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The Flare Path: Is Lost For Words

Simulation & wargame blather

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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.

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