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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Unconventional ways to win

I've never had an easy time playing certain types of games. There are just some things where it seems like the computer "cheats" or otherwise does things I could never counteract. Other people don't seem to have this problem, so I always chalked it up to some limitation of my own.

Some of these games involved flying around in various simulations of fighter planes. One of them was called Jetfighter II, and I think it came into my life as an odd little pack-in with something like Quattro Pro. For those who don't remember those days, that's Borland's old spreadsheet. Who's Borland? They made Turbo C++, Turbo Pascal, and so forth.

There were several missions where you were expected to "dogfight" with some computer-controlled jet. I could never make that work. They'd always manage to get away from me, and would then start chasing me, and that would be the end of it.

I did manage to find a way through it, and it's become something of a pattern for me.

Instead of trying to actually dogfight this pile of code, I found a way to trick it. While flying around their simulation of California, I realized that the ground was a mostly-featureless blob. It didn't have much in the way of terrain and there were very few obstacles.

In fact, if you put your landing gear down and descended at a reasonable rate (not too fast) and pitch (nose more-or-less up), you could land... anywhere. You could even do this at speed if you really wanted. The plane would immediately slow down to whatever speed they had programmed in as the maximum ground speed.

I put it all together and used this to my advantage. I purposely got that computer player behind me and let it get a lock on me and fire. Then, I swooped down and landed the plane. The missile would hit the ground behind me, doing no damage. Next, because the computer player was going so quickly and I had slowed down to max ground speed, it shot past me, high above.

Now the answer was simple: wait for the targeting box to wander up there and get a lock, and fire a missile... from the ground. The crazy thing is that it worked, and it was reproducible. I could do this every time I had a mission which was based over land and it would just work.

I later discovered that other games from this period had similar behavior and could be exploited in much the same way. Make the entire ground your personal landing strip and let them fly past you. Then send a missile up their tailpipe and be done with it.

I imagine this kind of thing is no longer possible with newer games, but that's okay. I just don't try to play that sort of game any more.