Why Russia?

Because they're the best. You have to ask?
The old California

When the Navy commissioned the attack submarine California over the weekend, some of the remarks gave tribute to an earlier namesake, BB-44, seen here in a photo before World War II.

The battleship California was one of the ships sunk at Pearl Harbor. She was in relatively shallow water, however, and was resurrected and refurbished. Like most battleships in the latter stages of the war, she was used primarily as a gun platform, supporting American landings in the Pacific. She was scrapped a few years after the war.

The present day California packs a hell of a wallop herself, thanks to the cruise missiles that can be launched from her torpedo tubes. Her range is further, she can stay hidden for weeks and weeks, and she's faster submerged than BB-44 ever dreamed of being.

Still, you have to love the old ship. Check out those "control tower" masts above the superstructures. (Removed when the ship was refurbished after the attack.)

An interesting footnote - the new California is based on the East Coast.

Worried about China?

Should you be?

Everything you ever wanted to know about China, but didn't know to ask, here. (The page is formatted as a pdf file, so it may take a bit to load.)

By my friend and collaborator, Larry Bond, and Chris Carlson.

Just because . . .

(It's an exercise. If you look really carefully at the end, you can see the city or maybe the base lit up in the distance. What I love is the guy with the camera. That and the candy wrappers...)
Victory by any other name . . .

I keep seeing stories about how the U.S. "lost" the war in Iraq.


I'm not exactly sure what sort of strange criteria people are using to define victory these days. While I understand that one can examine the concept of war and victory from philosophical and theological points of view and arrive at complex conclusions, that's not what's going on here. The people claiming the war was "lost" are about as deep and meaty as Cap'n Crunch cereal.

I realize that Iraq is hardly a model of successful nation-building, and that Iran is likely to step up its interference. Sectarian violence will surely increase, at least in the short-term. But by any objective measure, the place is not the hellhole it was five years ago - or, for that matter, during the last years of Saddam.

Look, if you want to make the criteria for "winning" a war that the place has to look like New Jersey when you leave, no war has ever been won. Even New Jersey didn't look like New Jersey at the end of the American Revolution, and no one is saying we lost that one.

If you want to argue that the U.S. should stay in Iraq for another decade - go ahead and make your argument. Just don't claim that the war will have been "lost" if we don't.

Sometimes having it your way . . .

. . . isn't enough.


An unhappy Taco Bell customer firebombed a Georgia fast food joint after finding there wasn't enough meat in his XL Chalupas, police say.

Story here.

How good was Bradley?

That's a question that keeps coming up when I do interviews - people want to rate Bradley as a general.

That's difficult to do, not because the record is ambiguous - his record is pretty extraordinary - but because it's really hard to know what criteria to use in "rating" him.

What part of his job are we talking about? His tactical ability? His organizational skills? His leadership?

One criteria that's seldom used - and yet is critical for someone commanding an army group as Bradley did - is how well he collaborated with his immediate lieutenants. And yet it can determine the outcome not of a mere battle but an entire war. Think of Rommel - by just about everyone's reckoning a brilliant general - and Rundstedt in France. Clearly, a more successful collaboration might have held the Allies in check at least a little longer in Normandy.

Think of Patton and Alexander (or Montgomery) in Sicily - another poor collaboration. A close examination shows good collaboration between general officers is more rare than sound tactical judgement.

How does Bradley rate on those grounds?

My friend Jonathan Jordan wrote an excellent book on the relationship between Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton. (You can find it at Barnes & Noble, among other places.) I wonder if another book on the relationship between Bradley and his sub-commanders - Patton, Hodges, Simpson and Gerow - might not yield just as many insights. Patton of course we know, but Hodges in particular has been largely overlooked by historians. And neither Simpson nor Gerow has had a lot of attention lately, either.

Frankly, most people have tended to make their evaluations of Bradley based on emotions that have nothing to do with his actual performance. If they've decided Patton, say, is a great general because his personality appeals to them, they will tend to view Bradley as an accessory (at best) to Patton's greatness. If they've decided (against all evidence) that Montgomery was a great general, then they'll (usually) denigrate Bradley, who had little use for him.

It's human nature to try and rate other people, but often the process tells us more about ourselves than those we're trying to rate.
Speaking of robots . . .

Robots have played an important role in all of the Dreamland books, whether you're talking about aircraft or small interchangeable units (somewhat similar to the DRS units in the video below, except better because they're fiction).

Which reminds me - the next installment of Dreamland Whiplash - Raven Strike - will be in stores November 29.
Tomorrow's grunt . . .

. . . or maybe the grunt's helper.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon posts

Some people asked for a list of relevant (and irrelevant) posts relating to Assault Horizon - here are a few:














There's also some more information about the process and some other miscellaneous on my website, www.jimdefelice.com

Interestingly enough, the most popular post seems to have had to do with blowing up Dubai.


