Dynamic campaigns - why can't they do it?

My first flightsim experience was DiD’s EF2000. It had a dynamic campaign and was wonderful.
My second flightsim was Falcon 4 and it had a dynamic campaign, and thanks to the BMS folks, it’s still wonderful…
Now, imagine DCS with one.

I know it’s a difficult task, but why is it any more difficult than playing against an AI chess opponent?

My thinking is to start a company that offers dynamic campaign engines. Just like folks do that license graphics engines.

I think it’s doable breaking down the problem (war) into manageable, abstract entities with strict rules using OOD principles and offering a flexible API. Anyone interested?


I think it is doable and would be fun to do (and discuss here!), but in terms of commercial opportunities it would be tough to make a company doing it. Gaming ‘middleware’ does exist (there are a few pure AI ones too), but a campaign engine might only get a couple of flight sims to integrate/license it, so really the problem is one of market-size I guess?

I think there are a couple of open-source ones too (I haven’t looked yet)?

What sort of existing stuff is out there already, as that might be a good baseline to look from?

EDIT: I found this as an interesting approach - I remember it for IL2COD


At the risk of being labeled a heretic - I’m not convinced the Falcon campaign is the end-all-be-all of campaigns. While I had fun in the past with it, I still think EECH gave a better mix of big fish in a small pond feel that I think gaming lends itself to. I mean, let’s face it, none of us want to play a realistic campaign where we go out, drill circles and never fire a shot. Nor do we want our one plane to be inconsequential to the direction of the campaign flow (I don’t). I never really got the sense that I was doing much to push the campaign along in Falcon…but definitely felt the progress in EECH. Both suffered from somewhat repetitive mission generation though. True, you never really knew what might happen during a mission or campaign, but rarely could the campaign generated missions generate the very precise and dramatic details that a good custom scripted campaign mission could. (For instance - the Vergeev Group missions). The obvious problem with the later - lack of replayability.

Whatever the case - I wouldn’t want ED to do a bad dynamic campaign just for the sake of doing one. And even if they made a better one that Falcon, I think there is a sense of nostalgia-disease that would prevent people from acknowledging it was better when compared to older titles…it’s an odd but predictable side effect of aging in the digital world.

My dream has always been to have a set-piece dynamic campaign that has all of the assets physically on the map with the exception of any off map resupply efforts. If I visit an enemy or friendly airbase in DCS, I want all of the blue and red and in-between aircraft to be there, be in hangars, or be flying. If I visit a FARP and blow up all the fuel trucks there, I want the helos there to not be able to refuel. If I hit a radar station in mission #1, I want that radar station to be rubble and inoperative in mission #2. If I start with 18 airplanes in my squadron, and foolishly lose four on a foolhardy mission, I want there to be a couple days of gap before I’m replenished (if at all). If I go rogue and fly all over the map somehow and destroy all the refueling tankers…I want those to be gone (same with AWACS - and no, it shouldn’t be easy to do that…lol…)

Falcon 4 did not have object permanence in a lot of situations and I think the campaign did a lot of interpolating for attrition. (It wasn’t a destroy 1 unit remove 1 unit from the enemy inventory). I flew a LOT of Falcon 4 missions…heck, I wrote 80 AARs at one point during a campaign, and each had unique moments, but really not unique situations given the limitations of the scope of the missions. There isn’t a lot of “outside of the box” moments in Falcon (ie - very specifically written rules of engagement, or the type of complex triggered scenarios you can build with a DCS editor). In the absence of a campaign with the ability to be extremely diverse, at this point in my simming career I prefer a well written and designed series of missions that tell a story - an interactive movie. Take On Helicopters, some DCS campaigns, and ARMA campaigns. They chew up a good bit of my time, but no, are not replayable unless I forget about them in X years and then can go back and revisit them. Would I prefer to have those levels of immersion in a dynamic campaign generator - absolutely! Heck, I’d love to see ED drop all their projects except the F/A-18, and just do maps,
missions, and campaigns. I have plenty to focus on with the Ka-50, Mi-8, UH-1H, A-10C, MiG-21, Hawk, and the FC3 planes at this point. I can’t barely remember how to start the Ka-50 and A-10C after a few weeks away. And I’ve mastered NONE of them.

