Amigas scramble!

F/A-18 Interceptor logo Amiga Computing Supreme Award

Roger... Wilco... Simon Rockman is cleared for take-off.

ONLY the Amiga makes it possible It's Commodore's slogan, and so often a true one. But games software houses with an eye to the quick buck so often let the machine down. Electronic Arts has hung in there supporting our machine since the days of prototypes, so it is fitting that the company should have produced the greatest ever Amiga program.

F/A 18 Interceptor is a flight simulator - that's a bit like saying that Buckingham Palace is a house. True, but an understatement. You are given a choice of the land-based F16 or carrier borne F/A-18 jets to play with.

As soon as you unwrap the program you know that you've bought something special. The documentation advises that you disconnect a second drive on an 512k machine, grabbing the precious ram that it needs. The carrier icon appears. Anticipate blast off. Double click to load and a pilot launches into the blue.

The Amiga drive does its stuff far too slowly, the seconds stretched by your impatience. The title screen captures the atmosphere of the battle. Two jets locked in a dogfight over a crystal clear Californian sky which contains the kinds of blues you only see in real life and the Amiga palette.

You've plenty of time to appreciate it as the game loads, but that period would be better spent reading the manual. Electronic Arts - EA to its friends - is hardly known for skimping on documentation. The confrontation on your retina is complemented by similar aural stimulation thanks to Dave Wahol's sound.

F/A 18 Interceptor is a game of missions, but before you can take those on you need to fly the crate. The game is its own trainer. The demo mode shows what can be done. Simple options to take off and fly around familiarise you with the controls.

A special mode tests your ability at some set manoeuvres. An instructor goes through a prescribed set of loops, turns and rolls. You have to follow in a chase plane. If you can do this then the next stage should seem easy. Take off from the carrier, climb to at least 10,000 feet and then land back on the carrier.

You have an incredible amount of power in your engines. Thrust can be controlled in 10 per cent increments by using F1 to F10. Pressing F1 when the engines are 10 per cent will switch them off - something best done when you have landed - pressing F10 when you are at 100 per cent turns on the afterburner, giving you an unbelievable boost. More gentle, 3 per cent, increments of thrust can be selected by using the equals and minus keys.

The best tactic for take-off seems to be locking the brakes and switching to at least 90 per cent thrust. Allow the power to build, and then release the brakes. This ensures that you have enough oomph to stay in the air when you run out of carrier. Lift the undercarriage as soon as you take off - it reduces drag significantly. Resist the temptation to bank.

Climb a little, say to 1,000, feet and then level off. The crosshair in the head up display (HUD) should be one pixel below the horizon. Check the altimeter so make sure you are keeping a constant height. Then use the rudder, the < and > keys, to turn. If you are not climbing or diving the horizon will remain level.

Keep any eye on the compass. From an initial starting position of going north it should rotate to pointing south. If you flip to the map the carrier looks to be lying east-west. That is because it is too difficult to draw it north-south and still look like an aircraft carrier.

While you are travelling south pull back on the joystick and climb to at least 10,000 feet. Then push gently forward, drop the nose a little way below the horizon. Reduce thrust so that things will happen less rapidly and descend to less than 4,000 feet. Switch the radar from its 40 mile limit to 10 or 2 miles, just enough to keep the carrier in view. The further you are the easier the things will be later. Level off and use the rudder to complete the circuit. Again it should be possible to turn without banking.

Once you are pointing north dip the nose. The carrier lies ahead. Use the zoom function to make sure that the blob is the carrier and prepare a steady glide path. Drop the thrust to between 30 and 40 per cent.

As you approach the carrier an enemy fighter may attack. It is possible to pull up and spot it without banking. Hit return to select a heat-seeking missile. Target the bandit. The HUD will light up like Blackpool illuminations. Once the commie is vignette by a large diamond, squeeze the trigger. This will loose an air-to-air missile. Fire and forget.

Bring the nose back down to point at the carrier and lose any extra height rapidly. The deck is 145 feet off the sea. You want to be 100 feet above this as you come in to land. While you are still some way off, lower the arrestor hook. This catches wires on the deck surface and hauls you in to land.

Closer in, drop the undercarriage. Then put on the brakes. This not only locks the wheels but engages the air brakes. As you fly over the carrier bring the nose down and cut the engines. You should plop on to the deck. Bring the nose up in a controlled stall to land on the rear wheels.

