Persian Gulf war brings a boom in software sales

Personal computers

January 28, 1991|By Michael J. Himowitz | Michael J. Himowitz,Evening Sun Staff

The conflict in the Persian Gulf has turned the phras "high-tech war" into an instant cliche.

With the Pentagon clamping down on real reporting, networks and newspapers have concentrated their coverage on the whiz-bang electronic gadgets that airmen, soldiers and sailors are using to soften up the Iraqis before the tough fighting starts.

Not surprisingly, this attention is producing a mini-bonanza for software houses that specialize in military simulations and war games.

You may not be able to find out what's going on in the real war, but if you have a computer and 50 bucks, you can climb into the cockpit of an F-15 or park yourself behind the gunsight of an M1 tank and blast away at Saddam's minions in the comfort of your home or office.

At Egghead Discount Software, which operates 188 stores around the country, spokeswoman Diane Merz said sales of the chain's four most popular electronic war games jumped 40 percent during first week of the crisis.

Today's simulations are a far cry from the early days of computer games, when a simple gunsight, a horizon, and crude, stick figure drawings of enemy planes and tanks were enough to send electronic warriors into fits of ecstasy.

Fast computers, three-dimensional color graphics, digitized sound and impeccable attention to detail give today's war games a chilling look and feel. They can take weeks or months to master, and a knowledge of weapons systems and tactics is as important as traditional arcade game reflexes.

For military buffs, the instruction manuals (some run 200 pages) are some of the best sources of information about planes, tanks, rockets, bombs, radar systems and military tactics outside of classified Pentagon documents.

Although list prices vary greatly, most of these programs are available for $40 to $50 on the street. To get the most out of them, you'll also need some computing horsepower. Although most will run on older IBM XT-style machines, they'll run best on AT-style IBM compatibles with EGA or VGA graphics. And they'll all take advantage of popular add-on sound boards.

By most accounts, the leader of the pack in war games today is Hunt Valley-based Microprose software.

The company's flagship program, F-15 Strike Eagle II, is as current as today's headlines.

State-of-the-art graphics, heads-up cockpit displays, a wide variety of weapons, instant replays, and wrap-around views that show your plane from any angle make this a challenging and complex simulation.

While many other publishers concentrated on a potential conflict with the Soviets in Europe, Microprose wisely included a variety of combat scenarios--including a Persian Gulf conflict.

For computer pilots who are really into high-tech, Microprose's F-19 Stealth Fighter puts you behind the stick of the country's top-secret attack plane, with a bewildering variety of real and imaginary weapons systems. This is a tough one to master, but true techies will find it irresistible.

If variety is your spice of life, take a look at Accolade's Strike Aces. Although you're in a friendly competition over the skies of Montana instead of mortal combat over Iraq, the list of planes you can fly looks like the roster of aircraft you see every night on the news from the Gulf.

You can choose an F-15, Panavia Toronado, F-4 Phantom and a && variety of MIG's, Mirages and other planes.

Elsewhere on the shelves of your software store, Falcon A.T. from Spectrum Holobyte puts you in the cockpit of an F-16 and lets you play head to head against an opponent on another computer, while oddly engaging Stormovik puts you in a Russian uniform flying an SU-25 in pursuit of a ruthless terrorist gang.

Vietnam buffs -- largely shut out of the game market by the country's distaste for that war -- can also take their shot at the enemy with the new Flight of the Intruder, timed to coincide with the release of the movie by the same name.

Finally, if you like low and slow instead of high and fast, LHX Attack Chopper from Electronic Arts lets you bust tanks to your heart's delight in a variety of attack helicopters.

For warriors who prefer to fight on the ground, tank simulations abound, including M1 Tank Platoon from Microprose, Tank/rf from Spectrum Holobyte and Abrams Battle Tank from Electronic Arts.

M1 Tank Platoon lets you command up to four of the Army's high-tech behemoths and includes a manual that qualify you as a network news analyst if you can absorb it all. If you're looking for even more firepower, Tank puts you in charge of 16 tanks and includes a Middle East Scenario.

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