DCS UH-1H or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Helicopters
This article is dedicated to my dear friend Gabriel, who is the helicopter pilot that first opened my eyes to the wonders of the rotary wings so many years ago. Thank you so much.
For a lot of years I have felt a sense of awe when looking at a helicopter, be them civilian or military. I have fond memories of spending hours upon hours on a mall's terrace as a child, looking at the only airport that my city has and the air traffic that came and went. Many of those hours were spent looking at helicopters, mainly at the Twin Hueys and Mi-2s that the national Air Force had based there. I always liked them but it never beat the feeling of a King Air 200 passing 100 feet above me on final approach. It was not until my country, for good or bad, decided to acquire some Mi-26 helicopters that I realized how amazing helicopters were, not only as aircraft but as marvels of human engineering. When I saw the Mi-26 fly, I was shocked at the sound and the sheer size of it. In fact, I was so impressed that between me and my friends we always called them the "Flying Whales". But my real life amazement for helicopters was not one that I shared in simulators. For years all I ever used were fixed wing aircraft, for reasons which I can not pin-point with accuracy. Maybe it was the speed of the fighters or the comforting sound of a turboprop, I really do not know why I was and am so drawn to fixed wing aircraft. I, willingly, never gave any helicopter a chance in any of the simulators I have had since the early 2000's. It wasn't until recently when I finally decided that I would give the rotary wings a go, both for my sake of trying something different and to allow myself to create more diverse content for the website. But I was not willing to take a full dive into helicopters just yet, hence why my first ever experience with rotary wings was the Kamov Ka-50. I had previously heard that the Ka-50 was a highly automated machine with tons of autopilot aid which should make the flying experience much more friendly to a novice. And in fact, what I heard was true. It was a bit tricky at first because I was not used to using my throttle as a collective, which led to some very embarrassing crashes. Once I got used to it, it became second nature to me so I started doing more interesting things with the Kamov, such as cargo lifting and scout operations in multiplayer servers. But it didn't take me long to realize that the Ka-50 does not offer the true helicopter experience I was searching for. I was not using my "anti-torque" pedals as much as I thought, nor was I correcting for many undesirable effects. Hovering it was a piece of cake, even without the auto-hover being enabled. In my eyes, it felt much more like a fighter aircraft than a helicopter. For a complete summary of my feelings on the Kamov, and why I like it despite everything, I suggest you check out my DCS: Ka-50 Black Shark 2 review. During the last DCS sale, I took the decision to buy the UH-1H for review purposes but-oh- how it surprised me. I went in thinking that this would be different experience when comparing it with the Kamov but I did not expect it to be a figurative night and day difference. The Huey is a very different beast, one that requires much more attention. I found myself not only enjoying myself but I also found myself having the same feeling of amazement that I had in real life. I will not lie, it took me a while to adjust from the Kamov to the Huey but now that I feel confident enough in my flying I can truly understand what I was missing with the Ka-50. I went from barely using my pedals in level flight to using them constantly. The way I use the cyclic and the pedals is much more different than how I used it on the Kamov, with the Huey requiring much more hand-foot coordination in order to counteract the torque. Torque was the main thing missing from the Kamov but that is to be expected due to its co-axial rotor system. This experience changed my mind when it comes to appreciating the work of a helicopter pilot and the precision one has to have in day-to-day operations. I also realized that a fixed wing aircraft is inherently stable by design, which makes them much more simple to fly in most scenarios. To put it bluntly, in a fighter aircraft I find fun by employing the weaponry that they have, in the Huey I find fun just by the sheer experience of flying it. Hence, the title of this article. The DCS Huey is the digital helicopter that convinced me to stop worrying about the complexity of learning a helicopter and taught me how to love them. I can not wait to see how the DCS: Mi-24P, the Mi-8 or any other helicopters differ from this one once I get my hands on them, consider me impressed. About the writer: Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034
Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020) proudly retains its open modding environment from its FSX predecessor which produced excellent third-party add-ons that increased the simulator’s long shelf life. The IndiaFoxtEcho MB-339A is a stellar example of that expandability and offers, like it’s lead-in fighter trainer namesake presents, a great entry-level opportunity for high-speed acrobatic flight within the Microsoft Flight Simulator experience. DISCLAIMER: We were given a review copy of this expansion by IndiaFoxtEcho themselves, which we appreciate very much. Even then, they gave us complete creative freedom over this review and the opinions that will be written are our own. OVERVIEW The module includes two variants of the aircraft: The standard LIFT MB-339A, and the acrobatic oriented MB-339PAN—performance to the casual player might not be noticeable despite the change in fuel load and weight and balance, though the PAN does not include further liveries beyond that of only operator, the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico, where its wing tanks have been accurately removed and replaced with a pair of smoke generators on mid-wing hardpoints. The cockpit has received an alteration, removing the gunsight and placing more emphasis with orientation on your heads-down instrumentation. The MB-339A is, as mentioned, a Lead-In Fighter Trainer produced by Aermacchi. The aircraft’s history is told in a quick brief within the specifications available in Hangar mode, and the loading screens will present you with quick single-sentence facts about the trainer. Delightfully well-detailed and presented with a generous selection of liveries, the MB-339 presents a picture-perfect representation of the trainer. I however unapologetically choose to fly in standard grey because I’m vanilla like that. DEVOTION TO DETAIL It is hard not to want to admire it in Hangar view for extended periods of time. It can’t be shown in a screenshot, but the movement of the pilot and copilot’s heads is a nice touch of detail. Sneaking a peek into the engine bay reveals a fully modeled stator—the devotion to ensure that every angle is authentic is greatly appreciated. The 4K-quality texturing does the aircraft the justice it deserves, with sharp clarity even in the densely-written caution markings prominently featured below the instructor’s seating position. Speaking of detail, you may want to sequester yourself in hangar mode for a bit anyway—getting familiar with the cockpit is a must. COCKPIT FAMILIARIZATION AND PROCEDURES I’m a simple flyer—I’m used to uncomplicated, straight forward cockpit designs in my simulators. I derive pleasure from simply hovering over a town in a DA42 or a C172. I even broke the bank and shelled out for the Deluxe edition of this game just so I could have a C172 with steam-gauges, since that is how I trained in reality. This results in my need to ID and manipulate flight systems using mouse-clicks. Yes, keybindings are always available, but it removes from the tactility and authenticity of the control. So when I want to unlock the parking brake, I search for it and click it from the cockpit, no matter what the aircraft may be, rather than just pressing a simple button. The open, user-friendly cockpits of the C172 or DA42 allow that no matter your skill level—the MB-339, not as much. The MB-339’s cockpit is a much more cramped affair, offering a mix between the simplicity of a turboprop and the complexity of a commuter jet. What’s most noticeable is how much more of a head swivel I need to identify each of my systems and ensure I can get to them. The parking brake might be open and visible just above my left knee, but the flap controls are well-hidden behind the throttle. Control density also presents a challenge—trying to manipulate those flap-controls by mouse click might instead see you unlock the canopy in mid-flight—thank goodness flight speeds in a trainer like this are manageably low. But that’s also what makes it fun for flyers like me. It sounds complicated, but it actually increases that feeling of authenticity that I want to pursue, and authentic it is. Unlike even a fair portion of the built-in modules provided by Microsoft, the MB-339 models operation of a significantly higher portion of the flight controls for the pilot. The developers of the 787 might think the de-icer isn’t important for your casual MS sim pilot, but the MB-339 generously gives me control over both the de-icer and the pitot heat. But most importantly, when I decide I want to take off from Alpha Ramp at KAPA from a dead stop, I can poke my way through the controls to go from static airframe to functioning machine in short time thanks to the legible and well-labeled English controls. Not to say that poking through controls is an easy affair. It took me a few tries to get everything started in the right order, and this is also where I found the most noticeable glitch in the sound design—should you keep the throttle at idle during power on, the aircraft will run through a foley of its engine spooling, but will then abruptly cut out. Should you start the aircraft with throttle full and parking brake engaged as designed, you likely won’t hear this cut off, since the sound of the engine operating as designed will mask the transition. Honestly, a minor gripe in an otherwise solid showing thus far. FLIGHT TEST AND FLIGHT MODELING So, with our aircraft powered on, flight systems and control surfaces tested and checked out, and engine humming along nicely, let’s go flying. To provide disclosure for my experience, my flight control system consists of a Saitek X52 Pro HOTAS (pre-Logitech buyout) and a set of Saitek Pro Rudder Pedals, tuned to my desired resistance. Taking off from 17L for a full 10,000 feet of asphalt, I’m able to reference the documentation provided with the module to tune my rotation speed with flaps set to take-off position and I’m in the air and climbing rapidly in about half the length of the runway. My sights are set on a loop around Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA and back again to KAPA, testing control response along the way. As I reach 8000 feet, the sun blinds me as I level out thanks to the non-foldable mirrors; what a frustratingly accurate detail. The roll-rate of the aircraft in its lightened fuel-state and lack of weight on its hardpoints is fast and tight, and when you’re used to flying lighter civilian aircraft it’s a refreshing echo of how it feels to jut around in an Extra 300, but at much higher speeds. The trainer is extremely stable. Trying to induce a departure is almost an exercise in futility at any speed. The MB-339 will gladly give you the room to recover yourself if you give it the altitude. Turn rates are modest, as they should be: 15 seconds in a full 360 with a loss of about 1500 feet from 11,000 starting. But the responsiveness of the aircraft cannot be understated. Low-speed flying in MB-339 feels like a dream. Once you’re in the air, your flight envelope feels limitless. It was effortless to follow major roads and highways through town at just 5800 ASL with just minor course adjustments. After some fun we return back to our departure point—this is where things get tricky. I won’t mince words—I had major trouble landing this thing. At the relatively high required speeds and, more importantly, very short undercarriage, it wasn’t until the fourth try of hitting the deck that I successfully came to a full stop. But once you’re on the ground, the brakes are wonderfully responsive and will slow you to a manageable taxi speed within what feels less than its spec'd distance of 1500 feet. CONCLUSIONS So—why the MB339? There are a number of add-on aircraft available out there—certainly ones promising more performance, more pizazz, more popularity. The reason is simple: download those and find out why you should have downloaded this in the first place. The MB-339 as produced by IndiaFoxtEcho is a fast, forgivable cruiser that works as the lead-in fighter trainer it is. It’s a pleasure to look at, and a pleasure to fly. It is not out of place in the MSFS environment by any means. It feels like a native add-on and flies true. My thanks to IndiaFoxtEcho for the review copy of their product and a delightful introduction to higher performance. About the Author T.J. "Millie" Archer T.J. "Millie" Archer is Life-long realist and aviation enthusiast. Once the co-founding Administrator of the Electrosphere.info English Ace Combat Database. In the present day he is freelance, roving the internet in search of the latest aviation news and entertainment.
