The Flare Path: Devoted To Dovetail

By Tim Stone on July 11th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Dovetail Games’ vision and mission statements are remarkably similar to The Flare Path’s. Replace “company” with “column”, “hobbies” with “articles”, and “delight and retain customers” with “debag and retrain readers” and they’re pretty much identical. Whether we see eye to eye on flight simulation matters remains to be seen. I was rather hoping that this week’s word slab would serve as a Rosetta Stone to the exciting but enigmatic press release issued by Dovetail on Wednesday. Searching questions were sent Kent-ward, lengthy responses received, yet somehow I still find myself confused by the Chathamites’ aerial intentions.

Jon Rissik, Dovetail’s Senior Vice President & General Manager, wasn’t, for instance, prepared to tell me exactly which part of “Microsoft’s genre-defining technology” the studio intend to use as the basis for their planned 2015 flight sim. Common-sense suggests the project will utilise significant chunks of the cruelly abandoned Microsoft Flight rather than the code-jungle that is FSX but the Train Simulator-smiths seem strangely reluctant to acknowledge the Hawaiian castaway.

Jon wouldn’t be drawn on important details like business models, modability, and flight model realism either. Draw your own conclusions from platitude-peppered paragraphs like this…

“It’s a little early to be looking at specific business models since we are just at the very start of this new journey. However, our experience with Train Simulator has taught us a lot about how consumers interact with content when they are building digital hobbies. We know that giving consumers extensive choice so that they can customise their own collections is very important, as is producing high quality and authentic content so we will certainly aim to utilise those learnings where it makes sense to do so.”

This…

“We know from our experience with Train Simulator that our community is absolutely central to what we do. It’s a great two-way partnership – they invest in us with their passion and commitment to our products and we like to think we invest in them by talking to them regularly and listening to their ideas so that we can continue to create products and content that they enjoy. But we equally love to see the content that our fans create; there has always been an active group of people creating content within the Steam Workshop and we know that this goes a long way to allowing people to form their own personalised experiences of the product. Knowing how active and passionate the flight community is, we would love to open up the same kind of dialogue and relationship there.”

And this…

“Our goal at Dovetail Games is to build the next generation of simulation entertainment products, utilising the best and most cutting-edge technology available. So while we can learn a lot from previous flight simulators, given the rich and deep history of this market, we want the focus to be on the future of these products and making a game that is the best it can be.”

With so few facts around, it’s hardly surprising sections of the flight sim community are giving the new roost ruler wary looks. While it may be too soon for Dovetail to spill the beans on their 2015 project, it would seem politic/polite of them to promptly explain the implications of their Flight Simulator X plans. What will the coming Steam release mean for existing users? What will it mean for the legion of third-party content creators that are such a crucial part of the MSFS success story?

Commercial add-on artisans are following recent developments in the FSX story with keenness and concern. A2A Simulation’s Scott Gentile had this to say to Flare Path yesterday…

“FSX is the flight sim king today primarily because 3rd party developers have been independently creating and marketing addons to FSX without restriction from Microsoft.

This has created a delicate balance for 25 years between independent developers of FSX addons and Microsoft. I would respectfully advise Dovetail not to disturb this delicate balance by imposing the burden of additional fees upon independent flight sim developers that already operate in extremely narrow profit margins.

Professional developers of flight sim addons have to hire teams of highly talented artists, sometimes numbering in the dozens to collaborate, and these people all need to be paid. The sales price of each download has to be kept to a minimum so customers can afford to purchase them. This creates the narrow margin of profit. If these profits are reduced because of additional fees by Dovetail, a great many of these developers may find it untenable to remain in business or alternatively may be forced to reduce their output.

However, continuing cooperation between FSX and developers will likely see continual enlargement of the entire flight sim industry. It’s in the interest of all parties to maintain the delicate balance mentioned above.”

It’s impossible not to admire Dovetail’s instinctive populism and formidable business acumen. If anyone can turn Microsoft Flight into the crowdpleasing sofa sim it always threatened to be, it’s the lads and lasses from Chatham. But can they also do ‘delicate balance maintaining’? I guess we’ll know for sure by Christmas.

 

Post-Natal Depression

KwaZulu-Natal Corridor: Pietermaritzburg-Ladysmith, the latest hunk of Train Simulator 2014 DLC, really isn’t disappointing enough to justify that title pun, but I’m tired of waiting for Matrix Games to release a weak Boer War TBS so it stays.

