The Flare Path: Wingsuitable For All

By Tim Stone on May 9th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Turn up at The Flare Path Medical Centre suffering from depression and it’s highly likely Dr. Merriweather MD, MBChB, ICBM, B&Q, QWOP will suggest you go hurl yourself off the top of a mountain. The good Doctor’s advice isn’t quite as callous or irresponsible as it first appears. He simply understands the restorative power of whizzo wingsuit games like Volo Airsport and Wingsuitflyer.

“inspired ecology and hints of culture”

For a while it looked like Volo Airsport had bought the farm or, at the very least, made a down-payment on it. Designer Martijn Zandvliet seemed more interested in hot air and cold climes than turning his mesmerising man-glider prototype into a fully fledged game. In a recent chat with Flare Path he explained the hiatus and outlined the future for a project that is now, happily, very much back on the front burner.

Martijn: You’ll have noticed the complete lack of any output from me over the last year. I was stuck on technical details, and had little of an idea on where to take the game beyond the prototype stage, so I took a considerable break to work on other things.

RPS: The Aurora Wager?

Martijn: Yes. It was a wonderful design exercise. I learned to give direction to a game experience without restricting play, to listen to the design and hear where it wants to go, and that deep simulation does not exclude fiction, fantasy or frivolity.

I had a lot of trouble defining what Volo was, and working on something else gave me the critical tools I needed to figure that out. It strengthened the idea that Volo is not about experience points, competition, hunting, gathering, or dubstep-fueled adrenaline rushes. It is first and foremost about the simple acts of being and moving.

For a time I considered merging the two games, but thought better of it. There is significant conceptual overlap, but fear the design would devolve into a feature creep nightmare.

RPS: So what’s the plan now for Volo? What aspects are you working on at present?

Martijn: Lots of plumbing, to start with! We’re setting up a stable code base that we can build the rest of the game on, making sure the game works on a range of machines and is playable with a large selection of input devices.

Online multiplayer code is the big focus after that, and we’ll find out exactly how difficult it is to synchronize fast-moving ragdolls over the internet. Due to various technical restrictions we expect high-level competitive play to be difficult to achieve. We could worry about that, and to an extent we do, but the the game will largely be about free-form cooperative play anyway. The occasional collision mismatch between connected players is less of a problem in the latter case.

The world around you is as important as the flight model, and we’re working on conceptual and technical levels to flesh it out. This means bigger and more detailed terrain, but we’re also applying a thin layer of fiction to help elevate it from the generic islands we started with. Don’t expect narrative content or cutscenes, but more inspired ecology and hints of culture. I’ll be working with Michael Manning to create musical soundscapes for the world, to be tightly coupled to physical space and environmental conditions.

A more distant feature is fully player-designed character motion. The active ragdoll system can theoretically perform any motion you can think of, and restricting it to a basic belly-down wingsuit flying pose would be a crime. The current idea is to provide a simple animation tool with which you can pull and twist your character into basic poses, and link your input to arbitrary muscle movement. This way, techniques like sit-flying and head-down flying are not explicitly programmed in by us, but can be achieved through experimentation.

RPS: Are there flight modelling issues still to be solved?

Martijn: There will always be some issues, but the most jarring ones from the prototype have been fixed. The aerodynamic behaviour no longer degrades as your framerate drops; the character and suit are now designed to be statically stable, making basic navigation much easier; stall characteristics are gentler, reflecting how the shape of your wings can change as you move; and some oddball drops in pressure have been resolved.

There are things I’d like to model better, such as the wing deformation and deflection of the air stream around the character. But I have a game to make, and I can do that with the current building blocks.

RPS: So what can we expect from the next version?

Martijn: Version 3 contains the handling improvements and plumbing work mentioned before. Keyboard controls are the number one requested feature, and I’m happy to report this feature is now working quite well! Any sort of gamepad still gives you an order of magnitude more control, but the game is certainly playable without one. When it comes to input configuration you can now map anything to anything, and various options for graphics scaling are now available.

I’ve shelved the streaming of larger terrains until version 4, but the improved lighting and shading is making its entrance. Oh, and there is proper support for virtual reality HMDs.

 

Becoming a believer

Hopefully, three months of silence from Viennese studio Becoming doesn’t mean the other crag-caressing game currently in production, has collided with a developmental cable car. The last communiqués from the folk behind Wingsuitflyer were stuffed with dazzling terrain images and eye/mouth-wateringly ambitious plans.

Becoming want us to spend our spare time skylarking above a seamless 400km² island. If all goes to plan we won’t just be wingsuiting off cloud-prodding peaks. We’ll be buzzing about in helicopters and microlights, ferrying fellow skydivers around in fixed wing aircraft, and riding thermals and ridge-lift in sailplanes and hang gliders. There’s even talk of users moving between the island’s player-purchasable aerodromes via public transport systems and hitchhiking.