With the release of the 25th Anniversary downloadable content on October 28th, 2020, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown added three more original aircraft to its roster: the ASF-X Shinden II, CFA-44 Nosferatu and the XFA-27. Like the other three original aircraft added in May, June and July of 2019, these aircraft come from past Ace Combat titles. Even among the dozens of fictional aircraft that have appeared in the Ace Combat series since 1995, the Advanced Support Fighter Experimental (ASF-X) Shinden II (Japanese: 震電Ⅱ, English Translation: Magnificent Lightning II) has a unique place in the entirety of the Ace Combat series. Its real world design concept, mechanical designer, development history, lore and appearances across the three continuities of Ace Combat truly make it stand out. Concept and Key Design Features Though this aircraft was introduced on October 25th, 2011 as downloadable content for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the real world reasoning behind its design concept was divulged only recently during the Gamescom 2020 Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown DLC Overview video. As discussed by Ace Combat Brand Director Kazutoki Kono, when the ASF-X Shinden II was being designed for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (2011), the nation of Japan was not yet confirmed for the purchase of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The concept behind designing the ASF-X was to create an aircraft that could realistically fulfill the role of Japan’s first state-of-the-art stealth fighter for the defense of its national borders while maintaining a degree of playfulness. To design this aircraft, Project Aces worked with Shōji Kawamori as the supervisor of the mechanical design. A world famous Japanese anime creator and producer, screenwriter, visual artist, and mecha designer, Kawamori was a first for Ace Combat as a whole. All original designed aircraft come from the Project Aces team and not individuals outside of the team. Kawamori’s past mechanical designs include the Macross series, in which robots can transform into fighter jets. So naturally the ASF-X Shinden II adopted a so-called “Kawamori-ism” type of transformation to its design. Its forward swept wing, vertical stabilizers, horizontal stabilizers and canards incorporated variable wing geometry. These flight control surfaces can be shifted into three configurations. Its normal configuration (blue), cruise configuration for high speed flight (green) and landing/low speed flight configuration (red). During its design phase, a primary concern Kawamori had was incorporating a vertical takeoff ability. Much of this was explained in the Aces At War 2011 interview Talk Dog Fight R01. The goal was to avoid using a large F-35B style lift-fan that would take up too much internal space. Though, seaborne operations were also considered, meaning that a twin-engine design was preferred. This resulted in an over/under engine design, similar to what is seen on the BAE English Electric Lightning. Having both engines in the standard side-by-side configuration would make VTOL difficult because of center of mass related issues, having the engines vertically stacked alleviates those problems. Furthermore the driveshafts were offset forward and backward, VTOL engine nozzles capable of directing thrust 90 degrees downward were installed on the engines and exhaust slits for the forward engine duct fan were positioned on the underside of the fuselage beneath the canards to equalize lifting forces beneath the aircraft. With the flaps lowered and the wingtips, tail section and canards rotated downward, the aircraft would then envelope its engine exhaust and utilize ground effect as much as possible while thrust is vectored downward and the aircraft begins to generate lift. Notable Flight Characteristics As Ace Combat has never incorporated VTOL controls into its flight model since 1995, the aircraft’s on-paper vertical lift capabilities are not available to players. But it can utilize an interesting slow speed flight characteristics that only a handful of Ace Combat aircraft can access. This seems to have been done in lieu of full VTOL controls. In Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, its VTOL ability inspired a maneuver for that game’s Close Range Assault system. While the Shinden II is being pursued in Dog Fight Mode, the nose of the aircraft pitches upward to begin a vertical loop. Within seconds of the maneuver starting the thrust vectored nozzles push the nose forward, cancelling the loop and positioning itself behind its pursuer. It is something similar to a mix of the Pugachev Cobra and Harrier VIFFing techniques combined. Though this maneuver cannot be recreated outside of Assault Horizon, it is an example of its unique flight abilities. Its adaptability was emphasized in an unexpected stint of combat during an endurance test flight described in the novel Ace Combat: Ikaros in the Sky (to be discussed in the next section). One of the aircraft lost its left wing near the wing root during combat, but its advanced fly-by-light flight control system and variable geometry design was able to compensate. The damaged aircraft was able to recover from the wing loss, provide support in the fight and land safely. Product of Attempted ‘Rebirth’ Speaking of timing, the Shinden II was released at one of the most unusual times in Ace Combat’s history. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon was touted as the rebirth of the series, steering everything towards a real world Earth setting. Referred to as the Assault Horizon continuity, this break away from the longstanding fictional setting of Strangereal, the original Ace Combat world setting, had a mixed-reception from its established user base. Introducing a fictional aircraft to a real world setting was an unusual choice in 2011, though the explanation of its design concept in 2020 clears that up a bit. However, the plans for the ASF-X Shinden II went well beyond just being a downloadable aircraft for a game. In support of the Assault Horizon continuity, the testing and development program of the Shinden II was the central focus of the novel Ace Combat: Ikaros in the Sky. That story introduced its test pilots, technical staff, the state the world was in when development began, and the politics related to the project. While further technical information is found in the Setting and Material sections of Ikaros, the next book from this era of Ace Combat went even farther. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Master File (March 2012) provided the most detailed and expansive look at a single aircraft from Ace Combat as of the time of this article’s release. Though the Aces at War 2011 and 2019 books are filled with a few pages of lore for other original, fictional aircraft designed by Project Aces, this 128 page master file was dedicated to the ASF-X Shinden and its eventual mass produced F-3 variants. Within its pages are development timelines, aircraft design explanation, weapons descriptions, aircraft system explanations, information on the export version for the Royal Navy and backstory on events not seen or mentioned in the 2011 video game or in Ace Combat: Ikaros in the Sky. Despite the wealth of information to support the new direction of the Ace Combat series being lead by Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the characters, world setting and timeline of the attempted rebirth of the series was done away with and never developed further after 2013. The Shinden II Continues The life of the Shinden II continued on well after Assault Horizon’s franchise reboot failure. Its next brief and unusual appearance was as a background aircraft in Mach Storm, an arcade cabinet, on-rails shooter that reused many Ace Combat assets. It appeared in a highly visible role in Ace Combat Infinity (2014 - 2018) which introduced another spin-off continuity for Ace Combat as a whole. Flown by an allied but rival squadron to the players known as the Ridgebacks. The ASF-X Shinden did not have the same amount of backstory or spotlight within Ace Combat Infinity, but its presence was well known. One of the strongest connections that kept the ASF-X relevant was its association to the pseudo mascot of Ace Combat that has appeared in multiple games and in various ways, Kei Nagase. In both the Ikaros in the Sky novel and in Ace Combat Infinity, Kei Nagase piloted this aircraft. There is also official media (pictures, desktop wallpapers, aircraft model kits) that connect this aircraft and the character. The addition of the Shinden II to Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown as a downloadable content aircraft brings it back with modern, high definition graphics. It does not play a central role to the story nor is it flown by a notable character, but its inclusion makes the Shinden one of two aircraft that appeared in all three Ace Combat continuities. The second aircraft, the CFA-44 Nosferatu, joined the Shinden II in the same games and same media as its adversary, but that’s a subject for another article. With its namesake inspired by the Kyushu J7W Shinden, lightning has struck more than twice for the Advanced Support Fighter Experimental. It has solidified its presence in the now over 25 year old Ace Combat series in ways many of its contemporary and forerunner original design aircraft have not. About the Writer Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza The Director of Operations for 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 | SOURCES  Timestamp: 0:56 - 4:07, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown DLC Overview | gamescom 2020; information about the Shinden II being designed with Japan not cleared to purchase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. A “degree of playfulness” mentioned.  Project Nagase Blog Post 2012-05-30 03:00:00; aircraft wing configuration diagrams.  Aces at War 2011: Talk Dog Fight R01, Pages 72, 73 and 74. Shoji Kawamori discussing the design concept, VTOL capability and unique Ace Combat: Assault Horizon counter maneuver.  Ace Combat: Ikaros in the Sky; information about design, wing loss in combat information, ties to Kei Nagase, source of Shinden II namesake tied to Kyushu J7W.  Ace Combat: Assault Horizon; gameplay proof of slow speed flight characteristics, release date of DLC, unique counter maneuver described by Shoji Kawamori.  Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Master File: discusses of mass production version of ASF-X Shinden II, other events and conflicts from the Assault Horizon universe.  Mach Storm; aircraft seen on aircraft carrier deck before each level/mission.