After criticizing Dovetail/RSC for years over their lack of African, Australasian, South American
and Asian routes, it’s lovely to be able to report that, finally, Train Simulator is doing some serious travelling. There’s an intriguing Japanese line in development and yesterday, footplate frequenters jaded by British, German, and US scenery, were let loose on 200km of 3’6” South African permanent way.

Unless you’re a firm fan of the external cam, you’ll spend most of your time viewing that PW through the dusty windscreen of a deceptively sporty Class 6E1 electric loco. Unquestionably the weakest element in this £25 package, the 6E1′s B-grade bodywork hides embarrassingly crude D-grade cab detailing (passenger accommodation is of a similar low standard). Audio quirks are better represented than visual ones, but from an operating perspective the 6E1 feels bland, especially when compared with pantographed personalities like the TS2014 Class 76, and the ZDSimulator electrics.

Most of the design effort appears to have gone into the landscaping, and the, generous by TS standards, 10-strong scenario selection. Google Street View comparisons suggests the creators have done a fairly good job recreating basic topography around the 26 stations. Where they’ve struggled is in producing the range of bespoke 3D models, textures and ambient sounds necessary to properly evoke the feel of KwaZulu-Natal. Too often houses and flora look familiar. Too often vistas appear unnaturally empty rather than spectacularly expansive. It wouldn’t take that much navvying to dramatically improve things… a few new bungalow and tree models, some local birdsong and prototypical footbridges… with a month or two of extra attention Pietermaritzburg-Ladysmith could be a great route rather than merely a decent one.

The bundled Bo-Bo is a jack-of-all-trades, and that versatility is fully explored in the scenarios. Pick blindly from the selection (none of which take longer than an hour to complete), and you could find yourself hauling heavy freight up hill and down dale, collecting and depositing weary commuters, or transporting tourists between various Boer War battle sites. One of the stops on that latter jaunt is, quite literally, the spot where Winston Churchill first demonstrated his amazing talent for leadership.

With its disappointing motive power, relatively high price, and occasional atmosphere failures, KwaZulu-Natal Corridor: Pietermaritzburg-Ladysmith, isn’t a route I can wholeheartedly recommend. That said, if your feet are feeling itchy and you’re sick of looking at Sheds and SD70s, it’s about as novel as TS2104 gets right now.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Someone cross ‘Melbourne’ off the paper anaconda that is the ‘Currently Unfoxered’ list. Shortly after skink74 had sighted St. Kilda and Shiloh had spotted Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner ‘On the Beach’, Phlare Path Phoxer regular phlebas rolled into Victoria’s tram-infested capital. Further deciphering by the likes of Rorschach617, All is Well, FurryLippedSquid, Beowulf, Volcanu, and soldant identified most of the other elements, but a Hawker Demon (note the long exhaust) and a Somua MCG (note the distinctive bulkhead between engine and cab) did manage to slip past the assembled throng.

a. Philip II of Macedon
b. Somua MCG
c. Hummel (though, yes, it could just as easily have been a Nashorn)
d. Hawker Demon
e. Batman
f. ‘On the Beach’
g. Vickers Victoria
h. St.Kilda

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

Though Roman loves fashioning foxers he’s still not convinced the internet is the best way to deliver them. In his daydreams his cryptic collages adorn breakfast cereal boxes and dentists’ ceilings. They are given away free with bottles of vinegar and tubes of verucca cream. They are pasted postage stamp-size on the foreheads of crocodiles and Cacodemons.

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42 Comments »

  1. Tim Stone says:

    Please tack your foxer theories to this comment (or, if I ever forget to post this message, tack them to the first foxer-related comment)

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Tupolev Tu-160 (Blackjack) in the middle.

    • All is Well says:

      Could that be a Tupolev Tu-160 I see in the middle of the foxer?

      Edit: Aww, FurryLippedSquid beat me to it! Anyways, the NATO reporting name is Blackjack – Casino theme?
      Edit2: Beat me to the NATO name as well, it seems!

    • All is Well says:

      The top-left aircraft looks like a Junkers G-38.

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Is that a US General? Custer perhaps?

      Edit: No, 3 stars is a Lieutenant General. Grant?

