Red Baron II and Snoopy Flying Ace

Aces High: Red Baron II and Snoopy Flying Ace

In the Red Baron’s day, flying possessed an exotic romance. Two very different games evoke that era.

By Drew Toal • July 16, 2012

In Decadent, we explore two games united by a common theme and separated by time—specifically, by a decade or so.

It used to be that pilots were something just short of Olympian deities. Charles Lindbergh (if you can disassociate his flying from his ugly politics) and Amelia Earhart were the Zeus and Athena of 1920s America. Accolades were heaped upon them for flying across the ocean in what were essentially lawnmowers with wings. No radar, no amphetamines, not even a Game Boy to pass the time. Nothing but a leather bomber jacket, goggles, and, probably, a pee jar. 

Those glory days of flying are long gone. Military pilots today increasingly spend their time as drone joystick jockeys, launching Hellfire missiles at distant ground targets. It’s a far cry from the era of the Red Baron—the most famous pilot of all time—and his “Flying Circus,” dropping in and out of the sun and trading hot lead with a Sopwith Camel. Baron von Richthofen continues to be a curiosity almost 100 years after his death, and remains one of the more successful examples ever of wartime propaganda. As such, it is sometimes difficult to separate the man from the myth. His 80 confirmed kills are the most by any pilot during the First World War, and the vivid details of his biography—his ostentatious aircraft, the menacing yet aristocratic nickname, his early death—have only added to the legend. He’s sort of like a flying, German Jim Morrison, minus the crooning. The real Baron was a great pilot, but perhaps not quite the high-flying Übermensch made out by both German and British wartime bulletins. 

Red Baron II (Red Baron 3D)

Unlike the Baron, I’m a lousy pilot. I first learned this the hard way playing the 1997 World War I Sierra flight simulator Red Baron II. Before installation, I pictured myself as the living incarnation of Iron Maiden’s “Aces High,” single-handedly defeating the Kaiser and bringing peace to Europe. Hell, while I was at it, I’d fly over to Ypres to strafe a certain goose-stepping Austrian corporal and be back in time for a well-deserved Tom Collins at the officer’s club. Such bravado! But I didn’t win the war. I even was denied the dignity of being shot down. Instead, I found myself regularly stalling out after drifting into an impossible looping maneuver. Or veering into my wingman. My profound misunderstanding of physics and basic aeronautical engineering on my part did Richthofen’s bloody work for him. Like the infantry in the trenches at the Battle Of The Somme, dying dimmed my enthusiasm for the war considerably.

Red Baron II’s campaign brings you to the Western Front between 1916 and 1918. You fly as a French, British, American, or German pilot. Since the United States didn’t officially enter the war until April 1917, starting an American campaign prior to that puts you into the famed “Lafayette Escadrille,” the squadron in which the French placed American pilots who wanted to get into the fight. It was even a racially integrated unit, something that wouldn’t happen in the U.S. Armed Forces until 1948. Way to go, France.

Red Baron II (Red Baron 3D)

A successful campaign requires bombings, escort missions, strafing, and not crashing into things. Players have the option to tinker with the realism level (ordnance, gun jams, G-forces, etc.), and compete with historical aces on the kill boards. The outcome is not predetermined. In fact, the other Western Front aerodromes send out their own missions simultaneous to yours, so you could be on your way to bomb a bridge, and the Red Baron’s squadron might pass you, heading in the other direction, off to lay waste to an Allied fuel depot. 

This gives the game’s world an open feel, and I often found myself just flying around aimlessly. Sometimes, I’d get bored in transit to a waypoint and start shooting wildly at the horizon. After all, I had no real beef with the Baron. We were just a couple of bros trying to get through this crazy, mixed up war of European imperialist aggression. 

