The Flare Path: Inspired By True Emergencies

By Tim Stone on July 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Today in The Flare Path…

  • I gloss over the fact that I’ve spent most of the past week sprawled on a dusty kilim waiting for the likes of DaPerforator, \\\Your_Wurst_Nightmare///, and BeatrixPotshotter to poke their heads above pockmarked parapets.
  • I win the Battle of Gettysburg in under eight minutes.
  • I attempt to recreate Operation Chariot using a state-of-the-art Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger maritime rescue cruiser.

Thanks to a late June patch the preposterously playable Ultimate General now has helpful contour lines, steadier Union troops, less resilient artillery and more effective flanking manoeuvres.

Thanks to a game that unlocks in approximately seven hours, it also has some unexpected competition.

Battleplan: American Civil War is a collaboration between military publishing powerhouse Osprey and English word wranglers/developers The Mustard Corporation. Creative director Maurice Suckling, a man apparently unaware of an entire genre, describes it as “a new kind of strategic simulation game, where there’s no resource management or micromanagement and the emphasis is squarely on brigade level decisions. It’s a hybrid of sorts, part RTS, part turn-based strategy and part old-school tabletop wargame. We call it fastplay wargaming.”.

He isn’t kidding about the pace. In the few hours I spent with the preview build yesterday, I bull-ran all the way from Bull Run to Chickamauga. and saw enough action to realise that Battleplan, while a very interesting experiment in lightweight wargame design, may – in its current form – lack the polish, campaign imagination, and speed controls necessary to wow wizened PC wargamers.

Yes, there’s some beautiful shorthand on show. Order arrows are drag-daubed on terrain in effortless Ultimate General fashion. Couriers convey commands from HQs to brigades and those orders can be ignored, or implemented slowly or speedily depending on the character of the recipient CO. Want to bridge a river or construct fieldworks? A simple click-and-drag and the spade and saw wielders leap into action. More wargames should be this friendly, this fluid.

But Mustard risk flustard punters by failing to implement a speed slider (You can issue orders while paused, but keeping on top of things is still tricky). They risk annoyed ones by making it so bally easy to inadvertently order bridge construction (once issued, orders can’t be countermanded) and failing to squash the bug that occasionally causes crashes late in battles. There are sure to be buyers underwhelmed by the ramrod-straight 11-scenario campaign too, and those surprised that a game bearing the name of military illustration maestros Osprey isn’t a bit easier on the eye.

The hectic pace and pleasingly pea-soupy Fog of War makes off-the-cuff AI assessments difficult. Were yesterday’s fairly regular defeats – some of which occurred on the lowest difficulty setting – caused by challenging scenario setups (all scens can be played with or without random reinforcement schedules), sly opponents, or overwork? I’m not entirely sure. Enemies don’t seem particularly good at forming unbroken battlelines, but I still struggled to snatch VLs from them and resist their unpredictable lunges on occasion.

By the time of Battleplan: American Civil War’s next appearance in this column, the price-point will be public knowledge, I should have the measure of that AI, and will, hopefully, have some idea of Mustard’s keenness to rectify and titivate. Stay tuned for an approbatory “Advance!” or a failure-flagging “Fall back!”.

 

Not Waving But Drowning

Steam-launched on Tuesday, Ship Simulator: Maritime Search and Rescue is the latest in a distressingly long bowline of sims that somehow manage to make messing about in boats seem dull as bilgewater.

To be fair to German studio Reality Twist, they have at least treated their subject matter, the lifesaving activities of the Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger, with a bit of respect. The twenty mission concepts feel like they were cribbed from a DGzRS log book rather than plucked from the mind of a landlubbing dev. Situations and procedures have a quirky, authentic feel that shouts ‘rigorous research’ rather than ‘educated guess’. Similar effort has gone into ensuring the two crewable crafts, the Hermann Marwedde and Harro Koebke, look the part.

The problem, a depressingly common one amongst EuroSims, is that the realism commitment doesn’t extend to physics, systems modelling, and damage simulation. WASDing your winsome wave cleavers from quay to calamity and back again – something you’ll spend 90% of your time doing – just isn’t enjoyable or interesting enough in itself. Unfortunately, neither is the water-cannon directing, line hurling, and drowning mariner plucking that makes up the rest of the game. While water-treading rescuees will sink if you spend too long in transit, most of the stuff that makes real sea rescues so stressful/exhilarating – the risk of falling in, capsizing, or splintering your hull against some foam-dashed knuckle of rock – is not simulated at all.

Both the Marwedde and Koebke seem completely indestructible. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve accidentally brushed a harbour wall while tying up, or flank-sped into a breakwater HMS Campbeltown style, hull plates refuse to rend or buckle. There’s not even a health-bar, or a foul-mouthed boatswain to call attention to your clumsiness.

Ship Simulator: Maritime Search and Rescue (no relation to VSTEP’s Ship Sim series, incidentally) almost redeems itself with passably pretty coasts, glittering seas, and evocative gull cries. The two maps, one centred on Sassnitz in the Baltic, the other on Heligoland in the North Sea, would make pleasant cruising venues if they were a little larger and Reality Twist had thought to include a dinghy and some simple sailing physics.

