The Flare Path: Curious Rover

Found the camouflaged pillbox in Proteus yet? Or the crashed G4M Betty? No, me neither. I’m starting to think that white owl is a wind-up merchant. From now on I’m only going to trust the crabs. I know they’re honest because they’re the ones who pincer-pointed me in the direction of a staggeringly beautiful Mars mod for Vehicle Simulator, a blue-chip flight model overhaul for Take On Helicopters, and a rather unexpected demo for HPS Simulations’ Ancient Warfare series.

Olympus Trip

Damn you, jafergon! Now I’m aware you’re building a stunning Mars scenery and vehicle set for genre-blurring transport playground Vehicle Simulator, I can’t get a certain image out of my head. When I close my eyes now and think of VSF, I see T. Stone Esq, EVA suit caked in red dust, planting a Union Jack on the top of Olympus Mons.

I’ve got it all worked out. The ascent will be painstakingly documented across five consecutive Flare Paths. You, lucky reader, will be spared nothing. Every imaginary blister and unvented fart, every melancholy banana break and strangled rendition of ‘Forever Autumn’ – it’ll all be recounted in forensic detail.

Then again I might just spend my time in Mars Expedition 1 chasing dust devils in a Martian 12WD, or wandering about high plateaux drinking-in the desolation and admiring the views.

Vehicle Simulator, like its predecessors Virtual Sailor and Micro Flight, makes up for sketchy systems modelling and patchy prototypicality, with sound physics, an impressive array of user-made add-ons, and unusually moody environments. This conversion looks to be pushing the engine’s aptitude for atmosphere to the giddy limit.

Rather appropriately, the red letter day for Red Planet rovers, is March-the-something.


Ancient Warfare Peltaster

FP’s knowledge of military history chariot-skids off a cliff sometime around 1 BC. Without the help of Messrs Wiki and Osprey, frankly, I’d struggle to tell you the difference between a hypaspist and a hip replacement. Phalangites? Weren’t they a faction in the Spanish Civil War?

I blame my ignorance on flouridated water, EU bureaucracy, escaped mink and the wargames industry. History digitizers (and, to lesser extent, escaped mink) either ignore tactics-level Classical carnage or consistently fail to let me try before I buy.

The two market-dominating franchises – Slitherine’s Field of Glory and HPS Simulations’ Ancient Warfare – had, up until this week, gone thirteen releases without a demo. In the circumstances it seems a trifle churlish to castigate HPS for only including two tiny scenarios in their achingly overdue AW trial.

The first of the free WeGo battles is over in the blink of an eye and designed purely to communicate basic principles. The second scrap – a Greek assault on a Macedonian camp – has more room for manoeuvre and more potential for replay.

If you’ve never encountered an AW title before, the GUI is going to seem almost as dated as the unit fashions. Valuable information on stuff like fatigue levels, combat power, and command structure is spread across various toggleable modes and windows rather than neatly integrated into the main display. It’s only once limitations like these are accepted, that the noisy, low-headcount tussles begin to beguile.

Put a few hours into the demo and then go read assessments from antique aggro authorities such as Flash of Steel’s Troy Goodfellow and you should, finally, be in a position to confidently buy or bypass the Ancient Warfare series.

I was planning to reconnoitre Slitherine’s Field of Glory this week – do a spot of compare-and-contrast – but having learnt that a major refurbishment project is underway (the series, like Close Combat, is being upgraded via the Unity engine) will postpone that visit until the relaunch in March.


For Whom The Bell Rolls

Take On Helicopters needed a longer, stronger story according to the clown who reviewed it for PC Gamer. If you believe Fred Naar, the respected Sikorskian behind and FSX physics project Helicopter Total Realism it also needed some substantial flight model tweaks.

Fred has done what he can to address issues in the light and medium FMs (ToH’s heavies await attention). The easily installed result of his labours can be found here. Expect crisper stick and collective responses, more naturalistic torque effects, and – if you’re accustomed to the default behaviours – a few buckled skids early on as you adjust to a saggier ground effect cushion.


