The Flare Path: Slitherincoming

On May 14th this year, Castello di Pavone, one of Northern Italy’s swankiest strongholds, was invaded by an army of conflict-obsessed game developers. Were the devs in question…

a) Laser-scanning the fortress for a level in the soon-to-be-announced Hidden & Dangerous 3?
b) Laser-scanning the fortress for a level in the soon-to-be-announced Commandos 5?
c) Laser-scanning the fortress for a level in the soon-to-be-announced Bella Cantarella*?
d) Attending Home of Wargamers 2014, a Slitherine Group press conference?

*Flare Path Soft’s debut project – a poison-sprinkled serving-wench sim set during the War of the Holy League.

If you crossed your fingers and answered a, b, or c, this week’s column may prove disappointing.

Of the dozen-or-so upcoming PC wargames showcased by Slitherine/Matrix Games at this year’s ‘Home of Wargamers’ event, the one toting the heaviest haversack of expectation had to be Close Combat: The Bloody First. A 3D (though still top-down) reincarnation of Atomic’s sleek yet resonant WW2 skirmish series, visually CCTBF was an unknown quantity until a pair of screenshots was unveiled in Italy.

Art lead Jim Martin seems to have captured CC’s distinctive bird’s-eye aesthetic just about perfectly. Can lead designer/coder Steve McClaire keep his end of the deal by delivering the AI improvements estranged franchise fans like myself crave? We should know for sure by Christmas, but the answers tossed in my direction during a recent Q&A suggest there’s reason for optimism.

RPS: Is there any chance we will see improved vehicular pathfinding… infantry leapfrogging and flanking during attacks… enemy static weapons deploying more sensibly?

Steve: The AI is a big task. Given Close Combat’s dedication to soldier behavior and the gameplay that emerges from that, it’s probably one of the most important details to get right. Pathfinding is always something of a balancing act between having the unit move as efficiently as possible and having it take the route the player expects. The code for this is all new in The Bloody First, and I think it’s pretty good. The way vehicles move is much smoother as well, without the ‘stop, twist, go’ turns that often occurred in the old engine. Infantry behavior and AI initial placement are also things I think we can improve on.

RPS: Will outgunned AFVs ever reverse into cover or use smoke?

Steve: In the original Close Combats a threatened vehicle would pop smoke if they had it, but it was up to the player to order them to reverse into cover. How much automatic behavior to put into the game is always a tough call. While this is great for saving your units in some situations, it could be frustrating as well. If you’re trying to set up a two pronged attack by a pair of Shermans vs. a Tiger, you won’t be happy if your Shermans refuse to execute because they decide they’re outgunned, pop smoke, and back into cover.

RPS: Is the AI going to be guided solely by Victory Flags or will there be other factors at work?

Steve: The AI has never been solely guided by Victory Flags, but traditionally the Victory Locations have had a very large weight in its decision-making. They will continue to do so, though with the new campaign system in The Bloody First, casualties are more of a factor in the victory conditions, and the AI will take that into account as well.

RPS: Any plans to simulate battlefield first aid?

Steve: Not for this version, no. It is something we discuss almost every time we do a new version, though. If we do it, it would be more about simulating the fact that wounded soldiers tends to take one or more of their comrades out of the fight for a time to care for them. You won’t ever see medics healing casualties and sending them right back into action in Close Combat.

RPS: Are weapon and ammo scavenging in?

Steve: Yes. This will be basically the same as previous versions: Soldiers will scavenge ammo and weapons if they have none of their own left to fight with, but they’ll return to their normally assigned weapon(s) for the next battle.

RPS: What kind of interface changes can we expect?

Steve: The battle interface is getting a pretty big overhaul. The current system we’re experimenting with is much more contextual than the old engine’s monolithic right-click menu with every possible option on it. You click on one of your units, and then you click & hold on a target location or unit, and you’ll get a menu of the commands that you can use (such as movement at a location on the ground, or fire commands for an enemy unit). It’s a change, but I think it’s a good one. We’ll see what sort of player feedback we get on this during the beta.


The Lure of the Landsknechte

There was no shortage of industry on display at Home of Wargamers 2014 but anyone prowling Castello di Pavone’s beamed banqueting halls and dung dankeons in search of startling novelty wouldn’t have found a great deal to get excited about. The closest thing to a surprise was the announcement of Pike and Shot – a TBS marrying fairly conventional turn-based battle mechanics with a deliciously unfamiliar setting – The Thirty Years’ War.

