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heinkill

A look back the 2012 feast of sim goodness...

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Hey all!

I reckon 2012 was a great year if you are a WWII combat flight sim fan!

I wouldn't have expected it to be, going into the year, with a totally broken IL2 Cliffs of Dover on my hard drive, a BoB Developers Group which had gone into hibernation over the 2.12 update of BOBII Wings of Victory, and War Thunder not even in closed beta testing yet.

But my new SSD drive emerged from 2012 running a working IL2 Cliffs of Dover, the 2.12 update to BOBII, the War Thunder Open Beta and to top it off, there was the pleasant surprise of a nicely put together P-51 release from the DCS/Eagle Dynamics stable.

What started as a famine, ended as a feast! Here were the highlights for me...(yes I did have too much time on my hands over Xmas...)

IL2 Cliffs of Dover

In January 2012, more than half a year after EU release, this was still a buggy mess despite a major official patch in October 2011. Even users with Über PC specs were struggling to get decent frame rates. Online, the server code was bugged and the devs were still recommending not to use the main game map of the BoB theatre of conflict - The Channel Map.

Some users were undeterred though, and a highlight was the work of user Enlightened Florist, to create a dynamic campaign mod which filled the offline gap left by the terrible campaigns delivered in the original game. Another was the release by 3rd party developers, Desastersoft, of the 'Fighter Aces' series of add-ons, which gave the game not only much needed offline content, but new features such as campaign medals and promotions, RDF and sector controller simulation, in flight mission orders, random mission scripting, the ability to call reinforcements and airstrikes while in flight, and the Knickebein bomber guidance system.

Through early 2012 the developers 1C delivered a round of beta patches to try to improve graphic and flight model performance. By then I'd logged about 200 hours in the game, and despite all the frustration among the community, there were still plenty of players out there - my Operation Sealion Mission Pack quickly passed 1,000 downloads just a couple of weeks after release.

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Shot from Operation Sealion mission pack: the rolling series of beta updates made the game playable for many, and made possible combined arms land and air missions like those in Operation Sealion.

But all was not well at 1C. They had started a pattern of random developer updates, which left the community more confused, than informed. Hoping to hear news of fixes to the many remaining problems in Cliffs of Dover, readers were usually treated instead to vague information and screenshots not of work in progress on Cliffs of Dover, but from a planned Battle of Moscow sequel.

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A typical 'Cliffs of Dover' development update from 2012...nothing to do with Cliffs of Dover - a screenshot from the now abandoned sequel.

To their credit though, although they had written Cliffs of Dover off as a commercial failure, a small team at 1C did keep banging away trying to fix the code, and after intensive work over Autumn, a year after the previous official patch, they delivered what was to become the final patch for Cliffs of Dover in October 2012.

Then the 1C project team self-destructed.

Project lead Ilya Yevchenko, who is no longer with 1C, wrote, "The situation sucks. I see no reason to sugarcoat it with bull. I don't want to go make empty promises or try to prove that black is white. We released a faulty game. We did more than even seemed possible to fix its faults and add improvements, but in the end it was not enough."

The final patch did fix a lot of the outstanding problems in Cliffs of Dover, and was enough to spark new interest in developing content for the game. Some fantastic scripting work was done to allow engaging multiplayer battles online, particularly on the ATAG and Repka servers, and together with a band of talented scripters and beta testers, a group of us released the REDUX campaign for offline flyers, which also flew past the 1,000 download mark within a couple of weeks of release.

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Mission themes available on the ATAG server for online gamers. Some very creative scripting for online missions emerged in 2012

After the last patch, some were quick to declare Cliffs of Dover dead. But I suspect that like BOB2 and EAW, enthusiasts will keep it alive for several years to come.

And finally, from the ashes, a potential new WWII sim platform was born.

Rise of Flight developers 777 announced they were merging with 1C to form 1C Game Studios and release the next game in the IL2 franchise, which would be, not Battle of Moscow, but IL2 Battle of Stalingrad. Their announcement mirrored a leaked press release I was sent at the time of the Russian Igromir gaming conference earlier in the year, so plans for this had obviously been underway in one form or other for a long time.

Whether this new collaboration will result in a new WWII combat flight sim is still to be seen, but the 777 team has a good record so far with their WWI sim, Rise of Flight.

The new IL2 title could emerge into the daylight in 2014.

War Thunder (open beta)

Described by the developers, Gaijin, as an 'MMO combat game', this title takes up where their

but ultimately flawed game 'Wings of Prey' (based on the old IL2 engine), left off.

In 2012 it went from closed beta, to open beta, and in 2013 should go Gold.

As the devs call it an MMO and not a combat flight sim, perhaps I shouldn't include it in this roundup, but I spent a lot of time playing it this year and I think it has great potential. (I'm not so hung up on the whole 'is it a sim or isn't it?' debate that seems to vex a lot of people.)

Wings of Prey looked great (if you didn't mind the strange metallic filtered look) and played even more smoothly, no matter what was happening on screen. It had a scaleable approach that allowed players to jump in arcade style, or turn off all the prompts and fly from the cockpit. But offline gameplay was firmly aimed at the arcade end of the spectrum, and the online experience was crippled by limited mission types (airstarts only), poor server support and few players online.

