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PJC

United Kingdom
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Posted - 16 Jul 2005 :  01:20:13  Show Profile  Send PJC an ICQ Message Send PJC a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Last Sunday Myself and Vosene were given an opportunity to pose questions to Kurt "Froglips" Geisselman, CEO of Lead Pursuit LLC, the developers behind the newly released Falcon 4: Allied Force:

Online Interview with Kurt “Froglips” Giesselman , CEO, Lead Pursuit LLC
Conducted 10th July 2005 by Vosene (185th VFS Training Officer and Black Flight Leader) & PJC (185th VFS Executive Officer)

Vosene: Can we start by asking you a little bit about your background and your involvement in Falcon prior to Lead Pursuit?

Froglips: Sure. I have been involved with Falcon since 1998 when I stumbled across a copy of it in a store and thought that it looked interesting but didn’t really know much else about it. I had no idea of what a complex simulation it was and what I was really signing up for! It probably took me a month to successfully land the plane because I didn’t know anybody online to help me with some of the subtle hints. By then I was pretty well hooked so I was with it for a while. I did get online and learned about all the people who were involved with the sim and how exciting it was. I ended up getting involved with the iBeta group who were in the process of developing their exe patch (both Falcon4 v1.08i1 and Falcon4 v1.08i2) which were the patches created after Microprose dissolved their development studio that allowed multiplayer to actually work.

I am not a coder, I am not a graphic artist, more than anything else I was an author (which was not my primary job but that is what I did for a hobby). One of the early things that I learned about which fascinated me was the Falcon “bubble”. I actually wrote the original Falcon “Bubble Bible” after working for a long time to figure out how [the bubble] actually worked. Post the iBeta work, I have been a member of almost every community team as the person who wrote manuals, press announcements etc and generally acted as an interface to the outside world. I and a few others eventually came to form F4UT in an effort to pull everyone together. I have been generally active in the community for, I guess, the last 7 years. My actual background is that I run a large consulting company and have a background in business management.

Vosene: Fantastic, thank you.

PJC: As you said you were involved in many of the community projects how on earth did you manage to get everyone together to get anywhere near a commercial project, this must have been extremely challenging to say the least?

Froglips: Well it was and it wasn’t. As you know there are a lot of people such as Sylvain Gagnon who was one of the original guys to start peeking and poking inside of Falcon, Joel Bierling, author of F4 Patch, Chris Carter, Julian Onions, and I could go on with the list which everyone can read in the Credits for Falcon 4: Allied Force. These people have been part of the community efforts for a long time and each one has had an area that they have worked on and specialized in. Chris Carter with his theatre developments, Sylvain with his AI work, and Julian Onions and his phenomenal graphics engine and stability work, I could just go on forever. All these people, who are all highly motivated, to continue the Falcon legacy. In fact, as I had been in contact with them over the years, they all recognised that in spite of the excellent efforts that were being made from the community, that for Falcon to really fly and to continue into the next decade was going to require that a commercial effort be pulled to together once again to help stabilise and standardise the community. And so about two years ago a couple of people including myself proposed to the group of people that you now see listed in the credits that we pull together a potential commercial enterprise. At that time the intellectual property was not available and so we agreed to wait and see if [another] commercial project would be released. As most people know, a commercial project did not come out from the previous licence holder so we approached Atari, had a conversation with them to ask them whether they would be prepared to try with a different company to have an updated release of the Falcon 4.0 product developed and produced. They [Atari] were very excited about it and agreed to assign a licence for the development of a new commercial product.

PJC: Did you ever physically meet up in the States or was all the business conducted remotely since your team is scattered all over the world?

Froglips: We are a virtual company for a virtual reality sim and this, in fact, has worked out very well. We have never actually met in person as a full group. We have held meetings in Europe where all of our European people come together and similar meetings in North America. We hope that at some point, potentially now that we have had a successful commercial launch, that we will be able to get everyone together in the same place and see something more than JPEGs of who these people are! I have met most of the people in the group face-to-face just because of my position in the organisation but there are a lot of people that have never met each other even though they have been working together for years.

Vosene: Can you tell us a little bit about the development history of Allied Force from the point where you obtained a licence from IP holder?

Froglips: I can certainly try. It is an interesting story with lots of twists and turns to it. The person who would really be the best to talk to about that is our Executive Producer Joel Bierling, as I have said I am not a coder. We have, as you know, had a long history of experience with the product and had done a great deal between the members of the current group of development on the product. Because of the situation with Atari (the current IP owner) there was a directive from them that we really needed to make sure that we were not stepping on anyone else’s intellectual property. Many people have noted that there are several things that are not in Falcon 4: Allied Force that are features that people wish were in there. We were very conscientious in working to ensure that what was released did not abuse the community development efforts.