The dogfights, when they happen, are stressful affairs (especially if you’ve burned through most of your ammo shooting at nothing). Without heat-seeking missiles or some kind of auto-tracking laser turret, odds are good that the enemy would escape me to fight another day. As for the real-life Baron, his Fokker Dr. 1 triplane was intimidating, but it also made for an enticing target. Richthofen was killed, probably from ground fire, in April 1918 at the age of 25.

Snoopy Flying Ace

The Red Baron, though, lives on as the villain in Snoopy Flying Ace. Released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2010, Snoopy isn’t a flight simulator by any stretch. There’s no way a real plane’s structure would be able to stand the beagle’s penchant for corkscrewing maneuvers. The weapons are not so historically accurate, either—I’m almost positive the Allies didn’t have access to an EMP pulse weapon or molten flail. But where the realistic instruments of Red Baron II practically ensure that I’ll become a grease stain on a Flanders dirt farm, the controls for Snoopy Flying Ace are simplicity itself.

That said, my preferred role of passive war spectator doesn’t really work in Snoopy Flying Ace; the game puts you in the thick of it immediately. Single-player missions pit Snoopy against the Baron, Colonel Lucy Van Pelt, Corporal Pigpen, and the rest of freedom’s animated enemies. The Baron’s wingmen come at Snoopy in waves. After dispatching the first few, the Baron gets annoyed and yells, “Fools! He’s just one beagle!” Yes, Baron. One beagle with a machine gun. 

The good news is that the guns never jam, there is infinite fuel, your wings don’t spontaneously shear off, there is no ground fire (although you man turrets in a few missions), and every downed pilot parachutes to safety. The game’s major drawback is the lack of cockpit view. Unforgivably, you’re denied the satisfaction of getting Col. Lucy or the Baron in your crosshairs, depressing the trigger, and saying, “This one’s for Chuck.”

Snoopy Flying Ace

The character of the Red Baron in Snoopy is more Snidely Whiplash than historical figure, shaking his fist and cursing the incompetence of his minions. In the actual war, the Germans got within a few hours of Paris, but never took the city. In the Peanuts world, the evil Baron has captured the City Of Light and builds his zeppelin dreadnaught in the catacombs beneath. The dogfights around Paris allow you to zoom under the Arc De Triomphe and whip around the Eiffel Tower. It’s a great place to have an air battle, even if it’s taking license with history.

Despite their obvious differences, both games put pilots up on a pedestal, like knights facing off against one another at the Battle Of Agincourt. Success is as much a matter of skill as it is technological superiority.  Snoopy doesn’t win because he has exclusive access to the best guns or biggest bombs; he wins because he’s the most daring and wily pilot in the sky.

Flying has become commonplace since its early days. These games that revisit the Red Baron myth also restore some of flight’s faded romance, by casting it as the rarefied, temperamental craft of talented eccentrics. They remind us of the lesson of Icarus—what pilot-author Beryl Markham poetically captured in her book, West With The Night: “We fly, but we have not ‘conquered’ the air. Nature presides in all her dignity, permitting us the study and the use of such of her forces as we may understand. It is when we presume to intimacy, having been granted only tolerance, that the harsh stick falls across our impudent knuckles and we rub the pain, staring upward, startled by our ignorance.”

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668 Responses to “Aces High: Red Baron II and Snoopy Flying Ace

  1. pico_bmd says:

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Lafayette Escadrille was racially integrated.  Eugene Bullard was the only black aviator on the Allied side during World War One, and he flew with the Lafayette Flying Corps (a slightly different outfit than the Escadrille).

    • Drew Toal says:

      Good catch. You know, I was reading about him in Charles Glass’s Americans in Paris, and confused the two squadrons. Bullard’s is a pretty amazing story, nonetheless. 

  2. Interestingly, the Baron met his end in large part due to a pilot about as skilled as the author — As detailed on a PBS Nova episode a few years back, it appears that von Richthofen’s pursuit of a rookie pilot took him far behind Allied lines at low altitude and across the field of fire of an Australian machine gun battery. Ironically, the Allied pilot’s sketchy flying ability — weaving dangerously at treetop height in a manner no competent pilot would have attempted intentionally — made him a difficult target, and may have frustrated the Baron into unwisely pressing on with his attack.

