The Flare Path: Serious Matterhorns

By Tim Stone on February 10th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

When Rebecca Teacakes offers Flare Path a penny for his thoughts, Flare Path seldom answers honestly. Admitting you’ve let your porridge go cold or your pilsner go flat because you’ve been contemplating questions like “How many looted harpsichords could be squeezed onto the back of a Kettenkrad?” or “What would Boudica, queen of the Iceni, have smelled like?” takes courage. Much better to pretend you were pondering column-related conundrums like “Why does Steam appear to discriminate against wargames and their makers?” and “Why aren’t more sims as staggeringly beautiful as aerofly FS?”.

 

Pretty Swissh

It’s here. It’s finally here. A copy of Ikarus’ shy sky child aerofly FS has just flopped onto the doormat local woodlice refer to as The Great Thicket. Will the new arrival live up to the promise of those screenshots? Am I about to install a potential Microsoft Flight beater? Unfortunately, there isn’t time for thorough scrutiny, but a feast of first impressions start here.

(Because my mother might read this…)

Goshing hell!

Gosh me!

GOSH ME SIDEWAYS!

The official screenshots lied. Aerofly FS isn’t just pretty, it’s goshing gorgeous. I’m just back from my inaugural jaunt – a ten-minute Pitts biplane hack through the Alps (You can start flights anywhere over the sim’s bijou Swiss scenery, simply by clicking a map) and I can honestly say, in my 30 years of simming, I’ve never seen this marvellous mothership of ours looking more lovely. The ruffled rock, the glittering shelves of virgin snow, the grubby glaciers… I realise it’s just a bitmap draped over a mesh, but gosh what a bitmap, blimey what a mesh.

Away from the mountains, the scenery isn’t quite as breathtaking. That’s what my second sortie (F/A-18, somewhere near Zurich) seems to suggest anyway. Don’t get me wrong, the landscapes are still up there with the very best the genre has to offer, but skim most towns and villages and the lack of 3D structures does corrode the illusion somewhat. Not sure about that water texture either.

Can these FPS figures be real? I’m getting framerates two, three, four times higher than I get in FSX and X-Plane. Despite having pushed the graphics sliders as far as they go, aerofly is tearing along like a Sidewinder with a Sukhoi to catch. My third outing (Sopwith Camel) took in countryside, a lowland town, plus some of those ravishing snow-capped peaks, and there wasn’t a hint of stutter or slowdown. No signs of dawdling textures or unsightly pop-up either. These Ikarus chaps really seem to know a thing or two about optimisation.

Sorry, you won’t be getting any incisive flight model observations from this aeroflier. I just don’t have the expertise to comment usefully on such things. My last flights involved the Cessna 172 and Extra 330 LX and, what I can say is, they both handle quite differently. As you’d expect, the Extra will roll in the blink of an eye with just the barest touch on the stick. Treat it roughly and, assuming you’re flying from the cockpit view, your head is subjected to some very atmospheric g-force-induced buffeting. The Cessna is a much more sluggish bird. It seems to want to stall at around the 110km/h point. Let the stall take hold and you’ll find yourself weathering a couple of scary quarter-rolls then plunging for the deck. Recovering is child’s play. Realistic? I’m sure at least one Flare Path reader will be able to tell us.

For my last foray, I gave the sim’s two sailplanes (a Discus bM and a Swift S1) a quick spin, and had a fiddle with the primitive (by MSFS and X-Plane standards) weather options. The baked scenery shadows mean it’s always midday in aerofly, and canopies are never battered by rain. There is however, the chance to mess around with a fog slider, alter cloud altitude and coverage, and set wind direction and strength. Thermals are modelled too, making gliding a viable an extremely attractive proposition. Do the themals decay? Is ridge lift represented? These and other questions, I’ll hopefully get around to answering in a future Flare Path.

 

A Bitter Peace

The Flare Path has a mole inside Steam HQ. Montague is coal-black, velvety, about 15cm long and has these amazingly large hands. If he hadn’t gone into covert surveillance, FP reckons he could have had a glittering career as a very small concert pianist or a miniature masseur.

