The Flare Path: Is Lost For Words

I’ve been robbed! I got up this morning to find my office ransacked and my mahogany word cabinet agape. Among the items taken were the words listed above. In the circumstances, covering this week’s wargame releases could be tricky. Perhaps I should stick to sim-related news, interviews and observations today.

Londoners in the single-player pampering Wings Over Flanders Fields now sport bleary eyes and hunted looks. On Monday Gothas and Zeppelins arrived over the British capital courtesy of an expansion pack that also introduced aircraft self-shadowing, flightier flight, flightier foes, inkier nights and chalkier Cliffs of Dover.

Does the full feature list justify a $45 outlay? Going by this largely approbatory ‘first impressions’ forum thread, yes, it probably does.

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During a recent attic rummage, I came across My First Proper Book, an extremely dog-eared copy of Ladybird’s ‘Commercial Vehicles’. Crammed with wonderful illustrations of 60s and 70s trucks and vans, the infant Tim Stone perused this tiny tome while tucked up in bed, sprawled on summer grass, and perched on his potty. It didn’t quite succeed in making him a truck driver, but it probably helped sow the seeds of his Euro Truck Simulator 2 enthusiasm.

As pleased as I am to see the new DAF XF Euro 6 in ETS2 I can’t help wishing it was a Scammell Routeman or an AEC Mammoth Major (They knew how to name lorries in The Old Days). The DAF was added a couple of weeks ago, part of the same free update that added 6-wheeled chassis with liftable axles, sharper physics and – supposedly – brighter AI drivers.

SCS’s continued dedication to patching and free content is truly exemplary, especially as the Czech outfit are also hard at work on an imminent expansion pack and the absurdly promising American Truck Simulator. Recent blog posts suggest the upcoming slab of Scandinavia will provide some of ETS2’s most redolent roads. A lot of effort is going into capturing the look and feel of specific locations, and ensuring street furniture has an appropriately Northern European flavour.

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Forward Development is another sim dev that believes in being benevolent. The Russian makers of the Lada-filled, realism-steeped City Car Driving are soon to unveil a free add-on focussed on a second fictional city. The inhabitants of this new panelák-peppered venue sound like a dangerous bunch. There are reckless lane changers and brake slammers amongst their drivers, and foolish Willy Weasels amongst their pedestrians. No news yet on whether the sudden halters will include devious brake-light-disconnecting insurance fraudsters.

This weekend is a particularly good time to buy CCD . For the next couple of days only, the game is a very reasonable $11.99.

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Friendly, handsome, and almost rival-free, VSTEP’s Ship Simulator franchise looked unsinkable for a spell in the late Noughties. When the weather deteriorated and the engine faltered circa 2010, like most bridge pacers I fully expected the series to ride out the storm. Instead, it (CHOOSE NAUTICAL METAPHOR NOW)

a) Fired a few forlorn distress flares before slipping quietly beneath the waves.
b) Limped back to Rotterdam, never to go to sea ever again.
c) Was grappled to death by the Giant Squid of Steam Indignation.

The Dutch devs that popularised the genre may have lost interest in modern seafaring as entertainment (They’re still very active in the training field) but that doesn’t mean everyone else has. Excalibur Publishing, a British firm with a longish history in sim publishing, have recently acquired a virtual shipyard, recruited six shipwrights and hydrographers, and embarked on a maritime sim of their own.

Four captainable vessels (tug, Channel ferry, bulk carrier, trawler), two ports (Calais and Dover), four missions, … there’s not much to the Early Accessible European Ship Simulator at present, but in between crashes, I’ve experienced some reassuringly ponderous handling physics and glimpsed some rather atmospheric seascapes through rain-lashed bridge windows. Intrigued by ESS’s potential I sought out and quizzed game producer Chris Cleveland.

RPS: This is quite a departure for Excalibur. Why venture into sim development at this point?

Chris: We have a very loyal following of simmers after bringing titles such as Euro Truck Simulator 2 and Farming Simulator to market. We don’t work on Farming Simulator anymore and since then it has been important for us to develop our very own IPs that allow us to invest in its future and grow it over time. With users experiencing a shift in their purchasing habits we understand that digital platforms are also very important. And if you don’t own the worldwide rights to a game, you can’t launch it on some of the more popular digital channels.

RPS: What aspect of the sim is receiving the most attention at the moment?

