The Flare Path: Hoods

If your favourite hood is sim developer Steve Hood or Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Hood, today’s Flare Path should engage (Over yonder html horizon is an interview with the man tasked with ensuring Dovetail Games Flight School and Dovetail Games Flight Simulator soar like demoiselles on release, and early analysis of the easy-to-recommend Atlantic Fleet, a wargame that feels like a segmented, overhead Silent Hunter III at times). If you prefer hoods of the Robin, Admiral or clitoral variety, brace yourself for disappointment.

Found it at last! That perfect beginner’s wargame, the one that…

“…doesn’t bury you in numbers or counters, or assume you know the difference between a PzKpfw IV Ausf. D and a PzKpfw IV Ausf. F

…is blessed with good fully integrated tutorials and a generous supply of tooltips

…doesn’t expect you to remain at your post for hours at a time

…offers competitive artificial opposition at several skill levels

…is cheap or maybe even free

…is readily available

…doesn’t punish campaign failure too harshly

…doesn’t punish slow reflexes or mouse mistakes too severely

…and doesn’t simplify to the point of insipidity”

It’s called Atlantic Fleet and it’s a dual-layer turn-sliced £7 WW2 naval wargame from an outfit called Killerfish Games.

Killerfish are lovely. They understand the importance of context. In addition to providing friendly core combat mechanics that imbue every shell salvo, torpedo spread, and depth charge volley with just the right amount of uncertainty and drama, intricate damage modelling that ensures ships perish memorably, and AI routines that – more often than not – convince and surprise, they supply historically literate campaigns large and loose enough to lose yourself in.

That strat map above is at the heart of AF’s enveloping Battle of the Atlantic dynamic long (very long) game. Playing as the RN your job is to protect semi-abstracted convoys (the routing of which changes as the war goes on) and wear down the Kriegsmarine. Playing as the Germans, strangling Britain is the name of the game.

Individual vessels and multi-ship flotillas can be moved one square per turn (each turn represents 3.5 days). Thick fog-of-war and a restless silicon opponent means it’s very hard to predict where triggered scraps will occur or what forces will be involved. One turn you might end up hunting U-boats in the Western Approaches with a single destroyer and a Coastal Command flying boat. In the next you might find yourself mid-Atlantic slinging Swordfishes and 15-inch shells at giants like the Bismarck and the Scharnhorst.

As ship damage is persistent and kills garner the Renown Points necessary to replenish and expand fleets, the stakes are high in every campaign engagement.

Should I try to finish off the troublesome Hipper here and now, knowing I may lose the badly mauled Warspite in the process, or slink back to Portsmouth for repairs and leave the job to one of my other flotillas? Throwing one of my new Tribal class DDs at the Graf Spee may give the crippled Suffolk the opportunity to disengage. Then again it might not…

The choices wheel and harangue like hungry seagulls.

Some of the hard lessons I’ve learnt from my first twelve hours of campaigning:

1. Killing U-boats requires as much discretion as valour. In the days before Hedgehog and Squid mortars (new technologies and ship types are introduced at appropriate times during campaigns) ordering your destroyer to bee-line for the nearest periscope isn’t always a good idea. Some sub skippers are cool cucumbers and are perfectly capable of pulling off tricky short-range prow shots.

2. Killing U-boats requires persistence as well as perspicacity. Just because your prey has gone deep and avoided your first two or three consignments of boom-barrels, doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll survive the fourth.

3. Deftly sidestepping shoals of incoming tinfish is just as satisfying in the turn-partitioned AF as it is in the real-time World of Warships.

4. Saving Renown Points for a rainy day/big battleship is bally hard as the British. During the ‘Happy Time‘ the urge to dot the Atlantic with dozens of depth-charge crammed DDs can be awfully hard to resist.

