Combat Flight Simulator 3, Part 2

by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Article Type: Interview
Article Date: March 12, 2002

Product Info

Product Name: Combat Flight Simulator 3
Category: WWII Air Combat Simulation
Developer: Microsoft
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Fall 2002
System Req.: TBA
Articles / Links / Files: Click Here

Back To Part 1

Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson talks more with Tucker Hatfield about wingmen and comms, improvements to AI, new cockpits and views and the new aircraft of Combat Flight Simulator 3 (CFS3).

L.H. One of the areas of CFS2 that could be improved is the wingman command and interaction structure. Will we see expansion of this area in CFS3? If so, what will the command structure look like?

T.H. Functionally the wingman commands will be very similar to those in CFS2. So that even casual users can take advantage of the wingman commands we are still trying to keep them simple and allow them to function correctly in the context of the mission type/target type. We believe that working on the AI behavior so that they really do what you want them to is the most important improvement we can do to this area.

L.H. Is there other interaction using the radio? Can I communicate with ground control or other flights, for example? What about FACs?

T.H. You’ll be receiving more information by radio from your wingmen, ground control and forward controllers during the course of your missions. However, you won’t do a great deal of transmitting to them. This is a tough balancing act, since many users ask for more radio comms while the pilots we have talked to tell us that radio was rarely used (Joe Foss told us that in the Pacific they almost never worked). So we’ve chosen to use the radio primarily for wingman interaction and to pass the user information he needs in a way that feels credible.

L.H. Computer controlled pilots have become very sophisticated in recent years, including becoming subject to g forces, losing sight, panic, morale, growth in ability, and such like. The first Combat Flight Simulator pushed the envelope here by adding target fixation and dividing the AI situational awareness into zones. What can we expect in CFS3?

T.H. We all know that AI is probably the hardest part of getting a simulation right. We can (and do) argue opinions about flight model, graphics quality, and most of the other features of sims, but if the AI can’t get on our six, or won’t try to disengage when its guns are empty, everyone sees eye-to-eye on the problem.

What you can expect to see is the same functionality that you’ve seen in CFS2, but better. Our new engine has allowed us more freedom in implementing AI, and we’ve redesigned the core architecture to make AI improvements and tuning simpler. You’ll see improvements to the AI behavior, particularly in their merge AI and ground attack.

The Ju-88 in CFS3

Most of the improvements will be evolutionary, but some of the new game features have mandated some AI improvements. Since you’ll be crewing level bombers, both the bomber pilot AI and the gunner AI will be better. Another big improvement is that the AI sighting model will now take clouds into account realistically. Cloud density is taken into account, so hiding in clouds works, but only ones that are actually thick enough to obscure your plane.

Comment: YES! This is great news. While IL-2 Sturmovik has a huge number of strong points, one of the most annoying features is that the AI can see through clouds. In online missions if you have a human on your six and head for the clouds you can lose him, but if you have AI on your tail…you are in trouble because they can see you and you can’t see them!

But this is big news for another reason, and that is that the AI in CFS3 will use clouds to shake you, just as the human pilots will do. As the lines between human opponents and AI opponents continue to become less clear, the fun factor and challenge are also increasing.

One aspect of the AI that Tucker did not mention is that your pilot's physical health—like vision and tolerance to g forces—will fluctuate throughout the course of the game, depending on your actions. Your persona will start the single-player campaign with a low number of prestige points and a relatively low level of stamina. As the campaign progresses, these statistics will gradually increase, so that with some kills under his belt the character you play will be able to withstand more g forces before blacking out. This will make it easier to score further kills, accruing more prestige points, and so on.

But these points also add to the amount of influence that your pilot will have back at the base. Pilots with more prestige may get spare parts for their planes first, and they'll have access to newer weapons and technology before other squadrons do.

One final note. You will see various types of cloud formations in the screen shots here, including some obvious cumulo-nimbus formations. CFS3 will likely win the prize for the most impressive and diverse cloud modeling seen to date. Let’s hope we also see some good turbulence!

P-47 in the clouds

L.H. Situational awareness has become a very big issue in today's sims. Different producers have used various methods to help players create a mental and visual picture of the vast sky battle on a small monitor. In this regard, CFS2 was virtually identical to original CFS. Will we see some innovation in CFS3?

T.H. The biggest change in this regard for CFS3 is that we’re doing away with the flat panel altogether. The cockpit is always a real 3D environment with working gauges and moving controls.

Comment: This is big news and a sweeping change in the CFS universe. Many fans have commented on how well the cockpits were implemented in IL-2, where a lock-down view and snap views are always available, but the virtual cockpits were so well implemented that they always looked like fixed cockpits, even while you were using a mouse to pan around or in padlock mode.

In fact, with a 3d cockpit now the primary environment in CFS3, we will finally have a padlock that will work properly and look realistic at all times. This continued to be a weak point in CFS2; we’ll finally have it! Elsewhere Tucker commented that the padlock in CFS3 IS improved. I suspect much of that improvement will relate to an entirely new in-cockpit feel to the game.

