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Burningbeard80

Brainstorming Helicopters and Air Assets in general

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Hello everyone, long time lurker but first time poster here. Let me preface this by saying i'm relatively new to Squad but i've played quite a bit the precursor Battlefield 2: Project Reality (or BF2:PR for short) over the past 2-3 years.

As soon as I built a new PC, i was lucky enough to catch Squad on sale so i bought it immediately, even though my GPU is a carryover from my previous system and is below minimum requirements (a simple nVidia GTX 750 with just 1 GB of VRAM). Never the less, i was able to fluidly play for a few dozen hours and get a taste of the game. WIth V13 and the optimizations done, things have improved further and i find myself enjoying the game on an almost daily basis.

 

Well, as the title says, i would like to offer some thoughts on potential helicopter mechanics. This is not an "I want now, devs plz" type of thing. It's just a post summarizing the issues i see mentioned by fellow Squad players and experiencing myself ingame, distilling my own experience with BF2:PR and comparing it with Squad in its current state , as well as offering a few potential solutions based on knowledge i have accumulated as a huge flight sim nerd over the years.

 

This will be a long one, so get a cup of coffee and let's get started.

 

Current Supply Issues: Why add helicopters in the first place, you might ask? Well, logistics and flanking maneuvers are much harder in Squad than in BF2:PR, which forces gameplay down a few predictable paths and meta choices. We could say people don't flank as much because it takes a lot of time. In addition to that, it is a very frequent phenomenon to see logi trucks disabled or, even worse, abandoned in hard to reach places after someone used them as a personal taxi. This is partly an issue of community mentality and server rules though and it happens with all vehicles. One of the things that really surprised me when making the jump from BF2:PR to Squad was that 99% of servers don't use dedicated squads. Anyone can grab an APC or tank and the SLs usually approve it. This would be a huge drawback to the use of air assets and it's pretty much sidestepping the purpose of having a "vehicle approval" function in the first place.(In BF2:PR, sometimes random people would "steal" a chopper or other high value asset just so they could get out to a hill fast and play solo sniper. And you couldn't do anything about it unless an admin was online to enforce server rules. I think that's why OWI implemented the approval function.)

 

Of course, teams, squads and individual players should manage their logistics properly and there should be a cost for being careless with that. It also creates nice teamwork opportunities and emergent gameplay when you manage to sneak in undetected, repair a logi and save it for your team. These are the good things that come out of it. The bad are situations where a team is totally cut off from supplying itself but the opposing team is not able to push effectively. So, team A cannot advance and win because they can't build FOBs and ressuply their ammo, but team B cannot win either because of lower skill in its player pool, bad communication, or simply having also mismanaged their logis. This situation ties in with recent features that have gotten a mixed reception from the community, like the buddy rally system and the removal of the "dead dead" penalty. These mechanics allow players to keep throwing bodies in the fire, albeit in an inefficient manner if the scenario playing out is like the one i'm describing. All this makes the game a long, drawn-out affair for both teams, but not the kind of enjoyable, slower-paced game that you would often get in PR. The action is hectic as people respawn and rush each other, but the tactics devolve to simply rushing positions until someone runs out of tickets. And to be honest, it happens quite often.

 

Potential Solution: The already planned addition of transport helicopters and the logical counter to them, man portable AA missile launchers (a new AA kit/class) and static AA missile emplacements for FOBs. Choppers facilitate a lot of mobility and if they can also drop supply crates like they did in BF2:PR, it would allow for a lot more options both in maneuvering around the enemy, as well as fortifying key positions early on in the match. The increased mobility offered would also allow for the removal of the buddy rally and the reinstatement of "dead dead" mechanics. So, we would be able to actually move faster around the map in a more cohesive and efficient manner (entire squad dismounts at once, instead of spawning at a rally and rushing single-file into the firefight to be picked off individually), but in a manner that also provides a very tangible risk and gives the enemy a way to counter it. Instead of magically teleporting to a flanking position, we would be flown there and also get an ammo drop by the chopper, but the enemy would try to shoot us down on the way. I don't know, it just seems like a good gameplay flow to me, especially if we consider that two of the most fundamental game design principles are risk vs reward mechanics and giving players equal opportunity to counter each other.

