The Flare Path: Not Loitering, Reconnoitring

By Tim Stone on November 2nd, 2012 at 2:01 pm.

Yes 'stubby red chinagraph pencil' is a euphemism.

Could those ruts in a pasture north of Saint-Lô have been made by an experimental Patton’s Best-inspired PC wargame? Might those scorch marks on the runway at Oberammergau indicate that a spiritual successor to Over the Reich is finally on the way? Is that newly-laid narrow-gauge railway line near Arras evidence of an imminent WWI logistics game? FP spends a fair portion of his working life hunched over recon photographs searching for signs of exciting work-in-progress war-fare. His stubby red chinagraph pencil is always close at hand, but recently he’s had precious few opportunities to use it.

The lack of hexes and NATO symbology in the last month’s Flare Paths isn’t entirely accidental. While there’s the odd eye-catching project on the horizon, and a few promising if conceptually conservative prospects a little closer at hand, when this old warhorse contemplates the next few months of wargame releases, his head drops a little and his withers wither.

No offence to the industrious folk at CSO Simtek that have doubtless poured months of blood, sweat, and tears into Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog, but after, what is it – ten, CC releases – I suspect I need something more than strat map interdiction, foggier fog, and better modelled mortars, to rekindle my interest in Atomic’s top-down squad tactics legend. A less familiar setting would have been a good start. Returning to Normandy for the third time, when the series has never – outside of mods – toured North Africa, Italy, or the Pacific – feels like a Maus-sized missed opportunity.

The person that cobbled together the recent official teaser video, seems almost as excited as I am.

Against this backdrop of inactivity and caution, the news that Armored Brigade - a fine free alternative to Close Combat – will soon be acquiring civilians seems like A Fairly Big Deal. Just a couple of weeks after I patted eSim on the turret for introducing non-combatants to Steel Beasts Pro PE, Finnish coder Juha Kellokoski has announced AB skirmishers will now have to deal with the fact that that far away smoke-shrouded AFV trundling down the highway towards friendly positions might actually be a bus or ice-cream van, and those forest-huddling mechanized infantrymen innocent mushroom pickers/refugees.

In Juha’s own words:

“The main reason why I started doing this is that now you have to identify any hostile units before you can engage them. So for example you have to get within 1 km (or even much closer, depending on visibility) of enemy infantry units. You just cannot start shelling anything that you see moving miles away. That should make good reconnaissance more crucial, because you have the advantage if you can identify the enemy before they reach the main body of your forces. The “civilian/neutral” units work as decoys, so you cannot be sure which contacts are hostile. They are heavily abstracted, but still use the same LOS/spotting rules as other units. Most of this is implemented already, but it needs to be tested and tweaked to see if it works in practice, so don’t get too excited yet :) Anyway, it’s very interesting to see how it turns out, as it’s very rare to see this aspect simulated in tactical level games. It can be a real game-changer especially around densely populated areas, where most of the civilian units can be found.”

In these times of famine, even a tweet from Sean O’Connor mentioning an iPad conversion of Close Combat’s closest and most capable competitor, Firefight, seems like a reason to break out the looted Dom Pérignon, especially when there’s every chance improvements will eventually find their way back into the PC version via an update:

“I’m making really good progress… All of the AI is totally re-written and infantry will now do things like take cover in trenches or in folds in the ground and pop up and take quick shots at the enemy. The graphics are all being completely re-done too and are looking pretty stunning. I’ll get some screenshots up soon! Hopefully it’ll all be finished before the end of the year.”

The strangest story in wargaming this week, has to be the sudden departure of wargamer.com’s Editor-in-chief Curtis Szmania. Plainly dismayed at the manner of his dismissal/forced resignation, Curtis didn’t so much fire a parting shot at the ‘covert group’ he claims engineered his downfall, as unleash a thunderous pre-Normandy Landings-style broadside.

The melodramatic tirade, swiftly replaced on the site’s forum by a terse “Curtis has moved on and we wish him luck on his future endeavors”, is crammed with self-congratulation and florid phrases, but, as someone who’s been frequenting Wargamer.com for many many years, elements of it do ring true. Under Mr. Szmania’s passionate/eccentric leadership there’s no denying the site did seem endowed with a new energy – its horizons did noticeably broaden. FP will be interested to see whether the scope and impartiality of the recent content is maintained over the coming months.

