The update that followers of developer Why485 have been in a holding pattern for is finally here. It's not a demo, but it's the next best thing. A video showcase for the retro-aesthetic flight 'simcade,' Tiny Combat Arena, after its significant change in development direction in April 2020. What is shown is a full game loop, a major milestone in its development towards a commercial game.
As mentioned in our previous article, the version of Tiny Combat Arena that gained public notoriety about half a year ago was the result of roughly two years of demonstrators under the Tiny Combat name. The video posted on November 5th, 2020, is a little over 9 minutes long but encapsulates months of focused game development.
The recent video (shown above) shows the developer fly a few sorties with the AV-8B Harrier II in a short Arena mode campaign. This article is not a comprehensive breakdown of each milestone in its development or a frame by frame analysis of the video. For that, I strongly suggest following Why485 on Twitter and setting aside some time to scroll through his timeline to see the development videos, .gifs, live streams, screenshots, and other media. Instead, we will be discussing a few key takeaways from the video that should be brought to attention.
Refined Loadout Management
Since The Tiny Combat Arena Prototype (April 2019), the aircraft loadout system has undergone substantial changes. The prototype version had players shootdown specific types of enemies to then unlock and stockpile certain types of weapons to be used over time. Each aircraft had its own particular hardpoint layout and weapons carrying capacity, as they do in the real world.
With the current Tiny Combat Arena showcase, the loadout system is more refined visually and functionally. For example, no longer are players required to shoot down air targets to unlock air-to-air missiles. Before each sortie, players can access their aircrafts' weapon stations to equip the entire array of weapons and fuel tanks. Preset loadouts can also be created for quick access. However, carrying 20 or so AIM-9s is out of the question. The aircraft, in this case, the AV-8B Harrier II, is restricted to what it can actually carry. An essential part of the simulator experience.
The loadout screen also allows for internal fuel management, shows thrust to weight ratio, payload weight, and more. Meaning that with the new flight model that has been developed, even the selection of what the aircraft is carrying now affects flight performance. Going in loaded for bear all the time might not be the best of ideas anymore.
Cockpit POV Focus
Even before April 2020, Tiny Combat didn't have much of a heads up display to speak of and didn't have a cockpit view at all. We see the Harrier's cockpit with working instruments, two multi-function displays, and a proper HUD in the video. Some systems still have placeholder text, but their intention is clear. There are more systems to come, but this is a good representation of what to look forward to in the future. There is also no helmet-mounted display in the cockpit view to keep a constant feed of information coming to the pilot while they look around. Situational awareness is a must, even in the most hectic of situations. This is genuinely going to be a cockpit focused 'simcade.'
Even though this title has some fantastic camera angles to show off its visuals, no HUD or aircraft system information is shown while in external points of view. That's great for flying but not for fighting. Enjoy the views but be mindful of when you do.
The cockpit experience will be further enhanced with the inclusion of TrackIR support, as stated around 0:36 in the video. Headtracking is sure to add that extra layer of immersion to push Tiny Combat Arena a noticeable step higher than others in its genre and around its size.
There are all sorts of proven and new hardware and software out there for headtracking. TrackIR, DELANCLiP, SmoothTrack, AITrack, OpenTrack, and others. Our DIY Headtracker Build Guide provides all information needed to create your own tracking clip for those that are more hands-on. It describes camera information, materials needed, software setup, and wiring diagrams to help ensure everything works just right.
Strategic Landmark Capture
A pre-mission map and named landmarks were a highlight of the Tiny Combat Arena demo (July 2019). It was one of the features that showed a clear pivot towards game development compared to the past demos. Players could select their airfield to operate out of and destroy enemy air, land, and sea forces in certain areas that would allow them to be captured. It was an intriguing demonstration of things to come.
In the November 2020 showcase video, the new map shows multiple friendly and enemy-controlled areas that include factories, airfields, and supply depots. Each of these locations has defenders and structures that can influence the status of control over the location. In some scenarios destroying the defenders but leaving the structures can result in the ability to capture the area. Destroying critical structures can leave it unusable by either side. This intentionally makes players be more accurate with their shots and think about the type of ordinance they are bringing to a mission. Dropping the wrong bomb on the right target that's too close to a specific building could destroy the strategic value of the location.
As areas are captured, the ground forces (and presumably the air and sea forces) of each side react to defend captured areas. There are set rules about the regeneration of NPC forces that coincide with a time of day cycle per sortie. With fuel and weight considerations being a constant, capturing an airfield closer to primary or secondary objectives allows players to adjust their strategies and aircraft loadouts. Airfields closer to the enemy positions reduce the need for fuel tanks and open up more room for weaponry.
With test video of land forces engaging one another broadcast a while back, it's safe to say that enemy forces are most certainly capable of launching their own offensive operations to reclaim lost territory or take allied positions. This is a setup for a somewhat real-time strategy style campaign where victory can be achieved in various ways, with players selecting their own targets and flight paths to fly multiple sorties to achieve a long-term goal.
The development of the Tiny Combat Area continues forward, but now with a solid show of progress that has invigorated its current following but will undoubtedly catch the attention of many that will begin to learn about it through the distribution of this video.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
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.