 

Some things would have to be adapted a bit differently, due to the way the supply system in Squad is different than the one in BF2:PR. I think it would be best if we could load supplies into a chopper the same way we do with current vehicles (so that we can customize ammo/construction resources), but be able to drop it to the ground all at once as a crate, just like it was in BF2:PR (to maintain the role of the transport chopper as a fast supply mechanism).

 

Of course, depending on transit speed, survivability and chopper dimensions, the amount of supplies loaded would have to be different for each chopper and possibly lower than what a logi truck can carry, in order to maintain balance and not make trucks totally obsolete. The way it was done in PR is that we didn't have construction points but we needed a specific amount of supply crates to be dropped close to the SL before we could build stuff. A large crate was equal to 2 small crates and that's what you needed in order to even place a FOB for your squad to dig. If you wanted to add static weapon emplacements you needed an extra large crate (or 2 small crates). Now, a logi  truck carried two large crates, which allowed SLs to either make a mortar/TOW/MG FOB immediately, or make 2 smaller FOBs in different places. Choppers carried less than that, which made the whole thing balanced. You want more supplies? Take the logi truck. You want to get somewhere fast? Talk to the transport squad, get a ride in the chopper and you may have to wait for the pilot to make a second supply run before you can build all the stuff you want to build. Choppers usually carried one large or one small crate, depending on their size/class. Smaller, faster and more sliperry/survivable ones like the western factions' Huey and Lynx carried a small crate, while the heavier Mil Mi 8/17 variants used by the Russian and Arab factions carried a large crate. I think only the Chinook carried two large crates, but it was available only in a few specific maps and layers.

 

Going by the above description, in terms of supplies carried a heavy transport chopper in PR is equal to a logi, a medium chopper is half a logi and a light chopper is a quarter logi. Applying this to Squad, we would get the following:

 

Logi truck, Chinook: 3000 supplies

Mil Mi 8/17, Agusta Westland Merlin and other medium helicopters: 1500 supplies

Huey, Lynx and other light helicopters: 750 supplies.

 

This would be a safe starting place but it might still need a bit of fine tuning, due to the differences between BF2:PR and Squad. Also keep in mind that loading supplies in PR is quite a bit slower, and i think choppers also load supplies slower than trucks. This is yet another way to balance it all out by adding some downtime between supply runs, so that transport helicopters don't make the logis totally obsolete.

 

Control Issues: But was it all good in BF2:PR? Definitely not. For one, it was almost impossible to fly with proper tactics or a joystick, due to a combination of game engine limitations and the players responding to them by forming a very specific and stable meta.

 

First of all, the game was made to work with a mouse. However, in order to give the feeling of at least a bit of realism, it required somewhat constant adjustments and pressure on the controls, just like a real world aircraft of any kind requires. Well, unless you use the aircraft trim, but this is getting into flight sim territory and is probably beyond the scope of a tactical shooter, where most flights are a few minutes between landings or death/respawn.

 

What the BF2 engine did was feature some kind of built-in "force application lingering" (my own terms, for lack of a better one) to help the player control choppers and airplanes. So, you would take off in your chopper from a hover and try to pick up some forward speed. If you pushed the mouse forward, the nose would drop and the chopper would start moving forward. At this point you might also give it a bit more thrust, to maintain altitude and not dive. Pretty standard stuff up till now. But the nose of the aircraft would want to come up at some point or go even lower, due the lack of trim and depending on the way each vehicle was modeled. This is the constant control adjustment they built in to make it feel more realistic.

 

But can you imagine having to constantly drag your mouse around just to maintain level flight? It would be horrible. So, what happened is that once you pushed your mouse forward to nose the chopper over, the controls reacted as if the pilot kept the stick in that position for a while, gradually and slowly returning to center. Instead of having to frantically drag your mouse along your pad, you just had to give it one initial nudge, and then give it smaller nudges every few dozen seconds to maintain your chosen flight path. In essence, they simulated a joystick by making each control input "linger" and then decrease gradually back to the "controls center" over time.

