The Flare Path: Dave Does Dovetail

A Crown Copyright image Private Eyed with the help of www.superlame.com

Six Sure Signs That Your Sim Studio is a Spectacular Success:

 

A Crown Copyright image Private Eyed with the help of www.superlame.com

David ‘You’re all in this together’ Cameron spent a portion of Tuesday touring the Kent base of burgeoning sim superpower Dovetail Games. Flesh was pressed, sims were politely inspected, and staggering success was slyly appropriated…

“Businesses like Dovetail Games are a crucial part of our long term economic plan for the country, and it is thrilling to come and see the role they are playing in Britain’s economic recovery. Here is a business that six years ago employed eight people and now employs 98. It is growing by about a third every year and wants to stay right here in Medway and continue its expansion and success.”

According to the ever-reliable Daily Mail, when shown FSX Steam Edition, Cameron remarked “I’ve used one of those. It feels scarily real” before grumbling about the continued lack of offline functionality, and the surprising weakness of the initial DLC line-up.

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I spent yesterday evening attempting to secure a hex-strewn hill not a million miles from Dovetail’s dockside HQ. The Battle of Hastings is one of 42 historical and semi-historical scenarios included in Jeff Lapkoff’s latest turnbased tactics offering.

Vengeance’s scraps all take place between 500 and 1500AD, and thanks to an ingenious battle-group command system and an admirably uncomplicated turn structure, rarely take longer than 30 minutes to play out. The pace and control simplicity mask surprising depth. As you’d expect from a title distributed by HPS Simulations, the game is built on solid board wargame-endebted foundations. Morale, fatigue, terrain, weather, LoS, unit facing, ammo levels, leader ability, formation choice, armour type… they all exert their influence on the military maths.

But it’s that command system that really elevates the $30 Vengeance above the ranks of the ordinary. Armies come pre-arranged in distinct wings – left, right, centre, reserve etc. Each wing has a unique rated leader unit who, assuming they’re breathing and within bawling distance of their men, can be used to issue en-masse orders like advance, attack, and fall-back. Rather than painstakingly plot moves or targets for all 20-odd units in a specific wing, you can just mouse-stab a single button and let the friendly AI work its digital digits to the bone. Because there’s always the option to fine-tune by choosing arrow/bolt destinations, manually rearranging individual units, or tweaking AI combat doctrines, the occasional clumsiness of automatic battle-group manoeuvring is easily corrected.

With 20m hexes, units representing around 20 warriors, and dozens of different weapons and armour types modelled, battles should be intimate affairs. They are, up to a point, but the decision to go with strength steps rather than unit headcounts, and to mark costly clashes with blood stains rather than corpse sprites makes the mayhem a little harder to visualize than it might have been.

AI-wise I’m not entirely sure what to make of Vengeance yet. There are four flavours of foe available (Balanced, Aggressive, Cautious, Chaotic) and no sign of heavy-handed scripting, but my artificial opponent has struggled in a couple of the scenarios I’ve tried thus far. At Agincourt he had no answer to my lazily plotted arrow storms. At Courtrai, after watching two of his wings come unstuck amongst my caltrops and ditches, he seemed to reconsider, holding another cluster of units back until I foolishly left the shelter of my earthworks. At Hastings playing the defending Saxons, he fought much better, doggedly monopolising the heights and, at one point, cleverly withdrawing one wing that was in imminent danger of being overwhelmed. One consistent half-flaw is missile troop recklessness. The CPU sometimes pushes bowmen forward with gay abandon.

And while we’re grumbling… Jeff, are you aware of the overlapping text issue? Do you have any plans to implement on-map damage summaries or on-counter morale indicators? Do all the battles have to be left-right affairs? Relatively small battlefields and armies that always seem to start facing each other along an east-west axis, mean scenarios aren’t nearly as varied as they could be.

With a few tweaks, a random skirmish generator, and – if wishes were warhorses – some form of campaign system, this could be quite the thing. Right now, I’d advise anyone in the market for a plausible pre-Panzer wargame to sally in the direction of Ultimate General: Gettysburg or Pike & Shot before seeking Vengeance.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Adept airframe analyst AFKAMC made last week’s puzzle look easy. A fine F-82 spot swiftly followed by some solid spaceflight program sleuthing, and Roman’s ‘twin’ foxer disintegrated like a meringue Messerschmitt. Subsequent clue decrypts from the likes of Matchstick, All is Well, Shiloh, and phlebas completed the demolition.

a. Twin Peaks (Mervyn and Class 44/45/46)
b. Castor beans
c. Evil Twin inventory screen
d. Kofi Annan
e. F-82
f. Gemini 4 patch
g. Bristol Cherub flat twin
h. Xolotl (Quetzalcoatl’s twin)
i. Twin Sector logo

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I witnessed Roman’s last will and testament this week. When my Chief Foxer Setter pops his clogs his vast fortune will be split between the local air ambulance (they’re currently flying a Bristol Sycamore) and the RSPRH (the Royal Society for the Protection of Red Herrings).

