The Flare Path: My Bloody Valentine

By Tim Stone on July 20th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

RPS likes to give the impression that it’s one big happy family, but believe me, behind the scenes you can’t move without tripping over a feud, a grudge, or a hefty hunk of personal enmity. Just this morning I pulled into the office car park and found the ‘the team’ bickering like battlefield vultures. It seems Mr. Grayson had parked his Ferdinand in the spot where Mr. Meer usually parks his KV-2 and when Mr. Rossignol intervened, Alec said something disparaging about Jim’s Tsar Tank. When the arriving Mr. Smith’s Tortoise ’accidentally’ crushed Mr. Walker’s T-27 tankette for the third time this month, the dispute really turned nasty.

I confess my first instinct was to take advantage of the smoke and confusion and put a couple of sly AP rounds into the flank of Rab Florence’s Covenanter, but something about the scene framed in the gunner’s scope of my spluttering Valentine (must get that carb looked at) caused me to remember I had more important work to do. I’d promised to contact 2×2 Games’ Tomislav Uzelac about Road to Berlin, a recently announced adjunct for one of RPS’ favourite wargames.

RPS: ‘Road to Berlin’? I assume the road in question is the one that enters Berlin from the east not the west?

Tomislav: Correct. Road to Berlin (working title) is an expansion for Unity of Command that follows the story of how the Red Army transformed itself after the harsh lessons of 1941 and 1942.

RPS: Why did you take this particular road, and not, say, the road to Paris, Cairo, or Rome?

Tomislav: It’s a period and theme that receives scant coverage in popular culture, and even then what you find usually revolves around German decision making. You may learn that attacking at Kursk was probably a bad idea for the Germans, or perhaps that an elastic defense would serve them better than hopelessly designating one ‘fortress’ city after another. What you won’t get very often is the story of how the Red Army matured, by encouraging initiative and boldness among its officer corps; and by perfecting the “deep operation” – essentially the Soviet variant of the Blitzkrieg.

The Soviet campaign in the base game already shows you how the RKKA is a powerful, but still rather blunt instrument of war in early 1943. Players often report this to be a frustrating experience (and that sounds about right to me). Later-war Soviets are much more proficient, but this is very much offset by Stavka’s ever growing ambition and an occasional sharp sting from the still dangerous Germans. If you’re worried that it gets too easy, don’t… this is Unity of Command, you will be tested.

As to why we didn’t travel further afield, Unity of Command was designed with the Eastern Front in mind, so the emphasis is on things like maneuver and supply. In the West, the fighting was different, much more multi-dimensional in nature. Airpower played a much bigger role and there was also an extensive naval component that included numerous amphibious operations.

I’d like us to go there, but I believe it requires a bit of a rethink first. There are far fewer units in the West, which means more attention will be paid to individual combat outcomes. For that, I’m thinking about adding more specialist slots and fleshing out combat resolution slightly. Some sort of Fog of War mechanic, combined with decent intelligence briefings, would probably be a good idea too.

RPS: Are you still travelling light, rule-wise?

Tomislav: Still light. There may be some minor rule changes, but only what’s necessary for the new scenarios to work. In fact, I’m holding off on making any changes before all of the planned scenarios are finished. Once we’ve played through everything we’ll sit down, figure out what’s the bare minimum needed, and put that into the game.

To give you some idea, one change we’re discussing is to limit theater assets per-game, not just per-turn. This would make the use of bridging asset slightly more challenging in addition to our main purpose which would be to limit the maximum supply burst in some very long scenarios.

RPS: Have you had any mechanical problems/punctures en-route?

Tomislav: We had to make much more map and I found myself amazed at how unbelievably huge this country is. I know, Russia is the largest country in the world, but still… I can now appreciate this a whole lot better. What made it even more difficult is that the terrain in the original game was in large part featureless steppe – I believe I put the first version of that map together in a day or so.

