Author - Jerry Paxton

Fly Right With Our Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel Review

Saitek has made a lot of fans out there in the flight sim community by selling good-quality peripherals for competitive prices, and their new Pro Flight Instrument Panel continues this tradition. Our two panels arrived in unassuming, well-fitted boxes, I pulled out a panel, plastic mounting bracket, screws, and allen wrench from one box and began to go to work, planning how I wanted my home cockpit to look.

Saitek had the forethought to include a series of six screws/mount points across the top of their Pro Flight Yoke just to accommodate these extra peripherals. I grabbed the plastic mounting bracket and flight yoke, removing two of the screws from the top of the base unit. Then I screwed the instrument panel mounting bracket into the flight yoke and slid the instrument panel itself into its plastic mount. The mount is somewhat cheap-feeling, which is surprising given the quality of the panel itself. Four screws attach the panel to the mount which was extremely easy to install. Aside from the screws on the flight yoke, no tools are needed except for your fingers.

Looking at the instrument panel, the 3.5” LCD was covered by a plastic safety film which I promptly removed and then played with a few of the buttons which array in an L-pattern down the left and bottom of the panel. They reacted crisply but I was slightly worried about actually pressing the buttons on the panel without bracing it somehow. Even all screwed in, the panel mount flexes slightly when a button is pressed. I never heard any cracking or breaking come from it so I assume the mount is fastened properly. Still, the flexing made me a little nervous so I would quickly learn to use it by pressing the buttons with my thumb and bracing it with my fingers.

The cable which comes off of the back of the panel can easily be plugged into the USB passthrough on the flight yoke, but beware you will need the optional AC adapter to use it properly that way. If you do not have the AC adapter on your flight yoke you can plug the panel into a powered USB port on your PC.

Installing the CD-ROM software is as easy as can be. A few simple menu selections as to where you want to install, etc and you are on your way. After the software is installed and you plug your panel into a powered USB port, it will gleam to life with a default Saitek Pro Flight splash screen.

The software is already setup to use Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X so I fired it up to check it out while actually playing the game. I loaded up a free flight and just giggled when I saw the instrument panel flash its default gauge: The altimeter. Before actually taking to the skies, I pressed through all of the available gauge modes with the up and down arrows at the bottom of the panel.

The panel can replicate the following gauges:
– Altimeter
– Vertical Speed Indicator
– Attitude Indicator
– Airspeed
– Compass
– Turn & Slip Indicator

The instrument panel also features two knobs which interact with many of the available gauge modes. For instance, in the compass mode, you can control the VOR indicators as well as calibrate the altimeter. This tactile response really adds to the realism and immersion of the sim and, if you can afford six panels, you would not need to show the 2D or 3D panels at all giving you a lot more viewing room on your screen. With only two, we still needed the on-screen panel for other instrumentation.

Here is our test rig (pardon our mess) in lower-light conditions:

As you can see, the realism is further enhanced in these slightly lower light conditions as the light of the instruments glowing brightly brings your eye’s out of the same plane of focus as the on-screen panel. This gives the illusion of greater depth between the panels (and other peripherals) and what is happening on the screen.

The buttons arrayed along the left side of the panel control popup sim instrumentation windows such as the GPS display, map, and radio stack. These allow you to access that instrumentation without using an onscreen button (accessible with the mouse cursor) or keyboard shortcut. Additionally, this helps you not lose focus while flying as it is far easier to keep your eyes on the skyway with a button press in your field of vision then taking your eyes off where you are headed to find a keyboard button.

Currently, the Pro Flight Instrument Panels are only compatible with Flight Simulator X out of the box, but the software does include an SDK for your developers out there looking to make use of a detachable LCD in an upcoming project.

I love their modularity but hope that Saitek will create a dual or triple-LCD unit in the future, giving more of a ‘glass cockpit’-feel. This modularity, of course, helps to keeps the cost per unit down. You can walk away from most online retailers with a Pro Flight Instrument Panel for $149. Buying the full six needed to never have to switch between gauge modes would cost you roughly $900 US dollars. Now compare that to an Elite Pro Flight Panel II which only includes some switches and a yoke which runs roughly $2,800 US Dollars. With the Saitek peripherals you are getting a whole lot of bang for your dollar.

The most glaring issue I can see with these panels is their less than stable mounts. One way to help with this would be to buy multiple panels and attach them together via the side bracket screw holes. Then attach the three panels to the yoke. This would give added stability to the array of panels. If you don’t have the money to do this, bracing the panel with your fingers while pressing buttons with your thumb becomes second nature only after about a half hour of flight.

