Games: Comanche 4


Developer: Novalogic
Publisher: Novalogic
ESRB: Teen
Street Price: $29.99
Genre: Action / Simulation

Comanche 4, NovaLogic's latest entry into the combat software market, is a game daring enough to combine the flight sim and first person shooter genres into one visually stunning, entertaining, cohesive product.

As a premier RAH-66 Comanche helicopter pilot, you are called upon to run various anti-terrorist campaigns ranging from escorts to search and destroy missions. One of the most impressive features of Comanche 4 is how this environment reacts to your helicopter's presence; crewmen shield their faces from the wind, grasses and trees sway, and dust kicks up you approach your landing position. I was particularly impressed by the reflective surfaces of the water and its realistic depiction of wave and ripple effects as boats slowly passed through. As each generation of games arise from the previous, an increasing amount of realistic detail works its way into such titles as Comanche 4, and the terrain interaction truly showcases the power that newer computers and graphics cards such as the GeForce4 are now capable of providing.  

Comanche 4 is packed full of dazzling effects and graphics far superior to any flight simulator on the market. The incredibly vast terrains, number of vehicles, special effects, and remarkably low terrain deformation all contribute to a high polygon count and a proportionally high strain on your computer's graphics card and CPU. As with almost any game out there, the better the system you have, the better the game can look, and Comanche 4 takes advantage of all the newest features built into the GeForce4 Ti.

Despite all these features, one of the most appealing aspects of Comanche 4 is the sheer simplicity of controls and shallow learning curve. I dread any game that involves flying anything more complex than Snoopy's doghouse, as my mind is simply unable to remember the 28 different keys needed to lower the landing gear. Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of options and keys at your disposal offering a wide array of playing styles and features. However, any air-based combat game can cram a couple hundred different commands into their title, yet hardly any of them provide the luxury of being able to play through without being forced to memorize each and every one.

Click images to enlarge


“The GeForce4, with its advanced architecture and vertex and pixel shaders, allows Comanche 4 to reach its true visual potential.”

Mark Davis,
Chief Scientist,
NovaLogic, Inc.

We were able to sit down with Mark Davis, the lead programmer of Comanche 4, and ask him a few questions regarding his unique genre-crossing title's graphics and visuals.

NVIDIA: What was the coolest effect you were able to put into Comanche 4?
Mark Davis: Arguably the coolest thing we implemented in Comanche 4 was the water and rotorwash effect. I don't think anyone has seen anything quite like it before in a realtime game engine. The water alone is amazing, with undulating reflections and caustic illumination. But add to that the surface ripples from the rotor blade downwash and the vapor spray that whirls around above it, and you have something truly beautiful. Following close behind the rotor wash is the collection of awesome explosion effects that appear in the game. Dust clouds, fire, and debris fly out of every explosion and are fully lit and shadowed by the environment. The attention to detail is unmatched by other engines.

NVIDIA: What inspired you to make these awesome visuals in this game?
Mark Davis: When we released the original Comanche, it was visually superior to anything else on the market. It was one of the first games written for the 386 and many people would invite their friends over to show off their new computer running Comanche. No one had seen anything like rolling 3D terrains and smooth arcade gameplay on the PC. With Comanche 4 we wanted to return to our roots and produce a visually stunning game that people would not only enjoy playing but also would want to use to show off their computer and 3D hardware. We evaluated what 3D hardware was available and realized that there was an amazing potential to leverage the sheer power of hardware T&L and produce visuals that had yet to be seen on the PC. Having just received some NVIDIA GeForce3 sample boards, we realized also that vertex and pixel shaders would be another consideration in producing the best visuals possible. Due to our vast experience in creating outdoor 3D game environments, we were able to analyze the hardware specifications and come up with a rendering engine that would have great performance but not compromise on visual quality. And with scalability in mind, we were able to leverage new features such as shaders where available, but still function without them if necessary.

NVIDIA: How has NVIDIA's technology helped you to accomplish your goals? What GeForce4 Ti features impressed you?
Mark Davis: NVIDIA's leading edge technology is always the first to give us the features we want. The programmable pipeline in the GeForce3 fulfilled our desire as developers to break out of the fixed function monotony and allow for genuine programming creativity. The GeForce4 Ti takes this a step further by allowing us to use longer vertex programs, and more of them, and we are looking forward to relying more on vertex shaders in our future products.

NVIDIA: How was it working with NVIDIA in defining technology and getting these new features to work?
Mark Davis: It has been a rewarding experience working with NVIDIA developer relations. They have been very helpful and prompt at resolving the issues that have come up during development, and have been eager to assist in the implementation of new features. They have provided sample code for just about every supported feature and were willing to provide additional code snippets if we needed them. We were fortunate to also have a couple of their engineers visit us to perform code optimizations and help implement additional features.

NVIDIA: What has been the biggest advancement in real-time graphics rendering from your perspective?
Mark Davis: The programmable vertex & pixel shaders, without a doubt. We finally have the same degree of control at the vertex and pixel level that we used to have back in the days of software-only rendering, except that it is fully hardware accelerated now. It also allows each game to take on a unique look and feel, rather than the homogenous look of traditional realtime rendering. This is probably the one single feature that will have the most effect on the overall quality and realism of realtime 3D for years to come. And of course programmable shaders are still in their infancy; over time more instructions will be added and more complex programs will be written, thereby enhancing the visual quality to levels yet unknown.

NVIDIA: IF you had two more days for just graphics programming, what would you do next on a GeForce4?
Mark Davis: We would definitely transfer more of the rendering engine over to the programmable pipeline for even more effects, and write more complex shader programs that could take advantage of the additional throughput available. Just wait and see what we do in our next product!

Comanche 4 offers an experience that no other game can touch because no other game has seamlessly blended genres while producing the eye candy that Comanche 4 features. It's part flight sim, part FPS, and enough visually impressive details to draw a crowd around your monitor. You aren't required to learn a complex system of commands, you don't have to worry about calculating efficiencies of your power turbine, and you never find yourself growing bored. Add this to the fact that you can play it for 10 minutes, close the program, and then again pick up the action at your leisure makes Comanche 4 a truly remarkable title that should appeal to a broad spectrum of gamers who grew up on either action games, flight sims, or first person shooters.

Comanche 4: Screenshot 1
Comanche 4: Screenshot 2
Comanche 4: Screenshot 3
Comanche 4: Screenshot 4
Comanche 4: Screenshot 5
Comanche 4: Screenshot 6
Comanche 4: Screenshot 7
Comanche 4: Screenshot 8
Comanche 4: Screenshot 9
Comanche 4: Screenshot 10