There have been rumours, ideas and speculation for a long time now but we now more or less have confirmation that Eagle Dynamics is planning a Flaming Cliffs 4. We have absolutely no other details to go on right now so this entire piece is speculative. Let’s dig into it anyways and see what this might represent!
When did this come out? In one of the live streams a couple of weeks ago (and passing mostly under the radar), Matt Wagner answered the FC4 question with an affirmative which was quickly picked up on by r/hoggit and saved in a screen cap on imgur.
That confirms the planning for it but little else. It should also be noted at this stage that Matt has talked a lot about different plans that Eagle Dynamics has in the works but that may not appear for some time yet. Prime examples include the recent discussion on the F-16 and AH-64.
What might FC4 represent?
We have for a long time now had access to Flaming Cliffs 3, itself a re-release of Flaming Cliffs 2 for DCS World. Flaming Cliffs is, if you go back far enough, the culmination of years of effort from Eagle Dynamics on the Lock On: Modern Air Combat series that came out in 2003. The series primarily focused on the Su-27 and Su-33 Flanker variants as well as the F-15C, A-10A, Su-25, and MiG-29. In recent weeks, the J-11A was added to the Flaming Cliffs 3 aircraft line-up.
The Flaming Cliffs aircraft are older than most of the other modules in DCS but they are also some of the most accessible and the most popular types. Load up a multiplayer scenario and you’ll find plenty of Flankers, Frogfoots, Warthogs and Eagles flying around the skies.
The FC3 aircraft are at a unique intersection in the DCS World line-up in that they lack clickable cockpits and detailed systems fidelity but their outright flight performance and overall capabilities are modeled up at a high level. Make no mistake either, the F-15C and Su-27 in particular have PFM (or “Professional Flight Modeling”) meaning that their flight modeling accuracy is at the top end of what Eagle Dynamics can do and each of these aircraft have been given visual and accuracy related tweaks over the years. Their systems model detail may be simpler but the processes that drive these aircraft behind the scenes are very much close to the peak of Eagle Dynamics modeling abilities.
It’s actually a bit of a coup that these two levels of aircraft fidelity work as well together as well as they do. It’s not a perfect marriage but its pretty good.
Given that we know exactly what Flaming Cliffs 3 is, what might FC4 be? Let’s look at some options.
Different directions for FC4
There’s more than one way to look at this early reveal and I’d like to knock off a few right away and then focus in on one or two scenarios in more detail.
Updated clickable cockpits for FC3 aircraft
This is the first scenario that I want to briefly touch on. I actually don’t think this is likely but say Eagle Dynamics were to make at least part of the F-15C’s cockpit (as an example) clickable. Would that satisfy users who won’t go back to non-clickable cockpits? It might but it would also be a considerable effort to upgrade all of the aircraft in FC3 to DCS World standard and thus be named Flaming Cliffs 4 to denote the difference.
My suspicion on this concept is that they won’t do this and that FC 4 might be in another direction entirely.
WWII era accessible aircraft
If Eagle Dynamics is intending to make a push into WWII era aircraft, then perhaps FC4 focuses in on WWII aircraft opening the door to more types of aircraft with less systems fidelity and boosting the online scene for those with more complex types (i.e. the P-51D, Spitfire IX, Bf109K-4, and FW190D-9). This could be a mix of fighters and bombers with less system fidelity than other aircraft bringing the Bf109G-6 in at a lower fidelity level than the K-4 and twin engined bombers like the A-20G in.
I don’t particularly love this arrangement and I suspect others may have the same issues. Still, this or some sort of compromise could come in later. I don’t think that this is FC4, however, as Flaming Cliffs has established itself as a modern jet accessible side of DCS World.
So that leaves us with the potential for some more jets, true to the Flaming Cliffs sub-brand, and ready made for more modern scenarios.
There is the desire out in the DCS community for Vietnam era aircraft and that is slowly starting to happen. Belsimtek’s F-4 Phantom is sounds like it will be a bit more modern than the early 1960s Vietnam era F-4 Phantoms but it brings things much closer to that era. We’ve got the F-5 and MiG-21 with the MiG-19 on the way too.
Might Eagle Dynamics fit in a small number of Vietnam era jets not already covered by third party efforts? It could happen and, just like WWII, could open the door to more multiplayer popularity for that era of aircraft.
One counter argument is that Vietnam era jets are more likely to see the full DCS World treatment over time as they are less classified or are completely declassified at this point and getting data needed to model them at high detail levels is possible.
Double down on new modern jets
The last scenario, and the one I feel most likely, is a small selection of new modern jets circa about 2005. I say 2005 because the new DCS: F/A-18C Hornet is a Lot 20 model from about 2005 and I think that there’s possibly a connection here. Let me explain.
The Hornet is looking like it will be a very popular module as well as a very capable module once complete. DCS multiplayer is popular and competitive co-op and player versus player scenarios get a lot of attention. Eagle Dynamics has already tried to pay attention to this with their aircraft sets.
Last year, ED released the PFM version of the Su-33 and with it came a few updates to that aircraft and its carrier operations. It was, in part, an answer to the F/A-18C coming close to release and ensured that both sides had a capable fourth gen aircraft that could launch from a carrier. But the current version of the Su-33 doesn’t have all of the features that would be required to go head-to-head with the F/A-18C. I’m talking about anti-ship missiles, anti-radiation missiles and precision guided weapons.
So, with BLUEFOR offering up the F-15C, AV-8B, A-10A and C, F-14A and B, F/A-18C, JAS-37 and a potential F-16C in the near and far future, we have a lot of high end late 1990s and early 2000s jet fighters, multi-role and attack aircraft that together have a lot of added capabilities that weren’t previously available from FC3 aircraft alone.
For REDFOR, we have the Su-27, J-11A, MiG-29A and S, Su-25 and Su-25T. REDFOR has competitive fighter aircraft and the J-11A has helped push that a little further but there is a lack of a strike aircraft, SEAD/anti-radiation role or an aircraft with ship killing potential. The Su-25T is capable of the anti-ship and SEAD but it has performance limits that are particularly highlighted by the Hornet’s ability to fulfill all of these missions (sometimes at the same time) with a mach capable jet that has a high degree of maneuverability.
To address the imbalance, would an aircraft such as the Su-24, Su-30 or Su-34 as a FC4 level aircraft offer up something semi-competitive in some of these areas? Probably. There doesn’t need to be an analogous aircraft, rather a mix of types that fulfills the overall set of roles.
Although many are loath to ask for aircraft that haven’t been given the full click-pit treatment, Eagle Dynamics gets a pass in my mind here where the resources to do the aircraft at extreme levels of detail are just not possible. Given the popularity of FC3 aircraft, its clear that people are still flying them despite the simplified avionics.
So long as the modeling is realistic and the flight models are at the PFM level, would people object? Yes, probably but also not strenuously.
There are still other possibilities. Deka Ironworks has already contributed considerably to DCS World and a FC4 could be another door opening to the modern Chinese airforce. The J-11A is already in FC3 but perhaps some of their other AI types such as the J-10 and JH-7 might be added to the flyable roster.
Finally, what about a supersonic bomber like the B-1B or Tu-22? I’m sure many would be interested in flying those types into DCS multiplayer scenarios and indeed we’ve seen mods and co-op scenarios making use of these aircraft but they may be just too complex to otherwise handle at DCS World levels for now.
These are just some of the ideas floating out around there.
What are your thoughts?
DCS World’s open sandbox provides plenty of options and opportunities for future additions from just about any era. FC4 may add breadth to the modern jet experience or it may breath life into a new era – whatever the case, I’m sure we’ll find out…. eventually.