The Flare Path: One Of Life’s Stragglers

FP has never been afraid of asking difficult questions. What’s the capital of Belize? At what temperature does fluid helium I transition to superfluid helium II? How long is a piece of string? If a question needs asking, rest assured we’ll ask it. We’ve spent most of this week doggedly doorstepping wargame developers in an attempt to find out why, in 30-odd years of endeavour none of them have had the wit or wisdom to produce an FTL-style B-17 or Lancaster game.

Battlefront set their slavering German Shepherds on us (some of whom showed up with slavering Alsations). Matrix Games recommended we talk to Slitherine. Slitherine recommended we talk to Matrix Games. Graviteam politely suggested we get off our fat arses and make the thing ourselves. They plainly have no idea just how busy the average sim/wargame news-gathering cell is these days.



Train Triptych

September has been an unusually hectic/splendid month for those of us that use the ‘A’ and ‘D’ keys for tasks other than strafing. Run 8 had barely snaked onto the passing loop, when Train Simulator 2013 thundered into view. Last year’s free RailWorks/Train Simulator upgrade inserted bees into several bonnets by denting FPS figures and causing add-on issues in some quarters. This time the revamp has gone far more smoothly.

Though there are no big physics or signalling improvements, it’s hard not to be impressed by the substantial framerate gains, camera enhancements, and brighter, sharper visuals, the new version brings. The switch to the OpenAL audio engine is similarly welcome. Sounds now seem to overlap better, the aural consequences of lowering a window or entering a tunnel feel more natural.

Unexpectedly, I’m also rather taken with the new Quick Drive options. One button dab sets up a completely random run – route, rolling stock, time of day, weather, all dice-derived. For those that sometimes find the myriad choices offered by super-expandable sims like TS a little overwhelming, it’s nice to be able to let the CPU take the selection strain occasionally. Faintly improbable combination of train and track? Press the button again, or treat it as an interesting back-story concoction challenge. I’m driving a 100-year-old steam shunter from contemporary Paddington to Oxford because…

One of the few mild disappointments is the continued lack of true multiplayer. TS2013 introduces something called Relay Play, but this is a pretty poor substitute relying as it does on the passing on of partially completed challenges to willing Steam friends. Improbably, Train Simulator’s ancient ancestor Microsoft Train Simulator has ended up getting MP before its replacement.

Thanks to the long-awaited version of Open Rails released this week, those still loyal to MSTS now don’t have to roam steel roads alone. As the video below explains, the new build’s accomplishments also include tunnelier tunnels, fixed signalling, and an enhanced GUI. You may still encounter problems getting a favourite add-on to function, but the Open Rails dream – a free evolving train sim compatible with MSTS add-ons but unfettered by MSTS limitations – seems closer than ever. You still need an MSTS install to use OR but the day when the sim becomes standalone, relying wholly on bundled community-made routes and rolling stock, is surely not far away.


Floods Of Tears

I’m the sort of person that keeps a roll of hazard tape in the back of his car just in case. If I ever rounded a corner and found a windblown tree, jack-knifed lorry, or cracked nuclear-waste flask blocking the road, I’d have hopped out and sealed off the area before you could say “Thank goodness wonderful, socially-minded people like that exist. We’d nominate him for some sort of civil bravery award if we didn’t suspect his incredible modesty, catalogue of outstanding parking fines, and vitriolic hatred of authority figures would prevent him from accepting it”.

In theory I should be slap-bang in the middle of the Disaster Response Unit (aka THW Simulator) demographic. This German sim simulates seeks to simulate the activities of a worthy voluntary organisation called the THW. When these admirable lads and lasses aren’t building refugee camps in Africa, assisting in earthquake rescues in Asia, or plucking scared kitties from window ledges in Düsseldorf they are usually to be found (and I’m speculating here) weeping into their wheat-beers because the game devoted to them has turned out a bit Scheiße.

To be fair, the above assessment is based on my experience of DRU’s first mission and training area only. After an hour of cone placing, log bulldozing, and physics voodoo, I’d had more than enough.

The training yard is completely enclosed by stout brick walls and an unopenable steel gate but that didn’t stop me accidentally escaping its confines on two occasions. My unauthorised excursions taught me a very valuable lesson:

No amount of hi-vis clothing and hydraulic lifting gear will save you if you decide to drive off The Edge of the World.

The volatile look-at-me-funny-and-I’ll-hurl-you-over-that-haus physics might have been easier to overlook had there been a degree of problem-solving involved in the disaster scenarios. Instead, the game fusses terribly, insisting certain vehicles are parked in certain spots, and jobs are tackled in a specific order. Unless DRU II offers a lot more tactical freedom and a lot less vehicle acrobatics, in future I’ll be leaving the flood defence building and the puss plucking to others.


The Flare Path Foxer

An almost invisible cobweb filament of logic connects the seven aeroplanes in this image. One FP Flair Point to the person that identifies the thread; seven more to the namers of the entangled machines.