5. Longitudinal bombing runs aren’t always wise. Like AF’s gunnery, its bomb and torpedo dropping is satisfyingly hands-on. The skill in shell delivery comes in judging barrel elevation, and choosing an aiming point on the target. The art of aerial bombing revolves around selecting an attack angle and dabbing the ‘release bomb/depth charge/torp’ button at the right moment during the automatic run. As my flying boat pilots seem to struggle to line up their crates for stern-to-stem runs, I’ve taken to ordering angled or perpendicular approaches. That way, there’s a fair chance of a hit even if the line isn’t perfect.

The page in my notebook I’d set aside for documenting Atlantic Fleet’s flaws is impressively empty at the moment. I see I’ve grumbled about the campaign map (information unnecessarily spread across multiple display modes) the options for auto-resolving and cutting short skirmishes (very limited) and occasional AI oddities (usually highly competent/credible, I’ve witnessed one or two instances of strange reversing manoeuvres and improbable target fixation) but that’s about it.

There may be bugs lurking in the late game or flaws in the AI that I’ve yet to encounter, but frankly they’d have to be Short Sunderland-sized shortcomings to eclipse AF’s numerous accomplishments. Killerfish have created a cracking wargame here. In the world of PC wargaming £7 rarely buys you this much novelty, variety, atmosphere and challenge.

* * * * *


Bringing FSX to Steam was only the first step in Dovetail’s ambitious plan to reinvigorate PC flight simulation. Steps 2 and 3 involve the release of a pair of standalone titles designed to introduce a new generation of gamers to the joys of realistic virtual General Aviation (Dovetail Games Flight School) and provide the rest of us with a cutting-edge FSX replacement (Dovetail Games Flight Simulator). Slightly confused by the dual title approach, and eager to find out what the first project, Flight School, entails, I cornered Dovetail’s Steve Hood.

RPS: Why is Dovetail planning to release two flight sims this year?

Steve: We have spent the last two years listening to existing and would-be simmers alike. We have been intent on discovering what keeps people simming, and what stops those who would like to get into flight simulation from doing so. We have learned that flight simulation appeals to an incredible amount of people, but a lot of them find it too hard to get started. It is our aim to reclaim and attract those would-be simmers, but in order to do so, we need to present flight simulation in a way that doesn’t initially overwhelm them.

That is where Flight School comes in. We are creating an experience, which makes flight simming accessible to anyone who wants to try it. Doing this as a standalone release allows us to focus on tailoring it more for these players, while preparing them for Dovetail Games Flight Simulator, which will offer a much broader flight simulation experience.

RPS:  Does that mean the FSX and X-Plane faithful should steer clear?

Steve: While established simmers will likely already know what we are aiming to teach, it is a chance for them to preview some of the technology we have implemented which will be carried over to Dovetail Games Flight Simulator. Of course, if they fancy brushing up on their skills or putting them to the test then Flight School has a range of pilot license tests and missions which will do just that.

RPS: Will the UI, graphics engine and flight modeling feel familiar to fans of the disappointingly short-lived Microsoft Flight?

Steve: Flight School is based on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X engine rather than Flight’s. Flight removed many of the elements we believe necessary for the flying experience we wanted to convey, ATC and AI traffic being great examples. It made more sense for us to focus our efforts on necessary graphical improvements and build on top of the complex systems already inherent within FSX rather than try to build them all over again. What we have done is introduce a range of globally applied techniques such as dynamic range rendering (HDR), atmospheric light scattering and physically based rendering (PBR) which makes for a more realistic simulation experience. Additionally. The UI has been completely overhauled and redesigned with a fresher and more instinctive feel.

RPS: Will Flight School launch with global scenery?

Steve: Yes, the whole world is included, which players can explore in Free Flight mode. It’s a great opportunity to hone the skills learned in the lessons, see the sights and entertain yourself in all manner of amazing cross country exploration.

RPS: After release, do you plan to expand the sim with aircraft and scenery DLC à la Train Simulator?

Steve: Flight School is designed to be a standalone experience; therefore there are no plans to release DLC for it. We are, however, looking to work with existing developers to bring their talents to Dovetail Games Flight Simulator.

RPS: Can you give us an insight into how Flight School handles tuition? Will fledglings be expected to do a lot of reading and hoop flying?

