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Posts Tagged ‘Spectrum HoloByte’

If I were to ask you what you were doing 10 years ago today, I bet only one or two would have even the vaguest of ideas.  If you were to ask me that same question, I could tell you that I was celebrating the release of Falcon 4.0, which was, at that time, the most highly-anticipated flight simulator ever.

Exactly one week before, I had been at the office, online with a bunch of guys in an Internet chat room.  But this one was dedicated to Falcon 4.0, and we were awaiting the pronouncement of Falcon’s “Gold” status, due at any time.

Many of us had flown earlier versions, specifically Falcon 3.0 (with its add-on packs).  Sold by Spectrum HoloByte in the early 1990’s and featuring the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, it was immensely popular for its realistic flight model and avionics suite, which were as good as computer power (and declassified documents) would allow.  But Falcon 4.0 was going to be something really special.  Now being built by Microprose (Spectrum HoloByte had purchased Microprose and purloined the name), the new sim promised advances galore.  I believe the “4.0” project had begun in 1993 and had carried on until the team hired Leon Rosenshein as the project lead.

At that point, development pretty much began anew…and would continue for several years.  There were various modes developed, such as the Tactical Engagement (a one-target canned mission) and the Dogfight mode (you against the world).  But the heart of Falcon 4.0 was the campaign.  Unlike other “sims” that used scripted campaigns or mission trees, warfare in Falcon 4.0 was entirely dynamic.  When a campaign (between North and South Korea) began, missions looked pretty similar.  But as you (and all the AI) flew their sorties, subsequent missions would be tasked based on what was (or wasn’t) accomplished.  In addition, you could modify the tasking order as the campaign progressed (attack more bridges, go after air defense, take out more industry), and the AI aircraft would receive more of those missions.  Every campaign was unique.

There was a ground war as well, and Microprose brought in a developer who cared little for flight sims but loved tanks.  His job was to build the ground war…so that’s what he did…and at least 100,000 lines of code (if I remember right) went into that aspect of the sim.

No one had ever (or has since) attempted to build a sim this ambitious, but the legacy of Falcon 3.0 somewhat demanded it.  And then Hasbro Interactive purchased Microprose in 1998.  The Falcon project had, to date, cost millions, and Hasbro wanted a return.  They ordered that the sim be released in time for the Christmas season…

…which brings us back to that Saturday night in the Falcon 4.0 chat room.  There was immense excitement that evening.  We didn’t know for sure, but the Falcon guys had popped in from time to time saying it was close.  You probably can’t imagine the anticipation (unless you’re a sim-head like all of us are) that was there, nor the joy we had when it was announced that Falcon 4.0 was “Gold” (code-locked for distribution).  We were soon joined by Grout (Steve Blankenship – Falcon’s producer) who confirmed the status.

And a week later, December 12, 1998, Falcon 4.0 was released.  Its rush to production meant it was full of bugs, which caused a lot of initial frustration.  But subsequent patches fixed many of the problems.  Ten years later, you can still purchase the sim, now produced by Lead Pursuit.  Titled Falcon 4.0: Allied Force, it’s more stable and feature-complete than ever.  And in those 10 years, no other sim has even come close to what “Leon and the boys” put together.

Recommended Playing: Falcon 4.0: Allied Force – You can’t get the original anymore (unless you just happen to find one laying around).  So get F4:AF instead…and experience the love for just a couple Hamiltons.

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