The Flare Path: Is Semi Literate

By Tim Stone on January 13th, 2012 at 12:57 pm.

From this day forth The Flare Path Foxer will be at the end rather than the beginning.

It’s dawn and it’s raining cats and dogs. You are barrelling down the M3 in your uninsured Vauxhall Inquisitor when you see a huddled figure, arm outstretched, standing by the roadside. The figure is holding a scrap of cardboard scrawled with the words EURO TRUCK SIMULATOR 2, RIGS OF RODS, and BATTLE OF BRITAIN 2. You can stop and pick-up this drenched wayfarer (Click where it says ‘Read the rest of this entry’) knowing that his conversation might turn out to be as soggy as his sign, or you can speed past, purposely averting your gaze from those pleading puppy-dog eyes. Which is it to be?

 

MAN Gears And Man Years

You are a lovely person. There is no justice in the world, but if there was you’d be in line for extra cake and cuddles come Justice Day. Though the hitcher does whiff a little, and insists on tuning the radio to the dangerously soporific Lullaby FM, his chat is tolerable – interesting even.

He tells you that his name his Jan, and that he’s a games designer from Prague. It’s not wanderlust that has brought him to the hard-shoulder of the M3, it’s professional curiosity. Jan is doing some last-minute recon for upcoming semi spectacular Euro Truck Simulator 2.

With its DIY contracting, decent physics, and extensive (but heavily abridged) recreation of Europe’s tarmaced trade routes, the original ETS was a cut above the usual Euro-sim pap. Posts on the SCS blog suggests the imminent (end-of-March-ish) sequel will be significantly stronger.

Encouraging signs are everywhere. The team that cut their teeth making a string of solid deer slaying sims (not Deer Drive. That was cobblers.) took on an ex-Scania test driver as a technical consultant in the run-up to Christmas, and have recently gone to impressive lengths to capture the distinctive dialects of their articulated stars.

While the new road network won’t include many of the southern European destinations available in the original title, it will be far denser and feature a lot more local flavour. Apparently, creating the venue for ETS took 1.5 man-years. More than 8 man-years have already been lavished on the new version.

Thanks to region-specific numberplates, AI traffic mixes, and sign styles, this time there should be far less chance of forgetting which country you’re cruising through. Thanks to a far more generous selection of minor highways, there should also be a lot more opportunity for creative/cost-cutting shortcuts.

Whether the sim will ship with genuine Volvos, MANs and Renaults in its showroom, or thinly veiled lookalikes, depends on ongoing licensing negotiations. Given the findings of a recent Flare Path study* – the one that revealed that 78% of pre-teen truck simmers went on to purchase real HGVs – it would be an extremely short-sighted manufacturer that withheld permission.

*Commissioned by SCS Software

 

Rails Of Rods

Somewhere near Fleet Services the conversation turns to Rigs of Rods. The lorries in this freeware physics lesson, lurch, wallow, and skid, exactly as lorries should. BigBoy’s experiments suggest the RoR engine could make trains move with similar authority.

Though rail enthusiasts aren’t short of sim options, the likes of Microsoft Train Simulator, Trainz, and RailWorks are really rather poor at communicating the tea-spillingly physical relationship between train and track, hauler and hauled. The straining of couplings on a snatched freight train, the drunken gait of a heavy diesel trundling along uneven rails, the violent nudging of a carelessly handled banking engine… these are things most contemporary sims fudge.

RoR has the potential to deliver uncommonly tactile train handling. Whether it can be adapted to provide working signalling and AI traffic is another matter. At the very least I’m hoping for some supremely satisfying shunting action in the near future.

 

Building Better Baders

The sight of a Tiger Moth touching down at Popham aerodrome sparks a chat about one of 2011’s bitterest disappointments: IL-2: Cliffs of Dover. Ten months on, the sim still feels shoddy in several important areas. Until flawed flight models, inadequate comms and dysfunctional AI are improved, drumming-up enthusiasm for the coming Battle of Moscow themed ‘sequel’, will be a challenge.

An AI thread over at the official forum, illustrates just how many bad habits CloD’s bogeys need to unlearn over the coming months. Unexpectedly, it also provides fascinating insights into why the bandits in the breathtaking Battle of Britain 2: Wings of Victory behave as humanly as they do.

In instructional mood, Buddye – BDG’s bogey behaviour engineer – explains, amongst other things, what goes through the mind of one of BoB2’s artificial aviators when he sees tracer fizzing past his canopy.

