Due to some last-minute legal threats from the wet blankets at Wiltshire County Council, the Flare Path Diamond Jubilee street party (this Sunday, 13.00-22.00!) won't be featuring bunting made from real buntings, an under-12s scythe leaping competition, or a low-level fly past by old Miss Musters in her half-scale Airspeed Elizabethan. The local government killjoys are also insisting we use pasteurised pigs' blood in our Charles I execution re-enactment, and have all the badgers in our badger-hauled Boadicea races checked for TB. It seems bureaucracy trumps tradition in today's health-and-safety obsessed Britain.
Just in case we don't manage to get 48 bad-tempered brocks tuberculosis tested before Sunday, I'm preparing a Plan 'B'. Fans of cracking whips, splintered spokes and quadruped quartets will be able to retire to the Rectory and play Turnopia's fab chariot racing game Qvadriga.
Currently available as a free beta, this turnbased top-down Ben Hur-'em-up is as crisp and clever a piece of game design as you could ever hope to find. Three-lap BC grands prix are sliced into ten-second segments. At the start of each segment you choose a single instruction from an elegantly arranged palette of up to 15 orders. Fancy a lane change? Want to have a bash at sideswiping a nearby rival? How about trying to thrash a few extra MPH out of your knackered nags? One click prepares the action.
Orders aren't guaranteed to succeed and often (sometimes, literally) have nasty flip sides. Too much speed in corners can lead to injured horses, and damaged or destroyed chariots. Over-enthusiastic whip use in the early phases of a race may leave your 4hp equine powerplant too drained to finish a race at anything but a pitiful trot. The decision-making is always engaging and, thanks to a pinch of randomness and some solid competitor AI, quite different from race to race.
How you approach a contest tends to be heavily influenced by the decisions you make before it starts. Through thoughtful faction choice and buff point investment, the combative can equip themselves with big sturdy chariots and big sturdy charioteers, the speed-hungry with light vehicles and super-quick ponies. I've had my best results going small and swift, but the approach isn't foolproof. For every occasion I've managed to pelt away from the pack like a pre-Christian Ferrari, there's been one where bad luck or bad tactics has left me hopelessly boxed-in or foolishly spreadeagled in the Circus dust.
Spanish creator Daniel Lopez Soria is currently working on making the thrills and spills a little more vivid and consequential. Hopefully, at some point in the future we'll be dodging wreckage and carcasses, and contending with wild pilotless chariots. Singleplayer seasons, multiplayer contest, and new venues are - fingers-crossed - also on the cards.
A Falcon For A Knave
The lack of a falconry demonstration at this Sunday's street party, can't be blamed on local government jobsworths. Despite plenty of manual poring and tutorial vid viewing over the past fortnight, I still don't feel confident enough with Falcon 4.0 super-mod BMS 4.32 to fly it in public.
What I can say about this extraordinary labour of love, now that I've finally got around to sampling it, is 'GOSH!', 'BLIMEY!', and 'I think I need to go and lay down for a bit'.
Where most people looked at Falcon 4.0 and thought 'So much realism! I never dreamt a modern combat flight simulation could cram so many aeronautical truths into such a small cockpit' Benchmark Sims looked at it and thought 'Yes, nice try Microprose, but how about we rewrite and rebuild almost everything to make it even more authentic.' BMS is basically a free standalone sequel, albeit one that - for legal reasons - won't install unless it sees an original F4 disc in your CD drive.
The avionic changes alone would fill several B-52-sized blast-pens. Radars, targeting systems, HUDs, data link modelling... everything has been reworked by people that either have first-hand experience of fondling Falcons or have access to people that have first-hand experience of fondling Falcons. All this forensic fiddling means that wonderful original manual that's been bowing your manual shelf for the past 13 years, is next to useless in BMS. A plethora of new procedures and displays in combination with some disappointingly terse tutorial texts ('Now set your avionics' left this flier floundering on more than one occasion) means most users will need to burn drums of midnight oil reading pdfs, watching tutorial vids, and making copious notes before reporting for duty. An acceptable price for so much verisimilitude? I guess that depends on how hungry you are for a sim that combines Digital Combat Simulator levels of cockpit and weapon honesty with what is still one of the richest, most replayable and co-op friendly combat flight sim campaigns available.
Because BMS have removed Microprose's 'easy avionics' option and are still getting to grips with their own instructional material, I'm not sure it would be responsible to recommend this mod to Falcon fledglings. If you don't know your ASC from your elbow you'll probably fare better with an old boxed copy of Falcon 4.0: Allied Force, Lead Pursuit's 2005 series reboot. That did at least come with a 100-page paperback to help you through those potentially problematic early days.
Of course, going the Allied Force route means you'll miss out on numerous visual and flight model improvements. Though crudely sculpted targets and repeating terrain tile textures still give the game away on occasion, the team have done an incredible job of disguising the sim's ancient roots. The self-shadowing 3D cockpit, high-detail munitions and new structure-strewn airfields are particularly easy on the peepers. Combined with vastly improved pyrotechnics and much livelier aerodynamics, they make even the fairly basic flight and combat manuevres I've been practising doggedly for the past fortnight, feel spectacular.
The Flare Path Foxer
FP owns an ingenious revolving bookcase. In the public side - the side he displays when he's expecting visitors - he keeps all his poncy philosophy tomes, his heavyweight histories, and literary classics. In the private side - his comfort-reading side - he's got all his Asterix books, his 2000ADs, his Commando comics, and his Tintins. The latter are falling apart they've been read so often. Why, if you showed FP the following image, and asked him to name the aircraft and the Hergé works they appear in, you'd have your answers lickety-split.
All the buttons, switches, knobs and levers in last week's Foxer...
a. Airborne Assault menu screen detail
b. SAM Simulator SA-2E ground mode switch
c. Falcon 4.0 BMS countermeasures program selection knob
d. OMSI SD77 reverse selector
e. Aces of the Deep torpedo tube button
f. IL-2 Cliffs of Dover Spitfire fire button
g. RailWorks Class 76 throttle
h. European Bus Simulator door button
...are now back in the appropriate boxes after some slick sleuthing from the likes of Skiv, Electricfox, gabe, egg651, Dana, Spinoza , BobsLawnService, and nimzy. Please take one of the polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride flair points from the Honesty Bucket if you helped with the unfoxing.