Guess I won't be invited back there any time soon...

Bleeding journalism dry

Saw a good column in the NYT today:
Forget about occupying Wall Street; maybe it’s time to start occupying Main Street, a place Gannett has bled dry by offering less and less news while dumping and furloughing journalists in seemingly every quarter.
(Full story, definitely worth reading, here.)

The column makes the case more eloquently than I could. I still like to read newspapers and think they're important, but what's happened to them over the past decade kills me.

What I'm reading . . .

"I never wanted to write the best books in the history of literature," says Robert Gleason, "only the ballsiest."

Hmmm... well let's see. He's got the Apocalypse. He's got an Apache who's seen the end of the world, he's got an intricately described submarine, a minister with a seriously sadistic bent, and just for laughs a shock jock . . . what more could he need?

Well, the hero of this book, if hero is the right word, is a talking rat.

Ballsiest doesn't begin to describe it.

This is a wild and scary vision. I'm not sure if it's a warning or an actual vision of the future emailed back through time. Either way, it'll keep you up at night. Think "The Public Burning" meets "Moby Dick" meets "Red Storm Rising," as written by Vonnegut. Maybe with a little artificial help on the side.

Entertaining and then some . . . a must read.

(You can check it out on B&N here, and elsewhere. Bob's website is at http://www.robertgleasonbooks.com/)

I've been told to give myself up


I almost seem coherent here ... the editor is a genius.

(Apologies for the bad words.)
More Apache acrobatics . . .

As you can see, this vid is even better than the one I posted the other day.

The question is: Can your Apache do this?
About time

Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top U.S. military and intelligence leaders delivered a tough warning to Pakistan on Thursday to cut suspected ties with militant groups which have upset relations between the uneasy allies. Clinton led a heavyweight U.S. team at talks in Islamabad to press Pakistani counterparts on U.S. accusations that Pakistan assists militants who launch attacks on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border and increasingly threaten U.S. interests.

More here.

Truly, this is ultimately in Pakistan's interest as well.

On the edge of something . . .

They were running some sort of promotion yesterday and the most recent paperback of the Red Dragon series hit some ridiculous number, like three, on Amazon.

For like two seconds. And if you bought it with a couple of other books, chanted hymns to the moon goddess, and hopped around on one foot. Or something.

I guess it was a good deal.

To be serious for a moment, than you, humbly, for buying it.

Book three is due out soon, and we're working on book four.

Reality & fiction

Possibly the biggest public fallout from the Iranian plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat in the U.S. has come from foreign policy "experts" who can't believe they would be so stupid.

The incredulity runs along these lines, as expressed by Afshon Ostovar in Foreign Policy:

Given the Quds Force's modus operandi, it is odd that its commanders would entrust an unprecedentedly brazen attack against a foreign diplomat on U.S. soil to a former used-car salesman and Mexican drug-cartel hit men. Manssor Arbabsiar, the Iranian expatriate at the center of the plot, bears no resemblance to a covert operative, and any personal or familial connections he may have with Quds Force commanders does not explain his apparent role in facilitating the operation. The Quds Force also has no known connections with Mexican drug cartels, and enlisting them to carry out the terrorist attack runs counter to the Quds Force's established pattern of working with long-standing, trusted contacts.
Finally, and perhaps most puzzlingly, the plot does not seem to fit Iran's larger strategic objectives, whether regarding its relations with the United States, its relations with Saudi Arabia, or its relations with the international community. It makes little sense that Iranian authorities would choose such a drastic, extreme measure at this time, especially when such an act would do little to advance Iran's prevailing goals, would assuredly provoke a harsh response by the United States, and would further tarnish Iran's already poor global reputation. No matter how one looks at it, it is difficult to imagine how such an act would not severely jeopardize the security of the Iranian regime. If maintaining power and stability is what is driving Iran's current leadership, such an attack would be of no apparent value.
(Story here.)
Now I don't know anything about this plot and whether it really was anything more than creative (or uncreative) thinking on the part of the individuals or even the agents who were tracking it. But I can say that in real life, absurd wishful thinking and whacked (not in a good sense) plotting is more than the norm that nearly everyone thinks.
We all have this vision of our enemies being outrageously powerful and intelligent. It ain't so. And for the record, we ain't so perfect either.

I have to say that as far as Quds Force goes - I don't know where anyone got the idea that they're models of efficiency and professionalism. Maybe by comparison with a few other groups in the region. But that's not really the point.
The funny thing is that, if you're writing fiction, you are constantly having to make both the bad guys and the guys look a hell of a lot more competent than they would be in real life. It's ironic - real life is so cliched and accidental that it's unbelievable when you write about it.


Some day I want to publish a book with a picture of a guy smoking a cigar on the cover, too.