Hear the call of the sea? The Flare Path recommends you seek solace in old stalwarts like Virtual Sailor, Sail Simulator and Silent Hunter 3 rather than board this shallow-drafted disappointment

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Rorschach617 never throws in the towel but he has been known to throw caution to the wind, throw his hands in the air and wave them like he just don’t care, and throw the Sopwith Baby out with the bathwater. After discerning last week’s ‘things that can be thrown’* theme (with help from Gusdownnup, Shiloh, All is Well and Matchstick) he almost managed to convince himself he was mistaken. “A little uncomplicated” he fretted, not realising that that particular puzzle had been devised by Roman’s deputy, a little uncomplicated Belgian called Ivo.

*Shiloh’s balls solution works too**

**Not a double entendre

a. Ball turret
b. Matches
c. Horseshoe Curve
d. Punches
e. Javelin
f. M1 ‘pot’
g. Handley Page Dart Herald
h. Gran Trak 10
i. Molotov bread basket

*************

Roman is now back at his post.* Yesterday morning I saw him flicking through a book on the Siege of the International Legations.** When I asked him whether he was researching a foxer, he narrowed his eyes, passed me the ball of multicoloured plasticine that he keeps on his desk , and told me to “Make of that what you will”***

*Make of that what you will.

**Make of that what you will.

***Make of that what you will.

__________________

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50 Comments »

  1. Matchstick says:

    I await the official foxer answer thread… :)

    • All is Well says:

      Me too, although I guess I could jump the gun and say that the biplane sort of looks like a Hawker Fury or Nimrod.

      EDIT: Or perhaps a Demon? They all look very similar.
      EDIT2: Apparently, there is a whole family of similar-looking Hawker aircraft. The one in the picture could be a Hart, Audax, Demon, Hardy or Osprey.

      • Matchstick says:

        And the game bottom centre is Head over Heels on the Spectrum

        • Rorschach617 says:

          I thought it was Batman, same computer, same developers

          • Matchstick says:

            I’ve just been checking that, you could well be right but the character sprite for batman featured a lot more “black” so I would have thought would stand out better in the image.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            If you look at bottom left door on the screenshot, slightly obscured by the doorway, it looks like the Batman sprite looking in the direction of Top-Right.

            Also, I think I remember that demon-headed enemy from Batman.

          • phlebas says:

            Yup, it’s Batman. Created by Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond, in case that helps.

          • Matchstick says:

            You’re right !

            OOOPS :(

          • Rorschach617 says:

            No worries, mate. I just made myself feel really old because I DO remember that enemy from the Spectrum Batman game :)

      • skink74 says:

        The map in the background is St Kilda, or at least the main Island of Hirta, along with Soay and Dun.

        • phlebas says:

          Hmm. There’s a St Kilda in Melbourne, where “On The Beach” is set.

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            There’s also a Batman Avenue.

          • All is Well says:

            There is a football club named Melbourne Heart, which provides a connection to the Hawker Hart.

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            There’s a Spearmint Rhino (Nashorn)!

            Scraping the barrel here, lol.

          • Volcanu says:

            I believe someone imported a Citroen Kegresse in the 1920s and demonstrated it by driving up the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne….

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            There’s a Melbourne Street in Newcastle that looks like it was built smack on top of Hadrian’s Wall.

            Tenuous.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            But it does look like Melbourne is the answer.

            Like phlebas says, it has a St Kilda district.
            It has a Batman Avenue (thanks Furrylippedsquid), apparently some bloke called John Batman explored and purchased the land for the original city.
            A Citroen Kegresse was driven up the steps of the Parliament in 1923 (good spot, volcanu).
            Shiloh and phlebas got the film still (On the Beach, filmed in Melbourne).
            All is Well picked up on the Melbourne Heart Football club.

            5 out of 8 clues point to Melbourne, 7 if we include Melbourne Street in Newcastle and the Spearmint Rhino :)

          • Volcanu says:

            OOH! Rather than the Spearmint Rhino link, the Nashorn/Rhino connection could be explained by Melbourne’s Yarra trams which had a ‘rhino’ themed safety campaign which involved some trams being repainted and model rhinos on skateboards being placed around the city….

          • All is Well says:

            Seeing as how the Hadrian link to Melbourne was so tenuous, I did some searching and it turns out the bust is actually of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. This provides a much better connection, as the bay in which Melbourne is located is called Phillip Bay.

            Edit: Trying to find a better connection for Rhino, I found out Yarra Trams have several trams nicknamed “Bumblebee” (Hummel), that operate on the line to St Kilda. In other words, there’s a double connection to Yarra Trams for the armored chassis, so we’re covered either way.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C2-class_Melbourne_tram

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            I thought that head looked more Greek than Roman. But Shiloh was on fire with everything else, so I just went with it!

          • soldant says:

            My first and only contribution to FP, which is also inconsequential: Batman is also an electorate in northern Melbourne (named after Batman, obviously).

