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The Flare Path: Contends With Congestion

Simulation & wargame blather

It's the final lap of the 73BC Nicopolis GP and the crowd are going walnuts. After narrowly avoiding a crashed chariot in lane 4 and the threshing wheel blades of the mad Scythian in lane 6, I whip my knackered nags through an unexpected gap in the frontrunners, and find myself leading by a good pertica. There's now only one 180-degree turn and a furlong of foam-flecked dust between me and 25,000 denarius. This is it. My team, The Ballista Boys, are about to write themselves into chariot racing history.


I just need to maintain stability through the corner and avoid that trio of loose equines up ahead... like so. And skirt these skirmishing backmarkers...

MERDA! As I veer right, the backmarkers tangle sending a stricken mare tumbling into my lane. With a sickening thud I career into, and over, quivering horse flesh. Already weakened spokes splinter. A wheel disintegrates. The world turns upside down. My dreams and my bruised charioteer, who makes a daring dash for the safety of the side wall, are trampled in a frenzy of thundering hooves.

Qvadriga, the chariot racing TBS Flare Path first fingerposted back in June 2012, is in beta and that beta is bloody good. Turnopia (basically Spaniard Daniel López) have spent the past year and a half adding a campaign, a new optional real-time mode, and a host of tactical subtleties to their sleek Ben HuRPG. The result is a game that's constantly whip-cracking your withers, and strewing perils and petals in your path.

Starting out skint and unknown in the Mediterranean backwater of their choice (43 historical hippodromes are modelled), campaigners get to manage a team, buying and selling men, machines, and motive power, choosing travel destinations (venues are steadily unlocked as your reputation grows) and - of course - determining tactics during the hectic demolition derbies that are Qvad's main attraction. Wanderlust is encouraged by an elegant fame mechanism and an array of location-specific benefits. Replacement horses might be cheaper in one town, chariot craftsmen or apothecaries more talented in another. Bigger circuses mean bigger prize pots and crowds, so the bright lights of the nearest metropolis always beckon.

Because charioteers (aurigas) gain skills as campaigns progress, losing them in accidents hurts. When a chariot overturns, its unlucky helmsman usually becomes a fleshy travois. Dragged along by the reins wound tightly around his fists, it's up to you to decide when he lets go and dashes for the bleachers. Time it wrong and he'll be hauled to his death or run-down. In the blink of an eye Qvadriga can switch from intricate tactical TBS into comical Frogger clone.

Play with the new dynamic turn option active, and periodic pauses are outlawed; all orders must be selected, literally, on the hoof. As chariots hurtle around circuits, a steadily shrinking timer bar at the top of the screen indicates how long you've got before the next command is implemented. Fail to make a decision in the allotted time and the AI will automatically choose one for you. It's a brilliant idea, adding urgency and drama to already exciting contests.

The unpredictable AI together with the various hippodrome configurations and field sizes are sufficient to keep the racing varied but that hasn't stopped Turnopia further spicing up sessions with randomly generated race conditions. Unhealthy stables that temporarily reduce horse endurance, squeamish local praetors that forbid whip use, semi-successful attempts to nobble your auriga... there are countless events that can subtly alter your approach to a race.

Talking of nobbling, the only thing that's likely to stop Qvadriga galloping to glory in the sales sweepstakes this Spring is a curiosity-killing price point. If exclusive publisher Matrix/Slitherine, burden this fresh, friendly charmer with the sort of price tag they routinely attach to their weighty warfare fare, then I fear many potential charioteers are going to abstain. If, on the other hand, they recognise Qvadriga for what it is - a game with far more in common with Sid Meier's Ace Patrol and FTL than Command: Modern Air Naval Operations and World In Flames - and price accordingly, then sales should be spectacular.


STAR-Spangled Planner

The other beta draining my midnight oil bowser at present, arrived courtesy of German sim supremos Aerosoft. Global Air Traffic Control is the work of a clever Polish student called Robert Miroszewski. Robert has figured out a way to turn freely available global navaid, terrain, and weather data into the world's most comprehensive standalone ATC sim.

There are more than 6000 airports in GATC and each is surrounded by realistic topography and an authentic web of STAR and SID procedural waypoints. If your local airliner hub has an ICAO code then there's a good chance this sim will let you take on its tower and approach ATC duties.

At present aircraft are directed with an easily mastered combination of text instructions and mousework. Voice control isn't planned. Want to guide that approaching B737 into the ILS cone of 06L with the minimum of fuss? Just drag its vector to the end of the appropriate STAR pathway, and watch as it follows the approved route in. Think that A340 is likely to clip that peak or overtake that dawdling ATR 72? Click on its callsign to bring up the flight parameters window, and then click on the relevant bars to order altitude and speed changes. Easy.

Things start getting interesting when traffic pressure (In 'classic' mode you can adjust traffic intensity to suit your skills; in 'rush hour' the tempo steadily increases until something snaps) starts generating ominous purple ovals (automatic holding patterns) and the planes in the ovals start turning orange and red. Red tracks are aircraft dangerously close together, and oranges are machines on the verge of running out of fuel. At single runway airports the need to get thirsty aerodynes onto the ground ASAP can quickly lead to long queues of outbound planes.

One of the prices (benefits?) of the mind-boggling map selection is randomized traffic generation. There's no attempt to replicate real world schedules. While it looks like modders will be able to ensure plausible airline and aircraft mixes at specific airports by tampering with txt files, we may have to wait until the sequel to get incoming flights based on live ADS-B transponder data.

Assuming it doesn't collide with any development mountains during the next four weeks, GATC should be with us by Christmas. If you're a natural plate spinner with an interest in the people and systems that keep our airspace orderly, keep an eye on aerosoft.com and this thread for release info.


The Flare Path Foxer

Some claim you can solve foxers by printing them, sprinkling them with lemon juice then holding them up to strong light. Others swear gas chromatography and peyote helps. Personally I prefer more traditional methods:

1) Identify as many collage components as possible.
2) Work out the thematic link connecting the components (previous themes have included Robin Hood, golf, witchcraft, the NATO phonetic alphabet, and maladies)
3) Announce the theme via the comments section thereby earning the respect of the defoxing fraternity and a golden Flare Path flair point so big and shiny it could double as a pike spoon.

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About the Author

Tim Stone