Monty is currently operating inside (or, strictly speaking, under) the offices of the world’s most popular game distribution company, because I’m desperate to find out why Steam stocks so few top-notch wargames. Go scan its store shelves and you’ll find hardcore flight and sub sims, niche management and sports titles, but almost nothing that would qualify as a bona-fide wargame What the gosh is going on?

Perhaps the makers of grog fodder simply don’t bother approaching outlets like Steam?

No, that’s not it. Though folk like the creators of Combat Mission refuse to tango with Gabe’s goliath…

“Battlefront has had its own successful digital delivery platform for over 10 years, with close to 300,000 customers served, so unlike most other independent developers, we do not need Steam… Wargames are a niche, and making them available on Steam won’t make a twitchy 10 year old FPS player want to buy them. The mainstream market hasn’t worked for wargames since the late 80s, so we’re very comfortable where we are right now, growing our business slowly each year.”

…I know of several studios that have made enquiries over the years, and received the infamous ‘not a good fit’ email for their trouble.

Maybe it’s a question of quality then. Is ‘unfitness’ Steam’s polite way of saying, “Your game is goshing atrocious.”? Highly unlikely. Amongst the offerings Steam has rejected in recent times are two of the very finest strategy and tactics titles imaginable.

Preposterous prices? Are the petitioners putting ridiculous figures in the application form price box? Again, I’d be amazed if this turned out to be the explanation. No, the Flare Path suspects the lack of scrupulously modelled Sherman Fireflies and painstakingly researched OOBs in Valve’s bustling games bazaar is down to one thing: Ignorance.

Steam simply don’t realise what they’re turning-down. They don’t have the personnel or mechanisms in place to sort wargaming wheat from wargaming chaff. If a new small studio comes to them with the The Best Thing Since Combat Mission; Beyond Overlord or Sid Meier’s Gettysburg, they will, in all likelihood, turn it down, unless a link to impressive Metacritic scores or already-healthy sales figures, is paper-clipped to the application.

It’s a depressing state of affairs. The developers suffer because they’re deprived of an important shop window. Wargaming suffers because those gamers that don’t routinely stop-by Gamersgate, Matrix Games, and Battlefront, never get to see the gems the genre has to offer. Steam is made to look uncaring at best, arbitrary and prejudiced at worst.

All hail Zdeněk Miler!

If you’d like to see superlative military strategy games on Steam, and Monty recalled for a spot of much-needed R&R (Did I mention he suffers from acute claustrophobia and gets terrible rheumatism in his tiny velvet-upholstered knees?) do make your feelings known in the comments section below. Perhaps Valve employ their own moles.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

As a result of a string of unfortunate air-rage incidents, FP is only permitted to travel on ten of the world’s airlines. Can you identify the lucky carriers?

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48 Comments »

  1. faelnor says:

    WHAT?! Since when did aerofly become a real flight simulator? What happened to the revered RC sim? Are they going to discontinue it? :(

    EDIT: Okay, this is ridiculous. IPACS have between 4 and 5 thousand different products supported at the same time: easyfly, aerofly <5.0, aerofly5, aerofly professional deluxe and now aeroflyFS.
    FS stands for full-scale and not Flight Simulator as I first believed, explaining why I was afraid the RC sim was gone.

    It would seem that the most recent iteration of the RC sim is areofly5 (aerofly 5.7 exactly), but I don’t get why they would still put professionnal deluxe forward here. Their many outdated websites are super confusing (different IPACS, IKARUS, aerofly websites, come on).

    Anyway, at that outrageously low price point, I may just have to buy aeroflyFS to test it out. And the more outrageously high priced aerofly5 for my RC-simming grandpa.

  2. wodin says:

    I want STEAM to help small wargame developers. Your turning down what will be a game that was made out of pure passion, a mans (or womans) need to make a wargame is not for money, it’s for love of the genre, love of wargames!!

    So please Steam tale a look around the internet and you will find thousands of wargamers out there all constantly searching for more wargaming goodness, and if you start to back the wargaming genre we will see I’m sure some amazing wargame sbeing made and that will sell and sell well.

