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WarBirds III Beta Preview - Part II
by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Game Title: WarBirds III
Version: 3.0 Beta
Category: Massively Multiplayer WWII Air Combat
Developer / Publisher: iENT
Release Date: 2.77 Released. 3.0 Currently in Limited Open Beta
Required Spec: PC: PII 400, 128 MB RAM, 3D Video / 16 MB RAM. Mac: OS 8.6 or higher, 256 MB RAM, 3D Video with OpenGL support. (full details)
Files: | WarBirds (Full Install) | Manual, Terrains, Cockpit Art |

Review Type: Preview
Review Date: April 11, 2001

<< == Return to Part I: Graphics

Damage and Systems Models

Since approximately version 2.5, WarBirds has sported a very sophisticated damage model. I don’t know enough about the design of Aces High to make a definitive assessment, but I will comment based on in-game experience.

WarBirds: This 109 won't make it.

WarBirds: This 109 might make it.

WarBirds: This 109 won't.

First, there are no significant changes to the damage model in WarBirds III from 2.77. Damage resolution was already highly detailed. The hit bubble is shaped by the aircraft itself, and the aircraft is divided very finely into components and systems.

Damage to an external surface in WarBirds affects the flight model (FM). It is difficult to control an aircraft that has taken significant damage to a wing, for example. Furthermore, damage can weaken a structure without destroying it. I took some hits from an Me-109 in a P-51D and was having trouble maintaining level flight. When I began a high-G turn my wing snapped off.

My impressions of Aces High are similar. While damage is not represented in as much variety graphically, damage is varied and damage to one component can affect another.

In Aces High, however, some effects appear to be over-modeled. More than a few pilots have complained that the ability of cannons to completely destroy a bandit is almost god-like. This works the same in reverse. If you are the victim of an enemy cannon shell, there is a high chance that your aircraft will explode.

WarBirds: B-17 with engine trouble.

This “total destruction” is less noticeable in WarBirds. I believe that aircraft in this sim are slightly tougher, but also that in WarBirds III damage is more finely shaded.

Think of a damage scale that runs from 1 to 5. Each step up the ladder requires a certain amount of added damage. The highest amount of damage means obliteration or explosion at the top of the scale.

Now take that same scale and increase the resolution, so that there are 12 steps from zero damage to total destruction. Suddenly an aircraft has more damage states possible before reaching the limit. You can still find yourself in the air, or can still find the enemy in the air, at 10 or 11 on the scale, depending on which systems have been hit. This increases the challenge and means you will be attempting to fly aircraft with higher damage states . . . translating into more challenge and more fun. All this is guesswork, but based on some hours of observation in each simulation.

Recently I got into a WarBirds furball in a P-38J against a Spitfire Mk IX. Initially the Spit had very high energy and I was only moderate, resulting in my ability to turn more quickly than the Spit on the first circle. I was able to turn into the Spit and get a shot off at about 30 degrees off his nose before he could lock onto my tail. My snapshot resulted in some hits toward the tail.

After that I was in a bad way, and the Spit first hit my port engine, and then damaged my left aileron. At that point one of my wingmen made a hit on the Spitfire cockpit and killed the enemy pilot.

I ran the port engine until the oil was exhausted and the engine seized. I now had a very unruly aircraft to fly. Far from being a bad thing, it was a realistic challenge to nurse the P-38 back to the airfield.

Flight Model

WarBirds: Takeoff in the Lightning

The FM of WarBirds III has changed only slightly from 2.77. The changes focus around the center of gravity systems. In short, the center of gravity can now change with fuel and ordnance loads, so the player must retrim the aircraft over time, and damage can also affect the center of gravity.

My interest was to compare the FM and feel of flight to both Aces High and IL-2 Sturmovik, so I chose the Me-109 E-7 and FW 190 A-8. In actual combat the Me-109 E-7 was less powerful, less maneuverable and better armed (2x20mm and 2x7.92 mm) than the F-4 modeled in Aces High. IL-2 Sturmovik models the F-2, which is very similar to the F-4 except the F-2 uses the 15mm nose cannon. Both F models had the single cannon and 7.92mm guns in the wings.

Aces High models four Me-109s, the single E type and three G types. The Gs are much heavier, more powerful and better armed, with the ability to mount 30mm cannon pods under the wings.

