A is for Alphabetised wargame and sim news. Every four weeks or so I hang up a streamer of industrial strength fly paper in The Flare Path water closet and see what wargame and simulation news items stick to it. Below is this month’s bag – 25 stories involving virtual vehicles and surrogate slaughter. If you know what the G stands for in TGV, or can put these three battles – Guam, Goose Green, Guadalajara – in chronological order, you should probably click where it says…
B is for Bogus ballot
Raise your arm if you would have preferred “Door Kickers 2: Stalingrad Rattenkrieg” to “Door Kickers 2: Task Force North” but are still pretty excited at the prospect of KillHouse's second top-down tactics title?
87% of you! Blimey, there's nothing like an imaginary show of hands for confirming personal prejudices.
C is for Counterfeit commandos
While the Commandos name comes at a price and can only ever have one owner, Commandos' spirit is infinitely divisible and free as air. Appreciating this, Russian studio, Alter Games, is pouring gallons of the stuff into its upcoming team tactics title. Partisans 1941, a stealthy behind-the-lines RTT set during the Great Patriotic War, won't globe-trot and probably won't let you distract Wehrmacht troops with tame owls or wind-up toy T-35s, but the few videos released thus far are hearteningly reminiscent of the work of Pyro, Spellbound and Mimimi.
D is for Damaging silence
The Irregular Corporation seems determined to live up to its name. Since posting a promising bear-with-us-we-promise-to-be-more-communicative-in future “community letter” on Jan 16, Deadstick's publishers have shared no new information about the painfully shy bush pilot flight sim. A few fresh screenshots and a brief summary of what Chris Cheetham & Co. are up to at present would go an awfully long way at this point.
E is for Ecstatic ears
The cinematograph embedded above suggests Microsoft Flight Simulator is going to gladden the Britney Spears as consummately as it gladdens the mince pies. Sixteen channel modular aircraft audio based on field recordings, airframes and airflows in constant conversation, Doppler effects, sound reflections, biome-linked ambient audio... Asobo is pulling out all the stops.
F is for Foxer
Well-travelled lateral thinkers, you are needed in the defoxing annexe. This week's co-op brainteaser involves twelve Street View images linked by a theme that came to Roman - my chief foxer setter - while he was perusing his collection of discarded lottery tickets.
G is for Grim of Death
Graviteam's DLC naming algorithm may need tweaking. The latest Mius-Front supplement, a £10 34-turn 1942 campaign set on the snowy shores of Lake Ladoga, has a moniker that does to the English language what Alfred Becker did to Allied AFVs.
H is for Humanisation
Ripping a page from a well-thumbed field manual, Serious Sim has decided to strengthen the bond between COs and their men by giving the latter names, mug shots, personal histories, and dynamic stats. Due in April, Radio Commander's Squad Management add-on promises to make those faraway firefights even more nailbiting, those medevac and support requests even harder to refuse. With the adjunct installed, what you do between missions - squad balancing, promotions, the organising of R&R etc. - could prove almost as important as what you do during them.
I is for Improvised interview
Being a fully trained person what writes about the videogames, I can turn a press release into an interview like that. (I've just clicked my fingers).
Tim: 2019 was a monumental year for DCS World. I imagine you have even bigger and better things in store for 2020?
Eagle Dynamics: Correctomundo.
Tim: Bigger and better things like a P-47 Thunderbolt, an Mi-24P Hind, new maps such as Marianas Islands map and The Channel map, detailed aircraft carrier operations, and continued development of the F/A-18C Hornet and F-16C Viper?
Dynamic Eagles: Precisely.
Tim: Will you also be releasing updates to the A-10C Warthog and Ka-50 Black Shark (including a free cockpit update)?
Bionic Beagles: We will also be releasing updates to the A-10C Warthog and Ka-50 Black Shark (including a free cockpit update).
Tim: I imagine most of the Eagle Dynamics team will be focused on staring into space, or making tiny models of MiG-17s out of confectionery foil?
Anna Neagle: No, there you are wrong. Most of the Eagle Dynamics team will in fact be focused on improvements to the DCS World core that include performance optimisations, more realistic lighting, a new cloud and weather system, outstanding damage modelling, a new airfield air traffic control system, air-to-ground radar and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) sensors, improved missile dynamics, more life-like AI, new AI units, and a dynamic campaign system.
Tim: So the loafing will be done mainly by your 3rd party partners?
Sir John Gielgud: Our 3rd party partners will be hard at work in 2020 with the F-15E Strike Eagle, MiG-23 Flogger, OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, Syria and Falkland Islands maps, and more.
Tim: Thank you for your time.