I might be one of the few that actually enjoy the game part of entertainment sims. I don’t mind going Rambo or having an inordinate number of air or ground kills. Nor do I mind never shooting a missile and doing a complex navigation exercise, or a stealth mission, or an odd combo of a bunch of roles all in one mission. The game aspect is why I always enjoyed the EECH campaigns more than the Falcon 4 ones because I felt like I was the one winning or losing the game, while still part of something larger. I understand there is some math and logic in the Falcon campaign that definitely makes your efforts count, but I just thought it was magnified in EECH.



I studied this as I wanted to make a project on dynamic campaign and other multiplayer mode.
I checked the engine capability. I studied the possibility to port a gameplay close to EECH (loved the campaign), WW2OL or other MFCTI on it.

First :

You have NEARLY all the tools.

Scripting is quite complete in DCS. Lua is powerful, can be coupled to a C++ external engine. Since half a year, you can spawn units dynamically in the middle of the game. You can alter waypoint, change behavior, checks area and damage, well… to keep it simple : you can do almost everything.

The two last barrier :

What is currently missing is the possibility to remove/add spawn plane in an ongoing mission → That limit MP options
Not possible to call custom menu ingame → Major missing feature, you can still do a few stuff thru radio menu.

Here is for the tool side. You can technically do a dynamic SP campaign ala Falcon. You can code a custom engine, and have DCS.exe execute the mission, without even using DCS menu. DCS can actually launch mission directly without going thru the menu, just by launching the game engine with the mission savegame :smile:

But …So good for the tech, so bad for the computer

Actually, it’s unlikely anyone of us has a computer close enough to the requirement for a dynamic campaign.

DCS feature advanced ground units. They are individually modelized, with a certain level of detail. So…they take their share of CPU ressources. And there the math begins :

A Russian Motorised Rifle Division covers 15-25km width of frontline. Without infantry, it contains :

  • 220 Tanks
  • 72 Artillerie Vehicle
  • 176 Sams units (Sam, AAA, MANPADS)
  • 171 AT vehicle and guns
  • 18 Helis
  • 676 IFV
  • 2500+ Trucks and cars of various use.

Total : 1300 combat units, 2500 trucks.

Now we have this, let’s process this with the map. The Zugdidi front between the moutain and the sea, is 25km frontline extending on the kobuleti area with 100km frontage max. It is likely a Combined Arms Army would take this area at minimum, which makes 1 tank division and 2 to 3 Motor Division.
On the other side of the mountain, let’s add another Army going thru the tunnel and the pass. That would be like 5 to 6 Russian divisions minimum covering the Georgian map.

But you need to be two player minimum in a war. Let’s multiplicate this by two. :smile:
Ok. My calculator broke. It’s likely DCS will broke if you try to fire all of this at once. Actually, It will broke down as soon as you try to place a single division. I tried :smiley:

So here’s the main issue. You can’t simulate easily a war in DCS simply because it’s too well modeled, VS BMS and EECH which only had flying things modeled and a few random targets. Anything above a regimental fight will have your processor turned into a frying pan.

I’m still learning LUA. It’s hard since I got bad habbits learning with OFP Sqs scripting an i need to “unlearn” that first. :blush: Maybe when DCS 2 is release, i’ll try to get a team of scripters and work on that.

@Ookami wouldn’t any campaign have to model different levels of detail at different ranges? I think the Falcon campaign used an (infamous!) ‘bubble’ where things inside that sphere would be modelled in more detailed compared to those outside of it. The divisions outside of your bubble would not be modelled as individual units but as a ‘power group’.

I guess it is similar to graphic systems, where they use ‘Level of Detail’ LOD rendering, as drawing a lot of detail for something so far away is less efficient.

Couldn’t a LOD style algorithm also be used in very complex missions and therefore campaigns too?

