The Flare Path: Close Combats Mundanity

By Tim Stone on March 21st, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

It’s been another horribly humdrum week here in Simulatia. Since we last shared a screen, early access IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad owners have acquired a handsome new cloud cleaver, a blistering Top Gear track legend has been added to Cornetto Hoarser, yet another ursine sim pitch has shambled onto Kickstarter, and the FBI has inspected an FSX install in the hope of finding clues to the disappearance of 239 people. What’s a man supposed to write about in drab times like these?

How about PicaSim, a free RC aircraft sim with a flight model guaranteed to improve your heart’s lift-to-drag ratio.

The more virtual aluminium we wrap ourselves in, the more dials and knobs we distract ourselves
with, the less visceral, fluid, and flighty flight sim flight can feel. If you don’t believe me, spend an hour or two hurling featherweight model gliders off PicaSim’s gust-buffeted summits, or limboing motorised stunt planes under its clifftop crossbars.

Sporting a recently revamped FM that better represents aerodynamic subtleties like the impact of wing downwash on tails, the sim now comes with thirty boisterous flyables and sixteen venues. Seven of the latter are photo-based rather than true 3D environments meaning you can’t walk around or switch to a chase-cam – useful perspective shifts if you plan to take on any of the gloriously tough ‘race’ challenges.

In the orienteering-style glider scenarios, wind, turbulence and gravity are your arch enemies. Reaching upwind checkpoints can seem utterly impossible until you learn how to find thermals (sometimes indicated by soaring birds) and exploit beautifully simulated ridge lift. Manual dexterity and a well-configured controller (sadly, keyboard and mouse is not a practical option) are vital for success in the fly-through-gate-as-many-times-as-you-can-in-the-time-available aerobatic challenges. I struggled a little with flightstick setup at first, but once I’d worked out that ‘pitch stick’, ‘roll stick’, ‘yaw stick’, and ‘speed stick’ were the things I needed to bind to my axes (ignore ’tilt horizontal/vertical’ and ‘arrows horizontal/vertical’) I was away.

PicaSim’s designer seems to be as industrious as he (?) is capable and generous. Updates appear regularly. Hopefully, one day we’ll see sharper and more detailed 3D environments (Right now, they tend to be a tad barren/blurry), and the sort of dynamic obstacles featured in the following vid.

 

Getting Closer

Slitherine/Matrix’s generously chimneyed wargame manufactory is screened by a high leylandii hedge, and guarded by gruff men toting Mosin Nagant rifles. Intel on prestigious work-in-progress projects can be hard to come by, so when I heard that Steve McClaire, the chap leading development on the new Close Combat engine/game, was willing to chat, I grabbed a notebook and hopped on my Welbike.

Our meeting was extremely short, and no images changed hands, but I did come away a bit wiser. I learnt, for instance, that the 3D-but-still-top-down sequel is “fairly far along” (a 2014 release is still on the cards)…

“The campaign system, map editor, and many of the UI screens are done and functional, though most of these need polish and final art. The in-battle UI is being finalized now, and you can order units to move and fire (complete with path-finding, weapon effects, explosions, smoke, rubble, etc.), but the AI is not yet functional. The AI is my next big piece of work. We also have some map-makers joining the team and there will be new assets and features going into the map editor to support them.”

Reassuringly, I also learnt that the ‘Bloody First’ team – basically Steve (programming, research, design) and Jim Martin (art) – are well aware that modernisation must be balanced with respect for what went before…

“From a player’s point of view, we are going to be doing some modernization of the in-battle UI. The goal here is to make giving orders to your units quicker, easier, and more intuitive. We’re also experimenting with new features to make it easier to visualize the battlefield situation when you can only see a section of the screen – we want to make information like ‘where on the map can this unit see?’  and ‘what enemy units are in sight and can be fired at?’ obvious without having to scroll the map around and check everywhere. We’ll have more information on these plans in the near future, after they undergo some internal testing and tweaking.

