The Flare Path: Pretty Pleas

By Tim Stone on December 16th, 2011 at 1:06 pm.

There are five buses in this pic and they all have military connections. Name a bus, win an FP point  upholstered with authentic London Transport moquette.

If I was to be run-over and killed by a bus tomorrow, all the sims and wargames on my ‘back end of a bus’ list might never get covered on RPS. That thought keeps me awake at nights (even though recent Hampshire County Council cuts mean my chance of being run down by public transport is now virtually nil). What’s to be done? Well, I suppose I could devote this week’s Flare Path to ugly ducklings. The three titles lurking beyond the jump, might have lovely personalities but, superficial swine that I am, I’m really not sure I can bear to gaze upon them long enough to find out.

The myth that wargamers “don’t care about graphics” is put about by wargamers that don’t care about graphics, reviewers that think wargamers don’t care about graphics, and game developers that realise reviewers think wargamers don’t care about graphics. In all there are twenty-eight individuals responsible for perpetuating The Great Lie. This time last week, there were thirty, but slowly I’m doing what needs to be done.

 

Mangy Tigers

I’m a wargamer and I care about graphics. I know this because when I look at screenshots of Tigers Unleashed – a recently unleashed hex heffalump from HPS Simulations – my soul starts howling like a Nebelwerfer with toothache.

No game however “ultra-realistic” ” and “profoundly detailed” should ever go out in public looking like this….

or provide tutorial maps that look like this…

I don’t care if you’re a one-man-band, or you’re so poor you’re building your game between shifts as an asbestos-porter at an opencast asbestos mine in Los Asbestos, Peru, there is simply no excuse for visuals that virtueless.

Some of TU’s features sound genuinely intriguing. Friendly fog-of-war (you aren’t always certain where your own forces are) and communication bandwidth limitations (your comms network may get bogged down when a lot of messages and commands are flying around) are the kind of subtleties that not even heavyweight envelope pushers like Panther Games and Battlefront have got round to yet. If only you could experience the innovation without enduring the unsightliness.

Obviously not every wargame studio can afford artists as adept as, say, Matrix’s Marc von Martial or AGEOD’s Sandra Rieunier-Duval and Robin Pirez , but most boast bands of capable fans and modders that would, I suspect, be willing to lend a hand in return for a manual credit, a few gratis games, or a slither of the RRP (a not inconsiderable $49.99 in TU’s case).

 

Docking Points

Hang around on wargaming’s waterfront for long enough and you’re sure to a) be propositioned by a world-weary Marlene Dietrich lookalike with a strong opinion on Distant Guns DRM or b) run into the tireless Christopher Dean promoting Naval Warfare Simulations.

NWS have been making and selling wet wargames for yonks. The last thing to slide down their slipway – Warship Combat: Navies At War – scooped the 2009 Usenet Wargame of the Year award (No mean feat. The voters are the discerning/demanding bunch that frequent comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.war-historical). Was it the plausible depiction of 1890-1950 naval shell tennis that impressed punters, or the massive replayability that came from the huge 400-ship database and build-your-own skirmish capability? Not sure. (I was particularly broke that year so don’t have any first hand experience). All I can say with certainty is that no-one was sirened-in by a glimpse of the screenshots.

Improbably, WCNAW actually manages to look quite handsome next to the studio’s current work-in-progress, Steam And Iron. If you’re a colour broker wondering why the price of cyan has sky-rocketed in recent months, it’s because this seagoing WWI wargame due in January, uses millions of gallons of the stuff.

I’ve crossed the North Sea on more than one occasion and I really don’t recall it looking so… so… 0, 255, 255.

I’m sure the action will be mesmerising, the AI strong, and the opportunities for Jutland-style mayhem numerous, but crikey, why on earth would I put my mince pies through an hour or two of That Brine, Those Coastlines and Those Ship Labels, when, a few inches to their left, courtesy of device I like to call ‘a window’, there’s trees, clouds, and a rusting wheelbarrow to stare at. Steam And Iron, you are uglier than a rusting wheelbarrow. Be ashamed.

