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The Flare Path: Devoted To Dovetail

Simulation & wargame blather

Dovetail Games' vision and mission statements are remarkably similar to The Flare Path's. Replace “company” with “column”, “hobbies” with “articles”, and “delight and retain customers” with “debag and retrain readers” and they're pretty much identical. Whether we see eye to eye on flight simulation matters remains to be seen. I was rather hoping that this week's word slab would serve as a Rosetta Stone to the exciting but enigmatic press release issued by Dovetail on Wednesday. Searching questions were sent Kent-ward, lengthy responses received, yet somehow I still find myself confused by the Chathamites' aerial intentions.

Jon Rissik, Dovetail's Senior Vice President & General Manager, wasn't, for instance, prepared to tell me exactly which part of “Microsoft's genre-defining technology” the studio intend to use as the basis for their planned 2015 flight sim. Common-sense suggests the project will utilise significant chunks of the cruelly abandoned Microsoft Flight rather than the code-jungle that is FSX but the Train Simulator-smiths seem strangely reluctant to acknowledge the Hawaiian castaway.

Jon wouldn't be drawn on important details like business models, modability, and flight model realism either. Draw your own conclusions from platitude-peppered paragraphs like this...

“It’s a little early to be looking at specific business models since we are just at the very start of this new journey. However, our experience with Train Simulator has taught us a lot about how consumers interact with content when they are building digital hobbies. We know that giving consumers extensive choice so that they can customise their own collections is very important, as is producing high quality and authentic content so we will certainly aim to utilise those learnings where it makes sense to do so.”


"We know from our experience with Train Simulator that our community is absolutely central to what we do. It’s a great two-way partnership – they invest in us with their passion and commitment to our products and we like to think we invest in them by talking to them regularly and listening to their ideas so that we can continue to create products and content that they enjoy. But we equally love to see the content that our fans create; there has always been an active group of people creating content within the Steam Workshop and we know that this goes a long way to allowing people to form their own personalised experiences of the product. Knowing how active and passionate the flight community is, we would love to open up the same kind of dialogue and relationship there."

And this...

“Our goal at Dovetail Games is to build the next generation of simulation entertainment products, utilising the best and most cutting-edge technology available. So while we can learn a lot from previous flight simulators, given the rich and deep history of this market, we want the focus to be on the future of these products and making a game that is the best it can be.”

With so few facts around, it's hardly surprising sections of the flight sim community are giving the new roost ruler wary looks. While it may be too soon for Dovetail to spill the beans on their 2015 project, it would seem politic/polite of them to promptly explain the implications of their Flight Simulator X plans. What will the coming Steam release mean for existing users? What will it mean for the legion of third-party content creators that are such a crucial part of the MSFS success story?

Commercial add-on artisans are following recent developments in the FSX story with keenness and concern. A2A Simulation's Scott Gentile had this to say to Flare Path yesterday...

“FSX is the flight sim king today primarily because 3rd party developers have been independently creating and marketing addons to FSX without restriction from Microsoft.

This has created a delicate balance for 25 years between independent developers of FSX addons and Microsoft. I would respectfully advise Dovetail not to disturb this delicate balance by imposing the burden of additional fees upon independent flight sim developers that already operate in extremely narrow profit margins.

Professional developers of flight sim addons have to hire teams of highly talented artists, sometimes numbering in the dozens to collaborate, and these people all need to be paid. The sales price of each download has to be kept to a minimum so customers can afford to purchase them. This creates the narrow margin of profit. If these profits are reduced because of additional fees by Dovetail, a great many of these developers may find it untenable to remain in business or alternatively may be forced to reduce their output.

However, continuing cooperation between FSX and developers will likely see continual enlargement of the entire flight sim industry. It’s in the interest of all parties to maintain the delicate balance mentioned above.”

