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Air Warrior, a computer flight simulator by Kesmai, Charlottesville, Va., 1996, $49.95 or available for downloadonline.

Kesmai’s Air Warrior doesn’t break ground in graphics or sound, but it has unique characteristics that separate it from thenormal run of computer games. It is unique in its multiplayer gaming environment. Unique also is the involvement of players aswell as designers in the evolution of the game. Although some games link 2 to 6 players, Air Warrior links 150 players into amainframe computer via network modem links. They communicate online and in flight, typing messages transmitted throughvirtual space. This capability has spawned an online community of thousands from the United States, Canada, Japan andEurope whose common bond is the love of World War I and World War II aircraft and interest in the men who flew them.

Air Warrior is available on America Online (AOL), Compuserve, Earthlink, Genie, Delphi, and Concentric/Cris networks.AOL, Compuserve and Earthlink are on unique Windows-based playing areas (called arenas), whereas Genie, Delphi andCris share a single DOS-based arena. The Windows interface is graphically oriented, while the DOS area is text oriented, butthey share the same basic structure.

The WWI and WWII arenas contain nonspecific landscape. (The European theater is mountains, rivers and lakes, whilecontrol of the Pacific is contested over a central island atoll surrounded by smaller islands and carrier groups.)

Designer Kelton Flinn (“Mr. Show-me-the-P-38’s-stall-speed-was-different-and-I’ll-change-it”) insists on historical accuracy.Players mined the archives of the U.S. Air Force’s Wright-Patterson Test Center and the Smithsonian Institution for the testinformation these flight models are based on. The Kesmai staff traveled to the RAF Duxford museum in England to photographthe instrument panels of Supermarine Spitfires and Messerschmitt Me-109s for the program’s aircraft artwork.

The resulting virtual airplanes have unique flight characteristics that require players to develop special tactics to survive and win.This is the only place outside the world of military combat where the historical principles of ACM (air combat maneuvering)are alive and evolving.

There is also a strategic aspect to the game. The arenas contain oil refineries and aircraft factories, and each airfield has fueland maintenance supplies. Supply levels are degraded when the facilities are bombed–which negatively affects theperformance of all aircraft. Players can crew bombers like the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress as gunners. They can also drivetanks, AA jeeps or mobile flak batteries. This makes possible historic battle re-creations called scenarios. The tactics ofindividual planes are often drawn from history, although sometimes the conclusions of those virtual battles gives a greaterappreciation of how often history has hung in the balance. (In a recent scenario, the Japanese took New Guinea andthreatened Australia.)

If you are a student of World War II aviation history, you owe it to yourself to try out this flight simulator. You will besurrounded by a worldwide community of thousands of people with this exact same interest.

David Pierot