The Flare Path: Heavily Engauged

How soon is too soon when it comes to developing games based on historical tragedies? I’m really not sure but I guess the fact that Kursk makes me uncomfortable while Titanic: Honor and Glory doesn’t, means I do believe video games have the power to enflame wounds and compound grief if they arrive too early and show too little respect for the truth.

Polish devs Jujubee claim that Kursk will be the “first fully fledged adventure-documentary game in history”. It’s a bold statement and a questionable one when set beside others made by the K-141-obsessed Katowicians…

“The game tells the tragic story of the K-141 Kursk submarine, which in August 2000 sank in the Barents Sea together with its entire crew. The circumstances of this catastrophe, reminiscent of the recent disappearance of the Argentinian submarine San Juan, have not been fully explained to this day”

“The player will take on the role of a spy who is trying to gain information about Shkval supercavitating torpedoes, which at that time were of interest to all major intelligence services in the world”

“The decisions the player makes will have a significant impact on the ending of the game, and there’ll be several of them.”

Jujubee seem to want everything. The gravity and notoriety of a real-life accident. The freedom to explore outlandish conspiracy theories. The option to reward the player with something no actual Kursk crewman achieved – survival. Perhaps, in the circumstances, they’d have been better off alluding to the loss of the Kursk rather than referencing it directly. If the in-game vessel had been called the ‘Volgograd’ or the ‘Saint Petersburg’ and the depicted events had occurred in 2001 or 1999 drumming up interest in the project might have been a little trickier, but there would have been fewer sighs and less nose-wrinkling from people like me. Game makers and marketers have irredeemably sullied the terms “realism” and “authenticity”. It would be sad if “documentary” went the same way.

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Youtube’s most-watched sim video doesn’t feature aircraft, tanks, trucks or even goats, and the game that spawned it is still years away from completion.

This 160-minute-long Titanic sinking visualisation was put together in a hurry in 2016 by the Titanic: Honor and Glory team who wanted something to enliven an anniversary podcast. Since then it’s been watched almost 29 million times, has appeared in TV documentaries, and has become an invaluable marketing tool for the studio. Project lead, Thomas Lynskey, acknowledges its usefulness but is now rather embarrassed by some of the simulatory shortcomings on show.

Keen to protect their incomparable research and modelling effort from plagiarism, and preserve some surprises for the final release, the THG team won’t be releasing an improved version of the reel. However, in a recent update status video they did spotlight some of the ways in which a modern version would differ.

Like Kursk,Titanic: Honor and Glory will feature a fictitious player with a dramatic backstory…

“Owen Robert Morgan is accused of murder and robbery – a crime he didn’t commit. Evading capture, he must find a way aboard Titanic in pursuit of the real culprit, and spend the voyage earning the respect and help of some of those on board the ship in order to piece the clues together about what is going on.”

Unlike Kursk, Titanic Honor and Glory probably won’t provide any encouragement to conspiracy theorists, or dwell ghoulishly on distressing demises in any of its trailers.

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If the untimely end of Flight Sim World means Dovetail Games has more staff available to hone, fix, and expand Train Sim World, the bitterness of one segment of the sim community could end up balanced out by the gratitude of another. At least one high-profile FSW team member seems to have traded wings for bogies in recent weeks. On Tuesday DTG Cryss broke the news of West Somerset Railway, an approaching TSW recreation of the longest (23 miles) standard gauge independent heritage railway in the UK.

At first glance modelling a preserved railway known primarily for its steam traction without also modelling that steam traction – the route will come with Class 09 and 47 diesels only– seems rather perverse. The explanatory “We’re simulating a WSR diesel gala!” excuse only really works if you ignore the fact that the WSR would never be foolish enough to organise a diesel gala featuring just a Gronk and Duff. Their annual celebrations of diesel-electric and diesel-hydraulic motive power are far more cosmopolitan affairs.

In a sense TSW is a martyr to its own visual verisimilitude. Because creating even decorative rolling stock requires significant labour, we end up with DLC that lacks diversity.

If only there was another way…

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RollingLine22

Although the £11 Rolling Line looks and to a certain extent sounds like the framerate-friendly, physics-first rail sim I’ve been picturing for years, it’s actually something quite different – a virtual model railway with impressive, interlinked KiwiRail layouts and a quirky VR-attuned interface.

Right now the DIY modelling tools are rudimentary in comparison with those provided by pre-TANE Trainz (For example at present there’s no possibility of laying inclined track and all scenic items must be laboriously plucked from a series of drawers) but promising improvement plans mean users should, one day, be in a position to fashion layouts as intricate and pleasing as the quartet of stunners built by developer Gaugepunk.

This foursome includes a bewitching dockside diorama with tangled trackwork and an open-for-business train ferry, a spectacular coastal route with tunnels and towering vegetation-shrouded slopes, and an arrestingly alien saltworks inspired by a plant near Lake Grassmere. All have been crafted with artistry and care by someone with a real feel for model railway design.

To control trains you either pick up one of the cordless controllers that are positioned around the layouts, and click on the desired formation to bind it, or jump into a cab and use the simple constant-speed throttle found there. Points may be changed by clicking on trackside levers or by operating miniature switches on stylised diagrams on the layout fascia.

While optional day-night cycles, evocative ambient sounds, and physics party-tricks like simmed coupler slack, help the delightful Rolling Line smudge conceptual boundaries, unlike Trainz, this is a game with a very clear sense of purpose. Gaugepunk have built a beguiling, interactive New Zealand Miniatur Wunderland with basic editing facilities, not a TSW competitor. While I admire their skill and single-mindedness, a part of me hopes they’ll eventually propel their engine in a more prototypical direction.

