Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator
Why are you doing Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator now?
Consumers have asked for it. People are waiting for this product. We have been working with Flight Simulator for 16 years, and particularly during the last few years every time a new version came out consumers, software resellers and the press would ask us the same question: "When are you going to have guns in Flight Simulator? We finally did it this year, but instead of just adding guns to Flight Simulator we have created a brand new product, that we think will be the only air combat product worthy of the Microsoft Flight Simulator name.
Why are you calling it Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator?
Because we think that this the only WWII air combat product worthy of the "Flight Simulator" name and in many ways it is the next version of Flight Simulator. There are several reasons for that. The Flight Simulator team has also developed this new product. Most of the aeronautical engineers, pilots and programmers on Combat Flight Simulator have worked on several versions of Flight Simulator. Combat Flight Simulator features the same detailed attention to individual airplane flight physics and instrumentation as Microsoft Flight Simulator. Users will enjoy flying over improved realistic scenery, including the major cities and landmarks, just like they do in Flight Simulator. Lastly the expansion possibilities are endless because users will be able to import aircraft and scenery created for Flight Simulator, so the possibilities are endless. We believe the Combat Flight Simulator will become a "platform" for air combat simulations, just like Flight Simulator is the platform for civilian flight.
What is the goal of Combat Flight Simulator?
The goal is to provide the closest experience to being a WWII fighter pilot. Most aviation and WWII fans have read pilot stories where a pilot tried specific flight maneuver in a combat situation and something happened. We are giving users a way to recreate those "historical flight moments". Since most people will not have a chance to fly a Focke-Wulf or a Spitfire in real life, Combat Flight Simulator will be the closest they will ever get to "being a WWII fighter pilot".
What will separate Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator from the rest of the other upcoming WWII air combat games?
The list of items is very long, but here are the three key ones:
Combat Flight Simulator offers the most realistic flight models of any air combat game. While other games are mainly "aim and shoot", in Combat Flight Simulator you will need to know how to fly your plane to be able to win. Knowing your plane's strengths and weaknesses is critical if you want to dominate your opponent. This realism extends to the instrumentation of the aircraft.
You will be flying over realistic scenery that you know. We are modeling the whole area between London and Berlin. You will find the key landmarks in each of these cities. Lakes, rivers and major roads will be there. Since the scenery is geographically correct, you can navigate by following a river or by following the coast. The Combat Flight Simulator scenery is a preview of some of the technology that will be used in Flight Simulator 2000.
Combat Flight Simulator is built with the same open architecture that Flight Simulator has. Users can import and export scenery and aircraft from Flight Simulator. For example users can bring any of the Flight Simulator-compatible user created aircraft into Combat Flight Simulator. Also scenery created for Flight Simulator can be imported. So effectively, Combat Flight Simulator will become the platform for air combat simulations.
Why do you say the Combat Flight Simulator has "most realistic flight model" of any WWII air combat simulation?
First of all, we bring our flight modeling experience from Microsoft Flight Simulator. We have been doing flight models for 16 years. We took a Flight Simulator flight engine and created a new piston engine model.
This new engine model takes flight model realism to a new level because it correctly recreates many high-end flight details. It correctly models torque and propeller effects such as drag from a windmilling prop and different prop directions, for each of the aircraft. It also models supercharging, critical altitudes and high-speed phenomena such as aileron reversal and compressibility.
Engine performance correctly changes at different altitudes – including unique supercharging behavior for each plane. Because we also model the entire atmosphere, you can actually see in the game how certain planes fly faster and better at certain altitudes. For example, the P51 is a great high altitude fighter because it had a great supercharger. Its top speed is attained at 25,000 feet. The Bf-109's supercharger, on the other hand, wasn't as good so its top speeds were reached at 13,000 feet.
Aircraft drag changes depending on external stores – the number and position of external rockets and or bombs. So a fully loaded Spitfire Mark IX will behave dramatically different from a non-loaded one.
The end result is that users will experience all the flight characteristics in the simulation just as they would if they were flying the planes in real life. This is the closest that many people will get to fly those airplanes. We are making it as close as possible to the real experience.
Can you tell us some concrete examples that users will easily experience that show the realism of the flight models in the simulation?
One example is that the Spitfire Mk. I, with its gravity-fed-carburetor engine, would cut out if the nose was pushed down into negative G forces, or if flown inverted too long.
Hydraulic damaging is modeled. If you take hits and start to lose your hydraulic system your flaps may stop working or you might not be able to get your landing gear down.
We also modeled oil viscosity. If you take damage and start to lose oil pressure, your engine temperature will rise and depending on the leak rate (which is dependent on the amount of damage sustained) you might lose all your oil and seize the engine.
