I'm currently reading a fascinating book on the crucial air battle which occurred in the summer of 1940, right at the beginning of World War Two, namely the Battle of Britain (we'd all be goose-stepping with our geriatric Jerry Orics and eating sauerkraut right now if it wasn't for The Few, chaps!) and whilst reading in amazement about the skill & bravery shown by the British R.A.F. pilots (not to mention all the Commonwealth and courageous Czechs, plucky Poles, awesome air crews, gritty ground crews and innumerable other displaced folks), it got me thinking about the wealth of war games that are available for the humble Spectrum.
The other day I began to dig through my Speccy software collection. In no way is the Sinclair my number one machine but I was amazed to find that I own at least twenty or more war/strategy games for it, which did surprise me:
ABOVE: Not a bad haul of strategy/war games for a machine which only occasionally sees the light of day here at Atari-Oric central.
ABOVE: I forgot I even had this cassette tape box full of Speccy goodies - lots of them are strategy-based.
What I intend to do next is compare two or three of the more impressive titles (rather than arcade style shoot-em downs) which set-out to recapture the strategic elements of the Battle of Britain and see how they rate in terms of: historical accuracy, depth of play / game player experience, graphics/sound, AI opponent quality etc etc
ABOVE: Going 'head-to-head' in the simulation battle: PSS's Battle of Britain, Their Finest Hour by Century Communications and finally Microgame Simulations' Battle of Britain.
Who will triumph and prove to be the ace in the pack whilst dumping the others into the English Channel like a discarded Dornier or a mashed-up Messerschmidt?
Tune in and find out over the next week, folks and if you've been Spectrum wargaming - or a fan of the strategy genre in general - let us know here on the Sector.
I've always got time to have a cuppa with an armchair general, patter away with a Patton or munch on Maltesers with another Monty.
I've booted-up the first Battle of Britain game and to be perfectly honest, chaps, the display via RF/UHF from my Speccy to the telly is so bad, I've had to find a clip off You Tube to show you, instead. I must invest in a decent RGB > SCART lead for it but I don't use the Speccy so much - maybe I need to. Anyhow, chocks away and it's back to the play-testing:
This version of 'Battle of Britain' is very basic in its graphics, game play, structure, control and speed of execution - the key presses taking 4-5 seconds to register - it's written in BASIC so it is slow and it actually gives you a tip as to how to restart the game should you inadvertently BREAK into it! Hint: try GOTO LOOP.
ABOVE: 'Battle of Britain' by Microgame Simulations (1982) ABOVE: Baz's experience is mainly "snow" and "fog of war"?!
It might be going for the 'real time' element and feel but in practise the game is dreadfully ponderous getting any of your squadrons airborne to perform intercepts on the enemy raiders (numbered 1-9) so the simulation crawls along. Mind, we must balance this view with the fact it was written way back in 1982. It might have benefited from some machine code routines to speed things up a tad but it would have presented a decent level of programming back then. I would have liked to have seen the use of actual historically accurate squadron numbers rather than just a simple bog-standard numerals 1-9 system, but hey ho, you can't have it all. The randomisation of losses is a bit haphazard too: in one battle I lost all my 10 RAF fighters for a 'trade off' of 10 enemy fighters and 1 bomber, then in the very next I lost just a handful of British planes for the loss of 35 enemy bombers!! Some shooting, fellas! You must try to stop 100 reaching their various targets: British cities - they don't seem to bomb airfields which were targets during the real conflict but the object of this game is to stop the attacks on the population. This is a tall order as the attackers take a heavy toll on your defending squadron's aircraft (which soon need to return to base to refuel, too). Getting your planes up that lay in the bomber's flight-paths is straightforward but once these are shot out of the sky, aircraft located at the supporting airfields - often much further away on the edge of the map - presents a real problem as these planes take much longer to reach the intercepts (and will presumably run out of fuel too?) Purists will say this is just the kind of tactical problem Fighter Command had back then - do you put up standing combat air patrols in the hope that they will be in the right place at the right time...but what if you get caught with your pants down and you're hit while your planes are away elswhere? Such is the dilemma of being a fighter controller...
