The Flare Path: Cod Wars

By Tim Stone on March 23rd, 2012 at 1:21 pm.

People of Argentina, people of Britain, for the past week The Flare Path Strategic Studies Institute has been conducting detailed simulations of a possible Second Falklands War. Using Custer II – an engine built with the assistance of Bohemia Interactive, Battlefront.com, Turbo Tape Games and PopCap – we’ve run over 1000 separate conflict scenarios. Of these, 54% ended in stalemate, 19% were won by the defence industry, 12% by TV news networks, 8% by politicians, 5% by oil companies and 2% by anthropomorphic sunflowers. The FPSSI boffins are still analysing defeat data, but preliminary findings indicate that the biggest losers in any future Falklands bust-up would be hapless civilians, and servicemen and their families.

 

Midnight In The Kelp Forest

When Turbo Tape Games aren’t busy updating Custer II’s weapons database, they’re usually to be found sea-ottering away on their own wet warfare sim. Naval War: Arctic Circle is a game that teaches you to be afraid of little crimson arrows. I know this because I spent yesterday being afraid of little crimson arrows.

The arrows represent incoming projectiles like Shipwrecks, Kayaks and Kedges, and are at their most alarming when you can’t see the cagey Cupids that dispensed them. Like its great-grandfather, NWAC is a wargame built around an intriguing and very real dilemma: in contemporary naval confrontations finding your enemy often means activating the sensors that allow your enemy to find you. The devs have described it as like two torch-equipped men hunting each other at night in a forest.

On this occasion the forest is a rectangle of brine that stretches from the Barents and the Baltic in the east to Canada in the west. It’s 2030 and what starts as a tiff over fishing rights between Russia and a slimmed-down NATO, rapidly descends into missile cruisers at twenty-thousand paces. The speed with which push turns to shove is matched by the speed with which the game transforms you from clueless landlubber to waypoint-scattering Norwegian vice-admiral. Four tutorials tear through the basics of unit movement, sub hunting, and air operations. Before you know it you’re dunking sonar buoys and directing naval strikes like you’ve been doing it all your life.

Paradox productions don’t come much more approachable or ergonomic than this. Though I’m hoping there’s still time to add a dedicated sensor tutorial, and a map mode showing sensor coverage (I’m still unsure of the advantages and disadvantages of the various manually toggleable radar and sonar systems, and confused as to how weather and land masses effect detection) I’ve yet to stumble over any carelessly coiled GUI hawsers, or find myself trawling the manual in search of halibut answers. While facing challenges that have included a Russian invasion of Iceland, and an attempted enemy sub breakout through the GIUK Gap, the only head-scratching I’ve done has been tactical head-scratching.

After a long spell of on-shore wargaming, the conundrums in NWAC feel sea-breeze fresh. My last engagement ended with a situation that has no direct parallels in Combat Mission or Command Ops. I was attempting to gain air superiority over Norway and, through careless sortie scheduling, managed to wind-up with 80% of my Gripens on the ground re-arming and refuelling at the same time. With my tireless AWACS planes tracking waves of incoming MiGs and Sukhois, there was nothing I could do but curse my own short-sightedness as the ‘ready to launch’ clock ticked painfully slowly towards zero. The first of the replenished fighters were just hauling themselves back into the fight when the volley of tiny crimson arrows pounded their unprotected airbase into oblivion.

If the first half-dozen NATO missions are any guide then the two 12 episode campaigns should be entertaining affairs. The life-or-death seriousness of the battle choreography is nicely offset by spiky inter-mission exchanges between your character and an ex-naval academy ‘pal’; the deteriorating situation plausibly relayed by newspaper front pages. As a paid-up member of the Campaign For More Imaginative Wargame Campaigns Campaign I was disappointed to find scenarios arranged in a rigid line-astern formation, especially as failures seem to prevent any form of progress. Turbo Tape, is it too late for you to add a dash of unit carry-over or pre-battle purchasing to your story sequences?

