There’s controversy in the DCS World community right now over a statement released by Eagle Dynamics that they would be temporarily pulling developers from the F/A-18C project to the F-16C project. Let’s talk about the controversy and try and put perspective on it.
The statement on F-16 and F/A-18 development
The line we’ve heard, and one that I’ve repeated, is that Eagle Dynamics intends to continue work on their DCS: F/A-18 Hornet module while also bringing out the DCS: F-16C Viper module into early access at the same time. By and large that has been true, as the F-16C has developed into the current state that it’s in while development work on the Hornet continued.
What we’ve learned as of earlier today is that developers working on the Hornet are temporarily being pulled to help push the F-16 towards early access. Here’s the statement:
In order to hit our Viper release window, we have very recently had to temporarily move a couple of the systems programmers from the Hornet onto the Viper for a short period. Once the Viper is released, they will be back to work on the Hornet with a strong push on TWS radar mode, air-to-surface radar, further targeting pod features, and more. Much of this work is directly applicable to the Viper. We appreciate your understanding and thank you for your patience.Matt Wagner on the DCS World forums
If you’ve been around in the DCS World community for any length of time, you can be certain that such a statement would queue up at least some outrage. And it definitely has if any of the threads that I’ve read suggest.
So, let’s unpack the statement and see if we can come to any understanding on this.
The issue of Early Access
A contentious issue within the DCS World community for many years now is the issue of Early Access. This is a model that Eagle Dynamics and many other developers use these days (in the world of digitally distributed content) where unfinished products are sold online, typically with a discount, and a promise to finish them later.
The whole premise is that the developer is promising to finish a product and release it after they have already taken money for it. Many contend that once they have your purchase, there’s less incentive to release the product in a fully finished form later on down the road. That is a risk of buying something in early access.
Perhaps the worst offender for DCS World has been the RAZBAM DCS: AV-8B which was left with few updates following its early access at developer turned its attention on other modules. That left a bad taste and hurt the reputation of that developer for many months until it became clear that RAZBAM was going to go back to their unfinished module and bring it across the finish line (and revamp the M-2000C too). The situation has now changed although we’re still waiting on a few finishing touches there.
Back to Eagle Dynamics where the Hornet has been in early access for just over a year. Some want to see it finished before the F-16 enters early access but it’s clear that for either development, project management, or business reasons, Eagle Dynamics is going ahead with both jets at the same time (and a slate of other projects too).
The state of DCS: F/A-18C Hornet
We’ve had access to the DCS: F/A-18C Hornet since May 2018. When the module launched it came with a variety of basic systems, unguided munitions and rockets, and AIM-9 and AIM-7 air to air missiles. Over the course of development over the last year and a bit, we’ve gained features like the AIM-9X and JHMCS, the AGM-88 HARM missile, AGM-84 Harpoon, JSOW, Litening targeting pod, and a variety of Paveway GBU and JDAM GPS guided bombs.
The sheer list of features for the Hornet meant that it was going to have a protracted development period but I think many had assumed that development would go more quickly than it did.
The Litening targeting pod only arrived just recently and was one of the most requested features. At present the Hornet is still missing some critical air-to-ground radar features and still lacks full Track-While-Scan (TWS) on the radar.
With some features still not yet implemented, it’s clear that users were hopeful that Eagle Dynamics would be pressing forward on them regardless of what was happening with the Viper project. But that doesn’t seem to be the case at this point.
It’s crunch time for the F-16
Software developers often enter periods known as crunch time where the developer sprints towards a finish goal – this is often involving long work hours. In a lot of cases, developers also pull in added resources when possible to help push towards that goal line.
Crunch time is never sustainable for a developer over a long period but for a short time it can help to meet deadlines.
With the DCS: F-16C, it seems that Eagle Dynamics has an aggressive deadline it needs to meet. And I get the sense, since its initial announcement that it would be available for early access, that Eagle Dynamics has been racing to meet that deadline to get the F-16 into our hands as quickly as possible. Is that an internal deadline or something imposed on them… speculation abounds but ultimately there’s no real way for us to know.
So, with efforts pushing forward on the F-16 to get it to us soon (and it may be a matter of weeks now), it seems that Eagle Dynamics is all hands on deck for this module. That does mean that efforts on the Hornet are on hold for now.
Or are they?
The thing that’s been a constant reminder to me over the last several months is just how interrelated the DCS: F-16 and DCS: F/A-18 have to be for Eagle Dynamics. My suspicions that efforts on the Viper would translate to the Hornet have been anecdotally confirmed with word that the Litening pod for the F-16 would be coming at or just after initial early access release.
I can only speculate that, given the prolonged period of time that it took Eagle Dynamics to bring the Litening to the Hornet, the team was also working on the hooks necessary to make that same pod work for both jets.
I go back to these two sentences in the statement:
Once the Viper is released, they will be back to work on the Hornet with a strong push on TWS radar mode, air-to-surface radar, further targeting pod features, and more. Much of this work is directly applicable to the Viper.
While some may read this and worry that the Viper will continue to suck resources, it seems that parallel development on some features may be a goal of Eagle Dynamics and I think the long awaited air-to-ground radar is a prime example.
Eagle Dynamics has not talked much about it until just recently and it is my suspicion that while developers may be pulled to get Viper across the line, both jets will likely receive shared core systems along similar time frames going forward. Will both F-16 and F/A-18 get the air-to-ground radar at once? It’s likely and it’s also likely, if Eagle Dynamics programs are smart (and I very much believe they are!) that they will be programming everything to make it useful and modular for these jets and future ones.
It does very much appear that development of Viper will affect the Hornet. That goes against what we had heard from Eagle Dynamics but it also doesn’t seem all that surprising. I don’t mean that in a cynical way but rather with some understanding of what typically happens in software development.
With the announcement that Eagle Dynamics is not likely to release on the first day of Autumn (September 23rd) but that they expect it to come very soon after, it seems like those developers are probably doing a couple of weeks on the F-16 before going back to their duties on the F-16. How confident you feel about that will probably determine how concerned you are about the F/A-18’s development.
At this point I maintain that I can still hop in a Hornet and do almost everything I want to do with this jet and that I’ve been able to do that for a very long time. Added capabilities are still very much a desire for me and seeing the Hornet finished is a promise that early access still needs to fulfill and I have little doubt that it will be fulfilled.
That’s what I think but I of course welcome your comments! Is this an outrage or business as usual? Does it change what you think about the F/A-18 or the F-16 for DCS World? Let me know!