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The Flare Path: Pretty Pleas

There are five buses in this pic and they all have military connections. Name a bus, win an FP point  upholstered with authentic London Transport moquette.

If I was to be run-over and killed by a bus tomorrow, all the sims and wargames on my ‘back end of a bus’ list might never get covered on RPS. That thought keeps me awake at nights (even though recent Hampshire County Council cuts mean my chance of being run down by public transport is now virtually nil). What’s to be done? Well, I suppose I could devote this week’s Flare Path to ugly ducklings. The three titles lurking beyond the jump, might have lovely personalities but, superficial swine that I am, I’m really not sure I can bear to gaze upon them long enough to find out.

The myth that wargamers “don’t care about graphics” is put about by wargamers that don’t care about graphics, reviewers that think wargamers don’t care about graphics, and game developers that realise reviewers think wargamers don’t care about graphics. In all there are twenty-eight individuals responsible for perpetuating The Great Lie. This time last week, there were thirty, but slowly I’m doing what needs to be done.

 

Mangy Tigers

I’m a wargamer and I care about graphics. I know this because when I look at screenshots of Tigers Unleashed – a recently unleashed hex heffalump from HPS Simulations – my soul starts howling like a Nebelwerfer with toothache.

No game however “ultra-realistic” ” and “profoundly detailed” should ever go out in public looking like this….

or provide tutorial maps that look like this…

I don’t care if you’re a one-man-band, or you’re so poor you’re building your game between shifts as an asbestos-porter at an opencast asbestos mine in Los Asbestos, Peru, there is simply no excuse for visuals that virtueless.

Some of TU’s features sound genuinely intriguing. Friendly fog-of-war (you aren’t always certain where your own forces are) and communication bandwidth limitations (your comms network may get bogged down when a lot of messages and commands are flying around) are the kind of subtleties that not even heavyweight envelope pushers like Panther Games and Battlefront have got round to yet. If only you could experience the innovation without enduring the unsightliness.

Obviously not every wargame studio can afford artists as adept as, say, Matrix’s Marc von Martial or AGEOD’s Sandra Rieunier-Duval and Robin Pirez , but most boast bands of capable fans and modders that would, I suspect, be willing to lend a hand in return for a manual credit, a few gratis games, or a slither of the RRP (a not inconsiderable $49.99 in TU’s case).

 

Docking Points

Hang around on wargaming’s waterfront for long enough and you’re sure to a) be propositioned by a world-weary Marlene Dietrich lookalike with a strong opinion on Distant Guns DRM or b) run into the tireless Christopher Dean promoting Naval Warfare Simulations.

NWS have been making and selling wet wargames for yonks. The last thing to slide down their slipway – Warship Combat: Navies At War – scooped the 2009 Usenet Wargame of the Year award (No mean feat. The voters are the discerning/demanding bunch that frequent comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.war-historical). Was it the plausible depiction of 1890-1950 naval shell tennis that impressed punters, or the massive replayability that came from the huge 400-ship database and build-your-own skirmish capability? Not sure. (I was particularly broke that year so don’t have any first hand experience). All I can say with certainty is that no-one was sirened-in by a glimpse of the screenshots.

Improbably, WCNAW actually manages to look quite handsome next to the studio’s current work-in-progress, Steam And Iron. If you’re a colour broker wondering why the price of cyan has sky-rocketed in recent months, it’s because this seagoing WWI wargame due in January, uses millions of gallons of the stuff.

I’ve crossed the North Sea on more than one occasion and I really don’t recall it looking so… so… 0, 255, 255.

I’m sure the action will be mesmerising, the AI strong, and the opportunities for Jutland-style mayhem numerous, but crikey, why on earth would I put my mince pies through an hour or two of That Brine, Those Coastlines and Those Ship Labels, when, a few inches to their left, courtesy of device I like to call ‘a window’, there’s trees, clouds, and a rusting wheelbarrow to stare at. Steam And Iron, you are uglier than a rusting wheelbarrow. Be ashamed.

 

Operation Greif

It’s official – there’s never been a better time to be a tank simmer. Tanky proles have the dangerously entertaining World of Tanks. Tanky toffs have the soon to be expanded Steel Beasts PPE, and the tanky bourgeoisie have the mod-festooned Steel Fury and its imminent successor Steel Armor: Blaze of War (pictured above).

Any new armour sim wanting to squeeze itself onto the bustling genre LCT, needs to be pretty damn special. M4 Tank Platoon are you pretty damn special?

Or are you just a spruced-up version of iEntertainment’s elderly online tank sim Armored Assault?

Don’t answer. A rhino with shampoo in its eyes could see from those grabs that M4TP isn’t exactly the freshest croissant in the boulangerie. The attempt to peddle stale Shermans would be amusing if the sim wasn’t being puffed with disingenuous tosh like:

“M4 Tank Platoon promises to become the standard in World War II tank games with explosive gameplay, unparalleled realism, and beautifully rendered, historically accurate terrains, all from the battlegrounds of the Ardennes Forest”

(play.com)

If those lines appear on the box-cover and that box-cover is screenshotless, I’m going after M4TP with my Golden Panzerschreck of Righteous Wrath. Graphical ugliness is bad enough. Graphical ugliness camouflaged by freshly cut boughs of PR bluster? That’s a scourge that needs to be ruthlessly hunted down and eliminated by men with sunken eyes and deadly drainpipes.

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Tim Stone

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