      • Shiloh says:

        No, it’s a Confederate Brigadier General. Has the look of a young Robert E Lee. Not Lee though.

        • Premium User Badge phlebas says:

          Could it be Lee’s cousin, Brigadier General Richard L Page? That’d fit the Led Zep theory too!

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Would you believe there was a Confederate General called Bonham too? I’ll link the wiki page, you guys can look at the pic halfway down and decide if he looks like Mr. Bottom Left.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milledge_Luke_Bonham

          • Shiloh says:

            Rorschach has it (at least judging from the snazzy waistcoat). Spotter’s badge, Sir.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Better than my first attempt anyway.

            US General? Not a native-american, obviously. AHA! Immigrant Song! :)

          • Premium User Badge phlebas says:

            You’d like Immigrant Song? Will a background map of Holy Island, Lindisfarne, do?

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Of course!!!! Nicely spotted!

            Immigrant Song is about Vikings raiding, and what was famously raided? Lindisfarne!

            Correction: In case my UK history is not up to scratch, please replace “raided” with “settled” if it is more appropriate

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      Is that The Red Baron’s plane? The Fokker Dr.1 Dreidecker?

      • All is Well says:

        It looks more like an Albatros to me – note the shape of the wings and the stabilizer – but I suspect that what Mr. Stone is after is the game it’s from.

      • Shiloh says:

        Or maybe a Zweidekker Fokker DVII?

      • Premium User Badge phlebas says:

        The cover of Led Zeppelin II is based on a photo of the Red Baron.

      • Smion says:

        Alternatively Red Baron might be an allusion to King Crimson if the theme is Prog-Rock in general.

    • Shiloh says:

      That young woman is wearing a WW2 US collar disc, if that helps.

    • Mark Judd says:

      The lady bottom right is actress Kim Hunter (born Janet Cole) from a 1946 film (photo taken from a publicity shoot with David Niven) called ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (or titled in the US ‘Stairway to Heaven’).

      http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2940644096/tt0038733?ref_=tt_pv_md_1

    • AbyssUK says:

      Sign is from the doncaster works (trains)

      wikipedia says “Always referred to as “the Plant”"

    • Shiloh says:

      the builder’s plate is, according to Wikipedia, “a plate bearing the words ‘BUILT IN DONCASTER’ taken at the Plant 150th Anniversary 25th July 2003″. Relates to Doncaster Railway works aka “The Plant”.

      Led Zep the theme, anyone?

      EDIT: I consider Phlebas got there first.

    • TC-27 says:

      I hate to complain about something I really enjoy (the Flare Path has hooked me up with many great gems I might have otherwise missed) but why not make the Foxer a weekly article in itself? The comments section becomes too busy for discussion of anything else.

  2. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Nothing to see here.

    ¬_¬

  3. David_VI says:

    How can Dovetail say that? Their Train Sim DLC is rushed and lacks on them ost hand decent sounds, some DLC has no running sounds at all. No sense of movement.. The 3rd party scene puts them to shame regularly…

    In a Sim, especially a Train sim, the sounds are probably the most important part.

  4. Taidan says:

    “We know that giving consumers expensive choice so that they can customise their own collections is very important…” more like, amirite? ;)

    Seriously though, I picked up Train Simulator 2014 for next-to-nothing during the Steam sale with the distant hope of distracting three-year-old for an hour or so, and ended up providing hours of entertainment to for the family and visitors as a result. What great fun!

    Would love to pick up some DLC for it. (next time they have a sale on)

    • TC-27 says:

      Genuine question – what do you find so entertaining about Train Simulator?

      • Taidan says:

        Oh, that’s an easy one. It’s got trains that go “choo-choo”, you can control it with pretty much two buttons, and you can look out of the window at the passing scenery and other trains.

        I’ve only “played” it for about 10 minutes myself, but the less-committed gamers in my immediate circle have been lapping it up.

        • Premium User Badge Martel says:

          You sir just inspired me to try this with my little kid now as well. She digs trains and whatnot and I’m pretty sure I have a train simulator (or 4) that I got in a random bundle. Great idea, no real buttons but still enough successful movement to keep them entertained. Might be my first reason to use Steam’s In-Home Streaming.

