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F-35B Flight Simulator: Example of Realistic VRChat Aviation

F-35B Flight Simulator: Example of Realistic VRChat Aviation

The ever-advancing VRChat aviation community continues forward. As mentioned in our previous articles on this subject, the worlds vary in many ways. All of them shaped by the intentions of their creators. These creators usually try to balance authentic feeling aircraft controls with enough space for fun, arcade flight sim style air combat. However, a particular world in the VRChat aviation scene has set itself apart by pursuing a more realistic presentation of combat aviation. Developed by world creator Leopard (れおぱぁど, VRChat, Twitter), the F-35B FlightSimulator is probably the most realistic and advanced military aviation flight world in VRChat at this time. Released to the public on December 26th, 2020, from the start, its inclusion of a working Panoramic Multifunction Display and the F-35B's conversion to short take-off and vertical landing configuration were immediate attention grabbers. While there is a launch trailer for this world, a more recent advertisement for an air combat tournament in June 2021 is a better representation of its current build: In this case, "realistic" is defined by systems made available to the pilots and other external systems present within the world itself. Ultimately, all of this exists within a platform that's not tailor-made for these types of flight simulation, making all of this world creator's work that much more impressive. As I explain the details of this world, how advanced it is will become more apparent. Starting with the surroundings, the primary launch point is from an amphibious assault ship with a full-scale airport and a short landing strip. The player spawn points include information boards in both English and Japanese languages. The boards present introductory information for basic flight controls, cockpit system operations, and credits for the materials used and people that assisted in creating the world. Settings for wind, gusts, weather conditions, time of day and radios are also available. Outside of player vs player combat, there are a number airborne and surface targets and non-combat challenges. Fast travel between all three locations is possible with aircraft spawners available, giving players the option to immediately perform land-based operations if they wish. While there are no navigation or landing assistance systems on the short airfield, the airport and assault ship have a tactical air navigation system (TACAN), improved fresnel lens optical landing system (IFLOLS), precision approach path indicator (PAPI), and instrument landing systems (ILS). When used in conjunction with weather and wind settings that players can adjust, these systems are accurate enough to reliably land a Lightning II even in the worst possible conditions, day or night. Flight characteristic-wise, the F-35Bs feel heavier and less maneuverable than most fixed-wing combat aircraft in other VRC aviation worlds. It's a noticeable difference compared to the more arcade-style flight handling found in a majority of the other aviation worlds that let aircraft pull high energy and post-stall maneuvers and quickly recover from them with just a few seconds of afterburner. Other notable flight characteristics include the moments of instability transitioning to and from short take-off and landing (STOL) configuration. During mid-air conversion, the engine is swiveled to angle downwards, the lift fan door is opened, and flaps and gear are lowered. The change in how the aircraft handles is immediate and requires careful management. Initiating a conversion at the wrong altitude, speed, or altitude can result in loss of flight control and lead to a crash. A picture in picture example of landing in the VRC F-35B is shown below with audio and video of an actual F-35B landing shown in the smaller screen. Vertical landing is possible when certain conditions are met. First, the aircraft must have less than 25% fuel onboard with any external JDAMs (bombs) and missiles expended. At this lightweight, the F-35B can come into a hover. Its throttle now controls minor changes in forward speed, and the flight stick controls roll, yaw, ascent, and descent commands. Two other unexpected functions to see working is an Auto Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS), which allows the aircraft to take control from the pilot to bring the aircraft back to safety. Even in full-scale combat flight sims, this is a function that's hardly seen. The example below shows side by side video and audio from the simulated version and a real Auto GCAS incident. There's even an interpretation of the F-35's highly advanced ability to "look through" the aircraft with the assistance of information from the aircraft's Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS). To dig deeper into this world's portrayal of the Lightning II would best be done by looking at its 19-page manual (available on Google Drive as of June 9th, 2021). It is only available in Japanese but has been written in a way that can easily be translated by software services like DeepL or Google Translate. The user manual covers everything for symbology displayed on the PCD, heads-up display and helmet-mounted display, and cockpit layout. Attack and defense systems are also explained with radar max and minimum ranges, bearing-range-altitude readouts, and IFF information. A loadout diagram shows all possible configurations the F-35B can equip while it is landed in a serviceable area. Sections near the end of the user manual describe how to use the anti-craft weapons onboard the amphibious assault ship and personnel held FIM-92 Stinger systems. Everything described in this article truly comes alive with a virtual reality headset and a pair of hand controllers. While even users with full body VR setups can move their feet to control the rudder pedals, users that have a monitor and keyboard-mouse can still give it a try. While this simlite world is an outlier in the whole of #VRChat Aviation, it is the wonder of seeing aviation brought to this unusual platform that frequently brings me back to it. In a place where passion, hard work, and willingness to learn can enable creators to materialize their visions, it's energizing to see aviation enthusiasts from around the world create things like this. To end this article, I reached out to the world creator for a statement to let their own thoughts be expressed: "Hi, I'm Leopard (れおぱぁど), creator of the F-35BFlightSimulator. I've been visiting Sacchan's Test Pilots quite a few times since I started VRchat. This flight system is very realistic, and I'm very impressed with it. "One day, I thought to myself, "If the instruments worked, could I make a more realistic flight simulator?" So, while gathering materials and studying programming, I created this world. I changed the concept of this world from a "fighter jet game" to a "flight simulator" and adjusted the game to achieve realistic behavior and systems. We have recreated every aspect of the aircraft, from the basic navigation system to the systems using the latest technology found only in the F-35." "I hope that by playing in this world, you will be able to experience the fun and difficulty of flying. The VRchat aviation community has developed from Sacc's Flight and Vehicles [Prefab] to include acrobatic teams, battles in science fiction worlds, and many other fields. I'm very happy to see that many VRchatters are interested in airplanes, as I was too. I look forward to the further development of the aviation community in VRchat." About the Author Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. A lifelong aviation enthusiast with a special interest in flight simulators and games. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating aviation related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He continues to explore past and present flight games and sims with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. | Twitter | Discord: RibbonBlue#8870 |