Are American and Chinese forces likely to be added to the bulging unit database via a future add-on or sequel? Will we ever get a scenario editor or skirmish generator? Is there any possibility the engine could be adapted for use in the PC’s first strategic simulation of the U-boat War?… Come to think of it, there’s a lot of things I’d like to ask the developers of this refreshingly stealthy maritime mayhem simulator. Keep your Thales MRR 3D dishes pointed in this direction. An interview is almost certainly incoming.

 

Warning. This Demo May Contain Demo Charges

There’s a chance – albeit a small one – that Wot I Think of Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy Commonwealth Forces won’t be wot you think. For this reason, I urge you to play the new CMBN demo. Augmented with a lively Scots and Poles vs. Waffen SS ding-dong, the 570MB taster does an excellent job of conveying the current state of CMx2.

^This is me contemplating the intricate orchard-clogged map and wondering how on earth my scratch band of weary SS remnants are going to keep the central east-west highway open for their retreating comrades.

^This is me umming and ahhing about the positioning of my one artillery piece.

^This is a couple of Allied armoured cars regretting a turn into Stielhandgranate Avenue.

^This is me screaming at my schreck team to “Stop shaking, and start shooting!”

^This is my Jagdpanzer cooking the goose of the world’s deafest and least observant Cromwell tank.

^This is my Tiger culling cocky armoured cars whilest praying none of the houses in this street are occupied by Mr and Mrs. PIAT.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

FP is thinking of buying an automobile. There are eight models currently on his shortlist. Can you name them?

 

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44 Comments »

  1. Vinraith says:

    An interview is almost certainly incoming.

    Good, because virtually every question you asked is a question I’d like answered. NWAC looks to have enormous potential, but I’m extremely disappointed to hear that it’s restricted to a linear campaign devoid of strategic context, and doesn’t even have a skirmish generator beyond that. This thing badly need a dynamic campaign system! Come to think of it, the lack of a dynamic campaign is exactly the reason I’ve never really put any time into Combat Mission (but have been completely preoccupied of late by Close Combat remakes).

    • Caleb367 says:

      ^ This. In these kind of games, dynamic campaigns, veterancy and carry-overs are a must-have. That’s (imho) precisely what made Steel Panthers World at War great back in its day – and it can have a pretty heavy impact on gameplay too. As in, a single disconnected scenario may prompt you to throw everything you’ve got to secure victory, disregarding losses. A scenario connected to a campaign will need you to be more careful, as heavy losses now may very well mean you’re stuck with too few, too green units the next one (Wargame European Escalation got that right: its first scenarios made me throw away recklessly my tanks, misusing my infantry and underestimating recon. Yes, I did win those, but then I found myself having to stop a massive armored assault having squandered my resources, or in other terms, thirty T-62 tanks rolling towards my defensive line of twenty Foreign Legionnaires and two Leopard tanks. Never felt so utterly boned before.)

      • Wisq says:

        The one thing I would say is, for games with unit carry-over, I would appreciate some sort of indication as to how many losses they expected me to take versus how many I actually took.

        What always bugs me about these sorts of things is that I never know just how much I’m screwing myself (or not) until it’s too late. Either I’m thinking that my losses were completely acceptable and then finding that missions get harder and harder (with more and more losses) until I hit a wall, or I’m retrying a mission over and over to get absolutely minimal losses and then discovering after a few missions that I’ve nuked the difficulty curve and can breeze through the rest.

        Really, the above would be my argument against these sorts of things. Strict adherence to unit carry-over, to me, means a game where the odds are that you’re always on the path to either defeat or boredom.

        But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. What if they used reinforcements and unit reassignments as a way to flatten out the curve a little? If you’re below the curve, you get reinforcements. If you’re above the curve, you get some units reassigned out of your command (because you obviously don’t need them). But reinforcements generally won’t be enough to get you back to exactly the same strength, so you’ll be fighting a tougher battle and will need to do better to get back on (or above) the curve. And if you’re doing well, you’ll still be above the curve even without the handful of units they take away — but you’ll have to keep doing well, or else they’ll eventually whittle you back down to average strength.

