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What went wrong with the Flight "sim" genre from mass market perspective

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  • User profile image
    androidi

    (flight sim fans should not read, this is for EA execs & producers)


    In short, around the time that Falcon 3 came out, I think the success of that resulted in large shift toward the simulation/realism aspect (though I suspect most developers interested in flight were always driven toward more realism). This is certainly interesting goal but it's quite shocking how what I thought back in early 90's as being one of the most popular computer game genres turned out to nearly die and you could argue it did, from mass market perspective. Lack of joysticks and such are often cited reason. My argument is that the kind of flight games that I envisioned never even arrived! Battlefield 1942 Desert Combat modification has been the closest to what I thought about back when all the true mass market flight games were around: Strike Commander, F15 II, F19. (and bunch of WW1/2 stuff I'm not into)


    I've now been playing Strike Commander again in dosbox and thinking, why is this game still so good - of course it's nothing to do with *realistic simulation* - as any game developer worth the title should realize, games aren't about realistic simulation but more often about providing fun - awesome experience, one you could not have in the real world. That's why they're games and not simulators. The simulator niche market could not even keep the fabled "Flight Simulator" alive.


    The whole joystick argument is quite non-sensical as well. I can fly Strike Commander and BF1942: DC just fine with keyboard, it's no different from driving cars in Trackmania with keyboard, infact it's much much easier as flying doesn't require such level of precision timing. Trackmania has tons of players and is as far from realistic driving as you can get, yet it's extremely immersive and feels like you're really driving.


    So what's the whole argument about then? Looking at what makes SC and Battlefield fun to fly in: It seems to all come down to a scale that has been adjusted for 1) short distance/time to action 2) the maximum flying altitudes and terrain height has been scaled to make for most compelling game experience: most of the time, whether you want or not you are actually flying slow and close to the terrain, making the terrain play a role. Helicopters are much better suited from immersion perspective to this and fast jets are worst suited. But as action-flight player I have found it doesn't really break the immersion of flight even if the "jets" are scaled such that the player seems to always be close to alps height mountains and seemingly fly in canyons with large planes. 3) the way the planes react to control and the sound are big deal as well - notice the special effects during flight in Strike Commander, likely unrealistic (?) but add lot of immersion.


    The ideal action flight game scale for jets seems to be something between SC and BF1942.


    How to reconcile the scale issues and have "jet-like" vehicles in a game? The answer is, keep the scale at Battlefield level, maybe making the maps slightly larger, ceiling altitude slightly more, ~100 players on the same map on average. And instead of traditional jets, have armed UAVs controllable by players in addition to helicopters for troop transport. The UAVs can be smaller and more limited in armament thus allowing larger numbers of players in them without making life as infantry or tank player too frustrating. (of course some multiplayer maps need to have bombers for some epic carpet bombing of infantry it wouldn't be a proper flight game otherwise)


    Why were F15 II and F19 special flight "sims". They certainly weren't the first flight sim I played so that cannot be biasing my memory. This is much more challenging to answer but being a very visuals oriented person I believe the answer is that these games still look very compelling even today. Completely unrealistic visuals but they still manage to convey strong charm and mystery, created mostly by careful palette selection where gray fog does not dominate/exist. This is why GDC presentation of Another World spent lot of time talking about palette - especially important during first impressions such as screenshots and demos or first minutes. Doing palettes right with 3D is much more challenging. Notable about these two games is the software rendered- pseudo-3D visuals forced by limited color selection, so a lot of the terrain and sky always have the ideal colors and no grey/green/brown-foggy appearance typical of modern flight simulators. Again Battlefield even when it is 3D managed avoided this problem by virtue of the planes mostly flying very low altitude - the visuals were dominated by the striking terrain palette.


    Now gamers will undoubtedly think I'm mad talking so much about such "irrelevant" aspects of games that don't relate to game play, but this was not for you. I've read review sites statistics and people still look screenshots before reading reviews. Palettes, visuals, first impression matter *very much*. If those things aren't right don't expect instant sale even for otherwise great game.

     

    edit: Unlike you might think I'm not hyped about Battlefield 3 since I suspect it has the ridiculously bad flight controls/feel from BF Vietnam & BF2. The BF1942 DC *mod* had the supreme control system - about as much fun as Trackmania. The DC mod felt a lot like Strike Commander and the helicopters were super fun to fly on keyboard - since they fell from the sky like a rock if you weren't really trying to fly it constantly! - unrealistic yes but fun and very challenging!

  • User profile image
    androidi

    I was thinking, maybe there's a flight "sim" for Crysis? And indeed there's a guy working on such thing!

