The Flare Path: Trainz And Tigerz

The appeal of trains: Rhythm. Racket. Clatter. Squeal. Sway. Jolt. Hiss. Bellow. Thrum. Gleam. Glint. Grime. Rust. Musk. Power. Precision. Toil. Stoicism. Blue-collar heroes. Uncomplaining beasts of burden. Giant steampunk millipedes. Countryside cleavers. Smoke wreathers. J. M. W. Turners. Midnight diadems. Tortured troglodytes. Reminders of a vanished world. Childhood’s branchline. Life’s express. Speed. Anticipation. Departure. Arrival. Exoticism. Mundanity. Predictability. Personality. Possibility. Peace. Pace. Onwards. Onwards.

The appeal of Trainz: A New Era:

If Trainz: A New Era was a British train service I’m pretty sure users would be eligible for a partial refund. The latest instalment of this fourteen-year-old rail simulator franchise introduces some promising kinetic and aesthetic advances, but serious performance problems and a slim and lumpy selection of default content renders much of the progress moot.

Switching from Dovetail’s TS2015 to N3V’s TANE at the moment, is a bit like trading a fleet Class 55 for a fagged-out Class 08. In surroundings where I’d expect 40-50 frames a second in TS I’m often lucky to get ten in TANE. Savaging view distance, shadow sophistication, and vegetation detail does help a little, but leaves the newcomer looking a lot like Trainz: The Old Era. If next Monday’s patch fails to deliver the “significant performance improvements on most hardware configurations” promised, TANE risks being consigned to that part of my mental marshalling yard where urban foxes doze and brambles twine round points levers.

Which would be a shame. When the sim isn’t dawdling like an ‘OO’ gauge Garratt on dirty track, or cocooning me in the cab of a disagreeably dated loco model, it’s often offering tantalizing glimpses of the born-again Trainz Kickstarter contributors were encouraged to expect. Watching tree and telegraph line shadows filigree the shiny flanks of a speeding express? Lovely. Craning out of a cab window to observe coupling chains tighten, wagons buck and rock, and uncannily realistic exhaust plumes billow? Agreeably novel. And hats off to N3V for having the guts to include a GreatWar-era Australian line in the route folder.

The basic £30 edition of TANE comes with four venues, that Victoria Railways line, a framerate-crippling chunk of 1950s West Virginia (Hinton Division), a model railroad-style contemporary US route (Kickstarter County) and a Brit-pleasing depiction of the East Coast Main Line circa 1976.

With the possible exception of the latter none of these boast quite the attention to detail of the best TS2015 routes. Too often rural sections feel repetitive or bare, Speedtrees hastily sprinkled. Have N3V reserved their best work for the deluxe edition and DLC? I can’t say for sure, but having explored one of the four £27 payware expansions (the solid but musty Season Town) I think it’s unlikely.

Each of the four routes comes with free roam and multiplayer invitations, a disappointingly meagre selection of scenarios, and a nice ‘next gen’ loco equipped with atmospheric mouseable cab. The contrast between the crisp interiors of the débutantes, and the dated dashboards of the locos inherited from older Trainz versions is striking and underlines an awkward truth: TANE’s ‘New Era’ is not all-encompassing. The sim is littered with stuff – textures, models, sound effects, camera controls… still in need of modernisation. Until community craftsmen start exploiting the capabilities of the new engine and N3V work out how to wring more speed from it, TANE is probably only going to be of interest to series loyalists and frustrated railway modellers (The route editor is as friendly and flexible as ever).

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I pity the PC wargamers that missed out on the Golden Age that was the 1990s. They’ll never know what it’s like to open a pristine box and discover a weighty spiral-bound manual, a vast glossy map, and a happy-to-hotseat pygmy marmoset dressed as Napoleon. They’ll never know what it’s like to buy a WW2 tactics title featuring multiple fronts. The days when you could slip from Normandy beaches and Belgian hamlets to Belarusian birch woods and Ukrainian collective farms without first spending a small fortune on expansions are long gone. We won’t see their like again.

Well, not for a month or two, anyway. Nine years in the making, Tigers on the Hunt is what happens when one man – a man called Peter Fisla – realises that the Advanced-Squad-Leader-meets-Steel-Panthers-meets-Close-Combat battle sim he dreams of playing, probably won’t get made unless he sits down and jolly-well codes it himself. What began in 2006 as a straight PC port of ASL has, over the past decade, morphed into something a lot less loyal and legally problematic.

Two-minute turns, hex centres a mere 40 metres apart, and counters representing individual vehicles, squads, half-squads, and weapon teams, should give TotH the granularity it needs to stir memories of its illustrious/intimate inspirations. Hopefully, a carefully crafted dynamic AI and a deeply entrenched command-and-control mechanism (expect nailbiting activation checks) will mean it generates surprises and stories as energetically as its touchstones too. Peter estimates that at least one of those nine dev years has been spent writing and rewriting AI routines.

Pacific, Blitzkrieg, and early Desert War scenarios won’t be possible from the get-go (TotH’s cosmopolitanism doesn’t quite stretch to Japanese, French, Italian and Polish units) however with the vast majority of the 1943-45 British, US, Soviet and German OOB modelled, and map and scenario editors available, it’s hard to imagine skirmish variety becoming an issue.

Peter can expect some scathe from reviewers fond of random maps, simple turn structures, fancy campaign layers, and urban warfare (There will be no multi-storey buildings in the initial release). Whether these criticisms come to dominate post-release forum discourse, will depend heavily on TotH’s knack for delivering unscripted tactical conundrums and credible combat dramas. If the game tests and tale tells as masterfully as its inspirations then we’re in for a treat.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Last week’s rung-whittling ladderwrites were Matchstick, Shiloh, Rorschach617, protorp, Iglethal and AFKAMC. Minutes after the last word had been slotted into place Roman was using the repaired ladder to retrieve medicine balls and model Horsas from the office roof.

