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The Flare Path: Do & Don't #10

Sim sins unforgiven

I was in John's office the other day watering April, his Aspidistra, for him (He was on holiday, and the nearest WC is a good 150m away) when I happened to notice this forgotten format poking out from under a stack of old issues of What Cat?. “I'll have that!” I thought, and into my BOAC hold-all it went. With luck it will be back under the pile of moggy mags before John notices it's missing.

Sim makers, the time for polite requests and tactful suggestions has passed. You've tested my saintly patience for long enough. Obey the following Ten Commandments or I release the Flare Path hounds – all of them.

DON'T afforest with abandon. Hey you, Johnny Appleseed over there. I know you want to get your money's worth out of your SpeedTree licence but would you mind not doing it by filling my simulation with framerate-FUBARing foliage. If you were making a lumberjack or a squirrel sim hiding hillsides under thousands of leafy GPU cloggers might be justified, but this is a vehicle game in which every frame-per-second matters. It really wouldn't bother me if you represented that distant oak wood with a cunningly textured green box and that windbreak with an oldfashioned paper-thin bitmap. I don't need to see individual canopies, branches, or, heaven forbid, leaves. Think about it. Not planting trees profligately before the release will mean you won't have to spend the days following it clear-felling the blooming things in a desperate attempt to placate the thousands of grumblers thronging the forum.

DO remember I possess ears. All that time and money you've poured into crafting handsome fuselages and convincing switch-festooned cabins, if you fail to devote similar resources to sound development, much of it will be squandered. Take a leaf out of Scott Gentile's or Richard Armstrong's book. Get out into the field with your blimped microphones and record your subjects in all their moods. Trust me, the immersion pay-off will be huge. Nothing elevates neck hairs or propels pulse rates like authentic engine audio or the kind of creaks, squeaks, and wails, a simmer's imagination, however honed, simply can't provide. I rode an 80-year-old Tube train earlier this month. The multi-layered cacophany it produced as it galloped along, was truly symphonic. It made most of the virtual vehicles in my possession seem as dead as doornails.

DON'T make me edit text files or fiddle with multiple folders when installing mods. Bah, that Bristol Beauchump IV I thought I'd just installed is nowhere to be seen and my Junkers Ju 87 G-1 is still sporting censored swastikas despite my activation of Condor38's RealHakenkreuz mod. Back to the folder tree and the readme. If only developer X was as considerate as developer Y. If only modding in this sim was as simple as tossing downloaded zips into a clearly marked folder, then ticking a box in the accessed-from-the-main-menu mod manager. It's great to see mod support mentioned in so many feature lists these days, but, blimey, the facilities in some sims are barrack-block basic.

DO treat my mouse with the respect it deserves. The glowing cowrie shell under my right hand is a wonderfully versatile, sensitive and practical sim controller. Acknowledge that fact by letting me use it to direct your wheeled/winged/ruddered lovelies from Day 1. I'm not prepared to plead for mouse support for months on the forum; 'helpful' advice from those who believe it's impossible to enjoy your sim without a G950R MasterRace wheel and pedal set, or a Raptor Pro-X HOTAS make that a wearying business. No, the mouseball is in your court. Either show sympathy for the thousands of us that don't have the space or funds for big, expensive peripherals, or your studio will get a memorable visit from Klaus the Flare Path Haus Maus.

DON'T use loading screens as billboards or picture canvases. Well, not exclusively anyway. Yes, I am interested in hearing about your next piece of DLC and admiring the work of your studio's resident Cuneo or Cross, but do you know what I'm more interested in? The vehicle I'm about to clamber aboard and the events I'm about to reenact. While I'm waiting for the clang of the scramble bell or the guard's double buzz, give me some history, some background to mull over. Explain features and procedures I might have missed or misunderstood during the tutorials. Recommend complimentary books and movies.

DO tell aircraft manufacturers to get stuffed if they ask you to pay for the right to recreate WW2. Licencing is an issue that sim devs don't like to talk about. It's hard to assess the extent of the racket because of this, but disclosures from studios like 1C: Maddox indicate some of the more litigious/shameless US aircraft companies aren't above wheedling licence fees out of scared sim creators involved in WW2 projects. Bearing in mind that public money paid for the development of most of the warbirds concerned and it was public sacrifice that turned them into the icons that they are today, it's hard to regard the practise as anything but deeply cynical. No-one should have to pay a commercial entity for the 'privilege' of simulating history (if the company concerned provided information or assistance, then obviously that changes things). Some devs protect themselves by using military designations rather than full names – the Grumman Wildcat would be refered to as the F4F, for example -  others employ title screen disclaimers. In a sane society neither measure should be necessary.

DON'T flout keyboard conventions. Learning a new sim is tough enough as it is. It took the aircraft industry several decades to realise that arranging controls and cockpit instruments in a consistent, ergonomic way was massively helpful to pilots. Shared layouts not only saved time, they saved lives. Depressingly, it looks like it's going to take the sim industry far longer to work out it has just as much to gain from commonality. I still think my Sim Esperanto idea is a great good one. Every sim comes with an unmistakable button in a prominent place on the title screen. Dab this and you can be sure of a honeymoon period relatively free of “How do I toggle between radar modes?” and “Where the hell is the handbrake key?”

DO ensure the sim I buy through Steam or similar outlets, is the same as one purchased through your own store. A few weeks down the line I don't want to find myself excluded from MP servers or lost in a DLC activation maze because you've decided to bifurcate.

(I'm half-inching this one lock, stock and barrel from John because, sadly, it's still topical) “DON’T host your game’s “website” on Facebook. Look, this isn’t an anti-Facebook thing. Personally, I can’t stand it, but lots of people love it. And sure, if you must, give your game a Facebook page. But it can’t be the main page. Because that’s the modern day equivalent of having your game information on GeoCities. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, and most of all, it’s extremely unhelpful to navigate. Web hosting costs money, yes, but it’s money worth spending if you want to be taken seriously. Which you do. Also, I don’t want to be “friends” with your game. Sorry.”

DO model the consequences of hydraulic system damage if you're making a WW2 air combat sim. I was going to rattle on about the desirability of dynamic campaigns in this last 'DO' but as I've been doing that for years in Flare Path to no great effect, let's aim lower. If you read a lot of 1939-45 aviator memoirs and watch a lot of gun camera footage-sprinkled air combat documentaries, you will have heard about or seen brutalised bombers and fighters involuntarily lowering landing gear during attacks. It doesn't happen every time an undercarriage-concealing wing or engine nacelle is riddled, but it's not uncommon either. Quite why sim smiths don't seem to have picked up on this dramatic detail, baffles me. We have engine fires, glycol streams, slumped gunners, but, oddly, no dangling Dunlops.

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This way to the foxer

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