Interview: IndiaFoxtEcho’s DCS Development Endeavors

Interview: IndiaFoxtEcho’s DCS Development Endeavors

If there is one developer that took me by surprise by what they are creating, it would be IndiaFoxtEcho (IFE). From their years of making add-on aircraft for civilian-centric simulators, I would have never expected them to venture into DCS World. I had the pleasure to talk, yet again, with my friend Giuseppe. Better known as Duke, he was responsible for coding the EFM for the MB-339PAN mod. Nowadays, he works as a coder for IFE helping to create plenty of amazing aircraft for a variety of simulators. We last spoke with Duke when we covered the Frecce Tricolori Virtuali and its endeavors; today we will have another talk with him about everything IFE is up to. From some personal questions, to the DCS MB-339A and some exclusive details on the recently announced DCS Fiat G.91! First of all, thank you so much for accepting to have an interview with us. Could you please start by introducing yourself? My name is Giuseppe, also known as Duke in the Flight Sim community. I’m an aerospace engineer, aviation enthusiast with a great passion for flight simulations. My adventure in DCS modelling started with the Frecce Tricolori Virtuali development team as an EFM coder for the popular free mod MB-339PAN. Today, the rest of FTV development team and I have joined the IndiaFoxtEcho team. For how long have you been a part of IndiaFoxtEcho? How has the experience been so far? Our team has always been in excellent relations with Dino Cattaneo of IndiaFoxtEcho, but only in the first half of 2020 we have increasingly begun to talk about a possible collaboration that has materialized during the summer of 2020. This has allowed us to have a contract with Eagle Dynamics and to become official 3rd party developers. How has the transition from being a modder to a full-time developer been? Any differences in the way you approach module development? Honestly, the only thing changed is having a direct communication channel with ED specialists allows us to get information sooner than reverse engineering from other modules. From the workload side, everything is like before. We all have a primary job and aircraft development started as a hobby and today becomes a second activity for us. Tackling both Microsoft Flight Simulator and DCS at the same time is no easy task. How big is the team at IFE and what does each member of the team do? IndiaFoxtEcho development team is composed of 10 people active mainly on DCS projects. Some of them are also involved in MSFS development which requires a less amount of time to develop a new aircraft thanks to a good SDK base and to the fact that the majority of systems and flight dynamics are precompiled and available to developers for customization. The team also includes several external contributors and internal testers which helps us to test new functionalities and support us making other features for our modules. The MB-339 mod for DCS, which is now unsupported, was one of the best community mods in the eyes of many including myself. Now that it is being remade and improved as an official module, which do you think are the key differences between the mod and the module? Gallery of the new 3D cockpit assets and textures made for the MB-339 (WIP build) The new MB-339 will be totally different from the free mod. First, the 3D models (internal and external) have been totally revised. Geometry has been improved thanks to several surveys on real aircraft, such as textures that now look real providing a more immersive simulation experience. Also systems have been redone: now the aircraft has an electric system with five separated bus bars including working circuit breakers, main and emergency hydraulic systems, full working pressurization and oxygen systems and more. Finally, the module includes also a complete navigation system composed by GPS, TACAN, VOR/ILS and Flight Director. All the on board systems are linked to the damage model which is also compliant with real aircraft limitations. Have you been working with any subject matter expert (SME) to get the MB-339’s flight model as close to reality as possible? The EFM of the free mod was developed with the support of real pilots and instructors of MB-339 which provided us precious feedback for creating a flight model as close to the real aircraft’s performance. For this reason, we focused our efforts to develop a more detailed aircraft in terms of systems and weapons. For future projects, we started a cooperation with DIMEAS – Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering of Polytechnic University of Turin to create better flight dynamics with a specific focus on flight control systems simulation. DCS, at the moment, lacks a trainer aircraft with air to air refueling capabilities. Since some variants of the MB-339 do have refueling probes, will any of them be included at some point in the project? Yes, it would be nice to have a more advanced trainer with AAR capabilities but the DCS MB-339 will be a fidelity reproduction of the A variant used by the majority of Air Forces of the rest of the world. From what I have seen, the official MB-339 will carry more specialized weaponry than the mod did. Which of these weapons do you think will stand out as a unique inclusion to DCS? We have worked hard to develop new weapons such as the BAP-100, BAT-120 and Durandal bombs. These weapons have been passed to ED which kindly supported us for integrating them in DCS Core so they will be available also for other modules which are supposed to carry them. We also included several weapons for training but they are Italian Air Force exclusive like Aerea Dispenser BRD-4-250. How is the new DCS damage model being implemented in the MB-339? Any highlights? Currently, the new Damage Model is available only for WWII aircraft. For our MB-339 we used the classic one but we have been careful to model the damage by putting virtually every single piece of equipment in the real position on board the aircraft in order to recreate the related failure depending on where the plane is hit. (Here is a document that IFE made about the DCS MB-339 damage model) Have you encountered any setbacks while developing the MB-339 that may have delayed its release? How has the team handled such challenges? One of the main things was rewriting the code. Until the ED contract, we wrote the MB-339 code without SDK support so we had to write from scratch the entire DCS interface. This took some development time which delayed the release of the module. However, the delays weren't so bad and within a couple of months we picked up where we left off. Without getting into any specific dates, how close would you think the MB-339 is from release At this date, the MB-339 is at 90% of its development. We could release it at a “early access” state but we prefer to provide a full module considering that currently the free mod is still available (even with some issues due to DCS 2.7 release). We are confident to release it within the end of 2021. I saw a very interesting picture in your social media, the teaser picture for a Fiat G.91. Is there anything you can share with us about that project? (i.e aircraft variants, weaponry, etc.) The G.91 started as a toy project in cooperation with some Sim Skunk Works members when we were modders. Today, as part of IndiaFoxtEcho, we have discussed several projects to be developed in future for DCS World and the G.91 was an obvious choice thanks to the availability of official documentation (we have access to the historical archive of the old FIAT-Aeritalia) and the access to several aircraft in good state for surveys (for your information, next year in Italy for the 100th anniversary of Italian Air Force, a G.91R-1B will back in flight). Several versions of the aircraft are similar enough so we planned to develop the PAN (aerobatic version of Frecce Tricolori), R-1B (Italian Air Force version) and R-3 (Luftwaffe version). We are also considering making an R-4 but we will see in future… probably this version will come later as bonus aircraft but this is not confirmed yet. As for the weaponry, our goal is to add all G.91R weapons reported in the flight manual such as the AS-20 Nord missile and AIM-9B. Speaking of these two weapons, for the record, the AS-20 was not used by any air force equipped with G-91s due to its costs (only FIAT-Aeritalia performed some tests to shooting range for weapon qualification) whilst the AIM-9B integration was a total fail during tests of Portuguese Air Force (the IR sensor of the missile never locked the target so the integration was abandoned). Aside from the two confirmed modules for DCS, are there any plans to bring some other aircraft to the simulator? Particularly, are there any plans to bring the M-346 to DCS at some point after the two ongoing projects are complete? Unfortunately we cannot discuss further projects, but I can say that other news will come as soon as the MB-339 is released. Once again, thank you so much for accepting our interview request. Would you want to add anything else before we conclude our interview? Many thanks to you for your interest in our projects, we are glad to have had this interview and we hope to have the opportunity, in future, to discuss our next steps on DCS World in greater detail. We'd like to take the opportunity of this interview to thank all our followers and our supporters. We are a small team with a great enthusiasm and we hope not to disappoint your expectations. 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

Interview: Stormbirds; Looking Back 5 Years of Operation

Interview: Stormbirds; Looking Back 5 Years of Operation

Over the years I have noticed that there are not that many websites solely dedicated to covering flight games like us at Skyward, and even less that approach them on a journalistic way. One of these would be Stormbirds, a blog ran by ShamrockOneFive! A couple of weeks ago, Stormbirds was celebrating their fifth anniversary. We decided to approach Shamrock in order to talk a bit about how has it been running the blog on his own, his motivations for running it, the experiences he has had along the way, etc. I'd like to thank Shamrock for letting me have this interview with him on such short notice. He made the interview roll smoothly, I appreciate that a lot. Hello and thank you for accepting to have this interview. Can I ask you to introduce yourself?

Sure! My name is Colin and I go by ‘ShamrockOneFive’ in most of the sims (and games) that I play.

Before we get into talking about the Stormbirds blog, we’d like to learn some more about yourself. How did you end up becoming a flight simulator enthusiast? My interest starts with my lifelong interest in all things that fly. I’m told that I was only a couple of years old when I began pointing at the sky in excitement whenever an aircraft flew over. I went to my first airshow at the age of five and I’ve been fascinated by all aspects of aviation ever since. I have a large collection of books on aviation and history, I enjoy airshow photography, and I love flight simulations as an extension of that interest. In retrospect, not much has changed over the years as I still point excitedly at the sky whenever an aircraft flies over! I think my first flight sim was A-10 Tank Killer by Dynamix but the sim I first fell in love with was Aces of the Pacific by the same studio. I played that sim whenever I had time. From there I played a variety of different flight sims. Aces Over Europe, F-15E Strike Eagle II and III, Fleet Defender, various iterations of Microsoft Flight Simulator, a tiny bit of Lock On: Modern Air Combat and the IL-2 series before jumping into the modern titles. Are there any simulators or flight games in general that are especially important to you? Maybe something you’d suggest to people? Right now, there are four or five sims that I’m focused on writing about and personally enjoying as well. I tend to write about what I am interested in as a starting point, so these are sims that I recommend on a regular basis but also spend a great deal of time enjoying myself. On the civil aviation side, I really enjoy both Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane. Both have their upsides and downsides but the two both offer some compelling experiences on the civil aviation side. Whatever you’re looking for, either one or both of these tiles will have it covered. On the combat flight simulation side of things, IL-2: Great Battles, IL-2: Cliffs of Dover and DCS World are what I’m focused on. The IL-2 series has a long legacy stretching over 20 years and the second and third generations that are still being actively developed are impressive in so many ways. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours with all three generations of the series. DCS World is also an extremely impressive and complex sim that is doing incredible things for WWII through to the modern jet age. It’s only in the last 4-5 years that I’ve really gotten into it but I’m glad I did because there’s so much to know. My simulator interest does extend into other genres too. I’ve also been a fan of various racing sims over the years and more recently I’ve developed a bit of a love for Train Sim World as well. Good fun when you’re looking for a very different sim experience. How and when did the concept for the Stormbirds blog come around? Around five years ago I was looking for a new creative outlet and at the same time I was looking for a way to practice my writing skills. In my professional life I am called on to occasionally write news stories for my organization. Sometimes these come up with a very tight timeline. I wanted to be faster at writing and I thought that practicing with something that I’m interested in would help. It did! I’ve also considered multiple times jumping into the video creation side of things rather than doing a blog, but I tend to be the kind of person who likes to run counter to some trends and do my own thing. So, in the age of the YouTube channel content creator, I decided to write a blog. I have, however, put some content together on Stormbirds.blog YouTube channel including starting my own podcast series which now has five episodes. Episode releases come out irregularly as my focus is still very much on the blog and everything tends to relate back to it which is very different than the usual YouTube channel approach. When the blog was created, was it meant to be primarily an IL-2 Sturmovik blog? My content mandate, the thing that drives me to write, is essentially centered around writing about what I want to write about. That sounds a little selfish perhaps, but I think that’s important to do as a content creator. You have to have a passion for whatever it is that you’re writing, otherwise I think the audience will feel the lack of interest. I do feel some responsibility to cover certain subjects that may not be at the top of my interest list, but I do try and stick to my simple mandate most of the time. I always intended to write about multiple sims when I started the blog. When I started it was mostly the IL-2: Great Battles series that I was flying on the regular but it didn’t take too long to expand my coverage to DCS World and on from there. For those that do not know, what is Sturmovikfest? Sturmovikfest is a weeklong celebration of everything IL-2 Sturmovik. It’s only run for two years so far but the festival has offered a variety of serious, competitive, and non-serious events including mass formation flypasts, air racing, and more! When did Sturmovikfest start? How has it changed since the beginning? I started the festival last year. The idea came to me not too long after the pandemic began as I looked to put my energy into something that could be done virtually. With everyone stuck inside, locked away and with so many real-world events cancelled, I thought that it’d be a good idea to try and raise spirits by hosting an event that people could engage with. It proved to be popular enough that we brought it back for this year. I think its future is bright! Have you received any help from IL-2’s developers when it comes to organizing the fest? The festival has certainly had some support from the developers. It has had shout-outs from the developers, the festival thread has been prominently placed on the official forums and I know that the developers have also taken part, quietly, in at least a few of the events. What are the highlights of Sturmovikfest thus far? Many! The community has generated so many ideas over the last two times that we’ve run the event that I can’t wait to see what happens next. From the traditional fly-in event on different servers each night of the festival to the more unique events such as Project R air racing, IL-2 tag, and the Mass Formation event organized by JimTM. That last one, the mass formation, is a unique experience getting pilots together in a non-combat formation pass that has involved a few dozen players at a time. We’ve even had experienced real world aerobatics pilots join us so that has been something special! How do fly-ins work in this event? The concept of the “fly-in” is to say to the community that we’re going to agree to try and fully populate a specific server tonight. Sometimes it’s been a popular server like Combat Box or Finnish Virtual Pilots Dynamic War server and sometimes we go somewhere new that hasn’t seen as many pilots (or tankers) but is just waiting to be experienced. Last year, Finnish Virtual Pilots – Dynamic War server was a relative unknown before the festival and has since become one of the top servers in the community. The fly-in helps provide some visibility for servers that may have not had any yet and at the same time it’s a highly accessible way to participate in the festival by just being there and doing what you’d normally do. During the time you’ve been running the blog, what do you think some of the most substantial releases, updates or news bulletins have been? There’s definitely some big highlights. The release of IL-2: Battle of Kuban was a huge point for the IL-2 series and I had a great time writing both the news in the run up to that launch as well as writing my review of it when it finally released. Another one that sticks firmly in my mind is Heatblur’s release of the DCS: F-14 Tomcat. While the F/A-18C early access release was big for me, the F-14 was just an order of magnitude bigger for the whole sim and my early access first impression review is still a piece that I’m really proud of having wrote. Finally, the reveal of Microsoft Flight Simulator back in June of 2019 was absolutely huge. I had just finished up two fantastic days at FSExpo 2019 in Orlando Florida and was sitting in my hotel room when the news came in. I tapped out an article as fast as I could after I had finished picking my jaw up off the floor. The launch was a big deal too but that initial announcement was momentous and it was when I realized that we were now in a new golden age of flight sims – having seen everything that FSExpo had to offer and learning that so much more was still to come. How do you think running Stormbirds has helped you grow as a writer? It has certainly helped me grow as a writer. It’s let me find my own niche as a writer, improved my “voice” as a writer and it’s broadly improved my overall ability to just sit down, write and get something written down “on paper” so to speak. I used to suffer from a lot of writer’s block, not being sure what to write and then struggling to piece things together. I’m sure it’s not quite as bad as I make it out to be but every essay in university was a painful process. It’s really quite different for me now as I’ve learned to just write and get it out there and then fix it later. I still need to continue to grow as a writer. Some of my regular readers and commenters are extremely helpful at point out when I make a mistake and I appreciate those helpful tips. As much as I pride myself on getting things right and perfect the first time, sometimes I don’t. I’ve gotten better at this in the last five years and I intend to get better over the next five as well. Does having to write articles in a short period of time affect your writing style? It most certainly does. I tried at the outset to keep my time spent on the blog limited to just 30-40 minutes a day at the most. That means writing quickly and sometimes that means abbreviating my style as much as possible. I’ve had many comments from readers that they appreciate the brevity of the articles so obviously that style is helping not just me in managing my time but also the reader. My goal with a lot of the news articles is to get to the point, get to the key facts and provide links to the sources. It’s the synthesis of the news around the flight sim community combined with the breadth of sims that I cover that I think seems to appeal most to my readers – or that’s what I tell myself anyways! I also think it’s important to commentate along the way. This is a blog and I unashamedly inject my own comments into the news as it comes along. It’s obvious that I’m a fan of flight sims. I think they are incredible pieces of software that transcend their programming and become memorable experiences and there’s something really special about that experience that is almost undefinable. I want to project my enthusiasm for that experience into everything that I write. If I wasn’t excited about it, I probably wouldn’t be writing the blog in the first place. How do you manage your releases? Are there any goals or deadlines that you set for yourself? It took me a long time to accept that I’m a goal and deadline driven type-A personality but I have accepted that and so I do aim to produce a fair bit of content according to my own internal goals and deadlines. Being a content creator does always bring with it the risk that you become a slave to your own deadlines and to the audience that you’re trying to appeal to. As much as I like and appreciate my audience, I also have to respect my own well-being and that sometimes means that I’ll do something later when I feel that I want to do it. Striking a balance between those two competing aspects is a challenge and one that I continue to refine. Thank you so much for accepting to have this interview with us. Would you have anything else to add before we conclude? My thanks to both of you for doing this Q&A with me. I’m usually the one doing the interviewing so it’s nice to be on the other side of that and talk about what I do. I’m looking forward to some future possibilities of collaborating between our sites too! Check Stormbirds out if you need a quick fix on the current happenings inside the flight sim world, to check out Shamrock's opinion on a particular matter or just to have a nice read. CHECK STORMBIRDS HERE 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 Impressions: Jetborne Racing

