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The Flare Path: Vapour And Vapidity

Simulation & wargame news

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Early one August morning in 1999, the residents of Shrapnelton, Grogshire were woken by the sound of an overloaded Gooney Bird leaving its roost. Rattling chimney pots and spinning weather vanes, the struggling C-47 carried the hopes of thousands of sequel-hungry 101: The Airborne Invasion of Normandy fans within its narrow fuselage. Almost thirteen years on, those fans are still waiting for the plane to reach France.

 

Missing. Inaction.

Asking a developer to abandon a work-in-progress game feels utterly wrong, but in the sad case of All American: The 82nd Airborne In Normandy, the sasquatch of PC wargaming, The Flare Path feels compelled to do just this.

Dear Shrapnel Games,

As someone who has, courtesy of 101: The Airborne Invasion of Normandy, spent many a happy evening orchestrating slow and savage X-COM-style skirmishes amongst the hedges and villages of the Cotentin Peninsula, the following sentence is not an easy one to write. For the good of PC wargaming and for the sake of your own reputation as a developer and publisher, I urge you to publicly declare the sequel to 101 dead, to cease taking pre-orders, and return funds to those who have already purchased.

All American is now nearly twelve years late. In your last press release (17 March 2008) you opted to tease long-suffering customers…

“ All American: The 82nd Airborne In Normandy will soon begin to ship! Yeah, that’s what we’d like to lead off a press release with but unfortunately it won’t be this press release. We’ll let those of you who have been expecting to hear those words pick yourself up off the floor before continuing. No hard feelings, but it did get your attention, right?”

blamed delays on Microsoft…

“…everything was humming along when we encountered a rather big pothole in the road to release: Microsoft Vista. Microsoft’s Vista, that oh-so wonderful operating system of theirs, has a rather annoying habit of breaking things in All American: The 82nd Airborne in Normandy.”

and tempted fate by declaring

“we’re still confident we’ll beat Duke Nukem Forever to a release date”

According to the last website update (August 2008) the only work remaining to be done was…

♦ Rework of multiplayer to allow compatibility with Vista.

♦ Voices are being re-recorded after changes to scripts.

♦ Re-evaluating art for maps.

♦ Changing 3 missions

Since then there’s been total silence. In the official forums, a few inches below an “Order All American: the 82 Airborne here!” link encouraging readers to spend $50, many polite requests for information have gone unanswered.

I realise that Shrapnel is not a large concern and has many other irons in the fire, but I’m sure you are capable of treating customers better than this. A public statement admitting that All American will never see the light of day, together with a refund initiative (pre-orderers deserve a credit note at the very least) might help restore some confidence. Combine the statement with an announcement along the lines of forumite Jackhomer’s suggestion – “Why don’t you guys hand the art assets and code over to an open source community to develop the game?” – and a PR debacle could even be turned into a triumph.

Yours expectantly,

The Flare Path

 

 

Exceptionally Crude

Wolfgang Knopper, the German freelancer, spent 20 years searching for it. He ended up in a padded cell in Kuala Lumpur. Thierry Moreau, Le Figaro’s sim correspondent, lost a leg hunting for it in the catacombs beneath Paris. American Josh Stark claimed to have found it in Ecuador in 2004. When an International Association of Sim Assessors investigation proved he’d falsified screenshots and conspired with a developer, he bashed his own brains out with a Thrustmaster Cougar.

A lot of good people have thrown away their careers, their health, even their lives searching for The Worst Simulator In The World. I knew that, yet still couldn’t resist meeting Harry ‘The Shit’ Handley on the end of platform 12, Clapham Junction station, at noon last Tuesday.

Harry had rung me to say he’d found something in his local branch of Cash Converters that I might be interested in. Something that made Advanced Lawnmower Simulator look like “goshing Falcon 4”.

When we eventually parted company outside The Prince of Wales in Sackbutt Lane, the sun had skedaddled, Harry was 80 guineas richer, and I was clutching a newspaper-wrapped bundle tightly under my left arm.