A framework of character stats and simple economics will, in theory, add some aspiration to the thrillseeking. Though essentially free to play, those too impatient to purchase kit, vehicles and airport facilities with flight- and stunt-generated cash will be able to cut corners with micropayments.

A hearteningly bold, totally workable idea or the fevered fantasies of a new studio with eyes bigger than their budget? It would be easier to be cynical if Becoming hadn’t already proved they could turn wingsuiting into a profoundly pleasing PC pursuit.

Still available to registered members at Becoming.at is a Unity-powered, browser-based alpha. The terrain engine is more primitive than the one now lined-up, and all jumps end with a bone-crunching bounce (Parachutes were never implemented) but play for any length of time and, chances are, you’ll end up a Becoming believer.

 

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Last Friday’s Alice In Wonderland caucus-race was won by Stugle, Matchstick, Matchstick’s colleague, JustAPigeon, TheWhippetLord, INinja132, phlebas, Jools and Jops, Shiloh, and CookPassBabtridge. As almost everybody won, almost everybody must get a prize.

“But who is to give the prizes?” quite a chorus of voices asked.

“Why, she, of course,” said the foxer setter, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out, in a confused way, “Prizes! Prizes!”

Alice had no idea what to do, and in despair she put her hand into her pocket and pulled out a box of Flare Path flair points (luckily the salt-water had not got into it) and handed them round. There was exactly one a-piece.

a. Heinkel He 177 Greif
b. Caterpillar drive button from The Hunt For Red October
c. ‘Would you tell me,’ said Alice, a little timidly, ‘why you are painting those roses?’ Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began in a low voice, ‘Why the fact is, you see, Miss, this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find it out, we should all have our heads cut off, you know.
d. B. H. Liddell Hart
e. Leonard Cheshire
f. LMS ‘Duchess’
g. Hedgehog mortar bomb
h. ‘Lobster pot’ helmet
i. “An evil cat in a plane

********

Strange but true…

1. Henry Burden, the father of Foxering, was killed when his Fairey Fox crashed during the 1928 Hendon RAF display.

2. Two days before D-Day, the Manchester Guardian published, quite by chance, a Normandy-themed foxer.

3. The ‘Renard Law’ ensures all foxers produced in France contain at least one French aircraft, AFV, warship, war hero, philosopher or cheese.

4. This week’s foxer would be illegal in France.

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39 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    is the missile middle right the Sea Dart ?

  2. Premium User Badge

    All is Well says:

    The bear in the lower-right corner looks like Smokey the Bear – “Only you can prevent forest fire!”

    • Premium User Badge

      All is Well says:

      And the airplane is a Blackburn Roc, I think.

    • Premium User Badge

      All is Well says:

      And the upper-left picture depicts German soldiers moving a Cointet element, or Belgian gate.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    Bear bottom right is Smokey the Bear of “Only you can prevent Wildfires” fame

    Bah too slow as usual :)

  4. Shiloh says:

    The lady is Tokyo Rose.

  5. Shiloh says:

    And the naval officer is Richard Todd.

    EDIT: in the Yangtse Incident by the look of it.

  6. Premium User Badge

    JB says:

    Speaking of RAF Hendon, I was there last weekend. It’s as lovely as ever.

    My phone battery died, so I only managed a whole one (1) photo. It isn’t even of a plane, it’s a bren gun and a pike. Must charge the phone before leaving home next time =\

  7. skink74 says:

    Top-left appears to be installation of a Cointet-element / Belgian Gate / C-element on the Normandy beaches. part of the Atlantic Wall.

    • skink74 says:

      Gah, pipped by All is well…
      The coins floating about appear to be Gibraltar One Pound coins.
      Blackburn Roc, Rock of Gibraltar… Coins, cointet… hm.

  8. Rorschach617 says:

    Top Left, a Belgian Gate or Cointet Element
    Beach Defence

  9. Palindrome says:

    The mechanical looking thing is the interior side of the drivers vision block on a Tiger.

    Richard Todd was playing the part of Lt Cmd Kerans who commanded HMS Amethyst.

  10. Premium User Badge

    JB says:

    So the theme could be crystals/gems?

    Tokyo Rose (Quartz)
    Smok(e)y (Quartz)
    HMS Amethyst
    Oniks (Onyx)

  11. Shiloh says:

    OK… how about something to do with diamonds or precious stones? Rose diamond, onyx/onix, amethyst, Bear in Dutch is De Beer, Roc (for “rock” or diamond), Gibraltar.

