Ground control to Major Tom...

Shuttle logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

VIRGIN * £44.99 * 1 meg * Mouse * Out now

Life can sometimes be quite startling, can't it? Why, only the other day I looked in my rear view mirror at some traffic lights and saw none other than inspector Morse in the car behind. Well, OK, it wasn't really inspector Morse. He was driving an Austin Allegro for one thing. And he had red hair and a beard. But the initial similarity was quite alarming. Then there was the time when I dialled a wrong number and accidentally rang up Mother Theresa.

"Hello," said I, "Is that Mr Crispies Dial-A-Pizza?"
"Do you know what time it is?" grumbled an old lady's voice.
"You mean this isn't Mr Crispies Dial-A-Pizza?" was my reply.
"No, it's flippin' Mother Theresa" said the voice and hung up. Uncanny, eh?

But these startling events pale into insignificance alongside the sheer palpitation-inducing sight of the control panels for Virgin's Shuttle game.
The game comes with a poster-type sheet which shows you all the dials and switches for easy reference, and it could easily double as a three-man tent. It's big. And perhaps the most terrifying sight I've ever seen.

Shuttle is perhaps the most detailed and in-depth sim ever in the entire history of the universe. Every single knob and switch that's in the real thing is lovingly recreated here. Well, probably. I'm not about to start counting them. The reason for this is that the shuttle is a million times more complex than any aircraft and so needs squillions of controls to prove it.

You can't just open the doors up in space, y'know. Instead you have to activate all the relevant motor mechanisms, seal valves and other techie-type things. If you didn't do that then the whoel shuttle would be de-pressurised and all sorts of nastiness would ensue.

And yet despite te unprecedented hugeness of it all, it's not that difficult to get into. 'Tis true. The programmers have thoughtfully included a load of helpful features to show you the ropes.
Because, let's face it, even the most experienced flight sim addict would be entering stormy waters with this game.

So, you can redefined loads of options to suite your experience level. If you don't want to go through all the pre-flight palaver (about three hours of checks and initialising booster rockets, although thankfully not in real time) then you can start the mission actually in orbit, or skip straight to the end and just land the thing.

You can also have plenty of help during the mission. On the easiest help level, the computer shows you exactly what to do and which buttons to press so there's really no way you can go wrong.

As you get better and start to remember what buttons do what, then start to reduce the Help level and slowly set out on your own. Me? I'm still clinging to the help option for dear life.
But even so, there's an incredible feeling of achievement as you start to see the shuttle responding to your commands. Even the most difficult missions can be carried out with the computer leading the way so anyone should be able to get something done.

The missions are all either based on real shuttle missions from the past, or speculative ones based on current technology. So you could recreate the very first shuttle test flight, or launch the hilariously crap Hubble telescope, or even take part in a space station project. Wowsers!

With a game of this size, you'd expect it to come on about seven disks and for everything to trundle along at a speed not unlike Dougal from the Magic Roundabout. Well, two disks is all it takes and the graphics are smooth and detailed.

Especially nice is the way you can watch Earth slowly revolve beneath you. All the continents go past and night and day light up the planet just like real life. The "feel" of being in space is astounding. I'm sure it's really good for your karma, or something. Dead peaceful.

The weird thing is, there's no clear objective to the game. There's no overall goal other than the ones you set for yourself. Maybe you won't sleep until you can launch a spy satellite all by yourself without any help at all, or perhaps you'd be chuffed to just land the shuttle without crashing. Either way, it's a great way to spend a few hours.

Yep, a few hours. Suttle is not the quickest game in the world. The 3D and so on is very smooth and fast, but you can't just zip into orbit, dump a satellite and nip back again. Everything takes a while in space, so this is not a game for those who demand constant excitement.

Or indeed, any excitement at all. Shuttle is not an exciting game, it's an intriguing and demanding simulator. It's not even a game as such, more like a learning experience. You constantly get better at following the mission instructions, and should eventually be able to go from one control panel to the next flipping all the right switches. The question is, if you can master this game, would that mean you could fly the real shuttle? Why not give NASA a ring and find out?

So, if you think you've mastered every flight sim on Earth, then try this one and really test yourself. Not for the faint-hearted, but those brave - and rich - enough should ind more than enough to keep them busy.

