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The Flare Path: Hoods

Simulation & wargame news

If your favourite hood is sim developer Steve Hood or Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Hood, today's Flare Path should engage (Over yonder html horizon is an interview with the man tasked with ensuring Dovetail Games Flight School and Dovetail Games Flight Simulator soar like demoiselles on release, and early analysis of the easy-to-recommend Atlantic Fleet, a wargame that feels like a segmented, overhead Silent Hunter III at times). If you prefer hoods of the Robin, Admiral or clitoral variety, brace yourself for disappointment.

Found it at last! That perfect beginner's wargame, the one that...

"…doesn’t bury you in numbers or counters, or assume you know the difference between a PzKpfw IV Ausf. D and a PzKpfw IV Ausf. F

…is blessed with good fully integrated tutorials and a generous supply of tooltips

…doesn’t expect you to remain at your post for hours at a time

…offers competitive artificial opposition at several skill levels

…is cheap or maybe even free

…is readily available

…doesn’t punish campaign failure too harshly

…doesn’t punish slow reflexes or mouse mistakes too severely

…and doesn’t simplify to the point of insipidity"

It's called Atlantic Fleet and it's a dual-layer turn-sliced £7 WW2 naval wargame from an outfit called Killerfish Games.

Killerfish are lovely. They understand the importance of context. In addition to providing friendly core combat mechanics that imbue every shell salvo, torpedo spread, and depth charge volley with just the right amount of uncertainty and drama, intricate damage modelling that ensures ships perish memorably, and AI routines that – more often than not - convince and surprise, they supply historically literate campaigns large and loose enough to lose yourself in.

That strat map above is at the heart of AF's enveloping Battle of the Atlantic dynamic long (very long) game. Playing as the RN your job is to protect semi-abstracted convoys (the routing of which changes as the war goes on) and wear down the Kriegsmarine. Playing as the Germans, strangling Britain is the name of the game.

Individual vessels and multi-ship flotillas can be moved one square per turn (each turn represents 3.5 days). Thick fog-of-war and a restless silicon opponent means it's very hard to predict where triggered scraps will occur or what forces will be involved. One turn you might end up hunting U-boats in the Western Approaches with a single destroyer and a Coastal Command flying boat. In the next you might find yourself mid-Atlantic slinging Swordfishes and 15-inch shells at giants like the Bismarck and the Scharnhorst.

As ship damage is persistent and kills garner the Renown Points necessary to replenish and expand fleets, the stakes are high in every campaign engagement.

Should I try to finish off the troublesome Hipper here and now, knowing I may lose the badly mauled Warspite in the process, or slink back to Portsmouth for repairs and leave the job to one of my other flotillas? Throwing one of my new Tribal class DDs at the Graf Spee may give the crippled Suffolk the opportunity to disengage. Then again it might not...

The choices wheel and harangue like hungry seagulls.

Some of the hard lessons I've learnt from my first twelve hours of campaigning:

1. Killing U-boats requires as much discretion as valour. In the days before Hedgehog and Squid mortars (new technologies and ship types are introduced at appropriate times during campaigns) ordering your destroyer to bee-line for the nearest periscope isn't always a good idea. Some sub skippers are cool cucumbers and are perfectly capable of pulling off tricky short-range prow shots.

2. Killing U-boats requires persistence as well as perspicacity. Just because your prey has gone deep and avoided your first two or three consignments of boom-barrels, doesn't necessarily mean he'll survive the fourth.

3. Deftly sidestepping shoals of incoming tinfish is just as satisfying in the turn-partitioned AF as it is in the real-time World of Warships.

4. Saving Renown Points for a rainy day/big battleship is bally hard as the British. During the 'Happy Time' the urge to dot the Atlantic with dozens of depth-charge crammed DDs can be awfully hard to resist.

5. Longitudinal bombing runs aren't always wise. Like AF's gunnery, its bomb and torpedo dropping is satisfyingly hands-on. The skill in shell delivery comes in judging barrel elevation, and choosing an aiming point on the target. The art of aerial bombing revolves around selecting an attack angle and dabbing the 'release bomb/depth charge/torp' button at the right moment during the automatic run. As my flying boat pilots seem to struggle to line up their crates for stern-to-stem runs, I've taken to ordering angled or perpendicular approaches. That way, there's a fair chance of a hit even if the line isn't perfect.

The page in my notebook I'd set aside for documenting Atlantic Fleet's flaws is impressively empty at the moment. I see I've grumbled about the campaign map (information unnecessarily spread across multiple display modes) the options for auto-resolving and cutting short skirmishes (very limited) and occasional AI oddities (usually highly competent/credible, I've witnessed one or two instances of strange reversing manoeuvres and improbable target fixation) but that's about it.

There may be bugs lurking in the late game or flaws in the AI that I've yet to encounter, but frankly they'd have to be Short Sunderland-sized shortcomings to eclipse AF's numerous accomplishments. Killerfish have created a cracking wargame here. In the world of PC wargaming £7 rarely buys you this much novelty, variety, atmosphere and challenge.

Watch on YouTube

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Bringing FSX to Steam was only the first step in Dovetail's ambitious plan to reinvigorate PC flight simulation. Steps 2 and 3 involve the release of a pair of standalone titles designed to introduce a new generation of gamers to the joys of realistic virtual General Aviation (Dovetail Games Flight School) and provide the rest of us with a cutting-edge FSX replacement (Dovetail Games Flight Simulator). Slightly confused by the dual title approach, and eager to find out what the first project, Flight School, entails, I cornered Dovetail's Steve Hood.

