The Flare Path: All Aboard The Boat Train

By Tim Stone on September 23rd, 2011 at 1:16 pm.

6 gold FP points are burning a hole in my pocket

A responsible sims correspondent with a fashionable haircut and a gregarious disposition would spend this week’s Flare Path talking about F1 2011′s pleasures and disappointments. As I live alone in a hut in the woods and trim my barnet with the aid of peanut butter and tame squirrels, I’ll be devoting the following 1200 words to a free RailWorks upgrade, an imaginary 18th Century naval sim, and the winner of this year’s hotly contested Wargame With Dullest Name competition.

Looking a Gift Iron Horse in the Mouth

The spiralling cost of UK rail travel means more and more Britons are choosing to commute to work on train simulators. Just last week I had to attend a preview event in London and opted to go up to town via RailWorks 2. The journey itself was bliss. Loads of leg room, comfy seat, cheap coffee. Things only started going awry when I arrived at Waterloo and realised the train door was hopelessly jammed.

Will today’s free RailWorks mega-update fix the sticky door issue? I suspect not. Will it slap a new name on the title screen, improve rain effects, banish nasty stencilled shadows, and plonk a new loco or two in your roundhouse? You bet it will. By close of play tonight (GMT) owners of RailWorks 2 with live Steam connections should find themselves owners of Train Simulator 2012 (RailWorks 3).

Back in August I asked RS.com to give us some clues as to the identity of the extra UK loco (the US débutante is an EMD F7) Their reply – “Look, the fantastic thing about simulation is that we can explore the way real world trains are developing. There is a lot of excitement about future rail-systems going forwards and we think we are going to be able to explore that really well.” - wasn’t exactly music to my ears. I feared something sleek, modern and painfully short of soul, and sure enough it turns out we’re getting a Hitachi Super Express.

Considering this Anglo-Japanese suppository doesn’t exist at present and won’t enter service until 2016, it’s a bit of an odd choice. Nostalgia and taking pleasure in the prosaic are important motivations in train simming, and this addition meets neither of those needs. I hope Chatham’s finest motive-power producers weren’t thinking solely of box covers and publicity screenshots when they selected it.

As if anticipating the disgruntled murmurs of the British RW community, the devs followed the Hitachi announcement with a far more encouraging disclosure. RSDerek’s Facebook mentions of ‘timber cranium’ and ‘lumber crown bore’ were confirmed as references to the Woodhead Line. One of Britain’s most famous, unusual, and soggy routes is under development for TS2012. Marvellous.

 

 

The Bolitho Deficit

As Cheese pointed out in last week’s comments section, you’ve more chance of seeing an iceberg in the Channel than you have of seeing nautical sim coverage in The Flare Path. In an attempt to rectify this failing, I’ve spent the last seven days scanning the news horizon for exciting smoke smudges and sail shapes. Result? To borrow a phrase from the immortal Lord Nelson: “Kiss me Hardy”  “Come here Emma, you gorgeous strumpet.”  “I see no ships!”

I guess I could indulge in some wild World of Battleships speculation, or fritter words on the recently released free harbour pilot add-on for Ship Simulator: Extremes. Maybe the latest batch of Virtual Sailor/Vehicle Simulator add-ons deserve attention. The briny sim scene isn’t completely becalmed – what it is <dons Sou’wester of Scurrilous Provocation> – and what it has been for as long as I can remember – is Somewhat Disappointing.

While there are truly great flight, race, and tank sims, I put it to you that the only truly great seafaring ones all revolve around sneaky sub-surface craft. Virtual Sailor and its sequel Vehicle Simulator give off a pleasing whiff of seaweed and ozone – but like Ship Sim – they fall short when it comes to evoking the mechanical and behavioural intricacies of their wave-braving stars. Trying to think of a sim that doesn’t make operating the World’s oldest form of vehicular transport seem childishy simple and slightly dull, only one name springs to mind.