All answers in one thread, please.

40 Comments

  1. Shiloh says:

    “Balanced, Aggressive, Cautious, Chaotic”. Funnily enough, I initially read that phrase re. Vengeance’s AI settings as “Balanced, Aggressive, Cautious, Catholic”. Which seems appropriate given the time period and the personages involved.

  2. AFKAMC says:

    The plane in this week’s Foxer looks like a Handley Page Hastings.

    • All is Well says:

      I think the picture is of Bill Clinton on a beach in Normandy in 1994.

      • All is Well says:

        Specifically Omaha beach.

        • All is Well says:

          With him is, I think, D-Day veteran Walter Ehlers. (Editing is disabled, sorry about posting all this in three different comments)

    • Shiloh says:

      Battles by the sea?

      • All is Well says:

        Or maybe simply the Norman Conquest? Battle of Hastings, Normans from Normandy…

        • AFKAMC says:

          As noted by All Is Well, photo shows Bill Clinton and veterans at Omaha Beach during the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

          Max Hastings wrote a famous account of the D-Day landings, so is D-Day the link?

    • All is Well says:

      The line diagram seems to be a seven-ring “Troy” labyrinth.

    • SpiceTheCat says:

      The labyrinth at top right appears to be specifically a Cretan labyrinth.

      Something to do with parachutists? Crete, Omaha, the Hastings being used for paratroops?

    • AFKAMC says:

      The aerial view in the background looks Middle Eastern: Kuwait or Iraq?

      In which case, is the theme invasions: Normandy, Norman (Hastings), Crete?

      • Rorschach617 says:

        Spent half an hour on Google Earth staring at red earth sites, with circular irrigation system fields. Texas, Arizona and New Mexico are full of them. Nothing yet.

        Also, considering the “Paratroops” link possibility, am pretty certain that the background is not one of the many towns called Geronimo :)

        • Stugle says:

          There is a little river meandering through the irrigation fields, and what looks to be a golf course. Maybe that helps to narrow it down (it hasn’t for me, yet)?

          • Rorschach617 says:

            I’m giving up on trying to identify the background on Google Earth, just too much ground to cover.

        • Akbar says:

          I’m really feeling somewhere in South Africa for this one. Note that Stone specifies “4000+ miles away”. Though this may be a bit of a push, but I feel “4000+ miles away” was an odd choice of words for a subject like the American Southwest—a good 7000 miles away from Iraq. In fact, I’d reckon there’s a decent chance that he would use the rounder, cleaner, “5000+ miles away” if it was anywhere outside of the 4000-5000 mile zone. Which brings me to the RSA, all of which fits cleanly within that area. The only area I could find outside of Southern Africa (outside of a few islands, patches of coast and a whole lot of ocean) was the entirety of Eastern Asia, whose luscious green forests and beige steppes look nothing like the terrain displayed in the image. South Africa on the other hand, is full of terrain that looks almost exactly like the image (for example, this patch 16 miles south of Douglas link to imageshack.com). This still leaves us with quite the large area for research. Fortunately, Stone specifies “this battlefield” which means we should cross reference center pivot irrigation sites on reddish soil with battlefields of South Africa, which leaves us with a large but manageable amount of terrain. Now I’m starting to really wish the Brits didn’t have to fight so many damn Xhosa wars, going through all these sites is going to be a real headache. Of course he might gave said 4000+ miles because he didn’t want to give us too much and this’ll all be a waste but I guess that’s part of the fun?

          • Akbar says:

            Oh wow I actually found it, can’t believe my harebrained theory actually led me to anything. The background image is Modder River, Northern Cape, site of the Battle of Modder River in 1899 (from Google Earth: link to imageshack.com). Part of the Second Boer War, known as the Battle of Two Rivers in Afrikaans, and an attempt to relieve Kimberley during the siege. I’m pretty new here so I’m not entirely sure how this works but this looks fun and I’m glad if this helps.

          • Tim Stone says:

            Great work, Akbar, but are you certain it’s the Modder River battlefield that’s pictured?

