Crimson Skies (video game)
Crimson Skies is an arcade flight video game developed by Zipper Interactive and published in 2000 by Microsoft Game Studios. Although a flight-based game, Crimson Skies is not a genuine flight simulator, as the game is based less on flight mechanics than on action. According to series creator Jordan Weisman, Crimson Skies is "not about simulating reality—it's about fulfilling fantasies."
|Publisher(s)||ACES Studio, Microsoft, Tsunami Visual Technologies (arcade)|
|Platform(s)||Microsoft Windows, arcade|
|Genre(s)||Action, arcade flight|
The game is set in an alternate history of the 1930s in which the United States has fragmented into a number of smaller sovereignties, and in which air travel has become the primary mode of transportation in North America. The game centers on Nathan Zachary, an adventurous air pirate seeking to rob the affluent of their wealth and power. Throughout the campaign, Zachary leads his gang of air pirates, the Fortune Hunters, on a quest to gain fame and riches.
Crimson Skies is often regarded as a "cult success", commercially successful only to a limited extent. The game has received generally favorable reviews; it has been noted for its high-quality voice acting, gameplay, and atmosphere. Notable technical issues, however, have been known to plague the game, the most notorious of which was the tendency to delete saved game files until a patch was released.
Crimson Skies is a cross between an authentic flight simulator and an arcade flight game. Although flight mechanics such as lift are still present, the game's planes are generally overpowered, allowing them to perform aerobatic maneuvers impossible in reality under similar circumstances. According to lead game designer John Howard:
We're not trying to build a realistic flight simulation, but at the same time, Crimson Skies isn't a cartoony, arcade-type game, either. We had to find a middle ground, where the planes were more powerful, more responsive and more intuitive to fly, so that the player can just concentrate on being a hero.
GameSpot has stated that "the flight model in Crimson Skies is light on the physics and heavy on the barnstorming." In this way, the site likened the game's arcade flight model to the "stunt-flying heroics of pulp novel fame", in which "daredevil pilots performed unbelievable (and quite impossible) feats of showmanship and gunnery." To this effect, the game features select "danger zones"—difficult spaces situated throughout the environment through which the player can fly to dissuade pursuing aircraft. Such stunts are also documented in the player's "scrapbook", which is the game's record of the player's accomplishments throughout the campaign.
The gameplay of Crimson Skies takes place through the player controlling an aircraft through the game's various environments. The game offers three cameras during missions: first-person perspectives with or without a cockpit visible, and a third-person view. The game's heads-up display features basic flight instrumentation such as the compass, altimeter, and speedometer, as well as a damage indicator for the player's aircraft and ammunition displays for the plane's primary and secondary weapons. The game also provides the player with a feature known as the "spyglass", which provides a magnified image of the selected target and indicates its current heading.
The game features eleven different playable aircraft, each of which can be customized. For any aircraft, the player can select its airframe, engine, armor, weapons layout, and paint scheme, although customization is limited by the weight capacity of the airframe and—in the single-player campaign—the player's cash on hand. Outfitting an aircraft with different components affects its performance in terms of speed, maneuverability, stamina, and offense. The player is also able to equip his/her aircraft's guns and hardpoints with different types of ammunition and rockets, respectively.
The game's single-player campaign has three difficulty levels, and spans twenty-four missions. Before the start of a mission, the plane and ammunition for both the player and his/her wingman can be selected, although wingmate commands are not available during gameplay.
In addition to the campaign, an instant action mode is available which allows the player to play individual missions or customized scenarios. Multiplayer is also available through the Reverb Gaming lobby, over a LAN or the Internet, or via a direct serial connection. Players can host games or join existing ones; the host selects the game's victory conditions and allowable aircraft components/ammunition. Multiplayer game modes include dogfight, capture the flag, and Zeppelin-to-Zeppelin combat.
The Crimson Skies universe is set in an alternate history of the year 1937. According to the game's backstory, factors such as the growing strength of the "Regionalist Party", the division between "wet" and "dry" states, and a quarantine caused by an Influenza outbreak resulted in a general shift in power from federal to state and local levels. After the Wall Street Crash of '29, states began seceding from the U.S. A number of independent nation-states form from the fractured United States; hostilities between these sovereignties eventually escalate into outright war.
After the breakup of America, the former nation's railroad and highway systems fell into disuse as they crossed hostile borders. Consequently, the airplane and the airship became the primary modes of transportation in North America, which in turn gave birth to air piracy. Although air militias formed to defend against the air pirates, continuous brushfire wars between the nations prevent the established governments from effectively repelling the pirate threat.