Chris: We really want to nail down the controls of the ship and focus on allowing the player to manoeuvre the ship completely while sitting on the bridge. We’ve gone to great lengths to make the interiors look as visually stunning as possible and have implemented sensors which allow the player to tell how close they are to colliding with the dock. If you never have to leave the bridge of the ship to complete a mission I think we’ve achieved one of our objectives.

RPS: Will we be able to wander decks at some point?

Chris: We want to make this a reality, right now we removed this because we had a physics issue that would affect the ship whenever the player would move. If the player ran back and forth it would rock and eventually roll the ship over. While hilarious, unless the man responsible for running back and forth was of extreme weight, this would not happen in real life! It’s contained to the bridge right now but we want to allow players to explore the rest of the ship too.

RPS: Do you plan to combine the current Dover and Calais sceneries or will Channel crossings always involve a map switch?

Chris: Right now you can make the trip from Dover to Calais with the passenger ferry without a map switch. In real life it would take you 90 minutes to cross the channel. In European Ship Simulator it will take you about one hour to complete our passenger ferry mission where you can sail across the English Channel. Of course, you can choose to skip to the port of Calais if you don’t wish to sail the entire length!

RPS: Is the engine capable of rendering really large sceneries? Could it, for instance, handle the entire North Sea or Baltic?

Chris: There’s a chance that we could allow for streaming. One of the interesting things is that there’s a lot of open water. You could technically use this open water to load areas as you progress towards it. It will be a lot of work but there’s a possibility to map the earth but you treat these open water elements as loading screens. It’s much more difficult when sailing around the coastline when there is a lot of detail at all times. But these are things to consider.

RPS: The ferry in the current build feels pleasingly hefty. How do you go about researching the handling characteristics of a vessel like that?

Chris: There are so many different ways to nail down handling for a vessel. You could visit the dock and watch ships pulling into and docking out of the harbour, you can also buy a ticket and simply be a passenger. One of the things that has really helped us out is that we have several loyal members of the community who will call us out if the ship does not handle the way they feel it should. Some of these are captains of their own vessel and they can be very vocal about the realism required. We get emails every day suggesting new features and additions to improve upon the realism, its great! But we have to prioritise these suggestions right now as it can be sometimes very difficult to handle some requests with the size of our current team.

RPS: Are you using a third-party SDK for your wave simulation?

Chris: At the moment we’re using TRITON Ocean. It’s a very handy tool for our very first version. We’ve seen some really detailed third party SDK’s including Nvidia’s Waveworks that look stunning. The goal for the future would be to consider adapting our own water system, but with our resources this is not possible for now.

RPS: Will we ever find ourselves being pushed off course by high winds and tidal streams?

Chris: Right now, the waves can push you around, the tug boat and the upcoming fishing boat can be knocked around which is quite satisfying! The larger vessels react to the ocean waves but they are much sturdier vessels so the impact is lessened. We are working on a Speedboat at the moment and I’m really looking forward to seeing how that will work with dangerous seas.

RPS: What can we expect from the release version’s damage modelling?

Chris: At the moment, I am afraid we don’t have a system in place to handle damage modelling. We really love the type of damage modelling seen in Wreckfest and BeamNG. There’s a great opportunity for ships to receive the same treatment. But this requires a lot of thought, including ways how we can simulate hull damage and taking on water.

RPS: Do you plan to model equipment like radar?

Chris: This is a feature suggested by the community that we’ll need to look into. At the moment we have fake radar on the ship in the form of a static image. But there’s an opportunity that those monitors could display a real working radar system.

RPS: The single-player sides of most maritime sims seem to be built around missions and ‘free roam’ modes. Will you be following suit or trying something more ambitious/imaginative?

Chris: We originally planned a career mode, this is still something we want to pursue in the future but for the sake of time and resources it was a feature that was eliminated. One of the things that we want to create is a sense of economy and progression. We agree that too many ships focus on one single mission or just allowing the player to explore a port, but we agree there should be something more to encourage the player to perform these tasks. We have some ideas, but nothing set in stone.

RPS: Will we be able to add our own vessels to the sim?

Chris: This was originally planned but we refocused our work to focus on our own vessels first. It’s still something we want to put into the game but you can imagine the type of ‘vessels’ that will begin to appear moments after we launch mod support.

RPS: Would you like to see a Train Simulator-style third-party commercial add-on scene grow up around ESS?

