It was about mid 1996 when I first got internet access. At the time the UK market had a multitude of small ISPs but it took the likes of AOL and CompuServe to make the worldwide web truly accessible to the general public. Like many others I had an AOL account mainly because it was easy to configure and use. There was no complexity to setting up the service and so it wasn't long before I was monopolising the telephone line and running up epic phone bills. The early days of the internet were an exciting time. This was the age of modems, the Netscape vs Internet Explorer browser war and IRC flame wars. It had a hint of living on the frontier about it.
Now I was a dyed-in-the-wool PC gamer by this time so when I was presented with the opportunity to play online along with hundreds of other people I jumped at the chance. AOL was in business partnership with games developer Kesmai at the time and had recently included their multiplayer on-line air-combat simulator, Air Warrior as part of their internet services. I can remember now how it took numerous hours to download the game client and that I then copied it to dozens of floppy disks to save my friends the pain of a similar ordeal. I was so enthusiastic that I even bought an analogue joystick and spent hours calibrating it.
Air Warrior offered an extensive collection of World War II planes that you could fly in multiplayer dogfights with up to 100 pilots at the same time. The combat was set in both the European and Pacific theatres of war. There were also single player missions which were invaluable for honing your skill as a pilot. Each aircraft had individual flight models, cockpits and unique features. The game used flat polygon graphics and supported a maximum resolution of 1024 x 768. Air Warrior was surprisingly complex and not a simplistic as some arcade air combat shooters. It was also highly addictive, especially when playing with friends.
Gameplay centred on trying to destroy the enemy factions’ airfields, thus requiring the use of both fighters and bombers. For players who were not so adept with one-on-one aerial combat, you could choose to man one of the various gun turrets on the bombers. The tail gunner on the B-17 being the most coveted position. Dropping your stick of bombs via the bombsight was also immense fun and quite a skill in itself. It was always immensely satisfying to change camera positions after dropping your payload and watching the explosions several seconds later.
Like many online games if you were prepared to take the time and experiment, you could achieve some interesting results. For example Air Warrior also offered tanks and trucks as well as planes. The Flakpanzer was a mobile AA vehicle that was designed to be deployed around your team’s airfield to provide ground-to-air support. However I discovered that it was possible to drive across the entire game map to the enemies’ airfields and that if you took a scenic route; you were seldom spotted from the air. I use to spawn camp the main runway and destroy enemy aircraft as they materialised. This could continue for ten or even fifteen minutes before they realised exactly what was happening and take countermeasures.
Air Warrior was my first multiplayer online game. Although it wasn’t a MMO as such, it shared many similarities. I enjoyed it immensely and for a twelve month period played it frequently. It’s odd that when I inevitably drifted away, I didn't return to multiplayer gaming until 2003 when I started playing Hidden and Dangerous 2. As for MMOs, I bypassed most of the classic titles apart from a brief trial of Star Wars Galaxies and didn't really explore the genre until 2008 when I started playing LOTRO. In many respects it was my fond memories of Air Warrior that inspired me to buy the double pack of Shadow of Angmar and Mines of Moria.