The player character is Nathan Zachary, a man well known in the game world as a reputable ladies' man and a notorious air pirate. He is the leader of a group of air pirates, the Fortune Hunters. Zachary dislikes the wealthy and privileged, seeing them as selfish and insensitive towards the less privileged; as a result, Zachary and his gang have a penchant for stripping the rich of their money and influence. Zachary's "articles of piracy" insist that his gang are not to harm the innocent, and that they steal only from those who can afford the loss. IGN has stated that the Fortune Hunters are "wonderfully ambiguous […] in the moral sense", qualifying that "It's always great to see heroes […] who aren't too good to be true."
The Fortune Hunters are based on the Zeppelin Pandora, and comprise the airship's crew as well as six pilots—Nathan Zachary and his wingman Jack Mulligan, "Tex" Ryder and her wingman "Buck" Deere, "Big John" Washington and Betty "Brooklyn" Charles. Later joining Nathan and his gang are Dr. Wilhelm Fassenbiender, a scientist and friend of Nathan's since World War I, as well as his daughter, Dr. Ilse Fassenbiender.
Opposing the Fortune Hunters are rival pirates and privateers, such as The Black Swan, Jonathan "Genghis" Kahn, and Ulysses Boothe. Also fighting Zachary and his gang are private security firms such as Blake Aviation Security and militia squadrons such as the Hollywood Knights. Many of these opponents are old rivals or former love interests of Nathan Zachary.
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Nathan Zachary is a great war hero pilot. Before he meets up with his crew and forms the Fortune Hunters, he saves damsels in distress and fights enemies. Until when he arrives in New York he and his three other wingmen present (Jack, Tex and Big John) hijack the Empire State Zeppelin the FULCRUM and reconstructed it, to the current PANDORA. Three of the FULCRUM's crew also joins the Fortune Hunters (Buck, Betty and Sparks). Soon later down south in Cuba, Nathan and the Fortune Hunters fight against the British and the Medusas in Cuba. Lucas Miles, a fellow Fortune Hunter, attempts to betray them over a score, resulting in Nathan ordering his crew to open fire on Miles' Zeppelin destroying it, and seemingly killing him, while the Fortune Hunters flee to safety.
Soon later, the Fortune Hunters and Medusas are socialising, while Nathan is stuck in the PANDORA, sore over the betrayal of his old friend. He refuses to come down, until he mentions of a discovery of a treasure map from Hawaii which he tells Jack. They then head to a group of islands, where they successfully find the treasure, although after finding it they are soon tracked by the Medusas who want the treasure for themselves and the British who want the Hawaiian islands under English rule. The Fortune Hunters repel an initial Medusa attack before fighting the British who attempt to foil their retrieval of the treasure and stealing one of their bombers to locate their base of operations. Finding it at another island where a slave camp and zeppelin dock is being built, they liberate the work camp and steal a zeppelin salvaging mechanism from the zeppelin dock, alongside dealing with another unsuccessful British retaliation involving a submarine. Finally, the Fortune Hunters claim their treasure back in the main island with their new equipment and repel the Medusas one last time along with their leader Justine Perot.
On the trip heading away from Hawaii, Nathan receives a call from Dr. Wilhelm Fassenbiender, an old friend he met during the Great War. However it turns to be his daughter Ilsa and she explains that her father has been captured by the Russian Chekka secret police for their reasons, which leads the Fortune Hunters to Pacifica. The Dr. is imprisoned on a passenger Zeppelin belonging to the CCCP, which the Fortune Hunters attack. Nathan and his gang are then attacked by an old flame, The Black Swan and her gang who were staging a robbery on board the Zeppelin. After downing Swan and her crew, he daringly saves the Dr. while up in the air out high. Later back down on land, while fighting the local security firm Blake Aviation Security, Nathan saves Ilsa and steals the Blue Streak Bloodhawk, a prototype plane the Dr. works on with his daughter. When the PANDORA runs low on fuel resources, Nathan suggests a steal of fuel supplies from a Russian tanker, which pits the Fortune Hunters once more against the Russians. Paladin Blake, CEO of Blake Aviation Security then warns the Fortune Hunters to leave Pacifica given Blake has a zeppelin containing an armada of fighters intent on downing Zachary. The Fortune Hunters however sabotage the zeppelin and destroy it, along with Nathan personally fighting Blake himself. Blake loses, and the Fortune Hunters leave Pacifica. The Fortune Hunters' previous activities come back to haunt them however when the CCCP zeppelin that Zachary and his gang attacked and eliminated its escort during their rescue of the Dr. was finally downed at Pacifica's coast by a new mysterious pirate gang, the Black Hats, who intend to abduct the passengers and ask for ransom, Zachary and his gang fight and defeat the Black Hats while defending a Hospital Ship sent to rescue survivors.
