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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Nuclear Option: Maps and Pre-Planned Attacks

Appreciating an unsung hero?



Lately, my game time with Nuclear Option by Shockfront Studios has gone way up. Delving into this game at a much deeper level crossed my mind after I saw a tournament was set up for April 6th, 2024. Seeing the announcement for the Nuclear Option Competitive Smackdown (Eastern Hemisphere) did make me think more seriously about if a flight-sim lite like this could become a high level competitive player vs player title. Over the past two weeks, fellow Skyward Flight Media staff members have joined me in multiplayer and player versus environment sessions to get a real feeling for what higher intensity gameplay Nuclear Option offers. That experience is bound to be an article of its own eventually, but not quite yet.


It was somewhere between the intense two-ship low altitude incursions and tactical nuclear carpet bombing that the simplest tool in the game became the core of our tactics (and the inspiration of this article). You would think that the stand-off jamming capability of the recently added EW-25 Medusa electronic warfare aircraft or the area denial abilities of the Shard-class corvette would be the "new hotness" we would discuss. You would think, but...


...have you used the map, though?


Nuclear Option in game map.
The map as seen in game.

Yes, the map of all things. Whether you're slinging plasma bolts in a flight arcade game or painstakingly double-checking GPS coordinates in a flight simulator, having access to a map is useful, but not something you would write home about. This game uses the map to show the position of known allies and enemies. Players will mostly be interacting with it to scroll around the map to see the disposition of forces and select which airbase they will be launching their next sortie from. However, its hidden strength is the ability to zoom in tightly on small areas and let players hover their mouse icon over specific units. Not only to identify them by their unit name, but also to pre-target select them by left-clicking on their icons.


Nuclear Option map icons.
The name of units are revealed by hovering the mouse over their map icons.

While Nuclear Option does have beyond visual range weapons that players and their computer counterparts can access, the game is decidedly more of a within visual range combat experience. Even more so because of how it handles targeting in game. During flight, the horizontal diamond in the player's Heads Up Display must be put over the icon of a unit to be locked onto by depressing the "Target Select" button.


Nuclear Option target selection diamond.
Note the green horizontal diamond on the building.

Locking onto a single target will zoom the camera sensor in the player's cockpit onto that unit, providing a clear view of what exactly it is or what it is doing. In my opinion, this sort of extends the concept of what "within visual range is". Selecting more than one target at a time will zoom this camera out as it tries to show a view of what the selected targets are doing in a wide area, causing the camera to zoom out to try and fit both targets in its view.


Nuclear Option target selection.
The target selected building appears with its name and distance from the player shown in the top left and right corners.

In the midst of combat, manually slewing the targeting reticle to lock and unlock targets isn't terrible, but can be hard to do when task saturated. Sometimes trying to pick out the exact target you had in mind at the beginning of the sortie gets lost in the clutter of combat and evading incoming fire. Target sorting while under pressure is doable, but the map's ability to pre-select targets opens up a degree of pre-planned attack strategies.


Nuclear Option target selection.
Selecting vehicle depots via map.

Whether the player is starting up the aircraft on the ground or mid-flight, any targets that are selected from the map are selected targets for the aircraft. When the map is closed, the distance and direction of these targets will be displayed in the aircraft's cockpit camera sensor.


Nuclear Option target selection.
Diving to terrain mask and attack. Note the depot information in the aircraft's camera sensor.

Now, instead of manually searching for targets while ingressing into the combat area, players can focus on planning a route avoiding detection and air defenses, keeping their attention on reaching their target and utilizing the full capabilities of any standoff / beyond visual range weapons by monitoring their weapons engagement envelope indicator, visualized as a circle on the HUD that gradually becomes a full circle, then changes color from yellow to green to show that a weapon is within its ideal firing parameters.


Nuclear Option target selection.
Note the yellow circle in the middle of the HUD. This is the weapon engagement envelope indicator.

In an emegency, de-selecting the pre-planned targets to handle a new threat is fine, as long as players take the time to re-open the map, zoom back in to find their targets of interest and left click them again.


Selecting targets from a map sounds cumbersome when explained in text, but in practice it only takes seconds once players know what they are specifically looking for in a target area. In coordination with other human players, a few mouse clicks can result in specific target sets per aircraft, resulting in a sizeable multi-weapon pre-planned attack that saturates enemy targets of all types within just a few seconds.


In a game where dozens of units are maneuvering and exchanging fire over a sprawling map, efficiency in striking the right target at the right time can change the flow of battle. Shoutout to the map! A bit of an unsung hero.


 
About the Writer

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, 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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