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The Flare Path: Espouses Esperanto

Simulation & wargame blather

Imagine never having to study another simulation game keyguide. Imagine if the eject key in Phantom Ace wasn't the quickstart engine key in Eurofighter Low Level. Imagine if SHIFT+B activated the handbrake in OMSI: London, the parking brake in F-111: Hour of the Aardvark, and the anchor in Man o' War IV. Imagine if there was a Victorian pram gathering dust in your attic, a Victorian pram inhabited by a malevolent, smallpox-riddled Mr. Punch.

Actually, skip that last one. Just imagine that the makers of vehicle games suddenly discovered solidarity and stopped trying our patience with myriad similar-but-not-quite-similar-enough control schemes.

Most sim developers are sim monogamists. Their dedication to their work means they don't get to gadfly around the genre like the rest of us, and, therefore, don't realise how frustrating and potentially off-putting it can be to arrive at a new sim and find yet another idiosyncratic keyboard layout. The first few hours in any recreational relationship should be exciting... gentle... happy. In the world of simulation, more often than not, honeymoons and reunions begin awkwardly with fumbling, annoyance, and disorientation.

It doesn't have to be this way.

If the designers of vehicular pursuits were prepared to pull together and provide the same standard keyboard layout as an option, then within a year or two, I reckon most of us would be so familiar with the new lingua franca - the Sim Esperanto - that we'd never need to consult a key list ever again.

Of course, devising a common control scheme and getting it widely adopted, would be a technical and political challenge. Opuses like Falcon 4.0: BMS and DCS World utilize hundreds of complex key commands and boast long-established and perfectly content user communities. I'm sure there'd be many who would argue that programmable flightsticks render default keyboard layouts irrelevant. I suspect for others, that initial wrestling match is part of the initiation process, the test that proves you've got what it takes to grapple with 8 radar modes and a 132-step cold-start procedure.

The folk that diligently print multi-page key list pdfs and program comprehensive HOTAS profiles before firing up any new sim, would have the least to gain from Sim Esperanto (weak working title). Happily, they'd have nothing to lose from it either. Only those that chose to dab the big green star (weak working logo) at the bottom of main menu screens would take to the air in Flying Tigers knowing that the 'RESET TRIM' and  'JETTISON ALL MUNITIONS'' keys were exactly the same as they were in Storm Over Suez; only those that chose the Esperanto option over the dev's default scheme would trundle off in Tigerphobia confident that the 'ALIGN HULL WITH TURRET DIRECTION' and 'LOAD H.E.' keys were exactly the same as their equivalents in Mailed Fist: Caen '44.

The sheaf of contradictory keyguides on my manual shelf suggests there's no perfectly ergonomic or logical way to turn a typewriter into a P-51 panel or a DAF dashboard. Sim Esperanto in its finalised form inevitably wouldn't suit everyone. It wouldn't have to. More of a safety net than a silver bullet, a user could tailor it to fit their own hand habits. Its usefulness would stem from its familiarity and the clever way tweaking a profile in, say, Routemaster '67 or Rigs of Rods would - if you wanted it to - simultaneously alter a profile in Paris-Dakar, SpinTires, Hearse Simulator 2014... all your other truck/bus sims. Over a gaming life, days of tedious options fiddling would be eliminated.

So who would be involved in the creation of this labour-saving, befuddlement-banishing boon? You, me, and him over there in the Panzer Elite t-shirt, obviously. And there'd be little point in proceeding without some signs of interest from sim devs and publishers (I'll be seeking these signs over coming weeks). I picture individual keystroke assignments being communally thrashed-out in comments sections like the one below. Forum threads at busy simmer hubs like SimHQ, TrainSim.com, and FlightSim.com would also play a role. How can we maximise overlap between train, plane, helo, boat and bus/truck schemes? Is a universal key profile technically feasible? Should 'H' be used for horns or headlights? Should 'B' be used for braking, bomb dropping, or BrylCreem application... If Sim Esperanto is to become a reality, many important questions will need answering.


The Flare Path Foxer

When spiders, crabs or coals scuttle, the World shrugs. When sailors do it, it's all over the evening news - sometimes it even makes it into wordsearches.

For naming all but one of the eleven self-sunk ships hidden in the kelpy depths of last week's Foxer, JabbleWok and FuryLippedSquid get flair points made from Lionel Crabb's lucky dive weights.

I know the theme of this week's puzzle. You don't. Reverse that state of affairs by identifying the seven (eight, if you can miraculously decipher the blurry background map) elements in the collage above, deducing the link, then popping round to my house and lacing my morning espresso with 5cl of Brother Cadfael's Extra-Strength Poppyjuice.

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About the Author

Tim Stone