The Flare Path

By Tim Stone on August 19th, 2011 at 4:22 pm.

Mildly perturbed by the lack of Panzerkampfwagen references in The Sunday Papers? Feel that Bargain Bucket needs more locomotive love, Cardboard Children less Parpellimony misinformation*? You’re in luck. Every Friday from now until Ragnarok, I’m going to be presenting a ragbag of news and reflections covering all-things simulated and wargamey.

If a game features wings, wheels, war, or windlasses, and so much as nods in the direction of realism there’s a good chance it will eventually appear in The Flare Path.

*The idea that an airliner engine could function with fewer than three Parpellimonies inside it, is – as all serious simmers know – absurd.

One of the things I’m hoping to do on a fairly regular basis, is vector you towards games you might not have noticed before. Games like Molten Sky.

Big Little Team are currently looking for folk to test-fly this WIP “air combat game with tactics elements”. Intrigued by glimpses of distant horizons and talk of dynamic battle flows, I’ve already volunteered my services. If they can deliver something with the approachability of Apache Air Assault or Wings of Prey, and the campaign magic of Enemy Engaged or Carrier Command, I’ll be more than happy to overlook flagrant design crimes like missing cockpit views.

If all goes according to plan, this column will also feature the odd chunk of developer wordage. This week I finally tracked down one of the men behind nerve-fraying WW2 armour sim Steel Fury and its gloriously bold strategy sibling Achtung Panzer. Graviteam boss Vladimir Zayarniy was kind enough to answer a few questions on Steel Armor: Blaze of War, the studio’s next caterpillared creation.

RPS: Setting Blaze of War in three different wars – Angola (87-88), Iran-Iraq (80-99), and Afghanistan (84) – sounds like a recipe for hard work. What was the thinking behind that decision?

Vladimir: Initially we were going to go with a single setting – maybe not the most popular one – Angola. Having talked about this with the publisher, we eventually decided we needed something more recognizable, and added Afghanistan, and Iran and Iraq. In Afghanistan players will use their tanks as hammers. In Iran the battles have a more WW2 feel. Angola offers ambushes and close-quarters actions against an evenly matched enemy.

RPS: Aren’t you afraid that the unusual settings will scare off some potential customers? Wouldn’t something like Steel Fury: Kasserine 1943 have been a safer option?

Vladimir: It may be that a WW2 theme would have generated more demand, still, theoretically there is nothing to stop us exploring it in an expansion. Perhaps something based on Achtung Panzer: Operation Star for example.

RPS: What does Blaze of War’s campaign system offer that a traditional mission sequence doesn’t?

Vladimir: Blaze of War uses the same campaign concept as Achtung Panzer. The player moves his forces around an operational map, deciding where battles will take place and which troops will take part. Obviously, the AI is busy doing the same thing, so plans don’t always go like clockwork! There will also be a quick battle mode where players can drop different troops at any point of any battle region and quickly generate a separate battle.

What else can you expect from The Flare Path? Don’t be too surprised if sometimes the lion’s share of the column is just Yours Truly wittering-on about whatever battle or vehicle simulations are currently closest to his fickle heart. This week for instance, having made numerous nailbiting pilgrimages to a 256-colour Pacific, and drawn an immense amount of satisfaction from contemplating dung heaps, I’d like to sing the praises of The Complete Carriers at War and Farming Simulator 2011.

Wargaming lost one of its legends a fortnight ago when Ian Trout, the creative dynamo behind countless top-notch SSI and SSG titles, passed away. If you want to understand why Ian’s loss was so keenly felt amongst strategy veterans, do one of the following: seek out a copy of 1983 4X pioneer Reach for the Stars, or send out your Catalinas and Emilies in search of the incomparable Complete Carriers at War (Note to SSG. gog.com’s strategy section is achingly short of wargames of CCAW’s calibre)

Less board game-indebted than most of the Aussie studio’s output, the turnless, DOS-dependent CCAW is still, to my mind, the most compelling depiction of PTO flat-top ops available on PC. It delivers everything – except perhaps a zoomable map and a campaign framework – that a budding bedroom Nimitz/Yamamoto could wish for. The cloud-complicated cat & mouse of manoeuvring taskforces. The tenterhooks waits as your strikes reach their targets and loose their eggs and eels. The dawning despair when you realise your refuelling SBDs are about to be caught on deck by a swarm of incoming Vals… It’s all there.