    • Staggering Stew Bum says:

      I think you’ll find that von Richthofen’s death actually happened like this (skip to 2:15):


    • Merve says:

      The funny thing is that north of the border up in Canuckistan, Roy Brown, the man credited with shooting down the Baron, is considered a national hero. I don’t mean to disparage Brown in any way; I’m sure he was a brave man who proudly served his (my) country. But it’s interesting how much history, particularly war, rests on luck and chance.

      •  The Nova program covered Brown and his experiences — He at first attempted to express some uncertainty about whether he had fired the decisive shots, but eventually got swept up in the whole PR blitz, and seemed in the end to sincerely believe the hype.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I have found out that stating that the Australian shot down the Red Baron is met with grim grumbling in Canada. It may not be the only war-achievement of this country, in fact there are many that greatly overshadow shooting down a single plane, but it seems to be one of the most dearly held.

        • bunnyvision says:

          In Canada, people (especially older people) like to think of themselves as the Heroes of the Great War. Much is made of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. Schoolchildren recite In Flanders Fields every Nov 11 and wear bright red poppies.

          It is a national obsession.

        • caspiancomic says:

          I had actually never heard before that a Canadian “officially” (?) shot down the Red Baron, but that’s pretty groovy, if true (which, I mean, come on). My personal history of education in Canadian wartime feats of strength mostly consists of learning that Juno Beach was the most difficult of the landing points on D-Day, and other such arguably untrue but pleasantly patriotic tidbits.

        • DevinC says:

          As a Canadian with an Australian father, I can say that (as of 20 years ago) in the Canadian War Museum, only Brown is credited, while in the Australian War Memorial (which includes a museum) both Brown and the Australian ground crew received credit.  

          Now if I can just get my fellow Canadians to recognize that many of Billy Bishop’s confirmed kills were actually confirmed by Bishop himself, and that there’s no actual evidence that he conducted a solo raid on a German aerodrome at all, I’ll be happy.

  3. Enkidum says:

    Snoopy Flying Ace is an incredibly satisfying game – totally unrelated to real flying (or history), as the article notes, but just a joy at times. But I believe it’s an Xbox exclusive, and I’m not paying for Xbox live because I’m just not. So I can’t do multiplayer, which I would imagine is the real draw. The single player campaign is fun but very short, and now there’s nothing left for me to do with it.

    If you do have Xbox Live, and don’t have this game, I would definitely suggest you change that. It’s like a really, really cute Halo in the air.

  4. EmperorNortonI says:

    I remember playing the original Red Baron quite a while ago.  The mid 90’s were the glory days of PC flight games, ranging from the realistically wonky Falcon 3.0 to the cartoonish space-fighter game Wing Commander on the other end, and with all kinds of things in-between.  I played the heck out of these games back in the day.  I beat Wing Commander and its first expansion (the second was HARD), but couldn’t hack the bombing missions in Wing Commander 2, and never had a machine good enough to run video-heavy 3 and 4.  X-Wing and Tie Fighter, on the other hand, were just awesome.  And hard.  Especially X-Wing – I don’t think I know anyone who actually beat X-Wing honestly.  I remember one mission in the final campaign, the one that leads up to the Death Star assault (side note – a really cool thing about the game was that the majority of the game was set before the events of the first movie), where you have to wait for a stupid shuttle to dock with another stupid shuttle, a mind-numbingly slow process that took at least 5 minutes, while nearly 100 bloody Imperial Gunboats pop in and douse them with torpedoes.  You have a single wingman to help.  Tie Fighter was a big improvement, with its multiple objectives and more reasonable levels of difficulty.  

