Mission Design in IL-2 Revisited

by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson

Article Type: How-To
Article Date: June 13, 2002

Product Info

Product Name: IL-2 Sturmovik
Category: WWII Air Combat Simulation
Developer: Maddox Games
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: Released (Nov. 2001)
Min. Spec: PII 400 (or equiv.), 128 MB RAM, 3D Accelerator
Rec'd. Spec: PIII 600 or better, 256 MB RAM, 32 bit 3D accelerator with 32 MB RAM or better
Files & Links: Click Here
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Offline Still Important
Somewhere around 60 percent of pilots flying IL-2 Sturmovik have their primary flight experience offline. With such a large proportion of the focus of fun limited to single and campaign missions, it is incumbent on simulation developers to provide good missions and mission building tools.

The awareness that good missions can make or break a simulation also motivates the simulation community. Talented individuals have released mission building tools that have provided more ways to generate missions and campaigns, both for offline and online fun.

Unfortunately, mission building is as much of an art as a science. I have yet to see a mission set generated by a campaign generator that provides as much complexity and challenge as hand-built missions. Granted, mission generators like DCG are powerful and flexible tools. I am eagerly looking forward to Paul Lowengrins next release of DCG, since the addition of great detail in the IL-2 log files will enable a more dynamic mission experience, with greater flow and connection between missions.

It was unfortunate that IL-2 was released with weak missions and campaigns. It appears that 95 percent of the effort was invested in the simulation itself. The IL-2 team built a great foundation, but they left it for others to put up the building. This immediately pointed up the other weakness of IL-2: it lacks an effective interface. While the mission builder can hand-design and implement great missions, there is little way to provide greater depth in the briefings.

I am referring specifically to the additional briefing material we all like to see. Imagine if the IL-2 interface looked something like this:

A new interface

With the click of a button one could pull up additional images created by the mission designer. Images like the following can be easily created using IL-2's mission builder.

Recon photo created from mission builder.

At the moment it isnt this way. But I am going to show you how to create these additional photos and maps so that they can be accessed outside the game prior to flying the missions. In this way you can build missions that are more immersive and more challenging.

The mission builder in IL-2 is a powerful tool, and relatively easy to learn. The single greatest weakness of the builder is the limited documentation. While the manual covers the use of the interface and the basics of mission building, some areas are unclear and some techniques remain undocumented.

For that reason, I wrote a guide to mission design that appeared at COMBATSIM.COM a few months ago. In that article I documented some tricks and shortcuts I've discovered over time.

I am not going to revisit those issues. You can read the previous articles and learn from my experience in mission building. What I intend to do this time is show you how to use the mission builder to create additional mission tools.


Before You Begin
Before you read this article you should already be familiar with the mission builder interface. You should know that the SHIFT key plus the left mouse button can quickly select an area on the map to zoom in for closer work. You should also know that CTL plus the left mouse button is used to place an object on the map.

The full mission builder manual is in PDF in your IL-2 directory.

You should also be aware that the OBJECT menu is the menu you will use most often in the mission builder. It is accessed by selecting the VIEW option at the top of the screen. Objects run the gamut from Aircraft to Target Goals (I know, its weird thinking of a goal as an object, but that is how they are placed into the mission).

Once you know how to use the interface, you decide on the scenario you are building, with particular attention to the tactical and strategic elements. You then embellish this as you design the mission briefing. As an example, lets look at a scenario I built recently for a Focke-Wulf campaign in development.


Fw-190 Campaign Mission #28
My campaign consists of three phases: an opening phase in the winter of 1942-1943, a spring and summer phase with fifteen missions in the Battle of Kursk, and then a fall phase in the Crimea with a naval focus.

In the latter part of the Crimea missions there are a couple of strike missions. When I was building the first mission, I noticed a factory placed in a valley north of Yalta. It was a perfect position for a munitions factory, capable of strong defenses while allowing a hidden approach.

I wrote this briefing to accompany the mission:
Recent intelligence indicates that the Russians have located the production of munitions at a well defended position at the head of two rivers north of Yalta, 25 km SE of Bachchisaray. Both high and low reconnaissance have been flown, indicating that the most successful ingress route is from the south.