Vosene: So you were able to use a lot of the stuff from the SuperPaks where quite a few members from that team went on to become members of Lead Pursuit. Would that be a fair assumption?

Froglips: I think (without going through a long list of specifics) that is right. We would go through and look at the development work that we have done previously and work very hard to make sure that what we included in Falcon 4.0: Allied Force were things that were developed by members of our team.

Vosene: So effectively Allied Force has been in development for approximately 2 years?

Froglips: I think that would be fair to say. We have worked hard on going through what amounts to over 1.5 million lines of code to ensure that to the best of our ability was is in there now is either part of the original Atari 1.08 release or things that were developed by a member of the Lead Pursuit LLC group.

PJC: That’s concludes our questions on the development history. How pleased are you with the release and the response to the product?

Froglips: I am very pleased with the response and the most commonly asked questions we receive on the website is “where can I buy it?” or “my local store is out of stock”. We had an initial run of 10s of thousands of copies [……] and our publisher Graphsim was out of additional copies to send to retailers just 2 days after release which I think was a very impressive response.

Vosene: Fantastic, that is good news indeed for the future of Falcon development in general.

Froglips: Certainly. You and the people in your squadron have seen a lot of the reviews that have come out. PC Gamer has a review next month Plus PC Pilot in the UK, PC Zone in the UK, Gamestar Magazine in Germany and Computer Pilot, International to name but a few. Without in any way pre-empting their published review, let us say we are very happy with their reaction to Falcon 4.0: Allied Force. That is a major publication and I think it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Vosene: Is that the US version of PC Gamer?

Froglips: Yes that is the US version.

Vosene: How close do you think Allied Force comes to meeting your expectations of what you wanted to achieve with the product when you set out on your journey?

Froglips: Well I think that many people who have been involved with the sim for a long time know that it is an infinitely complex product and we went through a number of the normal parts of the Falcon dance during development of fixing something and then discovering other things that had become broken. We were really driven to build a new standard for the community and that that standard would be centred first and foremost on stability. Our mantra all the time has been stability, stability and stability.
I think that Falcon 4.0: Allied Force has set a new bar for both single player and multiplayer stability. I certainly won’t suggest that there aren’t already things that we can see that would enhance the product even further or that there aren’t some things that slipped past our QA that need to be patched. The main thing that we have seen and the feedback that we have gotten has been that it is a significant step change and more stable than anything else that has been out there previously. People are really enjoying the opportunity to fly in larger groups online without doing the Falcon shuffle and a multi hour dance to be able to get 2 or 3 people online together. That really was our primary focus was to take the product to that level of commercial stability and I think we were very successful in that.

Vosene: I think that certainly from the short amount of Testing that PJC and I have done in the campaign with 2 or 3 people in it, we can vouch for that. We have had pretty good stability within the campaigns so well done indeed for that.

Froglips: Thanks. Having spent a long time in the 185th VFS myself I know how rigorous the pre testing is before a product is adopted by the 185th for official squadron use and if it makes it though that test protocol certainly I think that would speak volumes to us achieving our goal of an improved stability product.

PJC: How far do you plan to go with the updating plans and at what point does the patching stop and a new product emerge? Will you ever consider moving towards a completely fresh product such as Falcon 5 for example?

Froglips: We are committed to supporting this current product. We have really listened to feedback from people about things that aren’t working as expected or bugs that are minor irritations or even more significant ones. I mean there are like 50000 different computer configurations out there and certainly we cannot test for all of them and we have received feedback on certain configurations that do not appear to be working properly. We are committed to continue patching to continue to improve the stability of the product across as many different PC configurations as we can. We are looking hard at things that go beyond what I would consider “bug patches” as far as things that would clearly fall into the enhancement area. There are a number of threads on a number of the different ezines across the web that have been started by various people about their wish lists. However, there must be a balance, for a commercial enterprise such as Lead Pursuit, to make sure that we don’t get caught up in trying to bootstrap a product that was developed in 1998 into being a 2006 next generation product. The product continues to astound with its “ahead of its time” AI and campaign engine, and certainly we have taken the graphics to a level significantly above that of the original Falcon 4.0, but also clearly to go to a true next generation product is going to require a lot more development from scratch: graphic engines that are either developed from scratch for DX9/10 and a long list of other parts of the simulation that are clearly looking forward to what the next generation interfaces can be as opposed to trying to bootstrap an old piece of software. I would say that Falcon 4.0: Allied Force is probably the end of the line for the original engine. Certainly there are parts of it that are critical; we would never want to lose the dynamic campaign engine and we would not want to lose, especially to level we have developed it, the AI features. I would certainly say that the potential for a whole new graphics engine, a whole new terrain engine is where the next generation needs to go and that without disclosing too much, certainly is where we are motivated to make sure that happens.

