Comanche 4 Q&A

After a great surge of helosims last year--Enemy Engaged, KA-52, Gunship!--it seemed likely we would not see any new developments this year. Surprise! The newest installment in NovaLogic's brisk-selling Comanche series popped up seemingly out of nowhere. Rumored to be cancelled, we now know Comanche 4 was just keeping a low profile. We fought our way into the busy schedules of Producer Wes Eckhart and Bryan Davies for detailed questions.

HSC: Comanche 4 was already in development and NovaLogic decided to throw out the existing code and start over. What brought about the retooling?

NL: Development was put on hold until we had the technology in place that would do the brand justice. Rather than just doing another sequel, we wanted to create something very unique, with new missions, graphics –the whole lot. When you see Comanche 4 you’ll realize that it was worth the wait. The latest developments in 3D technology have allowed us to really bring the world to life in Comanche 4. We have been able to create some fantastic effects such as realistic rotor wash over water and land and dense foliage that can be used to conceal the player's movement.


HSC: You have left voxel rendering technology behind. Did you feel it had reached the point where it could no longer match the visual performance of polygon rendered visuals?

NL: The Comanche series has always been about pushing the look and feel of fast action helicopter games to the next level. Back in 1992 the release of Comanche was mind-blowing as it saw the debut of our internally developed voxel space engine, which allowed pilots to fly around valleys, mountains, rivers and hills, in a way never before seen in a video game. This was a big issue back then. This voxel engine has been continually updated and improved for each subsequent game.

For Comanche 4 we continued to move ahead with technology. The latest 3D cards are designed specifically to push polys rather than voxels, which means we had to shift to a poly engine to take full advantage of what these new cards have to offer. We're now able to do a complex poly terrain and load it with all sorts of details. For example, a realistic shadow will be cast when the chopper hovers above water or the ground. The rotor wash will kick up dust over land and spray when it's over the water. The nuances in the environment will blow players away.

As to whether we have abandoned Voxels altogether, the answer is no


HSC: What kind of ground units will the Comanche 4 player face?

NL: The ground is alive with all sorts of different bad guys. You'll have traditional armor hunting missions involving T-72s and T-80s. SAM threats will come in the form of fixed sites and mobile units like the Tunguska. Troops on the ground will fire automatic weapons and shoulder launched stinger missiles. And then there's the water. Fast attack boats, destroyers, and even an aircraft carrier will make the seas a most dangerous place.


HSC: What hot spots will Comanche 4 send the player into?

NL: Comanche 4 will feature six single-player campaigns, each of these containing between three and five missions. Campaigns will be set in existing political hotspots that will include tropical island settings, some desert locales and urban landscapes. Mission objectives will include assaulting a heavily armed aircraft carrier, providing air cover for Delta Force, preventing biochemical warfare, and protecting the President.


HSC: Name one area where Comanche 4 is substantially different than Comanche 3 and other contemporary helosims?

NL: The control flexibility is key to Comanche 4. We've taken the gameplay from the earlier Comanche products and made it even more accessible through a mouselook interface. Casual gamers will have the option of playing Comanche 4 like a modern day shooter: ASWD keys for movement, mouse for point and shoot. This control simplicity should really appeal to new players.

At the same time, we don't want to alienate the more sim-oriented fans. Both the flight model and control interface are scalable. You can configure the game to work with joysticks, throttles, rudder pedals, etc. You can also allow some of the more complex error conditions to occur.


HSC: Are the trees depicted as individual units or blocks? How numerous will trees and forest be?

NL: The trees are a little bit of both. To achieve the level of dense foliage in the game, we are using groups of trees for certain areas. There are also individual trees scattered throughout the world. The combination of the two gives us great ground coverage, while at the same time achieving a realistic look and feel. Players will be able to duck below a tree line and use stealth to approach the target. We are also working on having the rotor wash affect the trees and get them swaying with the wind. This is certainly an aspect of helicopter combat that until Comanche 4 has never fully been realized


HSC: It has been reported that Comanche 4 will feature simplified avionics. If the player is familiar with Comanche 3, he will feel at home with Comanche 4.

