Air Warrior II
Review by Al Giovetti, 06/06/97
Preview by Al Giovetti, 10/10/96
Price: $55
Genre: flight combat simulator (online multiplayer)
Release: October 1, 1996 (online version in June 1996)
Developer: Interactive Magic
AI Programmer: Kelton Flinn
Programmer: Greg Meador
Music: Dan Bernstein
Art: Frank Williamson
Producer: Jonathan "Blue Baron" Baron
Publisher: Kesmai
Phone: 919-461-0722
Website: http://www.kesmai.com, http://www.imagicgames.com/awii.dir/awii.html
Requirements: 486DX, 50 MHz(486DX/66 Mhz recommended), Windows 95, 8MB RAM, SVGA (Local Bus Video with 1 Meg RAM), Supports most popular sound cards, Mouse and Joystick support

History: For many years I have tried to enter the almost completely closed society of Kesmaiís Air Warrior on Genie. The often arcane signals and signs of the interface and the immense amount of preparation required to play was compounded by the fact that the game did not reward game players for helping out new players as they did in Multiplayer Mechwarrior or employ people to help newbies, as was done in Simtronicsí Gemstone III. As a result new players foundered and often drowned in a sea of online details and complexity. I am again attempting to enter the new world of Air Warrior II (AW2).

When I shared my concerns with Kesmai simulation manager Jonathan Baron, he had this to say: "While your experience was, no doubt, shared by many others, I question whether it's typical. We have regular training sessions, the Air Warrior Training Academy, plus many of our players are helpful to new guys. True, there is no game specific incentive to be nice to new guys, but there is no secret society founded on being cruel to new players either. For AOL we made sure we seeded the environment with trainers to help with this problem." It seems that Kesmai has had enough comments in this area to be concerned and to take action to correct it.

As to secret societies that are cruel to newbies, slang for new online players, many online games have a small population of players who regularly get their kicks by being cruel to newbies. In Simtronicís Gemstone III small numbers of roving characters regularly kill newbies for fun. While some who play games like Quake online, play only to humiliate their opponents. Most game companies try to discourage this behavior and spend time looking for and punishing those who are getting their online jollies by being cruel to other players, by providing limited locations where players can perform these acts, and other means.

On the other hand, many gamers have been playing this game online for ten years, willing to go through the tough newbie blues just to participate. That speaks volumes for the draw of this game on the pursestrings of American pilots, both real and wanna be.

Company line: Air Warrior II is the single-player game specifically designed by Kesmai Corporation, a company formed in 1981, and responsible for over a half dozen interactive games, to bring to stand-alone gamers the winning war tactics and strategies played out every night online with Air Warrior. This is the opportunity gamers have been waiting for: a chance to join the squadrons who've been flying the unfriendly Air Warrior skies since 1987. Now you can practice maneuvers and fly with the same skill and air combat strategies that real-life fighter pilots use. Air Warrior II gives players the tactical flight practice and exposure to various aircraft options they need to defeat even the most seasoned online veteran. Jonathan says, "Just to be clear, AWII is a box product with lots of offline play that you can also use as a multiplayer front end."

Plot: In a flight combat simulator it is always the planes and the missions. Planes that you fly and planes that the enemy flies and the missions that bring the planes together in the dance of death. One nice feature of the current AW2 is that there is a game outside of the online game for single player combat flight simulator fans.

You fly: There are 34 aircraft that you can fly including the eight new aircraft: Curtiss P-40D Tomahawk, Grumman TFM-3 Avenger, Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, Hawker Hurricane II, Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik (a personal favorite), Ju-87 Stuka, Lavochkin La-5, and Messerschmitt Me-110 C4.

Missions and Careers: You have more than 300 (340) missions to fly in the single-player game which are split into six campaigns in the WWII era over Europe. Fly over 35 different historic combat aircraft in over 100 detailed, single-player missions spanning the World War I, World War II, and Korean eras. Introductory training level makes Air Warrior II accessible to everyone-from the newly enlisted airman to the most experienced fighter jock.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is reported to be as challenging as the humans in the online game. That is quite a claim. Unfortunately, game designers may crank back the difficulty of the enemy pilot AI. To attempt to balance difficulty with the accessibility of new comers to the game is just simply foolhardy and unnecessary when one considers the number of games that have been using difficulty matrices successfully on other games.

A difficulty matrix is included to increase accessibility and acceptance from game players of different skill levels by giving control over factors such as ammunition level, accuracy and damage of guns, enemy and friendly AI, spin, stall, buffeting models, aircraft damage durability, redout, and blackout. Jonathan had this to say about the new difficulty design, "This is precisely what we're doing in AWII - adjusting the difficulty of the missions based on what the player chooses (novice, veteran, or ace) and how he performs."