    Red Baron was a lot of fun, but actually accomplishing the missions was nearly impossible.  I remember one that seemed really cool in principle, hunting a Zeppelin, that was insanely hard in practice.  You couldn’t just drop a bomb on it, no, you had to shoot out each of its motors, with pinpoint accuracy, and brave hellish MG fire in the process.  I never got one.

    I never understood why this genre simply died out.  It may have had something to do with the console takeover, or the rise of shooters.  But the genre just disappeared, and hasn’t really been replaced by anything comparable.

    • Two things: high barrier of entry (not everyone ‘enjoys’ crashing multiple times while learning to fly) and a generation or two where there was no flight sim killer app like a Halo or Goldeneye.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        Other games with complex and steep learning curves however seem to thrive, at least in a fairly large niche market, such as Crusader Kings 2.
        The lack of a killer app however seems dead on. Combat Flight Sims didn’t have a Doom, so now we’re stuck with flying a Prius around Hawaii with nothing to shoot at.

    • stakkalee says:

      I don’t think the genre died out per se, more like it shrunk to an appropriate size. There are still good flight simulator games out there, but that’s what they are, flight sim.  Red Baron and games like it are probably more appropriately called flight combat simulators, trying to balance the “reality” of controlling a plane with the “video game” goal of defeating your opponents.

      I have a couple friends who are into flight simulator games, one of them to the point that he dropped a couple hundred bucks on a joystick-style controller with pedals and knobs and whatnot.  He likes to spend his weekends flying between virtual cities in real-time, which is, shall we say, dedicated?

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        I buy my dad a fairly cheap Joystick for father’s day whenever he needs a new one. He looooves Flight sims, largely because he used to fly planes until he had a crash. He has trouble walking now and actual planes are really expensive to rent, so he uses flight sims to fly around his favorite cities and what have you.

        Those are the only games he’ll play though. I understand some people can get really into them though. Like playing online as an air traffic control person clearing planes for landing and takeoff and stuff. Shit’s crazy.

        • stakkalee says:

          Yeah, my friend with the joystick does flight sims because he wants to be a pilot, and as you say, renting a plane is expensive.

          I was going to mention something about the online air traffic control guys – blew my mind when my friend told me about them.  It’s one thing to fly your own plane in a flight sim, but playing an “air traffic controller” game strikes me as one of the more masochistic pastimes I could imagine.  Of course, YMMV.

        • Effigy_Power says:

          I think it’s the same fascination as model trains. The ability to accurately (or as much as possible) recreate reality and imagining to be a real part of this. There are tons of really strange simulators out there (Bus-driving, anyone?).
          Mind you, online-flight controller has to be one of the craziest things I have ever heard. Not bad crazy, just flabbergastingly crazy.

        • blue vodka lemonade says:

           My dad’s never flown a real plane, but he loves flying between dinky little airports in MS Flight Simulator because he’s been to them in real life.

          I wonder what proportion of people who really like realistic flight sims have really piloted a plane. It’s pretty amazing that a game could give somebody the chance to indulge a real-life, super-expensive interest for a couple hundred dollars. Realistic sims are just too hard and the controls are too deep for most people, but it’s that realism that makes them so appealing to those who love them.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      In addition to the prequel I mentioned, there is a plain-but-fun flying game called The Sky Odyssey for the Playstation 2.

      Gunners Heart is an okay fan game that’s much more like the Space Harrier series than Panzer Dragoon or this. SkyGunner, on the other hand, is 1 of the best Playstation 2 games.  It’s not a simulation (check Rock, Paper, Shotgun or Out Of 8 for those), but it is somehow 10 times more charming than Peanuts.

      • Destroy Him My Robots says:

        I think Gunners Heart would have been great if only the weapons were balanced a bit better. I think you basically just had to switch between the lightning strikes and the giant drills between levels and it got nearly impossible to fail (maybe also the vector cannon from ZOE2? It’s been a while). It’s probably still one of my top 3 doujin games.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.  I don’t want to say that they made it just to spend more time in that world, but it was much less gameplay-centric than a lot of dojin shoot-’em-ups.  They’re typically the most severe of homemade games.

