The Flare Path: Tomorrow’s Chip Wrappers

By Tim Stone on November 4th, 2011 at 5:30 pm.

The seven aluminium and three plexiglass FP points up for grabs this week, were made from pieces of 'Emancipated Emily', a flak-ravaged B-17 that clipped Big Ben on November 4, 1943.
In pre-RPS days The Flare Path came in leaflet form and was distributed by a fleet of low-flying Whitley bombers. It was a horribly wasteful and expensive business. It could be dangerous too. Several planes were lost in accidents and on one dreadful occasion in 1939 a Cornish district nurse went over a cliff edge on her bike after being blinded by a sheet of windblown sim and wargame news. Spare a thought for the unfortunate Miss Ivy Tregowan as you sit safe and sound perusing this week’s selection of winged and warry stories. Beyond the jump: Black Shark 2 disquiet, a new simulation periodical, and a quick shufti at one of the finest free tactics titles around.

Rotor Clash

My marmalade-smothered breakfast toast usually travels from plate to mouth without stopping, passing Go, or collecting £200. This Thursday morn however, it stalled mid-journey. The unscheduled halt was prompted by unexpected news from Eagle Dynamics. Flight sim’s premier reviewer flummoxers avionics artisans announced the release of something called Black Shark 2.

A stealthily developed sequel to 2008′s super-faithful Russian chopper sim? Really?

No. Despite what it says on the front of the UK box, Black Shark 2 isn’t “an all-new combat flight simulation from the makers of Lock On”. It’s actually “a divisive payware update for Black Shark from the makers of Lock On”. For $20 you get a new Georgian sortie sequence (Jane Austen and JDAMs together at last!) plus many of the engine improvements introduced in DCS: A-10C. Oh, you can also fly your Shark in the same sky as a mate’s Hog.

On the sharkmouthed face of it, it doesn’t seem too bad a deal, but many loyal fans don’t see it that way. Narked at having to pay for a) engine advances they feel they’ve already purchased, and b) MP compatibility that was always meant to be at the heart of the DCS vision, unhappy punters are milling mutinously. It’s an object lesson in how not to manage a sim franchise.

ED’s back catalogue is a mess of overlapping and inter-operable sims. Instead of pursuing a logical Rise of Flight-style approach – funding development purely through optional DLC and retail bundles – they’ve muddied the waters by insisting loyal customers pay to synchronise the content they already own. Hopefully the furore will encourage a rethink or at the very least a clear statement of intent from ED. While I struggled with their last offering, the studio are one of the pillars of sim development, and it hurts to watch them making life difficult for themselves.

 

Small World

Here in Britain we have a wonderful institution called WHSmith. Established in 1825 by pioneering philanthropist Phil Anthropist (the current name was adopted after a takeover in 1932) branches of WHSmith allow people to read magazines at no cost in pleasantly cool/warm surroundings. Waiting for the bank to open? Kill time flicking through the current issue of Vintage Gasmask Monthly. Pursued by a particularly persistent chugger? Seek refuge among the glossy racks of Practical Organ Donor, Badger Baiting Today, and What Collander.

In a week or two’s time WHSmith haunters should have a new publication to finger. The inaugural issue of World of Simulations is incoming and aimed squarely at folk that…

“love simulations – be it farming a field, flying a fast jet, driving a huge locomotive, diving in search of the Titanic, flying into space, parking a lorry, demolishing a building, performing surgery, working on the London Underground, competing in a Speedway Grand Prix, drilling for oil, delivering packages, driving a bus, digging, creating a nice garden, preventing traffic congestion, running a trucking company, keeping your streets clean, running a Police force, collecting garbage, offloading ships…”

Hopefully the mag won’t be written by the same person that penned the press release. Hopefully it won’t restrict itself to those suspiciously specific subjects either. That list is worryingly similar to Excalibur Publishing’s current range. Given Excalibur are the power behind the publication, cynics could be forgiven for thinking that World of Simulations is just a camouflaged advertising tool for the UK’s most enthusiastic Euro-sim evangelists.

If WoS is to be taken seriously by savvy simmers like me, you, and that bloke over there in the SimSig t-shirt, it must attempt to cover the full gamut of sims. If, a few issues in, there’s been no mention of genre gems like OMSI and OpenBVE, then readers are going to be slinking off in droves in search of more even-handed coverage.

The writers of WoS could do worse than use the flight-sim mags as templates. It’s a while since I picked up a copy of Computer Pilot (the latest issue of which is currently available as a free pdf) but PC Pilot with its mix of detailed reviews, instructional content, and illuminating input from real fliers, is always worth a read. Have Excalibur got the guts to print a Tube driver’s take on World of Subways 3 or a six-page comparison of Bus & Cable Car Simulator and OMSI? We shall see.

