Crimson Skies (video game)

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Crimson Skies
CrimsonSkies coverart.jpg
Developer(s)Zipper Interactive
Aces Game Studio
Publisher(s)Microsoft Games
Tsunami Visual Technologies (Arcade)
Designer(s)Jordan Weisman
John Howard
SeriesCrimson Skies
Platform(s)Microsoft Windows, Arcade[2]
ReleaseWindows
  • NA: September 18, 2000[1]
  • EU: October 13, 2000
Arcade
2002
Genre(s)Action, arcade flight
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Crimson Skies is an arcade flight video game developed by Zipper Interactive and published in 2000 by Microsoft Games. Although a flight-based game, Crimson Skies is not a genuine flight simulator, as the game is based less on flight mechanics than on action. According to series creator Jordan Weisman, Crimson Skies is "not about simulating reality—it's about fulfilling fantasies".[3]

The game is set in an alternate history of the 1930s in which the United States has fragmented into a number of smaller sovereignties, and in which air travel has become the primary mode of transportation in North America. The game centers on Nathan Zachary, an adventurous air pirate seeking to rob the affluent of their wealth and power.[4] Throughout the campaign, Zachary leads his gang of air pirates, the Fortune Hunters, on a quest to gain fame and riches.

Crimson Skies is often regarded as a "cult success", commercially successful only to a limited extent. The game received generally favorable reviews; it had been noted for its high-quality voice acting, gameplay, and atmosphere.[5][6] Notable technical issues, however, were known to plague the game, the most notorious of which was the tendency to delete saved game files until a patch was released.[7] The game was later ported to arcade games in 2002.

Gameplay[edit]

Crimson Skies is a cross between an authentic flight simulator and an arcade flight game. Although flight mechanics such as lift are still present, the game's planes are generally overpowered, allowing them to perform aerobatic maneuvers impossible in reality under similar circumstances.[6][8] According to lead game designer John Howard:

We're not trying to build a realistic flight simulation, but at the same time, Crimson Skies isn't a cartoony, arcade-type game, either. We had to find a middle ground, where the planes were more powerful, more responsive and more intuitive to fly, so that the player can just concentrate on being a hero.[9]

GameSpot claimed that "the flight model in Crimson Skies is light on the physics and heavy on the barnstorming".[8] In this way, the site likened the game's arcade flight model to the "stunt-flying heroics of pulp novel fame", in which "daredevil pilots performed unbelievable (and quite impossible) feats of showmanship and gunnery".[8] To this effect, the game features select "danger zones"—difficult spaces situated throughout the environment through which the player can fly to dissuade pursuing aircraft.[10] Such stunts are also documented in the player's "scrapbook", which is the game's record of the player's accomplishments throughout the campaign.[10]

The gameplay of Crimson Skies takes place through the player controlling an aircraft through the game's various environments. The game offers three cameras during missions: first-person perspectives with or without a cockpit visible, and a third-person view. The game's heads-up display features basic flight instrumentation such as the compass, altimeter, and speedometer, as well as a damage indicator for the player's aircraft and ammunition displays for the plane's primary and secondary weapons. The game also provides the player with a feature known as the "spyglass", which provides a magnified image of the selected target and indicates its current heading.[10][11]

The game features eleven different playable aircraft, each of which can be customized. For any aircraft, the player can select its airframe, engine, armor, weapons layout, and paint scheme, although customization is limited by the weight capacity of the airframe and—in the single-player campaign—the player's cash on hand. Outfitting an aircraft with different components affects its performance in terms of speed, maneuverability, stamina, and offense. The player is also able to equip the aircraft's guns and hardpoints with different types of ammunition and rockets, respectively.[10][11]

The game's single-player campaign has three difficulty levels,[12] and spans twenty-four missions.[6] Before the start of a mission, players select the plane and ammunition for both themselves and their wingmates, although wingmate commands are not available during gameplay.