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The ‘fancy textures and elaborate 3D models are more trouble than they are worth’ movement has champions in Grogland as well as Simulatia. The makers of Military Operations, a work-in-progress turnless WW2 wargame with an astonishingly athletic camera, won’t be wasting time modelling tank paraphernalia or twenty-two types of deciduous tree.

Judging from the screenshots and blogs they’ve released thus far, Military Operations (confusingly the devs go by the same name as their project) would much rather devote their energy to creating a game that blends the scale of Command Ops 2, with the elegance of Close Combat, and the spectacle of Steel Division, than squander it sculpting GPU-straining gewgaws with zero tactical/strategic significance.

How refreshing.

Their FAQ radiates similar good sense. A focus on solo play. A hierarchical command system that should allow hundreds of units to be choreographed with ease. No research or recruiting. Automated infantry embarkation/disembarkation. Mod friendliness… The devs seem to understand what makes modern wargamers cheer and sneer.

If MO can translate their frustration with existing hex treatments of WW2 operational warfare –  their desire to turn players from knackered chit shufflers to happy arrow daubers – into something elegant, smart, and hardware-kind (a tech demo is on the way) they could make a lot of friends very quickly.

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This way to the foxer

15 Comments

  1. Shiloh says:

    I’m always in the market for a new wargame so I’ll keep my eye on Military Operations.

    I’ve also just become the proud owner of a 44% off voucher for use in the Matrix/Slitherine store, so I’m in the market for recommendations if anyone’s got any?

  2. Stugle says:

    Military Operations sounds very intriguing, I’ll have to keep it on my radar.

    I haven’t thought of it in years (possibly decades), but Rolling Line reawakened fond childhood memories of miniature train tracks. My uncle had a huge track laid out on tables in his attack, and I now recall my father working on a more modest version in our garage – a hill with a tunnel through it made with chicken wire and papier mache, black sandpaper for road surfaces, a little painted lake in the center… Thank you for sending me down memory lane! I like the idea of Rolling Line, but with my surfeit of games and deficit of time, I don’t think I’ll ever buy it. Although, to be fair, this looks like one game where ‘sitting pretty in my games library’ is pretty much the point of it all. :)

    Excellent work on today’s title, as well – I know ‘Heavily Engaged’ has been used in the past, so it’s a nice pun AND a brief a-ha moment.

    • Stugle says:

      Having lost a good half hour reading blog posts at Military Operations, I must say it sounds insanely ambitious. But the developers seem to have given a lot of thought to it.

      It makes me excited in a ‘sky’s the limit’ sense that I haven’t been since the original Shogun: Total War was revealed. I’m older and more cynical, so I’m not expecting miracles, but it will be interesting to see if they can craft an engaging game out of their vision. At the very least, the mechanics should be very different from most wargames I’m familiar with.

      Thanks for flagging it up, Tim!

  3. CVGridley says:

    Thanks for sharing info on Kursk – I’ve always been fascinated by that story. Did you know the submarine sank in ~330 feet of water? The sub was ~500 feet long. If it had gone down nose first, the tail would have been 200 feet in the air, yet it was impossible to rescue at that depth.

    • Pulstar says:

      You mean Putin refused to rescue them whilst trying to sell the secret of the torpedo to the highest bidder.

  4. DEspresso says:

    By coincidence I stumbled over this Titanic-related picture today.. link to smbc-comics.com

    Happy Weekend!

  5. Axolotl says:

    Military Operations sounds too good to be true, which probably means it is, in fact, not going to be as amazing as it seems. I’m definitely convinced I should keep an eye on it, though. Good article.

  6. DeadCanDance says:

    Military operations seems very interesting! I hope you keep examining its development, Tim.

  7. MiniMatt says:

    How soon is too soon?” is always an interesting question.

    South Park settled on 22.3 years, the time between a tragic event and when it becomes acceptable comedy material.

    I’ve a feeling the most likely answer is “anything that you can’t personally remember is fair game”. Anything that happens before you were born, or when you were a toddler, is really perceived as ancient history.

    I remember really funny (to a primary school kid) Challenger disaster jokes in the playground days after it happened – but only a few months ago a Kerbal Space Program promo video scripted disconcertingly close to Challenger and suddenly comic exploding spaceships didn’t seem funny at all.

  8. trjp says:

    A lot of TS players are convinced that DTG have doomed TSW by taking it to console where (and DTG have admitted this) there are serious constraints on the size of routes (the core/original Heavy Haul content can’t be ported – for example)

    The effort required to recreate routes/trains in the detail that TSW offers is WAY greater than it was for TS of course – that may be the real issue – but the stuff they’re putting out is really disappointing…

    All we wanted was TS re-engineered for multi-core/more memory – if DTG can’t do that I just hope someone else might (in the style of OpenRails/OpenBVE) because there’s SO much great stuff in TS, it just performs like shit

  9. trjp says:

    I’m fascinated by Rolling Line and I’m not even a model rail fan!!

    If the developer can get Workshop Assets/better track and tools working it could be something REALLY special IMO

    Trainz was always “model trains” (TS is Train DRIVING) but TANE’s developers have lost-the-plot completely

    In fact – at this rate – we might be reliant on Rolling Line and Diesel Railcar over anything else as DTG are clearly up shit creek too (endless sales, FSW cancelled 3 weeks after a sale – REALLY!?)

  10. Michael Fogg says:

    I was browsing on a family member’s laptop and the YT embeds did not load, displaying only screenshots of complete blackness. I thought that was a poignant way of ending the Kursk part of the feature.

  11. kulik says:

    Military Operations – please have turn based WEGO mode, please please, please…

  12. celticdr says:

    Dammit Tim! I already blew my video games budget on Battletech, now you thunder in with Rolling Line and Military Operations – I’m not made of money!

    But, ahem, thanks for bringing these gems to our attention.