    Now that's what I'm talking about. I'm going to be surprised if Battlefield 3 can look better than this while being console optimized since it's not PC exclusive like Crysis 1 was.

    http://crymod.com/viewtopic.php?f=280&t=25876&start=1000

     

     

  • User profile image
    JoshRoss

    If you want to get involved with playing flight simulator games, or reading books, then you must set aside a large slice of time to do so. As society, as a whole, transitions to the era of attention deficit, producers of long form content will be-- or have been-- forced to economize on the production of their goods.

    In software that means less new titles in the market or more hobby projects, like the Crisis mod.

    Also, flight sims do not lend themselves to MMO. Since you have an extreme gradient of players; at one end, players that want the most realistic simulation (one that you follow the rules), and the other where you see if you can get the 747 to do a loop-de-loop.

    -Josh

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    androidi

    Maybe I was not clear enough or you didn't quite read it thoroughly. This thread is not about flight sims. It's about action/shooters where flight is a would be primary element instead of infantry but not to the exclusion of infantry and tanks etc.

    Essentially Battlefield multiplayer re-thought rules wise. The flying part is actually simple like I said - I haven't seen anyone not able to fly a plane in Battlefield - it was only the helicopter that was real challenge - but with obvious advantages over the planes - taking some time to learn to hover and not drop like a rock had *rewards that made it worth to learn*. That's really key. The flying pilot should be really overpowered over anything else on the battlefield - and the game rules need to be adapted so that this can be true but not make the game play for ground forces excessively tedious like it does using Battlefield game rules.

     

    Desert Combat was quite close, with few adjustments it could have been total mayhem and be still popular. Instead the DC developers went to the direction this thread is about - they wanted more balance and maybe even realism. The community died quick after these patches and BF2 was final nail in the coffin but many did not move to BF2 due to it going further in poor direction.

     

  • User profile image
    JoshRoss

    , androidi wrote

    Maybe I was not clear enough or you didn't quite read it thoroughly. This thread is not about flight sims. It's about action/shooters where flight would be primary element instead of infantry but not to the exclusion of infantry, tanks, etc.

     

    I think that I understand what you were-- and or are-- saying. If you wanted to have ground scale and air scale players on the same game, then you couldn't have the tempos match or you would have to totally forgo realism or the ability to play in realtime with others.

    A game like Spore operates on multiple scales, and that works because the players on the sub scale are virtual. I guess that you could do something like that, with an army, navy, and airforce. Where in each part of play, the computer generates some fingerprint of your playing ability and scales it out for the next higher scale of play.

    -Josh

  • User profile image
    Bas

    I wonder how many EA execs and producers frequent the Channel 9 forums.

  • User profile image
    spivonious

    I always enjoyed the "Instant Action" option of Falcon 3 much more than the full-on campaign mode. Who wants to spend 20 minutes flying just to drop a few bombs and fly back home?

    Although, with Flight Simulator, I enjoyed the realistic aspects. This is probably because I had no expectation of dogfights or other "action" while flying. It's the difference between sailing and going waterskiing behind a motor boat. Both are enjoyable if you're expecting the right thing.

  • User profile image
    LarryLarsen

    >>"Battlefield 1942 Desert Combat modification has been the closest to what I thought about back when all the true mass market flight games were around"

    I couldn't agree more. I had more fun flying in Desert Combat than probably any other game I have played. Ever. I think what made that game so good was how fluid it was and how accurate/fast the weaponing was. I could fly the C130 by myself and even use the canon with a macro on my throttle button.

    I really loved the helicopters in Battlefield Vietnam. Being able to set the radio to old 60s songs was genius, even if a rip of Vice City. Even today, every time I hear the Temptations Get Ready, I immediately think of flying fast and low in a Huey, tearing things up. With my Thrustmaster HOTAS the control of the helicopters in BFV was just magic. Maybe flying with a keyboard sucked, but for me I think that would suck in any game.

    FWIW, my favorite flying game now is Just Cause 2. Specifically the helicopters. But flying choppers with an Xbox controller is a little meh imho after so many years on a TM HOTAS. Still fun though.

  • User profile image
    magicalclick

    I haven't tried it because I heard my friend couldn't take off without crashing on the MS Flight Sim back in the Win95 days. Flight Sim is not Crimson Skies / Or Snoopy on XBL, so..........

    Leaving WM on 5/2018 if no apps, no dedicated billboards where I drive, no Store name.
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  • User profile image
    Cream​Filling512

    Pilotwings Resort on the 3DS is lots of fun.

  • User profile image
    kettch

    @LarryLarsen: I'm not sure if the flight in DC was all that accurate, but it was difficult. You had to spend time at it and learn it. That's a major issue with most games is that they dumb it down to the lowest common denominator and make everything arcade style.

