Advice sought for one last deep dive into flight simming

Hey gents, I’ve been lurking here forever and even know a few of you from SimHQ forums back in the day…

I haven’t fired up a flight sim for about four years but I used to be a true believer. I put in hundreds of hours, flying all the usual suspects from the last 25 years and learning scenario editors so I could design and publish missions, especially for the A-10C. I’m very proud of the complex, full-featured, pretty tactical scenarios I made for DCS A-10C. And then I stopped. My old CH HOTAS has been laid aside, my mountain of manuals and paperwork shelved. I bought a Fanatec racing wheel and pedals and resumed race-simming but I’m no hot-shoe, just the classic mid-packer.

Just as I think I’ve got one more “true” sports car in me – I’m 57 – I think I’m capable of speed-roping into the giant black hole of one more demanding “study sim”, as they used to be called. I’ve got one more steep learning curve in my future – the DCS F/A-18, of course – one more start-up sequence that takes about two hours at first and ends up at 8 minutes, one more bunch of radar sub-modes to learn, one more insanely complex command tree to map to a throttle and stick. The thing is – and this is what I wanted to ask you all about – I will need to rebuild my hardware, replacing my current, competent rig with one capable of running VR (of which I have no experience at all) and acquiring new peripherals, including a Rift. It’s ok; my trusty computer is past its peak, but I wonder if I can ask you gentlemen a few questions about this massive overhaul I’m contemplating:

VR and keyboard

I’m a TrackIR dinosaur, I don’t know from VR. How do guys with glasses deal with a VR headset? And can keyboard input be eliminated so successfully that you never have to peer out from under the headset and if not, how practical is that?

HOTAS

My faithful CH HOTAS is probably 18 years old now, so I can justify a new one but which? If I wanted to go high-end, is the TM Warthog the obvious candidate? Is TM likely to come through with its dedicated F/A-18 HOTAS? Are they taking preorders?

DCS itself

I haven’t flown or played in the DCS sandbox for several years. As an alpha tester for DCS A-10C, I’m entitled to a free Nellis but I am ashamed to say I don’t even have DCS installed right now, let alone updated. It’s called DCS World 2.5 these days, right? The Straits of Hormuz theater is a big incentive for me, as I feel I’ve been flying in the Caucasus for decades, in fact since Lock On, but I am so out of the loop I don’t even know if Hormuz is out yet, or in Beta or what! And does anyone play Combined Arms?

Well, apologies for the long post and some pretty rookie questions; I’m a born-again newb! Maybe that should be my new moniker on the DCS forums, BAN…or maybe not. I know what a great community of mature folks this is, which is why I’m contemplating one last big combat aviation sim romance and asking my dopey questions here. Please feel free to respond at whatever length you like, or not at all if it’s just too tedious. This is a very knowledgeable community so I’m curious to know your thoughts. Thanks!

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  1. You’ve got two options. One is just wear your glasses under the headset. Depending on your prescription and fashion sense, the practicality of this varies. I have a Vive, my lenses are pretty thick and my frames err on the side of “brick ■■■■ house”, but they’re able to fit more or less comfortably in the head set. Option 2 is to acquire a pair of VR friendly prescription glasses (a simple google search will give you leads)

  2. Depends on the aircraft. Aircraft with a strong HOTAS configuration (The Harrier, the Hornet, the A-10) will allow you to get away with mostly keyboard-less bliss using only HOTAS controls (and MFDs if you’ve got them). More analog aircraft like the Huey or F-5 will give you trouble. Learning the home row by feel is your friend.

  3. I’d be remiss as the resident VR sceptic if I didn’t say there’s nothing about DCS that requires VR. It will reduce your ability to acquire and keep track of targets, the resolution is lower, performance demand higher. That said if you’ve got the expendable income, I recommend experiencing it at least once. That said, I own both, and I use TrackIR 99% of the time.

TM Warthog is the obvious candidate. Thrustmaster showed their new stick at E3 last year and has been suspiciously silent about it since. Other than acknowledging it exists, we never got anything like a release date or pre-orders. Spooky. If you’re looking for something a bit more. foreign, VKB and VPC are leading a small renaissance in small peripheral manufacturing. Both offer sticks with higher precision and reliability than the TM Warthog. If you want to get extra cheeky, both can accept the Warthog stick on their respective bases (though the VKB requires a bit of surgery).

You’re actually hopping back in at a good time for relative non-confusion. For the last two years DCS had been running three branches, which was enough to melt the mines of everyone lucky enough not to be in software.