What were some of your sources of data for the flight models?
We gathered historical data from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum as well as other sources. We also used some government documents from NACA (predecessor to NASA) that detailed the specifications of German aircraft that had been captured. Data documents included original wind tunnel specs, engineering documentation, pilot's handbooks, as well as anecdotal information from WWII pilots. The whole idea was to have data that defined how a plane flew and performed.
In Flight Simulator, the product obtained validations and endorsements from Cessna, Learjet and FlightSafety, will Combat Flight Simulator be "certified" by WWII pilots?
Yes, right now we are working with a WWII pilot organization in the United States and with aces such as Jack Stafford from New Zealand. Also our development team is very lucky to have a pilot, Beth Oliver, who has flown a P-51. Having her as a resource every day is great. In addition, we want to work with a select list of European WWII pilots to get their "stamp of approval".
What aircraft can users fly in Combat FS?
We have 8 user-flyable planes: Hawker Hurricane Mk I, the Supermarine Spitfire Mark I,, the Messerschmitt Bf 109E and G, the Focke-Wulf 190 A8, Spitfire Mark IX, the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt and the North American P-51D Mustang.
Will each aircraft have its own instrument panels?
Definitely, we will have high-resolution 2-D instrument panels, Flight Simulator-quality and 3-D virtual cockpits with functioning gauges. The instrument panel in each aircraft is modeled after its real-world counterpart, including metric gauges on the panels of the German planes.
How do you ensure the historical accuracy of the aircraft?
We have one person in the development team whose sole job is to ensure that the product is historically accurate. In addition we have many WWII fans and we have many real pilots in the team.
How does the Artificial Intelligence of the enemy aircraft work?
The artificial intelligence is based on a sophisticated sighting system. Enemy planes have to "see" you to be able to attack you. The system takes into account the visual range of the enemy pilots, realistic visual arc and the relative distance and position of the target plane. Just like in real war, if an enemy plane "sneaks" behind your back, you are probably dead". We are modeling what so many WWII pilots say: "Most times you did not know that an enemy plane was around until you got hit". Experience level of the enemy plane matters. Aces are better at "seeing" enemy planes than "rookies". Users are expected to face a mix of aces, average pilots, and novices in battle.
Another realistic feature of the AI is target fixation. If you see a plane pursuing another target it's going to be a lot easier to sneak up and get some good shots off while they are preoccupied.
Will the enemy planes have any advantage over the users?
We run our AI planes through the same physics engines as players so you won't see the AI pilot pulling off any impossible stunts. What we do is choose a flight stick position, and then have the plane react accordingly based on the same flight model. So we are calculating flight stick positions for every artificial intelligence-governed plane. You'll see very realistic maneuvers from the AI pilots. You can hit the pilot and kill him and the plane will react as if the pilot died and lost control of his flight stick.
How many skill levels will the Artificial Intelligence planes have?
There are five AI skill levels but there will always be a realistic mix consisting of aces, fair pilots and inexperienced newbies that inevitably get shot down on their first mission. All of this difference between pilots – the advanced pilots taking advantage of the lesser pilots – will lead to a lot of interesting things.
AI pilots will also prioritize targets through a points system. If they settle on a target and something else comes along that looks more promising, they'll change their minds. Just like real fighter pilots would. They will also try to run away in some cases when they are severely damaged.
All the computer piloted bombers have individual gun stations that in turn have their own set of ranges and visibility. Bring your Bf-109 in fast and strafe across the side of a B-24 and you might just take out the gunners. Fly in between two bombers and they might accidentally shoot each other.
One of the strengths of Microsoft Flight Simulator has been that users can see and recognize the cities and areas they fly over, is that also being brought into Combat Flight Simulator?
Definitely, we think users will enjoy experiencing exciting air combat over historical locations or over their favorite European landmark. For example they can have a dogfight over the British fields, the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenberg gate, or the Tower Bridge in London. Also they can try to destroy ground targets, including British radar towers and German submarine pens.
What can you tell me about the scenery?
Combat Flight Simulator uses 16-bit color scenery, a preview of the next generation Flight Simulator. All the textures of the scenery are based on real terrain data. You'll look down over Europe and see the correct cities, landmarks, major roads, railroads, and rivers and lakes. You won't see repeating textures. If you had to, you could navigate by visual landmarks. For example, if you were flying and became lost you could follow a river, a railroad track or a roadway to your target or base airstrip.
Does the Combat Flight Simulator terrain have elevation?
