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Whirlwind of Vietnam: UH-1

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: Akella

About Rainier

PC gamer, WorthPlaying EIC, globe-trotting couch potato, patriot, '80s headbanger, movie watcher, music lover, foodie and man in black -- squirrel!

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'Whirlwind of Vietnam: UH-1' Developer Q&A

by Rainier on Nov. 8, 2006 @ 3:29 a.m. PST

The game covers the events in November 1965, the operation in the Ia Drang Valley. Players will have a chance to pilot the legendary UH-1B (a gunship featuring maneuverability and fire power) and perform different types of tasks including attack and destroy, infantry support, rescue and many others. Gamers will be able to choose between different aircrew members at any time becoming the pilot or gunner as the AI takes over any unmanned positions. Flexibility is key as multiple settings allow varied flight behavior for the helicopter from realistic to arcade. This makes the game interesting for both hardcore gamers and casual players.

On March, 8, 1965 the first troops of the US Marine Corps landed on the territory of Southern Vietnam. It was the beginning of a new confrontation between Saigon government and The Liberation Army of Vietnam. During this war the American troops were using not only new weapons, but new battlefield postures as well. One of the most noticeable changes was the extensive use of military helicopters both for transportation and fire support in landing zones.

Q: Why did you pick up this certain period of history for your game?

NG: This period is extremely interesting because it was the time when methods of warfare started going through major changes. New control systems were being introduced, new military branches were appearing, entire doctrines were emerging and developing. And speaking about the development of a helicopter simulator, this conflict gets a special meaning, because the helicopter is a symbol of the Vietnam campaign.

Q: What is the target audience of the game? Is it a hardcore sim like Enemy Engaged, an arcade like Comanche 4 or will it hit the tastes of the broad public like IL-2 Sturmovik?

NG: At all stages of Whirlwind of Vietnam development, we tried to incorporate as many capabilities as possible that every player will appreciate. Environment settings, level of realism while piloting, target indication and orientation settings will enable everyone to determine their own priorities.

For experienced pilots we have created a realistic helicopter model, which is identical to a real aircraft both in the exterior and in air behavior. One will have to fight using this disobedient aircraft. But to be successful in this one must not only master the controls, one should also make good use of the flight map, thoroughly listen to radio chatter and scan the landscape, searching for the destination point.

An inexperienced person can hand over these functions to autopilot and fully concentrate on the action and the storyline, not getting distracted by the necessity to control the aircraft. If this is to tough for a player, one can switch on god mode and unlimited ammo and try to play "scorched Vietnam". They only thing one gas to keep an eye in this case is to avoid collision with the ground. There are different types of gamepaly and different settings - we hope that different categories of players will appreciate that.

Q: Whirlwind of Vietnam: UH-1 promises to lay special emphasis on development of action and movie-style atmosphere. How do you plan to tell the story of Lieutenant Douglas Quade, and what is the role of scenario scripts? Any scenario twists?

NG: The plot in Whirlwind of Vietnam: UH-1 is of primary importance. But our main focus is not the life of Lieutenant Douglas Quade, but rather the extended operation in Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley as seen by the eyes of our hero. Reconstruction of real historical events as they looked for their participant will make the game indeed dramatic.

The story is worth being shown from all angles that is why we concentrated on maximal authenticity. The operation in the Ia Drang Valley was the first large-scale offensive operation against the regular army of the Northern Vietnam. Units of the U.S. Armed Forces which used helicopters as means of transportation were actively involved in it.

Ia Drang nearly saw the repetition of the tragedy that befell the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. army during the Civil War, when cavalrymen were sealed off and suffered a crushing defeat. The same happened here - due to poor reconnaissance, a landing party of the 7th Regiment had to face an outnumbering enemy and was nearly crumpled. Only soldiers' courage and commanders' composure saved them.

Players will see and feel all of that. Though there will also be some surprises during the game.

Q: Please tell us about the structure of the game campaign. What kinds of missions will we be assigned?