While I’m not a big fan of its closed architecture and contemporary, competitive focus, Sail Simulator 5 does prove that simulated seamanship can be both tactile and technical. Sitting on the deck of the Valk or the VOR 70 surrounded by haulable lanyards and adjustable sheets, I have found myself wondering why no-one has yet had the vision or the guts to offer simmers similarly rigorous recreations of the splendid square-riggers of the 17th, 18th, and 19th Century. Picture a pirate sim in which riding out a gale or running for the shelter of a port was every bit as gripping as leading a boarding party or trashing a tavern. Imagine a Master & Commander game in which gaining the weather gauge wasn’t simply a matter of deft WASD use.

You can get an inkling of just how rich and refreshing a serious square-rigger sim could be, by downloading Peter Davis’s HMS Surprise. Beneath the spartan 2D presentation lurk eye-opening/watering nautical truths. Skilful sheet stewardship is quay. Blunders can leave a vessel heeling at a scary angle, trailing tattered shrouds, or dashed on the rocky foreshore of a (perfectly circular) island.

If some talented soul could inject all that science into an atmospheric 3D world, they’d have – I suspect – the basic ingredients of the first truly great non-sub naval sim. The day I find myself bawling at scurrying tars while French shot sings through confused canvas above my head, is the day I stop thinking of ship sims as inherently inferior to their winged and turreted peers.

 

Red Pill + Green Gamer = Brown Trousers?

If I ever get round to making a PC wargame, it will have none of the following words in its title: War, Battle, Command, Front, Squad, Fury, Panzer, Steel, Berlin. Or all of them. When Warfare Sims announced they were changing the name of their WIP Harpoon-pwner from the enigmatic and distinctive ‘Red Pill’ to the super-bland Command: Modern/Air Naval Operations I was hugely/mildly dismayed.

The good news is, if recent dev updates and forum posts are to be trusted, CMANO will be about 112 times more interesting than its moniker. Information emissions like…

“The thermocline layer and its effects have been implemented. Contrary to legacy sims that feature a layer of constant depth, thickness and strength, Command dynamically calculates the layers properties based in geographical position, local depth, and even the local time of day and climate temperature. Both surface ships and submarines can use the layer to search for enemy forces while masking their own presence.”

and…

“Four mine categories are currently supported: Floaters, moored, mobile and bottom-laid. Rising/rocket mines (like the very dangerous Chinese-made, Iranian-owned EM-52) are included as part of the moored category.”

…remind me that far too much of my tactical time is spent patiently softening-up enemy positions with arty barrages then carefully overwhelming them with combined armour/infantry advances. I have chronic grognard RSI and CMANO may be just the game to relieve it.

Assuming that is I can get my head round the capabilities of all that esoteric post-WW2 weaponry and radar tech. Hopefully Warfare Sims will remember that not all of us know a Styx from a Switchblade or know instinctively what to do on spotting a swarm of suspicious-looking tracks converging on one of our frigates. It will be fascinating to see how the CMANO and Naval War: Arctic Circle compare accessibility and realism-wise.

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64 Comments »

  1. jimbobjunior says:

    The first big boat is the USS Forrestal.

    Edit:
    Second, the Ark Royal

    Edit 2:
    The third is the HMAS Melbourne?
    (I like big boats)

    • Tim Stone says:

      3 gold FP points to the swift gentleman in the bell-bottoms.

    • Man Raised by Puffins says:

      I suspect the battleship is Iowa-class, mainly because those are the only post-war US battleships that I know of, and I’ll make a further stab in the dark and suggest that it is the USS Missouri.

      Nary a clue for the others, but the anti-submarine mortar in the bows suggests to me that the last boat is something Russian.

    • g5maniac says:

      You like big boats and you cannot lie? Sorry!

      HMS Surprise is surely based on the whole Patrick O’Brien world. Now that I would cheerfuly pay for

    • Tim Stone says:

      1 silver FP point to seasoned ship spotter Man Raised by Puffins. It’s not the Missouri but you’ve got the class right.

    • stahlwerk says:

      The “Limbo” Mortar is the only one I could find that fires automatically and has a depth fuse.

      Edit: VVVV Yay! In fact I started with hedgehogs, which I had read about before, but they had contact fuses.