(That would be Curtis LeMay, one of the architects of American air power, both during and after World War II. You can find a bunch of stuff here. The Facebook formatting is a bit weird, at least on my browser, but you can get over to a free chapter if you look around a bit.)

Once upon a time - last week - publishers kept sales figures a closely guarded secret, even from authors. Royalty statements came every six months (usually), and were notoriously difficult to decipher.

But the age of transparency has dawned. And perhaps prodded by Amazon -- or so suggests the authoritative industry email newsletter and website Publisher's Lunch/Publisher's Marketplace - Simon and Schuster has opted to present authors with as much up-to-date information as possible.

From the email newsletter:

As a timely answer to the NYT's awe on Monday that Amazon gives authors "direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data" (in very small slices, mind you), Simon & Schuster has formally announced their new Author Portal. A "principal feature," called My Sales, gives both authors and agents "access to the most recent and life-to-date sales information for all the active print, audio and electronic editions of their Simon & Schuster titles." And the data dashboard shows granular information for "national accounts, online booksellers, mass merchants and other retailers, aggregated by channel."
CEO Carolyn Reidy says in the release, "The portal reflects our determination to give our authors the resources they need and want in order to make publishing with us a positive experience, and to partner with them in making their publications the success that they deserve to be." Other features are designed to help authors build better online platforms and enhance their usage of social media.

You can subscribe to Publisher's Lunch here.

Of course, one can only wonder how many authors will be checking the site every hour, whether the sales figures update that often or not.

Could we be jailed for this?

Much has been made of how realistic the urban settings are in Ace Combat - and for good reason, as you can see if you play the game. (Several players have reported winging by their homes or their parents' homes in Miami . . . always nice if you give mom the high sign with a barrel roll.)

But it's not just the famous cities. The war sites are based on actual places as well.

At one point, you take on a high-value target that is based grid by grid on the real thing. Except that the real thing is top secret. (Hint: it's not on the water, and if the mission fails, very bad things follow. Or would in real life.)

But since the real life analogue is top secret, I wonder if we could get prosecuted as spies.

Maybe I better call legal counsel . ..
Home improvement (??)


An Everett woman is under arrest after police say she took an electric saw to her husband's head and neck.Everett Police said the 36-year-old man woke up last Friday to a reciprocating saw cutting his neck and his wife standing above him.
As officers arrived they heard the man shouting, "You tried to cut my head off. You're going to jail." 

Sawzills can do anything. Still, there are some jobs a homeowner shouldn't tackle on her own.

And while we're talking helos . . .

Some equal time for my personal favorite . . .

The answer really is yes . . .

. . . about the Apache and its flight capabilities:

I can't embed the video here, but if you click on the link, you'll see.


Now, would you do this in real combat? More than once? Those are other questions entirely . . .

(For some reason, this happens to be the most popular question I'm asked about the game. Note that the video is from the 1980s. And, uh, about that armor plating . . .)
Brad and Ultra

One of the more interesting - though admittedly arcane - debates about World War II has been the degree to which Ultra intelligence was used by the Allied commanders as they set their battle plans.

General Omar Bradley, as the chief American commander on the ground, has at times been criticized for relying on it too strongly. The problem with this criticism is that there's really only one battle where you might make that case, and there it's more by what he doesn't do than what he does - the Bulge.

(Without getting too deep into it, the argument is that his reliance on Ultra led him to miss the German buildup before the Bulge, which was done largely without radio communication, and thus provided no Ultra data. The counter to that is the fact that the intelligence maps and other data prepared without Ultra demonstrate not only that the relevant intelligence units failed to pick up the buildup, but show pretty clearly that they thought substantial German units were located where Bradley did expect an attack. So he basically did what you would expect him to do anyway.)

One thing that hasn't been written about - and I didn't get into very deeply in Omar Bradley: General at War - was how Bradley handled Ultra intelligence. One of his aides told me a story recently that illustrates not only his care with the intelligence, but Bradley's personality . . . and sense of humor.

During the Normandy operations - this would have been after the Americans were established but before the breakout - Ultra indicated that there would be an attack by a fairly substantial German unit. Bradley went and had dinner with the division commander. (Dinner at that point was probably little more than C rations, but I digress. . .)

While they were talking, Bradley said, without prelude, "So, would you like some tanks?"

"Tanks?" said the commander. "Sure."

The tanks came up, the Germans attacked, and whether the division commander thought it was a happy coincidence or Bradley had a crystal ball is not recorded.

Bradley told that story years later to his aide, smiling all the time. "Would you like some tanks?"

The only question I have is what he would have said if the commander had turned him down. . . .  Probably fired him, I would guess.

Skating past history . . .

Hard to believe, but they're closing the Canadian Air and Space Museum to build an ice rink.

