Community Q&A: Zelly from Hoggit’s Georgia-at-War

Welcome to the first ever Stormbirds Community Q&A which I intend to hopefully fill out with many more Community Q&A features in the near future. For this inaugural Q&A, I talked to Hoggit’s Georgia-at-War architect Zelly. You’ll frequently find Zelly helping players on the Hoggit Discord, adding cool new features to Georgia-at-War’s ongoing scenario, or playing DCS on this relatively new server to the DCS World community.

I reached out to Zelly to see if he’d be interested in talking about what the server is all about and a little about his flight sim experiences too. He was and so here we are with the first of what I hope will be many Q&As! Let’s get to it!

Georgia-at-War Server

F-18-Uzi9-1-MERGED
Flying BARCAP, this is my Hornet (call sign Uzi 9-1), downing a hostile MiG-21 before it can get in among a friendly strike package.

Before I get to the actual Q&A I thought the best way to get started here was to give everyone a picture of what Hoggit’s Georgia-at-War server is all about. It should make the Q&A make a lot more sense if you aren’t familiar with the server.

GAW is a PvE (or player versus enemies) server featuring a scripted AI commander and AI aircraft, helicopters, and vehicles that actively play against the human players on the server. The server saves the state of the mission so progress against the AI commander can be saved and persist over time. The human team, flying primarily NATO aircraft, have to team up to fly different missions including CAP, CAS, strike, interdiction, and more.

Ka-50-sunsetbank
Helicopters like this Ka-50 are just as important on this server as the fast jets are.

While some duke it out in the skies above, other players fly helicopters close to the ground, deploying troops, capturing FARPs (forward arming and refueling point), and setting up SAM sites. The ultimate objective is taking all of the enemy territory and capturing the enemy’s main base at Maykop.

The server also features its own web based GCI map showing what is happening on the server in real time, it uses SRS for realistic radio communications, and it has support for most modern DCS World aircraft including aircraft from the Flaming Cliffs 3 pack, the freely available Su-25T, Ka-50, UH-1, AJS-37, F/A-18C, M-2000C, AV-8B, and more.

GAW-map

Now that you know a little about Georgia-at-War, let’s get to that Q&A with Zelly!

A short Q&A with Zelly

How long have you been playing DCS and when did you first get started with flight simming?

“I’ve been playing DCS since 2011 a few months after it released on Steam.  In terms of flight simming in general? Basically from as long as I can remember,  I’d always been fascinated by flight, my mom subscribed me to this monthly digest thing that I think National Geographic put together that would have information about a particular military aircraft with a bunch of pictures and history about it. I think she did this after I saw Top Gun or Iron Eagle or something similar to that and I loved it. This was before I even knew what the internet was, and it certainly didn’t have the amount of information in 1991 that it does today, so that subscription was a huge driver of my interest in aircraft. I got my first computer a couple of years later, and when I saw Flight Simulator 4.0 when walking through Wal-Mart I knew there was no way I was leaving the store until I badgered my mom into getting it for me.”

Su-25T-GAW-flares
An Su-25T deploying flares while attacking a known enemy SAM location.

How did Georgia at War get started and when?

“The current form of Georgia at War is actually our third attempt at it.  Around 2015 or so I was really into League of Legends, and a couple of other of our staff were into Dota 2, So we tried to recreate that MOBA style of gameplay in a DCS mission.  Basically the code would keep up with who owned what airbase, and it would at regular intervals spawn ground forces who would march onto whatever their next airfield to capture was.  You could attack side objectives to spawn extra ground forces. It was a lot of fun, but we really couldn’t get it to work within the DCS framework at the time, it was PvP, so convincing people to fly Red aircraft was difficult because all the fun stuff was NATO, and on top of that technical and personal  issues sidelined the project for a long time.

