The classic online sim still delivers after a decade.
Even though WarBirds is more than 10 years old, this dedicated online flight sim still enjoys a committed following. Updated nearly nonstop since its debut, it continues to gain new features as well as aircraft. I recently took some time to fly with “Wild Bill” Stealy, CEO of iEntertainment Network, the company behind WarBirds. A former U.S. Air Force Cessna A-37 Dragon – fly driver, Stealy himself plays regularly and is proud of the international clientele the game has attracted through the years.
WarBirds 2008 ($13.95 monthly, requires Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/Vista or Mac OS X 10.4.6, 1.0Ghz processor, 256MB RAM, 1.5GB hard drive space, 128MB DirectX 9 video card, iEntertainment Network, www.totalsims.com) had just gotten its most recent update when I was writing this “Airware” installment. The number of features it offers is staggering.
WarBirds was one of the first online simulations that supported “massively multiplayer” scale. WarBirds debuted long before the fantasy online game World of Warcraft, but the concept is similar. People around the globe connect to a persistent digital world for a monthly fee and take on the persona of a WWII pilot, then join teams and fight for terrain. As players gain experience and achieve victories, they’re granted awards and rank.
Players must first download a copy of the game over the Internet. This gives them access to free training and instant action missions they can play offline on their computers. The game includes a free one-month trial subscription to the online component. Going online opens access to several arenas, including a main battlefield, special event theaters and training zones. WarBirds initially focused on WWII-era aircraft but now includes drivable tanks and anti-aircraft vehicles. Subscribers can also use a WWI online sim, Dawn of Aces, and a WWII tank sim, Armored Assault.
A tremendous variety of fighter and bomber variants are flyable in this game. Early-war icons such as the Messerschmitt Me-109, Bell P-39 Airacobra, Mitsubishi A6M Zero and Boeing B-17, in addition to latewar entries such as the Grumman F6F Hellcat, will whet any historian’s appetite. An essay accompanies each aircraft.
I had fun flying the Douglas SBD Daunt – less on anti-shipping strikes and was im – pressed with the realistic flight models. WarBirds has always modeled torque and various flight envelopes, but I also noticed things like the effect of speed and compressibility on control surfaces that don’t operate at certain speeds. Even takeoffs can be difficult in a heavily loaded aircraft. Although the aircraft themselves are historically accurate, the battles may feature aircraft that normally didn’t face off in combat. Players interested in more accurate engagements organize special events that re-create battles.
The WarBirds crowd is accustomed to challenging air combat. Fortunately, most players are helpful, since WarBirds allows you to page a trainer if you want lessons. Novices can also man an anti-aircraft gun or vehicle or ride in the turret of a bomber. Another helpful development is third-party online communication utilities such as Team Speak, which enable players to converse in real time with their squad mates.
WarBirds doesn’t quite offer the stunning graphics of sims such as Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, but there are many things in its favor. Flight sims in general are a dwindling breed, and few are continuously updated. The one thing that remains unchanged is the passion of the people behind this game—one of the few sims that works for both PC and Mac users. For many die-hard virtual pilots, it may be all the simulation they need.
Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.