While the WIP screenshots suggest crudity, Pike and Shot’s feature list actually promises considerable sophistication and subtlety. Byzantine Games’ lead designer is Richard Bodley Scott, the man behind the Field of Glory: Renaissance tabletop wargaming rules. His expertise and willingness to borrow heavily from FoG:R means we should, fingers-crossed, end up with a game that’s as trim as it is truthful.

With twenty different soldier types and a combat system clever enough to simulate mixed units and multifarious weapon practices (Pistols, for instance, were used in many different ways during the period, some force types preferring to discharge them at distance, others using them just before melee or cavalry impact) tactical blandness is unlikely to be an issue.

Naturally, morale and unit facing will be of major importance, and commanders that disregard topography can expect to be punished. The hills in the shot below convey close combat bonuses and mask troop movement; the fields and patches of woodland impact movement rates, formation disorder, cover ratings, and detection probability.

Byzantine aren’t planning to represent commanders as separate units or reflect their abilities through an unpredictable activation system (We’ll be able to move all our units every turn). With Philip Sabin’s thoughts on simulating command dynamics fresh in my mind this friendly but unimaginative approach feels a tad disappointing.

On a more positive note, P&S’s relatively meagre supply of historical scraps (10) will be supplemented by an impressive-sounding random battle generator. In the initial Thirty Years’ War release (English Civil War and 16th Century Italian wars expansions are planned) playable factions will include the Bohemians, Holy Roman Empire/Catholic League, German Protestants, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, and French; selectable engagement types mean you can start battles huddled behind field fortifications or scanning horizons for vital reinforcements. Thanks to an era-linked army list system foes should always field historically plausible armies.

As appetising as a bowl of Bella Cantarella’s famous mushroom risotto (but, hopefully, nowhere near as lethal) Pike & Shot should be with us before the end of this year’s campaigning season.


The Flare Path Foxer

President James Garfield was collaged to death on this very spot on May 16th, 2014. Fortunately, after being chased down by richytsoe, Matchstick, skink74, JB, Matchstick’s colleague, and FurryLippedSquid. the assassin (Chief Foxer Setter Roman) was wrestled to the ground by the strong hands and sharp wits of phlebas and billy_bunter. All those involved in the defoxing receive a Flare Path flair point and a clip-on Garfield beard (worn as a sign of respect by 80% of the US population in the week following the President’s death).

a. USS Potomac
b. B-29 (Called the Washington by the RAF)
c. Fort Bliss Centennial stamp
d. Martin Baltimore
e. Alvis Stalwart
f. M41 Walker Bulldog
g. RoboRally board
h. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
i. Sir Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins


Apologies for the lack of Foxer last week. By way of compensation today’s collage comes with a playable rather than a polishable prize. The generous Josephines at I-can’t-tell-you-their-name-without-contravening-Flare-Path’s-post-Doritosgate-ethics-policy have supplied a Steam code for the certifiably splendid I-can’t-tell-you-the-title-without-contravening-Flare-Path’s-post-Doritosgate-ethics-policy. Post the collage theme in the comments section below (All answers in the same thread, please) or mail it to me using the link at the top of the column (Readers unable to comment for any reason are always welcome to send in guesses. Correct/timely contributions will be acknowledged a week later in the usual manner.) and the prize could be yours.


  1. Tim Stone says:

    Fasten your foxer deductions to this comment, please. (Or, if you prefer, send them in via the ‘Tim Stone’ link at the top of the page.)

    • All is Well says:

      The gun in lower left looks like a AK-74, maybe? The stock seems like the right angle at least.

      • All is Well says:

        The aircraft looks to be a Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation, I think.

        Edit: the Super Constellation/Constellation is also known as “Connie”.

        • All is Well says:

          Reading up a bit, the Constellation was developed from the Lockheed Excalibur, fits well with Sord/Sword and Dragon, I guess?

          • Smion says:

            Alternatively, there existed an early warning/radar/surveillance variant of the Constellation called “Warning Star” which might fit in with the flag theme, since stars are rather common in that regard.

            Edit: Or, as you mention below Stars in a constellation.

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        Matchstick says:

        Not sure it’s a AK74 (or AKM) as on that the stock connects flush to the receiver without the metal socket that the stock is fitting into in the above picture.

        I think it’s more likely to be an original AK47 design.

        — Edit — looks like an AK-47 Type 2 – which was the first versions with a milled steel receiver

        • All is Well says:

          A quick googling seems to suggest you are entirely correct, which doesn’t surprise me as I know very little about guns :)

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            Matchstick says:

            Yeah the fact I can dig up that kind of information really does worry me sometimes :)

    • Beowulf says:

      Medal on the top is a Czechoslovak War Cross (the one from 1st WW), the lower one als looks Slovakish/Hungarian.

