Campaign set-up...and first mission
RoF has a ‘career’ mode with some nice features. Some are fine with this, and I can’t remember now why I didn’t particularly warm to it. Like (I suspect) most RoF single players, I have tended to prefer the alternative ‘Campaign Generator’ system developed by Pat Wilson and recently adapted for Il-2 Battle of Stalingrad, whose stock SP campaign system was...well, let's just say here, unusual and controversial. 'PWCG' has evolved over the years; my version is #16, not quite the latest - 'Be not first with the new, nor last with the old' - but it’s what I had installed, when I started this campaign the other day. I have long since used the 'Planes owned' option to tell PWCG which aircraft I can fly, and tweaked some other settings. I believe the latest version of PWCG is automatically integrated with RoF's menu, so easing the process I'm going now to describe.
In short, you run PWCG first, and create a pilot in a given unit at a given date. You can then do various thinks like checking out what other units are flying in your area. You can also adjust many mission-related settings, perhaps the most important being those related to enemy air activity, which I have set at ‘Medium’. My current campaign is the one listed above for Richard Stachel (yes, I'm an unashamed fan of the movie The Blue Max, so I'm flying as Bruno's brother, Richard).
The next important task is to generate a campaign mission. This I did, and below is the map-based briefing for the mission I got. Note the rather good supporting information, in the panels to the right. Unfortunately, my zoomed-in screenshot has cut off part of the right-hand panel and the bottom of my patrol route, but that's basically just south, down the lines - the cross-hatched zone around 'No Man's Land' running roughly north-south, with each side's front lines marked in olive (Germany) and blue (Britain, in this sector). You can ‘scrub’ the mission if you fancy trying for something different. Mission types are what you’d expect, but for two-seaters include simulated artillery observation and aerial reconnaissance, which were the most important and common missions for World War One's 'working planes', but seem rarely featured well, if at all, in WW1 sims.
This shows what's basically a segment of RoF's printable map (a nice printed copy comes with the Iron Cross Edition, which I picked up in Spain as a 'backup'). One thing I don't like here is the way the labels on the patrol route obscure map detail. As this info is already in the top RH panel, it would be better not printed on your route; maybe just the waypoints numbered, if anything.
Because I dislike formation flying and prefer the extra tactical challenge of patrol leading, the next thing I generally do is review the roster for the mission and remove or add pilots, so that I am the senior rank and thus leading the flight. In playing First Eagles 2, I tend to fly a four-aircraft flight picking the same pilots each time, but this time, for some reason I can't remember, I settled for just one companion, Leutnant Adolph von Tutscheck, who like others on the roster, really flew with Jasta Boelcke at this time. Neat!
Having generated the mission, I accepted it, minimised PWCG and launched RoF. Some versions of PWCG could be integrated into the user interface of some versions of RoF, so you could run everything from the latter, but functionally it’s the same drill, and it's neither complicated nor tedious. When RoF loads, the mission you just generated and accepted is listed under single missions. You fly it, and afterward return to PWCG, where, as we will see later, you can record any claims for victories, view a map-based mission replay, and write a combat report.
I have various mods enabled, including Criquet’s AI mods for scouts (fighters) and two-seaters, and several skin packs. RoF doesn’t use a decal system like First Eagles (or classic Il-2) but you can choose a ‘skin’ for your own plane and if an ace is flying whose machine has a skin of its own, see that one on his aircraft.
Here were are soon after take-off, from the airfield at Pronville (rather than Proville in WoFF; both airfields existed) near Cambrai. As per the briefing, the weather is good. Historically, the real weather was poor at the start of the Battle of Arras in early April 1917, as replicated nicely by WoFF. I get enough crap weather at home in real life, so I’m not complaining about RoF’s blue skies! As a leader, my Albatros has a blue streamer, attached (as is usual in RoF) to my upper main plane, inboard of the port aileron. I have neglected to choose a custom skin, but I will remedy this on the next mission. One consequence is that the cockpit view will display the heavily-pixellated outer surfaces from which some colours on some planes suffer.
Take-offs in RoF I find to be much more likely to result in a ‘prang’ than in either WoFF or FE/FE2. Your nose may swing strongly and your wings can wobble up and down as you bump over the grass. I find it quite easy to ground loop or dig in a wingtip, if my control inputs are other than gentle. I tend to maintain gentle back pressure on the stick to keep my tailskid on the ground, the drag helping keep me straight until I have built up what I judge is enough speed to let the tail come up with the minimum of control input – it seems easy to over-correct and bring on a crash. For this reason, I tend to settle for taking the edge off any swing, rather than risk a crash by trying to keep dead straight. This can result in me getting off at a noticeable angle to my original heading from rest, but hey, grass airfields make that do-able and when I’m airborne, I feel I’ve accomplished something requiring a certain amount of skill, rather than undertaken a chore requiring none.
Once aloft, I call up the mini-map and adjust my heading onto the first leg of my route. I’m afraid I usually have little time for navigating by real map and compass, though I may start. The printed/printable RoF map corresponds nicely with what you can see in-game, making more realistic navigation a more attractive option.
