by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson
Article Type: Feature
Article Date: January 18, 2002
Product Name: IL-2 Sturmovik
Category: WWII Air Combat Simulation
Developer: Maddox Games
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: Released (Nov. 2001)
Min. Spec: PII 400 (or equiv.), 128 MB RAM, 3D Accelerator
Rec'd. Spec: PIII 600 or better, 256 MB RAM, 32 bit 3D accelerator with 32 MB RAM or better
Files & Links: Click Here
Making The Most of IL-21C: Maddox Game's IL-2 Sturmovik has taken the simulation world by storm, winning more awards and with a higher rating than virtually any other simulation in recent years. Furthermore, its appeal is crossing traditional simulation boundaries and drawing many new pilots into the genre. I’ve had so much fun flying both online and offline with IL-2 that I thought I would share with COMBATSIM.COM readers how I make the most of my experience.
I'll start with hardware, and then round out things with a look at what you can do to maximize your online experience.
Hardware to the MAX: SystemThe first line of an effective offence is hardware. Let’s divide our considerations of hardware into two categories: system and controllers. We’ll further divide our consideration of system hardware into sound, video and system unit.
While you can enjoy IL-2 with a PIII 600 and 256MB, maximum enjoyment arrives in the 1.2 GHz range with 512 MB. Furthermore, an increase in FSB from 200 to 266 and higher and from SDRAM to DDRAM is well worth the investment.
High end hardware allows you to crank up the settings. I currently fly with maximum graphics options on in full realism mode at 1280x1024 and 32-bit color. Anti-aliasing isn’t needed with these settings, and the raw beauty of the environment is incredible. I run IL-2 on an Athlon XP 1900 at 1713 MHz with 512 MB of Mushkin PCI 2400 at 288 MHz. My average frame rate is around 40 fps, never dropping below 20 fps no matter how many aircraft are in the sky.
Display Size and ResolutionThere isn’t much point in running at high resolution on a 15” monitor. If you run a 15” monitor you should try running 1024x768 instead of 800x600. You may find that your target size actually increases, allowing your aim to improve. In IL-2, you MUST aim accurately since there is no hit bubble. You hit what your shells actually hit.
I run a 19” monitor, and I recommend that users who want the most from their IL-2 experience run 19” or better. Furthermore, the higher refresh rate you can obtain, the better performance you are likely to have. I run at 85MHz on my monitor, though some new units can go up to 100 MHz at 1280x1024.
|Figure 1: 1024x768 |
|Figure 2: 1280x1024 |
In Figure 1 and Figure 2 above I have cropped (not resized) screen captures taken at 100m from a Bf 109 target at two difference game resolutions. Anti-aliasing is not selected in either resolution, and these images were taken running OpenGL.
My expectation was that at the lower resolution the size of my target at 100m (which is just after I begin firing when I am on the six o’clock position) would decrease. Instead, as you can see, the target size is slightly expanded in Figure 2.
SoundFor the best sound experience, you need a modern sound acceleration board. The best out there appear to be the Hercules Fortissimo II, the SB Live! and the Creative Audigy. With nForce mainboards now hitting the market we should soon be able to add NVIDIA sound to the list. Some users also argue that the TB Santa Cruz is great with IL-2, though earlier drivers gave that sound board a bad name.
I am currently running the Creative Audigy with full acceleration settings. The audigy has the most powerful digital signal processor (DSP) out there, and is capable of positioning around 64 channels in 3-D space at 22KHz, offloading your CPU.
|Creative Audigy |
Creative says that the Audigy is a true 24-bit/96kHz sound card, but internally the Audigy processes all of its audio functions at 16-bit/48kHz. So what’s to boast about? The DACs and ADCs (digital/analog converter) in the Audigy are 24-bit, allowing the Audigy processing headroom when it performs operations on multiple 16-bit streams. Without this headroom, for example, on the SB Live!, multiple operating streams will saturate the processor.
Furthermore, when the DACs are loaded the resulting stream will have a lower quality output than the original streams. There isn’t much point in having state of the art sound hardware without having a state of the art speaker system…is there?
I used to think this was the case…and then I bought a cheap set of headphones. Seriously. I only paid $30 US for the unit.
You have two options: go with a good 5.1 Dolby Surround system, or go with a good set of headphones. It’s really astonishing how well headphones work for 3-D sound placement. Labtec and Cambridge Soundworks are my choices for desktop sound systems.
Video HardwareVideo hardware is undergoing a serious revolution. Not long ago T&L (transformation and lighting) operations moved from the CPU to the video board, with ATI and NVIDIA both introducing new hardware. Then the ATI Radeon and NVIDIA GeForce3 generations offered programmability, giving game designers the ability to customize hardware functions for their particular needs.
Now we are moving to the fourth generation of T&L hardware, with the coming introduction of the GeFroce4 generation. But will you need it? In fact, do you need GeForce3?
|OCZ GeForce 3 |
Not for IL-2. While I noticed some improvement in speed moving from GeForce2 Pro to GeForce3, it wasn’t that much. The difference was that I was able to use anti-aliasing with anisotropic filtering; something I could not do with GeForce2. While anti-aliasing contributes to blurry textures, anisotropic filtering, much more powerful than trilinear filtering, restores the clarity of textures while anti-aliasing is in effect. But the cost to frame rate on GeForce2 is much too high.
