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The Flare Path: On Spangler's Knob

Simulation & wargame blather

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Rejected candidates for today’s header screenshot included… a bullet-riddled flight engineer tumbling from the wing of a stricken Ilya Muromets, a SpinTires Tiger tank being dragged from a Silesian mire by a trio of smoke-belching Famo halftracks, and a gRally Lancia 037 battling for traction on a crowd-hemmed Rallye de Portugal hairpin. It was a difficult decision but in the end Jiří, FP’s picture editor, decided to go with the most exciting image in his in-tray. Ladies & gentlemen, cast your corneas over Ultimate General’s AI customisation screen.

I suspect a good few Flareopaths have already prodded most of the buttons in the above png and dabbed the arguably more tempting ‘random’ button just out of shot. Game Lab’s blue and gray debut has been available in early access form for a couple of weeks now – time enough for early adopters like myself to realise that, yes, the marvellous Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! has finally got the spiritual sequel it deserves. Though there’s still much work to be done the £6 UGG is already bally playable and utterly mesmerising.

Predictably, considering Nick ‘DarthMod’ Thomadis’ apprentice pieces, strong, interesting AI is a big part of the magnetism. Where other wargames tend to come with a single silicon CO, UGG comes with 9. There’s the slow yet sly swine that likes to camp on hills, and use ridges and woods to mask his manoeuvres. There’s the probey pragmatist who’s always looking to turn frontline loopholes into gaping rents. There’s the irascible iceheart who doesn’t mind how many of his men end up pushing up Pennsylvanian daisies as long as the objective is taken. There’s the clayfooted time-bider who’ll probably wait for reinforcements to arrive before slipping on his frockcoat and flinging his coffee dregs at the campfire.

Even if you’ve manually selected your opposite number’s psyche, carving out victories can be hard work. Most opponents are adept at flanking, utilizing terrain, and responding to unexpected threats. Most are devilishly good – possibly too good – at harassing enemy batteries with roving bands of cavalry and skirmishers. Ignore occasionally wonky commander positioning, the current lack of surrendering, and the odd moment where TacAI routines persuade a partially flanked unit to recklessly rotate rather than maintain its current facing, and battlefield behaviours are hard to fault.

Where there is room for substantial improvement is in pace control, hill depiction, and campaign balance. Right now losing as Lee isn’t easy. It’s difficult to see where high ground begins and ends (therefore hard to position cannon batteries to best effect). And, in the midst of large late-Battle engagements, the default game speed means your mouse is usually darting about like a wood ant in a forest fire. Happily, Nick and co. are working on solutions to these issues.

In a genre where moving and monitoring units is seldom as easy as it should be, UGG’s intuitive waypoint-less movement system and restrained-yet-informative GUI feel masterly. The manoeuvre arrows in the accompanying images? Painted directly onto the terrain with sinuous mouse flourishes. If, come Christmas, UGG isn’t being talked about as one of 2014’s finest and most forward-looking wargames, then I’ll shave off my James Longstreet-style chin thicket.

 

Art For Art’s Sake

Here in Merry Old England, the sun is shining, the lawnmowers are shuttling, and the ice-cream vans are using Elizabethan folk tunes to sell Magnums to minors. In other words it’s Summer, traditional time of sunburn, sporting disappointment, and splendid open-entry art exhibitions.

Next Friday – assuming I can persuade enough of you to share sumptuous wargame and simulation screenshots – The Flare Path will be holding its very own gallery extravaganza. You are welcome to attend (Just turn up at 13.00 as usual) and submit self-snapped screenshots to The Hanging Committee (Me, Roman, Uncle George, and Becky from next door) for consideration.

Sadly, because wall space is limited and The Hanging Committee are hard bastards, only a small portion of the images sent to ‘Tim Stone’ using the email link at the top of the column, are likely to end up on display. To maximise your chances of success, please bear in mind the following guidelines.

The Flare Path Summer Exhibition Submission FAQ

When is the closing date for entries?
Anything that arrives before breakfast, June 27 will be considered.

Does the Hanging Committee have any pet hates?
Only unsightly GUI elements, prominent ‘PAUSED’ messages, and, strangely, all aircraft produced by Blackburn between the years 1909 and 1942.

I’m a retro-fiend that hasn’t bought a sim or wargame in ten years. What are my chances of getting an image accepted?
Slim, but you never know.

Should I send confectionery or cash sweeteners with my images?
No, but the names of the featured vehicles/places/battles/sims/wargames together with your own preferred handle would be nice.

I grabbed some uncommonly handsome Dark Souls II pics last night. Any point in me sending them in?
No, it’s strictly sim and wargame-generated art we’re after.

Will the Hanging Committee respond to my submission?
Probably not, they’ll be far too busy scrutinising screengrabs, sipping Earl Grey, and using phrases like “startling juxtaposition” and “bombastic failure”.

I take rejection really badly. Should I send screenshots?
Not sure. When you say “really badly” what do you mean?

When my last girlfriend cheated on me I went round to her house and wrote ‘STRUMPET’ on the lawn with weedkiller.
Perhaps sit this one out.

 

The Flare Path Foxer

Chief foxer setter Roman’s ‘I outfoxed ’em!’ dance is a horrible thing to witness. There’s booty shaking, pelvic thrusting, and even a bit of the Lambeth Walk involved. Thank God I don’t have to watch him doing it very often; unsolved foxers like the one below, are rarer than crones’ teeth.

To prevent more Crimes Against Disco, I urge you all to defox like your lives depended on it, this week. According to Roman, the funky carrion crow, today’s collage theme is closely related to last Friday’s collage theme (see above) so if you crack one puzzle you should be well positioned to crack the other.

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Tim Stone

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