Chris: It’s an interesting thought as we have actually worked to produce third party add-ons for Flight Simulator X. It would be interesting to be on the other end and I know we have some very creative people who could really create some interesting add-ons. I think this version will probably not be able to sustain the requirements, but in the future it’s definitely something to consider.

RPS: Most satisfying moment in the development process so far?

Chris: Getting in touch with some of the more vocal members of the community to play the game in advance of the release of Early Access. This was the first time we let anyone outside of development play the game so we were really nervous about how they would react. We had a few share some suggestions to improve and we took that on board but importantly, these players were happy with how the game was progressing. I believe the actual development of a game is hard and stressful, the satisfaction comes when someone has played your game and enjoys it. The joy of Early Access is that while throughout the middle of development, you have that satisfaction of players enjoying your game throughout the development stage. It’s really interesting and in a way helps motivate the team.

RPS: Best of luck and bon voyage!

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The Flare Path Foxer

At precisely 14.02 GMT last Friday, the extraordinarily slippery Gunther Plüschow was apprehended by human bloodhound Rorschach617. Would Mark Judd’s fugitive have got away if Matchstick, Shiloh, Vurogj, and phlebas hadn’t swiftly and skilfully narrowed the search area? Almost certainly.

a. Iron Cross (won by Plüschow)
b. Donington Park (site of the POW camp)
c. Taube (type flown by Plüschow in China)
d. The Princess Juliana (the ship that carried him to the Continent)
e. The Perito Moreno Glacier (where Plüschow died in an aircrash in 1931)
f. Tsingtau (The venue of an earlier escape)
g. Inadvertently uttered by Plüschow at a London station.
h. Boot polish (used to disguise his hair during the escape)

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Roman has worked like a Ruston Proctor Steam Navvy this week. The fruits of his labours include…

* a rice grain sculpture of the Graf Zeppelin
* an origami model of the Akagi (made from a single sheet of rice paper)
* a matchstick model of a Yanmar Rice Harvester
* a delicious hagfish kedgeree
* this foxer

All guesses in one thread, please.

31 Comments

  1. AFKAMC says:

    The cutaway is of a Bristol Beaufort Mk 1

    • AFKAMC says:

      Is the biplane some type of Pitts Special?

    • Shiloh says:

      The stained glass looks vaguely Arts & Craft-y – the subject is familiar as well but I can’t place him at the moment.

      EDIT: Got him – it’s Izaak Walton, author of The Compleat Angler, in The Fishermen’s Chapel in Winchester Cathedral.

      Hope you haven’t been robbed Tim but if you have, commis-, err, commi-, err… bugger, someone’s gone and nicked half the contents of my “wordrobe” as well!

      • AFKAMC says:

        The dude in the hat is really annoying me, because I swear I’ve seen that exact same picture somewhere, but I just can’t place it. It is a nice hat, though.

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      Matchstick says:

      The comic bottom right REALLY looks like it’s a DC Thomson publications which I think means it’s might have been Bullet #76 (unlikely I think), Victor #857 or Warlord #148

      -Edit-
      Based on the front cover I’d say it’s Victor issue 857
      link to i.ebayimg.com

      • Shiloh says:

        Battle Action maybe? Though I don’t remember that particular strip – Panzer G-Man was always my favourite character.

      • SuicideKing says:

        “Stone the crows, Skip” made me think this had something to do with Donna Summers.

    • P.Funk says:

      Could be my imagination but the map in the background looks an awful lot like the world map from Silent Hunter 3.

    • All is Well says:

      I’m pretty sure the signed and sealed document in the top right is the first 1864 Geneva Convention, or, in full:
      “The First Geneva Convention, for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field”

    • AFKAMC says:

      Is the answer Frankenstein (The Modern Prometheus)? Victor Frankenstein, Captain Walton, Geneva, etc.?

      • All is Well says:

        Aww, I was *just* about to write this. In other words, I think you’re right!

        Also: the seashells are for Shelley.
        Beaufort is for Caroline Beaufort.

      • deejayem says:

        And I was just about to launch into exciting adventures in mollusc identification.

      • Shiloh says:

        Is the background Antarctica-related then?

        EDIT EDIT: Err, The North Pole I mean. Why did I have it in my mind that the Creature flees to the South Pole?

      • Rorschach617 says:

        I was about to start a trawl looking for fly-fishing references. You saved me, Sir!

      • phlebas says:

        The smiley pixellated guy looks to be Frank N Stein, from the Spectrum game of the same name.