I’m still not quite sure why I found myself installing Giants’ latest agri sim the other day. Possibly it was a subconscious reaction to the distant thrum of combine harvesters drifting through my open window. Maybe it was a consequence of getting stuck behind yet another grain trailer on my way back from town. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I refreshed my acquaintance with this curious franchise.

The original ‘Landwirtschaft Simulator’ was one of the few Euro sims to escape my post-review charity-shop heap. Unlike dross such as Woodcutter Sim and Dustcart Sim, FS2009 actually had a bit of fibre to it. Yes, the landscapes felt synthetic, the physics could occasionally go haywire, and the tractors were, from a systems modelling point of view, criminally crude, but the surprisingly satisfying plough-plant-harvest cycle when combined with the career mode’s simple economic sandbox, kept me at the wheel of my trusty Fendt for hour after industrious hour.

Returning to the series is both a pleasing and a disappointing experience. The visuals appear to have changed little, and hire-able AI farmhands still get confused now and again. To their credit Giants have added co-op multiplayer and some very useful new equipment. My pick of the new purchasables would be either the automatic bale-collecting trailers (manually loading straw was one of FS2009’s most challenging tasks) or the ingenious mobile milk manufacturing machines.

Bovines with monikers such as Tina and Frieda can now be bought in the same way as shiny plant. Left to chomp on the default greensward, they produce precious fertiliser in the pungent form of slurry and manure. Feeding them on homegrown silage or grass, means you get white as well as brown gold. Happily, FS milk margins aren’t nearly as narrow as their real-life equivalents, Also – touch wood – none of my quad-stomached cash-cows have, thus far, gone down with TB, BSE, or the dreaded Bluetongue.

The really striking difference between FS2011 and the game I played a couple of years ago, is the latest instalment has a sizeable mod community swarming round it. Busy sites like www.ls-uk.info suggest this Swiss-made series may actually be one of simulation’s biggest success stories of recent years. Fresh themes, accessibility, open architecture, and imaginative mission-free action, might not get you critical acclaim or press attention, but I suspect it can lead to bumper cabbage yields

Talking of which… my FS2013 Wish List:

1. Cabbage and other veg
2. Soil chemistry
3. Hedgerows and fencing
4. Sheep and sheepdogs
5. Worzel Gummidge
6. Quacking plums and 20ft-high chickens

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56 Comments »

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  1. Vinraith says:

    All hail the return of the man of Stone.

    Glad to see you with a regular column, Tim, your contributions here are among my favorite reading on the site. Wargaming is far too neglected in these parts.

    As for this week, I’m particularly interested in Blaze of War, and hope you will continue to keep us apprised on its progress. Achtung Panzer’s overworld campaign system was exactly the kind of thing I like in military games of all stripes, I’m pleased to see them using it here. The setting is extremely compelling as well, I’m glad to see wargame/sim developers trodding some relatively untravelled paths.

    • Felixader says:

      Isn’t that Turok? “Sheds a tear for the series. (by wich i mean Dinosaur Hunter and Seeds of Evil)”

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      I do agree Sims are much under represented on this site, mostly, hmm, maybe I’m just having a grumble, ArmA, ArmA 2 and DCS AC10 were quite well covered I think, so, hooray, and hooray for more!

  2. Joe Duck says:

    Yay! Excellent!

  3. xfxian says:

    Wow, that Steel Armor could turn out great, tank sims are so rare and this even has a fresh scenario…

  4. ShineDog says:

    Freelancer style mouse controls in a Lite sim? That’s interesting. It’ll put the grogs off, but I’ll give anything a try. (Although I would like to flap around with a joystick too, if the option is there.)

    Oh wait, just read the site, the options there. durp.

  5. Wilson says:

    Wonderful, I expect this to become one of my favourite columns.

  6. roadtriplabs says:

    Your opening paragraph is epic!

  7. Fumarole says:

    Awesome news. More wargaming articles on RPS is a Good Thing.

  8. wodin says:

    You should have asked him what happened to the English release of AP Op star….

  9. Anvilfolk says:

    Anyone try HPS Naval Campaigns: Midway? It definitely feels old school, but it’s got the whole carrier business going for it. Spotting aircraft, launching them, taking them in, turning into the wind, setting up CAP, etc etc etc :)

    Will try to get my hands on CCAW! I’m a sucker for WWII carrier operations!

  10. 7rigger says:

    This is a great read, thanks. Looking forward to next Friday’s installment already!

    Love sims of any kind, don’t get the time to look into them and usually rely on friends to tell me what’s good, so cheers!

