• Sabre vs Mig

    Sabre vs Mig

    By Andrew Herd (4 March 2002)

    The Korean war had its roots in a series of foreign policy iniatives that look bizarre even by the standards of our own time. Its origin was a direct legacy of the Second World War and the occupation of North Korea by Soviet forces - which filled the vacuum left by the collapse of the Japanese. Faced with the possibility of a communist occupation of the Korea, President Truman proposed that the peninsula be occupied jointly by the two superpowers, with a dividing line along the 38th parallel.

    It was almost certainly the intention of both sides to withdraw and leave a stable Korea, but neither trusted the other quite enough to leave first. The flashpoint was elections in early 1948, following which the South Korean "Republic of Korea" or ROK, was recognised as the legitimate government of Korea by the UN; and the northern Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPKR) was recognized by the Soviet Union and its allies.

    The elections set the stage for civil war, following aggressive posturing by the new governments. The problem for the West was that North Korea was far better prepared than the South, with a larger, more experienced army, which had the full support of China. No-one is really certain who actually lit the touch paper, but the the military advantage North Korea enjoyed at the time makes it likely that it was Kim Il Sung's troops that fired the first shot on June 25, 1950.

    Many western nations despatched troops to support South Korea, but the official first USAF kill occurred on 27th June, when an F-82 shot down a Yak-9. The first mass raid by B-29s was made in August of the same year and before long there were actions being fought between piston-engined fighters. The first MiG-15s appeared in November, closely followed by the deployment of USAF Sabres in December and jet fighter combat became commonplace soon after, which is where we come in.

    The package is available as a 40 Mb download from the FlightOne web site. It is necessary to purchase a software key to unlock the .exe, but unless you have a non-standard folder structure for CFS2, installation is very straightforward.

    A quick check after starting CFS revealed three flyable aircraft in seven different color schemes, designed by Roger Dial. This is the first time I have had a really good chance to look at Roger's work and I am definitely adding him to my list of designers to watch. The planes are split between three MiG-15s (Russian, Chinese and North Korean); three F-86s (5th FIS, 4th FIS and the 51st FIS); and an F-51 Mustang, which is a real treat. There are three non-flyable USAF aircraft including an F-82 Twin Mustang, an F-84 Thunderjet and a B-29 Superfortress; while the North Korean non-flyers include the ubiquitous Yak-9 and the Tu-2. You could make the case for a slightly wider spread of planes, perhaps including the F-80, F-84 and F-86, along with the IL-10, Po-2 and the La-11; but this raises the question of where one stops and given the name of the package, one can hardly complain. For your $25, you also get ten airbases and scenery, so the package definitely represents value for money.

    The installation includes an html manual which covers everything from aircraft technical data to installation advice, with a bonus section that includes photographs from the era. Another page details the twenty missions and four different campaigns that are included - it is possible to fight on either side.

    I am always interested to see how developers rise to the challenge of combat flightsims. The basic problem is that almost everyone who buys them, myself included, wants to warp straight to the action and charge around the sky, blasting their opponents from the air, rather than fiddle around with realistic engine start sequences and such like. This throws developers on the ropes right at the start, since designing a playable end result leaves them heavily reliant on the quality of the parent simulation engine, given that many simmers will turn everything off and play in full screen mode. And here, though I never thought I would say it, Combat Flight Simulator is beginning to show its age, especially against the likes of Il-2 Sturmovik, but Sabre vs. Mig is good enough that it makes you forget just how creaky the FS engine is becoming.

    Let's look at the planes. The Korean conflict brought some classic color schemes with it and FlightOne have taken full advantage of them, as can be seen from the screen shots above. The war also showcased one of the most attractive jet fighters ever built in the form of the Sabre and the visual models in the package do it absolute justice. In addition to all the normal moving parts, wheels roll, canopies slide, undercarraiges flex, exhausts smoke and pilots eject, although hopefully not all at once.

    The panels (by Roger Dial and Tim Dickens) are very good too, at least by the standards of CFS2, though some of the more recent FS2002 designs could give them a run for their money. All the flyable planes have virtual cockpits and if you can excuse the dark and slightly blurry nature which is common to all Flight Simulator VCs, they are well executed. I still can't stop myself turning "my" head through 360 degrees every time I use one, but I guess one day I will grow out of it. I find it hard to pick a favorite among the 2D panels, but if I had to decide among them all, the Mustang wins by a whisker.

    The flight models are Steve Small originals and as usual, he has sweated blood to get them right on the numbers. Within the limits of what the CFS2 engine is capable, these planes fly as they should, which is a small triumph given the fact that the sim was never designed to support jets, as far as I know. There is some serious fun to be had trying to land them - just be grateful that Tim Dickens made all the runways very long indeed and don't forget the airbrakes.

    While I am on the subject of flight models, FlightOne set themselves a tough project when they chose to model this particular era. Sure, it was almost the last time that jets actually engaged each other in anything that might be described as large-scale dogfights, but the huge reserves of power and high speeds involved bring with them some interesting issues.

    The first is that of endurance. These planes couldn't stay up there for so very long and the developers chose to model this as realistically as possible. Because of this the default installation doesn't allow you to "warp", which means that you have to hand fly the aircraft to each waypoint. Now I can understand FlightOne's reasons for doing this, which are largely down to the way CFS2 works with jets, but it clashes badly with the "turn and burn" psychology of combat sims - particularly since some of the missions require flights of over a hundred miles before the enemy is spotted. Even with 4 x speed engaged, this results in some dull journeys, and big time frustration if you then get shot down thirty seconds into combat. Fortunately, FlightOne have posted a an extremely clever piece of programming on the Sabre vs. Mig FAQ page which allows you to warp and this transforms the game. Neither, for some peculiar reason, was a quick combat option originally available, but a patch to enable this has also been released. So now you you can set up those B-29 and Tu-2 formations you always wanted to take on in your boyhood, or in my case, adult, fantasies.

