My kids (Maggie 9, Henry 6) suddenly began asking me about World War I aviation. Did they find my picture books? See the covers of a few of my books? Last time they were in my office, did they see my models? (Spad, Fokker DR1, Sopwith Camel, Nieuport.) Finally I remembered to ask – “We saw it on the Peanuts Halloween Special” they answered. Here’s the WWI Flying Ace slapping his forehead.
I love WWI flight sims. I think it’s the romance, flying close to the ground at a relatively slow speed, the knife fight of a dual and the harrowing thrill of a hard landing. The way dogfights can become personal, even if you’re jousting with an AI.
Riding through the air in a wood and canvas crate powered by an early piston engine is a dangerous thing to do. Flying was only a few years old – the planes were unreliable and a pilot had to actively fight the forces of physics (wind sheer can take off a wing, serious G’s can stall an engine) while fighting a colorful bird piloted by the enemy. The machine guns were primitive and that meant the duel was more like a knife fight. Planes got within 30 yards and if they didn’t collide, a kill wasn’t ensured. Bullets had to hit the engine or the pilot to guarantee a quick death. Many shots just ripped through the canvas. Like small holes in a sail.
For years I’d been looking for a successor to the immortal Red Baron 3D and the Full Canvas Jacket mod, my kids prompted me to look again. There it was, a new — gorgeous — ultra-realistic WWI sim from Russia called Rise of Flight.
I went online and ordered a Track IR (it attaches your head movements into mouselook – it is crucial to be able to look left, right and behind in a biplane and I dusted off my old Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback Pro 2 joystick (it’s really been a while). The game is bare bones. A simple campaign, only a few planes (the sim is so detailed they can get $7 for additional planes), and an unforgiving dose of realism and fidelity.
Here’s the World War I Flying Ace crashing. Here he is getting shot down. Here he is, a wreckage next to a tank he was trying to shoot. And here he is, wings aflame, after meeting an enemy plane. Here he is crashing on take off, and here he is — ready to try again.
Rise of Flight has an unparalleled sensation of flight. The graphics are spectacular and the sound effects immersive. The wind wooshes through the cables in these birds … I can’t explain it but it feels like flying in a way other sims never have. But the game is so hard. Dauntingly hard.
Over Flanders Field is a labor of love by some serious fans of WWI. They built on the Combat Flight Simulator 3 game engine and managed to make something that rivals the thoroughly modern Rise of Flight, despite being fan made and built on a 4 year-old game. OFF has more options – including one to dumb down the AI a bit.
I’m still learning. I play Rise of Flight now and then because the flying part is just so much fun, but I’m logging more time over Flanders. The idea is to get really good at flying before challenging the Russian game to another duel.
My kids aren’t old enough to play simulations this dense and realistic, but they can watch. Henry thinks it’s cool, Maggie loves the planes and I just gotta fly.
Gaming is more than just treasure, alien killing and shooting police. The Flight Sim is a way to ignite interest in history through example. WWI is a forgotten chapter and remote to today’s kids. This is a way to educate, entertain and simulate.
Gaming is about doing. Now you know what to do when your kids ask you about Snoopy’s Dog House and his root-beer fueled flights with the Red Baron.
PS: The kids are still getting a World War I fix – sort of – I dusted off a copy of Snoopy vs. The Red Baron for PlayStation 2. A rare thing, a combat flight sim for the kids.