During the course of Take On Helicopters' development, the team were presented with several opportunities to experience the varied world of rotor-wing flight! Be it air-shows, ride-alongs or cooperation with experts, we embraced any chance we could to help improve and expand our knowledge, and try to feed that back into the game!
In the fourth and final part of our look at development field trips, Project Lead, Joris-Jan van 't Land, reports on some very special testing, when Czech Air Force Captain Marcel, "Máca" Kica, came to try out Take On Helicopter: Hinds!
Our direct cooperation with real helicopter pilots did not end with the release of the main game. For Take On Helicopters: Hinds we were able to consult CAF Capt. Kica. He is a display pilot with the 221st Tiger Squadron, showing off the Hind's might at various air shows. Next to this, he is involved in the training of Afghan pilots.
The first thing he was able to help us with was: access. Not everybody has a Hind parked in their backyard, so having the opportunity to get references from the real deal was a big step towards recreating it virtually. Our interest in Hinds dates back to before even TKOH itself. In January 2010 some of the Operation Arrowhead team got to go the 22nd Czech Air Force base at Námešt nad Oslavou. There they witnessed engine tests of the Tiger Squadron Hinds, and were able to do full sound recordings in extreme -20 degrees Celsius weather conditions. That may not be too cold for some people, but once you combine it with a Hind lifting off right next to you in the snow, it becomes quite challenging. On the same day the pilots were asked to fly the old Arma 2 Mi-24 flight model and provide feedback about it and helicopters in games generally. This discussion would actually evolve into the first real wishlist for the TKOH project.
Research & Validation
For the Hinds DLC, the access provided photographs of small details, detailed answers to specific questions, but also in-depth documentation on the physical characteristics. The latter allowed a flight dynamics physicist to accurately configure the flight model specifically for the Mi-24. There were several characteristics for the gunship we did not yet support in the initial TKOH release, such as the horizontal stabilizers moving with the collective pitch control. Such features were realized thanks to cooperation between us, Capt. Kica, and RTDynamics.
For direct feedback on the DLC, we invited Marcel to our office to fly our virtual recreation. We set up a good showcase configuration: a large TV, advanced flight peripherals and a much more comfortable seat than he'd be used to from his helicopter. After an hour of flying his conclusion was a nice boost of confidence for the team. He was able to perform very similar maneuvers to those he would in real life. He said: "the flight model behaved at least 90% the same as the actual thing, taking into account controls responses, inertia and performance". His further feedback was documented and used for tweaking ahead of the launch, and beyond.
Some examples of things we would not ourselves spot so easily: our 3D cockpit speedometer was not functioning entirely correct. He commented on it and we were immediately able to improve it. Another instrument he was missing is not actually seen in all helicopters, showing the actual position of the collective pitch control. He reported it missing from our virtual cockpit, but after verifying this, we found it was actually in-game and functioning on a different place. The reason for this was customization done to the Czech Hinds, as compared to models flown in other nations. Still, it was good to double-check!
The Hind's cockpit hover indicator was another interesting topic. Marcel commented that he never actually used this instrument in real life. His own senses and the forces he feels in his seat provide much quicker feedback while he is hovering. In a simulation you simply miss these natural inputs, like a more natural field of view and G-forces. When he was trying to hover in-game without any simulation helpers, it proved more difficult than he expected. Therefore the addition of a virtual hover indicator in the interface is a welcome addition.