    • Tim Stone says:

      One especially shiny gold FP point to stahlwerk, a man that obviously knows his Limbos from his Squids.

    • Jorum says:

      For a moment I thought that last ship was doing some kind of awesome sea-skid.
      (then realised that, alas, physics doesn’t work that way).

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Would the second picture be the Cutty Sark?

      I’m afraid to say I respond to train sims the same way heathens respond to civilian flight sims – that is, I’ll only be interested when they are able to accurately, and pyrotechnically, replicate maximum velocity head-on crashes.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Congratulations Capt. You’ve earned yourself a rare pewter FP point.

    • luckylad says:

      I’m going to go with the USS Iowa as that is the namesake by which the class is designated so it would more than likely be the one in print. However it is neigh impossible to tell is apart from the USS New Jersey based on the rough drawing and specs which are listed… (btw those battleship specs are out of date as both now have things such as Tomahawk missiles.)

    • Tim Stone says:

      Unlucky luckylad. It was actually the Wisconsin.

      A little unfair that one, but not completely impossible. The supersonic Terrier dates the pictures as 1958 or later. The Ark Royal stats put them earlier than 65. Only two of the class were active during the 58-64 period (true, the artist could have chosen to depict a mothballed ship) and one of these – the Iowa – had a rather short name for that gaping gap.

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  2. danimalkingdom says:

    Mr Stone you made me spit my lunch all over my keyboard with laughter. again. in a post about trains. now that’s good writing.

    For all the pretty/sober 3D graphics on display here, it’s HMS Surprise that made me lean towards the screen in excitement. Can it be so hard to make a tallship sim that’s as riveting as a tank sim? nay, say i

    • Quine says:

      In a world where you can play real-time Le Mans races, I’d love to see a ship-rigged sim that has proper sea-chases with lots of bow-chaser and seamanship action. Having to visually check the potential weather for big storms and the like would be awesometacular.

    • Torgen says:

      I’d think the sticking point would be modeling dynamic weather, rather than the ship handling. You need a pretty realistic weather generation system to be able to “read” the wind, have correct transitions between weather states, etc.

  3. Gassalasca says:

    RPS really is the bestest.

    (or is that “teh bestest”? hm.)

  4. Jorum says:

    Nelson’s quote was “I see no signal” (or words to that affect).
    However, all is forgiven for using a Bolitho reference rather than Hornblower :)

    And agreed a tall-ship sailing simulator that actually properly modelled sails and rigging and physics (rather than “push left to go left”) would be quite the thing. Possibly it would require a year of practice to actually understand but still quite the thing.

    And it must allow me to shout “prepare to clubhaul!” and imagine my crew gasping in shock.
    (clubhauling is ship equivalent of a hand-brake turn using an anchor, and about as exciting and risky as you imagine it would be)

    • mike2R says:

      What is this Bolitho of which you speak? And is it anything like Hornblower and the Aubrey-Maturin series?

      I think I feel an Amazon purchase coming on…

    • Durkonkell says:

      Indeed, when ordered to withdraw he held his telescope up to his blind eye and said “I really do not see the signal”. Then he pulled a Kirk* and charged off to engage the enemy in violation of his orders. Of course, this wouldn’t have made very much sense as a way of saying “I haven’t found much in the way of ship sims to talk about”…

      Anyway, I look forward to Mr. Stone’s eventual foray into game development. When shall we expect Battlewar: Panzer Steel Fury Squad Command: Berlin Front?

      *Yes, James T. Kirk was one of Nelson’s primary inspirations. There may have been some temporal prime directive violations at some point…

    • Jorum says:

      “What is this Bolitho of which you speak? And is it anything like Hornblower and the Aubrey-Maturin series?”

      A series of books (about two dozen I think) by Alexander Kent.
      It is almost exactly like Hornblower in that they chart the life of one Richard Bolitho from midshipman all the way up to Admiral.

      Alexander Kent was a sailor I believe and quite the expert on sailing history, so he really knows his technical stuff. He also puts a lot of character and personality into his characters as well as exciting (and realistically gruesome) action scenes.

