow or blue for the sea. You knew you were over your objective when you came upon a triangle. And whether you had to bomb or land on it, it was always a triangle.

And then there was Gunship. I still get tingles watching the Apache rise up on the loading screen. I can remember being at a friends house and watching that load for the first time. It was still very simplistic, but what stories it told, or helped you tell. Pushing the nose down, picking up speed, sprinting from hill to hill, then rising up and looking for targets. You'd see the word "target" flash up, then point the nose at the black speck, lock onto it to frame it, to get a wireframe BMP or whatever it was. Then the fizz of rockets or a missile at the aiming point or the buzz of the gun.

To this day one of the greatest sim memories I have is flying down a valley and suddenly having to autorotate for a hard landing, sitting there wondering what on earth had just happened, just as a Hind flew directly overhead from behind, evidently admiring its handiwork.

Another highlight would be standing in the newsagents and gazing at an advertisement for Silent Service on the back of C&VG magazine. Those were the days we bought actual physical magazines, too.

I sank - pardon the pun - a lot of time into that. As with many of these titles there came a point you just learned how to be good. A lot of that was just down to pure repetition. But even so I have fond memories of war patrols racking up huge tonnage. Night was particularly atmospheric.

The games were updated, the graphics improved. There were some things gained, some things lost. But there was a magic not just about those titles, but also that time. Perhaps part of it was the developers love of what they were doing. You didn't need huge budgets, huge teams. I'm sure as much as Sid Meier loved his income during those boom times he must have loved every minute of creating those games, too.

Of course those are not the only sims I played, from flight sims, subsims, to wargames. I covered the whole genre.

A part of that was also racing titles. I half remember one or two that were ahead of their time, held back by the technology of the day. But Geoff Crammond made a real success of racing sims. Again published by Microprose. I can't recall quite such detailed memories as with the previous titles, and I'm not sure I was all that good at it, but being a part of a racing season, building a story, that was the attraction.

Another big part of that time was wargames. I put quite a bit of time into the top down map oriented strategic titles, from the more simplisitic SSI titles - what a company they were, too, and sadly missed, but then discovered a new title under development by Big Time Software; a computer version of Squad Leader, the legendary boardgame.

The title was eventually released as Combat Mission, and the developers became Battlefront.

The first title was revolutionary. For a long time we had nothing but the demo, but what a demo it was. A 3D landscape with representations of infantry squads and individual vehicles, fighting through sunshine and rain. It was an impact BFC struggled with when they released the next generation of the title, but that should not be held against them too much. Combat Mission was the title you just had to have if you wargamed.

What do I sim now? Well, all will be revealed in future posts. But I hope that will provide a frame which will make subsequent comment, reviews, and general contributions more relevant.

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