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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

DCS World: Oops, All Aces

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

A reminder to check AI skill levels of older downloaded missions

Over the past two and a half years, Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS) has received - for the lack of a better term - game changing updates. The additions of volumetric clouds, dynamic weather and the recent open beta testing of central processing unit multithreading have been huge draws for new players to give DCS a try, while improvements to specific aircraft, flight modeling and announcements for upcoming modules and maps continue to keep the current player base engaged.

For many years, the within visual range (WVR) combat or "dogfighting" AI aircraft in DCS had been a known point of contention. Hostile aircraft set at low to medium skill settings were often underwhelming in close range combat. Their awkward, sluggish and sometimes ill-advised maneuvers could result in them giving up any advantage they had in a dogfight at the drop of a hat. Observant players could even spot a certain pattern in their maneuvers, making their actions somewhat predictable, which in turn could let savvy players take advantage of the AI's own predetermined actions. It wasn't exactly a "win button" but it was a way to take advantage of the AI to increase the likelihood of defeating them.

F-5E Tiger II and Tornado IDS merge in Digital Combat Simulator World.
F-5E Tiger II and Tornado IDS. (Image: Ribbon-Blue)

As reflected by many user created and shared missions available in the User Files, a solution for years was setting the difficulty to "Ace", the highest skill level available for AI aircraft. It was one of the few consistent ways to get a challenge out of WVR combat against an AI. Aircraft set to anything besides Ace were decent at beyond visual range combat, but even

semi-experienced DCS players could easily handle them in within visual range combat.

This is why a trend in both user created single player missions and online player vs environment missions in the User Files can be seen. The volume of Ace pilots is high for the sake of more challenging dogfights. Though, those same enemies are known to abuse the flight model in ways human players cannot. Stories of Ace MiG-21s consistently out climbing and out turning F-15Cs to the point the superior thrust F-15C stalled first are common place. This is just a familiar example of the AI able to retain energy, pull unbelievable Gs and use a thrust to weight ratio human players simply cannot match. Even when flying the same aircraft with the same loadouts and fuel states. Despite this, the overall experience of dogfighting the more active, albeit sometimes broken, Ace level aircraft was a favorable improvement.

Unexpectedly, it is the steady march to refine DCS itself that has now flipped this decent workaround on its head. The General Flight Model improvement in 2021 and the DCS AI BFM upgrade in 2022 have made meaningful changes to DCS world's AI in the air combat arena. It's something I noticed almost immediately. They're genuinely good more often than not. That's not to say it's ideal yet, but the quality of WVR combat against AI controlled aircraft has notably increased, even without them being set to Ace skill level. That being said, Ace level AI aircraft are even more formidable than before, with a bit less "questionable" abuse of certain flight physics. This is where the unintended problem comes in.

F-16C Fighting Falcon and Dassault Mirage 2000-5 merge in Digital Combat Simulator World.
Mirage 2000-5 and F-16C 'Viper' (Image: RaptorDad)

User created missions from before these pivotal updates, often still have many, if not dozens of Ace pilots within the enemy roster. While some mission editors that upload these files have taken time to adjust their missions as needed, a majority of available missions do not receive the same treatment. When faced with entire flights of maximum difficulty aircraft for every sortie, the mission itself may be near impossible to complete.

To be completely transparent, this article was inspired by a recent test of a mission file not flown in many months, which had a similar problem appear. This prompted me to revisit missions I had downloaded throughout my time with Digital Combat Simulator and laugh out loud at the sheer amount of Ace pilots large-scale missions from the User Files had. It wasn't a great time, to say the least.

Mission editing can be time-consuming depending on how deeply involved you become, but changing difficultly of AI units is as easy as a few mouse clicks and saving the mission file when you're done. The updates have made the use of lower AI skill levels worthwhile, as the overall quality of their dogfighting ability has improved. Returning to a mix of skill levels that include Ace pilots is something I'd recommend to preserve a challenging but manageable gameplay, rather than a potentially overwhelming experience.

Take this as a reminder to check those older missions before running them again in 2023!

Su-33 Flanker-D and F-14B Tomcat merge in Digital Combat Simulator.
Su-33 Flanker-D and F-14B Tomcat (Image: RaptorDad)

About the Writer

Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.



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