20. sabca ([A] Belgian aircraft company)

19. csaba (Hungarian AFV)

18. crabb (RN hero killed in mysterious circumstances)

17. crate (Aircraft or aircraft container)

16. skate ([2] Operation Crossroads target)

15. skiff (SLBM and small boat)

14. skirt (Worn short by ACVs)

13. shirl (Primitive torpedo toter outperformed by the Cuckoo)

12. short (Makers of the above aircraft)

11. stork (Stolid WW2 liaison plane)

10. sturm (Word that can be bolted to ‘tiger’, ‘führer’, and ‘gruppen’)

9. stuka ([2] Terrorised Allied ships during Operation Dynamo)

8. parka (Kept US servicemen warm during Cold War)

7. paris (City served by 19th Century airmail service)

6. davis (Tight-lipped Confederate scout)

5. caves (Exploited by the IJA during the Battle of Saipan)

4. haven (Largest shipwreck in the Med)

3. helen (Pacific theatre bomber)

2. helix (Kamov chopper)

1. kylix

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For a spell in the late Seventies legendary defoxer Knud ‘The Link’ Linklater went totally organic. Instead of getting his collages from the puzzle pages of newspapers and magazines, he’d wander the streets of his hometown scouring shop windows, dumpsters, and storm drains for ‘accidental’ foxers. Roman remembers him talking, with tears in his eyes, about the day he spotted a beautiful eight-clue ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ foxer on the parcel shelf of a parked car, then an hour or so later a perfect nine-component ‘Wildlife of the Kalahari’ puzzle in a pub urinal.

All answers in one thread, please.

38 Comments

  1. AFKAMC says:

    FOXER: The plane looks like a Junkers CL1 replica as flown by the Great War Display Team. If that’s the case, it’s a modified Bowers Fly-Baby.

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      Matchstick says:

      Bottom Right: Is that Dandelion the Bard from the Witcher games ?

    • Stugle says:

      The magazine cover is an issue of Women in Crime – “The She-Vulture”,

      • Stugle says:

        I realize this is little more than stating the obvious, but the urge to contribute made me do it.

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          Matchstick says:

          When I come up with a completely useless answer I make sure I disguise the fact by adding additional information that’s of even less use like the publisher and date of publication ;)

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      Matchstick says:

      Top Left is the WW1 Next of Kin Memorial Plaque

      link to greatwar.co.uk

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        Matchstick says:

        Winning design for the Plaque was submitted by Edward Carter Preston and was called Pyramus (or possibly this was the pseudonym under which he submitted the design)

        So I have to wonder about “Midsummer Nights Dream” as the link ?

    • AFKAMC says:

      Is the dude in glasses Harry Palmer as portrayed by Michael Caine (Ipcress File, etc.)?

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Unconfirmed.

      Bottom Left. Eagle looks a little Judge Dredd-y?
      Middle : Michael Caine as Harry Palmer in “The Ipcress File”?

    • AFKAMC says:

      The best guess I’ve got for the aircraft in plan view is the Boulton Paul P.120 (or related P.111). But I’m not convinced of it…

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Have to stop here, having done more harm than good. Good luck, everyone.

      btw, the Eagle symbol only looks Dredd-y. A guess based on the style of it. A search has not produced any confirmation, so I wouldn’t look further down that path. Sorry.

    • AFKAMC says:

      I’m guessing Scott of the Antarctic?

      Robert “Falcon” Scott
      Henry Robertson (Birdie) “Bowers”

      Sorry, no idea about the rest.

      • Zogg says:

        I think you are correct. Scott died on the Ross ice shelf (Colonel Ross from the Ipcress File)

      • Zogg says:

        Scott’s Ship was the Terra Nova. Apparently there is a character in The Witcher called Terranova.

  2. wodin says:

    Tim..my fingers are crossed for Tigers on the Hunt.

  3. Stugle says:

    If he’d called it ‘Hetzers on the Hunt’, the acronym could’ve been ‘Hoth’, which would have imbued a suitably Panzer-y quality to the whole thing. Misplaced grumblings about the name aside, it looks like an interesting game.

  4. AbyssUK says:

    yay I found it !!

    Falcon logo is from a train, the Class 53 Brush Prototype No.1200 ‘Falcon’

  5. Rev_Sudasana says:

    Cautiously optimistic about TotH too – wonder what the initial retail price will be.

    • ExitDose says:

      Probably 40 dollars. That seems to be their go to price, these days.

      I’m hoping for the best as well.

      • Rev_Sudasana says:

        Oof – I guess I wait for a sale and/or substantial updates.

  6. Shiloh says:

    Fingers crossed for TotH – I believe I could do with something like that in my wargames library.

  7. trjp says:

    Trainz has had performance issues for the LONG time – it looks shabby and runs poorly even on high-end kit

    Thing is – it’s not really aiming at the same market as TS2015 IMO – TS2015 is a train DRIVING game, Trainz is a railway layout making game, the cab view should be taken as a novelty, you’re meant to be focussed on creating stuff – not playing premade stuff (all IMO)

    The developer also have a murky history of shit like not supporting the Steam versions of their games for some childish and spiteful reason (I think they stopped that but for a long time it was truly shameful) – I’m reluctant to spend money with people like that anyway.

  8. Manburger says:

    I dig the Flare Path, even though I am not always interested in the games. That opening paragraph is so lovely! Tim, you are a marvel.