Well, four ice rinks, actually.

The Toronto museum has had some hard times recently, but is a wonderful repository for WW II (and other aviation) history. Now it may be history. they were evicted and given six months to move on.

One story here. Another here.  (I haven't been able to find recent updates.) Among the museum's assets is a very pretty Lancaster, but what's probably more important are the literally thousands of smaller images and items that make up the real fabric of history. Cool planes get us through the doors; the other items teach us.

The Canadian air force's role in World War II is not well known, even inside Canada. I'm not the one to be explaining it, but this sure isn't going to help.
A new take on the mile-high club

Now that airlines have cracked down on restroom activities, would-be club members are going to great heights to join . . .
American Sniper

Got a good blurb for American Sniper, due out next January. It's the nonfiction story of a real American hero, a SEAL sniper who did some incredibly amazing things in Iraq.

Can't wait to get that book out.
The music . . .

. . . in Ace.
What would I fly . . .

. . . in Ace Combat Assault Horizon if I had my choice of choices?

It's a MiG-17, which I've always liked for its old-school looks and solid performance. A better aircraft than the 15, but still very much an old school stick and rudder beast. Its gun radar was actually pretty good - it had been cribbed from an American unit - but that was about the extent of advanced avionics.

(If I can't drive the MiG, I'll take Bishop's F-22, even over the PAK-FA, another dream machine.  And just to quell the rumor before I start it: There are NO plans for a MiG-17 or other old iron in the game.)

Make metal bleed

Speaking of missions - it would appear that players have not only completed the game once but posted videos of just about every mission on YouTube . . . while I continue to struggle along.

I bow to your greatness. You guys are unbelievable, both in skill and enthusiasm. May only the wind and your wingman always be at your back.

(The vids are worth checking out if you're into the game and like playthroughs, but I'm not going to post them because of the spoiler potential. They're pretty easy to find.)
Assault Horizon - the scripted planes

(Slight spoiler alert)

I'm going to try to do this without spoiling anything, but if you're hyper-sensitive to that, skip until you've gone through the game once . . .

Since it's supposed to follow real life, the story in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon has the American squadron flying specific planes at specific times. Some players may be interested in what they are and a bit of explanation.

In real life, the squadron would be assigned an aircraft type (duh) and stick with that type for a while. The type is matched to the unit's job -- a squadron with F-15Cs (single-seat Eagles) would be tasked for interception of other fighters, etc. In the case of a unit stationed where the game opens, they would have a versatile aircraft optimized primarily for ground-pounding, but capable of dealing with early generation fighters as well. That basically means F-16s for the Americans.

Flying the same plane for an entire game would be boring, of course, so I wrote a natural progression - which just so happens to involve "better" aircraft as you go - for the game. ("Better" is always a relative term in real life, though; the intricacies could fill a book, but basically there are plenty of places where a mission commander would prefer to have an A-10A rather than an F-22.) The changes in the aircraft type are actually covered in dialogue in the game, though admittedly you may miss them if you go through quickly.

The essential sequence for Bishop is this: you start out flying single-seat F-16s, which are versatile lightweight fighters capable of both air-to-air and air-to-ground action. At some point - I'm going to be vague in the interests of not giving away the plot - you move to aircraft optimized for high-speed interception: F-15s. Then as the enemy ratchets up, you would be supplied with the current alpha dog of the fighter world, the F-22.

Having said that, there is one attack mission where I would definitely pilot an A-10A, even though the story dialogue is not written that way. (It just wasn't realistic to have the pilots take that one-time shift there.) My choice has everything to do with fun as opposed to the suitability to the mission. And there's another mission where, if I was looking to fly an aircraft such as the featured F-4E (hint) or maybe a successor (another hint), I would substitute that. (Again, I'm going to be mysterious in the interests of trying not to ruin the game for anyone.)

I think the other storyline choices are probably pretty obvious. There is a bombing mission that was written for a B-1 as may be obvious once you look at the specific physics involved.

The beauty of a game, though, is that you don't have to pay attention to any of that. Personally, I would encourage players to use whatever plane they want wherever they want - hell, that's the idea of this. You want to take on the PAK-FA with a Warthog, more power to you. (You'd have to be pretty good to beat it, but I'm sure there are plenty of fans out there who can. For the record, I get my butt whipped by the worst enemy even when I'm in the best interceptor.)

I have a definite sequence in mind using European fighters (it's actually in the game details). And coming up with Russian alternatives is easy, too. But we'll save all that for another time . . .

Red Sox blues . . .