War Thunder keeps a lot of what was good about Wings of Prey (gorgeous graphics and framerates, large range of theatres and aicraft types) and has tried to dramatically improve the online experience.

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War Thunder can be played from the cockpit, with flight aids turned off...

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or in full-on third person arcade mode

The offline experience is still very much a work in progress (and at the moment retains the Wings of Prey X-Box style approach to mission design), but as it's still a beta and features are changing all the time, it isn't easy to predict what the final game will look or play like. But there are some things that are certain.

- It will offer dozens of aircraft and theatres to fly in and gorgeous graphics that are kind on mid-range PC specs

- Commercially it will be based on the MMO model of buying aircraft and weapons upgrades and repairs either with cold hard cash, or by 'grinding' to earn in-game coinage. Most simmers seem to either love, or hate this model, with a few (like me) who sit on the fence.

- The pointless 'it's not a sim/yes it is' debate will continue throughout 2013!

For a preview of War Thunder, based on the beta of 2012, click the link here.

BOBII Wings of Victory version 2.12 (closed beta)

Yes, another beta, but as the BoB Developers Group readily accepts new members who genuinely want to beta test their updates, it has been possible for enthusiasts to get a hold of this update during 2012 and give it a really good workout.

Which is fantastic news for fans of this venerable WWII combat sim, first released in 2005, because once again the BDG has managed to breathe enough new life into the game to keep it on my SSD, against some pretty tough competition.

So what is it about the 2.12 update that makes it worth a place in my 2012 highlights? Well, quite simply, the BDG has taken an already insanely detailed simulation of the Battle of Britain, and lifted it to a whole new plane of historical accuracy.

The German air campaign in particular has been given a thorough reworking, so that the player who takes on the challenge of fighting the Battle from Hermann Goerings (rather large) chair, has unprecedented control over strategy and tactics, intel and resources.

See an example of the German campaign in action in in this AAR thread here.

Secondly, and once again, the BDGs crew of modellers has gone crazy reproducing historically accurate models of objects, buildings, vehicles, aircraft, AAA emplacements and major landmarks, which have all been added to the game. So many in fact, the code had to get a major refresh to be able to manage all the new object types.

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Brighton Beach, as seen in the 2.12 update of BOB2 - just as it was in June 1940.

When you add this new level of detail to a sim which still has what is arguably the best offline gameplay and combat AI of any WWII flight sim, you get a 'must have' update that will prompt a lot of players to put BOB2 back into their current game list.

The final 2.12 update will be released in early 2013.

(More screenies and news on v2.12 here.)

DCS P-51D

I've never had quite the reaction to any of my articles and reviews that I had when I reviewed the DCS P-51D late this year.

People are very passionate about the DCS platform, and pretty soon the review comments thread was thrumming with healthy debate.

While the debate raged, I set about enjoying the sim I'd just bought. By now I have about 50 hours in the DCS P-51D and can say I wouldn't change anything in that review, and am enjoying it immensely.

It's a great P-51 simulator and if, like me, you enjoy tinkering with mission design, there is plenty of potential in the mission builder. At the moment, I am tinkering away at a series of missions based on 77 Squadron RAAF's exploits in the Korean war. The DCS P-51D has limited attraction as an air to air combat sim, but using the excellent DCS mission builder I can put together some engaging ground pounding missions that I one day might be able to string together into a half decent campaign. See the AAR based on the work in progress here.

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Screenshot from the 'Mustangs over Korea' missions being created for DCS P-51D

I hadn't followed the development of this high fidelity WWII prop fighter by DCS closely, so it came as a pleasant surprise, and if DCS wanted to add to the stable of DCS piston engined fighters (say with a nice opponent to the P-51D like the FW 190) I'd be the first to buy it!

But wait, there was more...

2012 obviously contained a lot more than just these developments for WWII combat flight sim fans.

If you were an EAW fan, 2012 brought you a bevvy of lovely skins and missions and the game moved from version 1.28E to 1.28F to get ready for the big leap next year to v 1.30. IL2 1946 fans got spoiled as usual with skins and missions and campaigns, plus version 4.11.1 from Team Daidolos (which significantly improved the AI, and lifted the game to 79 flyable kites with 41 maps). But it is easy to drown in the number of mods and submods now available; HDFX or Dark Blue World, or Full Monty, or Ultrapack3, or Supermod4.7 or...or... IL2 1946 fans were truly spoiled in 2012.

Bring on 2013 I say!

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Great update. I've abandoned combat flying. I enjoyed IL2: 1946 and then the UltraPack mod made it even better. It seems that UltraPack 3 is still mired in beta-land, I gave up on the updates and settled into life as a civilian flier. Yep, FSX for me these days. The only combat I have to worry about is turbulent air, wind shear and AI running or flying into me.

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Fantastic update, Heinkill :thumbsup:

I've looked longingly at Cliffs of Dover, but I knew it had problems that were, simply put, a deal breaker ... at least for me.

