The Flare Path: Perpetually Monitoring

Close Combat was PC wargaming’s Hirō Onoda. Years after his comrades emerged from the jungle with hands raised, the turn-spurning CC engine was still busy patrolling… scouting… soldiering. People like me would periodically point our bullhorns at the undergrowth and urge the old fool campaigner to “Jack it in!”, or at the very least learn some new tactics. Usually he’d reply with wild rifle shots or deluded AI improvement boasts.

Now, thank goodness, the decade-long farce is finally over. Last year Slitherine/Matrix announced that they were retiring Atomic’s ancient code tangle and commencing work on Close Combat: The Bloody First, a new 3D-engined-but-still-top-down successor. There’s been no news of that project since, but, in an intriguing development this week, another developer announced that they too intended to take up the CC torch.

 

On Wednesday, over at www.close.combat.org, Shaun ‘CSO_Sulla’ Wallace, one of the oldest and most respected names in the CC community, pulled the pine branches from ‘The Tactical Art of Combat’. There’s nothing to see yet except words, but those words make this old Close Combatant rather excited.

Shaun and co. are intent on building the ‘proper and complete successor to the original CC games, that should have arrived years ago’. The ‘decently funded’, Slitherine-free TAOC will feature overhead and (optional) isometric battle cams. There will be a strategy layer that “reflects reality, supply, and logistics, and follows your progress”. There will be an entirely new AI. Finance and a publisher appear to be already in place, but the first theatre is yet to be decided. Anyone that knows and loves the CCs is welcome to offer feature suggestions via the CSO forums.

My suggestions post will include the following I’d Like to Sees:

Random maps

Coders like Sean O’Connor have proven that’s it’s not impossible to provide randomly generated battlefields in a Close Combat-style game. Sure, such spaces are never going to be as characterful or evocative as hand-crafted real-estate, but a little loss in flavour is a price well worth paying in return for an endless variety of field mosaics, forest patchworks and village layouts.

An AI that knows how to deploy

No more Pak 40s plonked in the centre of ploughed fields, please. No more infantry squads starting games sprawling in town squares.

An AI that knows how to assault

Give me an enemy that doesn’t bunch his men, bee-line for every VL, use smoke like the World’s most reckless apiarist, and use suppressive fire like he’s paying for every round out of his own pocket, and I’ll be a very happy CO.

Multi-level buildings with toggleable storeys

CCs treatment of multi-storey structures was fudgier than a West Country gift shop. TAOC must make sizeable strides in this area.

A dash of politics in the strat layer

Acknowledgement of command-chain politics during campaigning would be splendid. Lots of military games let me hopscotch across a cellular map. Very very few represent subordinates as anything but silent opinionless pawns, bosses as anything but largely irrelevant laissez-faire briefing providers.

An unusual setting in the launch title

Conventional commercial wisdom will no doubt nudge the devs towards hackneyed WW2 operations like Overlord, Market Garden, and Wacht am Rhein. I’d love to see a gutsier deployment first time out. Something fresh – Monte Cassino? Anzio? Kohima? Hue?.. – would emphasise the freshness of the new tech and help put clear blue water between TAOC and the dozens of other tactical wargames already available.

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Talking of clear blue water, I spent yesterday evening mousing American Civil War warships around the Gulf of Mexico. Ironclads 2 is Totem Games’ latest attempt to turn pre-dreadnought naval warfare into riveting real-time entertainment. I’ve not seen quite enough yet to say whether they’ve succeeded this time, but I can say that the new campaign mechanism is definitely a step in the right direction.

Where the earlier Ironclads titles scampered from skirmish to skirmish like belaying pin-threatened rats, this more ambitious sequel unrolls a strat chart between battles. It invites you to commission and repair vessels, blockade and capture ports, and turnpike trade routes with your fleets.

Arriving weather-beaten and wowed from the magnificent Rule the Waves, the strategic options aren’t exactly dazzling, however there are certainly interesting choices to be made. Do you concentrate on constructing cash-earning merchantmen or harbour-plugging warships? Do you focus on seizing the smaller less well-defended enemy ports first, or combine squadrons and head straight for battery-lined bear-pits like New Orleans and Mobile (I’m playing as the Union in my first campaign)? My Confederate opponent seems unwilling to put to sea at the moment, but has seen off a couple of rash harbour assaults. It will be interesting to see whether his boldness increases as time passes and the balance of power shifts.

