2004 in Review

by Doug “guod” Atkinson

 

Another year has come and gone in sims. What were this year’s highs and lows and which sims were the year’s best?

Fact is, in a gaming environment proliferated with a near obsession of grabbing the last visual effect from $300-500+ video cards, many of us spent the year playing sims that have been available for quite a while and have been regenerated with terrific mods and add-on developments. Many of these mods would rival the quality a major developer could provide. So above all else, 2004 was “another” year of the mod and add-ons.

The SimHQ Staff was asked: What is the one thing that affected or impacted simulations the most in 2004 — good or bad and what are your favorite sims from 2004?

Here are the SimHQ Editors thoughts about the year 2004 in simulations.

Tom ‘WKLINK’ Cofield first commented on the positives. “The latest video cards. Some of the new stuff coming out is simply amazing. The stuff is looking more and more photo-realistic.” And then Tom spoke about thenegatives… “The continued dominance of the perfection whiner. You know the type — this feature, that plane, yada-yadda isn’t in this game so it isn’t worth the $39.95 I paid for it.”

If you haven’t already done so, read Tom’s editorial “The Future of our Genre” here and the follow-up threadhere in which several interesting ideas and points-of-view were discussed.

‘Chunx’ found the following as the high points of the year: “New PC games are still the driving force in technological improvement in PCs — specifically the new video cards that have come out recently…. I got a GeForce 6800GT and it really improved the visual quality of my games.” In regards to simulation titles, he said, “Dedicated developers like 1C / Maddox continued to provide quality products and upgrades. Dedicated 3rd party modders like Project WildFire’s NR 2003 add-ons, Ralph Hummerich’s RH2004 Season mod for F1 Challenge and FreeFalcon3, not to mention some of the great historically accurate skins for IL-2FB / AEP / PF are reaching (or exceeding) the level of professional development studios in product quality within their scope of effort, and really added a lot to the sim community’s enjoyment of new and existing titles.” Finally, “It was good news for simulation fans that some great and highly profitable non-sim PC games have helped stop the tidal surge of developers towards mindless console games and back to PC games (such as Doom 3, Half-Life 2 and Far Cry).”

According to ‘Chunx’, the big negatives this year were, “Continual shrinkage of the high-dollar, big producer, retail simulation genre. Every month this year we heard something bad. Like Papyrus getting shuttered. Or LOMAC being dropped for support (with the exception of v1.1 in Russia). Falcon 5 / OIR getting canceled. Problems with product licensing and 1C / Maddox, not to mention the hostile takeover attempt of Ubisoft (our last great sim producer) by console-oriented rival EA. Even RedStorm’s Ghost Recon 2 was developed more with the casual console gamer in mind and less of a ‘tactical simulation’… unless the delayed PC version gets an infusion of “hard core” life based on PC game profitability this year.”

“Although there are a few potential bright spots out there like Wings Over Vietnam and the upcoming releases of GTR and NASCAR Sim Racing, sometimes it seems like the days of finding a thinking man’s electronic entertainment title at a retail store are over.”

Technology Editor John Reynolds believes, “The best graphics technology that began to see use in 2004 isnormal maps.” The SimHQ ATI X800 XT PCIe Review here has a brief description of normal maps on the 3rd page.

When asked his thoughts on 2004, Scott ‘Blade124’ Gentile said, “The only things I can really speak confidently about are flight simulations, since that’s all I’ve been doing during 2004. All in all, I think 2004 was a pretty bad year for flight sims. Several fell far short of their potential in more ways than one. The best release, IMO, has to be LOMAC, and it only received a lukewarm reception at best.”

“Technically, what slipped in during December 2004 was NaturalPoint’s TrackIR six degrees of freedom known as Vector Expansion™. This allows the player‘s head to move up, down, left, right, forward and backwards. Now pilot’s can look over the nose, lean their head out the window during a taxi, or even move their head right up to and look through the gun-sight. This may dominate in 2005.”

“Some cool water rendering technology is also coming about with the more powerful video cards.”

“Too bad Silent Hunter III didn’t make it in for 2004 — I think that would have stolen the show. It looks to be a little more than evolutionary.”

“Perhaps the biggest thing, IMO, are these games depicting huge armies made up of individual people, like Rome: Total War. I haven’t played the game, but the in-game videos show something quite new this year.”

In closing, ‘Blade124’ said, “Not a sim, but Sid Meier’s Pirates looks amazing.”

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