And finally there is the visual ‘look’ of the game. While I think the old 2D engine did a fairly good job of showing depth, there was only so far it could go towards a true 3D environment. Moving to a 3D engine removes a lot of the limitations on what we can do in terms of lighting, effects, smooth movement/animations, etc.

What we don’t want to change is the core game play. The soldier psychological model at the heart of the game will still be there. Things like the top-down perspective and the small and concise set of orders you can give your units won’t be changing. The goal is to make it feel like you’re playing a brand new Close Combat, not  a totally different game with the same name.”

Next time we talk I intend to check on the progress of that all-important AI coding, and press Steve for a few campaign details. There’ll be no CC5-style operational metagame with this first release (totally understandable considering the huge task already facing the team) but I’m hoping that the inevitable (?) linear mission sequence will be enlivened with something a little more imaginative than a core force carry-over system. An Event Deck perhaps? Before every scrap you flip a card and the consequences of that card alter an aspect – initial intel, set-up zones, ammo levels, visibility, support availability… – of the coming battle. Too gamey? Ok then, what do you suggest?

 

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Last week’s defoxing began at 13.10 when Gusdownnup landed his Fairey Battle on the lawn at Battle Abbey, East Sussex (e). The echoes of the Merlin II were still bouncing around the ancient cloisters when Stugle’s kelp-tangled combat boots hit the beach at Dieppe (a). Others would have purchased an ice cream, slumped into a deckchair and savoured their success but not Stugle. He ran straight back to his souped-up LCA and headed for Cable Street, East London (h) arriving there eight minutes after mrpier, faraway in a Finnish forest (c), found the Soviet howitzer he was seeking.

The next location to fall to the indefatigable defoxers was the Zeebrugge end of the Bruges Canal (b). UnholyDeath identified the scene of one of WWI’s most audacious operations at roughly twenty to eight. Over five hours would pass before the sixth photo succumbed. The door of the Buckman Tavern (f) was pushed open by a weary but jubilant UnholyDeath at 01.14. Ten minutes later an equally tired/triumphant Shiloh proved the stout walls of Badajoz (d) could be breached. Only one battlefield retained its air of mystery to the end. No-one conquered Col di Lana (g), a peak horribly scarred by sappers during the Gebirgskrieg.

Ready for more mystification? Today’s foxer is as traditional as apple turnover. Those collage components down there aren’t sharing that pixel paddock by accident. Together they shout a theme that probably isn’t musicals, The Netherlands, cigarette brands, Noah, Top Gun, Monopoly, trousers, The Beatles or any of the other themes already Foxered.

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40 Comments »

  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    The autogyro is a Wallis WA-116 Agile.

  2. wodin says:

    There is also a great shadow mod for Wings Over Flanders Field that is a must have. Hopefully Red Thunder comes out soon too.

  3. Gusdownnup says:

    The centre picture looks like Little Nellie, the autogyro from You Only Live Twice. The two women are Night Witches, female pilots for the USSR in World War II.

  4. Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

    Could the APC on the left be aTPz Fuchs (Fox)

  5. Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

    The train top right looks quite a lot like the a Swiss Crocodile series locomotive but I can’t see one that’s quite right

    • Gusdownnup says:

      Yes, I think it’s the ÖBB 1100 etc. crocodile (probably 1189).

      • Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

        That would fit with my Roald Dahl hypothesis as well as he wrote the Enormous Crocodile

  6. Geebs says:

    Is Assetto Corsa worth a punt yet? It looks lovely but I don’t have a feel for how much there is to do in it (not bothered about racing, just interested in it as track sim)

    • trjp says:

      I’m steering-clear (pun intended) because the developer’s history is sufficiently chequered so make me not want to spend money with them (see also Project Cars)

      netKar Pro was an AMAZING track simulator – I’ve never driven a ‘game’ which felt as-much like driving a real car – but the developers promised the world and delivered very little with nKp and I don’t see this being any different thusfar (apart from being more expensive!)

      I don’t care about AI to race against either – I’m happy with time-attacks and multiplayer racing (not currently available and not mentioned anywhere?) – I’d love to try it but I’m NOT spending money until I see more results…

      • Geebs says:

        That’s useful to know, thanks! The price has always been just above the impulse zone for me; I think I’ll hold off for now.