Big story in the Boston Globe about the Red Sox collapse, blaming it on lousy attitudes. From the story:

Drinking beer in the Sox clubhouse is permissible. So is ordering take-out chicken and biscuits. Playing video games on one of the clubhouse’s flat-screen televisions is OK, too. But for the Sox pitching trio to do all three during games, rather than show solidarity with their teammates in the dugout, violated an unwritten rule that players support each other, especially in times of crisis.
Sources said Beckett, Lester, and Lackey, who were joined at times by Buchholz, began the practice late in 2010. The pitchers not only continued the routine this year, sources said, but they joined a number of teammates in cutting back on their exercise regimens despite appeals from the team’s strength and conditioning coach Dave Page.

(Story. You need to register.)

My question, though, is: If crappy focus and selfishness were such big factors - the way people are talking, they are the reasons, period - why didn't the media pick up on this earlier?

I'm not blaming the media for the problem, and I don't even know the team well enough to say it was the problem. But I do wonder why it wasn't reported. It couldn't have been too much of a secret if it's being reported now.

Some extra thanks

Video games like Ace Combat: Assault Horizon are a massive enterprise, with literally hundreds of people involved, most of whom are never seen by players.

In our case, the development of Ace was led by Mr. Kazutoki Kono, who directed the Project Aces team. You can read more about him and his thoughts, as well as meet some of the principal team leaders and other important folk, at this link here: http://ah.acecombat.jp/#/aircraft4 (The text is in Japanese; I'm not aware of an English version yet. Google Translate does a passable job under the circumstances, though obviously it's very much a machine translation.) The entire team all worked incredibly hard on the game, even pulling off an incredible string of near-24/7s for a month down the stretch.

Besides commending the team, I'd like to single out a few unsung heroes who personally helped me. Several people acted as translators, interpreting my American English into Japanese for the team, and vice versa. They have other roles at the company and will no doubt appear in the game credits for them, but I'd like to note my own acknowledgement and thanks. Not only did they have to decipher my extremely idiomatic English, but they also had to be learn and translate a variety of technical terms and concepts. And they often did this during long meetings and at odd hours.

The three most important translators for me in Japan were James Vance, Sum Tak Hau, and Norinobu Yoshioka. They were all extremely gracious and patient, most especially during our late night/early morning sessions. They were all full of good humor, especially Nori, who kept us all entertained with jokes and even tried to teach me a Japanese pun or two.

As I say, all have other jobs at the company - James, for example, was a developer and manager in his own right - but they worked overtime to help make our communications smooth.

(Yes, all three were generally present during the sessions - obviously I'm not that easy to understand...)

On the American side, Minako Takahashi took considerable pains to make sure that I understood the team and vice versa.

I owe all of them, as well as the rest of Project Aces and Namco Bandai, a huge thank you.

Fiction or prediction . . .

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Amazingly close to the next Rogue Warrior . . .

Was it . . . is it . . .
Assault Horizon is here

Have at it!

Exasperation is mainstream and Main Street

What do "Wal-Mart moms" think? Peggy Noonan:

Who are the culprits behind our economic calamity? "The banks and the people who took the loans." But more the banks, because they had, as one woman put it, "the authority." When they gave out the loans, people thought "it must have been OK." People were "lured in" by the banks—don't worry, home values will keep going up—which pocketed the fees and kept walking. 
People lampoon the Occupy Wall Street movement as a bunch of marginal freaks, but these women from the heart of the country shared a basic resentment: The banks got bailed out, everyone else was left holding the bag.

From Noonan's column in the Wall Street Journal Saturday. (I don't think you need a subscription for this article.)


An absurdly inaccurate account of the invasion of Sicily by U.S. and British forces. But the images are pretty cool.

This operation is one of the most misunderstood of World War II. Even the few books that detail the battle in any serious depth have trouble analyzing the military moves, pulling back at several key instances. Yet the actions of the commanders is pretty much  guide to how the generals performed through the rest of the war, and the size of the operation makes it significant in and of itself.

Who is Colonel Bishop?

A few notes on where the inspiration for some of the characters in Assault Horizon came from: http://www.jimdefelice.com/Assault_Horizon_Peo_LTKZ.html

Of course, since you play as some of them, they're really more the players' creations than mine. Which is the beauty of games. Or one of the beauties.

Blood will flow, planes will fly . . .

Ace Combat Assault Horizon has some special heat tonight as part of some mixed martial arts action on Spike and MTV2. A special extra-long preview of the game is planned to air with the shows; there'll be tie-ins with the matches as well.

Times and information from the press release: 

8 – 9PM (EST)
5 – 6PM (PST)

9 – 11PM (EST)
6 – 8PM (PST)

Come for the matches, stay for the furball . . .

(In case you're wondering, these aren't part of the Rogue Warrior mixed martial arts championship series.)

Living your beliefs?

Saw this in the paper of record this morning:

Some Unemployed Find Fault
in Extension of Jobless Benefits

Dan Tolleson, a researcher and writer with a Ph.D. in politics, has been out of work since 2009, except for brief stints as a driver. Still, he opposes President Obama’s call for Congress to renew extensions on unemployment benefits.