Yes, Combat FS will have terrain elevation. There is a 3D mesh over everything with elevated areas and rolling hills. In Flight Simulator 98 we only had 3D mesh for certain areas such as Las Vegas. This 3D elevation mesh is a preview of some of the scenery technology that we will use in future versions of Flight Simulator.
How does the damage model work? How is it tied to aircraft performance?
The damage modeling is incredibly detailed and is directly linked to aircraft performance. Each plane has dozens of hit boxes and each one is tied to specific aircraft systems and damage probabilities.
When a bullet hits a plane, that bullet will only damage whatever system is located in that area. Hit a wing and you could damage fuel or hydraulic systems, control cables or the surface area of the wings in general. So you could realistically fire one lucky shot and kill the pilot right off, or fire 20 rounds and the plane gets away because you somehow missed all the important systems. Terminally damage a plane and it will descend into a death spiral, or possibly explode outright.
Your planes radio, guns, various control cables, oil, hydraulic and fuel reservoirs, structural surfaces – basically everything, can be damaged into relative degrees of non-performance. The oil reservoir can leak, guns can jam, radio can blow out, your port wingtip structure can get ripped off, and your rudder control cable can break – and those are just a few examples.
There are many different events that could occur if, for example, your engine is shot. That damage could lead to any number of important fluids (hydraulic, oil, coolant) leaking, cause a fire or just cause the plane to blow up. This is all dependent on where the bullets hit and how much damage is done. Plus, you will actually see the damage caused to your plane visually with damaged parts, different color and amounts of smoke, actual fire and so on.
How are the weapons modeled?
Each aircraft is armed with accurately reproduced weaponry. Realistic firing trajectories are based on weight of each type of bullet, right down to fractions of an ounce. You can tailor your load to each mission. Rockets, the V1 for example, and bombs that have their own flight model, which means that air temperature changes, altitude and speed could have contrary affects on accuracy. Firing bullets affects plane weight and flight behavior. Aircraft drag is affected by the position of external rockets and bombs.
If you descend into a bombing run and drop your 500-pound bomb your plane will "pop up" with the reaction of losing that payload. If the guns on the right wing become jammed while the left wing continues to fire normally, you'll use more ammo and lighten the load in the left wing so the weight will realistically shift in the plane.
What kind of missions will Combat Flight Simulator have?
There will be 2 campaigns: Battle of Britain (July – November 1940) and the Battle over Europe (1943 – 1945). Each campaign will be made up of missions that can be flown from the Axis or the Allied side. An accurate scoring system helps you win medals and promotions.
There are both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions in the game. There will be plenty of landing strips, where the good pilots will be able to land even after their plane got damaged. We also included industrial targets, so users can destroy things on the ground.
We created many historically accurate missions. We did a lot of research and incorporated anecdotal information about real missions from what combat pilots of that time have written about.
We have added some "fun" missions to the mix for more gameplay. And while these aren't based on any historical records, they are realistically feasible. For example, you'll never be asked to use the Spitfire Mk. I for ground attack, since it was almost exclusively a dogfighting aircraft.
One of the missions we are working on that isn't based on any historical data is a ground attack mission where you need to fly your P51 into Paris and attack an Allied General's car. Unfortunately for you, the car is part of a parade and is camped under the Eiffel Tower. We put collision boxes on the tower supports so you'll need to be a pretty good pilot to fly under the tower and strafe the parade. Did I mention that there will be gunboats on the Seine River shooting at you all the while?
Another fun mission will involve attacking and destroying a train before it reaches a railway station. You'll need to fly in low and strafe the moving train while open box cars filled with AA guns are returning fire. If you venture too close to the railway station, you'll be shot out of the sky by numerous AA guns. It's definitely a challenge.
And still one more example involves rescuing a downed pilot. You begin the mission with the pilot already loaded in the little cubbyhole behind the seat or your P51 or P47. You'll need to take off with a short runway because of all the smoking German vehicle wreckage. Right away you'll have four bandits on your tail. If you can make it 20 km, two other P51s'll reinforce you.
Basically, they are a lot of fun and while not based on historical records, they do represent the kind of "targets of opportunity" for ground attacks that real British and American pilots experienced. In fact, we're incorporating a lot of mission ideas that we received as feedback from consulting WWII pilots like Jack Stafford, a New Zealand ace that flew during WWII.
One of the challenges of a WWII air combat simulation is providing good "situational awareness", how are you accomplishing that?
We provide a variety of fixed views, padlock view, enemy direction indicator, waypoint navigational aids, radar views, virtual cockpits where you can pan around and a heads-up display. You can also open detachable windows to get a rear view mirror or an external plane view.
Can you tell us how the special effects such as explosions and debris play a role in the simulation?
