The Flare Path: Vertigo, Volo, Memo

Many mountains share names with WW2-era aircraft. A basalt FP point to the person that correctly identifies the highest of these aero-peaks. (Only one guess each!)

Looking for the latest gen on brutal Peruvian insurgency games? You’re in the wrong place. My Shining Path column appears on a Tuesday. The Flare Path concerns itself with gentler, less Maoist matters. In two of the splendidly singular creations word-sketched beyond the jump, the only person you can murder is yourself, and in the other one it’s plastic tanks and army men that get it in the neck.

Sneak Peak

Thirty years of flying simulated aircraft and driving simulated horseless carriages can do funny things to a man. You find yourself looking longingly at canal boats, traction engines, and aerosani. You smile like a pixie when a sim as alpine-fresh as Vertigo comes along.

This indie rock-climbing game was one of my tips for 2010. What I didn’t know then, was that developer Mark Judd would get distracted by Real Life concerns and the unexpected success of Detonate, and stick the project on the backburner for 18 months. Happily, it’s now on the frontburner again, and giving off a lovely aroma of warm ginger and golden syrup. Mark reckons interested parties will be hauling themselves up knobbly granite cliffs while muttering “Don’tlookdownDon’tlookdownDon’tlookdown…” by early November.

The planned price tag seems to have been inspired by the shape of that mountaineering staple, the carabiner. Vertigo will sell for the very reasonable sum of 0 British pounds. The idea is we’ll all enjoy scaling the base-game’s pair of included rock faces (one indoor, one outdoor) so much, we’ll gladly shell-out for additional venues. It’s a bold strategy. I hope it works out.

Talking of boldness, climbing without ropes is going to be an option. Those looking for extra challenge will also be able to set the strength of their clamberer before an ascent. I’m picturing a slider with ‘pro-mountaineer’ at one end and ‘malarial plane-crash survivor’ at the other.

Ooooh, now I’m picturing alternative climber models as DLC…

Sweaty pith-helmeted explorer: £1.50

Sweaty gold-burdened Conquistador: £2

Sweaty Amazonian eagle-hunter: £2.50

The video illustrates the game’s novel reliance on ragdoll physics pretty well. What it doesn’t show is that weariness is tracked on a per-limb basis. Dangle from a single handhold for too long and you’re going to find yourself plunging and praying (I wonder if pitons or climbing nuts ever come adrift?). Particularly spectacular plummets can be gasped at from different angles and saved for later viewing thanks to a fancy replay system.

Whether ropeless drops will end in bone-splintering agony, is still to be decided. Having watched his children joyfully torment the poor ragdoll, Mark is currently toying with the idea of implementing realistic injuries. Personally, I’m all for plausible wounds. After all, without them it’s going to be very hard to implement credible pterosaur attacks (DLC #14. ‘The Lost World’).


Why Swifts Smile

If ever two games deserved to be spliced together in a freak teleportation accident it’s Vertigo and Volo Airsport. After a nailbiting scramble to the top of a cloud-capped plateau, what could be better than peeling off your tattered safari suit to reveal the Paisley-print Victorian wingsuit beneath, then running to the cliff-edge and swandiving back into the abyss. Imagine the look of shocked fury on the faces of the pterosaurs as you sped past their guano-streaked nest sites, middle-finger extended.

Since we last had a shufti at Volo, it has acquired something all wingsuit games need: trs. Trs are like trees except they move much faster. While trees stand around in parks rustling, trs whip past your fingertips in a hiss of agitated needles and wafted chlorophyll. They remind you that you’re just one arm twitch or torso flex away from oblivion.

Volo has also acquired rather fetching grss and blders, and some huge streamed landscapes. According to Martijn Zandvliet’s last blog post it almost got a new X-Plane-style flight model too, but that proved a little too punishing on processors:

“a typical aircraft has a mostly static shape, whereas a wingsuit flyer’s shape continuously changes in profound ways. The aerodynamic properties of someone curled up in a ball are completely different from someone flying in normal position. Doing this kind of analysis in real-time, say on a deforming cloth mesh and animated character would be very costly in terms of performance.”

Though the game is now apparently ‘agonizingly close’ there’s still stuff to be done. By the time of release, we should be able to wander around levels on foot, perform flips, and roll-up into a ball in mid air.

