Gamers of Kent, if you go outside today and cup an ear in the direction of France, you should be able to make out a distant drone. That drone is the sound of 1000 Heinkels warming their Jumo engines. Finally, after six long years, the Battle of Britain-themed sequel to the amazing Il-2 Sturmovik is ready for take-off.
We're hoping to grab a quick Cliffs of Dover test-flight before the March 25 release date, but in the meantime we've been talking to 1C's hangar supremos Oleg Maddox and Ilya Shevchenko about the sim. Cross the HTML Channel below and you'll find information on everything from flight and damage modelling, to radar simulation and romantic sub-plots. There's a gorgeous new trailer too.
PCG: Mitchell spent less time developing the Spitfire than you've spent developing this sim. What have been the most time-consuming elements of the design?
ILYA: Everything! 3D models, the flight model, the damage model, cockpit gauges, artificial intelligence, weather, maps... they're all responsible for the long development time. We are a very small team (there's only 22 of us) and we're doing a huge team's job. Check the credits for other games, and you'll often see teams ten times the size working on games less complex than Cliffs of Dover. The general spirit of perfectionism - we're trying to make the world's best WWII flight sim - is what's responsible for the game taking as long as it did.
OLEG: Research has also been incredibly time-consuming. We are committed to making everything precise and ensuring Cliffs of Dover has a long product life.
PCG. What makes Cliffs of Dover's flight model better than Il-2's?
ILYA: Simple. The formulas process more variables and are therefore more precise. Il-2 was pretty darn close to the real thing, so the flight model in Cliffs of Dover doesn't feel drastically new. You will see the most differences at low speeds and in adverse conditions such as stalls and spins. Basically, in Il-2 we calculated simpler physics at fewer points around the aircraft. In Cliffs of Dover, we look at more parameters in more places. In reality this means a codebase that's many times larger. Our engine model alone is over 20 times the size of that of Il-2.
OLEG: All the above doesn't mean you will need to learn to fly again. In normal flight, behaviours will be comparable to the original Il-2 series.
PCG: So veterans should be able to acclimatise quickly. What about flight sim virgins? Do you think they'll find Cliffs of Dover difficult?
ILYA: We hope not. We had a great experience showing Cliffs of Dover at a Russian trade show in November. Plenty of people who'd never held a joystick before came up to our stands to try it. With our scalable realism and interactive training, most of them found it easy to get into. Of course, your personal talent and natural affinity for flight, play a larger role than in some other games.
At the show we were amazed to see a young kid, 9 years old (we asked) grab a joystick, and proceed, over the course of about two hours, to teach himself to fly. He eventually graduated to simple battles with AI-controlled bombers. His deflection shooting got better with every attack, and he actually invented decent combat tactics on the fly. He had no idea we were gathered behind him watched his antics with our jaws on the floor.
In short, if you have the desire, we give you all the tools we can think of to get started. Cliffs of Dover is probably no more difficult to master than an FPS or an RTS is to someone who's never played games of those genres.
ILYA: We love crap planes too. From a certain point of view, every plane in the Battle of Britain is a crap plane. Early Mk I Spitfires are horrible. Stukas are deathtraps when coming up against fighters. The Italian Fiat G.50 is an embarrassment in a dogfight. All in a good way of course. I personally get a great sense of enjoyment out of flying these online, especially the Stuka. Yes, I'm usually dead the second an enemy spots me, but in the rare cases I manage to get him with the rear gunner, or when I do get through to hit my target, the satisfaction is immense. Much more so than if I had barrelled in with a heavily armoured jet and flattened half the landscape.
OLEG: Agreed. In my opinion the crappiest plane from the current set of flyable aircraft is a Stuka with a heavy bomb load.
PCG: There's a Su-26 amongst the flyables. How did this modern aerobatics plane end-up in the sim?
ILYA: We thought it would be a great way to prove the fidelity of our flight model. Not too many people can get behind the controls of a Heinkel and say "Yes, this handles just like the real thing.". There are a lot of people who fly the Su-26 or similar aerobatics planes. Besides, a few of our modellers actually worked for Sukhoi back in the day, and one of them was even a member of the Su-26 design team. He designed the landing gear for the real thing, and then recreated it for us!
OLEG: Another reason we included the Su-26 is pilots from real aerobatic teams requested it. They used Il-2 for the training in the past. In Cliffs of Dover they can fly a real sport plane.
PCG: Will you ever make a flight sim that's totally free of guns?