Another configuration of panels:

Saitek has once again hit it out of the park with their Pro Flight Instrument Panel. It provides a lot more realism to your flight sim experience while not breaking your home-cockpit budget. Installation is a breeze and the software automatically sets the unit up for Flight Sim X. What more could a simmer ask for? Another panel….Muhahaha…

MechWarrior 4 to be Released for Free in Celebration of 25th Anniversary

The mech madness continues as Smith & Tinker, the firm created by BattleTech and FASA founder Jordan Weisman, has announced that they will be distributing MechWarrior 4 for free in honor of BattleTech’s 25th anniversary. The distribution will take place via MekTek and will happen ‘soon’.

The download will also include the MechWarrior 4 expansion packs. MechWarrior 4 was originally published in 2000 by Microsoft and its expansions (Black Knight, Inner Sphere Mech Pack, and Clan Mech Pack) were released a year later.

Anyone up for some multiplayer?

Madden NFL 10 NFC North Sizzle Trailer

EA Sports has released the new ‘NFC North Sizzle‘ trailer for their upcoming Madden NFL 10. EA Sports recently announced that they would be previewing their virtual NFL season by announcing the ratings of various teams and players. You can check out the whole Season Preview at their official website.

Madden NFL 10 is due out on August 14th.

Take to the Skies With Our Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War Review

Growing up primarily a PC gamer back in the eighties I fondly remember playing such combat flight simulators as Gunship 2000, Aces of the Pacific, and F-15 Strike Eagle III. So when I first saw Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War (Developed by Neoqb and published by 777 Studios) I was skeptical because World War One combat sims have so often been poorly developed and maintained. No developer has really gotten the genre correct since Dynamix did Red Baron 3D back in 1999.

I opened the Rise of Flight’s black DVD-style box to find something that immediately took me back to that time as a kid playing the early flight sims: A tri-fold keyboard reference chart! There was a time when keyboard reference cards/charts came almost standard in PC games – especially flight sims. Even more often was the practice of the keyboard chart having cutouts on it so you could effectively fit it right over your keyboard. If Neoqb had seen fit to do that I would have fallen out of my chair! Unfortunately, in today’s world of gaming keyboards there are just too many different key configurations for any developer to do this, so I will forgive them. A reference card at all is cool enough.

Also included within the box is a pilot’s knee board-style instruction manual which contains actually useful information needed to play the game and controlling its aircraft. Aside from this useful information is additional historical facts about the war and aircraft which took part in it, making Rise of Flight a good way for gamers to learn a little bit about a war which is so far removed from our present-day life.

The surprises kept coming, however, as I also removed a fold-out map of the game area which consists of roughly 125,000 square kilometers of virtual Europe. Again, Neoqb has brought back something which we used to find all the time in PC gaming. And no I do not speak of the crappy, non-functional pleather maps often included in MMO collector’s edition boxes. This map may only be paper, but it is actually useful and functional. Every airfield, city, and topographical feature is their to help you navigate your course in planning, executing, or evening creating a mission. Kudos to Neoqb for these additions to the game box.

But what good are all of these extras if the game is awful, right? So let’s get into the game itself. As you might have guessed if you read this far, Rise of Flight takes place from 1917 to 1918 in Europe during World War One. Once you select your system settings (which includes Force Feedback for you guys still using it – bless you by the way) and enter the game you will be presented with the biggest issue I have with Rise of Flight: A login screen.

Rise of Flight requires you to login to an online account you will have to initially-create at the game’s official site. While I would not mind this if it were just to activate your game the first time you run it, you must do this every time you run it. If you don’t have access to the web you will not be able to play. While I understand that Neoqb is doing this for a variety of reasons including DRM and player stat-tracking, which I admit is cool, if I just wanted to dogfight on my laptop offline I simply can’t do so.

After you login and get tot he game menu you will be presented with an assortment of options. The first option you should investigate is training. Rise of Flight features a very interesting tutorial campaign which walks you through what feels like a real flight school, starting with basic ground school stuff. This campaign really helps prepare you for whats to come as I guarantee you this game is not what you young kids are used to, what with your ‘radars’ and ‘radios’ and ‘good thrust-to-weight ratios’… Spoiled I tell ya!

Anyhow, after going through the training missions you can select to fly a few single-missions or get into the real meat and potatoes of the game: The campaign mode. Just like Sierra/Dynamix ‘Aces’ combat flight sims used to offer, you will be able to create a career in the air corps of your choosing by selecting the year, side, squadron, etc you want. The career paths will take you to the end of the war, should you survive that long, and throw various missions your way. It is really the best-part of the single player component of the game.

Rise of Flight’s co-op multiplayer options are simply fun as hell with you taking part not only in pre-made missions but also those you can make yourself via the stand-alone Mission Editor which Neoqb has included in the install package.

