Tuesday, May 02, 2006


What is so interesting about the 13th and 14th octets packet and how does it relate to anything I may have to say?!

If you are on a Unix based system you may want to have a look at ethertypes.h. Scan down to find 0x1989 and look at it. ETHERTYPE_DOGFIGHT. And the comment may say something to the effect of: /* Artificial Horizons ("Aviator" dogfight simulator [on Sun]) */

History first

Part 1: The military

During my time at ANL one of projects I worked on was some application work for CENTCOM. That is the United States Central Command. We've sadly heard alot about them since when I first did this work for them. They are the military folks with responsibilty for the middle east. The general public probably really became aware of them with the invasion of Kuwait and the continued conflicts in Iraq. But so what? Well CENTCOM is located at MacDill AFB and that just so happened to be, until around 1993, the home to an F16 training sqaudron.

Part 2: The technology

As our work on Sun workstations was proceeding there was a revolution going on in the workstation space at that time. Things like the SPARC processor and RISC computing in general were improving performance of desktop workstations and the love affair we still have (Nvidia and ATI?!?) with graphics was starting to come to the fore on workstations. Sun had developed their first accelerated 2D and simple 3D framebuffer the Low End Graphics Option (LEGO) graphics card called the GX when it finally debuted. This framebuffer was fabulous for the improved shared memory blitting and other line/area accelerations it offered and also the ability to draw flat shaded polygons really fast (for the time).

Couple a 10 MIPS SPARC processor with a GX to produce a flight simulator that simply rocked.


There really isn't a lot of the history Aviator that I can recall. I recall we got a demo of the GX when it was still in development and we started to plan how to utilize all the great features of the new framebuffer on our existing 2D mapping applications. Then we were given some software that had been written as a demo for the card. It was a flight simulator that modeled an FA/18, X29 and 727(?). It utilized DTED terrain data for the display and it allowed you to fly one of these airplanes over the Hawaiian islands. In fact it let you enter your own physics data into a file that it would read to create your own plane. Not only that but best of all it let you duke it out over the LAN in a dogfight! Remember this is around 1989 or 1990. LAN Multi-player DOOM was still 3 or 4 years away.


So I got to play against my co-workers and we developed a number of strategies for flying these things. We actually got pretty good at this. Then as our CENTCOM work brought us down to MacDill we noticed that they finally acquired a number of SparcStations with GX graphics cards. We loaded Aviator and it was now possible for me to fly against a real pilot. Real dogfighting against real aviators! We did a number of trials against a couple of different aviators. One machine in one room the other just around the corner in another. We could taunt each other by speaking loudly but couldn't "cheat" and see our opponents screen.

It was a riot! We won most of the engagements against the real aviators. We were all pretty close in age and we had a blast being the desk jockeys and nerds that opened a can of whoop-a** on them. Oh sure they whined about the physics being unrealistic and that manuever never being possible in a real plane but that didn't change the fact that they were "dead" and we had won! :-D

Sadly I know of no screen shots of the game available anywhere. I don't know what happened to the folks who created Aviator. I think I heard that one of the creators of the GX board went on to co-found Nvida but don't know how accurate that is. The simulator kind of dropped off the face of the earth.. except for ethertypes.h! It's a shame really because it brought a taste of the Evans and Sutherland type emulators to a much larger audience.

More on adventures with US CENTCOM and US SOCOM later.

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