February 2021 : Player interview with xvii-Dietrich

Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I don’t have much of a background, no family, and I don’t belong anywhere. I’ve lived/worked in eighteen different countries and have visited or passed through a dozen more. At the time of writing this (2020), I’m in Arctic Norway, but I’m always moving, never settling (EDIT : update 2021… yes, I’ve just moved again). My education is in physics and mathematics. I do scientific research for a living. I also design and commission instrumentation: spacecraft, telescopes, radars, that sort of thing.

How long have you been playing flight sims?
I started WW2 flight sims in late 2014. I had been messing about with multiplayer Silent Hunter III before that, and some of my online group members were trying out IL-2 Cliffs of Dover (CloD). At that time, there was a crashed Junkers Ju 88 next to where I worked, so I asked if there was a Ju 88 in the sim. As there was, I decided to try out CloD. Learning flight-sims with a twin-engined bomber is hardly a typical beginning, but that’s where I got started.

What other gaming interests do you have besides WW2 flight simming?
Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim.
That one game makes all my other gaming interests look rather tame.

What’s your all time favourite flight sim and why?
Skyrim.
Dragon riding.
That should be pretty obvious, really.

Oh? If you meant aircraft flight, then none of them. Seriously, they are all sort of flawed and there isn’t a single one that turns it into an obsession. Rise of Flight has seaplanes (a passion) with superb water interaction, but its maps are dull and lifeless. X-Plane has a world map, which is great, but no history or combat. Cliffs of Dover is historically okay, but the AI is useless and the graphics look ancient now. DCS is most lifelike, but it doesn’t have any planes I’m really interested in. Still, DCS is the best of the bunch at the moment, so that is where I spend my aircraft time. That said, although the graphics and flight modelling are superb, the attention to detail on non-fighter weapon systems and avionics is not the best. DCS’s claimed high-quality is rather patchy… both generally for WW2 and especially for WW2 intel and air-to-ground ordnance. But things are steadily improving, and I see it being very good in future.

What got you into DCS and the warbirds in particular?
Frustration with CloD got me into DCS. I had been working with Philstyle and Reddog on their Storm of War project, but people were leaving CloD en masse to go to either DCS or IL2:BoX. Initially I went to BoX (= IL-2: Great Battles), as they also had a Ju 88. However it was really gamey and totally unconvincing, so I didn’t last long there. I tried DCS on a whim, and found it to be pretty good, although a bit limited at first. I’ve also tried the jets in DCS and they are excellent, but the ones that are currently available don’t hold my interest for too long. I love the helicopters (esp. the SA 342), but there isn’t a good multiplayer environment for them. Then, in late 2019, the revised Normandy map came out and FW 190 A-8/F-8 was announced, and that was enough to draw me back to the warbirds again. Unfortunately the A-8 is of rather poor quality and the F-8 variant simply never materialised. However, the updated Normandy map was very good and there were now enough airfields, aircraft and assets to make Storm of War feasible for DCS. We did some test runs and then got the current campaign system up and running in February 2020. Wow… it’s been a year already!

Describe your play style/ what interests you as a player?
Recon/bomber. I take pride in long-endurance flights and precision navigation. The idea is not to engage enemy fighters, but to avoid being intercepted altogether. I also work really hard on making it back to base. I am definitely not a single-engine fighter-pilot. Even fighter-bombers, although mildly more interesting, are still a bit bland.

Level-bombing is an excellent challenge, but Fernaufklärung (long-range reconnaissance) is what I like most. Going out, finding a secret target, taking a photograph and then getting that photograph back safely. This used to be my favourite activity in SoW-CloD. I do so wish there was a decent reconnaissance mechanism, and one from which we could derive target locations, damage results, and thus code pilot statistics and tactical consequences. Intelligence accumulation is another area desperately lacking in DCS. It needs false intelligence, old intelligence, lack of intelligence, a chain of intelligence… not just perfect Red/Blue icons on the F10 map.

I also love floatplanes and maritime patrols. I’ve spent huge amounts of time in Rise of Flight flying the Brandenburg W12 and Hanriot HD2. Floatplane flying is what I mostly do in X-Plane too, which has a world map. I add ships randomly and then go searching for them using an He 115 mod that I made myself. I wish I could do that in DCS. There is a DCS AI-seaplane mod now available, but nothing yet flyable… and certainly no map/scenario suitable for one. Seaplanes out of the Marianas would be cool though. PBY Catalina or OS2U Kingfisher, please?

So these days I find I am doing a lot of coding for SoW. And I mean a lot of coding.

Are you in a virtual squadron?
Yes. XVII.Fliegerkorps

Tell us about the XVII.Fliegerkorps.
The XVII.Fliegerkorps was founded in 2005-2006, originally as an online U-boat group (17.Flottille) fighting Arctic convoys in Silent Hunter III. I was living in Longyearbyen at the time. Hence there was a lot of local influence from there on the oiginal group’s graphics, style and theme.

In 2014, the group switched to flying WWII aircraft (CloD). In 2016, we dabbled in WWI floatplanes in Rise of Flight and jets/helicopters in DCS, before reverting to DCS warbirds in 2020. Numbers have ebbed and flowed. At our height, we had 23 active members. These days there’s only one or two. Not many people have the patience or aptitude for a dedicated recon/bomber role, so they drift off to the insta-thrill glamour fighters.

