Earlier today, Jason Williams, IL-2’s Lead Producer, took to the forums and Facebook to say that the future of IL-2 would be announced this Friday. In the subsequent hours the community has been rife with speculation and its my turn to take a shot at what is coming next and how things might go. Buckle up!
Everything up to now
In September 2016 we got a big announcement on the future of IL-2 at that stage with Jason Williams taking over as Lead Producer and announcing a course correction for the series. Unpopular unlock features were removed, major single player systems like Scripted Campaigns and a new Career mode were promised (still waiting on that last one), and a grand vision for the series was announced.
The ‘Spirit of ’46’ was the goal. Of course this was referring to the IL-2: 1946, a release generally hailed as one of the most complete and authentic World War II flight sim experiences around. Nothing short of recreating that experience in the next gen product was the goal. Part of that was to expand the horizons by introducing new theaters and move away from the East Front for a while.
At the time the goal was to do one more Eastern Front release with IL-2: Battle of Kuban. Kuban was ideal utilizing shared assets from earlier titles while allowing the team to develop new technology – ocean, complex warships, and torpedoes were all part of that development.
The next stop after that was to shift away from the Eastern Front to the Pacific and do one of the key battles of that series: Midway. Jason announced that despite caution from higher-ups that they were intending to go for the Midway battle first doing one of the biggest carrier battles of the war and follow that up with a late war Okinawa title immediately after.
At the moment, this is what we know of the future from official announcements. Now you’re caught up. Let’s read between some lines!
Is the future in doubt?
There are two parts of doubting the future of the series. The first, and the most pessimistic viewpoint, is that development will cease on the IL-2 series. I’ve seen people in the community worry about that since the announcement and at this point I think its unfounded. I have enough insight to say that its extremely unlikely and if you read between the lines – there’s plenty of evidence that its likely not the case either.
What about the shift to the Pacific? That future is in a little more doubt and I’ll start with a statement from Jason back in May that has stuck with me:
So, let’s talk about what happens after Kuban for a moment. When we announced battle of Kuban I made it clear that our intention (assuming it is possible) was to do something different, something many have asked for that would shake up the norm – The Pacific Theater starting with the Battle of Midway. It’s been over a decade since a new Pacific themed product was developed and I hope we can change this. After much research and thought we have come to understand that this will be an extreme challenge for us on every front.
It is such a challenge because we need to create large capital ships like aircraft carriers and their accompanying technology as well as create Japanese built airplanes. The Japanese airplanes pose the greatest challenge because we know little about their operation and there is not a lot of detailed documentation in either English or Russian. There is quite a bit in Japanese, but that means we need translators who can helps us which adds to our budgetary expenses in an already tight budget. This has added a new level of complexity we have not dealt with before. This is important to understand because the community has certain expectations of what level of fidelity we can achieve based on our previous products. Meeting those expectations with our Japanese airplanes might be very hard both in the visual realm and in the flight dynamics. For us to make the Pacific product a reality and worthy of the Sturmovik name we need your help. We cannot possibly locate everything we need ourselves.
There’s a possibility that the developers have been unable to locate all of the resources they need to build the Midway battle. In the past I’ve done research on Japanese aircraft and aircraft armaments and the resources are extremely hard to come by – at least, in English. Translators can be very expensive too.
Pacific Fighters got away by not being quite as high fidelity as it could have been and when it launched it was rife with errors that took months and years to correct (the Ki-61 for example didn’t have the right armament for the first two Pacific Fighters patches). Not everyone noticed but many Japanese aircraft were carrying around slightly erroneous armament for ages (the Zero had MG-FF from the Bf109 instead of the related but different performing Type 99-1 or Type 99-2 cannon – small differences add up). And those were the easy things. Modeling detailed flight models need drag models, wing planforms, and untold number of details to get right.
So what might be coming in the future
There are a couple of possibilities. The first is, of course, that the series will carry on the intended route as laid out by Jason in September 2016. If it doesn’t, I think its only fair to say that the developers made a credible and honest plan for the future and that issues outside of their control made that route untenable. We don’t know if that’s true or not yet but its one possibility.