Rainbow Synapse

What do ex-sub sim designers do once they’ve blown ballast for the final time? If you’re Dan Dimitrescu, one of the Romanians behind the rebirth of Silent Hunter, you found a little indie studio called KillHouse Games and start making digital diversions about top-down tango take-downs.

There’s scant information available at present, but looking at those screenshots with their echoes of Frozen Synapse and Rainbow Six/Rogue Spear, and knowing Dan’s interest in hardcore military matters, I’d be disappointed if breaching charges, baton rounds, and believable ballistics, weren’t on the feature list come release day.


The Flare Path Foxer

Using their minds as machetes, corinoco, zabzonk and phlebas hacked a path straight to the heart of last week’s ‘Things Wot You Find in the Amazonian Rainforest’ foxer. En-route they spotted the twitching tail of a SEPECAT Jaguar, the jutting jaw of a Mowag Piranha, a Blowpipe-toting local, a dozing W-3RM Anakonda, a Hitlerian Hummingbird, an ex-Policeman and the mighty Amazon in full spate.

To work-out this week’s theme and claim an FP flair point decorated with gaudy Martian canal art, just stare at the seven clues above until your brain starts to steam like an overworked Alpini pack mule.


  1. flaillomanz says:

    Since playing Moonbase Alpha I’ll never be able to see NASA astronaut gear as anything but hilarious.

    • Bhazor says:

      John Madden, John Madden, John Madden, John Madden

    • Marvin_Miller says:


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  2. Llewyn says:

    Ha! When you featured Napoleonic Battles last time out I did briefly think, “Goodness me, what next? Ancient Warfare!?” And there you are.

    One correction though, the series isn’t John Tiller-engined (or John Tiller-anythinged for that matter) – Paul Bruffell wrote everything from scratch for Punic Wars.

  3. Bhazor says:

    Holla holla get dollar

  4. Cooper says:

    Wow. I didn’t realise the uncanny valley could apply to planets!

    Those sprite-based rocks that move so that they constantly face you are just weird. Like the whole god damned planet is watching you.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, they said…

    • Shivoa says:

      Agreed, I was briefly trying to work out if the ground was moving or something else really weird in the early shots before realising that the rocks were all sprite based and so that explained the motion. That could really do with some fixing as it’s far more distracting that the last recent example I can think of (Dear Esther grass) due to the distinct and very static in the real world objects rotation for the camera.

  5. pepper says:

    I think I see a Mooney Bravo, and the tail of a P-38 lightning. The nose of a starfighter.

    I reckon the theme is celestial/skywards objects/events/athmospheric observational things? Bit wide, I know. Like a shotgun I go in this week.

    EDIT: Its the Mooney M20. My point still stands though.. sort off.

    EDIT2: The Musket, I have no idea. The helicopter, its some sort of Westland-Sikorsky. Probably the H-34. Although its called the Choctaw so I dont know what that is about.

    • phelix says:

      Are you sure it’s the Mooney M20? It doesn’t have the distinctive twin tail.

    • mrpier says:

      It’s not the H-34, the tail is wrong. It looks more like a H-19, but that’s not quite right either.

      The red and white looks like a Beechcraft Bonanaza s-35

      The biplane bomber is a Boulton Paul P.75 Overstrand
      Edit: Which had bristol pegasus engines, so maybe objects in the sky isn’t far off.

      • skink74 says:

        I think the helicopter is a Mil Mi-4 … and could that be a Beechcraft Bonanza with the V-tail?
        And I think the tail is a Lockheed Constellation not a P-38 Lightning.
        Looks like a Baker rifle not a musket.

        I’m not getting the link this week though…

        • Llewyn says:

          M20 – the Trifid nebula – plus Constellation and Starfighter might be the start of something link-related perhaps.

          Edit: And following Mattressi’s comment below, Robert Baker was the author of An Introduction to Astronomy. Probably more relevant than Michael Baker and Ellen Baker, astronauts.

        • phlebas says:

          I think the shape of the hinge looks more like a Lightning than a Constellation. I haven’t found that specific image though, so it may yet be something else.