The factory lies at the head of two rivers, and is sheltered on both sides by the valley walls. The factory is well defended by both 85mm and 20mm anti-aircraft emplacements, and both the ingress and egress routes from the valley are defended. However, a low ingress from the south stands an excellent chance of success. STAY LOW once you enter the river valley.

Your FW 190 Jabos will carry 500kg hard bombs in a strike on the air defenses near the factory. You will then egress immediately to the Northeast, exiting the valley area to avoid air defense units. Remain in the area and maintain air cover in the event of Russian air opposition, as four Ju88s armed with 500kg bombs strike the factory and storage facilities.

As a philosophical aside, Russian antiaircraft defenses were notoriously nasty. Most of the IL-2 missions I have seen floating around the net dont do justice to that reality. When I built this mission, I built it so that you might not come home! If the Jabos dont stay low as they approach the target area through the river valley, there is an excellent chance that 2/4 will not survive.


Creating Additional Briefing Material
Step 1
After I am finished building the mission, I fly it! Interesting idea, Ja?

Flying the mission through a couple of times tells me if there are any problems with the mission. In general, I do find problems on the first fly through, particularly where aircraft have to navigate through hills.

Flying the mission also gives me a feel for the strength of the defenses, and whether an average player has a 1 in 2 chance of success. Yes, when I build a challenging mission, I shoot for that mark. I expect an experienced player to be successful about three out of four tries.

Having a feel for the mission helps me as I write the briefing. Equally important, it provides me with additional screen shots. This leads to my next step.

Step 2
I create a period photograph using some very simple techniques in PaintShop Pro. First, I take a series of screen shots from various perspectives during the mission. Sometimes I take the shots from a track file, created on my test flight, since it allows more flexibility (pausing, changing views, etcetera).

Next, I open the images in PaintShop Pro, and select the image or images I want to use. I convert the image to Greyscale, then I crop the image to the size I want. If I need to resize (usually smaller) I also do that at this stage.

Next I use the filter menu to select a soft filter, and I slightly blur the image. Then I add a small amount of random noise. Finally, I add any labels I want to use. The result

Fake period photo

Step 3
I create additional simulated reconnaissance photos within the IL-2 mission builder. I use the Print Screen key to save images to the IL-2 folder for later access.

To get exactly the image I want, I have to use a number of mission builder features. I zoom and unzoom to scale the image, and I use the Display Filter to remove unwanted lines, text and icons.

Then I print the screen. I usually take a number of shots with different levels of zoom to get the image I want. Sometimes I use one image to locate elements for another image. For example, I might leave the AAA defenses showing in one image, but not actually use that image for the final product, instead adding my own circle indicators to represent those objects in my photo.

I convert these images to greyscale and add random noise, and sometimes I increase the gamma slightly if necessary. Finally, I add the appropriate route lines or overwrite the dark lines with light ones, and then I add any text labels and the standard N directional indicator. The result:

Recon photo created from mission builder.

For a strike mission I usually create two simulated photos, one in large scale and one a bit smaller, and then I create a single map of the entire area for use in a briefing image.


This briefing image is a composite of images. The map comes from the full mission builder, cropped and scaled and converted to grey. The text is smaller than IL-2s standard, because I need more room to fit all the information in a single image.

Finally, someone recently suggested that I create one more image, a simulated briefing room with chalkboard. Not a bad idea! I have a simple template that is a composite from different sources, including a scanned copy of Der Adler that I happened to purchase on EBAY last year.


Conclusion
IL-2 is a fantastic simulation, and an astonishing combat simulation entry from 1C: Maddox Games. But it has its weaknesses.

At the moment the IL-2 interface is not friendly enough to allow the incorporation of material like this. But it is so easy to create such briefings once the missions are built, its a shame that we have to then access such material outside the game.

It wouldnt surprise me to see the interface become more flexible with the release of Forgotten Battles. The success of franchises like the Microsoft flight sims is partly due to their easy expansion and the continuing interest that is built by third party add-ons. Making IL-2 more amenable to such expansion would help keep interest alive.

In the meantime, if you are a mission builder, why not take some extra time with your missions, and create some simulated recon photos and more detailed briefings? Youll increase the fun you and your friends can have when you fly together. If you fly offline, you can still share your designer missions with others who enjoy IL-2 and spread the fun around.

DOWNLOAD The mission I built for this article.



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