If Midway goes ahead according to plan then that’s one thing for sure. Expect a detailed recreation of the Midway battle with carriers, cruisers, destroyers, support ships and the like fighting it out over mostly open ocean and of course the Midway island itself. Aircraft like the A6M2 Zero and F4F Wildcat, SBD-3 Dauntless and D3A Val, B5N Kate and TBD Devastator would likely be the aircraft that line up for this possible future.
But what if its not?
There was a little hint dropped that could be nothing but it might be something. You’ve heard that old tale before probably.
In Developer Diary update 178, the developers detailed a new metal rendering feature.
The second new feature is related to the look of the bare metal parts on various aircraft – in the future, we plan to make planes that weren’t painted and had a polished or matte aluminum finish. The metal parts on lend-lease planes P-40E-1, Spitfire Mk.Vb, P-39L-1 and A-20B and Italian MC.202 ser.8 (which also has a bare metal skin) will look even more realistic and authentic.
The example used was the MC.202 which was a great test-bed for the technology given its essentially all-metal construction.
You can easily read this update to say that they are improving the metal rendering now for some project further into the future but you can also read it to mean that its something they are planning to do now.
So, what aircraft do you tend to see that are typically unpainted? Really this leaves me with two potential possibilities. Western Front 1944-45 and Korea. Right now I feel like Korea is less likely – the series has prided itself on doing World War II and the fan base is more centered there. Jason and Han both talked about potentially doing Korea in the future but that they wouldn’t go there until they were satisfied with their work on World War II related scenarios.
That leaves us potentially with a Western Front scenario. Normandy? Battle of the Bulge? Italy? These are potential scenarios and they open the door to bare-metal Mustangs, Thunderbolts, and Lightnings as some possible aircraft.
That would make me pretty excited. Equally exciting would be the potential to fly the later versions of the Spitfire like the definitive Mark IX an the high performing Mark XIV. Being a British-plane lover I’d also love to see the Typhoon, Tempest and Mosquito as potential types as well. The door also opens to other aircraft like later models of the A-20 like the G variant with the solid nose and 6x.50cal machine guns. Or what about the B-25 (in RAF service) and the B-26 (in USAAF service). These are all tactical aircraft that would easily fit into the IL-2 series.
Heavy bombers like the Lancaster, Halifax, B-17 and B-24 are less likely given their enormous size and the research required to do them. They are also strategic weapons and the IL-2 series doesn’t support the kind of maps that would be required to let you fly one on a multi-hour mission. More importantly, do people want that experience? Maybe some but a lot don’t though I can’t discount either the concept of flying abridged missions – the 1CGS team can do a lot here depending on their vision and the resources they have available.
Even without a heavy bomber, the series West Front jump would likely interest many (this guy right here for sure) and the tactical air war over France, Belgium and Germany during 1944 and 1945 were just as intense as the fighting in the East. The Luftwaffe was on its back heel to be sure but still dangerous. In multiplayer battles the historical numbers would matter a less while the popularity of aircraft types and the backdrop itself would matter that much more.
We’ll know soon
All of this speculation is fun but it will quickly become out of date as the major announcement comes at 12:00 GMT this Friday. We’ll likely learn about the release date for IL-2: Battle of Kuban, potential info on pre-orders for the Bf109G-6 and La-5FN Collector Planes, and very likely the immediate future for the series will be known.
Is the future in doubt? A little bit but not in a bad way. I think Jason Williams and team have done a superb job of bringing IL-2 along in the last year and a half turning the corner on some troublesome issues and making this into an incredible simulator. It’s become more compelling a product with each patch and each major release.
I’m optimistic and I’m excited. No matter what happens I have a lot of faith that we’ll see some really cool things coming soon.
TL;DR? The series future isn’t likely in doubt but its direction might be.
What do you think? Excited? Disappointed about a possible change in direction?