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The Flare Path: In Search Of A Sub Title Subtitle

Simulation & wargame blather

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The eyecatching Yellow Pages advert that is currently serving as my bookmark, is tucked between the pages of Bob Whinney’s ‘The U-Boat Peril’ at the moment, a fact that may explain why work-in-progress sub sim Wolves of the Atlantic is on top of this week’s word heap. A mobile game destined for the PC, WOTA seems eminently dismissable until you glimpse the screenshots, peruse the feature list, and realise that lone creator Mark Hessburg is drawn to realism like a GNAT is drawn to propeller noise.

Mark’s been toiling away on his Type VIIC sim for six years now. The myriad man-hours that have gone into handsome superficialities like 3D interiors, sumptuous sea shaders and clever cloud-influenced lighting, but they’ve also been lavished on unglamorous fundamentals like physics, enemy AI, and diesel engine realism. The latest news bulletin boasts of stuff like “correct hydrodynamic simulation” and “absolutely correct acceleration and fuel consumption”. There’s even talk of attacking aircraft using blade element theory-based FMs.

Though the first mobile incarnation of WOTA will wear the ‘Arcade Battles’ subtitle and fast-forward through the duller side of Das Booting (players will be bustled from one random encounter/sighting to the next, returning to port when ammo and fuel levels run low) later instalments should offer Silent Hunter-style campaign dynamism.

Tonnage sent to the seabed is likely to be at the heart of the scoring system, but, interestingly, campaign ratings will also reflect a Kapitan’s willingness to throw in the towel and save his crew when necessary.

“When you know there is no chance to save your U-Boat anymore then your highest priority should be to save your crew by surfacing and by giving order all hands to leave the boat, this process takes some time and success depends on the current situation. While leaving the U-Boat your crew automatically scuttles the submarine. Depending on the number or survivors and the success of scuttling, your final score of the patrol will be multiplied with a factor of humanity and a factor of dutifulness”.

And when the lights are flickering and the bulkheads are buckling, it sounds like there’ll be no quickloading the nightmare away. Mark’s uncompromising approach to saves (automatic, one slot only) and penchant for permadeath promises to make depth charge and Hedgehog mortar attacks excruciatingly nerve-wracking affairs.

The iOS and Mac versions of WOTA have priority over the PC one, so it may be a while before we’re stalking convoys, scrutinising stopwatches and shuddering as corvette screws churn overhead. For a tiny taste of the delights to come, there’s always Mark’s wunderbar U-Boat compass app to tide you over.


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AGEOD’s WWI TBS To End All Wars is to get the clutch of smaller, day-sized scenarios it sorely lacked at launch. The bad news is the Palestine, Serbia, Romania, and Italy-focused ops (a 1916 Grand Campaign is also included) will come as part of a payware (price TBA) ‘Breaking The Deadlock’ expansion rather than a morale-boosting, acclimatisation-aiding free patch.

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The same Ukrainian dicky bird that last week assured me Graviteam Tactics: Mius Front was near, this week shared a snippet of news that implies Seventies/ Eighties tank sim, Steel Armor: Blaze of War, is in for a bit of an indian summer. In February Graviteam complete their slow disentanglement from not-always-particularly-sympathetic publishers when a 5-year publishing deal with Noviy Disk and UIG expires. The SABOW reins/steering wheel will soon be back in the hands of the coders which could mean a bevy of unusual adjuncts for one of the quirkiest, most ambitious and under-appreciated armour sims around.

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Phew. Having spent most of yesterday toying with the Vietnam 65 beta, I’m happy to report that the qualities I so admired in the prototype have survived the engine shift and publishing deal intact. Under its new hex grid V65 still feels invigoratingly fresh and bally clever.

Every Single Soldier’s determination to capture the essence of counter-insurgency operations in late Sixties SE Asia results in a game in which traditional frontlines don’t exist and more time is spent hunting the enemy than neutralising him.

As the US/ARVN player (it’s not possible to play as the VC/NVA) you’re meant to be the cat in the COIN cat-and-mouse relationship, but when RPGs are plucking your shuttling Hueys out of the air and you’re struggling to medevac or resupply badly mauled patrols, you often feel far from feline.

The secret of success is canny use of the Political Support currency that ‘buys’ new units (PS is topped up by battlefield victories), thoughtful forward base placement and the development of a sustainable logistics network. Troops outside bases need regular supply drops. Fail to keep them provisioned and they lose effectiveness, eventually vanishing.

Village visits are essential. The more sympathetic a settlement (The ‘Hearts & Minds’ scores of villages are steadily eroded by the enemy and together determine ultimate victory) the higher the chance someone will spill the mung beans, exposing nearby insurgents. Once spotted (Ranger units are also great at flushing out foes) you’re free to send in the Phantoms or Cobra gunships, or maybe unleash a stonk from one of your immobile but air-portable artillery units.

The prototype’s atmospheric period map is gone, but the intel map that painstakingly records contacts and slowly reveals the route of the randomly generated map-traversing Ho Chi Minh Trail apes its look and feel well enough.

Just about the only aspect of the game I’m struggling to enjoy at present is the unintuitive control implementation. Because movement orders can be issued with a left or right click currently, deselecting units isn’t as straightforward as perhaps it should be. Oh, and identifying at a glance units that have action points remaining seems to be impossible at present.

Without a campaign layer (a medals/achievements system encourages replay) and multiplayer (planned) Vietnam ’65 won’t be monopolising your PC play time for months to come, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As I’ve argued before there’s a crying need for a new old breed of affordable ‘short form’ wargames with bags of flavour and the bottle to try something different.

The fearless, flavoursome Vietnam 65 should be leaping from its UH-1 some time in March.

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The Flare Path Foxer

‘Islands’ wasn’t the official solution to last week’s foxer, but the increasingly magnanimous/forgetful Roman chose to overlook this, tiddlywinking shiny titanium Flare Path flair points in the direction of AFKAMC, Matchstick, mrpier, Stugle, JB, phlebas and Vurogj.

a. Alpha Jet
b. ??????
c. Air Jamaica logo
d. ??????
e. Rolls -Royce Vulture aero engine
f. George the Steamroller
g. Morris Oxford
h. ??????
i. Fort Drum

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The following foxer is dedicated to Roman’s sister Romana, one of the most naturally gifted Finders the Flare Path Military Archaeology Unit has ever employed. Whether you’re searching for a fumbled spectacles screw on a hearth rug, or a crashed CAC Boomerang in a New Guinean rainforest, Romana is worth her weight in red herrings.

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