Another thing I find about RoF is that I spend more time flying from the cockpit, than in the external view. In other sims, I generally switch to the cockpit view for combat. It’s a combination of factors, but the sights, sounds and visibility – I use mouselook – make RoF’s cockpits a more welcoming place for me. With their considerable tail heaviness and tendency to wander, I also find it easier to maintain attitude and heading from within, rather than outside, my virtual aeroplane. Perhaps it's my flying, but it can take a little while for my flight-mates to settle into formation; they generally keep up tolerably well, once they have.
A word on aircraft visibility: one disadvantage of flying in RoF’s virtual cockpits is that it is has quite a zoomed-out, wide field-of-view, which makes distant aircraft look very far away, and hard to spot. You can zoom in and out as you scan, but that is rather tedious. By contrast, the external view has a more ‘telephoto’, lower field-of-view look, leaving the same planes, at the same range, looking much larger and a lot more visible. I dare say there may be some settings I could tweak here. But for now, I tend to flick on the padlock every so often. I don't think this magically picks up planes I should not be able to spot in real life, so I rationalise this as noticing aircraft that myself, or a flight-mate, could readily have seen while scanning. I don’t turn on padlock too often, as a balance. I have also noticed that my present mini-map settings will display a little black aircraft symbol if there is an enemy fairly close by. It's a bit like a map-based version of the Tactical Display available in WoFF. Again, I use the RoF mini-map sparingly. I would use both mini-map and padlock less often still, if distant aircraft were more visible from RoF’s cockpit view – or were more often rendered visible, by AA fire directed at them. But I’m finding that I’m ok with the present set-up; mainly because I’m now having encounters more regularly than I recalled with my early forays into RoF – the empty skies seem empty, no more. Precisely why, I don’t know. Planes may still be spawning inside a ‘bubble’ occupied by the player, but if so, it’s not obvious, and I don’t care if the skies outside that bubble are indeed empty – no need to waste processing power generating enemies I’ll never meet, enemies that’ll have no effect on the static WW1 battlefield below.
This time, I don't need the padlock to spot three specks in the sky, over the lines to our right front, at nearly our level. They're not being fired on, so I am clueless as to their identity. As I watch, the group splits up: one of the machines flies off to the left, the other two to the right. In such situations, I always follow 'Mick' Mannock's rule, that an unidentified aircraft must always be treated as hostile, until proved otherwise. I swing north, away from our patrol route, to intercept the two aircraft. In the picture below, you can see them just above my offset centre section radiator, while the third aircraft is above the Maltese cross on my port upper wing.
The two aircraft turn east, towards the German lines. They're still not being fired on and from their distant but distinctive profile as I climb past their level, I get the impression they are DFW two-seaters. My identification is correct, and the two slip past below and to our right, homeward bound. One of them is glinting in the sunlight off my starboard wingtip; the other is above my nose.
I turn back south and am soon flying along our patrol route, above our lines.
In the picture below, you can see the rather ugly pixellated effect you get on exterior textures with some colours on some skins. Strange, that a relatively modern sim should exhibit this; on my next mission I'll have a skin which doesn't do this.
Uh-oh! A glance up and right reveals von Tutscheck is no longer there. Looking back over my tail, I can clearly see why. He's in an air fight, rather far back already, with three enemy scouts which must have crept up on us!
Needless to say, I spin around and have at them. 'Them' turns out to be three DH 2s, pusher fighters that the Germans knew as Vickers types, after the original Vickers FB2 'Gun-bus'. They are highly manouevrable but don't like the fire of two synchronised MGs. I surprise myself by chasing one off damaged and smoking, then knocking down first one, then the other!
During all this, I have lost sight of von Tutscheck, and conclude sadly that I have been too late to save him. I'm all the more pleased, therefore, when I begin my usual post-combat full-power spiral climb and, looking back to clear my tail, see he's still very much alive. He's trailing some white smoke, but still apparently determined to rejoin formation.
Time to go home! I level off and, throttled back, lead my comrade back towards our base.
The Rise of Flight mission end screen confirms my three kills...
..but this is a PWCG campaign mission I'm flying, and something a whole lot more interesting and immersive awaits me, than this rather dry summary.
First, I'm invited to submit a quick claim form, which I duly complete, using the drop-down lists supplied to select the number and type of aircraft I am claiming to have brought down.
Next, I can elect to view an animated, map-based mission replay. The picture below shows this after it has finished playing, marking out my track and listing the mission's main events. That von Tutscheck is shown as 'Destroyed' indicates he, or rather his machine, has cracked up on landing, though I didn't see this happen - more of this in the next mission, where he'lll be flying with me again.
Finally, I get to see a mission summary, to which I can append a typed combat report of my own (under 'Narrative'; everything else is pre-populated). As you can see, I wasn't sure I had knocked down the first 'Vickers', because after chasing him from the fight I immediately went back to help my comrade. Truly, I find bringing my men back alive is as satisfying as shooting down the enemy.
Unlike WoFF, I don't think your RoF combat report helps you get kills confirmed, as this appears to be automatic. However, for me, the PWCG 'before' and 'after' mission elements really lift the Rise of Flight single player campaign experience, from rather ordinary, to something altogether more immersive and wonderful.
I was also quite pleased, even on 'medium' air activity settings, to find that I was able to see and/or encounter other flights going credibly about their business, in a way I saw more rarely in my previous 'empty skies' outings with Rise of Flight, even with previous versions of PWCG. So far, so good. But I'm going to need at least another decent mission, to prove this isn't a fluke!
...to be continued!