At the Nation of Hollywood, Nathan remembers his rival Johnny Johnson now handling security affairs as president of Hughes Aviation (the aviation security company there). Nathan decides to knock Johnny given his pompous personality and is able to sneak in Betty into a movie studio where she has a role. The Fortune Hunters then rescue Lana Cooper who is not happy with her contract and wish to escape. After she is rescued in a daring abduction scheme, Johnny, now embarrassed that he failed to keep Hollywood safe, tries to show off publicity by showing Hughes' newest accomplishment the biggest plane ever, named the Spruce Goose. Nathan gets on stealing the giant plane with the help of Betty. With all his convictions, he is invited to an aerial stunt race with aces, pirates, aviators, aviatrixes and even Johnny Johnson himself in the competition, to prove the best pilot. The race however ends in a free for all planned by Johnson to shoot down Zachary, with help from Charlie Steele the leader of the Hollywood Knights whom previously attempted to stop the Fortune Hunters during their abduction of Ms. Cooper and the theft of the Spruce Goose, as rival pirate gang leaders Genghis Khan and Bill Redman also join the fight, Zachary however succeeds in shooting down all of them with assistance from The Black Swan and Loyle Crawford, leader of the Broadway Bombers. Nathan, after the competition realises it is a trap to lure him away from the PANDORA so it can be destroyed by Johnson's military forces and he goes on a one-to-one anti-Zeppelin battle with his crew against Hughes Aviation. Though after battle, the PANDORA was victorious but was in terrible shape, which fortunately the Fortune Hunters have found a cargo zeppelin which can help them get into Sky Haven by towing the damaged PANDORA. The cargo zeppelin is defended by Blake Aviation Security, and thus Nathan and the crew fight them one more time, emerging victorious.
While in Sky Haven, Nathan and the Black Swan had lost their crews and now try to get them back. It turns out that they are being hunted by the Black Hats for some unknown reason. Nathan first battles the Black Hats and their apparent leader Ace Dixon again, which also involves a dogfight with a military squadron affiliated with the new security firm Sacred Trust Incoparated, whom appears to be helping the Black Hats on their hunt. He then saves Sparks from an exploding train who beforehand contacted Nathan for help. Sparks explains the crew was kidnapped by the Black Hats themselves, and Nathan goes on a military autogyro fight with Ulysses Boothe, who turns out to be the leader of the Black Hats. Nathan downs Boothe to be taken hostage. Nathan and Swan decide to use Boothe as bait to know of the crews' location in exchange for Boothe. Nathan and Black Swan drop Boothe off and learn the location of the crews which the Black Hats kept in a self-destructing cargo zeppelin. Nathan manages to save the crews and the PANDORA from destruction by the Black Hats who try to double cross them, however Swan is downed and captured in the process. Eventually the Fortune Hunters go to destroy the Black Hat mansion as payback, rescue the Black Swan who was held prisoner and steals aerial torpedoes. Nathan soon uncovers evidence of an alliance between Sacred Trust Incorporated. and the Black Hats; they are planning to conquer the entire divided America, especially with their influence over the Empire State and its capitol Manhattan and decides that he'll need help from Blake in order to stop them both. The Fortune Hunters intercept a Black Hat attack on Blake. Earning trust and their enmity gone, Blake and Nathan work together in destroying the Black Hats.
Nathan and Blake head to New York, where they try to deal with Sacred Trust personally. After a tip-off from a taxi gyro Nathan sabotages the Black Hats in one of their illegal operations where he destroys a German freighter and warehouse containing their stolen loot which was to be shipped to Berlin. Later, the Fortune Hunters learn that a Sacred Trust accountant named Waldo Carney has evidence of Black Hat pirates and German spies working undercover in the firm, and tries to flee the country, but is under attack by the Black Hats while flying on board a zeppelin liner. Nathan saves Carney, delivering him to the police for safety. Acting on Carney's information, the Fortune Hunters sabotage attempts by Sacred Trust in getting their loot away back to Germany via three cargo zeppelins in which they were to rendezvous with a fleet of Luftwaffe fighters waiting outside international waters as their escorts. They stop Sacred Trust, as well as the Spruce Goose as well which was thought to be lost beforehand, but was really bought by Sacred Trust to be used as a secret getaway plane. Zachary and his gang soon learn that the leader of the STI-Black Hat forces is none other than their former nemesis Lucas Miles whom was believed to have been killed in Cuba, a year earlier. Miles and his gang challenge The Fortune Hunters for one last confrontation over the streets of Manhattan. The Fortune Hunters with the help from The Black Swan are victorious in the battle over Broadway. Nathan then gives chase to Lucas who has taken Miss Cooper hostage but she bails out safely before she can be killed, resulting Nathan being able to shoot Lucas down, where he is presumed dead.