First Impressions: Jetborne Racing

It was quite surprising to see, that almost out of nowhere, VTOL VR's developer BahamutoD released a new game: Jetborne Racing. This was a very unexpected release; not only because of its timing but because of what it is. This is, to my knowledge, one of the only modern flight games on the market that is solely focused on racing! Initially, I was a bit shocked at the premise. Not because it was strange or anything of the sort, but because it is such a logical game idea that I am in disbelief that no one had done it in recent years. Sure, there are some flight racing games from back in the day, but nothing like this, even less when you consider that it was made with VR in mind. AUDIOVISUAL DESIGN Visually, this game is very similar to VTOL VR if not identical to it. Very simple textures that do not have any kind of embellishments. This has a performance benefit for VR users as the game does not have to load 4K textures with roughness and bump maps, which would need to calculate light reflections on them. This should make sure that the game will run flawlessly on many systems out there. Despite having a minimalistic style, Jetborne has very interesting map designs. From the simple yet elegant wooden tunnels of Mountain pass to the craziness of Moon Base Alpha and the narrow tunnels of Underwater, this game has variety. Take a look at the small gallery bellow so you can see the examples I mentioned. Additionally, the cockpit design is minimalistic. No bells or whistles here, all the information you need is displayed right on the Heads-up Display (HUD) or right bellow it, such as your total and split times. I find this to be beneficial as it makes it easier for you to focus on your flying and what is happening outside of your canopy instead of looking around the cockpit. Audio-wise, the game does have some very good aspects to it. The sound you can hear as you pull Gs and the audio deafening effect as you black/red-out is good. But one area in which I feel there could be some improvement are structural sounds such as the wings swinging back and forth, a louder afterburning sound, etc. In a game that has you constantly pulling over 10Gs I would consider these to be crucially integral to judging your aircraft's attitude while on tight corners. GAMEPLAY Here is where Jetborne shines. It has the same level of polish as VTOL VR, which is one of the best VR experiences out there. It might not have the interactivity and system operations of the former but it does not need them, at all. The flight model is not realistic, but it feels grounded. Taking turns feels exciting and every single time in which I crashed, it was because of my own fault, some exceptions applied. It has been a blast to go through every single circuit, both in single and multiplayer. The best I have to describe it is that it feels like a more realistic Ace Combat-like flight model, don't mind being able to pull 14Gs without consequences. After all, you don't have blood in VR. The best way I have to show you what I mean is with this video I recorded of myself running one of my best personal times in East Bay Loop. I uploaded it to the Skyward Twitter account. Music in the video is courtesy of Cindego (Kubson#1138 in Discord). Very nice stuff all around! Maps feel like they are laid out in such a way that turns flow into one another, but of course there are some maps that are a bit better at this than others. Beginner-level maps are very easy to finish but hard to master. That run I have on the video was a 1:56:858, which is more than a second slower than the world record. It took me a solid day of solely playing this circuit to figure out all the best angles for my level of skill, including the "blind corner" that is the last turn, which leads me to my only complaint.

To get the best times on tracks such as Moon Base Alpha or East Bay Loop, you will have to rely on taking corners while blacked out. This means that you will have to memorize the angle of the turn, your bank angle and the number of seconds you will have to keep turning until you can straighten out. While being able to do such a feat is impressive on its own, I can not call it a good game mechanic. Being able to control the aircraft after you black out should not be possible, there should be some kind of penalty for doing so.

The rest of the game mechanics are fun. The spectators, which can move from platform to platform, have their own way to affect the race by shooting at the racers. This can be either hilarious or really annoying, at least it was prior to the damage reduction that the spectator guns received. Races with objects, á-la Mario Kart, are really fun as well. FIRST IMPRESSIONS CONCLUSION This is a really, really fun game. It is unique and brings things to the table that no other game has, at least in the last decade or so. It has that VTOL VR polish to it, making it run smoothly on almost any machine. But I do fear for its longevity. Sure, record hunting has been a blast during the release period and it has been exciting to get into a track just to try and get back into the top spots of the leader board. But for how long can that excitement last? How many times can I do a run over and over again on the same map until I get worried. The game has eight maps as of the time of writing, so this feeling only grows more each time I play them.