PJC: In summary then it would be fair to say that future patches for Falcon 4.0: Allied Force will be aimed at further increasing stability and fixing what is broken than reaching out and adding more features?

Froglips: I think in summary that is true. That is not to say that there will not be some features that we really feel would add significantly to the players experience that we will add. However, we need as a company to focus on making sure that we take what are always limited resources no matter how many people you have and how hard they are working and make sure that we are putting enough resources into working towards a next generation product rather than continue to improve a product that is currently on the shelf. That is not to say we wont improve it but I think our focus needs to be how to create the next step, it is always identified as Falcon 5 and I am not sure where it is going to go, maybe call it Battlefield Operations: Next Generation how is that?

Vosene: Copy. Can I assume any future development will be based upon the F16?

Froglips: Wait and see!

Vosene: Copy that. Is that why it called a battlefield series? It would tend to indicate a branching out from being solely a Viper driver so to speak.

Froglips: We very much embrace Gilman Louis vision for a true electronic battlefield and I won’t say that we have made any definite decisions , conclusions or legal agreements to do anything specific yet so I do not want to indicate that. We are married to having that electronic battlefield, Battlefield Operations, experience that Gilman originally conceived. That has to involve more than sitting in an F16, no matter how realistic or near perfect that simulation is. The real Battlefield Operations needs to branch out and encompass more than that. I would not say that that this is where we are going but in the long term the simulations needs to move beyond a bunch of fixed wing aircraft. We have internal discussion about this all the time.

Vosene: When do you expect Allied Force to be available in stores in Europe?

Froglips: Boy, that’s a tough one guys. Our publisher, Graphsim, has had to go and find a number of individual distributors across the Western and Eastern Europe. It is a lot more cumbersome to pull together 10 or 15 different distributors that only operate in a single country rather than one company that it big enough to service the outside North America market. As I understand it from my conversations with Graphsim, we should be seeing European availability starting this month [JULY] and broad distribution by the beginning of August.

Vosene: Any plans to make it available online?

Froglips: It is really just too big to download online. We barely got it on 1 CD; I personally do not see it as a practical distribution method at this time.

Vosene: Roger that. Your “Cease and Desist” notice, the first one that appeared on your website a few days ago now, basically about the Allied Force and Falcon modding definitely caused a few concerns and gained a strong reaction from the community but as an online squadron our specific concern is that as we fly with SP4 and MP5.1, what does that mean for us? Taken literally and in its widest sense you could interpret your notice such that anything between Microprose patch 1.08 and your release of Allied Force is now considered an illegal mod and people should not be using it. Was that really your intention or was the intent to stop people from modifying Allied Force. Could you clarify this please?

Froglips: Let me try. First of all it is important to say that the Intellectual Property is and remains Atari’s and the descriptions of various as “illegal” and stuff like that is probably true in the strict legal sense of the word. What we are concerned about is hacking the software and Internet distribution going forward. I don’t think we are caught up in looking into the past, pointing fingers or accusing people of “evil things” that were done over the last 7 years. At this point the community does have a new commercial product that is available. There are two areas of focus for us. Our concern is people might continue to develop non standard alternative products based upon previously released modifications (you mentioned SP4 and FF which are as good an example as any). Although they may be well meaning in trying to continue to push the envelope, they are no longer permitted or acceptable to the IP holder or Lead Pursuit. Our real focus going forward is, and clearly we would not support people peeking, poking, or modifying a commercially released product, is to create a system that maintains our highly valued stability. We would not support people continuing to develop new exe releases and modifications based upon some of the things that have been previously released. Another primary focus is illegal distribution. People who do things in the privacy of their own home are not our concern. People who, certainly from their words at least, are threatening to continue to distribute modifications that will reduce the stability and could potentially interfere with the new player’s experience as they are trying to get it up and running only to see a bunch of patches floating around that they are not sure what to do with or create a bad experience with our product because of something that has been added to it which is not compatible with the commercial product. The notice that you refer to as a “C&D notice” I would not quite refer to it quite in those terms, if we wanted to serve a formal “Cease and Desist” notice to certain individuals they would have had it in their hands by now. What we want to do, and what I will say is that hopefully what we did is simply remind people that this is a commercial product. We really do value the community and we are trying to work with the IP holder. Modifications to Allied Force have implications not just for Lead Pursuit but also for the IP holder, Atari. They are not at all happy with the idea of having a commercially released product “hacked”. What we are working on with them is a mechanism where we can keep the community engaged and involved.

