Monday, June 9, 2014

Generations: A Fun Look at Jet Fighters and Consoles-Part 2

Gen 3 and the end of Gen 1 Fighters
In consoles gen 3 is when real 8-bit finally “arrived”, the hardware and software had finally reached it’s height and the games became ever more complicated in graphics, and/or game play. For any retro gamer in the know Gen 3 equals 8-bit with no if, ands, or buts.

The end of the first generation of jet fighters was extremely similar this earliest generation finally saw air to air combat between jets, and ever increasing speeds. The designs now reflected aircraft to come, with swept back or narrow wings, and increases emphasis on building the plane around the engine.


Pic F-86 and NES

The crowned king of this late generation is the F-86 Sabre. The F-86 had a 10 to 1 confirmed kill ratio in the skies above Korea, in spite of the fact that its arch rival the Mig-15 was almost the same aircraft. Essentially the USAF didn’t want to deploy the Sabre in Korea, but when the Mig-15 arrived on the scene claiming P-80’s, and B-29’s by the handful the problem had to be dealt with. The F-86 was a well-armed jet warrior capable of sonic speed at straight and level flight, and of performing multiple tasks.

Talking 10 to 1 confirmed kill ratio lets talk about the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), which at it’s peak supposedly had 86% market saturation in the United States. The NES like the F-86 was the crowned king of its era, and bought its generation as far as it could go in 8-bit.


Pic Mig-15 and Master System

The Mig-15 almost looked like a carbon copy of the F-86, but that wasn’t entirely the case. Yes, there is some indication that Soviet designer Mig had a heads up about the F-86’s design but many historians argue that the similarity in looks stems more from the use of German jet research in the development of both fighters. The Mig-15 performed just as well as its arch nemesis if not better at times, but always seemed to be outmatched in the skies of Korea. Aviation historians point to the fact that many F-86 pilots where veteran fighter pilots from World War II, but the also do mention that USAF pilots received a higher level of training then their Soviet counterparts. In this rare historical showdown between two planes that where practically twins we saw how the pilot really made the difference.

The Master system had a lot of similarities to the NES but hardly looked as if they could be twins as the F-86 and Mig-15 did. True the NES and Master system controller did look a lot alike, and so did the games and gameplay. But in this case with the NES and Master system its more about the beginning of rivalries that like the Soviets and USAF would last for a few generations.  For the most part Sega’s Master System bombed in the U.S. never getting any hold on the market in Gen 3, but it did sell slightly better internationally especially in the UK.

Pic F9F Cougar and Atari 7800

The F-86 gained the most press in Korea and the USAF with it. The United States Navy was there though too and doing its job, with the F9F a sonic air superiority carrier based fighter. The aircraft would be a major star in the film The Bridges of Toko-Ri but for the most part it and its role in the Korean conflict would almost and very sadly go forgotten.

 The Atari 7800 isn’t exactly an equal of the F9F, other than the fact that it was there in Gen 3 but nobody seemed to notice. The 7800 was the early contender who arrived too late, and lost its golden chances.


Gen 4 Gaming and Gen 2 Jets

In aviation the 2nd generation of jet fighters always has trouble being defined. I suspect this is because the real gen 2 should be the aircraft of the late generation 1. However, a good definition of gen 2 in my book is the generation of aircraft following the Korean War, that where the first to arrive on the scene in the Vietnam War. In USAF terms these would be the “Century Series” aircraft that where numbered from the F-100 to the F-106, with a few prototype aircraft beyond. Many of the aircraft of gen 2 where now supersonic meaning they could easily go above the speed of sound and then some to speeds at or above Mach 2, on most of these aircraft this was thanks to turbofan jet engines, and afterburners that allowed higher performance out of jet engines. Aircraft of this generation also had technological boosts as well, with things like onboard radar and targeting systems, countermeasures, and the first true air to air missiles.