        • trjp says:

          If you didn’t try nKp – the demo is still over here and the full version is just 4 euros these days

          http://www.netkar-pro.com/main/

          I’ve no idea if AC is anything like it but it’s worth a peek if you’re keen on track simulations because – as I said – it’s the best I’ve tried (and it’s wheel and pad friendly)

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Cornetto so far keeps the sim levels of NETkar ( perhaps is even above ) while also looking like a far more polished product that doesn’t live like most others on the scummy attitude of “I’m a sim so i’m allowed to look crap”.

        Stuff is steadily being introduced to a decent rate, there’s still little to do but some optimism is possible in my book, though you never know with this kind of stuff off course.

        So far, i’m only scared of one thing: they laser scan all their tracks and they made a poll some months ago about which track should be laserscanned next. They made the “mistake” of including the Nordschleife in the list which rather obviously sucked all the votes.

        Why is this scary? Because it’s some serious epic task and they should be careful with promising such a thing, as it would hurt their reputation. Then again, if they DO manage, well… Not only it would be a first for the racing genre, but for a laserscanned Nurby in Cornetto i’d give away the rest of my Steam library.

        • trjp says:

          I don’t entirely buy all this ‘laser scanning’ stuff – the thing about the ‘Ring isn’t just that it’s enormously long, it’s that it’s the bumpiest racetrack you ever drove.

          To realistically model the ‘Ring you need a car which is setup and which handles completely differently from anything else you’d want to drive – either the ‘Ring will feel artificially flat/fast (see PGR) or everything else will feel skittish.

          I guess the ‘Ring is a selling point for a game as much as it is for a car manufacturer – sadly it has about as much relevance too.

          See also the IoM TT Track for bike racers – it’s just too long and too different to anything else to work in a game.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            That’s the point of laser scanning, to actually model all the bumps decently and automatically.

            Drive the Mugello in Cornetto and you’ll find it well mantained, drive however on Magione and you’ll have to be careful braking past the long stretch as the road is a piece of crap, since it’s an autodrome of very little significance and budget capabilities.

            But it’s not just about bumps, which you could add randomly by hand just to cheaply increase the “realistic feel”, but it’s more about recreating complex nuances that are plentiful in tracks like Imola and Vallelunga, in which you’ll want to learn the best approaches.

            This method is simply the icing on the cake of a decent sim, and i don’t see a problem in recreating a life-like version of the ‘Ring with all it’s defects and dangers, because that’s EXACTLY the beauty of it, something that any other game is hard tasked to recreate because it’s just an huge amount of stuff to hand build. Also, older games didn’t like too complex surfaces because the polycount would go through the roof, less of an issue now.

            How good it would feel to drive on such a thing is mostly down to personal opinion, but as you pointed out it obviously would need some dedicated car tuning as it requires in real life. Road cars out of the box are not that bad at it, though, and that’s what most love about this track because it needs balance and not just a time attack-on-a-perfect-circuit setup.

            To help myself explaining my point, here’s what laser scanning actually does ( In case of gaming, the results are scaled down on accuracy off curse ): http://www.3dtechtronics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/rc_laser_pithouse.jpg

  7. Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

    My guess for connection : Roald Dahl

    Fantastic Mr Fox and The Witches are both Dahl stories and he worked on the screenplay for You Only Live Twice (which I didn’t know)

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Well done, sir!

      Mission complete gentleman, let’s go home.

    • Gusdownnup says:

      The plan of the plane (bottom left) is a Gloster Gladiator , which he flew (and was injured in after a forced landing).

    • Gusdownnup says:

      I think the tank (top left) is a variant Matilda, but I’ve yet to figure out which…

    • Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

      Any chance the, what looks like an Armoured Bulldozer in the top left is based on the Matilda tank ?