Vosene: What I will say about the notice that you put out on your website and the next day you posted something a little more community friendly. One of the reasons why people were upset was that you were very very tight lipped and understandably so about your modding policy because as you explained earlier you are still in discussions with the IP holder, but then effectively it wasn’t so much the Allied Force side of it but the implications for the original Falcon 4.0 side of it, certainly the feeling I got from the community that were not involved directly with Lead Pursuit was that it was a bit rich for them [Lead Pursuit] to be coming in and saying these things without even explaining what the modding policy for Allied Force was going to be. Perhaps if you had done it the other way around, the community may have been more supportive?

Froglips: I understand that. I think that would have been difficult without writing a multi-page diatribe to communicate to the community that this is not solely about Lead Pursuit and that we are working on developments that help to keep the community engaged and involved. Activities that are considered by the Primary IP holder as disruptive, and in the worst case illegal, do not help us in working through a community involvement policy. The original message may have been a bit stern however we were facing a situation that was becoming increasingly challenging because of certain individuals activities on the forums. Specifically they were openly discussing how they were going to hack into Falcon 4.0: Allied Force and that was viewed as extremely disruptive activity.

Vosene: Roger that, I fully understand and I have seen the posts to which you refer. On that, are you able to say anything about any plans for the modding policy? I know you talk about the IP holder and that, but if you look at games these days such as Half Life2 and Doom3 and a lot of the first person shooters have a vibrant mod community fully authorized and encouraged by the respective IP owners though SDKs [software development kits] Any plans you can reveal for Allied Force along those lines?

Froglips: I cannot reveal much other than to say that we really do recognise that community involvement is absolutely critical to longevity of any product. Frankly, I have been involved in the Falcon flight sim community for over 7 years now and although certainly there are some members of the community that I do not see eye to eye with, I certainly as a whole view the Falcon community as a very positive asset to the product. I think that when you look at the products that you just named, indeed what they have is a mechanism that allows people to individualize and personalise the product and actively engage with the product as well as just playing it. However they also have a mechanism in place that does not adversely affect the products stability and the products ability to engage in large scale multiplayer games. Even though they have a lot of community activity they manage that activity so that it enhances everyone’s experience instead of causing added indigestion though the addition of too many modifications that are not compatible.

PJC: Following on from that, if I were a hypothetical developer with a passion for the product and I wanted to contribute to the development of Allied Force from the inside so to speak, is there still an opportunity to join your company if people feel they can contribute work of commercial quality?

Froglips: The commercial enterprise, Lead Pursuit LLC, has a membership that became part of the company through financial contribution when the company was founded. I will not say that it is open or closed but it is not a “Raise you hand and you can join us” kind of event anymore. I am not saying that in the future we may not need additional talent that we do not have on the team and that we have to go and hire or recruit people but it is not like for example F4UT or previous community based efforts where you just showed up and said I know how to do this and you got to add on to the team. This is a commercial enterprise.

PJC: I totally understand. Thank you for clarifying that. With regard to the patching is it true that the first patch is being worked on as we speak? Do you have any timescale for release of the first keenly anticipated patch or does the old adage “it’s done when it’s done” apply here?

Froglips: Well I think “it’s done when it’s done” probably does apply but it’s not going to be months away. We do not have an absolute timescale for the first patch to be released. I think we have at this point concluded that there are no significant deal breakers in the system. There are certainly some things that we and the community have identified. I would stress that even though we went to Gold master, we had to lock down the product a month before that. That did not mean that we all took a break, instead we continued to test and work on things as someone in your very own squadron, namely Bigbrother, can attest to, we continued to find things that needed to be repaired and these things were put into the first patch. What we now have to do is lock down the patch. We have to test the patch to make absolutely sure we do not create problems instead of solving them. Therefore not only is it important to fix known bugs but we also need to go through the same level of testing that we carried out when we went to gold master to make sure that what we patch actually makes the product more stable, more user friendly, more useable and perhaps more realistic than the release version. There will always need to be something that needs to be patched and what we need to do as a company is find a balance between getting stuff out in a timely fashion and making sure that what we release enhances and improves the product.

Vosene: With regard to the topic of bugs, you look around the community websites and there are an awful lot of topics at the moment with “bugs List” and “Wish List” and all sorts of things. Where should people post information about bugs, particularly those that do not cause a CTD [Crash to Desktop] or without a crashlog available, to make sure that Lead Pursuit gets to see this information and act upon it if required?

