Saturday, December 13, 2008

I want my... never mind...



Black Shark is out... and it's about frickin time. I've been waiting... no, itching actually, for this sim to be released for well over a year now. I told myself I wouldn't get it if it was released before my L-39 was done. Yeah... that idea lasted about 45 seconds when put to the test. ;)

Was it worth the wait? Definitely!

Only installed it just this morning and have been flying around for an hour or so, but I'm already very impressed. The performance is pretty good provided you don't go too bonkers with the settings. It's definitely better across the board fps wise than FSX, though it's a bit less consistent when the detail really piles on.

The flight model though... that is just a work of art. I've never flown a helo sim that feels so much like the real thing. People always say that flying a helo is like balancing on the head of a pin, or a million other such comparisons, that it's as unstable as a flying machine can get and you always have to fight to keep it upright. That's rubbish of course, helos are quite stable due to the gyroscopic effects imparted by large amounts of balanced metal whirling above your head and their very low centre of gravity. If you can compare them to anything simple at all then a quickly spinning top on a table is the closest match. They do get unstable when you abuse their controls though, and the Black Shark, having relatively low yaw stability, definitely makes you pay for it.

Retreating blade stall, ground effect, and the vortex ring from rapid descents are all modeled and the normal manoeuvres for getting out of them in the real world work perfectly in the sim. The vortex ring in particular causes a nice little vibration through the helo.

The trickiest bit I've found so far in getting a handle on flying it is managing the trim. It has an electromechanical cyclic trim that is very much like what you'll find in any modern helicopter: Put the cyclic where you want it, hit the trim button, and that's where it stays until you change it. It basically makes whatever cyclic deflection you had when it was trimmed, into its new centrepoint. It does take quite a bit of getting used to though after FSX's total lack of helo trim, and the patched in pitch trim of FSUIPC.

I have yet to blow anything up (besides myself) but I'll make a post when I do.

One other very impressive feature, besides the (500+ page!) manual, is that they've taken a different approach with licensing/copy protection. I am firmly of the mindset that when you pay money for something then you bloody well OWN IT, end of freaking story. I don't buy into this 'leasing' crap that most software companies seem to think is perfectly fine these days. Fifty (plus) dollars for a game is not a rental agreement, it's a purchase. It's always been this way, and I couldn't care less what the fine print in the EULA says for I will *always* view it this way. You rent movies, you lease cars, and you buy software. I understand the need to protect an enormous investment, particularly now of course, but this licensing garbage has always been way across the line for me.

Anyway, as you're all probably used to, when you install your game, and enter your license crap, everything's great until your machine crashes, or you upgrade, or need to reinstall windows or whatever, at which point you're basically screwed and have to go begging to the publisher for the right to use something that you already OWN.

So in a brilliant bit of foresight (what? people upgrade their computers!?) they've actually allowed you to get your activations back when you uninstall Black Shark. About bloody time! It's still wrong, but this makes it slightly less wrong at least, a small step back towards the realm of 'sane' copy protection.

I also highly recommend having a Track-ir for this, and if you do have one make sure you update your drivers for it (latest version Oct 8th) or you're going nowhere fast. The control setup is a little wonky to figure out at first, but it's customizable in the *extreme*, which I love.

Bottom line: Its Lomac roots are visible, but it's been given an absolute ton of polish and the user interface is brilliant as well. If you've been lamenting the lack of any decent helo sims on the market as much as I have, you really should buy this. Just be prepared to be thrown in at the deep end. There's an 'arcade' mode in the sim, but no self-respecting pilot would ever touch it of course... right? ;)

It's $50 US, a 2 GB download, and took about 6 hours to get.

http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/





-lotus

20 comments:

Mugar said...

Looks like something to add for the holiday wishlist. Just wondering, can you walk around when you're on the ground after you bail out of the chopper?

Lotus / Ramasurinen said...

Yeah, actually you can. :)

Mugar said...

Whoa! I don't mean to be pushing it, but as you're walking around, do you try to avoid detection from enemy ground units. are you armed with a pistol? I'm really pushing it, I know. But I'm really curious now

Lotus / Ramasurinen said...

I don't know beyond the fact you can sort of walk around. Haven't looked, but I doubt it.

Sundowner said...

Between writing my term paper and making those damned S-61 blueprints - I had few minutes to fly the DCS.

