The Flare Path: Ultimate General Knowledge

“My favourite game of 2016? Unquestionably, Ultimate General: Austerlitz. Game-Labs spectacular turnless wargame series has been edging towards Greatness for a couple of years now, and finally took the VL in September. The flaws that tarnished the original release (Ultimate General: Gettysburg) are now distant memories. It’s hard to believe I once grumbled about annoying cannon combat, glaring GUI gaps, and an unexpected lack of challenge.”

The Flare Path, January 6, 2017.

Ultimate General: Gettysburg is a very likeable fellow. Approachable, attractive, and frequently mesmerising, he manages to make most contemporary wargames look ugly, awkward, and expensive. Units are marshalled with intuitive arrow drags. Formation choices are automatic. Over in less than 30 minutes, engagements never outstay their welcome. Nine different flavours of unscripted AI and a clever dynamic campaign system ensure no two Battles of Gettysburg are identical.

What’s disappointing is that Nick Thomadis and chums have bullwhipped their debut project out of Early Access before addressing shortcomings like the bothersome battery management.

For all intents and purposes, there are only three types of unit in the game. Thanks to inscrutable LoS and unhelpful friendly AI, one of those types – the artillery battery – is far harder to utilize than it should be. In attack especially, you will spend an inordinate amount of time pushing cannons to and fro in the hope of finding good firing positions. Frequently, spots that look promising turn out to be hopeless. Clicking on a desired target then trusting artillerymen to find the closest in-LoS location would seem to be the obvious solution (perhaps with a safeguard to halt the battery if the target moves a significant distance before LoS is established). Given the TacAI sophistication evident elsewhere, it seems odd Game-Labs haven’t endowed their cannoneers with more common sense.

Communicating the scale and spectacle of a typical UGG battle with a 620-pixel-wide screenshot is almost impossible. I found myself reminded of a local museum exhibit rather than other digital battle fare, on seeing the game’s extraordinary elephant for the first time. Watching as lines of tiny blue and grey figures manoeuvre, collide, and disintegrate, you won’t care a jot that Game-Labs have gone with sprite-based rather than polygonal soldiery. What might disappoint is the dev’s apparent unwillingness to compromise their wonderful visuals with potentially useful unit icons.

While you can see at a glance how many men are in each of your brigade-sized units, quickly assessing which sections of your line are weary or wavering, fighting fit or fired-up, is much harder. Are the Irish Brigade ready to rejoin the fray? Are the Louisiana Tigers still tigerish? Should I lead my assault with Lane’s, Gordon’s or Mahone’s men? For crucial information like this, you’ve no option but to painstakingly click on individual formations and read the info panel that pops up in the top left corner of your screen.

Considering designer Nick ‘DarthMod’ Thomadis’s passion for and track record in AI coding, one of the last things I expected to find in UGG was uncompetitive opposition. Right now it doesn’t seem to matter much which side you select and which of the nine AI personalities you choose as a foe, losing the Battle of Gettysburg isn’t easy.

Initially you may accidentally scupper yourself once or twice by opting for cautious engagement options on the campaign scenario selection screen (Battle results determine scenario choices within the campaign). On the battlefield however, glory is remarkably easy to come by.

It’s weird. AI adversaries feel competent. Ignore the odd reckless commander and cannon manoeuvre, and they attack and defend convincingly. They form lines, flank, and focus on weak points well enough. What they struggle to do is win. I suspect the dynamism and flexibility of the campaign engine and the carry-over of unit losses may be part of the issue. Maul the enemy early on, and he struggles to recover.

Happily, after twenty-four hours of tussles, winning has yet to lose its sparkle, and circumstances and code still conspire to produce the odd nailbiter and defeat. The timely arrival of a single battery or the canny repositioning of one general (represented here as TW style morale boosters) can decide a delicately poised scrap. The temptation to try for every Victory Location on a map (the game splits the historical battlefield into several overlapping sections) is hard to resist at times and can invite disaster if succumbed to.

I’ve yet to try multiplayer or explore the 90+ scenarios in the custom battles folder. As I understand it, the latter are the building blocks of the campaign, so are probably best experienced in that context. With cannon employment fiddly and no option to issue orders while paused in MP, the prospect of sentient opposition isn’t particularly appealing at the moment.