Interface: The actual air warrior screen into the game is one half the size of the full screen, and uses a screen mat of the dashboard and communications system to limit the size of the screen. Do not expect the Chuck Yegar Air Combat type of no cockpit view to allow for full screen views with instrumentation. (AW2 does have a full screen view without instrumentation - Ed.)I was very disappointed that Kesmai was using such a divisive interface to mask the small display size and lack of detail. I personally would rather have the greater visibility, with a hud to handle instrumentation as is seen in almost all other game sims.

Jonathan also shared this information with us on the review: "We use the border to display range reporting icons. The importance of these is that they give you the 3D info on plane type, distance, and closure rate that the human eye can readily discern at the resolution of reality. A computer screen is another matter entirely - hence the icons and the space to display ranges. In AWII we offer you three modes - the one you're used to, a medium zoom in with more view and fewer icons, and a full zoom combat mode. All are selectable on the fly, so to speak. In short, we're leaving it up to players to choose how much other info they need and when. The canopy, however, stays."

Other views missing include the padlock view and rearview mirrors seen in other popular air combat simulators. Jonathan comments on the lack of mirrors and padlock view when compared to products such as US Navy Fighters, "This is more a jet sim convention. As for mirrors, they were rather ineffective in WWII or, as Gunter Rall put it, "If you saw anything in that mirror, it was time to bail out." Simply, the vibration inherent in high performance piston engine aircraft made the rear view mirror less than completly useful. Still, no sim offers more cockpit views than Air Warrior, and this has been true for many years."

Graphics: Ground design now sports mountains, flat terrain, and water areas. Donít expect the detail levels seen in many single-player games coming out, this is an online game. The planes look very primitive when compared to planes similar to this in other flight simulators. On the other hand the cockpit artwork is highly detailed and very beautiful and provides the basis of a mat view into the smaller world of the air warrior simulation. Multiple resolutions up to 1024x768 pixels supported.

Jonathan added the following details, "Totally untrue, but an understandable statement, given what you've seen. We have, for AWII, new terrain, a new terrain system, and a new texture mapping scheme for the aircraft. Of course, you'd have to see it to believe it, and you have not had the chance at yet."

Wing person commands: There are wing persons who fly within the online game with you. Jonathan comments, "Yes, and you can command flights or sections to commit to specific actions or not, depending on your rank within a campaign."

Animation: Considering the primitive graphics, most machines should have little trouble flying the friendly skies without jerks or vibration in the animation scenes.

Voice actors: There are no voice actors other than the game players in the multi-player game with you. Japanese voices and American voices will be heard in the background depending upon what side you play.

Music score: The music will be background Japanese music when flying missions with the Japanese and Big Band music when back at the U.S. Bases.

Sound effects: There are various sound effects and noises in the aircraft hanger and our in the air. "Actually, there are over 90 new inflight sounds and at least as many in the interface. I know this last point might seem odd at first. Unlike many sims, we don't play music at you in the interface. We do have a first rate musical score and opening animation, as well as music themes that play at the end of campaigns and during the credits sequence, but the sound environment of AWII is the most detailed of any game to-date." Jonathan Baron.

Utilities: AWII includes a mission editor that you can use to build offline mission or create online briefings. Additionally, the joystick calibration routine is the best we have seen in a computer game.

Multi-player: This game was made for multi-player with dozens and even hundreds of people online at one time playing the game. The game requires a significant investment of your life similar to the time investment in real life, planning, flying, and debriefing missions like in real life. Air Warrior tends to attract real pilots who miss the day-to-day experience of flying in combat, as well as the voyeuristic group who wish they too could have been part of those that fly "into the wild blue yonder."

Jonathan again shared his thoughts, "There are many new online features to help with this. First, you have an option to have the host assign you a mission automatically. Second, with our online briefing rooms and the ability to upload missions created offline in the editor to everyone in a squadron, complete with waypoints, flight path, plane type, gas, bombs and crew assignments, squad nights will go far more smoothly. You'll also be able to call up this info inflight, much the way pilots did with kneeboards. In short, you can have a life and still enjoy Air Warrior ;)"

It is hoped by the game designers that the boxed game will stimulate a few of the single player flight combat simulator jocks to come fly in the multi-player world. The disk provides training and technical material that will be needed to play the online game without getting confused, overmatched, or simply lost. One of the best features of this game is a whole online world just waiting for you to expand your experience for the price of a few dollars per hour online charges.

You can show up at an airfield in one of the geographically arranged locations and either join a flight of fighter pilots or jump into a B-17 and take on the challenge of a bombing run, taking roles as varried as tail gunner, bombadier, and pilot.

Journalists: This game is universally loved by journalists and game players alike.

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References:
Steve Wartofsky, Computer Games Strategy Plus, issue 71, October, 1996, pg. 56.
Jeffrey Tschiltsch, Computer and Net Player, volume 3, number 12, May, 1997, pg. 89, 90%.
Jim Pedicord, Computer Games, issue 78, May, 1997, pg. 104 - 105, 90%.
Kesmai Air Warrior Press Release

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