It’s an awe-inspiring read…

“The first key decision to be made is to select either an aggressive or defensive maneuver. This is a complex decision based on the available information on both the Player and the Enemy AI or the friendly AI and the enemy AI. The data considered for both Player and enemy is speed, altitude, and the position of the targeting AI and the AI being targeted with respect to each other.

After selecting either an aggressive or defensive, then a random approach is used to select a category (choose good, choose bad, or choose neither good nor bad maneuver).

Maneuvers are then divided into three parts Climb, Horizontal, and dive for each of our categories

In BOBII we have over 80 complex maneuvers for selection (both the aggressive and defensive maneuvers) for the fighters (Spit, Hurri, 109, 110) and over 50 simple maneuvers for selection for the Ju87 and Defiant. The following are BOBII’s complex maneuvers (each maneuver is a significant program for completing the assigned maneuver):

MANOEUVRE_SELECT

MANOEUVRE_LOOKROUND

MANOEUVRE_WELDEDWINGMAN

MANOEUVRE_BAILOUT

MANOEUVRE_TOPCOVER

MANOEUVRE_FORCETOPCOVER

MANOEUVRE_LINEABREAST

MANOEUVRE_PINCER

MANOEUVRE_MULTIWAVE

MANOEUVRE_DIVEANDZOOM

MANOEUVRE_INSIDELOOP

MANOEUVRE_LAGPURSUIT

MANOEUVRE_SPLITMANOEUVRE

MANOEUVRE_HEADON

MANOEUVRE_LINEASTERN

MANOEUVRE_VICATTACK

MANOEUVRE_BARRELROLLATTACK

MANOEUVRE_SCISSORS

MANOEUVRE_MILDSCISSORS

MANOEUVRE_TURNINGFIGHT

MANOEUVRE_SPLITS

MANOEUVRE_ZOOMANDDROP

MANOEUVRE_STRAIGHTANDLEVEL

MANOEUVRE_SPINOUT

MANOEUVRE_DIVEFORHOME

MANOEUVRE_GOHOME

MANOEUVRE_MAKEFORFRIENDLY

MANOEUVRE_MOVEAWAY

MANOEUVRE_QUICKROLL

MANOEUVRE_IMMELMANNTURN

MANOEUVRE_IMMELMANN

MANOEUVRE_STAYWITHPREY

MANOEUVRE_CLIMBFORHOME

MANOEUVRE_STRAIGHTDIVE

MANOEUVRE_OUTSIDELOOP

MANOEUVRE_SHOOTTOFRIGHTEN

MANOEUVRE_SHOOTTOOEARLY

MANOEUVRE_GAINHEIGHT

MANOEUVRE_LAGROLL

MANOEUVRE_EXTENSION

MANOEUVRE_DIVINGROLL

MANOEUVRE_REVERSETURN

MANOEUVRE_SELFASBAIT

MANOEUVRE_JINK

MANOEUVRE_BREAKTURN

MANOEUVRE_LAZYTURN

MANOEUVRE_BREAKLOW

MANOEUVRE_BREAKHIGH

MANOEUVRE_BREAK90

MANOEUVRE_BREAK180

MANOEUVRE_HIGBARRELROLL

MANOEUVRE_PANICTURN

MANOEUVRE_TURNANDRUN

MANOEUVRE_LOWALT

MANOEUVRE_ZOOM

MANOEUVRE_INTERCEPTHIGH

MANOEUVRE_INTERCEPTLOW

MANOEUVRE_GAINSPEED

MANOEUVRE_HEADONATTACK

MANOEUVRE_LUFBERRY

MANOEUVRE_STEEPDIVE

MANOEUVRE_UPANDUNDER

MANOEUVRE_STALLTURN

MANOEUVRE_SLASHINGATTACK

MANOEUVRE_CLIMBTURN

MANOEUVRE_ROLL360

MANOEUVRE_STRAFFE

MANOEUVRE_TRANSITION

MANOEUVRE_PEELOFF

MANOEUVRE_SNAPSHOT

MANOEUVRE_STAYONTAIL

MANOEUVRE_FLYTHROUGHCLOUD

MANOEUVRE_REGROUP

MANOEUVRE_DISENGAGED

MANOEUVRE_SPINRECOVERY

MANOEUVRE_COLLIDE

MANOEUVRE_LAST

MANOEUVRE_ALIGNMENT

MANOEUVRE_DROPANDZOOM

MANOEUVRE_COLLISIONAVOIDANCE

MANOEUVRE_TURNTOHDGANDPITCH

MANOEUVRE_SCREWYOUGUYSIMGOINGHOME”

He goes on to describe how the experience and skill level of an AI airman influences both the choice of manoeuvre and the likelihood of making a mistake while flying the manoeuvre, and explains how the random numbers that add uncertainty to manoeuvre directions and durations, make testing bally tricky.

