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The Flare Path: Ace Academy Dropout

Simulation & wargame news

If it hadn't been for my dodgy eyes, chronic kinetosis, tendency to daydream, and crippling fear of fear I reckon I would have made a superb fighter pilot. I'd have been the chap that was forever being called into the wingco's office for a stern dressing-down. “Dammit Stone, that's the third Mosquito you've written-off this week! If you hadn't bagged 28 Fw 190s today and bullet-scrawled 'Hitler has only got one testicle' on the side of the Reich Chancellery during a daring but totally unauthorised raid on Berlin, I'd be handing you your discharge papers right now rather than this platinum DFC and £10 Harrods voucher.”

But it wasn't to be. Instead, here I am sat in a small, sparsely furnished room, nibbling cold toast and writing about an intriguing multiplayer flight prospect called Combat Pilot.

If you've ever glanced up at a passing F-16, Su-27 or Eurofighter Typhoon and wondered if you could have cut it as a fighter pilot, this WIP oddity could be your best chance of finding out. ThunderHawk Studios, a developer established by peripheral crafters Mad Catz just over a year ago, are building a jet simulation that doesn't just seek to mimic modern warbirds and their weapons, but also the long and gruelling process aspiring air warriors must go through to get their hot hands on the cool HOTASs of today's fleetest flying machines.

I say “building a jet simulation” - strictly speaking, what the team are busy doing is fabricating bits that will, in time, be bolted to old friend FSX.

Basing your MP dogfighting/missile-loosing game on a sim with fewer battle honours than the Swiss Army, is, on the face of it, a tad perverse. VR Simulations might be well on the way to proving Microsoft's sim can be adapted for aggro, but you can't help but wonder if DCS World or the Strike Fighters engine wouldn't have been a more natural fit.

Apart from the odd munition render, there's little evidence of combat readiness in CP's promotional material. What is conspicuous, is the emphasis the initial instalment of the sim (Flight Training Operations) will place on rigorous reality-based tuition and rank climbing. There are two career ladders on offer - squadron pilot and command pilot - and both plainly require serious levels of dedication.

Cover image for YouTube videoCombat Pilot

While squadron pilots won't have to qualify for IFR flight and can therefore sidestep training jaunts and check rides that teach and test instrument navigation and TACAN/ILS precision approaches, their promotional prospects stop at Major and they aren't eligible to command squadrons. To gain the sim's highest rank - 4-star general - a flier must be a command pilot with an astonishing 7000 online flying hours under his or her belt. Oh yes, they must also survive 4 years without a fatal prang.

Everything about Combat Pilot gives off the distinctive boot-polish-and-aviation-fuel aroma of an unusually strict and well-researched Virtual Airline or Squadron. Many will no doubt relish this rarefied atmosphere. How many will relish it enough to shell-out $50 for the initial membership package then $12 a month on subscription fees (of course, you'll also need an install of Acceleration-augmented FSX) remains to be seen.

That starter package includes three trainers (a Texan II, T-38 Talon and T-45 Goshawk built for ThunderHawk by consummate aero-engineers A2A Simulations) and seven US base sceneries - all of which can be enjoyed offline. Decide not to extend your membership beyond the first 'free' month, and this core of hopefully high-quality content should help assuage any feelings of injustice.

In addition to the subscription, the devs are also planning to sell specially commissioned add-ons by MSFS add-on luminaries like Aerosoft, Razbam and Iris (who, incidentally are also lined-up to produce an F-15E, F-22 and F-14 for DCS World). It's an audacious business model, but not so different from the one that seems to be working rather well for iRacing. The relatively high monthly cost and sad lack of Merlins and RAFish moustaches mean I doubt I'll stick around long enough to make it to 2nd Lieutenant let alone General, but I wish this bally original sim experiment well, all the same.

Cover image for YouTube video


Steel Beasts Set To Share Urban Jungle

I don't know about you, but when I look down on my wargame warriors tramping through dusty Afghan villages or neat Dutch suburbs, I'm often struck by the bizarre absence of dusty Afghan villagers and neat Dutch suburbanites. The realism in realistic military titles frequently seems to stop at the garden/compound gate, a fact that makes a message I received from eSim this week all the more unexpected.

In addition to laying the foundations of a new engine, the makers of peerless modern armour sim Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition, are currently building an update that will bustle with non-coms.

Studio director Nils Hinrichsen described a battle environment in which civilians dynamically stroll around towns and “civilian cars drive from one region to another based on the time of day. We want vehicles and people to find their way in complex villages where compound walls block line of sight and passage. We've made a lot of progress in these areas already, and I expect to see a lot more.”

“...the development goal is that the civilians will serve as 'noise' in a given scene making it less like a shooting gallery. In the past, if there was a hot spot in your thermal sights forward of friendly positions, you could be sure you'd spotted an enemy. Even if you couldn't properly identify the target, you could squeeze the trigger secure in the knowledge you were helping to win the mission. That approach will no longer work”

“The changes will allow us to have armed civilians - irregular fighters. These may be allied to the player, or his enemies, or have a neutral attitude. Either way, the player must observe closely what these guys DO rather than just how they LOOK. Hopefully this will give people a small glimpse into the complexity of contemporary warfare. It's one thing to read about it in newspapers and books, or see it in movies like Black Hawk Down. It's quite another to actually experience it when you're under pressure to make a decision, and NOT making a decision actually is a decision as well”

SBPPE's civvies should start straying into firing lines early next Summer.


The Flare Path Foxer

FP calls crosswords 'crasswords'. He's adamant today's premier puzzle solvers don't need crutches like clues. 15 Flair Points to the de-foxers that prove him right.


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About the Author

Tim Stone