Currently there is the DCS Open Beta, which is on 2.5 and is the “new” engine. This version has the new gussied up Caucus map, Nevada and Normandy.

There is also the Release Branch, which is currently on 1.5.8 or the “old” engine. It will be updated to 2.5 once ED is satisfied the bugs have been squished and the ink is sufficiently dry.

Hormuz is now called Persian Gulf, and it is not out yet. There’s been no real word on when it will be out, but ED has spent a lot of time and effort tying it to the fortunes of the F/A-18, which is to be released into beta sometime this spring. You are free to make your own assumptions.

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Hello @BarryJI, welcome aboard!

When it comes to VR, I’m swinging the other way from @near_blind in that I use my Rift 100% of the time when flying DCS. Having said that, I don’t play online, so being competitive in a multiplayer environment is not a factor for me.

There are definitely some limitations when using VR but the feeling of actually being strapped into a cockpit is hard to describe and I don’t like flying DCS without the Rift. I have a Track-IR, but I haven’t used it since the first day my Rift arrived some 20 months ago.

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I got around the glasses problem by picking up a pair of these https://vr-lens-lab.com.

Not the cheapest option around but it made my rift experience much less fraught and blurry.

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Welcome back into the Matrix! :smiley:
I see a lot good people already gave you logical answers and solid advices so I’ll just limit myself to a warm welcome.

Take care and never worry about asking questions!

I just love VR in DCS. You need good hardware and you will still have to reduce your gfx settings.
Using a regular monitor and TrackIR will allow for better visuals. Still, since getting VR (Rift) I haven’t touched my TrackIR. I just love the level of immersion VR gives me.
Using a keyboard is possible, but not recommended. It breaks immersion for me. I use a HOTAS where the Throttle is of my own design, with some switches.
If you keep your controllers in the same spot, your muscle memory will know where to find them, without looking. It takes some practise.
I also use a trackball for interacting with the clickable cockpit. This works great for startup procedures and similar low stress procedures. For combat, you need a good HOTAS, and know which button does what.
I also use voice commands via VoiceAttack, for menues and fetching the map and such.

VR has its limitations, but I still think the positives outweigh the negatives, by a large margin.

Barry hello and welcome :slight_smile: there are a lot more fantastic hardware choices now for controllers so look carefully and do some research. I think for similar spending you can get much better than the mass produced stuff Thrustmaster puts out
https://vkbcontrollers.com/?product_cat=vkb-controllers
https://virpil.com/en/
there are others too obviously and there are some reviews on the main mudspike site

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I have a set of these too. Far more comfortable than using regular glasses when using the headset. While not the cheapest solution, I feel it was well worth the investment.

Welcome @BarryJI. My brother has a saying of unknown origin, “When the ox is stuck in the ditch, the only way to get him out is to - get in the ditch.”

As great as VR is, I find learning aircraft systems is easier in 2D in order to have access to reference material. Your TrackIR has plenty of life left. I recommend installing DCS 2.5 openbata, running whatever settings your rig will stand (DCS looks great at lower settings), and while waiting on the Hornet, learning the AV-8B module. The Harrier, being a fast mud mover, is a great segway between Warthog and Hornet.

That ox isn’t getting any lighter :smile:

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Also this.

While they will not be exactly the same, the systems on the Harrier are very similar to the Hornet. I’m sitting on a trove of Hornet documentation, I find concepts transfer pretty intuitively between the two.

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I’ve had my Rift for a few months now and was worried about the glasses aspect of it. I need glasses for reading and sitting at the computer. To my relief I’ve discovered I don’t need them when using the Rift so if you are worried about yourself, maybe a visit to a store or a friend that has one could allay your fears on this?

Such interesting responses, guys, many thanks.