In addition to the campaign, an instant action mode is available which allows the player to play individual missions or customized scenarios. Multiplayer is also available through the Reverb Gaming lobby, over a LAN or the Internet, or via a direct serial connection. Players can host games or join existing ones; the host selects the game's victory conditions and allowable aircraft components/ammunition. Multiplayer game modes include dogfight, capture the flag, and Zeppelin-to-Zeppelin combat.[6][10]

Plot[edit]

Setting[edit]

North America in the fictional Crimson Skies universe

The Crimson Skies universe is set in an alternate history of the year 1937. According to the game's backstory, factors such as the growing strength of the "Regionalist Party", the division between "wet" and "dry" states, and a quarantine caused by an Influenza outbreak resulted in a general shift in power from federal to state and local levels. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, states began seceding from the United States. A number of independent nation-states form from the fractured United States; hostilities between these sovereignties eventually escalate into outright war.[13]

After the breakup of America, the former nation's railroad and highway systems fell into disuse as they crossed hostile borders. Consequently, the airplane and the airship became the primary modes of transportation in North America, which in turn gave birth to air piracy. Although air militias formed to defend against the air pirates, continuous brushfire wars between the nations prevent the established governments from effectively repelling the pirate threat.[3][13]

Characters[edit]

The player character is Nathan Zachary, a man well known in the game world as a reputable ladies' man and a notorious air pirate.[9] He is the leader of a group of air pirates, the Fortune Hunters. Zachary dislikes the wealthy and privileged, seeing them as selfish and insensitive towards the less privileged; as a result, Zachary and his gang have a penchant for stripping the rich of their money and influence.[4] Zachary's "articles of piracy" insist that his gang are not to harm the innocent, and that they steal only from those who can afford the loss.[14][15] IGN stated that the Fortune Hunters are "wonderfully ambiguous […] in the moral sense", qualifying that "it's always great to see heroes […] who aren't too good to be true."[16]

The Fortune Hunters are based on the Zeppelin Pandora, and comprise the airship's crew as well as six pilots—Nathan Zachary and his wingman Jack Mulligan, "Tex" Ryder and her wingman "Buck" Deere, "Big John" Washington and Betty "Brooklyn" Charles.[16] Later joining Nathan and his gang are Dr. Wilhelm Fassenbiender, a German scientist and friend of Nathan's since World War I,[17] as well as his daughter, Dr. Ilse Fassenbiender.[15]

Opposing the Fortune Hunters are rival pirates and privateers, such as The Black Swan, Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn, and Ulysses Boothe. Also fighting Zachary and his gang are private security firms such as Blake Aviation Security and militia squadrons such as the Hollywood Knights. Many of these opponents are old rivals or former love interests of Nathan Zachary.[18][19]

Storyline[edit]

In Cuba, ace pilot Nathan Zachary and his crew of air pirates, the “Fortune Hunters”, are betrayed by Lucas Miles following their latest score, resulting in Nathan ordering his crew to open fire on Miles' Zeppelin and seemingly killing him, while the Fortune Hunters flee to safety.

Later, Nathan discovers a treasure map leading to the wreck of Sir Francis Drake’s ship in the Hawaiian Islands, and the Fortune Hunters head there to look for it. Though they manage to locate the wreck, they lack the proper equipment to begin a salvage operation, and also have run-ins with rival air pirate group the “Medusas”, who want the ship’s treasure for themselves, as well as British forces seeking to colonize Hawaii. After fending off the attacks, the Fortune Hunters then take over a British base on one of the islands to upgrade their airship, the Pandora, with salvage equipment. The Fortune Hunters then return to the site of the wreck and successfully salvage it, but not before encountering and defeating the Medusas once more.