    Thanks for reading Steam employee and I await your reply.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Freakin’ shameful they’ll not let wargames on, but will let garbage like Bunch of Heroes on and many MANY other pieces of crap.

      “Not a good fit” my dimpled arse. Clearly they’ll let any old crap on so long as it’s not grognard material.

  3. jumblesale says:

    I don’t play sims or wargames but The Flare Path is my favourite feature on RPS. Consistently brilliant, I always look forward to reading Mr. Stone’s latest.

  4. Adriaan says:

    Lebanon cedar on white background: Middle East Airlines?

    Aerofly FS’ mountains look indescribably pretty! I really wonder how they got them to look so real.

    • The Infamous Woodchuck says:

      top line, second from the left side: singapore airlines

      the rest, i dont know they seemed very old tho.

    • Tim Stone says:

      **The gate is now closed**

      Cargolux (top far left) – Lord Bilisknir, orranis
      Singapore Airlines (top left) – The Infamous Woodchuck, Arglebarf, Lord Bilisknir, orranis
      Atlas Air (top middle) – corinoco, Lord Bilisknir, orranis
      Uzbekistan Airways (top right) – fleet hassle
      Czech Airlines (top far right) – Lord Bilisknir, orranis
      Syrianair (bottom far left) – Lord Bilisknir, orranis
      Middle East Airlines (bottom left) – Adriaan, Lord Bilisknir, orranis
      Hapag-Lloyd (bottom middle) – fleet hassle
      Austrian Airllines (bottom right) – orranis
      Hawaiian Airlines (bottom far right) – corinico, Arglebarf, orranis

  5. JimTheDog says:

    ‘ Wargames are a niche, and making them available on Steam won’t make a twitchy 10 year old FPS player want to buy them.’ <— That makes me lose all sympathy for the businesspeople involved.

    Characterising steam's customer base as 'twitchy ten year old FPS players' is downright ignorant. I am a steam customer, and I am deeply into my strategy games, and frankly Battlefront.com has always, ALWAYS, struck me as a low quality storefront. One which I've never had any faith in whatsoever, and I've run across it repeatedly for years and years now.

    Their games, on the other hand, have always interested me. But their pricing, extortionate seeming expansion packs, and storefront have repelled me from ever giving them a try.

    Ignorant of me? Absolutely. But as a customer, I need to be seduced. Overpriced looking games on _that_ storefront seduce me not.

    • Garmr says:

      Yes, because the average steam gamer is most definitely a 10 year old brat abusing his daddy’s credit card.

      Yea, I would love to see Steam to increase their selection of war-gaming, if it weren’t for RPS dozens of wonderful games would have flown right past my blind rear end .

    • iteyoidar says:

      It wouldn’t be a war game if you weren’t forced to purchase it through a ’90s era payment system on an geocities-esque website full of blog posts by grumbly old men. Maybe present day war-gamers were playing simple war games when they were 10, but those were better days, when kids had to walk 5 miles uphill in the snow to get to the nearest Best Buy and use a hand crank to start up their iced-over desktop each morning before feeding the cows…

    • Flappybat says:

      It’s from Business 101 – Always restrict your customer base and make it effort to purchase your product

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      I am 34 and I wear a monocle and Savile Row suits. I also like Steam, preferably when generated by a buxom serving wench pouring more water on those hot stone things in my ensuite turkish bath.
      Also, my pants are made of gold.

    • Dominic White says:

      Any wargame developer that refuses to even TRY to get the game on more widely accessible portals deserves a slap. Two, if their reason is ‘Pfft, casuals’.

      Battlefront, Matrix Games and other sites are a pain to use. Prices tend to be absurdly inflated, and business models tend to be awkward at best – Dominions 3 is a great game, but until recently you could ONLY get it as a printed disc awkwardly stuck to a ring-bound manual. Nowadays, you can get an out-of-date PDF manual (they don’t feel like it needs updating, despite huge chunks of the game having changed) and a download for… almost the same price.

      The reason the game only sells to a tiny niche isn’t because only that tiny niche would ever buy it – it’s because only a tiny fraction of the potential audience have the patience and money to jump through the hoops and pay a vastly inflated price for their efforts.