Around February 2018 we got an offer from someone to sponsor a dedicated server for us, and in the past when we’d had a dedicated server we have a training mission that we would keep up 24/7, but this time we wanted to do something a little different.  Falcon BMS is kind of the gold standard when it comes to dynamic experiences in a flight combat sim, so we asked ourselves if we could take the scripting engine that DCS provides and at the very least do enough to kind of emulate that experience. It is a bit shallow in comparison, but in terms of that feeling of teamwork and progression we really nailed it.  I think our first official run was sometime in May or June this year.”

A-10C-GAW-fullload.jpg
A well loaded A-10C departs Anapa enroute to the target area.

What kind of experience are you hoping to offer to players who fly on the server?

“The biggest factor is we want it to feel like whatever it is you’re doing, at whatever skill level you’re at, you’re making a positive contribution to the end goal, which is to capture the AI commander’s main airfield.  Strike aircraft clear out airfields and warehouse objectives, logistics players capture and fortify those airfields, CAP players provide the overhead cover for the whole operation and defeat enemy interception missions. There’s basically a role for anything you’d want to be able to do in DCS.  Another big goal is to ensure that you don’t have to be a veteran player to have an impact. Newer players can clear out armor columns and other low risk targets closer to the home base, and they are still helping out the overall effort by creating safe passage for helicopters to work and deploy troops.  As they develop confidence and skills they can progress into doing deeper strikes where enemy CAP and air defences pose more of a threat, or even do some other roles like SEAD or CAP.

Community is another big experience you get with GAW.  We don’t force radio communication, but our players love that we’re so active on SimpleRadio or in the Discord voice chat.  We occasionally have some real world AWACS and ATC guys that’ll run operations, and they love it because they basically get some free practice, and the players love it because they are getting an authentic experience.  It definitely is something to behold when it’s all working together, it’s a true VATSIM like experience in DCS.

And I guess the last thing is that true to Hoggit’s original mission, we focus on getting new players up to speed in multiplayer without the intimidation that comes with playing with other online communities.  We take that very seriously, we work very hard to ensure that anyone looking for help with something gets it, and if people make mistakes or don’t know something, we try to figure out how to fix that, even in the midst of operations in GAW you’ll see groups of people split off on their own radio channels tutoring newer players.”

MiG-31-GAW-hostileCAP
One of many AI controlled aircraft given orders by an AI commander.

Where did the AI “commander” idea come from and how much effort was put into making that work?

“The idea just kinda came organically, we were making a bunch of code that decides what it wants to do based on variables, and eventually we just centralized a bunch of code we had making spawning decisions into one function that we eventually ended up calling the “Russian Commander”.  He’s got a bit of personality as well, it comes out in some of our internal processing (he has a very poor temper, you see, and when things go wrong he says some rather vulgar things in our logging), and maybe we’ll add some voice acting in the future based on what he’s up to and based on how the players are doing.  I don’t want to say that an inordinate amount of effort went into it, it just kinda was the natural way of us solving the problem of adding dynamic objectives to the mission and this was a way we had a little fun with the concept.”

F-18-andhog-Anapa-ramp.jpg
An A-10C and F/A-18C on the tarmac at Anapa – the home base for most flight operations during this phase of the Georgia-at-War campaign.

Have there been any surprises (good or bad) since starting the server and building the community around it?

“A few, for one when you start something like this, you generally have to work really hard to build hype around it and it can take months for the population to really take off.  This wasn’t the case here, we played it one weekend with about 10 people or so that we were hanging out in discord with, and just via word of mouth alone we had a packed server basically every weekend for two months.  Ran into a few bad ones too, we definitely ran into the limitations of the engine and our hardware often. DCS simply isn’t designed to run in a dedicated manner like this for a large population. The multiplayer is built around you jumping on with a couple of friends and doing a mission or two, so the amount of money we have to spend on hardware and time spent on stability to accommodate for that  is still sometimes quite shocking. To Eagle Dyanmics’ credit, I do feel like they listen to not just us but the multiplayer community at large, and if you make enough racket they’ll do what they can to help. They operate in good faith, but I think they have some misconceptions about their player population at times, for instance when one of their community managers made the claim that only around 50 people are playing multiplayer DCS that definitely ruffled some feathers and created a rather large reaction.  Soon after we got new news in almost 5 years about their upcoming dedicated server software, so kudos to them for at least being sensitive to an issue that in their view a minority care about.

