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“...possibly the best computer game ever made...”


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<By habit I first posted this elsewhere, but I'm hanging out here more lately so I'll post it here too...>

"In the fall of 1990, MicroProse president, Bill Stealey suggested the time had come for us to do it, and we had until the summer of 1991."

Hard to believe this was almost 20 years ago! Enjoy some flight sim history...




F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0 is the result of lots and lots of people working closely together over a long period of time. It really goes all the way back to 1987 when the first game on the topic was done.

Project Stealth Fighter (for the Commodore 64) was the first effort at a stealth game, and it worked remarkably well given the limited 8-bit, 1 MHz environment – Arnold Hendrick and Jim Synoski had set the stage for the next try at a stealth game.

When Sid Meier and Andy Hollis teamed up to do the same game for a 16-bit IBM machine, a large team was quickly assembled to work on what we knew would be a great game. Four and a half man years later, when MicroProse finally released F-19 Stealth Fighter for the IBM in the fall of 1988, the US Air Force finally unveiled its much-rumored stealth fighter, the F-117A.

We thought F-19 would be a winner because it was the most realistic combat flight game to date for the commercial marketplace, but we had no idea of the magnitude of its success. It sold LOTS of copies fast and won just about every conceivable award in its first year it was on the shelves. It was proclaimed "...possibly the best computer game ever made..." The Software Publisher's Association voted it the best game of the year, and the accolades go on and on. Even now it continues to be one of our best-selling titles.

The Air Force had managed to keep the look of the F-117A a secret for nearly 10 years, fooling everyone, including various model makers, about the shape and the name of their stealth plane. As soon as we got a good look at the F-117A, we knew that sooner or later, we'd update F-19 to match the look of that aircraft.

In the fall of 1990, MicroProse president, Bill Stealey suggested the time had come for us to do it, and we had until the summer of 1991.

Design Team

Since 1988, MicroProse has done four new games using state-of-the-art 3-D technology. Andy Hollis came out with F-15 Strike Eagle II, for the fall of 1989, which used the same core system as F-19 but pushed the boundaries farther and faster. In 1990, he used a related 3-D system to produce Lightspeed. In both these products the 3-D was improved and modified to render more colorful, faster code. Meanwhile, Scott Spanburg had developed a different but related system, first for M1 Tank Platoon, then in the following year for Knights of the Sky. So we've gained lots of experience with 3-D systems, and it is fair to say that the 3-D system you see in F-117A is the product of all the 3-D work that MicroProse has done since 1988.

Lead programmer Joe Hellesen was given the unenviable task of taking a great game, F-19, and improving it. We were able to enlist Max Remington (3-D artist for virtually all of MicroProse's games) to do the new objects we needed. Bruce Shelley was charged with overseeing the development of the new worlds that would have to be constructed, and Bruce Milligan (a recently hired game designer) was charged with constructing them. Veteran computer artists Kim Biscoe and Barbara Bents were brought on-board to provide art for opening and closing screens, and Ed Fletcher, a new hot-shot addition to MPS labs, was brought on to do the front and end game programming.

From the onset, Joe and I agreed not to tamper with the basic gameplay – F-19 was a real winner which had enjoyed phenomenal success, the basic gameplay is solid... "if it ain't broke don't fix it." We decided that, given time constraints, the best course was to concentrate on graphics to see if we could make it more realistic, fun and set a new standard for future flight sim in terms of graphic presentation of the world in which you fly.

Already, we had a system that allowed a great deal of detail but we wanted to enhance it, make it more believable, more colorful. The original game had been done with 16-color 3-D worlds (at the time 16-color EGA was pushing the limits of the technology), so the first step was to adapt the game to 256-color graphics. This meant a lot of work for Max and Joe. All the objects had to be recolored, and in some cases rebuilt to accommodate 256-color graphics.

To make sure players have plenty of areas in which to fly, we included all four worlds from the old F-19, and added five more – two from F-15 II and three new ones.

The night world took on new significance because the real F-117A never flies combat sorties during the day. Joe and Kim came up with a striking night horizon. Then we added lights to the ground objects which switch on and off according to where you are (enemy or friendly territory), the level of tension, and what time of day it is. Next, we added a sky that lightens and darkens dynamically according to the time of day. Finally, we added the FLIR camera view, partly because it was "cool" and partly out of necessity: in the deepest, darkest night, it is imperative to use the FLIR so you can tell what you're looking at. These combine to give a very strong feeling of realism.

To go with these additions, we also needed a real-looking F-117 aircraft. Max spent several long weekends building the most complex object ever to appear in a home computer game, and Joe and Andy came up with a way to make all those surfaces and lines sort correctly.

During the development period, US forces were involved in a war in Iraq and Kuwait which showed just how effective precision bombing can be. Joe immediately began to work on a new view through the tracking camera – one that would show the "real" world outside your aircraft, like video tape shown at briefings during the war. He linked this view to the nose view on the Maverick missile, because this weapon actually has a camera in its nose. (Other weapons that have nose cameras, like the GBU-15s that F-111's knocked out the pumping manifolds at Sea Island, are not represented in the game because they are probably too heavy for the F-117A).

The front and end of the game were completely redesigned to make it easier to navigate through options and to give a chance for some beautiful 256-color graphics to adorn your CRT. We added a feature that allows you (it you're the type) to quickly generate a bunch of missions until you get one you really want. Also, for those of you who want to know what it might be like to fly the real F-117, we included the "Lockheed F-117A" option that essentially cuts out some of the capabilities to make it more like the real plane.

There are a lot of other enhancements: a more intelligent and realistic cockpit, improved enemy AI, new targets, new missions, and on and on.

For those of you that have enjoyed the original F-19, we hope you'll like this one even more. For those who are playing our Stealth Fighter game for the first time, hold on to your seats and get ready for an experience of a lifetime.

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  • 8 months later...

Wonder what Andy Hollis is up to these days? I used to see him posting on Usenet around the time of Longbow/2 but I guess he got out of gaming completely after that.

You can read up on him on Wikipedia: Andy Hollis

Apparently, he is big into auto racing, but he was still working on games up to 2006.

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