Steve: You aren’t expected to do a whole lot of reading. Though it’d be entirely possible to read up on the lessons, gaining a greater insight into what it means to be a pilot, outside of the product on the Dovetail Games Flight School page. I’m also not a huge fan of the hoops! In Flight School you are walked through what is required of you by the Instructor. Students are bombarded, in the real world, with so much information that we aren’t trying to entirely recreate. That’s why it can typically take 50-70hrs of tuition alone to get to grips with attaining your first license. In Flight School we’re trying to get the novice user up to speed. From there I hope they will discover a new found interest in aviation.

RPS: Does anyone in the Flight School team possess a pilot’s license?

Steve: Yes, Tim Gatland, one of the founding members of Dovetail Games, is an avid pilot and has been instrumental in advising the development team during the development of Flight School. Additionally, I have been spending a substantial amount of time at our local flight school (EGTO) experiencing first-hand what it is like to learn to fly in the real world. A lot of the content in Flight School is based on those experiences.

RPS: Do the lessons cover the more advanced aspects of piloting such as engine management and navigation by ground-based nav-aids?

Steve: Engine management is only touched upon in Flight School. Navigation is covered to a level that will allow the novice user to get from A to B. I’m still amazed how many novice users end up just flying around their departure airport because they don’t know how to get from one place to another.

RPS: Will there be failures and Real Weather support?

Steve: Flight School will model engine failures as part of the lessons/license acquisition process. We continue to work on the entire presentation and realization of weather for the upcoming Dovetail Games Flight Simulator.

RPS: Is the exploration aspect of the game totally unstructured or are there missions and aero cache-style challenges?

Steve: The exploration aspect of Flight School (Free Flight mode) is completely unstructured in that you can take off or land at any one of over 24,000 airports around the world. We also have broader missions in addition to the Flight School training lessons that will allow players to put their newfound skills to the test.

RPS: Will users be able to enhance scenery and add their own aircraft?

Steve: No, Flight School is designed to be a standalone experience; therefore it does not include an SDK. However, over the past 2 years, we have made our intentions clear with respect to welcoming and working with developers, both big and small, on FSX: SE. We fully intend to continue those relationships and looking forward will be welcoming both existing and new developers to the Dovetail Games Flight Simulator platform.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

* * * * *

 

The Foxer

My chief foxer setter, Roman, is a big softy where baby animals are concerned. Show him a photo of a maggot, leatherjacket, or raft of mosquito eggs and his heart melts.

theme: young animals (defoxed by AFKAMC)

a owlet (Shiloh)
b tadpole (unsolved)
c nymph (unsolved)
d caterpillar (unacom, Rorschach617, Stugle)
e lamb (Faldrath)
f grub (unsolved)
g colt (Rorschach617)
h fry (Shiloh)
i cub or kit (EOT, corinoco)
j kid (Stugle, corinoco, AFKAMC)

* * * * *

Foxer Fact #1110

Zoltán Németh, the foxer setter for Hungarian daily Népszava for over forty years, is credited with the invention of the episodic foxer. His collages accreted slowly over periods of up to two weeks, and sometimes involved ‘Némethisms’ – mischievous red herrings that would end up completely obscured by later clues.

All answers in one thread, please.

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53 Comments

Top comments

  1. skink74 says:

    I'm sure everyone here would join me in saying a fond Flare Path farewell to one of the greatest aviators ever:
    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/22/eric-winkle-brown-obituary

    RIP Eric 'Winkle' Brown RN
  1. Shiloh says:

    FOXER: I believe the bearded ruffian is none other than Ned Kelly.

    • Stugle says:

      The carrier with the shed (?) on its flight deck shares a lot of similarities with images of the drydock flooding for the Gerald R Ford.

    • Shiloh says:

      Actually, I’m doubting myself now – he looks too old. Hmm.

    • Stugle says:

      The advertisement top right is for the Belling Bomb Snuffer (Google suggests the advertisement ran in the Glasgow Herald of February 19th, 1941): link to news.google.com

      • Shiloh says:

        Beat me to it! What a great device – a sand-filled bedpan attached to a broom handle. I imagine it would take a lot of nerve to approach a fizzing, popping incendiary with that piece of kit.