          • Akbar says:

            Oh wow, in all my excitement of identifying the correct location I completely overlooked the possibility of different battles in the same area. The map lines up almost perfectly with most maps of the Battle of Magersfontein, and though the location in the map is a large border region which probably saw a fair share of conflict I’m going to say with full confidence that the background is the site of the Battle of Magersfontein, though I’ll continue to look for notable battles in the area.

          • Akbar says:

            Wikipedia’s “Category:Kimberley, Northern Cape” lists both the Battle of Modder River and the Battle of Magersfontein along with three other battles and sieges, none of which happen in the right place. This method obviously isn’t perfect but I think it’s given me enough to settle with Magersfontein as the correct location. The Battle of Magersfontein saw the death of General Wauchope, was a tactical Boer victory, and became a part of the “Black Week”, a series of British defeats in what was thought to be an overwhelming victory which did much to hurt British morale.

      • Tim Stone says:

        Some radical relocation required. The pictured battlefield is 4000+ miles away from your warmest guess.

    • foop says:

      The tower is the Macduff War Memorial, also I think known as the Knowes War Memorial.

      link to webhistorian.co.uk

      Built in 1921 to commemorate those who died in the first world war. According to that link it sits on top of a hill known as “Canker’s Knowe”. Don’t really see how it fits in with paratroopers.

    • foop says:

      The motorbike looks a lot like a Crocker Speedway.

      link to silodrome.com

      link to theworldofmotorcycles.com

      Not sure about the vintage, maybe 1934 or 35? They seem to make so few of these bikes that maybe they’re all different. One of those links says that Crocker stopped making bikes in 1942 to make parts for the Douglas Aircraft Company as part of the war effort.

      • Stugle says:

        Per Wikipedia, there’s a British general, John Crocker, who commanded I Corps during the invasion of Normandy. He was responsible for the landings at Sword and Juno, as well as the 6th Airborne Division. So… back to Normandy/paratroopers?

    • AbyssUK says:

      Is the icon from the SAM simulator ?

    • foop says:

      Does anybody have any idea what the thing in the bottom right is? To me it looks like a cross between part of a gun and a grand piano.

    • Snotface says:

      Shot in the dark here, but the picture at the top-left is very similar to Entebbe, which is also famous for a raid, and while it is by the sea, it wasn’t a beach landing.
      The distance from Isreal to Entebbe is 4000km (though maybe the 4000 is just coincidence).
      A filmaker, Eyal Boers (being a name for Afrikaners) released a documentary “Live or Die in Entebbe” about the hostages that didn’t come back.

  3. BooleanBob says:

    David ‘You’re all in this together’ Cameron

    I love you Tim.

  4. Gothnak says:

    I used to play Ancient Battles on my friend’s Speccy, which looks a lot like Vengeance tbh. It was great, allowing you to try out a bunch of different armies in ‘what if’ scenarios. It was complex enough to be interesting, but simple enough to be fun, i just have so much trouble finding something with that balance these days.

    Unity of Command and various Panzer General games are too simple, and most hex stuff, too complicated, which still means Close Combat and Steel Panthers are my go to games… :(

  5. Wowbagger says:

    “At Agincourt he had no answer to my lazily plotted arrow storms.” I thought that was precisely the point? No winged horsemen in the French army unfortunately.

    • tormos says:

      Well surely one wouldn’t want to state that the French were categorically guaranteed to be defeated at agincourt given the balance of forces no matter what tactics they might have tried? Especially given that Veangence seems to give you at least a measure more control over your army than Charles d’Albert or King Henry would have had? I mean this is a battle where the French had an inarguable advantage in terms of both manpower and trained men at arms, and were largely defeated by the rashness of their knights. surely you, or a moderately effective AI, could lead a better battle than the one that was actually fought?

  6. Blinger says:

    I think these Dovetail guys are so successful because they’re found their niche. Like the online-only component, Train Simulator 2015 also gets a lot of flak for its meagre QA and lack of customer support.

    But we keep buying their products. Why? There’s no competition on the market. I know that there are quite a few flight simulators out there, but the only thing that gets close to Train Simulator 2015 is Microsoft Train Simulator from 2001. It’s showing its age.

    Sure, there are a few freeware train sims out there, and there’s Run-8, but those are still not at the level of Train Simulator 2015. Also, isn’t the studio that made MS Train Sim, Kuju Entertainment, in some way related to Dovetail?

    I dream of a time when there is more competition on the market. But flight and train sims are niche products, it’ll never happen :(