IL-2 Great Battles Plane Spotlight: P-38J Lightning
IL-2 Great Battles is a game filled with wonderful aircraft from two of the most important eras of aviation: World War 1 and World War 2. From the humble yet powerful Albatros D.Va to Germany's wunderwaffe, the Me-262. This game is filled with legends of wartime aviation like almost no other game out there, even without considering that a new expansion is coming. Today, we wanted to give one of these legends, the P-38J Lightning, the spotlight in the first article of our new Plane Spotlight series. We will take a look at the aircraft, some of its history and how the game represents it. Without further ado, let's jump in! INTRODUCTION Designed by Lockheed-Martin, the P-38 is one of those aircraft that is instantly recognizable for its unique silhouette and intimidating profile that inspires both admiration and awe. It strays from more conventional aircraft design philosophies of the era by utilizing a twin boom design with the pilot located between them, "suspended" on a nacelle which also held the guns and cannon. This configuration was also used similarly on an another similarly unique-looking aircraft such as the German Fw-189 and the P-61 Black Widow, another american aircraft. Due to this wing configuration it is also equipped with a tricycle landing gear, a feature only a few aircraft of the era had but one that would become the norm with the birth of the jet. The Lightning had many variants made throughout the war, but the one present in IL-2 Great Battles as a Collector aircraft is the late-war P-38J-25. This is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of this aircraft's design. It includes better engines with a better intercooler and, most importantly, dive recovery flaps that aided in solving the P-38's most important problem: loss of control due to compressibility. For those who do not know, the P-38 was designed before compressibility was a known physical effect. In fact, it was one of if not the first American aircraft that suffered from this. During testing, this aircraft demonstrated adverse effects when crossing a certain speed threshold (usually above or around Mach 0.65) which made it borderline unrecoverable during a dive. The J-25 models and some older ones (J-10 and J-20) were fitted/retro-fitted with a dive recovery system in the form of an airbrake/dive flap which eliminated much of this issue. The Lightning is an aircraft that in its time pushed engineering to its limits and one that many pilots trusted their lifes to, becoming the one that made some of them aces over the Pacific and Europe. THE BEAUTIFUL LINES OF THE LIGHTNING In IL-2 Great Battles, the P-38 has been beautifully represented. Every bolt, seam and panel has been modeled to a very high degree of detail. What impressed me the most were the visible marks of wear and tear that an aircraft would have, it does not look like a factory-new aircraft. The area around the intercooler has a lot of oil as it should, and notice one more thing; the oil splatters follow the direction of the airflow. Look at the propeller's spinner and see how the oil follows the rotational direction of the prop, amazing. This is simply-put, a beautiful depiction of a spectacular aircraft. The cockpit is equally well-made. All the gauges are there and mostly correspond with this model of P-38. My only gripe about this and all other aircraft in IL-2 Great Battles that I can not interact or click any of this gorgeous cockpit unlike how I would be able on IL-2 Cliffs of Dover/Desert Wings. I would love to click and move around all the levers and switches.
The following images are a gallery, click the arrows to scroll around! FLYING AND FIGHTING IN THE LIGHTNING To be completely honest, I love the way it flies. I do not know what it is but it feels a bit better than some of the other aircraft in the game. It has more weight to it and it does not lack in engine power, which makes it feel a bit more like a flying battering ram. It lacks a bit of maneuverability but that is natural considering that it is heavier and larger than something like a Spitfire or a Mustang. Another part that I really like about the Lightning is how the superchargers spool up as speed increases. This is characteristically distinctive of the Allison V-1710 engines equipped on the aircraft, which aided it in high altitude performance and endurance. Here, have a listen: The best role that the P-38 can do is, in my opinion, that of a fighter-bomber. It can carry a lot of ordinance for a very long distance with the added bonus of being able to defend itself from enemy fighters with its four .50 caliber machine guns and its singular 20mm cannon. Do not get me wrong, this is an aircraft that can dogfight if the pilot manages its energy well, but there are better and more maneuverable fighters on the Allies' roster which are much more easier to dogfight on than the Lightning. Oh, by the way, sometimes all it takes is a single hit of your 20mm cannon to decimate the enemy aircraft. Really satisfying. CONCLUSIONS If I had to buy just one of the Collector aircraft for IL-2 Great Battles, it would be this one. It is versatile, unique and a lot of fun to fly. It has showed me that sometimes it does matter if you can dogfight on an aircraft but that you can also have fun doing boom-and-zoom attacks on enemy aircraft and ground-pounding airbases into oblivion. The Lightning will serve you well- About the writer: Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034
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. As always, refer to the Twitter timeline and YouTube channel of Why485 for the latest updates and announcements. About the Writer Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza The Director of Operations for 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 |
The beginning of our Creator Highlight series, that focuses on interesting media created by individuals and groups across the internet, starts with a relatively unknown content creator that has lived up to his persona. For over three years, he has steadily produced 540+ educational videos for aircraft across multiple flight simulators. The aircraft flown cross the entire range from the 1910s to the 2010s and include civilian and military aircraft of all sizes. I've been a frequent viewer of his content for roughly two years now and despite his low view counts, his genuine love for aviation and willpower to steadily produce video is admirable. Let's take a moment to introduce and appreciate the Flight Sim Historian. Since September 7th, 2017, the Flight Sim Historian has discussed and flown hundreds of aircraft in X-Plane 11, DCS World, Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition, IL-2, PREPAR3D and even Flight Sim World. Aircraft of all types are covered: airliners, research aircraft, rotary-wing, military aircraft, transports, World War II experimentals, strategic bombers, 5th generation fighters - you name it, it's most likely there in the catalog. There are legitimately too many to list. The video format for his main series, the self titled "Flight Sim Historian" series, is straightforward. Each episode focuses on a single aircraft from one of the aforementioned flight simulators. They are a mixture of freeware, payware and other mods. While the aircraft is on the ground, he begins to provide information about the aircraft in the first few minutes of each video. Information about the aircraft, its operators, media the aircraft can be seen in (movies, TV shows, etc.) and other information depending on aircraft type or the focus of the video. After the ground presentation, the aircraft is then flown for a time to examine it in flight both internally and externally while the Flight Sim Historian provides no commentary or little commentary. This allows the aircraft to be observed with minimal interruption before landing. These are not tutorial level videos where aircraft start up is discussed in detail, but they are effective introductory videos to a wide variety of airframes. It should be mentioned that he also does reshoot earlier videos with new footage and new audio when needed. Alongside the primary series are also videos of one-man DCS airshows, free flights and combat footage in his catalog as well. Admittedly, not every video is picture perfect. Some include crashes on landings or a few minor mid-air mistakes but these do not ruin the videos. The one persisting complaint about the videos is the audio volume difference between his commentary and the flying segments. The difference is so sharp having a finger or mouse icon hovering over the volume control is recommended. The Flight Sim Historian continues to create video content on his YouTube channel with his primary means of contact through his Facebook page. After production of more than 540 videos, this content creator is continuing to soar under their own power. About the Writer Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza The Director of Operations for 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 |
The initial multiplayer focused development of Comanche (2020) is to produce a group of fictional helicopters based on the Boeing–Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche. From a development point of view, this was clearly done as a way to diversify its multiplayer gameplay and make online player vs. player game-play more team based. This is something I previously wrote about in the article Multiplayer Focus of Comanche (2020).