I would recommend this game to any of those who want to race with their friends, VR or not. It is a great game as it is, but I hope that it will get expanded with more maps at some point. 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

First Impression: World of Aircraft: Glider Simulator

First Impression: World of Aircraft: Glider Simulator

"For novice pilots the concept of energy management is often hard to understand, for a novice glider pilot it is vital to understand." I never thought I'd open an article with a quote from a manual, but page six, paragraph one of the World of Aircraft: Glider Simulator manual, just changed that. For big-name flight simulators that focus on civilian aviation, their most significant appeal is usually the sheer amount of aircraft available and massive gobs of terrain that can be traversed. There is a somewhat expected roster of single-engine, multi-engine, turboprop, and jet aircraft that are expected within their rosters. These aircraft are flown between the capital cities of the world, picture-perfect postcard landscapes, and other faraway lands simulator pilots dream of visiting. But along the way, even with all of that, there can be areas lacking within the flight models or the overall representation of aircraft that are just accepted as a compromise. This is why something more specialized like the simulator I'm discussing today piqued my interest. World of Aircraft: Glider Simulator is the first entry in a new flight simulator series published by Aerosoft, developed by the World of Aircraft Team. There are two notable things to discuss before talking about the actual flying. About World of Aircraft First is the scope and intention of the World of Aircraft (WoA) series. This is explained very clearly in a forum post not included on the sales page. As stated by Mathjis Kok, Head of Support and Community Manager for Aerosoft, WoA is a series of standalone casual flight simulators. These low-cost releases do not require bleeding edge PC specs to run smoothly and aren't built to try and challenge established large-scale flight simulators. Instead of eye-watering visuals taking the lead, the priority is on highly accurate simulation of specific flight models. Each WoA release will come with one or two detailed airports or airfields with a broad terrain area of a minimum of 2500 km². The set of aircraft included with each release will follow some sort of specific subject. This entry focuses on gliders, but agricultural aviation, arctic aviation, para jumping, and floatplanes were also mentioned as ideas. I've got nothing against the big sims like X-Plane, Prepar3D, or Microsoft Flight Simulator, but Aerosoft could be on the inside track of developing small flight simulation experiences that would be perfect for beginners. Practical Manual The second notable item is the aforementioned manual for this sim. The way it is written is a prime example of how to simplify accurate information while providing enough detail for experienced fliers to still find useful. Alongside the standard explanations of its settings and control profiles are concise explanations of aircraft control surfaces, energy management for aircraft with or without an engine, an important section on thermals, and what I would call "practical" descriptions for each aircraft. These descriptions not being an encyclopedic record full of historical and development data but user-friendly information that describes flight characteristics, lists of approved aerobatic maneuvers, towing procedures, general aircraft characteristics, and exact numbers for performance limitations. All while maintaining a casual tone. Glider Simulator World of Aircraft: Glider Simulator can be played with keyboard-mouse, gamepads, flight sticks, or Hands-On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) configurations. While there are pre-mapped configurations available, I chose the Dev Mode setting to custom map everything in my own way. I was unable to use TrackIR or other forms of headtracking and had a few problems with getting my rudder pedals working correctly, but ultimately this didn't detract from the experience too much. As always, remember to check keybinds and assign control axis before flying. Binding keys for zoom and view onto a gamepad or flight stick still work out just fine. Starting with the aircraft roster, there are six aircraft in total: one dedicated tow aircraft (Pzl-104 Wilga), two gliders (LET L-13 Blaník, ASK 21), and even motorized gliders (H36 Dimona, ASK 21 Mi). Each of them is easy to pick up and learn, thanks to the way training is handled. Useful overlays appear in the cockpits of each aircraft while players participate in three to four lessons per subject. As each lesson gradually removes assistance systems putting more control into the hands of the pilots in training, overlays of the controls indicate ideal settings, flight attitudes, and when to activate certain control surfaces by showing colors, numbers, and guiding arrows as visual aids. While only the Wilga and Blaník are available in training mode and in multiplayer, all aircraft can be flown in single-player Free Flight. Generally, this is going to be the go-to mode for a majority of the flying being done around your personal 2500 km² map that recreates an area around Mannheim, Germany, with basic settings for wind speed, direction, and clouds. The available airports include Herrenteich Airfield (EDEH), a very nice grass airfield with multiple aircraft nearby. The second is Speyer Regional Airport (EDRY), a modern airport that shares space with technology museum Technic Museum Speyer - look for the retired Lufthansa Boeing 747-200 and other aircraft among the buildings. Thus far, I've primarily focused on piloting motorized and unmotorized gliders because of personal preference. Many years ago I logged hours in gliders as a part of an aviation program, and since then, I've always had a special feeling about them. The feel of gliders in World of Aircraft: Glider Simulator was familiar to me. The flight performance of the gliders did not feel too far off from reality. There are few things you'll do in flight simulators that are similar to being towed into the sky. The shaking and rattling followed by immediately having to hold formation behind the tow aircraft from the moment the glider is airborne isn't something most flight simmers haven't done in their sims of choice. Coordinating towed flights with others in multiplayer servers further adds to this experience. Even near-perfect controlled landings feel eerily like low-speed crash landings because of how low profile the landing gear is. The sound design of this sim is great. While in the air, humming propellers and whining jet engines are replaced with calm silence. The telltale sounds of varying wind speed and vibrations of the aircraft are just as important as the flight instruments. Because of how relatively slow gliders fly, efficiently flying with coordinated turns, realistic bank angles, and keeping track of your angle of attack is necessary to turn your short hops into long-term sightseeing flights or trying out aerobatic maneuvers. Every maneuver must be intentional to get the maximum performance out of each flight. Gaining altitude is accurately done through successful energy management and the all-important use of thermals. For those that don't know, thermals are columns of rising air formed on the ground by the warming of the earth's surface by sunlight. Gliders can utilize thermals to gain altitude and extend their flight time. The representation of thermals was my biggest concern coming into this sim. More often than not, I'm used to thermals being presented as a type of reliably ever-present source of lift that never moves. This was not the case in WoA: Glider Simulator. The diameter, height, and strength of the thermals have all felt different. More than a few times did I find myself adjusting my turn radius in a bid to continue gaining altitude only for the thermal to unexpectedly dissipate. While circling birds flying in an area can indicate the presence of a thermal, it's no guaranteed ticket to rising thousands of feet into the air. I greatly appreciate this. Whether you're trying to set a new personal altitude record, checking out the landscape full of driving cars and sailing ships, or performing surprisingly robust aerobatics, World of Aircraft: Glider Simulator feels like a good start to a new series. I look forward to the next entry in the WoA series. World of Aircraft could act as a gateway for newcomers to begin their journey into realistic flight simulation and for veterans of the genre to try more specialized types of aviation not prioritized in other simulators. About the Author 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 |

DCS Flaming Cliffs 3: Legacy and the future of non-clickable cockpits

DCS Flaming Cliffs 3: Legacy and the future of non-clickable cockpits

If I were to ask you, what would be the first thing that comes to you mind when I say "DCS"? For some of you it would probably be something along the lines of "in-depth simulation" or "complex", and to that I would agree. DCS is a simulator built from the ground up to be able to give its users the closest they can get to being a fighter pilot from the comfort of their chairs. Instead of talking about that side of DCS, today I wanted to talk about the other side of it. One that relies of its simplicity to thrive: non-clickable aircraft. Specifically, the only one that exists at the moment, which would be Flaming Cliffs 3 (FC3). This module, which dates back to 2013, is one of the, if not the, best starter module one can buy. It not only includes what I could consider to be the best bang for the buck experience in DCS as of today, but it also allows more casual players an entry point into the community and the simulator as a whole. Here is what it offers for those of you that do not know: A-10A WARTHOG The oldest version of the Warthog in-game. It still has the capabilities to be a fun aircraft that is also able to tear through enemy lines like they are Christmas cookies. F-15C EAGLE One of the best fighters in the game, the Eagle is able to gain air superiority for any faction that uses it. Lots of fuel, ammo and missiles that make it capable of destroying everything in the sky, but it is still unable to do any kind of air-to-ground missions. SU-33 "SEA FLANKER" The cheapest way to get a combat-capable carrier-borne fighter. It is a joy to fly and to fight on, alongside being the only red-for aircraft that has air-to-air refueling capabilities. SU-27 FLANKER AND J-11 FLANKER-D A capable interceptor and dogfighter, the Flanker is one of the only aircraft in-game that can pose a threat to American-made fighters. The J-11 is also available, with R-77 missiles at its disposal. This would make it the only Flanker variant capable of launching "FOX-3"-type missiles. MiG-29A AND MiG-29S One of the best interceptors in-game. The A variants has access to older avionics, sensors and weapons while the S has access to a better radar suite and modern weapons, such as the active-radar R-77 missile. SU-25 FROGFOOT Not to be confused with the Su-25T that comes with the base install, this Frogfoot is an older and less capable variant of the same aircraft. That does not mean it is not a bundle of fun regardless of its lack of capabilities. FC3 comes with all of these aircraft and its campaigns for far less than what it would cost to buy a single module. So, what is the catch? What makes this module so cheap with this much content? THE CATCH AND CONTENT ISSUES Coming back to my initial question, one of the proposed answers was "complex". FC3 is the ONLY module inside of DCS that does not have clickable cockpits. This is, as I am about to discuss, a double-edged sword. The fact that it does not have clickable cockpits lowers the entry bar a lot, making it easy for everyone to get into the sim as I previously discussed. By the contrary, by making these aircraft non-clickable you are also losing so much of what makes DCS special. I do not know if it is because I have almost a decade and a half of simulator experience but what makes this sim special is the fact that I can interact with almost 1:1 replicas of real fighter aircraft and touch their cockpits. Learn their cockpit flows and what makes them unique. You miss most of that with FC3.

