By Tim Stone on August 9th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.
My pal Warwick threw down the gauntlet last night. After a few pints of Spitfire in the White Hart in Henley, he bet me twenty quid I couldn’t sneak the names of twenty RAF aircraft into a single Flare Path intro. Being a hawkish fellow I was tempted to take his money, but, in the end, resisted his hectoring and declined the challenge. Flare Path takes its role of wargaming/simulation sentinel far too seriously to indulge in juvenile word stunts.
Beyond the break, I take a swift look at The Few (a valiant attempt at a two-layer Battle of Britain RTS) cause havoc with Automation’s just-unveiled car designer tool, and nervously scout Door Kickers’ latest batch of maps (many of which remind me of places I know in Lancaster, Halifax, Stirling, Sunderland, Stranraer, Bombay and Hyderabad).
This column usually gets behind good games, sidesteps awful ones, and approaches flawed curios like The Few from roughly two o’clock. Repetitive yet compelling, simplistic yet evocative, Black Moon Design’s latest is the sort of creation critical defeatists routinely describe as “strangely addictive”. A friendly combination of top-down drag-directed dogfighting, and hexy-but-turnless plotting-table squadron choreography and defence construction, my inner wargame snob loathes it, while my inner snack-partial wargame iconoclast can’t quite bring himself to stop playing.
The game’s unexpectedly time-consuming campaigns (I’ve been playing for several days and am only about halfway through my first) begin ahistorically with a bare Blighty map. Using cash generated by unscathed cities, you attempt to dot this empty hexgrid with the airbases, flak batteries, factories, and radars necessary for survival, while the tireless Luftwaffe do their utmost to trash your handiwork. Early on it’s often a nailbiting battle of attrition. Timing is everything. Facing an unscripted artificial opponent smart enough to use feints, and route bombers around areas of especially dense AAA, it’s vital your Hurricanes and Spitfires don’t get caught on the ground while refuelling and rearming, and a few of your airmen live long enough to build up the experience points necessary to compete against the best Bf-109s pilots.
What ultimately transforms The Few from supremely effective Spit to somewhat dodgy Defiant is the tactical flimsiness of its dogfight layer. Bombers have exploitable blindspots but there really isn’t much to do during triggered air battles except guide units towards foes, and ensure heavily damaged crates run for home. Without Achtung Spitfire!-style manoeuvre and damage granularity, or the hands-on exhilaration of a 1942-esque approach, furballs quickly become wearying and predictable. I’d have resorted to auto-resolving long ago if the method didn’t lead to alarming gaps in RAF ranks.
Bolted to a decent light flight sim, or a quality 2D shmup The Few’s sleek yet sinuous strat layer would, I suspect, be quite the thing. Even wedded to an extremely shallow sky skirmish RTS, as it is at present, it has to be worth the £PayWhatYouLike Black Moon are currently* asking.
*Offer ends in 24 hours.
For a mere $300 you could gain access to the Door Kickers source code, then use that code to create the WW2 house-clearing game you’ve always dreamed of making. Fame, fortune and effusive Flare Path coverage would inevitably follow. All that for a $300 outlay. What an incredible deal! Seriously, why are you still reading this?
Ah, you’ve only got $10 spare. No problem. The ‘Trooper’ deal is also bally attractive. Being able to play the latest version of KillHouse’s tip-top top-down tango take-down title means first-hand experience of great new features like strafing, the deployment screen, and ambient sounds.
Apartments, yards, and corridors that were once deathly silent (apart from the crackle of pistols, SMGs and ARs, natch) now echo to the sounds of unanswered phones, indifferent TVs, and expectant ambulance sirens. Exposed locations that were once ridiculously dangerous for the scuttling SWATist are now, thanks to improved reaction AI, and the ability to move in one direction while facing in another, just extremely dangerous. Watching a team porcupine its way down a door-lined corridor, before splitting-up to perform a perfectly synchronised two-door room breach (exploiting improved ‘go code’ functionality) is improbably satisfying.
The six new maps are all atmospheric, relatively spacious, and chock-a-block with tactical options. All they really lack right now is staircases, windows, unique foes, and rabid guard dogs/crocodiles. KillHouse are definitely working on the multi-storey structures; if I get round to a planned interview with the ex-Silent Hunter devs, I’ll ask them about the crocs.
I am a terrible car designer. The latest chunk of dazzlingly ambitious car industry sim, Automation to find its way into general circulation, is an early version of the car sculpting tool. It comes with three bodies that can be nipped and tucked, stretched and inflated, but not radically reshaped (Sadly, no fins, spoilers, soft-tops, or woodies just yet).
My plans to fashion a Tatra 603 will have to wait awhile, but in the meantime there’s plenty of fun to be had creating automobiles that scowl, snarl, grin, smirk, gawp and gape. Individual components like vents, headlights, and grilles can be positioned, reshaped, rotated, clustered and layered meaning giant wheeled colanders and huge mobile torches are theoretically possible.
Most of my creations so far look like the result of one-night-stands between Dacia Berlinas and Austin Allegros, but I think I’m slowly improving…
The Flare Path Foxer
The flint-sharp brain-chisels of Smion, Matchstick, Zephro, FuryLippedSquid, laddyman, and Ernesto gouged chunks out of last week’s Foxer but somehow failed to uncover the hidden wood ‘n’ carpentry theme. FP flair points made from Grade ‘B’ deathwatch shellac seem appropriate under the circumstances.
a) ‘Gimlet Goes Again’ by Biggles author Captain W. E. Johns.
b) The tail of a de Havilland Dove.
c) Logo of The Sealed Knot.
d) Miles M.20.
e) M249 ‘SAW’ light machine gun.
f) Statue of the prophet Habakkuk (a reference to Project Habakkuk).
g) Splinter-pattern camouflage.
h) SAI.207, like the Miles M.20, one of WW2’s wooden ‘emergency fighters‘.
No puzzle today because I want everyone to be daisy-fresh for the flock of foxy flummoxers coming next Friday!
Oh, go on then.
This psychotropic cipher has been cluttering up my occasional table* for a few months now. To win FP flair points made from rainbow stumps and pixie oil, just imagine you’re a sleep-starved RAF mosquito pilot, and tell me which of eight pictured war machines are friends, and which are foes.
*One of The Midnight Table’s 138 great-grandchildren.