Does DCS have a Visibilty Problem?

Phil Style: This is discussion about some testing I did looking at and measuring contact visibility in DCS using both 1440p and 1080p resolutions.
I also offer what I think could be a suitable solution at the end of the video.

Some parts of the video are off-screen, due to the two resolutions I was recording not sizing correctly. The content is not adversely affected by this.

Test start at 2:20
My proposed solution to this at 21:12

Interesting video on an issue that has been around for a while. I know there are threads over at the ED forums always bringing this up from time to time. I also know I have problems seeing things in DCS as well. Wondering what you guys think, particularly the coders in this community.


Yeah, its what I use labels for :blush:


lol screw playing without labels. I play games to have fun, not check virtual vision.

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I think there are two parts to this question

  1. Is there a problem with how DCS transitions object visibility through various LODs?

  2. Should objects / aircraft be more visible in general?

To question One: yes, absolutely. I play on a cheapo 1080p 40’’ TV and I can spot medium sized aircraft from 30+ miles out if I know where to look. As the video stats, 4K players have the opposite problem. A predicable, consistent system of LOD swapping should be in place for players of all resolutions.

To question Two: it’s highly subjective what is and is not visible enough.


Most definitely it is. And it isn’t a fixed “right answer”. In real life, I’ve seen planes 15 miles away, and I’ve not seen planes 1 mile away. Just yesterday, flying from Wilmington to Charlotte, a two-ship flight of F-15Es was entering Gamecock Alpha at 15,000’ - we were at 16,000’. JAX center pointed them out to us and we watched them go under our aircraft and come out the other side. I kept an eye on them until I could no longer see them, and the TCAS was roughly showing them about 4 miles away. If they had been wing up, I probably could have seen them further away. If the sky had been a different color, I could have lost them at 3 miles or 8. It is a really dynamic problem and there will never be a solution that makes people happy. Sim developers can only try to get it as best as they can…with the knowledge that in the real world it is highly variable.


Interesting viewpoints gents. Hope to hear more. I remember a while back, quite a while back now when ED had an implementation in “special settings” where you could use one of three different sizes for dots representing aircraft seen at a distance. My own recollection was it rather worked well. Then that option disappeared.

My understanding is it conflicts with radar system somehow, to scale up the model also caused the aircraft’s RCS to scale with it, which is problematic in BVR.

Personally I found it lacked the granularity to be truly usable. I may want easier to spot aircraft, but I do not want semi trucks the size of city blocks on every high way, nor do I want tanks the size of barracks buildings. But again, subjectivity.

I didn’t know that @near_blind. I remember there was one setting for those dots, I believe it was the smallest one that I thought worked well. I did not know it screwed up the radar stuff. Still, I would like to see something done that would allow me seeing aircraft better at a distance and NOT using labels. I hate labels. :wink:

Didn’t you pick them out on your RWR? :grin:

I should have turned on them, snapped a pic through the FLIR, and claimed a Mud Hen kill… :smiley:

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Generally it seems, players who don’t fly think we can spot airborne targets consistently at great range. Like Chris said, there are so many variables involved: aspect, relative movement, lighting, haze, turbulence bouncing you around and your own natural ability to pick out tiny objects in a very big sky.


Can’t be! I read on another forum that a guy can spot ALL the PLANES ALWAYS at 20 Kilometers out!
He didn’t actually put any proof for that, but he’s on the internet! He wouldn’t lie!


I think that same guy told me the Eurofighter was an attractive fighter. Clearly his credibility is shot.

All that without the natural variability of eye sight from person to person. My personal experience is nil. Talking with the fighter jocks I get the impression the commercial mindset is a bit overly conservative when it comes to visual acquisition, but not by much. Certainly closer than spotting reliably at 20+ miles. It’s a tricky thing to simulate.

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As well, we are being TOLD (sometimes) which way to look (based on the o’clock position and a distance, elevation, and which direction the conflicting traffic is heading) and we have a TCAS, and I swear, I’ve had planes go by me at less than a mile that I never spotted despite having all that information available. Then, other times I’m able to see traffic at fifteen or twenty miles because I just happened to hit the right piece of sky with my eye muscles at just the right point.

One caveat is that an air-to-air radar does give you an even smaller slice of sky to concentrate on versus TCAS, so you can really be confident that you should see something there. The other point is, if spotting that converging B1900D meant that I might die if he shot at me…I might be even more motivated to see traffic at further distances. Self preservation is a hell of a drug…

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I think that’s a huge part of it. Even in the sim keeping track of an F-5 you know the initial position and speed of versus a more vague position, or even one in the wild, are two completely separate ball games. The other side of the coin is I’d wager the typical zipper suited sun god has spent a lot of time, with a great deal of instruction, practicing the finer points of looking for other jets.

I might be over reaching here, I have a wildly different day job, but I imagine you have a separate set of priorities for the majority of your flight. Spotting traffic is important, but also a transient exercise, where as your typical fighter person has entire assignments built around keeping track of people in a fight.

I would be ok to just take the existing DCS labels concept and add a few more options to ‘gamify’ the visibility to suit various tastes. Stuff like:

  • Rather than model size, use various level of detail thresholds and mark out the dot with a more distinct color, e.g. make it darker or with a contrasted outline or something.

  • Let movement be used to add stuff like more reflections/glimmers when aircraft change aspect to you, as in for the sole purpose of being easier to see on screens rather than pure realism.

So just run with the labels concept but do a few more sliding scale things to get to people’s various level of distaste for not for being able to see like they think they should be able to in real life (if that’s how it works at all, I only look out aircraft sideways).

Just like @BeachAV8R mentioned on the VR IFLOLS lights/ball - it would be fine to do a pop-out if people wanted it, it’s not against the law in a game or anything. :slight_smile:


My assumption is any messing with the labels.lua makes MP integrity checks problematic (?). Or is that forced by the server anyway…?

I think there is just a global server setting on/off. A lot of the things I was picturing would have to be DCS World changes anyway, and probably not even possible in lua via API. Sort of a super in-built version of this - DCS VR Dogfighting Labels

Just like with the talk of FC4 and things like that, there’s a whole bunch of gameplay stuff that could be tweaked to make DCSW more fun to play over time (while keeping it always optional). Sandbox and sim-wise it’s got a lot of depth, but that just offers some foundation of what could be built on top of it over the next few years.

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For some reason I desperately want a career mode or mercenary mode with weapons costing money and/or reputation or something like that. I know it sounds “gamey”…but I enjoy some of that in my sims.

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You can do a lot of this even with the current labels system. My labels for all objects are just a “ ‘ “ and they are all Air Defence Grey. Works quite well in VR without being too intrusive or giving you too much informantion.

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