I spent most of Friday playing an aerial combat game that's currently pre-beta, and chatting to some of the people behind it. It was a pleasant enough day, but a few of the things the Project Lead said caused me to shake my wizened noggin in a 'Will they ever learn?' manner. Now, I'm not one of those simmers that believes every flight game has to be as brutally realistic as Falcon 4.0 or DCS: Black Shark, but I do feel certain elements of aviation-based entertainment are non-negotiable. After the cut, my list of Eight Things Every Air Combat Game Should Sport.
1. Cockpit views
Viewed from a chase cam all warbirds look small, floaty and faintly ridiculous. For 24-carat immersion you cant beat a plexiglass dome and a panel of twitching gauges and flickering warning lights. If the pit features wear and tear, crumpled pin-ups and those four fleshy appendages that usually protrude from a pilot's torso, all the better.
2. Landings and take-offs
A flight game without landings and take-offs is like a race sim without a starting grid and chequered flag, or a fox without a waistcoat and pocket-watch. They don't have to figure in every sortie but sprinkled through a campaign, they add tension, provide closure, and help prevent dogfight fatigue. Some of my most cherished genre memories come from nursing flak-ravaged, smoke-trailing craft back to base. Far too few lite flight titles facilitate such experiences and of those that do, scandalously few greet dogged returners with scurrying emergency vehicles or freshly-laid carpets of foam.
3. Interesting AI
Bizarrely, the lighter the flight game, the more important it is to have interesting AI. If you're going to be downing twenty bandits in a single sortie rather than a more plausible one, or none, it's vital all twenty don't execute half-hearted left turns or head straight for the deck when bounced. How hard it can be to create a selection of AI 'characters' - cocky, nervous, wily. etc. - and apply them randomly to computer-controlled planes ? Too hard, apparently.
Bailing out of a stricken crate not knowing whether your silk canopy is going to a) deploy quickly enough to to save you or b) deploy at all, is priceless. All flight games should put you in that position now and again. A sky full of enemy chutes also presents wonderful opportunities for 'This is for Johnnie, you Luftwaffe swine!' Geneva Convention flouting.
5. Kill tallies
What's the point of shooting down/up stuff, if, during subsequent sorties, you can't see those kills represented in symbolic form on the side of your fuselage?
Blindingly obvious this one. Air combat games are far better when they let you pour lead and rockets into gargantuan bags of super-flammable gas.
Indisputable fact: There is no finer way for an Ace to perish than ploughing into a river while flying inverted under a bridge.
8. Irascible COs
After successfully flying inverted under a bridge it should be mandatory for players to face a cutscene in which a CO (moustachioed, and with a face like thunder) snarls something along the lines of "If you pull a stunt like that again you'll be flying transports and target tugs for the rest of the war."