The Flare Path: Severely Overloaded

By Tim Stone on September 2nd, 2011 at 4:04 pm.

 Flies between Lancashire and Yorkshire? (9,8)

There’s a lot of news to pack into this week’s Flare Path and 80% of it has wings. If you want to  make yourself useful, start loading those crates marked FlightGear. Stack them neatly and there should be room for the sacks of Rise of Flight on top. I’ve got these boxes of X-Plane to stow, then I really need to get those barrels of Cliffs of Dover in out of the sun and lashed down. God knows where we’re going to put the Achtung Panzer.

X-Planations

While rail sim marketers play tug-o-war with the abandoned Train Simulator name, the makers of civilian flight sims seem far less interested in cagily commandeering the Flight Simulator one. Austin Meyer is obviously keen to attract MSFS refugees, but he’s resisted the temptation to burden the tenth iteration of X-Plane with superfluous/suggestive subtitles.

According to a recent Laminar Research announcement, X-Plane 10 should be lifting off around the time Donner, Blitzen & friends make their next hypersonic circumnavigation. If you’ve been following updates at www.x-plane.com you won’t need telling that it’s going to come with some impressive default aircraft, vastly improved lighting, and rather natty autogen towns.

Will angular mountain ranges and barren, crudely textured countryside let the side down? Will we finally get to fly skies busy with AI traffic? Will all the graphical advances turn your modest i5 rig into a carpet-scorching slide projector? At present I have absolutely no way of knowing, so won’t do anything as irresponsible as predicting “A little”, “Yes”, and “At times”

Wind Tunnel Vision

One thing certain about the X-Plane release, is it will provoke a fresh round of X-Plane vs. MSFS flight modelling debates. Famously, X-Plane uses blade element theory to determine how its aluminium angels behave. Instead of relying on a mass of carefully researched aerodynamic data, the basic flight characteristics of X-Plane aircraft are determined by the actual shape of the 3D model. I’d always assumed this approach was unique, but returning to the newly revamped FlightGear – an open-source alternative to MSFS and X-Plane – I realise I was wrong.

Install FlightGear v2.4 and you don’t only get access to a globe’s worth of streamable scenery and a cavernous hangar of add-on aircraft, you get to choose between two very different flight simulation philosophies. The majority of FlightGear flyables utilise the default JSBSim FDM – a traditional data-driven dynamics engine also present in projects like the promising Outerra.

Some aircraft however, exploit YASim, a geometry-based X-Plane-esque approach. Which system produces the most realistic aircraft – the most believable aviation -  is a very hot topic in FG circles. If you fancy forming your own opinion then I recommend testflights over western Brittany. While the majority of FG scenery will look primitive to FSX-accustomed eyes, Brest (LFRB/LFRJ/LFRL) and its surroundings, boast pleasing aerial image-based ground textures.

Cliffs Notes

After my recent experiences with OMSI I’m more convinced than ever that simulations need  strong sound more than they need strong visuals. If there is such a thing as aural visualisation (auralisation?)  then my capacity for it is extremely limited. Luthier’s latest development update on the official Cliffs of Dover forum, therefore made for happy reading/listening.

Due any minute now is a CloD beta patch featuring a massively improved sound engine. In addition to the kind of fly-by melodies that generally send me sprinting towards the garden, we’re also getting another Me-109 variant, less strident landscape colours, and ‘numerous fixes and improvements’. Hopefully one or two two of those improvements relate to AI and framerates. Despite coming a long way since its troubled launch, CloD is still a sim with issues.

Just who’s to blame for those issues? If you believe the comments posted by 777 Studios’ Jason Williams in a lively article reaction thread over at SimHQ, it’s not current project lead  Ilya ‘Luthier’ Shevchenko.

“Luthier is a long-time friend of mine and you are smearing him with no proof or knowledge of what really happened that caused the less than stellar release of CLoD. Oleg didn’t hand Luthier anything. Luthier was asked by 1C to try to finish the project after Oleg was, depending who you talk to, relieved of duty by 1C or he quit 1C. You make the call. Luthier is making the best of a bad situation and he is a good guy and from what I can tell a good manager. My point is you can’t blame him for the release or bad decisions that were forced upon him by others. He was given 12 months to correct 6 years of bad decisions made by others”

 

I tried to prise the true story of CloD’s development from various 1C personnel during a press event in June. Beyond a tacit admission that feature creep and postponements had been a problem, a problem that ultimately Ubisoft called time on, my informants gave very little away. Asked why the project hadn’t been self-published, they pointed out there were contractual ties with Ubisoft stretching back to Il-2 days (contractual ties that seem to include future add-ons). What did emerge from the conversation, was 1C’s determination to turn CloD into the sim it was always meant to be.

