Mount C C:\Airpower

By Tim Stone on August 9th, 2009 at 12:52 pm.

FASA Corp tentatively blowing the dust off their Crimson Skies licence? Splendid news. I can’t think of another interwar-inspired, zeppelin-crammed, fantasy flight-sim that deserves a rebirth more than Zipper’s classic. Well, apart from Rowan Software’s Air Power, obviously.

Four years before Crimson Skies dropped from the belly of the Microsoft mothership, one of flight-simulation’s most creative and consistently brilliant studios was waving off a far more ambitious take on the theme. Air Power doesn’t offer sparkling dialogue or superb scripted sorties,  but its campaign engine is a thing of ineffable joy. 

Imagine Total War’s map layer fused to a combat flight sim. Karanthia is a land without a ruler, a kingdom tearing itself apart at the seams. Various dukes, duchesses, warlords and bandits are at each others’ throats using private airforces to expand personal fiefdoms and strengthen claims on the throne. As one of these pretenders you travel around the map in a fleet of fighter-stuffed dirigibles, using air power – or the threat of it – to bring new settlements into your dominion. It’s a totally unscripted and endlessly absorbing business – a marvellous alternative to a bog-standard sortie string.

Some settlements can be talked round, others need a show of strength, or a prolonged siege to be brought to heel. Defiant outposts are far more suggestible once their granaries, water towers or glasshouses have been bombed to buggery. Naturally, you can watch recon films before climbing into the cockpit, pick your own strike force compositions, and hop between planes once in the air. Challenges from enemy aces and en-route encounters with pirates and hostile fleets add to the chaos.

And though Air Power can’t hold a candle to Crimson Skies’ glorious radio banter, its inter-mission splash screens ensure the sim has acres of charm. Damaged your faction’s popularity by accidentally bombing a civilian target? Scary extras from a forgotten Ultravox video will wag their fingers at you. Bagged a bumper haul of bogeys? The same cast of Futurist freaks will raise a glass in your honour in the mess. Lovely stuff. The perfect antidote to Maddox-ine asceticism.

Now I’ve whetted your appetite, the bad news:
1. Like all Rowan sims, Air Power features a maddeningly idiosyncratic camera system.
2. Even with DOSBox, getting it running can be a bit of a struggle. The SVGA version (pictured) regularly crashes on me, so currently I’m forced to play in jaggedy VGA.
3. Since the great Underdogs extinction of Feb 2009, this has been an extremely abandoned piece of abandonware. Good luck in finding a good free source.

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24 Comments »

  1. schurem says:

    What ever happened to Rowan? They should be raking in the cash with a console remake of this..

  2. Recomposer says:

    Re Rowan: I’d rather have a spiffy new version of Dawn Patrol, that was a quality game. Pip pip old bean and all that.

  3. Reptil3 says:

    Rowan Software made fun sims back in the day. I miss those days when there was new flight sim every month.

  4. Duckmeister says:

    Nothing will ever trump Crimson Skies, as far as charming-arcadey-flight-simulations go. I don’t think I’ll bother.

  5. Tom says:

    Is “abandonware” legal these days? Anyway, cd-rips are easily found. That’s minus the cutscene unfortunately.

  6. Cedge says:

    @schurem:
    They were acquired in 2002 by Empire Interactive, who just closed up shop a couple months ago.

    All of their IP, which presumably includes Rowan’s sims, was then sold off to the completely worthless budget publisher Zoo Games. Wouldn’t count on them doing anything with it.

  7. Cedge says:

    @Tom:
    Abandonware has never been legal, save for the few rare instances where games have been officially been released as freeware/public domain by their copyright holders. These instances are usually well documented.

    99.9% of the content on abandonware sites is just as illegal as pirating the latest games. It’s just that not anyone really cares to actively prosecute it, as it really isn’t be worth the effort.

  8. Hypocee says:

    YES AIRPOWER! I played the demo for months, but this was after it wasn’t available in stores and years before I got the ability to order online. It’s the…let’s see…Far Cry to Crimson Skies’ Half-Life. Making your own stories versus playing through one with exceptional presentation. Why choose?