Nathan is offered membership to Blake Aviation but turns it down; Blake is outraged with his choice to stay a pirate, but Nathan cuts him off. Nathan plans with the Black Swan on stealing South American treasure as their zeppelins along with their plane squadrons fly off into the sunset.
Jordan Weisman, series creator and creative director of Crimson Skies, has said of the game: "Our whole goal is to give the player the kind of role of being Errol Flynn in a 1930's, 1940's great pirate adventure film of the air." According to Weisman, the inspiration for the game came after he had done research on the early years of aviation; he wished to create a game about the era. Weisman and Dave McCoy came up with the concept of "combining the classic fantasies of pilots and pirates." They then created the series' backstory by proposing changes to the history of the United States that would allow the rise of air piracy.
Development on the game originally began for Virtual World Entertainment, and was changed to a PC game under the name "Corsairs!". This original project was shelved, however, prompting Weisman and others to create the board game Crimson Skies. When FASA later became a part of Microsoft, Weisman was given the opportunity to work on a new project; his choice was to restart production of the Crimson Skies PC game.
The original version of the game shipped with numerous technical problems, one of the most notorious was the tendency to delete the player's saved game files. Shortly after the game's release, Microsoft released Crimson Skies Update Version 1.01, a patch specifically designed to fix this problem. Microsoft later released Update Version 1.02 to address other issues, including multiplayer game stability and mission load times.
Recent ATI and Nvidia drivers do not support this game. As such it was only possible to play it in Software Rendering mode. Several fans tried to identify and find the causes of this problem, later gathering at the Nvidia forums, and asking Nvidia for a fix. Nvidia did not show availability for this. The fanbase tried several paths to a solution, culminating in asking known game graphic modder Timeslip if he could devise a fix.
CNET Gamecenter's Mark Asher noted that Crimson Skies was commercially unsuccessful. It is regarded as a "cult favorite" or a "cult success", generally popular only within a limited "cult following." The game, however, has received generally favorable critical reviews. GameSpot said that "Crimson Skies does an excellent job of taking the elements of flight simulations that have broad appeal—the shooting and the fancy flying—and embellishing them with a great environment and a good story." IGN called the game "highly inventive, tons of fun and ridiculously addictive", and ranked the game as #65 and #75 respectively on its 2003 and 2005 lists of the "Top 100 Games of All Time."
IGN lauded the game's arcade-style physics model, stating that it made gameplay "exciting and immediate." GameSpot likewise complimented the arcade flight model, stating that it fit with the game's pulp fiction setting and allowed for elaborate stunt flying and fast-paced dogfighting. Other positively received aspects of gameplay include the game's "scrapbook" and aircraft customization features.
The game's visuals were generally well-received, as was its audio. Critics took particular note of the game's voice talent, which was described as among the best found in computer games up to that time. The Crimson Skies universe was also well-received by critics, who found it highly original and described it as an "alternate history that is rare in being both compelling and believable." Critics also commended the way these elements—voice acting, soundtrack, graphics style, and story—combined to contribute to the game's 1930s pulp fiction atmosphere.
The single-player campaign in Crimson Skies was criticized for its overall linearity, and GameSpot found that multiple playthroughs of a mission would become "tiresome." The game was most heavily dispraised, however, for its numerous and notable technical issues, which include choppy framerate, missing textures, crash bugs, slowdown during menu screens, flawed wingman AI, long loading times for game levels, and the unreliability of saved game files.
IGN commented that "there are some serious issues with the game that need to be addressed […] in order to help the game realize its amazing potential." According to GameSpot, "Unfortunately, the game is […] a reminder of how easily technical problems can defeat a promising design." Edge magazine has stated that gameplay is directly affected by these problems, as long loading times force players to "play it safe" and avoid the "improbable stunts that should be the signature of [the] game"; the review concludes it's "A shame, because in its variety of missions and sheer panache, the dashing Crimson Skies almost steals your heart. "
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A new csfix release is up with a fix for the black squares, and which also fixes the briefing screen flickering that occurs when using a custom resolution.
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