RPS: Why is Dovetail planning to release two flight sims this year?

Steve: We have spent the last two years listening to existing and would-be simmers alike. We have been intent on discovering what keeps people simming, and what stops those who would like to get into flight simulation from doing so. We have learned that flight simulation appeals to an incredible amount of people, but a lot of them find it too hard to get started. It is our aim to reclaim and attract those would-be simmers, but in order to do so, we need to present flight simulation in a way that doesn't initially overwhelm them.

That is where Flight School comes in. We are creating an experience, which makes flight simming accessible to anyone who wants to try it. Doing this as a standalone release allows us to focus on tailoring it more for these players, while preparing them for Dovetail Games Flight Simulator, which will offer a much broader flight simulation experience.

RPS:  Does that mean the FSX and X-Plane faithful should steer clear?

Steve: While established simmers will likely already know what we are aiming to teach, it is a chance for them to preview some of the technology we have implemented which will be carried over to Dovetail Games Flight Simulator. Of course, if they fancy brushing up on their skills or putting them to the test then Flight School has a range of pilot license tests and missions which will do just that.

RPS: Will the UI, graphics engine and flight modeling feel familiar to fans of the disappointingly short-lived Microsoft Flight?

Steve: Flight School is based on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X engine rather than Flight’s. Flight removed many of the elements we believe necessary for the flying experience we wanted to convey, ATC and AI traffic being great examples. It made more sense for us to focus our efforts on necessary graphical improvements and build on top of the complex systems already inherent within FSX rather than try to build them all over again. What we have done is introduce a range of globally applied techniques such as dynamic range rendering (HDR), atmospheric light scattering and physically based rendering (PBR) which makes for a more realistic simulation experience. Additionally. The UI has been completely overhauled and redesigned with a fresher and more instinctive feel.

RPS: Will Flight School launch with global scenery?

Steve: Yes, the whole world is included, which players can explore in Free Flight mode. It’s a great opportunity to hone the skills learned in the lessons, see the sights and entertain yourself in all manner of amazing cross country exploration.

RPS: After release, do you plan to expand the sim with aircraft and scenery DLC à la Train Simulator?

Steve: Flight School is designed to be a standalone experience; therefore there are no plans to release DLC for it. We are, however, looking to work with existing developers to bring their talents to Dovetail Games Flight Simulator.

RPS: Can you give us an insight into how Flight School handles tuition? Will fledglings be expected to do a lot of reading and hoop flying?

Steve: You aren’t expected to do a whole lot of reading. Though it’d be entirely possible to read up on the lessons, gaining a greater insight into what it means to be a pilot, outside of the product on the Dovetail Games Flight School page. I’m also not a huge fan of the hoops! In Flight School you are walked through what is required of you by the Instructor. Students are bombarded, in the real world, with so much information that we aren’t trying to entirely recreate. That’s why it can typically take 50-70hrs of tuition alone to get to grips with attaining your first license. In Flight School we’re trying to get the novice user up to speed. From there I hope they will discover a new found interest in aviation.

RPS: Does anyone in the Flight School team possess a pilot's license?

Steve: Yes, Tim Gatland, one of the founding members of Dovetail Games, is an avid pilot and has been instrumental in advising the development team during the development of Flight School. Additionally, I have been spending a substantial amount of time at our local flight school (EGTO) experiencing first-hand what it is like to learn to fly in the real world. A lot of the content in Flight School is based on those experiences.

RPS: Do the lessons cover the more advanced aspects of piloting such as engine management and navigation by ground-based nav-aids?

Steve: Engine management is only touched upon in Flight School. Navigation is covered to a level that will allow the novice user to get from A to B. I’m still amazed how many novice users end up just flying around their departure airport because they don’t know how to get from one place to another.

RPS: Will there be failures and Real Weather support?

Steve: Flight School will model engine failures as part of the lessons/license acquisition process. We continue to work on the entire presentation and realization of weather for the upcoming Dovetail Games Flight Simulator.

RPS: Is the exploration aspect of the game totally unstructured or are there missions and aero cache-style challenges?

Steve: The exploration aspect of Flight School (Free Flight mode) is completely unstructured in that you can take off or land at any one of over 24,000 airports around the world. We also have broader missions in addition to the Flight School training lessons that will allow players to put their newfound skills to the test.

RPS: Will users be able to enhance scenery and add their own aircraft?

Steve: No, Flight School is designed to be a standalone experience; therefore it does not include an SDK. However, over the past 2 years, we have made our intentions clear with respect to welcoming and working with developers, both big and small, on FSX: SE. We fully intend to continue those relationships and looking forward will be welcoming both existing and new developers to the Dovetail Games Flight Simulator platform.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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The Foxer

My chief foxer setter, Roman, is a big softy where baby animals are concerned. Show him a photo of a maggot, leatherjacket, or raft of mosquito eggs and his heart melts.

theme: young animals (defoxed by AFKAMC)

a owlet (Shiloh)
b tadpole (unsolved)
c nymph (unsolved)
d caterpillar (unacom, Rorschach617, Stugle)
e lamb (Faldrath)
f grub (unsolved)
g colt (Rorschach617)
h fry (Shiloh)
i cub or kit (EOT, corinoco)
j kid (Stugle, corinoco, AFKAMC)

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Foxer Fact #1110

Zoltán Németh, the foxer setter for Hungarian daily Népszava for over forty years, is credited with the invention of the episodic foxer. His collages accreted slowly over periods of up to two weeks, and sometimes involved 'Némethisms' – mischievous red herrings that would end up completely obscured by later clues.

All answers in one thread, please.

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