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The Flare Path: Topical Titbits

Wargame and simulation news

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In the alphabetical news round-up waiting like a pre-pounce puma beyond the break ‘A’ is more likely to be for ‘airship’ or ‘angry house’ than ‘apple’. Stripy ungulates probably won’t feature in the entry for ‘Z’ but simulated Bf 110s or Mitsubishi A5Ms might. If you’ve an eye for a shapely engine nacelle or a finely chiselled turret – if you’ve an interest in the bloodier bits of history – I guarantee your curiosity will be piqued by something in the 26-compartment specimen drawer below. 

A is for astonishingly affordable AGEod bundle

My favourite AGEod creation isn’t part of this on-for-another-week Bundlestars offer, but so much else is the omission seems trifling. The full £5 bundle spans a couple of thousand years of conflict and, surprisingly, includes the studio’s latest release, Thirty Years War. If you’re new to the series be sure to start with the relatively simple Alea Jacta Est rather than potentially overwhelming Pride of Nations or American Civil War.

B is for belated bumps

By the time we next meet, the already extensive Steel Beasts bestiary will have grown by 25 driveables (the M60A3 TTS, the Sho’t Kal, and Pandur 1 are amongst the imminent additions) and the battlefields in eSim’s pricey but peerless contemporary armour sim will be benefiting from more believable weather, smokier smoke, and smoother roads. The much higher resolution terrain grids originally planned for the $40 ‘4.0’ upgrade have been delayed by performance issues, but the loyal band of simmers brought together by SB Pro Personal Edition don’t seem overly bothered.

C is for coach sim cometh

TML Studios may be about to do for long-distance coach simming what SCS Software did for long-distance truck simming a few years ago. Due on August 25, Fernbus Simulator features almost as much tarmac as ETS2, but chooses to cram that tarmac into one country (Germany) rather than spread it continent-wide. Hopefully, focussing on just two coach types has allowed the eccentric Erfurtians to fine-tune physics and go to town on sounds. Cockpit verisimilitude looks impressive. Fingers-crossed handling is more OMSI than ETS2.

D is for desert dogfights

IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover is set to become IL-2 Sturmovik: Shores of Cyrenaica in the not too distant future. Team Fusion, the posse of volunteers that has been repairing and enhancing the Battle of Britain sim since its rocky release in 2011, announced the setting of the long-awaited new map last Sunday. Much of the smart money had been on the Med and North Africa so ‘Tobruk and its environs’ didn’t come as a complete surprise. I suspect a few fans – ie. me – would have preferred Malta, but as I wasn’t volunteering to model the George Cross recipient and its much bigger northern neighbour (Malta without Sicily would have been silly) you won’t catch me complaining.

E is for essays on chaos

Colonel (Ret) Bill Gray’s latest pieces for Wargamer.com are thought-provoking reflections on the simulation of chaos in tabletop wargaming. His suggestion that PC wargamers are seldom nudged into interesting decision spaces by capricious activation rules is difficult to dispute. While I’d point out that sometimes we get our chaos ration in a different form – order delays, unpredictable and unreliable subordinates, friendly fire, automatic pursuits, high-fidelity ballistics, complex environments etc. – I can think of too many digital wargames enervated by overly deterministic rules to contest Bill’s central argument with real conviction.

F is for foxer

G is for good news from Sean O’Connor

Unlike the Close Combats, the original Firefight could plant hedges, build villages, and raise hills. In pursuit of more flavoursome and detailed environments ‘Firefight 2’ (confusingly also called Firefight) traded these talents for a modest selection of handmade venues. I’m not totally convinced the change was for the better, but news that a map editor is on the way should mean that stale battlespaces don’t end up damaging long-term appeal.

H is for HMS Marulken/Project X campaign info

Temporary Swede Neal Stevens has been sketching out the campaign framework for Skvader Studios’ re-orientated (and soon-to-be-renamed) co-op sub sim HMS Marulken. The multiplayer focus means patrol tedium is to be implied rather than imposed. Four-person crews will find themselves thrust into a series of encounters designed to communicate the various phases of the Battle of the Atlantic, rather than forced to study empty horizons for hours on end.

I is for invitation to next week’s birthday bash

Every year around the middle of August, Flare Path goes ‘full foxer’, celebrating its birthday with a lavish competition special (last year’s event). As the prizes are always top quality and the foxers are never as convoluted and confusing as the standard communal variety, there’s no reason not to attend. Party-goers will have until midday, Sunday Aug 14 to submit answers.

J is for Japanese power struggle

I’m hoping for the odd campaign engine enhancement in upcoming Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun expansion Gempei Kassen. Peppered with incident and unpredictability, the battles in Byzantine’s oriental Pike & Shot spin-off are uncommonly entertaining; the strat map manoeuvring that sparks them can sometimes feel a little colourless in comparison.

