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The Flare Path: A2Z

A round-up of the realistic

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, most of which involve virtual vehicles and surrogate slaughter. If you’ve visited a transport museum or heritage railway in the past twelve months, or can put these battles – Kohima, Katzbach, Khe Sanh – in chronological order, you probably won’t regret clicking where it says…

B is for Big ta

A big Ta to everyone who's dropped me a line about the resurrection of MicroProse during the past fortnight. Judging by the three wargames new CEO/owner, David Lagettie, has signed thus far - Second Front, Task Force Admiral, and Sea Power - and the answers I've received to some preliminary enquires (Expect more on this story in FP in coming weeks) there's no danger whatsoever MicroProse Mk II will sully the reputation of MicroProse Mk I.

C is for Cauldrons of War

Maestro Cinetik either work like lightning or are masters of multitasking. Less than a year after releasing Jey's Empire, a frock-free J. Edgar Hoover-em-up, they are applying finishing touches to Cauldrons of War – Barbarossa (ETA June 22), an Eastern Front TBS that's not nearly as simplistic as its screenshots suggest. If it wasn't for communal Combat Mission duties I'd have sampled the pay-what-you-like beta by now.

D is for Dots and dashes

Locked in a cell, your only means of communication with fellow prisoners, a resonant water pipe... Stuck on a cliff ledge with a fragment of vanity mirror and a dozing puma... There's no telling when knowledge of Morse code might come in handy. I've always meant to learn but have never come across a sufficiently charismatic teacher. It's possible that Alex Johansson's MORSE might turn out to be that teacher. Typing of the Dead meets 3D Tanx, MORSE is currently transitioning from free 2D flash game to 3D Unity-powered commercial offering.

E is for England expects

I'm tempted to allot Ultimate Admiral: Age of Sail another Flare Path now that it's equipped with full British and American campaigns. At the very least I'll give its Battle of Trafalgar scenario a whirl. Compared to the equally famous Waterloo, the 1805 scrap off Cadiz is actually a pretty tricky engagement to sim plausibly. To convince, the relatively inexperienced Franco-Spanish fleet must manoeuvre more clumsily than its counterpart, and display, for the most part, inferior gunnery. I'm confident UA:AoS can reproduce poorly trained gun crews, but can it model the factors that ensured Villeneuve's line was decidedly ragged when cut by Nelson's split fleet?

F is for Foxers

...the weekly co-op brainteasers proven to retard male-pattern hair loss, confuse cookies, and shorten Fridays.

G is for Gunner, HEAT, PC!

The makers of upcoming Unity-engined tank sim Gunner, HEAT, PC! take sly hull-down potshots at both Steel Beasts Pro and Armoured Warfare in their website blurb: “No more staring at locked MBTs in your progression tree and wondering if you'll ever get to play them. No more spending industry prices to buy industry simulators just for a taste of something worthy. We're making a great tank game because that's what we want to play”. If the fighting talk wasn't backed up with eye-catching moving images and a large, promising demo, it would be easy to dismiss it as bluster.

H is for High blood pressure

Steam believes I've “played” Flying Circus for thirty-six minutes. It doesn't realise that roughly half of that time was spent contemplating a loading screen progress bar, half desperately trying to shut down an application seemingly determined to bring my PC to a grinding halt. Who'd have thought a £28 Early Access Airfix Dogfighter clone with a tempting Gloster Gladiator on the title screen could generate such acute annoyance.

I is for Incredible ibex

J is for Judicious jiggling

Diesel Railcar Simulator now has an integrated train editor of remarkable power. Lapioware demonstrate that power in the video above by beginning the transformation of a typical first-generation British diesel multiple unit into something a little sleeker and more modern. The beta form of the tool unveiled on Sunday doesn't allow the importing of custom meshes, textures and sounds, but with these capabilities just around the corner (Oskari says he hopes to have implemented them within a month or so), the sim's range of rolling stock is sure to increase exponentially in the coming year.

K is for Korean katerpillars?

I like the look of Armoured Commander II's roadmap. Purchasers of the modestly priced Steam version of Rev. Sudasana's tanky roguelike have North African, Eastern Front, and Italian campaigns to look forward to. One day we may even have the option of hexhopping in Ha-Gos, Chi-Has, Centurions, and M46 Pattons: “If possible, I'd like to expand the range of campaigns to include the Pacific and South-east Asian theatres, and perhaps one day, earlier time periods like the Spanish Civil War, and later ones such as the Korean War.”

L is for Loose shunt at your own risk

Couple up those barrier wagons, hazardous cargos have made it into Derail Valley at long last. Yesterday's long-awaited free update did much more than make freight train derailments fierier. 'Overhauled' also prettified, boosted performance, improved loco controls, signage and maps, up-realismed derailing, couplers and brake systems, enriched the job market, and introduced a new diesel switcher. Some devs would have saved some of this stuff for DLC - not Altfuture.

M is for Middle-European memories

Seventy-five years on, liberation remains an emotive subject in parts of eastern and central Europe. The trailer above suggests Svoboda 1945 (ETA Q3), the follow-up to Attentat 1942, another “narrative adventure game” set in the “The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia”, will focus on German misdeeds during WW2, but I'd be surprised if the historians at Charles Games didn't explore other issues too. Is there a hint of irony in that title, I wonder.

