Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Indie Innovation Spotlight: Corncob 3D

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 16, 2012

For this week’s installment of the Indie Innovation Spotlight, I reached for the back ‘o the rack, to grab a game that is now about twenty years old.  Twenty years old, and still largely unmatched. Predating the term “indie” by almost a decade, and even predating the real surge in ‘shareware,’ it remains one of the few indie flight simulators and is chock full of some of the most bizarre yet cool ideas found in its genre. I should add that I think some of those cool ideas derived straight from the game’s limitations.

I’m talking Corncob 3D.

Corncob 3D, by Pie in the Sky Software

What Is It?

Taking place in an alternate history where Adolf Hitler died as a youth* and World War II never happened, Corncob 3D is a flight simulator (yes, an honest-to-goodness flight sim, not an action game taking place in a plane) of a souped-up Corsair Fighter (nicknamed the ‘Corncob Corsair’, thus the game name). In lieu of human enemies in the 1940s, you are fighting entrenched alien invaders.  That’s right, aliens from outer space.  You must do battle with alien invaders in what is otherwise a … well, close to what passed for a hard-core flight sim in 1992. Or, rather, what would have passed for one a few years earlier.

The game offered several missions, training missions, flight rosters of pilots, awards and ribbons for your pilots, multiple campaigns (well, theaters of operations), and “realism” toggles. Pretty standard fare for a flight sim of the era, albeit lower on the frills. The graphics were a few years behind the time, as would be expected, resembling more of a late-1980s flight simulator with flat terrain. Objects were made of of 3D spheres, lines, and untextured polygons. Yes, it was abstract. But it worked.  Those spheres, lines,  and spinning polygons became flying saucers, enemy homing drones (“Deathballs”), alien bases, and more.  A rear view out of the cockpit was essential, especially when dodging the aforementioned homing drones.

Your plane was equipped with guns and rockets to accomplish your mission. I understand some of the missions in the full (‘deluxe’) version took place in other worlds. Prototype prop-driven Corsairs in space? Yeah. It totally went there. Way cool.

What Makes It Stand Out?

Okay, just the idea of fighting bizarre sci-fi battles in a somewhat realistic flight sim (as opposed to just “an action game”) is a pretty cool idea right there.  But the game was filled with even more goodness. Corncob 3D‘s primitive 3D graphics were abstract even in 1992, but from the abstraction the developers managed to pull off some cool, if bizarre, concepts.

Like the alien bases having a reality distortion / warp field around them that caused your 3D viewport to pulse and distort as you got closer to it.

Like being able to eject from your plane and run around armed with a pistol. And remote-control your plane from the ground.

Like having one airfield located in the sky, rather than the ground.

Like having a rescue van come out and pick you up after you ejected if you were a long way from base.

Like having a persistent battlefield with the aliens actually attacking your airfield.

Like having a failure screen telling you that you were captured by the aliens and forced to clean alien toilets for the rest of your dreary life.

Yeah, this is some pretty wacked-out stuff.  I guess the feeling was that if they were going to be weird and crazy, they may as well crank it up to eleven and get really weird and crazy. They succeeded.  This all reinforced the fun factor of the game. Yeah, this was a flight simulator. Yeah, landing your plane even without battle-damage could be a challenge. Especially 10,000 feet in the air.  But hey, it’s all challenge in the name of goofy fun, right?

Yeah.  Not all that beautiful of a flight sim, even in 1992.  But this was EGA graphics, and most of the game was written in friggin’ assembly. Physics in assembly. Crazy stuff.

The rampant, goofy premise was what struck me – then and now – about the game. As much as I caution about “kitchen sink design” (you know, where you throw in every feature but the kitchen sink), this game proves that an appropriate grab-bag of ‘cool stuff’ can really make a game stand out and come alive. A “serious” flight sim at this time wouldn’t have been noticed in the popularity of the genre back then if it hadn’t been for their willingness to just do all kinds of weird, fun stuff with it.  I mean, I can’t name one other flight sim that would allow you to complete your mission on foot – with a pistol.  The creators just threw in tons of neat (and silly) ideas because they were cool. And it worked.

Other Notes:

This game amazed me when it came out. Indie wasn’t “a thing” then, but that was perhaps my first (or second, after Commander Keen) glimpse into the possibility that the shareware scene could be more than just “me too” Arkanoid clones.  It was the creative goofiness when combined with the traditionally straight-man flight sim genre that really won me over. The indies have been doing some amazing things for a long time.

It was a pretty decent success in its time – not to Commander Keen or Wolfenstein 3D levels, but as shareware games generally went, it was a hit. It even made it to retail stores.  Most people that I knew hadn’t heard of it, or knew about shareware at all. But the shareware fans (there were a few of us… poor, starving college kids tended to seek out cheap games), would often eagerly talk about Corncob 3D.

You can read about the development of the game, and check out some of the assembly code source, right here.

A little more from the same site about the history of the game (and the company).


* At age 19, he suffered a fatal hit on the head from a beer bottle.  Musta been one of those time travelers gone back to kill him as a child. Er, youth.

Filed Under: Indie Innovation Spotlight - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • JC said,

    I remember playing the heck out of this game back in grade school. Not sure if I ever accomplished anything, but there was a heck of a lot of crashing and ejecting involved.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, I know I cleared at least one mission. But I only played the demo version, so I never got the full Corncob Deluxe experience. ;P I don’t think I’d go so far as to say this game deserves a remake, but I think we would be well off if we had more games (indie or not) that were willing to take this same attitude. And more flight sims. Flight sims probably shot themselves in the foot by getting too hyper-realistic, and forgetting to be fun. Too bad the only alternative these days are games that are not really ‘simulators’ at all, just action games in planes.

  • JC said,

    I do miss flight sims; played a lot of those back in the day.

    Don’t mean to get off topic but this reminds me of another game I remember playing roughly around the same time as Corncob. I think it was called Hellhouse, or something like that. It had EGA or VGA 3D polygon graphics like this. All I remember is walking around some sort of weird haunted-like house with portals leading to different rooms. I think there were cryptic messages left around on signs or something.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!