Shuttle logo

For all of you tech-heads out there who enjoy a challenge, Virgin have come up with the ultimate in technical simulations, Shuttle. Offering you the chance to follow the developments of the amazing NASA spacecraft from its first launch in 1981, Shuttle is incredibly involved and requires a serious amount of commitment on your part to get anything in return.

Since the early days of computer flight simulations, the genre has been dominated by games with over-technical controls which are difficult to follow. This usually limited the gameplay, and meant that only those who had plenty of time and patience could play. SubLogic's Flight Simulator 2 and HiSoft's Proflight are good examples of games that are playable but only when you have spent far too long learning the controls.

With Shuttle, instead of the usual complicated display panel underneath the main view, you have - get this - 26 different control panels, each larger than the monitor screen, so they must be scrolled around. Fortunately, a large printed map of the controls comes with the game and, despite its bewildering appearance, it does actually prove useful.

Also in the package are two manuals: One is a small pamphlet that briefs you on your missions, while the other is a 144-page jobby which tells you almost everything you need to know about flying a NASA shuttle.

Whoops, did I say 'almost'? Well, the fact is that although the main manual is quite informative, covering all the controls, function keys and technical aspects, it doesn't really convey the information most necessary - how to actually pilot the damned thing!

The manuals are very wordy too, with lots of jargon-based phrases that have you searching frantically through the pages for an explanation. For example, what does 'OPS 106 PRO' mean? Or 'ITEM 27 EXEC'? The manual tells you to type such codes fairly often, but finding out what they mean becomes very tedious. The simple addition of a glossary would have saved a lot of trouble. Also, the manuals are littered with spelling errors - 'breaks' instead of 'brakes', 'axis' instead of 'axes', that sort of thing.

Stuck in gear
To compound it all, just as you're about to land the Orbiter, the Mission Guide tells you to press Alt-G to drop the landing gear, whereas the correct command is Ctrl-G. This serves to add to the frustration.

To be fair, the Mission Guide has a good crack at explaining all the details of most of the missions, but it doesn't explain the first in anywhere near enough depth> OK, so the first mission might be fairly easy compared with the others, but it does involve landing - a task that many consider to be the most difficult part of flight simulation.

The authors have ensured that the first mission must be completed before moving on to any others. This is understandable, because the main feature of the real-life shuttle is the fact that it's reusable. Basically, if you can't land it, you can't complete any of the missions. Old hands at flight sims should be just fine, but newcomers will get frustrated.

One giant step...
On the plus side, the graphics are very nice, with all the action displayed via filled 3D polygons. The screen update is not too slow even on a bog-standard A600, so you do get a good response form the movement controls when you actually have the thing in the air.

Most of the commands from the main control panel have equivalent keyboard shortcuts. For instance, the function keys are used to change the viewing angle, while the Control key is used in conjunction with various letter keys to operate parts of the shuttle such as the remote manipulator (the big robot arm thing) ad the speed brakes.

When you think of the time scales involved with sending a shuttle up, and you consider that Shuttle runs almost in real-time, the Time Skip feature becomes very important. This enables you to skip through the bits where nothing happens, to the next set of instructions form Mission Control.

Ten missions are included and follow the history of the Shuttle flights in great detail, ranging form the first test flight and landing to the launching of the Hubble telescope. The attention to detail is so great that the simulated Hubble is damaged in the same way as the real thing, so the next mission is to go and repair it.

Shuttle is the most involved and complicated simulation I've ever played. Just to describe its controls would take a number of pages, never mind the numerous missions and semi-cryptic messages from Mission Control. It's indescribably huge.

If you're an avid NASA follower, then Shuttle is something you should have. If you're a flight sim addict, and feel at home with ProFlight, then this will probably suit you down to the ground. If you're a sometime flight simulation player, who doesn't like getting bogged down with complicated controls, then keep well away or you just might find yourself sending your Amiga into orbit.

Was zuviel ist, ist zuviel!

Shuttle logo

Im Mai zeigte Virgin PC-Astronauten, wie man eine Raumflug-Simulation mit unzähligen Features und Funktionen zu Tode perfektionieren kann - im November dürfen's sich jetzt auch die Amigianer angucken...

Erneut lautet die Diagnose "Unspielbarkeit durch Übersimulation", denn ohne fundierte NASA-Ausbildung hat man kaum eine Chance, mit dem Digi-Shuttle klarzukommen: Das dicke Handbuch verwechselt Deutsch mit Fachchinesisch, und das Programm selbst erstickt förmlich an seiner Detailtreue und Realitätsnähe!