        • Stugle says:

          I love how the lady in the advertisement is dressed up to the nines. If I ever have to approach an incendiary bomb that’s about to burn down my house, I hope to do it in my Sunday best. :)

          I can’t imagine the device was a commercial success. Can’t see many people trying to take on a firebomb with a repurposed pan filled with sand…

          • Shiloh says:

            Indeed – you can almost hear Mr Cholmondleigh-Warner reading out the instructions. “Before approaching the dastardly device, ensure you are dressed appropriately. For the gentleman, flannels, brogues and a cricket sweater or woollen tank top convey the correct tone. For the lady, a smart afternoon dress and low heels will be sure to show the Hun that even when snuffing out incendiaries, Britons retain their phlegm and pip”.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            “When dealing with and evicting an unwanted guest, be it a chirpy cockney chimney sweep or an incendiary device, the householder must at all times display their social superiority in the way that they dress. This puts the interloper in their place.
            Clean clothes, smartly pressed trousers are sufficient for the common oik or fire bomb, but a Frenchman or a 2000lb bomb should be dealt with in the full regalia of an Anglican Bishop.”

          • Shiloh says:

            For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Mr C-W and his good friend Grayson:

          • Shiloh says:

            Oops, apologies, that didn’t work out too well…

          • Stugle says:

            Quite delightful, even for someone raised in the cold, cruel world that is Not the British Empire.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Bottom Left:

      Potato Masher? (Model 24 stielhandgrenate or later version)

    • iainl says:

      The fish with limbs and sunglasses is from the front cover of Magnetic Scrolls’ text adventure ‘Fish!’

    • skink74 says:

      Bottom right is a WWI trench cigarette lighter of some sort.

    • Rorschach617 says:

      Top Middle:

      Tentative ID as a MAS 49 rifle

      link to en.wikipedia.org

      • phlebas says:

        MAS-49/56 – looks to be the same picture as appears near the bottom of the page there.

    • Stugle says:

      That Bundeswehr vehicle looks like an M113 variant, the M577. Is that specific enough?

      • Palindrome says:

        Its a M113 TrFz ABRA, used to track the trajectory of artillery shells apparently.

    • AFKAMC says:

      I am thinking the German armoured vehicle might be an M113 variant – maybe the M577 command post vehicle.

      • Rorschach617 says:

        It is an m113 variant,

        the TrFz ABRA. The long periscope thing is the DR-PC 1a RATAC radar.

        Looking for a usable link

        • Rorschach617 says:

          link to panzer-modell.de

          Its in German

          • Stugle says:

            My German is rusty and limited, but it says that variant was used to track (range?) enemy artillery positions.

          • unacom says:

            The M-113 ABRA-MTW was used to track shell-flight in order to pinpoint the position of enemy artillery pieces and to direct effective counter-battery fire. Own shell-flight would be tracked too, to improve on accuracy. It was used in adverse weather-conditions (fog, rain and snow) when the optronic-system could not be used. It´s really nice to see it wagging its´ foxy tail at us.

            Useless, but funny, piece of information: recruits in mountain artillery units of the Bundeswehr were nicknamed “Fuchs” -fox.

    • AbyssUK says:

      Oh there is a heavy hex nut also :)

    • phlebas says:

      It’s Harry Power, another Australian outlaw:
      link to ironoutlaw.com

    • Shiloh says:

      That twisted cord in the middle looks the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for H.

      • Shiloh says:

        On further investigation, it apparently represents the wick of a lamp, or perhaps a type of small whisk broom.

        • Rorschach617 says:

          The TV program “Only Connect” uses that hieroglyph and calls it “Twisted Flax”

    • phlebas says:

      Do I see a candle theme here?
      Candle power
      CandelABRA
      candle stick (grenade)
      candle wick
      candle snuffer
      candleMAS

      • phlebas says:

        Candleford (as in ‘Lark Rise to…’)
        And apparently there is a candlefish (though it’s a different fish in the UK from the US)

      • AFKAMC says:

        Apparently, there’s such a thing as a candlefish.

