Article Type: Review
Article Date: December 03, 2010
Review: DCS A-10C and Thrustmaster's HOTAS Warthog
by Aaron "Spectre" Watson
Way back in the day, I had the opportunity to load weapons on the A-10A Thunderbolt II whilst stationed in the UK at a base called RAF Bentwaters. The Warthog had yet, at the time, to prove itself in battle, as this was in the early '80's.
That all changed during the first, as it's called now, Gulf War. It kicked butt and took names, which gave it a new lease on life, and has since had a slew of upgrades, creating the Charlie model, but more on that shortly.
Personally, I got out of the US Air Force with an SSB during force reduction in 1992, got into the IT industry, and have done a few beta test programs. One of the later ones was Lock On: Modern Air Combat, or LOMAC. When the same folks came up with a new program, and a unique pre-order arrangement, I had to jump on it. Digital Combat Simulations (DCS) A-10C Warthog is its name.
This arrangement entailed getting in on a public beta, and access via download to the beta builds, and subsequent updates, from the DCS website. I plunked down my cash, and fired it up after the 4-part 4.3 GB download had completed.
In looking around, I saw the same, old, tired Crimean area that has been in use since Flanker 2 was released in 1999, albeit a bit further east and south, near the real-life conflict area of South Ossetia in 2008. Fair enough, at least it has a real-world application this time around.
But what is this? There is another area mentioned in the missions listing and "create fast mission" option. Nevada! Yes! I've had real-life experiences flying in the area, so hit the ground running by doing a free-flight out of good ol' Nellis AFB just north of Las Vegas, Nevada. Further north, the recently named Creech AB, formerly Indian Springs, is shown on the map, along with Groom Lake, even further north. Only Nellis, however, has anything but runways, and Indian Springs has no usable landing surfaces whatsoever.
|Hopefully returning soon, over the range in Nevada.|
By beta 3, they dropped Nevada completely, with noises being made about it being added in future editions, but I won't be holding my breath, as I'd probably turn blue and fall over.
But there are plenty of other items to keep you occupied, like just about every switch and knob is clickable in the cockpit. And what a set of switches it is! You can choose to ramp start the jet, which can be daunting the first couple of times, but can be done in just over 5 minutes with some practice. As the betas progressed, more were made to work as they would in a real A-10C.
|Well lit office interior|
You also have the choice, in the mission editor, to start on the runway, ready to roll, or even in the air, to forego all the tedious button switching, if you've a mind to.
With all this high fidelity, I would be remiss in not speaking of the highly detailed, and beautifully rendered, well, everything! Some aircraft are merely very good, others are intense.
It seems to me that we've finally reached a point in computer simulations where the world looks exceedingly real, and the folks at Eagle Dynamics have done so in a very compelling manner. From the "office" area, to the exterior with many optional paint schemes, to the buildings, trees, and other environmental effects, it goes a long way to give that much coveted suspension of disbelief.
|A fine day to fly with a friend.|
I flew most of my first missions in Nevada with dumb bombs, lots of rockets, and the famous GAU-8/A Avenger 30mm rotary cannon, the best backup a mud-mover has ever had to carry along for the ride. With a few parameter inputs to the mission generator, and then opening in the mission editor, you have as much variety as can be imagined. With the ease of use of these two excellent modules, the latter being both easy to use, plus it can have incredible complexity with triggers for many events. A difficult thing to pull off, in my opinion, but they seem to have done it, even in the beta.
|Mission editor window, as hard or easy as you want.|
This combat sim is definitely not ready for prime time, but most of the areas work quite well. It is truly a unique situation they've presented where you can fly it before it is ready, to get up to speed, so to speak. I haven't even touched any campaign missions yet, as the low-key missions I've whipped up have been crashing to desktop, so the complex ones without having the code optimized would just be flirting with disaster.