 

It worked really well and gave you a feel similar to the one you would get by using a stick, while you were in fact using a mouse. It also made it over 9000 levels of counter-intuitive to use an actual stick, especially if you already had some flight sim experience.

In a real aircraft and in a dedicated flight sim game, you just push your analog stick to a new position and keep it there for as long you want your controls to act on the aircraft. When you want to center your controls, you just release pressure and/or move the stick back towards the center position (either the center of aerodynamic forces/trim in the real world, or your joystick center in a PC simulator).

 

In BF2 (and PR by extension) and due to the way they simulated a stick-via-mouse, centering your stick would not center the controls!

Since control inputs had a built-in lasting delay into them, to center them you would actually have to counter your previous input via an opposing stick input. Needless to say, this is something that goes against years, or even decades, of muscle memory for any player who's ever played/flown flight sims and most of all, defeats the purpose of even using a joystick entirely.

Proposed Solution: Separate control logic for different controllers. Keep mouse control logic same as it was in BF2:PR for people who want to fly with a mouse since it worked very well, but use a normal joystick control logic for any analog controllers so that people who want to fly with a stick, can actually fly.

 

Realism Limitations: And now for the tricky part. Once you got past the quirky control schemes, flying anything in BF2:PR was far too arcadish. Of course you will wonder, does it make sense to spend time and resources on accurate flight models in a tactical shooter game? And you would be right to ask the question, but the answer is "it depends". If it limits the players' ability to use realistic tactics, then it's worth looking at.

 

Helicopters are quirky, unstable machines by nature. Maintaining a stable hover, transitioning into a hover from high speed level flight and making a vertical landing are actually some of the most difficult aspects of flying a helicopter. Instead, what we had in BF2:PR was the exact opposite. You could come in screaming hot in a near vertical dive in a transport chopper, arrest that tremendous sink rate in a second or two and slam the chopper down on a rooftop intact. It made for some highly spectacular flying if you had a competent player at the controls, but it was "Hollywoodish" to the extreme. In addition to that, rotor blades did not have a collision model, so you could set it down among the trees in heavily forested areas, as long as your fuselage was not touching anything.

 

Additionally, attack choppers did the exact opposite of what they usually do in the real world. BF2:PR had a much more limited view distance, which was somewhat extended by using vehicle optics. At the same time, defeating AA missiles with countermeasures was quite hard and always seemed to me that it was more luck than skill. This meant that attack pilots hovered at the highest altitude possible, so that the ground troops could not see them. The chopper gunner could still pick out targets at a limited radius around the chopper thanks to the magnified optics though. Players on the ground would still get a lock tone if they turned their AA missile to that part of the sky, but 99% of the time you never knew something was there until you had been attacked, and by that point it was usually too late. If missiles were in fact fired at them or if they were out of guided missiles and had to make a rocket/gun attack run, pilots went into a screaming dive all the way to the ground while popping countermeasures along the way, using their excess speed to exit the area quickly. Then they had to spend the next 5 minutes climbing back up to their perch. In reality, most attack choppers fly NoE (nap of the earth) profiles, using terrain masking at low altitudes, because otherwise it's quite possible for guided AA systems and faster aircraft to detect and pick them off.

Proposed Solution: First let's start with the easy to do stuff. A proper collision model that includes the rotor blades into the mix will make things more realistic, demanding and engaging for the helicopter players. As for attack choppers, if they ever get added, the increased view distance in addition with effective countermeasures will negate the need to fly very high and force them into lower, more realistic flight profiles. As a side note, i know most maps are too small for true attack choppers and jets, when in reality they carry guided AT missiles with at least 8km of range. Also, flying jets in PR was hilarious and felt artificial, because you would run out of map in seconds (but they did look cool from the ground). But maybe we could get some light scout (e.g the Little Bird for the US) or armed versions of transport choppers (like a gunpod/unguided rocket Mil mi 8 for Russian equipped factions) down the line. To get fixed wing assets and proper attack helicopters into the game, the easiest workaround would be to extend the map by several km in every direction, but have that "extra territory" render at a much lower detail level to maintain acceptable performance.

