(This article may be found at http://www.combatsim.com/memb123/htm/2001/04/wb3-ah)

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WarBirds III Beta
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 |

Article Type: Preview
Article Date: April 10, 2001

The Game

WarBirds is an Internet-based large-scale multiplayer combat flight sim using WWII aircraft and weapons. Itís been around a while, and has been generally praised for its painstaking flight models and its realistic gunnery and damage system, winning numerous awards over the years.

Version 1.0 made its debut in December of 1995. Version 2.0 was released in 1997, using a modified version of Graphic Simulations Hornet 3 engine. On its release, version 2 required a Pentium 90 with 32MB of RAM. Since 1997 there have been many upgrades until version 2.77, which is the current version. WarBirds III will be the first version that makes full use of a 3D accelerated video.

WarBirds III: FW 190 D-9 at 9000 feet.

WarBirds III: Me-109 E-7 with 250kg bomb.

My purpose in this article is to assess WarBirds in the light of another online combat prop simulation: Aces High. This article will compare Aces High and WarBirds III beta along common lines of performance: flight model, damage model, and systems model. Weíll also consider graphics and subjective components, and for good measure Iíll throw in some comments based on recent hours spent in 1C: Maddox Game's IL-2 Sturmovik beta.

There are some basic differences in conception between Aces High and WarBirds III, with the WarBirds franchise continuing to focus on air-to-air action, and Aces High shading into air-to-ground and ground-to-air action, and then recently incorporating naval action as well. Nevertheless, they still have much in common.

On the other hand, it generally isnít fair to compare an online-only simulation to a boxed simulation like IL-2. But IL-2 will have a very strong multiplayer component, and WBIII introduces a single player practice mode with AI opponents.

Aces High and WarBirds III
About three weeks ago, WarBirds III open beta was released for download. At approximately 60MB including hi-res artwork, 3.0 looks as different from 2.77 as version 2.0 did from the original. The changes are impressive and sweeping. ( Download the beta from the IEN Central Website )

Aces High is the product of a small company centered around former Interactive Magic Online personalities Dale "HiTech" Addink and Doug "Pyro" Balmos. These two simulation fans left the Warbirds community in November of 1998 and struck out on their own. Aces High took off for the skies in January of 2000.

I spent many hours in the virtual skies in Aces High in 2000, beginning with version 1.04 and up to the recent release of 1.06.

Aces High: Me-109

Every virtual pilot has a favorite simulation, and that experience provides the context whereby he judges the other simulations he or she flies. For me, the past six months have been dominated by three simulations: Aces High, Combat Flight Simulator 2 (CFS2), and the IL-2 Sturmovik beta. Aces High is the best online simulation experience Iíve had to date. IL-2 is the best all around prop combat experience Iíve ever had. CFS2 is somewhere between these two.

All three have good flight models (FM) and good damage models (DM), but CFS2 and IL-2 are extremely good. Graphics in IL2 and CFS2 are exceptional. IL-2 scores high across the board: graphics, FM, DM, SM and AI are all state-of-the-art.

WarBirds III: Graphics
The most obvious changes to 3.0 over 2.77 are graphics and effects. The old version was very dated even compared to a three year old simulation like European Air War. With version 3.0, WarBirds moves beyond Aces High and Microsoft's Fighter Ace 2.5 and fully into the modern graphics world.

WarBirds III: Another shot of the FW 190 D-9

WarBirds III: 109 Coming Up Behind Bombers

WarBirds III will impress you as a modern simulation from your first flight. The aircraft look good, the environment looks good, and the effects are nicely done. The color balance and evening and morning lighting are spectacular. Naturally, light source shading has arrived. Clouds are not fully in place in the beta, but screen shots from the development version look great. The current cloud layers are very nicely done.

Previously, the highest polygon aircraft in WarBirds was about 700 polys. The new aircraft use from 3000-8000 polys per unit. The active Level Of Detail system means that a given aircraft at a distance can be as low as 600 polys.

Anyone who spends time in the virtual air knows that the old ďeye-candyĒ debate is slightly myopic. In reality, any improvement in graphics affects gameplay, and a well-designed game incorporates ďeye-candyĒ into its overall structure in ways that impact the entire experience.

Aces High: B26 Approaching Cloud

The first time I flew in a cloud-flecked scenario in Aces High I thought the clouds were pretty. The second time I was in a B-26 approaching an enemy base at 18,000 feet. Abruptly, I noticed two enemy fighters climbing to meet me. What was I to do? I quickly panned my view and noticed some very nice cumulus clouds a mile to the west. I turned my bomber toward the clouds, and before the Corsairs were in range I was well hidden.

That maneuver allowed me to take on the fighters one at a time, and actually shoot them both down before dropping my payload on the enemy airfield. If I had had to take them on simultaneously, I never would have reached the airfield. And since Aces High allows only two players in the same bomber, even had I had another player acting as gunner itís unlikely I would have survived.

WarBirds III: Cloud layers

WarBirds III: Cloud layers seen from cockpit

Clouds in WarBirds III will radically change the game. The ability to hide in the clouds, or attack from the cover of clouds, will be great fun. Weíve all read actual accounts of WWII pilots making their attack or escape using cloud cover. Iíve experienced this in Aces High, and I really like the added tactical flavor.

Improved graphics also result in changes in situational awareness. With improved resolution and detail, you can tell a lot more about a bandit from a much greater distance. What is his current aspect angle? Is he beginning a turn, and if so, in what direction? What type of aircraft is it? All these observations are important for tactical decisions. Expanding the tactical gameplay means more challenge and more fun.

WarBirds III: P38 at Distance. Cropped image.

Improved situational awareness extends to other tactical issues, like damage. In earlier versions of WarBirds it wasnít always easy to tell when you scored a hit, or if you did, which system had taken damage. In WBIII, the impact of machine gun bullets or explosive shells is easy to see, and from a greater distance. Never mind that the impacts LOOK much better!

Graphical representation of damage is also much improved, and youíll see damaged wings, rudders, airframes and various kinds of smoke and vapor trails.

What about WarBirds III relative to Aces High in these three areas?

As mentioned above, clouds in Aces High are beautifully done. Prior to 6.02 they were underutilized, but there are signs that this is changing.

Situational awareness relative to the abilities of the graphics engine is quite good in Aces High. WarBirds III, however, improves the ability to visually indentify a bandit at longer distances, and also improves the pilotís ability to assess damage on enemy aircraft. The higher poly count means that you can tell what type of aircraft is coming at you from a greater distance without using labels. A greater variety of grapic effects also tell you what kind of damage you have perpetrated on the bandit. In these areas WarBirds III moves beyond the current version of Aces High. And, for something completely different, WarBirds III will also model rain.

WarBirds III: Me109 Look Down in Cockpit

WarBirds III: B-24J Cockpit

You may have noticed that I havenít offered a comparison of cockpits in Aces High and WarBirds III. Iíll make that comparison in Part III when we consider the viewing systems. But the quality of artwork overall is very impressive.

Go to Part II: Damage, Systems and Flight Models == >

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(This article may be found at http://www.combatsim.com/memb123/htm/2001/04/wb3-ah)