As the Fortune Hunters are leaving Hawaii, Nathan receives a transmission from Ilsa Fassenbiender, the daughter of his friend from the Great War, Dr. Wilhelm Fassenbiender; she explains that her father has been taken into custody by the Soviet Cheka secret police, which leads the Fortune Hunters to Pacifica. There, they find Dr. Fassenbiender imprisoned on a Soviet airship, which the Fortune Hunters attack. As they attack the airship, Nathan and his crew are then attacked by his old flame, The Black Swan, and her gang who were planning on attacking the airship themselves. After engaging and defeating Swan and her crew, Nathan manages to save Fassenbiender. Following this, the Fortune Hunters go to save Ilsa from Blake Aviation Security, a private security firm. Nathan also steals a prototype plane the Fassenbienders were working on. When the Pandora runs low on fuel, Nathan suggests raiding a shipment of fuel supplies from a Soviet tanker, once again clashing with them. Soon after, the Fortune Hunters are threatened by Paladin Blake, CEO of Blake Aviation Security, to leave Pacifica or be forced to deal with his sizable armada. However, the Fortune Hunters sabotage his airship and destroy it, and also defeat Blake in a dogfight. The Fortune Hunters' previous activities come back to haunt them however, when the Soviet airship they attacked earlier is downed by a mysterious pirate gang, the “Black Hats”, who intend to hold the passengers for ransom. Nathan and the Fortune Hunters then engage the Black Hats while defending a hospital ship sent to rescue survivors.

At the Nation of Hollywood, Nathan encounters his old rival Johnny Johnson, now handling security affairs as president of Hughes Aviation. The Fortune Hunters then decide to assist actress Lana Cooper, who is unsatisfied with her contract and wishes to leave. After she is rescued in a daring move, an embarrassed Johnny attempts to save face by showing off Hughes Aviation’s newest accomplishment: the largest plane constructed, the Spruce Goose. Nathan decides to humiliate Johnny further by having the Fortune Hunters steal it. Following this, Nathan is invited to a stunt race to show of his skills as a pilot; the race is eventually revealed to be a trap planned by Johnny and Charlie Steele, the leader of the “Hollywood Knights” whom previously attempted to stop the Fortune Hunters from rescuing Lana and stealing the Spruce Goose. Rival pirate gang leaders Jonathan Kahn and Bill Redman also join the fight, but Nathan manages to gain the upper hand with assistance from The Black Swan and Loyle Crawford, leader of the “Broadway Bombers”. Nathan realizes that the trap was meant to lure him away from the Pandora to give Johnny’s forces an opening to attack it, and he quickly mobilizes the Fortune Hunters to defend their airship. Though they emerge victorious, the Pandora suffers heavy damage from the fight, and the Fortune Hunters decide to commandeer a cargo airship guarded by Blake Aviation Security to tow the Pandora to safety.

As they continue on to safety, Nathan and the Black Swan’s crews are kidnapped, and they work together to get them back. They are also hassled by the Black Hats, and Nathan goes to battle their apparent leader Ace Dixon, while also engaging the new security firm Sacred Trust Incorporated, who are assisting the Black Hats. After Nathan saves the Fortune Hunters’ mechanic, Sparks, he explains that the crew was kidnapped by the Black Hats, and Nathan goes to confront Ulysses Boothe, the actual leader of the Black Hats. Nathan defeats Boothe and uses him as a hostage in exchange for the crews' location. Nathan and the Black Swan then learn that their crews are being held in an airship that is rigged to explode. Though the Black Hats try to double cross them, Nathan manages to rescue the crews and the Pandora. However, the Black Swan is shot down and captured in the process. Eventually the Fortune Hunters attack the Black Hat mansion as revenge, and also manage to rescue the Black Swan. Nathan also discovers why Sacred Trust Incorporated and the Black Hats are collaborating with each other: they are planning to conquer the divided America. Nathan then decides to ask Blake for assistance, and he earns his trust by helping him fend off a Black Hat attack.