    • Kahoutek says:

      X-Wing was the game that made me actually go buy a sound card.  Hearing the screaming TIE-Fighter noise and the laser cannons was a whole new level of immersion, and fulfilled all my childhood fantasies of being Luke Skywalker.

      I think the games F-19 Stealth Fighter and Aces of the Pacific were the best games that perfectly treaded that thin line between hardcore simulator and arcade action.  Not so realistic that you were stalling every two minutes, but not so easy that you could bounce off the side of a mountain.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I remember having to disable the Millennium Falcon in Tie Fighter. It was easily one of the hardest mission I remember. You jumped into the system and the Falcon was charging up its hyperdrive, only seconds away from escaping. You had to approach it at full burn and then accurately disable its engines.

        I generally miss the space-shooter genre. Starlancer and Freelancer were real fun, and Descent:Freespace was my first PC game.

        • MoonlessNova says:

          Genuinely, and I know this has been asked often, but is there anything out there now or in the last five years which is similar enough to Freespace 2   to play the crap out of. 

          Does Freelancer still hold up?

        • Effigy_Power says:

           No, @MoonlessNova:disqus, it doesn’t. I mean, it’s a fun game and all, with quite a few things to do, but it’s nowhere near Freespace 2.

      • George_Liquor says:

        Are you me? You’re me, aren’t you? I scrimped & saved for months to but a Sound Blaster card for my 386, just to hear the sound effects in X-Wing. Hearing that MIDI Star Wars theme playing over the opening crawl for the first time blew my little mind.

        I also played the hell out of F-19 and later F-117 Stealth Fighter. What a thrill it was flying between radar installations and SAM sites deep in enemy territory, then popping up to lob a smart bomb and high-tailing it out of there before the enemy could respond!

        • Scott says:

           I loved all the Microprose simulators, all the way back to F-15 Strike Eagle on the Apple 2c.  I was actually playing that game and bombing Libya (I think) when Reagan bombed Khaddafi in ’86!  I also liked the Apache simulators and such but I kind of stopped playing them as the simulations got more and more complicated and less fun (probably by the time the first Pentiums came out).

    • Logoboros says:

      I don’t understand how LucasArts hasn’t released an updated X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter game. It seems like a sure thing. And the great thing about space dogfighters is that there’s no gravity so “realism” problems with just flying effectively go away.

      Of course, if they did, they’d probably make it one of these over-the-shoulder view arcade-style games instead of a proper cockpit-and-crosshairs experience.

  5.  Man, this article makes me miss Crimson Skies.

  6. evanwaters says:

    What’s also fun is the old Atari 2600 Snoopy and the Red Baron game. The controls are pretty smooth and damage is shown as bullet holes on your doghouse- it’s well put together in addition to being super cute.

  7. Cornell_University says:

    I have nothing to add, as I have always been atrocious at any flying games not named Captain Skyhawk, but I would like to mention that I love those twittering noises Woodstock makes.  Singlehandedly makes it worth watching those moribund Peanuts specials.  I may be making it my ringtone when I get out of work (STAY TUNED).

  8. bunnyvision says:

    It’s all about SKY KID, especially the arcade version- . Player 1 is the Red Baron and player 2 is named after the Blue Max. Plus, if promo materials are to be believed, you are both birds in airplanes. Your mission: to pick up an enormous bomb on the battlefield and explode the living hell out of your enemies. Three dancing girls cheer cheer your landing. If you shoot them, they turn into maneki nekos. The theme song is infectious.

    In short, it’s the perfect game.

  9. Edmund Lee says:

    At the risk of sounding like Arnold Rimmer; I don’t think your view of the Battle of Agincourt is accurate. Yeomanry dominated the battle. The knights were mostly butchered by arrows or trampled by fleeing horses. That is according to my dim recollection of primary school anyway.