 

And now comes the harder stuff. In order to prevent the issues described above, all airframes should have some limits. They don't have to be dynamically calculated or even highly realistic flight models (this is after all a tactical shooter and not a flight sim), they could be simply be artificial redlines that if the player crosses something bad happens.

 

Vortex ring state and settling with power are the nightmare of every novice helicopter pilot and while they are not exactly similar, i will simplify and group them up for the purposes of this write up. To cut a long story short, a helicopter flies by pushing air underneath it. If you reduce power by too much and start sinking too rapidly while in a hover, you run the risk of descending through the downwash created by your own rotor. This means that in addition to gravity, you have a bunch of moving air pushing you towards the ground. Additionally, since you were in a hover to begin with, your rotors already needed to be at a higher RPM to maintain level flight. The reason is that rotor blades are like mini-wings and when there is forward motion, they generate more lift than compared to a hover. If you try to exit the proverbial corner you backed yourself into by applying more power, you simply add more downwash that pushes you down faster, until you run out of available power and slam into the ground, making pretty fireworks for the nearby SL who was counting on you for a pickup. In fact, for most real choppers their descent rate in a hover is limited to no greater than 300-500 feet per minute or thereabouts in order to prevent this situation.

 

So how do you recover and regain control? Well, there are some advanced techniques developed by some Swiss pilots, but they are for flying rescue choppers in demanding Alpine terrain at high altitudes near the limits of available engine power. They also rely in "crossing the controls" (opposite stick and rudder) in a way that depends upon the direction of the rotor's rotation, so they require at least a joystick and advanced flight models. So they are probably not worth modelling in Squad. The second and most widespread technique is to simply get out of the downwash. Don't add power at all. Instead, keep your rotors spinning slowly and just nose over (or even go sideways) and get outside the death tunnel of descending air. Needless to say, you saved your chopper and the squad you are carrying, but you also ruined your approach and added a few precious seconds to the landing. Meanwhile, enemy APCs, AA gunners or even LATs are lurking nearby. Maybe it would be better if you would have just brought it to a hover and let the guys you are carrying fast rope down. Does it sounds like good, dynamic gameplay yet?

 

So, having limited the issue of "i can descend and touchdown at ridiculously fast, unrealistc speeds", lets see what to do about forward speed to prevent unrealistic dives by attack choppers and transport choppers making "slam dunk" troop insertions. This is much easier. Every single aircraft has a Vne (never exceed speed) limit. You cross it, things start to break due to air pressure. Similar to a G limit for touch downs, which is the difference between a normal landing and a crash landing. In addition to that though, choppers also have a thing that's called the retreating blade stall. Remember how we said that forward motion adds lift because the propeller blades are small wings? Well, yes and no. Lift depends on the relative speed of a wing compared to the surrounding air. The rotor blade that is moving forward at any given time generates way more lift, because it's moving against the surrounding air. More air pressure, more lift. Meanwhile, the rotor blade that is facing the tail of the chopper (the retreating blade) has a much lower relative speed to the air than the forward blade and generates less lift. In fact, you can get a chopper to go fast enough that the retreating blade's speed difference to the surrounding air is all but zeroed or very close to it. And since that blade is a wing, it stalls and stops producing lift if there is not enough air rushing over/under it. You would expect the chopper to nose up at this point, since you have no lift on the back side of the chopper, right? Well, since choppers are weird by nature and like to torment us with physics, this is almost the case but not exactly. In fact, due to gyroscopic effects, the effect of the loss of lift takes a whole 90 degrees of rotation to act on the chopper. Which means that when the retreating blade stalls, the force imbalance is not on the front/aft axis of the chopper, but the left/right one. In simpler terms, depending on the direction your main rotor spins, if the retreating blade stalls the chopper rolls (sometimes violently) to the left or to the right. And if you are close to the ground, you just crashed. This retreating blade stall doesn't take too much speed to occur and while it depends on the specific helicopter, i think a Mil Mi 8 gets it around 250km/h or so.

