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The Flare Path: Mostly Militaria

How to find the Flare Path stand at EGX Rezzed 2017. Make for the gap between the Signal From Tölva booth (giant robot skull) and the Steel Division: Normandy 1944 one (two bomb-flipped Tiger tanks). Roughly midway between these unmissable landmarks, projecting a few inches above the heads of the milling crowds, you should see some plastic cabbages and leeks. Said vegetables are sprouting from the roof of a replica Anderson shelter. Enter the shelter and, assuming there’s room (there will be) sit down opposite the man wearing the pith helmet, the ear plugs and the frightened rabbit expression. Congratulations. You’ve made it.

What the new Panzer Battles demo lacks in mechanical novelty, it more than makes up for in size and thematic pluck. In addition to an easy-to-follow pdf-reliant tutorial scenario, the free* 400MB download includes sizeable North African, Eastern Front, Guadalcanal and Fall Gelb challenges, and, somewhat surprisingly, scenario, campaign, unit, and OOB editors too. The tools are there to entice new designers into the Wargame Design Studio fold, the scenarios to remind folk like you and me that traditional Tillerite tactical wargames still have a place in a post-Combat Mission, post-Command Ops world.

*painless registration at www.johntillersoftware.com required

If you’ve never Panzer Battled before anticipate intimacy (250m hexagons, 30-minute turns, and platoon-sized units that lose individual men and vehicles rather than abstract strength steps, make picturing the action very easy) plausibility (much work has gone into fashioning maps, engagements and unit stats) a plethora of buttons (Fear not, only a handful of them are vital to play) and the odd legacy quirk that could easily trip up or tire novices. (‘Hannut’ isn’t bugged – you need to manually deploy your invasion force via the ‘Arrivals’ menu. Bear in mind units stacks won’t attack or move if one of the selected units has insufficient APs).

Though the low-headcount USMC vs IJA ‘Tenaru’ is the natural starting point for the newcomer, its jungle-draped map and closely deployed armourless forces arguably don’t show the system at its best. I’d be tempted to tackle Mersa el Brega – an unusual tussle involving untested Afrika Korps troops and tanks (your responsibility), dug-in Desert Rats (the AI’s), and difficult terrain – after completing the tutorial.

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Worried that drama queens will interpret planned changes to the way IL-2 simulates rudder effects – changes that will have huge FM implications…

1. Flight stick movements along the roll axis required to compensate for the roll drift during slide reduced significantly;
2. While a strong rudder input is given, aircraft will tend to ‘plow in’ while making a barrel roll;
3. Flat turns are now possible almost at any speeds, including near stall situations (ailerons input is enough to keep the aircraft level and the flat turn itself becomes more effective);
4. Forward slip results in more drag – it is possible to use this maneuver to reduce speed and descend more effectively while landing, for example;
5. Aircraft became more stable in the airflow, parasitic oscillations are reduced;
6. Aircraft became more stable during takeoff and landing runs;
7. Aircraft airflow modeling improved at critical flight modes (stall and spin). Stall became more apparent and results in more severe loss of control than before. Recovering from a spin requires more aggressive and confident actions.
8. Aerodynamic hinge moments affect pilot’s ability to control flight stick and pedals more. It takes more time to overcome these moments at higher speeds;
9. Bf 109 F-2/F-4/G-2/G-4: roll axis controls became significantly heavier at high flight speeds;
10. Bf 109 F-2/F-4/G-2/G-4: pitch balance and elevator trim effectiveness corrected;
11. Bf 109 F-2/F-4/G-2/G-4: pedal load slightly corrected for the entire speeds range;
12. Ju 87 D-3: propeller backwash affects the aircraft much more severely, requiring increased rudder input during takeoff run;
13. Ju 87 D-3: pitch balance corrected, resulting in less elevator trim effectiveness;
14. MiG-3 series 24: pitch balance corrected, resulting in less elevator trim effectiveness;
15. LaGG-3 series 29: pedal load slightly corrected for the entire speeds range;
16. LaGG-3 series 29: pitch balance corrected, resulting in less elevator trim effectiveness;
17. Yak-1 series 69/127: flight stick load neutral position along the roll axis corrected for non-FFB devices;
18. Yak-1 series 69/127: flight stick load slightly corrected for entire speeds range;
19. Yak-1 series 69/127: pitch balance corrected, resulting in less elevator trim effectiveness.

…as ‘IL-2’s entire flight model was wrong!’ 1CGS/77 have pointedly pointed out that planned changes to the way IL-2 simulates rudder effects don’t mean that ‘IL-2’s entire flight model was wrong!’