        Bonus: It also acts as a grading system, since you can tell just how well or badly you did based on what gets added / removed from your fleet.

  2. Synesthesia says:

    Dunno if off topic, so feel free to delete if it gets out of hand.
    With respect: I’m an Argentinian, and quite confused by the situation. How do you Brits look at the falklands thing, and still having overseas colonies?

    • DogKiller says:

      I can only speak for myself and perhaps a few relatives, but I kind of see the Falklands population as British, rather as a colony, and they wish to stay British in nationality and sovereignty. That said, I hope we don’t see a war over it, because it’s kind of a small thing to start killing people over, despite what national and political pride seems to demand.

      • Unaco says:

        Ask the people there… Who do they want to be ‘ruled’ by? Answer: British.

        Case closed.

        Edit: Was meant to be in reply to OP. DogKiller says it pretty much.

        • Llewyn says:

          That’s an excessively simplistic view. The population of the Falklands is descended (almost?) entirely from British colonists, it’s not a ‘native’ population under British protection.

          • Unaco says:

            Why get any more complex? Why not look at it simply? What other complexities would you like to introduce to the situation?

          • Synesthesia says:

            this. The general feeling here is that it was a forced, absolutely assymetrical war fought during one of our most flimsy political periods, so the concept of nativity kinda wiggles a bit.
            That said, i hope there is absolutely no armed conflict with this.

    • Llewyn says:

      Any discussion of this will inevitably devolve into an argument about semantics (since I’ll assume that we’re all of good intentions) – what’s the difference between a colony and an overseas territory, and why does the overseas part matter, etc. However I am curious to know what you might feel is the difference between British occupation of the Falklands since 1833 and, say, Argentine occupation of Patagonia since 1870.

    • aldo_14 says:

      I think the majority view seems to be that, so long as the Islanders wish to be British, they should be defended (politically and/or militarily) as such.

      The whole having overseas colonies is, to me, somewhat of an anachronism; but personally I support the concept of self-determination so said colonies can determine whether they wish to be part of Britain, part of another, or wholly independent.

    • Prime says:

      Having just spent two fabulous weeks in the Falklands Islands you get the very strong impression that neither the British or the Argentinians are the ones who should have any say in the matter: the Islanders themselves, by a nigh-majority, want to remain British. The islands are British and should remain so for as long as the people who live there wish them to be.

      Ironically, Argentina had its chance to win over the population just prior to the ’82 war. Back then the British Government was doing a damn fine job of pushing the islands towards the Argentinians, and the Islanders might have welcomed an Argentine invitation to join with them with open arms…until someone in the Argentinian government got greedy and decided to take the islands by force.

      Personally I have no problems with the Argentine people; it’s the government as led by Christina Kirchner that is the entire problem. Her current bullying tactics are utterly deplorable – if the British public ever learn half of what that….woman….is already up to you can expect public opinion to turn sharply against Argentina.

    • mike2R says:

      I think there are two key points about the British attitude to the Falklands. Firstly, obviously, the legacy of the war. I won’t go into details, but I’m sure you can guess the kind of opinions that leads to – if not just find a story about the Falklands in the Sun or Mail.

      Secondly, and this is the bit I don’t think many Argentineans get, is the British attitude toward self determination. I suspect most Argentineans probably think that this is a fig-leaf, a convenient argument that is used because it suits us. And maybe it used to be so.

      But post-war British history was the history of retreat from Empire. Britain went from controlling a quarter of the globe to being a small island off Europe within a generation. Doing that leaves an impression on a country, and you can trace many aspects of Britain’s national character to this. Some of them – our willingness to get involved in far-flung military adventures – are not so admirable perhaps, but one of them is the deep internalisation of the right of self determination. That was why we gave up the Empire (in our own minds anyway), because we recognised that we had no right to rule countries against the will of the population.