K is for Kansai cab rides

Look at this clown grumbling about the lack of prototypical Japanese routes in Train Simulator 2016! Little did he know that Union Workshop were weeks away from unfurling Wakayama & Sakurai Lines, a wiggle of cherry blossom-wreathed Kansai branchline worked by pleasingly prosaic/slow Class 103 and 105 electrical multiple units.

L is for long-lost sub-genre set to return

And talking of Japan and the clutch of ‘Have You Playeds’ I penned a few weeks back, were you aware that there was a Desperados/Commandos-inspired team tactics title in the works? Although Mimimi’s Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (ETA Q4, 2016) is looking rather marvellous, I’m sure I can’t be the only old Pyro-maniac who’d trade the flexibility of proper 3D for gorgeous, hand-rendered isometric backgrounds at the drop of a hat/cigarette packet.

M is for MiG-28s in DCS World

The past year has been kind to Top Gun-obsessed machinimists. First Robert Yang’s shower simulator arrived. Then DCS World got Nevada scenery. Now Belsimtek deliver an incomparably detailed facsimile of the US interceptor that masqueraded as a Soviet jet in the 1986 box-office smash.

N is for not seen you at jigsaw club recently

O is for Outerra offroading

Imagine a Spintires map the size of Siberia. Outerra, the barebones global omni-sim, isn’t quite there yet but recent physics changes bring the dream a tad closer. Tyres can now sink and spin in soft earth and version 16.7057’s vastly improved collision detection opens up intriguing, if totally theoretical (trees are purely decorative right now) possibilities in the field forest of vehicle-timber interaction.

P is for palpable planes

Until Eucl3D start offering 3D prints of SimplePlanes aircraft with embedded Jetex motors I won’t be ordering physical versions of my Republic Thunderpig or Blackburn Bloater.

Q is for quick teabreak

R is for Red Bull Air Race: The Game

If you can bring yourself to install an air racing recreation that lacks Supermarine S.6Bs, Bugatti Model 100s, and Gee Bee Model Rs, this fetching flight game could be worth a look. Officially ‘closed’, unofficially ‘ajar’, the ongoing beta test is generating modest approbation rather than wild applause at the moment.

S is for Strategic Command WWII: War in Europe

Most high-level WW2 wargames can make a decent fist of Fall Weiss and Fall Gelb. The real test comes when AI Axis forces reach the French coast, or the Allies are ready to return to the continent. Will Fury Software’s presently-in-beta Strategic Command 3 Overlord with aplomb and Sea Lion sensibly? The only available AAR gives little away, but as designer Hubert Cater isn’t exactly a novice where WW2 TBSs are concerned, I’m cautiously optimistic.

T is for Total War on TV again

After an absence of ten years Time Commanders is set to return to British TV screens. The BBC are currently looking for three-person teams of friends, family members, or colleagues willing to squabble, sulk, and gesticulate wildly for the cameras. There’s no mention of Total War on the contestant application page but talk of “ancient forces” suggests my Combat Mission suggestion has fallen on deaf ears.

U is for Unity of Command 2 campaign update

If you missed last week’s Sunday Papers, you may not be aware that Tomislav Uzelac has been blogging details of UoC2’s long game. For those who found the campaign in the original title too episodic – its individual scenarios too puzzle-like and pressurised – the news is encouraging. With unit positions carried over between battles and “no emphasis on perfect performance in every single battle” it sounds like mistakes, initially at least, will dent rather than derail.

V is for Veitikka hints

The Finn behind Armored Brigade, a free turnless top-down tactics game with an 80s setting and a likeable zoomed-out Close Combat feel, has been working on a commercial version of his pride-and-joy for several years. While it’s still not clear whether ‘AB2’ will be self-published or Slitherined, recent remarks indicate an ETA of ‘early next year’ and a Steam Greenlight bid.

W is for Waterloo, the cardboard options

Jim Owczarski has been considering analogue treatments of the Battle of Waterloo in a series of articles for Grogheads.com. For folk like me far more familiar with Turcan’s and Tiller’s versions of the engagement than Berg’s or Borg’s, the three-part (1, 2 & 3) survey makes fascinating reading.

X is for gotten due to xhaustion

Y is for YouTube curios

The British signalling sim sector is surprisingly vibrant. Between them SimSig, PC-Rail, and Blockpost offer over a hundred different titles. What’s not currently available is a game that lets you oversee train movements from the cosy interior of a fully functioning 3D signalbox. Three very promising videos that have appeared on YouTube in recent months, suggest an Unreal Engineer called ‘401Sly’ could be the one to furnish frustrated lever pullers with the missing simulation. The apparent lack of a stove and a sleeping cat is obviously of concern, but as it’s early days, there’s no point panicking just yet.

Z is for Zaccaria Pinball

My digital pinball obsession has a new object. Zaccaria Pinball is an Early Access title with no interest in the legendary creations of Bally and Williams. The tables it lovingly recreates were designed and manufactured by an Italian company called Zaccaria between 1974 and 1987. Relatively simple yet packed with charm and hand-eye challenge, my current favourites – Aerobatics and Supersonic – both have aeronautical themes.

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