Monday, June 2, 2014

Generations: A Fun Look at Jet Fighters and Consoles-Part 1

Fighter planes especially jet fighters have always been a staple of video games. As a matter of fact there was even a video game series in the 90's just named Jet Fighter about, you guessed it flying a jet fighter. 

Last week I caught the McConnell Story on TCM, a movie I hadn't seen in a very long time. The movie recounts the life of fighter pilot Joseph McConnell, who became the United States highest scoring ace in the Korean War. As I watched all my aviation knowledge came flooding back into my head and I suddenly remembered that jet fighters like console game systems are classified by generations. Then suddenly I began to match fighters and consoles based on similarities. 

The only issue in doing this is that to avaition historians there are only six indentifiable generations of fighter jets but only five generations that have seen operational aircraft. For us gamers on the other hand there are eight generations of consoles. 

So how can I compare one to the other? Well first of all I'm not going to compare generation to generation. Let's be honest gen 1 in home consoles presents you with having to choose between Pong and Pong. Gen 1 in jets fighters is actually a whole lot more interesting. Also aviation historians cut out a huge chunk of time for a generation. In avaition historian terms the Atari 2600 and NES would be in the same generation, ok they are all technically 8-bit but... So I will break up a few gens here and there into early and late generations when it comes to jet fighters. 

Gen 1 Consoles = World War I Fighters

Mono, bi, or tri-wing WWI fighters all performed the same. I was far more about the skill and instincts of the fighter pilot then the plane. 

The Nintendo TV Color and Fokker DR 1 get props for colorfulness a coolness

The Atari Pong console and the Spad XIII get props for popularity. 

Gen 2 Consoles = Early Gen 1 Jet Fighters. 

In Gen 2 we saw differentiation amongst home consoles both in appearence and gameplay. In the first generation of jet fighters we saw a wide variety designs and capablities as well.   
With that said though what we saw at the beginning of the first generation of jet fighters was almost world apart from what we saw at its end. Early generation 1 fighters may have had the technological advantage of jet engines and the speed factor that went with them, but it wasn’t uncommon in World War II or even Korea for these early jet aircraft to get shot down by prop driven counterparts who by World War II had reached their technological and design zenith, with aircraft like the P-51, and Corsair.   By the end of Korea and the end of 1st gen jet fighters the story would be far different.

As I previously mentioned the 1st gen of jet fighter in its entirety reminds me of generation 2 and 3 in home gaming consoles, sure the Atari 2600 and the NES are both 8-bit but they are Apples and Oranges, and no one would classify them as one generation. To me classifying a Me-262 in the same Generation as an F-86 is almost the same way, yes there both jets but they are world apart in performance in capabilities.


Pic Fairchild Channel F and Me-163

 The Fairchild Channel F and Me-163 are great example of Gen 2 consoles and early gen 1 fighters. Argument may exist as to whether or not each was the first of its kind, but no one can argue that they were the first to be out there and in the public’s eyes. The Me-163 was more rocket plane then jet plane, but it had speeds of a jet aircraft, for bomber crews and even fighter pilots it was their first and often deadly last encounter with the future of aviation.

The Fairchild Channel F may not have a nefarious Me-163 like image to go with it but this is when the public first encountered the future of home console gaming. It was no longer a choice between Pong and Pong but a variety of games that could be changed out, and new ones could be bought for the same console.

Pic the Atari (VCS) 2600 and Me-262

After the Me-262 the Me-163 became forgotten. The 262 was a real fighter and bought air to air combat to its arch nemesis the P-51 Mustang. More importantly though it was it’s perception more than anything else which gave it more attention than its rocket powered sibling. It looked more like how a fighter plane should and also performed more like one.

The Atari (VCS) 2600 one opinion based on its appearance as well, and caught public attention that way. Not to mention all that advertising money helped get it put there and in the public’s eyes.  On top of this Atari also ported games from the arcade game where just called Channel 2, like in the case of the Fairchild Channel F, but had real names like Space Invaders, and Berserk.


Pic Colecovision and P-80 Shooting Star

The Lockheed P-80 came just a little too late for World War II, with one unit of active fighters in Italy about a month before the war ended. The P-80 was developed from the best of what the era had to offer a mixture of British jet tech, and reverse engineered Me-262 technology, all tossed with a bit of Yankee know how and good looks, that made it look a bit like its sibling the P-38 Lightning. Many historians believe that the P-80 would have definitely outperformed the Me-262, had the two ever been forced to encounter each other. The P-80 wasn’t able to prove itself in combat until Korea, but by that time late Gen 1 fighters started claiming victories against it.


The Colecovision like the P-80 in Gen 1 jets came a bit too late in Gen 2 consoles. It actually arrived right before the “Crash”, and going head to head with the Atari 5200.  Many retro gamers will often concede the fact that the Colecovision was better then the Atari 2600.


Pic Vectrex and DeHavilland Vampire

The DeHavilland Vampire in all honesty just looks cool, and totally different. Twin-boom aircraft always look awesome, but through jet engines on it and it looks beyond cool. The Vampire like the P-80 came late in the war and never saw any action in World War II. It had similar characteristics as the P-80 but was used by the RAF and the Royal Navy in carrier operations.

The Vectrex is a totally different  Gen-2 animal and it looked cool.  But unlike its competitors it came with its own screen and played itself off as “portable”. The Vectrex also gave the illusion of some 3 dimensionality too, which also gave it an additional coolness factor. Let’s also mention that 4 button controller too. 


Pic Atari 5200 and Bell X-1

What separated early gen 1 fighter jets from late gen 1 fighter jets was the speed of sound. Aircraft in the late generation could usually exceed the speed of sound, but sometimes it required the aircraft to be in a dive. The Bell X-1’s record breaking flight in October of 1947 and the hands of Chuck Yeager, was the first time an aircraft broke the speed of sound (confirmed) in straight and level flight. It was a game changer that pushed aircraft design past the limitations the sound barrier placed on it previously.

 The Atari 5200 presented the world with something unique even though the system itself was almost momentary. The 5200 presented us with our first glimpse of real 8-bit, something we would have to wait until the NES to see again. Sadly real 8-bit was forced to wait since the “Crash of 83” would claim the 5200 as a victim.




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