NG: The campaign is fully devoted to the operation in the Ia Drang Valley, whose outcome was determined by helicopters. Pilots will have to fly several combat sorties using a heavily armed modification of the famous UH-1B and provide fire support for ground forces. However the game is not limited to merciless destruction of enemies. The game features missions that require not only quick reaction, but tactical skills for providing correct infantry support and choosing higher priority targets. Of course, all scenes are connected by a historical plot.

Q: Fair Strike was criticized by many for the small size of its maps that provided no room for maneuvers. How big are locations in Whirlwind of Vietnam?

NG: I do not think the two projects should be compared. Whirlwind of Vietnam: UH-1 and Fair Strike are on absolutely different levels. It we consider maps, for instance, in Whirlwind of Vietnam the operation area exceeds the standard size of a Fair Strike map more than a hundred times. Our game features 6,500 square kilometers of detailed landscape, and even the most exacting pilots will have enough room for maneuvering.

Q: Is the player a lone warrior or will he fight in company of computer allies? Can he give orders to his mates, and how is this realized?

NG: Of course, the player permanently interacts with other aircraft and helicopter groups. As to other crewmembers, we have developed a mechanism of alternating between the positions of pilot, co-pilot and gunners, which will allow the player to realize tactical concepts without having to issue orders, for instance, to open drenching fire at the enemy or to perform a dramatic bank in order to increase the firing angle.

Q: Do we have to interact with other military branches, for instance, with computer-controlled infantry?

NG: How can you do without coordination? It is natural that ground services guide helicopter teams, adjusting their missions and course. The teams, in turn, directly influence the situation on the ground, and responding to this situation, ground units launch an attack, regroup or change the position depending on the developments. In other words, helicopters and infantry influence each other's actions in the most direct way.

Q: Does the game feature squadron management? Can we choose a helicopter, the allowance of ammunition, or crewmembers for flying a sortie? As far as I remember, KA-52 Team Alligator featured a flight personnel morale system. Does Whirlwind of Vietnam have anything like this?

NG: Missions are closely tied to the game plot that is why the type and role of the hero's helicopter directly depend on the scenario. If someone is doomed to die or crash, he will die or crash, be sure about it.

A specific type of helicopter and an optimal set of armament, adjusted for this specific mission, are required to accomplish it. The player can examine his helicopter and his mate's helicopter, check the allowance of ammunition, and elaborate a competent strategy of his actions proceeding from examination results.

Q: Whirlwind of Vietnam: UH-1 allows players to occupy different positions in the helicopter crew. Can we alternate among them at any moment in time, or are there limitations imposed by the mission designer? How do you realize interaction with other crewmembers?

NG: The player is free to take one of pilot seats or replace one of the gunners. There is complete freedom here: you can fire all weapons at the enemy, or you can fly banks, making the mouths of peasants and brothers in arms form an O.

When the player is in the gunner's position, an autopilot takes control. You only have to take sight and press the button switch, and the helicopter will choose an optimal course by itself.

If the player is steering he will have to take care of the gunners, giving them more space for fire. Pilots' seats allow equally good control over aircraft movement but they are different in the use of suspended weapons. Thus, the co-pilot cannot launch rockets, but is excellent at controlling machine-guns, making use of the outer suspensions' ability to be controlled in vertical and horizontal planes.

The pilot, however, can control all types of helicopter weapons within the limits of the course. The player will have to decide what weapon is the most important one in this particular scene, and what position he should occupy aboard.

All crewmembers are independent personalities and they behave in accordance with the situation. Thus, gunners admire picturesque Vietnamese landscapes during the flight while listening to rock'n'roll in the vein of Jimi Hendrix or Jefferson Airplane. However they have no possibility to admire the beauty in battle, as they constantly seek targets and fire at them as soon as they get a chance.

Q: What sources did you use when you worked out locations, the scenario, the flight model and the game atmosphere in general? Have you personally been to battle scenes of that war?

NG: We primarily used the memoirs that describe the operation in the Ia Drang Valley. We went through a great many of Internet archives and scanned gigabytes of photographs and other visual materials.

Having chosen the scenes, we determined possible locations and created the campaign landscape, using a satellite map. The scenario is based on the historic operation in LZ Roentgen. At that point in time, the Vietnam War had not entered the dirty conflict stage, and raw recruits were still excited over fighting for their country and their idea, even on foreign soil.

