Eagle Dynamics has been on a bit of an announcement spree recently and I thought after last week things might begin to settle down. I was wrong! We’ve seen both aircraft and scenery announcements and it’s been an interesting time to contemplate the future of the series. I want to take stock of what’s been announced recently, compare it to some past experiences, and talk about some expectations for both the new content and core updates for the sim.
Three third party developers have been revealed by Eagle Dynamics over just the last few weeks as having map/scenery projects in development for DCS World. This is a significant increase in third party developers working on this as we’ve seen in the past that just Ugra Media and then later RAZBAM appeared to be interested in tackling the technology.
This suggests to me that something, in recent times, has changed. Perhaps Eagle Dynamics business development group have succeeded in luring new developers in. Perhaps DCS as a platform has grown to the point where more third parties are interested in getting in on it. Perhaps the internal development tools that Eagle Dynamics has been working on are now in a state that more third parties can tackle such projects without needing the rest of the internal team to provide support. These are all speculations on my part but it is clear that there’s a shift.
For a long time, DCS World and its predecessors have existed on almost entirely just one map. The Caucasus region map has gone through a few iterations over the years starting as a mostly Crimea based map with a small section to the east. Then it shifted to a mostly Georgia and Russia map deeper into the Caucasus mountains for Black Shark and Flaming Cliffs 2 and there it stayed for a long time including with the DCS World 2.5 update that revamped the map significantly.
Then we began to see a slow trickle of new maps. DCS: Nevada and DCS: Normandy were both originally third party efforts. Normandy stayed third party with Ugra Media releasing a substantial re-work just a few years ago and are now working on another rework expanding the scale and scope that was teased in the 2022 and beyond video. DCS: Persian Gulf was Eagle Dynamics next big map project and that appeared to help uncork the bottle with subsequent DCS: Syria, DCS: The Channel, and DCS: North Atlantic all appearing after. There’s also the free DCS: Marianas Islands in both the released modern version and the still in progress WWII version.
We went from essentially one map for the series to a half dozen and most of that has happened over the last 5 years.
Now we have DCS: Kola, DCS: Sinai and DCS: Top End of Australia all announced within just weeks of each other. It’s a lot to take in.
All of these maps bring with them some unique possibilities. First, from a business perspective, Eagle Dynamics is now working with more third parties than they ever have before. The bringing in of Orbx, a very well known scenery development development team, really helps show DCS’ growth. Orbx is known for enhancing the visuals for a wide range of mostly civil aviation sims. FSX, P3D, X-Plane and MSFS all benefit from their work both from their internal team and their own collection of curated third parties that they sell to on their marketplace.
Orbx is working on DCS: Kola which is the map that I admit I’m most excited about. Past combat sims, such as EF2000 and Fleet Defender immediately spring to my mind as sims that have used the Kola region for their scenarios.
While a modern conflict has never been fought here, it’s been written about in fiction as a potential though never realized flashpoint for several Cold War scenarios. With Reflected and Baltic Dragon both working on connected campaign projects for this map, I can see it being an instant hit.
DCS: Sinai is pretty interesting too. Although it is admittedly “yet another desert map,” it exists in a region that we haven’t seen done before in DCS World.
Sinai will have a lot of desert to it but it will also include places like the Nile river delta which is a very green agricultural region in stark contrast with the sandy terrain around it. Sinai has been the site of numerous Cold War era clashes and although this is a modern version, much of the terrain is similar enough to make it more than appropriate for those.
DCS: Top End of Australia is also very interesting to me. This one requires some more imagination than some have employed so far, however, I think it’s purposes are very clear. Eagle Dynamics has been recently doing more of a thematic push with their modules towards the Asia-Pacific region. Deka Ironwork’s China Asset pack, the Marianas Islands map, and additional marketing materials for this area are setting up hypothetical scenarios that appear to be matching growing real world tensions.
Just like DCS: Persian Gulf represented a more hypothetical scenario that has very nearly erupted into a more serious conflict, DCS: Top End of Australia sits in a somewhat similar although less well known space.
The real world area here includes some key RAAF bases like Tindal and Darwin. Tindal in particular has become a major center for RAAF operations and is part of the Australian military’s defense-in-depth strategy should the area ever be invaded.
It’s also where Australia hosts their multi-national Exercise Pitch Black which includes a diverse range of nations from Singapore to Thailand, UAE, United States and others. This is also an exercise that see’s Hornets, Flankers, Gripens and Mirages all operating together so its definitely a cornucopia of fast jet aircraft. During the exercise, Blueair has traditionally operated from Darwin with Redair operating from Tindal.
So, with all of that as a backdrop, there’s plenty of possibility with this map.
Where is Vietnam and Korea?
With all of these announcements, there has been the usual “but where is <insert map here>.” Everyone has a wishlist and a favourite area that they want to see simulated and the recent spate of Cold War era jet announcements, particularly the F-4, F-100, A-7 and F-8 have all prompted calls for a Vietnam era map.
Eagle Dynamics response to Tricker on Twitter helps tell the story of what’s happening there.
Additional comments from both NineLine and BIGNEWY have filled me with hope that this is an area that is still being planned for and indeed may even be in some sort of active development. I continue to maintain that the bigger picture often requires viewing and that there may be several stops along the road to be made before we get there.
The release of the free DCS: Marianas Islands helps dip the toe into these waters. Vietnam, being a lush and sometimes densely packed jungle nation, requires new technologies and may even require some additional engine upgrades to make convincing. I suspect many would be disappointed if Eagle Dynamics or a third party were to go and do a project and then not be able to represent some of the key aspects of that area. Vietnam without jungles would be like Marianas without water.
