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Video Game / Red Baron

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Red Baron is a series of renowned combat flight simulators created by Dynamix (also known for Starsiege: Tribes) and originally published by Sierra Entertainment. The games in the series are:

  • Red Baron (1990): The original, released for Amiga, DOS, and MacOS. Recognized by Computer Gaming World as the Top Simulation of 1991, and later as one of the best games of all time.
  • Red Baron II/3-D (1997 / 1998): Red Baron II was an updated and expanded version that added new aircraft, new features, and a new "dynamic campaign" mode that tracked the activity of every squadron on the front and not merely the player's. As initially released, the game was quite buggy; a later patch fixed most of the bugs, added 3D glide acceleration support to the graphics engine, and an online multiplayer mode that could in theory support up to 128 flyers per mission. The patched version of II was itself rereleased as a stand-alone product, Red Baron 3-D.

In each game, the player gets the opportunity to fly and fight against a broad selection of aircraft in the skies above the trenches of World War I's Western Front. The player can choose to fly for either the Allies or the Central Powers (the original featured only the Royal Flying Corps and the German Fliegertruppen / Luftstreitkräfte, though the former also flew a lot of French designs; II/3-D added the French Aéronautique Militaire and the United States Army Air Service to the Allied side) in a variety of missions, including squadron dogfights, balloon busting or defense, and patrolling and escort missions. You can even choose to test your mettle against some of the air war's most famous aces in one-on-one dogfights.

There are two primary gameplay modes: Single Mission and Campaign. The former is pretty much self-explanatory; you fly a single mission with a predetermined objective according to your own personal settings, or a "historical mission" that tries to model the conditions of a certain ace's more notable accomplishments. In the latter, you enlist in one of the aforementioned services anywhere between late 1915 and late 1918 and fly missions with your assigned squadron. A successful career brings with it awards, promotions, and the chance to customize your aircraft; less-than-adequate performance usually leaves you dead at the hands of your hated foe.

Given the fact that the game is set during World War One, a lot of "staple mechanics" of the combat flight sim are left out in favor of increased historical accuracy. Gone are minimaps, sensors, and autotarget features; instead, you have to rely on your wits, your knowledge of the local terrain, and the maneuverability of your craft to navigate and fight.

The 16-color version of the original Red Baron was released for free as part of a promotion for its sequel and is still available. 3-D is now being published commercially by Mad Otter Games, who are working on yet another Updated Re-release for more modern computers; more information on how to acquire a copy can be found on the official site.

Not to be confused with the 1980 Atari vector graphics arcade game, or with the film The Red Baron.

