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

24 Comments

  1. OpT1mUs says:

    I honestly think Flare Path is the best RPS has to offer.

    On a more related note, I recently got into pc wargaming properly, and I’m loving Tiller’s games. Since it’s all new to me I don’t suffer from “system fatigue” and am enjoying Squad and Panzer battles immensely.

    • Landiss says:

      Agreed, it definitely is. It should be promoted more on the mainpage, not disappearing after not even full day, as it does usually :/.

    • Philopoemen says:

      Was lucky enough to be part of the Squad Battles team for a few games (was even silly enough to do the Aussie voices in Tour of Duty…), and while the games are nice, the guys behind any of the Tiller games are full grogs, and it’s their passion that really shines through.

      My personal favourite is still Middle East ’67, if you enjoy PZC, I’d definitely recommend it.

      • Premium User Badge

        goodpoints says:

        True that, ME ’67 is fantastic. The Yom Kippur War scenarios are some of my absolute favorites in any JTS game. But I’ll never understand why they decided to name it after the 6 Day War, the least gameable war that the game covers.

    • Gothnak says:

      I think over half the games on my wish list were initially covered by Flare Path.

      Can you do an RPG and nonwar-strategy game column too Mr Stone? The fact you cover multiple games at just the right depth to get me interested is way better than a rambling article about one game.

    • sandman2575 says:

      Re: Tiller’s games… I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s simply unforgivable for even moderately resourced strategy games to *still* look this way, can I? I mean, Jesus… the presentation / graphics are 1990s vintage. I find even Command: Modern Air and Naval Ops’s ‘Windows XP-style’ interface hard to swallow at this point, but the Tiller games… just can’t stomach it.

      Yeah, I know it’s a tiny dev operating with a shoestring budget. But I’m not asking for miracles. WW2 strat. games can be old school, hex-based, and still have visual flair — see VR Studio’s Decisive Campaigns series as case-in-point. Or Unity of Command.

      • OpT1mUs says:

        To be honest look of Tiller’s games in one the things that drew me to it, I love the 2d 90’s boardgame look/style. Also there are mods to change up the look if you do not like the default one, but as I mentioned, I honestly love it.

    • wodin says:

      Please check out my website A Wargamers Needful Things:)

      link to awargamersneedfulthings.co.uk

    • Tim Stone says:

      Morale +1. Thanks!

  2. Novotny says:

    Was discussing the Battle of Stalingrad flight model just this week with a real pilot and we were both of the opinion that if it was really that hard in real life, combat losses would have approached like 100% for the first mission.

    Reinstalled Clod after many years and couldn’t believe how easy it was in comparison.

  3. Hydrogene says:

    I’m glad to see Nagel is carrying on with HMS. Thanks Mr Stone!

  4. Premium User Badge

    Syt says:

    I want to like the John Tiller games SO MUCH, but any time I tried (Modern Squad Battles, Modern Campaigns, various Napoleon games, Pike & Shot …) I was put off by the scenario design and AI.

    Either you’re on the attack and faced with very strong opposition. I recall a particularly tough (small) battle as Warsaw Pact in Modern Campaigns where I finally took the objective on the last turn after heavy losses, only to zoom out and realize that I only made it half way to the final objective of the scenario.

    Or on defense the AI is unable to challenge you. I’ve won scenarios without moving my troops, and just clicking “end turn” while the AI stumbled around.

    Maybe I was unlucky, or the games just don’t click for me, but after buying well over a dozen of his titles (partially because he covers some not so “popular” campaigns), I’ve stopped trying.

    • Shiloh says:

      I’m a big fan of JT’s oeuvre but there’s one thing about the AI in the older games that bugs me – it never knows when it’s beat. As I said back in 1914 (or so it seems) when Tim interviewed the man himself, “I’d suggest his next challenge would be to start modelling realistic retreats – I’ve lost count of the times previously routed units have popped up in my rear (not a euphemism) having rallied, when by rights they should either have faded away into the surrounding countryside or stacked arms and surrendered.”

      link to rockpapershotgun.com

    • OpT1mUs says:

      Try multiplayer?

      • Shiloh says:

        I always forget about the PBEM option – is it pretty straightforward?

        Not sure how it would play out in, say, one of the big ACW battles though – it could go back and forth for months, couldn’t it?

        • Premium User Badge

          Syt says:

          That’s my main concern. I like playing at my own pace, and that might be a few turns here or there, or not for a week.

        • OpT1mUs says:

          I’m yet to try it, but check out http://www.theblitz.org, it’s a great community of people playing comouter wargames in MP and otherwise, you can find opponents there, or just someone to show you the ropes.

  5. thehollowman says:

    Instantly turned off by hearing AC2 will be squad level. I want peoples.

  6. Rev_Sudasana says:

    Thanks for taking a look at ArmCom2. I’m not completely wedded to the idea of it being platoon-based, my main concern was to remove the abstract “friendly forces” from the first game, and to have every enemy and friendly unit represented on the map. It would be great to return to the single-tank focus, so I’ll see how the game develops as I continue to work on this early version of it.

  7. Strela says:

    Tim,

    Thanks for showcasing the Panzer Battles Demo for us. It’s our first product out of Wargame Design Studio and with the code in our hands we’re starting to improve the user interface as well as the base graphics. We already have a number of people starting to build further content for it, so hopefully this won’t be a static product.

    On a related note we’re ‘upgrading’ the whole Panzer Campaigns line. We posted a few screen shots on the new look here; link to wargamedesignstudio.com

    That said, we have added quite a bit in the last three months both graphically, aurally and in terms of additional content. The aim is to relaunch the Panzer Campaigns series with a ‘Gold’ version with all these enhancements that hopefully will look more in place in the 21st century than the current games.

    Thanks, David

  8. Strela says:

    One other tip also – no need to move one hex after the other. Selecting a unit and hitting ‘H’ for reachable hexes will show how far a unit can move. Holding the left mouse button down and dragging to a hex in range and releasing the mouse button will have the unit move there directly.

    If units are lined up in a row, by selecting the first unit, hitting ‘H’ for reachable hexes and then holding the ‘Alt’ key down and right clicking in the target hex (usually further up the road), all the adjacent units will usually move along the road in column. This may take a few selection and clicks as the AI tries to keep companies together.

    Try it with the Germans in Mersa Brega and it will all make sense!

    David

    • Tim Stone says:

      Massively useful! Thanks. Any chance these could be mentioned in passing in the Getting Started pdf? I suspect I’m not the only one who assumed movement subtleties started and ended with ‘Travel Mode’.

    • Landiss says:

      This really sounds like a dark magic ritual.

      Find crossroads at midnight, full moon, take a black rooster in your right hand and spill salt behind you with your left hand. Wait 2 weeks, come back to the same spot and howl like a wolf, 7 times. If it’s raining or you made any mistake, you need to start from the beginning. It may take a few tries, but the dark power will be with you eventually.

      Seriously though, I so wish to get into more complicated strategy games, but that interface really scares the shit out of me.

  9. Strela says:

    Tim,

    Consider it done. Having worked with the series for so long I forget that there are basics beyond shooting that needs to be covered.

    Hopefully you will be able to tackle the bigger maps a little more efficiently!

    Thanks again for the support,

    David