The fact that FC3 does not feel as in-tune in DCS as it could derives from the fact that the Flaming Cliffs series as a whole used to be its own franchise, one that was completely separate from DCS. In fact, this franchise dates all the way back to the early 2000's, when DCS was but a dream in someone's mind. The basis of what would become FC3 were set with the release of FC2 in 2010. Here, enjoy some nostalgia with me by watching the FC2 trailer: When everything merged into DCS:World; FC2 and by extension its upgrade, FC3, also merged with it. It was the smartest and easiest choice since including their rosters increased playability by an incredible amount. But we are now in a different DCS than we were. One that has dozens of full fidelity modules and third party add-on that greatly increase the variety of aircraft we can fly. Flaming Cliff aircraft now feel kind of like relics from the past. For better or worse. Do not get me wrong, I love them for what they are and understand that they have their purpose inside of DCS, but they are just not the same as any of the other modules. Hell, they have received visual and functional upgrades over the years: new weapons, new flight models, new PBR textures, etc. But they still feel like they would belong better on another game. Hence, my next point and the main purpose of this article. THE FUTURE OF NON-CLICKABLE AIRCRAFT: MODERN.AIR.COMBAT (MAC) It has been over 8 years since Eagle Dynamics has released any aircraft that is not full-fidelity, so they have shown that that is not their focus when it comes to DCS:World anymore. And from today's poll on our twitter, it seems like at least half of our voters (thank you all for participating, even if only over 50 of you did prior to publication) prefer only flying full-fidelity in DCS, with a certain percentage liking both FC3 and Full-fidelity aircraft. This is where Modern Air Combat enters the scene. Announced a couple years back, MAC is the true successor to LOMAC and FC3. It will be an independent AAA title developed by Eagle Dynamics that promises to deliver a similar experience that those older titles but with today's comfort and technologies.

M.A.C is where these non-clickable aircraft will shine, as they do not need to be compared with full-fidelity aircraft anymore. I do not think that FC3 is going away, it has its purpose inside of DCS, but any other future non-clickable aircraft will most likely be available on MAC, not DCS. I personally can not wait for this title to come out, as the market is in dire need of more sim-lite experiences. 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

Ace Combat: Remembering The Last Ace

Ace Combat: Remembering The Last Ace

Back in 2011, the announcement of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (ACAH) shook up the Ace Combat series in a way that impacted it deeply. A significant part of the attempted reboot was bringing the series to the Earth we currently live on. Giving up the fictional world of Strangereal for the more grounded real world, the back story of the new characters and new game also found their roots in conflicts from the past. Of the various media created to support this change, a prequel novel titled "The Last Ace" was authored by Jim DeFelice. Though this novel prominently features the future protagonist of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon as its main character, the title refers to a problematic, veteran pilot the future protagonist once flew into battle with. As mentioned in a previous article about this novel, during a test flight of a modified F-22A nicknamed "Righteous," United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William "Brass" Bishop found his mind wandering back to his past combat experiences. Briefly recalling his actions in the Second Gulf War (2003) and the military intervention in Libya (2011), his mind settled on his first combat sorties in his military career. Following a mix of skilled flying during training and knowing the right people in the right places, the then lieutenant Bishop was transferred to a squadron that was about to see combat. Bishop's squadron participated in Operation Deliberate Force (1992-1995), a sustained air campaign conducted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization supporting United Nations Peacekeepers intervening in the Bosnian War (Encyclopædia Britannica). Their sorties consisted of kill-box assignments and close air support at the regulation of the UN against military units of the Army of Republika Srpska (ARS) – described in the novel as "the rump Yugoslavia force threatening the UN-controlled area of Bosnia." The young Lieutenant Bishop flew a General Dynamics F-16 under the command of his squadron leader, Lt. Colonel James "Skull" Scranton. Often only referred to as Skull, he had flown during the Vietnam War piloting F-105 Thunderchiefs for the United States Air Force out of Thailand. When Skull left Vietnam, he had three confirmed aerial victories. Bishop remembered him as a "hell of a pilot," "an old school SOB," "hard ass," and someone he regarded as one of the greatest pilots. It was known that Skull would not only be hard on his pilots but even to the maintainers and the rest of the ground crew. Skull preferred to have the new guy, Bishop, fly as his wingman. Partly to chide Bishop and push him in the old-fashioned method of pressuring someone in every way possible to bring out their best performance. As Bishop recalled, despite the abuse, Skull "[...]was a good teacher: watch what he did, and you couldn't help but learn." As frustrating as Bishop thought his cold demeanor, long silences, and short responses could be, that type of skill and instinct was something special the legendary dogfighters of both world wars once had. For the most part, the story of The Last Ace remains within historical facts in all but one area—aerial combat. In Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the primary adversary to the future Colonel William Bishop is a former-ace pilot of the Russian Federation with his own ties to the Bosnian War. It was somewhat of an open secret that Russian pilots flew Yugoslavian-owned combat aircraft against UN and NATO forces. This information was hidden from the world to prevent a potential third World War in Europe. In the novel, all of this information was deemed highly classified and remained hidden even decades later. The first air combat encounter came during a search and destroy mission at an airfield. While awaiting clearance to attack a group of Mil Mi-24 Hinds, the two-ship F-16 flight of Skull and Bishop were ambushed by a flight of four MiG-29 Fulcrums. With the Fulcrums flying low, fast, and during a rotation between AWACS aircraft on station in the area, they were able to come within 30 miles of the F-16s before being detected. With no AIM-120 AMRAAMs on their aircraft, the F-16s were at a disadvantage. The ensuing air battle saw Skull taking Bishop through a sharp dive towards the ground to vertically notch incoming R-27R semi-active air-to-air missiles from the Fulcrums. Predicting where the Fulcrums would attempt to flee from after their attack failed, the F-16s throttled up during their dive to maintain speed and energy as they transitioned to pursue the now fleeing MiG-29s, which had lost speed during their course change to leave the area. As Skull and Bishop caught up to the first pair of MiG-29s, coming just into maximum AIM-9 Sidewinder range, Skull advised Bishop to wait for the optimal missile shot, saying, "be patient[...] make every second a lifetime." Seconds later, both F-16s fired scoring kills. Though Skull immediately committed onto the second pair of fleeing Fulcrums despite being in a dangerously low fuel state, that engagement yielded no aerial victories. While Bishop personally questioned the actions of Skull putting himself in danger to score the fifth kill, he never brought it up publicly. A week and a half after the first air battle, Wolf flight had just completed an airstrike when it was tasked with shooting down a pair of ARS-controlled Mi-24 Hinds. After dispatching both helicopters, Wolf flight was informed that a four-ship of MiG-29s were lifting off from an airfield within their vicinity, but they were of no threat. Regardless, Skull ordered the second half of the flight to return to base. Bishop, inquiring about the plan was, was told to follow Skull, and the two began pursuit of the Fulcrums despite only having a pair of AIM-9 Sidewinders per aircraft. Without tasking from the AWACS to do so, Skull was advised that a pair of F-15 Eagles were being vectored into the area to engage the Fulcrums. Skull continued pursuit, declaring that he was attempting to ensure the Fulcrums would not attack other allied forces until the F-15s arrived. With such a significant distance between both groups of aircraft - at a maximum of 50 miles apart at the start of the engagement -, it was unrealistic for the F-16s to close distance to utilize their AIM-9s before they ran out of fuel. However, as the pair of F-16s gradually closed distance, the pressure applied by their presence forced the flight of MiGs to begin separating their formation. A lone MiG-29 aggressively changed course at low altitude and turned to engage Skull and Bishop. The pilot either being inexperienced in air combat or eager to gain a kill of their own. Hoping this would happen, Skull pressed the engagement with the single Fulcrum noting that the pilot fired an R-27R outside of its launch parameters. Commenting on the MiG pilot being "hyped on adrenaline," Skull fired an AIM-9 well outside of its effective range in a head-on approach to the MiG. This scared the pilot and forced them to evade and lose even more speed. Skull rapidly gained altitude as the MiG pilot completed their evasive maneuvers, predicting that the Fulcrum pilot would lose sight of him and gain altitude to spot Skull's aircraft easier. The instinctual flying skills of Skull already had him place high and behind the confused and climbing MiG-29 even before it began its ascent. Though the Fulcrum eventually spotted the F-16, an attempt to dive to the ground at full afterburner still resulted in Skull's AIM-9 proximity bursting into the Fulcrum, forcing the pilot to eject from losing control while in a rapid dive. Scoring his fifth kill and becoming the first American ace since the Vietnam war, the celebration was stifled by the arrival of the rest of the fallen MiG-29's flight. Though they managed to survive the air battle long enough for friendly F-15s to begin their attack, both F-16s were considerably damaged. In particular, Skull's F-16 was heavily damaged by cannon fire from an especially skilled MiG-29 pilot. With his aircraft in shambles and unable to return to base, Skull attempted to eject from the aircraft multiple times but could not due to battle damage. Skull told Bishop to shoot the canopy of his damaged aircraft as his last chance to escape alive. After two sweat-drenched attempts, Bishop was successful in destroying the canopy and enabling Skull's ejection. After confirming the ejection and coordinating the arrival of a search and rescue helicopter, Skull passed words of respect and thankfulness to Bishop, thanking him for his support and telling him that he could finally call Skull "an Ace". As Bishop departed the area to meet up with a tanker aircraft, the rescue helicopter was ambushed by ARS infantry with a shoulder launcher surface-to-air missile. The helicopter was destroyed, killing all on board. Decades later, the older Colonel William Bishop deliberated an offer to lead a NATO-led task force against an African insurgency in 2015. Eventually deciding to take the assignment, his recollection of Skull and his ambitions to be a fighter pilot aided him in this decision. While Bishop thought about whether or not he had achieved his goal in life as a test pilot, he reasoned that Skull achieved his life goal, and it inspired him to do the same: to become the best pilot in the sky. "[Skull] got his fifth kill. He died happy. Fulfilled. The last ace." -Colonel William "Brass" Bishop This article was written with a copy of the transcript for "The Last Ace," the prequel novel to Ace Combat: Assaults Horizon. We would again like to thank the author for sending us this material to discuss this novel further. About the Author 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 |