  1. GallonOfAlan says:

    You are perhaps forgetting Dambusters on the C64 ?

  2. MajorManiac says:

    I love that title picture. Would be a great game if the ground slowly drifted by underneath.

    • GallonOfAlan says:

      With the calming ‘mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm’ of the engines.

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      Me too — it brought back a bunch of childhood memories. It’s from the classic Avalon Hill solitaire boardgame B-17: Queen of the Skies. A friend had a copy of that game when I was a kid, and we used to take turns playing missions for hours.

      The modding in of FTL graphics is appropriate, because B-17 is highly FTL-like. Each mission basically consists of trying to hold your B-17 together with bubble gum and baling wire while it flies to the target and back. The actual bombing run is perfunctory; all the tension in the game comes from dealing with flak damage, engine fires, wounded/dead crewmen, and the like, desperately trying to keep the plane from falling out of the sky for long enough to make it back to the airfield in England. And your crew (the ones that lived, anyway) carried over from one mission to the next, so there was also the occasional X-COM-like moment where you’d scream in frustration when the waist gunner who’d survived eighteen missions and knocked down three German fighters was killed.

      I had a chance to play it again a couple of years ago, and it hasn’t aged well — there’s lots and lots of rolling dice to determine outcomes of things, which wasn’t objectionable in the pre-computer wargaming era but feels archaic now. (There’s a VASSAL module for it, which helps, but not enough.) But a proper computerized version of the game with the feel of FTL would be awesome.

      • wodin says:

        There is a PC version of it out there..I had it a few years ago..try google you may come across it…

      • MajorManiac says:

        This is why I come here. To read comments like this and discover new great games to experience.

        Thanks for sharing.

  3. DogKiller says:

    I expect the closest we’ll ever get to the concept is the pair of old Microprose B-17 games. I’ve been playing the second one of late after getting it from, and I’ve forgotten just how brilliant it is. There’s something deeply nerve-wracking about flying head on into a thick wall of anti-aircraft artillery fire whilst looking out the nose as you aim the bombs, all while praying you don’t get hit. And then you hear the next plane in the formation explode. So tense. Too bad there’s nothing with a Lancaster in it, though. I went through the nose section of the Wellington bomber at the IWM recently, and it’s unbelievably cramped inside.

    • Arglebarf says:

      Snap! Oh, the flak! So much flak!

    • RakeShark says:

      I used to play the hell out of this game back in 2002. I had two weeks off in the middle of Nowhere, New Hampshire in snow-storm winter.

      I also remember the box promotion quote, from a WW2 Mighty 8th bomber vet, stating “B-17 2 recreates the greatest… and the most terrible memories of my career.” It took me years and my own military experience to really understand what that statement meant.

    • Thiefsie says:

      My Grandpa was a Wellington navigator in the war for the RAAF… and yep creeping around inside that Wellington with that knowledge was quite the experience…

  4. Arglebarf says:

    Not quite roguelikes like FTL, but the B-17 series had a great crew management system. I only played the second, which was unfortunately unfinished and a little buggy, but it had a great almost RPG aspect to it. In between missions you manage your crew, resting those with combat fatigue. In the mission you click on the crewman to put out fires, man guns, and put out fires. In all my campaigns I rarely ever even touched the yoke, prefering to do play as navigator and bombardier, positions which I have never seen in a sim in such detail befor or sense. Last I heard it wouldn’t run on more modern hardware, although I suspect it might hold up better in my memories than played today.

  5. Poppis says:

    I was sorely disappointed when the first picture didn’t turn out to be a screenshot from some future FTL mod.

  6. corinoco says:

    Top left : Beechcraft Bonanza V-Tail
    Below, tail : Lockheed P38 Lightning
    Bottom left : North American B25 Mitchell
    Centre right : Shenyang JJ5

    Others trickier.

  7. Eddy9000 says:

    “How long is a piece of string?”

    From the middle to the end, twice.

  8. perkl says:

    Surely you remember 50 Mission Crush which came out in 1984?

    I’m guessing the common thread is all the planes are trainers.

  9. Hunchback says:

    Gotta admit i’ve always found the Train Simulator games really weird and never tried them. I fear there’d be about nothing to do but ride a virtual train and look at the scenery – what else is there to do, in reality ?

    I am a huge fan of Railroad Tycoon, where you get to build your tracks, pick trains, routes, loads etc… But Train Simulator is nothing like that, is it?

    • Shezo says:

      “i’ve always found the Train Simulator games really weird and never tried them”

      Train simulators are like CoD series, only without shooting and explosions.

      • pepper says:

        Bravo Shezo!

        Also, you can derail your train. Or be naught and SPAD yourself all the way to Berlin.

  10. Skabooga says:

    There is something vaguely unsettling implied by a sim-game having an edge of the world located just outside of the eye’s reach.

  11. JFS says:

    Best RPS heading picture in a long time.

  12. Brun says:

    I like the FTL-like B-17 idea, but I think it would work better with WWII-era (pre-nuclear) submarine warfare.