And talking of impartiality, in the light of recent hoo-hahs I thought it might be healthy to introduce a new occasional FP feature…

Ethics Evasion

…in which I, a writeraboutgames, get you,  a readeraboutgames, to solve one of the thorny ethical dilemmas that drops into my lap almost daily. This week I’ve been sent an unsolicited freebie by a developer whose work I admire and whose motivations I have no reason to question. The dev makes it very clear the gift – a Steam code for his game – can be passed on, but as everyone I know already owns the title in question, I’m left in a bit of a quandary. Do I…

A) Return the code with a polite “Thanks, but I’ve no use for this.”?

B) Return the code with a gruff “By sending me presents, you’re putting me in a potentially embarrassing position. Please refrain from this kind of behaviour in future.”?

C) Offer the game as a prize in next week’s Foxer (Sorry, foxered-out this week) knowing that the developer will gain valuable free publicity as a result?

D) Sell the game and send the proceeds to al-Qaeda or Geoff Keighley? (Please specify)

 

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35 Comments »

  1. BobbyDylan says:

    Close Combat was a blast for me. I still sometimes play it.

    • Lord Byte says:

      You are not alone my friend. Both A bridge too far and The Russian Front get regular playtime from me. Like once a year I will play either for a campaign or so.
      Though A Bridge too far is getting too easy really, and boosting the enemy up to ridiculous levels and my units to soft-bellied pansies just feels wrong, yeah I’ll “lose” but it doesn’t feel satisfying when every stray shot breaks some unit’s morale.
      CC3 seems more “random”, there’s always one front that deteriorates and a real blast to pull back from the brink.

      • Vinraith says:

        The AI in Matrix’s remakes is a significant step up from the old AI. That combined with the broader strategic campaign options, fleshed out orders of battle, and general plethora of new options and maps has done wonders for the series IMO. I loved A Bridge Too Far back in the day, but I wouldn’t go back to it after having played Close Combat: Last Stand Arnhem.

  2. SocraticIrony says:

    Your under no obligation to use it in a competition, they’ve just stated you may “pass it on”. Are you sure everyone you know who’d be interested already has it? What about friends of other RPS writers?

  3. Shiloh says:

    Definitely (c).

    Anyway… I’ve clearly been out of the hex ‘n’ counter club too long – reading Curtis Szmania’s tearful Jeremiad, my only thought was “what competitor website beginning with “G” is he referring to?”

    • wodin says:

      Think of an old term for booze, then whats on the top of peoples necks. The whole thing stinks..and I know I’ve been vilified and slandered by the very same group. Though they had enough people on their side and are great at manipulation you can’t win against them and they then make you out to be madder than a mad hatter because you dare pull them out on a forum.

      I’ve asked people to veto that particular wargame site on my FB page and have cancelled my likes. Even though I’d suffered at their hands I still had the site liked…but after this..no chance.

      • Shiloh says:

        “Grogheads”? OK yes, I see it is. Rubbish name, whatever the merits of the site/group.

        I’ve certainly learned something today, I never knew there were factions among the grognards. Like I say, I’ve clearly been away too long.

          • pertusaria says:

            I’ve had that set as my wallpaper since it was posted. :-)

            Thanks, Flarepath, for a brief moment of nostalgia for chinagraph pencils – my dad used to have some lying around, quite possibly left over from image analysis in Vietnam now that I think about it.

            No idea what you should do with the game – maybe either get someone to put it on the “Kindness Club” thread for you, or create a dummy account (although that’d be a bit obvious now that you’ve posted about it) and do it yourself? There’s no advertising and someone gets to enjoy the game.

            I’m not really against using it as a Foxer reward, except that you probably don’t want to build up an expectation of having physical / digital rewards for Foxers, and it might be difficult if two people get lots of right answers.

  4. Brun says:

    The obvious answer is C. So obvious in fact, that it makes me think that you might already have said Steam Code and are giving us a preview of next week. Better be another “identify the airplane” Foxer!

  5. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    A hybrid of c and d. Make it the prize for next week’s foxer, but be sure to invite Al-Qaeda in for the fun.

  6. pepper says:

    D, al-Qaeda. What else!

  7. MrMud says:

    I am opposed to C.

  8. Lanfranc says:

    Sell the game, but spend the money on gin (or your spirit of choice). Drink the gin. The combination of inebriation, hindsight and remorse will then make it much clearer what you should have done with the game.