“They’re going to end up spending more money on unemployment benefits, while less money is coming in on tax returns,” he said, suggesting that the government should focus on measures that might encourage businesses to hire. “Far better to relax some of these outrageous regulations.”

Make no mistake — Mr. Tolleson, 54, has collected unemployment checks, saying he had little choice. But his objection to a policy that would probably benefit him shows just how divisive the question has become of providing a bigger safety net to the long-term jobless, a common strategy in recessions.

Which kind of begs the question - if you think it's a bad idea, why are you taking my money in the first place?

The story claimed that a fourth of all people receiving unemployment insurance think the concept is a bad idea. So maybe a lot of people shouldn't be taking my money.

(I pay unemployment insurance though it would be nearly impossible for me to collect it. I don't begrudge those who have lost a job and want the help - it's little enough, I'm sure, and they have paid into the system as we all do - it's insurance, not a handout. I hope and pray I'm never in the position where I would have to consider it.)
Assault Horizon: Behind the Scenes
Why Dubai?

Dubai is in the game for one reason - I want to fly through this building.

Who's with me?

A lot of metal . . .

Just ahead of next week's Ace Combat: Assault Horizon debut, Namco Bandai shared word today that the Ace Combat series has surpassed 10 million in sales worldwide. The publisher also revealed that the Assault Horizon demo has been downloaded more than 1.2 million times since launching on Xbox Live and PSN a little over three weeks ago.

Story here.
Before Bishop was Bishop . . .

Now available for Kindle at Amazon.com for .99 - what "Brass" was doing before he joined Warwolf Squadron. To check it out, click here.

In other Assault Horizon on Amazon news, this morning the game was number 25 on the PS3 and 36 on the XBox360 platforms and moving up . . . not bad given that it won't ship until next week.

I think they like it in Poland . . .

. . . but I'm not really sure, given that my Polish begins and ends at Żubrówka.*


* Vodka. With buffalo grass. Definitely a Polish thing. Drink it, and your taste buds will never be the same.

Assault Horizon Behind the Scenes

Probably the most asked about character in the run up to the release of Ace Combat Assault Horizon has been Markov, the enemy ace. Everyone, it seems, wants to know more about it.

Unfortunately, I can't give his backstory without giving away some of the plot of the game. Suffice to say he's every bit as good as Bishop is, maybe better. And he has reasons for what he does.

It may seem a little strange to non-writers, but to me, Markov was such a double for Bishop that for much of  the writing process I referred to him as only "the enemy ace" - he didn't have a name. It wasn't because he didn't have a personality or a backstory; he had both from the very beginning. But for me, he was as much a creation of Bishop's obsessions as a person in his own right. Giving him a name would have separated him too soon.

In some ways, the interest shown by players (or would-be players at this point) in Markov is exactly parallel to Bishop's own thoughts and actions, and exactly what I hoped would happen for the game. The characters you pit yourself against in the game - in any game - are as much your creation as that of the designers.

One way to have a game pattern itself after real life is to have the lead character go through a growth or development curve similar to what the player goes through. That could have happened in Assault Horizon if the player began as a newbie pilot - if, for example, he was a slightly younger version of Guts.

But the team didn't want to go in that direction. They wanted the top pilot to already be an ace. So I had to find different strategies to up the emotional ante, while still being realistic and true to the overall goals. And that's how Markov came about.

And the 'real' thing

Assault Horizon fan video

Check out this fantastic fan video on YouTube, then check out some of his other vids there.

Great work!
Assault Horizon: Behind the Scenes
Markov vs. Bishop

One of the key elements of the story to Ace Combat is the battle between Bishop and Markov. To use a fancy word, the duality between the two characters was, for me, one of the spines of the story.

Doppelganger antagonists (more fancy terms) are a stock in fiction, even in the sorts of stories you have to read in high school. (Secret Sharer comes to mind, not least of all because I've been heavily influenced by Joseph Conrad - see Leopard's Kill.) In this case, the duality seemed really fitting, since the heart of the game is, quite literally, a duel.

Puns, fancy words - hey, this ain't a lit class. Don't you just want to grab the controller and play the damn game already?

We can in a week.

Assault Horizon: Behind the scenes
How the story came to be

Keeping the series' core values was always top priority
 . . . but it did make things interesting
While it’s been set in a fictional universe, the Ace Combat series has always featured realistic renderings of aircraft. When I was asked to help develop what became Assault Horizon, I took that “core value” of the game as a starting point – the story had to be as realistic as the aircraft.

Of course, the story had to be very exciting as well. And the Aces team had a number of other things on their wish list, including staging the story on as many continents and in as many geographic locations as possible.