I assume the latter manoeuvre will be our primary means of attacking marauding pterosaurs.


Cardboard Chilblains

Hello youse. Shut up and sit down. Today I want to tell you about a game that wins you over with lovely free calvados and cuddles, then, a couple of weeks down the line, turns up at your bunker all cold and officious and slides a price list through your gun slit. It’s Memoir ’44 Online.

Apparently, some wargamers like to be able to see and smell their opponents, and orchestrate battles that don’t take days to complete or linguistic philosophy degrees to understand. Many of these folk swear by a sleek Richard Borg board game called Memoir ’44. Involving dice, card-activated forces and an ingenious board mechanism (battlefields are split into three sections: centre, left flank, right flank) engagements are usually resolved within an hour. I’d always snobbishly assumed the flipside of this pace and accessibility, was rather flavourless gaming. Now that I’ve got a few sessions of the digital version under my belt, I realise I was wrong.

While there are definitely times when the game’s generic armour and infantry units seem almost interchangeable, and the card activation system horribly irrational (Why can’t I move all my units this turn? WHY?!) Memoir ’44’s Online’s streamlined approach seldom comes at the price of character. I’ve just played a Stalingrad scenario and a Pacific one back-to-back, and – thanks to a handful of special rules, victory conditions, and units – both felt quite different and pleasingly redolent.

In the snowy Eastern Front face-off, I found myself snarling at the clever commissar rule that forced me to choose my tactics card a turn before playing it, and nodding approvingly when my sniper claimed a scalp or my ruin-ensconced Ivans resisted an attack that would, in another context, have triggered a retreat. Amongst the overgrown undergrowth of Guam, playing as the Japanese meant balancing a desire to exploit assault advantages with an urge to avoid confrontation and scurry for exit hexes.

There are 45 scenarios in the free-to-download Steam package, and you’ll be able to play about 16 of those against live or (surprisingly capable) AI opposition before your crate of gratis gold ingots is empty. Then it’s crunch time.

Do you slap down $8, knowing it will buy you roughly another 60 skirmishes, or spend more in order to get access to an as-yet-unavailable scenario editor? I’m usually pretty leery of the pay-to-play model, but with other decent populist, MP-friendly wargames such as Panzer Corps priced around the £33 mark, Memoir ’44 does start to look tempting.


  1. GraveyardJimmy says:

    I enjoyed the memoir 44 online, feels just like the board game. It would be nice if there was a payment model that would allow you to do away with repeated payments and pay once to play forever. Owning just the base boardgame, its nice to be getting a taste of the expansions if I wish to buy them.

    Getting a hand full of recon cards whilst your opponent has their finest hour and air support is quite the bad luck though!

    Also, I will guess Mount Wellington.

    • Alex Bakke says:

      I echo your sentiments.

      I am going to guess Mount Buffalo (In Australia; The Brewster Buffalo is a US plane.)

    • Tim Stone says:

      Lofty, but not nearly lofty enough. (Buffalo & Wellington)

    • Lord Byte says:

      My first game against an actual player made me uninstall it promptly. I’ve been having shit cards and shit rolls up to then. I played a card that would allow me to move all my infantry on a front. Pretty much all of them were in the center front. And the game did not allow me to select that, I unselected the one on the right, clicked on the middle, it would flicker on for a second then select the one on the right again…
      At least make your game work.

  2. Spinoza says:

    B-24 Liberator – El Libertador in Argentina.
    Volo Airsport remind me this link to . nice

    • Tim Stone says:

      I had Mount Lincoln scribbled in my notebook, but your answer is cleverer and higher. The basalt FP point is yours. Congratulations.

    • Tams80 says:

      Well, sheeaat! Is all I can really say about that video.

  3. diebroken says:

    Vera Jones aka Climber Girl aka Vertical Mission featured climbing as well, and it was (un)intentionally hilarious…

  4. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    OK, having trawled through Wikipedia’s list of highest mountains, the highest one I can find that shares a name (aside from K2 which was, apparently, a 1938 airship) is Mount Lincoln, Colorado, which obviously shares a name with the Avro Lincoln.

    Under the circumstances, I make no apologies for having to use Wikipedia to find tall mountains.

