|Flight Unlimited 2|
Publisher / Developer :
Looking Glass Technologies
Category: Civilian Flight Simulator
Written by: Emil
Release Date: Late Summer 1997
Description / Hype :
Sitting in the Looking Glass Technologies' office of Constantine Hantzopoulos and Ed Tatro is a lot like viewing an aviation exhibit in a museum. Models and photos of planes, aircraft calendars and posters, even a real, 30 mm depleted-uranium shell from an A-10 are all proof that these guys are very into what they do. In fact, Hantzopoulos has no qualms about the goal of his team. Simply put, they will make Flight Unlimited 2 the best, most realistic civilian flight simulator the world has ever seen (even further attested to by the fact that Tatro wasn't in the office on the day I dropped by -- he was out flying jets). Coming from anyone else, this confidence probably would have come off as arrogant boasting. But hey, this is the company that gave us Ultima Underworld and System Shock . . .
Judging from the pre-beta of the game that Hantzopoulos showed me, I can see why he's smiling. Even in such an early stage, Flight Unlimited 2 is better looking than any flight sim I've seen. Even something as simple as rain streaking off the windows has been meticulously designed. If you think the screenshots of the photo-realistic terrain look good, just wait until you actually fly over it. The original Flight Unlimited may still have some of the greatest looking landscapes around, but Flight 2 almost puts that technology to shame, even without 3D acceleration. The ground still looks realistic at forty thousand feet, but you're in for an even better surprise when you check out mother Earth up-close and personal. Take your bird down to fifty feet, and you'll see that the terrain is so real you can almost smell the grass. Mountains and hills are fully modeled, and allow for down-and-dirty contour chasing. The Pacific Ocean, as well as countless lakes and rivers, are all realistically represented; try to land your seaplane in a heavy crosswind, and you'll find yourself belly-up. Every building over ten stories is an actual 3D structure -- a monumental achievement considering Flight 2 accurately renders from dirt strip to SFI (San Francisco International). Add to all of this the option of configuring other realism settings, like controlling manifold pressure and carburetor heat.
"Getting the satellite data that we used for the game, well, no one's ever done it. We didn't even know if we could do it!" says Hantzopoulos. "We kind of take the hat here, and throw it over the wall, and we don't look back. We just do it. Flight Unlimited had 5 x 7 kilometers that just kept mirroring and wrapping. We were charged with getting around 10, 000 square miles, of the same high-resolution image photography, and writing a new renderer to take care of all the popping that happened in Flight 1. You know how you'd fly and see things "pop" in? There's none of that in Flight 2. If you're flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, you'll still see the city off in the distance. We render all the way up."
This new rendering technology really has to be seen to be appreciated. Thanks to a remarkable virtual horizon, you'll see structures just as you would in real life. Unlike buildings in other sims, which have a tendency to suddenly pop into view or disappear depending on your distance to them, those in Flight Unlimited 2 remain in view just as they would if you were to see them from your own personal Cessna. The commitment to realism doesn't end there, though. The entire playing area, all 8, 500 square miles of it, is a fully functioning world unto itself. Private and commercial jets (you just have to love the names of Flight 2's fictitious companies -- United=Ignited!) taxi, takeoff, and land all of their own accord; boats stream through the water; and fighter planes perform maneuvers. Venture into restricted military airspace, and you'll even get a realistic, nasty surprise! If you fly in the real world, you're never alone in the skies, and Flight 2 mirrors this experience -- there are up to 450 other planes up in the air with you.
"We basically decided to do San Francisco because of the water, the rolling hills, the built-up cities . . . and also, forty-eight airports. That's a butt-load of places to fly to! And they're all different. It's not the same little runway at each airport. It ranges from dirt strip to SFI (San Francisco International)."
As it turns out, the San Francisco Bay area is also the perfect location for Flight Unlimited 2 pilots to fly according to VFR, or Visual Flight Rules. This is the system that the very design of the simulation is based on, and stresses navigating and flying by actual landmarks and terrain. Let's say you lived in San Francisco. You could fly Flight 2's Piper Arrow low over the city, use Candlestick Park as a reference point, and if you know your way around, maybe even find your own house. No, I'm not kidding.
If you've never been to San Francisco, or if you decide to fly on a foggy night in the middle of a thunderstorm, don't worry. Flight Unlimited 2 also offers the most realistic use of civilian aircraft instrumentation to date. This is where the game takes no prisoners in its approach to realism. The radio is the real thing, with the digitized speech of real air traffic controllers. Just like a real pilot, the player must decipher this constant chatter, and get such crucial information as weather, wind speed, position of other aircraft, and landing orders. Add to all of this the option of configuring other realism settings, like controlling manifold heat and carburetor pressure, and you have a flight experience that would make real pilots jealous.
Flight Unlimited 2 looks to be the civilian flight simulator. Constantine Hantzopoulos puts it best himself, "Make it real and make it fun. This game is real fun."
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