IL-2 Sturmovik Retrospective: 1946 and Beyond

IL-2 SturmovikIn this final article for our IL-2 retrospective, we look at the last chapter in the series, IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 and what came afterwards – the unique collaboration with a group of modders, Team Daidalos.

IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 (2006)

Tom Cofield once again leapt bravely into dark waters predicting in 2006 that IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 “should be the final official chapter to the IL-2 series”. He was right, certainly in terms of the IL-2 original and much updated game engine coming to the end of its (official) development.

This title brought together all the elements of the previous releases – maps, aircraft, missions and campaigns – into a single comprehensive package standardized as one version (for easier online player matching), with some bonus new content. Purchasers got the PE-2/3 and Manchuria add-ons and campaigns which had been released separately, the Murmansk map (which many mission builders later used to create Battle of Britain scenarios) and Khalkin-Go, parts of Burma and the Soviet Far East, plus several new flyable aircraft including the IL-10, a new version of the A20 (C model), KI27, Ki43, J2M5 and N1K2. New AI machines included the Ki21, A5M Claude and B6N (replacement for the Kate). Two new linear scripted campaigns were built, one for the IL-10 and a Japanese Iwo Jima campaign.

Gameplay was basically identical to Forgotten Battles, but the big news maker was the way the series took the player beyond WWII reality, and into a postwar alternative history environment in which the Germans were successful in repulsing the western Allied assault at Normandy and the plot to kill Hitler actually succeeded. Britain and the US entered into a cease fire with the new government (Himmler was removed as well) while the Soviets continued the fight. This gave the campaign makers the opportunity to bring in new flyables and AI opponents like the MiG 9, Arado 234, Ta152, He 162, Ta 183, He 162, and the Heinkel HeL-113B. Some flew during WWII, some were just prototypes or never left the drawing board, but IL-2 1946 put them in the air in three alternate reality campaigns.

Loyal fans got the PE-2 add-on included for purchasing IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946.

There were now an incredible 225 flyable aircraft in the game and approximately 40 different campaigns.

Graphically, the advantages of an older but updated engine were showing in the ability of newer hardware to run the game with all graphic settings on maximum. There were some nice tweaks, particularly to weather and clouds. The online experience was familiar, and stable, with most servers able to handle 60-70 players at a time without falling over.

Controversies should have been less, as this was more of a collectors edition, than a complete new title, but in its original release, it ran like a slideshow under  Windows XP 32- and 64-bit, the latest operating system at that time from Microsoft. Mission builders found that adding too many ground objects or vehicles could bring the simulation to its knees. NaturalPoint TrackIR 6DoF was still not implemented due to technical limitations with many of the cockpits. The quick mission builder only enabled the player to choose from 5 of the more than 40 maps then available.

Beyond 1946: Team Daidalos

Team DaidalosThe last official patch of IL-2 Sturmovik was patch 4.08m, after which official support for IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 ceased so that 1C Maddox could focus on creating the new code platform that would later become IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover.

But development of the game did not stop there. A group of dedicated and talented enthusiasts, Team Daidalos, was entrusted by 1C Maddox to continue to improve the code, introduce new maps, flyable aircraft and swat bugs. Their first effort, patch 4.09, showed how serious they were, introducing no fewer than 5 gorgeous new maps (Bessarabia, Iasi, Odessa, The Mediterranean and Slovakia), new cockpits and 9 new aircraft.

The work is now up to patch 4.12.1, released in July 2013, and with mods taken into account, the list of units now in the simulation surely cannot be matched by any other air combat title, or I would venture, any other combat sim period: land, sea or air. Listmakers such as those on the SAS1946 web site show literally hundreds of aircraft types and their variants.

Similarly, the list of maps available to misson builders fills an entire screen…

IL-2: 1946 FMB Maps Available

IL-2: 1946 FMB Maps Available

…and covers nearly every theatre of WWII conflict, as this Google Maps IL-2 locator shows:

If you want to see the current state of the sim, this video made by Team Daidalos for the 4.12 patch gives a good overview.

More IL-2 video updates from Team Daidalos are here.

As to the future, Team Daidalos remains committed to continually improving the sim, and has a long wishlist from players on which to work.

The future of IL-2 Sturmovik, like its past, looks rosy.

IL-2: 1946 jets

IL-2: 1946 jets

Looking Back with Oleg Maddox – Part 4

Fred: The Team Daidalos series of patches has been a strong discussion point since official development of the IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946 game stopped with patch 4.09 beta, and this collaboration between a software developer and an unofficial group of enthusiasts was quite unique at the time. What principles did you establish with Team Daidalos to guide your collaboration?

Oleg: This is a hard question to answer because a lot of the decisions about how things were done did not come from me. I did not personally own the IL-2 engine, and the decision to give it away was not taken well. I had to fight a lot to give Team Daidalos as much as we did, and that was nowhere near as much as I wanted to give them.

