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The Flare Path: A Ponce In A Ponsse

Simulation & wargame blather

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Forestry was one of the industries the Industrial Revolution forgot. The tools used by a British forestry worker at the start of the Twentieth Century would have been instantly recognizable to a forestry worker of 1700. It would be another two decades before the oil dripping, smoke breathing dragon of progress appeared in the UK’s pine stands and oak woods. First came the lumbering tractor, then the chainsaw, an increasingly portable petrol-fuelled marvel that quickly saw off the crosscut saw and eventually banished the axe too. Finally, in the 1990s, something truly remarkable arrived. A machine that, in favourable terrain, made a hard-working chainsaw flourisher look like a hopeless slacker, an anachronism, an irrelevance.

Released last week, Farming Simulator 15’s big thing is a supple 8WD that culls conifers like a prize ratter culls vermin. Familiar with GIANTS’ handsome but shallow tractor recreations, I wasn’t expecting a great deal from the new forestry equipment. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find myself in the rotatable driving seat of one of the most demanding, distinctive and diverting sim steeds in yonks.

It’s actually FS15’s forwarder, not its harvester, that takes the fewest prisoners and generates the most satisfaction. Where a high fidelity flight sim ride humbles with accurate avionics and deep systems realism, this game’s timber transporter makes you perspire and ponder by presenting you with an essentially accurate simulation of the prototype’s hydraulic boom and grab. Able to extend, contract, raise, lower, rotate, open and close in the same dexterous manner as its inspiration, the device seems maddeningly complicated at first. You clout trees, pummel earth, and fumble logs like an inebriated giant until, slowly (probably very slowly if you don’t have access to a gamepad) hand and eye begin to collaborate.

After a few hours of practice, the cylinders of softwood should start moving from heap to load bed with something approaching efficiency. You may even find yourself instinctively executing actions familiar to real forwarder drivers… nudging an errant log into place with a closed grab, steadying a load in transit by resting your weighty steel fist upon it.

The Scorpion has its attractions too. In seconds any conifer on the map (in the world of FS all softwoods are potential fodder for your canary yellow agri-mech) can be transformed into a neat stack of lucrative timber. Position the cutting head as low as possible on the doomed trunk, wait for it to auto-embrace, then thumb the button that pushes the integral chainsaw bar through the bole. The next thing you know you’re brandishing a 25m spruce the way a Medieval scribe brandishes a goose feather quill. Another button press and the spruce is feeding through the head, shedding branches as it goes. BZZZZ. THUMP. BZZZZ. THUMP. BZZZZ. THUMP. BZZZZ. THUMP. And onto the next one.

From a fussy realism perspective, it would be nice if ‘brash’ (the removed branches) didn’t instantly disappear. In real life, harvesters minimize ground damage and bogging risk on soft terrain by laying their own carpets of greenery as they go. I’d also like to have seen visual bark scarring, and an option where log length is automatically determined based on the girth of the log at the head. Currently, if you want to create a separate heap of shorter, thinner pulp wood, you’ll need to laboriously alter the cutting length (only adjustable in 50cm increments) every time you process a tree top.

Exit the Scorpion and try your hand at ‘old-fashioned’ chainsaw felling and the standard of simulation is less impressive. Because the FS15 engine can’t or won’t simulate partial cuts, it’s impossible to make the separate sink and back cuts used by tree fellers the world over. Abandon a cut mid-way through and the trunk is left unmarked and undamaged.

Once trees are on the deck and stationary (conifers on slopes can roll ridiculously for several minutes before coming to rest) realism echoes do, thankfully, get a little louder. Methodically de-limbing a felled hardwood is not unsatisfying. Observing the crown of a large broadleaf shift as a supporting branch is cut, will ring pleasing bells with anyone that has ever dismembered a tree or cut up a freakishly large broccoli floret.

Forestry-Related Stuff I’m Hoping To See In FS16:

* Partial cuts
* Hung-up trees
* Bent trunks
* Wind effects
* Deformable terrain
* Pinched bars and chains
* A gloved hand wrapped around that eerily vacant chainsaw handle.
* Perilous powerlines
* Disgruntled squirrels

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There are no scorpions scuttling about in Battlefront’s latest release, but the $20 add-on isn’t short of crabs, crocodiles, and kangaroos.

You’ll need relevant Combat Mission: Battle For Normandy modules to enjoy everything the ‘Vehicle Pack’ has to offer (plus, I think I’m right in saying, two $10 engine upgrades). After purchase, installation, and, what looks like, a rather elaborate registration dance, suitably equipped wargamers will find their CMBFN skirmishes infested by creatures even the famously compendious Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord didn’t provide. While it’s a pity ‘funnies’ like the AVRE and Sherman Crab, and ungainly exotics like the U304(f) halftrack and the M12 Gun Motor Carriage aren’t accompanied by missions showcasing their unique talents/vulnerabilities, I suspect it won’t be long before most of the newcomers are starring in their own user-made scenarios.

Battlefront’s next battlefront is in Ukraine. In a month or two, the uncomfortably timely Combat Mission: Black Sea should be here, reminding us what could happen if peaceful solutions aren’t swiftly found in eastern Ukraine. Sketched out long before the present troubles arose, a 2017 setting, superpower adversaries, and new features like UAVs , SAMs, and precision arty should mean CM: Black Sea warfare feels quite different from the distinctly asymmetrical aggro served up by CM: Shock Force.

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IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad‘s Metacritic page has reappeared and is already smelling fishier than a sun-warmed dish of Whiskas tuna-in-jelly. October 23rd and 24th were particularly popular days for glowing/scathing user reviews from strident first-time metacritics.

With no sign of significant direction changes on the horizon, it looks like the disappointment suffusing some quarters of the flight sim community, won’t be dissipating any time soon. Recently, complaints about unlocks, EXP grinding, and campaign sterility, have been joined by Flight Model criticism. Videos of Bf 109s and He 111s doing suspicious stunts have provoked a spirited and detailed defence of the game’s aerodynamics from Project Manager Han and a selection of vids showing similar aerobatic feats in other sims like CLOD and DCS. Is something seriously amiss in the FM dept? I suspect not, but I can’t pretend the sight of a Heinkel flitting about like a high-spirited House Martin doesn’t leave me troubled.

In more positive news, 777/1C’s flawed fledgeling lands on British high streets today, and users will soon be able to order around wingmen and gunners with far more precision thanks to a fully implemented command system.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Roman is a real piece of work. When I politely suggested he dial down the difficulty in this week’s foxer (three of the last four collages remain unsolved) he responded by removing a clue!

All answers in one thread, please.

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