Real carrier pilots come in at full flying speed in case the arrestor hook does not catch. You shouldn't worry about this. Overshooting is a much greater danger. Your reward for the task is a pair of sweaty palms and the right to go on to a mission.

Now you have proved that you can have the right stuff you can take on the world. The first mission is to fly out, identify an enemy plane and fly back. Easy and boring, it is the kind of mission that Nato pilots do all the time. The temptation to blast the foe is dreadful. Don't do it.

The first mission where you are actually supposed to shoot something down offers an enemy plane which is after the President's jet, Air Force One. Succeed and you are presented with a great graphic sequence of AF-1 landing.

Other missions have you trying to persuade two defecting F-16s that they really love mom, apple pie and the American way. You have to fly in front of them - failing that you can blast them. All the while a couple of Migs are out to get you.

I was while I was just about to talk an F-16 around that a Russian missile homed in on me. I pressed F for flare, C for chaff and E for electronic counter measures. What I really wanted was J for electronic jammer. Instead I got E for eject. At least the missile didn't get me.
The enemy gets harder to attack - a cruise missile can only be shot down, as I found out after I'd wasted a load of missiles on it.

Interceptor is brilliantly designed. It stretches your playing ability progressively. It is also full of great touches.
You can view the plane from inside the cockpit, looking all the way around to check for enemy johnnies on your tail. You can watch the action from a third person position at one of the eight compass points outside the plane, or you can watch from the control tower. These views work just as well when you are parachuting down after a missile hit. A zoom gives a better feeling of depth.

There are some bugs. I have managed to fly over the carrier and have the wing disappear under the ship. It is common practice to land on the sea, but none of these matters when you take into account the days of fun you'll have to take to the air with Interceptor.


INTERCEPTOR was written by Bob Dinnerman. It is his first commercial home computer game and the Amiga his first home computer.
No one, not even a genius like Bob D., picks up enough programming experience to produce a game of Interceptor proportions in the year and a half it took to write.

Bob used t be a programmer for Bally -the arcade game manufacturer. He wrote the arcade smash Discs of Tron, which despite hitting the arcade market in mid nose-dive still took a lot of money.
Discs of Tron uses a mere Z80 with 56k of rom. So it is not surprising that Bob has worked such wonders with a 68000 and half a megabyte. Some of the work, mainly flight algorithms, for Interceptor was a development on a flying game which Bally planned and scrapped.

Bob had not bought a home computer before the Amiga because he felt that nothing could provide the speed and graphics he wanted. Nigh on 90 per cent of the program is written in assembler, with menus and set-up routines in C. The program was developed on Electronic Arts' Artists Work Station (AWS).

It is a shame that Bob's next game is for the PC, but he hopes to return to the Amiga after that. He claims that Interceptor II would be easy with new missions, locations and different planes.
The existing planes were carefully chosen. The F/A 18 because it is new, exciting and carrier-based. It was also chosen because it is a single pilot aircraft.
"The F16 was chosen for variety, and because I have a couple of F-16s in the game trying to defect I thought I'd let you fly one", says Bob.

The Amiga needs more class programmers like Bob Dinnerman. Interceptor is the first of a new generation of Amiga programs.

INTERCEPTOR is protected with a code wheel, something which I approve. Along with Magnetic Scrolls-type novella protection, this allows the honest user to make disc back-ups, and often allows the transfer to hard disc, but it reduces the problems of piracy.

Sure the crooks will rip apart the code and produce an unprotected version, but at least we don't have to suffer if our discs get corrupted. The Interceptor code wheel feels like part of the game, not a bid to prove your innocence.

I like the way you can run the demo without using the wheel, a taunt to the person who steals a copy. He can see what he is missing without playing.


F/A-18 Interceptor logo Format Gold

ELECTRONIC ARTS

There are two things you can be sure of when dealing with hornets: disturb a nest of them and you will regret it, disturb an F-18 Hornet and you won't live to regret it. The F-18 is misnamed. In this combat simulator it is a caged beast that roars to life in response to your controls...

