DESIGN DIARY: Accuracy vs. Authenticity

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DESIGN DIARY: Accuracy vs. Authenticity

Post  Wolverine on Tue Nov 04, 2014 9:56 am

Nov 4th, 2014

It's no secret that I've been developing the next campaign scenario for the No.401 Squadron group. I've been sharing, perhaps unwisely, a lot of the details about what I've been working on with people in the community in advance of completing the work. Partly this is because I'm just excited about the systems and structures I've been able to get working in the game. As a result of this sharing, I've been forced to examine my overall design ethic with repect to realism, namely historical accuracy.

The campaigns we've been running here at No.401 (in association with |450|) began with the Battle of Britain and scenarios extended from the War Diary of No.1 (Canadian) Squadron upon arrival in England in June 1940. We conducted missions reflecting training flights in advance of being made operational. We conducted combat attachment flights to reflect pilots gaining experience with operational groups. And we flew full combat sorties against waves of German bombers at the height of the Battle of Britain. These missions, most notably the combat sorties at the height of the battle, were also drawn from a historical record of actual days, hours, and minutes during July, August, and September, in addition to the records in the flight diary of the squadron.

We flew 32 missions in total following this prescription, 8 for each month of June, July, August, and September. These missions were also flown exclusively against the AI on offer by IL-2 Cliffs of Dover. Over the course of these missions, numerous Team Fusion patches introduced changes to the game and to the AI, some of which made combat against AI aircraft a very frustrating experience. It was over the course of designing and playing these missions that I started to develop my design ethic regarding realism in missions, namely that a mission should be designed to produce authenticity, not accuracy.

Any mission designer who has worked with any game's tools knows that, no matter how well made, the tools are limited. You have not enough content/not enough options/unintelligent AI/etc. Unless you are capable of building content that can be added to the game (the MOD culture) then you are restricted to working within what has already been provided to you. If you have a Spitfire Mk.Ia and nothing else, you have to use the Spitfire Mk.Ia and base your scenarios around it. If we look at this problem from the point of accuracy, this is going to limit your design options simply by history. In the Spitfire example, the Mk.Ia is only going to show up in scenarios in and around the Battle of Britain. You can try and make the best scenario possible in those circumstances, but the fact that you only have a Ia has locked you in that region of history if you are guided primarily by accuracy.

Authenticity looks at this situation differently. Authenticity doesn't care if its a Ia or an XVI. Authenticity looks at the player experience while playing the game and tries to mold that experience more subtly. I think by now it's pretty clear that you can set up a map, put one side in Hurricanes and Spitfires, the other side in 109s, 110s, and Ju88s, plop them all down at airfields on opposite sides of the channel, and definitely NOT have the Battle of Britain.

Early on in the Storm of War campaign series (the third in that series I believe), I had the opportunity to provide Ground Control operations for 6 to 8 squadrons during a competitive Battle of Britain scenario. During these missions, I would communicate to the Squadron Leaders and inform them to come to readiness, take-off, give them bearings and orders, position them and send them into engagements, and in general conduct the 'air war' in real time. From the squadron's perspective, the S/L was communicating directly with a real life controller and being guided by him into action just like pilots during the war. I've heard, on many occasions from many individuals who took part in that campaign, that those missions were some of the most historically immersive gameplay they've had in IL-2 Cliffs of Dover. The separating factor with those missions and subsequent ones isn't lines of code or accurately placed objects on the ground; it's the experience, the feel of realism. I don't believe it mattered that the number of bombers in the air wasn't anywhere close to what it should have been, or that they were in a Hurricane or Spitfire that didn't quite have historical performance levels, or that the conditions for victory were completely arbitrary. When the experience of flying those missions came close to feeling real, the rest of the content stopped getting in the way.

How many forum posts have we seen over the years, for this game and for others, about the accuracy of this or that. "Spitfire doesn't have correct boost performance". "109 doesn't stall properly". The list of these sorts of complaints goes on and on. We've seen a reduction in these sorts of things with respect to Cliffs of Dover partly due to the work of the Team Fusion mod team in addressing some of the major complaints, but also I believe due to the fact that people are just finally getting on with the business of playing the game and have finally accepted most of the major flaws. If you look hard enough you'll still see people arguing about which patch version had the best FMs or what changes need to be made in the next patch, but the game is inherantly playable now and people are just less interested in beating the dead horse. The arguments have already been made.