      • All is Well says:

        The silver cross to the upper right looks like a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

        Edit: And the lower-right cross (which I don’t think anyone has identified yet) is of course an Air Force Cross, turned upside down.

        • Commander_Zeus says:

          After some wikipedia-ing, the top left medal is French and is the rather cumbersomely named ‘cross of the resistance volunteer combatant’ ( as Wikipedia puts it, probably sounds better in French). It also appears that the bottom left train image is ann early 19C German loco called ‘Adler’ (Eagle).

          So maybe some sort of flying animal/mythical/fantasy creatures theme? (dragon and eagle)

    • FurryLippedSquid says:

      I do not know any of those things and am unwilling to Google them.

      This time.

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        Matchstick says:

        Not even the keyboard top right ? ;)

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          Matchstick says:

          That keyboard top right is from the Sord M5

          Also known as CGL M5 in the UK

          (image looks to be the Sord version as the CGL one looks to have the graphics symbols markings on the keys in blue not yellow)

          • FurryLippedSquid says:

            Damn your eyes. How did you get that?

          • All is Well says:

            Hmm… Sord – Sword? Sword and dragon?

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            Matchstick says:

            Oops reached the comment indenting level

            @FurryLippedSquid – I knew I recognised it from the 80s – i briefly thought it might have been one the ZX81 or Spectrum clones due to the Keyword markings on the keys but they weren’t right so I then started googling 80s home computers with chiclet keyboards :)

            @ All is Well – more generally a St George and the Dragon theme perhaps ?

          • Smion says:

            I’m not really sure, but maybe the theme is medieval heraldry, since I’d imagine Dragons, eagles, crosses and swords might feature on coat of arms prominently, though so far I haven’t found any that combine all of them.

          • All is Well says:

            I was thinking about heraldry myself but can’t figure out how Kalashnikov would fit there.
            I was also considering Arthurian legend (because Excalibur), but can’t make a real connection there either.

          • Thurgret says:

            Well, it’s Arthur Pendragon when expanded out?

            Edit – although I’m suddenly tempted to say ‘Armenia’, wildly different from anything so far though it is.

          • Smion says:

            @All is Well: The kalashnikow is featured in the coat of arms of Zimbabwe, East Timor as well as in the flag of Mozambique and the former emblem of Burkina Faso

        • All is Well says:

          Hmm, so rather than heraldry, perhaps the theme is “flags”? Eagles, dragons, swords, constellations of stars, crosses – all of them are frequently found on flags, and as you say, the Kalashnikov is also present on a flag.

          Edit: Reply fail. Also, the flag theme would make sense if the bridge in the picture was the Crescent City Connection Bridge, crescents being fairly frequent on flags as well.
          Double edit: It IS the Crescent City Connection, using google street view I found the exact picture, the truck says Dong Phuong Bakery on the side. So the theme is probably flags.

          • Smion says:

            I guess then the floor plan/map of that (presumed) castle in the lower right background might just be any castle, since one is featured on the flag of Gibraltar

          • Stuart Walton says:

            It’s Angkor Wat, I know because we started to build it in Minecraft but never finished.

          • Smion says:

            well, angkor wat’s on the cambodia flag, so the theme’s probably still the same

          • All is Well says:

            @Smion and Stuart Walton
            So, in summary:
            Wheeled armored vehicle: Dragon: Wales
            Loco: Eagle: Albania, Egypt, American Samoa, Iran, Mexico and probably others.
            Keyboard: Sord/Sword: Saudi Arabia, can’t think of any others
            Aircraft: Constellation/Star: New Zeeland, Brazil, Australia, Samoa, the US, lots more
            Medals: Crosses: Too many countries to count
            Gun: Kalashnikov: Mozambique
            Schematic for building: Castle: Gibraltar, alternatively Angkor Wat: Cambodia
            Bridge : Crescent: Turkey, Tunisia, Libya, others

          • All is Well says:

            I won the prize but since you pointed me in the right direction I want to thank you by sharing it with you in some manner, so would you kindly send an email to alexandercarlstrom(at)gmail(dot)com and we’ll work something out!

          • Smion says:

            @All is well: Probably, I pulled some possible different explanations for the varying medals out of my ass, but I’m fairly sure the rough direction is correct.
            Edit: Congratulations, though as usual the foxer was pretty much a group effort, so I guess the congratulations goes to everyone else as well.

