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The Flare Path: Trainz And Tigerz

Simulation & wargame blather

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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.

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Tim Stone

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