    I don't mind casual games, but sometimes I want a little more than point and click.

  • User profile image
    androidi

    DC is really hard describe for many reasons. Many account including mine suggest the mod was at most fun at the earlier versions but the "this is new and exciting" bias is very strong. Another strong bias is that when most players are new to the gameplay and there are say 30+ players in same map together, the skill levels balance out. As time goes on poor players leave and only the most devoted stay, increasing the required skill level enermously (at this point anyone new entering to the play will only see cheaters but in addition to real cheaters there's just a huge skill gap). I considered myself slightly above average level player and it stopped being fun toward the final release - presumably part due to balance changes made from 0.3 toward DC final and part to only very skillful players left (I'll dig bit deeper on this).

     

    One issue with all the BF games (that I've played) is the respawn system. It puts a heavy penalty on dying (15-30 sec out of game/death in 10-30 minute match) and when the poorer team is constanty on respawn timer you can guess it doesn't really work out in terms of everyone having some level of fun. Also having half of the players dead after one bomb drops on the right spot seriously messes up with the tempo/action element as there's going to be a lul of respawn time + getting back to action. The goal should be to maximize the time everyone is actively playing, penalty for death being simply that the team goals may not be achieved.

    I haven't completely thought about solving this but I think the solution is to drop respawn timer to 3 seconds during which you see exactly how you were killed and can choose to submit this replay to the dedicated server admin for banning the IP of the killer if he determines based on the several replay submission that it's a cheater. This handily also removes the snipers from the game leaving no option for many members of the team camp in one location for more than a minute. After you die you would respawn in location that cannot be near the one you died in.

    There should also be strong incentives against focusing on kill counts and ratios, namely, not showing at all in stats who killed how many, but instead focusing on who were doing the right thing at the right time in assisting achieving the goals. However to avoid console-arcade perception there should not be any popups/kill streaks/ingame achievements or whatever bs that are unrelated to the team goals.

     

    BF had/has problems in public servers with people running to the planes and then possibly getting team killed by those who did not get them. I did not experience this that much but have heard it was a major problem in some servers. I think the solution to this could be some type of system where you could reserve the vehicles to be available to you. eg. if you play a lot of infantry then you'll have more and more time to fly planes later or perhaps ability to get extra plane to the field when you most need it by spending more of the "points" you got by playing just infantry or medic etc. Of course this means one can't focus on solely flying but in my estimation if everyone had an Apache for themselves in DC they'd all have flown them. That might also work out if everyone had just *single* Apache available for the duration of the match so they'd have to make the best of it - which might not be during the start of the map (you'd want to go to Anti-Air station at start of the map if everyone else is in their only Apache).

     

     

    Here's a nice intro video from early DC days (not sure I'd seen this one, they changed the music and intro couple times). Sort of suggests what this game was about. Hint: Not much infantry seen.

    .

  • User profile image
    androidi

    @kettch: When the gameplay isn't really exciting/awesome/fun or lacks depth to begin with then there's need to dumb it down in order to appeal to atleast someone. The best games, like Another World, could be very short, incredibly difficult involving lot of dying/starting over, yet keep you wanting for more. Trackmania reminded me a lot of that, I wasn't much into driving games that had come before (F1GP, Nascar, that's about it).

    (Some trackmania fun, skip to 1:45 for the kind of stuff I like - after a year of play I can now do such map with relative ease. For real driving pros there's so called "tech" tracks where different type of steering/braking techniques are required to get through curves at such speed that the resulting speed is enough to keep you on the track when there's loops and jumps)

     PS. Trackmania is free to play and most all tracks are found with recorded playthroughs to learn from here http://tmnforever.tm-exchange.com/main.aspx?action=trackshow&id=2288948

  • User profile image
    LarryLarsen

    @kettch: DC felt pretty accurate to me, but not as accurate as BFV IMHO, at least for helicopters. I agree on complexity. There' s a time and place for it (certain adventures in FSX), but for the most part, I don't want to think about dropping flaps and futzing with targeting systems in a game like DC or BF.

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    spivonious

    TrackMania is one of the most fun games I've ever played. I haven't logged on in a while, but last time I played regularly I was climbing pretty high in the rankings (like in the top 10,000 in the world). I've probably dropped considerably since then.

  • User profile image
    Savfil

    EVE online + Dust 514. There's your answer.

  • User profile image
    androidi

    Found this video demonstrating loading vehicles into a transport plane (they could also have people in them during flight) in Desert Combat extended. Didn't use to be possible and new to me.

    Here's some action from the game (song from C&C).

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