Today I was struck by a worrying thought. What if a parallel could be drawn between my life, and current theories regarding the creation of the universe? From the day of my birth (equivalent to the Big Bang) it would have increased in size rapidly, thrown outwards by the vigour of the initial explosion.
Then it would gradually have begun to lose its momentum, expanding more and more slowly until one day - 11th July, 1993 by my reckoning - it would have succumbed to the gravitational forces at its heart and, after pausing momentarily at its zenith, begun to collapse in on itself.
And as it shrunk smaller and smaller - and this is the really disturbing part - it would have replayed in reverse the events which took place on the way outwards. If my reasoning holds, it continues to do this as I write, until on a day 22 years from now it will have contracted to a single point of infinite density. I'm not sure what'll happen then, but I don't expect it'll be very nice.
I was set on this path of thought by, among other things, finding myself reviewing Dawn Patrol, a year-and-a-half after 11th July, 1993. It's a World War 1 aerial combat game, in which you roam the skies of France shooting down baddies.
Meanwhile, just over three years ago, a year-and-a-half before 11th July 1993, I was reviewing Knights of the Sky, a World War 1 aerial combat game in which you roamed the skies of France shooting down baddies. Not so much deja vu, then, as deja review.
Dawn Patrol is organised as a kind of interactive book. You click on 'page numbers' to jump to 'chapters' on various aspects of War War 1 aviation - the history of the war, the aces, the aircraft, or a selection of pilots whose careers you can follow through.
From within these 'chapters' you can then choose individual pilots, or planes, or whatever, by 'turning' to the appropriate 'page'. And once on the 'page' you can read lots of text with an accompanying picture or animated sequence, and then go from there to actually flying a mission.
It's rather a tortured analogy, especially when you find yourself typing page numbers from memory into a fiddly little box in the corner of the screen, but it's wholly preferable to the dreadful 'click on various buildings on an airbase' system of Rowan's previous game, Overlord, and it could be said to be taking the Amiga boldly forwards into a new era of interactive InfoEduTainment.
Once you're up in the air, Dawn Patrol looks much like any other Amiga flight sim. The aeroplanes are all neatly modelled, with roundels and iron crosses and little struts around their undercarriage, and there's a nice hazy effect on the horizon, but even on an A1200 it moves a bit jerkily unless you turn some of the details off.
Curiously, the sides of the screen sometimes move in and out slightly, making the picture bigger and smaller. Apparently this is to keep the speed of the graphics up, but it made me feel slightly sick.
The standard cockpit view only gives you a thin letterbox-shaped peek at the action. But that, of course, is where you can call upon Rowan's now-famous range of special views, which were explained in detail in the review of Overlord in Ap43.
You can look at your own plane from all sorts of different angles. You can get views of all the enemy planes. And there's the incredibly useful combat lock, which follows the nearest baddie around the sky so you don't spend the whole time watching them whizzing across your field of view, fumbling for the 'left' and 'right' view keys as you manoeuvre.
Struts around their undercarriage
If it's realism you're after, then there's lots. Switch off the Super Engines option and your plane claws feebly at the air, just like a biplane should. Try too may turny-twisty manoeuvres and your wings will fall off. (Although this actually gets a bit annoying, because you've no real way of knowing when you're exceeding your plane's limits. Cam pointed out that, in a real plane, you'd be able to feel the G-force, and see your wings juddering about and the ground looming up to meet you, and suggested that maybe the screen should wobble about when you're pushing the plane too hard)..
Also, your guns occasionally jam, causing you to have to level out and stab repeatedly at the U key till they clear. (Although it's actually more 'quite often' than 'occasionally', and again gets annoying. Maybe gun-jamming is the flight equivalent of reversing-the-controls power-ups in platform games).
There are 13 aeroplanes to choose from, from the desperately inadequate DH2 to the nimble Fokker Triplane, along with some Gotha bombers which you can't fly. And the missions are pretty varied too - as well as attacking formations of baddies you've got to escort bombers, attack barrage balloons and strafe lorries.
You can also 'be' a wide variety of top aces, like Immelman, Ball and Richthofen, although in practice this means doing exactly the same missions you'd be doing if you were Smith, Jones, or indeed, Davies, but with a bit of historical preamble beforehand. Except, having said that, the ace's missions are based on historical accounts, and you even get the chance to re-enact Richthofen's final, fateful flight to see if you can succeed where he failed.
Perhaps it's unfair to directly compare Dawn Patrol with Knights Of The Sky simply because they're both 3D polygon World War 1 flight sims. But they do both do essentially the same job and the question has to be asked: Is Dawn Patrol significantly better than Microprose's three-year-old veteran, which is still ranked at No 7 in our All-Time Top 100?
Dawn Patrol certainly has advantages over Knights Of The Sky: slightly more sophisticated graphics, the option to fly for the Germans and a greater variety of viewing angles, for example.
It also comes in a huge box with an excellent illustrated book about the Red Baron and a manual stuffed with fascinating facts. (Apparently, during the battle of Cambrai in November 1917, 30% of pilots were lost per day. Blimey).
And it excels in the way the computer-controlled aircraft behave. If you spy a formation of enemy planes below, and the sun is behind you, you really do have surprise on your side. The computer planes won't be aware of you until you start shooting at them, by which time it'll hopefully be too late. And rather than stubbornly sticking with dogfights until either your or they are dead, they'll realise when they're losing and feel, leaving you either to chase after them or give up.
But Knights Of The Sky is still, after all this time, so much more atmospheric and exciting. It opens with some flickery, black-and-white credits and a tinkly piano tune. Then, after negotiating the menus, you find yourself sitting on your airstrip with friendly planes circling overhead and lorries driving up and down the road. (Dawn Patrol's missions all start in the air, and you're never really aware of what's happening below).
You start up your engine with a satisfying splutter and lurch along the runway, clawing your way into the air just before you run out of grass. Then, after a short flight, you're over enemy lines, the air thick with Fokkers and flak bursts.
Messages appear on the screen like "Bullets whistle through the air around you!" and "Gun jam cleared!", which add greatly to the tension. The ground is littered with buildings, trees, guns and trucks, which not only provide a better sense of altitude, but give you something to skim over as you attempt to evade pursuit. There's even that fantastic two-player serial link option.
Knights might not be as realistic as Dawn Patrol - the number of planes and ground targets has been exaggerated so there's more to occupy you, and dogfights tend to follow repetitive patterns - but its shoot-'em-uppy feel means it works much better as a game.
Dawn Patrol, on the other hand, is slick and worthy, and in most respects a fine product, but just a trifle dull. Each mission is carefully staged and happens exactly as planned, so you're never surprised by anything. In fact, ironically, you never actually get to 'patrol' at all. You're never just sent up on the off-chance of running into some baddies, as tended to happen in World War 1.
And it doesn't really conjure up that pioneering, barn-storming spirit that's one of the big advantages of a good World War 1 flight sim: although your wings fall off occasionally, you feel almost as insulated as you do in, say, an F117A Stealth Fighter.
Overlord was good because, apart from perhaps Reach For The Skies, it's got no serious competition in the World War 2 stakes. And you could launch rocket attacks on boats and factories. But Dawn Patrol is slap bang up against Knights Of The Sky and, although Dawn Patrol got plenty going for it, it's Knights that we always reach for.
What's bothering me now is that if my life really is replaying itself in reverse, then it's clearly slightly worse on the way back. So this summer, although I was planning to go to California, I'd better brace myself for the most appalling holiday in Wales on record.