Flight Fantastic

By John S. Davison


Issue 28

Jul/Aug 87

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Flight Simulator II on the ST

I've long thought Sublogic's Flight Simulator programs to be supreme in the simulation world, and was delighted with the version released on the 8-bit Atari (see Issue 21 for a detailed review). The advent of the ST has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and Sublogic have responded with a magnificent new version of Flight Simulator II, utilising virtually all of the ST's new features. There's only one word for the resulting package – stunning! And it's sufficiently different from the 8-bit version to fully justify this 're-review'.

I won't go into details of the basic program, as in concept it's identical to the 8-bit version. Instead, I'll describe just the differences and enhancements. There are lots of these, and most of them will blow your socks off!

The package is similar to the 8-bit version, but the program and scenery data is now on one single-sided 3½" disk.Instructions are contained in one 132 page, fully indexed, spiral bound manual of very high quality. Sublogic have dropped the second manual as supplied with the 8-bit version, so you don't get to learn about the theory of flight, nor do you get the eight flying lessons. However, the ST manual does contain everything you need, including many useful diagrams.


In addition to the 8-bit's maps of Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and New York areas, this version also includes San Francisco. The area covered adds 47 new airfields (several equipped with Instrument Landing System) to the 81 in the 8-bit version. You also get many new radio navigation beacons to help you find your way around. The new area is extensive, measuring about 250 miles north to south by about 200 miles east to west – enough to keep you busy exploring for a long time!

On boot up, you find yourself in a Cessna 182 lined up for take-off from runway 27R of Oakland International airport on San Francisco Bay. Yes, it's a different aircraft from the 8-bit version, and yes, the boot-up default is into the new map area. The instrument panel looks strangely familiar, but on closer inspection there are minor differences, such as retractable undercarriage controls, different flap settings, autopilot, and different radio and engine instrument layout.

The myriad program controls are available either through the keyboard, or via mouse activated pull down menus. They're all summarised on a reference card thoughtfully included in the package by Sublogic. Additionally, the mouse can be used in place of keyboard for primary flight controls, but I found this rather clumsy and preferred using the keyboard.


Looking through the windscreen you can immediately see a difference from the 8-bit version. The scenery graphics in the San Francisco area are far more sophisticated than those in the 8-bit version. For instance, items such as runway markings are colour filled shapes, not single lines or 'wire frames', and there are more buildings to be seen. This only applies to the new area, though, the others seem to have been transferred from the 8-bit with very little change.

As soon as you start the take-off run, the ST's muscle power immediately makes itself felt. The screen refresh rate is very much higher than before, making the view through the windscreen look more like a film than computer generated graphics. The runway markings glide smoothly past as you gather speed and lift the Cessna into the air. Almost immediately, the water of the Bay comes into view, and soon after that the massive 8 mile long Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Flying straight on you quickly pick up the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco. As you get closer you see they're colour filled 3D graphics (with hidden lines and surfaces removed!). That famous San Francisco landmark, the Transamerica Pyramid is there – a huge, 853 feet high, pyramid shaped office block. You bank the Cessna and switch to a view from the side window, really getting the feeling you're flying round a solid building. All along the waterfront you see the piers and moorings of the port area, with the Fisherman's Wharf tourist spot at the far end.

Continuing your original flight path you see in front of you the most famous San Francisco landmark of all, the Golden Gate Bridge. Its portrayal here is excellent – I flew the Cessna round and round it, inspecting it from all angles, and marvelling at the skill of the Sublogic programmers.

Flying back to Oakland you pass over the island of Alcatraz and notice that the prison building is there – Sublogic have thought of everything. The graphics on approach and landing at Oakland are as impressive as the take-off. And on touchdown, the tyres really screech as they hit the runway –it's worth doing a lousy landing just to hear that noise several times over!

The improved graphics are easier to look at in this version of the simulator, as it allows you to finely adjust the direction of view you get from the aircraft cabin. You are not limited to the 8 fixed directions, as before. Further, you can adjust the angle of view up or down – very useful when in a steep climb or descent. There's also a new zoom control to enable you to get a closer look at the central part of the screen (up to 511 times magnification). If you want a wider view you can do this too, with a magnification down to 0.25! OK, so we're getting away from realism here, but it's a useful feature, especially when used with the other new viewing facilities I'm about to describe.


A major addition to the ST version is the ability to view your aircraft FROM THE OUTSIDE. That's right, you can now see how your aircraft looks as you fly it. Microprose's Solo Flight has been doing it for years, you say? Not like this, it hasn't! You have the choice of two different vantage points, either from a spotter plane flying near you, or from a control tower on the ground.

You can set the position of the spotter plane relative to yourself, on either wingtip, in front looking back at you, behind you looking forward, or looking straight down from above. Also, you can set the distance between you and the spotter and the height above or below you that it flies. After selecting the viewpoint, you see the view on the screen gradually change as the spotter plane flies to its new position! Now, as you manoeuvre your aircraft, you see it move about relative to the spotter's viewpoint, but the spotter always eventually gets back into its requested position. The view you get during aerobatics is truly thrilling, as the spotter tries to keep station as you cavort around the sky.

The control tower option is just as spectacular, but in a different way. This time, you get the view of your aircraft from the ground. For best effect, you have to make use of the zoom controls mentioned earlier. As you fly away from the airfield, the program automatically pans the viewpoint to follow you. Eventually, you get so far away that you can't be seen even on full zoom. So – here comes the amazing feature –you select the Track function. The view you get now is as if the control tower has taken wing and is streaking after you at very low altitude and at tremendous speed! You rush THROUGH the landscape, whizzing past buildings, over water, under bridges, whatever.... until it's repositioned at the distance away from your aircraft originally requested. The effect is startling, incredible, fantastic, exciting....I'm running out of suitable adjectives! All the time, your aircraft position is kept in view on the screen, marked with a small dot. The dot slowly grows in size until it becomes the familiar shape of your aircraft once again. The effect can really be quite breathtaking.

You can switch between views from inside the aircraft, to spotter plane, to control tower, to tracking view anytime, at the press of a key or mouse button. Even more astounding, you can set up multiple windows, each with a different viewpoint and you can add a radar/map window too, if you need it. Windows can be positioned and sized to suit your needs. For the ultimate in views you can slide the instrument panel down giving a full screen display for any view. This is really spectacular when landing (if you're skillful enough to manage without instruments!).


As if all this weren't enough, there's yet another brilliant new feature. It's possible to link two ST's together (each running the program) via the RS-232 ports and run in `multi-player' mode. This means you and a friend can each fly an aircraft, and each can see the other on his own screen. The ST's continually exchange data via the RS-232 link on position, height, etc. You need a null modem cable to connect the machines, or alternatively you can use modems and conduct a two player game via the phone. Communications facilities are built right into the program! You can send and receive radio messages to/from the other player too (via the keyboard).


If flying the Cessna becomes too easy, try selecting the Learjet option. This is a completely different ballgame, as a Learjet is a twin engined executive jet aircraft, capable of flying at 450 knots at altitudes up to 50,000 feet. My only grumble about this is that the instrument panel remains broadly similar to the Cessna, so the simulation is somewhat lacking in visual authenticity. It's great fun, though.

There's a lot more detail I haven't covered, like the World War I Ace game, action replay, autopilot options, ramdisk for saving/loading scenarios, additional weather features (like ground fog and turbulence). I could go on writing about this forever. By now you must have gathered that it's a program not to be missed by any ST owner. If you have an ST you MUST, repeat MUST, add this program to your software collection. It's the finest piece of simulation/ educational/ entertainment software I've ever seen on a home computer and worth every penny of the £50 asking price.