Sunday, February 25, 2007

EAST OF THE KERCH PENINSULA: Sunday afternoon dive-bombing in Lock On



A Russian corvette barely survives a near miss from a 500 lb. bomb in the narrow waterway east of the Kerch Peninsula. (Note pom-pom gunfire from out of frame ship leading the surface action group.)

It's another squandered Saturday and Sunday in DD's dogged effort not to let the Lock On: Modern Air Combat monster game get the best of him. The tanker the frigate was escorting was an easier target and not so lucky. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough to get a screen shot while trying to evade deck gun fire so you'll have to take my word for it.

As a continuing installment from last weekend's riff on monstrously complex war games and Lock On, this small success didn't come without thorough preparation.

Lock On, like any respectable monster game, substitutes procedure and complexity for realism. If you want to get much out of it during its acclimatization period, one must come to grips with the mission editor, if only because the missions furnished for you by the game's developers will familiarize one only with crashing and bewildering environments.

The mission editor offers a way around this because, theoretically, it allows the beginner to write his own script. Lock On pitilessly disabuses you of the notion you'll succeed in a total fog-of-war environment, flying with a bare paragraph or two of instructions on the nature and general direction of the enemy. In other words, when you're learning just how to do a level weapons run without porpoising through the air in a badly flown aircraft, black box missions designed by other gamers don't work.

Saturday, then, was spent prepping the battle.

DD has no idea why Lock On is set between the Crimea and oil rich-Terek River/Caucasus Mountains regions in Russia. It has something to do with the Ukraine and Georgia as republics a coalition of NATO forces has chosen to defend from Russia, a rather hysterical proposition. The Netherlands, Germany and Turkey will enter into a significant "coalition" with the United States? ORLY?

In any case, that's the scene.

And for my battle, I had a small Russian naval group escorting an oil tanker through the narrow waterway connecting the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. You can't lose anything in such a small area, making finding targets easy. That was on purpose.

Still one must plan carefully and schedule a coordinated strike in which different planes and weapons packages arrive over the target area in such a way as to peel back its defense so that your flight of A-10's can arrive over the primary objective, in this case the tanker and its smaller escorts, with some reasonable expectation of being able to sink or cripple them by dive-bombing.

There is also really no such thing as a fire-and-forget or "smart" weapon in Lock On. Therefore, one can count on a steady percentage of misses and inefficiency on the part of an entire strike force, something that would be unpleasant for the standard gamer just wishing to jump in and play.

While building the mission, one must test it while under construction to evaluate for bugs, stupidity and balance. It is easy to bite off more than one can chew. Setting conditions for a little fun Santa Barbara-like mid-day fog over the water, quite naturally if unexpectedly, made it impossible to conduct visual bombing runs. Thick mist! Can't see!

And as a simulation you're trying to use for some afternoon entertainment value, it does no good for a strike force to be so front-loaded that everything is blasted by the computer AI battling itself before your slower A-10 arrives, or for the air cover to be so stout that the entire mission is spent just trying to survive and disengage. That is, unless you enjoy the idea of playing someone like the Japanese in the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

If you've practiced, set things up properly and been meticulous in planning, you can be rewarded with a scene like the above snapshot. It's success of a sort.

Lock On, it should be mentioned, offers six flyable combat aircraft. Two American, of which the A-10 is one, and four Russian. Each requires a different session of variables and procedures to be memorized. DD has already decided that understanding two out of the half-dozen is doing good.

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