I have a lot to think about here. I need to make a mature analysis of how far I want to go into the hobby this time. I have to fight my “all or nothing” impulse. Once upon a time, a capable PC and a robust plastic HOTAS like the CH throttle and stick were all you needed to run some pretty impressive simulations. TrackIR was revolutionary and had a tiny footprint, which meant that all of this could be run comfortably on an office-style desk setup like mine with no real compromise in terms of capability. However, recent developments like VR and the kind of ultra-sophisticated peripherals linked above almost demand a dedicated space for simming, i.e. separate virtual cockpits for both flight and racing sims. Ergonomics come into it because here’s the interesting thing: for the first time ever, a particular technology, i.e. VR, requires the player to adapt to the tech, rather than the other way around. I need to move my keyboard to the side in order to access the HOTAS on my desk and optimal ergonomics are further compromised by the presence of a big Fanatec force-feedback racing wheel, H-shifter and pedals. I have been just about able to combine the peripherals and ergonomics required for flight simming with those for race-simming – without VR – as long as I didn’t fly prop aircraft that required dedicated rudder pedals, because my racing pedals (also Fanatec) take up all the available room under my desk. I’m not complaining or resisting progress, I just know I have decisions to make here because if I want to learn an aircraft as complex as the DCS F/A-18 while taking advantage of advances in technology involving both peripherals and VR, I’m not sure I can jury-rig my office-desk setup to take full advantage of it, especially as an already less than optimal situation is further compromised by dual-purpose (i.e. flight and race) simming. I will need to do one of the following: either remove my racing hardware, which has begun to take an awful toll on my lower back anyway because of the bad ergonomics, or build a dedicated rig for flight-simming. At this point I should mention that I am not the kind of wizard with a toolkit that many of you are and my house, while beautiful, does not have spare space for something as big and domineering as a sim-rig.

The other thing that is giving me pause is DCS itself. After writing my initial post last night, I visited SimHQ and a couple of other flight-simming forums for the first time in, well, years. There is an awful lot of b!tching about delays with Hormuz, carrier ops, integration of DCSW 2.5 and the TM Hornet HOTAS. Of course I take all this with a big pinch of salt – I’m a lifer, remember – but some of the moaning, much of which was reasonable-sounding and well-argued, reminded me of a few severe limitations that bugged me back in the day, especially involving AI. Although I have flown DCS A-10C online and was even in a virtual squadron, my principal interest was always singleplayer and mission design. To deploy the Hornet realistically in a sim, there will need to be naval operations and all sorts of radar- and theater-related assets and details that DCS was able to sidestep with the Hog. I wonder if they have the time and resources to construct a proper contemporary theater for this platform both for A2G and A2L and bind it to a much-improved campaign. It’s a gigantic expectation which may not even be realistic. I hated the canned campaigns for the A-10C and realised as I dug into the mission editor that a lot of their problems were directly related to some very limited AI and the lack of a “live” campaign theater that could rival that of Falcon or Tornado. Again, I am not complaining and I don’t mean to criticise unfairly; so much computing power goes into the simulation of the high-end DCS aircraft systems that it’s unfair to expect DCS to be able to simulate a “live” theater/campaign in detail that would run on any home PC (on top of VR and all the other utilities in the background). My impression is that Combined Arms was an attempt to do this but – please correct me if I’m wrong – it seems to have failed to catch on or to be integrated successfully into DCS as a major upgrade or overhaul of its existing mission and campaign design engine. All I am trying to say is that my interest is mainly tactical and SP and so far, DCS’s war-gaming background content (AI, ground combat simulation, theater) does not match the sophistication of its flight and weapons modelling. I am probably being unrealistic and it’s too much to ask.

Again, let me emphasize that I am not moaning, merely thinking out loud. I really appreciate your responses so far and have a few interesting decisions to make. I know that if I dive into the DCS Hornet it will be, as usual, pretty obsessive until I “master” it – as far as a guy sitting at home can – so I have to figure out how to take advantage of modern peripherals and technology without creating a perfect storm of awful ergonomics around my desk and I also need to assess – and perhaps some of you feel the same way – whether there will be enough to do with the Hornet in SP apart from learning to fly and fight it in very limited tactical scenarios because its dual role, range, complexity and naval operation represent huge challenges in terms of realistic SP deployment theater-wide and I am not yet convinced that DCS’s AI and scenario/campaign engines are up to it. As I said, though, this may well be an unfair expectation and those of us singleplayer types who dive in will do so knowingly and will no doubt make the best of it.

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I run dcs in vr with a warthog hotas and a set of pedals. all on a regular desk thats used for office work as well. yes it takes up some desk space. its not ergonomically perfect. having the hotas in a different position than in the cockpit is slightly disconcerting at first but I got used to it. I actively use both mouse and keyboard while flying. stuff like ATC and clicking the switches. works fine, I use the gap between my nose and the rift to peck the right key.

Have you tried the MBOT dynamic mission stuff? your CH hotas and Tir should do fine for trying it out a little.