Unlike modern flight sims in which planes have radios to communicate and tarmac to takeoff from, Rise of Flight has neither. Airfields are actual fields and inter-squadron communication is extremely difficult thanks to a lack of radio technology. See? I told you this would be different. Also depicted nicely is the lousy power-to-weight ratio of aircraft in the era. World War One aircraft were seriously underpowered, even with their main construction materials being wood and canvas. Taking off is harrowing enough as the torsion effect of your rotor can send you careening off-course or into your wingmen if you are not ready for it. Once in the air, you must maintain a conservative rate of climb to reach cruising altitude, which is extremely low by today’s standards – a couple thousand feet on average.

Most of what you are doing is supporting ground troops in various capacities, making your dogfights especially risky affairs. Any pilot worth his salt knows the axiom ‘speed is life’. In Rise of Flight, you don’t have a lot of life to go around unfortunately, and one wrong turn that stalls you out can send you into the mud. At least the impact velocity of your aircraft will drive you deep enough into the ground so that they can just throw some dirt over you and call it a day.

Aircraft seem to handle realistically, at least as realistically as I would assume they actually handled, and various realism settings can be toggled to take some of the wet work out of your hands. These settings include mixture controls and even starting the missions with a pre-warmed up engine.

Communicating with your squadmates is pretty much impossible save for wing-mounted signal flares and wing-shaking. In multiplayer you can use voice chat if you like but for the authentic experience it should be disallowed.

Visually, Rise of Flight features crisp graphics that seem to go back and forth between plain and beautiful depending on what you are looking at. You will often times find plains that stretch on with little or no detail to speak of. Other times you will fly over swaths of ‘no mans land’, scorched and pocked by the bloody trench warfare going on beneath you. I recommend using Matrox’s TripleHead2Go system if you have the necessary hardware as the game readily supports three-monitor spanning. If you do not have three spare monitors lying about, Rise of Flight also supports NaturalPoint’s TrackIR head-tracking system which will seriously help when engaged with enemy aircraft.

Audio is very good, with engine sounds differing between aircraft as well as bullet ricochets and ambient explosions from the ground fighting going on. The aircraft engines remind me of glorified lawn mowers in the sounds they make, helping to drive home the fact of their antiquity in contrast to jet engines of modern flight sims or even a simple Cessna 172 engine!

Currently, the game supports two playable aircraft: The Spad 13 and the Fokker D.VII. While more aircraft are on their way soon, the two included in the game are very well-detailed. Every cable, strut, flap, rivet, and gauge are all in-place and damage modeling is extremely realistic. The good news is that because these aircraft are made mostly of wood and canvas, often times a bit of wing-damage won’t totally ground you. The fact that their are bi-planes also helps with this as the second, lower wing helps provide extra lift in the event of damage. The bad news is that because these aircraft and made mostly of wood and canvas, they are very prone to damage and not always by enemy fire either! Pull too hard on the stick and overstress the airframe, crack! You will be eating dirt faster than you can say ‘Immelman’.

Rise of Flight does have some annoyances which I hope are fixed in future patches. The user interface, while appearing simple, actually provided me with several periods of non-responsiveness. I would click on a link several times before it registered. One thing that continuously brought me pain was the mission load times. On my test rig it takes up to forty five seconds to load a mission. On a friend’s system it takes up to a minute and a half! While this might not seem like a long time it serves to pull you out of the experience and raises the annoyance factor long before you even get into the cockpit. While I totally appreciate Neoqb loading mission assets prior to mission briefing’s, it needs some more optimizing to be tolerable. That, or just split the loading between the pre-briefing stage and pre-flight stages. While the time needed to load would be the same, it would feel like less to the player.

Overall, Neoqb’s Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War is a flight sim worthy of your time which can offer plenty of challenge to keep veteran simmers entertained as well as be scaled-back for the virgin armchair pilots out there who have never experienced WWI flight before. While the single player experience is reminiscent of a less-polished version of classics like Aces Over Europe, its biggest enjoyment comes from playing in multiplayer matches and creating ‘what if?’ scenarios with the Mission Editor. We are looking forward to seeing what Neoqb is going to do next!

Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War retails for $39.90 and is available at

Our Test Rig:
Intel i7 920 CPU
Nvidia GTX 280 Graphics Card
24” Dell 2408WFP LCD Screen

FIFA Manager 10 Screenshots and Trailer

EA Sports also released some new screenshots as well as a trailer for their upcoming FIFA Manager 10. Currently only confirmed for a Windows PC release, FIFA Manager 10 looks to be aiming for a very detailed management experience with a huge level of player and team customizations. This is currently only set to release in the UK.

You can checkout the trailer below and the new screenshots After the Break!

Madden NFL 10 Season Preview – NFC East Teams and Player Ratings

Over at the official site for EA Sports’ Madden NFL 10 Season Preview feature they have released the ratings for the NFC East teams and players. This is all set to culminate in a fully-simulated season, the results of which will be revealed on August 3rd. EA Sports is even going to reveal the simulated MVPs. It will be very interesting to see how the real season turns-out in relation to this virtual prediction.