Overlooking UGG’s relatively minor weaknesses will be a lot be easier if you’re unfamiliar with the classic it most resembles and the series that many grogs now rely on for Blue & Gray battle simulation. Those that know and love Sid’s 1997 masterpiece may find themselves wondering why Game-Labs didn’t purloin a few more of SMG’s excellent features. UGG’s bendable movement arrows are a doddle to daub, but the fact you can’t fine-tune unit facing at a destination means they are arguably less useful than their SMG equivalents. Topography is easier to read in the old-timer, briefings are more atmospheric, and – thanks to a replay facility and entertaining unit-highlighting de-briefings – post-combat contemplation is more satisfying too.

Generals arriving from Scourge of War will, I suspect, struggle to come to terms with UGG’s tactical simplicity. With no formation options and no need to worry about delayed or distorted orders, the game basically boils down to applying appropriate pressure in appropriate spots at appropriate times. In essence, you’re just bawling ‘Go there!’ over and over again. There are ‘charge’ and ‘hold’ orders – you may manually select targets for units, and ammo types for artillery – but, right now, use of such subtleties isn’t strictly necessary.

Without perusing your book/game library and personally checking your face for a Longstreet-inspired chin thicket, I can’t say for sure whether you will enjoy Ultimate General: Gettysburg. With its staggeringly spectacular scraps, simple controls, and lively (if not especially competitive) AI presently harassed by a skirmish line of small yet annoying flaws, disappointment is highly unlikely, but not completely unthinkable.

 

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The Flare Path Foxer

Roman tends to shred foxers that remain unsolved for more than two weeks. If you can’t see the next image, then, chances are, it’s been turned into chaff and is currently hiding Hetzer, the office hamster.

To prevent today’s puzzle ending up as rodent bedding, identify the theme connecting the seven collage components below. Previous themes have included Louis XIV, Cobras, Quartz, Sherlock Holmes, Vatican City and Monopoly.

All answers in one thread, please.

41 Comments

  1. Napoleon15 says:

    I think it’d be great if GOG.com managed to get the Sid Meier Civil War games released again. I spent an unhealthy amount of time as a kid playing Gettysburg, and as much as I enjoy the Scourge of War series, Sid Meier’s Gettysburg has a certain charm about it that I really miss.

  2. AFKAMC says:

    The aircraft in the B&W photo is I believe a (captured) Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate (“Frank”).

    • deejayem says:

      The polymer is cellulose, I think?
      Edit: bugger, no it isn’t.

    • INinja132 says:

      The animal in the bottom middle is Conker the squirrel from Conker’s Bad Fur Day

      • Kasper_Finknottle says:

        He’s a red squirrel, just in case colour has something to do with it :0)

      • Stugle says:

        Is he a flying squirrel, by chance? Apart from the pectin, all clues seem to be flight-related.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          Does he say anything about napalm in the game? Pectin makes me think “gelling agent” > “napalm”

        • lilD says:

          How about a theme of Autumn? Jam (pectin), Conkers, Gales (Hayate), Autumn blaze maple leaf (bottom left) but i’m struggling to make the others fit.

    • Stugle says:

      Transport plane top left, is that an Antonov 124?

      • All is Well says:

        It could also be the An-124’s bigger brother, the An-225 Mriya (“Dream/Inspiration”), NATO name “Cossack”. They look very much alike in the nose part, and the image in the foxer is cleverly cut off at precisely the point where they start to exhibit differences (the An-225 has two more engines, for instance).

      • All is Well says:

        It could also be its bigger brother, the An-225 Mriya (“Dream”), NATO name Cossack, which looks very much like the An-124 in the nose part. It has a couple of extra engines and a twin tail though, but the image is cut off right where you’d start to see the extra engines.

        • lilD says:

          I agree, I think if you google image search “An-225 plan” the exact image is the first hit :)

        • Stugle says:

          I thought An-225 first, but the images I saw seemed to show a blunter nose. ‘s A moot point though: the drawing referenced is clearly a match. D’oh, there goes my first match in weeks…

    • All is Well says:

      The satellite photo is of the Wright Brother’s National Memorial in the US, I think.