In contrast, it recently took me that long just to navigate the labyrinth of lakes, forests and swamps around Leningrad. Finishing the entire map should add up to (totally unforeseen) three weeks or so – which should count as a puncture if I’m still with you on the metaphor.

RPS: (Apologies for the metaphor, but as it cost me £20 I will be using it for at least the next 4 questions) Have you picked up any hitchhikers since UoC’s release, or is 2×2 still yourself (design, programming), Nenad (graphics) Ante (AI) and Bruno (sound)?

Tomislav: Indeed, we picked up some, and they’re helping out with the expansion. We were able to do this is a result of the moderate commercial success we’ve enjoyed, so many thanks to everyone who bought the game.

RPS: Will the Road to Berlin have gentler inclines than the road to Stalingrad?

Tomislav: We didn’t do any work on difficulty ramping for the original game, so already in the first scenario you’re dropped into that rather sketchy situation with the Germans at 2nd Kharkov. I agree this is perhaps unnecessarily cruel, but I don’t think we should be diluting the historical challenge for the sake of gameplay balance alone.

That said, I feel it’s OK to give an extra turn or two for ordinary victory in the early scenarios of a campaign. Also, we can do things with prestige and what you get in the force pool, and between these two I think we can make the difficulty smoother without messing with the scenarios.

RPS: What road atlases did you read before setting out?

Tomislav: John Erickson’s “Road to Berlin” for the narrative, and I also re-read Glantz’s “When Titans Clashed” which I believe is the definitive introduction to the conflict. Unfortunately, the relevant volume (VIII) of the German official histories for this period is not yet available in translation, so we’ll have to do without.

RPS: How far along the road to the Road to Berlin are you?

Tomislav: It’s coming along nicely. We’ll try to get it out the door in September or October this year if all goes well in the meantime.

RPS: Kübelwagen or jeep?

Tomislav: Undecided… or, let’s pick the “Villis”, just to be in keeping with the Soviet theme. But our favorite military vehicle of all time is of course the folding bicycle.

Interestingly, that photo looks remarkably like one of our MTB outings: men with facial hair lugging their bikes up a mountain. The Bersaglieri have better looking hats though, hands down.

RPS: Thank you for your time and your metaphor tolerance.

 

New Model Armies

Just across the road from my favourite Bordurian restaurant is a shabby little shop with a selection of stuffed owls in the window. To the lost tourist or the hurrying commuter, the place probably looks like an antiques emporium or taxidermy business. In fact, Savage & Son sell ideas. If you’ve got the cash, and Old Mr Savage likes the cut of your jib, a visit can be life-changing. Let me tell you about the last thing I bought from them.

I’d popped in for a shufti at the Computer Game Concepts section, and was grumbling about the lack of choice on the Simulation and Wargames shelf when Savage Senior suddenly raised an interjectory index finger. “Hold on a minute. We found something in the stockroom this morning that might be right up your street”. A few moments later he returned clutching a folder labelled ‘KitSim’. “It’s a peach Mr. Stone. Handled right, it could be Flight Simulator or RailWorks big.”

The old man’s optimism seemed preposterous, but after thirty minutes with the musty dossier I understood his enthusiasm. In a nutshell, KitSim is plastic kit building on your PC. The satisfaction of turning a stack of sprue-suspended parts into a finely detailed AFV, aircraft, ship or auto; the challenge of painting, weathering and decal-ing your creation then arranging it within a pleasing diorama… KitSim will delivers all these things.

As the ‘Potential Audience’ page pointed out, the contemporary wargamer/simmer has – at present – very few outlets for creativity. Yes, if patient and committed he/she can fashion fuselages, rolling stock, routes or scenarios for cherished software, but such activities tend to be fiddly and frustrating – a means to an end. KitSim will make the construction process fun, intuitive, and accessible. Elaborate facsimiles of favourite vehicles can be fashioned by anyone that can follow a build diagram, or – if you choose to use the part-position highlighter – wield a mouse with a modicum of skill.

