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Developed by Microprose in the early 90's, B-17 Flying Fortress is one of the only Flight Simulators ever produced that attempts to replicate the experience of flying (and utilizing) a strategic bomber.
The game consists of a series of randomized bombing missions over occupied Europe during WWII. The player takes control of the entire 10-man crew of a B-17 bomber, one of the most mass-produced allied aircraft of the war. These four-engine tin cans are slow and ungainly, but their massive bomb load-out, numerous defensive guns, and sturdy construction made them extremely successful in bombing the crap out of Nazi Germany's industrial and logistical capacity.
Each mission begins on the tarmac at an airfield somewhere in southern England. The player must take off, together with up to five other bombers, form up above the airfield, and proceed towards its target. Navigation is done manually, by looking out a window (there are several) or gun emplacement (there are plenty) at the ground below, and comparing it to the flight map. Along the way, enemy aircraft might come up to try and shoot the bombers down. Assuming you survive, you would then need to brave heavy flak over the target area, and use the famous Norden Sight to accurately drop your bombs on the target. Then, it's a slow limp home through even more enemy fighters, followed by a tough landing at (hopefully) your home airfield. A mission can last over an hour of flight, but fortunately it is possible to compress time during the uneventful parts, stopping only to fight, bomb, or recalculate your position.
While the game isn't terribly realistic, it is certainly not an arcade game. Even an uneventful mission can be decidedly tricky. On the one hand, the player needs to keep an eye out for all sorts of things, like engine malfunctions or navigational errors, throughout the entire flight. Once enemy fighters show up, it's almost vital to take control of one of the many gun turrets and help shoot the enemy down. At the target, it may sometimes be necessary to drop bombs through thick cloud cover (practically guessing where the target is), and the norden sight is a difficult piece of machinery to master. Injuries on board need to be treated, and it's the player who must assign a crew member to treat another, or perhaps even pull an injured man out of his post and replace him with an able crewmate at an important position on the plane. Then the engines start going on fire, fuel is leaking out, half the crew are bleeding to death, and you're still trying to get back to the English Channel to avoid having to bail out over Germany. Even if you actually manage to get to your home base, expect at least one wheel to refuse to drop properly, in which case one of the crew have to manually crank it down into position. An hour-long mission suddenly sounds like one hell of a nightmare. This is Truth in Television, to be sure.
This game is probably the debut of several tropes in video games, although practically no attempts were made to repeat any of them. Since strategic bombers aren't considered as cool as fighter-planes, a lot of potential shown by this game was not capitalized upon. It featured realistic navigation (by comparing the ground below to a map), crude technology and "squad" command (giving orders to the rest of your bomber wing), as well as managing a crew of ten people with various skills and responsibilities. RPG Elements are also included - any of the crew-members that you are not currently controlling will attempt to do their job to the best of their ability, with their skills governing how well the AI performs. It was even possible to take a "back-seat" approach and let your men do all the work on their own, although during the early missions they normally sucked. With time, surviving crew-members would get increasingly better at what they're doing, especially if you yourself performed well while controlling them. Be careful not to get too attached to a crewmember, as this is a very dangerous line of work to anyone on-board.
In the early 2000's, capitalizing on advances in 3D technology, Microprose released the sequel: "B-17 Flying Fortress: the Mighty Eightth". Superior to its predecessor visually, it was also ridiculously accurate with both the flight model as well as how things actually went on the plane itself. The detail on board the aircraft was nothing short of amazing, to the point where less hard-core players could hardly even cope with the first few missions. The sequel introduced much larger bomber formations, better damage modeling, and the ability to fly both P-51 escorts and German Messerschmidt interceptors, also extremely well portrayed. In addition it was possible to take the role of a Squadron Commander, allowing the player to actually reconnoiter and choose targets for bombing raids, then go out and fly the planes to bomb those targets. The manual for this game was easily over 100 pages long, with large parts of it dedicated to learning how to fine-tune the goddamned engines. Fortunately, the settings could still be toned down considerably for easier play, but this is still a very hard-core game.
This work features examples of the following tropes:
- All There in the Manual: A 250-page manual, for the second game. It is virtually impossible to play without reading it at least once, and some of the parts (especially the ones about how to work the ridiculously-complicated engines) will confuse the hell out of everyone but the most hard-core players.
- Fortunately, the original game was significantly easier to master, with or without the manual.
- Anyone Can Die: The reason you shouldn't get too attached to your crew-members. The chance of losing at least one man per mission is close to 100%. This is especially despairing because crew-members gain experience from mission to mission, and you need experienced crew-members for the later missions (bombing deep inside Germany). Also, this is Truth in Television: the 8th Air Force's attrition rates reached 20% at times (1 of every 5 airmen was killed on every mission).
- Artificial Stupidity: In the original game, your crew-members show absolutely no initiative. The pilot and co-pilot could be bleeding to death, and none of the others will do a thing to help them unless you explicitly tell them to. In the second game they do sometimes help one another of their own volition, but don't count on it.
- Also, until such time that your crew-members can gain some experience, do not trust them to perform their jobs properly. If you don't man the guns, navigate on your own, activate fire extinguishers on the engines, and take control of the bomb-sight, your mission WILL fail. The only thing the AI can do reliably on its own is take-off, form-up, and land. These things are also notoriously hard to do manually, so at least that's a small blessing.
- Game Breaking Bug: In the second game, when the AI is taking off or landing the plane, it will occasionally lock the engine intercoolers into maximum. This causes the engines to malfunction, crashing the plane. It's possible to work around the bug by manually setting the intercoolers to the correct position, but most players didn't even know what the heck the intercoolers were in the first place, much less how to set them properly and/or force the AI to leave them the hell alone. This was never fixed. It also might be related to modern computers running the game (I.E. the original may or may not have displayed this bug).
- Also, it's possible to land or take-off by doing a time-skip over the entire take-off/landing sequence, I.E. not giving the AI the chance to make any error. Of course, this is a little annoying if you want to experience the thrill of take-offs and landings, which is part of the mission after all.
- The most annoying part is that even if you're landing MANUALLY, switching views from internal to external will often let the AI take control of the engines unless you specifically tell it not to... so you have to manually readjust the intercoolers every goddamn time.
- Goddamned Bats: Enemy fighters, of course. They're like big gnats that want to suck your blood. And by sucking you blood I mean blow you the f*** out of the sky. All they need is to put a few bullets into your plane before you shoot them down. This can cause a fuel leak, an oil leak, a blood leak (from your pilot!), engine failure, landing gear failure, bomb door failure, or in the worst case scenario, losing a wing. Unless you can control the problem, expect to drop out of the sky before long. And this is usually before even reaching the target - you can meet several waves of these bastards per mission, especially when bombing deep inside Germany.
- Nintendo Hard: Missions can last a whole hour (including time compression!), and you can't save once the mission starts. Expect to be shot down and have to start over.
- Point Defenseless: What you feel like when swarmed by German fighter planes, unless all your gunners are really really good.
- RPG Elements: As you fly missions, your surviving crew-members get better at the things they were assigned to do in each mission. The higher their skill, the better they perform when you're not directly controlling them. Since there are 10 crew-members on board a plane, it's impossible to control all of them simultaneously, so you will need experienced members to keep the plane flying in the face of the opposition. Taking direct control of a crew-member and performing admirably at a job (like shooting down enemy planes or correcting navigation errors) helps increase experience for that crew-member faster.