A look back at former developers

Dynamix Part I & Interview with Damon Slye

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A short introduction... I had the idea several months ago to look into an old favorite developer of mine, Dynamix Inc. Over time I did some research, contacted and corresponded with several ex-Dynamix staff, and put together a small three part series of articles covering the companies well known simulation games of the 90's. I will also include a couple of interviews and some other interesting looks at the development of those games. Some of the game features noted in this article sound typical today, but were in fact innovative in the early years of sim development. Whether you have fond memories of Red Baron or other Dynamix games, or you became a sim fan more recently, I hope all of you will enjoy this look at a pioneering developer of combat simulation games.




The classic sims (1989-1994)

Dynamix, Inc. got it's start in Eugene, Oregon in 1984. Founded by Damon Slye and Jeff Tunnell, the company first developed games for the Commodore 64 and Apple II. After spending a few years primarily creating vehicle combat games for EA and sports games for Activision, the company began developed their first simulation, A-10 Tank Killer. Originally self-published in 1989 for the Amiga and DOS, A-10 balanced fun action with simulation realism. The game included a fictional European campaign, and was later updated with a topical Gulf War campaign. A-10 Tank Killer would be the first in a successful line of combat flight sims for the company.

In 1990, Sierra On-Line would buy Dynamix, and the studio would now specialize in combat sims and adventure games. It's next sim would be the famous Red Baron. Designed by Damon Slye, Red Baron was a revelation for the genre. The game covered the Western front of WWI, and allowed players to fly a host of historical aircraft for either the German Air Service or Royal Flying Corp. The different flying characteristics of each aircraft was modeled, including G effects. Red Baron included several mission types, including historical missions, and a campaign covering 1915-18. In that campaign, players could join historical units, the shifting front on the ground was modeled throughout the war, and it was possible to come across famous aces in the campaign (like Richotenfan himself). Missions were randomly generated from the included types ( including anti-airship combat), with player stats recorded and promotions/medals awarded for good performance. There was even limited multiplayer on The Sierra Network, allowing for 2-4 players to match up for 10 minutes. Red Baron would be destined to be one of the best combat sims developed, winning Simulation of the Year awards in 1991.


--Red Baron combat and cover art

After this successful release, the next major game from Damon Slye and the Dynamix team would be Aces of the Pacific. A foray into WWII, AOTP would cover the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific war. Players were able to create a virtual U.S. or Japanese pilot for a campaign that covered 1941-45, divided up into the principal operations of the war. Again the game provided a mix of campaign, historical missions, and a quick mission builder. The game featured carrier operations, plus flyable dive and torpedo bombers. The amount of content included was new to flight sims, with each U.S. and Japanese air arm modeled and most major aircraft types in the game. A later expansion, named WWII: 1946 added jet aircraft, prototype aircraft and a hypothetical invasion of Japan. In 1992, Aces of the Pacific was called by one publication “The flight simulator of WWII.”


--Aces of the Pacific box art and aircraft viewer

Coming out a year later, a follow up Aces game would be “Aces over Europe.” The sim was very similar to AOTP, with a change to the European air war. Functionally the game included the same style campaign and missions. Players were able to fly for the RAF, USAAF and the Luftwaffe. A new addition would be modeling tanks and other ground forces, allowing for new types of missions in the series. Unlike the previous game, AOE covered only 1944-45 in the air war, choosing to focus on many late war aircraft like the Hawker Tempest and Me-262.


--Aces over Europe box and career screen

After releasing three major flight simulations in as many years to critical acclaim, co-founder Damon Slye would move on from the company and flight sim design. After his departure, Dynamix would look to other game types before reentering the flight sim market a few years later. Look in the future for the next part of this Dynamix simulation history.
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And now, I present my first Q&A, with company co-founder and Red Baron creator Damon Slye. Disclaimer: The ex-developers of these classic games will be sharing their stories and opinions in these brief interviews. Not everything said may be agreeable to everyone, but I please ask that discussion(Thread) of any opinions be cordial and constructive. Thank you.


Hello Mr. Slye,

Could you give a brief statement on your work with Dynamix, such as naming a few of the games you were involved in?
I led the development of Arcticfox (EA), Abrams Battletank (EA), A10 Tank Killer (Dynamix), Stellar 7 (Dynamix), Red Baron, Aces of the Pacific, Aces over Europe. I also did some design work on Project Firestart (EA), Mechwarrior (Dynamix), David Wolf (Dynamix), and The Incredible Machine (Dynamix). Brief summary: I did tank games, then moved to flight games.

How did you or Dynamix get into the simulation genre?

I was already into simmy-games. My first game was Stellar 7 on the Apple II. It was more of an arcade game, but it had some simulation type features like 3D world, vehicles, and physics. Arcticfox was Stellar 7 on steroids. The Amiga provided a richer canvas to paint on (metaphorically and literally). It was sci-fi / sim / strategy. Straight simulations were selling better than sci-fi stuff back then, so we built Abrams for EA. It was still a little arcadey, but started having some sim type elements (different shell types, tried to model the Abrams, etc.). Simulations did better than arcade games, and airplane sims sold better than tank sims, therefore next up was A10. I didn't want to go head to head with Falcon F-16, so opted for the opposite aircraft. Also, I thought and think that the gameplay is better, richer, and more fun in an A10 than in an F-16 or even an F117.

Truly Red Baron and Aces of the Pacific are two of the pioneering combat flight simulations. Why did you decide to make games about those historical eras of air combat?

