1942: The Pacific Air War

Designer's notes on 1942 The Pacific Air War

Ed Fletcher

Producer, MPS Labs

1942 The Pacific Air War (PAW), a World War II air/sea combat simulation from MicroProse, focuses on the air war in the Pacific.  The simulation will give you the opportunity to participate in some of the most exciting, desperate, and unique battles in history.  You'll have the chance to fly both Japanese and American fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes as you battle for control of the Pacific.

It's 0702 hours, June 4, 1942.  You sit in your SBD Dauntless awaiting your turn to take off.  Then you're off the carrier and heading towards the Japanese fleet.  When you arrive at your destination, no ships are in sight!  You turn your flight NW, guessing the Japanese fleet has doubled back.  Suddenly your wingman calls, "Enemy ships bearing 252 degrees!" You approach the enemy using clouds as cover when you can.  Just as you prepare to begin your dive-bomb attack, your tail-gunner yells, "Bandits! Bandits!  Seven o'clock low!"  No time to worry about Japanese Zeroes now.  You head into your dive, look into your bombsight, and try to line up that nice big carrier below.  To hit that baby, you'll need to keep it lined up as it zig-zags, hoping that your rear-gunner can keep the Zeroes at bay long enough for you to release your bomb.  It's all in a day's work for a naval aviator in 1942.

The Pacific War was unique in that so much of it was fought in the air.  The early part of the war saw many quick Japanese victories, leaving the U.S. forces in disarray.  During 1942, four carrier battles and the fight for Guadalcanal gradually turned the tide, and the U.S. Navy began to push back the Japanese.  Even the fight for Guadalcanal was centered around an airfield:  Henderson Field.  U.S. Navy, Marine, and Army Air Corps pilots fought desperately for months to control the skies above Guadalcanal as the Japanese sent hundreds of fighters and bombers to destroy the airfield and the Marines protecting it.  For U.S. and Japanese naval aviators, 1942 was a year for bravery and heroism beyond the normal call of duty.  The primary design goal for PAW is to recreate that feeling for those who play our game.  PAW surrounds the player with all the sights and sounds of air combat.


The appeal of a combat flight simulator is feeling you are in a real plane faced with a real challenge.  The design team has recreated the actual combat conditions of the Pacific Air War.  To accomplish this, we set new standards of realism for our flight models, cockpits, air tactics, and enemy ships.  Our desire for realism is driven by our belief that the pacific air war in WW II was one of the most exciting, desperate, and deadly experiences in history.  By recreating this experience and removing the lethal factor (simulated bullets only!), we generate an experience that should raise the average player's adrenaline level substantially.

In the course of researching PAW we uncovered the original pilot manuals for all of the American planes simulated in the game.  These manuals contain complete layouts of the cockpits as well as flight performance data used in our flight equations.  Our Japanese office found a vast amount of source material for the Japanese planes (including large, beautiful illustrations of the cockpits of the Kate and Val bombers).

We have relied entirely on authentic flight performance data - even for the Japanese planes.  We have not cut corners in our flight equations.  We are doing the full range of aerodynamic calculations for every plane in the air: thrust, momentum, lift, parasitic drag, induced drag, and, of course, gravity.  As planes use up their fuel and drop their ordnance, their performance changes because their mass changes.

Dog fighting is such a key element of PAW that the design team felt the game need very skilled computer-controlled pilots.  SO we started reading books on air tactics.  However, it quickly became obvious that we needed more information on the specific tactics used in the Pacific during W.W.II;  especially in those many unusual situations that the books don't cover.  We conducted a lengthy search to find some pilots with Pacific air combat experience.  It quickly became obvious that there are not many still alive.  However, we were able to locate a couple.  They are helping to critique our efforts and fill in the details the history books leave out.

Authenticity is perhaps the most important aspect of an air combat simulator, but the PAW team decided that we must also provide motivation within the game to keep you coming back for more.


At MicroProse, depth of play means providing a unique challenge and experience each time you play.  When either the variety or challenge of a game is gone, that game will soon be deleted form your hard drive.  So we have used two design methods to keep you interested.

