The Flare Path thought he knew almost everything about Operation Overlord, but this week he read something in a book by Max Hastings, that left him flabbergasted. Apparently, in the weeks leading up to D-Day, instead of training, the Axis troops manning the Atlantic Wall spent most of their time planting Rommel's asparagus. Max didn't go into detail, but obviously the famous Generalfeldmarschall was either extremely partial to the speary vegetable, or - and this seems more likely - he was using Heer manpower in some sort of massive market-gardening scam. Was it Berlin's discovery of this illicit project that caused the Desert Fox to take his own life in October '44? The official histories say 'no', but FP was sorely tempted to postpone coverage of Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (a new Matrix wargame) and Accu-Feel (a gizmo from A2A that looks set to revolutionise FSX) and use this week's column to thoroughly examine the matter.
Fizzier physics, sounder sounds
If my 73 years as a semi-professional sim scrutineer have convinced me of anything, it's that most sim studios need talented sound and physics personnel more than they need adept artists. While our brains are brilliant at transforming green screen pyramids into hills, and blue polygons into lakes, they are utterly hopeless at turning stony silences into the groans of overstressed airframes, or perfect stillness into the judders of discombobulated aerofoils.
One of the few outfits that seems to have its priorities right is A2A. Flying one of their Accu-Sim MSFS adjuncts has always been a treat for both outer and inner lughole. Now it seems they've found a way of adding their invisible magic to every aircraft in an FSX hangar.
The imminent Accu-Feel pack, as the following vid delights in explaining, will sit behind Flight Simulator, quietly kicking it up the arse every time it attempts to get away with a bit of a shoddy audio or sub-standard physics. Open a window, or increase drag by showing a bit of flap or landing gear, and an Accu-Felt aeroplane will change its tune appropriately. Switch from cosy but plush Learjet cockpit - to spacious but superannuated DC3 cabin and the number of squeeks and rattles will increase exponentially.
At the 7.50 mark there's a lovely demonstration of the difference the gizmo makes to landing. Dynamic tire screech, like the rest of the aural enhancements, isn't just an immersion booster, it should make us better fliers.
I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced by the tarmac-induced vibrations on show from 2.40 onward, (hopefully, they can be endowed with a little more bounce and fuzz via the module's control panel) but the pre-stall shaking (5.30) looks fabulous. Can Accu-Feel really automatically create plausible profiles for every fixed-wing flying machine in a typical freeware-festooned FSX install? That's something I'm looking forward to finding-out over the coming week. Look out for some hands-on impressions in next Friday's Flare Path.
FP's inner purist thinks PC wargaming should turn its back on its board and tabletop origins. “What's the point in sticking with dice and steps when CPUs are capable of tracking individual bullet trajectories, blood groups, and bully beef tins?” it drunkenly bawls at FP's inner nostalgic who, staring into his pint, decides to nod indulgently, rather than point out again the splendid economy that often comes with a good board game-indebted design, or the peculiar pleasure that comes from handling delicately digitized miniatures and counters.
Matrix Games' latest unencoded transmission describes Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear, a simulation of a simulation. Uwe Eikert's award-winning tactical board-game is in the process of being painstakingly computerised. Yet more turnbased WW2 Ost Front skirmishing? My heart did sink a few inches on learning of the setting, but the sight of cute counters arranged on a hex-draped 3D board, and talk of ten-minute initiations and faction-specific tactics, caused it to regain some of that lost altitude.
It looks like the game will come with ten scenarios cribbed from its inspiration, plus 16 entirely new 1941-42 situations and a 'point-buy' firefight. It's not immediately clear why all the included scenarios can't be played with custom purchased forces, but grumbling about perceived replayability weakness at this stage would be a tad unfair, especially as a scenario editor is on the cards.
Matrix aren't known for their demo diligence, so the closest we may get to examining the bear before rousing him is the board game itself or the unofficial online version of it. Those in the possession of the rulebook, are already able to enjoy cat-proof/saveable Awakening the Bear play-sessions via free board game emulation software ZunTzu.
The peace dividend
Though Euro Truck Simulator 2 is still at least four months away, a recent SCS blogpost suggests Prague's premier artic artisans are about to serve-up a fascinating hors d'oeuvre. Interestingly, the Trucks and Trailers-style side project which, from the screenshots appears to revolve around construction-related haulage and Scania rigs, was prompted by unplanned studio growth rather than cold, commercial logic:
“Back in 2010, an unfortunate sequence of events caused another small Prague-based independent game development studio to shut down. Suddenly we had the opportunity to hire several senior people in one swoop, basically a nucleus of a very talented development team..”
Stories like this, together with the vacancies pages at sites like www.railsimulator.com (RailWorks) and www.giants-software.com (Farming Simulator) hint at a quiet renaissance within the non-flight section of the sim industry. While the majority of combat flight sim fabricators continue to scratch a precarious living, peddling impressive realism and emaciated campaigns, their canny peers in the truck, train, and tractor business are busy making hay while the sun shines.
The Flare Path Foxer
Because FP is always forgetting his four-digit debit card PIN, he's had the following aide-mémoire tattooed on his inner thigh. One Flare Path flair point to the first reader to crack the cartouche.