I guess I must have made it home by around 8. Becky was out at her Moth Care class, so I grabbed a coffee and a handful of gypsy creams and headed straight for the study. What exactly had I purchased?

Stripping off the layers of Racing Post wrapping, the first thing I saw was a poorly photoshopped image of a shrunken oil tanker slinking away from an outsized oil rig. Below the image was the legend ‘SCOUR THE WORLD IN SEARCH FOR THE ELUSIVE BLACK GOLD’. Above it, in that oh-so familiar MSFS font…

Oil Platform Simulator

Brushing gypsy cream crumbs from my Battles of Lord Cardigan cardigan, I flipped the box over and read the blurb.

“Oil is the black gold that runs our economy, yet is rapidly decreasing in supply. Large conglomerates are scouring the world hunting for elusive pockets of oil. Join the hunt…”

“A wide range of missions, puts you in control of operations. After locating your drilling site you must use heavy cargo ships to transport the components of your platform for assembly…”

“To maintain profitability against your competitors a wise operator will also regularly modernise the whole drilling enterprise… ”

“only the most skilful engineer and enterprising entrepreneur can drill into the deep, striking black gold and fuelling a successful career in oil exploration”

Hmm. Some questionable phrasing, but rig assembly… exploration… competiton… it all sounded worryingly engaging. Had Harry sold me a pup?

I had the answer within thirty minutes of rubber-stamping the EULA.

Oil Platform Simulator is accidentally rubbing iron filing into your eyes. Oil Platform Simulator is that seat at the back of a transatlantic 747. The one next to the toilets that doesn’t recline. Oil Platform Simulator is WeddingTV.  Oil Platform Simulator is the look in the pharmacist’s eyes when she hands you the Anusol. Oil Platform Simulator is being stuck in a lift with Oil Platform Simulator. Oil Platform Simulator is…

THE WORST SIMULATOR IN THE WORLD*

*subject to IASA verification

The blurb writer had lied. There is no exploration, entrepreneurship, or competition. Rig assembly consists of craning a platform from a ship onto a pedestal. It takes less than a minute, and like every other activity in this offshore abomination, involves nothing that even faintly resembles physics.

The wretched Oil Platform simmer spends 80% of his or her time using the UP cursor to chug lifeless, ugly ‘ships’ across the lifeless, ugly stretch of ocean that separates a lifeless, ugly port from a lifeless, ugly oil field. Sometimes the ships carry platforms, sometimes spare parts, or oil. There is no bridge view, no tricky manoeuvring at departure points or destinations to relieve the weapons-grade tedium. Get within x metres of a dock or platform and a ‘Do you want to berth?’ dialogue pops up. When you answer wearily in the affirmative your ship jumps instantly to its moorings.

As Brenda Thwaite argued in her excellent paper ‘The Big Rigs Effect’ even the worst sim can gain some worth through entertaining bugs or prang possibilities. It was with a thumping heart and a beaded brow that I began phase 3 of the standard IASA test: crash scrutiny. What would happen if I steered a supply vessel into the flank of a fully loaded tanker?

Happily, my fears of splodes and slicks proved unfounded. Seconds before prow met plating, a “Dangerous! Be careful!” message appeared and the suicidal supply ship was stopped in its tracks and moved to a safe distance. In their single-minded pursuit of unfun, the devs had thought of everything.

What’s the worst aspect of The Worst Simulator In The World? I suspect that’s a question sim academics will be debating for years to come. For my money – all 80 guineas of it – it’s a dead heat between…

-The Drilling ‘Mini-Game’

Press D, DOWN, UP, then A! Congratulations, you’ve successfully drilled for oil.

-The Audio

All ships sound like they’re powered by the same 5hp outboard.

-The Visuals

Why is it they look nothing like this?

-And The Price

The thought that some curious simmer, well-meaning parent, or aspiring roughneck might pay as much as £25 for this atrocity, causes me physical pain.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

FP is contemplating a round-the-world flight. The eight airports he’d like to visit are illustrated above. Plan an itinerary that starts and ends in England and involves no eastward legs.

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Tim Stone

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