      • AFKAMC says:

        There’s a tree called the candlenut.

      • Stugle says:

        Huzzah! It’s one of the comforting truths of life that I can leave utterly perplexed as to the Foxer theme and come back a few hours later to find out it has been painstakingly dissected. I am especially impressed with your ability to fit the M113 and the rifle into the theme.

  2. Rorschach617 says:

    Bottom Left:

    Potato Masher? (Model 24 stielhandgrenate or later version)

  3. skink74 says:

    I’m sure everyone here would join me in saying a fond Flare Path farewell to one of the greatest aviators ever:
    link to theguardian.com

    RIP Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown RN

    • guidom says:

      Here here

    • phlebas says:

      Amen.

    • Stugle says:

      Must admit I’m not familiar with the gent, but a recommendation from the Flare Path cognoscenti is all I need. I will peruse the link shortly.

    • Novotny says:

      Hear hear. Got one of his books on captured German planes in WW2, it’s lovely. Sad he’s gone.

    • GernauMorat says:

      Here here. What a remarkable life

    • mariandavid says:

      Well said – he was a man of enormous talent with the ability to record in fascinating detail an exciting, courageous and rewarding life.

    • Stugle says:

      Thanks for bringing him to my attention. Read the obituary, clearly a remarkable man.

    • celticdr says:

      He flew a Messerschmitt 163 – say no more, obviously a remarkable man to have lived through that experience.

  4. Undermind_Mike says:

    I would warn people off Atlantc Fleet on iPhone 6. The game does not save progress except at each campaign turn (which can be 30-90 minutes of gameplay apart!) so if iOS unloads the app to free up resources (eg if you use the phone’s camera) before you finished a battle, say goodbye to perhaps an hour’s relentless and patient warship-hunting.

  5. Stugle says:

    Atlantic Fleet sounds very good (and looks a sight better than Rule The Waves – I really liked that game, but boy was it ugly). And at that kind of price, I’ll have to investigate it…

    Also want to point out my appreciation of the Flare Path Jigsaw Club. My small laptop screen makes for a lot of squinting and I’m terrible at jigsaws (hello, Japanese world map of 1942 – 140 minutes and counting), but this week it has completely displaced my actual gameplaying time.

  6. JFS says:

    Is Atlantic Fleet a mobile-only game?

    • Premium User Badge

      Hydrogene says:

      It’s on Steam too. By the way, the graphics look strange. The water is great, but the ships are very low poly. It’s also very weird to see a plane flying over a stationary ship with a large bow wave… An effect of the game being turn by turn I guess.

  7. mariandavid says:

    Atlantic Fleet is a gem of a game: Absurdly and pleasantly cheap by current standards and the most realistic of the 3D naval games (the most realistic of course is the 2D Steam and Iron family). And there are a couple of ways which (especially at night) make it a nail biter by turning off a couple of ‘cheats’. One is the tactical map and the other a little button on the bottom right which turns on and off watching enemy as well as your own ships move and fire. I played in this way in the scenario where Scharnhorst and Gneisenau attack a convoy escorted by me in a Revenge class BB and it was disturbing – at least in the sense of being in the position of someone being yelled at by the captain ‘find the enemy you stupid incompetent naval officer you’, as all the while the enemy fired star shells and blew up tankers. In the end spotted them both, but a bit late – tis tricky to spot the fall of shot to check range in the dark is tricky, but they had found the range and a short time later I blew up. Oh dear.

    Highly recommended.

    • varangian says:

      Likewise recommended. At £6.99 on Steam I had to check it out, having won the war enough times in Vietnam ’65 to want to give that a rest but still wanting a wargame I could dip into for a quick fix. This really hits the spot, for a game that takes up less than 400MB it delivers a hell of lot more than I was expecting. Thanks for the heads up Mr Stone, perhaps I’ll hear you on a Three Moves Ahead podcast if they get round to discussing this.