      If you like Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin you’ll be very happy I imagine.

    • mike2R says:

      Thanks Jorum, sounds just my sort of thing.

      Looking on Wikipedia, it seems that this author had the good sense to start his series in 1772. Avoiding the “shit I’ve run out of war” problem that O’Brian had :)

    • sibusisodan says:

      At the risk of caricature, Bolitho is perhaps slightly darker and more gritty than Hornblower. Certainly more angst-ridden, but less seasick. Highly enjoyable.

      I also like the Ramage series by Dudley Pope, although it’s not as willing to have its main character experience setbacks as these other 3.

    • mike2R says:

      More angst ridden than Hornblower?? :)

      Well I have the midshipmen omnibus arriving on Monday, so I’ll see for myself.

      Thanks for the Dudley Pope recommendation. I love the genre and for some reason have never bothered to look outside Forrester and O’Brian.

    • sibusisodan says:

      Actually more angst-ridden, yes. Although it’s close at times!

      I warmly commend all of Forester’s erstwhile disciples to you. Dudley Pope’s Ramage series has more of a Boy’s Own Adventure series feel – clean cut & exciting. Kent has also written loads as Douglas Reeman – more modern sea stories, although I don’t find them as memorable.

      Nelson’s Navy seems to have been a really rich furrow for authors to plough. Wonder why there hasn’t been much similar outside of that era. Although I imagine transplanting things into the era of Jutland would be less interesting: ‘Sat in harbour in a destroyer for many years. Finally sailed to battle German fleet. Got lost because of dark and fog. Returned to harbour.’

    • icupnimpn2 says:

      You could also try the Honor Harrington (or larger Honorverse) series. It was inspired by Horatio Hornblower but is sci-fi and has a space navy. The series sheds its roots a bit by the time you reach the midpoint, but it’s low risk to read. The publisher has made most of the volumes available for free distribution in most electronic book formats.

      http://baencd.thefifthimperium.com/22-MissionofHonorCD/MissionofHonorCD/

      The first book is “On Basilisk Station” in the upper left of that web page.

    • Reivles says:

      Indeed, the first few books are good.

      It’s a series only worth reading beyond the midpoint if you’re a devoted fan, though – as noted, it goes off the rails a bit from its original ideas, and the tech creep starts to get a little absurd in how fast it genre-shifts… which is a shame, when I was reading it for the feel of the initial stories. :)

  5. Thany says:

    are the SAM’s Rim-2 Terrier?

    • Tim Stone says:

      Nice one Thany. My pocket of FP points is almost empty.

    • aircool says:

      Damnit – I didn’t read this early enough ><

    • Thany says:

      I knew this becuse in my hay days of “flight sims” I was creating fantasy single player campaigns for EA Janes USNF/ATF lineup. In my 60′s vietnam campaign I had to exchange the SAM specs from quite good RIM-7′s sea sparrow for the shitty but period accurate RIM-2′s.

  6. Persus-9 says:

    Railworks 3 Train Simulator 2012, that really is a proper drubbing for the poor Railworks lads.

  7. Mechanicus_ says:

    I always look forward to the the Flare Path; for someone like me who is casually interested in sims (heh) of all stripes something like this is absolutely vital – It’s hard enough to keep track of when new ones are even released, let alone sort the wheat from the chaff.

    Still it drives me bonkers that sims have collectively decided they can never be decent games though; they shut out casual fans by ignoring anything that might increase entertainment value or accessibility while desperately chasing an ever shrinking pile of simhard fans who do nought but piss and moan, then are forced to hike prices to compensate thus forcing out new players even further…

    Come back to me sim developers! I am clever! If I play games like Civilisation or Deus Ex or Arma I guarantee I can work the gunsight on a Tiger tank! You just have to show me how and make it a little tiny bit fun!

    • StenL says:

      Agreed with this. I love the idea of these hyper-realistic simulators of the most esoteric stuff ie the Russian SAM simulator covered last year, and I think they are some of the most PC things around in the gaming world, but I hate actually playing them as the developers tend to be completely inept at making their games even minutely accessible and the fanbase tends to be the worst type of basement dwelling angry internet autists.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Even though I lean fairly heavily towards high realism, I support this notion and would subscribe to your newsletter.