According to the still in development single player story, the United States of America had covertly restarted the Comanche development program sometime after the Iran–U.S. RQ-170 incident. Years later, espionage led to data about the designs of the operational and potential variants of the Comanche to be stolen and uploaded to the dark web. This led to organizations and/or nations developing their own rotary-wing aircraft based on the stolen data. These variants of the Comanche have specialized equipment which place each of them into roles similar to those found in team based first person and third person shooters. For example, the ‘Eve’ can use medium-range missiles that deliver nano-machines to repair allies, while the ‘Horizon’ deploys a railgun to snipe enemies from afar. This brings us to the ‘Rhino’. The Rhino-class Comanche is the attack helicopter I love to be confused by. The Rhino is by far the most unexpected helicopter in the game. Its design, weapons and systems are clearly meant to fulfill the “Tank character" in multiplayer. Rhino forgoes any semblance to the stealth reconnaissance role its prototype predecessor sought to present. With its heavy armor, slow speed and low maneuverability, it is clearly built to take incoming fire head-on instead of remaining out of sight and striking from distance. In multiplayer, its weapon systems are the ‘Stomp’ long-range missile which can be fired one-at-a-time with a timed cooled down and a large-caliber Scattergun (i.e. shotgun cannon) that is only effective within 100 meters. It has an integrated close range search system that can locate targets within a certain distance and identify them for other allied players. This includes spotting the optically camouflaged ‘Ghost-class’ Comanche. The Rhino is clearly designed to take down other helicopters above all else. But all of that close range capability is useless against every other attack helicopter that can land shots at medium and long ranges. That would be true if the Rhino didn’t have jet thrusters. The signature ability of this hulking helicopter is the Stampede jet thruster system. When activated the Rhino becomes one of the fastest units in-game. Now, this thing isn't Air Wolf. You won't be zipping around at mach 1 for minutes on end. Stampede is only engaged for a few seconds per use but during that time it flies more like a fixed-wing fighter aircraft. This is something that needs to be kept in mind, since the transition from jet powered forward flight back to standard rotary-wing flight characteristics happens within seconds of thruster deactivation. The common use of the thrusters is to ambush adversaries more specialized in medium and long range engagements. Pilots that keenly maneuver themselves into advantageous positions can use the boost to rapidly close distance with their targets. Rhino pilots can use the thruster system to rapidly change directions, gain altitude above their pursuers engagement envelope or dash away from a disadvantageous situation. The scattergun is a devastating weapon that had to be somewhat ‘nerfed’ in the game’s second early access update. For a time, it was possible to destroy opposing helicopters in just a two or three shots depending on which variant the enemy is and how many of the pellets from the scattergun blast(s) connected with their airframes. But despite the damage reduction and increased spread of scattergun pellets, it is still possible to one-hit-kill the opposition. Not with a cannon or missile, but with the Rhino itself. While the Rhino is accelerating in Stampede, it can bulldoze through airborne enemies while taking almost no damage in the process. This surprisingly entertaining ability to body slam air targets is mostly useful against less agile adversaries that don’t expect the ram (and honestly who would?) or stationary helicopters that are controlling unmanned air vehicles and have their attention elsewhere. The Rhino is just one of the five Comanche variants available in the multiplayer of Comanche (2020), a game that is still progressing through its early access phase. While most of the other helicopters in the game are certainly built as a part of the team play dependent PVP style, the Rhino is one of the most odd helicopters to appear in a game in the past couple of years. About the writer Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza The Director of Operations for 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 |
First hitting the skies of DCS in 2017, the AJS-37 Viggen has established itself as a standard of quality in the game. It was released under Leatherneck Simulations at first but after some internal struggles arose, the entire development team behind the Viggen parted ways with Leatherneck and Magnitude 3, becoming the studio now known as Heatblur Simulations. A ground-pounder by soul, this double delta provides a suite of possibilities like no other module out there. Unique weaponry and a very believable ground radar functionality, this aircraft makes itself shine through raw uniqueness alone. In this review I will dive deep into the Viggen and all its quirks and features to let you, the reader, judge if this Swedish monster is for you. This piece will be divided into several parts: External and internal 3D models Visual and sound effects Flight modelling Mission capability Armament Ease of use and learning curve Single player content Is this aircraft for you? EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL 3D MODELS If there is one thing that defines Heatblur it is quality and the Viggen shows it. This aircraft has been modeled to an extreme amount of detail. Nothing comes out as wonky or out of date, which is impressive considering that this module is now over three years old. A lot of love was put into making it a realistic depiction of the AJS-37, down to some things I wouldn't have thought important or crucial. EVEN THE SMALL THINGS The thing that impressed me the most is that this is one of if not the only aircraft with a modeled RAT turbine. This is something that most players will not even notice or care about as it is not a weapon or a system you will rely upon constantly, but it shows the degree of which this module has been modeled. If there is another set of features that I particularly liked, they are all the animations, particularly the thrust-reverser. A unique feature to the Viggen as of the time of writing. While I will not go in-depth in this section of the review on how awesome the reverser is. I will show you its cool animation just because I do not want to think I am the only one that likes things like this. Cockpit-wise, the Viggen continues to impress me with its quality. From the lighting to the texture work, this is one of the only cockpits that I turn in just to look at it. The way the lights react with the weathered textures and the glow of the radar scope give it a very in-era look, which I always welcome. The only "bad" part is that some of the textures are starting to age a bit, particularly on the text, but that is something that Heatblur can improve upon. Here are some day and night shots of it so you can see for yourself: VISUAL AND SOUND EFFECTS This is an area in which a lot of aircraft do good at and the Viggen is no different. While it does not have any fancy over wing vapor effects, wingtip vortexes can be seen on both the main wing and, in cases of high AoA, on the canards as well. In terms of other external effects that are noteworthy the only one that I can think of my mind is the afterburner effect: The effect is different from other aircraft as the "flame" does not extend too far away from the fuselage, but as far as I know that is by design and correct to the Volvo RM8A engine.
The area where the Viggen shines the most is its sound. It is clear that the developers wanted this part of the module to be much more polished than the rest of the modules out there. From the distinct clanks of the switches to the clicks that the throttle makes as it moves over its detents, this gives life to the aircraft. Afterburners are no joke either, being clearly audible from inside and outside the cockpit, letting you know how your engine is behaving. There is one particular sound in this aircraft that you do not want to hear, but I will go over that in the next section of the review. Overall, the Viggen has one of the best designed sound environments in DCS and I am glad that Heatblur put a lot of effort into it.
Here are some clips so you can hear what I just described to you, pay attention to the clicks of the throttle as I move it: EXAMPLES In-cockpit on the ground (idle-full afterburner-idle) In-cockpit in the air (idle-full afterburner-idle) External sound on the ground (idle-full afterburner-idle) Fly-by at 900Km/h (Volume warning) FLIGHT MODELING Ohboy, here is the best part of the module. This bird feels authentic not just because it is a joy to fly, but because it can also be a pain to fly. Let me explain myself. The brilliantly crazy people that made this module made sure that even the bad parts of the Viggen's characteristics were there, including the dreaded compressor stalls that one can suffer at high AoA. That is the only sound you do not want to hear in this aircraft; I will leave a sample at the end of this section.
The Viggen likes being down-low, it was designed for it. It has outstanding acceleration on the deck and can out-accelerate most other aircraft but only at low altitude, so keep that in mind for those intercept missions out there. Maneuverability-wise this is not an aircraft you will want to do dogfights in. Even though it has an excellent instant turn-rate, that will stop the moment you run out of energy. Your engine starts starving, craving for air that it is not getting, so be careful with those. It is a relatively stable platform with the help of SPOK, your stability augmentation system. With it enabled, you will notice less oscillations as you get out of a bank or similar situations. It can also help you to land thanks to the AFK, your automatic throttle control. This system will maintain 550kph when the gear is up and an AoA of 12° or 15.5° if you so desire by pressing the 15.5° button. The entire computer suite does feel restrictive but it is good enough to make your life easier while flying. The thrust reverser is the cherry on top of the cake, allowing you to land almost everywhere you want provided that there is at least 500m of level terrain, preferably paved but gravel will do. If you get the Viggen, use this even if it is just to do donuts in reverse to make fun of other inferior aircraft that lack reverse capability. Overall, this is a wonderful little machine with quirks upon quirks that make her special. Here is the sample of the compressor stall, notice the warning that precedes it: MISSION CAPABILITY This is an area in which the Viggen both shines and is at its worst, at least to me. To understand the Viggen's role one must put itself in the shoes of 1970's Sweden. At this time a Soviet invasion was a real possibility, one that was taken so seriously that the entire Swedish Armed Forces were built around it. The Air Force, specifically, had as a requisite that all Swedish Air Force front-line fighters were to be able to operate from short/damaged airfields or even road-side bases in the case the Soviets destroyed all the runways. A PRODUCT OF ITS TIME For that reason, the Viggen we have in game (the AJS-37, not the JA-37) has a very specific role in mind: Anti-ship and low-level precision strikes. This leaves the Viggen highly dependent on pre-planned targets and pop-up attacks that require specific target information to be performed successfully, primarily the target's QFE (atmospheric pressure). To be clear, this does not necessarily mean anything is wrong with the module, it is just that the DCS multiplayer environment does not lend itself that well to highly planned missions outside of smaller, more coordinated group sessions where pre-planned objectives can be followed. The Viggen can be operated on a target of opportunity basis too mainly thanks to the amazingly done ground radar that the module has, but at that point you are missing some of what makes the Viggen such a capable aircraft despite its shortcomings. I love this aircraft but I find myself flying it less than what I would like for this very fact, but for some odd reason I still keep coming back and flying it more. ARMAMENT AKAN GUN PODS 150 rounds (per pod) of 30mm-sized death at 1300RPM. These are for when you want to kill something and you do not know much about it. They can be used for both air to air and air to ground roles. They are pretty accurate, if you aim right. RB-24 / RB-24J SIDEWINDER MISSILES As with the F-5E-3, these are the only dedicated air to air weapons you will have aside from the gun pods. You have access to two variants: the RB-24J (AIM-9P) and an RB-24 (AIM-9L). They are easily spoofed by flares so you better pack several of them. ARAK ROCKET PODS The most fun you will have with the Viggen, period. These are 135mm in diameter making them deadly even against well reinforced armor. These pods empty in only 0.6 seconds , spitting a figurative wall of death and destruction in the direction of the poor souls who dare stand in front of you. Oh, and they can be used for both pre-planned and unplanned targets. RB-75 MAVERICK One of the only precision guided munitions, and in fact, the only one that has its dedicated TV scope mounted to the side of the HUD (see second picture by clicking the arrow). These are your standard Maverick missiles, so nothing really out of the ordinary. A cool weapon nonetheless, though. M/71 GENERAL PURPOSE BOMBS Capable yet a bit lacking in firepower due to their 120Kg mass, these bombs rely on their numbers to carpet bomb an area into oblivion. There is also an illumination variant that will turn the darkest night into daytime in less time that I empty my ARAK pods. RB-05 RADIO CONTROLLED AIR TO SURFACE MISSILE Manually guided by you, the pilot, this missile will follow your directions to its last moment. Capable of air to ground and air to air thanks to its proximity fuse capability. They are quite a lot of fun once you get used to them. RB-04 ANTI-SHIP MISSILE Packing their own radar, these oddly shaped missiles are the older option for anti-shipping operations. Once launched, they will find their own target and give it a date with Poseidon. RB-15 ANTI-SHIP MISSILE A more modern alternative for the anti-shipping business, these missiles do not screw around. They can be pre-programmed with their own waypoints and search patterns, making them a lot more complicated than the RB-04, in theory. In practice, you can just designate a target with your radar and call it a day. BK-90 CLUSTER MUNITIONS A.K.A MJOLNIR The wrath of Thor will fall upon your enemies once you throw these out. The only thing that they are missing are lightning bolts coming out of them. They are truly bringers of destruction if employed correctly, which can be tricky. They have both an AP and HE variants. COUNTERMEASURES AND ELINT Lacking internal countermeasures aside from the radar warning receiver, the Viggen has to rely on external pods for self-defense countermeasures. One pod for chaff and flares (right) and one for ECM (left). This can be a bit frustrating as you have to give away two of your pylons just to have the ability to defend yourself against missiles.
