A is for Anticipating awesome AI. General Staff's AI sounds smarter than a sack of weasels. In a recent blog post Ezra Sidran describes how MATE, the upcoming American Civil War game's ersatz commander, works out which section of an enemy line it should “Schwerpunkt” during an attack. It “identifies the opposing force that must be dealt with to achieve its assigned objective, does strength analysis of the two opposing forces, determines if the defender has anchored or unanchored flanks, calculates the slope of the attack, etc., and then calculates the Schwerpunkt after analyzing the enemy’s flank positions, supporting forces and if the attacker has an unrestricted avenue of attack.”. Evidently “bumble in the rough direction of victory locations”, the modus operandi of many a pitched battle wargame AI, isn't good enough for Ezra.
B is for Bedroom Bashar
My one and (thus far) only playthrough of The Arab Republic of Taghia, a £4 political sim that casts you as the leader of a fictional Middle Eastern State buffeted by the shamals of the real Arab Spring, didn't go brilliantly. Keen to do the right thing rather than the pragmatic/Machiavellian thing, I was soon crouching in a palace anteroom with a bag over my head and pistol muzzle pressed against my temple. I glimpsed a pleasingly complex placation puzzle in the 30 or so turns before I perished, but also a game that doesn't use its main display awfully well (info on aspects like factions and foreign relations is tucked away when it could be permanently displayed on or around the map). Over the weekend I aim to find out whether it's possible to triumph/survive without turning yourself into a bedroom Bashar al-Assad on the way.
C is for Clipped communications
Michael Long tells me Radio General is progressing well and should feel very different from the conceptually similar Radio Commander:
“We are presently working on both the online coop, dynamic campaign and map editor. For online coop it's going to be a nice change of pace to add in another human element (you must coordinate and delegate responsibility with your ally, and deal with their mistakes as well). For the dynamic campaign, you will be given a set number of units, each with a unique leadership style, and will choose which to bring into battle. Your units will become veterans, and you can choose specializations for them. This is fun and will add some replayability.
The greatest challenge so far is not a coding one per se, but one with which we've been facing the whole time: how much information to present to the player. It takes a long time to get through voiced dialogue, so you can't make the voice lines too long, but you also need to convey enough information and flavour. This is tricky when multiple battles are happening and several units want to speak to you urgently.
Having briefly tried Radio Commander, I'd say it has more of a narrative and thematic focus. Our emphasis is more on historical accuracy, gameplay and strategy. Our dynamic campaign and online coop will also help distinguish between the two titles.”
D is for Didactic debacle
Hopefully, Matrix/Slitherine will learn useful lessons from the Close Combat – The Bloody First launch. A couple of prompt-ish patches have, eliminated crashes and stuttering, added crude skyboxes, unshackled the camera, and improved the spotting model, but version 1.0.2 still feels like a beta in many respects. Squashing bugs looks like it's going to take a month at the very least and acknowledging and addressing deficiencies in core areas such as AI, detection routines and pathfinding significantly longer. A year of Early Access scrutiny/feedback prior to a full release would have done this highly anticipated title a world of good.
E is for Expert analysis
Bill Gray's critique of Radio Commander makes for interesting reading. Although the Wargamer.com stalwart has no personal experience of the Vietnam War, he spent a significant portion of the Eighties choreographing US forces from the cramped interior of an M577 so is better equipped than most to comment on the game's procedural and cartographic realism.
F is for Foxer
This week's co-op brain bender is a hexagonal wordsearch with a hidden theme.
G is for Good heavens
My invite to the Microsoft Flight Simulator preview event in Seattle must have got lost in the post. Either that or MS remembered my table manners at the FSX preview event* and made the same foolish mistake the king and queen made at the beginning of Sleeping Beauty. Fortunately, many others such as FSElite's Calum Martin did attend so I'm now Properly Excited about FSXI. It appears most of the conclusions we drew from that jawdropping teaser video were correct. The new sim will rely heavily on streamed photogrammetric scenery. When online the software will dynamically assess your bandwith and adjust detail accordingly. Offline aviators can use tracts of cached scenery. Those too-good-to-be-true clouds turn out to be perfectly genuine. Asobo Studio, the sizeable French outfit doing much of the coding for MS, are using a range of cutting edge techniques and technologies (expect a 600km draw distance, native support for all cloud types, independently lit clouds, volumetric rain showers and rainbows!) to ensure FSXI has the finest firmaments around.
*In my defence it was the very first time I'd eaten lobster.
H is for Holy grail
Like an oak tree or a dead Paraceratherium, Eagle Dynamics refuse to be hurried. In an interview at Mudspike.com, Matt Wagner predicts that the DCS World dynamic campaign engine announced in 2018 is still more than a year away: “We now have the RTS element of the dynamic campaign running within DCS World, and we are working on user interface that will allow to configure a campaign and will be used to tune the RTS engine. There is considerable work to do on the interface, details of all military orders and package creation/coordination, and unit AI tuning. The engine is built on a neural network that allows us to create realistic dynamic campaigns based on machine learning principles. Our current estimate is that the dynamic campaign will be ready for beta test in 2021.”
I is for Imaginary intellectual property rights
What an extraordinary 'coincidence'. I naively unveil my KitSim blueprint here on RPS and a mere seven years later, Polish studio Moonlit announce Model Builder. Cases of IIP infringement don't come much clearer according to my poised-for-action legal team.
