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Combat Flight Simulator 3, Part 3

by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Article Type: Feature
Article Date: March 13, 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

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Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson finishes up his three-part interview with Microsoft's Tucker Hatfield. Today's discussion centers on the heart of ‘Combat Flight Simulator 3’: an enduring electronic battlefield.


L.H. How many positions can be manned by humans in the bombers?

T.H. All of the bombers will have manable gunner and bombardier stations. The bombardier station will be simplified a bit to make it more consistent for add-on aircraft, but the gunner stations will be essentially mini-cockpits at the gun postition. The Ju 88 has four guns you can man (though it only had three gunners), the B-25 a max of five (depending on variant), and the B-26 has a max of five. There’s no real limit to the number of gunners, though, so we could support an add-on late-war B-17.

P47-D at night

L.H. Tell us about the structure of the campaign or campaigns. Is it dynamic, semi-dynamic? Is there a persistent world between missions? Will resource management be a consideration in the campaign?

T.H. I hate to use the word “Dynamic” since we all seem to have varying definitions of what constitutes dynamic and it tends to cause controversy. We’ve chosen to call our campaign environment “Active.” I’ll describe it and users can decide if it suits their definition of dynamic.

You are in a squadron which has a HQ area near the front on the map, which the squadron leader can choose. You then can look at the various sectors along the front line and decide where you think your squadron can do the most good, based on stats about how both sides are doing in that sector. Once you choose which sector to operate in, you will be given a list of available missions and can choose which mission best suits your goals. Once you have flown the mission, the results will be applied to the campaign to determine how it affects the current balance of power.

As a result, offensives may be triggered, the front line may move, etc. At the same time AI missions are being generated and resolved virtually, so while you’re attacking in one area, they may be making progress in another. If you think of it as two layers, the theater-wide or campaign layer and the mission layer, your actions and those of other squadrons in their missions all contribute to what is going on theater-wide. Things persist on two levels. First, your mission success or failure is part of the flow of the campaign. Second, damage may persist, depending on the permanence of what you destroyed, from mission to mission in your area.

Comment: This is one of the most exciting aspects of CFS3, parallel in many ways to the outstanding campaign system of Falcon 4.0. The war continues whether you fly or not.

This is a fantastic factor in immersion and will greatly improve the immersion experience over the current experience of IL-2 Sturmovik. Anyone who has flown in the electronic battlefield of Falcon 4.0 knows what I am talking about.

There's a "bubble" around your flight, and realistic activities are triggered by your presence. For example, if you fly towards an important supply location, if there is an enemy airbase nearby they will request and probably receive air defense. The world that you see and fly in is living and responsive, no matter where in the arena you fly. Things that happen outside the zone of human activity (such as a raid on the other side of Europe) are calculated by probabilities.

Campaigns will be persistent and can run for many days. The server software will be supplied to the users and it is expected that there will be a large number of campaign games available at any time. Microsoft will host a discovery server to serve as a matchmaker. Naturally, cooperative play will be available in the campaign as well as in single online missions.


L.H. Is the approach to campaigns historical or general? If historical, is it possible to change history?

T.H. The approach is historical in that the starting conditions of the war are accurate and the aircraft and equipment was all actually used or available at a prototype stage during the war. You can move the front line or cause airframes to be available at different times than they actually were. You could conceivably shorten or lengthen the war by your actions.

L.H. Integration of the ground war with the air war adds a lot of depth. What approach have you taken in this area?

T.H. While you will be tasked with attacking vehicles and other ground targets, the ground war is simulated primarily by tracking strengths and tactical initiative of the involved units. While you may see combat between ground forces, there isn’t an actual land battle simulation layer going on in anything but the abstract sense.

L.H. Is radar modeled in the sim late in the war? If so, how does it impact game play?

T.H. We aren’t simulating radar. Since radar didn’t really play a very major role in tactical combat it didn’t make sense to make it a priority.

L.H. ‘CFS2’ offered a very good mission editor. What are your plans for ‘CFS3’?

T.H. Basically the same editor with improvements to embrace the changes to the game.

L.H. Tell us about multiplayer features. I understand there will be persistent servers. Will these be hosted at the Zone?

T.H. For arena combat and cooperative single missions we expect most games to have someone who is serving as both host and a player. Campaigns, however, will be persistent and we expect them to stay up for lengthy periods of time. We’ll be supplying the server software to the users and we expect there to be a large number of campaign games available at any time. We will be hosting a discovery server to serve as a matchmaker, but there aren’t any plans for a dedicated game server on the Zone.

L.H. Will we be able to fly in co-op mode in the campaign?

T.H. Yes, as well as in single missions. In both cases the game plays out much as it would in single missions, or a single player campaign, except humans fill in the position of AI pilots.

L.H. How many players can expect to get into the air in a single mission in campaign mode on the Internet? What about on a LAN?

T.H. That’s still up in the air, so to speak. Technically, the upper limit to players is very high, limited mostly by the bandwidth of the user. We’ll set an upper limit based on our bandwidth testing, which hasn’t really happened, yet. We expect that missions will probably be in the 32 player range, with multiple missions being run simultaneously in a given campaign. Missions will be join-in-progress with AI units filling in to keep the total number of aircraft in a mission constant.

Comment: I later asked Tucker about HOST server side settings. He replied that much of this is still in discussion, in particular the best way to handle view options for the HOST, but he did supply some information.

The HOST will be able to dictate realism options for flight model, ammo, etc, as well as graphic detail options that could allow cheating (clouds, complexity of terrain, etc.). Players may also be forced to use the same data files that are on the HOST machine so that you can’t use aircraft or flight models he hasn’t approved. Campaign settings and single mission settings are very similar, although campaign settings vary a little in order to allow a wider variety of skillsets in the same game.

I suggested that one of the weaknesses of IL-2 Sturmovik was tying icons to the overhead MAP. The development team is aware of these things and I believe we’ll see a complete set of options for the serious simulation crowd.

I also asked about data security in relation to the many complaints of cheating with aircraft data in online competition in CFS2. Tucker responded…


T.H. There are several things we’re doing. We’re working to close off all of the loopholes that supporting user-created aircraft can cause by doing data checking to make sure that the players all are using the same data files that the host is. That is to prevent people from fudging the aircraft data, the configuration settings, and so forth. We’re also going to give the host data about the game session to help police his games. In addition to those, we’re going to be doing some things to minimize people fiddling around with the data stream.

L.H. What will be the minimum and recommended system specs?

T.H. We’re working on keeping the min configuration as broad as possible, but we still don’t have a firm system recommendation as yet.

Comment: Finally, Tucker mentioned in a later exchange that there WILL be a VCR Feature. If they can get this feature working for the online campaign mode, they will again have surpassed the feature set of IL-2 Sturmovik.




Conclusion

If you aren't excited by the details of CFS3, chances are you aren't a real WWII combat flight sim fan anyway. While I have greatly enjoyed IL-2 Sturmovik, I am equally looking forward to CFS3.

In a way, IL-2 Sturmovik raised the bar and thus challenged other game designers to raise their sights. Naturally, the "holy grail" has always been the goal, and producers like Tucker Hatfield have always hoped to be the one to reach it. CFS3 is not merely a response to CFS2 but the result of gradual evolution, building on a legacy while not being tied to its limitations. CFS3 will surpass IL-2 Sturmovik in some respects and will only add further credibility to the CFS line while adding more fans to the sport. THAT is a good thing!



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