The issues of spotting aircraft in flight sims takes me back many years to when IL-2 Sturmovik first became really popular in the multiplayer scene and the arguments over how best to see and spot your friends and opponents took on shape (for others it may have happened in earlier titles). One of the biggest sources of frustration in IL-2’s multiplayer, and something not exclusively limited to just IL-2, is spotting aircraft and being able to then effectively react to them as needed. The IL-2 developers have broached the subject on the forums asking for opinions and thoughts on the matter and so let’s have a look at the message. I will as well, share my own thoughts too.
Provide your thoughts
IL-2: Great Battles Series Project Manager Han made a post late yesterday asking for community thoughts and opinions on the subject of plane visibility and spotting. The subject has come up more and more recently with impassioned pleas to make some changes to the way the system works. Indeed there have been changes already made by the team in two separate instances.
In the first, the team added enhanced rendering range for a wide variety of objects. In doing so they introduced a couple of aircraft spotting options to be determined at the server level. More on that in a moment. Next, the deferred shading update for IL-2: Great Battles not only improved visuals in the fine details but it also made it so that shadow rendering could be applied to all objects in the scene and thus aircraft retain their reflectivity better both near and far from you. That change has certainly helped.
With those things in mind, there is still room for improvement and that’s where we start with the message from Han.
Today I would like to discuss with you directly such a difficult topic as the visibility of aircraft in the game. Somewhere in the fall of 2019, we began to notice an increase in dissatisfaction on the part of the community with how things are going with the detection of “contacts” in our project. We spent a lot of time analyzing these claims, and came to the conclusion that most of them are concentrated around the situation with the detection of “contacts” against the landscape on background – that is, in the lower hemisphere. It is alleged that finding planes against the background of the landscape is so difficult that it causes eye fatigue and general tiring from the game. The requirement is that the detection of “contacts” should be comfortable and not irritating.Han on the IL-2: Great Battles forums
Han has quite a bit more to say talking about the goals of the project and what ultimately they should focus on when it comes to spotting and gameplay versus realism. Before I move on I wanted to quote Han once more because the next part is important regarding what the team is wanting to hear from us – the community that flies IL-2.
But nevertheless, without denying the two points sounded above, I consider it necessary to clarify the main issue on the visibility of aircraft. We, the gaming community “IL-2 Sturmovik”, inside of which I count myself on an equal footing with you, strive for the maximum possible realism in the simulation of air combat in all its aspects? Or are we striving to get the maximum “fun” from virtual air battles – which are based on real battles of the Second World War – and where should not be factors (albeit grounded in realism) that will excessively interfere with us in this?Han on the IL-2: Great Battles forums
My own thoughts
Let me come straight out and say that spotting in IL-2 is hard. Unnecessarily and unrealistically hard and it can detract from the gameplay and fun of the series. For one reason or another, spotting has been a big issue for me over the last year especially. Maybe its because I fly more multiplayer servers with no icons on these days or maybe its because the rendering systems have changed. Regardless of the why, it is now more in my consciousness than ever.
Flying with a group, coordinating our efforts on SRS or Discord, has exposed the challenges of sometimes finding even a friendly aircraft that we know is there. We’ve resorted to using nav lights and spotting flares at distances where those shouldn’t really be necessary because their aircraft are just too difficult to find. Sometimes its the blue of the sky and the contrast there that it suffers at and sometimes its the ground clutter which can make it difficult to pick out the dot from the other dots that frustrates.
There’s a fundamental tension between the need for a good experience and the need for realism. I think sometimes the quest for realism overrides the good experience and that the quest for realism is sometimes overshadowed by the reality that we’re not looking at this flight sim through our eyes in the real world but through LCD screens sitting on our desks (or on your head with VR).
There’s an artificiality or artifice of the notion of a combat flight simulation. I think we are all nearly united in the desire for the combat part of the flight sim to be something that’s enjoyable and fun. That’s in stark contrast of the real world experience where it was something terrifying and terrible. Loss of life was expected or at least highly probable and a real world pilot would likely not do some of the things we do because sometimes we’re in it for the victory at the expense of a virtual life.
So with that in mind I think the goal for IL-2: Great Battles and for any sim is to provide a fun and enjoyable experience. That doesn’t mean that we need an unrealistic experience but we should strive for an authentic one without loosing sight of the fact that our flight sim experience is bounded by a LCD screen (or two) with less resolution and motion detection capabilities than what the human eye and our brains are able to process in real life. Flight simming is a fundamental compromise on the experience and that means we should approach it with an understanding of that.
Nobody needs or wants a cartoon hand pointing to the enemy aircraft and nor should icons off be anything less than challenging. The issue is where real world tactics with flight lead and wingman scanning different parts of the sky fail, not because they didn’t look around and employ the correct tactic, but because the attacking aircraft was nearly invisible. That could be due to poor contrast detection of the object or a failure of the level of detail model to pop in at the appropriate level for the appropriate distance or some other technical consideration that ultimately makes it harder to spot than I think is enjoyable.
There’s a saying that we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough and I think we shouldn’t let realism be the enemy of authentically enjoyable in our flight sims.
Share your comments
I encourage everyone to hop on the IL-2 general discussion forum and share their thoughts on visibility. With multiple members of the 1CGS team keeping a close eye on this topic, I think it’s a great opportunity for the community to weigh in on a very individual, technically and virtually challenging part of the experience. Join in on the conversation here.