I regret to say I’ve yet to see any evidence of improvements at the tactical level. The rudimentary damage models, and limited control opportunities of the ‘Victorian Admirals’ games are back, meaning no formation changes, no coastlines, no spectacular magazine explosions, no felled masts, no sly, convention-flouting opponents. Though there’s satisfaction to be gained from overcoming a larger, better armed squadron, it’s hard to shake the feeling that TalonSoft’s Age of Sail was offering more engaging naval engagements twenty years ago.

During the coming week I plan to complete a campaign or two, and scour Totem’s nautical tussles for redeeming nuances. Expect an ironclad Ironclads 2 verdict in next Friday’s column.

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The Flare Path Foxer

Last week’s puzzle theme got stuck in F-for-Foxer’s flare chute and despite energetic prodding from bomb aimer Stugle (who spotted a surfeit of record-breakers in the collage) and wireless operator Electricfox (who noticed a profusion of ‘H’s) couldn’t be worked loose.

(Theme: Buns)

a Hamburger bun (Electricfox)
b Bath bun (Matchstick)
c Currant bun (Harrington)
d Kitchener bun (Gothnak)
e Sticky bun (Electricfox)
f Belgian bun (Matchstick)
g Cinnamon bun (Matchstick)
h Chelsea bun (Stugle)
i Boston bun (Stugle, Matchstick)

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When the great Moravian foxer setter Klara Adler died in 1998, her Brno apartment was found to contain just nine objects:

A dead wasp
An apricot stone
A bent toasting fork
A straightened fish hook
A photograph of Fatty Arbuckle
A copy of Karel Čapek’s ‘War with the Newts’
A 1:1000 scale model of the MS St. Louis
A playing card (king of diamonds)
A sunflower seed with the word ‘TAM’ painted on it

All answers in one thread, please.

36 Comments

  1. Stugle says:

    Foxer: that Is Hanoi Jane (?), Jane Fonda in the mug shot.

    • Syt says:

      The NATO symbol on the left hand side looks like an infantry corps?

      • Gothnak says:

        Is it the 30 Corps?

        link to en.wikipedia.org

        British Infantry core who fought at El Alamein, Tunisia & Sicily?

        • phlebas says:

          It might be, but not necessarily – according to Wikipedia the three Xs just denote a corps as opposed to a division or brigade.

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      Matchstick says:

      Just beat me to that one so top right looks like a Fenestron Tail Rotor from a Eurocopter\Aerospatiale Dauphin (proabably AS365 F of the French Navy)

    • Artiforg says:

      Yep, that’s Jane Fonda alright. Her mugshot from 1970 when she was arrested for Drug Smuggling.

    • Stugle says:

      The wind tunnel picture is from NASA, for a model called Hyper-X.

    • AbyssUK says:

      I thought it might be Jessica Alba as Jane Fonda in some sort of movie about her life… but know Jessica Alba just really looks like Jane Fonda…

    • Arglebarf says:

      The helicopter tail is an Aerospatiale sa365 Dauphin (dolphin) from the French Navy.

    • Arglebarf says:

      On the helicopter tail, it might also be something to do with the tail rotor type – a Fenestron (Airbus trade name) derived from french/latin for “window”. A ducted fan sometimes called a fan tail.

    • mrpier says:

      The molecule at the bottom might be Sebacic acid, often used in the production of polymers (such as Nylon) and cosmetics. Take note that I am not a chemist :).

    • phlebas says:

      The man with the streetcar in the antique photo is Charles Van Depoele, inventor of the trolley pole.

      link to famousbelgians.net

      • Tim Stone says:

        Disagreeable Roman disagrees, but says the identity of the man isn’t that important anyway. Locate the streetcar and you’ve got your clue.

        • phlebas says:

          On November 29, 1886, Scranton Suburban Electric Railway car No. 4 traveled five blocks, from the intersection of Franklin and Lackawanna to Adams and Spruce, in four and a half minutes.
          link to explorepahistory.com
          Scranton, PA.

        • Stugle says:

          Scranton, hometown of Trixie, the giraffe-necked girl.

          I’m guessing Scranton has something else that’s more relevant for this Foxer, but I’m damned if I know.

      • Llewyn says:

        I am delighted by the idea of the trolley pole being invented by Charles van Depoele.

        I used to work with a chap with the surname Trolley. I think he invented getting outrageously drunk.

    • Stugle says:

      There’s a scramjet on the Hyper-X, the Dauphin has that enclosed tail rotor Fenestron, the street car guy invented the trolley pole, the Trisland is a STOL plane… Something something propulsion? (I’m trying to work in a Jane Fonda/workout video connection, but failing at that).

