Hot air ballooning with the 99-4: Aeronaut. (evaluation) Robert Cashman.
Hot Air Ballooning With The 99/4
Have you ever wanted to operate your own hot air balloon? You can do just that with a new program from Simulsoft called Aeronaut. It was written by Al Kanda in TI Extended Basic and is a simulation of the sport of hot air ballooning.
When I saw that the program was written in TI Extended Basic, I expected to see some fast moving and detailed graphics. What program written in TI Extended Basic doesn't make use of sprites in motion? As I read the accompanying instruction manual, I began to think that I was going to be disappointed.
On page 3 of the manual, there was a paragraph describing the program. In part it reads: "This program should not be judged on the basis of entertainment value alone (it may in fact seem slow to one accustomed to a steady diet of arcade-style games) but also on the basis of the unique experience it provides. The intent is for you to be an aeronaut while you are running this program and experience what it is like to fly a balloon.'
OK, what would you experience if you were to fly in a balloon? Why don't we go on an imaginary ride? I suppose it would be something like this. Once the balloon is inflated to an upright position, we turn on the blast valve of the burner to increase the temperature in the balloon. This makes us airborne and off we go.
Because we want to obtain a certain height, we open our blast valve and keep it open until we reach our desired altitude. Not too much heat in the balloon now. We don't want it to overheat.
Boy, I'm glad we picked a beatiful day to go. You can see for miles. Doesn't the countryside look terrific from up here? Look! There's the town hall, and over there is the church steeple. Look how small they are! Ahh, this is great. Just floating by. No engine sounds. No control of direction. The wind just taking us where it will.
Can Aeronaut really stimulate our imaginary ride? Yes and no. First of all, the program is extremely technical in its approach to familiarizing the user with the sport.
After a nice introduction on your screen, both graphically and musically, you are asked if you want instructions. By pressing Y, you get facts about your balloon--facts such as its volume is 56,000 cubic feet and it has an 11 Mega-BTU /hour burner. You have 20 gallons of propane fuel. The maximum temperature your balloon can accommodate is 250~F. And your maximum payload is 650 pounds at sea level and 70~F derate 8 pounds per degree over 70~. The manual explains these facts further, but it would not hurt to brush up on your physics.
Running The Simulation
Next, you press ENTER for a display of your flight instruments. Here you find your variometer, pyrometer, altimeter, fuel level indicator, and compass. The variometer is for vertical velocity. It reads positive when you are ascending and negative when you are descending. The pyrometer reads the balloon temperature. The altimeter reads your altitude. The fuel level indicator keeps track of the amount of propane used. The compass indicates your heading.
Next, press ENTER for displays. These include the ambient temperature; the wind speed/direction, which is displayed in knots; and the direction in degrees from which the wind is blowing, which is measured clockwise from north. The distance drifted is the distance that your balloon is carried by the wind and is measured in feet from the launch site.
The display section also mentions that your height relative to the terrain along your flight path is displayed here. When your altitude exceeds 1550 feet, the display scale changes. In other words, at 1550 feet your balloon disappears from your monitor. It is at this time that the scale of what you were looking at changes so that you can once again have the balloon and the terrain on your screen together.
Pressing ENTER again gets you your control keys. The spacebar turns your burner on allowing you to ascend. If you want to descend, simply allow the balloon to cool. Should you want to descend in a hurry, press M. This opens the maneuvering vent to release hot air. Pressing D opens the deflation port to deflate the balloon rapidly after landing so it won't be dragged along the ground. Pressing Q allows you to quit or abort a launch. Pressing T allows you to switch fuel tanks.
The next areas discussed are your preparation for launch, inflation and lift off, display boundaries, and landing. As all of these areas are discussed at length in the manual, I will not describe them here.
Now that we are ready for our trip, let's discuss the object of this simulation. The object is to travel in your balloon over terrain which includes obstacles without crashing or being shot down. The obstacles include a couple of small mountains, a large mountain, a fruit orchard, some power transmission lines, and a military base by the name of Yellow Sands Proving Grounds. The balloon crashes if it collides with any slope or ground obstacle, or if he makes ground contact at a downward velocity in excess of 800 feet/minute. The balloon will be destroyed by heat-seeking missiles if the distance drifted is greater than 24,800 feet.
Now Simulsoft never called this program a game. It is a simulation. I suppose that means it should be considered as a realistic adventure in a hot air balloon.
Aeronaut succeeds in the technical aspects as it acquaints the user with the sport of hot air ballooning. But at the same time it fails to stimulate the desire to ever partake in such an adventure.
As mentioned during our imaginary trip, much of the excitement of ballooning comes from the sensation of the panoramic views below--being on top of the world. Aeronaut does not simulate this.
Let's look at the program from an entertainment point of view. If there is no panoramic scenery, what is there to hold the user's interest? The main thing is the realization that if I don't properly control the valve, I'll crash. It is unfortunate that obstacles that would require a spontaneous reaction were not included. It would have made Aeronaut much more fascinating. What type of obstacles? How about a sudden thunderstorm complete with lightning and torrential rains? Or a flock of birds coming right at you? I think you get the idea.
It is apparent that Mr. Kanda and Simulsoft spent a great deal of time and effort in producing this program. As the owner of a TI99/4, I appreciate their developing software. I do, however, wish that they had taken the program a couple of steps farther toward a more realistic simulation.
Products: Simulsoft Computer Software Aeronaut (computer program)