by Guest Writer Ian Boys
This is not a users’ guide for the Full Mission Builder and it does assume basic familiarity with that tool. Instead it is a few thoughts on what makes a good mission and how I design missions. I hope that some mission designers will see a few new things and that some others may give mission building a first try. I will generally be discussing single missions but many of the issues will relate equally to campaign, cooperative and dogfight missions.
Apologies for the Eastern Front feel — the points apply equally to the Pacific of course but I very rarely make Pacific missions.
Let’s get the boring technical bits out of the way first.
What Makes a Good Mission? Smooth Game Play
First and foremost it should run smoothly. The best mission is no good at 10 frames per second. As a rule of thumb I set the mission to 4x accelerated time and see if it still runs smoothly. A well-designed mission will drop about 5 FPS. A badly-designed mission will visibly judder.
So what makes games run slowly? The simple answer is the number of objects with flight model, AI and line of sight calculations. This includes aircraft, ships, moving convoys, AA guns and less obvious things like sirens and searchlights.
However within this broad group there is a distinct hierarchy: a single Chaika is quite simple, whereas a Pe-8 or B-17 has a flight model, formation holding AI and several gunner AI positions. When a box of B-17’s is attacked, you have the thousands of facets and lighting considerations on each model, the dozen or more flight models, a hundred or more gunner positions, several thousand ballistics flight models for all the .50 cal rounds. Equally, a single 88mm gun has AI and one round in the air at the time whereas a 20mm gun has dozens. A battleship may have 20 gun positions, all with AI.
In multiplayer games there is the additional problem that all this needs to be squeezed down several small pipes to perhaps 20 or more other computers. It is quite common for players to complain of terrific stuttering only for the host to state that it all works just fine on his PC.
What can we do to lessen the load? A large part of the answer is to put less of everything, in particular — bombers. I remember one mission where 12 Pe-8’s trundled through the battlefield when they had nothing to do with the mission. It may have been fine on the host’s PC but in addition to everything else going on it killed it for the rest of us. Furthermore unless your airbase or the enemy airbase is to be attacked, does it really need 300+ objects? If it does need parked planes (and most will), confining them to the types to be flown in the mission speeds things up. Does it need more than token flak or static object flak (no AI or line of sight calculations) if there is no realistic chance of having enemy aircraft follow you back to base?
While on the subject of airbases, think about a real airport. Does it have trees where the aircraft taxi? And yet too many of our fictive bases have tree-lined taxiways, tethered balloons near the runway (!) and other such hazards.
Something to think about: the best two missions I have played recently had six and eight aircraft in.
Lastly — please use pre-cached aircraft in dogfight maps. Briefly, place static aircraft corresponding to all the flyables away in one corner of the map. The player will load all the aircraft models as he joins the mission and will therefore not suffer from respawn lag that can ruin a busy server. It was common practice a couple of years ago but a new generation of mission builders seem not to know about it.