I find it not unsurprising that the community is driving a lot of the updates in the titles you mention above. Which makes me harken back to something I proposed ... gosh, must be 10 years ago now ... that what we, as a community, really need is a really decent air combat sim engine which any end-user can tweak and build upon. Let me clarify: today's hackers are brilliant coders in their own right, from the UltraPack guys, to the EAW group, the BoB folks, to our own community of F22-TAW modders, (and several others too numerous to list), they all get serious props from me because tweaking hex code and semi-decompiled code is tough, exacting, and exhausting work! Takes tons of dedication, especially when you're doing it for nothing but high fives and a few "thank you's" from the fans. I did a bit of innovative modding on IL-2 a few years ago with Schatten (where the heck did he go, btw?) and as fun and as cool as that was (and we created some seriously cool mods) I pretty much fried 80% of my brain's working neurons in the effort. :lol: Those groups who are lucky enough to actually have original source code (I think the BoB: WoP guys have that) guard their source code pretty closely, if I'm not mistaken.

In the civilian sim world, I believe there is FlightGear that is completely open source and users can do what they please with that, from the flight models to the terrains. I'm looking for (hoping for) something similar in the air combat genre: a totally open engine that lets a community of users create their own planes, terrains, missions, campaigns, and of course, flight, ballistic, and collision models. But, most important of all, give users of this hypothetical engine the GUI and command-line tools to edit all those variables and make mods and add-ons.

I think the Half-Life engine is one of those commercial / open source hybrids that not only makes bajillions of dollars for the developer (Valve) and yet also give end users free rein and all the tools to create their own vision of a game. Furthermore, for companies like Valve, it's a total win-win. By creating SDKs for their game, they create a huge and loyal community of users who create new content FOR THEM which drives NEW sales of the base game. Also, they can watch those mod communities and harvest the best and brightest to bring into their own organization. I mean, what's better? Posting scatter-gun ads on Monster.com for talented programmers with a long list of impossible credentials, or just cherry-pick the self-taught, self-motivated, super-talents from the community of passionate programmers, designers, and content developers that spawned as a result of releasing their own game's SDK? Methinks the latter.

Oh, ArmA2 is kinda like Valve, in a way. I actually don't think Bohemia intentionally released their source, but when Kegetys released his de-PBO'ing tools, the floodgates were opened to the modding community, and (and I'm speculating here) I think the Bohemia guys must've been at first dismayed, then thrilled when the community started taking their game and making it deeper, broader, and, well ... better. Again, total speculation there, but it feels "truthy" to me :lol:

Anyway, I babble.

Again, great post Heinkill, and thanks for sharing it with us :)

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Having read all the above, the question is, shall I buy BoB as it it is now, or shall I wait for a while? I have CoD and keep dusting the box off until things get better, but I don't want to do that with BoB as well. Thoughts? I mainly play offline, anyway.

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CoD won't get any better (codewise) for a long time - it is what it is now, and will be stuck there until someone cracks the code open as happened with IL2 to permit new maps and flyable aircraft, or 1C releases the code to the public, as A2A did with BOB2. That said, CoD is now pretty good. Stable online server code and decent number of players online (go to ATAG or REPKA servers), good FPS on mid range PCs, beautiful aircraft and engine modelling, nice sounds. The AI in the 3rd party or user made missions has been tweaked to be competitive and believable for offline players, but is still my main gripe - once you are on the six of an AI, they will rarely lose you, and even the aces shoot like rookies. If you mainly play offline like I do, and you aren't into mission building, that can be pretty annoying after a while. Still, sitting in the cockpit of an Emil or Spitfire, the graphics in CoD blow me away time and again.

BOB2 is starting to show its age graphically, but is still the best choice for offliners in terms of gameplay, depth, flight models, and dogfighting AI. In BOB2 when you get in a dogfight with an ace AI, you know you are lucky to come out of it alive - and not because the AI 'cheats' but because it flies and shoots like a human pilot. You have to fly your kite to the edge of its envelope to get a kill, or hope the AI makes a mistake (which randomly, it does). And there is nothing a quick instant action 12 vs 12 mission against the AI in 'Terminator' mode, to get the blood pumping! 'Terminator' mode does not give the AI any special powers, but what it does is force the AI to choose only offensive/attacking manoeuvres - the AI will never break off, or try to dive away and go defensive, it will always try to get a shooting solution on you. I love it, and after hundreds of hours in Spits and Emils in BOB2, IL2 and CoD, I still only 'win' against the terminator AI in BOB2 about 25% of the time.

BOB2 v 2.12 is an improvement on an already solid game, so the 2.11 version currently out there is more than good enough, especially if you like flying RAF, as most of the gameplay improvements in 2.12 were made to the Luftwaffe campaign engine.

You can pick up BOB2 DVD used on Amazon or eBay for a measly 5 bucks, or the digital download for 20 bucks, so why wait? The time you invest now will pay off when 2.12 arrives!

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Sold me, Heinkill! I'll track one down on eBay. Thanks.

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