 

Operation Greif

It’s official – there’s never been a better time to be a tank simmer. Tanky proles have the dangerously entertaining World of Tanks. Tanky toffs have the soon to be expanded Steel Beasts PPE, and the tanky bourgeoisie have the mod-festooned Steel Fury and its imminent successor Steel Armor: Blaze of War (pictured above).

Any new armour sim wanting to squeeze itself onto the bustling genre LCT, needs to be pretty damn special. M4 Tank Platoon are you pretty damn special?

Or are you just a spruced-up version of iEntertainment’s elderly online tank sim Armored Assault?

Don’t answer. A rhino with shampoo in its eyes could see from those grabs that M4TP isn’t exactly the freshest croissant in the boulangerie. The attempt to peddle stale Shermans would be amusing if the sim wasn’t being puffed with disingenuous tosh like:

“M4 Tank Platoon promises to become the standard in World War II tank games with explosive gameplay, unparalleled realism, and beautifully rendered, historically accurate terrains, all from the battlegrounds of the Ardennes Forest”

(play.com)

If those lines appear on the box-cover and that box-cover is screenshotless, I’m going after M4TP with my Golden Panzerschreck of Righteous Wrath. Graphical ugliness is bad enough. Graphical ugliness camouflaged by freshly cut boughs of PR bluster? That’s a scourge that needs to be ruthlessly hunted down and eliminated by men with sunken eyes and deadly drainpipes.

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40 Comments »

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  1. The Tupper says:

    That reminds me: mother-in-law’s birthday this week.

  2. varangian says:

    Always look forward to The Flare Path though I’m not particularly tempted by most of the games featured this week. But I am quite interested in Unity of Command which got a mention a while back and now the guys at Flash of Steel have given it a preliminary thumbs up. Any chance of a Wot I Think on it?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Yeah! I want to know that too. Any good?

      KG

    • Tim Stone says:

      I’m sworn to silence until my review appears in PC Gamer, but can probably get away with some vigorous head nodding.

    • Premium User Badge

      Man Raised by Puffins says:

      Yes, I was surprised to hear that it was out already (admittedly my ear hasn’t been close to the groggy ground lately). I’m secretly hoping it turns out to be utter tosh to save my wallet from further strain.

    • Premium User Badge

      TheCze says:

      Had the luck to play in the beta and can only recommend the game. The campaign is not that interesting but the scenarios are great. Most wargames don’t look and play that polished like Unity of Command and the devs really listened to the testers and added more stuff to increase playability of the game.

    • Vinraith says:

      Troy Goodfellow seems to think highly of it:

      http://flashofsteel.com/index.php/2011/12/15/unity-of-command-early-impressions/

      and between that and Tim’s vigorous nodding I’d say we have a winner.

      And since I have those two names in the same sentence, hey Tim, be a guest on 3MA sometime soon. Hell, go talk to them about Unity of Command after your review comes out. I want all my favorite strategy writers be on the same podcast, dammit!

  3. westyfield says:

    The dog on the left is a greyhound. Greyhound is a bus company, and the M8 Greyhound is an armoured car.

  4. Ross Angus says:

    Steam and Iron‘s colour scheme seems to be loosely based on admiralty charts. That’s a great starting point, but they’ve perhaps lost some of the subtly of those charts.

  5. The Greatness says:

    That map is of the Shetland Islands. Apparently Shetland Bus was some kind of special operations group in WW2. I dunno, just read the wikipedia page yourself.

  6. Skabooga says:

    It is somewhat off-putting when a prospective game looks at a glance like a statistical software package I’ve used.

    • Kdansky says:

      I’m developing an order management software, and there are zero designers or artists involved, but it still looks about thirty-four nautical miles better. You know why? Because fancy looks (or rather: “not nightmare-inducing ugly”) count for a lot when you are trying to sell it to people who have to work with it.