    • Smion says:

      Biplane in the bottom left is a Gloster Gladiator on which Dahl had these enthusiastic words to say in his short story A piece of Cake (thanks wikipedia):
      “Those old Gladiators aren’t made of stressed steel like a Hurricane or a Spit. They have taut canvas wings, covered with magnificently inflammable dope, and underneath there are hundreds of small thin sticks, the kind you put under the logs for kindling, only these are drier and thinner. If a clever man said, ‘I am going to build a big thing that will burn better and quicker than anything else in the world,’ and if he applied himself diligently to his task, he would probably finish up by building something very like a Gladiator.”

    • foop says:

      I could be wrong, but I reckon the shunter in the bottom right might have been from the Cadbury Bournville factory.

      http://www.miac.org.uk/bournville2.html (scroll down to 5th and 6th) pictures shows a very similar loco from the opposite side, in different livery.

      Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

      [I only got this once you'd worked out the theme, when I started Googling "0-4-0T peach", "0-4-0T chocolate"...]

      Edit: Looking more like it’s right: http://www.warwickshirerailways.com/misc/misc_cad114.htm

      • Premium User Badge Matchstick says:

        Well spotted :)

        I’d been looking through google images for Steam Shunter without any luck.

        Oh dammit, I think I may actually seen the train as it used to be stored at Tysley in Birmingham when I used to use the station there !

  8. Conehead The Barbarian says:

    “Battle Abbey, Kent (e). ” Thing is its in East Sussex not Kent!

  9. AbyssUK says:

    IS the pic bottom left the “Colossus of Rhodes” or some sort of impression of it. Theme: Roald Dahls big friendly giant (BFG)?

  10. corinoco says:

    All Flight Simmers are TERRSTS! (“terrorists” said with stereotyped Merkin erksairnt)

    Discuss.

    Well apart from being the safest modern airliner, the B777 has had a few problems, from iced up fuel lines to dodgy autopilot software (on a Malaysian Air B777-200, similar to the missing plane). There have been some Airworthiness issues in nov 2013 about corroded sat antennas which could disable comms and cause a slow cabin leak, incapacitating the crew. In 2008 a Qantas 747 had on board emergency oxygen bottles explode, which caused decompress and severed some control lines.

    Yet all we hear is TERRORISM! Because the CPT liked FSX. FBI investigating ‘missing files’! He modded FSX too! So he is a H4><oRz TERRST now, too.

    Ever tried installing FSX? It is Microsoft from 2006 which has to be modded beyond sense to run on today's systems. Missing files are a certainty!

    The Captain had Male installed ? FSX comes with Male, but the addon scenery is gorgeous. I've got it too – hey FBI maybe that makes me (and anyone else with it installed) a terrorist as well.

    This is slightly more serious than Columbine style blame it on Doom – we are talking 239 people missing (sadly presumed dead) and a small community of dedicated hobbyists being treated like criminals.

    The really sad thing has been how every country involved has been just spreading the BS thick – right up to and including USA (sitting on satellite info for a week) and my home, Austfailia (PM announcing plane had been found a bit prematurely). Also our Jindalee OTH radar was tasked supporting a pointless war in Afghanistan rather than monitoring our northern approaches as it was designed to do. Someone out there knows the fate of MH370 but is worried the truth will reveal too much about there defense / offended capabilities.

    I always knew our northern 'friends' we're not exactly all chums, but it didn't realise their animosity is quite this bad.

    Ok, enough late night drunken rant. I'm going to do low passes over New York in a B777 all night. I might even do some knife edge between buildings. Come get me, FBI!

  11. Faxanadu says:

    GUYS! Do you not see the BEAR PAW!?

  12. dufus0057 says:

    It’s a fuckin “swamp”. cya on da radio!

    • dufus0057 says:

      I’m sorry I forgot to open the ‘xxx’ factory again, bring beer on radio!

  13. scut says:

    The Close Combat series spoiled me for tactical infantry-based games. Once I was into it, everything else just felt kinda hollow by comparison. It’s great to hear that it’s getting a rejuvenation, and I really hope they improve upon it. Maybe they’ll even have the gumption to migrate away from WW2, the zombie of genres that is only rivaled by the zombie genre itself.