HARDCORE MENS SIMULATOR
I wrote this article for RPS, but they turned me down. Enjoy!DCS: A-10C Warthog
entered a pre-order beta recently. Here're some words.
Flight simulators! Once upon a time every computer was equipped with a joystick and it was hard to find someone who hadnâ€™t at least dabbled in the Secrets of the Luftwaffe. Nowadays the herd has been refined down to the REAL MEN requiring SERIOUS SIMULATIONS. Tom Clancyâ€™s HAWX? More like Soft Nancyâ€™s BOLLOX. The DCS series sits atop a nigh-inaccessible plateau, shared by Armed Assault, Dwarf Fortress and sadomasochistic bondage. Incredibly intimidating to the newcomer, often to the point of revulsion, but theyâ€™re the only things which can satisfy the hardest of the core. Read on for more uncomfortable analogies to leather and stainless steel rings.
The crafty ruskies working at Eagle Dynamics have released the latest module in their Digital Combat Simulator line. The previous entry in the series was a reproduction of the KA-50 â€œBlack Sharkâ€ helicopter. This time theyâ€™ve crossed the Pacific and given their love and attention to the venerable A-10 Warthog. The claim to fame of the DCS series is the exact reproduction of the appearance and function of the cockpit and flight dynamics of a single aircraft. Other, lesser developers might use words like â€œexact reproductionâ€ with a light and enthusiastic air, generally meaning â€œall the buttons are there, but theyâ€™re actually bits of craft paper and sticky tape.â€ EDâ€™s take on the subject is more akin to that of a Swiss watchmaker. â€œWhatâ€™s that button do?â€ you might ask. â€œThat is OSB-14,â€ theyâ€™ll respond by way of explanation with a gruff, clipped tone and an insinuated suffix of â€œ... you stupid little man.â€
My curse, and that of most of my ilk, is my array of paraphernalia designed to enhance the experience: A joystick and throttle combination with more buttons, triggers, toggles, twisty and slidey bits than a contestant on Pimp My Gimp. I have also constructed myself an incredibly ridiculous wire coat-hanger device which, when wrapped around my head, invariably causes my girlfriend to titter in an effort to overcome her shame-by-association any time she walks by. All of these accessories means that A) Itâ€™s no small investment of money to get started in the field of REAL MAN SIMMERY and B) Itâ€™s a significant outlay of time every occasion you wish to set up to play. Unfortunately, itâ€™s almost required. That bit of wire on my head isnâ€™t just a highly effective shame antenna; it also measures my headâ€™s position and orientation in 3d space. This allows me, with the slightest of head movements, to look out the windows and about the cockpit. And my, what a cockpit.
After the obligatory hour-and-a-half of setting up various input devices and bending bits of wire into a more comfortable shape, the first mission in the training section is an introduction to the cockpit. Your eyes hardly have time to widen in horror/delight when the strict but helpful flight instructor intones â€œDo NOT jump ahead and start mashing buttons and throwing switches.â€ Depending on your disposition this is either very easy or very hard. Thereâ€™s many flashy things, enigmatically labelled with enough three-letter-acronyms to remind a Clancy fan of the shameful, furtive bedsheet washing of his youth. Every interaction available to a real A-10 pilot is available to the player. Every switch, button or toggle can be either bound to a joystick input, or clicked on with a mouse cursor. I spent some time writing myself a pre-flight checklist whilst going along with the guidance of the instructor. Each time he gives you a step to follow, a glowing box appears on the relevant control, making the process fairly painless.
After a few more training missions youâ€™re soon powering up the craft all by yourself, taxiing out onto the runway and thrusting gracefully into the air. Nothing quite matches the thrill of flicking two dozen switches in a precise sequence, pausing at the right times and maybe deciding to add your own unique flair to proceedings. Maybe youâ€™ll save a bit of time by powering up the MFCDs whilst waiting for the APU exhaust to settle at 410 ºC? Do I NEED to program my countermeasures for this mission? Itâ€™s this air of REALMANitude that gives DCS: A-10C its genuine charm. The knowledge that if you climbed into the cockpit of an actual aircraft you actually could get it into the air, assuming a crowd of angry airmen didnâ€™t drag you out and pummel you senseless before you could close the canopy. Itâ€™s the same feeling elicited by Chromehounds, with its massive dashboard, but without that niggling plastic-clicky-instrument shame stemming from knowing that everything youâ€™re doing is arbitrary and artificial.
One of the most engaging and/or intimidating aspects of the game is the sheer amount to learn. It comes with a six hundred and fifty-three page manual and a nineteen page quick-start guide. The guide is densely packed with images of the cockpit dashboard bristling with labels, screenshots of menus and phrases like â€œTo set the left MFCD as SOI, press and hold H. To set the right MFCD as SOI, press and hold K.â€ Even having played through a few of the trainer missions and given the quick-start guide a cursory glance, I am almost overwhelmed with what I donâ€™t know. At one point I noticed an alarming â€œMASTER CAUTIONâ€ light on my dashboard. Knowing enough to consult my Caution Light Panel (CLP) I was confronted by a small green blinking light apparently questioning my sexuality. Upon referencing the guide I was relieved but no less confused to discover that the indicator actually read â€œEAC,â€ meaning â€œEnhanced Attitude Controlâ€. The E kinda looked like an F and the C... well... I still donâ€™t know what was wrong with my attitude.
Should you, dear reader, buy this game? Well... if you play enough games, with enough people, eventually it all starts to get a bit stale and samey. Youâ€™ll eventually need to take it to the next level. Youâ€™ll talk to some people, read some websites, maybe buy one or two expensive little devices in the middle of the night on website dedicated to very particular interests. It all culminates in someone walking in on you doing something you find profoundly rewarding, but soul-searingly shameful the moment your mind clears of the ecstasy. Iâ€™ll leave it up to you.
P.S. My gear: Saitek X52 joystick, wiimote + home-made infra-red LED array + wire coathanger + retro-reflective tape + Freetrack.