I would echo most of what @near_blind and other say above. Your CH Products HOTAS will be adequate (okay, will work, no reason to rush to a new set). Thrustmaster is supposed to be coming out with a F-18C stick - and their product roadmap from 2-3 years ago mentioned a refresh in 2020 so I would put two and two together and say ‘soon’ :slight_smile:. If you are looking for good (and somewhat expensive) alternatives, take in the two linked reviews of VPC and VKB above. Both will have throttles out (VPC in a few months with a second, more functional version coming after that (mini-stick, etc)) and a VKB slider throttle (a design that CH Products users will be familiar with ) later in the year.

VR is awesome. It is staggering how cool it is to feel like you are actually sitting in a cockpit … but … it isn’t there where I would be recommending it to everyone or ditching my Track IR for it yet. There are resolution issues (though it is very good now, it will be better soon) and field-of-view issues (same, better in the future) enough for me to recommend waiting. Plus, for expanded resolution and FoV, comes the requirement for an expanded video card beyond the current generation. Your Track IR is the de-facto default for DCS and it will likely be that way for a couple more years. Nothing beats adding Thrustmaster MFDs to your home pit setup. Not sure if you have a CH Product MFP but that is working well for me too. All of that requires being able to see outside the VR headset, not to mention manuals on a tablet.

On the F-18C and the Mission Environment, I think that @near_blind could exhaustively describe how it will fit in the current and future theatres. I personally think that Georgia and the Person Gulf will be great for the Harrier and Hornet but I think that you are going to have to suspend disbelief a little on realistic carrier operations from the point of view of how a carrier task force would operate. You are likely to cram a carrier into a corner somewhere or put it closer to land than it would ever operate … but I am ok with that. There will be a little struggle with the room that is needed for a carrier air wing to operate in. Again, @near_blind is your man with all the info.

The mission editor has changed in the last few years but it still has it’s misses. @Baltic_Dragon and other mission designers have put monumental effort into making single player campaigns that are well beyond what was available a few years ago. There are still a ton of things that the AI gets wrong that designers need to work around. But! But it is improving. Support systems like MIST and MOOSE allow an beautiful degree of lua coding interaction that can open up a lot of possibilities to make things better but it’s a fight against the complexity required to get it all working right.

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I think flight sim’ing gets a bad rep as an “All-or-Nothing” hobby when it’s more simple than that.

I love aircraft, I love fancy technology and gizmos (old and new), I love history, and I love teaming up with buddies that like those things too. It just so happens that DCS is a great way to check off all those boxes. The peripherals just add to the experience- they don’t define it.

The state of simulations and their respective communities isn’t perfect right now… not that it ever was, nor ever will be. But I’d rank it a solid, “Pretty darn good” with the addendum that there’s a lot of interesting things on the horizon.

I stopped bothering with SimHQ because what was discussed (ripped apart) on there was so far removed from my experiences in DCS that it seems it was a meeting place for all the people who have their posting rights revoked :slight_smile:
For a free sim its a no brainer that you can’t try it out before investing in appropriate hardware. Of course you know how it gets expensive real quick :wink:

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Indeed, SimHQ, unfortunately, became home to the bitter and disgruntled, at least when it comes to DCS. It was not this way when Doug ran the show. It was a sad day when I reached the point where I had to turn my back and walk away (after more than 17 years as a member of that community). Fortunately, I found a home with here with an altogether more positive bunch of reprobates (that would be you guys :wink: ).

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It’s important to stay focused on the positive sides. Especially when it comes to your hobbies.
I can’t understand why some people seem to dvelve on stuff that they don’t like. Find something you like, and stick to that, is my advice. :slight_smile:
And let people be happy, even if you’re not.

I read a great slogan a few years back, that said:
”Do more of what makes you happy”

The flip of that is doing less of what makes you unhappy.

Simple, but good advice. :wink:

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+1

There are still lots of situations where VR is cool though which is why I put in my contact lenses before I “don the goggles”. :slight_smile: I’ve been wearing contacts for 35 years now … and still seriously contemplate getting LASIK.

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Excellent, thought-provoking post. So many of you are early adopters, just as I’ve been until this point. The A-10C Beta was exciting and I miss making missions for the Hog in spite of the ME’s quirks. I am sorry not to have played Baltic_Dragon’s campaigns. LUA is way above my pay-grade.

I must now decide – or at some point, anyway – whether to resurrect my old CH/TIR hardware, reinstall DCS, update it to 2.5 with all the trimmings and either learn the Harrier or wait for the Hornet and then learn that. There’s no way I can run VR on my current rig, though, so when I plunge into that I think I will get another gaming machine and set it up for VR. And that will also be the moment to upgrade the HOTAS.

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