Froglips: There is a specific Support@lead-pursuit.com email address that you can access for this purpose. There is also bug report form available on the Graphsim site. Certainly, those are two of the best places to send this information. We see all the information posted there and put them into a log so that they are not forgotten. Our Executive Producer, Joel Bierling, then goes through the reports and ranks (from 1 to 5) the criticality of each bug reported. They are then assigned to a programmer to work on. I do not determine where the cut off is, Joel is the one to decide whether the reported issue is serious enough to warrant immediate attention and if it should be addressed in one of the early patches. I think going through one of those 2 mechanisms will ensure that we see it. It does not ensure however that it will be assigned a high priority to be worked on right away; it just means that we have captured it. With regard to “Wish Lists”, I am aware of 2 or 3 different websites, SimHQ and Frugals come to mind immediately, where there is a “Wish List” thread, and as previously publicly stated by myself and Chris “C3PO” Partridge, we are committed to reading those. However this does not mean that just because you asked for it that it is going to show up next week. “Wish Lists” are viewed with a very critical eye as to whether we are doing something that is appropriate to the future of Falcon and rather than incorporating something into the current product, Falcon 4:Allied Force, it is something that would be better placed in the next generation product.

PJC: There is a forthcoming event in the UK which you may or may not be aware of: The Bristol Flight Simulation Show which is scheduled for the 15th October 2005. The 185th VFS is planning a representation at that meeting. Is there any plans for Lead Pursuit to attend this meeting, perhaps there would be an opportunity to join up with us to promote Falcon4: Allied Force?

Froglips: We would absolutely enjoy that opportunity. Chris “C3PO” Partridge is aware of the Bristol Flight Sim Show and I would encourage you to contact him directly. I think that I would feel quite proud to be a partner with the 185th at that show to help demonstrate Falcon 4.0: Allied Force because at least I know you guys could hit all the landings!

PJC: LOL

Vosene: LOL – you obviously haven’t seen me fly!

Froglips: Well I don’t know how many of the old guys are left from my era but certainly Bigbrother would recognise flying with me, we flew together a lot, and God help you if you are as bad a pilot as I was!

Vosene: LOL – copy that. We will certainly contact Chris Partridge to sort out the details. Thank you very much for that opportunity.

Vosene: I would now like to ask you about certain specific features of Falcon 4.0:Allied Force and future features of Allied Force as requested by our members. The first one is internal comms which I know was in previous versions of Falcon and has been removed for Falcon 4.0 Allied Force. Particularly from a multiplayer point of view it is quite nice if you have the old channel switching, far more realistic than using say Teamspeak to do it. Do you have any plans to implement internal communications in the future?

Froglips: I do not actually know the answer to that one. We did indeed remove the internal comms for intellectual property reasons. We are certainly aware that having an internal communication operating via the cockpit controls adds greatly to the realism. Again I would make the point that we have to balance off trying to do things for this current product versus things that are going to be in the future. I feel that we are very in tune with the advantages of having in cockpit comms and we will certainly take that into account as we develop products going forward.

PJC: The flight model is most noticeably different to what we have been used to, what changes have been made to the flight model? Is the code based on 1.08 or is it further developed than that?

Froglips: It certainly started with 1.08 but we have developed a flight model internally. I am certainly aware that there are other opinions of what the F16 flies like. We have talked to several F16 drivers and have received feedback from them on Falcon 4.0: Allied Force. The feedback from actual Viper drivers is interesting in that they say that we are still “too draggy” with certain airplane configurations and altitudes and NOT that we need to be more draggy. Is it more accurate than recent community mods when referenced to the real Viper? That is difficult to say. The challenge in Falcon is that it is a simulation and that in spite of the fact that the parameters available for tweaking the flight model have been dramatically expanded, it is still very complicated to create a flight model that accurately mimics the Viper when in reality none of the people on the team have been able to fly one. Further development of the flight model I would view as an enhancement and not a bug. I know other people might consider it a bug however there are many subjective opinions as to what an accurate flight model looks like. The real Viper drivers have given us different feedback to the community as to what the real Viper flies like. Since we are driven by realism, I will not rule out completely any future updates to the Flight Model, however I would say that we are much more focused on fixing things that are bugs than we are on tweaking something that is currently working.

PJC: I am inclined to trust the opinions of the real fighter pilots to be honest!

Vosene: I agree with that, however the point regarding drag is particularly apparent when manoeuvring with a heavy AG weapons load out which appears noticeably different in handling to previous versions, as we are not real pilots we cannot comment on authenticity, just that it feels noticeable different so we were just interested on your opinion on that.