    • apa says:

      @KDansky: A coworker told me that the clients didn’t notice error messages and not-yet-working screens in the application during a demo session because he had added cute pictures of cats on those screens. Maybe these games would seem better if they had cute kittens… or maybe not :D

  7. DogKiller says:

    My sympathies to anybody who has actually bought Tigers Unleashed, because it seems poor graphics is the least of the game’s problems. The biggest one being that it doesn’t actually work. It’s also worth noting that its predecessor, Point of Attack 2, still doesn’t work properly after something like six years of patches. I have little faith that they will ever actually fix it.

    • wodin says:

      Funny enough I’ve put it through some testing and I’ve ranted and raved about it, though I was then given grief for so called spamming. Obviously by someone who is more cocnerend that no one buys it thus it never being fixed and a waste of money. Even though the fault wasn’t mine that the game is in parts in a shocking condition for a new release. no excuse for not tailoring the UI and the info it gives you to the actaul era of the War it’s portraying. i’v enever seen this in anyother game I’ve played. SO i thought my rants where warrented.

      I had a refund but then as I love the actual promise of the game got it back again.

    • DogKiller says:

      Jesus, Wodin, no offence, but you flip flop back and forth more than a fish out of water. First you have a go at anybody warning about how buggy PoA2 is, saying what a great game it is and how good TU will be, and then when you get it you complain about how buggy it is, how terrible parts of the game are and that you want a refund, and now that you actually get a refund you go and buy it again whilst both praising the game and complaining about it all over again. Are you insane?

    • wodin says:

      No the game has me in a qaundry. On the one hand I want it to play well. On the other I’m really diaspointed. I’m in two minds about it. You see it has loads of things in it I like and to a point they work and yet there are other bits that really are in a mess or just seems like lazy work.

      So yes I agree with you to be honest, I don’t know where I am with the game. Some things you can’t forgive BUT the concept and the stuff that does work is fantastic.

      I’d only tell someone to buy IT if they are willing to wait with the hope of it being fixed and they love the concept of the game enough to overlook the bad bits.

      Sorry if it comes across as madness but hey soemtimes it’s difficult to say which side of the fence your on.

      As for pre release and my ehtusiasm, I’m not the only person to get thinsg worng. Also POA” plays better on my machine than TU and I wasn’t supposed to know that I’d I thought people where writing TU off before it was even released. Whats wrong with that? So what I was proved wrong. Nevermind. Made me look foolish but tough. next time I shall keep my mouth shut.

      If you look alittle further down you will see me go into more detail about the game and why on one hand it’s fine and the other it’s not.

      Finally if I’d known you frequented the particular forum i’d never have actaully replied to your comment.

      Worse thing you can do is use the same name across forums. Bad Idea. Time to go anonymous from now on.

  8. Alex Bakke says:

    Far right – Lynx, of which there are many Lynx bus services. Obviously there’s the Westland Lynx, a helicopter, which is probably a bus because it transports people and is war-related.

    • Fumarole says:

      There’s also this Lynx.

    • Noc says:

      See, I’d thought that that was the Bobcat’s Buttocks, the colloquial moniker of a particularly bulbous WWII-era personnel transport vehicle.

      (The Clean-Shaven General just confused be, because I’d swear that must be something obscene.)

  9. wodin says:

    Tigers has a superb concept and is ambitious in what it’s trying to do. I can forgive the graphics but having so much stuff left over from the Modern game pre this one i.e your assault enginner soldier can have fire control system or chemical protection!.

    Also the AI it seems is more or less non existent. Shame. If it improves with patches and they tailor the game for WW2 and imporve the AI again I can forgive the graphics (also modders will imporve them to a point). Seriously the graphics are no where enar the problem with the game. I can live with them but hey I play Aurora. As long as you can acces alot of info for you imgination to do the reats then so be it. I don’t need pics in books I read and usually I see wargames as more of a story unfolding which is why you get alot of AAR’s and you can find you enjoy the AAR’s more than the game usually because the AAR writer has a superb imgination filling in the blanks.