J is for Japanese jackstaffs
Amiral Crapaud's conk isn't so close to the grindstone that he's oblivious to developments elsewhere in the wet warfare sector. Last week's interviewee drew my attention to Japanese work-in-progress Battlestations Torpedo 2 and obtained the following overview from dev Sanetomo Works: "Battlestations Torpedo 2 is a basically a modern submarine combat simulator game for PC that morphed into a more ambitious project. The main content is underwater & surface warfare in the vicinity of Japan, but our engine (which is based on Unity) is flexible enough to let you experience battles in other regions and World War II also. Players can control submarines, surface ships, aircraft, tanks, etc. and everything that appears in the game boasts its own physics and controls. We are aiming to release sometime during 2020.”
K is for Klopportunity knocks
The days when players of the fab, Flare Path-approved Football, Tactics & Glory had to stick with their starting clubs through thick and thin, are numbered. An add-on, Early Accessible in the Spring, will encourage talented managers to put remuneration and prestige before roots and pertinacity. I hope the new dynamic job markets reward loyalists as well as journeymen. It would be lovely if faithful bosses increased the likelihood of faithful players and fans.
L is for Lamentable Latvian literature
I won't be getting in the mood for Comrades and Barons: Gates of Freedom, Māris Ozols' in-its-infancy hex wargame about the Latvian War of Independence, by reading new Osprey publication, Armies of the Baltic Independence Wars 1918-20. Proving that game devs sometimes know more about their themes than professional history chroniclers, Māris savages the book in this blog post.
M is for More Plane Mechanic Simulator
Wire-brush the rust from your Spitfire spanners, Plane Mechanic Simulator lives! As promised, publisher Movie Games has passed the seemingly abandoned Early Access erk sim to a new studio. Having already delivered a hangar environment (albeit an improbably messy/dangerous hangar environment), and some weather effects, the inheritors, Cobble Games, now plans to concentrate on interface improvements and extra missions and aircraft. Expecting a free Lancaster, B-17, or He 177 from them is asking for disappointment, but, who knows, a dismantlable Defiant, Tempest, or Beaufighter might not be out of the question.
N is for Nothing to pay
Fancy a new study sim-standard aerodyne but lack the requisite readies? Brave Aerofly FS2 owners are currently getting to know a deeply modelled Westland whirlybird that could meet your needs. Larrylynx's free Lynx Mk7 is not a machine for the impatient. The creator explains the non-negotiable start-up realism thus “There is no way to do an easy version, there is simply too much programming going on under the bonnet. The Lynx has over 17600 lines of code and that's not including the controls.TMD file.” and encourages novices with “Stick with it. If it makes you feel better it took me over 45 minutes when I first started a real Lynx.”
O is for Oceanic hide-and-seek
Another Amiral Crapaud recommendation is the Dangerous Waters-inspired Dsubs. Free and 2D, Boris-Barboris' hobby project pares Cold War submarine clashes down to the bone. The weapons and subs are fictional but the sensor modelling, hydroacoustics, and tactics are firmly rooted in the real. Time-poor Boris wanted tense, plausible subsurface duels that didn't take hours to resolve so girded his loins and did the necessary coding himself.
P is for Pruned of passenger services
Some Canadian rail enthusiasts are asking why the latest Train Sim World expansion totally ignores passenger trains. Released yesterday, Canadian National Oakville Subdivision: Hamilton - Oakville (£25) sims a small but intricate tangle of lines near Toronto without acknowledging that the majority of trains in the area carry commuters not commodities.
Q is for Quick teabreak
R is for Reassuring response
There's no danger Panzer Corps 2 will limp onto the battlefield in as parlous a state as Close Combat: The Bloody First. Sensible Slitherine conducted a 48-hour public beta test this week, using pre-orderers of the £47 Field-Marshal Edition as guinea pigs. The arrangement wasn't quite as exploitative as it first appeared. The lucky few had access to the entire game during the play window and were under no obligation to report issues. Developer, Flashback, now has a month in which to make repairs, implement suggestions, and draw strength from feedback mostly approbatory in character.
S is for Swastikas
In the aftermath of the Commandos 2 HD Remaster hoo-ha I approached several game makers and publishers, keen to find out where they stood on the issue of Nazi symbols and Japanese Hinomarus in games. One or two declined to comment, but some, like 2x2's Tomislav Uzelac were happy to speak:
“I always thought that the Nazi-era German flag wouldn't be a good fit for the Unity of Command series. The games don't really engage with the fact that you are playing as the Nazis (when you are), positioning themselves instead as somewhat dry conflict simulations. I find the ersatz flag that's used totally appropriate in that context.