          • skink74 says:

            The vertical stabilizers of the P-38 are directly in line with the twin fuselages. Whereas here there is clearly no fuselage. But wait – I was wrong – a Constellation it is not, but perhaps a Lockheed Hudson, (as in Mrs) Landlady of Sherlock Holmes…

      • pepper says:

        I think your right about the beechcraft, but your definitely wrong about the H-19. It could indeed be a russian Mi-4. It has that distinctive look that russian helo’s have.

        The tail could indeed be of a constellation.

    • Mattressi says:

      The “musket” is a Baker rifle (Pattern 1806 Baker Rifle, if the full name matters).

    • Tim Stone says:

      Lower your telescopes! This week’s theme is totally terrestrial.

      • phlebas says:

        The Mi-4 is the Hound, yes? Hound, Baker (street), (over)Strand – Sherlock Holmes?

        • pepper says:

          I cannot believe I missed that.. I’ve been reading a lot of sherlock lately. I was even looking at the name of the MI-4 to see how it was related..

          • JabbleWok says:

            Ah yes, Hound, Baker, (Over)Strand – makes sense – the Bonanza is in front of the Eiffel Tower (as in “Case of”), that’ll be Mrs. Hudson’s Lockheedey tail, and there’s a lion which presumably hasn’t been shorn. However I don’t recognise the pointy nose – looks like one of those ’50s experimental planes, but it doesn’t ring any X-1s with me.

          • skink74 says:

            Right I am having a go at summing up the foxer:
            Boulton Paul Overstrand – Strand Magazine
            Mil Mi-4 “Hound” – Hound of the Baskervilles
            Beechcraft Bonanza – The Case of the Copper Beeches
            Lockheed Hudson – Mrs Hudson, Holmes’ landlady
            Fairey Delta 2, tested at Boscombe Down – The Boscombe Valley Mystery
            Baker rifle – 221b Baker Street
            The Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens Reading, commemorating the Battle of Maiwand, where Dr Watson was wounded.

            With thanks to those who identified bits I didn’t, and my missus for the lion.

          • pepper says:

            I’m pretty sure the bottom pointy one is a Lockheed-Martin starfighter.

            Maybe because Sherlock himself is, being capable of beating the best prizefighters in London?

            Or, the actor in the most recent reincarnation of Sherlock(BBC’s one) has the actor Martin Freeman playing Dr. Watson? I was watching the Hobbit, and say there for 2 hours thinking ‘I know that face’. As it turns out it was Martin Freeman playing Bilbo Baggings. I had just watching a Sherlock Marathon the week before.

        • skink74 says:

          I thought Starfighter too at first, but the cockpit canopy is all wrong. The only match I could find is the Fairey Delta 2, which even has the little tube thing sticking out of the underside of the nose so I’m sticking with that.
          Also, two Lockheed products in one foxer?

          • JabbleWok says:

            Yep, I’ll agree with the Fairey Delta 2; the slanted line just below and aft of the cockpit is where the ‘droop snoot’ closes. The starfighter has a very different canopy, a slightly more bulbous nose and… OMG where have I left my furry hood?

          • pepper says:

            Yep, seems more likely..

            As it turns out, I am wrong on almost everything. I am most sorry for throwing you guys off the track this week! And no, I am not part of a eleborate ruse by ‘ye old fox.

    • Skabooga says:

      Well, I see the ass of a lion and the butt of a musket, so I’m guessing the theme of this week’s Foxer is ‘bottoms’.

      Of course, that’s completely ignoring the prominently displayed noses of several aircraft. Man, I’m terrible at this game.

      Edit: Err, apparently that’s a rifle’s butt. I am so embarrassed.

      • Llewyn says:

        I’m sure you’d only taken a very quick peek initially, after all it’s rude to stare.

  6. JB says:

    Colour me interested in KillHouse’s work. I’ll be watching for progress, I think.

  7. phelix says:

    I’m going to take a wild guess here and say the tail rotor in the bottom left is an Avro Lancaster’s.