The setting is San Francisco and the surrounding coastline. Here you can train and experiment with flying the Hornet amongst bridges and skyscrapers, before tackling the hazardous combat missions. It is not a true flight simulator, but takes the best elements of a flight sim and turns them into an airborne adventure.

GAMEPLAY

Once you have familiarised yourself with the F-18's controls, which should not take long, you can take her up for a spin. During training you can practice the manoeuvres that you will need during combat, like rolls, break turns, inverted flight and the split-s. All you have to do then is manage a take-off and landing from the aircraft carrier to qualify for the combat missions. This should not prove too difficult but hostiles will appear and make life difficult if you take too long.

The instructions do not tell you about all the combat missions, and as in real life you will find that the information and aims given at the start of a mission are not always accurate - act and think fast; you are judge, jury and executioner in the air.

The simplest mission is to scramble and identify a plane and then return to base. As with most missions you are instructed not to fire unless fired upon. As each mission is successfully completed you are allowed to progress on to the next - your personal flight log being updated each time.


GRAPHICS AND SOUND

The in-cockpit views are not terribly interesting unless you buzz buildings and bridges, but the screen updating is fast and convincing. Where the graphics really score is in the ability to go outside the cockpit and view the action and surroundings from all sorts of camera angles. This may not be realistic, but it adds tremendously to the presentation, atmosphere and overall effect of the game.

There is not a great deal of detail or use of colour in the graphics, but they are sharp, clear and functional, giving a very atmospheric edge to the action. This is added to by the engine sound which is a credible roar that sounds most impressive when you are outside the cockpit, and is complimented by sonic booms, explosions, warning beeps, cannon fire and sometimes deathly silence as the fuel runs out and the nose cone starts to tilt ominously earthwards.


CONCLUSION

You cannot help but be amazed by the graphic sequences that are possible. They are every bit as thrilling as those in films like Top Gun or Firefox, but the big difference is that you are in control. The difficulty level has been set just right so that even a beginner can get plenty out of the game in a short time, but it will continue to offer increasingly difficult challenges as the player improves.

The combat action is fantastic. You will have to work hard to out-fly a hostile MiG that has several missiles with your name on them. The satisfaction of triumphing in a dogfight against a wily opponent is immense. It is a stunningly absorbing game that is impossible to put down once you have taken up the challenge.


F/A-18 Interceptor: Explanation of the Control Panel

1. Many a pilot has been lost from forgetting to put down the landing gear, or the arrestor hook for carrier landings.

2. Four AMRAAMs, two Sidewinders and 570 rounds of cannon fire is your maximum armament. It may sound a lot but the opposition are not usually sitting ducks. You can re-fuel and re-arm at any of four bases including the carrier, but a stationary target is very inviting for any hostiles.

3. The radar screen is invaluable during dogfights and has three resolutions: 2, 10 and 40 miles. It also uses colours codes to identify craft to help you shoot down the right thing.

4. The HUD (heads up display) provides all the necessary information about your height, speed, bearing, weapon status (what you have currently got armed) G-forces and target closing velocity. If you do not want it you can toggle it off.

5. The message window gives information on a target's heading, speed and altitude - again invaluable in a fight. It also alerts you of incoming missiles, damage done to you and if you are about to crash.

6. The ECM can be used to confuse or detect an enemy missile attack, but it turns you into a beacon for the enemy to latch onto. More effective is dispensing chaff to confuse radar homing missiles and flares to draw away infra-red homing missiles.


F/A-18 Interceptor logo CU Super Star

Amiga
Electronic Arts
Price: £24.95

"Oh wow! Wooaah! Bogeys all over me!" Urgh! What is happening in CU's computer room? Well, Gary Penn (callsign 'Mohican') and myself (callsign 'Hothead') are involved in a desperate life or death dogfight with two MiG-29s.

Interceptor will rock you back on your heels when you see it. We have put in quite a few hours flying time and I still get a buzz watching it. As a flight simulator it is no big deal. If you want to know what it is like to fly a jet fighter there are more exacting games around. Where EA's game scores is with the celebrated look and feel. It looks fantastic and feels great.

The first thing you will notice when you get up and running with it is the beautiful filled-in 3D solid effect. But the real thrill with it is the way you can switch viewpoints both inside and outside the aircraft just by tapping the keys on the numerical keypad. I guarantee you will be darting around watching the action from more angles than a protractor. For some really great effects switch to a rear view as you take off from the carrier, or watch you eject from a stricken jet as the canopy flies off and a man with a swirling chute flies out. That should convince you this is the business.