ELINT allows you to do recon-stuff, data gathering and most things of that nature. Some servers have it implemented as a core feature so it can be useful under some circumstances. EASE OF USE AND LEARNING CURVE This is the only part that makes me weary of recommending the Viggen to some of my friends. To put it bluntly, this aircraft is not for everyone. Not because of bugs or anything like that, but because of how different it is from every other aircraft out there. Everything from the cockpit layout to the weapon management system is just alien. Well, as alien as Sweden can be. It was an aircraft designed in-house for the needs of the Swedish nation with little to no external influence at all. This is not a bad thing, it is just something that someone has to get used to first prior to enjoying the Viggen for what it is. It does have its good parts. DESIGN DIFFERENCES For instance, the HUD design relies much more on symbology than, for example, American aircraft. It is absolutely brilliant in its application but for someone transitioning from an A-10C or a F-16C, the HUD might look bare and unintuitive; which it is not. It is in fact rather well designed and allows you to take all the information you might need at a simple glance. A sign of a good design. This is not a novice-friendly aircraft either, mainly due to the way one interacts with the data computer. The keypad, (top of the right console in the cockpit pictures of the first section), is the only way you can interact with it. It relies on a lot of codes to do certain things, like program RB-15 missiles. It is not the worst I have seen, so there is that as well. To summarize: I really don't recommend this aircraft for beginners as the learning process can be quite complicated. But, don't let me discourage you from taking up the challenge. If you feel like you can do it, then go for it! SINGLE PLAYER CONTENT This module comes with two campaigns that are linked narratively. These campaigns offer quite a lot of fun and showcase the pre-planned mission potential that the Viggen has in a way that many other campaigns fail to accomplish. I sincerely recommend trying these out even while you are learning the module. Even if it is just to hone your skills a bit more in something other than a simple training mission. IS THIS MODULE FOR YOU? If what you want in a module is: To break space-time on the deck. A very interesting avionics suite. An excellent flight model with a tons of room for fun. A Swedish masterpiece. If you don't mind: The design differences that come with indigenous aircraft. The somewhat limited dogfighting capabilities. The excessively steep learning curve for a novice. Having a lot of patience and time to learn how to use it. If all or some of the above is what you want, then Heatblur's AJS-37 Viggen is for you. About the writer: Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034
War Thunder is a game well known for a lot of reasons. From its impressively extensive line-up of vehicles to the drama that happens from time to time in the community from unbalanced tiers or broken features that eventually get patched out, until the next patch where the cycle repeats. But inside of the War Thunder community there is a smaller group that strives to use the game in other ways, to modify it and use its engine for their own community creations. The modders of War Thunder always try to push the boundaries of what is possible in this free-to-play game by creating everything from their own custom missions to more complex mods like custom aircraft and vehicles and sharing them for everyone to enjoy. To date, the most complex mod of them all is Ace Thunder Zero. This mod is, in my opinion, the single most amazing piece of content that the War Thunder community has ever put out. Today we talk with its main developer and the person behind the vision that made this project possible, Avarik, to get a little more perspective as to how complex this mod really is and what it took to make it a reality. Q: What made you get into modding War Thunder or just modding in general? Did you have any help or someone that helped you learn the ropes? A: I've got into modding in War Thunder from my desire to create cinematics. I first started to learn the ropes of the Mission Editor back when Gaijin Entertainment opened up user missions to online custom battles, I joined the group of mission creators who were the first beta testers of that functionality, from then I played around a lot with the mission editor and learnt to utilize actions and conditions more efficiently, and I have lightly touched at modifying existing units in War Thunder for some of my earlier cinematics. But my first true experience with modding the game was when I was making Battle Thunder 1944, a recreation of Battlefield 1942's intro cinematic, it was my first attempt at exporting a model to War Thunder and my first true experience at modding the game, where I modified and created custom units so that I could create most of the scenes using both myself and the AI to make them as accurate as possible. It took me about 3 or so months to finish, but I learnt valuable information from it and from there I continued to develop my experience and knowledge of the War Thunder CDK and the Dagor engine in general. I did have help to learn the ropes from another guy who I was working on the mod with, RideR2, but also other fellow people in the CDK community, Gallonmate in particular who taught me how to export 3d models into War Thunder, and when I couldn't find some answers I turned to datamining and reverse engineering existing configurations, which helped me develop my own methods for more serious modding. Gaijin Entertainment themselves have also been fundamentally involved in helping me learn how to us their tools, when I didn't know how to do something that wasn't available on their wiki or I failed to datamine myself, I turned to them directly, their developers are amazing people who love to share their knowledge, I wouldn't have known half of what I know if not for them. Q: This has got to be the most complex mod out there for War Thunder as of now, congratulations on finally getting out there. But I have got to ask, with so many features, for how long were you working on this mod? Did you ever think about giving up at some time? A: It took me approximately 1.5 years on and off to create this mod, I work in the gaming industry myself and my job takes a considerable amount of my time so I spent most of my free time developing Ace Thunder Zero, it was a long ride but I feel it was worth the effort. I didn't really think about giving up, but my original pitch was actually to just continue to create cinematics, but when I saw the overwhelming amount of people who wanted to play with the exported models I figured I might as well try to make an actual proper mod for War Thunder with a higher production value than most mods, RideR2 joined me in this endeavour after showing interest in creating an arcade-like game mode for War Thunder, and Ace Combat was clearly the best choice for this game mode. It isn't a secret that I've invested both time and money into this, I didn't want to just create a visual mod or a simple one, I wanted to create a mod with a story-line and completely new game mechanics, that is what kept me forward from giving up. Q: Where there any features that were particularly hard to implement or ones in which you had to take a creative approach in order to make it work? A: The one thing that ended up being hard to make it work properly were the SAM, TLS and MPBM. Originally, ground and naval units in War Thunder could not fire rockets or missiles properly without some workarounds, and this is to an extent true to aircraft as well. Me and RideR2 discovered that, if we bind the weapon group of the missile to that of a standard weapon, and make the AI also fire a dummy gun, it will make them fire a missile too, that is how we were able to get SAM units to work. The TLS was mostly an easy implementation, but as more patches came out for War Thunder, the more broken it became, at some point the laser stopped doing damage and we were forced to add another invisible weapon to compensate for that, which worked out well in the end as we were able to more easily balance the damage the TLS did. It also currently only renders in cockpit view, yet it still functions normally in any other view and will damage enemies correctly. The MPBM was mostly an easy implementation, but we ran into some issues with the blast radius until we figured out we can override the game's normal parameters by removing the explosive type the weapon would use, making it purely dependent on blast radius and explosive mass. Q: As far as I understand there were other people involved in the making of this mod. Who are they and what did they do? A: Originally it was just me and RideR2, me being the 3D model/animation guy expert who created custom assets and also the one who used the CDK for asset utilization and the main mission creator, while RideR2 was the guy who did most of the configuration and template creations and made all units and weaponry behave the way they did, he also created The Gauntlet mission. I've also received major help from RythusOmega and Dantofu when it comes to handling models from Ace Combat 7, if not for them I wouldn't have started doing Ace Combat cinematics and later on the Ace Thunder mod. Besides me and RideR2, there were a lot of other people who contributed the following: Net-Zone: Broken Accord's OST GaMetal: The Gauntlet's OST Pandramodo: Trailer creation njmksr: ADFX-02 skins leroyonly: Dracul, MiG-21 & Potato skins reyhael: Normal mapping mobiusu14: Briefing Screen mothman47: Briefing Narrator Flipped StuG: AWWNB Pilot 1 Essi: Escudo 2 Ronan Yakowitz: AWACS Sick2Day: Savage 1 & AI skins The Iron Armenian aka G.I. Haigs: Savage 2 Michiganon: Osean Army Platoon Optical Ilyushin: Halo 1 Yimie Yu: Halo 4 and Grau Team emblem artwork Lt Rainbow Slash: Dracul 1 - Ac3ofNight: Grau 3 Flaschengeist: Grau 2 Dane Ewell / SwissChicken: Grau 1 Eclipse: Grau 4 Atsuk0: Tester lnVader: Tester Killerofal: Tester Vulpinaut: Tester MikeGoesBoom: Tester Roach: Tester Q: I was genuinely surprised to see the opening cutscene having as much detail as it did. It felt like a genuine homage to Ace Combat Zero’s style with a lot of attention to detail. For how long was this in the works and how hard was this to make? A: In short: Very hard. Before coming up with the idea of making a briefing cinematic for the mod, I wanted to make sure I get all the details correctly and not just make a simple briefing that shows what the player needs to do, there have been a lot of lore to cover to make sure no holes are made or mis-match with existing Ace Combat Zero canon, I wanted to stick to the original story but from a different point of view. I've commissioned Mobiusu14 to create a briefing cutscene after I have seen his previous artwork of an Ace Combat 7 briefing styled in Ace Combat Zero. Mobiusu14 created