Join the Circus

When he’s not defending his pals on forums, Jason Williams is usually to be found overseeing the expansion and improvement of ace WWI air combat recreation Rise of Flight. Since I last clambered into this breezy masterpiece, it has been embellished in numerous tempting ways. For starters, the core sim is now priced at a very reasonable £0.0s.0d. There are hulking multi-crewble bombers amongst the constantly growing payware fleet too. Best-of all we SP diehards get to lose ourselves in a proper Red Baron 3D-style career mode.

 

Typical of the regular improvements is this week’s patch. The new SPAD 7 must be purchased, but the bevy of extra historical squadrons in career mode, the hundreds of new skins, and host of other additions are yours for nowt. Expect more detailed RoF coverage over the coming months. I’ve neglected this gem for far too long.

Molotovs & Matildas

 

This was going to be an exclusively aerial Flare Path, but Graviteam have put paid to that by releasing a wargame demo that’s as generous as it is delectable.

Weather the potentially confusing tutorial mode (stealthily locking GUI buttons is seldom a good idea) and an early dimly-lit skirmish or two (the demo op begins just before dawn) and this trial-sized chunk of Achtung Panzer: Operation Star begins to twinkle in a most enchanting fashion. The spacious snow-shrouded battlefields, inspired strat layer, and fastidious ballistics will be familiar to players of the original AP. Novelty for us veterans comes in the shape of the overhauled interface, the venue switch, and the clutch of new units.

 

During the last few hours I’ve fought some wonderfully fluid engagements, none of which owed their shape to scenario designers. I’ve been caught off-guard by strat map surprises. I’ve lost scurrying Bren Gun Carriers in forest ambushes. Hearing the rumble of approaching Panzers I’ve quaked on behalf of my depleted AT gun crews. If you download one wargame demo this year, it probably should be this one.

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23 Comments »

  1. m3metix says:

    Is this going to be a regular column? I hope so. Though I don’t play a lot of sims, I really like articles like this to help stay informed about what’s going on in that world.

  2. GraveyardJimmy says:

    The patch for Cliffs Of Dover will not be out today, most likely is the end of Monday or Tuesday.

    http://forum.1cpublishing.eu/showthread.php?t=25822

    From the sounds of what Luthier is saying, it should help smooth out a lot of bugs, so I will be able to put more time into this sim.

  3. Premium User Badge Daiv says:

    We should get a spambot hunting trophy. Some sort of report spambot link that gives everyone who correctly reported it a point, so we can grind for achievements :D

  4. Zenicetus says:

    That’s a hefty chunk of simmage right there! Glad to see some coverage of Rise of Flight and Cliffs of Dover. It’s a shame what happened to Cliffs of Dover (gee, can’t really use the CoD acronym there, can we?). I’ve been keeping an eye on developments, but it still doesn’t quite look like something I’m ready to buy. Rise of Flight on the other hand, I’ve been enjoying immensely. The new campaign mode finally makes it a fully fleshed-out sim.

    You do have to purchase additional ROF planes separately (after the first set you get with the game), but you don’t have to buy them all at once. All planes appear in the game controlled by the AI, so you only have to buy the ones you’re really interested in, or need for a certain campaign career path. The learning curve is steep if you use full realism settings, so it’s actually a good idea not to go nuts with picking up new planes too quickly. Every once in a while, they announce a special sale for individual planes and package deals. I bought most of my planes at half-price by watching for sales notices.

    You’ll want the full rig — joystick and pedals, especially pedals — to get the most out of ROF. Most of these paper kites have HUGE amounts of rudder authority, and it’s needed to control takeoffs, fight on the edge of a spin (without spinning!), and for aiming.

    I could nitpick a few things… the AI could be better, as is the case with just about all combat flight sims. There is always the human opponent in multiplayer if you want to get your ass kicked in short order. AI-controlled rear gunners are a little too good. Bullet spread isn’t quite right, so long-range kills are too easy. That makes it difficult to use the speed advantage of faster planes for extending after an attack. The terrain looks pretty good, but the front lines and trenches are sterile and lifeless. Not much feel for a living war on the ground. Overall though, it’s a fantastic sim with great developer support and a good user community.

