I wrote these rules up back in the mid-1990’s. Inspired by the “Dicta Bolke” from the World War I fighter ace, these are meant to be very simple rules which still capture the complexity and subtlety of virtual air combat. Suprisingly, even though the technology of these games has come a long way in ten years, the rules still apply. I am reposting these rules on my blog, but for the first time with a paragraph of explanation attached to each.
Most people think games are all about hand-eye coordination and repeating the same tasks over and over again to gain proficiency. Which is all true enough. But in the complex arena of online combat sims, you must be constantly thinking to excel. There will likely be better shots and better flyers out there than you, but if you can out-think them you will prevail more often than not. Just taking off expecting to be shooting at AI-controlled drones (i.e. which aren’t really thinking) means you aren’t thinking, and therefore will likely die. A lot.
Get a fast enough processor and fast enough graphics card to play the game. Until you see the difference it can make - especially over fields or in big furballs - you will not believe it. If you are getting shot down a lot by players who you know aren’t out-flying you, and who’s gunnery scores are no better than yours, there’s a good chance they’re on a faster machine and simply are seeing more than you and performing better because of it. Do whatever you can to maximize frame rate - reduce textures, run lower resolution, turn off effects. If you’re seeing choppy screen rates in large-scale battles, then you are flying at a disadvantage.
How many times have you seen someone zoom in for “just one more pass” and then get clobbered? Wiping out a nice multi-kill flight. Know when it’s enough.
Nothing will even the playing field like “warps”. The worst dweeb in the world can be turned into a Kevlar-skinned Stealth fighter if he’s got a weirded out connection. You won’t be able to hit him, he’ll dance around the skies, and he’ll hit you from angles that are “impossible.” When you see something like that - clear off if you can. It’s not worth the hassle and aggrivation. Someone with a better connection relative to that player may have a better shot at him.
A common lament, especially where there’s a lot of newer players around. A 1-on-1 dogfight quickly becomes a 2-on-1 when a team-mate wants to help. But then passers-by see an enemy plane on the ropes and swoop in to try to pick up the spoils. And suddenly you have 5 friendlies chasing one lone enemy Corsair. Complete waste of assets. All other things being equal, three friendly planes should always, always, always kill two enemy planes and not take any losses. The “third man” needs to be a team player, though. His job is containment and protection - make sure neither of the enagaged enemy planes can get enough room to run, or can get a good angle on a friendly.
Games like WarBirds and Aces High have so many things to do that players sometimes can fool themselves into thinking they can or should do them all. If you’re no good at bombing, don’t bomb. If you get confused in big furballs, avoid them - even if it means getting fewer kills. If you know your gunnery sucks, don’t hang out in the combat area when you’re only down to half your ammo - odds are any combat you engage in will see you dead since you’ll likely run out of ammo before being killed yourself. There is no shame in acknowledging your weaknesses and playing to your strengths. Play **your ** game.
When you have altitude you control the fight. You can dive to attack. You can bypass enemy planes and attack some ground target. You can dive and run away if you see more enemies approaching. You can go over and help someone out. If there’s a threat somewhere out of sight that you’re alerted to on the radio, you can convert altitude to speed and meet it. This does not mean you need excessive altitude to engage. You need enough height to give yourself the choice of how and when to engage. That altitude will be governed by the plane you’re in, your style of play, the relative odds where you’re going, the combat situation you’re likely to find, and who (if anyone) you’re flying with.
When in a 1-on-1 fight, everything is pretty much on the table. But that is rare in an arena based game where it’s generally a many-on-many situation, with fresh troops constantly being pumped into the dogfight. It is possible to have a verry large impact on the combat situation by exploiting fear. The fear of being shot down, mainly. For instance, if an enemy plane is saddling up on a friendly who is trying to get home, you do not need to commit to a fight to clear your teammate. A high speed pass from dead-6 - retaining all your energy (== options) with a little spray of MG fire - will make the enemy break off 9 times out of 10. Why? Because he Fears being shot down. He doesn’t know you’re going 500+ mph and couldn’t track him for a shot if you wanted to. End result: your teammate is clear from danger and you’re back to your previous position - maybe with a damaged or dead enemy for your trouble.
Some players think “ace” simply refers to a number of kills. Not so. The true “ace” is capable of destroying any target(s) and getting home to tell about it. This is usually done in one attempt, as opposed to the droolers who slobber over to a target or target-rich area over and over until they run out of ordinance or airplane. True aces accomplish this by making good decisions. Knowing when, how, and where to attack - seeing the right time to risk an early break-turn to convert an angle and taking it. Seeing a hole in the CAP over a field and boring in at just the right time and direction to drop ordinance and scoot away intact. It’s decisions.
You’d think that a game played completely on computers and the Internet would have no room for something as visceral as “instincts.” But having that feeling of when to “Get out of Dodge” will save your bacon. It can be something as simple as breaking off a firing run because “it doesn’t feel right” … and then you scan around you and see a Fw-190 in long trail that would have toasted you had you pressed your original attack. Trust and develop your instincts for these kinds of things - it is these which allow veteran players to be away from the game for months, 0r even years, and return with most of their abilities intact.