We played a really tiny but fun game on the old black-and-white Mac called "Fokker Triplane". It was really fun. So we decided to go all out with a full-blown historical sim. "Their Finest Hour" was also an inspiration. It was excellent. The final inspiration was all of the TimeLife books on Aviation, starting with "Knights of the Air". There's a series of 8 volumes - great writing, beautiful photographs and illustrations, and so on. The high-level goal with the Dynamix historic flight games was to build something so people could actually experience, interactively, the life of a combat pilot. Interactive History. Or, a time machine. Trip Hawkins, president of EA, was always talking about "real-life in a box". That was part of it.

Any interesting stories about the development process of any of those early sims?

I think my proudest moment was a day after we released Red Baron. It was suddenly very quiet in the offices because the overtime was over, and everyone was away recovering. John Bruning had just discovered something in one of the historical records that in World War I, allied pilots had discovered a late war tactic that was very effective against the Fokker triplane. They would fly a faster aircraft, usually the SE 5a, and dive down from above on the triplane, guns blazing, and then zoom away after this pass. Later this tactic was common in air combat for a so-called energy vs. angles fighter, but at the time it was new. It was new to us, also, because we hadn't considered nor tested it in Red Baron. So we got very worried and excited, so we ran to a computer as fast as we could, booted up the game, and did a test match against Richthofen in a triplane. We found the tactic worked perfectly! We were able to employ the exact same tactic that the allied pilots discovered successfully. We could shoot him down consistently without ever engaging in a turning battle (provided we started from a higher altitude). We were happy that the quality and the accuracy of the simulation was sufficient so that unknown and un-coded behaviors matched reality.

How much did you (or could you) factor in historical research to the design of the game and aircraft?

The flight models were fairly accurate. We made sure that the aircraft matched all the historical data available - top speed, ceiling, climb rate, turn rate, and so on. We were not able to find the published roll rates for any of those aircraft, so I called Old Rheinbeck Aerodrome, and spoke with one of their pilots. He did some tests for us and reported the results back, so we had some basis for the roll rates.

For the aces, John Bruning did a lot of reading of the accounts of the aces. We were able to learn what they were known for. For example, some were known for being expert marksmen, others for their great skill in handling the aircraft, and others for their great tactics and strategy. This allowed us to model the behaviors as closely as possible. Perhaps the best example is this quote by Manfred von Richthofen: "I am a hunter. My brother Lothar is a butcher." Other research gave us insight into what he meant by this. He was known for being very careful when on patrol. He rarely put himself at risk. He would secure all possible advantages before attacking - altitude, superior numbers, attacking out of the sun, etc. He preferred to hunt recon aircraft because they were nearly helpless. He was not flamboyant in combat. His brother on the other hand was known for diving recklessly by himself into a squadron of enemies, guns blazing, employing fancy aerobatic maneuvers. Lothar died before his brother. (edit: Lothar died in 1922, Mr. Slye states he didn't remember this correctly but he was considerered by Manfred to be reckless) In the game this was manifested in the combat tactics we assigned to each ace. The Red Baron would, for example, never use any fancy maneuvers. He was a perfect marksman. His brother would take chances.

In the time since, are you still a fan of the flight/simulation genre? Do you/have you played any of the more recent combat sims on the market?

Well, my new company did build a cool game called "Ace of Aces" for the now defunct game company "Instant Action". It was set in WWI, it was free-to-play with micro-transactions, and it was arena based with two sides going against other. Sound familiar? It came out in 2008, well before World of Tanks. I think it was the best thing out on Instant Action, and with support it would have been a big success with one million players worldwide. I figured there were at least one million people worldwide who would play a good flight game like this.
I'm a fan of eSports - games like League of Legends, Hearthstone, DOTA, World of Tanks, and WarThunder. I think Ace of Aces was ahead of its time - doing eSports for a sim game.
So, I admire World of Tanks and War Thunder because they did this.
I think the straight sims today, which I don't want to mention, have no soul. They missed the mark. They miss the forest for the trees. They get all the minor details right, but don't do a good job of letting someone experience the life of a combat pilot. When I play one, I don't feel like I'm in World War I. Instead I feel like I'm sitting at my computer playing a computer simulation.

What do you enjoy about them, and is there anything specific those games do that just wasn't possible in the Dynamix era?

Mostly the eSport stuff with well done multiplayer competition. The Internet was too weak back then. Lag was too high. Basic networking tech had not been worked out back then.

Are there any features of more modern flight sims you think are lacking, or could use improvement?

They need soul.

I recall the Red Baron name resurfacing on Kickstarter and Steam in the past few years. What's the status of that project? I think many people would love to see a new Red Baron game arrive.

We are seeking seed funding to build a prototype for Red Baron that will be an exciting proof of concept to get people to rally around the idea of a new version of the game.

Finally, Red Baron is available today on GOG and Steam. Any chance we could see other Dynamix classics like the Aces series games, Red Baron 3D or A-10 become available?

Red Baron is on GoG because the company I'm at now acquired the rights to it. We don't own the rights to those other games.
(for those interested, visit www.madottergames.com/ and https://www.gog.com/game/red_baron_pack)

Mr. Slye, thank you for your time and work on great games in the flight simulation genre.

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Updated Jan-12-2017 at 01:28 by FightingSteel1

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Dynamix

Comments

  1. ATAG_Bliss's Avatar
    Thanks for taking the time to post. Dynamix was the 1st developer that got me into flight simming. Great memories from their games of old
  2. ATAG_Colander's Avatar
    Thanks for taking the time to post this!