            (Yes doesn’t help, but this is the first time I’ve actually known what’s going on for a change).

      • All is Well says:

        After much googling, I can conclude that the twin-engine airplane is a Vickers Valentia.

        • Volcanu says:

          Perhaps a tenuous link to Melbourne but the Vickers Valentia was used in some early experiments for in air refueling by Sir Alan Cobham. Cobham achieved fame some years prior by flying from England to Australia (specifically Melbourne)….

          • All is Well says:

            I was being stupid, it’s probably a Vickers Victoria – the Valentia is essentially just an upgraded Victoria, and Victoria is of course also the state in which Melbourne is located.

          • Volcanu says:

            Ah. Yes that would be somewhat less tortured than my attempt!

            Well I think that’s that then isn’t it? Melbourne connections demonstrated for all 8….

    • Palindrome says:

      The half track appears to be a Unic P107 (or one of the earlier Citroen models, its quite hard to tell).

      • Shiloh says:

        It’s a Citroen Kegresse C4 P17.

          • Hydrogene says:

            It’s too big to be a Citroen Kegresse C4 P17 or even a C6 P19. The position of the driving wheel shows it’s a big truck, not a car. The track in the back looks like a Kegresse, and it’s definetely a truck from the 1920s but I can’t say more than that.
            Anyway, it’s not important, as it doesn’t disprove the link to Melbourne.

    • Shiloh says:

      That 7-spoke idler wheel should be a dead giveaway on the tank top right – I’m certain I’ve seen it before but I just can’t place it.

    • dufus0057 says:

      “WidowMaker” like me 738!

  2. Shiloh says:

    I think my solution was better.

    Anyway, that’s a nice bust. Of Hadrian.

  3. Shiloh says:

    And the still is Gregory Peck as Captain Dwight Towers, with Ava Gardner. On the Beach.

  4. samhigton says:

    Hopefully the likes of Spintires and Assetto Corsa will set a new precedent in what should be expected from a simulator in terms of physics and immersion. For me, physics and systems counts for 90% of my enjoyment in a simulator, so I’d love to see what this ‘new guard’ of simulation inspires in the future, and hopefully we’ll get less sterile, process driven products like ship simulator.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      There is a brand of sim that will NEVER improve its physics. That is the shovelware brand (seem to always be german) that just keeps churning out slightly different maps and vehicles with a different name. The engine always remains the same. Go and watch any of NerdCubed’s “simulator” videos apart from EuroTruck Simulator and you will see the common thread. He plays them for the comedy factor of them being pure, beige filtered stomach bile.

    • Silent_Thunder says:

      Doubtful, driving simulations are like flight sims in that if you look hard enough, you can see a chain of games that have kept the genre going and of decent quality. The continued success of those sims is self sustaining I’d say, in that the ways to go about them (or at least a starting point) are pretty well understood by programmers in the genre, flight mechanics and tire modeling being something of an “always almost there, but never quite” factor. (I mean hell, iRacing for instance is on their what, 6th tire model now?). combined with easy to translate into gameplay controls, by which I mean they have controllers shaped vaguely like what you’d control the real deal with, if somewhat simplified. Meanwhile games like Ship Simulator don’t really have any of that sorts of long term collective knowledge to build off of, and when you combine that lack of knowledge with a lack of an established market, you have a hard time getting anything besides low effort travesties, because they are cheap to make and can withstand what normally would be considered a “bad” amount of sales. I feel the “mass market” success of sims like AC is only going to encourage these companies to push out more shovelware faster, while more reputable and talented companies attempt to ride the this cycle of the simracing bubble.

      Also if that rambling wall of text didn’t make any sense, I’m extraordinarily sleep deprived and may actually be delirious.

  5. Shiloh says:

    That half track is some kind of Citroen Kegresse I believe. Maybe a C6 P19.

    EDIT: C4 P17

  6. Suchet says:

    What happened to the wargaming part of the Flare Path Summer Exhibition?

    • Tim Stone says:

      Indefinitely postponed, I’m afraid. After taking a second look at submissions, the Hanging Committee decided they didn’t have sufficient high-quality images to warrant an exhibition. Next year, more Total War, Combat Mission, Wargame, HistWar, Graviteam Tactics etc. pics, please!

  7. Beowulf says:

    The Tanky Destroyery Thingy stuffed in the upper right corner looks like a Nashorn buttock to me.

    • All is Well says:

      Nashorn meaning Rhinoceros, in case that has any bearing on the theme. It could also be a Hummel (the artillery version) – Hummel being bumblebee.

      • Beowulf says:

        Sir, you may be very well right. Let us settle on Geschützwagen III/IV chassis then, shall we?

        • All is Well says:

          Yes, let’s do that! In any case, you were the one who identified it – I was simply trying to find possible connections to a theme :)

      • Palindrome says:

        The Hummel appears to have a slightly lengthened superstructure so it looks very much like the Nashorn is the right answer.

  8. Laurentius says:

    There is head of Roman emperor Septimius Severus in Melbourne National gallery.

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