Nathan and Blake head to New York, where they try to deal with Sacred Trust personally. Nathan then sabotages one of the Black Hats’ illegal operations, destroying a German freighter and a warehouse containing stolen loot. Later, the Fortune Hunters learn that a Sacred Trust accountant has evidence of Black Hat pirates and German spies working together, and tries to flee the country, but is attacked by the Black Hats while in transit. Nathan saves the accountant, and brings him to the police for safety. Acting on the accountant’s information, the Fortune Hunters sabotage attempts by Sacred Trust in getting their loot back to Germany via three cargo Zeppelins; they eventually manage to stop Sacred Trust. The Fortune Hunters soon learn that the true mastermind is Miles, who managed to survive the Zeppelin crash prior. He then challenges the Fortune Hunters to one last confrontation, but is ultimately defeated by the combined efforts of the Fortune Hunters and the Black Swan. Nathan then chases after Lucas, who has taken Lana hostage, but she manages to escape his plane, allowing Nathan to shoot Lucas down.

Nathan is offered membership to Blake Aviation but turns it down, much to Blake’s outrage. Nathan then plans with the Black Swan to look for treasure in South America, as their airships fly off into the sunset.

Development[edit]

Jordan Weisman, series creator and creative director of Crimson Skies, has said of the game: "Our whole goal is to give the player the kind of role of being Errol Flynn in a 1930's, 1940's great pirate adventure film of the air."[20] According to Weisman, the inspiration for the game came after he had done research on the early years of aviation; he wished to create a game about the era. Weisman and Dave McCoy came up with the concept of "combining the classic fantasies of pilots and pirates." They then created the series' backstory by proposing changes to the history of the United States that would allow the rise of air piracy.[3]

Development on the game originally began for Virtual World Entertainment, and was changed to a PC game under the name "Corsairs!". This original project was shelved, however, prompting Weisman and others to create the board game Crimson Skies. When FASA later became a part of Microsoft, Weisman was given the opportunity to work on a new project; his choice was to restart production of the Crimson Skies PC game.[3]

The original version of the game shipped with numerous technical problems, one of the most notorious was the tendency to delete the player's saved game files.[7] Shortly after the game's release, Microsoft released Crimson Skies Update Version 1.01, a patch specifically designed to fix this problem.[7] Microsoft later released Update Version 1.02 to address other issues, including multiplayer game stability and mission load times.[21]

Recent ATI and Nvidia drivers do not support this game. As such it was only possible to play it in Software Rendering mode. Several fans tried to identify and find the causes of this problem, later gathering at the Nvidia forums,[22] and asking Nvidia for a fix. Nvidia did not show availability for this. The fanbase tried several paths to a solution, culminating in asking known game graphic modder Timeslip if he could devise a fix.

The unofficial patch is available at Timeslip's homepage,[23] fixes the issue with current graphic drivers and improves the game in some aspects, such as allowing higher resolutions.

Reception[edit]

The PC version received "favorable" reviews according to the review aggregation website Metacritic.[24] Bruce Geryk of GameSpot said that "Crimson Skies does an excellent job of taking the elements of flight simulations that have broad appeal—the shooting and the fancy flying—and embellishing them with a great environment and a good story."[6] Steve Butts of IGN called the game "highly inventive, tons of fun and ridiculously addictive";[5] the website later ranked the game as #65 and #75 respectively on its 2003 and 2005 lists of the "Top 100 Games of All Time".[37][38]

Butts lauded the game's arcade-style physics model in IGN's first impressions, stating that it made gameplay "exciting and immediate".[39] Geryk likewise complimented the arcade flight model, stating that it fit with the game's pulp fiction setting and allowed for elaborate stunt flying and fast-paced dogfighting.[6] Other positively received aspects of gameplay include the game's "scrapbook"[6][12] and aircraft customization features.[5][12]

The game's visuals were generally well-received, as was its audio. Critics took particular note of the game's voice talent, which was described as among the best found in computer games up to that time.[5][6] The Crimson Skies universe was also well-received by critics, who found it highly original and described it as an "alternate history that is rare in being both compelling and believable".[5] Critics also commended the way these elements—voice acting, soundtrack, graphics style, and story—combined to contribute to the game's 1930s pulp fiction atmosphere.[6]

The single-player campaign in Crimson Skies was criticized for its overall linearity, and Geryk found that multiple playthroughs of a mission would become "tiresome".[6] The game was most heavily dispraised for its numerous and notable technical issues, which include choppy framerate, missing textures, crash bugs, slowdown during menu screens, flawed wingman AI, long loading times for game levels, and the unreliability of saved game files.[5][6][12][28]

