In early September when Jason Williams from 1CGS/777 Studios announced IL-2: Battle of Kuban he also laid out a development plan that potentially stretches over the next 2-3 years. In that plan he mentioned “Spirit of ’46” and I wanted to write a little about what that means to me and how the folks at 1CGS may intend to achieve it.
Looking back at IL-2: 1946
The history of the original IL-2 series is a bit convoluted. In short, the series started with a small set of aircraft based around the Eastern Front and the IL-2 attack aircraft. The series gradually expanded from modelling just a few aircraft to encompassing a whole selection of aircraft across four different theaters. Some of this was done with distinct purpose, the IL-2: Forgotten Battles release in 2003 was followed up with the Ace Expansion pack in 2004, Pacific Fighters (also 2004), and IL-2: 1946 in 2006. In between there were a couple of releases including Pe-2 and IL-10 which were rolled into the final IL-2: 1946 release.
What IL-2: 1946 became was the definitive World War II combat flight simulator – a detailed but expansive look at the World War II theater from nearly as many perspectives as possible. There were gaping holes in some theaters but it was possible for pilots to sign on to a multiplayer server and experience the range of combat from the late 1930s through to the end of 1945 (and beyond with what-if 1946 prototypes). You could jump easily from a mission over the D-Day beaches of Normandy to the skies of Midway and on to the tank battles of Kursk. Over time, thanks to Maddox Games (the original developer) and various third party efforts, the game gathered an impressive list of aircraft. That list continues to slowly develop with the efforts of Team Daidalos – a third party group tasked with “official” updates and by the efforts of modders working on the game at varying levels.
What the IL-2 series brought to the table was diversity of experience with fighters, bombers, dive-bombers, twin-engine aircraft, four-engine heavy bombers (eventually), unique prototypes and mainline aircraft. A player could experience the exotic Me163 Komet (a rocket powered interceptor) and then jump into an Avia B-534 bi-plane on the very next mission. Every historical matchup from the Tempest and FW190D-9 to the Wildcat vs the Zero was there.
IL-2: 1946 had something for every type of flyer and that, combined with a solid multiplayer community and single player campaign developer group, made the game accessible to so many players. It was daunting in terms of its scope but the community helped to bridge that gap.
What Jason Williams seems to want to do is open up a similar path to players offering a range of experience across multiple fronts and theaters. It was item on on his development plan.
Build the technology and features the community wants to see in our products and try to re-capture some of the magic that made the original Sturmovik so much fun. We call it the “Spirit of ‘46”.
The same but different
The second generation IL-2 has had its share of ups and downs. The engine technology behind it is impressive, having already had several years of development with Rise of Flight, and the first two entries in the series have been successful if not outright hits. Battle of Moscow and Stalingrad are excellent content packages built on an excellent engine and a good but not great gameplay experience.
The series so far has some of what IL-2 offered – a diversity of aircraft experience. The guys at 1CGS have been more focused in their approach and that has let them choose aircraft that fit a particular battle in a way that the original IL-2 developers did not. When you purchase Stalingrad, Moscow, or the upcoming Kuban you’ll have a full set of aircraft able to do nearly every role possible from fighter to bomber to attacker. With the release of the Ju52 you’ll also be able to for the first time fly as a transport pilot. Recon duties will probably be something arriving later on too.
The cost has gone up compared to the late release of IL-2 1946. Although many of us purchased each pack of the original IL-2 series as it went along (usually paying the full retail price around $69.99). You could pick up IL-2: 1946 later on for as little as $10 and that enabled a lot of people to get a ton of content for a very low price. But people also need to remember that the game was already well developed and paid for by that point. The earlier adopters paid full price and that goes for the new IL-2 series too.
How do we get from here to there?
Williams has already said that they want to expand from the current Eastern Front focus to encompass more of the war. In the Q&A session he hosted a few weeks ago, he said that they would love to do the entire war, however, time and money is always an issue and they will have to go slowly.
After Kuban is finished, the team is intending to move to the Pacific and do a detailed flight simulator approach to carrier operations. Expanding the theater from Eastern to the Pacific goes part of the way towards opening up that diversity of experience. Flying over snowy steppes and then on to tropical islands of the Pacific was always a great way to really broaden the appeal.
The series also needs to expand on experiences. A dedicated chat room and community hangout within the multiplayer screen, the ability to organize ad-hoc co-op missions, and an easier to use mission builder would go a long way towards achieving that Spirit of ’46. New features like the newly announced Marshal system should also be a way to make the game more appealing to squads and organized multiplayer matches.
These are the kinds of moves that legends are built on and the original IL-2 series slowly over the course of several years developed into a spectacular product with unparalleled depth. The second generation of IL-2 series has great potential and if the goals of Jason Williams can be realized, perhaps it will truly succeed the original and, if we’re lucky, eclipse it over time.