Monday, 28 July 2014

Addictive Air Stealth Missions... in an F-19

F-19 Stealth Fighter by Microprose...

The square, cardboard box arrived in the post one eagerly-awaited morning. It was my first expensive computer game. Inside, at least 2 five and a quarter-inch PC disks in crisp white envelopes, a quick-start guide, keyboard layouts for unique key-pressing, some vast and detailed war maps (4 zones) and a thick, lush manual. Is there anything more they could have done to make a young gamer feel more like a pilot destined to see the world? And get out of it alive? I read that manual front to back. Not only was it technical for in-game purposes but it would also describe the world and territories you’d be flying across like a travel guide. And these were real places. My geography and knowledge of jet fighters and warplanes would only improve. No game arrives like this anymore. 

Why was this game so special? When it loaded up and the carrier runway appeared, the world outside the cockpit was alive with radar, nearby planes, lights and beeps. Yes, the game actually worked where so many other games might crash suddenly in those days (or not load at all). Your mission objectives were clearly input and the navigation was set. It wasn’t just about destruction it was about survival and air stealth. What would be your score this time? or would you hear that familiar ‘crhhgh’ when the screen went dark and your military tributes appeared. 

And the missions: infiltrate undetected, bomb, dogfight, photograph etc, and get the all-important mission score after safe landing. Or win medals. Or even, ultimately, retire undefeated. But death would always come as missions and warzones toughened and the odds were really just too fragile.


Even with such limited graphics there was a huge sense of freedom and detail: bridges to fly beneath, real-world towns and cities to crash into. The hours spent looking at those cold war-inspired maps. 

You know, I still feel like playing a mission of this game. It was just so clear and fulfilling and getting a medal and/or a promotion(s) after a (really big) score just meant the world. Sid Meier worked on this, before his strategy games made him a name to sell games. It joins the ranks of rich games that can still be played after 20 years.

From Wikipedia: MicroProse released the game on the same day that the United States military first admitted the existence of its F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter. Before the game's release many had speculated on a missing aircraft in the United States Air Force's numbering system, the F-19. The game was based on an educated guess about what the secret stealth fighter would be like. Subsequent revisions of the game incorporated the actual F-117 as well as the F-19.