Mudspike AMA with Eagle Dynamics Senior Producer Matt Wagner

We’d like to thank Matt Wagner, Senior Producer with Eagle Dynamics, publisher of Digital Combat Simulator, for agreeing to participate in this Mudspike Ask Me Anything (AMA) question and answer session. All questions were submitted by Mudspike forum users. Some questions were combined with similar questions for brevity. Please note – the images accompanying this AMA are NOT development images – they are simply images taken from my archives to add some color to the article – we know you guys need pictures accompanying text or you’ll wander off…

How is the DCS Dynamic Campaign coming along? Will it be a complete multiple-layered simulation of an entire war, like a certain other sim famously tried? Or will it be smaller and more gamey like the Enemy Engaged helicopter sims did?

We have been working on a single player / multiplayer dynamic campaign system that operates in real-time (not generate between missions). The first step has been the design and creation of the Real Time Strategy (RTS) element that considers resources, strategic nodes and routes, war production, ground forces, strategic objectives, ground force route planning, and tasking orders based on a side’s objectives. The DCS dynamic campaign engine will evolve to cover the economic aspects such as factories, warehouses and materials logistics that transport resources. All become valuable targets that will be visible on the map and available for game play for both AI and human pilots.

We now have the RTS element of the dynamic campaign running within DCS World, and we are working on user interface that will allow to configure a campaign and will be used to tune the RTS engine. There is considerable work to do on the interface, details of all military orders and package creation/coordination, and unit AI tuning. The engine is built on a neural network that allows us to create realistic dynamic campaigns based on machine learning principles. Our current estimate is that the dynamic campaign will be ready for beta test in 2021.

When will we get real time map object placement in the Mission Editor?

By “real time map object placement”, I interpret this to mean placement of units and objects in the 3D world rather than the 2D Mission Editor interface. This is something on our to-do list for the Mission Editor which demands a ME rewrite as well as a DCS World re-coding. Other Mission Editor items we plan to add are user-created annotations (lines, shapes, and labels), more flight attack options like multi-axis attacks, and more options to control the reaction of ground forces (needed for a better Combined Arms product).

Are there any plans to release any more ED developed campaigns or combined operations campaigns? Would this be an easy way to increase revenue for ED to fund other projects while providing more content or is it more work and resources for not much return?

While we will release mini-campaigns as part of aircraft modules, we will leave the more-involved campaigns to 3rd party developers. They have been doing a wonderful job in providing great content. The development of campaigns takes a tremendous amount of time, and we feel that our staff is best focused on other tasks such as core enhancements and module improvements.

For those interested in developing campaigns for DCS World, please reach out to us with a support ticket and we’ll be happy to assist you.

Do you plan a movable Oil Tanker unit for mission making in the Persian Gulf map (as compared to the scenery object oil tankers that are baked into the map)?

It is certainly something we will consider, but as with all development tasks, it comes down to a question of priorities. Currently, we have bigger fish to fry that will benefit our clients more. One of the toughest aspects of game development is setting priorities.

Can you talk about the new ATC/AI improvements in the works? We have seen a few carrier based comms in Wags’ videos but I’d like to know a bit more about the scope. For example declaring emergencies, talking to the tankers a bit more, having AI flights talk to the ATC as well etc.

For now, the lead engineer responsible for this is focused on the aircraft carrier communications (departure, marshal, approach, tower, and LSO). This has been a very complex yet rewarding challenge for us. We are nearing the finishing line and one of his next tasks will be to lead the overhaul of the airfield radio communications. However, this is the same lead engineer responsible for aircraft AI, and there are important tasks on that front that also demand his attention. All the items in your list are certainly desirable however, we also need to balance the available resources with the highest priority tasks. Improved AI is a fundamental element of DCS World core enhancements and a top priority for ED.

How are the weather improvements coming along? (clouds that don’t ‘spin’ in VR anymore, more cloud types, thermals, turbulence near the ground as seen in Mover’s low level video)

We are in the process of developing a new cloud system that will support several types of clouds including cumulus, cumulonimbus, cirrus and the variations thereof and, of course, we’ll also include multilayered cloud structures.

Will there be a new module-independent (defined in the engine itself) implementation/improvement of IFF that is a bit more realistic? Right now, DCSW looks like there are different implementations on a model to model basis.