Faster tree rendering, denser tree canopies, and large area modeling are all required to make a Vietnam map really come together. I have faith that we’ll see that and that its on the internal Eagle Dynamics roadmap but I suspect we need to take several steps to get there. This may take a few years.
Korea too has been mentioned and it comes with many of the same challenges although in many ways its closer to what we already see in the Caucasus map area. The mountains and valley areas would be of great interest to fly in and I can see an offering that potentially is a historical map but also potentially a modern one too. This is also not without precedent as several sims including Falcon 4 and F-15 Strike Eagle III have featured hypothetical modern Korea war scenarios.
The issue of fragmentation
The recent announcements have also caused some to become concerned about fragmention of the multiplayer community with all of these maps becoming available and not everyone necessarily having them.
This is a legitimate concern. Unlike other sims, DCS does require you do have essential assets in place before you can fly together in multiplayer and that can mean lower server populations for less popular assets. It’s possible that one or more of these maps will not sell like the others and that multiplayer servers will cater exclusively to the popular one and not to the others.
I wouldn’t say that this is unfounded, however, it was also expressed as a major concern when DCS: Persian Gulf Was announced and to date I don’t think we’ve seen the multiplayer community fracturing just yet. I do see players picking and choosing, often very carefully, the maps that they buy with the intent of joining a specific server community.
I myself, having thoroughly enjoyed the DCS: Persian Gulf map when it arrived, have spent countless hours on the Hoggit Persian Gulf at War (PGAW) map. DCS: Syria too has carved out a significant part of the multiplayer community and has become very popular especially with helicopter focused pilots but also with the fast mover crowd.
These maps, when thrown into the mix, could cause fragmentation or they may continue to cause specialization as we’ve seen so far. The biggest problem is often when you have friends who have one map but not another map and that determines what ultimately gets chosen. Still, over the long term it seems likely that map buying decisions will be influenced by those social circles.
Would I like to see an easier method? Yeah I would. 1CGS’ policy of enabling all maps for the IL-2 Great Battles Series has been a boon to its multiplayer scene. Would the same method work for DCS? Not with the current arrangement and business plan but that doesn’t mean that I can’t imagine another scheme where anyone could install and fly over these maps in multiplayer but only fly over them in single player when owned. Would that cut into sales? It might. It might also boost them. I don’t get to see those numbers nor those forecasts so my suggestions remain hypothetical.
Core engine stuff
The other item I want to touch on before I step down off my soapbox is core engine updates for DCS.
A long standing desire within the community is for core updates to the sim. I share that desire. DCS World can be tricky to get running smoothly even on high end hardware. Throw VR into the mix and it becomes a very difficult proposition. Further to that, any time a new module or piece of content is announced, there are inevitable calls for DCS’ core functionality to be updated. It needs it and badly in some places.
Eagle Dynamics for their part have not been entirely resting on their laurels either. We’ve seen some optimization and changes to the sim’s lighting systems, weather, and more. More multi-core support, Vulkan API, rendergraph technology and other elements have all been mentioned more than once in developer diaries and other updates.
DCS World also needs to become a better game. Its simulator credentials are clear, however, we need more ways to interact with both old and new content. Here, the core of DCS World is also underdeveloped. Better mission generators are desperately needed. Better track recording to replay those scenarios is desperately needed. The dynamic campaign system, long in development, also a desperate need to enhance the DCS experience.
None of these are simple snap of the fingers solutions and Eagle Dynamics has, much to their credit, mentioned work progressing on all of them. At some point we of course want to see that work come to fruition.
This is all a side rant but let me now bring it back to the map announcements. Be it northern Australia, Sinai, or the Kola region, none of these announcements take away from the need for those updates but they also aren’t going to slow them down. These are third party’s entering into an agreement with the business developers at Eagle Dynamics to make these happen. The team working on those core engine updates continues to do so no matter what happens with these maps.
So, while I share the desire for greater urgency on faster rendering and better gameplay, nothing that has been announced recently affects the speed of those projects either way. It’s a tall mountain they have to climb there but new maps from third parties won’t make it steeper. We just want them to climb it a little faster. Its a bigger ask than I think some think it might be but the desire and some need for urgency is still well understood by everyone.
I’ve been up on my soapbox for a long time here and I’m about to step down off of it but I wanted to sum up my thoughts first.
I think its fantastic that we’re seeing these third party developers put the effort in and give us some new and sometimes unique places to fly in DCS World. New experiences, new areas to explore, new challenges to overcome are part of the reason why a sim like DCS is so compelling to me. So if its flying over Kola, over northern Australia, or over the Sinai, all of these new maps should provide for some interesting terrain to cover.
Despite the concern in some quarters, I think these will sell and I suspect their releases will be staggered over the next couple of years so that hit to the pocket book won’t be felt in the same way as if they all came at once. They will also cause the community to specialize on specific experiences just as they have with the current slate of maps. Some of them may prove to not be a success which is a risk that any developer with a business plan has to face, however, I’m not willing to immediately write-off any of them as I think they all have some exciting possibilities.
At the same time, in parallel to these announcements, I do also want to suggest that Eagle Dynamics needs to talk about some core updates and do so with more frequency and detail. The folks asking for them, although a bit off topic from these announcements, are not entirely out of place either. We want to enjoy this new content but we need to see some longstanding issues sorted out too.
New content is what helps keep sim’s like this going and it provides us with new experiences. I see those as great things that are happening for DCS World. A lot of fun can be had right now and new experiences ensure that the fun will continue. A little imagination can help open the doors to new scenarios and for that I am genuinely interested to see how this all plays out.
One thing is for sure, none of this will happen next week or next month. This is the reveal of a content gameplan that will play out over the next several years. As always, it should prove to be interesting.