In this virtual pilot’s humble opinion, multiplayer is where it’s at. Although many of the stock single player missions have high replay value and the campaign missions are all well done, flying in a sterile world of predictable AI and triggers can be mind-numbing after a few sorties. Cruising the skies with fellow pilots and sharing in an interactive experience is simply the bee’s knees. Integrated virtual squadrons, mass fly-ins, interactive training sessions with applicable feedback, competitive events, and true combined arms exercises are all possible only in the realm of multiplayer.
DCS World’s integration of multiple vehicle simulations into one system means (nearly) seamless online play between multiple modules. No need to download special patches, or set unique configurations in order to play with other folks who want to fly a different platform than you.
A SimHQ DCS Fly-in
Unfortunately, in DCS World 1.2.2, this multiplayer experience is somewhat marred by a number of issues. First of all, DCS World has a multiplayer authentication concept that links your activation code to a new login (user name, email, and password), separate from your DCS web account (which is also separate from your DCS forum account, if you’ve created one). Complex to understand and difficult to manage, this system leads to frequent “Invalid Serial Number” errors for folks with legitimate copies of the game. They are prevented from playing online until they either go through a somewhat technical process of troubleshooting the error themselves, or submit a trouble ticket to the Eagle Dynamics support staff and wait for a response. There are several discussions in the DCS and SimHQ Forums (one example here) on how to fix some of common problems, but the experience can be quite frustrating.
One of our own staff was out of play due to authentication issues, even after stepping through all the instructions, FAQs, guides, and forum discussions on the topic. Their support ticket was intermittently followed by the Eagle Dynamics support team, with less-than-helpful responses including such classic I.T. support gems as “Have you tried clearing the cookies in your browser?” I’m glad to report that all is now well, but a behind-the-scenes reset of the account was required to make things right – after almost two months of back-and-forth!
Once you get past the authentication hurdle, there are still a number of lingering issues with multiplayer in 1.2.2 that cause varying degrees of grief depending on the situation and how worked up folks want to get about it.
Although multiplayer connection stability of 1.2.2 is remarkably better than previous versions, there are still intermittent disconnects and crashes that can be a splash of cold water to the face – especially when they occur in the middle of a hot turning dogfight. A player may get consistently disconnected from a server that 8 other folks are having no issues with and have no idea what is causing the issue. There are other in-game issues that can be weird – inconsistent placement of clouds between clients that result in very different tactical pictures for each, other client aircraft sometimes “warp” randomly around the skies (sample video here from v1.2.1), persistently odd AI traffic control behavior, and more can all have different effects on the multiplayer game depending on the timing and situation. While I have no doubt that the good folks at Eagle Dynamics are hard at work trying to improve their product to the best of their ability, issues like these can seriously mar a player’s multiplayer experience, and sour the whole deal for some folks.
My article and forum post history shows that I’m a big fan of Eagle Dynamics, DCS, and The Fighter Collection’s products, but, overall, I just can’t help but feel like delivering a quality multiplayer experience is somewhere near the bottom of Eagle Dynamic’s priority list. This would be a most unfortunate position because DCS World is at its best in a multiplayer environment and has all the makings of a true electronic battlefield, so I sincerely hope that we’re just seeing the effects of a relatively new and budding development project with developer talent focused on other key areas. In the meantime, I’m keeping a skeptical eye on the multiplayer login screen of future updates.
Just before the end of the year, Eagle Dynamics announced that they have delayed the release of the v1.2.3 update due to “a significant technical problem with multiplayer”. Keep your fingers crossed for 1.2.3.
Of course, these issues don’t stop the SimHQ fliers from having a good time. Check out SimHQ Air Combat’s most popular thread about Eno’s Firehouse in the DCS World Forum to catch up on the latest in DCS World multiplayer news and chit-chat.
A complex system needs complex tools, and the DCS World Mission Editor has a boatload of widgets and gadgets – more than enough to keep mission designers busy. Continually expanding and improving with each update, the latest Mission Editor has greatly expanded trigger management options, including more trigger actions, complex flag management, and “Clone” and “Or” tools. Units (or groups of units) and their routes can be copied and pasted for faster unit deployment, and templates of units can be created and then dropped in or rotated as desired.
The actions of individual AI units can be controlled with great precision with advanced waypoint actions, including controlling how the unit will respond to hostile fire, how it will conduct ground attack tasks, etc. There’s even an option to execute a user-defined Lua script for the really adventurous.
The DCS World mission editor can include a “dynamic” weather system model that creates a baric system of low and high pressure systems to create realistic wind and cloud effects over the entire map. Despite the “dynamic” title, these weather systems are static over time, but do vary over the terrain (e.g., a low pressure system over Kobuleti may bring clouds and rain while a high pressure system up at Anapa at the same time brings clear skies with high winds).
It isn’t easy to master all this advanced functionality and, although the GUI Guide gives some decent background information on the editor, trial and error, along with a lot of forum searching, will be required before you’ll be able to make complicated missions. There’s real opportunity here for talented mission editors to create tutorials and guides on how to use all these powerful and mostly unintuitive tools.
