Microprose were the kings of simulation, and Airbourne Ranger was another fine example of their brilliance back in the day.
So you won’t be surprised to learn that a sequel was in development… Well, Ratpack was just that, and was being developed by Carl Wade (Gemini Wing, Double Dragon and Stratego programmer) and David Wightman on the C64. David was main programmer on the Amiga/ST, with Scott Walsh on PC.
The game was in development for roughly a year and was fully playable on most of the platforms. David suggests 80% complete on most platforms. There was some pretty neat A.I throughout, you could control 4 teams and pre-script them to walk, wait, attack, stealth, blow-up and more. You could watch the game as an observer with your commands taking place, or jump in and take over a team and play Commando/Arcade style.
Barry Leitch composed the music for the game, or at least the loading music which can be found in HVSC. Because it is the loading tune, it seems there might have been a fair bit of a game produced for any need for music being produced. There however seems to be no in-game tunes anywhere as of yet. David offers hope by having more of Barry’s music on ST drives.
The C64 version was shaping up pretty nicely, but sadly the entire game across all formats was canned due to internal politics between Publisher and Management. In 1992, a quiet sequel to Airbourne Ranger did surface in the form of Special Forces on the Amiga… http://www.lemonamiga.com/games/details.php?id=1591 which was from a new team and done with a completely new codebase.
David suggests that the Amiga/ST versions still exist with most of the artwork, but we are yet to find out about the C64 version. Sadly Carl Wade passed away in 2011 at the young age of 40, so it will be down to hopefully finding someone who may have had a copy of the game running. It could be that this one is lost forever.
So the search begins – can anything of this game be found? Maybe more of the game’s documentation? Watch this space.
Contributions: Barry Leitch, Esa, Hank, David Wightman
David Wightman talks about work on RatPack:
“RatPack was the official sequel to Airborne Ranger2 by Microprose.
There were C64, Amiga and ST versions up and running as well as a PC iteration. Various re-boots of the title exist(ed), the main bulk/team is below.
Amiga/ST: Code David Wightman
C64: was programmed by Lead/Carl Wade (visuals) (RIP) and Secondary/David Wightman (A.I. / convertors and tools)
PC: Scott Walsh
Art: Louise Herd / Jolly
Music: Barry Leitch
This was in development for the good part of a year and was functioning and fully playable on most versions. I’d say 80% complete on most versions. PC version possibly slightly more.
The tech behind the title was pretty advanced for the day with some high level A.I. going on. The player could control 4 teams and pre-script them to walk, wait, attack, stealth, blow-up, rendezvous, return to base etc.. all being automated which allowed you to watch and switch as an observer as the level played out – or jump in and take over one of the teams and play Commando/Arcade style – which clearly played havoc with the scripting.
I remember spending weeks working out how to make the units disappear behind the trees and buildings and had to come up with a fairly elaborate set of graphic routines which created new sprites in real-time from mask layers, bitmaps and character sets. Simple in this day when it’s all on the HW but when you’re manipulating bit-level artwork with an 8/16 bit processor by hand it took a lot of cycles.
Differences between the various versions were the Amiga had full screen scrolling thanks to the Blitter chip, ST had limited screen real-estate due to the need to pre-shift and store background art, PC needed side borders and looked more Alien8(Spectrum) and the C64 version mirrored the ST – minus the scripting element so it played like a Pro version of Capcoms Commando.
The title got tied up in internal politics between the Publisher and management and never saw the light of day with this codebase. Years later a new team was setup/funded and worked on a new iteration of AR2 on Amiga/ST with a completely new codebase.
Code for the Amiga/ST exists along with most of the Artwork.”