One area that is working quite well, as of beta 3, is the training missions. They are very in-depth, and able to explain how and what to do to get the most out of fighting the Thunderbolt II Charlie model.
|GBU about to impact containers in a training mission.|
Now, you may have wondered about why I stuck to low-tech munitions in my drawn out training syllabus, and now I'll let you know what plot I was hatching. You see, very shortly after this combat simulation was announced, a maker of quality peripherals started a media blitz of sorts about their perfectly timed new offering.
|HOTAS Warthog: Hell from Above.|
Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog
Thrustmaster has had a name since way-back-when for creating the ultimate controllers for simulations, and especially combat-oriented games, the higher fidelity, the better. So it was a jaw-dropping experience when I first beheld their latest combo, which was revealed at E3 in June of this year, the HOTAS Warthog. HOTAS is an acronym for Hands On Throttle and Stick, which is a concept developed in the late 1970's, so that combat pilots would have all that is needed to fight right at their fingertips, literally.
I tossed a request at this site's Publisher to see if he had any contacts with Guillemot, the owners of the Thrustmaster brand. To make a long story short, he did, so I believe he should be put in for Knighthood! [ :) Ed.]
|Announced in June, unleashed in November!|
So one day, as the wife was waiting for her own delivery, she lugs in a large box and says it's heavy, and has my name on it. OMG! was it what I had hoped for, but couldn't believe? Yes!!! That hefty package held a creation of which the pictures don't do justice.
It is like I was flashing back to the old days, sitting in an A-10A, taking a speed handle to the left panel, and unscrewing the throttle quadrant panel right out of the jet, riveting it into a matching black tray, and wiring up a USB connector. And that was just the left side! A quick hacksaw job on the center sick, some tap and die action to attach it to a solid steel base, and we have the right side/stick. I just hope no hogs were hurt in the amputations of these solid state systems.
Now I have an assortment of other HOTAS arrangements that I've reviewed here, and in Flight Journal magazine, but I have not been so impressed by a pairing of controllers before. Though the street price is markedly more ($499 MSRP), the quality is quantum leaps higher. The solidness is quickly ascertained, but the tactile response to every switch, button and hat is just remarkable. No cheesy widgets on this HOTAS. The feel of the spring back in the stick is solid, and you don't have to worry about it raising up, or sliding around, just concentrate on the situation at hand. Even the paddle switch has a tiny little set screw to adjust the angle from perpendicular. The attention to detail on a mass-produced item is just outstanding.
You can even unscrew the current stick, with metal ring and alignment connector, thank you very much, with your Cougar, if you feel the need. They have the same PS/2 connector, there is just one command of the 10 available commands lost by the downgrade. I just hope that they make an extender a purchasable option, so the stick can be floor-based and centered, similar to the setup in the real jet.
|Beauty and the box.|
So, enough bubbling and gushing about its exquisite fit and finish, how does it work when attached to a computer, and interact with the sim? Again, out-by-God-standing! It has all the correct switches, and without any other tweaks, software loads, or other magical activities, it does exactly as it is supposed to. Hearing things like "China hat forward long" in the training syllabus takes on new meaning when you actually have a china hat switch in the correct location. If you are doing a cold jet start, and you want to fire up the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), you flip the switch on your nicely lit up throttle quadrant, see it happen in the virtual cockpit, and the low howl of the APU is heard. Just all across the board, anything that happens with the switches presented in the real aircraft happens in the virtual world one.
As to using it in other simulations, I took some time and tried a few. All switches were seen in the sims in question, and worked as advertised. I tried to make them similar, when possible, but different sims do things different ways. That is OK, as long as I can remember them, and they work in game, which they did quite well.
There is a new interface program called T.A.R.G.E.T. that can assist with the interface and programming, but I, as a rule, don't use them from any manufacturer. I just don't like yet another layer of complexity in the mix, but this one looks pretty well laid out, after a cursory glance, and I may even change my mind on this point.
So, let's bottom line this pair of projects, shall we?
After such a long time of little to nothing in the PC based flight sim world, let alone combat sim world, two items pop up on our RADAR that are in synchrony? This is unheard of, and incredibly appreciated by those of us who have been drawn to this hobby for a lot of years. Those who are new, and like to do some mud-moving in a most excellent way, are in for an unparalleled treat with this incredible match-up.
If this was like the days of old here at CSIM, where we had more simulations than you could shake a stick at, each would rightly deserve the Top Pick Awards. Heck, they still do.
Now my moratorium on reviews is over, so I will peruse other's opinions. I don't see how they could be any less impressed than I am.