Strike Fighters 2: A great sim-lite example

Strike Fighters 2: A great sim-lite example

I have noticed something interesting that has been happening to the flight sim genre of games over the past decade or so. It is not a problem nor a particularly worrying issue, just an interesting movement made by developers that I did not expect at all back in the day. What I've noticed is that there are almost no single-player sim-lite games anymore; at least none that I am aware of. One of the last prominent ones being Strike Fighters 2. All screenshots in this article were taken by my great friend, Hueman. Kudos to him! The sim-lite market seems to have been replaced by a now famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) game made by Gaijin Entertainment: War Thunder. Thousands upon thousands of players go into the game everyday to grind for more vehicles or to just have fun, although some of my friends who play the game almost religiously would describe it as a second job or "suffering". But as someone that does not like paying for a game with my time, I don't particularly like games such as War Thunder. I would much prefer having that same sim-lite experience offline and that is exactly what Strike Fighters 2 provides. It might be old and it might not be the most beautiful game out there, but it sure provides certain experiences that are not available anywhere anymore. One of the best examples of one such experiences would be SF2's initial and centric experience: The Vietnam War. Having the capability to fly from both sides of the conflict and take control of almost any airframe that fought during the conflict is something that almost no game lets you do. Let alone flying Soviet-made MiGs against the US, as such side of the war is usually unavailable to the player. Strike Fighters 2 has always had that uniqueness to it, which can be seen in its official and unofficial expansions. From post-WW2 middle east conflicts to what-if scenarios such as a Soviet invasion through the Fulda Gap in Germany or even more recent but not that well known real conflicts such as the Lebanon War. Variety is the key. Additionally, Strike Fighters has one of the most expansive libraries of mods that I know of. If it flew or was meant to be flown, even in paper, then someone probably made it flyable in SF2. I have seen everything from the Wright Flyer to Ultra Sabers and more. It's just amazing how mod friendly this title is sometimes, particularly when you look at mods such as Operation Darius that take the game and add a completely new expansion-sized chunk to it. The great thing, for some people, is that you can fly most of these aircraft with almost zero previous experience. It is more game than simulator, hence why I refer to it as a sim-lite game. Sincerely, this is a game genre that I miss dearly. I love simulators such as DCS where I have to read and educate myself on each aircraft's systems in order to operate them, but, sometimes I just do not have the mood to get in and fly sims that day. Sometimes all I want is to fly the aircraft that I love without some of the "hassle" that comes with full fidelity sims. Sadly, acquiring SF2 nowadays is only possible through Thirdwire's website. No discounts at all despite that it was last updated in 2013 with a Windows 10 compatibility patch. This means that getting this sim-lite experience is a bit hard and with no other competitors around aside from the Flaming Cliffs 3 (FC3) module for DCS, the genre's not in its best moment. There is a bit of light leaking at the end of the tunnel, though. This comes in the form of Modern Air Combat, or MAC for short. Made by Eagle Dynamics, this new game should be a true successor to FC3 that will allow more people to easily access flight sims by being a sort of getaway drug that will give players a taste of air combat without some of the minutia. Some part of me still wants Thirdwire to continue development on the Strike Fighters franchise, but it seems as if they have moved on past it. All we can do is hope that ED's MAC will be what I and many other people want out of the sim-lite genre. 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

Interview with Fractal Phase, Developer of Sky Rogue

Interview with Fractal Phase, Developer of Sky Rogue

Following our article about how genuinely fun the co-op gameplay of Sky Rogue is, we reached out to the developers behind the game for an interview. Wanting to delve deeper into this visually unique flight arcade game, we made contact with Kenny Backus from Fractal Phase, the developer that created Sky Rogue. Thank you for this interview and thanks to the Fractal Phase team for creating Sky Rogue. Can you introduce the members of the dev team? Hello! I'm Kenny Backus, the main developer of Sky Rogue. Charles Blanchard did the artwork and Pete Lepley (via The Otherworld Agency) did the music. I'm the only developer at the moment though, so all of the following answers are going to be from my perspective. Is Sky Rogue the first game that you've worked on? When I made the very first prototype for Sky Rogue in 2013 I had already been working in the games industry as a programmer since 2008 working on games like Age of Conan, The Secret World, and Far Cry 4. I made about 20 or so small games on my own and one medium-sized one called SWOOOORDS! before Sky Rogue. I've since made several small games such as MEKA-ON!, Weapons, Inc, and Aero Cup, which along with many other small games can be found on itch.io. However, it was the first commercial game I made outside of being employed in another studio. For the first year of its life it was pay-what-you-want as I was just getting comfortable asking for money and started figuring out how taxes and incorporation works. What was the original concept for the game? Is the full game completely different from the original idea? The original concept was to be a "rougelike flight simulator" and I don't think that's changed much at all. The only changes have been in the details of how I approached that concept. I think the most major deviation from the original idea was that I decided to make it more like a "dungeon in the sky" where you fly short open-ended missions one island at a time, because the original plan was to make it an open world with AI commanders generating missions and keeping track of industrial assets which would affect what aircraft you had and what aircraft would get sent out against you. Despite how exciting that might sound, my years of experience told me to scope down from that so that I could manage to actually release the game and release something that wasn't a buggy mess. Is it true that the prototype version of Sky Rogue was designed in 2013 in a single week? Yes, it was a really simple arcade flight sim with only one aircraft (called "aero" in-universe), guided missiles, and infinite waves of enemies. Here's a video of it: An interesting aspect about the game is that there isn’t really a story or narrative that drives players forward, but there are mentions of organizations and states in the Aeropedia entries for certain aircraft and buildings. Is there a hidden story? The game was intended to be story-light from the beginning because I thought a lot of air combat games included storylines that weren't actually any good and often made the game a bit worse as it got in the way of the gameplay. Since the game was a roguelike, we avoided a story-driven campaign mode (though now we have incredible games like Hades to show us how a roguelike can be story-driven). We made content for the game and wrote the Aeropedia entries to provide a narrative context for it, I was inspired by Dark Souls to do that. The context is that you're playing in a near-future world where the icecaps have melted (thus, all of the islands) and the large corporations mentioned in the entries basically control governments and their militaries instead of the other way around. These nations are trying to capture and control what resources they can, but it's kind of a rigged game of infinite warfare. You'll notice that there are still oil rigs in existence, so no one's really learned the lessons about fossil fuels despite being in the midst of climate change. However, practically all warfare takes place via aircraft now, which is convenient for making a flight simulator but also has some inspiration behind it. I think a lot of people see airstrikes as 'stuff fighting stuff' rather than something that kills humans, so it's not nearly as controversial as putting boots on the ground to do similar things. You can "send a message" with a few bombs, but everyone understands sending troops in is a lot more than "sending a message". Sky Rogue sits comfortably in this perspective, you are in the middle of a conflict where the humans involved are literally invisible. When I was a kid growing up in the 90s I watched a lot of military aircraft documentaries like "Wings" on the Discovery Channel. As an adult, I notice something that flew over my head as a kid: when these documentaries talked about the aircraft they avoided talking about the actual role of these aircraft as killing machines, as weapons we should really avoid using at all costs, and focused on their really fascinating technical details, talking about them as sort of engineering problems to solve. They are machines designed to fight other machines, or to destroy real estate and capital assets. The description of each aero is generally inspired by this perspective, of the aero you're flying being a tool and not a weapon. So the game pretty clearly removes a lot of the human element just like that perspective does, and doesn't want to acknowledge the fact that you're flying a killing machine and there are people just like you on the enemy side and on the sidelines as civilians. If I had made a more explicit storyline I probably would have leaned into that more, which is what some of the Ace Combat games have been doing where both sides get completely wrecked and the war is a lose-lose situation orchestrated by a few sociopaths at the top. It's kind of dark, and wouldn't really match the aesthetic of the game, so it would have been pretty difficult. Anyways about the word "aero", I wanted to use a term that had the same feeling as " 'mech " from Battletech, it was an abbreviation which sounded futuristic, reminding you that you're not in the real world, and like something invented inside the game universe by the people actually using these machines. I came pretty quickly to "aero" which is an abbreviation of "aerodyne" which itself is a jargon-y term meaning "heavier-than-air aircraft". I would have never guessed this story setting! I’m surprised. But, by sidestepping the story you’ve certainly avoided weighing down the gameplay. Thinking about it from this point of view, it seems like a factor in Sky Rogue’s easy to pick up and play feeling. Was the game designed to be played in short sessions? The game is definitely designed that way. I don't know if I can really explain why, it just seems like the most natural option. There's probably hesitancy among players in general to even start your game in the first place if it takes awhile to start up and get to the actual "game" part. Your perspective of the Aeros shows up well in the game. It’s natural to just focus on their cool designs and think of how you can use them to defeat the opposing forces. Some of them have memorable designs that even include strategic bombers. Are there any Aeros in particular you think people should try out? The Schwalbe is one of my favourites because it is very maneuverable and fast but is limited in all other aspects, so it really forces you to not take much damage and only use a few basic weapons. The Monarch (can be unlocked after you beat the game) controls in a really weird way because it's acceleration is absurd, and it also has a pretty cool double swing-wing design, I think it's really fun to fly. The Bronco and Puma are "warbirds", prop aeros which are slow but have really good acceleration and low stall speeds and most notably, double mounts on all their secondary weapons. I think this makes them a bit overpowered but since they were added well after the release of the game I think they help add a different kind of experience. Speaking of the double mounts, I was inspired to do that by the modding community. The way weapons work is that each of your three weapon secondary slots has one mount inside it, while your primary has two. The code is not enforcing this constraint, it just fires as many mounts as exist inside a given slot. Modders figured out they could put as many as they wanted, and end up making very overpowered aeros. I followed the "rule of cool" and didn't consider it a bug, especially since people made some really interesting setups with mounts pointing backwards or a B-17 with "special" mounts where the turrets are, so if you mount a tailgun in your special slot you'll have a B-17 decked out with working turrets. Eventually I decided to try it for myself with the warbirds. The co-op gameplay feels like it is such a crucial part of the experience. Was this a planned part of development since the beginning? It wasn't really planned, I just figured that it would be a pretty exciting feature for a game which design-wise didn't have any issues supporting it. I thought it would be pretty easy in technical terms, but of course that proved to be false over the years as a bunch of co-op only bugs showed up. In the end I of course think it was worth it and a great addition to the game. Sometimes players reach out to me via email or Twitter and tell me they played co-op with their friends or kids, I really appreciate hearing that. While doing research we noticed that mods were supported very early in the project’s life, as early as alpha. What motivated that decision? When I was a kid (teenager?) I bought Half-Life specifically so I could play Counter-Strike, which at the time was a mod for Half-Life. Before that, I played a lot of Team Fortress Classic, which was a Quake mod (or "total conversion" in those days). I was also absolutely obsessed with AirQuake, a Quake mod that turned the game into an action flight simulator not entirely unlike Sky Rogue. I also made a few mods myself, like a Yehat Terminator (from Star Control) for Microsoft Flight Simulator '98, some StarCraft maps lost to time, and helped a bit with a Homeworld mod for Freelancer which fizzled out as many collaborations do. So before I ever made games I was very aware of modding and knew that if I made a game where mods made sense, I would want to support them. Do you have any personal favorite mods? I don't like picking favourites, but I would like to point out the RVR-01 and the other mods themed around shmups, because they include custom weapons that made you really overpowered in an interesting way that completely changes the tempo of the game. It ended up directly inspiring the weapons in the core game you can unlock after beating the game. I wanted to add that kind of super fast, shmup-like experience to the game but in a way that doesn't affect the original game, so it's given as a sort of motivation to keep playing, the reward is a new way of playing the game. Other than that, I really like the Swordfish II from Cowboy Bebop, simply because I really like Cowboy Bebop, as well as the Star Fox mod. The Ikea table and Geo Metro mods are also really fun since they inject some humour into the game. I also appreciate these mods because they were really visible and I think helped bring more people to the game. However, I also like the original mods a lot, like the FA-27D Longbow, or Marauder, because they showed how people could copy our style and do unique things with it that weren't attached to a particular franchise or IP. To be honest, though, I like every single mod anyone's created because it means the game we created inspired them to create something in turn. At what point did Fractal Phase start considering a game console release? Was this the goal from the beginning? Then Richard Duck at Nintendo, who had been following the game, reached out in an email and invited us to make the game for the Switch back in 2017.. Since it was the launch year of the console, and it was obvious from the start that it was a huge success, we of course wanted in on it and it was an incredibly good idea in retrospect. The game already had gamepad controls and there's nothing in the design or menus that required mouse controls, so it was already oriented towards console play even if that wasn't an objective. The game was still on Steam Early Access at the time so I wanted to exit Early Access and launch 1.0 before going onto the Switch, so it was great motivation to get that squared away rather than let EA continue indefinitely. Sky Rogue definitely feels like it's best played with KBM or gamepads, but the Steam version of the game can also support flight sticks. Was this something players requested during development? People have definitely requested flight stick support. As a flight sim it makes perfect sense for there to be support, and thankfully because I am using a third-party input library called Rewired, most flight sticks are natively supported. There were actually two shows here in Toronto where I demoed it with a flight stick, at Toronto Comic Arts Festival Comics x Games and the CNE (Canadian National Expo) Gaming Garage. It definitely got some attention. The motion controls on the Nintendo Switch acting as a type of Hands-on Throttle and Stick flight system was an interesting addition. Was this control scheme hard to develop on the Switch? It definitely took some extra effort and tweaking, but it was a lot easier than I expected. The inputs that the gyroscopes on the Joy-Cons provide are really clean, I was expecting to have to smooth out some noise but I never had to. Are you working on any new titles or are you a member of a game studio at this time? I'm currently working full-time for myself (Fractal Phase) on a new unannounced title. I only started doing it a little over a year ago, for the vast majority of Sky Rogue's development I was working for other studios and making Sky Rogue in my spare time. Thanks for taking time to do this interview. I’ve become a big fan of Sky Rogue and continue to play it with many of my friends because it is so easy to access and share with others. About the Interviewer 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 |