The Me-109 F-4 in Aces High is docile and predictable. Applying full throttle on takeoff rocks the aircraft, but will not send you careening off the runway (torque effects are mild). The 109 lifts off by itself just over 100 mph.

WarBirds: Me109 E-7

WarBirds: Me019 in landing configuration

In the air at 200 mph and 5000 feet, the 109 can turn a complete roll in 4 seconds. Attempting to hold a 10 degree, 1500 fps climb will eventually result in a stall at around 90 mph. Stall recovery is easy.

In WarBirds the 109 is almost as docile but there are significant differences in performance. Applying full throttle on takeoff requires a liberal dose of right rudder to maintain straight tracking on the runway. The aircraft lifts off by itself at 200 kmph, or about 125 mph.

In the air at 200 mph and 5000 feet, the 109 in WarBirds III can complete a roll in about five seconds. The initial rudder response is sluggish, accounting for the difference in time as compared to Aces High. (The actual 109 was considered very responsive to aileron input between 200 and 300 mph, with controls stiffening beyond 300 mph until they were very stiff at 400 mph.)

Attempting to hold a 1500 fps climb results in a stall condition at roughly 75 mph. Recovery at this point is simple, but other kinds of stalls in the 109 in WarBirds can result in a difficult recovery. (It’s interesting to note that Jeff Ethel’s flight tests of the actual 109 noted a stall speed of 75mph. Mr. Ethel also recommended flaps at 20 degrees for takeoff).

For fun, I decided to compare one other aircraft in general flight characteristics. I flew the FW-190 A-8 in both Aces High and WarBirds III beta.

The FW 190 in Aces High stalls around 105 mph in gentle climb, in WarBirds III around 130 mph. Stall recovery in Aces High is easy; in WarBirds III stall recovery in the FW-190 is difficult and the aircraft is more finicky in general. I also tried the FW-190 D-9 in the WarBirds III beta. This one is even more finicky, though once trimmed out its behavior becomes more manageable.

WarBirds: FW 190 External

WarBirds: FW 190 A-8 Internal

In general, aircraft are more difficult to fly in WarBirds III than in Aces High. Torque effects, for example, do not stop once you lift off the runway. The Me-109 will continue to try to roll to port unless you apply some aileron or rudder (there is no rudder trim in the 109). Stalls in any aircraft in WarBirds III are more common and recovery is more difficult.

Aces High is well known for being bang on the numbers. Aircraft perform by the book, and the models have been independently verified by a number of aeronautical experts. One would then expect similar performance in WarBirds III, where FM fidelity is important to the designers. While performance is similar, flying to the edge of the envelope is harder in WarBirds III.

After conversations with Aces High devotees who complained that the American aircraft retain too much energy in WarBirds, I did a head-to-head test with the P-51D. Both tests began at 13,000 feet and 200 mph, with 50% fuel in Aces High and 40% in WarBirds III (in Aces High I had to load 50% fuel then fly to altitude, where in WarBirds I could start at 13,000 feet, so I reduced fuel in WarBirds to 40%).

The first test involved steady cruise at 200 mph then opening throttle and running a stopwatch until 280 mph was attained. In Aces High this took 57 seconds, and 60 seconds for WarBirds III.

The second test involved steady cruise at 260 mph heading straight East, then opening full throttle and completing a 360 degree turn at maximum G. I was careful to maintain the same roll angle in both simulations and keep my nose pegged on the horizon. I used ailerons to correct slippage rather than using rudder.

In WarBirds III this resulted in a speed reduction of 100 mph and a loss of 600 feet in altitude. In Aces High the speed reduction was only 60 mph and I lost 700 feet of altitude. Energy retention is much higher in the P-51D in Aces High!

The subjective component of flight is the feeling of the aircraft in the air. WarBirds III feels as good as Aces High, and maybe a bit better. Where both simulations lack is in comparison to IL-2 Sturmovik. No online simulation has yet approached the subjective feeling of flight communicated by the IL-2 Sturmovik flight model. The feeling is best described as being borne aloft by currents of air.

WarBirds: Pull up the map overlay in flight.

Granted, this is not a fair comparison. The amount of data taken into account by the physics and atmosphere models of IL-2 would be prohibitive in an online specific simulation, where more of the CPU power is devoted to transmitting data and coordinating the world across a large number of machines.

Go to Part III: WarBirds III Bombers, AI and Cockpits == >

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