      If you look at what is going on in Scotland, you can see how deeply this goes. There may be a bit of argument about ways and means, but there has never been any question that the top part of Britain can break away and go it alone if it so chooses. Anything else would be unthinkable.

      The Falklands have to be understood in this context if you want to understand British attitudes. With the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants wanting to be British, they are not seen as some colonial relic, but an island which has the absolute right under both law and ethics to remain part of Britain for as long as they choose.

      I suspect you thought that David Cameron’s recent accusation of Argentinean colonialism towards the Falklands was simply an insult, but actually it represents the majority opinion. Argentina, a colonial nation itself, wants to use some ancient (1833!) supposed claim that it supposedly inherited from Spain to annexe territory 500 km off its coast, against the settled will of the population. To the modern British mind that *is* colonialism. Defending the rights of those people not to be abused in this fashion is not.

      Even my mother, the most liberal minded peacenik who ever took out a subscription to the Guardian, can’t see what choice Britain has except to defend the Falklands. And if you can’t convince her you might as well give it up as a bad job…

    • Dozer says:

      No! We need the Falklands for… er… strategic… sheep… purposes.

    • Arkh says:

      I’m sorry Synesthesia, I’m no Brit but the Falklands War was not an asymmetrical conflict. Argentinian military led government tried to hid their economic sinking by inspiring a nationalism over falklands and invaded Falklands. The Brits kicked their asses out of the Island and what should happened as happens with any losing part of a conflict – Argentina should have lost their claim over Falklands.
      Now on the same situation, Cristina Kirchner is trying to hide their 18% inflation by inspiring nationalism and threatening to start a conflict with a population that doesn’t want to be of their nationality. I’m sorry, as a fellow south American, Cristina Kirchner sucks. (That said, the current president of my country and his predecessor sucked too)

    • Novack says:

      Im also from argentina, and find ridiculous and cumbersome to try to introduce this debate at an RPS post.

      I dont use to walk by the park asking random pedestrians what they think about the… chernobyl incident.

      And btw, I really, greatly appreciate the intelligent Tim Stone’s approach, with the conflict scenearios statistics. Nothing but the truth. And just there is where the topic should be left.

      • Synesthesia says:

        i wasnt trying to incite anything, i just love the readership of this page and i wanted to hear their opinions. Saludos!

    • bill says:

      I’d hope most people (in both countries) think it’s a minor irrelevant (except to the few people on the islands) issue, and that they’d resent the way politicians and press try to use it to stir up public opinion and draw attention away from real issues. But that’s just me.

      I’m British, and I think Argentina is a lovely country with lovely people. (and awesome barbecue!) So any return to stupid saber waving would be very saddening.

      Most people in the UK have no interest in the Falklands, unless it gets attacked or the rights of the people living there are abused. Hopefully all this silly rhetoric will pass and then we can actually build a good relationship between the two countries. Pretty sure that would be of a much bigger benefit for both involved than any possible gain of some sheep.

      (It’s sad really, because for years I’ve been telling people in japan that the dumb petty arguments about the sovereignty of small islands were mostly irrelevant and were being exploited by politicians for their own agenda – and that if they just moved past it it would be better for all involved. Now we are doing it too. sigh. )

    • Megadyptes says:

      As a British man I’m also quite confused by the situation. How do you Argies look at the Malvinas thing and your government claiming land inhabited by a people for generations who do not with to be part of your country, and who want the protection of the United Kingdom?

  3. Electricfox says:

    Looks like an Austin traveller down the bottom right there. Classic car :D

    • Smion says:

      I’d say it’s an Oldsmobile Special 66 Station Wagon, however, the image is cut off, so I can’t be sure.
      Top right is a Cadillac Eldorado however.

    • Tim Stone says:

      The points this week are made from Jaguar D-type wheel nuts.

      Llewyn’s Rovering eye spots the P5 (centre bottom) and the Triumph TR-3 (centre). He takes home a matching pair.

      Car-man mrpier gets a point for correctly identifying the VW Karmann Ghia (centre right).