In der Praxis steht der Pilot seiner anspruchsvollen Aufgabe also ziemlich ratlos gegenüber, zumal schon die erste Übung (der Landeanflug) ein Höchstmaß an Fingerspitzengefühl und fliegerischem Geschick verlangt.

Nach ein paar weiteren Testflügen soll man dann bereits mit dem komplexen Instrumentenlandesystem zurecht kommen, Satelliten oder ein Teleskop im Weltall stationieren und defektes Raumgut zur irdischen Reparatur-Werft schleppen. Leute mit besonders geschickten Fingern dürfen auch versuchen, an einem zuvor ausgesetzten Sonnenkollektor herumzumontieren.

Leider wird jedoch die Bedienung durch satte 107 Tastenkombinationen und unheimlich verschachtelte Menüs erschwert; Maus-Betrieb ist zwar möglich, aber wenig hilfreich. Daß die deutschen Screentexte keine Umlaute enthalten, mag ja noch angehen, daß sich Leute ohne Zweitfloppy hier schier zu Tode wechseln, schon nicht mehr.

In punkto Übersicht genügt wohl der Hinweis, daß das Cockpit acht Bildschirme einnimmt! So umfangreich es im Shuttle-Inneren zugeht, so farblos, grob, detailarm und unsäglich langsam ist die 3D-Polygongrafik der Außenansichten. Aber dafür klingt dann das Triebwerksrauschen wieder ungeheuer realistisch... (pb)

Shuttle logo

Delve into the deepness of space with the ultimate in flight simulation.

Outer space. It's a pretty big place. But it means a lot more to mankind than an endlessly expanding blackness peppered with a few mildly interesting stars. It's the Final Frontier. It's about flashing down the Death Star trench with Luke Skywalker. It's the massive shoot-out at the end of Moonraker. It's 2001 - A Space Odyssey. It's Flash Gordon. It's a terrifying journey on the Nostromo with the Alien. It's about going light-speed in the Milennium Falcon and warp-speed on the USS Enterprise. Outer space, not only is it big, it's damned exciting too.

And then there's Shuttle. With all this intense action going on all around, with fictional alien races just waiting, if not begging, to be destroyed, what do we get? A simulation of a jumped-up glider that takes twelve hours to launch (if all goes well) and can barely put a satellite into orbit without causing palpitations at ground control in Houston.

It's hardly the stuff Close Encounters of the Third Kind are made of, but then if you want a realistic simulation of man's first re-usable spacecraft, you certainly came to the right place. The only trouble is, you might end up regretting you ever turned up.

Don't expect too much excitement form Shuttle, after all the craft was only designed to transport cargo into near-Earth orbit (that's between 100 and 217 nautical miles up, fact fans), not to repel alien invaders. You can just imagine the tension as earth comes under attack from swarms of well-armed extra-terrestrial craft,and the shuttle is our last line of defence.

"Er, can you just hold on a minute. Roll-out's going to take seven hours, then we've got five hours on the gantry, so, all being well, we should be able to fight you in about 12 hours time. Is that a date?"

This game, and I use the word in the loosest not-very-much-fun-to-be-had-here-at-all sense, is all about the nitty-gritty and tedious realism of piloting the space shuttle. And yes, if you do have a burning desire to experience the ultimate in mind-numbing simulation, you can sit back and watch for seven hours while the shuttle moves from the hangar to the launch pad.

The game does its best to break you into the gargantuan simulation by giving you a bit of a dolly for the first mission - the shuttle's riding piggy-back on a 747 and you just have to land it. But even so, there are a good few buttons to push as the ship cruises in, and it's all too easy to miss the runway and trash your multi-billion dollar glider.

The game's sensible structure means you have to complete a mission successfully before you're allowed on to the next one, so you have to master the basics. On more advanced missions you're given a break down of your performance in several different areas, and no matter how hard you try, invariably it's the landing that lets you down. 'Shuttle was destroyed on landing'. Now there's one phrase I don't want to see again.

Don't expect too much excitement

Thankfully, like a benevolent school teacher, the game only makes you re-sit the parts of the exam that you failed first time around, so you don't have to go through the lengthy rigmarole every time you slip up on landing.

