Falcon (video game series)

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The Falcon line of computer games is a series of simulations of the F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft. The games were developed and published by Spectrum HoloByte (later MicroProse). They were noted for their high level of realism unseen in contemporary simulation games.


Falcon was originally designed and produced by Gilman Louie and programmed by Les Watts for the MSX (1984, under title of F-16 Fighting Falcon) and Macintosh (1987 as Falcon), and used bitmapped 3D MiG-21s as adversaries, several years before Origin's Wing Commander used a similar graphics engine. It was ported for the PC, but no longer used bitmapped graphics; instead, the adversaries were displayed using primitive polygon graphics.

The Atari ST version of Falcon

The Atari ST (1988) and Amiga (1989) versions of Falcon feature a semi-dynamic campaign where the player can roam the airspace, sweep for hostile aircraft, and attack ground targets. Destroyed buildings and SAM sites remain destroyed for fixed period of time, and hostile and friendly forces engage each other on the ground back and forth. Both of these versions have two expansion sets for them, Falcon Operation: Counterstrike and Falcon Operation: Firefight (released in Europe as Falcon Mission Disk Volume 2).

Compute! joked in 1989 that Falcon "seemed harder to fly than the real plane". That year Spectrum Holobyte released an update that reportedly made control and landings much easier.[1]

A version for the TurboGrafx-16 was released in 1992.[2] A canceled Super NES version was also planned for early 1993.[3]

In the original Falcon, users had their choice of flying one of 12 missions - with awards for flying missions at higher skill levels. The user had a choice of different ground attack and air-to-air weapons, although these were also limited by several factors. For dogfighting, AIM-9J missiles were not as reliable as newer AIM-9L missiles - and were useless for head-on attack - but were typically the only missiles available. Because they were guided, AGM-65 missiles were easier to use than "iron dumb bombs" like the Mk 84, but ineffective against strengthened targets. An ECM pod provides defense against enemy missiles, but occupies an external hardpoint that could be used for additional weapons or fuel. The enemy occupied the western areas of the game's playable map - itself a large square divided into 9 smaller squares. Enemy targets were fixed sites on the ground. For defense, the unnamed enemy was limited to MiG-21 interceptors, and ground-launched missiles - either the SA-2, which was launched from identified and fixed sites on the ground, or SA-7 missiles, which could be fired from portable launchers, and could therefore appear anywhere.

Computer Gaming World in 1987 called Falcon "one of the most detailed and accurate flight simulators on the microcomputer market today". It reported that a F-16 pilot with the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing "gave it good marks for accuracy".[4] The game received 5 out of 5 stars Dragon,[5] with 4 out of 5 stars for the DOS version.[6] Compute! praised Falcon's graphics, realism, and documentation.[7]

Falcon won the 1987 Software Publishers Association awards for Best Action/Strategy Program, Best Technical Achievement, and Best Simulation.[8] It was voted the "Best 16-bit Simulation Game of the Year" at the Golden Joystick Awards 1989.[9] Falcon was ranked as the Amiga's eighth best game of all time by Amiga Power in 1991.[10]

Falcon A.T.[edit]

Falcon A.T. (1988), also known as Falcon 2, was one of the first flight sims to use EGA graphics. In comparison to the older game, this version allows external viewing of the player aircraft, enables a "head-to-head" multiplayer mode, and includes the MiG-29 as an adversary.

Falcon 3.0[edit]

Falcon 3.0 was claimed to have used flight dynamics from a real military simulator, and required a math coprocessor to enable the high fidelity flight mode. Even in less demanding modes, it was still virtually unplayable in computers running on less than a 386 computer (recommended 33 MHz 486, a top end machine at this time). It was announced well in advance of its actual release date (1991).

Falcon 3.0 offered "padlock" view - in which the player's POV is slewed in the direction of a selected target, scanning around the cockpit if necessary. It also offered players more natural looking topography than was available in existing commercial PC flight simulations - with mountains, hills, valleys and other features having their own unique shape. In older games, the user typically had to settle to ranges of uniformly shaped or sized mountains on flat ground, with areas or lines of blue for lakes and rivers.

Despite many bugs (Computer Gaming World reported that "some readers have suggested that we give Falcon 3.0 the award for 'The Buggiest Game Ever'"), Falcon 3.0 retained its reputation as the most realistic flight simulation for years. It also has a dynamic campaign mode where the player can contribute to the war effort by performing missions.

An expansion pack Operation Fighting Tiger contains several additional scenarios, including a future skirmish between Japan and Russia, which gave the player the Japanese F-16 variant, the "FSX".

Art of the Kill, a video tutorial that teaches aerial dogfighting basics used Falcon 3.0's built-in ACMI recorder to reconstruct engagements, explains tactics and counter-tactics. Falcon 3.0 was also the subject of dozens of aftermarket books, some written by actual F-16 pilots. Only the Microsoft Flight Simulator series spawned more books.

The game was re-released in 1994 as Falcon Gold a compilation which included Art of the Kill video digitized on the CD collection, along with Operation Fighting Tiger and the announcement for Falcon 4.0. It noted for their early multiplayer support, as even the first version supported two players via a null modem serial port connection.