NL: I think so. The goal of the game is to give players the feeling of "being there" without burdening them with complex controls. We have several different declutter modes for the HMD (Helmet Mounted Display) so players can dial in their desired level of information. The MFDs (Multi-Function Displays) will show relevant navigation and target data in an easy to understand way. Threat indicators, while not realistic, are key to making the fast action really enjoyable.


HSC: Will the player be able to take off and land?

NL: Most definitely! The player will start each mission on the ground (or other suitable surface), and the engines will automatically spool up. Landing plays an important role in the game, as landing at a FARP (Forward Area Refuel/rearm Point) is the only way for players to get extra ammo during a mission. When your gear is down, a landing indicator will appear on the HMD to help you land the Comanche.


HSC: Will munitions be able to penetrate bushes and trees to impact vehicles behind them?

NL: Yes. In most cases, a few good shots to the trunk of a tree with the 20mm gun or a direct hit from a 70mm rocket will take the tree down completely. However, gun fire should pass through the tree branches and allow you to hit the concealed target.


HSC: Will IR mode be available?

NL: Most likely not. We are working on night vision, which uses I2 (Image Intensification) technology. IR, or thermal could potentially be used in the target cam, but I doubt we'll get to it.


HSC: Will the player have use of AI wingmen?

NL: Friendly forces of one form or another will be available throughout most missions to aid you in the fight. In most missions you'll have a single wingman along to aid you in your assignment. You'll be able to give him a limited set of orders, but nothing too complex. However, like all stealth aircraft, some missions you'll have to go it alone.


HSC: Describe the flight controls? Torque effects? Transitional lift?

Will the collective be reversible? Will autorotation be present?

NL: We are still dealing with which options will be customizable in the flight model. Elements like over-torque and transitional lift will be automated in the simplified flight model but may possibly come into play in the more complex control setup. Although we allowed for autorotation in Comanche 3, it is unlikely we will have it in Comanche 4. We want the gameplay to give you that all or nothing feel: Either you're flying and fighting or you're dead.


HSC: What kind of damage modeling is present in Comanche 4?

NL: You'll be able to damage a variety of the Comanche's subsystems, including targeting, engine, weapons, fantail, etc. The goal here is to have this damage affect gameplay somewhat, but not to the point where you'd rather kill yourself than continue the mission. That takes all the fun out of playing.


HSC: Can you play as the pilot and the gunner?

NL: To simplify the game, you'll be controlling the Comanche as a combination pilot / gunner. We toyed with the idea of being able to control each position separately in multiplayer, but it doesn't look like it's going to make it in to the final product.


HSC: What will resemble the older versions in the Comanche-Series?

NL: The simplified, intuitive control interface and the over the top action are most similar to the previous Comanche games. We want Comanche 4 to be easy for new users to pick up and play. At the same time, we want to provide them with plenty of riveting action to keep them coming back.

HSC: Do the programmers for Comanche-4 have military background? And what is their backgrounds in game-programming?

NL: Members of the Comanche 4 team have previously worked on the Comanche, Armored Fist, and Delta Force series of games. While they do not necessarily have a military background, their familiarity with the subject matter and our willingness to bring in subject matter experts combine to give the game an authentic feel.


HSC: What controllers will be supported by Comanche-4? We've heard that
game-pads can be used as well as stick and throttle combos.

NL: We're looking at a wide of range of peripherals. Joysticks, throttles, and rudder pedals are some of the more common controllers. We have also played around with some gamepad support, and we'd really like force feedback to work well with the game.


HSC: Will Comanche-4 focus on flight team management or single pilot dossiers?

NL: The game definitely focuses on single pilot action. There are no skill levels associated with your pilot, other than what you as a player bring to the game.


HSC: What will be the minimal/recommended requirements for a computer to be able to play this game?

NL: We're still working out the required and recommended specs. We hope to have them for you soon.


Comanche 4, coming to the skies near you soon!
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