The first method is to provide a great variety of options for game play.  In PAW, you are able to choose from a variety of difficulty options.  For example, you can change how intelligently the enemy planes and ships behave in combat, how effective your weapons are, or whether you want to worry about mid-air collisions.  There is also a large variety of missions to fly.  Instead of selecting from a dozen or so generic missions that randomly change a little each time you fly them, we decided to include hundreds of uniquely different missions.  These missions are based on historical research; they occur over real places and have real objectives.  You can defend the Enterprise, fly CAP (Combat Air Patrol) over Henderson field, even attack the Japanese fleet at Rabaul, or Truk.  The possibilities are really too many to mention here.  Even if the missions included are not enough, PAW contains a mission builder so you can customize your own!

The second method used to design depth of play is linking a series of missions together so that each mission is one step toward achieving a greater goal.  Most games achieve this by providing a career option to let you accumulate kills (and points) over a long period of time.  This is a good way to keep the game interesting, so we have also incorporated a career option.  A career in PAW will start in 1942 and continue through the war.  However, we want to provide you with about the same number of combat opportunities that a typical pilot in the U.S. or Japanese navies had in a combat tour, and let you compare your results with the historical pilots records to see how you stack up.  If you live through your first combat tour with the U.S. Navy, will you accept reassignment to be an instructor back in the States or risk a second combat tour and attempt to achieve greater glory?


Another, more interesting way to link missions together is to fight a campaign of some sort where one mission's result affects the next mission's objective.  Our first idea was to let you fight the whole Pacific War and see if you could change the course of history.  Upon further reflection, we abandoned this idea because of the incredible complexity of playing such a game.  PAW is, after all, a fight simulator.  To fly in every combat mission of the war would take far too much time.  So we decided that we would provide five smaller campaigns -- the five major carrier battles of the war: Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and the Philippine Sea (also known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot).  In these campaigns, you can choose to control the fleets of either side.  You will control task force movement, decide air search strategies, and choose the composition and timing of your air strikes.  When air combat occurs, you can jump into the cockpit and fight it out in person.  If you have been maneuvering your task force into perfect striking position and are preparing to launch a strike just as an incoming enemy flight is detected, you'll probably feel more committed to defend your carrier than you would if you were flying a single historical mission.


We've added our Remote Play feature to satisfy the many people who wish to fly with a friend via modem.  You can choose to fly on the same side (cooperative play) or on opposite sides (head-to-head play).  Remote play is not limited to just two aircraft.  You may choose to have a wingman or even bombers to protect.  The number of aircraft in the air will be limited only bay the baud rate of the modem connection.


While you are flying a mission, the computer continually saves information that will allow you to replay your mission.  You may then bring up the Cinematic Replay editor to view your mission.  This is not an unusual feature nowadays.  The PAW design team wanted to provide something more, so we added the ability to place the "camera" point-of-view anywhere in the world and allow it to be either in a fixed position or moving with a plane.

In addition, the camera angle can be fixed or can track a plane and pan with it as it passes the camera.  By changing camera angles and positions at appropriate times, the result looks very much like a movie of your mission.  While you are replaying your mission, you will also be able to retake control of your plane at any time to refight the battle and correct any tactical mistakes you had made.


Restricted vision is a shortcoming that affects every flight simulation.  Tracking an enemy plane in a wild dogfight with only four or five view angles can be very frustrating.  Therefore, we developed our Virtual Cockpit technology that allows you to look in any direction a real pilot could.  While looking around, all the cockpit gauges are fully functional, so you can continue to track your plane's airspeed and altitude during the fight.  The Virtual Cockpit eliminates the frantic view changing that occurs when the enemy has left your font view and you are trying to figure out where the heck he is.  The result is a truer feeling of air combat because a major handicap of computer flight simulation has been removed.


There is a tradition in the computer industry that each new flight simulator must improve upon its competitor's graphics.  PAW is no exception.  Although the PAW design team considers game play to be the most important part of a good air combat simulator, we know that realistic and visually exciting graphics add to the excitement of a good game.  So we went all out.  Texture-mapped and Gouraud-shaded planes, texture-mapped and Gouraud-shaded land, texture-mapped water, texture-mapped sky, high-detail 3-D ships, and our unique Virtual Cockpit all combine to place PAW well ahead of our competitors in the graphics field.

Overall, PAW represents a significant step forward in air combat simulation games.  We've enjoyed putting so much into our game, and can't wait to get this game to you to hear your reactions.