It’s tough to explain why certain games are so compelling when on the surface there seems to be so little to them. Domark’s Wings of Fury is a prime example of the F6F Hellcat amounting to more than the sum of its components. That’s a phrase I’m sure.
Beginning on a USS Wasp carrier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during World War II we must take off, and bomb or blast the living innards out of anything vaguely Jap-an-eezy in sight.
Then return home like a messenger pigeon to refuel, re-equip our plane with ammo and repeat the process all over again having been commended and promoted in rank.
Clearly it’s not a complex premise, the execution summarised in a few sentences, yet Wings of Fury is a title that truly resonated with gamers at the time of release and continues to engage our attention today.
“This game is a little gem, which comes as no surprise when you look at Broderbund’s previous hits like Typhoon Thompson.”
Raze (87%, December 1990)
Nothing compared when it came to nurturing a visceral sense of piloting an attack aircraft that felt distinctive from all the sci-fi arcade shooters that were too easy to pick up and play, thereby failing to instil the same tingle of accomplishment when the controls were finally mastered.
“That was some of the best flying I’ve seen to date – right up to the part where you got killed.”
Wings of Fury works because it’s tricky to get a handle on, leading to countless embarrassing botched take-offs and catastrophic landings. Crucially it’s the latter that tips the balance between a successful and disastrous mission, impossible as it is to fight an aerial war without sufficient fuel and ammunition. Tear apart a Japanese stronghold, eviscerating troops, their anti-aircraft artillery, pill boxes and Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter planes, and it counts for nothing if we can’t return to base to regroup. There’s no help to be found on the ocean bed, all the mermaids have fled to Sea World to take cover.
“The gameplay grows repetitive but as soon as you think you’ve had enough and turn off the machine, you want another go! With regards repeat plays, it’s a real lasting investment. Morally dubious perhaps but plenty of fun definitely. Bombs away!”
Commodore Format (77%, C64, November 1990)
Landing is where most people gave up on the exercise, recycling the floppy disk for something less challenging… like writing the next major Pulitzer prize-winning novel or coding a universally loved 100% scoring game. In an arcade shooter you’d simply align yourself with the runway, hurtling towards it at full tilt, paying no heed to trajectory, speed, altitude, or braking once you’ve made contact. With Wings of Fury, we can’t take any of this for granted. All of the latter elements have to be factored in simultaneously – the alternative is to splat into the hull of the carrier like a drunken firefly, or plummet into the deep blue to drown, having dived too quickly or too steeply.
“If you like your shoot ’em ups on the cerebral side then this is for you.”
Commodore User (83%, February 1990)
It’s a shame that this essential task alone was responsible for so many people missing out on the classic pseudo-simulator. Especially given that Wings of Fury came accompanied with a comprehensive manual that fully elucidates the troublesome touchdown technique.
You’d think that obliging players to work it out for themselves would be deemed part of the learning curve and Steve Waldo – the creator of the original 1987 Apple II title – wouldn’t want to deprive people of that joy, but the instructions are there to accelerate the process all the same. I know, life’s short.
“To land on the carrier, you must approach it flying into the wind (from the right). Use the 3-D view to line up the flashing white artificial horizon indicator with the deck of the carrier. Just as you clear the edge of the carrier’s deck, stall the plane to allow it to drop so that its ‘arrester hook’ can catch one of the four arresting cables on the deck.
To land on the carrier, you must approach it flying into the wind. Landing an airplane on the deck of a carrier requires a great deal of skill and nerves of steel. It may take you a few practice runs before you feel comfortable, but this practice will pay off later when the heat is on and you have to land under fire.
Once you have landed safely, taxi your plane to the elevator. Then, push a joystick button to activate the elevator and lower your plane for repairs, refuelling and a new load of weapons. If you taxi too far and miss the elevator, simply turn your plane around and position it over the elevator again.”
It’s lucky that the initial Apple II game is mechanically identical to the later Amiga port since it allows us to substitute its manual for the MIA Amiga version. Hall of Light hosts the French document it should be noted so that’s fine if you happen to parle Francais.
About the Author
“Steve Waldo, 22, lives in Baraboo, Wisconsin. A student at the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in fine art.
Steve first became involved with computers in junior high school, where he and his friends quickly became avid game players. The school soon decided to remove all games from the computer centre, starting Steve on the path that ultimately led him to create Wings of Fury.
His game playing had sparked a fascination with graphics and animation, which inspired him to get serious about learning to program. Eventually, he realised that, for him, creating his own animation was just as much fun as playing games.
When he’s not at his computer, Steve enjoys a wide variety of outdoor sports, including skiing. He is also, as evidenced by Wings of Fury, a serious student of World War II aircraft .”
Steve is credited with devising the Wings of Fury concept, but if you delve a little bit further back into arcade flight game history you’ll see that it appears to have been recycled from a 1983 8-bit game known as Harrier Attack by Durell Software. Itself likely based on the 1981 coin-op classic, Scramble, by Konami.
