Bored with your current crop of sims? Looking to inject a bit of new life into an old favorite? Instead of modding your install, maybe you should try modding your mind!
Consequences are a…well…you know…
years decades, I’ve played sims in a bunch of ways. While I personally tend to lean toward gameplay and fun over realism, I do find the crossover point between the two wobbles back and forth based on home obligations, work schedules, and the inevitable external time pressures that affect all of our lives. Some weeks I enjoy cozying down into a DCS cockpit and learning the intricacies of a highly detailed sub-system that I had not to date explored, while other weeks I just fire up X-Plane and shoot touch and gos with the fantastically basic Stinson. The nice thing about most of the sims we enjoy playing is that they are nearly infinitely configurable to your individual skill and realism desires. One of the more interesting adaptations to gameplay is the simple concept of playing a campaign using “Dead Is Dead” rules.
Don’t hit that reset button!
So, as you may have guessed, “Dead Is Dead” (DID) gameplay encourages the player to fly missions and campaigns using a single, mortal character that cannot be revived after his virtual death. Instead of hitting the “refly” button you just have to shrug (or cry) and admit defeat at the hands of the enemy (or incompetent flying). Flying using the DID parameter doesn’t necessarily mean you have to strive for 100% realism. You can still tailor the experience to your skill level by using features such as labels, relaxed flight models, external views, or reduced enemy AI abilities. Obviously, invulnerability would defeat the purpose of DID, so at the bare minimum, that option should be turned off. Why fly DID? Well, it adds an extra component of investment into your character that can (cough – should) translate into your gameplay habits. Let’s face it – the way most of us play sims there is a definite tilting of the risk vs. self-preservation curve toward flying like a madman. One of the exceptions to that can be flying cooperative multiplayer missions where extensive pre-mission planning and flight toward the mission goals are invested. The old hands among us might remember some of the longer Jane’s F-15 missions that required multiple external fuel tanks, and hitting the tanker on ingress and egress. Long missions with distant objectives can also inject a sense of investment and ownership that amp up the thrill.
So it was with a good bit of enthusiasm that I recently stumbled across a proposal by our friends over at Combat Ace to start up a DID challenge. The rules are simple (see the linked thread) and allow for a lot of individual gameplay parameters. It isn’t a competition, but just a fun method of putting a new slant on how you approach your gameplay.
Old habits die hard!
For my latest go at a DID campaign, I went with something I felt was pretty topical – a torn from the front pages Strike Fighters 2 campaign, Operation Darius, that features a coalition strike against a recalcitrant and nuclear ambitious Iran. Do I agree with the premise? Well, our track record in the region isn’t fantastic, but the military industrial complex has budgets to meet and programs to push – so let’s start another war shall we! Where did I put my flag lapel pin?
For my campaign, I chose mostly hard settings with the exception of things like external views and having HUD data on the screen so that I could grab screens and add some juice to the article. A hardcore DID player might even limit views to the cockpit only, disable all labels, and go with as realistic settings as is possible – these are the simmers you don’t want to meet on a back alley server at 2AM and suggest airborne starts. The first mission I draw is a straight-forward strike in my F-15E across the border to destroy a rocket battery located in the western mountains of Iran.
Our flight is a two-ship and we are loaded to the gills. I’m not convinced my loadout is even possible but the campaign let me load whatever I fancied on the pylons, so excuse the historical artistic license. My flying Swiss Army knife includes HARM missiles, GBU-12s, AMRAAMs, GBU-10s, and some good old fashioned, non politically correct cluster munitions (we’ve already launched a Kickstarter to help with the post war cleanup..don’t worry!).
Into the grey overcast (Stary’s SARCASM 2.0 beta!) we go on this early morning sortie. Our flight into enemy territory is short. There is a lot of other activity going on in SF2 campaigns, so it is a good idea to keep an eye on the map to see what allied flights are around you. I’ve found that sometimes going too fast puts you out in front of your CAP flight, so pull the throttle back and let the Zoomies do their thing in front of you if you are driving a bomb truck like the F-15E.
On the ingress, my RWR gear shows various air and ground activity. With an eye toward clearing the path, I lock up an air defense vehicle on our route and send a HARM his way.