What kind of rig/ hardware setup do you have?
I’ve a couple of systems. One is a 2014 MacBook, but configured as dual-boot Windows 8N / Linux. The other is a 2019 PC with Windows 10. I have TrackIR (I’ve tried VR, but don’t like it whatsoever). I have a set of PFT-Puma controls.

Are you unhappy with any aspect of your setup right now that you’d change if you could?
Things are mostly okay, but I wish the Win10 machine was more stable. It has much better performance than the laptop, but I get the Blue-Screen-Of-Death quite often.

What’s the single best piece of Hardware you ever bought to make DCS WW2 (or WW2 simming in general) more enjoyable?
A Razer Taipan laser mouse. I bought this because it was cheap if you bought other Razer products. It cost me something like six euros. The other Razer stuff turned out to be poor quality, but the mouse was surprisingly good. Rugged, reliable, precise, smooth and comfortable. I’ve got well over 9000 hours out of it, and it is still going strong.

What are your top THREE tips for veteran players who have mastered the basics of DCS warbirds and are looking for that extra edge?

  1. Deep knowledge

Pick an aircraft and stick with it. Really study it. Learn its performance. Learn its weapon systems. Do you know the top speed you can get in level flight at each altitude, and different loadouts? Can you estimate the fuel requirement, so you don’t take more than you need? Do you know all those circuit breakers? Do you know the ammunition-type sequence in your cannons? What’s your advantageous altitude against each enemy?

Then invest some time into precision flying, until it becomes second nature. Doing “touch-and-go” landing practice might seem dull, but you are developing intuition. And that intuition carries over to all aspects of flight, so you no longer have to pay attention to it. It becomes instinct. And that frees your mind for other tasks, such as situational awareness, communication and tactics.

Often a type-expert pilot in a mediocre aeroplane is far more effective than a novice in the best one. And out-classing (or even shooting down) so-called superior aircraft is very rewarding.

  1. Optimise

When you know an aircraft well, optimise your key-bindings and control layout. Are your routine functions easy to get at? Are they logical? Are delicate functions accessible without compromising your flight precision? Sometimes a generic layout will serve a large number of aircraft, but if you truly want to get good at one of them, you need to lose that flexibility to improve the control ergonomics of your chosen machine.

  1. Planning

Just logging in and “winging-it” is not a plan; certainly not for bomber/recon missions. What is your start point, route, headings, distances, timings, altitudes, divert-fields, target, approach direction, fuel load, attack sequence, weapon selection, number of passes, drop-heights, and everything? Well-planned missions tend to go well.

What is the single simplest/ lowest effort thing that ED can change about DCS WW2 to have the most positive impact right now?
Implement a reconnaissance-photography mechanism!!

Some aircraft in DCS have a “guncam”. Now imagine that same mechanism, but on a camera pointing straight downward out of the aircraft. And if activating the camera was an event, you could also log the postion/attitude of the aircraft at the time, and then tie that back into the mission. Having reconnaissance, both high and low altitude, was an important part of WW2 and something that no simulator has yet tackled satisfactorily. And, as mentioned, there are already guncams for some DCS modules (e.g. MiG-15bis), so the mechanism exists… it just needs to be in the WW2 aircraft as a photo-recon camera option, pointing down instead of forward and activating a trigger or event when a photograph is taken.

Hopefully this is something that ED will consider for DCS. And hopefully this is something that they would consider discussing first, so they can implement what is actually needed by the community, rather than what they think they think the community wants.

How important is historicity to you when it comes to Warbird simulation? Do you want to full whack (historical airfields, matching plane-sets, historical weapons and paint-jobs) or are you happy with well detailed aircraft in an anachronistic or modern setting?
History is vital.

It is the benchmark that we can measure things against. It allows us to envelop our hobby in something that really happened, thus letting us reach back and touch our past. It provides a standard to which we can pin our scenarios, allowing us to move away from contrived “perfect blue-v-red balanced match-ups with equally-spaced airfields on a cloudless day”.

DCS only has a few items in its arsenal to let us re-create the by-gone world, so we have to use imagination too. But every step away from fact, becomes a strain on that imagination which at some point will break. This is why getting as many details correct as possible with the things we have, lets us take liberties elsewhere.

It is heartbreaking when such beautifully-crafted aircraft are placed in a jarring, dissonant context. When the most sublime flight mechanics are daubed with the wrong markings, or when there isn’t a single appropriate (and appropriately laid out) airfield to take off from, in an otherwise meticulously-modelled 3D rendition.

What’s the most frustrating WW2 Flight Sim controversy that comes up over and over again but shouldn’t because it’s really resolved?
Laser-Flak. Players often think the anti-aircraft guns are too good and claim they are sniped out of the sky on the first shot. When you check the .trk file, they have actually been peppered for minutes with lots of misses, that they don’t see as they are looking elsewhere. They also fly as a lone aircraft, with poor tactics over a heavily-defended area. Then they’re angry that they were shot down and take it out of the server admins or DCS.

What’s your favourite DCS module, or what announced module are you looking forward to the most?
The SA 342 is my favourite so far, and I’m very eagerly awaiting the Bo 105. For WW2, I don’t think DCS will ever have the sorts of aircraft I’m really interested in but, of those announced so far, I’m very much looking forward to the F4U-1D and Me 262. 🙂

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