I think any developer in the world would be proud to have such an incredible team of enthusiasts do so much with their engine once the team itself has moved on; of course their opinion would not be shared by most business suits running their studios.

My primary drive was very simple. I loved IL-2, I really loved what it became, and I had an incredible relationship with my fans. I wanted them to have the best product they could have, and if I myself could no longer work on doing it for them, I was happy to have someone else work on it, and thankful for the opportunity. It was not about the money at that point.

The Slot - one of dozens of new maps introduced by Team Daidalos

The Slot – one of dozens of new maps introduced by Team Daidalos

Fred: The Team Daidalos collaboration was seen in many discussions, as an attempt to compete with work being done at the time (and since) by modders. Was this in fact a motive? Surely the modded versions of the game enabled you to sell even more copies of IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946, because they all required the player to own a legitimate copy of the game? Or was it more a matter of securing the quality of future work on the game?

Oleg: It was rather simple. These guys just really wanted to do things with the game, and they would have done it either way, with our or without our support. With our support, they could do things easier and they could do more. We were extremely impressed with what they were doing. Since there was no commercial conflict at all, and we really liked those guys on a personal level, the relationship formed very naturally.

Fred: Team Daidalos has continued their work, with version 4.12 now released and a wish list started for version 4.13. Has that development met your expectations?

Oleg: It more than exceeded it. I am absolutely amazed by what people were able to do with my old IL-2.

Current "state of the art" - a reworked P40 from Team Daidalos

Current “state of the art” – a reworked P40 from Team Daidalos

Fred: The wishlist for version 4.13 on the Team Daidalos 1C forum is now up to 51 screens long: does it surprise you that a) there is still so much interest in the game and b) that there is apparently still so much that can be done to make the game even better?

Oleg: It does not surprise me. IL-2 is still the most comprehensive sim on the market, and it holds up rather well. I wouldn’t be surprised if it will forever remain the biggest most complete simulation of WWII ever built; hard to imagine anyone making more theaters and more planes under one roof. And of course, there’s no limit to perfect. As hardware continues to grow, so will the opportunities to improve old software.

Fred: IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover after the final patch is now a highly playable, impressively detailed and very entertaining game. Now that you are looking back from a distance, what are your reflections on that episode in IL-2 history?

Oleg:  If only we had more time and more money to fully polish the game before release, and do a lot more than ever made into the final patch, everyone would have been a million times happier today. Us, the fans, and especially the management. It could have been a great hit. It should have been a great hit. Of course, no one is blameless, but really releasing it in the state it was released in was a very bad decision. As you can see by the final patch, we were fully capable of doing a good product; the final patch was done purely out of personal desires of the team, while the team was supposedly fully engaged in working on a sequel. If we did not work on the sequel, and just worked on improving Cliffs of Dover, we could have done the work we did in much less time.

This is extremely painful for me to write. I really wish we had more support from our management, more understanding of flight sim realities. With only a little more investment and a little more time, Cliffs of Dover would have been a huge hit and made everyone involved very rich. Well, it’s all in the past now, and it’s best to keep it there.

The level of internal structural detail modeled in IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover

The level of internal structural detail modeled in IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover

Fred: You watched some strong competitors come and go over the years – like Microsoft Aces Studiodo you still follow the flight sim category and if so, what do you think about the current health of the flight sim category?

Oleg: I do follow it very much. As you may know, I’m now involved in a new flight sim with Ilya and the DCS guys, so I’ve been doing a lot of research and playing a lot of flight sims lately, even more so than usual.

Fred: Do you still enjoy the hobby of remote control aircraft flying? Do you ever fly a flight sim in your personal time, and which one(s)?

Oleg: I don’t do remote control aircraft any more except just for fun every once in a while. Not as much or as complex as before. I do still fly both IL-2 and Cliffs of Dover, but pretty rarely, it always brings up too many things. I fly other flight sims for research, but not for much fun. Of course, been spending a lot of time with DCS.

Fred: How did the new project, DCS WWII: Europe 1944, with Eagle Dynamics and Ilya Shevchenko come about?

Oleg: Very naturally. I’ve been friends with Ilya for almost fourteen years now. My relationship with the folks at Eagle Dynamics goes back even further; as my old studio and theirs were based in the same city and had the same publisher for most of our titles, we all knew each other.

I kept in touch with Ilya throughout the birth of the new project. He often came to me for advice and I myself was always interested to learn about what was going on in his life. I was very glad to learn that Ilya was able to start a new project with the folks at Eagle Dynamics. And as I myself have always been and will always remain a fan of the flight simulation genre, my involvement was kind of a given. There was never really a courting process or discussions. The way the project was starting, and the way my relationship is with the people involved, my participation was always a given. The only question was, how public would it have to be.