That said, I am happy that usage is now possible (since the 2018 change of rules in Germany). I would use Nazi-era symbols in a future project, with the understanding that the results would be held to same standards as any other media.
Re: the Commandos remaster, I agree with you, basically. I find the original usage to be appropriate, and the action by Kalypso overzealous (if well intentioned).”
Burden of Command's Luke Hughes on the same sensitive subject:
"Your Commandos 2 HD review made me explicitly think about whether we should just go full historical on the iconography. For our US campaign I don’t think it is important when compared to the task of communicating the Burden of Command. But when we do a German campaign it would probably be wrong not to and I believe we should devote the time to getting approval. But what if we don’t succeed? Should we just give up getting a future sober-minded German campaign published in Germany? Seems like that would be a shame too. I would love to hear your community’s opinions.”
There's no danger whatsoever that Japanese aircraft in Task Force Admiral will fly without red discs on their flanks and wings. Amiral Crapaud:
“Although, due to the specifics of the German market, the swastika thing has always been an issue for devs, there's never been controversy over the use of the classic Hinomaru – and for good reason, considering it is still the official roundel of the Japanese Self Defense Force. Besides, we really want you to enjoy the ominous glimpse of meatballs when a daredevil B5N dashes over your bow, having dropped his fish nikuhaku-hitchu-style just seconds before.”
T is for Terra Incognito
From the little I've seen of Terra Incognito so far (I'm equipped with a beta) I suspect It's going to prove just as divisive as Her Majesty's Ship and Carrier Deck, Johan Nagel's last two Not Wargames. The design is as singular as the Antarctic Snow Cruiser. Players must guide a two-man Scott-reminiscent expedition to the South Pole, navigating randomly generated pack ice, establishing supply dumps, and battling deadly blizzards/bears, on the way. Naturally, a rival Norwegian expedition is trying to get to the globe's perishing perineum first. As in HMS and Carrier Deck, there's a relentlessness to the action which some may find disagreeable. Trudging across the frozen wastes saps food supplies and chills trudgers, and warming-up in pitched tents drains precious fuel. Woolly-minded ditherers are doomed. The proof? My first ten attempts to complete Stage 1 of the expedition have all ended in failure.
U is for Under duress
V is for Vyborg–Petrozavodsk Offensive
Steel Divsion 2's first DLC, Death on the Vistula, was awash with angry houses. Due any day now, the second, The Fate of Finland, promises to be dominated by the PBI. A recreation of a 1944 Soviet offensive which failed to take all of its objectives yet convinced Finland to sue for peace, it will come with six new divisions, the quirkiest of which look to be the rifle-rich Ryhmä Raappana (“aggressive recon troops, formidable artillery and air support, and a wide variety of different infantry” but sod-all in the way of armour) and the tank-heavy Panssaridivisioona (“With the Panssaridivisioona you get to play with the ubiquitous but outdated Soviet light tank, the T-26, as well as more exotic equipment. What about the multi-turreted T-28, the T-50 light tank, the T-38 amphibious tank, or the BT-42 assault guns? British Vickers E tanks can also be deployed. German StuG III and Panzer IV J round out your armored options.”)
W is for When Rivers Were Trails
Free thought-provoker When Rivers Were Trails drips history like a honeycomb drips honey. Playing an Anishinaanbeg displaced by the Nelson Act of 1889, you wander a world thrown into chaos by forced resettlement, dubious treaties and ecological illiteracy.
Hunting, fishing, and trading to stay alive, and compelled, at times, to choose resistance strategies in what is, in effect, an unwinnable war, you meet many in similar straits to yourself as you travel. The myriad encounters shed light on lives and belief systems generally ignored or crudely homogenised by game makers. They build into something intimate yet grand, haunting yet matter-of-fact. The Flare Path wishes there were more games like When Rivers Were Trails.
X is for Xasperating xcisemen
Competition is fierce in the upper echelons of the Flare Path 'Hot Prospects' chart. This week, General Staff was unexpectedly nudged out of the Top 5 by a game that reeks of rum and baccy. First-person smuggler/privateer/trader sim, Sea Legends has a feature list as colourful and enticing as a Cornish rockpool. Assuming Game Labs steep themselves in Moonfleet, Doctor Syn, and Jamaica Inn while they toil, all should be well.
Y is for You made it!
First Flare Pathed four and a half years ago, WW2 warship wargame Naval Battles Simulator has dodged the flailing clubs of Restlessness and Real Life, the two giants that sink so many hobby projects before they reach the Strait of Steam. Early Accessible next Wednesday, its real-time tactical element appears to have changed relatively little since I sampled it via a six scenario demo in 2015. What's new and bally inviting is the campaign engine seen silently synthesising the Battle of the Atlantic and more in the footage above.