It's impossible not to admire Dovetail's instinctive populism and formidable business acumen. If anyone can turn Microsoft Flight into the crowdpleasing sofa sim it always threatened to be, it's the lads and lasses from Chatham. But can they also do 'delicate balance maintaining'? I guess we'll know for sure by Christmas.


Post-Natal Depression

KwaZulu-Natal Corridor: Pietermaritzburg-Ladysmith, the latest hunk of Train Simulator 2014 DLC, really isn't disappointing enough to justify that title pun, but I'm tired of waiting for Matrix Games to release a weak Boer War TBS so it stays.

After criticizing Dovetail/RSC for years over their lack of African, Australasian, South American
and Asian routes, it's lovely to be able to report that, finally, Train Simulator is doing some serious travelling. There's an intriguing Japanese line in development and yesterday, footplate frequenters jaded by British, German, and US scenery, were let loose on 200km of 3’6” South African permanent way.

Unless you're a firm fan of the external cam, you'll spend most of your time viewing that PW through the dusty windscreen of a deceptively sporty Class 6E1 electric loco. Unquestionably the weakest element in this £25 package, the 6E1's B-grade bodywork hides embarrassingly crude D-grade cab detailing (passenger accommodation is of a similar low standard). Audio quirks are better represented than visual ones, but from an operating perspective the 6E1 feels bland, especially when compared with pantographed personalities like the TS2014 Class 76, and the ZDSimulator electrics.

Most of the design effort appears to have gone into the landscaping, and the, generous by TS standards, 10-strong scenario selection. Google Street View comparisons suggests the creators have done a fairly good job recreating basic topography around the 26 stations. Where they've struggled is in producing the range of bespoke 3D models, textures and ambient sounds necessary to properly evoke the feel of KwaZulu-Natal. Too often houses and flora look familiar. Too often vistas appear unnaturally empty rather than spectacularly expansive. It wouldn't take that much navvying to dramatically improve things... a few new bungalow and tree models, some local birdsong and prototypical footbridges... with a month or two of extra attention Pietermaritzburg-Ladysmith could be a great route rather than merely a decent one.

The bundled Bo-Bo is a jack-of-all-trades, and that versatility is fully explored in the scenarios. Pick blindly from the selection (none of which take longer than an hour to complete), and you could find yourself hauling heavy freight up hill and down dale, collecting and depositing weary commuters, or transporting tourists between various Boer War battle sites. One of the stops on that latter jaunt is, quite literally, the spot where Winston Churchill first demonstrated his amazing talent for leadership.

With its disappointing motive power, relatively high price, and occasional atmosphere failures, KwaZulu-Natal Corridor: Pietermaritzburg-Ladysmith, isn't a route I can wholeheartedly recommend. That said, if your feet are feeling itchy and you're sick of looking at Sheds and SD70s, it's about as novel as TS2104 gets right now.


The Flare Path Foxer

Someone cross 'Melbourne' off the paper anaconda that is the 'Currently Unfoxered' list. Shortly after skink74 had sighted St. Kilda and Shiloh had spotted Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner 'On the Beach', Phlare Path Phoxer regular phlebas rolled into Victoria's tram-infested capital. Further deciphering by the likes of Rorschach617, All is Well, FurryLippedSquid, Beowulf, Volcanu, and soldant identified most of the other elements, but a Hawker Demon (note the long exhaust) and a Somua MCG (note the distinctive bulkhead between engine and cab) did manage to slip past the assembled throng.

a. Philip II of Macedon
b. Somua MCG
c. Hummel (though, yes, it could just as easily have been a Nashorn)
d. Hawker Demon
e. Batman
f. 'On the Beach'
g. Vickers Victoria
h. St.Kilda


Though Roman loves fashioning foxers he's still not convinced the internet is the best way to deliver them. In his daydreams his cryptic collages adorn breakfast cereal boxes and dentists' ceilings. They are given away free with bottles of vinegar and tubes of verucca cream. They are pasted postage stamp-size on the foreheads of crocodiles and Cacodemons.

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