A responsible sims correspondent with a fashionable haircut and a gregarious disposition would spend this week's Flare Path talking about F1 2011's pleasures and disappointments. As I live alone in a hut in the woods and trim my barnet with the aid of peanut butter and tame squirrels, I'll be devoting the following 1200 words to a free RailWorks upgrade, an imaginary 18th Century naval sim, and the winner of this year's hotly contested Wargame With Dullest Name competition.
Looking a Gift Iron Horse in the Mouth
The spiralling cost of UK rail travel means more and more Britons are choosing to commute to work on train simulators. Just last week I had to attend a preview event in London and opted to go up to town via RailWorks 2. The journey itself was bliss. Loads of leg room, comfy seat, cheap coffee. Things only started going awry when I arrived at Waterloo and realised the train door was hopelessly jammed.
Will today's free RailWorks mega-update fix the sticky door issue? I suspect not. Will it slap a new name on the title screen, improve rain effects, banish nasty stencilled shadows, and plonk a new loco or two in your roundhouse? You bet it will. By close of play tonight (GMT) owners of RailWorks 2 with live Steam connections should find themselves owners of Train Simulator 2012 (RailWorks 3).
Back in August I asked RS.com to give us some clues as to the identity of the extra UK loco (the US débutante is an EMD F7) Their reply - "Look, the fantastic thing about simulation is that we can explore the way real world trains are developing. There is a lot of excitement about future rail-systems going forwards and we think we are going to be able to explore that really well." - wasn't exactly music to my ears. I feared something sleek, modern and painfully short of soul, and sure enough it turns out we're getting a Hitachi Super Express.
Considering this Anglo-Japanese suppository doesn't exist at present and won't enter service until 2016, it's a bit of an odd choice. Nostalgia and taking pleasure in the prosaic are important motivations in train simming, and this addition meets neither of those needs. I hope Chatham's finest motive-power producers weren't thinking solely of box covers and publicity screenshots when they selected it.
As if anticipating the disgruntled murmurs of the British RW community, the devs followed the Hitachi announcement with a far more encouraging disclosure. RSDerek's Facebook mentions of 'timber cranium' and 'lumber crown bore' were confirmed as references to the Woodhead Line. One of Britain's most famous, unusual, and soggy routes is under development for TS2012. Marvellous.
The Bolitho Deficit
As Cheese pointed out in last week's comments section, you've more chance of seeing an iceberg in the Channel than you have of seeing nautical sim coverage in The Flare Path. In an attempt to rectify this failing, I've spent the last seven days scanning the news horizon for exciting smoke smudges and sail shapes. Result? To borrow a phrase from the immortal Lord Nelson:
"Kiss me Hardy" "Come here Emma, you gorgeous strumpet." "I see no ships!"
I guess I could indulge in some wild World of Battleships speculation, or fritter words on the recently released free harbour pilot add-on for Ship Simulator: Extremes. Maybe the latest batch of Virtual Sailor/Vehicle Simulator add-ons deserve attention. The briny sim scene isn't completely becalmed - what it is <dons Sou’wester of Scurrilous Provocation> - and what it has been for as long as I can remember - is Somewhat Disappointing.
While there are truly great flight, race, and tank sims, I put it to you that the only truly great seafaring ones all revolve around sneaky sub-surface craft. Virtual Sailor and its sequel Vehicle Simulator give off a pleasing whiff of seaweed and ozone - but like Ship Sim - they fall short when it comes to evoking the mechanical and behavioural intricacies of their wave-braving stars. Trying to think of a sim that doesn't make operating the World's oldest form of vehicular transport seem childishy simple and slightly dull, only one name springs to mind.
While I'm not a big fan of its closed architecture and contemporary, competitive focus, Sail Simulator 5 does prove that simulated seamanship can be both tactile and technical. Sitting on the deck of the Valk or the VOR 70 surrounded by haulable lanyards and adjustable sheets, I have found myself wondering why no-one has yet had the vision or the guts to offer simmers similarly rigorous recreations of the splendid square-riggers of the 17th, 18th, and 19th Century. Picture a pirate sim in which riding out a gale or running for the shelter of a port was every bit as gripping as leading a boarding party or trashing a tavern. Imagine a Master & Commander game in which gaining the weather gauge wasn't simply a matter of deft WASD use.
You can get an inkling of just how rich and refreshing a serious square-rigger sim could be, by downloading Peter Davis's HMS Surprise. Beneath the spartan 2D presentation lurk eye-opening/watering nautical truths. Skilful sheet stewardship is quay. Blunders can leave a vessel heeling at a scary angle, trailing tattered shrouds, or dashed on the rocky foreshore of a (perfectly circular) island.
If some talented soul could inject all that science into an atmospheric 3D world, they'd have - I suspect - the basic ingredients of the first truly great non-sub naval sim. The day I find myself bawling at scurrying tars while French shot sings through confused canvas above my head, is the day I stop thinking of ship sims as inherently inferior to their winged and turreted peers.
Red Pill + Green Gamer = Brown Trousers?
If I ever get round to making a PC wargame, it will have none of the following words in its title: War, Battle, Command, Front, Squad, Fury, Panzer, Steel, Berlin. Or all of them. When Warfare Sims announced they were changing the name of their WIP Harpoon-pwner from the enigmatic and distinctive 'Red Pill' to the super-bland Command: Modern/Air Naval Operations I was hugely/mildly dismayed.
The good news is, if recent dev updates and forum posts are to be trusted, CMANO will be about 112 times more interesting than its moniker. Information emissions like...
"The thermocline layer and its effects have been implemented. Contrary to legacy sims that feature a layer of constant depth, thickness and strength, Command dynamically calculates the layers properties based in geographical position, local depth, and even the local time of day and climate temperature. Both surface ships and submarines can use the layer to search for enemy forces while masking their own presence."
"Four mine categories are currently supported: Floaters, moored, mobile and bottom-laid. Rising/rocket mines (like the very dangerous Chinese-made, Iranian-owned EM-52) are included as part of the moored category."
...remind me that far too much of my tactical time is spent patiently softening-up enemy positions with arty barrages then carefully overwhelming them with combined armour/infantry advances. I have chronic grognard RSI and CMANO may be just the game to relieve it.
Assuming that is I can get my head round the capabilities of all that esoteric post-WW2 weaponry and radar tech. Hopefully Warfare Sims will remember that not all of us know a Styx from a Switchblade or know instinctively what to do on spotting a swarm of suspicious-looking tracks converging on one of our frigates. It will be fascinating to see how the CMANO and Naval War: Arctic Circle compare accessibility and realism-wise.