N is for Nuclear War Simulator

I drew “nanobots” in the RPS office End of the World sweepstake but, after some canny trading, am now in possession of “nuclear war”. Obviously, Katharine Castle (“climate change”) is still favourite to collect the cash, but, who knows, I might get lucky. As Ivan Stepanov's chilling Nuclear War Simulator makes crystal clear, it wouldn't take many of the world's 13000+ nuclear weapons to thoroughly louse up our planet. Ivan's interest in atomic annihilators has personal rather than academic origins. He grew up in a city a mere 150 kilometres from 'The Polygon', the stretch of Kazakh steppe where, between 1949 and 1991, the USSR conducted 456 nuclear tests.

O is for Operation Relentless Santa

Any studio struggling to keep customers content during Early Access could learn a lot by studying Ndemic's approach. Six months of bug fixes, new maps, and governors, followed, two weeks ago, by the arrival of a transformational campaign mode which asks players to manage five regions simultaneously, mean there are very few red diamonds at large in the Rebel Inc: Escalation community

P is for Parasitic drag

Free, open-source flight sim FlightGear continues to grow, improve and to be shamelessly parasitized by the barefaced liars behind VirtualPilot3D. The latest build, v2020.1, offers, amongst other things, multi-pass rendering, FM enhancements, more convenient aircraft carriers, and spruced-up versions of types like the Boeing 777, Airbus A320, F-16, and Piper Cub. I'm reliably informed that Mark Duran contributed flip-all to the update.

Q is for Quick teabreak

R is for Royally resupplied

I marked VE Day two weeks ago in the traditional Flare Path manner – by partying all night in the crowded streets of the West End disguised as a humble ATS girl. Croatian hex hewers 2x2 marked it by bolstering Unity of Command II with thirteen extra alt-history missions. The May 7 update also thoughtfully fine-tuned many of the game's unit-nuancing specialists and added a new Recruit difficulty level for complete duffers and a shorter Second Front campaign for players exhausted by Italy

S is for Suggestions sought

Just because, to date, all of the Flare Path's communal wargaming experiments have relied on Combat Mission, doesn't mean the relationship is set in stone. If you're aware of another engine that might fit the format (ideally something WeGo, not too hard on the eye, and with rewindable action phases) I'd be interested to hear about it.

T is for Tweakers for Trumpeter

The passionate devs working on absurdly ambitious disaster sim Titanic: Honor & Glory are as easily distracted as Commandos 2 sentries. Their latest sideline is plastic kit consultancy. Thanks to the studio's incomparable knowledge of the White Star Line iceberg grazer, Trumpeter's new 1/200 scale recreation of her is, in realism terms, beyond reproach.

U is for Undue emphasis

Do our WW2 flight sims put too great an emphasis on downing enemy bombers? The question crossed my cranium earlier this week when I came across this quote from Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot Brian Kingcome:

“It seemed to me that you weren't doing what you were meant to do if you went up and picked on one or two planes and shot them down, and then followed them down to confirm victories.

The main object was to stop a large bomber formation from reaching its target. The only way to do that was to leap into the middle of them and run run amok, firing at everything in sight, hitting as many as you could, as often as you could. It's extraordinary how this demoralised the Germans – you could turn a whole wave of bombers by that sort of action.

If you just nipped round the edges and picked off one here and there and followed them down, it took you out of the battle.”

V is for Vulcanised at long last

One of my more unusual birthday presents this year involved an aircraft recreated in this X-Plane add-on. At some point in 2020, the custodians of XH558, the first Vulcan B.Mk2 to be delivered to the RAF, will be bolting another name plaque to the aircraft's underside and my name will be on said plaque. Obviously, I'd have preferred to embellish a Heyford or a Hendon.

W is for Weather wizardry

If you're a resident of the USA's largest state, expect the dynamic weather in bush pilot sim Deadstick to feel awfully familiar. The simple thing for REMEX to have done would have been to quietly pluck actual weather patterns from historical records for their fictional map. Instead the Surrey sim-smiths team have analysed ten years of meteorological data and built an engine that uses Markov chains to dynamically generate weather with a distinctive Alaskan feel. The advantage of this approach? “We want to be able to prod our weather model, whether that be for good or for evil... In the early game, perhaps we might want to have the weather system lean towards clear sunny skies whilst players learn the ropes of navigation. Similarly, for more experienced players, we might want to have the weather be far more changeable to present more of a challenge, all whilst remaining plausible.”

X is for Xplore, Xpand, Xploit, Xterminate

TortugaPower and DasTactic's first attempt at co-op Shadow Empire should be well worth following. Set to launch on Steam on June 4, VR Designs' multi-layered fusion of hex wargame and sci-fi 4X, looks staggeringly rich – a mind occupier and reality repulser of rare potency.

Y is for Young war

Even if moral scruples prevent you from wargaming current conflicts, you should be able to purchase the next DLC for apostrophe-short Lock 'n Load Tactical Digital with a clear conscience. Due this month, Days of Villainy recreates four battles in the first Libyan Civil War not the complicated/inevitable conflict Gaddafi's ousting paved the way for.

Z is for Zealous modder

Philippe Thibaut (yes, that Philippe Thibaut) is keen to emphasise that, although Winter War shares an engine with Wars Across the World and superficially resembles it, it plays quite differently. In a post at Grogheads.com the creator of Europa Universalis pointed out that “I acquired a license for the WatW engine to get the base behaviour, but I changed 70 to 100% of things in the movement and combat system, and also added a bunch of new features.” The fact that, a month into Early Access, the official forum isn't dotted with AI grumbles, suggests Winter War hasn't inherited the gullible adversaries that sometimes blight WatW DLC.