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The Flare Path: Not Loitering, Reconnoitring

Yes 'stubby red chinagraph pencil' is a euphemism.

Could those ruts in a pasture north of Saint-Lô have been made by an experimental Patton’s Best-inspired PC wargame? Might those scorch marks on the runway at Oberammergau indicate that a spiritual successor to Over the Reich is finally on the way? Is that newly-laid narrow-gauge railway line near Arras evidence of an imminent WWI logistics game? FP spends a fair portion of his working life hunched over recon photographs searching for signs of exciting work-in-progress war-fare. His stubby red chinagraph pencil is always close at hand, but recently he’s had precious few opportunities to use it.

The lack of hexes and NATO symbology in the last month’s Flare Paths isn’t entirely accidental. While there’s the odd eye-catching project on the horizon, and a few promising if conceptually conservative prospects a little closer at hand, when this old warhorse contemplates the next few months of wargame releases, his head drops a little and his withers wither.

No offence to the industrious folk at CSO Simtek that have doubtless poured months of blood, sweat, and tears into Close Combat: Panthers in the Fog, but after, what is it – ten, CC releases – I suspect I need something more than strat map interdiction, foggier fog, and better modelled mortars, to rekindle my interest in Atomic’s top-down squad tactics legend. A less familiar setting would have been a good start. Returning to Normandy for the third time, when the series has never – outside of mods – toured North Africa, Italy, or the Pacific – feels like a Maus-sized missed opportunity.

The person that cobbled together the recent official teaser video, seems almost as excited as I am.

Against this backdrop of inactivity and caution, the news that Armored Brigade – a fine free alternative to Close Combat – will soon be acquiring civilians seems like A Fairly Big Deal. Just a couple of weeks after I patted eSim on the turret for introducing non-combatants to Steel Beasts Pro PE, Finnish coder Juha Kellokoski has announced AB skirmishers will now have to deal with the fact that that far away smoke-shrouded AFV trundling down the highway towards friendly positions might actually be a bus or ice-cream van, and those forest-huddling mechanized infantrymen innocent mushroom pickers/refugees.

In Juha’s own words:

“The main reason why I started doing this is that now you have to identify any hostile units before you can engage them. So for example you have to get within 1 km (or even much closer, depending on visibility) of enemy infantry units. You just cannot start shelling anything that you see moving miles away. That should make good reconnaissance more crucial, because you have the advantage if you can identify the enemy before they reach the main body of your forces. The “civilian/neutral” units work as decoys, so you cannot be sure which contacts are hostile. They are heavily abstracted, but still use the same LOS/spotting rules as other units. Most of this is implemented already, but it needs to be tested and tweaked to see if it works in practice, so don’t get too excited yet :) Anyway, it’s very interesting to see how it turns out, as it’s very rare to see this aspect simulated in tactical level games. It can be a real game-changer especially around densely populated areas, where most of the civilian units can be found.”

In these times of famine, even a tweet from Sean O’Connor mentioning an iPad conversion of Close Combat’s closest and most capable competitor, Firefight, seems like a reason to break out the looted Dom Pérignon, especially when there’s every chance improvements will eventually find their way back into the PC version via an update:

“I’m making really good progress… All of the AI is totally re-written and infantry will now do things like take cover in trenches or in folds in the ground and pop up and take quick shots at the enemy. The graphics are all being completely re-done too and are looking pretty stunning. I’ll get some screenshots up soon! Hopefully it’ll all be finished before the end of the year.”

The strangest story in wargaming this week, has to be the sudden departure of wargamer.com’s Editor-in-chief Curtis Szmania. Plainly dismayed at the manner of his dismissal/forced resignation, Curtis didn’t so much fire a parting shot at the ‘covert group’ he claims engineered his downfall, as unleash a thunderous pre-Normandy Landings-style broadside.

The melodramatic tirade, swiftly replaced on the site’s forum by a terse “Curtis has moved on and we wish him luck on his future endeavors”, is crammed with self-congratulation and florid phrases, but, as someone who’s been frequenting Wargamer.com for many many years, elements of it do ring true. Under Mr. Szmania’s passionate/eccentric leadership there’s no denying the site did seem endowed with a new energy – its horizons did noticeably broaden. FP will be interested to see whether the scope and impartiality of the recent content is maintained over the coming months.

And talking of impartiality, in the light of recent hoo-hahs I thought it might be healthy to introduce a new occasional FP feature…

Ethics Evasion

…in which I, a writeraboutgames, get you,  a readeraboutgames, to solve one of the thorny ethical dilemmas that drops into my lap almost daily. This week I’ve been sent an unsolicited freebie by a developer whose work I admire and whose motivations I have no reason to question. The dev makes it very clear the gift – a Steam code for his game – can be passed on, but as everyone I know already owns the title in question, I’m left in a bit of a quandary. Do I…

A) Return the code with a polite “Thanks, but I’ve no use for this.”?

B) Return the code with a gruff “By sending me presents, you’re putting me in a potentially embarrassing position. Please refrain from this kind of behaviour in future.”?

C) Offer the game as a prize in next week’s Foxer (Sorry, foxered-out this week) knowing that the developer will gain valuable free publicity as a result?

D) Sell the game and send the proceeds to al-Qaeda or Geoff Keighley? (Please specify)

 

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Tim Stone

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