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The Flare Path

Simulation & Wargame News

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Mildly perturbed by the lack of Panzerkampfwagen references in The Sunday Papers? Feel that Bargain Bucket needs more locomotive love, Cardboard Children less Parpellimony misinformation*? You’re in luck. Every Friday from now until Ragnarok, I’m going to be presenting a ragbag of news and reflections covering all-things simulated and wargamey.

If a game features wings, wheels, war, or windlasses, and so much as nods in the direction of realism there’s a good chance it will eventually appear in The Flare Path.

*The idea that an airliner engine could function with fewer than three Parpellimonies inside it, is – as all serious simmers know – absurd.

One of the things I’m hoping to do on a fairly regular basis, is vector you towards games you might not have noticed before. Games like Molten Sky.

Big Little Team are currently looking for folk to test-fly this WIP “air combat game with tactics elements”. Intrigued by glimpses of distant horizons and talk of dynamic battle flows, I’ve already volunteered my services. If they can deliver something with the approachability of Apache Air Assault or Wings of Prey, and the campaign magic of Enemy Engaged or Carrier Command, I’ll be more than happy to overlook flagrant design crimes like missing cockpit views.

If all goes according to plan, this column will also feature the odd chunk of developer wordage. This week I finally tracked down one of the men behind nerve-fraying WW2 armour sim Steel Fury and its gloriously bold strategy sibling Achtung Panzer. Graviteam boss Vladimir Zayarniy was kind enough to answer a few questions on Steel Armor: Blaze of War, the studio’s next caterpillared creation.

RPS: Setting Blaze of War in three different wars – Angola (87-88), Iran-Iraq (80-99), and Afghanistan (84) – sounds like a recipe for hard work. What was the thinking behind that decision?

Vladimir: Initially we were going to go with a single setting – maybe not the most popular one – Angola. Having talked about this with the publisher, we eventually decided we needed something more recognizable, and added Afghanistan, and Iran and Iraq. In Afghanistan players will use their tanks as hammers. In Iran the battles have a more WW2 feel. Angola offers ambushes and close-quarters actions against an evenly matched enemy.

RPS: Aren’t you afraid that the unusual settings will scare off some potential customers? Wouldn’t something like Steel Fury: Kasserine 1943 have been a safer option?

Vladimir: It may be that a WW2 theme would have generated more demand, still, theoretically there is nothing to stop us exploring it in an expansion. Perhaps something based on Achtung Panzer: Operation Star for example.

RPS: What does Blaze of War’s campaign system offer that a traditional mission sequence doesn’t?

Vladimir: Blaze of War uses the same campaign concept as Achtung Panzer. The player moves his forces around an operational map, deciding where battles will take place and which troops will take part. Obviously, the AI is busy doing the same thing, so plans don’t always go like clockwork! There will also be a quick battle mode where players can drop different troops at any point of any battle region and quickly generate a separate battle.

What else can you expect from The Flare Path? Don’t be too surprised if sometimes the lion’s share of the column is just Yours Truly wittering-on about whatever battle or vehicle simulations are currently closest to his fickle heart. This week for instance, having made numerous nailbiting pilgrimages to a 256-colour Pacific, and drawn an immense amount of satisfaction from contemplating dung heaps, I’d like to sing the praises of The Complete Carriers at War and Farming Simulator 2011.

Wargaming lost one of its legends a fortnight ago when Ian Trout, the creative dynamo behind countless top-notch SSI and SSG titles, passed away. If you want to understand why Ian’s loss was so keenly felt amongst strategy veterans, do one of the following: seek out a copy of 1983 4X pioneer Reach for the Stars, or send out your Catalinas and Emilies in search of the incomparable Complete Carriers at War (Note to SSG. gog.com’s strategy section is achingly short of wargames of CCAW’s calibre)

Less board game-indebted than most of the Aussie studio’s output, the turnless, DOS-dependent CCAW is still, to my mind, the most compelling depiction of PTO flat-top ops available on PC. It delivers everything – except perhaps a zoomable map and a campaign framework – that a budding bedroom Nimitz/Yamamoto could wish for. The cloud-complicated cat & mouse of manoeuvring taskforces. The tenterhooks waits as your strikes reach their targets and loose their eggs and eels. The dawning despair when you realise your refuelling SBDs are about to be caught on deck by a swarm of incoming Vals… It’s all there.

I’m still not quite sure why I found myself installing Giants’ latest agri sim the other day. Possibly it was a subconscious reaction to the distant thrum of combine harvesters drifting through my open window. Maybe it was a consequence of getting stuck behind yet another grain trailer on my way back from town. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I refreshed my acquaintance with this curious franchise.

The original ‘Landwirtschaft Simulator’ was one of the few Euro sims to escape my post-review charity-shop heap. Unlike dross such as Woodcutter Sim and Dustcart Sim, FS2009 actually had a bit of fibre to it. Yes, the landscapes felt synthetic, the physics could occasionally go haywire, and the tractors were, from a systems modelling point of view, criminally crude, but the surprisingly satisfying plough-plant-harvest cycle when combined with the career mode’s simple economic sandbox, kept me at the wheel of my trusty Fendt for hour after industrious hour.

Returning to the series is both a pleasing and a disappointing experience. The visuals appear to have changed little, and hire-able AI farmhands still get confused now and again. To their credit Giants have added co-op multiplayer and some very useful new equipment. My pick of the new purchasables would be either the automatic bale-collecting trailers (manually loading straw was one of FS2009’s most challenging tasks) or the ingenious mobile milk manufacturing machines.

Bovines with monikers such as Tina and Frieda can now be bought in the same way as shiny plant. Left to chomp on the default greensward, they produce precious fertiliser in the pungent form of slurry and manure. Feeding them on homegrown silage or grass, means you get white as well as brown gold. Happily, FS milk margins aren’t nearly as narrow as their real-life equivalents, Also – touch wood – none of my quad-stomached cash-cows have, thus far, gone down with TB, BSE, or the dreaded Bluetongue.

The really striking difference between FS2011 and the game I played a couple of years ago, is the latest instalment has a sizeable mod community swarming round it. Busy sites like www.ls-uk.info suggest this Swiss-made series may actually be one of simulation’s biggest success stories of recent years. Fresh themes, accessibility, open architecture, and imaginative mission-free action, might not get you critical acclaim or press attention, but I suspect it can lead to bumper cabbage yields

Talking of which… my FS2013 Wish List:

1. Cabbage and other veg
2. Soil chemistry
3. Hedgerows and fencing
4. Sheep and sheepdogs
5. Worzel Gummidge
6. Quacking plums and 20ft-high chickens

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Tim Stone

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