Clinical insights like these risk stripping the magic and mystery from a sim. It’s a testament to BoB2’s quality, Rowan’s ambition, and Buddye’s patience and skill, that I emerged from the thread not disenchanted but determined to spend more time with the finest Finest Hour sim around.

The exchange also illustrates why the words ‘good’ and ‘AI’ should never sit side-by-side in a piece of sim or wargame analysis. There’s a world of difference between a ‘good’ (challenging) AI and a ‘good’ (plausible) AI, and the more often the two get carelessly conflated in reviews and forum comments, the easier it is for devs to palm us off with efficient enemies rather than evocative ones.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

There are 9 birds planes in the Flare Path aviary hangar today. Which one is the oldest? Which is the lightest? Which has the largest wingspan? Which served its country longest? Which one has four legs? And which one badgered the Bismark?

*Last week’s unidentified loco? ‘Aeolus’, a rather handsome Chicago Burlington & Quincy streamlined 4-6-4The clue image was a picture of the ESA Aeolus weather satellite.

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26 Comments »

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  1. ShowMeTheMonkey says:

    Just in case anyone wants to know what the game play is like in Trainz Simulator 12.

    It’s a little like this:

  2. CMaster says:

    So I seen a Gannet, a Heron maybe on the left, a Sparrowhawk (I think) in the middle. Bottom left a nightjar maybe?

    To know anything about said planes, I’d have to go look them up.

  3. Zeewolf says:

    I wish there were more tits in that picture.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Man Raised by Puffins says:

    *dusts off YOC badge*
    Well, I can name all eight birds off the top of my head, but that hardly seems sporting.

    The tube-nosed cliff botherer clinging to the top right corner is a Fulmar, its namesake, manufactured by Fairey, appears to have been involved in the Bismarck chase.
    Middle top is perched a tragically decapitated Kestrel aka the Hawker P.1127, that I’d hazard is our four legged friend thanks to its wing mounted landing gear.
    Just to the right of the Heron is a dainty looking Snipe, pressed into service during the Great War by Sopwith who clearly must have been a bit desperate at the time. I also believe it’s the oldest of the birds.

    • Gaytard Fondue says:

      The one to the right of the Kestrel is my favourite troglodyte, and should be the lightest, sporting an A.B.C. engine.

    • Tim Stone says:

      This week’s FP points are made from barn owl pellets. Man Raised by Puffins’ richly deserved trio incorporate bits of a dormouse, a stag-beetle mandible, and a Werther’s Originals wrapper.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Gaytard’s light touch earns him an FP pellet largely made up of Pipistrelle parts

    • cjlr says:

      Anyone else surprised that a man raised by birds seems to know a lot about them? Hmmm…

    • Tams80 says:

      Not surprised, but rather suspicious…

  5. 0rpheus says:

    IL2: Cliffs of Dover really was a disappointment. How they think they can interest anyone in Battle for Moscow when CloD still isn’t close to being release-ready ten months after it hit the shelves. Months of silence from the devs, who do most of their communicating on their russian forum (because people were too ‘angry’ on the international ones.. I wonder why…), shoddy updates, terrible AI and FM as well as a ton of other stuff killed it stone dead.

    I expected so much more from 1C. That excellent and highly generous public explanation of BOB2 AI didn’t even receive a developer response on the 1C forums, not even a ‘thank you’. I finally gave up and uninstalled it just before xmas, after it became clear that the patch they’ve been threatening to release for months isn’t going to happen for a good long while. They’re not even going to make the Wellington flyable (how I was waiting for a 4 engine bomber!) – no new aircraft for CloD as that side of development has shifted to BfM. :(

    Crying shame imo. Also, first post etc. ;)

    • GraveyardJimmy says:

      Whilst IL2:CoD does have a lot of work to be done (and a beta patch will probably be out in the next few weeks, Russian Xmas ends around the 9th Jan) I dont think you are being entirely fair to the developers. The last developer update was 23rd December and the new community manager blacksix has been continuing communication (responding yesterday).

      The thread that you said they haven’t thanked for was also created by the team asking for ideas and has a post from BlackSix thanking people who responded. The reason for the majority of updates on the Russian forum is because the developers are Russian, this is why they got Blacksix to post on the English speaking forums.