You might have guessed from the title that rather than a Hellcat we’re tasked with flying a Harrier jump jet. It’s a superficial tweak, the premise remaining identical. Take off from an aircraft carrier, obliterate everything with bombs or a machine gun and return to base before our fuel runs dry or oil pressure drops beyond recovery. Like Wings of Fury it’s also possible to destroy our own homestead should we be feeling particularly suicidal.
“To take off from the carrier, push the joystick all the way to the left to give your Hellcat full throttle in that direction. As the plane nears the end of the flight deck, push the stick up and to the left to provide elevation.
When your Hellcat is damaged by gunfire, the engine will begin to smoke. The more damage your plane sustains, the more smoke it will emit and the lower the oil pressure will drop. When the oil pressure begins to get critically low, a red light will blink on the gauge. If the oil pressure drops too low, the engine will seize and you will crash. Each time you return to your carrier and descend into the hold, your plane will be repaired, restoring oil pressure to full.
When the fuel level begins to get critically low, a red light will blink on the gauge. If the plane runs out of fuel in flight, you will crash. Each time you return to your carrier and descend into the hold, your plane will be refuelled, restoring the fuel level to full.”
One key variation is the setting. Made by a British company – based in Taunton, Somerset to be precise – Harrier Attack takes place during the Falklands War rather than WWII, still a hot topic at this point having only concluded the year before.
Durell Solutions are still around today headed by its original founder, Robert White, although they’re no longer in the games industry. Today they’d be more likely to supply you with back-office administration or accounting software.
Apparently Harrier Attack sold 150,000 copies and was bundled with the Amstrad CPC hardware pack, adding a further 100,000 tapes to the tally, so was far from what might be considered an obscure title (see ‘The ZX Spectrum Book’, 2012). Hailing from Wisconsin, I’d imagine that had Steve Waldo knowingly duplicated and updated Harrier Attack, he’d be unlikely to embrace such an anachronistic 10-week British-centric conflict to set the tone. Thus Wings of Fury’s backstory instead revolves around War War II, specifically America’s entanglement with the Japanese stationed in the Pacific Ocean. This is covered both in the game’s scrolling text intro and the opening pages of the manual printed by California-based publishers, Broderbund. In practice, it has little impact on the gameplay aside from injecting the player into a roleplay scenario with which they could more easily identify.
A Time of Fury
“It is 1944 and the world is at war. Europe is ablaze with a conflict that engulfs her like the flames of hell, leaving a path of destruction wherever it burns. The Far East, too, is being consumed by a furious struggle for dominance. In the Pacific theatre, the Allies face an enemy possessed of great skill and a relentless determination. As the tide begins to turn in favor of the Allies, the enemy struggles ever more desperately to maintain the footholds it had gained earlier in the war.
However, both on the sea and in the air, the U.S. Navy proves to be more than a match for its opponents. One reason for this is the incredible striking power of the Navy’s Air Force. It is instrumental in defeating the enemy in battle after battle. Within the Navy’s air command, one plane seems to be leading the fight for an Allied victory: the mighty F6F Hellcat!
The Hellcat is incredibly powerful and durable, a real workhorse capable of bearing bombs, rockets and torpedoes. Able to out-manoeuvre the enemy’s best fighter planes, the Hellcat has established one of the best kill-to-loss ratios in the war.
Now you have the opportunity to fly your very own Hellcat. You’ll be assigned to provide air support for the USS Wasp. This aircraft carrier has been heavily damaged and must make its way safely back to port. On this perilous journey, you must defend the carrier against torpedo bombers, rout the enemy from their island strongholds, sink enemy vessels that lie en route to homeport and protect yourself by shooting down enemy planes.
Strapping yourself into the cockpit, you face a tremendous responsibility. The fate of the carrier and every man onboard has been placed in your experienced hands. As the signal officer gives you the go, you give your Cat full throttle and take off into the unknown skies before you. Just minutes off the deck, you sight the first sign of trouble: a pair of enemy fighters bearing down on you from above…”
All very patriotic and jolly decent of those philanthropic Americans to pop over and save the useless Europeans’ bacon like that. We could debate all day whether or not they would have bothered if the US hadn’t been attacked on home turf, but there’s no denying they turned the tide in the allies’ favour and ended the war far sooner than could otherwise be expected.
Despite the gaping four year rift, the ways in which Wings of Fury builds upon Harrier Attack’s foundations is mostly icing the cake. We can now equip our plane with torpedoes and rockets as well as the standard bombs and a machine gun, each optimally adapted to deployment against specific opponents and missions.
Machine Guns: “Your Hellcat is equipped with three .50 calibre machine guns on each wing. These guns can be fired while in flight by pressing button 0. Use your machine guns for shooting down enemy planes and strafing islands.”
Bombs: “Equipped with thirty 100lb bombs, your Hellcat can do heavy damage to barracks and machine gun dug-outs on enemy islands. After selecting bombs from the weapons menu, you can drop bombs while in flight by pressing button 1.”