Falcon 3.0 received 5 out of 5 stars in Dragon.[11] In 1992 a Vermont Air National Guard F-16 pilot stated in Computer Gaming World that the game's flight model and avionics were very accurate, and praised the game's VGA graphics. He concluded that Spectrum Holobyte had created "the best flight simulator yet".[12] A survey in the magazine that year of wargames with modern settings gave the game four and a half stars out of five, describing Falcon 3.0 as "not so much a game system as it is a way of life. Possibly the most complex air simulator ever released for the commercial sector".[13] In 1992 the magazine named it the year's best simulation game.[14] In 1996, the magazine ranked Falcon 3.0 as the tenth best computer game of all time for its introduction of "the first truly realistic flight model" for a jet aircraft and for adding "the useful (and necessary) wingmen and the first truly dynamic flight sim campaign,"[15] as well as the seventh most innovative computer game for setting "a standard for realism and connectivity that is only now being surpassed."[16] That same year, Falcon Gold was also ranked as the 80th top game of all time by Next Generation, for being "the most exacting computer simulation created."[17]

Falcon 3.0 based games ("Electronic Battlefield")[edit]

Falcon 3.0 was sold as being the first of a series of inter-linked military simulations that Spectrum Holobyte collectively called the "Electronic Battlefield". Two games released in this range were the 1993 flight simulators for the F/A-18 (Falcon 3.0: Hornet: Naval Strike Fighter) and the MiG-29 (MiG-29: Deadly Adversary of Falcon 3.0) that could be played as stand-alone games or integrated into "Electronic Battlefield" network games.

Further games in the range were expected - rumours abounded of a simulator for the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunship, and even one or more tank simulators. The only one the company actually admitted to working on was a flight simulator of the A-10 Thunderbolt, but it was never released.

Computer Gaming World in 1993 criticized MiG-29's new redout/blackout model as unrealistic, and lack of fixes to existing bugs, but approved of the improved modem play and its "new set of challenges designed to broaden Falcon's appeal".[18]

Falcon 4.0 and Falcon 4.0: Allied Force[edit]

Falcon 4.0 was the source of much controversy due to source code being leaked from MicroProse in the year 2000.[19] In the years between the source code leak and the release of Falcon 4.0: Allied Force (2005), many "unofficial" tweaks were released by the online community to fix bugs and enhance the game for modern systems.[20]

Many of these enhancements have found their way into derivative versions, namely Allied Force, FreeFalcon and Falcon BMS. Allied Force was the commercial re-release of Falcon 4.0, while FreeFalcon and Falcon BMS are the most current community driven version. As of 2013, only the latter is still in development. The Falcon 4.0 series is one of the longest running game series using the same code base in the PC history, spanning well over a decade.[21]


  1. ^ Atkin, Denny (November 1989). "Compute! Specific / Amiga". Compute!. p. 18. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  2. ^ "Falcon - TurboGrafx-16 - IGN". Uk.ign.com. Retrieved 2014-02-04. 
  3. ^ Nintendo Power 38, July 1992, p.113.
  4. ^ Carey, Regan (February 1988). "Falcon / Spectrum Holobyte's F-16 Fighter Simulation" (PDF). Computer Gaming World. No. 44. p. 28. Retrieved 23 April 2016. 
  5. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (April 1988). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (132): 80–85. 
  6. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (February 1989). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (142): 42–51. 
  7. ^ Hudson, Steve (July 1988). "Falcon". Compute!. p. 56. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  8. ^ "Computer Entertainment Industry Shines in 1987 Excellence in Software Awards" (PDF). Computer Gaming World. No. 47. May 1988. p. 8. Retrieved 23 April 2016. 
  9. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2014-02-04. 
  10. ^ Amiga Power 0, May 1991
  11. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (December 1992). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (188): 57–64. 
  12. ^ Fick, Doug (April 1992). "Flight of the Falcon". Computer Gaming World. p. 30. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  13. ^ Brooks, M. Evan (June 1992). "The Modern Games: 1950 - 2000". Computer Gaming World. p. 120. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  14. ^ "CGW Salutes The Games of the Year". Computer Gaming World. November 1992. p. 110. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  15. ^ CGW 148: 150 Best Games of All Time.
  16. ^ CGW 148: The 15 Most Innovative Computer Games.
  17. ^ Next Generation 21 (September 1996), p.64.
  18. ^ Basham, Tom "KC" (November 1993). "The Russian Revolution". Computer Gaming World. pp. 152–158. Retrieved 28 March 2016. 
  19. ^ Bertolone, Giorgio (2011-03-12). "Interview with Kevin Klemmick - Lead Software Engineer for Falcon 4.0". Cleared-To-Engage. Archived from the original on 2011-03-18. Retrieved 2014-08-31. [C2E] In 2000 the source code of Falcon 4.0 leaked out and after that groups of volunteers were able to make fixes and enhancements that assured the longevity of this sim. Do you see the source code leak as a good or bad event? [Klemmick] "Absolutely a good event. In fact I wish I’d known who did it so I could thank them. I honestly think this should be standard procedure for companies that decide not to continue to support a code base." 
  20. ^ Hiawatha Bray (2004-01-21). "Diehard pilots keep Falcon flying". Boston.com. Archived from the original on 2004-04-08. Retrieved 2016-06-28. 
  21. ^ SPYHAWK (2013). "THE FALCON EPOPEE" (PDF). sites.google.com/site/falcon4history. Retrieved 2013-09-14. 

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