Fulda Gap

Every Thursday evening, the Flare Path UAV does a couple of circuits over Armored Brigade HQ in the hope of spotting signs of a campaign system, a WW2 mod, or a multiplayer mode. This free top-down wargame serves up cracking Cold War skirmishes but at present all the scraps are self-contained Eighties affairs against AI opposition.

Finnish creator Juha Kellokoski is far from idle though. Since I last pushed platoons of T-72s towards worryingly quiet hamlets, and watched wedges of trundling M113s get turned into echelons of trundling M113s by hovering Hinds, he’s allowed users to add knobbly Terragen-generated landscapes to the game. He’s also tweaked the random battlefield generator to ensure richer and more resonant real-estate.

In the current beta build (0.7113) you can find yourself leapfrogging platoons from shelterbelt to shelterbelt, and scurrying vulnerable AFVs towards field-edge tree lines when the Saggers start flying. Tweaked nightvision code and accuracy algorithms mean close assault and low-visibility engagements feel more convincing. Returning after a long absence, I find I’m still blown away by the power and the simplicity of the GUI (thankfully closer to Close Combat than CMBN) and mesmerised by the sight of tiddly AT missiles bimbling towards distant targets. Equipped with a scenario editor and MP, I suspect Armored Brigade could whip any wargame in its class.

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40 Comments »

  1. imirk says:

    somone broked all the fonts …

  2. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    Damn you Tim Stone for causing me to take a half hour long diversion reading up about World War 2 aircraft nose art.

    But thank you too.

  3. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    The Hat in the ring used by Eddie Rickenbacher in World War I when he was part of the 94th Aero Squadron.

    Let’s hope I got it right the third time

  4. Alex Bakke says:

    The logo near the middle, the one that looks like a bird – could be from a B-17 named ‘Thunderbird’, but it’s ever so slightly different. This is a difficult one!

    FP is getting better and better.

  5. Dozer says:

    Hooray for SimSig. It’s like Dwarf Fortress, only with a steeper learning curve, worse graphics, and a gazillionth of the content!

  6. gabe says:

    I think the eagle in the middle is from the Thunderbirds

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/34th_Aero_Squadron

  7. gabe says:

    The deck of cards is from the 77th Aero Squadron

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/77th_Aero_Squadron

    • Tim Stone says:

      Look very closely at Gabe’s pair of aluminium FP points and you can see tiny rivets.

      That’s the US selection identified.

  8. Armitage says:

    I honestly don’t understand at least half of this article. My friends and family confirm that I am not stupid, so I can safely assume this article must be suffering from an overdose of Brittish.

    • Gaytard Fondue says:

      Or maybe you’re just not into military history.

    • Njordsk says:

      I was browing the coms to find someone like you.

      I AM NOT ALONE !

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Being thoroughly British myself I can confirm that I didn’t really manage to follow this article either.

    • Premium User Badge

      Christian says:

      Well..there was something about helicopters, that part had pretty pictures.
      But it’s a shame I don’t really understand anything that’s being said in the article, let alone what it’s about..because I’m pretty sure there’s some nice and funny writing in there..sort of Kafka meets Monty Python if you have the context (which in this case I don’t).
      Oh well..

  9. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    The Eidelweiss was displayed on the aircraft of the Junkers Ju 88 squadron of Kampfgeschwader 51

  10. chabuhi says:

    Well, I for one am staunchly of the opinion that one can never have too many Simulators. Every conceivable process in nature, including those man-made, should have their own PC-based simulatification.

    I really hope the WoS folio is not a glorified advert!

    • Premium User Badge

      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Simulation simulation is where it’s at. Watch that reflection-mapping-mapping in action on the windscreen of the virtual virtual spitfire. It really feels like you’re sitting there playing a flight sim!

  11. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    Is the Cobra Maple leaf insignia of the RAF’s No. 92 Squadron?

    • Tim Stone says:

      It is. Nice work. The first of the plexiglass points is yours.

      As are two of the aluminium beauties (for KG 51 & 94th).

  12. Gaytard Fondue says:

    The patch with the Dachshund holding the I-16 was used by the 10. (Z)/JG 5 and its sucessor 13. (Z)/JG 5

  13. leeder krenon says:

    looks like you can get a free copy of the mag here:

    http://www.worldofsimulations.co.uk/

    so you don’t even need to risk a fiver to find out just how diverse it’s coverage will be.

  14. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Ah, the Ka-52 – the only helo with an ejection seat.

