In keeping Greywolfe's theme of games played in childhood that surprise us now, I decided to revisit Namco's 1992 Super Nintendo title, Wings 2: Aces High. By the way this was sold in Europe as Blazing Skies, in case it looks familiar but the name doesn't quite fit for you.
I was twelve years old when I got to play this game for the first time and I fell in love with it because I got to fly a World War One biplane around and participate in dogfights and bomb buildings etc. However I never really payed attention to its historical significance. I only ever thought it was cool to be flying around in what was then a very highly detailed faux 3d environment battling with other planes.The story behind Wings 2 is that the player takes part as the leader of a British war plane squadron that's been tasked to hinder Kaiser Wilhelm the second's war efforts. The squadron consists of five pilots, though you'll only ever see one at a time, and if any of them fail a mission and manage to survive they're dishonorably discharged from the air corp. If the player dies during a mission the pilot is given a memorial scene and his medals are displayed if he's procured any from his trials. The whole thing takes place during 1917 in France, of course during World War one. Ultimately the player is confronted by the Red Baron himself, Manfred von Richthofen.
While fighting other planes the player has to search for enemies and perform acrobatic moves to keep them in their sights. Firing your planes machine guns shows a trail of glowing hot ammunition streaming from the front of the aircraft. When those shots connected with the enemy you'd see small bursts to indicate that you'd hit and after a few shots you'd see smoke frothing from the engine and eventually the enemy craft would spin and fall from the sky landing in a great fiery explosion below. Pretty great detail for a 20 plus year old cartridge title.
So when I was playing this at a young age I never took into consideration the fact that these were among some of the first planes to be used as tools of war. And as such carried some of the first pilots to fly in a war. Looking at it now it's amazing that these guys survived any mission they were sent on.
These guys were flying around in planes made of wood and covered in canvas. They were the covered wagons of the skies. There was little in the way of warmth for the pilot, perhaps a wool and leather jacket, gloves, a silk scarf and a cap and goggles, so flying in cold weather was as miserable as it was dangerous. The scarves themselves were very important, they were used to keep the pilots goggles clean of oil and exhaust soot and also helped keep chafing away while they had to constantly swivel their necks to keep sight of the enemy.
The planes guns had to be engineered to fire through the beats of the propeller or the pilot would shoot himself down. Bombs were carried on the floor of cockpit and the pilot dropped them by hand while leaning over the side of the aircraft. All while dodging incoming fire from other planes or ground troops depending on how close they had to be to the target, and doing so without a parachute. These guys were arguably the ballsiest, craziest people there were during those times. Each one of them willingly put themselves in control of a slow, under-powered, basically armorless flying target and expected to die during every mission they undertook. And these incredibly brave men were also -inventing- flight maneuvers that are still used today. Unbelievable.
Looking back on what I saw at the time as just a fun flight combat game made me realize that it was so much more. While it isn't a highly realistic simulator like we have today, Wings 2: Aces High did and still does salute the bravery of the pioneers of air warfare from all sides of the conflict.
If you haven't already, You can check out Grewolfe's article here.[image credit for the 1917 Nieuport fighter here] [That beautiful feature image is by Gary Meyer] [In game screenshot credit here] [This site has a lot of information on WWI aircraft]