WHEN IT COMES TO CREATING FLIGHT SIMULATORS, Eric Parker is an ace. Hellcats Over the Pacific, the Wylie resident’s first commercially available computer game, sold more than 50,000 copies. A-10 Attack! and A-10 Cuba!, the next two titles released by his Plano-based company, Parsoft Interactive, sold more than 70,000 copies apiece and racked up accolades from prestigious game magazines; Attack! was pronounced the best flight simulator of 1996 by Macworld and the year’s best Macintosh game by PC Entertainment. Parker has even attracted the attention of the software giant Activision, which cut a deal with him last year to create versions of two of his Mac-only games for IBM-compatible machines.
Flight simulators may not have the mass appeal of fast-paced shoot-’em-ups like Quake, which can sell several hundred thousand copies, but they do enjoy an intensely loyal following among military buffs and aviation aficionados. Parker has won them over by faithfully recreating the experience of flying an airplane. “That’s the fascination,” he says, “to make the plane fly like a real plane.” It helps that he has an insider’s knowledge of aviation; Parker is working on his student pilot certificate, and to get a feel for various aircraft, he and some of his sixteen Parsoft employees pore over old flight manuals acquired from the Smithsonian Institution, aviation consultants, and used-book stores. They go on test flights and interview pilots, who try out the games. They even incorporate data from geological survey maps, so in A-10 Cuba! you fly a mission over an exact reproduction of Guantánamo Bay.
If Parker has aviation on his mind, he has computers in his blood: His father, George H. Thiess, was an engineer at Texas Instruments and invented the digital watch. While still in high school, Eric wrote his first flight simulator and won a contract to program computerized menus for the local Highland Park Cafeteria chain. He continued to tinker with computers throughout high school and college, and in 1984, after he graduated from Dallas’ Southern Methodist University with a master’s degree in computer science, he and some classmates co-founded Megamax, a company that worked with military contractors to develop 3-D flight simulators for training pilots. When the partnership fell apart, Parker started Parsoft and continued working with the military. But it didn’t take him long to realize that his work had a commercial application too, and Hellcats was born. Its success allowed him to hire other programmers and concentrate solely on entertainment software.
Parker hopes to follow up on the success of Hellcats and the A-10 games with Screamin’ Demons Over Europe, a flight simulator set during World War II that should be released this year. Demons, he says, will be even more involved than its predecessors. “Flight simulators used to be just you versus the world,” he says. “Now people want games in which you communicate with others and can ask them for help, in which other things go on during the game—even if you’re just sitting on the side of the runway.”