Only those who don’t know me as intimately as a spouse or sibling will be surprised that once, about five years ago, I spent all of my spare time online in a massively-multiplayer combat flight sim known at the time as Dawn of Aces. The sim, based on World War 1 air combat, appealed to a specialty audience, and given that the developers’ company experienced something of a wild ride on Wall Street in the day and offered a mass-appeal product which used the same code, Warbirds (same deal, but World War II – much faster and more powerful planes, planes that don’t disintegrate around you in flight if you attempt to adjust the family jools), fell into near-oblivion. For the past five years it has been nursed along only by the fading devotion of a few afcionados and in particular one Matt Davis, who by sheer dint of obsessive-compulsiveness became the operation’s key graphic and historical designer from his remote compound deep in the wilds of untamed Texas.
The developers have been located in ‘the Triangle,’ in Research Park, North Carolina, for years. Every time I visit my folks I think about dropping by but don’t, largely because my peacenik pinko commie worldview is most unlike that obstreperously and understandably displayed by my fellow aviation obsessives, century-long beneficiaries of the grandest sustained state industrial investment campaign the world is ever likely to see. Despite our irreconcilable religious differences, we loves us the aeroplanes.
Thus, I have been happy this week to discover a marketing tie-in between Dawn of Aces and the film Viv and I observed this weekend, Flyboys. The film’s marketing budget provided the developers with the budget to develop new WW1 based content inspired by the film for the game. The long-moribund MMOL arenas are running about 30 participants at any given time, and that’s enough to make a dawn patrol fun once again.
Rumour has it that tomorrow will see the open release of new flight content, including the film’s Nieuport 17 and additional planes. I am seriously considering taking time off work in order to familiarize myself with the game as it stands now.
Currently, the WW1 stuff has been rolled into the WW2 stuff (in a separate online arena) and with nearly no-one flying the older planes I have not been able to justify the cost of a subscription. Now, though, I’m in for a month or two. What’s amusing and amazing me is relearning the ins and outs of this extremely technical game. Happily, I can still recover from a stalling spin in a Camel, which means there is a certain amount of bicycle-riding involved. What I don’t recall is the plethora of slash-and-dot invoked keyboard commends, the esoteric raw-text configuration files, and the deep magic of determining, designing, and implementing one’s personal joystick button-command-set.
Never a brilliant pilot, I am happy to note that I am able to fly sustained furballs under a realistic flight model tonight, on my second day back in the cockpit. Prior experience tells me the importance of having both my stickset and damage awareness well in hand before heading out to meet my fellow obsessives in the internet skies.
One additional factor which initially appeared promising but tonight frustrates must be addressed: five years ago, I played this game on a 21“ screen, a very nice display for its’ day. Currently, we employ a DLP projector for numerous entertainment purposes, including DVDs and the like. I had harbored great hopes for the sim on the screen, which displays the view from a Camel cockpit at approximately life-size. Alas, the default colors associated with the games’ informational displays are uniformly illegible when rendered into NTSC colorspace. It stands to reason that they are editable via the proliferation of raw-text config files; yet to date, the collapsed social network affiliated with the game provides no clues or cookbooks.
Ah well. It’s up to me to see if this crazy thing will get airborne again. Contact!