Quite interesting, but that trim worked awkward - although my friend, just like me, don't have force-feedback joystick. Does the force-feedback ones work like they should, or do you have to retract it to center after pressing trim reset like I had to ?

Lotus / Ramasurinen said...

I don't think it can work exactly like the real thing even if you have a force feedback stick, which I don't (never found them realistic at all). It just takes some getting used to, and my time to test it is going to be limited for the next couple months as I wrap up the plane. Nice to have a new toy though hehe. Maybe I'll take a day off on Boxing day and just fly around and see how long I can live hehe.

Doug said...

There's a trim gauge by the name "htrim" (i tihnk) on avsim, I've got it. Although it doesn't have that auto trim feature that's on modern helos, it still trim's all 3 axes like a plane....great for countering the torque.

And BS sure does look nice; but I'm not getting it so I'll just drol over the screenies.

Sundowner said...

"HTrim" that's correct, it was made by a friend of mine - Some1. Although it wasn't made to represent real helicopter bip-trim. It was made as an aid for long x-country flights, as there are not many autopilots available for helicopters in FSX (2 that I know of - one is payware, and the other often doesn't work).

BTW year ago I begun on designing an Joystick base, that would represent the workings of a true helicopter force-trimmed controls. Unfortunately, I don't have time to work on it, and it's stuck on early development stage.

Doug said...

The bip trim is just a wee yellow button positioned close to where the thumb sits on the joystick sure, (in the Squirrel anyways). Good luck with it anyways.

kingsnake11 said...

Hey Mike
glad you're enjoying BS (excuse the pun). Did they model the rudder pedel positions properly :-) you know, with russian helo's you push left rudder on TO/LND to counter torque. Regardless, I never liked any of the unrealistic soviet biased LOMAC stuff so I will probably miss this one too. Perhpas the only reason to get it would be simply to have fun with a resonable helo flight model.

I had a look at the web sight and was surprised that the chechnya wasn't included. I would have thought that it would have been a good area to include.

looking forward to your progress reports :-)

kingsnake11

kingsnake11 said...

must be tired..ment "web site" not "web sight" :-)

pebble said...

By the way, trim works correctly for helos in Ysflight. Push the button at the current stick position, that becomes the new center. -dodges Lotus' kick- I just had to toss that in.

Lotus / Ramasurinen said...

Restrains self from kicking Pebble...

I didn't know about the HTrim thing, I'll have to check it out. Actually I sat down this morning and thought about how I would write a helo trim gauge, and the scary bit is that I could actually write one now haha. Couldn't say that 3 months ago.

I actually have some similar code in place to kill noobs in the L-39. Open your canopy in flight or forget your pressurization and oxygen? Bad things happen. :)

Kingsnake, I'm not sure if it's biased like Lomac was, and I guess it would be hard to tell since it only models one helicopter. When they come out with their Apache addon then I guess we'll see. I still haven't had time to really dive into it, but I will probably over christmas.

Sundowner, I have a hunch that helo controls are due for a significant upgrade in FS11, which will hopefully make extra trim gauges and autopilots obsolete. I haven't heard anything about it but they're well aware that the helo code and flight modeling has been lagging behind fixed wing for a long time... since umm 1998? ;)

Sundowner said...

Oh, I do hope they rework helicopters in FS11, as they already did many changes with Acceleration/SP2, and that would be the time for my S-61 to be finished ;) But as for trims - there is not much they can do for non-forcefeedback joysticks. Actually you can't do anything more than in DCS.

To work accurate it have to be hardware, that's why such joystick is my Holly Grail ;) The problem is - in helicopters, some simple components like force-gradient springs, or magnetic brakes take up more space, than I have for making the whole base for 2 axis joystick. Its a pain in the butt to shrink the whole design to fit into something smaller than Big-tower PC case ;)

I figured out the springs, but not the clutch actuators, and servos for beep-trim (AFCS trim, or whatever each manufacturer calls it). So far those had to be quite big electric step-motors, didn't had time to think about hydraulic based things - those could be smaller, but unfortunately more complex.... ah how I love mechanics engineering ;P

kingsnake11 said...

Mike
I was up on the DCS websight and was surprised that they are using Starforce drivers. That is a non-starter with me. I had a bad experience in the past with a couple of games that my son bought (codename panzer and silent hunter III if I recall). I can remember the huge number of reported problems and the boycott that followed. I also recall that many companies dropped this type of copy protection.