      I think those old Microprose tactical sims hit it just right with games like F-19, M1 Abrams, Red Storm Rising, B-17. They seemed a bit complex on the surface, but with the CPU limitations at the time, they couldn’t really go too deep in systems modeling like the current DCS stuff. They gave the player just enough of a taste of realism to feel vaguely authentic, so you could get on with having fun in the game.

      And those big printed manuals! Not just how to run the sim, but all that background historical detail to get you excited about playing the game. The manual was the gateway into the game. That’s all changed now. At best, you’ll get a lightweight PDF with a few screenshots and a key command list. There is too much reliance now on joining a user forum to learn how to fly or steer the thing properly.. It’s a lazy cycle of designing things that are inherently hard to understand, and then leaving it up to someone else to explain it.

      Of the modern sims, I think that’s why I spend the most time flying either basic civilian bush planes in X-Plane, or the WWI biplanes in Rise of Flight, where the controls are simple and it’s just fun to fly.

      Silent Hunter III or IV (not V) with user mods are also fairly easy to learn, although to enjoy sub simming it takes a certain personality… the patient stalker type… and not all gamers will enjoy it. Sub sims are probably a good match for people who enjoy strategy games.

    • Archonsod says:

      Even Railworks fails on that score. Plenty of detail on the locomotives in the manual, descriptions of what each control does, but there’s no explanation of how a locomotive actually works in either the manual or the tutorial. Admittedly, the electrics and diesels aren’t exactly hard to figure out, but trying to drive a steam locomotive on anything above the basic controls relies on you researching steam engines.

  8. Elmar Bijlsma says:

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes on the Age of Sail sim.
    The developer that allows me a career mode in the vein of Silent Hunter III but with square riggers could name his price and expect it to be met without question.
    But even something that merely lets me sail the things instead of fighting them could expect coin to flow their way.

    • Xercies says:

      Yes! I think if there was a sailing sim that allowed me to learn the ropes and did some 17th century missions maybe even some navel battles in there I don’t think i would come out of my PC housing bedroom alive because I would be playing it all day and all night! Someone must make this!

    • Zenicetus says:

      I would buy a good golden age of sail sim in a heartbeat. Even if it was just a study sim, and not a full game with a campaign mode.

      It would be a challenge to create an effective UI for something like that. There would be so many things going on at once to keep track of — sail status, crew status, weapons, location of the enemy, wind direction and speed, etc. If it covered all the variables that a sailing ship captain had to juggle in his head, it could make something like the DCS sims look pretty basic. On the other hand, it’s a natural platform for a game that supports voice commands! That could be a blast.

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      do any of you know anything about sailing? <- actual question, because the sail sim sounds amazing, but all i know about sailing is what i know of pirate movies and i'm guessing the realism isn't that high there. So are there many interesting/important decisions or do you just say, yeah wind is gone, let's sit here for a while and do nothing. I mean are there different ways to go about it or are your decisions pretty much chosen for you by wind and weather.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      blind_boy_grunt: A sailing race is mainly about tactical choices.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Yeah, I grew up around boats. I’ve owned small sailboats, and I have a certification for bareboat sail charter up to 50 footers. Not that I can afford to do anything with it these days (talk about an expensive hobby!). I’ve crewed in sailboat races where we fired water balloons with big slingshots at each other. Not quite the same as the real thing, but it’s more fun than just rounding the markers,.

      The wind speed, direction, and other things like visibility establish the “terrain” you work with in combat, but what you decide to do with that is up to you. There are tactical advantages to gaining the weather gage (the upwind side of the battle), similar to gaining the high ground in a land battle. In practice, battles just didn’t take place when there wasn’t wind to work with.

      To get a taste of all that, try reading the “Master and Commander” series by Patrick O’Brian. It’s a great book series, and you’ll learn something about the tactics of the day.

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      thank you, that sounds amazing. Can’t wait until it’s released… wait… ah crap… we were talking hypothetical.