Very few people have stopped playing the game because of this or that inaccuracy in the FM or DM. The Spitfire might not have its best top speed or the 109 might catch fire too easily, but these complaints are and have simply been a backdrop to the continual online dogfighting that goes on and on. People are willing to put up with inaccuracy in order to play the game. All this is to say that I believe if you can offer an authentic experience that evokes the history of the period you are examining, then the accuracy of the specifics becomes far less important. This becomes even more important to realise when you take into account the state of the genre in general at this time. We have very few options right now for WWII flight simming unless you're willing to play older games and stay offline.

I want to experience the scenario of the air support contribution to the push into France from the D-Day positions. It's unlikely that I will get a historically accurate dedicated modern Flight Sim that will cater to this unless I wait for years with no guarantee. If I focus on authenticity, however, I can create that experience now. IL-2 Cliffs of Dover and its scripting options allow for a massive variety of possible scenarios and situations. How many people have said this and pushed this fact as the reason why Cliffs of Dover is the best WWII sim out there today? A great many people. And yet we are still playing the same scenarios we were playing months after the game's release years ago. RAF fighters defending British targets from bombers in France. There's been some small wrinkles thrown in now and again, but overall the public online mission structure has remained the same. Red take out X number of targets and defend X number of targets to win and vice versa for Blue. Overall, the authenticity of this structure is lacking. In many ways it feels accurate, because the aircraft are correct and the border is correct and the targets are correct, etc, but it's a drab tableau of reality. The players in these scenarios play against the other players instead of playing for the joy of the setting and experience. Its about defeating Player X, not about winning for the RAF. I go up looking to win dog-fights and stay alive. There's no sense that there's a greater war going on. Even if I focus on the targets and try to 'win' for my side, I've only got a few hours to commit to that goal and I know that by the end of that, if I haven't succeeded in knocking the map over and winning for my side, whenever I get to play again, anything I did will not matter any more. My 'war' is one target long and uninspiring.

Which is why I want to encourage mission designers to stop limiting their designs to the Battle of Britain. It was one of the greatest air battles in history, but the things that made it so are incredibly difficult and probably impossible to recreate with Cliffs of Dover in a public online mission setting. Strategically, the Battle of Britain is as dull as can be. Bomb targets. No territory was captured, no real frontline was contested, nothing. We've had YEARS of playing Battle of Britain style scenarios. Let's all try to get a little less accurate, a little more authentic, and really see what fun we can have with this game and what experiences we can bring to life.

So to sum up, basically I've been trying recently to create authentic experiences with the game even though they might not be fully 1 to 1 accurate. If I can recreate the feeling of flying from a dirty airfield in France and looking for targets to strafe while watching out for enemy sweeps and counter attacks, then I don't care if the aircraft involved are biplanes.

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Re: DESIGN DIARY: Accuracy vs. Authenticity

Post  badfinger on Wed Nov 05, 2014 1:53 pm

Wolverine,

I definitely couldn't have said it better myself.

Authenticity/immersion is what I need to forget the real world for awhile and take myself back in time.

badfinger

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Re: DESIGN DIARY: Accuracy vs. Authenticity

Post  Hawk on Wed Nov 05, 2014 7:56 pm

Wolverine,
Definitely think you're on the right track with this, immersion is the factor that keeps the majority of us interested in this......accuracy is secondary, what with aircraft type and performance limitations being what they are. Certainly looking forward to the next part of this journey.....France won't know what hit it! Hawk
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Re: DESIGN DIARY: Accuracy vs. Authenticity

Post  Wolverine on Thu Nov 06, 2014 12:06 pm

Thanks Badfinger,Hawk.

Producing content for this game can be frustrating given the tools, bugs/unfinished features, and online environment present. I got really really down about it all a while back and nearly ended my involvement with all of this. I think anyone else doing the same kind of development for CLOD has felt that way in the past or feels that way now.

My best advice, beyond looking for authentic experiences vs accurates ones, is perhaps just simply do what is fun. Make something that you yourself would want to play and enjoy. Don't try to build for the greater public because you'll never find something that everyone really likes.

If you make something you really enjoy, then chances are some other people will enjoy it too and you'll attract their company. And in the end, those are the people you want to surround yourself with - people with common interests. That group of people might be smaller, but they'll be worth it. 401 and |450| are my case and point.

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