    Belgium is well known for the diamond trade I think?

    EDIT: Beaten to the punch! Well struck JB!

  12. skink74 says:

    The dapper gent centre bottom is Jasper Maskelyne. http://www.strangehistory.net/2014/03/05/jasper-maskelyne-and-magic-machine-guns-in-ww2/
    Jasper fits the gemstone theme…

  13. Perjoss says:

    I’ve always wondered how these wingsuit people get into it in the first place, it doesn’t come across as being a very forgiving activity, how do you get good at it without killing yourself? maybe they have some kind of practice tube somewhere like the ones you see people practicing sky diving in.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      The ‘recommended’ path is as follows:

      1. Normal skydiving qualifications (in AFF about 8 training jumps plus consolidation jumps, about 10 more)
      2. 200+ normal skydives
      3. Begin base jumping
      4. Learn to wingsuit fly in open skydiving (you can do this at 150+ normal jumps)
      5. BASE Wingsuit flying after 50 standard BASE jumps and 50 open-sky wingsuit flights.
      6. Get really good health insurance because you WILL injure yourself.

      There’s really no quick way to learn. The indoor wind tunnels may not be useful to learn either as they are best at simulating normal downward falling, and allow fine tuning of positional skills in the air (thats why they are great for display teams ). If you want to ‘track’ (forward motion) in a wind tunnel, someone would need to hold you still as you learn to master the forces. Wingsuit flying has much higher forward velocities and greater forces involved, and I would imagine it being quite a pant-browner to practice in the enclosed space of a tunnel.

    • skink74 says:

      Yeah it’s the adrenaline junkie thing. Eventually “normal” freefall becomes mundane so you try BASE jumping, and other more extreme variations to up the thrills. As for “how do you get good at it without killing yourself?” it sort of answers itself. You get good by not killing yourself. And if you’re not good at it …
      More seriously, you would begin by flying around in open skies at 10,000 feet and pulling your chute with plenty of time to spare. It’s just freefall with a better glide ratio…

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Pretty much. When I managed to crush two bones in my spine during just the AFF training, I figured this might not be the hobby for me. I did go back for some tunnel time though, it was awesome. Apart from don’t have a cold or hayfever in one. Watching your snot fly vertically from your face takes the edge of that James Bond feeling.

      • Premium User Badge

        Hypocee says:

        I coincidentally looked some stuff up last week and one thing that’s not obvious is that high-performance wingsuiting is physically exhausting in a way normal skydiving tracking isn’t, because of the need to hold your arms and legs out against the wind and tension of the fabric. A reason why open-sky wingsuiting is only somewhat relevant to proximity, and why it’s handy that most proximity routes are only about a minute long.

  14. AbyssUK says:

    When I saw the Tigers view panel I thought Eye of the Tiger and hoped it would be a Survivor theme…when that was crushed maybe a Sinbad theme… but gemstones…

  15. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Another [actually genuine :) ] military history factette you may not know: There was a book published before the Normandy Landings entitled ‘Paratroops’, the author of which, one Captain F.O Miksche, had independently sort of accidentally come up with the Airborne part of the D-Day Plan and then published it in a detailed map section of the book. I have a copy at home. IIRC the book caused quite some consternation behind the scenes. Ah, here we go

    “Coincidentally, the book Paratroops, by Czech Capt. F.O. Miksche, who was serving in England with the Fighting French Forces, came very close to predicting key aspects of the Normandy airborne plan. Around the beginning of May, the book began to arouse concerns among Allied commanders, when they realized that the Germans undoubtedly had this book as well. Miksche had accurately identified much of the drop zone area in a theoretical airborne assault—by three divisions—into Normandy. In accompanying amphibious landings, also hypothetical, Miksche identified the area around Utah Beach for the sea-borne assault.”

  16. JohnnyPanzer says:

    I recognise that bridge and that skysurfer is about to get tanked…

  17. Cvnthvlv says:

    The people behind Volo need to team up with these guys.

    • Premium User Badge

      Tinus says:

      (Hello, dev here!)

      I’ve sent them a message, let’s see what they think.

      One problem with motion controls of any kind for Volo is that it’s easy to get synchronization issue between what your own limbs are doing and what your avatar’s limbs are doing. If you do one thing with your arm, and your in-game avatar does another, there is no classy way of solving that.

      Regardless, that controller is one of the more capable I’ve seen!

  18. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Evil cat in a plane is all I can see when I look at that pic.

  19. dufus0057 says:

    For an off the wall suggestion as to the theme to last weeks foxer, I had something along the lines of tudor red, but could get no further. I’m AWOL for the rest of my life so Phut yourself!