SP-34R: Bold Project Wingman Design Choice

SP-34R: Bold Project Wingman Design Choice

When your aircraft is carrying an excess of 60 or more missiles while casually afterburning well above Mach 2, you know it's flight arcade time. A genre defined by massive battles, constant dogfights, a heroic pilot that saves the day (you!), and most importantly, every flavor of missile possible. While Project Wingman unquestionably adheres to this, there's a single aircraft in this game's roster that goes against the grain. From the start, Project Wingman (December 1st, 2020) was designed as a love letter to the over-the-top flight arcade games of the 1990s and 2000s. Those who remember those times, names like HAWX, Air Force Delta, and Ace Combat come to mind. Developed by self-proclaimed life-long Ace Combat fans, Project Wingman looks right at home in the flight arcade genre. Alongside the usual multipurpose short-range missiles that are effective against anything that flies, sails or drives, there's a rather generous amount of special/secondary weapons. Players are encouraged to play through the game, unlocking the next best aircraft to aid in their progress. Each aircraft becoming more advanced in performance and the quantity and type of weapons they can equip. It's the standard formula. The prize for clearing the single-player campaign is often a real or fictional type of "super aircraft." The top-tier aircraft have the best flight performance, highest weapons capacity and often come equipped with devastating one-of-a-kind weapons. Players that beat the game are free to use these super aircraft to replay the campaign or tackle other game modes. While Project Wingman's all-around top "super plane" is the titular named PW-Mk.I, a second super plane does exist. Though, it may be better to view it as more of a "challenge aircraft." SP-34R or "Spear" is one of three aircraft created by Aerospace Engineer tier backers from the Project Wingman Kickstarter campaign. Designed by Discord user Diabolus#6666 alongside developer Sector D2, in-game, it is referred to as an Icarus Experimental Ballistic Airframe created by Icarus Armories - a fictional company within the distant post-apocalyptic Earth future used as the game's setting. SP-34R appears to be roughly around the size of an F/C-16 (aka F-16C) when viewing it in the in-game hangar. When reaching supersonic flight, a significant portion of its wings, horizontal stabilizers, and canards retract into the aircraft rather than sweep. The aircraft shifts into a clipped canard delta wing configuration, which relies on thrust vectoring for pitch and roll inputs while in excess of Mach 1. Its ultimate defense and offense are speed and maneuverability, coming equipped with either an angle of attack limiter release or countermeasures. This is further emphasized by its weapon selection. The aircraft does not carry any missiles and instead opts for five different types of guns: GUN: The standard gun carries 12,000 rounds with a high rate of fire. CGP: Canister Gun Pod. A shotgun-like pair of cannons that spread shells over a small area. 320 rounds. MGP-1: Medium Gun Pod. 1200 rounds. A slightly lower rate of fire than the GUN with higher damage output. HDP: Heavy Gun Pod. 320 rounds. The slowest rate of fire with the highest damage output. RG: Rail Gun. 30 rounds. The most destructive weapon on the aircraft integrated into the airframe. Has the longest range. Capable of stripping a warship or reinforced land target of defenses in a single shot. On a battlefield in which guided munitions from land, sea, and air make up at least half of the weapons deployed, players flying Spear choose to hinder themselves in that sense. With no guided weapons on board, the player must use speed, maneuverability, and sound judgment to survive. Slashing attacks are especially effective, fitting of an aircraft named "Spear." The sheer volume of firepower it can deploy within seconds is immensely destructive. Firing both the main gun and any secondary gun pods together can even shred large warships. The boss battle-style dogfights against Ace pilots can be over within minutes if a competent pilot can capitalize on a chance to bring all their cannons onto target. The rail gun is an exception to this aircraft's need to get in close and is the most suitable weapon for destroying or disabling formidable enemies at safe distances. So long as the pilot has highly accurate control of their aircraft to aim the weapon. The standard SP-34R combat sortie includes flying at dangerously high speeds and rapidly changing altitudes with a high volume of incoming fire at almost all times. With no guided weaponry on board, only the pilot's skill and control over the aircraft will be the deciding factor in every sortie. This design ignoring the variety of secondary air-to-ground and air-to-air ordinance available in Project Wingman is unexpected. It's a type of flying reserved for World War II or Korean War-era aircraft being applied to a futuristic, presumably 5th or 6th generation fighter. But it also feels like a nod to a vein of the flight arcade community, which prides itself on guns-only campaign runs as a demonstration of masterful piloting even in the face of the overwhelming enemy force. This aircraft is truly for those seeking a new challenge after completing the campaign. In the past close-range air combat has been described as a knife fight in a phone booth. I doubt anyone was expecting a SP-34R to come flying through the window. About the Author 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 |