    X-Plane could be a whole other post but I’ll add a few things here. I’ve spent gobs of time in it, and more money than I want to think about in buying scenery and planes. FSX still looks prettier with some of the commercial scenery, but the feel of flying — the buoyancy of a light plane in the air, and the subjective feel of ground effect when flaring in a landing — is just so much better than FSX. The helicopter flight model is outstanding (and very difficult to fly, as it should be).

    One thing to add to Tim’s article is that version 10 will have a new dynamic weather model. As someone who mostly flies bush planes and helicopters in sims like this, that’s something I’m really looking forward to.

  5. leeder krenon says:

    more achtung panzer! nice. hope it’s cheap again.

    • Vinraith says:

      Nice indeed. I’ll buy it whether it’s cheap or not, myself. It’s in my best interest to keep those guys making games, no one else is making anything like the stuff they’re putting out.

  6. Rii says:

    This “Outerra” seems to be quite the thing.

  7. Dozer says:

    Blackburn Beverley. But I recognised it from the image. RPS needs more Bristol Centaurus…es…

    • Tim Stone says:

      Bravo. I can see I’m going to have to make these even trickier.

      Stay tuned for more Bristol Centaurusi in FP. The book the Beverley pic is taken from (‘All About Aeroplanes’ by Gallbraith O’Leary) includes a great image of a Short Solent over the Zambezi. I’m sure to use it at some point.

    • Novotny says:

      Pink! Huzzah!

    • Dozer says:

      I look forward to the challenge!

  8. Dozer says:

    This reminds me to get back into flight sims. I was building stuff for X-Plane before I moved house in July and haven’t touched it since…

  9. sgt. grumbles says:

    Good article. I really appreciate the sim world updates.

  10. Xercies says:

    Hmm loved Fligh Simulator as a kid so I might try that Open Source flight sim since it is free, should be good for a couple of flies at least. You know I’ve always been interested in sims and Tim Stone makes me even more interested even though I propably will bounce right off the more complex ones XD

  11. Demiath says:

    Wow, I haven’t so much as looked at a flight sim since 1995 or something but those videos blew me away.

  12. Shadrach says:

    The AP:Operation Star demo came as an pleasant surprise just for the weekend. Been enjoying it immensely tonight, finally getting back into the game. Oh Achtung Panzers how I’ve missed you!

  13. owenj says:

    I am enjoying this feature a lot. Was reminded to check out Combat Mission Beyond Normandy by it and have been playing little ever since.

    Does anyone at RPS play? I would like to try some PBEM with someone.

  14. Elmar Bijlsma says:

    Do keep those Cliff Notes coming.
    It is the flightsim I really crave but I just cannot see me spending money on it until it is reported to me that it is in better shape then seems currently the case.
    Which is a shame because it has Blenheims and everything.

  15. Kevin says:

    Man, if 1C could model night-fighter operations for the BF 110, I might just pick up CloD and soldier through the bugs and performance issues. I’ve been a lot more partial to more modern-day air-combat (Vietnam and onwards), but it’s going to be pretty wild to shoot down Lancasters with the Schräge Musik.

  16. Meusli says:

    Really enjoy these articles, here is hoping for more.

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  18. Anvilfolk says:

    I gotta say, Cliffs of Dover has been more than playable for a majority of buyers… you will see a lot of VERY verbal people who are not computer savvy complaining like all hell. Most people will go on and on about performance issues, but a relatively recent poll showed that something like 90% are running the maximum resolution, usually above 1920×1080 or 1920×1200, with quite a few on multiple monitors.

    The sound bug in multiplayer has a known fix – just remove trees.

    So yeah, it’s not IL2 Sturmovik 1946. It hasn’t had 10 years of polish. The devs ARE supporting it, and will continue to do so. The only thing that buying now or later is going to do is show publishers whether they should continue to invest on it or not.

    The game brings a whole new dimension to what we had before. I sincerely believe it is sort of like the DCS series of WWII. Still not quite as detailed, since there’s much less information about this era – but you will need time to adjust. Took me like 6 hours to manage to get a Blenheim across the Channel and back, without getting shot at. Get it ASAP to have a chance of surviving online.

    Besides, there have been a bunch of sales, some at 60% off, so I will not take excuses :P

    - Absurdly more realistic complex engine management
    - Absurdly more realistic damage model
    - Absurdly better graphics
    - Support for an absurd amount of ground units. Some servers are running several THOUSANDS ground units.
    - MONTHS after release, there are ground and air dynamic campaigns out as mods. This took YEARS on the original.
    - Planned SDK’s, lots of mod support

    Seriously, what are you waiting for? Just make sure you have a good rig.