I've never been a great fan of polygon-based graphics, and Shuttle shows their worst side. Total the ship on landing and you're treated to a not-so-spectacular display of grey-black smoke with occasional bits of shuttle flying from the darkness.

And when you do manage to make it into space, the supposedly awe-inspiring view that has given astronauts more religion than Billy Graham ever could, is a decidedly sad three-colour set-up, with black sky, blue seas and green land. It's all rather disappointingly really.

But when you've stopped admiring the lack of decent views, it's time to press a few more buttons. Messages from ground control tell you what the hell you're supposed to be up to, and on the easier skill levels the simulator automatically switches to the correct panel for the next button push. This is important at the start because there are eight panels to keep you entertained (I think it's one for each of the seven dwarfs and an extra large one for Snow White), all of which have more than one screen's worth of buttons.

And depending on the mission, you have a variety of different buttons to push and clocks to watch. And so it goes on. (Hang on a minute! What's all this 'Snow White' rubbish? - Ed). More missions more buttons, more realism, more cock-ups, more explosions.

Some of the trickier missions, such as repairing the Hubble telescope and attaching a crew model to a solar panel, provide more scope for manual interaction, but they're a pretty slow. Don't expect anything to happen quickly. Apart from the lack of speed in what's being simulated, the game grinds at the disks every time you switch to another control panel - playing on a single-drive machine is an absolute joke.

The space shuttle is such a complex beast that the simulator is necessarily tough to get to grips with (it makes Megafortress look like a shoot 'em-up). Astronauts have years of training before they're even allowed to covet the hallowed shuttle shape, but somehow Vektor and Virgin expect you to climb aboard and fly around without a tutorial. Sure, the manual explains all the buttons do, but it's stuffed full of acronyms, initials and jargon. The game will keep you going for ages, but that's partly because the shuttle's so complicated and the manual does such a bad job of explaining how to control it.

Never having flown a real space shuttle, and never having been into outer space, it's hard to say how well the game recreates the out-of-atmosphere experience. One thing's for certain though - The Earth, moon, seas and continents aren't made out of polygons, so the view would be a lot more inspiring.

As an exercise in by-the-book-button-pushing simulation, Shuttle scores top mark. If it's knobs and switches you want, you got 'em in abundance, but don't expect a game - this is too much like hard work. Ultimately it might be rewarding for Shuttle fans - there's everything they could possibly want, apart from the experience of trying to eat pureed microwave chicken curry from a foil packet in zero gravity - but for the majority of the Amiga-owning population, there just isn't enough fun.


Mission number one is a bit of a doddle. Start on the 747 and end on the runway. Easy.

I told you we'd be able to hitch a lift if we landed on this jumbo. Ooh, hang on, it's nearly time to get off. Next stop please driver.

Next, put on your landing gear. It's yellow lycra hot-pants with a see-through plastic scarlet bodice for me. Alternatively, just flick the two switches.

Don't forget to turn on the head display. Hey I really dig you, head up display. (You're fired - Ed.) Alternatively, just flick the two switches.

And ease the shuttle down for a smooth landing. What could be easier? (Knitting fog - Cynical Ed.) Now it's time to find more buttons to push.

Shuttle logo

Virgin's major new simulator paves the way for Tony Dillon to boldly recite cliches which no man has recited before...

Spaceflight simulations are rather thin of the ground. How many can you think of? UFO from SubLogic perhaps, or Apollo from Accolade? That's about it, I'm afraid, and neither of them were very exciting. The problem is that space flight might be an exciting subject for an arcade blast but full-blown simulations are just too complex to pull off.

Shuttle is a full, hands-on simulation of NASA missions flown in their pride and joy - the world's first reusable manned space craft. It's been more than two years in the making and, to be honest, I don't think anyone is particularly bothered about the Shuttle now anyway - when was the last time you saw live coverage of one being launched? It's simply not on the agenda these days. Despite a possible lack of interest, though, Virgin's new game is an incredible achievement - both technically and in terms of content.

As Pilot and Commander of the Shuttle, your task is to work your way though the ten missions laid out by NASA, ranging from simply landing the Shuttle when launched from the back of a Boeing 747, to repairing satellites and a full instrument landing. These are supposed to range from easy to hard but, to be honest, you'll be lucky if you can get into the cockpit inside the first few hours of playing.