Rockets: “Designed for use on more substantial targets such as large anti-aircraft guns, 15 of these 5-inch rockets can be carried by your Hellcat. Once you’ve selected rockets from the weapons menu, you can fire rockets while in flight by pressing button 1.”
Torpedoes: “Once an enemy ship’s guns have been disabled, you’ll be able to make a torpedo run on the ship in an attempt to sink it. After selecting torpedo from the weapons menu, you can release the torpedo by pressing button 1.
Note: You must approach the enemy ship flying low over the water when you release the torpedo. It is important to have the ship well in your sight before releasing the torpedo so as not to allow the torpedo to run out of energy before hitting its target.”
Realistic purring engine sound effects complete with pitch-cycling adjustments enhance the seemingly accurate portrayal of the genuine Navy hardware further. As does the simple 3D cockpit view display situated in the HUD.
“This provides a three-dimensional view of the world from your cockpit. This view is especially helpful when attempting to gauge the distance between your Hellcat and an oncoming ship, plane or other target.
In the centre of the view is a flashing white cursor which serves as an artificial horizon indicator. This indicator is useful for sighting targets and landing on your carrier.”
Rather than Harrier Attack’s five levels of difficulty, there are seven to choose from, framed as military ranks, each relating to a particular mission. These can be tackled in any order as we’re not tied to a sequential narrative of any kind. Accordingly, this means there’s no finale reward for completing them all other than an entry in the high score table.
“Once you have finished the game, you will have the opportunity to save your score to disk if your score is among the top ten. You will be prompted to enter your name. Your rank will be recorded automatically.
You start the game with three Hellcats. You will receive one additional Hellcat every time you earn a promotion in rank.”
“You will be briefed on each mission’s objectives before you begin it. Bonuses will be awarded as each objective is accomplished. An additional bonus will be awarded upon successful completion of an entire mission.
The two major objectives that a mission may entail are:
Islands: Targets on islands include barracks, soldiers, machine gun dug-outs and large anti-aircraft guns. For an island to be neutralised, all barracks, soldiers and guns must be destroyed.
Ships: Enemy ships must be sunk to be neutralised.
During some missions, you will also encounter the following:
Fighter Planes: It is not necessary to shoot down all fighter planes in an area in order to complete a mission.
Torpedo Planes: To defend your carrier, it is necessary to either shoot down torpedo planes or destroy their torpedoes once dropped (with bullets, bombs or rockets). When a torpedo plane is sighted, an arrow will appear in the 3-D view indicating its position relative to you.”
More dramatic changes include the ability to zoom out from the playfield as we ascend, allowing us to survey the terrain in its entirety whilst still having the ability to mount an offensive. Far more useful and immersive than a static map would be. “Let’s turn and burn!”
“Turning is accomplished by reversing the horizontal direction of the stick. Your Hellcat will lose altitude while turning, so it’s important to give it extra lift at the same time.”
Soaring through the clouds safely out of reach of most land attacks we’re in a prime position to engage enemy fighter planes. These ‘dogfights’ can transpire out of the blue (as well as during the night!) ensuring we’re kept on high alert at all times, escalating the tension.
“You’re not going to be happy unless you’re going Mach 2 with your hair on fire.”
The trick is to curtail our velocity, exploiting changes in elevation to emerge behind them. Then make them holy! With our machine gun, not so much an aspergillum.
“I feel the need … the need for speed!”
As we reduce altitude the screen closes in to provide a more personal perspective, bringing home the harsh realities of shoving an incendiary device up the backsides of enemy infantrymen and appreciating their terrified agonising shrieks.
It has to be done. Leave the evicted soldiers alone to recover and they’ll soon rebuild their fortifications, renewing the onslaught once more. In effect, we’ll be back at square one with less ammo.
“You don’t own that plane! The taxpayers do! Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!”
In this view we have less room for manoeuvre, forcing us to make snap judgements and translate them to joystick commands before a terminal collision ensues. Made all the more hair-raising and dramatic by the constant barrage of Japanese AA gun ammunition. There’s no mistaking when we’ve been hit. The screen flashes fluorescent red whilst trails of smoke and searing incandescence stream from our Hellcat’s chassis.
“I’m going to need a beer to put these flames out.”
With the fate of the free world in our hands, the stakes and free-flowing adrenaline couldn’t be any higher. How this translates to the cogent verisimilitude of the experience is remarkable for such a simple game.
“Bottom line: This is an exciting, memorable game for anyone remotely interested in action games. Broderbund should have a hit with this one. It is worth your while to check it out.”
Computer Gaming World (Apple II, September 1988)
You can keep your approved Air Force-grade flight simulators with keyboard overlay guides and doorstop-thick manuals. None of those deliver the immediacy and thrills of the true Top Gun experience.
You won’t save the world by studying dials and graphs, or asking permission to ‘buzz the control tower’.
“You don’t have time to think up there. If you think, you’re dead.”