  5. Zenicetus says:

    “Jon Rissik, Dovetail’s Senior Vice President & General Manager, wasn’t, for instance, prepared to tell me exactly which part of ‘Microsoft’s genre-defining technology’ the studio intend to use as the basis for their planned 2015 flight sim. Common-sense suggests the project will utilise significant chunks of the cruelly abandoned Microsoft Flight rather than the code-jungle that is FSX but the Train Simulator-smiths seem strangely reluctant to acknowledge the Hawaiian castaway.”

    Reluctant or not, it seems clear from other sources that he won’t be touching the FSX codebase, other than integrating Steam sales and multiplayer. Apparently Dovetail has announced that they’ll be using Unreal Engine 4 for their next gen train sim (and that fishing “simulator”), but Unreal 4 isn’t a platform that will work for a realistic, seamless flight sim. That may explain why they were hot to win the bidding war for the Flight code; they figured out Unreal 4 wouldn’t work.

    It’s a curious development, because Microsoft already proved there isn’t a market for a lightweight gamey flight sim, with the failure of their Flight product.

    I don’t see how Dovetail can do better with that concept. And I can’t imagine the major add-on developers like PMDG and Orbx getting onboard if it isn’t a full-blown FSX legacy design (which Dovetail doesn’t have the rights to develop). That leaves Prepar3D or X-Plane as the only way forward for the current FS community that wants something more than a lightweight flight game.

    • buzzmong says:

      They’ve also got to compete against Eagle Dynamics’ DCS platform.

      Say what you will about slow development and lack of aircraft, but they’ve got one of, if not the best, flight model systems; all the non-Flaming Cliffs aircraft are simulated to a silly high standard, plus it’s the only flight sim that actually has a strong focus on the combat part of things.

      • Zenicetus says:

        I tend to put the combat sims in a separate, walled-off category because what people are looking for is so different, compared to civilian sim pilots. But yes, the flight modeling is superb in some of that DCS stuff. I get turned off by the limited chunks of world you can fly in, and limited scenarios, but they get credit for keeping the modern air combat scene alive.

        The historical combat scene is still alive too, with Rise of Flight and the new IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad coming up. The flight modeling of individual RoF planes is very good, and the damage modeling is often amazing. You can (sometimes) survive an otherwise fatal engine fire by side-slipping to a touchdown, so the smoke and flames don’t hit you directly. That’s some hardcore flight and damage modeling, right there. I’ve seen things like hard landings where one wheel came off, and rolled down the pasture. Or flying home on (literally) one wing and a prayer.

        Damage modeling is something I miss in the civilian sims, because they tend to focus more on in-flight systems failures. You can’t really prang the airplane much with a hard landing or ground loop. It’s usually a binary “safe” or “crash” situation. I think developers like Austin Meyers at X-Plane are trying not to encourage people who just like to crash into stuff.

    • Tim Stone says:

      “it seems clear from other sources that he won’t be touching the FSX codebase, other than integrating Steam sales and multiplayer”

      The Dovetail press release implies an MSFS link by using the phrase “all-new flight products based on Microsoft’s /genre-defining/ flight technology” but, yes, a Microsoft Flight-based sim seems far more likely. I assume Dovetail’s reluctance to mention Microsoft Flight is either a legal thing or a deliberate marketing tactic They don’t wish their new project to be linked with a ‘failure’ from the outset.

      “It’s a curious development, because Microsoft already proved there isn’t a market for a lightweight gamey flight sim, with the failure of their Flight product.”

      ‘Lightweight’ and ‘gamey’ aren’t words that spring to mind when I recall bush-flying in Flight’s Maule M-7! I’d argue that MS Flight only proved that modular flight sims that (initially at least) put accessibility before eye-watering realism only succeed if they’re followed up with regular helpings of interesting, varied, high-quality DLC.

      • Zenicetus says:

        “Lightweight’ and ‘gamey’ aren’t words that spring to mind when I recall bush-flying in Flight’s Maule M-7! I’d argue that MS Flight only proved that modular flight sims that (initially at least) put accessibility before eye-watering realism only succeed if they’re followed up with regular helpings of interesting, varied, high-quality DLC.”

        But what would that DLC have been? More canned GA planes and pretty scenery for VFR sightseeing?

        I don’t remember much discussion of MS expanding the game into traditional FS territory like full-world route flying, realistic IFR navigation, ATC interaction, or more realistic weather. They seem to have deliberatly designed the game to sidestep the more committed realism sector of the market, which is the one with the deep pockets to spend on DLC.

