EAW: New Life for an Old Flight Simulator Page 7

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The EAW “Mod” Community’s Breakthrough

The loyalty of EAW fans was and is phenomenal. It isn’t just the game. “I think what really makes us unique is the community that has grown around EAW,” one “Edwin Rommel”, fieldmarshall (retired) wrote. “Marriage counseling is available on the fly- problems with girlfriends, boyfriends, friends- no problem, we even have a resident psychiatrist, some dentists, a few doctors and an attorney or two. We share a laugh or two, we share a burst of anger or two, and we share our lives. Yes we are a damn family!”

“Col. J Landers” (Nathan) joined the group after taking EAW off his shelf in 2002 and becoming addicted. Early online discussions with “Pobs” (Brian Egan) soon had Nathan eager to contribute something, a hallmark reaction in this community. He began, as many do, by skinning, and eventually produced a famous P-51 he loved, the “Big Beautiful Doll” in HR (High Resolution).

When Nathan heard that the “Holy Grail” of EAW was the missing source code, he started research on the ‘Net and by telephone. Atari referred him to Infrogrames, the game’s current over-owner in the chain of companies since MicroProse. (Yes, that’s the company’s actual name, not “Infogames” as it is usually called). “I had also been exploring the angle of tracking down a large number of the original MicroProse team for information by telephone and email,” Nathan said. “Though appreciative of my efforts, they were saying nothing due to the copyright issues”. “Col. Gibbons” (John Graham) was doing the same thing with only slightly better results. But “Col. Gibbons” urged Nathan not to quit and they didn’t give up. The Atari Public Relations staff was friendly and helpful, and even encouraged Nathan to talk to the original game developers. Without something in writing, though, the programmers weren’t talking. Secrets and rights are a big legal thing in the game world, as they are elsewhere.

“With John’s support I determined to go back to Atari, and approach the Director Of Legal at Atari (Kristen Keller) to get an answer once and for all.” Silence. Nathan sent a final letter thanking the Atari folks for their kindness, making a last plea, and was ready to let it go. Then came a friendly email from Infrogrames board member/Atari CEO Frederic Chesnais, asking Nathan to give him a telephone call. “I found Frederic to be open, generous, knowledgeable, and above all receptive to the group and to any discussions/development by the SimHQ EAW Group with former members of the MicroProse team, to include the original code for the game,”Nathan said.

Atari’s CEO backed it up with a letter the EAW “team” can show to the reluctant former staffers to clear them of legal entanglements.

A Modder’s Dream

By accident or design, the structure of EAW makes it very easy to modify-up to a point. The game has a set of compressed data files (CDF’s) where the key libraries were stored. But if a particular file is available outside the CDF, the game will use it first. If it doesn’t work, the game’s .exe simply reverts back to the stored CDF libraries. Make a new file, and the game will use it. A modder’s dream. Of course, some hilarious results come with bad files in new scenarios. I won’t forget being puzzled to find myself fighting German aircraft in a misloading of “Moggy’s” “Sighted Main Body – The Battle of Midway” scenario so brilliantly put together. Where were the Japanese?

Some fine minds — and very inquisitive ones — were attracted to this “new” sim not long after its introduction. One of these was “Charles” whose name belongs in boldface type. “Charles” was a skinner-and much, much more. He examined the game in hex code. He kept meticulous notes on his findings and those of other finder-outers with an eye to modifying (“modding”) EAW. What “Charles” did differently was completely organize his notes and present them to the EAW community. They became the “EAW Bible”. They are still required reading for modders, and in use today. Much has been learned since “Charles” went on to other things, but his legacy supports EAW. “Charles” also set up a utility to “swap” the growing number of new aircraft and “skins” into and out of the game, called Enemy Coast Ahead (ECA). Still used. His “skins” and new aircraft electrified the community. Naturally, he also has a “virtual” medal from SEAWC. Look here.

Another name in fame is Allesandro Borges. This programmer listened to the cries of pain in the EAW forums and was sympathetic. “Why don’t we have a tool to make other aircraft, not just paint them?” or “Why do we have to borrow from PAW ( 1942: Pacific Air War ) for new aircraft / buildings / tanks / trucks(lorries) / ships / people?” So Allesandro produced another milestone: 3DZ!Studio. This program took aircraft drawings, made “wireframes” and moved and changed things around. Voila! New aircraft and other 3D objects. But there was a cost, and what a cost. This brilliant program had one great flaw: it required the user to change dimensions one mouseclick at a time. A new aircraft cost you thousands of mouseclicks. Many a mouse was lost to modders.

There also is a little matter known in the game graphics trade as the “BSP” tree, or Binary Space Partitioning. They call it the “Rendering Sequence” in EAW. Simply put, the Rendering Sequence tells the computer what part of an aircraft (or other 3D object) is seen — or hidden — in front of or behind another part as the view changes.

Hold your hand in front of your eyes. Rotate it slowly and watch the back of your hand change to the palm, and the fingers appear and disappear in front of or behind another. The BSP tree, or Rendering Sequence must be arranged so each finger and the whole hand can be seen from all angles. Allesandro’s program did not deal with it. To this day, mention the Rendering Sequence in a post and the answer you get is not always good-natured. In short, the EAW community still hasn’t come up with an easy answer.

Nevertheless, new aircraft were produced. “Charles” made these for the EAW Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe scenario.

Messerschmitt Bf-109z "Zwilling" DO-335 Pfeil twin eng FULL-Pic by RAF_Dumoulin.
Messerschmitt Bf-109z “Zwilling”
Do-335 twin-engined “Pfeil” (Arrow)
GO-229 Gotha stealth flying wing Pic by RAF_Dumo. The Kyushu "Shinden" from Japan
GO-229 Gotha stealth flying wing
The Kyushu “Shinden” from Japan

All screen shots by “RAF_Dumoulin”.

Only a month or so ago, computer science student “Gurney” produced another new 3DZ studio without the requisite mouse clicks. Just enter the numbers in a box, and they are calculated. The cries of “Hallelujah!” were as loud as the yells of triumph at Atari’s generosity this week about the source code. Modders are busy with “Gurneys”‘s new program (and bemoaning the glitches common to new programs). Stopping only to have a beer or soda, perhaps, at the Atari news and post their thanks.

The BSP tree remains a challenge. But a Polish train enthusiast screen-named “Woolfman” (Marek Wilk) did produce a calculator for the “normals” in making 3D mods, and this eases much of the pain still felt about the Rendering Sequence. “Woolfman” also produced an EAW terrain generator to track the “tiles” that are really slices of ground — or water. There are astonishingly few of them — the limit is 59 tile types, with new ones coming— and they must reproduce the entire EAW world.

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