  11. Premium User Badge

    Man Raised by Puffins says:

    My moneys on the coal-fired power station. She starts off slow, but boy does she accelerate down the final straight. C’MON BATTERSEA A, DADDY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF PANZ!

  12. cliffski says:

    I have to be honest, I’m really impressed by the cow textures.
    You dont get to say that often.

  13. McDan says:

    I like the cut of your words mr stone, looking forward to more of this.

  14. kyrieee says:

    I like how the guy in the clip turns on the afterburner while dropping flares..

  15. JFS says:

    I think basing games on lesser-known conflicts is a good thing. There’s enough World War II and Iraq/Afghanistan-lookalikes to keep every shootymansimulator fan busy until the next one.

  16. Bassism says:

    Tim Stone, I think I love you.

    That is all.

  17. Lukasz says:

    the first pic reminds me of transport tycoon

  18. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    In soviet russia, highway is dangerzone.

  19. Novotny says:

    This is bound to be my favourite column. Yay!

  20. danimalkingdom says:

    MEGAYES. Sims are the best. I love sims but i can’t stand pedantry, so this sounds like a perfect arena for fresh chat on cool sims not bogged down by obsessive realists.

    Huzzah i say. you should try that WW1 Uboat sim that came out a year or two ago.

    Oh! And the new Rise of Flight career mode, yes do that Mr Stone.

  21. danimalkingdom says:

    I have to add: I notice that pretty much every game I’m interested in, most of the ones I’m playing atm all come from Russia. Do these guys just have more balls than anyone else?

    I’ll even go so far as to excuse their putting 90s techno on every demo video they post. That’s the Russian Way

  22. Zeewolf says:

    I like this initiative. I’m not a typical wargame/simulation-person, but every now and again I get hooked by one of these things. Like now I’m playing Panzer Corps and having a great time with it. And Molten Sky looks pretty neat (you’re right, I hadn’t noticed it before).

  23. Shadrach says:

    Looking forward to this column, and thanks for that short but informative interview. Steel Armo(u)r is one of my most-awaited games, it looks just lovely. Also it seems the long-awaited Op. Star expansion to AP is finally ready for the rest of the world.

    Always thought the Sunday Papers too full of artsy-fartsy indie devs and gamedev insider gossip anyway :D

  24. Inglourious Badger says:

    Hooray for this. Tim Stone is ace

  25. gamer says:

    Actually I played the first game, it is a Russian game

  26. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Tim Stone fuck yeah!

    Also, Sukhoi T-50 in the second screenshot woohoo!

  27. Premium User Badge

    VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    6. Quacking plums and 20-ft high chickens

    Well, the second half of this wish is already granted, thanks to…

    SPOILER

    SPOILER

    SPOILER

    SPOILER

    SPOILER

    SPOILER

    SPOILER

    A certain quest for “The Visionary” in The Witcher 2, Chapter 2, when you side with Roche.

    END SPOILER

    END SPOILER

    END SPOILER

    END SPOILER

    END SPOILER

    END SPOILER

  28. BAshment says:

    Is it to early to order a ladyboy?

    • The Tupper says:

      I’m sure there’ll be a spammer along with an unbeatable offer on one any minute.

  29. Jason Moyer says:

    Looking forward to more of these articles. Simulation coverage on RPS always seems a bit, erm, weird (?), so having a dedicated writer/series should be interesting.

  30. Bart Stewart says:

    Simulation. Yes. Yes.

    Simulations are best done on the mighty Personal Computer. So it makes great sense for a PC-centric game discussion site to have a special emphasis on this kind of game — it makes this site more valuable by playing to one of the particular strengths of the platform.

    More this, please.

  31. The Tupper says:

    Good to hear. I always thought that the lack of a dedicated simulator column was a blindspot for this otherwise-comprehensive PC gaming site.

    Can I take this opportunity to suggest that people who may be put off indulging in a bit o’ sim because of a lack of dedicated flight yoke or joystick try using an Xbox 360 controller? I have a CH Yoke and pedals but find the white plastic pad to be, in many ways, more intuitive and enjoyable for flying with.

  32. Prime says:

    Watching Molten Sky gave me strong and very welcome memories of my childhood tooling around in F-19 Stealh Fighter on the Atari ST (a better gaming machine than the PC at the time). I loved getting her radar profile down to the bare minimum by throttling down the engines until we were just about to drop out of the sky and angling her nose up, flaps down to provide lift. i wasn’t quick but I could sneak past anything like this, watching Migs amble past, oblivious, in the excellent external camera view. Made me feel like a GOD. I also really liked that when you flew at very low altitudes the craft started bucking like a bronco: man, I miss these hardcore experiences. If Molten Sky is anything like that at all…

    Not to mention that it looks fucking beautiful, and seems to prize realism over the naff, Hollywood-style antics of the deeply silly HAWX. PC and sims, eh? Perfect partners.