Interceptor will take you through a series of progressively tough missions. A menu allows you to select from a number of different scenarios, but it is a good idea to kick off with a demo to get your mouth salivating and eyes-a-bulging. You can then take up a trainer and practive a fw manoeuvres yourself but if you are any kind of a cool mutha you will want to get stuck into some serious scrappin'.

To get further into Interceptor you have to qualify for mission selection. That means earning some wings, taking off from the carrier (easy) and landing (not quite so easy). Taking off in your steel bird is a breeze, just power up to 90% thrust and pull the nose up as you go off the edge and you are away. A couple of attempts and you will be doing a barrel roll off the flight deck and upsetting the guy in the control tower by making him spill his coffee in his lap. Put some distance between yourself and the ship by increasing your thrust to 100% and tapping the plus key - this locks in the afterburner (nip out to the rear view for a sight of the exhausts, flame on - wowza!).

You may not make it though, because Russian MiGs are pretty cheeky about flying around the bay of San Francisco and you may find yourself involved in a bit of aerial fisticuffs. The dogfights are hot stuff, and whilst they prove Interceptor to be more in the mould of DI's Fighter Pilot than Sublogic's Jet, it has got big, shiny brass knobs on. Take her up to Mach 1 and 40,000 feet and come out of the sun on an unsuspecting Mig. Bang! Suck on that comrade! Old Ivan is no sucker and he will be twisting and turning on your ass before you know it, IR missiles at the ready. Make sure your ECM (Electronic Counter Measures) are on and make ready to spill more chaff than an Okie farmer. Jees! That was an IR missile passing right past the canopy!
Interceptor, as you might have guessed, gets you a bit involved.

One little moan here. Well actually it is more of a whinge really, Interceptor has a bug. You can land on the sea! And what is more you cannot get out of it, the game locks up and you have to abort. If you do manage to land on the carrier you will be able to go on the qualified missions. The first has you intercepting unidentified aircraft. You take off from the ground this time and you will have to find the airstrip if you want to get back, because neither of the two planes you can fly are carrier-based. No arrestor hook, see? And when it instructs you not to engage unless attacked it means it. This is Visual Confirmation.

Mission Two is a defence operation. Scramble from the Enterprise and take out a couple of MiGs. Other missions (no we have not completed them yet, but Free America is depending on us, so we won't fail) include intercepting a couple of stolen aircraft, and doing a search and rescue operation. Oh, on the intercept mission ignore the instructions and blow the stealing sons of Stalin out of the sky.

Interceptor really is quite staggering stuff. It is fast, it is a dream to play and just as nice to look at. I can imagine games appearing with more depth, but until then this is my fave. Get one and go gettem!


F/A-18 Interceptor logo

Electronic Arts

David: Interceptor raised a few eyebrows and dropped a few chins way back in '88 when it first appeared. It was the first flight sim to use exterior views and fast filled-vector graphics. It was also special because it was centred in this world - in the San Francisco district to be exact - as opposed to the common-place imaginary battle-field.

The exterior view is great fun. At the press of a kye, you're shunted outside to be given a panoramic view of your craft. You can also get the choice of watching your aerial stunts from the control-tower or aircraft carrier.

Before you go on 'active service' and take on the Ruskies though, you must perform a perfect landing on the aircraft carrier from whence you came. This is quite tricky (a subtle test of timing, precision and flukiness), but rewarding, when you see the mission.

The missions divert from the usual hum-drum seek-and-destroy types, providing a broad and - dare I say it - exciting range. But the real beauty of Interceptor is that it's not a flight simulator or an arcade game - it's both! It has enough reality to please the technical purist, and it's accessible enough to attract the hardened trigger man. Once loaded, you can be flying in moments, and crashing in seconds. The more complex and detailed elements of flying have been stripped away.

A couple of things irritated me though. The security system, whereby you type in a code EVERY time you start a mission or crash. And the fact that you can never get close to the MIGs, they always stay as dots on the horizon.

Overall though Interceptor is as good a stepping stone between arcade game and flight sims as you're ever likely to find and it's absolutely ruddy brilliant fun to play to boot.