I guess my third surprise is the support we get.  We have a core of donators through Patreon that fund the servers we use for our Tuesday Night Noob events and GAW, and even in the times when the server stability was wrecked by bugs from us, or some from ED we discovered by and large people were encouraging us to keep it up and not give up, and it definitely was because of that that I was able to keep on the project, and now that things are running smoothly I’m super grateful to everyone who took a little time to give us a message of support.”

F-18-hail-of-bullets
An enemy Mi-26 goes down in flames while attempting to capture a human team controlled FARP.

How newbie friendly is the GAW community?

“Very,  and that is very much by design.  Hoggit was created for the purpose of getting newbies into multiplayer in a low-demand, non-intimidating environment where we could go blow some stuff up and have some fun without some guy getting pissed at you about getting a radio call wrong or something.  There’s almost always someone on Discord or in the game that’ll go up with you in GAW and teach you something if you ask.”

E-3-GAW-Sentry.jpg
Always standing watch, an Allied E-3 Sentry orbits near Anapa providing that all important eye in the sky.

Have you considered additional phases to the project with different scenarios, seasons, or using other maps such as Persian Gulf?

“Yes to all of those.  GAW will change with the seasons soon, we are already using real world weather information and importing it into the mission, it’s just a matter now of getting the dates and season correct. Phase 2 will be launched soon, it was supposed to come out in September, but we ran into some critical bugs and stability issues that had to be fixed that pushed that back a bit. The second phase will see some incursion into Georgia itself (it’s a running joke that Georgia At War presently has no action in Georgia at all, it’s entirely in Russia), will have two main airbases to capture, and feature some longer flights requiring a little more tactical decision making about things like fuel and weapon management.  Oh and also mountains, that’s a popular request as well.

Persian Gulf at War is definitely on the board, but we will need to secure some additional funding first to be able to spin up another server running it.  It’s one of our Patreon stretch goals and I’m pretty confident we’ll hit it.

Also we’re about to start on another project based on what we learned making GAW that will create an even more in-depth experience focused on getting us closer to that Falcon BMS dynamic campaign gold standard.  It will focus heavily on controlling resources and logistics to cripple and contain enemy commanders, but at this stage that’s about as far into our plans as I want to make public :)”

F-18-GAW-allies
An AJS-37 returns to base following a successful mission while an F/A-18C prepares to depart on a mission of its own.

Are there new aircraft or assets that you’re hoping to see in DCS World that you would like to add to GAW?

“The biggest thing is a modern, western HARM system.  Once the F/A-18 can start using HARM missiles we’re going to have to rebalance the mission in a big way and I’m really excited about that.  Once we have that, we’ll have every system we need to have fun in a 4th gen fighter sim world. Another one we’d like to see is a big transport plane like a C-130, or some larger helos like a Chinook.  Something like that would really be a game changer in terms of people who like to play the logistics game.”

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

“I guess I’ll take this opportunity to plug Hoggit in general! If you’re looking for a newb friendly way to fly some multiplayer sims, you won’t find a much better place I believe. And if you’d like to come play GAW or check out our Tuesday Night Noob events, stop by the subreddit at https://reddit.com/r/hoggit or the discord at https://discord.gg/hoggit and come introduce yourself.  You’ll find a community of 15k people just like you who can get you going!  We also maintain one of the better centralized repositories of DCS World information at our wiki at https://wiki.hoggitworld.com and we’re always looking for contributors!  So if you wanna share your DCS knowledge jump in the Discord and let us know!”

Thanks Zelly!

A big thanks to Zelly for participating in the first Stormbirds Community Q&A. I encourage players who are just thinking about playing DCS World in multiplayer for the first time to stop thinking and hop on the Hoggit subreddit or Discord and learn all that you need to know to fly on this great server.

More Community Q&A segments are coming soon so stay tuned!

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