      I have no sympathy for wargame developers that aren’t actively trying to branch out. At least release on Gamersgate, if nothing else!

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Battlefront is fairly terrible. I’ve bought games in spite of it rather than because of it.

      And given I’m a forty one year old father of four with 266 games in his Steam account I think it’s fair to say I’m not a twitchy ten year old. (Though I do have one.)

  6. corinoco says:

    Bottom right, Hawaiian Air, middle top Atlas Freight, bottom left um… Lufthansa in the 70′s? Or Aeroflot?

  7. Sparvy says:

    Bottom left is finnair isn’t it?

    EDIT: google says no it seems

  8. Arglebarf says:

    Hawaiian Airlines: the spirit of aloha, bottom right and Singapore Airlines: she’s a great way to fly, 2nd from left top.

  9. LordBilisknir says:

    Cargolux, Singapore Cargo, Atlas, Dunno, Czech
    Syrian, Middle Eastern Airways, Dunno, Dunno, Dunno

  10. Arglebarf says:

    Center top an old Continental fin flash?

  11. Mr Bismarck says:

    “My third outing (Sopwith Camel) took in countryside, a lowland town, plus some of those ravishing snow-capped peaks”

    If the Camel didn’t kill you the first time you tried to turn left, the flight model needs work.

  12. Wisq says:

    I’m not really surprised that a modern flight sim can both look better and run smoother than Microsoft Flight Simulator. From what I’ve heard, MS basically stopped doing any real engine or flight model work around 1995, and has just been slapping on a new layer of paint ever since to maintain the gloss, year after year. This might be the competitor they’ve been needing (and probably fearing) for years.

  13. G-Lord says:

    Just checked out all the screens. Pretty sweet, especially when you grew up close to some of the depicted locations.

  14. Ridnarhtim says:

    Christ, where did you find such obscure airline logos?

  15. Player1 says:

    Oh wow, the mountains look fantastic, but oh boy did they mess up the city. I live in Zurich and it seems you were just flying over the end of the lake into the city, but at that point the city doesn’t really look like that, there are buildings that shouldn’t be there, and the trees neither. Or you were over another city but i couldn’t figure out which one could look like that..

  16. Vinraith says:

    Considering Paradox is inching uncomfortably close to requiring Steam with a lot of their new strategy titles (and went all the way with SotS2, ouch) the last thing I want to see is wargames and hardcore strategy games turning up on Steam. “Available on Steam” seems to turn into “requiring Steam” all too easily, and any game with long term play value needs to be free of any kind of “ask permission to start” DRM.

    • DuddBudda says:

      given that sotsii has sat in my library untouched for the last four months I think a steamworks-only launch was a good thing for sotsii; without steam noone would ever bother to keep it on the latest version

  17. orranis says:

    Cargolux, Singapore Cargo, Atlas Air, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Czech
    Syrian, Middle Eastern Airways, Cascade, Austrian Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines

    I’m unsure about the Cascade, though. I was unable to find any photographs of their livery at the time of their acquisition by Canadian Pacific.

  18. jonfitt says:

    Props for the Monty Mole reference.

    Flight sims are notorious for use numbers of cumulative patches that take forever to download and install. Despite owning IL2, IL2:FB, IL2:PF, IL2:1942, I bought IL2:1942 again on Steam (albeit on a huge discount) just for the auto-patching.

    I would say that any game that is heavily dependent on patching needs to be on a digital delivery service which supports auto-patching. If they have one that isn’t Steam, fine.

    I also resent the implication that the only people they would hope to gain by going to Steam would be 10-year-old fps players. That’s a terribly naive view of Steam’s user base.

  19. mR.Waffles says:

    I would buy these games if they were on steam.

    But then never find the time to play them.

  20. MythArcana says:

    If it’s on s73@/\/\, I don’t need it. There are a couple exceptions like the Paradox titles and such, but some small devs like Cryptic Comet get this “not a good fit” letter…and I agree. Those games are too intelligent to be in the bloated hands of the cartoon masters and make them all the more attractive to me.

