Saturday, 3 April 2010

Full Canvas Jacket

I've been a fan of the WW1 aerial combat sim Red Baron since I first played it back in the dim dark past. When Red Baron II (and then Red Baron 3d) appeared I got that too and played it a lot; RBII was less fun as a game than RB1, mainly because the flight model and so forth was much more accurate, so everything got a lot harder, but it was much more satisfying as a WW1 flight sim.

When the games were released, the graphics were pretty good (the image to the left is a Sopwith Snipe in Red Baron II) especially if you had a Voodoo Glide video card. But RB3d was released back in the '90s, and things have moved on since then. They started looking very dated.

Anyway, a few years ago (about '05 I think) the Full Canvas Jacket superpatch was released, and I just bought a copy. Oddly, in this age of fast high-bandwidth internettings, I couldn't get it as a download, but had to buy an actual physical CD via Ebay... pretty quaint, huh. The disc took about a month to arrive in New Zealand from the States.

I installed it a few days ago, and started playing. It improved the graphics incredibly — see the screenshots to the right compared with the Sopwith Snipe from RBII above — and also made flying (and shooting other planes down) much, much more difficult. If RBII was harder than RB1, this is even harder again, and is probably a lot closer to the actual experience of new pilots (minus the bowel-loosening sprays of castor oil and sheer terror, of course). The aircraft models and textures are exquisite, and the landscape and sky actually looks like landscape and sky rather than an approximation of them knocked up in MS Paint. Screen resolutions are higher, and aircraft and objects are identifiable at longer ranges than in the original game. Anti-aircraft fire, smoke and fire effects look pretty naturalistic. As far as the graphics go, I'm highly impressed. All the sounds have been redone too, and engine noise now varies depending on what plane you're flying, and different machine-guns make their own characteristic sound. Bullet hits sound different depending on what they strike — wood, canvas, metal... or a pilot or observer. It's a big improvement over the original game sounds.

Unfortunately, it comes at a price (apart from the $35 I paid for the disc). For some reason it throws a fit whenever I finish a mission or exit out of the "Fly Now" instant-dogfight thing, and crashes the game to the desktop.

That makes the overall game a lot less interesting, since it means the results of campaign missions aren't saved, and unless you delete the mission files, next time you have to start the same mission all over again. Therefore there's no progress, and even if you delete the mission files so that the game has to generate a new one, the game is reduced to a series of dislocated episodes with no continuity.

From what I've read in various parts of the internet, this appears to be a pretty common problem with the Full Canvas Jacket superpatch, and although plenty of guesses and suggestions have been made as to how to fix it, none of them have worked for me. Unfortunately I suspect that it's to do with the fact that the game was originally written for much older hardware, and OS and video software, so there may in fact not be all that much that can be done.

I guess I won't be playing any campaigns then, which is sad.

Unfortunately I know so little about game graphics software and hardware that I have no chance whatever of sorting it out on my own.

If you don't mind not being able to play a campaign, and don't mind having to delete mission files and restart the program after every mission, FCJ is pretty sweet. Otherwise, I really couldn't recommend it, even though it really does look and sound fantastic.

Technical notes: I'm running Vista on an Intel 2.13GHz Acer machine with 2GB RAM, and a Nvidia GeForce 450 video card with 256MB onboard. I'm using the latest version of the OpenGlide wrapper.