Did you know that Flare Path had an older brother - an older brother that met an untimely end? Tarquin Flare Path hated change and hatched a plot to purge it from the world. If it hadn't been for a vigilant off-duty bobby, a faulty Schottky transistor, and an escaped circus tiger, you and I would dwell in a perpetual June 14th 1997. Poor old Tarquin. Perhaps it's a good thing he's not around today. Watching as wargame devs flirt with new platforms, and Joseph Mangan plans the reinvention of civilian flight simulation, even the most progressive progressive could be forgiven the odd flicker of unease.
The Wright Stuff?
My head is spinning like a Black Hawk with a trashed tail rotor. I've just read that traditional PC-based flight simulation is obsolete. I've just been asked to imagine...
"...flying with millions of other pilots in a massive peer 2 peer Virtual World Simulation."
"...being an integral team member in the testing of the next generation of business and commercial airliners, helicopters, and spacecraft."
"… being able to design your own aircraft, online, utilizing the very same Structural Analysis, Flight Dynamics, and Computed Fluid Dynamics technologies used by actual aircraft designers."
"...never again having to be angry and disappointed at having bought yet another flight simulator product or add-on, overhyped for years, only to find the shipping product is alpha or beta quality, with lots of missing functionality."
...a free, open-architecture flight sim smart enough to pipe its visuals to me via Outerra, Google Earth, Google Earth Liquid Galaxy, Lockheed Martin Prepar3D, Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, X-Plane, or Flightgear.
The man causing my thoughts to swirl like starling murmurations at dusk, is Joseph Mangan, CEO and founder of Coanda Aerospace Software. In a rash of forum posts over the last few weeks Joseph has announced TestPilot, a sim that won't so much pick up and run with Flight Simulator's discarded torch, as snatch it, motorbike it all the way to Mordor, then hurl it into Mount Doom's fiery maw along with Everyone's Outdated Expectations Of What A Civilian Flight Simulation Should Be.
You can read chunks of the unexpurgated Sermon on the Mount here and here, but the gist - as far as I understand it - is that Coanda is aiming to turn software originally designed for testing airliner avionics, into TestPilot, a browser-based open-source flight sim. The free phoenix/cuckoo will be compatible with all Microsoft Flight Simulator add-ons yet incorporate a proprietary flight dynamics engine capable of providing flight models superior to anything available in Flight Simulator or X-Plane.
It sounds dangerously ambitious, but the fact that Mr Mangan has already convinced two ex-ACES staff to join his team, suggests there's method behind the monumental mission statement. Just how these new recruits will get paid, is one of the more confusing aspects of the project. Crowdfunding and kickstarter are talked about, as is a system where customers buy development hours in return for credits mentions. The Flare Path crosses his fingers and prays that TestPilot won't plummet to earth in a fiery ball of bankruptcy and legal writs.
Keep Calm And Carry On
Not since SturmSoft - the makers of Hot Lead, Cold Steel, and Stalingrad Slaughterhouse I to VII - announced they were renouncing violence, and moving into apiary sims, has a bit of wargaming news surprised me more than the unveiling this week of Combat Mission: Touch.
While Battlefront aren't the first mercers of martial or mechanical truth to explore mobile gaming (Laminar Research and Matrix/Slitherine have already despatched expeditionary forces) their unexpected move does make the phenomenon feel more like a trend than a blip. The time when the PC loyalist could be certain of being the apple of a dev's eye may be coming to an end. Should we be worried?
YES! Development of light versions of greats like Combat Mission will be a dreadful distraction. Modules and sequels that already spend far too long glooping their way through the industry's PLUTO, will be delayed even further. Worse, some studios, realising that there's big money to be made coding for iPads, will simply turn their backs on penny-pinching, hyper-critical PC gamer for good.
NO! Sensible devs will do as Battlefront have done and farm out secondary projects to external teams. The extra revenue generated may actually mean our beloved realism-rich PC playthings arrive faster, and end-up plumper or cheaper. They may boast crisper, cleaner design too - a consequence of devs forced to return to basics while overseeing mobile endeavours.
A profusion of iPad wargames should also mean a steady dribble of new grogs and grog provisioners entering The Hobby. Some of the souls currently outflanking panzers on their way to work or school may, in a few years time, find themselves arguing about turret traverse rates and mortar dispersion patterns on the forums at Matrix Games and Battlefront.com. Perhaps more significantly, some of the folk currently cutting their teeth coding the likes of Battle Academy and CM Touch may go on to found the Battlefronts and SturmSofts of tomorrow.
The Flare Path Foxer
This week's foxer is a tribute to Otto von Bönninghausen, Das Reich's puzzle-page editor 1941-45. In the final Spring of the war with morale on the German home front at rock bottom, Otto came up with a feature he called “Spot The Schreck”. Every week a different grid-draped combat photograph was printed, and readers were asked to use all their knowledge of man-portable anti-tank weapons, to guess the square that had - before the paper's art department removed all evidence of it - contained a speeding Panzerschreck rocket.
The puzzles were an instant hit. Goebbels and Goering are said to have been avid players. Within weeks, imitations were appearing (Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung had its 'Find The Faust', and Völkischer Beobachter its 'Locate the Geballte Ladung'...) Just about the only people that didn't like them were the unfortunate Panzarazzi tasked with getting the action-packed source images.
Happily, no-one was hurt getting the picture for my 'Spot The Schreck' homage. To play simply choose a likely square. The actual rocket location will be disclosed next week, and the closest reader rewarded with something extra special from the Flare Path flair point cabinet.