  15. Electricfox says:

    The Wasp on the top left center is from ZG 1 ‘Wespen’

  16. Electricfox says:

    Good to see Armoured Brigade getting a mention too, been a while since I last had my Leopard Is mauled by waves of T-72s and Frogfoots and that new Terragen map looks delicious.

  17. Zenicetus says:

    Regarding Black Shark 2:

    “Instead of pursuing a logical Rise of Flight-style approach – funding development purely through optional DLC and retail bundles – they’ve muddied the waters by insisting loyal customers pay to synchronise the content they already own.”

    That’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison, is it? RoF models WW1 aircraft with the most primitive controls and cockpit features imaginable. It’s relatively easy to offer a wide variety of aircraft as DLC, using the underlying flight model. It’s a “horizontal” sim like IL-2, although given the simplicity and common features of the actual aircraft, it’s also able to go fairly deep with the flight modeling.

    The ED sims like Black Shark and A-10 are deeply “vertical” sims. They model modern aircraft with very complicated systems, that are mostly unique to each aircraft. They can’t just churn out additional DLC aircraft like a new AH-64 Apache or an F-16 for $5 each, like RoF can. So they have to do it with engine upgrades, or additional maps and campaigns

    That said, calling it “Black Shark 2″ was not exactly smart marketing.

    • Tim Stone says:

      I reckon the RoF business model could be applied to almost any sim. Yes, ED would have to charge more for their DLC aircraft and probably supplement the planes with map and campaign packs, but that’s no barrier.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I’m not sure it’s that portable a business model. The ED sims are based on a single aircraft, and it’s in the name of the actual game. If the developers of RoF had done a more deeply vertical sim and called it “Sopwith Camel”, they’d be in the same situation.

      BTW, I hope this is just a minor P.R. glitch in the development of that line. We need all the hardcore sims we can get.

      P.S….. And a snappy salute here (salute!) for this Flare Path series. Nice to see something like this on a general interest gaming forum, instead of locked away in the special-interest forums.

  18. BooleanBob says:

    Such a shame that the union with the glamorous hotelier heiress, Miss Anthropist (nee Travelodge), was so ill-fated due to their incompatible outlooks on life. The inveterate bachelorism that then ensued cast a long pall over his legacy.

  19. Novotny says:

    Ack. I love FP.

  20. RogB says:

    1st minute of reading: BLACK SHARK2?! WTF, YES!

    2nd minute: oh… its some new missions. Hmmm. Eh, interoperability with A-10? wasn’t that promised to happen anyway, and being the whole point of the ‘DCS’ family, that they work together with the same engine?

    i can see how people might be annoyed.
    personally, ive barely scratched the surface of DCS:BS, and the chances of me ever needing to combine BS and A10 are like.. less then 1%. So I guess i’ll just pass and wait for a ‘proper’ BS2 (or DCS:Apache)

  21. pertusaria says:

    Just to say that I really enjoy this column each week, even though I’m not a wargamer or much of a sim player (not to say I mightn’t be converted at some point). Thanks and keep up the good work!

  22. El Armonista! says:

    [EDIT] You know what? Minor quibbles about Jane Austen really don’t matter do they. This is an excellent column every week. Good show sir, good show.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Little did you know, but Tim was actually referring not to the novelist but to Jane’s Austen, an encyclopaedic compendium of late C18th/early C19th Texan fighting vessels and oh boy do I not know how to finish this joke

  23. Retro says:

    For 20$ you can barely have dinner nowadays. Paying this to keep a hardcore sim maintained should really be a non-issue.

  24. Guhndahb says:

    I don’t really have a problem with the $20 charge for the Black Shark expansion. We used to pay $20 for game expansions all the time (well I did anyways) assuming there’s worthwhile content in there. And if there isn’t? Well my original purchase is fine as-is. The only bit that’s at all controversial to me is the engine, which I would prefer to see updated regardless, but understanding that the MP inter-compatibility is only unlocked if you buy the expansion.

    If this all indicated that I’d get no further patches for the existing engine if important bugs were found, I’d be significantly riled, of course. I’m not sure that anything like that has been described.

    Those of us who love hardcore sims have to pony up a little extra these days, unfortunately. There are not a lot of us and the devs need to make enough to stay afloat else they’ll find greener pastures.

    On the negative side, I do agree, however, that ED’s product versions and expansions get a little confusing and clumsy. And if they promised the engine update for free (I don’t know either way), then it’s understandable that people are mad. But even those who are righteously mad need to determine what is in their best interests in the long term.

  25. Barman1942 says:

    “In the current beta build (0.7113) you can find yourself leapfrogging platoons from shelterbelt to shelterbelt, and scurrying vulnerable AFVs towards field-edge tree lines when the Saggers start flying.”

    Shubbaduh-wha?