      Now Cliffs of Dover does have work needed, but its a different beast to when it was released. A graphics overhaul is coming and despite its flaws I manage to get 60fps on medium/high details on a PC with a few generations old CPU (E8400). With the graphics overhaul and a fix for radio comms and AI, I’ll be interested in getting the Moscow expansion, but I completely agree that I have lost some faith in them, especially since certain weather features may be pushed back to Moscow and they will expect those who paid full price on release to pay again to get those features. I’ll wait for a sale on the expansion I think.

    • 0rpheus says:

      I see your point, I gave up on those forums months ago to be honest, after they became over-moderated, so I’ve missed some of those updates. That graphics patch/overhaul has been coming for ages though; I’ve never gotten very good FPS with it on my fairly average rig (5770, i5@ 3.6g, 4gRAM), London is still unplayable and clouds murder performance for me, and it’s been pushed back and pushed back…

      Granted it’s come a long way from the early days, and I’m sure there have been more than their fair share of problems. But it’s an expectation thing – they promised so much, and (at that point in time) had the pedigree to really deliver it. It could have been so good… and it might still be, but they’ve burnt so much consumer goodwill in those ten months, for various reasons, that coming back from it will be hard. BfM will be a real leap of faith after CloD, and like you I’ll be waiting for a sale/several months post release so I know it actually works before buying!

    • Zenicetus says:

      The botched release put me off getting the game, and every time I drop by SimHQ to check on the status, it seems more dispiriting. It’s like they keep zapping the body with the paddles, but it never quite gets up off the stretcher and becomes something I’d be interested in.

      At this point, it sounds like it’s time to just check in on the Moscow project status every six months or so, and see how it’s doing. Meanwhile I still have Rise of Flight to keep me busy. Rumors keep popping up that 777 might be doing a WWII sim next. While that would probably be years away, it’s at least some hope on the horizon if 1C flubs Battle for Moscow as badly as the CloD release.

  6. Blackcompany says:

    I’m semi-literate (see what I did there) where AI is concerned, but that simulator AI seems pretty amazing. And complex. Looks worth a play.
    .
    As for the truck sim…is it just me, or in that second picture, the one with the overpass…I think there’s a Gun Runner merchant who will hang out in that same place a couple of hundred years after the world goes boom.

  7. Electricfox says:

    If you want rocking and rolling on a railway:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g11qWro1LzQ

    O_o

  8. TheWhippetLord says:

    Bottom right – Fairey Gannet in service with the FAA for twenty odd years from 1954 until the end of the penultimate Ark Royal, which I’d guess might be the longest.

    • Tim Stone says:

      If TheWhippetLord cares to dissect his FP pellet he will find, amongst other things, seven stickleback fins and a pair of water boatsman’s oars.

  9. Retro says:

    Note that the groundwork for the excellent BoB2 AI has been laid by Rowan Software, the original creators.. it dates back to Flying Corps, was refined for Mig Alley and continued with BoB/BoB2..

    If you are interested, you can download the source code for BoB/Mig Alley from here – http://www.combatsim.com/pages/Downloads/Source_Code/ – note that out of the box it will not compile with modern compilers/DX versions any more, you best ask at SimHQ or the AA forums if you need help with it (probably the BDG could even give you an updated source dump..)

    • Tim Stone says:

      I”ve just slipped a tiny Rowan salute into the text. As you say, BoB2 is built on amazing foundations.

  10. jellydonut says:

    Don’t know what is going on with me but I want that truck simulator.

  11. takfar says:

    The truck one looks strangely interesting. Wonder if the game can convey they weight of handling one of those beasts. Maybe with some finely-tuned force feedback settings on a nice wheel?

  12. Megadyptes says:

    The original IL-2 Sturmovic has a new and hefty patch out as well. It also has a ton of new AI shit which is pretty awesome.

  13. El_Emmental says:

    I liked the way the strange picture, the “Flare Path Foxer”, was at the top, representing the Flare Path in the never-ending RPS news-roll.

    Actually, it’s what brought me into reading Flare Path, even if I don’t play sim games (mostly because I can’t play all games at the same time).

    • Tim Stone says:

      Point noted – possible u-turn on the way. The idea of the shift was to make the lead story a little more obvious, not to make FP easier to miss.

  14. terry says:

    I’m excited by the screens of Euro Truck Simulator. Shaders! Nice lighting!