Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 2 NO. 6 / SPECIAL ISSUE #3


Test Drive, F-15 Strike Eagle and Vegas Gambler

By David Plotkin

Simulations are an interesting subset of computer entertainment programs. More than mere games, simulations are growing rapidly in popularity for all makes of personal computers. Everyone from businesspeople to grade-school kids are engaging in simulated experiences that would be too dangerous, too expensive or too impractical to perform in real life. With simulations, you can fly a fighter plane, drive a race car, command a submarine, gamble in Vegas and engage in many other activities, all from the comfort and safety of your chair. Want to blow scads of money at the craps tables? Want to buzz the Transamerica Pyramid or (try to) land on the Golden Gate Bridge? Simulations can let you do these without injury to life, limbs, property or pocketbook.

Here I review three simulations - one driving, one flying and one gambling. All of these programs put you in the hot seat and test your mettle-with cars, planes and cards.

If you've ever hankered to put the "pedal to the metal" in a fast car on a twisty mountain road, daring cops, potholes and oncoming traffic, then Test Drive is for you. You can choose from one of five sports cars: a Corvette, Porsche 911, Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa or Lotus Turbo Esprit. The cars can all top 120 mph, and their other vital statistics, such as acceleration, torque, engine displacement and tires, show on an initial screen (your shopping list of high-power fun). After you've studied your car's features, pick the one you want and you're ready to drive.

Test Drive

You control every aspect of your car with the ST joystick. As in most other car-driving games, pressing the stick forward makes you accelerate, pulling back lets you brake and you steer by moving the stick to the left or right. If you've selected manual transmission, you can shift gears by pressing down the joystick button and moving the stick. (As you do, a small graphic of your gearshift knob appears on your dashboard, letting you visually guide the stick. Shifting into fifth takes some practice.)

Most simulations are inherently "first-person" programs, and Test Drive is no exception. Your view is out the windshield, with your steering wheel and instrument panel below and the all-important rear-view mirror above. The road, mountain walls, road signs and traffic are visible through the windshield, all rendered in fast-moving graphics. On your "sun visor" is a radar detector to warn you if a police car is approaching.

Playing Test Drive is simple-you drive the car as fast as you can, trying not to rear-end the traffic in front of you, drive off the sheer cliff to your left, hit the vertical rock wall to your right, get creamed by oncoming traffic, or get stopped by Smokey. Your goal is to reach the top of the mountain, stopping for gas periodically. When you do, the program calculates your average speed, awards you points and ranks you ("Sorry, you drive to [sic] slowly to have a sports car" is one example). Controlling these high-performance automobiles takes some getting used to. The game is quite easy if you keep your speed down, but then you don't get many points. At high speeds, it's very easy to overcorrect the steering, especially on the treacherous curves.

There are posted speed limits that you can largely ignore unless your radar detector starts to blink; if all its red lights come on, your speed is being monitored by the police. If you're going too fast, a patrol car will appear in your rearview mirror You can either stop and take your ticket (which costs points and time) or try to outrun him. If there's not a lot of traffic, then stomp it into warp speed and boogie. It's not hard to get away, especially in the Lamborghini, with its top speed of 173 mph! If the police catch you, they'll write you up, and if you ram the back of the police car, the game's over (Just as it is if you pulled this stunt in real life.)

If you make a mistake and run into something, go flying off the cliff, or over-rev your engine, your windshield will sprout cracks, you come to a stop and you must start again. Go through five cars and the game is over.

Test Drive comes on two disks, and two drives are recommended, although you can load and play it on a one-drive ST system. It works in either color or monochrome. Strangely enough, although Test Drive displays a title screen with scores on it, I could never get a figure to appear on this screen, although I got some pretty respectable scores. I wish there were a "vanity board" for this game, but in spite of this omission, it's still a lot of fun.

Microprose has published quite a number of simulations for Atari computers, starting with Hellcat Ace for the Atari 8-bit machines some years ago. F-15 Strike Eagle is their latest offering and plays like the 8-bit version, but has vastly improved graphics and sound.

The F-15 is an "all-weather air superiority and ground attack fighter" It carries long-range fuel tanks, two kinds of missiles, bombs and a 20mm cannon. Your view is out the cockpit window, and below, a magnificent array of high-tech systems guides you. Besides your view of the surrounding terrain, incoming enemy aircraft and missiles, you have your "Heads-Up Display" (HUD), which actually projects a variety of information vital to your survival and success right onto the cockpit window in your field of view (as in a real fighter plane). The information presented includes your altitude, course heading, cursors showing the location of enemy aircraft (before they are visible) and missiles-both yours and the enemy's.

F-15 Strike Eagle

When your bombs are active, the HUD will display where a bomb will hit the ground. Below the HUD is a radar screen equipped with variable range, an aircraft status window and a navigation window. The aircraft status window shows your remaining fuel tanks, bombs, missiles and cannon ammunition. The navigation window shows ground targets, including missile sites, airports, other targets and your base (a earner in the Mediterranean, for the August 1981 Libyan scenario). (Editor's note: Some of the scenarios in F-15 Strike Eagle involve it being a carrier-based flghter, an exciting but impossible situation-the F-15 isn't even flown by the Navy, but by the Air Force. F-14 Tomcats from the U.S.S. Nimitz were actually involved in the 1981 Gulf Of Sidra shootout.)

