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The Flare Path: Custer's Last Cake Stand

Simulation and wargame news

Before I serve newly baked word-cakes in The Flare Path tearoom, I like to leave them by an open window to cool for an hour or two. This week I left stories about the Microsoft Flight beta-tester recruitment drive, the Steel Armor: Blaze of War trailer, and the GTR3 teaser site on my usual sill, and when I came to collect them... THEY WERE GONE! I can only assume rascals took them, or possibly it was scallywags or rapscallions. Rapscallions have been getting increasingly bold of late. My neighbour reckons they're becoming more of a menace than ne'er-do-wells, but he's a big old racist so I tend to take everything he says with a pinch of salt. The point is: What am I going to witter on about this week?


Swiss Roll

I suppose I could talk about aerofly FS - I mean it's not every day an alternative to Flight Simulator and X-Plane comes along, especially one as gorgeous as this. After years of fabricating well-regarded radio-control aircraft sims, Ikarus have decided to have a bash at replicating the real McCoy. If the vids and screens at are representative, the lads from Baden-Württemberg have done themselves proud.

Rather than render an entire globe's worth of scenery poorly, the devs have chosen to do a 41,285 km² chunk of it well. Switzerland is the lucky life-model. I don't think I've ever seen her snow-shrouded bumps and yodeller-haunted vales, looking more inviting. It looks like a dream venue for gliding and aerobatics.

Understandably, considering the scale of the scenery, there's no heavy iron amongst the flyables. If you want to try your hand at landing something like a 727 at St. Moritz you'll have to build the bugger yourself or wait for someone else to do it (Adding aircraft is possible, which bodes well for the future). For the moment, users are able to dawdle about in a Discus sailplane, Camel, Cessna, or Robin DR400, or importune their inner ears in an F-18, Pitts biplane, or Extra 300X.

Judging flight physics from a few vids and website boasts is obviously a mug's game. That said the 'Flugeigenschaften' movie does show some rather encouraging stalls. What you won't see in any of the films is moonlight, snowflakes, or AI aircraft. At present you aviate alone, and there's no night flying, season changes or dynamic weather. Those are going to seem like pretty major omissions to some. Me, I'm staggered Ikarus have achieved so much, and done it all so quietly. Aerofly FS is definitely a sim I'll be begging, buying or borrowing in the near-future. Expect further coverage in Flare Path.


Rock Cakes

Mark 'Wildebeest Games' Judd dropped me a line the other day and that line made my crest fall. Detonate's daddy has decided to cut himself free from promising rock climbing sim Vertigo in order to concentrate on other projects. “In keeping with most indie coders, I get most satisfaction from getting an idea working, the last part, i.e. menus, level creation, etc sucks in general.”

The good news is the WIP code hasn't been wrapped in oily rags and buried in a hole in his garden. Mark has made it freely available via Having spent an hour or three scrambling up the treacherous face of Lefty's Crag I'm more convinced than ever that the Vertigo concept was a winner. With a choice of venues and, perhaps, a little dash of adventure (Sod climbing for fun. I want to be that ragged plane crash survivor scaling peaks in a desperate bid to reach civilization - or that crazed conquistador clambering up escarpments on the hunt for a fabled city of gold) this is a game I'm sure lots of novelty/physics/puzzle-ophiles like myself would have been happy to spend money on.

The game might not be a perfect recreation of the recreation, but reading rockfaces then hauling yourself up them one muscle-straining, nerve-jangling hand or foothold at a time, is uncommonly entertaining. I recommend changing 'limb strength' to 'superman' (Return) before you commence your first ascent. This will leave you free to concentrate on navigation and control familiarisation. Although you move individual limbs with the mouse, use of the weight-shifting WASD keys is essential if you want to reach some cracks and crevices.

It's possible to knock in protective pitons at certain locations, but there doesn't seem to be a great deal of point in the current build as once you've tumbled off the face and wound-up dangling, there appears to be no way of continuing a climb. Very occasionally a bug will halt your progress, but don't let that stop you shinning-up one of this year's most invigorating and ingenious sims.


Victoria Sponge

Creative Assembly look like favourites for the 2012 Flare Path Quirkiest Wargame Theme Of The Year award with their recently announced Boshin War offering. If past output is any guide, just about the only studio likely to give them a decent run for their money is Totem Games. This Russian outfit's latest naval entertainment includes not one but four wars no-one has ever heard of.

Tired of trashing steel beasts in Normandy's sunken lanes? How about having a bash at sinking ironclads in the shipping lanes around the Marianas Islands, Samoa, and Panama? The quartet of historical scuffles the Victorian Admirals Anthology eulogises, all took place in the 1880s and - though they involve several different flavours of German, Spanish, American and Chilean wartubs - all manage to feel disconcertingly similar.

The long-running Ironclads series deserves praise for plying interesting backwaters, but every time I dip into it, I find myself frustrated by the lack of depth. Simplicity is wonderful thing in wargame design, but I wonder if the brothers Ferapontov haven't taken it a tad too far.

You can't manually select targets in VAA, nor can you control individuals ships within your two - it always seem to be two - four-ship flotillas. Orchestrating an engagement basically boils down to giving helm instructions to vanguard ships, and then sitting back and watching as the lines-of-battle (there are no other formation options) writhe and the shells fly. Want to move a heavily damaged vessel to the rear of a line or tell a crew to switch from firefighting to firefighting? Hard tack mate - you can't.

I'd be quite content to put up with the lack of land, even the relatively simple damage models (rudders and boilers never seem to get hit, magazines never catastrophically explode), if there were just a few more ways to interact with the game. To double the appeal of the rudimentary campaign system would be the work of a day. Currently, after a scrap, damaged ships slink off to unseen harbours to be fully or - if particularly badly mauled - partially repaired by unseen, un-influenceable dock workers. A simple screen that allowed you to spend repair points on specific vessels or, better still, specific components of specific vessels, would improve things no-end. Combine it with a flotilla reorganisation interface, and some helpful battle stats from the last engagement, and you've got yourself engaging intermission intermissions. Come on Maxim and Oleg, let's see you being as bold with your features as you are with your themes.

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