If you run IL-2 on a GeForce2 board, use trilinear filtering at 1280x1024 on a large monitor for maximum image quality. If you run a GeForce3 board, you have the option of increasing resolution and running without anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. It’s almost a toss up.
The question gets more complex when we consider future games. If you have the cash, this is a great time to invest in GeForce3, thus giving your video hardware longer legs.
What about Radeon 8500? Until now the drivers simply have not supported good performance in IL-2. The latest drivers appear to be quite mature, and the Radeon boards are now a realistic option for IL-2 pilots.
Memory and MainboardThe final consideration is memory and mainboard. The best performance of IL-2 is supported by 384MB of RAM or more. DDRAM, naturally, is superior to SDRAM, though the difference isn’t as great as some think. FSB is equally significant in this equation.
As for mainboard, I have no recent experience with Intel, so I can only reference AMD related hardware. The KT266A is the best VIA chipset ever, and offers increased memory bandwidth as well as DASP (dynamic adapative speculative processing). Reduced latency is the result. Furthermore, USB issues and compatibility issues have been finally laid to rest.
Recent reviews also point to the AliMAGIK1 C1 stepping of the chipset as sporting excellent performance and compatibility.
ControllersOk, so we have display, sound, video, and mainboards sorted. Let’s talk about controllers.
There is no way to have a satisfactory gaming experience as a virtual pilot without good quality controllers. Period.
If you want to enjoy IL-2 to the max, you ought to have a HOTAS system with separate rudder pedals. This limits your options to CH Products, Saitek and ThrustMaster.
Up to now the most advanced HOTAS system on the market has been the ThrustMaster F22 Pro and TQS, but these units haven’t been in production for two years. Used gear is as expensive, and sometimes more expensive, than the originals!
|HOTAS Cougar |
A little over a year ago I converted my old ThrustMaster gear to digital performance using Bob Church’s “Stickworks” upgrade chips. Gone were the jitters, and calibration was improved. But this is still a compromise, and I have too many cables on my desktop!
Nevertheless, the old ThrustMaster HOTAS and CH Pro Pedals have performed beautifully in IL-2. I have roughly sixty functions available without touching the keyboard, allowing me to keep my eyes on the action, unless I happen to forget where I placed a certain control!
To my delight, the ThrustMaster HOTAS Cougar is finally in production and this will be the last month for my old gear. The new gear is simply a flight simulation fan's dream.
All metal, all USB, much faster, much more precise, more flexible, and more programmable. Not only that, the handle is removable so that new types of handles for specific aircraft can be produced. Finally, a built-in microstick moves far beyond the limited performance we had from the old cursor control on the TQS.
IL-2: CustomizationOnce you really get into IL-2, and if you are also into online action with and against real humans, you will want to fly with a bit of individual flair, no?. Not only does IL-2 allow you to fly with authentic squadron markings, you can also fly with a personal paint scheme.
There are an amazing number of aircraft paintschemes, or "skins"S out there, and joining a dogfight mission will show you a few of them. Literally hundreds of players have created their own skins. Some of these are simply fun projects with wild colors and exotic camouflage. Others represent the planes flown by the experts, like Adolf Galland or Erich Hartmann. Each of these pilots had their own preference for camouflage, and simulation devotees have been busy recreating these historical aircraft. You can find these skins available for download at places like CPT FARRELS IL2 Sturmovik Skins and III. Gruppe Jagdgeschwader 54.
|FW 190 Custom |
If you want to paint your own, you need a good template and some working knowledge of Paint Shop Pro, Corel Paint or a similar program. The files are 512x512 in size and are saved as 256 color bmp files. Download the blank templates from IL2Sturmovik.com (click on Paint Schemes under Game Elements).
Utilities and Online ActionWhen you consider that only a few years ago 28K and 56K modems were the standard, how far we have come! Now that I am on cable, when my ping time to Germany rises above 200 ms, I start complaining!
Hi-speed ADSL, cable and satellite connections are rapidly becoming the standard. It’s a great time for online pilots.
Furthermore, a few years ago configuring your system for online play required a technical knowledge base that was beyond the casual simulation pilot. Not any more. Now a connection to a game in Germany, Britain or even Russia is only a few mouse clicks away.
Perhaps the only area yet to be adequately developed is the virtual meeting rooms for virtual pilots. UBI.com’s gaming service isn’t too bad but has been plagued with problems. It was only a little more than a year ago that one of the most popular meeting places for simulation pilots completely ceased to exist. When Jane’s Combat Simulations website close its doors their pilot lobby soon followed.
No matter, there are always enterprising and devoted fans ready to serve. Jiri Fojtasek in the Czech republic stepped up to bat and hit a home run!