[T.H. cont…] We’ll have a “locked-down” view that is oriented toward the panel that will functionally mirror panel view, but it will really only be a “camera” position oriented in the correct position. You’ll see lighting effects inside the cockpit and since the cockpit is part of the 3D model, you can see reflections on the wings and other cool effects from inside as well as outside. The screen shots don’t actually do this justice. You’ll have to see how it looks in practice to appreciate just how good it looks.

The user will have control of the position of his “head” in the cockpit, being able to move forward and backward, side to side, or up and down, in addition to the normal “scroll around view.” For fixed views we’ll be using “detents” in the scroll view similar to the way we did in CFS2.

In the virtual cockpit in the Ju88

Of course we have the “no cockpit” mode and a heads-up display. This time around you can display the HUD in any mode (even exterior views) to help you control your aircraft better. This is particularly important in padlock view.

We’re also adding some new external views so that our compliment of views is more similar to other combat sims. (Including player to target view and a wingman key)

Comment: In a separate email I asked Tucker about the traditional player-to-target views and a single key wingman padlock. He replied that the player-to-target and target-to-player views are already planned and that they had been thinking about a wingman padlock and a “target-whoever-just-shot-me” key.

In IL-2 Sturmovik the lack of a wingman padlock key has been noticeable. I often fly with a human wingman, but once we enter combat it is tough to track him. The addition of a key like this will make single player offline campaign mode better, and online campaign mode much more efficient. It really is necessary to track your wingman as well as the bandit if you are employing team tactics.

[T.H. cont…] We’ll still have all of the nice “help features,” like Tactical View, Enemy Indicator, Aircraft Labels, brackets to identify targets, etc. This time all of them will be able to be turned off.

L.H. The heart of the game is the missions and the campaign. Tell us about the setting for the action in CFS3.

T.H. The game is set in WWII Europe, 1943, during the preparation for D-Day until war’s end. You can play for America, Britain, or Germany. The emphasis is on tactical combat, which means lots of ground attack, interdiction, fighter sweeps, close support, etc. “Down low and fast in hot planes” is sort of the catch phrase here.

Comment: One of the side benefits of a terrain engine designed for “fast and low” is that the sense of speed will be vastly better than CFS2, probably rivaling or even surpassing the excellent sense of speed that is modeled in IL-2. The early screenshots from CFS3 show terrain that is simply outstanding, and with even more trees than we see in the IL-2 terrain.

L.H. What aircraft will we be flying in the European theatre?

T.H. We will have 18 basic aircraft, with variants. Variants have appropriate flight model changes and, in some cases such as the “clipped wing” Spitfire, visual models as well. All 18 aircraft, including level bombers, are flyable. For the first time we are including some speculative (I like to call them “edgy”) aircraft. All of the aircraft we have modeled flew at least as prototypes and could have been available for use had things worked out differently.

Comment: What? This sounds like a remake of LucasFilm Games Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (SWOTL). This classic simulation was released twelve years ago, in 1990, when PCs used 256 colors with 640 memory.

For those who don’t know, SWOTL allowed the player to fly seven different Luftwaffe aircraft, including three experimental jets like the Gotha 229 flying wing, the Me163 Komet and Me262 fighter jet. This Lawrence Holland game used a refined dynamic campaign engine.

The detail in SWOTL was amazing for its time. Tour of Duty mode allowed the player to select from three different careers: as a fighter pilot, a bomber pilot, or as bomber crew. The average tour was from 25 to 35 missions in length. Full records were kept of all flights, weapons could be selected and loaded, and the flight roster could be managed by the player.

Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe

In SWOTL players could choose from the Flight School, Historical Missions, Custom Missions or the Tour of Duty mode. The fifth choice was the dynamic Campaign mode, which allowed the player to command various large-scale campaigns and even alter the outcome of history.

The campaign mode in SWOTL didn’t involve only flying, but also economic management. While we aren’t going to see this strategic integration in CFS3, the parallels are interesting. For more on the points of comparison, let’s look at the list of flyable aircraft in CFS3.


  1. P-51B Mustang
  2. P-47D-24 Thunderbolt
  3. P-38L Lightning
  4. B-26F Marauder
  5. P-80A Shooting Star
  6. Curtis P-55 Ascender

The XP-55

  1. Me-109G-6 Messerschmitt
  2. Fw-190A-5/U8 Focke-Wulf
  3. Ju-88A-4 Junkers Bomber
  4. Me-262A-2a Sturmvogel
  5. Do-335A-1 Arrow
  6. Ho-229-0 Gotha (flying wing)

The Vampire

  1. Typhoon MkIB
  2. Tempest MkV
  3. Mosquito F.B. MkVI
  4. Spitfire L.F IXE
  5. B-25C/D Mitchell II
  6. Vampire F.MkI

Compare this to the list of SWOTL aircraft list:

  1. Bf109 G-6 and G-10
  2. Fw 190 A-5 and A-8
  3. Me 163B Komet
  4. Me 262 –1a and 2a
  5. Gotha Go-229A
  6. Republic P-47D Thunderbolt
  7. P-51B and P-51C
  8. P-51D
  9. B-17F and B17G

The Me262 in CFS3



Combat Flight Simulator 3:

Combat Flight Simulator 2: WWII Pacific Theater



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