All in all, I’m very happy that this project is progressing. There is hope for the hardcore flight sim after all.

Fred: It is a little unclear whether this is an independent 3rd party project which has licensed DCS code, or if it is a Fighter Collection/Eagle Dynamics project for which you and others are developing content – can you clarify?

Oleg: It’s a very close relationship between two separate companies.

The project is definitely its own thing, run by Ilya, for which he primarily is responsible. He designed it on paper, licensed the code, and hired and managed team members. However, Eagle Dynamics is doing a lot more than just handing over the code. First of all, many Eagle Dynamics (ED) employees are huge WWII aviation fans, so they try to get involved even if that means doing something on their own time. Secondly, the current DCS engine could use a few new WWII-era features, and part of the deal means that ED will work to develop those as part of the engine hand-over process.

So, it’s a little bit of both.

Fred: What did you think about the DCS WWII: Europe 1944 Kickstarter result, raising 158,000 USD?

Oleg: The result is pretty much exactly as I predicted. There were many who were certain it would never raise even the 100K. There were others who were hoping for much larger numbers. However my experience in the industry and my analysis of the current state of the project and the campaign we were trying to do always made me think that we were most likely to get right around that number.

That’s not to say that it’s not a huge accomplishment! It certainly could have been a lot worse. As we’ve never done crowd sourcing before, there was definitely a degree of uncertainty. It would have been disastrous if we did not meet the goal. I’m very happy with the results. Also very happy that even in this new thing my analysis turned out to be exactly right, as always.

Fred: What will be your role on the project?

Oleg: Kind of a behind the scenes “mastermind”. My biggest contribution to past projects, and the thing that I most enjoyed doing, has always been setting the course. I read flight sim forums all the time, and I speak a lot to many of my life-long friends who are also fans of the genre spread across the globe. I play all the games. So my main job is making sure the project evolves in the right direction. I definitely see many things that can be improved in the current DCS titles. I help set up the overall vision, to make sure the team is doing something the fans really want.

Fred: Will anything be different about this project compared to your previous flight sims? Ilya Shevchenko speaks about having a greater level of control over this project than in previous projects.

Oleg: I don’t know what that means. Ilya had total control in the past, and I think his control is a bit less now that the game engine isn’t actually his. Anyway, the difference is huge. We have a different engine. We have an established product line with an established fan base, and their established ways, goals, and requirements are quite different from what we were doing in the past. The project right now is a lot smaller than most things we’ve done. It’s also a lot more complex in many ways, and a lot less in others. We’re doing so much more in terms of visual fidelity, and spending a lot of time fine tuning various internal aircraft systems that we barely touched before.

So, while the overall goal is the same, to set up a long-running flight simulation series that can eventually encompass all theaters of WWII, the path we are taking now seems very different.

Fred: The flyable aircraft list, if all are done to DCS standards, is very impressive, including the Republic P-47D-28 Thunderbolt; the Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX; the Messerschmitt Bf-109K-4; the Focke-Wulf FW.190D-9 (from DCS World); the North-American P-51D Mustang (from DCS World); and the Messerschmitt Me.262A-1. Which do you think will be the hardest for the team to model accurately?

Oleg: The one with the least amount of available historical data. That’s another thing by the way that’s very different in DCS. The amount and quality of source data needed to model an aircraft to DCS standard is eons beyond what we used in the past. We now work with nothing but primary sources, whereas we often relied on secondary sources or even our own guesswork in the past. There’s very little room for guesswork in DCS.

As the German planes have in general poorer documentation than Allied planes, doing those perfectly will be a challenge. Or, more frankly, it’ll be impossible to get it to 100% because there’s literally no way of knowing where that 100% is.

Fred: The series will start in Normandy in 1944 with British and Luftwaffe fighter campaigns, and a U.S. ground attack campaign. Shevchenko and yourself have said you are most motivated by working on the Eastern Front and VVS aircraft, so this is a major departure.

…If successful, will we see this new series move to the Eastern Front in the future?

…If successful, will we see this new series move to the Pacific Theatre in the future?

Oleg: Clearly. There’s not too many directions a WWII simulation can go.

We see a clear progression through the theaters over the next few years. We however don’t have a specific plan yet. It’s too early to decide whether the very next one is going to be Russia or Pacific or the Mediterranean. We’ll see how the first one goes, and we’ll see what the people most want.

Fred: Are you hoping to recreate the long term success of IL-2 with this new sim, or do you view this as a one-off, single project?

Oleg: Oh no, we definitely want to have long-term success. There’s no point in doing one-offs. I think any successful game deserves a sequel. And we’re definitely working to make a successful title.

Fred: Thanks Oleg Maddox, and good luck with DCS WWII: Europe 1944, and any following projects.

Oleg: Thank you.

 

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