What’s possible with lua in DCS is perfectly demonstrated by my squad mate MBot’s “Guardians of the Caucasus” (already reviewed by Mudspike).

This was the most exciting gameplay I have experience in the Lockon/DCS series. Check it out, if you haven’t already.

There are limitation though. If I remember correctly there is the constant threat that ED will break anything relying on scripting with the next update. Also, the engine really struggles with relatively small numbers of ground units (say a few dozens).

Also, aforementioned campaign is limited to air warfare only. MBot reported from issue converting the concept to ground pounding as well.


The bubble concept was tested with more or less success in Operation Flashpoint, back in the time. They were a set of script managing squads, which would “despawn” them as soon as they are a certain distance from you, and “respawn” as soon as you close in. The main issue was multiplayer - if you had guys going left and right, it would spawn everyone :smiley:

However, even with this, the scope of a CAS plane is covering way more ground than the engine would support vehicles. That rules out any “force on force” scenario or impose DRASTIC vehicle reduction, such as spawning only a 5x5km area around the designated target, and only relevant SAM/AAA around it. That rules out a lot of things, such the possibility to engage targets of opportunity, interdiction missions, rescue mission, multiplayer beyond the same target…

DCS engine is simply definitively too advanced compared to our computers.

Mbot did great :smile: Air Warfare isn’t limited as ground is, as they is not real issue with amount of unit.

Maybe the issue is (at least) two-fold, in that some:

A - Want large missions, with realistic division sizes. Hard to do on home PCs still.

B - Missions that persist and have consequences, as in what you damage stays and impacts the ‘branch’ of mission you get next.

For (B) there is a new ‘resource’ system in DCS that allows airfields to have variable resupply abilities - I’m not sure, but I think?

Great discussion here! And really good input Ookami.

Again, I don’t want to make something for DCS, but they can certainly use what I make.
And FearlessFrog, your so right about a ‘business opportunity’ in this. Guess If we were able to get entire flightsim market share - well, that would be 2 maybe 3 sales… And Beach, just used Falcon4 as an example of a sim with dynamic campaign.

I want to design a generic campaign engine with a flexible API that can hook into say a flightsim’s full mission builder API.
First cut may be akin to a Quick Mission builder, then SP, and MP.? Until quantum computing goes commercial, wouldn’t be a war simulator (ala DiD’s Wargasm) but like FF mentioned, Bubbles and LoD concepts would apply. Seems a natural for an object oriented language, and I know DCS uses LUA (used it too to mod CoAP headers), but think Python might be better. But it’s too soon to talk about implementation.

Thinking design. And like FearlessFrog said, it will be fun!



Thing is : In ground attack, if you want consequences, you need to go blow some tanks :blush: Here is your division. :smiley:


Thanks mate.

Maybe we can share our ideas. I got quite a lot of page scratched with ideas and sketches, and studied closely various military structures and manual.

Actually, I think the best way would be to skip the mission editor and go the IL2 DCG way. This software was an external, 3rd party that would create a dynamic campaign. You had an external executable with his own menu that would allow to run and customize the campaign. When you set “next mission”, it created a mission file, that you simply load in the game. After the mission end, it would get the log, process the result, then create the next mission. That was MP compatible, and they set a hotkey to launch the mission creation from the game. It was really good quality.
You can do an external software for DCS in whatever language you want. all it need to do is to be able to create .txt files and compress them into rar. :wink: You can create a mission with only winrar and notepad :smile: One can simply create a “campaign” software, which would create mission on the fly. Those mission can directly be launched with the game engine. (trick : you can take any DCS mission, double click on it and when it ask what you wanna use to open the mission, select DCS.exe)

However, this part is pretty much subject to change, since ED announced they would merge “DCS.exe” (the game engine), and “launcher.exe” (the menu and mission editor)

I always enjoy and cringe when I see this topic come up. I always ask myself, what do you really, really need from a Dynamic Campaign.

Do you need to see the entire war?

Do you need to just see your little ‘bubble’?

Or do you need something of a hybrid in between?