    Welcome to your new regular slot, Tim. :)

  33. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    This unthreaded string of comments looks positively nostalgic. It’s 2009 all over again!

    @Prime: yes, F-19. What a great game, it was like Thief, but with planes and 5 years earlier. I really dug the differences in atmosphere in each theatre of operations. The simplicity and low-tech enemies of the mediterranean and the persian gulf contrasted well with the crowded and hi-tech central europe and kola peninsula scenarios.

    • Prime says:

      Ha! Yeah, the parallel with Thief hit me as I was writing the comment: “Hey, I’ve always liked ‘sneaky’ games!”. And it’s true. This was all about heading into enemy territory, hiding from your enemies, blowing shit up, then ghosting back out again. It could get tense like you wouldn’t believe, when a Mig pilot would fly so close all he had to do was turn his head to see you scooting past in the other direction…if only the enemy planes had coin purses – I could have gone home rich with stolen gold!

  34. mkblin says:

    top film and nice see pictures ,shopping
    http://goo.gl/bE88E thanks ……………………………………..

  35. Oak says:

    Hurrah for Old Stoney!

  36. feda says:

    Finally some more tank sim awesomeness. Graviteam learned a lot since their T72 game, which was a bit amateurish. Their subsequent titles are much better, though, so I expect Blaze of War to be awesome.

  37. thebigJ_A says:

    Man, my money was on the building.

  38. BAshment says:

    deleted.

  39. Ezhar says:

    Interesting to see how fast RPS content gets recycled:
    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Parpellimony

  40. haihaiq says:

    i love this game,i hope we can supply for our
    shoping…..
    http://bit.ly/n6SVQy

  41. field_studies says:

    Wonderful. I love the prospect of more feature writing on the site, I love the prospect of little-known or older games getting some exposure, and I love getting to read about something like farm simulation which I know I’ll never play (and not just because I farm in real life).

    I hope you’ll do a little hypothesizing about the genre as this column goes along. Questions like, why does the same person that enjoys fighter jet destruction action also enjoy sitting behind a combine? Tracing sim sub-genres (train, flying, etc) back to their origins lineage-style would be interesting too.

    Can’t wait to read more!

  42. BobsLawnService says:

    The war in Angola was far from evenly matched. In terms of discipline, training and leadership the South African National Defence Force was so vastly superior to SWAPO , MK and UNITA it was ridiculous.

    Having said that it was a fascinating conflict and I’m glad to see it get some attention.

  43. Kevin says:

    You know, I don’t think the fully-dynamic campaigns are all they’re cracked up to be anymore. I’ve recently revisited Falcon 4.0 and then remembered the most frustrating thing about it. All the SA-6s and SA-3s planted just outside your airstrip when you’re posted near the frontline, the enemy airbases that are no more than 60 miles away from your own in what can best be described as a military aviation equivalent to 2fort in Team Fortress, and a whole host of other situations that fly in the face of causality.

    I’d say the semi-dynamic campaigns of the Jane’s study sims (a la F-15 and F/A-18) are the way to go. I’d say a fiction crafted behind those missions actually helps with the immersion.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      I agree, I too tried getting into Falcon 4.0 about two years ago and I also thought that the dynamic campaign got in the way more than anything else.

      I’m just a blasphemer I suppose.

    • Prime says:

      Possibly it was Falcon 4.0s implementation of the Dynamic Campaign that was wrong? Sounds like they needed to write in a few more general rules of realistic behaviour and strategy.

      I’d wait to see what they Blaze of War team do with it before chucking the idea completely.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      Nah, the implementation of the dynamic campaign itself was very good for the most part but it’s just a matter of personal preference.

    • Vinraith says:

      I love a good dynamic campaign. The last thing I want in a sim (or a strategy game, for that matter) is pre-written story. I really prefer emergent games that let you create stories, rather them games that just want to tell me one.

  44. Aankhen says:

    This looks like a great addition to RPS. I don’t play simulators that much, but I do enjoy reading about other people’s experiences with them.

    I have one request: could you use a different style for footnotes? Gray on white is rather hard to read. Maybe smaller text at the end of the article would work better, especially if it were linked…

  45. MadMatty says:

    Achtung Panzer is begging for multiplayer! that or its sequels plzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZