The Flare Path: Vapour And Vapidity

By Tim Stone on February 17th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

Early one August morning in 1999, the residents of Shrapnelton, Grogshire were woken by the sound of an overloaded Gooney Bird leaving its roost. Rattling chimney pots and spinning weather vanes, the struggling C-47 carried the hopes of thousands of sequel-hungry 101: The Airborne Invasion of Normandy fans within its narrow fuselage. Almost thirteen years on, those fans are still waiting for the plane to reach France.

 

Missing. Inaction.

Asking a developer to abandon a work-in-progress game feels utterly wrong, but in the sad case of All American: The 82nd Airborne In Normandy, the sasquatch of PC wargaming, The Flare Path feels compelled to do just this.

Dear Shrapnel Games,

As someone who has, courtesy of 101: The Airborne Invasion of Normandy, spent many a happy evening orchestrating slow and savage X-COM-style skirmishes amongst the hedges and villages of the Cotentin Peninsula, the following sentence is not an easy one to write. For the good of PC wargaming and for the sake of your own reputation as a developer and publisher, I urge you to publicly declare the sequel to 101 dead, to cease taking pre-orders, and return funds to those who have already purchased.

All American is now nearly twelve years late. In your last press release (17 March 2008) you opted to tease long-suffering customers…

“ All American: The 82nd Airborne In Normandy will soon begin to ship! Yeah, that’s what we’d like to lead off a press release with but unfortunately it won’t be this press release. We’ll let those of you who have been expecting to hear those words pick yourself up off the floor before continuing. No hard feelings, but it did get your attention, right?”

blamed delays on Microsoft…

“…everything was humming along when we encountered a rather big pothole in the road to release: Microsoft Vista. Microsoft’s Vista, that oh-so wonderful operating system of theirs, has a rather annoying habit of breaking things in All American: The 82nd Airborne in Normandy.”

and tempted fate by declaring

“we’re still confident we’ll beat Duke Nukem Forever to a release date”

According to the last website update (August 2008) the only work remaining to be done was…

♦ Rework of multiplayer to allow compatibility with Vista.

♦ Voices are being re-recorded after changes to scripts.

♦ Re-evaluating art for maps.

♦ Changing 3 missions

Since then there’s been total silence. In the official forums, a few inches below an “Order All American: the 82 Airborne here!” link encouraging readers to spend $50, many polite requests for information have gone unanswered.

I realise that Shrapnel is not a large concern and has many other irons in the fire, but I’m sure you are capable of treating customers better than this. A public statement admitting that All American will never see the light of day, together with a refund initiative (pre-orderers deserve a credit note at the very least) might help restore some confidence. Combine the statement with an announcement along the lines of forumite Jackhomer’s suggestion – “Why don’t you guys hand the art assets and code over to an open source community to develop the game?” – and a PR debacle could even be turned into a triumph.

Yours expectantly,

The Flare Path

 

 

Exceptionally Crude

Wolfgang Knopper, the German freelancer, spent 20 years searching for it. He ended up in a padded cell in Kuala Lumpur. Thierry Moreau, Le Figaro’s sim correspondent, lost a leg hunting for it in the catacombs beneath Paris. American Josh Stark claimed to have found it in Ecuador in 2004. When an International Association of Sim Assessors investigation proved he’d falsified screenshots and conspired with a developer, he bashed his own brains out with a Thrustmaster Cougar.

A lot of good people have thrown away their careers, their health, even their lives searching for The Worst Simulator In The World. I knew that, yet still couldn’t resist meeting Harry ‘The Shit’ Handley on the end of platform 12, Clapham Junction station, at noon last Tuesday.

Harry had rung me to say he’d found something in his local branch of Cash Converters that I might be interested in. Something that made Advanced Lawnmower Simulator look like “goshing Falcon 4”.

When we eventually parted company outside The Prince of Wales in Sackbutt Lane, the sun had skedaddled, Harry was 80 guineas richer, and I was clutching a newspaper-wrapped bundle tightly under my left arm.

I guess I must have made it home by around 8. Becky was out at her Moth Care class, so I grabbed a coffee and a handful of gypsy creams and headed straight for the study. What exactly had I purchased?

Stripping off the layers of Racing Post wrapping, the first thing I saw was a poorly photoshopped image of a shrunken oil tanker slinking away from an outsized oil rig. Below the image was the legend ‘SCOUR THE WORLD IN SEARCH FOR THE ELUSIVE BLACK GOLD’. Above it, in that oh-so familiar MSFS font…

Oil Platform Simulator

Brushing gypsy cream crumbs from my Battles of Lord Cardigan cardigan, I flipped the box over and read the blurb.

“Oil is the black gold that runs our economy, yet is rapidly decreasing in supply. Large conglomerates are scouring the world hunting for elusive pockets of oil. Join the hunt…”

“A wide range of missions, puts you in control of operations. After locating your drilling site you must use heavy cargo ships to transport the components of your platform for assembly…”

“To maintain profitability against your competitors a wise operator will also regularly modernise the whole drilling enterprise… ”

“only the most skilful engineer and enterprising entrepreneur can drill into the deep, striking black gold and fuelling a successful career in oil exploration”

Hmm. Some questionable phrasing, but rig assembly… exploration… competiton… it all sounded worryingly engaging. Had Harry sold me a pup?

I had the answer within thirty minutes of rubber-stamping the EULA.

Oil Platform Simulator is accidentally rubbing iron filing into your eyes. Oil Platform Simulator is that seat at the back of a transatlantic 747. The one next to the toilets that doesn’t recline. Oil Platform Simulator is WeddingTV.  Oil Platform Simulator is the look in the pharmacist’s eyes when she hands you the Anusol. Oil Platform Simulator is being stuck in a lift with Oil Platform Simulator. Oil Platform Simulator is…

THE WORST SIMULATOR IN THE WORLD*

*subject to IASA verification

The blurb writer had lied. There is no exploration, entrepreneurship, or competition. Rig assembly consists of craning a platform from a ship onto a pedestal. It takes less than a minute, and like every other activity in this offshore abomination, involves nothing that even faintly resembles physics.

The wretched Oil Platform simmer spends 80% of his or her time using the UP cursor to chug lifeless, ugly ‘ships’ across the lifeless, ugly stretch of ocean that separates a lifeless, ugly port from a lifeless, ugly oil field. Sometimes the ships carry platforms, sometimes spare parts, or oil. There is no bridge view, no tricky manoeuvring at departure points or destinations to relieve the weapons-grade tedium. Get within x metres of a dock or platform and a ‘Do you want to berth?’ dialogue pops up. When you answer wearily in the affirmative your ship jumps instantly to its moorings.

As Brenda Thwaite argued in her excellent paper ‘The Big Rigs Effect’ even the worst sim can gain some worth through entertaining bugs or prang possibilities. It was with a thumping heart and a beaded brow that I began phase 3 of the standard IASA test: crash scrutiny. What would happen if I steered a supply vessel into the flank of a fully loaded tanker?

Happily, my fears of splodes and slicks proved unfounded. Seconds before prow met plating, a “Dangerous! Be careful!” message appeared and the suicidal supply ship was stopped in its tracks and moved to a safe distance. In their single-minded pursuit of unfun, the devs had thought of everything.

What’s the worst aspect of The Worst Simulator In The World? I suspect that’s a question sim academics will be debating for years to come. For my money – all 80 guineas of it – it’s a dead heat between…

-The Drilling ‘Mini-Game’

Press D, DOWN, UP, then A! Congratulations, you’ve successfully drilled for oil.

-The Audio

All ships sound like they’re powered by the same 5hp outboard.

-The Visuals

Why is it they look nothing like this?

-And The Price

The thought that some curious simmer, well-meaning parent, or aspiring roughneck might pay as much as £25 for this atrocity, causes me physical pain.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

FP is contemplating a round-the-world flight. The eight airports he’d like to visit are illustrated above. Plan an itinerary that starts and ends in England and involves no eastward legs.

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33 Comments »

  1. Tretiak says:

    I played 101 in 1999. Great game. Shame about the sequel…

  2. Premium User Badge

    Tybalt says:

    Well the second in the bottom row must be Ulaanbaatars Chinggis Khaan International Airport(offical spelling!), so I take it Mongolia is one of your stops?

    • deejayem says:

      Napoleon airport is on Corsica – presumably one of the last stops if we can’t travel east.

    • Premium User Badge

      Shar_ds says:

      Bottom Right – Da Vinci airport in Rome?

    • Premium User Badge

      Tybalt says:

      Although there are also Napoleon Airports in Michigan and North Dakota(USA), which would put it earlier on the trip.
      Edit: ‘Cause that would be the sneaky(flare) path to take

    • Premium User Badge

      Man Raised by Puffins says:

      The screenshot above Genghis appears to be a phalanx from Alexander: Total War, suggesting Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje is one of the stops.

    • Premium User Badge

      Tybalt says:

      Oh, and that Total War Screenshot is I think from the Alexander expansion to Rome, which places you in Skopje in FYROM at the Great Airport.

    • Persona Jet Rev says:

      I believe the person in top most left position is Chuck Yeager (image is from Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat IIRC), so that would be Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia?

    • hakhno says:

      #7 is an image of Canadian WW1 ace Billy Bishop (from Red Baron), so the airport is either Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) or Owen Sound Billy Bishop Regional Airport (YOS).

      #5 is probably Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW) (‘yjnie’ seems to be part of a Polish word, and the image is of a pianist.) No idea on where the image is from, mind.

      #2 could also be Port Alexander Seaplane Base, Alaska (PTD) or Alexander Municipal Airport, Belen, New Mexico (FAA code E80), if we’re going down the sneaky route.

    • SamC says:

      The fact that Genghis Khan International Airport exists (in Mongolia, natch!) makes me giggle.

    • westyfield says:

      Man, I thought the bottom left one was a dude sat at a sushi bar.

    • Tim Stone says:

      hakhno gets this week’s ILS-equipped FP flair point for tumbling Warsaw Chopin and Billy Bishop Toronto. Tybalt, deejayem, Shar_ds, Man Raised by Puffins and Persona Jet Rev put in solid support performances correctly identifying Chinggiss Khaan (Ulaanbataar), Napoleon (Corsica), Da Vinci (Rome), Alexander (Skopje), and Chuck Yeager (Charleston). I’m suprised the airport to Boney’s left hasn’t been named. That was one I was sher wood be got quickly.

    • Premium User Badge

      Tybalt says:

      With that subtle hint given I’ll guess Robin AHood irport in Doncaster Sheffield as your starting point?
      Or final destination? Or both? I take it the screenshot is from the classic Robin Hood Adventure game?
      So Anyways from England to Toronto, then mostly south but a little west, i think, to do the Charleston, then on to Ulaanbaataar on looong flight, then Skopje, also looooong, then mostly north but a little west to Warsaw, then Rome, then Corsica and then back to Doncaster? Cutting it tight with both Toronto- Charleston and Skopje-Warsaw on the no eastern flights.

  3. King Toko says:

    I remember playing 101: The Airborne Invasion of Normandy years ago and failing badly at it. Either it’s a really hard game or I was rubbish. Most of the time my men didn’t even land with their equipment. I guess it is realistic. It was a great game.

    The sequel would of been the exact same game as the original but focusing on the The 82nd Airborne In Normandy so surely it would be easy to mod the original? The 82nd Airborne probably would of been good.

  4. The Tupper says:

    A round the world flight – sounds great. Anybody know if it’s possible to do it in a Cessna 128 with full realism settings setting out from a UK latitude?

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      Well, there’s one way to find out.

      Does anyone here know how to hotwire a Cessna 128?

    • darkmouse20001 says:

      I do Snuffy – tell you what, I’ll start her up for you and then hop out – theres a hell of a lot of water just West of here, especially with only one engine and about 3 hours endurance – but I reckon you’ll be lucky. Do it!

    • Zenicetus says:

      Sure, lots of people have done it in light single engine planes. Check out this site:

      http://www.earthrounders.com/

      If you want to try it on a computer, just pick up X-Plane or FSX and plan the route. Actually, planning the route is the fun part — figuring out fuel endurance, typical wind speeds and directions at time of year, etc. The actual flying is tedious as hell, but there’s always time compression.

    • The Tupper says:

      I’ve had all versions of FS since the 80s but have never gone further than from Scotland to France in one sitting. I’ll see if Mrs The Tupper is willing to be flight attendant with the pretzels and the adult nappies.

      Edit: Btw, Earthrounders is (are) awesome.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Man Raised by Puffins says:

    Press D, DOWN, UP, then A! Congratulations, you’ve successfully drilled for oil.

    Ouch, even The Oil Blue is more involved than that and that’s a blimin puzzle game.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Mechanicus_ says:

    I am shocked and appalled this Flare Path did not mention the recently announced English Channel map for Rise of Flight, and the 1917 Felixstowe F2 seaplane you will tool around in while hunting U-boots.

    • Zenicetus says:

      I’m really looking forward to the new Channel map. Although, it’s a little disappointing that the initial release doesn’t mention Zeppelins. At least the groundwork is there now, for adding them later on. I’ll probably go ahead and pre-order the map and the new seaplanes to show support (and because the prices are slightly lower as pre-orders). Hunting U-Boats sounds like fun.

      Here’s the RoF blog page with info about the new developments:
      http://riseofflight.com/Blogs/default.aspx

    • Tim Stone says:

      Shock and appall duly noted. I’ll definitely be covering this stuff in a future column.

  7. Easy says:

    God, the FP and Cardboard Children have two be my preferred columns on RPS. I am so glad they exist. Is something wrong with me?

    • BooleanBob says:

      Nope! Not unless there’s something wrong with me, too. The paragraph beginning ‘Oil Platform Simulator is accidentally rubbing iron filing into your eyes’ is the funniest thing I’ve read this year.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Thanks chaps!

    • The Tupper says:

      Agreed. Columns like this and Cardboard Children give RPS a truly distinctive feel.

    • wodin says:

      My favorite to RPS sections aswell.

      They also blamed someone from Boku when the person from Boku announced to everyone what a bad state the game was in. He was obviously right despite Shrapnel declaring foul play.

    • Anonymousse says:

      Get a room you circle-jerkers!

  8. One Pigeon says:

    Wow, I had completely forgotten I own 101 on CD and have just dug it out of my ‘forgotten games’ pile.

    My abiding memories of this game were hours of setup followed by immense tension and frustration as my best soliders and those with the key items for the mission (such as explosives to destroy a bridge) were either blown off course or killing during landing. I believe I completed only one mission after many attempts.

  9. Zenicetus says:

    I dunno… “Worst Simulator in the World” covers a lot of ground. This one doesn’t sound like it measures up to the classic worst sims that have come down the pike. This one just isn’t trying very hard, to begin with.

    I think that for a sim to be truly terrible, it has to aim very high, and then massively fail to reach what it was aiming for, due to too-early release or just incompetent programming. Like Silent Hunter 5, or my personal worst sim candidate: Flight of the Intruder. Just oversimplifying a complex situation doesn’t count.

  10. PleasingFungus says:

    For me, the pre-order price for All-American displays a $55.

    I could buy Crusader Kings II for that price, and have change left over a good meal or half a dozen indie bundles. I could buy multiple Railworks DLC for that price! For a game that is later than Duke Nukem Forever, and even less likely to ever come out than that was.

    Amazing.

  11. Megadyptes says:

    I think I have a 101 CD about somewhere but I don’t think I ever got around to playing it. I wonder if I can get it working on W7.