Our IFF implementation is on an aircraft basis and aircraft of the Flaming Cliffs 3 series are designed to be greatly simplified. The current IFF in the Hornet is already quite realistic for Mode 4 operations. The only big item missing is the automatic modes, but those will need to come with the AZ/EL radar mode. Later, we also will also add Mode 1, 2, and 3, but these are not nearly as important as mode 4.

We plan an accurate IFF simulation for the Viper that is based on public information.

Is in-game voice communication planned for the near future (instead of third party tools)?

It is. Later this year we will release the beta version of our in-game Voice Chat component for DCS Core that will allow integrated Voice Over IP (VOIP) in DCS World. Stage 1 will be rooms for the two sides, Stage 2 will be released very rapidly and consists of user created rooms, and Stage 3 will be based on the radio modulation and frequency. We are sure this will add a great element to online play.

Is there anything new on the VR front? Examples: – performance improvements, maybe like the shader mod only that it wouldn’t break multiplayer – ways to make notes in VR (would love grease pencils on the canopy or so).

The biggest improvement for VR will be based on the new graphics engine that is already well into development. The new graphics engine will take advantage of GPU Multi-Threading and the Vulkan API. This is one of the highest priorities of our core features team. Not only will this provide a better VR experience, it will also allow us to create much larger and more detailed worlds with richer effects and immersion.

It’s a good idea to have the possibility to make notes on a pad in VR. We’ll think about it and implement as additional game feature in VR mode.

With the upcoming revamp to the Black Shark, we’re seeing a free update to an old module combined with paid DLC to add new gizmos. Do you see this as a viable way of continuing support for all the elder modules in the back catalogue or is this something you need to try out first?

Yes. We will continue to update older content as DCS World grows, and part of that will be updating older aircraft modules like the Ka-50 and A-10C. While we will provide a free update version of these modules to existing owners, we will also provide more feature-rich versions of the module to new and existing users. These more feature rich versions will be offered to existing owners of the module at a substantial discount. Once the Ka-50 and A-10C updates are done, we’ll look at other aircraft to refresh. A big one for me would be an update to the F-5E for example.

In the past, modules sort of faded through phases of being supported very actively to support getting sparser. While I think this is a natural consequence of modules costing a finite amount of money, do you see a way of making it more transparent to users how long these phases last and what phase a module is currently in?

We are working on a public tracking page that will allow users to view the status of each product, items being worked on, and our best date projections. We hope this level of transparency will remove the mystery of product states and general direction of the company and its workload for both modules and core engine.

With the CVN module coming soon, what else can we expect in the future for other Naval assets? Any chance of updated damage/ sensor models, or other ships and units?

Our focus is on the Supercarrier updates and after that the Arleigh Burke destroyer and Admiral Kuznetsov carrier. Once these are released, we will evaluate their success and determine the level and composition of other naval-focused content. One step at a time as this is a deep rabbit hole.

Do you plan to improve the air-ground AI at some point, for example with new attack profiles, jinking under fire or terrain following flight?

Most certainly, but our first AI priorities are the Supercarrier deck crew and then air-to-air AI improvements. Once those are complete, we have a long list of air-to-surface attack AI improvements in mind.

Nick Grey mentioned that more than 50% of staff are working on non-module related items. Any insight into what the items are that are actively being worked on at this point?

Indeed. Regarding non-aircraft and map projects that focus on the core product, some of the big ones are:

  • New terrain engine
  • Dynamic campaign
  • New graphics engine
  • Improved night lighting
  • FLIR rendering tech
  • Ground radar tech
  • Air-to-Surface radar rendering tech
  • Improved weather (clouds, thermals, humidity, etc.)
  • New and improved effects
  • Integrated VOIP
  • Aircraft AI improvement
  • Updated replay system
  • Improved unit visibility
  • Improved sound engine
  • Improved network code
  • And other more confidential aspects…

I think in fact it’s probably even more than 50% of company resources are invested on the core product.

Regarding future plans for the dedicated server

We have seen a big improvement with it lowering required system resources. Is there a potential and/or plan to further optimize in that regard?

We are always improving the dedicated server code and welcome input from our clients as to what they would like to see added.

Will we potentially see in the future, the availability to run it as a Windows Service, and accessible via a System Tray Icon? (Useful to operators for delayed + automatic start after boot & automatic restart).

Not currently, but we plan to have it as a Windows Service in the future.

Any possibility of a Linux based server?

We have no such plans given the somewhat limited utility this would provide.