    I have very little to say on climbing sims or hex-based strategy (last time I did anything like that was tabletop Battletech about a decade and a half ago), but Volo looks absolutely hilarious. Given the flight modelling, I can only asume that the ragdollised tree collisions will be superbly visceral.

    Excellent column as ever, Mr. Stone.

    Edit – @Spinoza, Jesus fucking Christ…

    • Tim Stone says:

      Having already dished out the basalt one, I think you’re going to have make do with a one-off hand-polished serpentine FP point for the brilliant K-2/K2 link.

  5. Finbikkifin says:

    I can’t like Memoir ’44, it’s just too light. Now, Command & ColoUrs: Ancients, that’s awesome. Same basic system with a bit more depth in unit types, and awesome wooden blocks with stickers that look far better than boring plastic minis. Also, elephants. Rampaging, uncontrollable wounded elephants. Barbarians in chariots. Romans! Greeks! Horse archers! A new expansion with Spartans! Wonderful game. A a bonus, if you buy it and don’t like it, it’ll probably sell for more used than it cost new because oh god so many stickers to apply.

    The card assortment is different, too, and the card-based movement with battlelines and three sectors feels more appropriate to ancients than WW2.

    Apparently C&C: Nappies is even better, but I don’t like Napoleonics.

    • Spooner says:

      Thanks for pointing me towards C&C versions of the game system. Sadly, I am more interested in WW2 as a background, but the C&C rules do seem better suited to the genres of those games, especially since they seem to model some of the things that are lacking in Memoir (e.g. strength of attack based on size of unit).

      I enjoyed playing the free games of Memoir and appreciated that I could play on all the maps against humans, rather than just a few maps against AI, which might have been expected in a regular demo. Still, I don’t like the per-game-cost; I’d much prefer a flat fee, though I wouldn’t mind paying a second fee for access to the editor and edited missions. Micro-payments might work if I could pay per-game, not pre-pay for 200 games in advance…

  6. Megadyptes says:

    I tried out Memoir ’44 when it was released on Steam as a Free To Play title thinking that it actually was F2P, the fact that it’s F2P for a few battles and then you have to top up in a sort of weird MMO subscription put me off a lot.

  7. Mitchk says:

    Finally, a fully realised GIRP!

    Also, Volo looks brilliant!

  8. danimalkingdom says:

    I’ll wager everybody clicked on the aerosani link.

    • Harlander says:

      I sure did. I also clicked on the Detonate link, which looks awesome. (I do feel a bit weird seeing “requires dedicated graphics card” in a system requirements list…)

  9. Man Raised by Puffins says:

    My, Volo does seem to be coming along rather well now, does it not? Particularly fond of the windy SFX.

  10. Kevin says:

    Have you still kept at DCS: A-10C, Mr. Stone?

    • Tim Stone says:

      I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t touched it since my public capitulation. Having recently gone 64-bit, I did consider a return, but was put off by the amount of traffic on the crash forum.

  11. Tams80 says:

    As an outdoorsy type person; THANK YOU!

    Even my procrastination will be like being outdoors now!

  12. Reapy says:

    This is funny, I was just thinking how cool it would be to have a rock climbing game. I think the concept of those ‘timed’ areas of a climb where you have to keep going at an even pace, too fast and you slip and fall, too slow and your endurance runs out, would translate excellently into a game.

    A step further, I’ve always felt that climbing ‘for reals’ has been left out of many an RPG game where exploration is a part of it. How cool would it be to have a ‘pathfinder’ sort of character who has growing/changing stats like any RPG, but included in that are his climb ability. Part of where the guy needs to go is straight up a vertical face but the mechanics to get there are not preset paths like assasins creed /prince of persia, or a series of notches in a wall, but instead a more realistic climbing path.

    Take it a step further, how good would it be to have a sandbox world ala minecraft, that has climbing mechanics in it. Find random huge cliffs with stuff on top of them, and then it is also a question of whether the mountain is even scalable. How do I get up there? Do I construct some platforms to get me along, can I make the climb free solo, can I get some climbing gear to get to the top?

    I really thing that climbing in general is an interesting area that fits into RPG / sandbox explore games but I have yet to see it done.

    If only I weren’t such a lazy ass and wanted to code when I got home I’d get to writing it :)