    The other major caveat, and the reason I haven’t played it recently, is that I remember getting the joystick to work properly was a bitch and a half. Editing config files was routine in those days, of course, but I know I spent a day getting the thing to not jitter my plane around the deadzone. Fun! Only enthusiasts are going to be able to fight through to the game, sadly. Although I didn’t have the manual at the time, I suppose.

    http://www.old-games.ru/game/download/2121.html has a torrent or an HTTP download. From my preliminary force-start the torrent appears to be seeded, and when I did the HTTP download on the manual I got the file I asked for. Make your choice on whether you want to trust crafty Russian Mafiosi; the game comes as an ISO in a RAR, not an EXE, for what that’s worth. According to the manual, the content was originally stol restol salv archived from HOTU.

  9. Cedge says:

    Uh, you guys are aware that HOTU is back (in several forms, actually), right? Mere seconds on Google, and you will find that one of the HOTU successors has it.

  10. MrBejeebus says:

    I don’t care much for abandonware, my gaming life has been 2000 onward and most of the games I’d want to play again are easy to find

  11. Hypocee says:

    What I see is ‘Sorry, the file ‘airpower.zip’ was lost in the HOTU server crash. If you find it, please let us know.’

  12. Cedge says:

    @Hypocee:
    Note that I said that there are several HOTU re-do projects, currently. Try one of the others. I won’t directly link it, unless I get confirmation that that is allowed here.

  13. Cedge says:

    And just FYI, yes, I just downloaded it from the HOTU mirror I am thinking of. Works fine.

  14. Hypocee says:

    I’m well aware there’s more than one Underdogs restoration product, thank you. My mistake was in attempting to replicate your claim before posting a mea culpa. I ran the search ‘underdogs air power’ for ‘mere seconds on Google’ and came up with nothing.

    By referring to RPS’ coverage of the Underdogs’ returns, I was able to look at each in turn and find it. He means hotud.org, folks – no direct link to preserve his etiquette – and FYI that’s the 8MB rip version.

  15. Carra says:

    Maddox & Ascetism in one sentence? That makes no sense.

  16. Nobody Important says:

    While abandonware is illegal, I don’t consider it immoral. It depends on how you look at the issue.

  17. Stromko says:

    It seems in this instance there’d be no way that the initial creators could make a dime off the game anymore. It seems probable (just from my readings in this thread) that whoever has the rights now got it at a bargain-basement price when Empire Interactive shut down.

    Or maybe the rights are entirely lost, so that even if somebody thought they could make a buck by licensing it to Gametap or Good Old Games or whatever, it’s too legally murky to bother with.

    It seems me if you like the idea of old games being made available to players both new and old, supporting Gametap or GOG or whoever starts selling it again by getting this game from them would be prudent. But, they don’t have this game, so that’s quite impossible.

    Someone could still march in on their high horse and say we should just wait until we can reacquire a copy of these old games legally, and not play them until then, but that seems excessive. Abandonware vs piracy is an exercise in splitting hairs.

  18. Tim Stone says:

    @Carra. When was the last time you lounged in an IL-2 mess or wiped irate-IL-2-squadron-leader spittle off your face? They’re splendid sims, but incredibly austere games.

  19. Trithemius says:

    Less piracy-talk, more airships bombing greenhouses-talk! >:|

  20. Songbearer says:

    Oh wow! I used to play this game as a kid while listening to 70′s music while pulling a sicky. I totally forgot about what this game was called, thank you SO MUCH for this.

    Fond memories.

  21. Michael says:

    Hell I nearly forgot about that one. I loved it years ago.

  22. keelids says:

    Can someone PLEASE email Zushi publishing/ZOO Publishing? They’ve just published Slipstream 5000, Simon the Sorcerer, Normality, and Little Devil on GamersGate for $4.99. They’re the guys who a guy posted above said frickin’ owns the IP.

    ASK THEM TO PUBLISH IT. ASK THEM TO PUBLISH IT.

    I frickin’ love Air Power and a no-tweak straight-ass install-play on my vista box is just what I need.

    (Slipstream, man, RPS should do a feature on that. It’s awesome stuff.)

    EMAIL. Please.

    and if you are a Christian and love AirPower, pray…..

  23. Hypocee says:

    Heh, coinkydink. Just the other day I was reading something about Wipeout HD and pondering whether the hover-racer genre had fallen from some historical high. ‘What was the other one that put up serious resistance to Wipeout, I remember reading the PCG review, couldn’t make the demo run well at the time…what was it…Oh yeah, Slipstream! Slipstream 5000!’

  24. aion kinah says:

    I played the demo for this on Steam awhile back, it was good fun. I’m looking forward to a full release.

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