Which isn’t to say there won’t be numerous opportunities for artistry and self-expression. While the virtual nature of KitSim will mean you don’t have to spend hours sanding and putty-filling poorly molded parts, producing subtle paint jobs with the virtual tools (airbrush, dry brush, smudger etc.) will inevitably require application. The KitSimmer that spends five minutes airbrushing their newly finished Tiger Tank all over with Dunkelgelb isn’t going to produce as eye-catching a result as the one that spends an afternoon carefully applying Zimmerit and mud spatters, and delicately dabbing rust pigments and silver scrapes in likely spots.

Our best wargames and sims generate stories on the fly. Through its powerful diorama builder KitSim will let you tell your own tales. Sculpt a base, add scenic decoration, position vehicles, figures, debris… no two models will be the same. If you choose to, you can even enhance your tableau with optional background sounds, particle effects and animations. Serenaded by a Normandy blackbird, a wary Firefly commander scans the horizon with his fieldglasses… Reassured by the wail of nearby Nebelwerfers, a dusty Fallschirmjäger takes an occasional drag on his cigarette… Surrounded by flak flowers and ragged stratocumulus, a ravaged B-17 gamely limps home…

The page of suggested business models was missing from the folder, but I’m naturally drawn to the Flight Simulator model: periodic base-sim releases, full open architecture. Users would be given the tools to produce everything from decals and ‘detail sets’, to diorama bases and complete kits.

Hopefully an MSFS-style mod scene would develop with a range of professional payware producers co-existing alongside a bustling community of amateur artisans. Give it a few years and the KitSimmer should have a staggering range of models to choose from. Can’t afford the latest Tamiya, Dragon or Wingnut Wings masterpiece? Not to worry, treat yourself to a digital equivalent at a fraction of the price.

KitSim, coming to Kickstarter page near you, soon*.

 

*Possibly.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Scientific tests have proven that staring at great model box-art can be just as exciting as playing great PC wargames and simulations. In case of powercuts FP keeps a collection of collages like this one…


…nearby at all times.

This week’s stash of Flare Path Flair Points (8, brass, photo-etched) will be distributed amongst the defoxers that correctly identify the subjects and makers of the depicted kits.

__________________

« | »

, , , , , .

32 Comments »

  1. johnki says:

    Man, I can’t believe I missed the chance to get Unity of Command on sale due to being distracted by Steam sales. Who knows when it’ll go on sale next. Damn wargames. :P

    Oh, did anyone ever try out Tigers Unleashed? Graphics be damned, is it any good?

    • DogKiller says:

      Stay as away as far as you can from Tigers Unleashed. I’ll hold my hand up and say I don’t own, only its predecessor Point of Attack 2, but I believe they effectively run on the same engine. I can only assume its something like being trapped in an abusive relationship. It’s engine is a game of bugs and things that don’t work properly and terrible support from the developer. Every so often I decide to reinstall it and give it one more chance, hoping that I won’t get one of those dreaded C++ errors, and just for a little while, it seems like it’s working, and all the problems were something you caused, and then you get an error, and the game crashes, and the error repeats every single time at the same moment when you load a save game.

      Eventually you remember that it’s a complete piece of buggy crap and realise that’s why you uninstalled it in the first place. I have no love for HPS games in general and I’ll be completely open about that. Even the Tiller games, which have no stability issues, hold the unique place of being the only games I’ve ever played with a user interface that causes me crippling pain the wrists, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to buy one that actually has scenarios with an AI opponent programmed. Not that it makes much difference, because the AI has the brains of somebody who has eaten lead paint chips all their life and just found out what a computer is.

      • johnki says:

        Obviously strong feelings aside, thanks for that. I had found literally just about nothing on it, and it’s nice to hear something at the very least.

        At $50, I don’t think I can pay for something that can’t even run as reliably as Sword of the Stars II.

        Oh, and are HPSSims games generally DRM-free? Just a question I meant to ask that has also held me off of any of their other titles for now.