Is ED looking at integrating features like those from the community (like SRS, SLmod, etc)?

These are great products, but we prefer to develop in-house solutions that we can better support and avoid core product conflicts.

Is there a roadmap for the Warehouse/Resource system to see expansion and improvement, such as mission payload restriction (such as limiting # of Phoenix missiles an F-14 can take at once), and allowing transport planes to move resources between bases?

The resource system will be greatly updated for the dynamic campaign system.

Are there any plans to expand Combined Arms? This hidden gem of a module can really alter the multiplayer landscape with a cunning user at the helm but hasn’t gained a large following.

Certainly, but before we can do so, there are other items that first need to be addressed:

  • Detailed damage model system for ground units
  • Improved ground unit AI decision making
  • New and improved ground unit effects
  • A much more detailed ground environment

Is there hope for an F-4 Phantom? If so, would it be off the mark wishing that the developer is Heatblur using the multi-crew experience and technology created building the Tomcat?

The Phantom is such a legendary aircraft that we will certainly simulate it. For now, we already have another aircraft (an eagerly awaited one) to work on after the Viper.

Any word of when the A6 Intruder will be in Early Access in DCS?

Such an interesting aircraft, but we currently have no plans to develop the A-6 but this may change in the future.

What are plans for DCS WWII after the P-47 and Me-262 have been completed?

The P-47D is far along and will be released at a completed state in Q1 2020. However, new World War II assets such as the completed A-20 and Ju-88 will be released this year. After the P-47D will come the Mosquito. We are still collecting the necessary data to correctly simulate the Me.262 and until we have enough granular detail we will not start development. In parallel with the new units, we are working on some new World War II maps that we will announce soon. Quite a lot is happening on the World Word II front.

Are there plans in place for a larger scope and vision for the World War 2 project?

Very much so. Normandy Summer 1944 was just a toe dip in the water. New maps, new units, and a new combat theater are all in work to expand and improve the DCS World War II experience. We are also developing a highly detailed damage model, long awaited torpedoes feature that will allow to use torpedoes by aircraft and navy units, improved sighting system, and improved aircraft AI to make the experience even better.

Can you elaborate on any plans to release other WW2 maps for other locations and time periods?

Not today, but soon.

Are there internal discussions regarding the choice of module to build in the release schedule in the WW2 project, that takes into account proper timeline opponents for the current modules and future ones?

Most certainly, and one of the new maps in development is also well suited to our current stable of warbirds. We started WWII as a private passion from our founder: simulation of classic WWII fighters. User have enjoyed the very authentic feel and precision of each module but we do agree that broadening the scope as well as sticking to highly authentic simulation criteria is good for user growth.

Can you speak to the progress of work on the WW2 project modules regarding damage modeling and AI routines for flying piston powered aircraft?

A great deal of work is going into the new damage model and we hope that our clients will be impressed. We have hosted alfa-testing of new damage model on one of the popular servers and we are working on the received community feedback to create the very new gameplay for all DCS users. In fact, we’ve talked about this in recent newsletters.

The AI will use the same damage model as well. We are also working for more human-like aiming behavior for AI that will allow them to shoot most vulnerable parts of each aircraft.

At the same time, our engineers have developed a very accurate engine and turbocharger model for the P-47D, from which we’ll do our best to have the AI fly to its strengths.

DCS Mosquito… dream or reality?

Very much a reality! You can expect it in 2020.

Is there a plan in place to enforce better configuration management control during open beta updates? It has now gotten very common to see features completely broken requiring a hotfix… or sometimes having to wait weeks. Have some options like FitNesse tests been explored?

This is the purpose of the Open Beta. While all open betas go through some internal testing, bugs should be expected in an Open Beta release. We also understand that Open Beta are not for everyone and is why we have the “Release” version.

Are there plans to create an ATIS?

Perhaps when we create the new airfield ATC system.

The Hind is one of the most anticipated helicopter modules ever. How will the multicrew work on that helicopter?

This is still being designed, but we plan an intuitive means to command the other crew member to accomplish basic sets of tasks.

Will the Yak-52 ever be patched? Basic things like ADF are still not implemented.

Most certainly, Yak-52 development team is allocated and will start to work on final phase for the project Q1 2020.

What is next after the F-16?

After the F-16C will come DCS: P-47D Thunderbolt, Mi-24 Hind, and Mosquito.

