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Flight Unlimited 2

Flying Free in the Busy Skies Over the San Francisco Bay

by Denny Atkin

This first look at Flight Unlimited II is just one small part of our upcoming Summer Sim Spectacular. Flight Sim fans should watch newsstands for the July issue of Computer Gaming World where you'll find all the news on Falcon 4.0, Sabre Ace, Fighter Duel 2, and the world scoop on project "Big Bird," the top-secret sim being developed by AH-64D Longbow's Andy Hollis for Jane's Combat Simulations.

Say what you will about its lack of combat, Looking Glass's FLIGHT UNLIMITED set a number of new standards for flight simulation. Its graphics were nothing short of breathtaking, and its aerobatic flight model was unprecedented. But after learning the sim's aerobatic maneuvers, there just wasn't much left to do. Because the terrain repeated, even simple cross-country flights were out of the question.

Enter FLIGHT UNLIMITED II: UNLIMITED ADVENTURES (FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2). This general aviation simulator once again sets new standards, upping the graphics ante to a higher level and creating the richest, most detailed environment yet seen in a PC flight sim. When it's released this summer, it promises to make as big a splash as its esteemed predecessor.

Bay Area

FLIGHT UNLIMITED II offers unprecedented detail in terrain, navigation resources, and airspace management. To accomplish this, the designers focused on modeling a single terrain area--11,000 square miles surrounding San Francisco, California. That's a far cry from the original FLIGHT UNLIMITED, where each geographical area featured a repeating four-square-mile terrain map. The Bay Area is modeled at a resolution of four meters per pixel.

The terrain model was created using a combination of satellite imagery and digital elevation maps. The satellite shots that Looking Glass used were taken in the early morning, so buildings and other features cast large shadows, giving even flat imagery a 3D look from altitude. In addition, all buildings 10 stories and higher are represented by 3D models, as are major landmarks such as Alcatraz, 3Com Candestick Park, and NASA Ames.

In a major improvement over the original engine, terrain polygons no longer pop up and down as you pass them, but rather remain solid at all altitudes. Also, you'll never see buildings or hills suddenly pop into existence from nothingness. The FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2 engine always renders everything in visual range, adding detail to objects as you approach them. The only time you see haze in the game is when the air really is hazy--it's not used as a crutch to limit the amount of terrain that must be rendered. Despite this detail, the early version of the sim had a good frame rate on a P133; the team is hoping to add Direct3D support to give 3D card owners an extra speed burst.

Plane Facts

FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2 includes six flyable aircraft: the Cessna 172 (both land and seaplane variants), the Piper Arrow, the twin-engined Beech Baron, the DeHavilland Beaver seaplane, a Grob sailplane, and the North American P-51D Mustang. The latter aircraft was the most requested by FLIGHT UNLIMITED users. They were probably requesting a combat version, but for this release you'll have to be satisfied with flying it as an unarmed warbird. (The Looking Glass team is definitely hot to do a FLIGHT: COMBAT game, and hopefully that will be next on their plate after they ship FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2.)

The sim doesn't use the original FLIGHT UNLIMITED flight model, which was geared towards aerobatic aircraft, but this one seems equally impressive. The C172 seems to handle just like the real thing, both in normal flight and in the stall regime. Looking Glass took actual aircraft up to measure data such as roll rates and stall reactions to insure the sim's accuracy. Force-feedback controllers are supported if you're looking for that extra ounce of realism.

As you'd expect, the planes look great inside and out. Instrument panels are fully interactive--to adjust a radio dial, just click on it and type in the new frequency. There's a virtual cockpit mode, but because instruments are so hard to read in virtual cockpits, the team opted to display pertinent flight data in this mode using a text overlay. One military sim innovation has crossed over into the civilian realm--the padlock view, which can be used to make the view automatically track nearby traffic.

Speaking of traffic, you'll never be alone in the FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2 skies. In addition to your own aircraft, there are 25 additional aircraft modeled. These include airliners such as the 737, 747, 757, 777, MD-88, and DC-10; civilian aircraft such as the Cessna Citation, LearJet, and Beech Starship; and military planes including the A-10, F-16, F-18, SR-71 Blackbird, C-5, C-130, and the Chinook helicopter. You might even encounter the occasional Goodyear Blimp or hot air balloon. There can be up to 450 aircraft in the air or at airports at any time.

The actions of these planes aren't scripted, either. They'll be taxiing realistically around San Francisco International and other airports, entering landing patterns, and doing all the other things you'd normally see in the skies in a large metropolitan area. And if you get in their way, they'll react to you, with both evasive maneuvers and appropriately annoyed radio calls.

Runways All Around

These aircraft will have plenty of places to go. FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2 models all 48 airports in the Bay Area, ranging from big international airports in San Francisco and Oakland down to all the little uncontrolled private airports and grass strips on farms throughout the area. Also, the floatplanes can land on various bodies of water.

With its detailed scenery, FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2 is designed primarily as a visual flight rules (VFR) sim. Full-blown instrument flight rules (IFR) capabilities are there as well, with full support for VOR navigation and ILS approaches.

If some of the terms used here are new to you, you'll appreciate FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2's lessons. Like the tutorials in the original, an instructor pilot first takes you through each lesson, then you're given a shot at the controls. The focus is on what you need to know to play the game--wannabe pilots looking for all the gory details may want to pick up a copy of Sierra's PRO PILOT as well. The lessons include radio, taxi, and takeoff; landings; traffic patterns; entering the landing pattern; crosswind landings; and instrument approaches and landings.

Once you get enough clear-sky sightseeing, you might try adding some weather effects. FLIGHT UNLIMITED 2 will support two cloud decks, with clear, few, scattered, and overcast settings. In addition, the sim has a spectacular rain effect, with droplets realistically running across your windshield.

To get in the air, there's a quick flight setting that lets you choose basic condition and your location (in the air at a specific spot, at an airport, or on a 3-mile approach to any runway in the game). There's also a more sophisticated flight planning tool which lets you interactively set up routes on a detailed sectional chart.

Your flights can take place during various times of day--dawn, day, dusk, twilight, and night--but there's no real-time transition. It was too difficult to implement convincingly with photorealistic terrain.

All in all, FLIGHT UNLIMITED II should please anyone with an interest in real flying. While some may find the single geographic area limiting (add-on discs covering other regions are planned), the fantastic detail more than makes up for it, and the San Francisco Bay area has plenty of variety.

Flight Unlimited II: Unlimited Adventures

Target Release Date:
Mid/late Summer
Looking Glass
Looking Glass

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