There was another subtle little requirement, though this one wasn’t actually articulated by anyone. We all knew we wanted to have as many cutting-edge aircraft in the mix as possible. That meant not only that Americans would have to play a key role in the story, but so, somehow, would Russians. Because between those two countries, you have most of the world’s front-line jets.

(I initially wanted Chinese aircraft as well, but we had to drop that idea for various reasons.)
Even before they asked me to help, the Team experimented with flight models involving helicopters and bombers. The models were extremely impressive. Incorporating them into the story became another early priority.

The process began with some very basic story ideas, each no more than a few paragraphs long. After the team discussed and chose one, I fleshed the story into a narrative outline, focusing on four different pilots. Two of the pilots were fighter pilots – the characters that became Colonel Bishop and Guts in the game. (I should explain that, in modern air force terminology, a fighter can also take a ground attack role. Very few fighters can “only” do one role – the A-10A, a superb attack plane – comes quickly to mind as a notable exception.) Another was a helicopter pilot – DR or “D-Ray” in the game – and the last was a bomber pilot – Jan Rehl. (Jan actually now starts the game coming back as a gunship pilot. Her evolution, and the AC-130 itself, is a separate story; that all came about during later discussions.)

We discussed the story outline during a long series of meetings over several days or a week in California. We discussed everything possible at these meetings, not just the story – how would the helicopter scenes work, should we only have fast jets, etc. It was always great meeting the Japanese team: they brought snacks from Japan with them, which I inevitably ended up monopolizing. I did offer to share my cigars with them, but I had no takers.

These sessions were extremely interesting. Writers, especially novelists, generally work pretty much alone when they do their thing; at most, they may interact with one or two editors. In this case, I was working with a large team full of ideas; getting everything focused was sometimes a challenge. The requirement that everything in the game be realistic was both a blessing and a curse – the story had to be something that could happen, which narrowed down the possibilities. We limited weapons and engagement sequences to those likely to be encountered in the real world. (In case you’re wondering, this also applies to Trinity, whose key ingredients and mechanics are real.) At the same time, I had to find a way to use all of the cool possibilities that the assets and engine they were developing were capable of.

The story grew, shrunk, then grew again. Once I was fairly confident of the narrative, I began translating it into an outline of cut scenes – the cinematic pieces where players can’t interact with the game – and missions. Once that was done, the team did some heavy editing for a number of reasons related to the technical requirements of the game. I edited their edit – also heavily – and we spent another week or so in California hashing things out.

There are always limitations on what you can do. For example, early on we wanted to have a V/STOL version of the F-35 - the F-35C – involved in the game. I wrote a really cool mission for it, which would have shown off all of the real airframe’s capabilities. But that proved just too ambitious – maybe in Ace Combat 8.

When I wrote the original outline, I realized there was more story than we could use, and this continued over into the mission outline. There was a whole section of the game set in Paris, for instance; unfortunately we just couldn’t get everything we wanted in.

After the outline was set, I started working on the cut scenes. One of my goals from the very beginning was to tell the story through gameplay as possible. This meant not only that the missions had to be tightly integrated into the story – the missions always flow from them – but that things that part of the story is told in the missions themselves. This made for more work as we finished the cut scenes and started to get down to the missions. Not only was the team very concerned about how the missions would flow, but the dialogue had to be honed very carefully. And of course, the missions had to be conducted in a very realistic manner. Working with them, I was part writer, part military consultant, part designer. There were a lot of changes and additions we had to make so that the missions would unfold the way they do in real life.

Games are not real life. Pilots in real life often say that a sortie or flight mission consists of six or eight (or more) hours of terrible boredom punctuated by ninety seconds (or less) of sheer terror. In writing the game, we had to reverse that equation – and then cut out the ninety seconds of boredom. So there are some compromises in telling the story. But it’s as close to real life as you can get in a game.

Besides the in-person meetings, we had many, many video conferences. We used email extensively, and even occasionally resorted to phone calls. Working with the team was an interesting and invigorating give and take. While I’ve collaborated with people before, I had never collaborated with anywhere near so many at one time.

And here’s something that gave me pause: At most sessions, there were three translators struggling to tell the team what I was saying, and vice versa. For someone who makes his living communicating, that in itself was a humbling experience.

Finally, justice

PERUGIA, Italy—An Italian appeals court threw out Amanda Knox and her co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito's murder conviction, allowing for their immediate release.
The ruling overturns a 26-year sentence handed down to Ms. Knox in the original trial in which she had been found guilty of murdering 21-year-old Meredith Kercher in 2007 together with her then boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and local drifter Rudy Guede.
Ms. Knox collapsed in tears after the verdict was read out Monday. Her co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito, also was cleared of killing Ms. Kercher.