Froglips: Fair enough. I think a lot of the complexity has to do with how the plane flies clean versus partly and fully loaded. Things that really would enhance the complexity would be the ability to have true flight models for each bomb load. That level of complexity exists in the flight model for the aircraft but does not exist in the flight modelling of individual AGM, LGB or dumb bomb. What happens in the real aircraft is that those changes from clean to loaded aircraft, every time you add something under the wing, cause a considerable change to the aircraft flight dynamics. A similar effect is noted when you fly at different altitudes, for example terrain following is a completely different performance from the aircraft when compared to flying at high altitudes.

Vosene: Thank you for that information. In terms of added functionality, in particular the avionics (examples: IFF, TFR weather mode, nosetail fusing, LAD bombing mode). Are there any plans to either charge people for these additions or release them as enhancements for free?

Froglips: Well, we do not have any plans to charge for the patching that will go forward. Some of these things are certainly within the realms of things that we could add. All of them would indeed enhance the realism of the Falcon experience. The balance for us will be making sure that we don’t get so far up the road of additional enhancements to the current product that we fail to deliver on a next generation release. This is not to say that any of these is not potentially to be released in a patch. We need to balance the resources of the company very carefully to prioritise what we work on for patches for Falcon 4.0: Allied Force against what we need to be working on to move the Falcon franchise forward.

PJC: One feature that has been requested by Tracer our CO is the ability to add the AWACS controller functionality that already appears in the campaign and add that ability to custom made Tactical Engagements (TEs) How difficult would this be to implement?

Froglips: I do not know the answer to that. We were delighted to see the Force on Force interest in the product and we do realize that there is demand for this, particularly from online squadrons, but for now it will have to be another item on the wish list.

Vosene: Have you added any weapons or made changes to any of the weapons parameters?

Froglips: Yes. I do not have a comprehensive list on hand of all the changes, we have two people who were data experts and they have gone through the full weaponry to model for realism.

Vosene: What about the implementation of correctly modelled GPS standoff munitions, are there any plans for these?

Froglips: Again, much the same mantra here guys, I understand what you are asking for but our main focus cannot be on enhancing already released commercial software. We need to make sure that we look forward or our company will be a “one trick pony” and all of us are driven as a team to not let that happen. What we really want to do is keep the Electronic Battlefield dream alive by supporting this product and the community, and to keep this product as stable, fresh and interesting as possible, but not get caught up in trying to tweak it to the detriment of developing next generation products.

Vosene: I understand what you are saying but from our perspective, talking to those in the squadron and the wider online community, there would be a significant demand for an add on product that significantly enhances the functionality of the F16 itself, and you could easily charge $20 -$25 for something like that, perhaps downloadable files that added some of these functions and people would pay willingly without a shadow of a doubt. I would prefer that, although I know it probably does not make commercial sense, to having a next generation graphics engine on it. I am happy with the graphics as they are now.

Froglips: Fair enough. That is a real balance. One of the things that I will let you in on is that the online community represents somewhere between 5-10% of our total sales. It is really eye opening when you study the demographics and marketing research that we have carried out with the help of Atari and Graphsim to understand what we are selling and where we are selling it. Frankly if you can believe this, about 9 out of 10 people who would buy Falcon would not even be aware that there was a patch option available unless it was built in as an auto-patcher. Data available from the original Microprose release of Falcon 4.0 reveals that the percentage of those who patched up as far as even 1.08 were a frighteningly small percentage. Then if we move on to the next group who are “online aware”, people such as members of online squadrons such as the 185th and other people who you associate with who are really in tune with the Falcon represent an even smaller group again. Although I hear what you are saying about people in your squadron being interested and willing to buy additional add-ons, the development cost for doing those in a downloadable mode, historically at least, has not been recovered in sales. You simply cannot sell enough if you cannot get it on the shelf at Walmart. That is how it works.

Vosene: Roger that. The only example you could look at recently would be LOMAC and Flaming Cliffs, the sort of add-on where you get the SU25 T variant which added significantly to the experience. Possibly for Allied force there could scope for say adding an A10 in conjunction with enhancing some of the avionics of the F16 and getting that to the shelves as a boxed product. I throw it into the pot.

Froglips: Fair enough. In the case of things like JDAMS and the standoff weapons, clearly if you were developing the next generation using different aircraft there might be possibilities of making that a post-ad. However I do not want to lead anyone down a primrose path as something that is definitely going to happen. The reality is that we had to draw a line in the sand, we were certainly aware of things such as in cockpit comms, standoff weaponry, some of the IFF stuff, TFR weather mode and things like that were not in the version that we are selling. We could have pushed the release back to the summer of 2006 or decided that at some point the box needs to go out the door, and this is what its current feature set looks like and this is what we are going to offer to the market. The verdict of the market so far would appear to suggest that what we delivered was a good product.