  8. jimbobjunior says:

    The ToH mod looks very promising. The medium helicopter in particular wasn’t fun to fly owing a little to it being unpowered. Going to give it a go this weekend. Thanks Tim.

    Oh, V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza.

    • Mattressi says:

      The mod definitely improves the medium’s performance, but it still can be overtorqued if you move too much with the collective raised. It’s probably more realistic like this – I hated how previously you’d overtorque the medium if you so much as thought about turning the helicopter with the anti-torque pedals (or rolling the helicopter slightly with the collective raised). I’m really happy to see the HTR guy working to make ToH more realistic!

      • jimbobjunior says:

        *shudders when thinking about the stunt parade mission in the medium*

        • Mattressi says:

          Haha, tell me about it. I didn’t play ToH until after a few of the patches were released. Apparently on release, the missions were perfectly do-able, then they made the flight/damage model very unforgiving and didn’t change the missions to suit. I don’t know how I fluked finishing that missions, but I do know that I crashed right as it finished…

  9. Kevin says:

    A British Blowpipe operator: “MANPADS… MCLOS guidance… fan-bloody-tastic engineering.”

  10. SuicideKing says:

    That Mars video seems to have star warsy music…

  11. Reapy says:

    Slightly off topic, but last week’s sunday papers about led me to this 6 part series from armchair general going through the combat mission, normandy game.

    I almost, almost ended up buying after watching but realized I just enjoyed his AAR reports rather than the act of playing. I do wish that warsim was a big enough genera as it had been in the past that it could get some major production AND a sheen of wargamer spit mixed together.

  12. Captain Joyless says:

    “top-down tango take-downs”

    slow clap

  13. Chaz says:

    Shame he’s got the colours wrong for Mars. It actually has blue skies much like earth, it’s just that NASA likes to colour its photos to fit the public perception of how they think it should look; so there you go.

    link to

    • Sheng-ji says:

      I thought the scattering of dust and the height of that dust in the atmosphere created a butterscotch sky. Scattering makes them orange/pink with blue close to the sun around the time the it rises or sets – like the earth but in reverse.

      EDIT: link to

    • Llewyn says:

      I assume there’s a more… credible source for that info out there somewhere? I had my reservations when, in questioning which set of ‘evidence’ we should believe, he described one of the parties as “de good guys”, but this was compounded when I happened to notice that the site as a whole is not necessarily a bastion of scientific rationality.

      • Sheng-ji says:

        That and the site infers that NASA colours photo’s to hide the real meaning of the martian face

        • Brun says:

          That meaning being…?

          Oh wait, that’s right. Nothing. Humans tend to see faces in all kinds of inanimate objects, probably because we spend so much of our earliest development with the big faces of our parents looking down at us.

          • Gap Gen says:

            And who are these mysterious “parents”, anyway? The agents of Cydonia?

        • Llewyn says:

          Given that other parts of the site question exactly when the Annunaki began construction of Cydonia based on estimate of when they’d shipped gold back from Earth to “fix Mars’ atmosphere”, suggesting ulterior motives on NASA’s part is probably quite reasonable in comparison.

      • Gap Gen says:

        Yeah, it’s kinda weird that they’d back the JPL but not NASA, as if one isn’t a large, government funded agency.

        • Brun says:

          JPL is managed by Caltech, although it still receives federal funding and is basically an R&D center for NASA.

      • Wisq says:

        link to

        Nobody’s trying to confuse people, match public perception, or cover things up. It’s just that the rover cameras are designed to collect data for scientific purposes, not to make pretty pictures.

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  15. pertusaria says:

    Re. the need for demos of games set in ancient history, Hegemony Gold: Wars of Ancient Greece has a demo on Steam, and is quite interesting. I haven’t really dug into the full game yet, but the demo sold me on it.

  16. Oak says:

    What’s funny/tragic/depressing about Field of Glory’s lack of a demo is that, with just a little push, it could probably catch on as a mainstream-friendly introduction to tactical wargaming.