all the 2d assets and 3d animation, while I animated and organized all the 2d assets and script for the narrator, Mothman47, who did a spectacular job being the briefing guy. Mobiusu14 is also an excellent artist and I hope we all get to work together again if more missions are made.The briefing itself took us about 3 or so months to finish, implementing it in the game wasn't as hard but certainly not easy either. The cinematics rely on a feature that exists in War Thunder but has not been made open for custom assets and has only been utilized in tutorial missions, until Gaijin opened it up for us - It's basically a configuration file that tells the game to render video and image files located in the game's folders. Q: How are the “Destroyed” and the rest of UI elements handled? Are they static images over imposed over the screen? A: Correct, they are static images I created myself based on their Ace Combat Zero counterpart, they too use that configuration file I mentioned which renders external images and videos in the game. Q: Story-wise the mod does fit very well with what we know happened in ACZ, taking some liberties of course. Did you have any help with the writing of the dialogue and the setting? Ace Thunder Zero trailer by Pandramodo. A: For the most part the dialogue and settings was mostly my own research and knowledge of Ace Combat lore, but since I was working with other people who have played and know a lot about Ace Combat lore, they too have helped with that, especially Mobiusu14 while we were working on the briefing. I have thought a lot ahead for when and if I create more missions, so I have the full storyline already in check and ready to be utilized for future missions implementation, all fitting within existing canon, I have no intention to change the storyline or the outcome of the original Ace Combat Zero ending, but I'm not gonna spoil how I plan to wrap things up. Since I believe most people recognize the "Mercenary route" as the canon route in Ace Combat Zero, I am trying to follow A World With No Boundaries story and point of view with that in mind, and the lore actually goes much deeper with that - Try to decipher who each member of Grau Team is for example and then look how deep the rabbit holes goes. :) Q: The enemy AI is very aggressive and maneuvers really well, for War Thunder that is. Did you make any tweaks to it? A: Of course, the AI uses modified flight models and damage models, but other than that it uses standard AI behavior from existing configurations located in the game, we currently have no way to create true custom AI properties but perhaps this will be doable in the future, we do know how to customize them but the game has no way of reading custom properties at this time. The standard AI is also not able to fire missiles normally, like with the ground units. RideR2 and me have discovered that AI aircraft can in fact fire rockets and missiles if they are fired from a turret, so the solution was to add static invisible turrets to them and this way they can fire missiles at enemy aircraft. Q: It was a bit odd seeing heat seeker missiles track ground targets as I know that is not a possibility inside vanilla WT. How is this handled in-game? A: It wasn't a possibility back then which forced us to use a workaround - I created an invisible box model and designated it as an aircraft. By planting that aircraft under ground units, I was able to make heat seeking missiles track and attack them, but nowadays this is a simple toggle feature in the missile's configuration file, you can simply tell the missile what kind of unit it can track, so if you want to make a heat seeker that can track both air and ground targets, you can very easily do just that by changing a line of code. Q: Last but certainly not least, do you have any future plans in regards with War Thunder modding? A: Hopefully, yes. Besides advancing the Ace Thunder mod further, I do wish to share my knowledge and help expand the modding community in War Thunder so that more people will give it a try and perhaps come up with things even greater than what I have done - War Thunder is a game with limitless modding potential, but the knowledge and desire to actually mod the game is very scarce in the community, I hope that can be changed for the better. I would like to extend my thanks to Avarik for allowing me to have this interview with him, it was a pleasure to talk to him. Please, if you have not already, do yourself a favor and try Ace Thunder Zero. I assure you that you will have a blast playing with the Morgan against hordes of aircraft and even aces! About the interviewer Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy#9034
First impression: Red Wings: Aces of the Sky Steam Port Demo
During the Autumn Steam Game Festival 2020, a couple of flight games released public demos for everyone to try. One of these was Red Wings: Aces of the Sky; an arcade flight game set in during World War I. Initially released for the Nintendo Switch earlier this year to mixed reviews, this game is now getting a release on Steam so I gave the demo a go. I will divide these short first impressions in categories so you can go to the ones that are more crucial to you as a reader, that way you can judge it on your own: Graphics and Art-style Gameplay and Aircraft Variety Mission Design PC Port Oddities GRAPHICS AND ART STYLE Instead of going for photo-realism, this game has a cel-shaded cartoon-ish art style which is very unique for a flight game. The menus and interfaces all look really sleek and well designed. This style also applies to the environments which most of the time do look like paintings done in oil. The opening cinematic has more of a comic-ish art style which is really well done for what it is supposed to accomplish. The UI and HUD elements also have this cartoon look to them, making each element pop when it is on screen. The animations of the UI elements are also very well done, no critiques to give there. Overall, this has got to be the strongest appeal of this title Here are a couple of screenshots of both the main menu, the in-game HUD and a frame of the opening cinematic: GAMEPLAY AND AIRCRAFT VARIETY Gameplay-wise it is a pretty straight-forward game as it is to be expected from an arcade flight game. Simple flight dynamics alongside simplified bullet mechanics make this game one that is pretty easy to play and even easier to master. You do not have to lead your targets as there does not seem to be any kind of bullet travel time, making distant shots more of a matter of effective weapon range rather than skill. The flight mechanics are even a bit too limited to the point where they feel restrictive. You lack full control of both the X and Y axis, and the Z axis is basically none existent. While this is partially solved by the use of your abilities, specifically the barrel roll and the U turn, the fact that these abilities have a cool-down makes them a bit harder to use in a pinch. One of these abilities recharges as you get kills, let's call this one a "take-down". It allows you to finish off an already badly damaged opponent with your handgun. While flashy-looking, this feature feels unnecessary as you already have the enemy in your sights when you use it. Very anime-esk, which I really like. To summarize: the best way I have to describe the feel of flight in the game is an even more limited "Novice" mode from Ace Combat. At least in that flight mode you get full pitch authority, unlike here. And it is not something that can just be just patched in as the game seems to have been built around this flight model due to the fact that you can used "canned" maneuvers just like in games such as Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces or Ace Combat: 3D Cross Rumble. I suspect this was a decision taken to make this game as accessible as possible. This game does have pilot skills which you can upgrade called "Ace Perks" which improve the issues mentioned previously. These go from minor upgrades to your abilities to major improvements but sadly, the latter were not possible to unlock in the demo. You upgrade these abilities with the stars you gain after completing a mission, gaining one upgrade point minimum and three maximum. It is uncertain as how impactful some of these upgrades will be in the long run due to the limitations that the demo has as you can only obtain a maximum of 12 stars in the demo during its 4 available missions. The demo allows you to fly three aircraft, all of which are real and relatively famous designs from the Triple Alliance's air corps/air forces during WW1. These are the following: The only aircraft that feels different is the Fokker, with it being a bit more maneuverable that the other two. Both the Albatros and the Taube feel almost the same, both having a bit more speed than the Fokker. There are five aircraft in total for the Austro-Hungarian side, but the other two are unavailable to fly on the demo version. MISSION DESIGN This is the part which gives me the most worries. The demo shows you two types of missions: Dogfight oriented missions (with three variations) and a race-like mission. The dogfight missions can have different focuses such as obtaining the maximum score to time trials in which you have to shoot every plane down in the shortest time possible. Missions are really short, with them only having a short "story" paragraph to justify the combat scenario. Story does not seem to be the focus of this game, rather, it seems to be an excuse to put the player in different scenarios. This works perfectly for a demo but, in a full game which promises to be 50 missions long, I sincerely fear that mission design will become rather repetitive. Remember, these are my first impressions, the full game might prove me wrong here but all I can say is that I hope that I am wrong about the feeling I got from the demo missions. PC PORT ODDITIES I will keep this section short and sweet. There are no performance issues what so ever, the game runs smooth as butter even in my three year old computer; but that does not mean that there are no problems with the game when it comes to the port. The graphical options are pretty limited, with only three presets available to set the graphical parameters (LOW, MEDIUM and HIGH). It lacks any kind of graphical customization aside from brightness and the other typical options such as window mode. The main issue I have with the port is that it is still designed around a controller, therefore, there is no mouse cursor to be found. Not even in the menus, there is no way of using the mouse in this game. This frustrated me a bit and I really hope that the devs add it, even if it only pops up to use the menus. CLOSING THOUGHTS Overall, this was a very solid demo that showed the good and the bad that the game has to offer. It gives you just enough to judge if the game is for your or not. If what you read sounds like this is something you could like, give the demo a go, although it might not be available as of the time of publication.
