Making of an Aces High Scenario, Part 3

by Mike "Jordi" Bowman

Article Type: How-To
Article Date: October 10, 2002

Product Info

Game Title: Aces High
Category: WWII Air Combat MMOG
Developer / Publisher: HiTech Creations
Release Date: August 1999
Required Spec: PII 233 or better, Windows 95/98/ME/2K DirectX 8.0a, 8 MB 3D Video
Files & Links: Click Here

Back To Part 2

Aces High is a multiplayer WWII flight simulation. It allows instant action in the main arena where one can fly and die repeatedly. On weekend nights there can be over 400 virtual pilots flying with and against each other for the supreme control of the main arena.

A scenario has a life like a butterfly. What it looks like when it starts out may be totally different than how it looks when it emerges from its cocoon and takes to flight.

Different Phases of a Scenario

There are several phases to scenario design and implementation.

They are . . .
  1. Birth of a concept.
  2. Refinement of the concept.
  3. Picking of the Commanding Officers for both sides.
  4. Hashing out the rules set.
  5. Running the registration.
  6. Assigning pilots to squadrons.
  7. Practice makes perfect.
  8. The first day of the battle arrives - Butterflies!
  9. Running the frames.
  10. After action reports from the frame.
  11. Deciding the winner and loser of the scenario.
  12. Rinse and repeat as needed for the NEXT scenario.

This installment will take us through steps 5 and 6: running the registration and assigning pilots to squadrons.

Running the Registration

So we have built up the excitement for the scenario. The pilots are eager to get in line and get assigned to a plane (of their CHOICE of course!).

The CO's have been picked and the major rules have been hammered out.

Now how do we decide who gets to fly what.

Scenario pilot spots fall under the supply-and-demand model. There are always more people who want the hot fighter rides than there are open spots. The bomber spots tend to go lastóno one wants to fly a boring bomberóthough in almost all scenarios the deciding factor on who wins and loses hangs on how well the bomber pilots do. Fighter pilots fly for show but bomber pilots drop for dough!

In Aces High we have gone through several registration variations.

Which one works best really depends on how many are registering compared to how many planes spots are available. If supply is greater then demand then most registration systems work out well. It is when demand outstrips supply that major headaches and problems arise!

Assigning Planes: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Method 1: First Come, First Serve
When registration opens there are X number of pilot spots for each plane type. If there are 20 P-51 pilots spots once 20 people have grabbed those P-51's no one else can register for one.

The Good: People know up front what planes are still available.

The Bad: All the hot rides go early, usually within the first hour.

The Ugly: Not fair to those who can not get on right when registration opens. Also one person could register for many people and grab a bunch of rides.

Method 2: Modified First Come First Serve
When registration opens there are X number of pilot spots for each plane type. When the person registers he selects three different plane types from just one side or the other. After one or two weeks registration is closed.

At this point the registrations are sorted by date / time registered. Each registration gets looked at and checked to see if the person's first choice is available. If so, they get it and the process moves to the next person in line. If that person's first choice is taken then the second, and if needed, third choice is looked at. If all choices are taken then they are assigned an open spot that best fits their choices. The process moves down through the list till all plane spots are filled.

The Good: People get a better chance of getting one of their preferred choices.

The Bad: All the hot rides can still go early; again, usually within the first hour.

The Ugly: Some planes still get picked more often than there are planes to go around, so players may be assigned a plane they won't enjoy. Some pilots tend not to show up if they do not get the plane they really want.

Method 3: Lottery System
Everyone signs up but planes are not assigned at that time. Pilots can pick just one or can pick several choices depending on how the registration is designed. Once registration closes all pilots are given a random number, then planes are assigned just like the methods above.

The Good: No matter when you registered you have an equal chance of getting at the top of the list and getting the ride you want.

The Bad and Ugly: If the lottery system is used for several scenarios in a row, a person could get stuck at the bottom of the list through no fault of their own.

No matter what method was used some people who registered would not get a plane at all since all the spots filled up before their name came up on the list. In several scenarios we tried to place those pilots into reserve spots. Reserves would fill in any open pilot spots for people who could not make it. Every scenario has open spots for people to just show up and fly due to last minute real-life problems for other people. The problem is most people who got stuck as a reserve decided they would not even show up.

Can't Please All the People All the Time

What the campaign managers scenario staff found out is that you can not please all of the people all of the time. So we put all of our heads together and came up with the perfect registration system. What we wanted to do was come up with the ability to track pilots from scenario to scenario. This way we could give those that did not get the ride they wanted in a past scenario a greater chance in a future scenario. We also came up with a way to encourage people to register for the not-so-hot rides. It all works on paper but finding the time and place and expertise to run it and maintain it are some of the stumbling blocks.

So back to the good old Modified-First-Come-First-Serve method with each pilot picking a side and three plane choices.

Most scenarios we are limited to 200-250 pilots due to limits in the arena that the scenarios are flown in. We based the plane set and numbers off of this limitation when we opened up registration.

Just before registration closed after a week with more than 400 people registering for just 232 spots we found out the new server the scenarios will be running on can hold 500 or even more pilots. This meant we could increase the number of planes from 232 to 400 and make sure everyone who registered got a real plane to fly, even if it was not their first or second or third choice.

Who Gets What Plane?

Once registration is closed it is time to start sorting the pilots.
  1. We sort them by country they choose. This list is split into each country's pilots. We also try to balance the total number of players per country so we asked in the registration form if the person would be willing to switch sides. We find those and pick some to move to make the sides more even.

  2. We sort them by their registration date and time. This way the first person to register gets first pick -the last person to register has to pick last.

  3. We then start down the list. For the first person is his first choice of planes available - Well yes it is so he gets it.

  4. We go down the list until we get come across a person whose first pick is ALREADY Filled up. We then look and see if his Second choice is available. If it is he gets it and we repeat step 3.

  5. If his second choice is already filled up we look at his third choice. We then look and see if his Third choice is available. If it is he get it and we go back to step 3.

  6. If his third choice is filled up we look at what plane spots are still available and we find the closest match to his original choices and give him that plane spot.

Go back and repeat steps 3, 4, 5, and 6 as needed till all pilots are assigned a plane.

At this point the CM's check the prelim rosters to make sure there are no mistakes, duplicates or errors. This list is then sent on to each CO.

When each CO gets his list he has the job of assigning each pilot to a scenario squadron. For example, in midway there are 32 Zeke plane spots. The CO may decide to put eight pilots into a squadron so he needs four squadrons of eight pilots. Now who goes into which squad?

The CO will try his best to put pilots who belong in the same Aces High squadron together in the same scenario squadron. Most of the times this works but sometimes the CO have to split people up. Some people like just flying with people they know, others like flying with different people to expand their experiences.

Once all the sorting is done the final roster is posted for all to see. Now all the whining can start:

"I did not get the plane I wanted!"

"Why am I not flying with the rest of my squad?"

"Why am I in Plane A and the rest of my squad is in Plane B?"

"I suck in bombers, can I have a fighter?"

"I suck in fighters, can I have a bomber?"

"Itís not fair!"

You name it, we have heard it!

At this point some pilots who did not get the ride they want may publicly or privately quit. Others may not even tell someone they are not going to participate. Some may have found out a few weeks later that they cannot attend due to real-life issues. It is up to the CO's to maintain email contact with all of the pilots so they can stay on top of things and adjust the roster as people drop out, change squadrons and even change sides!

Once all the dust settles the CO's can start really getting ready for the scenario.

Next week: Practice makes perfect and the first day of the battle arrives - Butterflies!


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