Next week, the season preview site will be revealing the AFC North teams and player ratings, so stay-tuned.

Go Under the Boardwalk With Our Fallout 3: Point Lookout Review

The Point Lookout State Park, once shining national preserve, is now an eerie and overgrown swampland. The one real remaining piece of old civilization is its large boardwalk, complete with a ferris wheel. While the entire map of Point Lookout is very large, bigger than any of the previous DLC pack’s additional zones, it feels in some ways the most claustrophobic of the four due to its very effective art design. Walking through the swamplands is akin to the experience of Atreyu in the Swamps of Sadness. Unfortunately in this experience, you turn out to be Artax. Give yourself a hundred points if you get that reference by the way. Also, in this experience, there are inbreeds… Lots of inbreeds.

You see, aside from the Swamplurks (Point Lookout version of a Mirelurk) and the Swamp Ghouls (Point Lookout version of a Feral Ghoul) you will often times run into packs of cannibalistic swamp folk which go by the enemy names like ‘Creeper’ and ‘Brawler’. Generic-sounding enough but these sad, inbreeds will kill you faster than Jeff Foxworthy can tell a ‘you must be a redneck’ joke. They are crafty in both their pack mentality and their use of bear traps. These traps litter the swamps and create a real sense of tension all the time. Thankfully, by time you reach Point Lookout you should be of high-enough level that they wont damage you all that much. Also, most of the new enemies in Point Lookout are far tougher than their Capital Wasteland equivalents.

Questing in Point Lookout is more akin to the original game in that while there is a central quest line to the area, Bethsoft has included a ton of smaller quests to pick up along the way, one of which will even give you the option of completing it back in the Capital Wasteland. Cross-over quests like this really help to tie the maps together and is essential for that ‘expansion-like’ experience.

One can find a ride to Point Lookout via a paddle boat at the mouth of the Potomac. Her captain will give you all the details of your lovely vacation which really don’t turn out to be the truth of the matter. Regardless, you are not there just sight-seeing as a women at the docks before you shove off will ask you to look for her daughter in Point Lookout.

One thing I wanted to see more of was re-population of the Boardwalk. While there is a merchant in the midway area and a couple of small stores to explore, most of the buildings and stands were boarded up. I think this was a very cool opportunity to create a real post-apocalyptic bazaar, selling an array of new and interesting items. Instead, it feels empty and not quite the focal point of the new map I had hoped. Also, Point Lookout only features a small number of new items for you to use and most are too pointless to actually use to begin with. My character does not need an American Civil War cap or Workman’s Coveralls. The three new weapons introduced in the game end up being more of a novelty as well and you will probably not use them very much as you undoubtedly have something better already.

Aside from these two points of contention, Point Lookout has been the most well-released of the DLC packs thus far. Previous packs have suffered various bugs and setbacks from a technical standpoint. Point Lookout downloaded via my Games for Windows LIVE client smoothly and started without issue. I must applaud Bethsoft for its handling of Point Lookout’s quality control. In this respect they have learned from their past mistakes and have risen to the challenge set before them.

Something I really appreciate about Point Lookout is its take on the actual history of the region in terms of the American Civil War as well as poking a bit of a shameful finger at the government sods who thought locking up thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II was a good idea. The American Civil War has really touched the land of Point Lookout as it has in our reality. In our history, it was the site of a Confederate soldier internment camp. In Point Lookout, the land is home not only to mass graves from the American Civil War but also an internment camp of Chinese Americans from the game’s fictional, and ultimately apocalyptic, war. This internment camp is a stark reminder of the horrors that paranoia and war breed and, as you explore the various bungalows of the camp, you get a very negative picture of human nature.

Overall, Point Lookout is well worth the purchase of 800 Microsoft Points and leaves us with yet another chapter to tell of our post-apocalyptic adventure. It also leaves us clamoring for more, and the next DLC pack Mothership Zeta, which releases at the end of this month, will take us on board an alien spacecraft!

NZXT Announces Sentry 2 Fan Control System

NZXT has just lifted the veil on their new fan-control unit the Sentry 2. The Sentry 2 fits into a 5.25” drive bay and features a touch-screen control system for up to five fans and also has an internal speaker for audible alerts. The Sentry 2 will retail for $29.99 and will officially go on sale later this month. You can read the full official features list After the Break!
Official Features
* Touch screen interface
* Five fan control through an intuitive interface
* Ultra fast selection and response time
* Display temperatures in both F and C
* Light switch turns off the meter when sleeping
* Automatic and manual modes of control
* Full compatibility with all types of fans using voltage control
* With a minimum of at least 10 Watts per channel, the Sentry 2 will support almost all high end fans
* Tuned accuracy with only a tolerance of one degree
* Sound alarm to alert when the temperature is over
* Stored settings, the Sentry keeps your settings even after power off