I’m more than happy to take their word for it especially as, in this instance, more realism seems to equal less lively horizons and gentler take-offs and landings.

The FM tinkering is going hand-in-hand with impressive work on the new mountain range-riven Kuban map (IL-2: Battle of Kuban is due in December), coming flyables like the Lend-Lease Spitfire and Havoc, and carefully engineered support for Open VR. It sounds like gogglers unable to close either their left or right eye independently may struggle with the Peshka…

“For a while, we were a bit puzzled how to make optical sights (like Pe-2 lower UBT MG gunsight or tank gunner sight) function in VR realistically, and we decided to show the gunsight only for one eye while the other eye should be closed (like in real life).”

Which VR device does 1CGS/777 recommend for use with IL-2?

It’s complicated.

“Oculus Rift CV1 has slightly better lenses and more effective usage of the display matrix (pixels in front of you are placed a bit tighter, but overall field of view is narrower). On the other hand, HTC Vive has more advanced tracking tech, slightly wider FOV which feels less like looking through binoculars, much larger possible play area (not like it is useful for a flight sim though) but its lenses have visible peripheral moire effect. In short, both devices have their pros and cons and if you plan to buy one, it would be ideal to demo them both to find out which one suits you better.”

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I’m starting to wonder if I was wise to put all my money on Art of Combat – Anzio 44 (strat map pictured above) in the Second-Gen Close Combat Sweepstake. After a strong start, the indie dark horse appears to be fading. In an unexpected role-reversal the talkative TACKOM have gone silent while their rivals at Slitherine/Matrix have broken a long silence with the following two pics of pre-alpha Close Combat: The Bloody First.


Hopefully future shots will show evidence of trepidatious tanks, trashable terrain, and troops automatically exploiting cover. I want a CC sequel with camera tilt, seamless zooming, and multiple theatres as much as the next Sherman shepherder, but will be crestfallen if that sequel doesn’t deliver equivalent advances in areas like AI and cover simulation.

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Although it looks like Flare Path’s bid to turn HMS into a briny Crusader Kings 2 has failed, the debate sparked by the March 10th column, has reenergized Johan Nagel and helped him hatchet his way though his designer’s block. After encouraging experiments with card-driven events and objectives systems, HMS is very much back on track. In fact the man behind Vietnam ’65 and Afghanistan ’11 is now so positive about his Age of Sail Bolitho-em-up he hopes to release it as both a PC title and a solitaire board game.

Both games will use the same deceptively simple mechanics, hexgrid voyaging given structure and focus by card-generated events and Admiralty orders. Johan describes the cut-away ship screen/board as “the engine room of the game”. Canny management of crew here will improve your speed, boost your combat chances, and allow you to claim event card rewards. The latest design doc may be hardtack-dry but it’s not hard to picture its implications – invigoratingly dynamic campaigns in which short-term goals and ever-present supply and morale concerns constantly chafe against the Admiralty orders which ultimately determine whether you get promoted. If V65 and A11 weren’t proof enough that Nagel is one of the most original and ingenious strategy game designers around at the moment, I suspect HMS will remove all doubts.

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The sequel to Patton’s Best-inspired WW2 roguelike Armoured Commander seems to be proceeding at a fair old lick. Normally I’d be happy about this, but as I’m about to step out in front of it and urge it to stop, the pace is actually rather alarming.

Until I tried Rev Sudasana’s latest ‘proof of concept’ demo I hadn’t grasped that the follow-up to the arrestingly human/brutal AC was dispensing with its predecessor’s most notable feature. In the new title we won’t manage a single AFV crammed with vulnerable, skill-endowed characters, we’ll push around small forces of armour and infantry in traditional wargame fashion. Where AC stuck out like a hatch-crushed thumb by offering the drama and detail of a tank sim without a tank sim’s complexities, I fear AC2 may, by choosing a far more familiar approach, struggle to stand out.

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Would you accept this fetching picture of a 1938 Stock Tube train in lieu of a Train Sim World Wot I Think? Still slightly baffled by the lack of chemistry between myself and Dovetail’s latest, I’d like to reflect a little longer before saying predictable things about potential, flawed physics and unforgivably weak audio. Who knows, this weekend I may finally click with the GP-38-2, the SD40-2, or the AC4400CW. I might get through a Cumberland-Rockwood run without stifled yawns and a hankering for a mellifluous multiple unit or a saintly steam loco.

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This way to the foxer

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