      The Austintatious Electricfox names half of the wooden wonder in the bottom-right corner, and – as the FP adjudicator is feeling kind today – gets another point to add to his frankly obscene collection.

      Smion is less fortunate. That Cadillac Eldorado in the top-right isn’t actually a Cadillac Eldorado.

      The Pontiaccurate seanblah nabs a nut for naming the Club de Mer (top left).

  4. mrpier says:

    Middle right, Volkswagen Karman Ghia, a beautiful car.

    NWAC looks intriguing, especially since it takes place in local waters.

  5. DogKiller says:

    I’m surprised there’s no mention of Janes Fleet Command, as that’s what NWAC first reminds me of, especially some of the interface, with the ltitle 3d window at the bottom. I’ve been playing some Fleet Command of late. It’s definitely not as realistic as the many incarnations of Harpoon, but as an audio-visual experience in addition to naval strategy, it is quite compelling. You can get it very cheap on Steam.

    I’m slightly disappointed to hear that there’s apparently not many American ships in NWAC, even as a Brit, as there is something rather gratifying about the ridiculous destructive force an American carrier battlegroup has at its disposal.

    • mrpier says:

      American Navy is OP.

    • Mechanicus_ says:

      Given the game is set in 2030, are the new UK carrier(s) going to be modeled and/or playable? They’d be a relatively close stand in for a US flat top (cue endless grog-ing).

      • Havok9120 says:

        No need for grogging. Saying the two together make a good stand in for a single U.S. CVN is quite reasonable.

        Of course, NATO doctrine as of the early 90s was that if you’re going “up north” toward the Barents Sea, you need a group composed of 3-4 fleet/super carriers. Heck, we usually deploy our CVNs in pairs anyway, which is the ridiculousness DogKiller was referring to. One of those groups has more naval combat power than any other single country with the possible exception of our friends in Russia.

  6. Llewyn says:

    I’ll stake a claim to the Rover P5 (though I’ve always wanted the coupe). You can keep the Triumph TR3.

  7. heledir says:

    NWAC reminds me of Dangerous Waters. Hm, good times. I still can’t work with Russian sonar systems or the FFG, but if NWAC even approaches the depth (hee hee) that DW had, then I’ll buy it.

    Also as far as I can tell, there are American ships in it. One of the screenshots on their site has a Ticonderoga in it.

    • Havok9120 says:

      I’ve purposely not kept up with it in order to keep myself from exploding during the wait, but my understanding is that the USN is fully modeled.

  8. seanblah12 says:

    karmann ghia

  9. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    It’s nice to see a cod piece from serious journalists.

  10. JanH says:

    Thank you for a very nice preview.

    The US Navy and air force are actually very well represented in the game. Maybe not too surprising, the US enters the campaigns towards the end, in force!

    I’m looking forward to talking more to you guys about the game in the near future.

  11. TheWhippetLord says:

    NWAC sets off my Harpoon twitch. I used to love smashing through the GIUK gap with massed Backfires and nuking Scotland in my wild and misspent youth.

    And in the game, obviously.

    • Caleb367 says:

      Those were the times… me, I remember turning some pesky Swedish patrol boats to with my beloved Nanuchka III missile boats (for the uninitiated, think a speedboat with a HUGE DAMN MISSILE LAUNCHER on it)

  12. FhnuZoag says:

    Man, those Shipwreck missiles seem like quite a thing – launched in a swarm, they fly hundreds of miles in formation, and when they arrive their automatically designate targets and attack en masse. That must be a sight to behold.

  13. JanH says:

    I was a huge fan of Harpoon back then, which is why this game exists. We indeed have Bakcfires and Shipwrecks (though the latter is mostly replaced by Kickbacks now, which are worse!). They are really, really fun to use.

  14. SamC says:

    Gah, why isn’t the Campaign For More Imaginative Wargame Campaigns Campaign a real thing. I mean, CFMIWCC just rolls off the tongue. But seriously, I support his 100%.

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