If you are a fan of flight simulators and aerial dogfights, then chances are you’ve heard of Oleg Maddox and Ilya Shevchenko. Two names, not so much spoken by the community, but spat out by all but their fans. However, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, despite their infamous missteps, they have produced great games such as Zar and Mad Space alongside flops like Pacific Fighters and Cliffs of Dover. So it isn’t all that surprising when they launched a Kickstarter for their latest game DCS WWII: Europe 1944 that it surpassed it’s funding goal. Nor does it surprise me that less than a year later the updates stopped coming and the project seemingly vanished like the Star Tiger over Bermuda.
DCS WWII was a promising Kickstarter with big names behind it. It wasn’t just Maddox and Shevchenko’s names and experience, the project had the blessing of Eagle Dynamics, a huge name in the flight simulation business. A name so big that even when I lived in rural Ireland the aviation school had DCS flight simulators.
The project entailed creating a game inside the DCS world, an already established flight simulator with a colossal following. DCS (Digital Combat Simulator) isn’t so much a game, but an experience, and they strive for perfection. These guys study real planes to make authentic replicas for their virtual world (remember that, it’ll be important later). The idea of having an actual game with advanced A.I. and an authentic and immersive experience was very alluring.
The Kickstarter raised $158,897 plus another $5k via PayPal with many backers pledging more than $100, some even $1000. DCS is mainly aimed at an older audience who are willing to spend $49.99 per in-game model so perhaps it isn’t so surprising. DCS WWII managed to become one of the precious few flight simulators to get funding on Kickstarter. At the time, a few had tried such as Red Baron, and DCS F-35A Lightning II just a few months prior, but both had failed.
On the surface things seemed to be going well; there were regular updates, pictures and more. Even the last update in April 2014 was a happy one. But if you look a little deeper you see the red flags. The lead developer was constantly posting pieces from the manual he was making for the game, an odd priority, don’t you think? The game was set to be released in February 2014, a very short development time for such a big undertaking. Perhaps the developers knew they had backed themselves into a corner and simply wanted to give off the impression that things were fine with frequent updates. While I often praise developers for good communication through updates I can’t do the same for DCS WWII simply because they lack quality. Right from the start there were backers who hadn’t received certain rewards and they were simply ignored. I couldn’t find a single instance where the developers responded to negative comments at all.
Progress appeared to be going well before the abrupt halt, but perhaps the reason is hinted in update 30 on the Kickstarter page. As I previously mentioned DCS is all about authenticity and quality, and the problem with DCS WWII is that there aren’t that many functioning WWII planes you can take on a spin. Not only that, but DCS is designed to be accurate – the programmers could not cut corners with this – they needed actual blueprints and to essentially be engineers. There was to be none of that Spyro the Dragon style falling through walls and floors and this caused problems.
“In an older game, we’d never care that an aileron slightly clips through the wing when fully deflected,” states update 30 on the Kickstarter page. “We wouldn’t care that a gear strut does a physically impossible warp a few inches to the side in order to move to the down and locked position. And so with DCS, we have to go and make sure every movement is absolutely perfect, spending more time on these details than on the entire model in an older project.”
This isn’t the only time the programmers had trouble programming in the DCS world. It was something I had a long think about while I was writing this. If they were in a contract with DCS it is very likely they wouldn’t be able to talk about the problems with the service. In a lot of industries when you enter a contact with a company you are obligated to kiss ass or at very least, not whine. After the updates stopped, it was announced elsewhere in June that Luthier (Ilya’s Alias online) had left the project and that Eagle Dynamics were taking over development. My best guess is that ED came to the conclusion that RRG Studios (Ilya and Maddox) weren’t up to scratch. They’d been having trouble with the software, they’d been ignoring backers, and Ilya had been spending time on frivolous things like manuals when there were much bigger tasks at hand. I can imagine the PR team ringing their hands and screaming down telephones to shoot this bird down. Of course, that is only speculation, we’ll probably never know the full story.
Eagle Dynamics took over, not that this is mentioned in a Kickstarter update. They promised to honour the Kickstarter rewards, but their behaviour says otherwise. They moved all updates and discussions to their DCS forum which is both confusing and very unfriendly to newcomers.
All these years later it seems unlikely we’ll ever see this game. My prediction is that the planes and maps will be sold off as their own modules in the DCS world and backers will be lucky to get that much. ED’s current focus is on trying to get VR to work properly in their games, a highly unsuccessful endeavor thus far. I doubt they have time to work on DCS WWII. What saddens me is that this whole debacle may well have ended two programmers careers. DCS WWII could be the straw that broke the donkey’s back. As is often the case with these MIA Kickstarters, I don’t think this all falls on the shoulders of one person. Mistakes were made, Ilya and Maddox failed to communicate effectively, but there is a high probability they couldn’t. I understand how angry the backers may be, especially those who spent $1000. This whole thing is incredibly unfortunate. What I want to know is when did Ilya and Maddox know this project would be a wash? Was there an opportunity for them to offer refunds that they simply did not take? Or were they booted from the project while under the belief they could still complete it?
Who do you think is to blame for this MIA? What would you have done differently? Do you think Eagle Dynamic will fulfill their promise? How best do you think backers could be compensated? A penny for your thoughts in the comments below.