    However when it does work I still love it. I love the detail and I love the concept. This is why the game has me totally confused as to where I stand! If I turn a blind eye to it’s faults I see a great game in there and it is fun at the moment. I’m sure if there was another game that did similar then this one wouldn’t get a look in. There isn’t so it does.
    They have allready released two patches as the game has alot of bugs.

  10. bitbot says:

    Companies make these games or just single persons? Looks like something I could’ve put together in Visual Basic 15 years ago.

  11. CMaster says:

    On the right is a Cougar/Puma I think. There’s apparently a Cougar bus, and lots of both Cougar and Puma millitary vehicles.

    I can’t find any reference to a Shetland bus on the net, but those are definitely the Shetlands, and apparently there was a British warplane by the name.

  12. Levanon says:

    Pretty sure you made up Los Asbestos. However, did you know that Asbestos, Quebec is a real place? With the largest asbestos mine in the world! It’s the heart of my nation’s asbestos industry.

  13. Megadyptes says:

    “M4 Tank Platoon promises to become the standard in World War II tank games with explosive gameplay, unparalleled realism, and beautifully rendered, historically accurate terrains”

    So they’ve never played ‘Battle Tanks: T-34 vs Tiger’, a realistic WW2 tank sim that has graphics that aren’t a steaming pile of shite?

    Anyway, the best tank game was Microprose’s ‘M1 Tank Platoon II’, what a game.

  14. ManorMoose says:

    In South Yorkshire there is a bus company named ‘Wilfreda Beehive’ that does local & holiday routes. They even have a website with a smashing rotating logo:

    http://www.wilfreda.co.uk/

  15. Premium User Badge

    Spork says:

    The guy in the middle is General Earle “Bus” Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Vietnam. And thanks Tim for an interesting search based on winners of all his medals, followed by all US 4-stars. Reading all those Wikipedia entries should kill a few hours.

  16. Tim Stone says:

    Westyfield’s greyhound snatches an FP point off the back of a speeding mechanical hare.

    The Greatness sneaks into Scapa Flow at periscope depth, snatches an FP point, and sneaks out again.

    Alex Bakke fails to spot the Leyland Lynx dozing in the quiz undergrowth, but does enough to secure an FP point.

    CMaster’s feline curiosity doesn’t pay off on this occasion. He walks away with a consolation FP point made from chewing-gum and bus-ticket confetti.

    ManorMoose’s answer lacks militarism. He takes home a consolation FP point (see above). The bus second from the left remains unidentified.

    Spork’s superb sporkwork unearths a rare doubledecker FP point. (Doubledecker FP points have 28 spacious seats on the lower deck, and a thick layer of whipped nougat on the top)

  17. Premium User Badge

    MacBeth says:

    Well… the bumblebee is of course of the Bombus genus – but I’m not sure what the military connection is, assuming there is one beyond Bombus/Bomb-us/Bomb-bus?

  18. Premium User Badge

    Tybalt says:

    How bout the Daihatsu Bee a three-wheeled car made by a Japanese company around 1951 that apparently only was produced in 90 units?

  19. ZamFear says:

    Bee-line bus #110 was named after General Joseph Stilwell

    • Tim Stone says:

      ZamFear’s bonus FP point is cut crystal, vinegar-filled, and proof that the official FP answers aren’t always the best.

  20. Orontes says:

    Hummel- German word for bumblebee. Mobile artillery.

  21. Electricfox says:

    Giant stab in the dark on the bee, but there is a Bee-Line Bus System on Westchester County, in New York, and some of the buses are named after local celebrities, including General Stillwell.

    EDIT: gah, ZamFear pointed it out first…that’s what I get for skim-reading!

    • Tim Stone says:

      Electricfox arrives at the Electriccoop too late to grab a fowl but finds a warm, egg-shaped bonus FP point nestling amongst the straw.

  22. Javier-de-Ass says:

    STEEL ARMOR BLAZE OF WAR IS OUT. WOHO