Right now we have many tools to give us a dynamic mission. We have resources that can be delivered or stopped, we have units that can run out of supplies and be resupplied (or cut off from supplies). The big stumbling block right now is campaigns and the info that can be carried over. Dead units, unit supply levels, etc. I know some of this can be done by a crafty mission designer, but it just needs a little push from ED to get there.

I think we are going to get closer with the release of 2.0 and the improvements to the core. But we will just have to see.

As for the entire war, or the impact of yours small action on the outcome of the greater good. Again, its all about the info carried over mission to mission. Some ‘if’ rules here or there mixed in with info about the previous mission and a mission designer could weave a compelling war story for people, and it could have much more playability. You might not see all the action on the F10 map while you do your thing, but least you could get updates about what is going on and how you are effecting it.

I think stuff is coming down the pipe to continue to improve te possibilities for dynamic missions and campaigns, its just a mater of finding the patience for the wait :smile:


Good points @SiThSpAwN in that over the years there has probably been a lot of talk about this subject, and sometimes I wonder if it is really the ‘idea’ of we like rather than the reality.

A couple of things that ED did even before 2.0 comes out definitely make this all more possible:

  • The Su27 campaign http://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/en/shop/campaigns/su-27_the_ultimate_argument_campaign/ provides a first stab at establishing a marketplace for good content, in terms of gameplay and missions. Seeing that these things are complex and take a lot of work, but are worth paying for just as much as a jet is important I think.

  • The DCS ‘war’ is a great sandbox, in the true sense of the world knowing that Nevada is coming :slight_smile: By have this modular approach to units, maps and even campaigns makes it possible for the ‘thing’ to grow in lots of interesting directions. As @miRage said, the MBot campaign was really well done and interesting on what can be done on the ‘platform’.

As @kbryan1130 was saying, an interesting direction is to think of it as a game-within-a-game, in that bigger things can happen in the larger world, but the missions are sort of the ‘battles’ and the war is fought elsewhere.

I guess an analogy would be the Total War style RTS, in that there is a more global turn by turn metagame, that then results in individual missions - all of which impacts which battle takes place next. Could that sort of approach work for something like DCS?

I guess an analogy would be the Total War style RTS, in that there is a more global turn by turn metagame, that then results in individual missions - all of which impacts which battle takes place next. Could that sort of approach work for something like DCS?

WW2OL. Could be really awesome.

For those who don’t know, it is a WW2OL combined arms simulator. You can play infantry, tanks, planes, ships in a huge reproduction of the whole western europe frontline, at 1:4 scale. At unit level, it would feature a Battlefield style gamplay where you have to capture “bases”, “depots” and “cityhall” accross the town to capture it. At Army level, you would have a few selected player, that would move brigades and division arounds. Like the total war series, you get two layer of gameplay. Those brigade status and supply would determine the amount of spawnable classes for the players. Main gameplay is about attrition ratio and manoeuvering divisions to cut ennemi’s armies. Of course, this is the short version. The games features lots of modifiers such strategic bombing, tech tiers, bridges…

A smaller variant, which i don’t recall the name, was with planes only. You have thousands square km maps with lots of airfield, where you would need to bomb then capture the airfield with DC3’s to gain more territory.

It would be a killer in MP. It could be possible to scale down the battles to regimental/bataillons combat. That would free a little bit the load on a server while retaining a certain strategic level.
When players decide to fight somewhere, it would spawn brigades in defending town, and spawn attacking brigades in departure points, 10 to 30km out depending on type of unit. Then a few CA slots would allow player to use the ground forces. Of course, amount of spawned stuff would depend on brigades status after precedent battle.

Then we just have to generate ATO for the others available planes.
-CAS on the area for mud movers
-CAP/Sweep for the topgun lovers
-Strategic strike on train station/docks for those would want to impact brigades reinforcment rate

However, this solution is the most impacted by two limitations I talked about :

-No interface possible for end users
-Spawnable position needs to be dynamic in MP.

After ward, that just about creating a database and the relevant trigger/modifiers.

