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Thursday, March 22, 2012

AI settings in Cliffs of Dover

You spend time getting a Cliffs of Dover offline mission just right, jump in the cockpit, fly into battle, and then the enemy aircraft start doing stupid barrel rolls, defying gravity or coming at you with bombers that think they are fighters. Groan.

Don't despair! You can actually do something to make the experience a little better, though it has to be said the AI in Cliffs of Dover is porked, so you will never be able to totally eradicate the sillyness. Here's a guide to make it happen less though.

Load the mission in the full mission builder.

Right click on the aircraft flight you want to work with, and choose PROPERTIES

On the GROUP PROPERTIES menu you will see one for the whole flight which is called SKILL. In the dropdown list, set this to VETERAN (never ACE).

Click on the '...' (dot dot dot) button to the right of this dropdown list. This will give you a set of individual fields you can play with. These features aren't documented anywhere, so after much trial and error I will tell you how I set them to get the best results.

BASIC FLYING: Leave this where it is

ADVANCED FLYING: move this back a notch, which seems to help reduce the rolling rolling rolling behaviour

AWARENESS: increase to max. This gives the AI a chance to realise you are sneaking up behind them, and stops them suddenly flipping into level flight in the middle of a dogfight just because they can't 'see' you anymore.

AERIAL GUNNERY: increase to max. This eliminates the problem that on lower settings the AI pilots are crap at deflection shooting, and also burn all their ammo in long hosepipe bursts. At max setting the AI is not only a better shot, but doesn't waste ammo so badly. Beware though: this setting also affects bomb accuracy (good) and bomber gunner accuracy (bad). So with bombers, it is a good idea to go to the individual plane tabs in the PROPERTIES screen and set only one or two of them to gunnery max, and leave the others as veteran or average. Otherwise you risk getting slaughtered by deadeye gunners.

TACTICS: leave at veteran

VISION:  increase to max. This increases the 'bubble' around the aircraft which allows the AI pilots to detect other aircraft. If you don't max it out, they can just fly straight past each other.

BRAVERY: Set to max. This seems to determine the damage level at which enemy aircraft will cut and run, either at the flight level (x out of x aircraft destroyed) or individual level (x% damage). The lower you set it, the more likely they will bug out. Very important for bombers because at lower settings a couple of flack hits to a couple of aircraft will send the whole raid running for home.

DISCIPLINE: This setting affects how likely a unit is to follow its assigned orders or attack its assigned target. For fighters, leave this at standard VETERAN setting or even AVERAGE. If you set it to max for fighters, you will get situations where fighters assigned to attack bombers, will ignore the group of fighters coming straight at them, and get slaughtered, because they have been assigned to attack bombers. Also, at higher settings it seems to affect the likelihood the WINGMAN will just stupidly follow his leader around, rather than getting into the fight. Obviously though in some mission designs, you do want your Hurricanes to go for the bombers and your Spitfires to go for the fighters, so it can be useful. But usually it isn't.

For bombers however, or dive/fighter bombers with specific ground targets, I set this to maximum. This increases the chances the bomber or dive/fighter bomber will go for the assigned ground target. At lower settings they can get 'distracted' by other targets that are near the waypoint and attack these instead.

On a final note, the skill setting is also relevant for SHIPS. If you set it to ace for ships, they are deadeye shots at maximum range, for both their large bore guns, and their AAA and you will get slaughtered flying over a minensuchboot, even in a fighter. Set ships to AVERAGE.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

BoB II version 2.12 gets closer!

A big update now on the coming improvements to Battle of Britain II - still listed in the top 50 games ever for PC, by PC Gamer magazine 2011!

While other period sims such as Rise of Flight and IL2 Cliffs of Dover have overtaken BOBII in the GFX bells and whistles category, none in the opinion of this writer has come close to  BOBII for either the historical accuracy, depth of the strategic campaign engine, or the human like experience of dogfighting the BOBII AI.

The past

The BoB Developers Group (BDG) is a motley crew of transatlantic Battle of Britain sim enthusiasts who was given access and rights to the code for the Battle of Britain II flight sim by the developers A2A Simulations, several years ago.

Since then, they have released regular improvements to the sim - including a mission editor, Multiskin (a mod which gives nearly every one of the thousands of individual fighters and bombers in the game historically accurate skins and aircraft codes) a new single player campaign mode, AI code updates which have made it the benchmark in flight sim AI, new campaigns including the Battle for France, and constant improvements to the historical accuracy of skins, airfields, and landscapes. Update 2.10 won a Sim HQ award for the best community mod, while update 2.11 introduced hundreds of new period ground objects, and a new flyable aircraft, the de Havilland Tiger Moth trainer.

But as with all bands of volunteer enthusiasts,  the pace of work of the BDG is driven by the availability of members with critical skills, and recently the group has been hampered by the lack of coding capabilities. Nonetheless a core of BDG heroes (including but not limited to Stickman, Two27, PV, Borton, Buddye and Ben) has kept plugging away and version 2.12 is now finally nearing a beta release.

The future

What will version 2.12 bring to this venerable sim? Emphasis in this patch has been on increasing the historical accuracy of this already incredibly accurate simulation.

The list of improvements is a long one, but I have pulled out a few highlights:

AI behaviour

AI behaviour at squadron level has been further improved. Squadrons and staffeln leaders will give their pilots an order 'break and run' if the number damaged or lost reaches a trigger level. This applies to both fighters and bombers, and bomber formations feature better 'straggler' behaviour. Damaged bombers will more realistically drop out of formation and head for France.

Campaign reporting

This has been given a real workover. BOBII campaign features detailed reporting for the player on everything from pilot fatigue and morale, to squadron and staffeln readiness, infrastructure and factory production/damage and daily kill/loss statistics. There were however somethimes inconsistencies between reports, which were put down to 'fog of war' but which were in fact bugs in the code. These have been dug out and the reporting interface significantly improved.

Below: Example of the revised 'Airfield level' report. Here we are looking at Middle Wallop airfield, which we can see is currently home to 238 and Squadrons. The report shows damage to airfield buildings and runways, and individual squadron reports on who the CO is, what their morale and the morale of the unit is like, what the current skill level of the leader and unit is (in BOBII this is dynamic, and afffected by combat results) and the readiness level of the squadron.

Example below: the updated National level 'resources' report, showing in this case the number of available aircraft and status of every gruppe with symbols indicating 'non operational due to low morale' (eg 37!), 'non operational due to losses ( >35< ), 'non operational due to fatigue' (36).