Here is a link to the Steam page for the game so you can check it out for yourself. This is not an affiliate link, therefore, we stand to gain nothing from you clicking it. But we encourage you to at least give this game a go if you enjoy arcade flight games at all. About the author Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034
Mercenarial Economics: The Entrepreneurs of Ace Combat
The metagame of Ace Combat provides the player the ability to upgrade their aircraft, weapons, and at times their aircraft performance by spending a form of in-game currency. Sometimes called “credits” or “MRP’s”, this currency is earned through the completion of missions and the destruction of enemy material in the form of aircraft, ground vehicles, ships, and buildings. From the perspective of the player, these credits do not represent an accurate price reputation in a reality where modern fighter aircraft are worth more than their weight in gold (reference document by Defense Aerospace). Metagame aside, the economic implications of this currency and trade system combined with the prevalence of well-equipped mercenary organizations on Strangereal (the original, fictional world of Ace Combat) paint an unrealistically rosy perspective for weapons and personnel sales in this comparatively high-quality-of-life world. Put simply, war is good for business. Ace Combat is a poster-child for this proto-dystopian corporate-conflict fiction. Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere firmly established the existence of the megacorps General Resource Ltd. and Neucom Inc. and their dominance over the civil governments across continental USEA. The representation of their dominance is projected in their war material. Neucom with their R-series aircraft, and General Resource with their COFFIN-equipped contemporary designs, and both their willingness to use them against one another. The culmination of Ace Combat 3 and these megacorps is well chronicled. The release of Ace Combat 7 further cements the fated timeline of the series with the introduction of the General Resource Guardian Mercenaries in Operation: Sighthound. The decisions to represent Ace Combat as a universe ripe for modern-day knights for hire does so much to motivate the player to fly and fight without introducing controversial geopolitics. It also provides a unique experience for this strange, real world that you are expected to indulge in. Especially at the time of their release, these hyper-powered mercenary groups and payouts for the destruction of rival militaries felt solidified in fiction. But is there more realism to this fictional representation then there seems? For much of history, mercenaries were a fact of war and highly sought after for any conflict. Standing armies as we know them today were rare—armies were raised and fought for conflicts that arose. As the imperial age gave way to the formation of the nation-state in the last half of the 19th century and the solidification of the total war posture of nations following World War I, the need for mercenaries dwindled, and modern rules of engagement forbade their treatment as lawful combatants, discouraging their use—at least in official capacity. This grey area of mercenary work is what forms the basis of the representation we see in game, particularly with aircraft. The United States was a well-known supplier of personnel of all combat professions, even in those that it had little experience in, like combat pilots. In fact, the United States first taste of air combat was in a volunteer capacity with the La Fayette Escadrille in 1916. These pilots built a positive reputation for the perception of the United States otherwise weak air corps. (reference article from The Centanaire). Their fight represented the glamour of air combat to the United States, despite their unofficial capacity. The experience the returned to their home nation jump started the meek U.S. Army Air Corps and started its formation into what would become a world-class organization by the 1940’s. The United States mirrored this support for Allied nations during the events leading up to World War II. Once again exhibiting isolationism, the United States officially kept its national forces out of the conflicts across the oceans. However its actions spoke a different language. The Lend-Lease program for Europe and the embargo of supplies required by the conquests of the Japanese Empire spoke volumes for who the United States was supporting. But the government also provided a secretive program for the deployment of American volunteers to the Chinese mainland. This American Volunteer Group was provided the same provisions as national flyers, but with a further benefit: A monthly stipend of $750 and a bounty of $500 for every Japanese aircraft destroyed in the air or on the ground. (Daniel Ford, Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941–1942, HarperCollins 2007, pp.44–45) Adjusted for inflation in the year 2020, this translates to a generous sum of over $13,500 per month and over $9000 for every Japanese aircraft destroyed. This provided the potential for some rather wealthy Flying Tigers. It is at this point that we see that the fame and fortune of combat pilots in Ace Combat don’t seem quite as fantastic as initially believed. Perhaps the best analog to these early war guns-for-hire is the mercenaries hired by the Ustio government during the Belkan War chronicled in Ace Combat Zero. The player decision to fight for the extremes of hard cash or noble notoriety in its representation of the Mercenary-Soldier-Knight system isn’t just a modest allegory to chivalry, but perhaps also a play on the volunteer roles of Western pilots on the forefront of aviation. During the 1950’s and 1960’s Africa served as a hotbed of mercenary activity. The post-colonial era saw uprisings of independence across the old European territories. This independence could not be achieved by peaceful means, however. Whether they were groups marginalized and brutalized, or wealthy landowners declaring self-sufficiency, these groups knew that their lack of military equipment and trained forces meant that they needed to seek experience and arms from those that may not see loyalty for an ideology, but rather can be bought with a promise of adventure. As warlords and colonialists fought for dominance, the border lines of the African continent shifted. There is perhaps no more recognizable group of soldiers of fortune than those of the now-defunct Executive Outcomes. Executive Outcomes was primarily formed from special operations forces from the defunct South African Special Forces following the end of the South-African border wars in 1989. Though established as trainers of Angolan military personnel, their activity expanded to direct confrontation with UNITA forces following disputed election results three years later. Their reputation was sealed with a quick and decisive victory against UNITA forces, brokering a peace deal and facilitating displacement of their forces with UN peacekeeping troops. Three years later the group engaged in combat against RUF forces in Sierra Leone who had gained control of diamond fields and held them for arms deals against the legitimate national government. Executive Outcomes again rapidly forced capitulation of hostilities and brought the group to talks. (The New Mercenaries and the Privatization of Conflict Archived 7 January, 2016 at the Wayback Machine Thomas K. Adams. Parameters, Summer 1999). During this war Executive Outcomes employed comparatively advanced heavy equipment, including the use of Soviet-era T-72 tanks and a privately owned-and-operated Mi-24 gunship. This equipment was provided to them by Iblis Air, which themselves also had access to MiG-23 and -27 fixed wing aircraft armed with air-to-ground munitions. Executive Outcomes was forced out of the conflict after peace talks and replaced again with peacekeepers, which were not effective in maintaining the ceasefire. Executive Outcomes demonstrated a relatively new concept of professional army for hire. The effectiveness of this company not only demonstrated an effective augment of national forces, but also the ability to win wars independently. In Air Combat and Ace Combat 2 this is exemplified with the Special Tactical Fighter Squadron Scarface—a government on the brink of disaster reaching out to well-trained mercenaries with their own equipment in a desperate bid to win back their territory. There’s merit in the thought that this representation of mercenary activity in-game is not a coincidence. The mercenary activities by groups like Executive Outcomes in Africa were regularly demonstrating the ability of a well-equipped but small force driven by a desire for wealth and manifest to be able to defeat in short time significantly larger national forces of the day. There is something of an unsettling “seediness” associated with the modern-day private military corporations that represent a significant chunk of armed security around the world. Whether this reputation is deserved is perhaps up for debate, but business suits and combat vests makes for strange yet effective bedfellows. However this combination is far from a novel paring. Companies and corporations have held their own private security divisions since their development, and what may have been configured as a requirement for the protection of trading vessels and caravans grew into its own lucrative stream of income for those so well equipped. The contemporary view of mercenaries meets this juncture with groups like the well-known Blackwater (now Academi following several reorganizations). But in just the last few years has a glut of surplus equipment provided the ability for legitimate companies to via for contracts assisting national air forces in combat training. It is in these companies that the line between suits and soldiers blur. Perhaps these companies do not use the weapons of war their equipment was initially equipped for, but they are displacing what were once tightly cherished national logistics lines, and not in small numbers. In fact, in the case of companies like American-based Draken International there is a maintained force of combat aircraft totally nearly 100-strong, outpacing the size of the air forces of majority of the world’s nations. And they are not alone: Air USA recently secured the purchase of over 40 ex-Australian F/A-18 Hornets. What makes these unique is they were purchased as is, weapons, avionics, and all with no plans for demilitarization (reference article from the Drive). To add further, these companies are not just lapping up older equipment—Air USA’s Hawk trainers are equipped with EL-2052 radars and are the only privately owned adversary aircraft equipped with AESA radars in the world. The vast sums of money available in private sectors and the United States government’s willingness to cede partial control of air combat training and logistics operations to civilian sectors represents an almost eerie bridge to the corpocracy represented in Ace Combat 3. Large defense contractors like Northrop Grumman are not unwilling to participate in this industry, with groups like Vinnel Corporation having once been lodged firmly under their umbrella of control. It has become far from unfathomable that this alliance of enterprise and defense will be checked. Neucom Inc. and General Resource Ltd., corporations once believed to be improbable during a time of anti-trust litigation and crackdowns on cartels and oligopolies now seems an inevitability in our world’s new order of private security in the name of cost savings. Ace Combat once may have been a glimpse into a different reality than our own, but in recent years the geopolitical structure of our world has shifted drastically. Dreams of private glory and gold once thought over with the establishment of boundaries and treaties had only been tempered for a short time before rebounding in ways reminiscent of eras long past. Trillion dollar companies with vast cash reserves and the acceleration of an unpredicted form of globalization and asymmetrical warfare has fostered the growth of new supranational organizations with a discerning eye for the future of inter-state security. But if we were to be honest with ourselves, there is perhaps little different. The clear blue skies—a link from past to future—forever stays the same. Yesteryear’s Dutch East India Company is today’s Saudi Aramaco, just as Ace Combat's Grunder Industries paved the way for their General Resource. About the Author T.J. "Millie" Archer T.J. "Millie" Archer is Life-long realist and aviation enthusiast. Once the co-founding Administrator of the Electrosphere.info English Ace Combat Database. In the present day he is freelance, roving the internet in search of the latest aviation news and entertainment.