Disappointingly, you don't receive any automatic updates on the air battles that take place but you do get reports on the success of the bombers hitting their targets. Therefore, if you want the result of a recent dogfight, you have to keep your finger down on the 'X' key (for at least 4-5 seconds) until you get a tally report. Shame you don't get a radio report from the squadron leader to the effect of "3 Jerry bombers confirmed downed, 2 fighters damaged, 1 unconfirmed etc" - that would have been nice, but the morse code/teletype messages that do come through at the bottom of your screen can be very helpful: ie. "Raider 1....strength report: 30 Bombers 5 Escorts" certainly add a nice extra atmospheric and of course a very useful tool in terms of husbanding your resources. Hint: attack those raiders with LARGE bomber formations and SMALL fighter escorts.
Further in the game's favour, you also get the 'fog of war' aspect as plots can only be taken as rough guides and so enemy raiders can turn up "suddenly" or be some distance from where your last radar plots were telling you they were - ie. the positions are only rough guides to the actual enemy locations and they can vector off in any direction. I also like the odds - they are very much like the real thing - RAF squadrons typically numbering just 10 aircraft (the reality was only 12-14 available to Fighter Command controllers in set battles) whereas the raiders can be anything from 40+ strong - these were the kind of odds the RAF faced in 1940. Incredible, really that they survived let alone triumphed over such overwhelming numbers.
SUMMARY TITLE: Battle of Britain SOFTWARE HOUSE: Microgame Simulations (1982) PLAYABILITY (10): 6 GRAPHICS (10): 4 SOUND (10): 2 ACCURACY (10): 5 DEPTH OF PLAY (10): 4 AI STRENGTH (10): 4 "JUST ONE MORE GO" FACTOR (10): 4
ABOVE: Baz was facing an uphill battle of his own with the "quality" of his Speccy's RF TV output, so it was time to invest in one of these and spend a bit more time on his Spectrum:
OK, Speccy-conflict-wargaming fans, the first update to this thread is that Baz received one of those very handy RGB to SCART leads for the Spectrometer recently, thereby negating the need for the RF lead and encountering the "fog of war..." (Part 1):
ABOVE: RGB lead versus old Speccy RF...no contest if you want to avoid the "fog of war" (see Baz's earlier encounters above...no wonder he got his ass kicked)
Right, it's chocks away, chaps, and get yourselves on squadron standby as Baz loads up the next contestant in the battle for all-round superiority in the Spectrum skies over England in 1940, as we look at another piece of software vying to be the best at simulating the...
BATTLE OF BRITAIN
This time it's the turn of PSS's namesake title from their Wargamers series...what? Surely not?
Yep, Baz, it's called... BATTLE OF BRITAIN
ABOVE: The trio of competitors for the "title"...
ABOVE: Hurricane or Spitfire? Some folks can't tell and then there are others who will tell you the Spitty won the "B of B" all on its own - don't listen to em. Without the Hurricane squadrons (more numerous) we'd have been stuffed... We needed BOTH aircraft/all aircraft we could put up - and their brave pilots, fellas.
Find out, tomorrow, how this title shapes-up in the battle of the skies as Baz dons his flying helmet...yep, you won't be surprised to learn he's a frustrated "future pilot" (Little Frank stole his handlebar moustache) and slaps home his Protek joystick interface and really gets to grips with this improved attempt at this key second world war strategy simulation...
Woah baz, your reviews are almost professional! If you can complete them and give them just a couple of touches you can publish them in a magazine. I could even translate them into Italian so they could go straight into RetroMagazine for the joy of all the ZX spectrum lovers of war gaming and strategy titles.
Well, I confess I've had a few yesterday night, but they didn't influence my judgement ability, did they?
Seriously it's maybe the first time that I understand something about this kind of games, which I never gave attention to before. So, ok, feel free to consult with your agent and get back to me when you're finished your home work!
Now, where the hell is my Johnnie Walker Red bottle gone...?