Using Strike Eagle's navigation window is very simple. You move a cursor in the window using the keyboard arrow keys until the cursor is on top of the target you want to fly towards. By then keeping a "location cursor" centered in your HUD display, you will fly towards the target.

The F-15 also includes a variety of sophisticated warning and avoidance systems, alerting you to the presence of enemy aircraft, missile launchings and the identity of incoming missiles (whether they are radar- or infrared-guided). Your fighter is equipped with "chaff" to confuse radar-guided missiles and with flares to confuse infrared-guided missiles.

You can fly the F-15 with either the joystick or mouse; I prefer the joystick since that's how you fly the real plane. You also use many of the ST's keys, and it takes some familiarization before you can punch a key without first pausing and referring to the manual. The manual has a two-page display showing what all instruments do. This is less necessary in the Atari ST version than in the 8-bit versions since many of the instruments are labeled on the screen. There is also a keyboard summary. The keys are not especially hard to learn since they are fairly mnemonic; the "G" key, for example, activates the guns.

F-15 Strike Eagle allows selection of levels of difficulty from "Arcade" (almost impossible to crash) to "Ace," at which it's very tough to survive. The simulation includes eight scenarios (missions), in which you have various primary and secondary targets to destroy. Doing so successfully will cause you to advance in rank, provided you save the Mission Roster to a blank formatted disk. Because of the large variation in skill level and missions, F-15 is very playable and a lot of fun. It will take a while before you can survive on a consistent basis, but the program is not too difficult to master.

Strike Eagle's graphics are very good. Enemy aircraft and missiles are well-rendered (the missiles even show flaming tails as they fly along!).

One drawback, though - the manual is the same for every version of the game, which can be a little confusing. The differences for the ST version of the HUD are shown in a small box in the upper left corner of one page. I wish Microprose had used a full-sized insert to show the screen for the ST separately, since there are some important differences between the ST version and the version for, say, the IBM PC. Other than this minor complaint, though, I like F-15 Strike Eagle a lot.

Vegas Gambler simulates a trip to a Las Vegas casino and includes four of the most popular of gambling pastimes: Slot Machines, Blackjack, Poker and Roulette. It features excellent graphics and sound and is completely mouse-driven, making it very easy to use.

When you first boot Vegas Gambler, you may select a game to play, load a previous gambling session, save the current gambling session or quit. After selection of a game, there is a brief musical interlude (a different tune for every game) and then the game screen appears. You start each new game with $500.

Slot Machine is the classic version. You select a coin from a stack of $1 coins, move your cursor to the coin slot and press the mouse button to drop the coin. You may bet up to five coins; after the first bet, the bet remains the same until you change it, so you don't need to keep dropping coins in the slot. Depending on the number of coins dropped, the correct payoff lines light up so that you can see which "lines" will be active. Click on the handle to the right of the machine and the tumblers start to spin, showing brightly colored symbols-fruits, the bar and bells in the windows, if you win, the coins come spilling down into the coin slot. Hit the jackpot and the "100" or '200" lights flash.

Vegas Gambler

Blackjack is also known as "21." The object is to beat the dealer, with the winner being the one who gets closest to the value of 21 without going over. You are dealt two cards, both face up. The dealer also gets two cards, but only one is face up. The values are added up (face cards count as 10, Aces can be eleven or one). You must then decide whether to get more cards ("hit") or stick with what you have ("stand"). If you go over 21 ("bust") you lose automatically. If you don't go over, then the dealer takes cards until he either exceeds 16 ("must stand") or goes bust. Getting "Blackjack" (Ace and any face card) pays three to two unless the dealer also gets Blackjack, in which case a tie ("push") is declared and your bet is returned to you. The game supports splitting, doubling down and insurance.

Poker is actually poker slots. You place a bet just as you did with the slot machine game, above. You then click on the "Deal" button and the five cards appear in their window on the machine. You choose the best poker hand you can from the cards, then click on the "Hold" button to hold the cards you want and click on the "Deal" button again to redeal the cards you don't want to keep. After the redeal, you are paid depending on how good a hand you have. You get back your original bet for a pair of jacks or better, and payment goes up from there, with a payment of $500 for a Royal Flush.

Roulette accurately duplicates a real roulette table. You can set the value of each chip you want to bet and bet it on a number, black or red, even or odd, one of the three groups of 12, one of the two groups of 18, one of the three rows of numbers, or the zero or double zero. Click on the "Spin" button and the roulette wheel appears with the ball dancing along. When it comes to rest, you are informed of how much you have won or lost.

Vegas Gambler is very easy to play and the colors and sound are excellent. The only aspect of gambling it doesn't simulate is playing with real money, and for me, using real money is part of the thrill of gambling. I prefer live gambling over Vegas Gambler, but the game provides a distinct advantage-you can't lose your shirt to an ST computer.

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Dave Plotkin is a chemical engineer for Chevron US.A., and is a frequent START and Antic contributor.


  • Test Drive, $39.95. Accolade Software, 550 Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA 95128, (408) 446-5757.
  • F-15 Strike EagIe, $39.95. Microprose, 180 Lakefront Dr, Hunt Valley, MD 21030, (301) 771-1151.
  • Vegas Gambler $34.95. Logical Design Works, Inc., 780 Montague Expwy, Suite 403, San Jose, CA 95131, (408) 435-1445.