A Comparison of Recent Star Wars Flight Experiences to Star Wars: Squadrons
The goal of this article is to provide a spoiler free comparison of recent, official Star Wars games that feature flight to the newly released Star Wars: Squadrons. This article was written using a copy of the game provided to Skyward Flight Media on September 30th, 2020. During the lead up to Star Wars: Squadrons, I shelved all memories and hopes tied to beloved flight games and simulators of the 1990s and 2000s. Not out of negativity, but to realistically base my expectations on more recent flight experiences provided by official Star Wars games produced after LucasFilm was acquired by Disney in 2012. As someone that has played Star Wars: Battlefront (2015), the Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission (2016) and Battlefront 2 (2017) from their launch days to their final content updates, I fully expected the experience of Star Wars: Squadrons not to measure up to the more flight simulator like presentation it had shown in its trailers. This is not because I thought the advertisements were lies, but because there had not been a title like this produced for quite some time in the Star Wars intellectual property. The facts are that the flight simulator genre is just not as consistently popular as first person shooters, action adventure games and other genres. Put bluntly: the more arcadey the game is, the more accessible it would be to players of all skill levels and in turn the easier it is to sale and maintain a player base. With that being said, I had approached Star Wars: Squadrons fully prepared to be somewhat let down and began examining the game with a few different categories in mind: Spacecraft Selection, Baseline Specifications, Flight Performance, Power Management System, Component Modifications and Virtual Reality. Spacecraft Selection Galactic Empire spacecraft roster. Star Wars: Squadrons sticks to a lean and mostly iconic selection of starfighters. The four spacecraft of the Galactic Empire and the four spacecraft of the New Republic make up the full roster of the game. The eight spacecraft are frequently used by the frontline forces of each side, as seen in Star Wars movies, TV series, games, comics and other media. Since the story of the game revolves around frontline squadrons, it makes sense that the equipment they have access to reflects that. While a particularly rare TIE Advanced V1 is seen in the game, it is not something players can fly or unlock later. There are also no special campaign missions where players take a one-time flight in a high profile ship like the Millennium Falcon or have to fly the dreaded unarmed transport mission. As cool as it would be to have something like a never mass produced TIE Defender in the roster, trying to justify that without breaking the built up lore of the Star Wars universe would be hard. The addition of new starfighters in the future seems possible without breaking game balance, but there are no announcements about that at this time. New Republic spacecraft roster. The eight spacecraft are split between Bomber, Fighter, Interceptor and Support roles. Though they are given these designations they are more than able to be pressed into other roles beyond their purpose built role. There is no arbitrary damage increase or reduction system built into the game that forces players to only use the spacecraft for what the game states they must be used for. The forward mounted blasters of a Bomber will shred an Interceptor just as well a Fighter's would. What these roles do is introduce specific customization modules unique to that class of spacecraft. More on that in a later. The only spacecraft availability restrictions that appear in Star Wars: Squadrons occur in the single-player campaign, and only for certain missions. This is done to introduce players to each spacecraft class. Effectively acting as a tutorial during certain parts of the campaign. The online multiplayer experience has no limits to the type of craft that can be flown. If the player and their allies want to run a flight of Support craft during a Dogfight match, power to them. In Battlefront 2015 players could select from either a Fighter or Interceptor in two game modes. That gave a total of four possible spacecraft with weapons, abilities and specs that were not too different from one another. They were limited to having one primary weapon system and two abilities. Each of these craft were only accessible with Vehicle Tokens. Meaning players had to locate and activate these tokens mid-game to then fly the vehicles. Bombers were non-player controlled units that would attack specific targets depending on game mode, but mostly acted as units to protect as they neared an objective. Other craft like U-Wings, and noteworthy ships like Boba Fett's Slave I were available. Battlefront 2 expanded its roster to 17 standard starfighters with an extra 12 ships classified as Hero or Villain (H/V) ships that had heavily increased stats. The 17 standard starfighters were separated between the three major Star Wars movie trilogies and sorted into Bomber, Fighter, Interceptor. Meaning that at any given time, anywhere between 6 to 10 of these craft would be available - with that number being reduced even further depending on how many H/V ships are in play at one time. All of that translates to an frequent access to 2 or 3 ships per match with the possibility of flying an H/V ship. Depending on the craft, all ships had a primary weapon system with three to four abilities unique to them that sometimes included missiles, turrets or jammers. While Star Wars: Squadrons has a smaller roster of craft available, they are developed to take advantage of their built in systems without leveling up abilities. The weaponry, hulls and engines they can equip is diverse, powerful, and adds to the more tactical approach of the game. Baseline Specifications Star Wars: Squadrons puts actual numbers to ship performance with noticeable differences in turn-rate, acceleration, shield recharge and overall has a good balance between all eight spacecraft. Remaining in line with Star Wars lore, the unmodified stats of each spacecraft are further adjusted by faction with Galactic Imperial TIEs having better overall maneuverability and the New Republic craft being stable platforms that utilize energy shields. Further modifications can impact the baseline performance of each craft positively in some ways but negatively in other ways, allowing for unique loadouts that can push these spacecraft into roles they were not purpose built for. This is a huge improvement over Battlefront 2015 in which each Fighter and Interceptor shared the same flight characteristics with no modifications available. In Battlefront 2, the Bombers, Fighters and Interceptors also maintained the same turn rate, acceleration rate, maximum speeds and hull armor as dictated by their class. Flight Performance The question of how simulator-like Star Wars: Squadrons is must factor in the style of flight all Star Wars media has presented since the first movie came out in 1977. Star Wars has frequently forgone the complicated parts of astrodynamics to present a more visually stunning World War II style of close range combat. That being said, Star Wars: Squadrons is a pretty advanced flight sim for Star Wars in general. In comparison to the last 5 years of flight experiences it has the most advanced flight performance. But by going into game options, further controls can be activated and adjusted. Things like digital throttle friction, advanced power management and dead zones for roll, pitch, yaw and throttle. The flight control inputs are very precise, allowing for specific parts of capital ships to be reliably targeted at long distances or easily twisting through gaps in an asteroid field. The ability to come to a complete stop in an effort to throw off enemies or take cover behind obstacles to prepare for an attack is a welcome addition, alongside the boost-drift for quickly changing directions. It is not the same as being able to rotate on an axis while the craft's momentum in space continues to carry it forward, but it still works. More options specifically for flight sticks and HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) controllers become available when they are plugged in. No matter the device used to play Star Wars: Squadrons, all buttons can be remapped to create the ideal button layout. Things can be further enhanced by adjusting the Pilot Experience option to Instrument Only or Custom. This removes on screen elements of the heads up display and forces players to only rely on the instruments within the cockpits of each spacecraft and their own visual scanning as they look for enemies, obstacles and objectives. This would be more inline with what actual pilots from the Star Wars universe would see. Flying in Battlefront 2015 and the 2016 Rouge One: X-Wing VR Mission was limited to what would be considered ”novice controls” for arcade flight games: unable to roll, had to rely on button inputs to perform advanced flight maneuvers, ship automatically banked and yawed with a single directional input. Reducing speed to a point where spacecraft would float in place, reverse thrust, or stall (in atmosphere) was also not possible. Battlefront 2 did have an option to turn on Advanced Flight Controls which enabled players to have full roll control, but generally the flight experience was very similar to that of Battlefront 2015. Turning off HUD elements in these games leaves the player unable to use their instruments to track targets because the models of the spacecraft in those games were not built with functioning instruments. Power Management System This is a central part of Star Wars: Squadrons gameplay. This first layer of management is the common thread between both factions in the game. While in combat players are able to transfer the power within their craft between the engines, shields and weapons. Putting full energy into a single system grants an overcharge bonus to that system. With the corresponding system overcharged, engines can perform an afterburner style speed boost, weapons can receive a damage boost and shields can increase strength up to 200%. The second layer of the power management differs between whether or not the spacecraft does or does not have shields. Those with shields can direct the position of their shields from the default full coverage to reinforced forward coverage or reinforced rear coverage. While shields are redirected to one quadrant the rest of the ship is unshielded. Redirection of shields is useful in certain situations, like attacking capital ships or defending against pursuing starfighters. For spacecraft without shields the second layer is an emergency power converter. All energy can be put into either engines or weapons system to provide a massive power boost to either system but in turn the other system will be offline. Full energy into weapons will disable the engines, whereas full power to engines will allow for amazingly high speeds but weapons offline. This system is very similar to the X-Wing series of games on PC from the 1990s. There is no recent equivalent of this system. Component Modifications There are 60 components in Star Wars: Squadrons (information for the Galactic Empire, New Republic components as explained by Reviews.org). That is quite a large number, but keep in mind that not all components are compatible with each class of starfighter. Some components are only compatible with specific classes or on specific spacecraft. For example, Interceptors cannot equip capital ship breaking bombs, nor can the Ion cannon attached to the top of a Y-Wing be attached to a TIE Bomber. The components are sorted between the categories: Primary Weapon, Left Auxiliary, Right Auxiliary, Countermeasures, Hull, Shields and Engine. The components are not only capable of changing speed, maneuverability, health, and shields, but also adding weapons like turret mines, tractor beams, bombs, torpedoes and missiles. While selection of the primary blaster firing modes is not possible during a mission or online match, changing the component of the primary weapon can change the rate of fire and firing mode; this varies depending on the component. Other abilities like repair droids, electronic jammers, resupply droids, assault shields, passive stealth abilities and engine upgrades add more diversity to each craft and allow for more complicated strategies to be deployed by individuals and teams alike. Only in Battlefront 2 was there the Star Card upgrade system which allowed for adjustments to be done to the performance of each starfighter. Though they did not add new weapons or abilities, the Star Cards increased performance by a certain percentage. This was a welcome addition to the specification locked starfighters from Battlefront 2015, but not on the same level as the components Star Wars: Squadrons has. Virtual Reality This was one of the big selling points for Star Wars: Squadrons. Without needing to purchase downloadable content, have a separate game mode or being locked to a single platform, it is currently the best official Star Wars flight focused virtual reality experience. All 16 missions of the single player game, the mission briefings, personal interactions with characters before missions and multiplayer game modes are all available in VR. The only non-VR portions of the game are the cutscene videos which appear as a large, flat screen in front of players. With this game not having a 3rd person view, the cockpits are immaculately designed to fit in every detail possible. Whether it’s a single seat fighter or a transport, every button, screen, cockpit frame bar, co-pilot seat or passenger seats - they are all modeled. Star Wars: Squadrons is by far one of the best Star Wars VR experiences in general. Not only for flight, but in comparison to all other Star Wars virtual reality games in general. It is certainly better than the 2016 Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission as a whole. Though that 2016 mission does have some features players wanting more immersion in the VR flight would prefer. Star Wars: Squadrons is by far the most advanced Star Wars flight experience since this intellectual property changed ownership in 2012. Rightfully so, many people wonder if this more simulator like title will be the beginning of a new flight series to rival the Rogue Squadron series or X-Wing series, but only time, sales and reception will tell. About the writer Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza The Director of Operations for 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 |