  9. Cooper says:

    E) Leave up to the fates of a benevolent lottery:
    Go to:
    http://www.steamgifts.com
    And put the game up for grabs, limiting it to members of the Rock, Paper, Shotgun Steam group?

  10. Snuffy the Evil says:

    Cut out the middleman and just send the game to al-Qaeda.

  11. Skabooga says:

    Well, assuming you have already reviewed the game or have no interest in reviewing it, I’d say A, but I have no ethical qualms with C either.

  12. wodin says:

    I mentioned on my FB wargame page it was a quite time..I’ve started looking at boardgames again.

    As for Curtis, well it doesn’t surprise me in the least. SO sad a man had to leave his Job just before Xmas because of this “group of wargamers”. A certain section are a cyst like growth on the community and it’s a sad state of affairs. I’ve experienced it myself but no where near as bad as poor Curtis.Anyone who takes on the wargamer site will have astruggle..though I expect this has blown up far more than this “group” wanted it to so maybe they will keep low from now on, who konws. Finally people are aware it isn’t a figment of paranoid rantings, this group does exist and they aren’t that pleasant surrounded by sycophants aswell.

    Anyway good luck getting a job Curtis.

  13. The Army of None says:

    C, but check with the developer if this is ok first!

  14. Matchstick says:

    I’d go with C, but to prevent any allegations of free publicity and impropriety , make no mention on the page of what game is and ban the winner from talking about it in the comments.

    • Llewyn says:

      Excellent idea, and if it turns out that the winner already has said game they must also do a giveaway contest on exactly the same terms, until such time as the game is won by someone who doesn’t already own it.

    • Lacero says:

      This is perfect

    • grundus says:

      This is what should happen.

  15. Vinraith says:

    My understanding of the consensus around here is that, by having even been offered the game, you are irreversibly corrupted and must immediately retire from games journalism.

  16. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    Regarding adding civilians to Armored Brigade — I’ve never played the game myself, but from the web site it looks like its setting is the classic Russian-tanks-pouring-through-the-Fulda-Gap World War III scenario.

    Given that, would it really be the case that “you just cannot start shelling anything that you see moving miles away” just because some of those things you see might have civilians in them? I mean, it’s World War III, not a UN peacekeeping operation. This is a scenario that’s always been full of land mines and heavy artillery and tactical nukes — a scenario, in other words, that’s taken massive civilian casualties as a given.

    So would a commander in that scenario really do something other than shoot first and ask questions later? Who’d want to be the general who had to tell the NATO leaders “sorry I didn’t stop the Russians from breaching our defensive line, I held my fire for a while just in case their tank column was actually a column of ice cream trucks”? And if you were the general who did stop the Russians, would they knock a few miles off your victory parade because you destroyed some ice cream trucks in the process?

    I’m not saying I agree with the idea of stop-the-enemy-and-damn-the-collateral-damage. It just feels weird to drop it into a World War III scenario. It doesn’t fit the idea of a desperate, last-ditch battle. People with their backs to the wall don’t think like that.

    • Veitikka says:

      Maybe it wasn’t so well worded, as English isn’t my native language. Anyway, it’s an optional feature that can be adjusted, and currently there’s nothing in the game that prevents you from shelling the “civilians” with artillery. I prefer to call them “neutrals”, as they can represent friendly military units too.

      • Jason Lefkowitz says:

        Thanks for the clarification, I appreciate it! Avoiding “friendly fire” does seem like something that fits the scenario, so it helped me understand better where you are coming from.

        Random thought for you: One way to integrate civilians into a WW3-in-Europe scenario that I’ve never really seen explored well would be as refugees. NATO spent a lot of time worrying about how it was very likely that massive flows of refugee civilians away from the battle zones would clog roads, slow unit movement and disrupt supply flow. It’d be interesting to play a game where that was a factor.

  17. Baines says:

    For Ethics Evasion, how about send the query itself back to the developer, asking what you should ethically do with the gift?

    Though, to be fair, the developer isn’t necessarily at fault. He presumably isn’t trying to sway a positive opinion as much as he’s trying to get coverage. You need the game to cover the game, after all. People are probably told to give out copies of games to potential reviewers. I know many of the “tips to succeed for a small/indie developer” article include it as advice to get your game noticed (and failing to take advantage of that tactic can leave even a decent small game in obscurity.)

  18. jimbobjunior says:

    Convert the steam code to binary and use the resulting strings of 1s and 0s as the answers for a dastardly lossword.

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