Given current staffing decisions re: the Hornet and Falcon, how has the development of promised core improvements to DCS World (e.g. weather, ATC, ai improvement, Chizh’s recently announced missile re-re-rework, rate of bug fixes) been delayed by staffing demands for the protracted development of MAC?

Not a bit. The staff working on MAC, Hornet, Viper and other such products are different from those working on the core DCS World features.

Why was development of the F-16 pushed so closely behind the Hornet when waiting another year would have provided a more mature feature repository to exploit?

Two reasons: we promised an early Autumn 2019 release, and we needed at least a two-week buffer before our big Autumn 2019 sale.

What are the development statuses of the formerly Belsimtek Attack Choppers? Has the specific variant of the AH-1 been determined?

Belsimtek (BST) has not been in existence for a long time. BST was originally set up as a branch of Eagle Dynamics as a 3rd party example as a business practice. With the establishment of other 3rd parties, it no longer made sense to keep that staff under a separate entity. They were then merged back into Eagle Dynamics.

Much of our modern aircraft team is focused on the F/A-18C, F-16C, and Mi-24 Hind.

Given current performance issues with ground AI pathfinding, especially with regards to server stability, what if any improvements are planned in preparation for the in work dynamic campaign?

This is an element that will require extensive testing and will be completely re-worked as we development the dynamic campaign. This will allow a huge number of units to inhabit a campaign and ensure stability.

With regards to hints of a squadron room in the upcoming super carrier module – can you please elaborate a little more on the features especially in regards to multiplayer? Have you thought about integrating common online collaboration technology for briefing/debriefing like showing slides or even providing templates for common briefing topics?

While still very much subject to change, the Supercarrier briefing room is designed to allow players to view the briefing, arm their jets, watch the PLAT CAM, and walk to the jet. This Briefing room will not be delivered during the early access period.

What is your opinion on the lovely crafted main menus of the classic 90s flightsims which immersed the player into some fighter squadron base atmosphere compared to today’s rather cold and functional GUIs?

I grew up with such titles and they hold a dear place in my heart. We are looking into bringing back some of those functions, but some would not transfer well based on the nature of DCS World spanning eras, armed forces, and aircraft types. One of the features I would like to see is a robust squadron management role playing element.

What is the capital of Montana?

Helena

Mr. Wagner, how do you cope with the rabid internet angst mobs? You must have a long history of dealing with that stuff. How do you do it?

Even the most ardent critic is posting because he cares about the product and wants to see it better. That is the most important takeaway. If no one were talking / caring about DCS we would be in deep trouble!

How did the Eagle Dynamics team cope with the loss of Dr. Tishin? On a personal level and on a professional level? Was the sudden lack of his knowledge and insight hard to overcome? How did you all manage to keep on truckin’?

It was a very tough loss for all of us. He was the heart of the company and a mentor to many. However, our company founder and owner, Mr. Nick Grey, has taken a very hands-on role and appointed Kate Perederko as the company CEO. Kate is a very talented programmer, has been with the company for nearly 20 years and is loved by all in Eagle Dynamics. Together, they have made the company more successful than ever.

Are maps that would cater more to the F-86 and MiG-15 in the works?

If by that you mean a Korea map, it’s something we’d love to do at some point, but it’s not in our immediate plans.

MAC – What’s the current status of MAC? It seemed to be a successor to FC3 and then just vanished. Is it still a thing?

We have a large effort behind MAC, and the scope of the product has grown tremendously since we initially announced it. Our goal is to create a true AAA product, but this has taken a lot more time than we originally planned due to the added game features we never had in DCS before. We are confident the result will be worth it and bring many people into combat flight simulations.

FC3 – Will we ever see an FC4? In addition, can 3rd parties add more aircraft in the FC vein, ie simplified systems?

What we originally planned as Flaming Cliffs 4 morphed into Modern Air Combat. The FC series will continue but we feel that MAC will represent the future of simplified ab initio simulator users.

F-16 – Will we have the option for PIDS/PIDSU?

Perhaps at a later point, but not in our current planning.

How do you and the third party developers choose which module to work on next? Is there a ‘big picture’ strategy?

It’s a combination of factors: what we have public information for, customer demand, sales forecast, avoid stepping on our own products, SME, and projected development time/cost.


Thanks to Matt Wagner for taking time out of his busy schedule to shed some light on DCS World development. If you’d like to discuss the AMA, please visit our forum thread: HERE!