For many game developers, there’s always that one golden goose or white whale. That game or genre that appeals to them the most. The thing that will cement their legacy. The one that regardless of their success on other projects, they always come back to. For Dan Kitchen, despite the fact that he’d worked on dozens of other successful projects, from ports and games based on hugely-successful licensed products to original works, on a bevy of home consoles, he still had his own dragon to catch. A 16-foot tall, 61 feet, nine inches long, 72,000 pound metallic one, as a matter of fact. The F-14 Tomcat. From his work on the Atari 2600 to the Game Boy and the Super NES, culminating with the Game Boy Advance, Kitchen has always found a way to do games based on the former crown of the United States military aviation program.
If you’ve ever seen the seen the film Top Gun, it’s easy to see why. The aircraft is a marvel of modern technology, evidenced by over 30 years of active duty. Add in the romanticized tones of the film and it’s almost like the plane had a soul. It represented American strength, sex appeal, charisma and honor. For many, it’s the reason why they grew up to love aviation. For others, it made them want to climb into the cockpit for themselves. Kitchen, on the other hand, had a different goal. To create an experience in the video game realm where the average Joe could experience what it was like to engage the enemy and dogfight for aerial supremacy. At the same time, not so ironically, his career in video game development could be channeled through a reoccurring theme in Top Gun. “A good pilot is compelled to evaluate what’s happened, so he can apply what he’s learned,” Cmdr. Mike “Viper” Metcalf, played by Tom Skerritt, tells the film’s main character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise, at one point in the film. “Up there, we gotta push it. That’s our job. It’s your option, Lieutenant. All yours.” Make no mistake, it was Kitchen’s goal to push the quality of console aviation games, primarily those focused on the F-14 and dogfighting, to the next level.
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