 

These last two effects are complex and not even flight sims got them right until recently. But to be honest, we don't have to have them exactly 100% right. It could just be a simplistic  case of

//vertical speed in feet per minute

if chopper.verticalSpeed <= -300 {

        chopper.verticalSpeed = chopper.verticalSpeed * 1.2 + chopper.downwashForce(rotorRPM)

}

 

and


 

if chopper.forwardSpeed >= 300km/h {

        chopper.uncommandedRollLeft(20) //in degrees

}

 

 

Well, that's all for now. If you made it thus far, congratulations. I'm looking forward to getting the choppers in the game and hearing what the community and maybe the devs themselves think about these ideas.

 

EDIT: Added proposed values in the Logi/Transport Helicopter section for the amount of supplies carried by each vehicle type/class.

Edited by Burningbeard80

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That's some serious feedback and I agree with the majority of your points. 

 

Choppers should definitely have less supply in my opinion. Otherwise you'll end up with instant TOW/AT emplacements at chokepoints within the first few minutes.

 

Agree with the squad naming convention. That may naturally happen as air assets add another dimension to the game.

 

I like the helicopter controls being difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.

 

Good stuff

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Helicopters + buddy rallies will make game crazy. Just think about helicopter drop, rally drop + buddy rally drop and whole team spawn near contested zone just in 20 sec after round start. That would be hard.

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Yup, helicopter drops with buddy rally would be ridiculously irritating to deal with. One can argue that since both teams have the mechanic available it is balanced, but

 

  1. a lot of times insurgent factions don't have air assets and
  2. even if both teams have the ability to chopper in and buddy rally, it still encourages predictable rushing/feeding gameplay without any real planning or tactics

 

I think i specifically said in the original post that maybe getting the choppers will be enough of a mobility advantage, so that in exchange we could do away with the buddy rally feature. I will have to check my original post in cased i missed it, thanks for the observation.

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I completely agree with how choppers will make tactics and maneuvering much better. Not only should they get rid of the buddy rally, but rallies overall should get a nerf, because even then they will be overpowered with choppers. Maybe they can make them like in PR, where FOBs have large overrun radii, and Rallys are difficult to place. As you said, "dead dead" would actually be a thing, rather than just continually respawning at nearby rallies. Additionally, it would be a greater emphasis on establishing hidden FOBs as spawn points.

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Thank you for weighing in guys. I think most players realize the importance of helicopters in tactics. Some are also worried about them, but there are ways to balance them properly with the other assets. In fact, the developers already know how to do it since they were in the PR team. Despite the PR flaws i discussed, the overall experience is quite well balanced there, it's just limited by how old the BF2 engine is. Nevertheless, riding with a good pilot among the trees, speeding towards a valley to set up a hidden FOB before assaulting the capture point and having one of your squad members blast the ride of the valkyries in local never gets old and is one of the most entertaining ways to start a round. (Of course, you might get an RPG to the face once you reach the landing zone and then everyone starts laughing, but it's still fun).

 

I would also be interested to know how you feel regarding the semi-realistic mechanics i discussed. Like i said, it should not be as complex or as difficult as a dedicated flight sim, just complicated enough to nudge us towards realistic tactics and increase immersion for everyone. Semi-realistic flight will probably also attract some of the flight sim crowd and we will have good pilots in the community, people who already have experience with more difficult flight mechanics.

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Agree with most points but damn if it isn't a long read.

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I've done loads of writing in various capacities and still do from time to time, so i doubt i'd have the time to do yours as well xD

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A lot of good points brought up. 

I'll start by saying, this is a complicated topic that I think will take thousands of hours of fine tuning for a complete, balanced system in-game. Hopefully anyway.