Interesting topic. Being the guy that has created a dynamic campaign for DCS I naturally have a big interest in the subject.

First let me say that I think that the Falcon 4 style campaign is the ultimate goal. This is not to say that it is perfect or has no room for improvement, but I think its overall approach to provide an engaging and ongoing environment to fly your aircraft in is the right one. One prerequisite for such a large environment is certainly the bubble system or gradual AI level of detail. Unfortunately ED has said in the past that they would never do a bubble system and prefer a world-wide full AI simulation (I assume this is a requisite of their military trainer branch), so I think it is impossible that we will ever see large scale war in DCS (it might also impose a limitation on the AI sophistication of individual units. Think more detailed sensor models for ground units).

Moreover, I do not believe that ED will ever create a dynamic campaign for DCS anyway. Having followed the company for the past 15 years, I think it became clear already a while ago that they do not have any real interest in a DC. Simply too much time has passes since a more sophisticated campaign has been cancelled during the development of Lock On, with next to no progress on that front ever since then. Some people claim that ED has continuously laid the groundwork for a DC, often citing the creation of the resource management system. I do not see this. While the ability to limit aircraft and munition (for MP only by the way) is a welcome feature, it is by no means groundbreaking. Many sims had this in the past, Il-2 for example, and calling this a step towards a DC is like calling having a shovel being a step towards building a house. Moreover, the resource management part is something that most scripters can write in an hour or two.

I am aware that Wags has recently talked about internal design documents for a DC, but at the same time it was mentioned that no actual work was being done to implement them (nor were any concrete plans for the future mentioned). I am certain that ED is not doing a DC due to lack of will and not lack of resources or technical capability, otherwise we would have seen something by now. Especially considering that it is not that hard after all. I am a LUA amateur and have no knowledge or experience beyond programming the simplest logic, yet I have built the “Guardians of the Caucasus” dynamic campaign in my free time from start to finish within 1.5 months. I am sure a professional, full time programmer could do wonders in one year. Considering all the stuff ED has done in the past decade, I simply cannot belief that they did not have the resources for this. I am sure that ED would love to have a DC in DCS like anybody else. But wanting to marry a supermodel and actually doing it are two different pairs of shoes.

So I do think that the solution lies with professional 3rd party or community implementations. Fortunately ED has provided some hooks in the scripting environment that can be used to achieve it. And while currently some unattractive workarounds are required, hopefully ED will improve these hooks for more streamlined integration into the game.

I think the key to successfully build a DC is not to try to do everything at once. To simplify things greatly, the scenario and mission types can be limited. That is the approach I took with my Guardians campaign, limiting myself to exclusion of a ground war, one side attacking only, the other defending only and the player only flying intercept type missions. That was the simplest possible setup I could come up with, while still being a realistic and authentic scenario with somehow diverse and interesting missions (intercept fighter-bombers, intercept escorted bombers, individual bomber night-intercepts, very high and fast recon intercepts). I think the results were quite good.

When people talk about a DC, they instinctively seem to mean a ground war with masses of tanks fighting each other. But this is also the most difficult thing to pull off. Even disregarding the mentioned problem of numbers and computing power (bubble required), to stage a realistic and convincing ground war even by placing units manually is extremely difficult. Generating this automatically would be the holy grail. Next to the technical problems this is also a challenging gameplay problem to solve. In a good campaign the actions of the player should have a noticeable influence on the course of the war, so that the player feels being rewarded for success and continued failures will eventually result in a campaign loss. At the same time, player influence on the game world should feel realistic and not gamey. But direct player influence on the ground war is actually very unsuited for that gameplay mechanic. Single aircraft have little impact, because blowing up a couple of tanks usually does not change the course of the war/campaign. So I think a DC should, at least initially, should shift away from the obsession with ground combat and CAS and concentrate on other missions which are multiple times easier to make and have a way bigger player impact, such as BAI, OCA, deep strike and naval warfare. Interestingly this also follows real world doctrine of application of air power, which mostly considers CAS a waste of resources and BAI and strategic strikes to be war winning (not considering the wars of the last 20 years, which had everyone doing CAS due to the complete lack of any other targets).