    • AFKAMC says:

      Hi all. Bit late, just back off my hols. The plane is probably a Britten-Norman Trislander, operated by Aurigny Air Services. A possible Guernsey connection?

    • NofWoof says:

      I was intruiged by the uncommonly wide and oval funnel of the ship. I Googled every combination of “oval”, “wide”, “funnel” etc, and have been rewarded with many lovely pictures of the SS United States but no matching top plan.

      So, another tack: *Jane Fonda* starred in The China Syndrome, the movie famous/notorious for Hollywood’s brazen promotional stunt a week later in Pennsylvania.

      Both the movie and the events in Harrisburg PA involved the *SCRAM* of a nuclear reactor.

      As it turns out, Three Mile Island is in *Dauphin* County, Pennsylvania.

      These together rose sufficiently beyond background radiation to warrant further investigation.

      I entertain the notion that *Trislander* is a characteristically sly Roman reference to 3 mile Island.

      Returning to the ship plan, the combination of earlier “conspicuously large chimney” and new “possible nuclear theme” triggered a recollection that the USA once experimented with a nuclear SCRAMtramp steamer. Indeed, the ship plan is the beautiful NS Savannah.

      A Mr. *Scranton* was the Lt. Governor who found himself in the unenviable position of leading the initial response to 3MI.

      The link I can find to Eicosapentaenoic acid is the track “Alpha and Omega” by musicians Three Mile Island. Yes, that does seem a bit open to the accusation of “working backward from the answer”, does it not? :-) I consider that particular piece of rigging still open for someone with a different eye for knots.

      • NofWoof says:

        Regarding the NATO corps insignia: I was wondering whether the number of people evacuated might be in the 20000-40000 range. But that number range doesn’t fit, the disruption was an order of magnitude larger than that.

        Insteda, my guess is that the link is vocal instead: “Corps” — “Core”.

      • phlebas says:

        Could the omega-3 reference be to the fish contaminated by the incident?

        • NofWoof says:

          Well, as it turns out, the reason that we all know Eicosapentaenoic acid by the name of (an) “Omega-3” is because biologists count from the fag end.

          Chemists find the end with the -COOH the most characteristic, because that’s what makes a long string like that a fatty acid[1]. So they call that the “Alpha” region. And that makes the boring other end the “Omega” region.

          So, an “Omega-3” molecule also contains “Alpha” just as well.

          So, I’m now more convinced: Eicosapentaenoic acid –> “Alpha and Omega” –> That music track by “Three Mile Island”.

      • Stugle says:

        A bit belated, but kudos for unscrambling the Foxer! I actually looked at MS Savannah and didn’t think it fit the bill… Argh, the regret….

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    samsharp99 says:

    I practically grew up on the CC games – I don’t think I ever actually owned one but when I was younger I used to play the demo/shareware levels over and over again. I would be very excited for a decent reboot of the series – company of heroes is the only thing that has come remotely close (and that was very good!)…

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      amusingthebrood says:

      I remember trying to play the demo of one of the very early CCs (possibly even the first). It installed DirectX (version 3 maybe, back in the day) which completely trashed my Windows set-up.

      I have never tried again; maybe I should.

      • 1FSTCAT says:

        Just an FYI for everyone – if you haven’t checked out Battlefront.com, their Combat Mission series *is* a modern version of CC. Excellent game. Also, Theater of War 3 was pretty darned good as well. Both series feature realistic ballistics and armor modeling as their primary hook (to me). They also use similar infantry AI modeling as the CC series had.

  3. Saarlaender39 says:

    Gosh – Jane Fonda with 33 looked a lot like Jessica Alba in “Sin City”.

    If they ever do a movie about Jane’s life – they should ask Jessica to play the role.

    link to www3.pictures.zimbio.com

    link to hotflick.net

    • Saarlaender39 says:

      EDIT: Ah, yes…of course – already ninja’d by AbyssUK.
      Should really read the whole damn comment section, before posting ;)

  4. Arglebarf says:

    The aircraft nose at the bottom is a Britten Norman Trislander of Aurigny Air Service, flag carrier for Guernsey, servicing the Channel Islands.

    • Skodric says:

      Specifically, it is G-JOEY as it has the smile and one eye visible.

      Possibly too much detail but hey, I never get to contribute to the foxer!

  5. Livebythesword says:

    One thing that bothered me in CC IV and V was that you couldnt choose in what order to play the various maps each turn. A relatively small detail maybe but it was largely because of it that I abandoned my campaigns.