          • All is Well says:

            Precisely my feeling (about it being a group effort, I mean), which is why I wanted to share it somehow. If you’re interested, please tell me how we should arrange that.

    • Commander_Zeus says:

      So I think the bottom right picture is a US tank transporter called a ‘Dragon’ (picture reminds me of Tamiya box art from my childhood). The medals.. hmm. Two of them seem to have the cross of Lorraine, or Free French cross on them, but I can’t think of anything dragon related.

    • alh_p says:

      The wee loco on the bottom left looks like Stephenson’s Rocket.

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        Matchstick says:

        One of the rules of thumb on here seems to be that it’s NEVER Stephenson Rocket :)

        Not sure what Tim Stone has against Stephenson or his engine but he seems to love finding pictures that might be the Rocket but never are :)

      • Palindrome says:

        Wrong number of wheels. It looks almost like a few different locomotives but almost ins’t good enough. Meh, trains

      • eeldvark says:

        It’s an Adler, Adler means eagle. This particular image is from a stamp which can be seen near the end of the wiki article.

    • skink74 says:

      The plan in the lower right appears to be of Ta Prohm, a temple at Angkor in Cambodia. Originally Rajavihara (“monastery of the king”)

      EDIT- no wait, it’s actually Angkor Wat – “temple city”

    • LionsPhil says:

      Thank you for this organizational effort, Mr Stone.

    • Smion says:

      So, if the flag theme turns out to be true, so far we have (clockwise):
      Conspicuous Gallantry Cross/Cross(?) (England?)
      Sord Keyboard/Sword (Saudi-Arabia)
      Dragon tank transporter/Dragon (Wales)
      Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
      Air Force Cross/Hawk(?) (Federation of arab Republics)
      Adler locomotive/Eagle (Germany/Egypt/countless others)
      Ak-47 (Mozambique)
      Croix combattant volontaire resistance/Cross of Lorraine (Free France)
      Crescent City Connection Bridge/Crescent (Pakistan)
      Czechoslowak War Cross/Slovakian Double Cross (Slovakia)
      Lockheed constellation/ Star constellation (Australia)
      Entries marked with (?) are ones where I am even less sure than usual that they are correct.

  2. BobbyDylan says:

    Oh wow. Close Combat was one of my favorite games. I played it again a few years ago, and it’s still brilliant fun. How do we get into the beta?

    • GernauMorat says:

      Seconded. I love the series, and honestly don’t even mind that much about the move to 3d. If the AI was less exploitable I would still be playing the a bridge too far!

  3. Palindrome says:

    The medal on the top left is the croix combattant volontaire resistance, awarded by France to people who fought with the resistance.

  4. frightlever says:

    I’m no history buff but a lot of my favourite media happened during the Thirty Years War, from “The Last Valley” (the film – haven’t read the book), through Michael Moorcock’s “The Warhound and the World’s Pain” to Eric Flint’s “1632” series.

    Was “The Three Musketeers” set during the Thirty Years war? If so you can add the two Michael York movies to that list. Yes, both of them.

  5. Stellar Duck says:

    Isn’t there also another upcoming Close Combat game called Gateway to Caen? How are the two related?

    • Napoleon15 says:

      I believe Gateway to Caen is basically the last of the new Close Combat games that will be actual 2D and based on whatever version of the engine they’ve been using for the Matrix Close Combat remakes. I’ll be kind of sad to see the 2D engine go, especially as the original A Bridge Too Far was my first ever wargame I got for my computer, but I do really think it is time that Matrix advanced the series forward instead of the small little tweaks here and there they make to each release.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Ah! I see.

        That makes sense.

        I just noticed it last night on Steam but I was way too drunk to look properly into it. The screenshots look nice though.

  6. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Who is this mysterious “Matchstick’s colleague” and how does one wrest such a prestigious title from its present incumbent?

  7. Stuart Walton says:

    The building schematic is Angkor Wat.

  8. JFS says:

    Slitherine is becoming cooler and cooler. Just three weeks ago, I was looking for 30 Years War videogames. Turns out, there aren’t any. Enter Slitherine, announcing Pike & Shot like two days after my unsuccessful search.

    • tormos says:

      Pike and Shot seems like a game that would interest me a lot (even though i’m not a grizzled wargamer or anything). Very supportive of games reaching towards a broader spectrum than that 2nd world war lark.

  9. edwardoka says:

    “Bella Cantarella – Flare Path Soft’s debut project – a poison-sprinkled serving-wench sim set during the War of the Holy League.”

    Yes please.