These games provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: While the game engines are capable of simulating an astonishing degree of realism, the player can fine-tune his or her experience by enabling or disabling features in the Preferences menu, allowing for more arcade-style flight and combat.
  • Ace Pilot: You, if you can shoot down five enemy planes. The game also includes a number of historical aces, including the eponymous "Ace of Aces" himself.
  • Airborne Mook: Every enemy craft that isn't a named ace.
  • All There in the Manual: Both the actual manual and the supplemental material are chock-full of useful info, including guides on flight maneuvers (with diagrams) and a copy of the Dicta Boelcke
  • The Alliance: The Allies.
  • Alternate History: Notable because virtually every campaign career's its' own self-contained history, with things diverging from the start with and without the player's intervention. This can get quite drastic, particularly if you're good enough. You can't change the course of the ground war, though.
  • Anti-Air: Pretty primitive by modern standards, given that proximity-fused shells did not yet exist. Still, not something to be underestimated in large groups such as those found around observation balloons.
  • Artificial Stupidity: While the enemy AI can be quite clever in maneuvering to get a clear shot or escape the player, it also has a habit of pulling maneuvers with damaged aircraft that result in structural failures, such as wings snapping off mid-turn
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: When planning missions, you can choose which formation your planes will fly in to and from the objective.
  • Been There, Shaped History: If you live long enough and are accomplished enough, you can top the records of many historical aces, or even rewrite history by shooting them down yourself.
  • Boom, Headshot!: A perfectly valid way to destroy an enemy plane without needing to rip it apart.
  • Chasing Your Tail: Combat mostly consists of maneuvering your plane behind the enemy's so that you can fire with minimum deflection.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The player is prone to getting tricked when accepting one-on-one dogfight challenges - at least Lothar von Richthofen always arrives with two wingmen.
  • Cool Plane: Includes several, such as the Fokker E. III (the first true fighter plane), the Fokker Dr. I (the Red Baron's own iconic craft), the Fokker D. VII, the SPAD 13, and the S.E.5a (the three aircraft that crop up most often in debates over "the best fighter of the war"), and the Sopwith Camel (Snoopy's alter ego's plane from Peanuts).
  • Do a Barrel Roll: According to the manual for Red Baron 3-D: "A barrel roll is useful for confusing an attacker on your tail."
  • Eagle Squadron: Escadrille Lafayette, where all the American pilots end up prior to the United States' entry into the war.
  • Elite Mooks: Even some of the unnamed generic pilots can randomly be generated as veteran pilots who are almost as skilled and dangerous as the named aces themselves.
  • Escort Mission: Some missions involve escorting reconnaissance planes or bombers. While these planes aren't usually entirely defenseless, they tend to be larger, slower, and less maneuverable than fighter craft.
  • Every Bullet is a Tracer: All bullets look like small fireballs. However, the game does make the distinction between normal and tracer ammunition - the former is more effective against planes, while the latter is effective against balloons and zeppelins.
  • Featureless Protagonist: The only thing that can be reasonably discerned about the player character is that he is male, and that is more inferred from the setting than anything else. All other details, including the pilot's name, are left to the player's imagination.
  • Friendly Fireproof: Friendly fire is one of the settings that can be turned on or off at the player's discretion.
  • High-Altitude Battle: Although flying too high opens up the possibility of blacking out from lack of oxygen — remember, these were the days before enclosed, pressurized cockpits.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: You can choose to play with or without Limited Ammo as part of the realism settings.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted. You can be killed instantly by a lucky burst of machine gun fire, but getting wounded often means that you have a limited amount of time to land your plane before you bleed out. Even then, it can take months of recovery in the field hospital before you're ready to fly (if you survive).
  • In-Vehicle Invulnerability: Averted. Killing the pilot is sometimes the easiest way to bring down a plane. Notably, many historical pilots met their ends from aversions of this trope, most famously British pilot Albert Ball.
  • Invincible Hero: One difficulty option prevents your aircraft from being damaged. As with other difficulty options, it affects your score.
  • Mission Briefing: One prior to each mission. You can also watch brief, period-authentic film clips in the Intelligence tent in the second game.
  • Nose Art: Every ace has his own distinctive paint job. You can get one, too, assuming you become an ace yourself.
  • Old-School Dogfight: Justified; the setting is the "old school."
  • One-Man Army:
    • Averted. Your plane is no less vulnerable than an equivalent craft in the hands of your allies or enemies at the default difficulty settings. You can certainly try, but you won't get far unless you possess genuine Improbable Piloting Skills.
    • Played straight if you turn off the enemy's ability to damage your plane in the preferences, in which case you become an Invincible Hero who literally can't be touched.
  • Rank Up: There is a rank system in Campaign Mode. Higher ranks usually open up more opportunities to pick and choose your own missions and wingmen.
  • Shown Their Work: And how. The game designers did their research, and it shows. The games' physics engines are quite realistic, even going so far as to model certain odd quirks associated with particular designs, such as the gyroscopic effects of the Sopwith Camel's rotary engines and the Albatros D. III's tendency to lose its lower wing during high-gee maneuvers. Plane designs are introduced and phased out as they were historically, and each squadron has access to the type of planes that it flew historically. Additionally, the creators included a great deal of historical background information. Some of this was merely informative (such as the complete history of the War in the Air), but much of it had practical value within the game itself (such as the descriptions of common maneuvers and combat tactics, which are actually used by AI pilots and can be emulated by the player).
  • Sitting Duck: A Scramble mission puts you on the receiving end of an enemy air raid, with your formation desperately trying to get your planes into the air before the enemy can bomb or strafe them.
  • Sniping the Cockpit: Killing the pilot is one way to score a victory.
  • Some Dexterity Required: Particularly for II/3-D. It's possible to fly using a keyboard alone, but it's extremely difficult, especially on higher levels of realism.
  • Subsystem Damage: The game tracks damage to individual components, including wings, engines, and the crew.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: The deaths of certain Aces will prompt mourning newspaper reports, even from their enemies.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: Played with. While you are kept to a fairly strict military mission schedule, you can break the railroad if you wish to. Can be exaggerated when you reach a sufficient rank, at which point you make and plan the missions.
  • Wingman: Anyone who isn't the flight leader on a mission. In the early stages of Campaign Mode, this includes you.
  • Worthy Opponent: In Campaign Mode, if you do well enough, named aces in your part of the front may consider you worthy enough to challenge to a one-on-one duel.