Our special thanks goes to real pilots who took part in that war. Their memoirs are an ineffable mixture of pride and pain for those years, and these are the feelings that we could not but depict in the game. Such books as We Were Soldiers Once… And Young and Bell UH-1 Huey "Slicks" turned out instrumental in restoring the atmosphere of the events and in the work on the helicopter. Movies dedicated to the Vietnam War, such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon, We Were Soldiers, and Deer Hunter, were a big influence on the project, because they convey the spirit of that confrontation, which we also tried to render in our game.

Speaking about the helicopter, while creating its in-game model we used both technical data and our own impressions - we saw the UH-1B Huey with our own eyes while visiting USA.

Q: A single plot is nice, but some people prefer dynamic campaigns similar to the ones that Apache Havoc and IL-2 Sturmovik offer. Will your game have anything similar, or are you only talking about a set of missions created by designers?

Whirlwind of Vietnam campaign is based on historic reconstruction that is why we are only talking about a set of designer sorties, each of them covering a certain stage of the protracted operation in the Ia Drang Valley.

Q: What other helicopters, apart from the Huey, will we fly? Is there a big difference between virtual models and their prototypes as far as air behavior is concerned?

NG: We offer the player only the heavily armed modification of the UH-1B: max maneuverability, max firepower. Availability of this only helicopter is a result of historic reconstruction.

The virtual UH-1B Huey is fully identical to the real prototype, not only speaking about air behavior, but also about the exterior and interior design. All knobs, toggle switches and measuring devices in the cockpit are in their places, and indicators of many devices are on. In general, a professional pilot will definitely not be at a loss here.

Using the virtual finger, the player can turn main toggle switches of control panels in order to select rocket launch modes, turn off the radio, test the notification system, etc. And if you are a sensation seeker, you can switch off the fuel injection pump right in the air and enjoy the sight from the cabin of the falling helicopter.

When we calculate the flight model, we take into account the takeoff weight, flight altitude, proximity to the ground, wind influence, the state of the helicopter's components and equipment, the amount of fuel and armament aboard. We do not forget about such effects as air cushioning, blade slap, and ring whirl. The unique peculiarity of the UH-1, i.e. its two-blade rotor, resulting in vibrations already at cruising speeds, and details of the classic helicopter layout with the tail rotor, are not forgotten either.

Q: UH-1 was a pretty difficult helicopter to handle. What kind of pilot skills are required from the player on the most advanced level? For instance, is it possible to damage the helicopter as a result of inaccurate piloting?

NG: Indeed, it is not easy to steer UH-1B and we take the smallest details into account on the most advanced level. The player simply must know them otherwise he will be in trouble.

When the engine speed maintenance system is switched off, and the manual mode is on, the pilot risks either losing speed or overheating the engine. Skis may be bent or the helicopter may crash if the landing is awkward. Strong vibrations appearing when the helicopter gains speed signal the beginning of a blade slap. In this case the helicopter will lose the ascentional power and nose-dive to the ground if the pilot does not adjust speed.

Even a minor mistake may result in a crushing fall or collision. If the helicopter falls, it falls apart, or the pilot dies, and a collision results in various damages, ranging from common hull deformation to complete loss of steering control.

Q: How much detailed is the helicopter damage pattern, from both physical and artistic points of view? How did you realize the ground hardware damage pattern?

NG: The helicopter damage pattern takes into account the main components and systems of the aircraft, as well as their influence on the helicopter performance. For instance, damages to the tail rotor compensator will force the player to keep the helicopter on course manually, constantly using pedals (of course, if he has chosen max level of realism). If the steering-wheel shaft collapses completely, helicopter control becomes impossible, which will most likely result in a random fall. If you suffer a minor hit against the ground or a building, you will fly with deformed sides and landing skis.

At the same time, we take into account lubrication systems, the engine turbine, transmission, rotors, tracking equipment sets, the tail rotor shaft. Anyway, we guarantee that the player will learn about damages on time through the notification system or by seeing smoke coming out of the broken equipment piece, so that he will have time to get prepared for a forced landing. Crewmembers may die, too. And this is a human factor, as it is difficult to fight without a gunner or one of the pilots.