  13. UmmonTL says:

    My flatmate is part of the THW and if there is one thing they do not do, it’s fussing over small details. They are trained to do sturdy emergency construction in a short amount of time. If you need a bridge that can get a truck over a small river, these guys build one in under 30 minutes.

  14. Samolety says:

    V-Tail Bonanza, P-38, B-25, Stinson Reliant, MiG-15 (maybe, all the early cigar fighters kinda blend, doesn’t look like an F-86 though), Twin Beech, not sure about the middle one.

    Common thread- All have seen military service?

    • Tim Stone says:

      Three of those are already claimed (Bonanza, P-38, B-25) and the points for the Twin Beech and MiG-15 won’t be dished out until the particular variants are identified. I can’t give you anything for the thread suggestion either, I’m afraid. You’re looking for something less prosaic.

      • Oak says:

        Oh, I know! They all have wings.

      • Samolety says:

        Ah, sorry. I was rushing off to class and only had time to throw out first impressions.

        Anyway, on a closer look, that’s definitely not a Reliant (wings are straight across), my second impression would be a Stinson Vigilant, though the gear may not be right, but that’s my only other guess.

        The big one still has me foxed. And, while it’s not the thread of logic due to the high-wing monoplane having a standard tail, an interesting note is that all the others have unconventional tail designs.

        • Brun says:

          Mmm, don’t think so about the Vigilant. Landing gear and wing struts don’t look like they match.

  15. Whosi says:

    50 Mission Crush by the fantastic SSI in 1984, surprised you don’t remember it.

  16. kombatunit says:

    It was all fine and good until those nazi mantis teleported into bombadier station.

  17. Spinoza says:

    Dual control ?

    • chrislemasters says:

      Perhaps dual throttles (P-38 only has one set of controls)

    • Tim Stone says:

      Sorry, that’s not it. IDing the final two planes (top right) should make working out the link a whole lot easier.

  18. wodin says:

    Love both the FTL B17 idea and the FTL Submarine idea mentioned further up..damn fine ideas.

    Oh talking about the B17 boardgame someone made a little PC version which I had a few years ago..if you google it you may find it..good coffee break game it was..

  19. Brun says:

    Gotta say I’m a bit stumped on the big plane in the center – for a while I was thinking it was a Lockheed C-56 Lodestar, since it appears to be an H-tail, but the tricycle gear throws that out the window unless it’s a conversion.

    • Tim Stone says:

      It’s about a decade younger than the Lodestar and hails from a different part of the world.

      • Brun says:

        Bah, if it’s from the 20’s-30’s era it could be a ton of different things, there were so many little short-production aircraft from all over the world during that time…

      • Doghouse Riley says:

        The remaining unidentified plane I’m fairly sure is an Airspeed Ambassador. Not a clue on the link I’m afraid……

        • Tim Stone says:

          With a deft diplomatic intervention Doghouse Riley claims the last of of the aircraft flair points. Well done. Just the link to de-fox now.

  20. MythArcana says:

    Very funky indeed.

  21. Canadave says:

    The plane on the top right wouldn’t happen to be the Noorduyn Norseman, would it? I thought it was a DHC-2 at first, but the undercarriage is wrong, but it fits for the Norseman. If I’m right, this’ll be the first time my knowledge of Canadian bush planes has ever paid off on RPS.

  22. Haphaz77 says:

    1st, 10th, 12th and 13th pics are some of the most amusing I’ve seen on RPS. ‘OFF THE EDGE OF THE WORLD’ indeed! Lol. Nice work there.

  23. Orontes says:

    Is the link to do with mining?

    • zabzonk says:

      Looks like the right link to me!

    • Tim Stone says:

      The ingenious Orontes is digging in the wrong place.

      The plane list in full:

      *Airspeed Ambassador
      *Noorduyn Norseman
      *Beech 18H
      *Beech Bonanza V-Tail

      • Brun says:

        Is it that all of the aircraft were involved in an accident claimed the life of a famous person or persons? I can confirm it for all but two of the aircraft:

        Airspeed Ambassador = 10 members of Manchester United football team.
        Noorduyn Norseman = Glenn Miller (musician/composer)
        MiG-15UTI = Yuri Gagarin (cosmonaut, first man in space)
        Beech 18H = ?
        B-25 = ?
        P-38 = Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (aviation pioneer, writer)
        Beech Bonanza V-Tail = Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper (famous musicians).

        Throwing this out there as a guess as the two aircraft I couldn’t find people for were widespread enough to have probably claimed the lives of some celebrity or another.

        • Tim Stone says:

          Dissolved in water your unique Flare Path flair point reveals the location of Amy Johnson’s Airspeed Oxford. Congratulations!

          The inimitable Otis Redding lost his life in a Beech 18H, and the bonkers/brilliant Orde Wingate (organiser of the Chindits) perished in a B-25.

  24. JackMultiple says:

    Is there a simulator for International Rescue? Dibs on TB2.