J is for Jar jar plinks
Not all of the scraps being recreated for Campaign Series: Vietnam will be set in the titular country. Guest scenario designer David Galster is simming a series of engagements from the Laotian Civil War. The Plain of Jars, the conflict's strangest battlefield, will feature in at least one clash.
K is for Koploper
L is for Latin liberation
Headquarter, the makers of the Spanish Civil War wargame I criticised in August for being too yielding, is crossing the Atlantic for its next title. The 19th Century wars of independence that cost Spain its American empire will be at the centre of Libertadores.
M is for Munitions manual
Can't figure out how to program that RN-28 tactical nuclear weapon you picked up for a song at a car boot sale last month? You need OKSNAR - Fully Assembled State - Soviet Nuclear Weapons in Hungary 1961-1991, a new book co-authored by Tamas Varhegyi, the chap behind free “realistic to the switch” SAM simulator, SAM Simulator.
N is for Negligible challenge?
Judging by this forum thread, Avalon Digital haven't managed to deliver the “challenging AI” they listed as a primary objective when Blocks!: Richard III was being kickstarted. If, with the difficulty maxed out, I win my first three games of Blocks! this weekend, then the title probably won't feature in next week's Flare Path.
O is for Onslaught
Would patronising Sean O'Connor via his new Patreon page increase the likelihood of a bigger, better Firefight? I suspect not. Sean is preoccupied with fantasy fracas right now. In a recent email incorporating this video, the man behind the dangerously moreish Slay in addition to CC's slimmer, trimmer cousin Firefight, tells me he's been making “slow but steady progress” on his isometric real-time battle game. “This video shows it running on my (ancient) 7-year-old iPad 4 and even that seems to handle over 1,000 troops simultaneously, so I might think about upping that number and making the battles even bigger. The random map creation, combat, shooting, line of sight, and morale are all basically finished but I still need to work on the enemy’s strategy for moving his units. I also haven’t decided on whether to make the game just a series of individual battles, or have an overall strategic/politics level where your battles are linked in an overall campaign.”
P is for Precarious peace
A brutally honest portrayal of the difficulties of COIN operations in a post-war Middle Eastern state or a shallow, unrealistic frustration factory? Rebel Inc: Escalation, an Early Access release from Plague Inc: Evolved devs Ndemic Creations, hasn't won over everyone that's purchased it during its first ten days on sale. My sixpennyworth may well grace next week's column.
Q is for Quick teabreak
R is for Riding shotgun
In most WW2 tactical wargames infantry aboard trucks and halftracks are helpless bullet sponges. In Second Front, an upcoming 3D hex wargame with strong notes of Squad Leader and Steel Panthers, resourceful passengers will unleash lead storms as well as weather them.
S is for Slippage sympathy
No sensible Derail Valley user can grumble about the overdue “hazmat update” now that Altfuture have explained the reasons for the delay. What started out as an attempt to inject a little extra peril into an already dangerous train sim has morphed into an ambitious reworking of many of the game's core systems. Early in 2020 the orange shunter brigade will be getting, for absolutely nowt, a “complete overhaul of derailment, coupling, and brake simulation, major changes to UI, inventory, item retrieval and in-game economy, as well as a fully remade harbor complex” together with “Hazmat cargo and effects, worldwide railway signs, new licenses, a military base, train status saving, damage detection and many related interfaces and gameplay features”.
T is for Twenty-two differences
^ Click to enlarge
U is for Up periscope
Since the end of September it's been possible for a lone player to operate a Wolfpack Type VII U-boat without darting about like a blue-arsed Bachstelze. The 'bots' patch added silicon shipmates who automatically relay important info and respond to orders issued via new toggleable instruments. Don't open Silent Hunter 4's seacocks just yet though. Usurpator's MP-focussed Early Access sim still lacks big-ticket items like coastlines and a campaign system.
V is for Vals and Vindicators
A couple of weeks ago I described Storm Eagle's aging and impossible-to-recommend-due-to-activation-problems oeuvre as the closest things we had to naval Combat Missions. While that statement is (probably) true today, if Drydock Dreams Games pull their collective finger out, it won't be true this time next year. Watch the above video and then tell me you're not excited at the prospect of Task Force Admiral Volume 1: American Carrier Battles.
W is for WarPlan
Alvaro Sousa, a chap who learnt his trade designing expansion packs for Strategic Command 2, is in for a busy week. WarPlan, his hexy standalone corp/division level, European theatre WW2 wargame launched yesterday. The concept isn't exactly daisy-fresh, but assuming the execution is good and the AI able (Hmm, Wargamer's Charles Ellis' Sealioned with alarming ease), that lack of novelty probably won't matter. The queue of people eager to humble Hitler, or avoid his mistakes never seems to shorten.
X is for Xplore, Xpand, Xploit, Xhaust
The Shadow Empire screenshots that show tech trees and logistical graphs leave me a tad chilly, but the hexy ones showing units tramping about randomly generated maps, persuade me I might just warm to this incredibly ambitious 4X wargame assuming the delegation options are decent. The work of VR Designs (Advanced Tactics, Decisive Campaigns...), one thing is for sure, the tactical side is sure to be rock-solid.
Y is for Yay!
Unity of Command II. Here. There. Everywhere. November.
Z is for ?