    The second issue is the sheer speeds involved. A Sabre and a MiG on opposite courses close at over a thousand miles per hour, which means that you don't get much time to wave at each other as you pass. I guess you can say that this is part of the interest and it certainly brings home how much tactics had to change in this conflict, given that speeds had virtually doubled since the Second World War. But as far as CFS2 is concerned, higher speeds bring problems in their wake. For a start, dogfights get spread all over the place and it can be kind of tough finding where your opponent has gone sometimes. It is all too easy to become engrossed finishing off one plane, only to find that you have lost contact with the rest of your patrol, but that is, I guess, exactly how it was in real life. Another big difference from WWII era dogfights will smack you in the face the first time you try to chase down a bomber. The speed differential between a MiG-15 and a B-29, or a Sabre and a Tu-2 is so great that it is very difficult slowing down once you get on a bomber's tail - so once again, you need to learn some new tricks. I have to say that I seriously enjoyed diving on B-29 formations and slaloming through them, guns blazing, but equally, I could have done with a rewind key once or twice.

    The missions, whether you use the warp fix or not, were researched and designed by Chris Steele and I enjoyed flying them. There are five USAF air to air scenarios and five air to ground, while the North Korean and Chinese get nine air to air missions and a single ground attack. It is difficult choosing a favorite, but I am a sucker for seeing a lot of planes in the air at one time and the USAF mission number 2 gives you a formation of forty eight B-29s to shepherd around, which should be enough for the most maternally minded player.

    Most of the scenarios give you an opportunity to engage enemy fighters and as I wrote above, the dogfighting is an interesting experience. FlightOne have, thank goodness, "dumbed down" the gunnery a little, which gives you some kind of a chance to do damage, but they haven't made it so easy that you don't have to concentrate, and it is easy to spend minutes on end chasing other planes without getting a clean shot at them. Rumor has it that FlightOne have found a way to tweak the AI engine and I don't find it too hard to believe that.

    Combat brings out the strengths of Steve's flight models very well, though even he hasn't been able to crack the problems CFS2 has modelling aircraft at the extremes of flight. On the positive side, none of the planes exhibit the weird nose-high spins that plague high speed stalls in Il-2, but on the other hand, I could predictibly tail-slide the Mustang every time I pulled the nose up and cut the power, and it is possible to stand the plane on one wing, chop the throttle and stay in the turn until the cows come home (in reality you would either stall or enter a spiral dive). These are problems inherent in the CFS2 game engine and shouldn't really be laid at FlightOne's door, but if anyone from Microsoft does happen to be reading this, then it might just be one for the next beta, huh?

    When things get tough, you can call in some heavyweight eye candy, courtesy of Bruce Thorson. Firing the guns spills cartridge cases in your wake, whole components have a habit of falling off your plane if you get hit badly enough, you can eject by hitting 0 on the keypad three times and the fire effects are so good it is almost worth getting shot up for the privilege of being able to see them.

    As for the sound sets - I use a Creative Audigy Player card with Altec Lansing ATP-5 speakers and with it the effects are plenty loud enough. When I talked to Aaron Swindle he told me, "The P51 sampling has always been a tough pursuit for the sim. It has such a distinct beautiful sound, it's very difficult to reproduce in the sim. I was able to listen to it at Oshkosh in 1999 for a good 3 days or so. Nothing like it for ear candy! I always thought it would be loud in the cockpit, but it's not, it's actually quite refined with a smooth purrrrring sound to it. As for the exterior sound, when the aircraft is coming toward you it builds a very impressive mass of air around it. Once it's past your location it has a wonderful doppling combined with the power of the cylinders audible for a good distance." I tend to agree with Aaron's view that no bird like it has ever been produced, except perhaps for the Spitfire.

    The F-86 and MiG-15 have fairly similar sounds, which is reflected in the sim. Both were loudest at mid-range power settings and actually seemed to get quieter as the throttle was opened, settling into a steady low tone roar. Aaron tried dozens of different sound bytes to get as close as he could and if you listen to the F-86 in the sim you should be able to hear a ghostly kind of dopple on close spot view. Being sound man on a development team is a tough post, because you have to produce a product that has clarity and quality across the board - Aaron, as usual, has managed to do this.

    I had no problems with Sabre vs. Mig, beyond those caused my own failure to read the manual, which is something of a record for a package like this. Actually, reading that again, I don't mean to imply that my failure to RTFM is a record; on the contrary I assure you that I ignore the documentation as a matter of principle, but it is quite remarkable to review a package that has appears to have no bugs at all. I suppose, given the experience of the development team and the fact that Jim Rhoads coordinated it, we might expect it to be good.

    To be truthful, had I reviewed the package before the warping and quick flight fixes were posted, I would have given you a qualified verdict - I found flying the long legs of the missions tedious, especially early on when I hadn't got a feel for the flight models. But with the fixes enabled, this is a winner and absorbing as it is in single player mode, I reckon it has the potential to be a big hit on-line too.

    Andrew Herd
    [email protected]

    Visit Flight 1 Software for more information.

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