        Instead, they offered up a Disneyland theme park version of civilian flying, and that just doesn’t have any staying power to support longer-term DLC sales. Even when the main game is free! You can always do casual, non-FAA approved sightseeing in a more heavyweight sim. Hey, some of my flying in X-Plane is done that way too. But it doesn’t work the other way around.

        • Tim Stone says:

          “But what would that DLC have been? More canned GA planes and pretty scenery for VFR sightseeing?”

          Realistic IFR navigation was possible in MS Flight and some of those ‘canned’ GA planes – the Stearman, the Maule… – were an absolute blast to fly. There were myriad different ways the sim could, and should, have been expanded. Geographic growth was always part of the plan (Alaska arrived just before the lights went out) . I imagine helos, heavy iron, and enhancements to the ‘Air Hauler’ side were on the cards too.

          Flight didn’t have FSX’s feature-set, but I don’t think that meant it was doomed to inevitable failure or incapable of turning into a decent alternative. I suspect Dovetail will ultimately prove just how successful Flight could have been.

  6. Kittim says:

    Ugh!

    “Dovetail Games’ vision and mission statements are remarkably similar to The Flare Path’s. Replace “company” with “column”, “hobbies” with “articles”, and “delight and retain customers” with “debag and retrain readers” and they’re pretty much identical.”

    Good to see somebody at Dovetail has access to rudimentary marketing bollocks. “delight and retain customers” was inspired, really.

    “Jon Rissik, Dovetail’s Senior Vice President & General Manager, wasn’t, for instance, prepared to tell me exactly which part of “Microsoft’s genre-defining technology” the studio intend to use as the basis for their planned 2015 flight sim.”
    Of course not, Dovetail’s motivations are based on maximizing profit with minimal effort. They won’t let out what they want to do until they are satisfied there’s sufficient spin to mask it.

    “Jon wouldn’t be drawn on important details like business models, modability, and flight model realism either. Draw your own conclusions from platitude-peppered paragraphs like this…”

    I’m glad you noted that the details were “important”.
    “wouldn’t be drawn” lovely term isn’t it?

    ““It’s a little early to be looking at specific business models since we are just at the very start of this new journey. However, our experience with Train Simulator has taught us a lot about how consumers interact with content when they are building digital hobbies. We know that giving consumers extensive choice so that they can customise their own collections is very important, as is producing high quality and authentic content so we will certainly aim to utilise those learnings where it makes sense to do so.””

    Bwah HA HA HA! MY experience with Train Simulator has taught me you don’t give a damn about “consumers”.

    Message for Scott Gentile, FSX is about to get toxic, go for Prepar3d.

    “It’s impossible not to admire Dovetail’s instinctive populism and formidable business acumen. If anyone can turn Microsoft Flight into the crowdpleasing sofa sim it always threatened to be, it’s the lads and lasses from Chatham. But can they also do ‘delicate balance maintaining’? I guess we’ll know for sure by Christmas.”

    “instinctive populism” God, yes! Political doctrine designed to appeal interests and conceptions of the general populous. Spot on.

    “formidable business acumen” the art of talking bollocks and believing it yourself.

    Some may wonder why I take the time to provide an “alternative” view of Dovetail. It’s quite simple, they treat customers like poo. People posting negative reviews on Steam got their reviews flagged as “Off topic” in an effort to hide them (Check out PC gamer). They wiped the entire TS Forum on Steam, there were a lot of negative posts on there, detailing how broken their train “simulation” is. Their DLC policy is one of maximizing profit with as little effort as possible.

  7. Tim Stone says:

    ““formidable business acumen” the art of talking bollocks and believing it yourself.”

    I prefer “formidable business acumen” – the art of taking an abandoned niche simulator (MSTS2) and turning it into a massively successful online business that employs 70+ people and entertains hundreds of thousands on a regular basis.

  8. heyhellowhatsnew says:

    As someone born in KwaZulu-Natal, and is Zulu, i’m a little sadden by the glorification of the Boers here. I know this is a historical column, which is why it’s one of my favorites, but please keep in mind the history of my country and the suffering of not only my people but of all black people in South Africa.

    • Tim Stone says:

      To my knowledge, The Flare Path has only glorified the Boers on one occasion and that was in August, 1900, and the result of an unfortunate typographical error. Which bit of the text saddened you?