      • SpiceTheCat says:

        I think the map in the background is of Orkney, which would fit (it’s where Victor goes to build the female creature).

  2. Prolar Bear says:

    Wait, have you been robbed for real? Because that’d be terrible. D:

    If not, then woooooooosh.

    • Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

      I came here to ask this. Not sure if it was a humerous opening, or just an attempt to comunicate what happened.

  3. McCool says:

    I don’t know what I’d do without the word yeomanlike. My heart goes out to you.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      I’ll spare a ‘hackneayed’, Mr Stone, ’cause I have multiple copies available, you know. As for ‘fopdoodle’, you are on your own there.

    • jtgibson says:

      It’s okay as long as “Episcopalian” and “fuddruckers” are safe. They can take just about any other words, but I don’t anticipate anyone could complete a strategy gaming article without those.

    • Tim Stone says:

      Thanks for the concern and offers. Happily, since writing that intro, most of the longer words have been recovered. A local dog walker found them dumped in a ditch on Old Kiln Lane.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Henke says:

    Has anyone played City Car Driving recently? Does it control well with a gamepad or is steering wheel needed? I was holding out for the Steam release, but the current price is very tempting.

    • Tim Stone says:

      I’ve never used a gamepad with CCD but I suspect you wouldn’t have problems. The controller configuration options are extensive. There’s opportunities to remap everything and sliders to tweak axis sensitivity, dead zones and linearity.

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        Henke says:

        Thanks for the reply, Tim. :) A bit of googling revealed that you can also use the mouse for steering. I used to spend countless hours in Midtown Madness’ free ride mode just cruising around, using the mouse. (it worked amazingly well) Bought CCD, I’m sure I’ll find a control setup that works. I do have a cheapo Thrustmaster wheel as well, but I’m only mounting that as a last resort.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Matchstick says:

    The comic bottom right REALLY looks like it’s a DC Thomson publications which I think means it’s might have been Bullet #76 (unlikely I think), Victor #857 or Warlord #148

  6. Eggman says:

    Tim Stone, did you buy Hawk T1A for DCS?

  7. Kerr Avon says:

    Sorry to hear you were robbed, Tim. Indeed, it would appear you were. The highwayman in question wasn’t Dick Turpin though, was he? No, he was selling WOFF! $45 for the update plus base mod at $39.99 + extra skins and addons to buy (on the website it says we “might” need to pay Sales Tax?) It’s a bit vague. So we’re really talking about $100? Wait… I need to buy Combat Flight Simulator. A smidgen over $100 then. To play a mod. Of a 17 year old PC game? Um. OK?? No Holiday Sale either? If this was for a more recent sim like Rise of Flight then I wouldn’t be commenting, I’d be buying WOFF now! No disrespect to the creator(s) but the final price shouldn’t really be all about justifying the hours of work you put in, the balance should be counter-weighed by value for money or rather, the perception of value by the end user. That is, how many new people contemplating buying your mod today are actually going to know (or want to know) all the details of blood, sweat and tears put into it? Other than your friends, family and the handful of die-hard regulars on your forum, that is. Sir, you made a truly superb mod, no doubt about it and I commend you. Whoever is responsible for selling it though, does this other person know economics? A reasonable price-point shows respect for your client = a steady increasing flow of new clients coming on board. Unless you’re actually happy with always the same old mouldy forum regulars talking amongst themselves in a vacuum? New players = new people outside the circle talking about your work over the Internet = exponentially increased sales for you + a better feel-good factor = everybody wins in the long run. Or not? I’m probably wrong. You have an economist on your team and you know what you’re doing. Carry on and all the best!

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      When I see WOFFs prices, I am suddenly reminded by this statement by FN Herstal (perhaps fittingly, a Belgian company), when it was revealed that the US army would not be continue buying their FN SCAR-L rifles:

      “FNH USA believes the issue is not whether the SCAR, and specifically the [originally contracted] MK 16 variant, is the superior weapon system available today…it has already been proven to be just that…recently passing Milestone C and determined to be operationally effective / operationally suitable (OE/OS) for fielding. The issue is whether or not the requirement for a 5.56 mm replacement outweighs the numerous other requirements competing for the customers’ limited budget. That is a question that will only be determined by the customer.”

      Or, in shorter terms: There is no doubt that WOFF is the best single player sim out there. The question is whether it’s good enough to justify it’s asking price, which is rather high.