So many simulators, so little time…

I love flight sims but there just aren’t enough free hours in a day…

Are flight simulations undergoing a resurgence? They seem to be taking on a life of their own. FSX may have jump started it’s own community of online gamers, mods and other innovations which indirectly brought about MS Flight. Or, maybe it’s the military side that’s helped the market out with military training contracts subsidising games like DCS and Arma. Some communities have also maintained themselves with the Falcon 4 crowd taking an open source route.

In 2008 I got swept up with the original release of DCS: Black Shark. I was amazed at the fidelity, TrackIR looked great and I even forked out for my first HOTAS. It seemed that flight sims were as detailed as they needed to be. Ultimately I fell off that game though as I really wasn’t into the Black Shark as an aircraft. I wish they had done the Apache or Cobra… maybe I’m not into Russian stuff.

That all changed with DCS A-10C. Frankly when you compare the graphics to sims from years gone by it seems that they are at the point where they can just about pull it off. New tweaks like dynamic cockpit shadows, HDR and others make it a great experience.

I’ve played that a huge amount and can execute missions without referring to the manual or searching for answers online. That’s really where you need to be at to enjoy these sorts of games. They are known as ‘study sims.’ They can take months to get to grips with fully. This is known as ‘time to competency’.

For a first person shooter played by a gamer who is familiar with other shooters, the time to competency is about 1 minute. How to I open a door? How do I use something? What weapons do I have? Ultimately these games are struggling to be creative though. Check out how unoriginal the single player experience has gotten.

Right back to DCS: A-10C… That’s not to say that all this studying isn’t fun. For me, it’s all about envelope expansion. I read the manual before I jumped into the cockpit. I watched Wags producer notes over and over.

I really enjoyed learning how everything worked. I started off just practicing a cold start, worked out the kinks and then slowly moved on. The interactive training missions were a god send over Black Shark. Youtube videos from the community were also a huge help and entertaining to watch (even if they are sometimes wrong =). At a certain point I was chuffed to just be able to flying around even though I had no idea how to actually employ any weapons. You can tell a-lot of the systems on aircraft have evolved from decades gone by. My god, the CDU did not have Steve Jobs in charge of usability testing.

The problem with all of this is that generally with a study sim when you’ve finished learning everything, there’s actually not much of a game to play. People have complained of various things along this theme of: The world seems empty, there’s no story line, no flow or consequences from one mission to the next. etc etc…. Fortunately there seems to be a huge array of community mission makers, online servers (including one for NZ where I am yay Stall Turn!), and development on the way, such as the Nevada update & JTAC integration. ED have also replaced the campaign with a fancy new one which I’m enjoying and the random mission generator is something I’m a huge fan of, if only the JTAC would give me tasks without me having to add my own one. All this hints at the prospect of a Dynamic Campaign engine one day, I’m not going to talk about this right now though.

I guess my point is that the complexity of these games makes it a niche product inside a niche market. I like to think of them as a gamer intelligence test. You not only have to be into aviation and flight sim games but also able to spend a huge amount of time learning.

If the market really is heating up and it’s not my imagination then I’d be really interested to know if it was sustainable. I’m a big believer that if you enjoy something, find value in it, then PAY FOR IT. I’m happy to give Eagle Dynamics & Bohemia Interactive my money. I enjoy their products, and since they are finding their way as independents I have a vested interest in making sure that they stay in business. Their products aren’t perfect but they are the best out there in terms of concept and community. I bought Black Shark 2 the day it came out even though I’d not continued on with the original.

Before I finish here’s some titles that have come out recently or are in development:

I’m torn. I love DCS A-10C, I’ll purchase every module most likely but I also want to play X-Plane 10, I have BMS F4 but haven’t had the time to learn it, I’ve not finished Take on Helicopters and Cliffs of Dover is something I could really get into (I liked combat flight sim).

So, question time:

  • What do you fly?
  • What would you like to fly?
  • Are you put off by the complexity, detail, bugs, lack of story, cost?
  • Is the flight sim market picking up or will some titles go out of business?

Categories: Flight Simulation

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