Adventure in the clouds

“The engine growled like a bear and belched a thick black cloud of smoke that collected instantly on the front of the canopy as a blinding greasy film. ‘Son of a—.’ The engine coughed, spat oil and began a terrible shimmy. Suddenly the Pacific was moving in rapid circles and coming up fast. . . .”

From 1933 to 1944, G-8 took to the skies to combat evil in the likes of The Raven, Herr Stahlmaske and Chu Lung in (for the most part) monthly aerial pulp adventures. That period in time was a dynamic era in aviation. “Clipper” seaplanes were spanning the globe, aviators such as Jimmy Doolittle, Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post were pushing the envelope in speed, distance and altitude, and aerial warfare was developing into a deadly art. To readers of G-8 and His Battle Aces, the Flying Spy’s adventures were something readily imaginable, even if the characters were often outlandish. If you had the chance to witness or live such dogfights, you might have a better understanding of them, too.

Well, if you’ve got a Windows computer or, later this fall, an Xbox game console, you can take to the skies in “Crimson Skies.” For pulp fans, this game is right up your alley. It’s set in the 1930s of an alternate timeline, where aviation routes replaced highways, where the United States and much of the world has been fractured into new nation states, and where militias and pirates rule the skies. And, like Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer, it’s packed with gasbags and wild aircraft.

John Howard, the lead designer for the game, told IGN Insider the inspirations for “Crimson Skies”: “Real-life pirates of the 16th century. Crazy Nazi prototype aircraft. Old Errol Flynn movies. Swing music. Black Sheep Squadron. The Flying Tigers. The Hell’s Angels. Indiana Jones. Betty Page. Vargas and Petty pin-ups. The golden age of Hollywood. The 1930s in America was the last truly romantic period in modern history. More than anything else ‘Crimson Skies’ is a personification of the ideal of what it was like to be cool back then.”

The pulps obviously should have been included in Howard’s list of influences.

Before you pay the $20 for the Windows version of “Crimson Skies,” check out the free trial version that gives you two missions. It’s a hefty 43-megabyte download from Microsoft (no longer available). For Xbox gamers, “Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge” is due out later this fall. (Unfortunately, Macintosh users are out of luck.)

Oh, the introductory quote could have come from G-8 or another pulp magazine, but it didn’t. It came from “Diamond Deception,” the most recent story in Spicy Air Tales.

The creators of “Crimson Skies” haven’t stopped with just a game. They have extended the concept with a downloadable “pulp” magazine, Spicy Air Tales, and a half-dozen online novellas; Action Air Weekly, with news about aircraft and aviators in the “Crimson Skies” world since 1928; Atlas World News, with details from politics to entertainment; and Warriors of the Skies, with profiles of characters from the game. There are also a couple of episodes of a “vintage” radio program available for downloading or online listening.

The game is pretty addictive, but that’s not unusual. It’s the extra material that makes this game stand out for pulp fans. Even if you’re not a gamer, you might want to check out the Crimson Skies Web site for links to the pulp fiction. (Update: Microsoft has removed its Crimson Skies pulp section from its website.)