Butts commented that "there are some serious issues with the game that need to be addressed […] in order to help the game realize its amazing potential."[5] According to Geryk: "Unfortunately, the game is […] a reminder of how easily technical problems can defeat a promising design."[6] Edge stated that gameplay is directly affected by these problems, as long loading times force players to "play it safe" and avoid the "improbable stunts that should be the signature of [the] game"; the review concludes as "a shame, because in its variety of missions and sheer panache, the dashing Crimson Skies almost steals your heart."[28] Chris Kramer of NextGen, however, called it "a breath of fresh air: fun, fantastic, and different."[34]

CNET Gamecenter's Mark Asher noted that the game was commercially unsuccessful.[40] It is regarded as a "cult favorite" or a "cult success",[41] generally popular only within a limited "cult following".

The staff of Computer Games Magazine nominated the PC version for their 2000 "Sci-Fi Simulation of the Year" award, whose winner remains unknown.[42] It was a finalist for the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences' 2000 "PC Action/Adventure Game of the Year" and "Computer Innovation" awards, both of which went to Deus Ex.[43][44] It was also nominated for the "Best Story" and "Sci-fi Simulation of the Year" awards at GameSpot's Best and Worst of 2000 Awards, both of which went to The Longest Journey and MechWarrior 4: Vengeance;[45][46] and for the Action award at Computer Gaming World's 2001 Premier Awards, which went to The Operative: No One Lives Forever.[47] It won the award for "Sound" at GameSpy's Best of 2000 Awards.[48]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ "Crimson Skies". Tsunami Visual Technologies. Archived from the original on May 25, 2006. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d IGN staff (August 4, 2000). "Crimson Skies Interview". IGN. Ziff Davis. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Zipper Interactive (ed.). Crimson Skies Instruction Manual. Microsoft Games. p. 5. I attack the rich and powerful of any nation and take what they treasure most—their money. In doing so I may bring them down a notch and show them they are not untouchable.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Butts, Steve (September 22, 2000). "Crimson Skies". IGN. Ziff Davis. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
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  9. ^ a b "John Howard: Lead Designer for Crimson Skies". Microsoft Games. Microsoft. Archived from the original on March 6, 2007. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
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  14. ^ "Fortune Hunters: Summary Info". Crimson Skies Universe website. Microsoft. Retrieved May 27, 2008.
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  17. ^ Kenson, Stephen (2000). Crimson Skies Pirate's Gold, Wings of Fortune: Book 1. Crimson Skies. Chicago, Illinois: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-406-4.
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  19. ^ "Gallery". Microsoft Games. Microsoft. Archived from the original on June 30, 2007. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
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  22. ^ "Crimson Skies: NVIDIA Fixed AvP, Now Please Fix CS Crimson Skies and Forceware". Nvidia. October 3, 2007. Archived from the original on October 13, 2010. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
  23. ^ timeslip staff (December 9, 2011). "9th of December". Timeslip. Archived from the original on January 10, 2012. Retrieved January 18, 2022. A new csfix release is up with a fix for the black squares, and which also fixes the briefing screen flickering that occurs when using a custom resolution.
  24. ^ a b "Crimson Skies for PC Reviews". Metacritic. Red Ventures. Retrieved January 18, 2022.
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  46. ^ GameSpot staff (January 5, 2001). "Best and Worst of 2000 (Sci-fi Simulation of the Year, Nominees)". GameSpot. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on February 14, 2001. Retrieved January 19, 2022.
  47. ^ CGW staff (April 2001). "The 2001 Premier Awards: Games of the Year (Action)" (PDF). Computer Gaming World. No. 201. Ziff Davis. p. 74. Retrieved January 19, 2022.
  48. ^ GameSpy staff (December 2000). "2000 Game of the Year: Sound". GameSpy. GameSpy Industries. Archived from the original on February 12, 2001. Retrieved May 20, 2022.

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