  21. Megadyptes says:

    There’s some pretty good reasons why these hardcore wargames are such niche products, mostly the abysmal user interfaces, graphics in most of the games dating from 1995 or so and most of the games end up on Matrix or other sites where they charge a bloody fortune. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a wargame, but most of the time the devs and publishers of these games are just shooting themselves in the foot and then come out with stupid statements.

  22. kzrkp says:

    More Flare Path! More, more! That’s insulting having wargames turned away from steam seeing the kind of slopware they already allow. Mountains of iphone game ports and shovelware.

  23. Glen Murphy says:

    Here’s a video of my AeroFlyFS setup with a VR headset and TrackIR. It’s so damned pretty that if it supported NVidia 3DVision, I’d probably blow a gasket.

  24. fleet hassle says:

    The tail logo on the top right is that of Uzbekistan Airways.

    • orranis says:

      Good job, that, fleet. I’m having a second go at finding that orange and purple one, but haven’t got a single lead. The closest I’ve found is Hughes Airwest, which isn’t close at all …

  25. fleet hassle says:

    Ah, got it: Hapag-Lloyd Flug, an apparently defunct carrier formerly of Lower Saxony.
    I kept going back and forth on whether or not that was an H, after all. Finally settled it by just going to the wiki page for airlines by ICAO code, section H…

    Edit: sorry, meant to reply inline :P

    • Tim Stone says:

      Ongoing industrial action by the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Shipwrights, Blacksmiths and Flair Point Fashioners means I can’t be as free with the points as I once could, but this sort of dogged/dazzling detective work can’t go unrewarded.

      Well done fleet hassle. Your wide-body, Trent XWB-powered FP flair point will be winging its way to you just as soon as Ernest, London Heathrow’s snowplough driver, finishes his teabreak.

  26. Javier-de-Ass says:

    steam is goshing atrocious. for the good of the pc platform, people need to stop being so dependent on it.

    • Unaco says:

      Really? You honestly think that? Personally, I think of more positive things it has done for PC Gaming than negative things.

    • Dominic White says:

      I know a lot of indie developers who wouldn’t be making games as a full-time job if it weren’t for Steam and the rise in general of easily accessible digital distribution. I’m fairly sure that they’d laugh at you if you told them they’re what’s destroying gaming.

  27. Wisq says:

    Seriously guys, you may or may not like it, but Steam is the force that will keep PC gaming alive and thriving. It’s the real answer to piracy — not because of its DRM approach (which is actually pretty light compared to many), not because of the sales (although those help), but because it provides a service that is actually more convenient than piracy. Not to mention, way more value added.

    [big pro-Steam rant deleted]

    Never mind, no point in arguing this stuff. I’ll just say this: Steam is a godsend for those of us who have reached the point in our lives where we have a decent amount of money but very limited free time (and also more pragma than dogma). If not for Steam, I would be seriously considering buying a console and using that instead.

    So yes, I do get a little resentful when people complain about not owning their Steam games (you think you own your CD/DVD games?), or about Steam’s DRM (unlimited activations, no CD keys or CD checks, install anywhere, generally-working offline mode, and who really goes offline any more in the smartphone era?), or about games requiring Steam (where not supporting Steam is a major fault in my books).

    Ah well. I don’t have time to argue about all this stuff. Best thing about this thread: It’s gathered into one place all the people who rant against Steam every time the subject comes up, so I can finally block them all at once and be done with this endless whinging.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      @Wisq: “you think you own your CD/DVD games?”

      Yes, I do. I’m a proponent of Steam myself, but quite simply I own my CD/DVD games—at least those not using Steamworks or other remotely managed DRM—in practical terms that are not met for Steam games.

      As long as I own the CDs and DVDs, I can play the games on them. The only risks are physical damage (which I can overcome by making backups) and obsolence (which applies to all software equally). For all practical purposes, I own these games just as I own the books on my bookshelf, and the crockery in my kitchen.

  28. cptgone says:

    i LOVE wargames, and would buy ‘em on Steam.
    i don’t buy ‘em from Matrix or Battlefront because of the price.

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