        • DogKiller says:

          Some of them are. I think the plan is for all the games for sale on the HPS website to be DRM free at some point, which is commendable in this day and age of silly DRM schemes. They’re gradually removing the cd checks as they put more up for digital download, but even the original discs only had that check, and you could run it off a back up copy no problem. The newer Tiller games sold from a Tiller’s new website (No longer affiliated with HPS) do use DRM, though, and you have to activate them online. Part of my frustration with PoA2 and Tigers Unleashed stems from the fact that I really like the whole concept and extreme level of detail. I get the feeling, though, that HPS just bit off far too much than they could chew with the whole thing. It’s been God knows how many years since the original version of PoA2 came out, and the fact they still haven’t made it bug free speaks volumes. Updates are very touch and go, as well.

          As scathing as I am about Tiller’s game engine, it does at the very least work without crashes or bugs. I’d be much more sympathetic if they made some attempt to give it a proper user interface and better AI in the countless years they’ve been using it to make games with. I know they’re niche games, but there’s been plenty of other small-scale wargame projects that have managed to do both with games that have had a fraction of the development time. I think they’re kind of a Marmite thing, though, where you either love them or hate them.

          • johnki says:

            Yeah, I understand. I wish I could demo it, at least, but wargames and demos don’t usually go together.

            Thanks for the replies though. Again, I’m really glad to just hear something or other about it after the cursory glance at it in a previous Flare Path.

    • wodin says:

      I’ve helped extensively with tigers and there have been some amazing changes of late in the betas. It will become something quite fine, infact it’s very nearly there.

      The worst part really is large scenarios take a long time on high detail settings to run through.

      It’s hardcore game,well it’s not a game it’s a combat sim.

      The new map editor is nearly ready using ADC3 so you will be able to create your own lovely maps.

      The other major negative now most of the issues are sorted is the scenarios in game aren’t good at all. A selection of new ones will be released for free in a patch.

      Then we will be doing campaign disk..where force carry over and your commanders win medals and get promoted etc etc.

      Honestly Scott works week in week out on Tigers..though not many patches have been released loads of beta ones have. He has done some major reworking with the data tables which is going to make a huge difference in game. The code is so complex though it can take awhile to get things right. Expect a really big patch soonish.

  2. I am a paranoid troll says:

    Top Middle: EA-6B Prowler, Italleri.
    Down Middle: Mig-23 ML Flogger-G, Trumpeter

  3. cptgone says:

    a new Unity of Command game? Urrah!

  4. Matchstick says:

    Well finally I get at all of the images in a Foxer !!

    Left top is 1/48th Avia B-534 IV from Eduard

    Middle top is the 1/48th EA-6B Prowler from Italeri

    Right Top is 1/72nd Mil Mi-2US Gunship Variant from HobbyBoss

    Left Middle 1/430th Battleship HMS Vanguard from Hasegawa

    Middle Middle 1/35th Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf.D from Bronco (that took some finding)

    Bottom Left is 1/35th Allied Assault Monte Cassino 1944 From Dragon Models

    Bottom Middle is a 1/32nd Mikoyan Mig-23 ML Flogger G from Trumpeter

    Bottom Right is 1/35 Land Rover Defender XD ‘Wolf’ WMIK from HobbyBoss

    (I’m shocked at the lack of Airfix and Tamiya in the list!!!)

  5. I am a paranoid troll says:

    For the ship on the left I want to say it’s a King George V, but it doesn’t look exactly like one.

    • Turquoise Days says:

      I’m going to say a KGV with artistic license. The armour belt and superstructure look the same, but the front turret only seems to have two guns, whereas the KGV had 4. The funnels look different, too.

      The art style makes me say airfix, or whatever company that is these days.

      EDIT: Scratch that, Matchstick is quite right.

      • Matchstick says:

        I was a bit stumped by it at first as I assumed it was a WW2 model, but once I realised that it actually wasn’t then working out it was a Lion class battleship wasn’t too tricky and it was an easy jump from there to the model (mainly cos it was mentioned at the bottom of the page I found :) )

        • TC-27 says:

          Its HMS Vanguard – The Royal Navies last and most modern battleship that just missed WW2 service and was armed in an economy measure with 15inch guns and turrets from the old Revenge class battleships.

