Sometimes a good thing comes together as part of a plan and sometimes they seem to just happen by accident. Calling the recent focus by third party developers and by the DCS flight sim community at large an accident may sound like a disparagement of what’s going on but I’d like to think the opposite. With that as the background, now may be a good time to explore just what is going on and what’s coming up next. Let’s go!
High fidelity, but more accessible?
There’s an argument to be made that earlier aircraft are simpler to manage. Take a look at any modern high fidelity jet that DCS World models and you need to know quite a bit about it to get any use out of it. The skill is in the remembering what the steps are to make the targeting pod talk to the guided bomb and then program that bomb to fly the exact profile that you want it to so that you can achieve the destruction of the target.
Do the right steps in the right sequence and destruction of your target is nearly guaranteed. In the act of combat flight simulation, as in the real world that its based on, guaranteeing the destruction of your target is definitely a good thing. It changes the skill set from muscle memory to a more procedural, almost academic, form of flying and combat.
This experience can be quite a bit of fun in its own right and a modern combat environment is highly skill based and challenging. But it also means that you have a kind of binary experience where you either know all the steps and have a strong chance of achieving your goal or you forget one critical step and nothing happens. It can be frustrating especially if you come back weeks, months or even years later to a module.
Enter the Cold War era aircraft. Existing in a middle ground somewhere between the highly digital aircraft like the F-16 and F/A-18 on the one side and the stick and rudder experience of the WWII warbird on the other, types like the F-4 Phantom, MiG-21, BAe Lightning, Mirage series, and others are well known but not often simulated. At least… until now.
Recently there’s been some moves by various third part developers for DCS World to get into this Cold War experience. They aren’t alone either as we’ve seen the developers of War Thunder expand that series, aircraft by aircraft, and technological leap alike into this same area. Suddenly the era of the first, second and third generation jet fighters with their barely better than WWII era avionics, impressive speed, questionable handling, and even more questionable guided weapons, has come into view.
In the case of DCS World, these aircraft are covering territory that has been less well covered over the years but in many cases is also a bit more accessible. There’s less messing around with guided missiles and more WWII style flying the airplane and pulling the trigger.
The skill is less academic and more muscle based and that often means it feels like you’re doing more even when your guns aren’t always on target and your barrage of missiles fired at the target missed by 100 meters. You still pulled the trigger, there was still an action, and you still got that little dose of dopamine. You may not quite have hit the target but you still did something! That holds appeal.
What’s here and what’s coming
This leap into the Cold War era has been building up for a long time. Magnitude 3 released their DCS: MiG-21bis, one of the first ever third party modules, into DCS World back in 2014. The MiG-21, the AK-47 of supersonic fighter jets, was a simple yet high performance jet fighter firmly rooted in the Cold War era but so well used that variants of the type are still on the frontlines of many air forces today.
Opposing the MiG-21 was the F-5. Developed by Eagle Dynamics briefly spun off Belsimtek group, this simple jet fighter was developed in the United States to offer to Allies looking for a cheaper jet fighter option. Its pairing with the MiG-21 made for the core of some Cold War era jet duels. Multiplayer experiences began to happen and the community took note.
The MiG-15bis and F-86 Sabre gave us a Korea War era duel although little else has emerged from that era so far.
Then it was Heatblur and their incredible AJS-37 Viggen. A low-level striker rooted deeply in Sweden’s Cold War era defensive strategy of employing robust jet fighters that could operate from a roadway or rough airstrip and strike hard and fast against predetermined targets.
Now there’s a growing slate of aircraft from the era available including RAZBAM’s MiG-19P, Aerges Mirage F1, Eagle Dynamics own Mi-24P Hind, Belsimtek’s UH-1 and Mi-8, and depending on how you slice it, the Heatblur F-14A Tomcat just to name some in the mix.
There’s more coming down the pipe too. The now legendary creative team at Heatblur are working on an A-6 Intruder and the F-4 Phantom II. The later is coming in a couple of variants including a semi-modern Air Force version now and an earlier Navy version at some undisclosed time in the future. The air force version is due by the end of the year if the schedule holds. IndiaFoxtEcho are about to imminently release their Aermacchi MB-339, a 1970s era jet trainer and light attack aircraft. Flying Iron Simulations have done good work with X-Plane and MSFS and are bringing their talents to create the A-7 Corsair II. Magnitude 3 are rebuilding their DCS: MiG-21bis with a version 2.0 release planned as well as creating the all new F-8 Crusader.
Just recently we’ve seen confirmation that AVIRON are now an official developer and are bringing their Kfir simulation project to DCS World as well. OctopusG, fresh off of the official release of their I-16 module, are going Cold War too with a swing-wing Su-22. RAZBAM, as they usually do, have several irons in the fire including a MiG-23MLA, the IA-58 Pucara, and have periodically shown off a Mirage III and 1970s or 1980s era Sea Harrier project too. They are also collaborators with Miltech-5 on a Bo-105 helicopter. Red Star Simulations have been quiet for a long time but their MiG-17 project would add yet another type to the mix.
Eagle Dynamics themselves have a few projects that might tie into a Cold War era theme. Briefly mentioned upgrades to the F-5 will help to enhance a staple of the multiplayer experience. Continued development of their Mi-24 Hind will do the same. Talked about introduction of the earliest MiG-29 model might fit into the era too. I’ve been not so secretly pulling for them to turn their Flaming Cliffs Su-25 and turn that into a full fidelity experience too.
What’s needed now?
DCS World is great at providing a sandbox but it often stumbles when it tries to unite content together under a banner. But it doesn’t have to be this way and I think there’s great opportunities for DCS World to maintain its sandbox while starting to link these aircraft together.
The first is in maps and a Cold War era themed map, similar to what we’ve seen from their WWII line, would help immensely. The new DCS: Kola map from Orbx, although not explicitly themed for the Cold War, will likely fit in just as well as Syria and other maps have. DCS: South Atlantic was built less as a Cold War and more as a modern day map but it still has promise to work in those scenarios anyways.
Continuing to add Cold War era assets like trucks, radars, SAM systems, and flak guns would also help. As it is, there’s less of a challenge here as many modern assets are the same or similar to those from decades before so there is less need for theming. But there is still a need to fill it out and “make it feel right.”
Of course the sim on the whole needs more core features to be filled out. Better performance, new and era appropriate radio comms, air traffic control services, and more are all things that the DCS experience would benefit from. When the dynamic campaign system comes it should be able to handle themes too with the player deciding if they want to engage in modern day jet BVR jet duels or if they want to fly something a little more old school.
Single player campaigns set in this era will surely follow along with the rest of this content. That I’m sure will begin to happen over time as there’s always a lag time between the introduction of modules and the rest of the supporting content.
Something we already can see happening is the expansion of Cold War era multiplayer experiences with Alpenwolf’s Cold War server being the long time favourite with Engima’s Cold War server coming in with considerable gusto and interest.
Although it wasn’t originally part of the plan, these Cold War era jets and the assets supporting them have taken on greater emphasis and interest in the flight sim community as of late. While modern jets and helicopters are surely still a major staple and a big seller in DCS World, the recent turn towards what might be slightly more accessible Cold War era jets with their simpler systems and sometimes spicier flight models seems to have gathered some steam and begun to resonate with parts of the community.
This is an opportunity for us all to enjoy another era of flight and explore what the bleeding edge of the 1960s and 1970s offered in the form of military aviation. From jets to helicopters and beyond, I hope to see this trend accelerate alongside the more modern experiences that we already see from DCS World.