Vosene: Please do not misunderstand, we are very happy with the released product, I was just trying to get an idea of what additional support it was going to get in terms of additional features in the future and I think you have made it quite clear that with this particular product we are unlikely to see these things implemented and that is fine.

PJC: To you have any plans to update the target assignment functions and pilot viewing of coordinates?

Froglips: I think these are 2 separate things. Oddly enough, although again, I am not sure when and if it will appear, Julian Onions has successfully looked at the mission planning process when you are doing recon and has added a facility to display the proper GPS coordinates. I am not sure when we might get that rolled in but since it is already finished, that enhancement might make it into the patches. I am not, therefore, saying no to absolutely any enhancements, what I am saying is that we need to look at the development time required to add something and whether that thing that we add is better off being incorporated into the next generation product rather than trying to patch the current generation.. The individual target assignment function is the type of thing requires rather significant restructuring of the AI along with target lists and some data change. Systems where you can actually do data entry into the DED and hand that to an AI and stuff like that, we are very interested in but is unlikely to make into the current product because it involves some pretty significant redesigning of the AI to get it to do individual target assignments.

Vosene: The multiplayer ILS which never worked properly online particularly for anyone who was a client, have you managed to correct that issue?

Froglips: I do not know the answer to that. I know that I have observed members of the team testing multiplayer ILS and it would appear to be fine, but I will need to get back to you on that.

Vosene: What about changes to the MLU? The older blocks of the F16s didn’t have colour MFDs and stuff like that. Just wanted to know whether stuff like that had been modelled.

Froglips: As you know you can change the HUD colors and some other unrealistic stuff like that. We internally grappled with that. We know that it is wrong yet it was part of the original Falcon. We really wrestled with taking out some of the stuff, things like padlocking and so on, that was part of the original Falcon 4.0 release. I think we made some changes of taking some things out and modifying things to bring the sim a step closer in realism but nobody would have any trouble finding at least a handful of items that clearly do not accurately reflect the real aircraft.

Vosene: Any changes or improvements to the ACMI recordings, have you done anything significant?

Froglips: Nothing significant. There have been some minor changes to the UI and we looked at something that could allow voiceovers and stuff like that but the real problem that we ran into was that Falcon has a very odd format for the ACMI and rather than make it so that there would have been no upward compatibility we decided to minimise the changes made to the current setup.

Vosene: Roger that. I don’t suppose that there are any plans or any external ACMI player are there?

Froglips: Not for Falcon 4.0: Allied Force. The next generation means that there are major changes in store for the ACMI that will actually turn it into a useable training aid.

Vosene: With regard to the intelligence of the AI pilots, there has been a lot of talk in various published articles about improvements. Can you just talk us through some examples of how we might see the intelligence of the improved AI pilots being represented in flight?

Froglips: If I were a better pilot I probably could! The AI of the pilots in the original Falcon 4.0 stood for “Absolute Idiots”. What we have done is create an AI pilot, to the best that we can, who does what you would do if you were flying the mission. Now AI pilots do not bomb the same things that you have just bombed; they will bomb parallel runways if you have just taken the other one out. You are also able to peel off an AI pilot to chase off a set of Migs that is threatening the SEAD flight or your Escort or things like that. There have been comments from the community along the lines of “why do they still fire 2 Harms”, what I would challenge them is that before they automatically assume something is not correct or is unrealistic is that they need to do the homework that we do as to what either the US Airforce or N.A.T.O. protocol actually is. Indeed, in the case of Harms, the protocol is in fact that you fire 2 weapons. The doctrine being that even though a Harm is a relatively expensive munition that an aircraft is a lot more expensive and you want to make sure that a radar emitting source that is a threat to incoming aircraft is absolutely taken out rather than saving a couple of hundred thousand dollars on an expendable munition.

Vosene: Roger that. In terms of the enemy AI, how much more of a challenge do you think it presents to the human pilot or a team of human pilots?

Froglips: I think it is quite a step change. I certainly do not survive much any more! The AI pilots are now using the same kind of information that human pilots use to evaluate the opponents that they are flying against. You will not find a single AI pilot now who is just going to fly into the midst of an enemy four ship, leaving himself on his own in a suicidal move like that. We now have AI pilots who will just turn tail and run because they realise that they are simply outgunned and that they really do not have any reasonable chance of winning the fight. You will also see them launching outside of parameters in an effort to make the human pilots have to drag and draw and turn away so that the AI pilot has a chance to escape or put himself in a better position. They just do stuff that is a lot smarter. Every once in a while they surprise us and do something that is less than brilliant but at the end of the day I think that it is a radical step change from anything that anyone else has experienced out there. Behind stability, our mantra is realism and this includes having artificial intelligence pilots act in a realistic manner.