The program is a FULL simulation, unlike most titles (i.e. Thunderhawk, Falcon, Knights of the Sky et al) whereby all you really need to do is point the craft in the right direction, apply a little thrust and off you go in perfectly controlled flight. This is more in the SubLogic vein, where even the tiniest move can be critical, and the smallest miscalculation possibly fatal.

The way the craft responds is apparently perfect, so even landing from a small altitude at a low speed is difficult for the first (dozen) tries. Compare landing the plane in Afterburner to docking in Elite without a docking computer to see what I mean.

An A1 poster displays all the shuttle cockpit controls, and two manuals, one with over 140 pages, detail everything you could possibly need to know about the shuttle's complex and extensive controls. The instrument panel is enormous, spread all around the pilot, and the only way to truly represent it is to split it into six panels, each one nine times the size of the screen. Only the main ones have keyboard equivalents so just learning how to control the bird can take a day or two.

Such complex controls do not make for an easy game. For instance, when coming in to land, searching frantically for the right control button amongst the hundreds of options istn't going to make your life as a pilot very easy, and more often than not the craft will smash into the ground before you're even looking in the right direction. This is where the key commands come into it, but don't think for a moment that these are going to make things any easier.

There are 104 different key commands listed in the manual, ranging from the very simple F10 external view through the Control+G+A to ready the landing gear and Control+G+D to lower it. By mixing key presses with the shift, alternate and control keys, you can run the entire simulation, but who's going to remember so many different combinations to make the sim worthwhile?

But ease of use isn't what this kind of simulation is about. If you want things easy, play Afterburner. This is for the aspiring professional, and although I may have already said a lot of things to put you off, the simulation itself is nothing short of excellent. The attention to detail and realism is staggering. For example, probably the first thing anyone will want to do when loading up this game is watch a launch.

Launching isn't easy (is anything in this game?), so thankfully there's a built-in running demo which takes you through a complete mission, just to show you how it all works. From the launch pad, you can watch the shuttle lift, release the booster rockets (which fall away leaving trails of smoke - a nice touch), fly into orbit complete with stars, release a satellite and then return to good old Mother Earth.

Trying to do the same yourself would be suicide, so the missions are designed to ease you into your new role as a shuttle pilot. The first few missions let you try your hand at launching and landing, and once mastered, you can try positioning and repairing the Hubble telescope, or a full instrument flight, where you fly completely by cockpit information.

By way of a helping hand, there are a variety of autopilots you can use, ranging from no help at all to a feature which finds all the controls you need to use next and highlights them ready for use. Rather than guarantee you instant success, though, these help options are more useful if used as a teaching aid, showing you how to go about things yourself.

If you're the sort of person who likes options, then this is the game for you. The main many has nearly forty options, from setting up the game graphic details to viewing the various parts of the ship, and the in-game menu has over a hundred, letting you jump to any part of the cockpit or choose from a multitude of external views, which range from any point around the craft to looking at different parts of the game world.

And so we come down to the graphics, one of the most important aspects of the game. I have to say I was disappointed initially with the polygons used. Everything looks over-simplified, although not so much as to render objects unrecognizable. What really lets the game down, though, is the speed. Although the real-life shuttle is very fast on screen it looks in danger of being overtaken by a reversing Lada. The rest of the game looks great, though. The control panels are perfectly drawn, and the view into the payload bay is a little spooky, especially when seen in space.

All things considered, Shuttle is a very balanced game. On the plus side, it is an excellent simulation, and it's rare we see so much detail and effort put into this sort of game. On the downside, it no doubt will be a closed door to most people. It's just too hard to get to grips with unless you are completely dedicated to the game. It takes a lot of effort - which does pay off - but I can still only recommend it to enthusiasts.


Between April 12 1981 and January 29 1986, the four Space Shuttle orbiters were flown twenty-five times collectively. Not only was the shuttle a revolution in that it was the first reusable spacecraft, but the launch of Columbia with its two man crew also marked the first time solid fuel rockets were used for a manned launch. In fact, the shuttle continued to prove itself a success, despite numerous delays surrounding each launch. In fact, it only ever lifted off on scheduled launch time once, on June 27th 1982. The fact that faults were found for almost every launch should have been a warning to everybody.

It wasn't, and on the 25th shuttle flight, the Challenger shuttle lifted from the pad and dramatically exploded 1 minute and 13 seconds later, killing the seven crew. The flight had been delayed six times previously due to technical faults and bad weather. The future of the costly shuttle programme has hung in the balance ever since.