While calculating the damages caused to the ground hardware and buildings, we take into account the target type and the type of the munition hitting it. For instance, you are hardly likely to turn a house or a bridge into ruins by a machine-gun burst, but a rocket salvo can destroy them both.

Q: What happens if the helicopter is shot down, but the player ejects himself, lands and survives? Will he be able to return to friendly forces on foot or even take part in a ground operation?

NG: Unfortunately, helicopters of that time were not equipped with ejection seats or parachutes for pilots. Frailty of design ruled out hard landings. That is why if you take a look at onboard equipment and see that a trouble is coming your way, hold fast to the steering wheel. However, it will not help anyway, and you and your winged horse are bound to turn into a bloody mess with a shade of metallic color.

There is one exception - a hard landing at base, when the player can still be saved and the sortie can be registered. A fall en route, in the jungle always results in mission failure and crew elimination.

Q: What armament types will the players have?

NG: The game features standard helicopter crew armament of that time. The aircraft carries the standard XM-21 subsystem consisting of M134 six-barrel machine guns and HAP M158 seven-tube rocket launchers. Machine-guns are controlled by a moving pylon from the co-pilot's seat, while 2.75 inch rockets are launched by the pilot. Gunners are armed with M-60 machine-guns adapted for firing from doorways.

Q: Who will be our adversaries? What samples of hardware, both aerial and ground-based, will we see in the game?

NG: Specific methods of combating air cavalry were developed on the territory under the U.S. control. Large-caliber machine-guns and masked riflemen posed the greatest danger for non-armored helicopters, and they are present in the game.

The U.S. is represented by Skyrider piston attack planes, UH-1D and CH-47D transport helicopters, army trucks and cars, riverine patrol boats. The players will see U.S. military bases in PleiMe and DucCo, as well as many villages typical for Vietnam's central highlands.

Q: Screenshots show a high level of details, can you tell us about the NAPALM Engine and its capabilities? Was it designed from scratch to meet requirements of Whirlwind of Vietnam: UH-1, or is it an upgrade of already existing technologies?

NG: The NAPALM Engine was developed on the foundation of our previous developments, but most of the engine is programmed from scratch, especially to meet requirements of serious sims, such as Whirlwind of Vietnam. The NAPALM Engine is capable of emulating hundreds of square kilometers of land with grass and trees. We also use SpeedTree technology in our game.

The difficulty in creating a pure helicopter sim is that the player can be in the cabin, seeing grass on the ground and leaves on the trees, and just a few minutes later he can be hovering several kilometers above the earth, looking at a vast area. At the same time, when the helicopter is climbing up, the picture must remain beautiful and detailed. We managed to attain this goal, and now we have an outstanding technology that can be used outside the realm of simulators.

The NAPALM Engine uses vertex and pixel shaders, can work with dynamic illumination, special illumination of inner rooms, stencil shades, mirrors and mirror images, water surfaces. Moreover, the engine initially contains a set of ready-made solutions for realizing explosions, smoke, dust, spatters, inverse traces, tracers, rain, specks of light on lenses. 3D sound and dynamic music are supported.

Q: What computer will be required to see the game in all its beauty? What is the lowest level of system requirements?

NG: Thanks to broad capabilities of setting graphic and sound nuances, owners of both advanced computers and simpler workstations will be able to enjoy the game. The minimal requirements are Intel Pentium 4, 2.4 GHz, and a video card with 128 Mb RAM (minimum Radeon 9600 or GeForce 6600). But one should really have a rather hi-end PC to see all the beauties of the game.

Q: Is there multiplayer mode?

NG: I will have to disappoint you. Our game is devoted to the War in Vietnam. Helicopters of that time were not intended for extended battles. The reason is simple: there was nobody to fight in the air. Multi-role and transport helicopters form the core of a helicopter squadron of that time. Such a multi-player game is a sophisticated and maybe beautiful sight, but it absolutely lacks dynamics.


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