Opinion: Confessions from a DCS Hornet Main

Opinion: Confessions from a DCS Hornet Main

My fellow virtual aviators, I write this baring my soul to admit something to you all. I've had the DCS World Heatblur F-14B for three months and still am not familiar with it enough to fly in combat. My interest is there, surely, but the feeling of necessity is missing. I still find myself flying and fighting in the same multirole maestro that was overwhelmingly suggested to me almost a year ago. As I approach a year of being "stung" by the F/A-18C Lot 20, the reality of a newcomer's decision to start with this aircraft is settling in. Its ability to easily do everything has hindered me from trying anything else. And many others have fallen into the same position I am in. Years before I took to the skies of Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS), I was well aware of what it was. It is that combat flight simulator with video clips, screenshots, and immense guides that has long proliferated sim and non-sim flight groups and blogs for over a decade. But to those from the outside looking in, DCS is just as intimidating as it is impressive. With so many aircraft to choose from, a beginner can easily make a mistake on day one. Purchasing an aircraft that is not the best fit for them could sour their first experience with DCS and may result in them never coming back. In July 2020, I watched dozens of videos from content creators, read forum threads, and asked others I knew that frequently flew in this sim for their suggestions on what my first module should be. After all those conversations, the #1 recommended or mentioned aircraft was the F/A-18C Hornet by Eagle Dynamics. This aircraft does everything a newcomer would expect of a modern fixed-wing combat aircraft. Whether it's from movies, documentaries, or other flight games and simulators, there's a certain level of technology that the general public visualizes when "fighter jets" come to mind. In DCS, the Hornet fits this perfectly. This 4th generation multirole aircraft can operate from aircraft carriers or airfields, aerial refuel, and has a built-in self-protection jammer. Its fly-by-wire system keeps the plane from turning in a way that could damage itself, and sturdy landing gear allows for rough landings. Vital information about the aircraft in flight, systems management, and weapons deployment is easily accessible in three information displays and a full HUD. That is further enhanced with a helmet-mounted display that increases situational awareness and presents access to off-boresight weapons launch. Its selection of munitions is one of the most diverse in DCS, enabling the Hornet to effectively handle multiple types of targets in a single mission. The following picture shows a loadout that's inadvisable to actually use in combat but demonstrates its flexibility. That's anti-ship attack, SEAD, laser-guided bombs, medium-range glide bombs, a targeting pod, an AMRAAM, two IR missiles, and a centerline fuel tank. It's obvious to me why the F/A-18C keeps becoming the go-to module for people giving DCS a first try. With the purchase of a single full-fidelity simulated aircraft, you can experience what seems like everything DCS has to offer. Anyone that flies in public player vs. player or player vs. environment servers will tell you that the Hornet is the most prolific aircraft. I've heard and read remarks against the Hornet that include "it handholds pilots," "noob plane," "you're not actually flying," and some other strongly worded opinions. Many of these responses were from DCS players with dozens or hundreds of hours that fly just about every aircraft available. Thinking back, what they were trying to express is similar to what I understand now, but they didn't explain it in the best of ways. It's not that the DCS World version of the F/A-18C is some sort of simplified aircraft explicitly made for novices. Because it is so easy to learn and flexible enough to tackle any mission, newcomers often never bother to fly anything else. After 9 months of playing DCS, my perspective of this simulator has gradually changed. Rather than viewing it as a place to fly a simulated combat aircraft, you gradually come to the understanding that each aircraft in itself is a simulation. When you really think about it, the magic of DCS is that multiple aircraft are just as intricate or nearly as capable as the jack of all trades F/A-18C. That is to say, the characteristics between aircraft are so notably different that even flying the same sortie using other aircraft changes the overall experience of that sortie. There are comparable aircraft to the F/A-18C in terms of weapons capabilities and how advanced their aircraft systems are. Like the F-16C or JF-17. Even intentionally choosing aircraft wildly different in design philosophy from the Hornet like the AJS-37 Viggen or opting for the raw power of the F-14B Tomcat rekindles interest in learning new airplanes and truly seeing DCS in the various lenses (or, in this case, canopies) it has to offer. Now, this all sounds like common sense to anyone that regularly flies in this simulator. Still, again, for the budding DCS World pilots that started with the complete package the Hornet provides, this isn't as apparent. And bluntly, it's not really something you even care about when you feel as though you already have everything you need. To those who find themselves as dedicated "Hornet mains" from day one, I'd say that if they've taken the time to become proficient with a single aircraft, they should be confident that they are more than capable of learning everything else DCS has to offer. Spread your wings and continue challenging yourselves, fellow "Bug" pilots! There is so much more to see! About the Author 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 |

Aero Dancing: Game Console Air Show Training and Performing

Aero Dancing: Game Console Air Show Training and Performing

The elegance of flying a tight formation with multiple aircraft in front of a crowd of thousands is something that takes a long time to learn - even in a simulator. Whether you’re watching the real-world Golden Eagles demonstration team or the DCS World Frecce Tricolori Virtuali, you can’t help but feel inspired to try a little formation flying yourself. It’s hard to find purpose-built games or simulators dedicated to precise aerobatics and formation flying, but years ago, there was a game console series that did just that - even if only for a short time. In the mid to late 1990s, arcade combat flight simulators were the kings of game console aviation entertainment. This was a time where the Ace Combat series was finding its footing, Air Force Delta premiered, and there were plenty of one-off combat aviation titles across many game consoles. Among them, non-combat or civilian aviation games were few and far between. As a kid in 1999, I was enamored by games with fast jets, big explosions, and just enough story to have it all make sense. Because of this, there was a particular game on the Sega Dreamcast that was unbearably boring for me at the time. It's complexity and lack of combat made me stop playing it the same day I had bought it. But returning to it again many years later made me appreciate what it was trying to achieve. To the point where I genuinely want a modern day equivalent. Aero Dancing featuring Blue Impulse (March 4, 1999; known as Aero Wings outside of Japan) is a non-combat flight simlite that focused on aerobatics. As with many imported games from Japan in the 1990s, there was an alteration in the export version of the game. What was removed was the highly visible sponsorship by the Blue Impulse aerobatic demonstration team of the Japan Air Self Defense Force. This was a significant selling point for the game in Japan - the team’s name was in the title and everything. The removal of this in the export version certainly didn’t help the game’s overall reception but also didn’t hurt it too badly since the Blue Impulse was less known outside of Japan. You could still access all the same content, aircraft, and liveries, with the Blue Impulse still mentioned in-game prominently. The aircraft in Aero Dancing handle more realistically than most other game console flight titles at the time. Meaning that the usual full afterburner, throwing the flight stick around like a madman control method is detrimental and will make progressing through this game very difficult. With no weapons available, controls instead focused on functions like air brakes, flap positioning, air show smoke, and landing gear. The HUD is basic but provides all the information necessary for aerobatics. In third-person views, a basic HUD is displayed in the bottom left corner with an aircraft formation control menu that appears in the top-left of the screen to order other members of the flight into five different flight formations and a few other options. There are a few different game modes, but the highlight of this game is the Blue Impulse Mission mode. Here players are taught players how to properly control their aircraft. Flying at precise bank angles and altitudes for specific amounts of time and performing aerobatic maneuvers. The higher the accuracy of maneuvers, the higher the score the player receives. While in training, the player must watch the pre-flight briefing and perform the assigned maneuvers at the correct speeds while receiving verbal commands from their instructors on exactly when to execute a maneuver. During formation flights, the flight leader will be giving commands for when to break formation, start a maneuver, turn on smoke, what altitudes they are passing, air speed callouts and more. Eventually, other aircraft are added to the formation, further increasing the complexity of everything learned thus far. With a set of 10 basic flight training missions and a second set of 10 performance training missions, players can go from learning proper takeoff procedures to becoming the flight lead of Blue Impulse formations from 2 to 6 aircraft. I have to stress how serious these training missions are. By the time players reach the performance training missions, they will be performing some serious airshow stunts. Completing all Blue Impulse Missions unlocks Exhibition mode, which lets players perform airshow routines in front of spectators with no serious grading system active. The computer wingmen can have problems rejoining formations and potentially ram into you by accident, but after thorough training through the previous missions, learning how to fly with them only requires minimal adjustments. Aero Dancing also includes up to 4 player couch co-op formation flying in an unusual screen format. Rather than a four-way split-screen, aircraft flown by the players appear on the same screen, with basic HUDs appearing in the bottom half of the screen. From here, they are to verbally communicate with one another to maintain formation. Flying outside of the area on-screen results in the end of the flight session. Flying like this is just as awkward as it sounds, but kudos to the developers for even attempting this. Replaying a game like this in 2021 makes me long for a similar airshow focused simulator on modern personal computers or 9th generation game consoles. While there was a pretty good showing of this concept with the US Navy sponsored Blue Angels Aerobatic Flight Simulator, it fell flat in many aspects. Having a full-fledged aerobatic simulator that could be a learning tool for not only newcomers to simulated flight but primarily for those seeking to practice real aerobatics with high-end graphics and performance of modern gaming computers and game consoles could be something really special. I’m only talking about the first game of the Aero Dancing series, which spanned four games and three bonus discs because the focus on aerobatics only shifted within a year after its release. From the second game onwards, the Aero Dancing series firmly shifted into a military flight simlite series with ever increasing amounts of combat. That’s not to say they were bad. I’d argue that Aero Dancing 4 (Aero Elite Academy) is probably one of the greatest flight simlites on game consoles ever, but the aerobatic performer’s experience that had at least raised eyebrows in the first Aero Dancing game were never refined or revisited. About the Author 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 |