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The Flare Path: Arrivals And Departures

Simulation & wargame blather

Featured post

Afflicted by something clinicians call ‘a bad back’, I’ve been playing Nonagenarian Simulator 2015 for the last couple of days. It’s an eye-opening game. Mission 3. Pick up that dropped pen in under sixty seconds. Mission 7. Put on both of your socks without wincing, grimacing, or turning the air blue. Mission 10. Stoically refrain from mentioning your condition while writing the intro to a Flare Path on Vietnam ’65 progress, PicaSim experimentation, the next instalment of World of Subways, and the death of one of wargaming’s most influential designers.

Slitherine Group hoover up embryonic wargames like blue whales hoover up krill. Vietnam ’65, one of the latest titles to be sucked into their cavernous maw, showed a lot of promise in prototype form. How much of that promise has been successfully converted into ‘GOSH!’, ‘WOW!’ and ‘SNEAKY!’ should be clear very soon, as the beta version is just about to leap from its grass-tousling Huey.

I’m a little concerned the shift to hexes and 3D unit art (the prototype – pictured above – relied on counters and a period map) won’t have done the design any favours. Unconventional warfare invites unconventional treatments and the COIN simulating V65 seems to be doing its best to appear conventional.

Thankfully, the core mechanics look largely unchanged. There’s still that troublesome Ho Chi Minh Trail snaking invisibly across maps. Victory still revolves around winning the hearts and minds of villagers, rather than securing victory locations or wiping out X number of enemy units. Logistics and base placement remain crucial factors.

I wonder if Every Single Soldier are planning to add a proper campaign layer at any point? With shiny gongs seemingly the only incentive for prolonged play, it’s going to be vital the random map generator is up to snuff, the VC and NVA are a cunning bunch, and V65’s price is as realistic as its guerilla warfare depiction.

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The coder behind free RC flight delight PicaSim really is an awfully clever chap. Recently, he’s been using a camera equipped model glider and some ingenious open source software to add scenery meshes to his sim.

Anyone that can watch the experiments and play the latest build of PicaSim (now with integrated object editing and obstacle placement) without picturing a quirky crimefighting game featuring RC aircraft, tanks, and boats, and octocopter-generated locales, clearly hasn’t read nearly as much General Jumbo as me.

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Flushing – Main Street, Mets – Willets Point, 111th Street, 103rd Street – Corona Plaza… if you’re middle-aged and can name the next location in this sequence without recourse to Google, then you may be one of the few gamers well positioned to judge the scenic verisimilitude of TML Studios’ next release.

World of Subways Volume 4 strives to recreate Line 7 of the NYC Subway as it looked in the 1970s. As the distinctive Redbird livery visible in the screenshots doesn’t appear to have been applied until the 1980s, realism doesn’t seem to be massively important to the German devs. That said, images like the ones below suggest ambience may well compensate for any anachronisms.

Fancy DirectX 11 lighting and particle effects added to the engine since its last appearance (London, the Circle Line) promise to make WoS4 the prettiest train sim yet. Let’s hope the delays that have pushed the release date back to March 19, were prompted by a desire to perfect physics. In past WoS titles, trains and gradients have never interacted quite as they should.

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Board and tabletop wargaming lost a design legend on Monday. John Hill’s influence on PC wargaming is less obvious but no less significant. His most famous creation, Squad Leader, features in the fond reminiscences of most of our design luminaries and indirectly led to the birth of two of our finest franchises.

Both Close Combat and Combat Mission started life as Avalon Hill-approved attempts to bring the drama and intimacy of Squad Leader and its descendent Advanced Squad Leader, to the computer screen (Ironically, the only video game ever to wear the SL legend on its box lid was an indifferent X-COM clone).

As this splendid quote from a Fire & Movement magazine interview reveals, Hill wanted characters and character-sized calamities on his battlefields; he understood that there was much more to WW2 tactical wargaming than getting the ballistic maths and the OOBs right.

“Squad Leader was a success for one reason: it personalized the boardgame in a World War II environment. Take the “leaders,” or persons, away from it and it becomes a bore. Though this may sound surprising, the game has much in common with Dungeons & Dragons. In both games, things tend to go wrong, and being caught moving in the street by a heavy machinegun is like being caught by a people-eating dragon. Squad Leader was successful because, underneath all its World War II technology, it is an adventure game – indeed, Dungeons & Dragons in the streets of Stalingrad.”

Remember John Hill next time your favourite digital wargame generates a pulse propelling act of courage, an amazing feat of survival, or a cruel twist of a fate.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Rorschach617, Matchstick, AFKAMC, Llewyn, mrpier, billy_bunter, P.Funk… Roman raised a brimming glass of ‘Jumo juice’ to you last Friday. It warmed his flinty ventricles to see a Grade ‘FFF’ foxer dissected and demystified so skilfully.

(theme: Janis Joplin)

a. Mercedes Benz museum, Stuttgart
b. Piece of my Hart
c. Woodstock glider
d. Big Brother and the Holding Company
e. Porsche 356 convertible
f. Stinson Model A (Joplin’s ashes were scatttered on Stinson Beach)
g. Pearl Harbor
h. Photo developed from film found in Bonny & Clyde’s Joplin hideout

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Last week’s ‘Dog Foxer’ appeal wasn’t a great success. Though 316 canine readers sent in foxer concepts, the vast majority of those concepts were either “KATZ!” or “SKWIRILZ!”. By far the most original theme came from Bob, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier from the New Forest. Bob (pictured above) claimed his idea came to him during a bracing beach walk. He says there’s nothing like the mingled aroma of rotting seaweed and washed up red herrings for stimulating the old grey matter.

All guesses in one thread, please.

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Tim Stone

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