I did some further poking around a few forums (frugals for example) and the main sentiment is that like me, most will pass due to the starforce issues. Oh well, you did have my interest there for a short while :-)

kingsnake

Lotus / Ramasurinen said...

Hey Kingsnake. Yeah I hate starforce too, but I love helo combat sims (which I don't have time to play haha) so it's a tough call. I don't think the download version uses starforce though, can't see how it could, only the DVD version.

Plus with the online version as I said you get your activation back if you uninstall it, and I think you get 8 total.

kingsnake said...

Hey Mike
The DCS websight FAQ says that indeed the Starforce drivers are with the download version too. At another site, they point out that the new starforce drivers basically act like a rootkit and are sneakier...ie stealthy.

Like you, I enjoy a good helo sim, but I have had hardly anytime to fly anything let alone another sim :-) I have 16 days staight off work so I plan to get some stick time in :-)

Regardless, I don't like the use of Starforce and swore that I would never get another game with it. I lost an expensive RW to it and I also had the random lock ups and reboots that others reported. Now that it's a stealthier driver that has low level access....well, no way that I would put it on my machine.

I had a thought that maybe installing it under a vmware xp machine could work...however, apparently others have tried and it will not install in a virtual machine. To me, that would be ideal as you could insulate the hardware from the install. I guess they thougt of that and prevented it from running in a VM. Another reason (for me anyway) to give it a pass. Maybe once they look at their sales figures, they may release it without starforce. I'll wait until then.
cheers
kingsnake

Sundowner said...

No, it won't change. People are bitching about starforce, since before release of LO:Flaming Cliffs (late 2004), but still buy their games - so ED don't care.

Actually they don't care about anything now, as people buy everything what they put on the market.

Lotus / Ramasurinen said...

Well, since nobody else is going to give them a run for their money in the helo sim department, I guess they can do whatever they like.

I miss the days of actually having choice when it comes to flight sims, but those days are long gone. X-plane? Ehh... I respect Austin a great deal, but it doesn't have the 'special sauce' of FS, and probably never will, and its interface is a disaster. The various Falcon flavours all look like they were made on an Amiga, and that leaves us with.... nothing.

I'm not sure that it's so much about ED having the luxury of everyone buying whatever they make, but that whatever they make is all there is to bloody buy really.

I haven't had any issues with starforce previously, or this time around, but I've heard the horror stories. I'm against copy protection altogether to start with though and I doubt there'll be much if any on my plane when it's done. I refuse to penalize a single paying customer just because others like to dig themselves a giant karma hole by stealing.

That said, I am certainly no saint. Given the lack of demos these days though I have no issue with people practicing the 'try before buy' flavour of piracy, as long as they do eventually buy what they love. Strangely, if everyone did it I think that practice would be quite healthy for the entire industry. The crap would fail and the good devs would succeed.

With the general dumbing down of society though, and the accompanying rise in popularity of instant gratification consoles and their stupid simplistic games, plus the ongoing disaster that is Vista, and buggy drivers/incompatibilities galore, the future of PC simming doesn't look all that bright to me long term.

Who knows though. If FS11 ends up blowing the doors off FSX performance wise, we could quickly see a renaissance. Fingers crossed, cause an exponential leap in fps is what it'll take I think.

Sundowner said...

I also didn't had any problems with Starforce, or anyone I know really... so it's not a problem for me, except the wait for the game to even start loading.

As for the FS11 and hoping for performance increase... My computer is damn old, its 5 years without modification, other then peripheral, it's still Athlon 1.9, 1 gig of ram, and Radeon 9600Xt, and I do fly FSX (although not many of addons run smoothly). And even when this computer is a piece of crap, I don't really care for better performance in FS11, actually lower will finely force me to buy new stuff ;P

What I do hope, is more complex flight dynamics, world dynamics (air flow !) so the mountain flying would finely feel like it. And new stuff to do in the game, if somebody - like me - falls asleep flying from A to B over Atlantic ;P

FSX and Acceleration pack were great steps ahead, with adding missions (which I love - it give some purpose to flying) and sling loads/winching for helicopters. Would love to see ground crews with some AI (marshalers, deck crews on aircraft carriers, etc.). And more "feel" - anyone who flown 'Condor' sim knows what I mean. If anyone haven't - buy it, it's worth every penny, even if you're not into gliders.