Special effects such as explosions, debris, smoke, muzzle flashes, sparks and fire make Combat Flight Simulator visually exciting. We have also kept the realism in the special effects. To do so we previewed tons of gun camera footage and tried to recreate those visuals as best we could. One example of the realism is that explosions have their correct radii. Debris from an exploding aircraft is "physical" and can damage your plane. Fire is corrosive. Your burning aircraft's damage level increases as fire burns through the plane. We calculate fire temperatures that then affect the smoke expansion rates from a burning plane.
We created several types of smoke. For example if an enemy hits your coolant system you will see white smoke. If your engine is shot, then you get black smoke. You can see different levels of smoke movement, from puffs for light damage to thick smoke for burning aircraft.
Overall we want Combat FS to "shine" in the visual feedback area. Users will be able to know what is happening to the planes just by watching.
Can you use Flight Simulator aircraft in Combat Flight Simulator?
Yes, we wanted to leverage one of Flight Simulator's key strengths, its expandability. We used the same Flight Simulator open architecture system in Combat FS. The rule is that if you can use it in Flight Simulator 98, you can use it with Combat Flight Simulator. Users will be able to import any of the Flight Simulator 98 aircraft or any of the user-created planes that work with Flight Simulator 98. That means that you can bring thousands of aircraft into Combat Flight Simulator.
We have created a transfer system where you can attach a damage and weapon system to the planes that you import into Combat Flight Simulator. So if you want to import FS98's Boeing 737 into Combat FS, you probably want to attach the B-17 damage model and weapon system. If you import an F-16, you may end up using a damage model from a Hurricane or Focke-Wulf. The benefit is that your imported plane can shoot and it can be damaged.
It's very exciting to see an F-18 zooming by a Spitfire or a P-51 blowing up a DC-3 over 1940s Berlin. We expect the third-party community to support Combat Flight Simulator just like they have helped make Flight Simulator the phenomenon it is today.
Can you bring the Combat Flight Simulator planes into Flight Simulator?
You can bring any Combat FS aircraft and fly around, but Flight Simulator does not support shooting or damage so you can't destroy other planes in that simulation.
Can you import Flight Simulator scenery into Combat Flight Simulator?
Yes, you can. You can have a dog fight over Las Vegas or New York city as they looked in the 1990s.
Can users create or import missions?
Even though there is no menu driven mission editor, we will provide a non-supported tool that uses a spreadsheet to create text mission files. Users will be able to create their own missions. Gamers will be able to exchange those missions with each other.
What kind of latest technologies will Combat Flight Simulator support?
Force Feedback peripherals (joysticks and flight yokes) technology.
Multiplayer over the internet for up to 8 simultaneous players.
Combat Flight Simulator will take advantage of but will not require 3D acceleration cards and chips.
What kind of audio will users hear?
The product will feature realistic radio transmissions, digital audio for each aircraft, wind noise, in-cockpit ambience sound, water impact sounds and positional 3D audio so you can tell when an enemy planes flies by from left to right or which wheel touches the ground first on a landing.
Since knowing how to fly your aircraft is important, do you provide any kind of flight training or instruction?
Combat Flight Simulator includes "training missions", where users will see a video of an air combat maneuver, for example how to do a bombing mission, and then they will try performing it, while they receive feedback from a virtual instructor. Maneuvers are classified into basic and advanced. In addition, we have multimedia content that will provide aircraft and flight information.
What other "Microsoft Flight Simulator-like" features are included in Combat Flight Simulator?
You have weather effects, time-of-day (dawn, dusk, day or night) effects, going to specific latitude and longitude location. Also users can go into a "Free Flight" mode, where they can fly around and see 1940s Europe.
Can users attempt realistic landings?
Yes, and that may be really challenging. One good example is landing the Messerschmitt Bf-109. This particular plane had a very narrow set of landing gear so it was real hard to take off and land. This is all reflected in the flight model by using narrower points of contacts between the wheels and strut. This in turn makes this plane more difficult to balance so it's harder to take off and land just as it was harder to do in real life.
Other users will prefer trying to land a badly damaged P-47. Half the fun may be surviving the battle, returning home and landing the plane is the other half. The simulation will use the sounds and the force-feedback to let you know which wheel has touched the ground first.
Can you customize your controls?
You can choose from the Microsoft Flight Simulator-style keyboard layout, or use the typical keyboard layout for other popular air combat games. Combat Flight Simulator works with dozens of, joysticks and flight yokes--and you can fully customize the buttons and controls.
Will you include a manual with the product?
Yes, we will include a fully illustrated, highly detailed 200+ page manual that will be localized in several languages. We will also include a map of the theater so users can track their progress.