OLEG: Probably never, though planes like the Su-26 may appear as extras in future sims. This is an interesting theme for another interview!
PCG: I'm bounced by a Bf 109 and my Spitfire takes a few cannon rounds to the wing and engine. What damage may have been caused?
ILYA: Whoa. Lots of things can happen. To put things into perspective, we have over 10 times the number of damageable components that Il-2 had. A wing of a Spitfire has a few dozen things that can be damaged: the wing surface itself, control surfaces and control lines, spars and internal structure, landing gear struts, wheel, locks, and other components, the hydraulic system, brake lines, oil cooler, the flap, flap piston, a pneumatic hose driving it, three machine guns with associated lines, ammo boxes, and so on.
So depending on where your rounds hit, any number of those items could get damaged or destroyed, with expected results. A round could fly right through leaving just two insignificant holes in the skin, it could hit a spar and detach the whole wing, it could detonate the ammo box and destroy the entire plane - or a million other possible combinations.
OLEG: And there's no difference between flyable and AI aircraft in terms of complexity for damage modelling.
PCG: Will radar installations play any role beyond providing targets for the Luftwaffe?
ILYA: Yes. Radar plays an active role in spotting and tracking enemy planes, and guiding interceptors to them. The radar can make mistakes, occasionally misidentify targets, or guide you to a wrong position. It can also help you navigate back home. When flying for the RAF you'll be hearing radar operators a lot, and probably even get used to having awesome situational awareness beyond visual range.
OLEG: There is even some attempt to simulate antenna pattern.
PCG: I hear there's romance and renegade pilots in the campaign. Care to go into details?
ILYA: I am extremely fortunate to have had a lot of contact with WWII veterans. We often seem to be on the same wavelength, and after hours or days of talking a few would end up telling me things about the war they said they had never told anyone. Both the renegade pilots and the romance angle are based on real stories.
WARNING! MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Skip to next pic if you'd rather know nothing about the role of turncoats or Cupid in the campaign
I can't offer a lot of details about the historical events behind the renegade pilot story for obvious reasons. In the game however you will experience exactly what the veteran experienced: unexpected hostility from your own squadmate, growing conflict between you, and finally having to make a choice in the air between two enemies, one of them painted in your own colours.
The romance is based on an event that happened to another veteran. He had been secretly admiring a girl that worked in the mess hall for months. She wasn't like the other girls at the airfield. Usually she wouldn't give men the time of day, but did seem to like him more than the others. She had never been in a plane in her entire life, and one day she suddenly agreed to let the gentleman take her for a ride. They met in a hangar after dark and climbed into the cockpit of a fighter that was normally a tight fit even for one. Disregarding common sense, our friend took off into the night, stealing a kiss as he did so.
Tearing herself away, the girl spotted something blue glowing in the distance. It turned out to be an enemy plane approaching their airfield. Our friend's instincts took over, he wheeled around, got on the German's tail and shot him down in flames. The girl's shrieks were even louder than the sound of his machine guns.
He landed. She ran off into the woods to hide. He got a medal. They got married. And even 63 years later, when I heard the story, they were still together and still madly in love. That particular story struck a real chord with me, and I couldn't get it out of my mind for years. I'm really happy with the way it turned out in the game.
PCG: Some simmers may be disappointed by the lack of a dynamic campaign. Is there any chance you'll add one in a future expansion?
OLEG: Given the likely shelf-life of the sim, there's sure to be dynamic campaigns created by third parties, as there was with the original Il-2. Dynamic campaigns simply can't be historical and we don't like rewriting history. Missions created lovingly by hand are always more interesting than those generated by a dynamic campaign engine.
PCG: What features do you think the big Il-2 multiplayer community are going to like most?
ILYA: Hard to say. The community is very diverse and its members enjoy the game for different reasons. Back in the heyday of Il-2 there were plenty of online servers I didn't frequent because the pilots on them played a very different game from the one I wanted to play. In Cliffs of Dover MP I personally enjoy being able to switch between aircraft. Being shot down, then taking control of my wingman and avenging myself 10 seconds later is priceless.
OLEG: I would like to add: you don't need to wait till the mission ends to begin the new one. You can now jump in any AI-controlled aircraft and continue (assuming there's no restrictions in the mission settings).
PCG: Where next for the Cliffs of Dover engine? The Med? The Eastern Front? Korea?
OLEG: I can't tell you the exact area or name of the title yet (market factors will have a say) but I personally prefer the Med.
PCG: Thanks chaps.