Vosene: I can certainly vouch for that when myself and PJC have been flying it, we have had a couple of instances where we have been spiked by one set of Migs and bracketed right by another group, I’ve seen Mig 29s running away at 700knts to get away from us, and I have seen Mig29s dragging us into SAM engagement zones and all sorts of clever stuff certainly within the Balkans campaign. They certainly do seem generally more intelligent in that respect so all your hard work has obviously paid off.

PJC: I concur with Vosene here. So far I am extremely pleased with it. I have only had around 10 hours in the jet so far but I think that it is a major step forward and you look to have achieved many if not all of your design goals.

Vosene: With regard to the Track IR system, I know there have been a lot of requests to turn it off in the 2D cockpit, perhaps you could add this option because many feel the current implementation is almost unusable in 2D mode. Will there be any support for 3D glasses?

Froglips: Some people have worked out how to move their head correctly in the 2D mode, however we would recognise that it does not function anywhere near as well as it does in 3D and class it as a bug, and so we are trying to evaluate what we can do to improve it if we can. If there is there a way we can make it work in 3D and have the option to turn it off in 2d or something like that, we will. With regard to the 3d glasses by E-Dimensional, I do not think we have any of those. Track IR actually contacted us at an early stage of development and supplied us with the necessary hardware and software so that we could implement support for it, that did not happen the case of E- Dimensional so that if there is external support required for that then it will not have been included.

Vosene: Last question; are there any plans for dedicated servers to be run by Lead Pursuit?

Froglips: We have looked into that and have no plans to do it ourselves; however, several companies that actually operate dedicated servers have approached us. We are primarily developers, we are not publishers, not distributors and we are not people who run online games. One thing that I work hard at in my role as CEO is to keep the company focused on what we do well and not work on things that are outside the scope of what we do well. I think that dedicated campaign servers are something that will happen.

Vosene: Is there a likely timeline for this?

Froglips: We are focused right now on getting the first patch out. We will take a deep breath at that point, things like dedicated servers some of the other “nice to have” things are likely to happen post that first patch.

Vosene: That concludes our questions, thank you very much. Is there anything else you would like to discuss while you are here?

Froglips: What I would really like to say to the community is that we really are absolutely thrilled by the support. There are a lot of people in the world and there are always some of them who view the glass as “half empty” but happily for us I think that when I read the forums and whenever I have any form of direct communication with people, what I have found is that the vast majority of those in the Falcon community view the glass as “half full” I am not going to try to tell anybody that Falcon 4.0: Allied Force is absolutely a perfect product in the sense that there is nothing else that needs to be done. The exciting thing for us is that there are things that need to be done and that a lot of those lead us towards a next generation product where we can continue to enhance the community experience, potentially even to fulfil the dream of the Electronic Battlefield that was started in 1998. It took Microprose four years just to get a product out of the door the first time. My message to the fans is to hang on for the ride, we really do think that there is a bright future for the Battlefield Operations Series. We really hope that the community continues to support us as they have done with our first release.

Vosene: I would just like to thank you Froglips, on behalf of the 185th for taking valuable time out of your schedule to conduct this interview. We would like to thank you and all your team on behalf of the 185th for all your dedication and hard work to make Falcon into a better product, based on our limited testing so far, it would appear that you have done a superb job.

Froglips: Thanks a lot. We are thrilled that you are enjoying it and are looking forward to seeing you at the Bristol Flight Sim meet and helping us to move the franchise forward.

PJC: As you can see with all the pilots that have joined the Teamspeak server whilst we have been talking that the 185th is still very much alive and kicking and I am sure that once we get it released in Europe, I feel confident that we will be moving in the direction of an official adoption, subject to it meeting our testing criteria which I am sure it will. Thank you once again for spending the time, it really is appreciated.

Froglips: Great. As I look through the list I see many that I actually recognise from many years ago, Big Brother and Ballistic I recognise from the old days. Homer and Turnburn were old comrades of mine from my time in the 185th. One thing is certain about Falcon, it has engaged people for years and we are delighted to be able to continue that, I think Falcon has probably had the greatest longevity of any product ever released. It is simply great to see so many people still flying that I knew from years ago.

Vosene: I offer an open invitation to you or any of your team if you would like to come and fly with us as a guest on our Sunday Flight Night, you are more than welcome.

Froglips: Well thank you. I think I will need to polish up my skills a little bit, but I will certainly take you up on that, it would be fun to fly with the old squad again and give you guys something to chuckle about!

Vosene & PJC : Thank you once again and goodnight.




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