A simmers look back on 2012by Fred 'Heinkill' Williams
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...
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.
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.
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 passed the 1,000 download mark within a couple of weeks.
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 graphically excellent 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 it's 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.
War Thunder can be played from the cockpit, with flight aids turned off...
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 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.
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.
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.
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!