As we approach our IP, I notice on both my RWR and the map that we have a Hawk missile battery ahead. I note it, and for some reason, I ignore it even though I have another HARM slung under my other wing. Bad decision #1.
On this first mission into Iran, enemy air activity is relatively light and distant, so with continued reassurance from my queries to the tactical air controller, I’m free to concentrate on the primary target. I select a GBU, climb to the high teens, and select the primary target. Around me blossoms some very light anti-aircraft artillery but there is thankfully no surface to air missile activity.
As the range closes, I wait until around five miles and hit the pickle button twice. SF2 is long on action and short on avionics accuracy, so sometimes things like launch zones are a bit of a WAG, but you quickly get a handle on what is possible. My bombs arc down as I pull off to the west and pop chaff and flares.
The bombs hit in succession and set off an enormous explosion. “Viper flight – mission accomplished!” comes over the radio and our primary job is done. And this, Mudspike Reader™, is where things usually go off the rails for me. You see, DID flying requires a discipline that I just can’t seem to muster. Consequences. Mission. Self preservation. These are flight simming qualities that elude me. So, I did what I always do: I have moar* weapons – must make moar explosions! (* how the cool kids talk I guess) Zipping around under the high overcast, the remaining AAA chases me across the sky as I select a pair of my big-daddy 2000-pound GBUs to drop on the remainder of the site.
The blast is enormous and much of the rest of the site is left burning. Curiously, I can’t seem to get the other launchers to explode though, so I make one more pass with my CBUs.
With the mission accomplished, I pull the fangs in and make the responsible decision (finally!) to head back to base. The radio is starting to heat up with word of fighters inbound, so I slink back across the border to my base.
The mission is accomplished in good order with no damage and no losses. This DID stuff is going to be a piece of cake in this awesome Mud Eagle war machine!
For my follow up mission, I draw another visit to the same area, but this time to strike an enemy warehouse. I load up on some JDAMs and other assorted gear and head for the strike area.
On the way to the strike area my RWR once again chirps with the annoying Hawk warning and I alter my course further to the west to avoid overflying it. On the RWR are some troubling symbols of MiG-29 and, even more worrisome Iranian F-14s that carry AIM-54C missiles.
As the RWR gets busy I realize I’ve pushed ahead of the rest of the package and am fairly well exposed to enemy fighters coming down from the northeast. I pull my throttle back and head west while calling on fighter support from the south and the Iranian F-14s start to focus on me and my wingman.
The plan works out good and the sight of allied F-22s moving north to engage the F-14s warms my heart. There is a bit of tit-for-tat but the diversion provided by our fighters gives us an opportunity to dash into the target area for the strike.
Closing on the warehouse I wait to get into approximate JDAM range and drop a single bomb scoring a direct hit and getting a mission accomplished message.
Mission #2 is in the bag and I’m well on my way to making a career out of this DID gameplay. But – that Hawk battery. That pesky Hawk battery. I mean, what HARM would there be in working my way over there on the return and taking out that Hawk? Granted, I only have GBUs, CBUs, and JDAMs, but how nice would it be to not have to navigate around that threat each time I head east?
And that Mudspike Reader™, is how you put the D in DID. You make a bad decision, play for action instead of self-preservation, and everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face by a Hawk missile. My DID campaign lasted all of two missions.
The discipline to play in the DID mindset is tough for me to stick to. In real life, you are tasked with a mission, your package is squeezed into a much larger air tasking order (ATO), and the penalty for deviating from the ATO could be things like getting shot down by your own side, or risking a collision over a crowded battlefield. I should have taken the “Mission Accomplished” and ran with it. It is worth noting though, that I believe that damage in Strike Fighters 2 is persistent in that if I had taken out the Hawk, he wouldn’t have been there in subsequent missions. This is a nice feature that actually does encourage doing extra duty, unlike a sim like DCS where mission to mission persistence is not modeled (unless the mission designer removes a threat under the assumption it was destroyed on the previous mission). So your risk vs. reward ratio is different based on what sim you are flying. Clearly, flying a DID campaign requires more restraint and a more measured approach. I could have easily waited until mission #3 to strap a HARM on and perform a much safer stand-off attack.
I plan to dust myself off, and rejoin the DID process, and hopefully make smarter decisions for the next run through!
Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth