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The Flare Path: In Pavlov's House, Feeding His Dog

Simulation & wargame blather

Flare Path knows Eastern Europe like the Baku of his hand. In 2011 he hiked the length of the old Iron Curtain. In 2012 he unicycled the entire Bordurian coastal path. This year he's planning to fly to Moscow, hire a C-65, and do a tour of all of the grads - Leningrad, Kaliningrad, Svetlograd, Retrograd, Upgrad, Downgrad, Biodegrad etc. He's particularly looking forward to Volgograd/Stalingrad having spent the last few days contemplating and consuming games set in that famously blood-steeped city.

If, like me, you haven't been following the progress of IL-2 sequel, Battle of Stalingrad, quite as assiduously as you originally intended, the following developer diary-based primer should help you get up to cruising speed.

What we know so far about IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad

  • It's happening because IL-2 Cliffs of Dover, the original IL-2 sequel, turned out to be one of the worst managed projects in flight sim history.

  • It's being made by 777, the people behind the rather brilliant Rise of Flight.
  • It will use an enhanced version of the RoF Engine. No DX10/11 effects but improved lighting and bump-mapping.
  • There'll be no F2P version and it's still uncertain whether the sim will grow via traditional expansion packs or single aircraft RoF-style DLC.

  • The trailer needs more slo-mo snowflakes, Shostakovitch, shattered cityscapes and stricken Stukas plunging through corpse-entombing Volga river ice.
  • You can pre-order right now. $50 secures you the standard edition with six flyables - LaGG-3, Bf-109 F-4, IL-2 AM-38, Ju-87 D-3, Pe-2 and He-111 H-6. To get the bonus planes - an Fw-190 A-3 and a La-5 - plus super-early autumn access, you'll need to scrape together an eye-watering $90.
  • A portion of your pre-order payment will probably be frittered away on lavish preview events like the one SimHQ attended last Friday.

  • The ghost of Lydia Litvyak will look down on these shindigs from the cockpit of her ethereal Yak-1 and sigh deeply.

  • 777 aren't aiming for Cliffs of Dover or DCS P-51D levels of mechanical realism, but those that tick the appropriate engine management boxes will get to nervously monitor temp and RPM gauges and fiddle with prop pitch and radiator levers.
  • AI pilots won't get special treatment where FMs are concerned. If you're on the verge of blacking-out or stalling then there's a good chance the chap latched onto your tail or sliding into your gun sight is having problems too.

  • Night sorties should be particularly atmospheric thanks to simulation of three different forms of cockpit illumination: luminous dials, instrument lights, and panel lamps.
  • BoS will inherit Rise of Flight's slightly counter-intuitive approach to single-player. Quick Missions and editor-fashioned sorties will be available offline, but to participate in the historically inspired SP campaign with its randomly generated sorties and carefully tracked stats, you'll need to be connected to 777's server.

  • While Success in the SP campaign will generate the promotions and 'effectiveness points' necessary for unlocking plane mods, 777 realise that most of us would rather be flying than clambering up tangled tech trees. Switchable components will be limited to historically plausible weapons, drop tanks and the like. There'll be no attaching RATO packs and BK 37s to your Bf-109.

  • The approach to sound sounds extremely sound.

  • Pursuits and evasions won't be regularly interrupted by “You are leaving the mission area. Turn back!” messages. The sim's single map will will stretch 360km east-west and 230km north-south. Choose 'take-offs' in the realism options and ignore the time acceleration keys and it could be over an hour before your feet are back on terra-frigida again
  • You won't be able to slip away from an alarmingly lopsided dogfight to go hunt scampering infantrymen. There'll be plenty of strafeable vehicles but foot-sloggers won't be modelled.
  • Dogfights aren't going to be BoB2 huge.

  • There are no immediate plans for player-controlled AFVs, but the engine is perfectly capable of armour drama.
  •  BoS has got unexpected competition in the shape of an upcoming WW2 sim from Maddox Games survivors RRG Studios. The unnnamed project will utilize DCS World's EDGE engine so may struggle to win the screenshot war.
  • Flare Path predicts IL-2 Stalingrad will turn out to be either fairly exceptional or exceptionally exceptional.
  • If everyone reading this sends me £4.99 I should have just about enough cash to hire the staff, and licence the engine necessary to build the C-65-celebrating WW2 tank recovery sim that will bulldoze IL-2:BoS from the top of the charts circa January 2015.


Papashas and Pigtails

Mark H Walker's Lock 'n' Load: Heroes of Stalingrad slips past release dates the way Vasily Zaytsev slipped past German patrols. Announced in 2005 it does, finally, seem close to completion, hence my recent rendezvous with preview code.

After some brief, business-like tutorials had introduced the game's faithfully ported rules and attractive Eskubi/Julien/Schwanebeck art (somewhat blighted by a large ugly GUI) I made straight for one of the two branching campaigns. A seemingly deserted map with a crucial bridge at its centre was scrutinised, German infantry squad counters cautiously advanced; all seemed conventional until a Soviet LMG opened up from across the river, and a scared schoolgirl appeared in the doorway of a nearby shack.

In addition to fashioning a rule set that captures the drama and dynamics of small-scale WW2 skirmishing rather well, Mr. Walker has bravely attempted to breathe life into traditionally sterile battle spaces with inclusions like this crossfire-vulnerable civilian. Not everyone in the wargame community approves, but, personally, I think reality reminders like these are - if used sensitively and sparingly - exactly the sort of thing the achingly unadventurous PC wargaming scene needs.

Of course, the suggestion that you should escort the girl to safety, would be far more plausible if you were playing as a Soviet commander rather than a German one, but I guess there must have been occasions during the brutal slog to Stalingrad when Axis soldiers did their best - even risked life and limb - to avoid incidents like the one Panzer driver, Henry Metelmann, memorably describes in his memoir 'Through Hell For Hitler':

I look forward to more moral quandaries in the LnL:HoS campaign as well as evidence of the “razor-sharp artificial intelligence that will challenge even the most clever tactical gamer.” claimed by the devs and publisher. What I've seen so far suggests entertaining artificial adversaries rather than genuinely wily ones. In the scenario that followed the bridge engagement, and a subsequent assault on Pavlov's house (one of the 12 standalone single scenarios) the Ivans put up a good fight ; however, there were times when they seemed a tad too eager to quit stout apartments for perilous bullet-lashed streets. Maybe on the highest difficulty level caution is more common.

Compared to the similarly themed Conflict of Heroes, LnL:HoS feels less stylised, more in tune with its subject matter. There's dice rolling aplenty and a spot of card deploying too, but at its core this is a game about using cover, concealment, commanders, and firepower intelligently. If you're fond of Close Combat, Squad Battles or Memoir '44 and aren't appalled by the idea of infants mingling with your infantry, anticipate enjoyment.


The Flare Path Foxer

There's more than one way to skin a foxer. Gothnak, FuryLippedSquid, Fumarole, and Dozer loosened the pelt of last week's mange-magnet with guesswork and the tip of a rusty Fairbairn-Sykes fighting spoon, then VelvetFistIronGlove came along and finished the job with guile and Google Books.

A themed collage today. Identify the eight components and explain why they're all sharing the same higgledy-piggledy png, to win flair points made from one of Herman Goering's diamond-encrusted sherbet spoons.

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Tim Stone