In Gen 4 of gaming consoles things had gone super-sonic too. Consoles where achieving a Mach 2 of their own at 16-bits instead of 8. Not only that but the controllers had gotten more complicated with 3 or more firing buttons, and even top mounted triggers. 

Pic F-100 and SNES

The F-100 was known as the Super Sabre so I think you can see where I’m going with this. It was super-sonic, had radar, and could fire air to air missiles. On top of that it looked how a “Super Sabre” should, like a sleeker and faster version of its predecessor the F-86. By Vietnam though it became clear that the F-100 wouldn’t have the same rep as its Korean War predecessor, and the plane quickly took on the role of fighter bomber over air superiority fighter.

The SNES or Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a 16-bit version of the NES’s late “Top Loader” model. Much like the F-100 compared to the F-86 it looked sleeker and performed better than its predecessor. Even the controller had four buttons over two, and top mounted triggers to boot. Unlike the F-100 though the SNES could hold its own and fought well for superiority in gen 4.

Pic Mig-21 and Sega Genesis (Mega-Drive)

The Mig-21 didn’t look like much but it was a heck of a scrapper, and an aggressive fighter. Most of its design was a result of lessons learned in the Korean War, coupled with advances in design and air combat avionics and technology. The Mig-21 although not the most fearsome fighter in Vietnam would still be a problem to the USAF and US Navy throughout the war claiming many victims in air to air combat. The Mig-21 is still in service with some air forces around the world, and has been known for its adaptability.

Using the Genesis, Sega would start the “Bit Wars” in which Sega and Nintendo would duke it out throughout Gen 4 for market dominance. The Genesis or Mega-Drive was a vast improvement over the Master System and had super charged 16-bit graphics, a three button controller, and an aptitude for sports and fighting games. The Genesis also had Sonic the Hedgehog a game legend and mascot not afraid to stand up to Nintendo and go toe to toe with Mario. Like the Mig-21 the Genesis was scrapper and a thorn in the side of Nintendo. Despite being outclassed eventually the Genesis would try to stay relevant by adapting 32-bit, and CD-Rom technology to the system for a small but short lived technological advantage.

Pic F-104 and NeoGeo

The F-104 Starfighter was dubbed “The Missile with the Man in It”. It was designed to be a very fast interceptor with a short takeoff range perfect for shooting down inbound enemy bombers. Let’s be honest it’s a cool looking plane. The plane was all about performance, and did what it did well and went on to set many speed and altitude record in its time. This was also one of the first aircraft to feature a Vulcan Canon (20mm Gatling) on board. The problem was that the F-104 had limited uses, its performance airframe and stubby wings limited its roles in combat, and the aircraft was eventually committed to research roles where its performance could be useful. NASA still uses the F-104 to this day for research work. 

The NeoGeo was also all about performance, it was meant to be the arcade machine in your home. The only issue was that the console was $699 in 1990, with games going for $100 to $150 on top of that. Although the system lived up to the hype and those who owned it loved it, very few could afford it and it performed itself out of the market.

Pic Saab Draken and Atari Jaguar

When we think Sweden we don't exactly think military might. But, in the height of the Cold War Sweden, Norway, and Finland all sat dangerously close to the USSR. Not wanting to hope the USAF, or RAF could respond fast enough to a Soviet threat Sweden's Saab, yes like the make of car, developed the Draken (Dragon). The Draken was a high performance fighter somewhat ahead of its time, with Mach 2 performance and a lot of capability. As inpressive as the Draken is though, Sweden's lack of street cred as a military power has this very cool fighter living in near obscurity. 
By Gen 4 most of us had felt Atari had been dealt out and handed its hat. Yet, out out of no where in late Gen 4 they suddenly gave us the Jaguar. The Jaguar was ahead of its time and performed well in 32-bit, however Atari claimed it was 64-bit a somewhat dubious claim backed up by a technicality. To say the least with Atari considered out of the console gaming market, the Jaguar like the Draken went on to relative obscurity even in its own time.  

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