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The Flare Path: Close Combats Mundanity

It’s been another horribly humdrum week here in Simulatia. Since we last shared a screen, early access IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad owners have acquired a handsome new cloud cleaver, a blistering Top Gear track legend has been added to Cornetto Hoarser, yet another ursine sim pitch has shambled onto Kickstarter, and the FBI has inspected an FSX install in the hope of finding clues to the disappearance of 239 people. What’s a man supposed to write about in drab times like these?

How about PicaSim, a free RC aircraft sim with a flight model guaranteed to improve your heart’s lift-to-drag ratio.

The more virtual aluminium we wrap ourselves in, the more dials and knobs we distract ourselves
with, the less visceral, fluid, and flighty flight sim flight can feel. If you don’t believe me, spend an hour or two hurling featherweight model gliders off PicaSim’s gust-buffeted summits, or limboing motorised stunt planes under its clifftop crossbars.

Sporting a recently revamped FM that better represents aerodynamic subtleties like the impact of wing downwash on tails, the sim now comes with thirty boisterous flyables and sixteen venues. Seven of the latter are photo-based rather than true 3D environments meaning you can’t walk around or switch to a chase-cam – useful perspective shifts if you plan to take on any of the gloriously tough ‘race’ challenges.

In the orienteering-style glider scenarios, wind, turbulence and gravity are your arch enemies. Reaching upwind checkpoints can seem utterly impossible until you learn how to find thermals (sometimes indicated by soaring birds) and exploit beautifully simulated ridge lift. Manual dexterity and a well-configured controller (sadly, keyboard and mouse is not a practical option) are vital for success in the fly-through-gate-as-many-times-as-you-can-in-the-time-available aerobatic challenges. I struggled a little with flightstick setup at first, but once I’d worked out that ‘pitch stick’, ‘roll stick’, ‘yaw stick’, and ‘speed stick’ were the things I needed to bind to my axes (ignore ’tilt horizontal/vertical’ and ‘arrows horizontal/vertical’) I was away.

PicaSim’s designer seems to be as industrious as he (?) is capable and generous. Updates appear regularly. Hopefully, one day we’ll see sharper and more detailed 3D environments (Right now, they tend to be a tad barren/blurry), and the sort of dynamic obstacles featured in the following vid.

 

Getting Closer

Slitherine/Matrix’s generously chimneyed wargame manufactory is screened by a high leylandii hedge, and guarded by gruff men toting Mosin Nagant rifles. Intel on prestigious work-in-progress projects can be hard to come by, so when I heard that Steve McClaire, the chap leading development on the new Close Combat engine/game, was willing to chat, I grabbed a notebook and hopped on my Welbike.

Our meeting was extremely short, and no images changed hands, but I did come away a bit wiser. I learnt, for instance, that the 3D-but-still-top-down sequel is “fairly far along” (a 2014 release is still on the cards)…

“The campaign system, map editor, and many of the UI screens are done and functional, though most of these need polish and final art. The in-battle UI is being finalized now, and you can order units to move and fire (complete with path-finding, weapon effects, explosions, smoke, rubble, etc.), but the AI is not yet functional. The AI is my next big piece of work. We also have some map-makers joining the team and there will be new assets and features going into the map editor to support them.”

Reassuringly, I also learnt that the ‘Bloody First’ team – basically Steve (programming, research, design) and Jim Martin (art) – are well aware that modernisation must be balanced with respect for what went before…

“From a player’s point of view, we are going to be doing some modernization of the in-battle UI. The goal here is to make giving orders to your units quicker, easier, and more intuitive. We’re also experimenting with new features to make it easier to visualize the battlefield situation when you can only see a section of the screen – we want to make information like ‘where on the map can this unit see?’  and ‘what enemy units are in sight and can be fired at?’ obvious without having to scroll the map around and check everywhere. We’ll have more information on these plans in the near future, after they undergo some internal testing and tweaking.

And finally there is the visual ‘look’ of the game. While I think the old 2D engine did a fairly good job of showing depth, there was only so far it could go towards a true 3D environment. Moving to a 3D engine removes a lot of the limitations on what we can do in terms of lighting, effects, smooth movement/animations, etc.

What we don’t want to change is the core game play. The soldier psychological model at the heart of the game will still be there. Things like the top-down perspective and the small and concise set of orders you can give your units won’t be changing. The goal is to make it feel like you’re playing a brand new Close Combat, not  a totally different game with the same name.”

Next time we talk I intend to check on the progress of that all-important AI coding, and press Steve for a few campaign details. There’ll be no CC5-style operational metagame with this first release (totally understandable considering the huge task already facing the team) but I’m hoping that the inevitable (?) linear mission sequence will be enlivened with something a little more imaginative than a core force carry-over system. An Event Deck perhaps? Before every scrap you flip a card and the consequences of that card alter an aspect – initial intel, set-up zones, ammo levels, visibility, support availability… – of the coming battle. Too gamey? Ok then, what do you suggest?

 

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Last week’s defoxing began at 13.10 when Gusdownnup landed his Fairey Battle on the lawn at Battle Abbey, East Sussex (e). The echoes of the Merlin II were still bouncing around the ancient cloisters when Stugle’s kelp-tangled combat boots hit the beach at Dieppe (a). Others would have purchased an ice cream, slumped into a deckchair and savoured their success but not Stugle. He ran straight back to his souped-up LCA and headed for Cable Street, East London (h) arriving there eight minutes after mrpier, faraway in a Finnish forest (c), found the Soviet howitzer he was seeking.

The next location to fall to the indefatigable defoxers was the Zeebrugge end of the Bruges Canal (b). UnholyDeath identified the scene of one of WWI’s most audacious operations at roughly twenty to eight. Over five hours would pass before the sixth photo succumbed. The door of the Buckman Tavern (f) was pushed open by a weary but jubilant UnholyDeath at 01.14. Ten minutes later an equally tired/triumphant Shiloh proved the stout walls of Badajoz (d) could be breached. Only one battlefield retained its air of mystery to the end. No-one conquered Col di Lana (g), a peak horribly scarred by sappers during the Gebirgskrieg.

Ready for more mystification? Today’s foxer is as traditional as apple turnover. Those collage components down there aren’t sharing that pixel paddock by accident. Together they shout a theme that probably isn’t musicals, The Netherlands, cigarette brands, Noah, Top Gun, Monopoly, trousers, The Beatles or any of the other themes already Foxered.

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