Jiri created Hyperlobby to fill the void. The current revision supports IL-2, WWII Fighters, USAF, F/A-18 and more. Hyperlobby is less than 1 MB and a free download from here. The utility allows the player to meet with other online players, then select a preferred game style and join in an online game. It’s easy, it’s quick and it works. What more could we ask? To enjoy IL-2 to the max you simply have to obtain Hyperlobby.
But what kind of mission will you fly?
You have all the options that IL-2 offers. You can fly in dogfight mode, team play mode, or cooperative mode. You can also join a virtual squadron and fly in regular combat missions against other squadrons. Hyperlobby has dedicated meeting rooms for that purpose.
If you are relatively new to the sport, your first priority ought to be to master a single aircraft. Spend as much time as you can in your aircraft of choice, and fly a variety of combat engagements offline against a variety of enemies. When you feel you have become reasonably proficient, fire up Hyperlobby and join in the fun. I recommend dogfight missions when your time is limited. You can join them transparently (in progress) and leave with equal alacrity. No one will notice your coming and going…unless you are unusually dangerous!
If you have a little more time and are more interested in an immersive environment, a combat environment that more accurately reflects historical encounters, then I recommend that you try online cooperative play. Online cooperative play differs greatly from the dogfight, instant action type of environment. Online cooperative missions involve targets and goals and two sides competing for mastery of the environment.
Furthermore, online coop missions involve both human pilots and AI. This means that instead of just encountering fighters, you will encounter bombers and transport aircraft also. It also means that the number of aircraft in the sky has no real limit, and the number of variables you will encounter in the mission is sky high.
|Working in the FMB |
I have personally designed around fifty cooperatives missions so far. On average a well designed mission takes me ten hours to design and test. This translates into greater complexity and more fun while flying.
For example, I have lately been flying online with a group of twelve to fourteen pilots. One of the best missions we have flown involves 18 Ju88 bombers, 4 FW 190 fighters, 4 Me 110s (actually they are Pe-3s commandeered from the Russians), 4 Yak 1s, 3 P39-Ns, and 3 La-5FNs. There are also numerous static targets and a few ships. All the fighters are flyable, except for the pretend Me 110s.
There is a lot of flak over the targets, a great deal of gunfire from the various gun positions on the bombers, and a hefty amount of challenge to simply stay alive. The mission is great fun.
Naturally, you can also host missions you have built using Hyperlobby as a meeting place.
[Note: This just in! If you like to fly cooperative missions online, David "Mane Raptor" Joyce has created COOPGen for your gaming pleasure. COOPGen is a free, self-contained utility that lets you set a few parameters such as weather, plane types, defences, year, and so on and then it automatically generates a new cooperative mission with random elements and places it in the IL-2 mission folder ready for use in the game. With this air-to-air mission creation utility the action will always be fresh and challenging. —Editor]
Voice Comms: Roger WilcoThere is one other piece of software that beautifully complements IL-2. Roger Wilco is a voice chat application and is shareware. It runs in the background while you fly your favorite simulation so that you can communicate with your friends or enemies simply by talking. You can set up Roger Wilco for VOX (voice activation) or to talk by button press. Most of us use the latter, since the former can keep the channel open and create background noise.
The user can create an individual channel or even run a “base station” mode that others can join. A separate base station can be set up for each side in the conflict, so that Russian or German pilots can keep track of the changing tactical situation by talking to one another.
There are a lot of other ways that Roger Wilco can work to your advantage. Let’s say that you want to join a dogfight game online, but you want to increase your chances of survival. Schedule a time to fly when a friend can join online at the same time, but first set up a Roger Wilco channel. Now you can stay in touch via voice and fly and fight together. Two pilots working together are five times more dangerous and much more likely to score kills.
|Roger Wilco |
Of course, it’s just great fun to fly with a friend. Using voice chat software you can share your victories and failures instantly, or just admire the scenery together. Roger Wilco and similar programs really add to maximum enjoyment in IL-2.
Where Do You Start?The novice pilot should begin with an aircraft that is tough but forgiving. This almost eliminates the BF 109 from the start since it is very forgiving but very vulnerable!
For general purpose all-round good fun with decent firepower, it is really hard to beat the La-5FN. I highly recommend this for the average novice. If you have more time in simulations and are a fairly decent shot, then the BF 109 G-2 or G-6 is hard to beat. For the more advanced pilots, the Yaks become very nice and the FW 190 is an amazing air platform.
|Flying the FW 190 in winter |
Then again, I’ve had some incredible rides in the IL-2 Sturmovik itself. Fly the IL-2 against an FW 190 some time and tell me which aircraft you would choose.
If you are going up against bombers and many gunners, give the FW 190 a try. You may not stick with it; it’s tougher to master than the 109, but it has fantastic firepower and will take far more damage than any other fighter in the simulation. Alternatively, load up the MK 108 external cannon on the BF 109 G-6. These 30mm weapons are deadly and great for bomber busting. But if you take many hits in the process of killing your prey, you will become the prey!
IL-2 Sturmovik Resources
IL-2: Forgotten Battles
Reviews & Features
Interviews with Oleg Maddox
Files & Utilities
Virtual Squadrons and Groups
Home of the VMF-124 Death's Head Squad