Here's a couple of things that I've thought to bring up, I'm sure I'll add more at a later date ;) 

 

I'll start with AA, Transport and Attack. 
Should Attack helicopters be in the game? Probably going to be a heavily debated topic. But I think not. Simply because it'll be too hard to balance and realistically an Attack helicopter is quite 'overpowered' for lack of a better term. Massive magnification, HEDP rounds, ATGMs, Thermal. Do I need to continue? You could balance it in a million ways, more AA, limited layers, etc. Whatever; this brings me on to the next topic, AA. 

 

I don't personally believe MANPADS or SAM's of any sort should be added (unless to counter Attack helicopters). If helicopters are too easily countered, no one will use them, or they'll just become a waste of tickets. If we hypothetically only had transport and light/scout helicopters; they can be fairly easily countered with small arms and HMG's. Lets not talk about the effect of a HE 30mm to an airframe. INS, (hypothetically not having access to helicopters) already have access to the ZSU ural, which has devastating capabilities at denying airspace, this already provides a balancing effect - especially in the situation of AAS (1 Ural strategically placed can prevent the ingress to key areas). 

IF AA was to be added i personally think the limit should be a FOB place-able static guns. Missiles will lead to countermeasures and the endless complications of this mechanic. This completely eliminates the whole process to coding and balancing that.

 

 

Transport helicopters are likely to suffer the most from AA, even without adding dedicated AA pilots will be forced to fly evasively and tactically, using terrain and concealment to evade enemy vehicles and squads. 

 

Another point to look at is the capability of the transport helicopter. Will loading up supplies effect the troop transport capability? Assuming helicopters won't externally sling cargo, would/should cargo have an affect on internal space? Will this complicate things too much? Or will this make early game rushes/fobs less likely and more thought out? Definitely something that is worth talking about. 

 

-

 

 

I personally believe the buddy rally system needs to be completely withdrawn with the release of helicopters - and even possibly nerf rallies as a whole. In the current state (coupled with the change to placing fobs) most squads are completely moving away from placing HAB's and relying on rallies. (In pub matches anyway) In this state, there is no reason to spawn at the main base other than the start of a round. Since buddy rallies I've seen a decline in FOB placements and even more so since the change in v14. 

 

With helicopters added I think there will be more than enough transport options from main to the AO. We already see a bunch of vehicles left at main throughout the match or scattered around the map. And at this stage, there is no penalty for that. Seeing as you can just plop a rally and the team can essentially spawn off of it; this means people aren't worried about vehicles not being available for transport. This will encourage more thought out and strategically planned FOB placement. 

-

 

I think VRS might be a bit over the top, I have countless hours in sims and can imagine this becoming frustrating amongst players and pilots as a whole. Not only that but i think it may prove difficult to finesse a stable and acceptable mechanic into the game. However I can see the appeal of punishing pilots who don't think about ingress and egress to and from LZ's. - Something to revisit at a later date I think. 

 

However, VNE is definitely something that should implemented, and when I say that I don't just mean a physical limit. I think you're on the right track with rollover, however it should be rolled over a chance value and other effects should be implemented when reaching maximum speed. i.e. Reduced control, engine damage from over torquing (if collective is over stressed) and like you said physical stress damage. As much randomness as possible so it can't be abused and preempted and keeps it interesting. You however should have a fear of losing control. 

 

If you made it this far I applaud you. Helicopters interest me a lot. Having spent countless hours in every game possible behind the cyclic. 

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I would respectfully disagree with that, since tanks are a heavy assault vehicle and a transport chopper is essentially a flying logi with less supplies.

 

Depending on map size, you could push a tank right outside of the enemy main at the start of the map and start killing everything, that's why their spawn is delayed on certain maps.

 

A chopper cannot do that. Sure, it can move a squad to the same place and drop supplies and that squad might build a FOB, but supplies won't be enough to build emplacements or have a lot of ammo. So, the chopper has to make a second supply run to those campers, it will be expected and probably shot down. Then the infantry that is camping there will be shortly neutralized, since the enemy can just spawn at their main and rush them.

 

Transport helicopters will probably be used the most at the start of the round, to help the team deploy around the map. After the first 3 FOBs are placed they are not needed that much for troop movement, and most pilots will probably focus on doing supply runs so the infantry doesn't have to do logi runs themselves.

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