  3. Gap Gen says:

    You can set unit facing with the middle mouse button, but it’s a bit awkward, and I don’t know if you can chain that with move orders. And yes, if you’re careful then winning isn’t that hard – the other day I won as the Confederates by playing conservatively for the first day then all-out assaulting the weakened Union brigades on Cemetery Hill with a wall of troops. Your men seem to waver a bit more than in SoW, and it can be hard to persuade them to hold even a well-defended position, but I guess I kinda like how important morale and condition are as a consideration.

    I like this overall, though – SoW is a bit too heavy to pick up for a half hour stretch, and overall this feels easier to dip into.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I don’t think you can set a facing to a move order, sadly. As in, you cannot order a brigade to go somewhere and face a certain direction upon arrival which can be an annoyance.

      • dsch says:

        The thing is, units have a tendency to decide their own facing anyway. I’m not entirely sure if they turn to face the enemy, and they don’t seem to align to treeline, but they definitely do align along topography.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Yeah, I like that units will align along a riverbank. It’s a nice touch, and one I kinda miss in Scourge of War, where your rigidly rectanglular regiment can be in the cover of a wall even if the edges are sticking out from cover.

      • JohnnyPanzer says:

        It’s sort of possible, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable. Basically, it’s possible to make some very sharp turns with the arrows, so I tend to end my arrow by making a final corcscrew movement with an extremely small radius, finnishing in the direction I want the unit to face.

        It works quite well, but it would be better to be able to just middle-click on an arrowhead and change the final facing that way…

        • Gap Gen says:

          Yes, I’ve done that before. I like that you can bend the arrow so your brigades even approach with the right facing.

  4. Shiloh says:

    John Tiller’s Battleground Civil War series is still my go to ACW game to be honest. I got UG:G on Early Access, and I do enjoy it, but Tiller’s game, for all its venerable Win95 feel, the somewhat predictable AI and lo-res sprites, is the one I keep going back to. It just seems to me to capture the spirit of the war in a way that UG:G doesn’t.

    I don’t own Scourge of War, but I did play the hell out of Take Commands 1 and 2, and thoroughly enjoyed them, so it’s the logical next move for me, I suppose, to scratch that ACW itch. And I understand Waterloo is in the pipeline, which should be fun.

  5. All is Well says:

    I was hoping for a final word on IL-2 BoS this week, now that it’s officially released, but this might actually be better seeing as how it’s interesting, not very expensive and not as likely to disappoint in the single player department (if what I’ve read on SimHQ is true, that is!).

    • Synesthesia says:

      It released? Damn, that was silent, and not a good sign. Is single player still a bust?

      • All is Well says:

        Yes, according to what I’ve been reading. Or, rather, the campaign (in my mind the most important SP feature) is still just a sequential random mission generator with no continuity between missions. Your death has no effect on the rest of the campaign, you can swap planes, airfields, squadrons and even sides at will etc. It all seems to be very overtly “gamey”, which isn’t helped by how the whole XP grinding/unlock system seems to be very in-your face (see here: link to i.ytimg.com). It seems to be very gamified (if you can say that about what is ostensibly a game) and not very heavy on the immersion and narration. But I haven’t seen a lot of complaining about the in-game systems (flight model, damage model etc) themselves, so it appears to be a game with a solid sim foundation that’s been given an unfortunate gamey/arcadey/reminds-me-of-pinball-a-bit framing.

        This is entirely a second hand construction from what I’ve read, I haven’t played it myself. I hope Tim gets around to doing a WIT since I trust him and his judgment a bit more than the various forum posts I’ve been reading.

      • Flying Penguin says:

        Bug fixes aside, there has been little if any positive movement since it was last covered, in fact the devs have even closed off a loophole which allowed people to sidestep the three fix graphics config presets, so no outward sign yet of them listening to the uproar (however tactfully/tactlessly expressed) about the more controversial design decisions.

        Also ever weirder accusations are being thrown around, by well thought of members of the community, on the BoS SimHQ forum (which I won’t repeat here and are being instantly moderated out of existence on the main forum).

        So yeah… Not looking good at this point and going from bad to weird.

      • Walsh says:

        It is also missing a mission builder. I’ve seen some wonky videos demonstrating poor physics. Like BF109, dirty, doing snap rolls 15 feet over the runway. Some folks claim those videos are using Easy FM but others say they can replicate it on the “complex” FM. I’m not paying to find out at this moment.