Wall Street Journal story here.
(For more on the prosecutor and some of his bizarre theories, check out Doug Preston's book, The Monster of Florence.)
Bradley's "what-if" failures

Any great general has his share of mistakes and failures - battles that don't go quite as well as he planned or hoped. It's almost an absolute requirement for greatness - because if he never fails, one might conclude that he's never taken enough risks to be great.

It's a tricky issue, of course. In the book I go into some depth on the battles where Bradley is faulted, and where I think criticism is justified. Two large incidents will immediately stand out - the failure of intelligence right before the Battle of the Bulge, and the slogging fights that we lump together as Huertgen Forest.

Of course, we can debate to what extent those failures were due to him, and so on, but at the end of the day I think he would have to accept that neither moment was among his finest. (Turning the Bulge into a victory is another story.)

But there are a few places where I think Bradley's record might stand a bit more examination, if not necessarily criticism. They're not generally thought of as "belonging" to Bradley, nor are they necessarily looked at as failures by traditional historians. But they did play an important role in shaping the war.

Here are two:

Bradley is sometimes criticized for not closing the so-called Falaise Gap after the breakout and right turn in France. A lot of the criticism frankly isn't warranted, but the issue is complex and certainly isn't going to be settled here, or even in my biography. But he's never, to my knowledge, been criticized for pushing Patton to detour forces from his main drive and hold the side of that gap. (The criticism is generally that he was late to do so, etc., etc. - it's usually assumed that it's right to get them up there.)

Think about it - if Bradley had stuck to his original plan and let Patton continue toward Germany, would he have had enough momentum to breach the frontier before the Germans could reinforce it? Would the increased number of Germans who survived outweighed the geographical gains Patton might have made?

Admittedly a great what-if question, perhaps one that can never be resolved. I suspect that in trying to answer it, many specialists would immediately start thinking about the supply problems that dogged Bradley throughout the campaign, which brings me to the second point: Did Bradley error by failing to either protect some of the rail network across France from bombing, or by failing to properly plan to replace the train lines? For if the rail network was better, it's theoretically possible that he would have been able to get more supplies to his troops.

Now strictly speaking, neither question is really "fair," since they have to be considered in the larger context of what happened. But sometimes broader stroke "what-ifs" can more fully illuminate the choices that were taken. here, the question about how to use Patton puts the actual achievements at Falaise on something of a scale, attempting to weigh force against speed in a manner that few historians ever attempt; the second would prod us to look deeply at the supply issue that weighed on Bradley throughout the war. (In fairness, Bradley actually spent considerable time worrying about the train lines, and it's from him that I learned how deeply and involved the issue was. And he, too, debated about turning Patton's units - which Patton was reluctant to do.)

Art, life and in-between

It's always amusing when mainstream reporters suddenly discover that life imitates art. Their stories are almost always more illuminating about their authors than either life or art.

Case in point, the plot to use remote-controlled planes to kill innocent civilians.

While some journalists think this is an entirely new idea, others, like Torie Bosch at Slate, found some parallels in thriller plots. Story is here.)

Bosch's reference is to a 2010 novel by Susan Hasler entitled Intelligence. (Dsclosure - I haven't read it and don't know the author.) But the truth is, the idea of using radio-controlled aircraft is a lot older than that - and yes, I've used it myself at least two or three times. Given that, I'm going to guess that there are several much closer parallels in other books. Maybe many other books.

But so what? Is there any evidence that the would-be terrorist was inspired by fiction? (Or even watching The Office, which the reporter claims the book is close to - echoing something pretty prominent in an Amazon review, by the way.) Or vice versa - if you look carefully at some of the unclassified reports on Iraqi capabilities prior to the invasion of Iraq, you'll surely see parallels.

I don't mean to lash the reporter (let alone the author); the story isn't making any great claims. It's just stating the rather obvious in an obvious way. Kind of like this blog entry.

False arguments

I was surprised to see so many commentators, among them many who really should know better, claiming that the killing of terrorist Awlaki in Yemen raised constitutional questions since he was "an American citizen."

By that logic, American soldiers during World War II would have had to ask each of the enemy soldiers they were fighting against if they had been born in America. If so, they would have had to arrest them and take them back to the U.S. for trial rather than killing them.

The U.S. is at war with al Qaeda. Just ask them if you have any doubt.

There also seems to be some confusion about Awlaki's actual role in al Qaeda's war against the U.S. He's not simply a guy with a loud mouth. He's not a misguided student typing away in a college dorm between bong hits. He's part of the leadership - as should be evident to all given the fact that one of the terrorists' top bomb makers was with him when he was killed.

Sure, the First Amendment protects speech. I don't think even the ACLU would say that gave Hitler the right to wage war against the U.S. I'm kind of thinking the NRA wouldn't stand up for his right to bear arms against us either.

Get a grip, people.