As advanced as the Mission Editor is, I can’t help but make a minor wishlist: a map that shows actual the terrain in the sim (i.e., fields, trees, roads, streams, etc., don’t exactly appear in the Editor as they do in game), ability to see a rendering of placed objects as they will appear in game (e.g., preview a group layout without having to start the mission), standarized measurement units (i.e., currently TAS is in knots, altitudes and distances are in feet, trigger zones are in meters, weights are in kilograms, etc.) or at least making the units shown configurable, and an ability to protect generated missions from unauthorized distribution or editing.
That said, the Mission Editor is an often overlooked tool – “Where’s a mission with platform X and Y?”, “I like mission ABC, but I wish it had fewer SAMs“. The Mission Editor is easily the most powerful tool in the set and a talented editor can create some really interesting experiences.
Really innovative mission designers can combine multiple mission files together, linking them to create a storyline that players follow as they execute their sorties. Designers should pay heed: detailed briefings and solid mission designs are needed to make a campaign enjoyable. Look through the default campaigns and take good notes.
The Encyclopedia is an electronic flip-book that gives players a bit more information about the units, weapons, and structures in the game, although that information is pretty minimal: a static photo and a paragraph or two is typically all you get. The Encyclopedia doesn’t document all the units that can be placed in the Mission Editor and some key technical data that would be useful to pilots and mission designers is missing, such as the RWR symbol for radar-using units or physical dimensions of structures to assist in mission planning or mission editing. Even with the photos, it would be much more helpful if the Encyclopedia could be “pinned open” on the Mission Editor so designers could easily flip between pages to best determine which unit or structure to place next.
Visiting the options page before flying your first DCS World mission is an absolute must. If you’re expecting to just hop in and fly, also expect to be disappointed. Graphics options are tuned under the System tab. Don’t forget to set fullscreen and pick the appropriate screen resolution for your monitor setup. DCS World is quite demanding on GPUs, and setting graphics options to their maximum settings with anything but the most powerful graphics cards could result in staggering hits to your frame rates (when in-game, press right control + pause to see your current frame rate in the upper left of the screen). The clutter and bushes slider brings ground clutter to the otherwise stark and flat DCS World terrain, which is quite nice when running the Combined Arms module… or when flying nap-of-the-Earth in any of the aircraft!
The Controls tab is also a crucial stop when configuring DCS World for your first flight. Check the settings for each module that you own, especially the Axes commands (don’t be fooled: axes mappings are NOT listed under the All Commands dropdown!), as setting them for one module does not carry over to the others. If you experience control issues in game, pressing right control (Ctrl) + Enter will bring up a virtual control display that shows the position of the main controls (pitch, bank, rudder, throttle, wheel brakes, etc.).
Under the Gameplay tab you can set your game difficulty (simulation presets!), easy communications, tool tips, radio assists, and other options that will affect your gaming experience. Note that setting the “Birds” slider to full does not lead to a Hitchcock-like cloud of birds flooding the skies, as one might reasonably expect (or hope). Instead, it sets you up for a maximum probability of ingesting a simulated bird into an engine.
The Audio tab has sliders to control the volume of various audio outputs in game. Many folks have reported they needed to tweak these sliders to be able to hear others speak on Teamspeak 3 while in game, so be sure to test your audio out when you can. There’s also an option to display subtitles (which, funny enough, are printed on the top of the screen) on AI speech in-game.
The Misc. tab controls several important options, such as Random System Failures, the format of coordinates displayed in the F10 map, and whether or not your virtual cockpit controls should be synchronized to your HOTAS control positions at mission start. If you use the latter option, always double-check your throttle position when you start a mission or you could begin a sortie with your engines flamed out #puckerup. Another important dropdown lets you set the background theme of the GUI: from the default theme (shown throughout this review) and then one theme for each module you have installed.
The last tab, Special, contains some options that are unique to some of the modules. For example, there’s an option to select the Central Position Trimmer mode (a.k.a. “Certain Death”) for the Ka-50. In v1.2.2 (.7286) we lost the P-51D Mustang sub tab that controlled helper systems for making safe and controlled takeoffs. Here’s to hoping it’ll come back in a later update for those out there who have a problem taming that high-torque beast of a plane.
If you like to compete against yourself (or just really like metrics), DCS World maintains the same logbook feature that has been present in all the DCS titles since Black Shark 1. Number of flight hours, landings, aerial refuelings, friendly A-A kills, etc., are all tracked in your logbook under your pilot’s name. Medals are occasionally awarded for certain achievements in-game and rank is gained (or lost!) based on your performance. Warning: do not forget that every flight is logged against whichever pilot was last viewed in the logbook and progress in a campaign mission series is also tied to that logbook character. For example, say you create a non-invulnerable character to play a Dead-Is-Dead campaign to add a little challenge to the experience, but then, some random night later, you start up DCS World again, completely forgetting you had last logged in as that character, and go straight into a quick mission to goof around and decide to perform a ridiculously stupid stunt like flying upside down over a runway and end up as a silly little fireball, chuckle chuckle, your entire campaign progress (and all the medals and rank you had earned) is lost in a virtual puff of smoke. Poof!, gone. Yeah, I’m not bitter or anything, just double-check your logbook before going silly.