  9. Vinraith says:

    Red Pill (I’m still just going to call it that, it’s real name is too hard to remember) looks absolutely remarkable. I’d never heard of that one, thanks for making me aware of it Tim!

  10. angramainyu says:

    “Skilful sheet stewardship is quay”

    I sea what you did there.

  11. Rikard Peterson says:

    How does Virtual Skipper compare to the sailing sims listed? (It’s the only one I’ve tried – I even bought two copies of VSK3 in an unsuccessful attempt to get my sailing father interested in the game and then compete against him.)

  12. Megadyptes says:

    I wanna buy War Battle Command Front: The Panzer Steel Squad: 1 – Berlin Fury

  13. Elementlmage says:

    Pfft, all ASMs are equally inferior to the Sunburn!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-270_Moskit

  14. Chaz says:

    Whatever happened to that “PT Boats: Knight Of The Sea”, did it ever get a release. It was looking quite good the last I saw of it, but that was ages ago.

    • Megadyptes says:

      It was released years ago. I never played it but apparently it was kinda meh and linear mission based instead of more open world Silent Hunter type objectives, which is what a lot of people were kinda expecting.

    • VFRHawk says:

      I’ve played both the original and the South Gambit expansion, and they both fail on the same count, you don’t spend long commanding an MTB. After a couple of missions your in charge of a task force of Destroyers and Cruisers with the a few MTB’s thrown in, and whilst you can just leave the rest of the fleet to it’s own devices the AI isn’t good enough to win the scenarios without a lot of hand holding.

      As an aside, I’ve never really explored how moddable the game is, as it certainly has potential. The thought of hunting a convoy on a dark and stormy night makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck!

      As a further aside, are there any decent naval sims out there that could be modded to provide somethink like the sailing simulator discussed above? I can’t see anyone releasing a full game for such a small niche market, but maybe a mod could be possible?

  15. SamC says:

    Where did those awesome illustrations in the header image come from? I really like that style.

    • aircool says:

      By the looks of things, an ancient Ladybird Book.

    • Finster says:

      Those are classified ads from the back of Warships Weekly. There’s been kind of a glut of aircraft carriers lately. You can pick up some excellent deals.

  16. Heliocentric says:

    After buying it at Christmas I’ve only booted railworks a handful of times but its paid for itself. Glad to see it being supported so well.

  17. molten_tofu says:

    I want them to license the latest CryEngine for RailWorks 4, so that in 2013 the meme is “yeah, but will it run RW?”

    • Archonsod says:

      That’s already kinda the case with the current update. I don’t think anyone has got it running at full settings without horrendous slowdown so far. Admittedly, it looks like they borked the multi-core implementation which might be why.

  18. aircool says:

    Oooh, SAM’s are my gig. I’ll go for the ancient RIM-2 ¬_¬

  19. chabuhi says:

    I’d forgotten about the RW2 upgrade! I may go home early today – oh, wait. When is “close of play”? Midnight? Hmm – then maybe I’ll put in a full day after all.

    The talk of a tall ship sim makes me long for Man o’ War (ca. 1996?). Oh, and of course Sea Dogs (not the PotC abomination). I have an old (maybe still current) version of Virtual Skipper that was somewhat fun. Virtual Sailor was also a nice, if less polished (though certainly more open) sim.

    To illustrate how mundane my gaming interests are I once designed on paper a Tall Ships Deck Management sim, where the UI was the cross section of an 18th century cargo or warship and your job as the “deck manager” was to ensure that cargo, crew, troops, and passengers were in their proper place and well cared for/paid/locked up/walked off the plank. Yeah … fun, eh?

    Look for DeckManager 2012 on PC, XBLA, PSN, and iPad/iPhone in Spring 20never.

    • Archonsod says:

      The upgrade actually rolled out this time yesterday, at least for me. And they patched it tonight. Well worth it though, the new effects are gorgeous.

  20. icupnimpn2 says:

    Freakish neck at 0:10 in the sailboat sim video…

  21. harvb says:

    Idiot. I’m ex RN and I only spotted one. Fail.