  6. Reapy says:

    Kit sim is interesting. I’ve often thought that what I really want to see is like a warhammer 40k style mini game on my PC that I can play over the interenet, except the graphic style is that of little painted plastic men on bases being pushed around a table, with dice being rolled to resolve things.

    I could see something like kitsim being integrated with a game like that for some pretty awesome results, results that would probably grab a very small audience :(

    • Mechanicus_ says:

      An interesting aspect to a game like that where the interactions are all kept deliberately simple is it would be fairly easy to allow players to create their own rules modifications, or even new rules – and if you were very clever about it you could use a Steam workshop like interface to present, rate and manage all of these little rules mods; Think the default cover system gives too much advantage to the defender? Download an alternative; want rules to add succubi to your gritty WW2 scenario? There’s 17 different addons available to do it etc…

    • Lordcrazy says:

      Kitsim is very much something I’d want to see. it would certainly make it easier for certain people to get into the tabletop scene especially if you have shaky hands which makes painting expensive and difficult on small models. It might also make table top gaming a bit cheaper, and less time consuming, though i do not have anything against anyone that spends a whole afternoon painting one or a few models.

  7. Mechanicus_ says:

    Great use of armour oddities in the first paragraph – poor Rab’s Covenator is unlikely to last long in that fight (if it’s engine can even keep running long enough to participate).

    I’m glad it sounds like Unity of Command at least did alright in sales, it seems like it’s really hard to get recognition for indie strategy games – as I recall UoC was even denied a Steam listing? Hard to imagine how Valve made that decision given some of the rubbish that gets on Steam.

    I would like to pose a question to the assembled Flar Path Commentariat – I stumbled across Tim’s old AAR on Close Combat A Bridge To Far, and now I am desperately tempted to buy the updated version from Matrix (CC Last Stand Arnhem), but the sight unseen £30 price tag has given me pause. As somebody who has never played any of the CC games, are those Matrix remakes a good place to start? Should I pick up the original on Amazon instead (will it work on Win7 64)? Do any of them even hold up nowadays?

    • DogKiller says:

      CC Last Stand Arnhem is good fun, but is definitely quite pricey. Also, be warned that it’s quite different and plays differently to the original CC2. It’s built off the Close Combat 5 engine, though I’m not sure how much it has been modified. If you want the same experience as Stone’s, you’ll probably want to get the original CC2, but I have no idea if you could get it to run on your system. The original CC2 would definitely still hold up today if you could get it to run, though. CC2 was the first wargame I ever bought and played, and I still hold it in high regard even when compared to stuff coming out these days.

  8. Wilson says:

    KitSim sounds awesome, I would love something like that. Building dioramas from individual models you’ve made and painted yourself would be fantastic.

  9. Alec Meer says:

    Man, I wish I had a KV-2. Those things are the shit.

  10. wodin says:

    Love the Tsar tank. Funny enough I’ve downloaded some pics of it recently. It has steampunk look I reckon.

  11. Skofnung says:

    More shoegaze references please. I’d uh… dive slow for that (????)

  12. Retro says:

    Err.. wasn’t Kitsim released as “3D Studio Max” already?

    • DogKiller says:

      The real fun (and headache) is with drawing the things with pencil, set square and paper… not that I can even begin to figure out how to make something with 3D software.

  13. DogKiller says:

    You can spot a Dragon model kit a mile away when it has a Ron Volstad illustration with the four figures on the front. I love that guy’s artwork.

  14. Bhazor says:

    Minature soldiers and no mention of Marwencol?

    For shame.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNKPEp6aEqQ

  15. Torgen says:

    Lovely dioramas, Tim. Thanks for sharing them. I gave up modeling/painting miniatures when my fine motor skills went to crap.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>