IL-2 Battle of the Clouds

2021 has really been the year of the clouds, in flightsims. Ok, MSFS arrived in 2020, but I bought it as a christmas present for myself, so for me, MSFS is very much a 2021 experience. DCS got a cloud upgrade in the spring, which, apart from looking very good, made a huge tactical difference in the sim.
Traditional clouds in flightsims have looked like 2D billboards, turning as you move around them, or building up like small puffs of smoke, as you approach them.
One of my favourite experiences when flying for real, is interacting with clouds. Breaking out on top of an overcast, basking in the sun, is a wonderful experience. Flying around the cloud tops, dipping down into the clouds only to break out below them again, is a very important part of flying. A realistic rendition of clouds is one of the things that I have been missing in flightsims.

I don’t really know how or why, but it seems like someone cracked the code on how to do realistic looking virtual clouds, without tanking the performance.

I updated IL-2 Great Battles to the latest version, 4,701b, and went flying amongst the new clouds…
IL-2 GB already had pretty nice clouds, but not without their share of problems like pixelation around aircraft.
Now the clouds in IL-2 look phenomenal! Since I fly in VR, I only have the clouds on the next highest setting, but man are they looking the part!
There are so many new cloud formations and levels of coverage to choose from.
TL;DR is that the clouds look much more like real clouds and now make a big tactical difference, without affecting the performance in a negative way.

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Competition really helps, especially when clouds will pretty much appear in every screenshot of any module or sim. I think Asobo brought lots of gaming studio experiences to sims (even if they don’t know much about aircraft or flying) and that shook things up a bit. The existing sim makers needed something to push them on and ugly clouds in 2021 is a harder sell that it’s ‘not possible’.

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I wonder if it’s competition or enabling, as in “they’ve got it so now we must have it” or “Ah, that’s how you do it!”? Maybe a bit of both?
Though, ED started talking about new clouds quite some time ago.
Anyway, who did what first is perhaps interesting, but not that important.
The thing that strikes me is that lots of clouds usually meant bad performance and low FPS. Now we’ve got more and better looking clouds, but not at any greater performance penalty.
Is it due to some new shader tech, or what makes this possible? 1C/777 mentions a “white paper” on this subject…

But, I can’t help suspecting MSFS at least helped to turn up the heat a little, as comparisons between sims are inevitable.
One can only hope that other developers find some inspiration in the OpenXR VR integration as well… :wink:

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Both Steam and Facebook are only updating their OpenXR code branches now, so in a way that might just happen by necessity anyway, regardless of if the sim studio has the bandwidth to make a ‘sideways’ VR API shift. One day OpenVR/SteamVR will just not work with a new AMD or Nvidia driver and Valve are likely to say ‘use OpenXR, legacy not supported’. It might be a while, but it’s coming down the train tunnel.

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I think you are right that it is a bit of both. XP12 will have volumetric clouds with “no performance hit”. If that is true then why didn’t they do this some time ago? Probably because the tools didn’t exist before. Now they do. And I agree that it has made a world of difference in gameplay.

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:+1: My first thought last spring: my virtual world feels ‘bigger’ - more depth…without actually being bigger. VR I’m sure helped here. It’s still almost eerie glancing down into a dark ‘hole’ when the ground lighting is included (shadows).

Tactics-wise; oh yeah! Even Me vs AI I’ve gotten bagged a few times trying to work below the clouds when it was clearly labeled: “A Bad Idea”.

The old way, in any sim, was nice but kind of a distraction at times.

For DCS (I don’t know about IL2) I’d be fine if the only addition was to get the AI to “see” them too; they are plenty good as is. Maybe higher-resolution is all?

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