So I am very much in favor to disregard the complex and difficult ground wars and to concentrate on other scenarios. History is full of interesting examples of air campaigns that did not involve fighting on the ground: 8th Army Air Force bombing of Europe, Rolling Thunder, Linebacker, Beqaa Valley, first weeks of Desert Storm and many more. And this doesn’t even include all the fictional scenarios you can come up with.

I also think that a DC should be customized to a specific aircraft and its unique role and missions. DCS is bristling with different aircraft and helicopters from various eras. While this is a strength of DCS, this can also be considered a big weakness, because it stretches limited central resources (especially programming by ED). For a DC I think this means concentration rather than diversification should be done. Trying to write a generic DC that can accommodate all the different aircraft is bound to result in failure, as it wont to justice to each individual one. While certain elements such as mission generating or stats tracking can surely be generic, to overall design (AI configuration, briefings, “campaign flow”, victory/loss conditions etc.) must be customized to a specific scenario in order to provide the best possible gameplay.


I am not sure anyone ever claimed things like resource management was groundbreaking. I think your assessment of ED’s direction is a little off. I mean you said you have been following the company for 15 years, which is fine, but we are seeing a huge game core change coming down the line now, I think a lot hinges on those core changes, such as the unified exe.

I’ve been one of the people saying that they are laying the ground work for, if not a DC, at least more dynamic missions and campaigns. I still believe that. The core game has held them back on a great many things that we are now starting to see action on, ground radar, multi-crew, etc…

I am not throwing in the towel on anything just yet, I want to see what they can do once they break free of the current game core.

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And what a job you did sir! Really glad you posted as one whose been there, done that, your input is invaluable.

Me, I still want to build something a bit different. A very generic (well Wargasm is your old enough to remember that) engine that can be hooked into any combatflightsim with a full mission builder API. It my turn out to be a really cool game of Risk if no sims attached.

I do think this will be worthwhile and fun to do. I’ll post back when I can provide more detail.
…and if anyone wants to participate - get in touch with me.

I try to keep my expectations in check regarding the new engine. Sometimes I have the impression that people expect it to heal cancer. From what we have been told so far it will be a new graphics engine and until I hear someting else, I am not going to expect anything more.

My assessment on ED’s interest in campaign gameplay simply comes from the observation of improvements to the campaign system since the release of Lock On in 2003. The campaign system was improved exactly one time with the introduction of the stages-system with Black Shark in 2008, 7 years ago. I don’t want to go into depth, but I consider the stages-system a failure and the total number of campaigns that even use it seem to support this. This lack of progress tells me that this area is of very low priority at ED. There is no doubt that ED put a lot of work into the mission editor and that it is one of the best out there. But this seems to fall in line with the sandbox approach of DCS and does not support any carrer/campaign style long term gameplay.

Here is a little example to illustrate the point: DCS does not have a debriefing screen in the traditional sense after ending the mission. There is no “The Death Star has been destroyed, the galaxy is now free” type of free text that wraps up the mission you have just flown. Something so basic and easy to do that almost every game that is played in missions has it. There is just this extensive, dry events log. This might be the perfect way to debrief a military training session, but it is not the way you debrief a mission in a game. Of course technically this would have been possible to implement, ED beyond doubt has excellent software engineers. They also had plenty of time to do it since 2003. Consequently they must have considered the implementation of this feature not to be worth their available resources. I think this tells us quite a lot where the priorities are.

Again, its not so much what is coming with the release, but what that release frees up for them to do more with.

Again, how much were/are they limited by the older core, its not been that long since they shook free of 32bit…

I’m not saying improvements will be in the sim day 2 of launch of 2.0… but its certainly cuts away what might be blocking those improvements.

I do remember that, it was very good. Will be interested to see what you come up with in terms of scope etc.

You may want to try Hearts Of Iron IV, and see how the different layers of ground and air war is managed.