• Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

DCS World: Understanding the Interest in the "Foothold" Mission

The easiest way to describe what it provides is "task-focused gamification" without compromising simulation.


While official Digital Combat Simulator World campaigns made by third-party developers are the gold standard, there are a lot of creative mission editors with names that may never be as well known as Reflected Simulations or Baltic Dragon.


In July 2022, I was severely bitten by the DCS mission editor bug. With a demand for more dynamic multiplayer missions on Skyward Flight Media's DCS World server provided by Fox 3 Managed Solutions, I dove into the world of mission editing. While watching tutorials and meeting others with mission editor experience, the hot topic at the time was a mission known as Foothold by dzsekeb. I was downloading missions from the User Files section of the official DCS website to study them for inspiration, so I looked into the Foothold mission as well.



A few months of multiplayer server management made me understand why large-scale dynamic multiplayer missions, like Through The Inferno, are so popular. When providing a large number of concurrent players with access to as many aircraft as possible and multiple sub-missions in a single mission file (.miz), it's obvious that only a massive scenario with just 1000+ units could fulfill that. These missions either continue forever with respawning objectives, or they're so enormous it may take up to a week to complete. The allure for players is the ease of flying with friends for a few quick sorties and little-to-no restrictions, but the nebulous mission structure doesn't have set terms for "a victory." Combat continues forever. Most of these missions are for fast jet fixed-wing aircraft with minor consolations for rotary-wing platforms in designated areas.


In my opinion, the format of Foothold missions interests people because of a few key points that set it apart from the usual multi-faceted multiplayer missions.



CAPTURING AND HOLDING TERRITORY

From the start, the name "Foothold" denotes how the BLUFOR side starts with a single airfield to its name, while REDFOR controls multiple bases, airfields, oil fields, and other locations; they are referred to as "zones." In the F10 map, all friendly, hostile, and neutral zones are shown with a clear indication that the goal is to occupy all zones on the map. Players are the leading force against REDFOR, though a limited number of computer-controlled BLUFOR units assist with zone capture and defense. As other zones are captured, more allied computer units are launched, and in turn, hostile forces may launch counterattacks to reclaim lost zones.

Territories can be captured and have their defenses upgraded by both sides. These areas are captured by removing all hostile units from them, then transporting supplies to them via ground forces or helicopters. After being captured by friendly troops, these zones can be upgraded through the same methods.


Each upgrade adds more defenses to make them harder to be re-captured. Some of the captured zones have specific functions. There are forward deployed airfields for faster deployment into combat, Surface-to-Air Missile sites that can be upgraded with various types of missiles. Some facilities provide a passive kind of support that is a vital function of the Foothold mission style.


POINT SYSTEM

Players are incentivized to fight, survive and hold territory with a credit system. These credits can call in "off map supports" to counter against the overwhelming REDFOR advantage. The points of all BLUFOR pilots are added to a shared pool for all players to use at will with the radio menus.


These supports include SEAD flights, fighter sweeps, cruise missile strikes, and time-limited AWACS. However, 100% of these credits can only be recovered when players successfully land at a friendly airfield or aircraft carrier. Even after the aircraft touches down, there is a ten-second timer before points are given to BLUFOR, leaving a small window for a botched landing to result in all credits the player just earned being lost. 25% of the credits gained during a sortie can be recovered if the pilot successfully ejects from their aircraft, but it is a fraction of the overall amount.


Credits can be gained passively by capturing and holding zones like the oil fields and factories mentioned earlier. They provide the side that controls them with credits at a set rate of time, but their vital structures can be destroyed, which removes their ability to produce credits passively. Protecting or destroying them to deny their use is a part of a long-term strategy.



HELICOPTER INCLUSIVE DESIGN

Foothold missions give helicopters a place to shine. For logistics, BLUFOR relies on computer and player-controlled helicopters as the primary means to capture and upgrade zones. By either sling-loading supplies or "virtually" loading the supplies inside the helicopters, a handful of sorties can turn a basic defensive position into a well-defended forward arming and refueling point (FARP) for easier helicopter operations. Having a player that flies helicopters available can be a game changer since they can focus on rapidly capturing and upgrading zones faster than computer units can.


In combat, they can remain near zones for extended periods using terrain to protect themselves, then fly to any nearby-friendly zone to resupply. As REDFOR sends their helicopters or land convoys to capture BLUFOR zones, helicopters can be the first defenders to respond because they can remain forward deployed.


Pilots that have ejected from their aircraft can be recovered by player-controlled helicopters that choose to perform combat search and rescue missions (CSAR). By either landing near or hovering above the pilots, helicopters can pick them up and deliver them to nearby friendly zones. Recovering one pilot grants more credits than shooting down an enemy aircraft, making CSAR a worthwhile mission to fly.



MODS SUPPORTED FOR LOGISTICS

Adding aircraft mods to the mission is simple enough, but the mission has optional logistics functionality specifically for the UH-60L Black Hawk Mod and the DCS Super Hercules mod by Anubis. With one of the most capable transport helicopters and so far the only transport aircraft available for free, any player can get in on running logistics. The Super Hercules mod is particularly interesting because it can airdrop supplies into friendly or neutral zones, making capturing and upgrading zones farther from airfields a much faster process.


REASONABLE ENEMY VARIATION

While there are enemy combat air patrols, surface-to-air missiles and columns of armor to fight against, Foothold mission designs do not go overboard with modern weapons capable of shooting down aircraft 100 nautical miles away or intercepting allied launched missiles. There is a balanced mix of threats that still let less advanced aircraft be effective in combat. Even early Cold War aircraft or light attack aircraft like the DCS OV-10A Bronco by Dikennek/SPLIT AIR or the A-29B Super Tucano Community. can be used with success.


AUTOMATIC SAVING

As mentioned in the description of the User File page, Foothold missions automatically save progress locally, but servers for online multiplayer operations can be modified to save progress there as well. While this sounds minor, I can assure you that automatic save functions that retain players' progress on the server keep players eager to continue.



DOCUMENTED CUSTOMIZATION

Foothold missions are well documented for customization by mission editors with brief, understandable explanations on how to add new zones, name groups, and set up supply lines for computer units to upkeep. That's not to say that it's easy to modify an entire Foothold mission in just five minutes, but it's more accessible to begin the mission editing process.


While Skyward Flight Media has mostly been playing the Caucasus version of Foothold, we have plans to start on the much larger Syria version soon. We recommend trying this mission with a close group of friends to experience its full potential.


 

About the Writer

Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. A lifelong aviation enthusiast with a special interest in flight simulators and games. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating aviation related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He continues to explore past and present flight games and sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870 |

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