It's dawn and it's raining cats and dogs. You are barrelling down the M3 in your uninsured Vauxhall Inquisitor when you see a huddled figure, arm outstretched, standing by the roadside. The figure is holding a scrap of cardboard scrawled with the words EURO TRUCK SIMULATOR 2, RIGS OF RODS, and BATTLE OF BRITAIN 2. You can stop and pick-up this drenched wayfarer (Click where it says 'Read the rest of this entry') knowing that his conversation might turn out to be as soggy as his sign, or you can speed past, purposely averting your gaze from those pleading puppy-dog eyes. Which is it to be?
MAN Gears And Man Years
You are a lovely person. There is no justice in the world, but if there was you'd be in line for extra cake and cuddles come Justice Day. Though the hitcher does whiff a little, and insists on tuning the radio to the dangerously soporific Lullaby FM, his chat is tolerable - interesting even.
He tells you that his name his Jan, and that he's a games designer from Prague. It's not wanderlust that has brought him to the hard-shoulder of the M3, it's professional curiosity. Jan is doing some last-minute recon for upcoming semi spectacular Euro Truck Simulator 2.
With its DIY contracting, decent physics, and extensive (but heavily abridged) recreation of Europe's tarmaced trade routes, the original ETS was a cut above the usual Euro-sim pap. Posts on the SCS blog suggests the imminent (end-of-March-ish) sequel will be significantly stronger.
Encouraging signs are everywhere. The team that cut their teeth making a string of solid deer slaying sims (not Deer Drive. That was cobblers.) took on an ex-Scania test driver as a technical consultant in the run-up to Christmas, and have recently gone to impressive lengths to capture the distinctive dialects of their articulated stars.
While the new road network won't include many of the southern European destinations available in the original title, it will be far denser and feature a lot more local flavour. Apparently, creating the venue for ETS took 1.5 man-years. More than 8 man-years have already been lavished on the new version.
Thanks to region-specific numberplates, AI traffic mixes, and sign styles, this time there should be far less chance of forgetting which country you're cruising through. Thanks to a far more generous selection of minor highways, there should also be a lot more opportunity for creative/cost-cutting shortcuts.
Whether the sim will ship with genuine Volvos, MANs and Renaults in its showroom, or thinly veiled lookalikes, depends on ongoing licensing negotiations. Given the findings of a recent Flare Path study* - the one that revealed that 78% of pre-teen truck simmers went on to purchase real HGVs - it would be an extremely short-sighted manufacturer that withheld permission.
*Commissioned by SCS Software
Rails Of Rods
Somewhere near Fleet Services the conversation turns to Rigs of Rods. The lorries in this freeware physics lesson, lurch, wallow, and skid, exactly as lorries should. BigBoy's experiments suggest the RoR engine could make trains move with similar authority.
Though rail enthusiasts aren't short of sim options, the likes of Microsoft Train Simulator, Trainz, and RailWorks are really rather poor at communicating the tea-spillingly physical relationship between train and track, hauler and hauled. The straining of couplings on a snatched freight train, the drunken gait of a heavy diesel trundling along uneven rails, the violent nudging of a carelessly handled banking engine... these are things most contemporary sims fudge.
RoR has the potential to deliver uncommonly tactile train handling. Whether it can be adapted to provide working signalling and AI traffic is another matter. At the very least I'm hoping for some supremely satisfying shunting action in the near future.
Building Better Baders
The sight of a Tiger Moth touching down at Popham aerodrome sparks a chat about one of 2011's bitterest disappointments: IL-2: Cliffs of Dover. Ten months on, the sim still feels shoddy in several important areas. Until flawed flight models, inadequate comms and dysfunctional AI are improved, drumming-up enthusiasm for the coming Battle of Moscow themed 'sequel', will be a challenge.
An AI thread over at the official forum, illustrates just how many bad habits CloD's bogeys need to unlearn over the coming months. Unexpectedly, it also provides fascinating insights into why the bandits in the breathtaking Battle of Britain 2: Wings of Victory behave as humanly as they do.
In instructional mood, Buddye - BDG's bogey behaviour engineer - explains, amongst other things, what goes through the mind of one of BoB2's artificial aviators when he sees tracer fizzing past his canopy.
It's an awe-inspiring read...
"The first key decision to be made is to select either an aggressive or defensive maneuver. This is a complex decision based on the available information on both the Player and the Enemy AI or the friendly AI and the enemy AI. The data considered for both Player and enemy is speed, altitude, and the position of the targeting AI and the AI being targeted with respect to each other.
After selecting either an aggressive or defensive, then a random approach is used to select a category (choose good, choose bad, or choose neither good nor bad maneuver).
Maneuvers are then divided into three parts Climb, Horizontal, and dive for each of our categories
In BOBII we have over 80 complex maneuvers for selection (both the aggressive and defensive maneuvers) for the fighters (Spit, Hurri, 109, 110) and over 50 simple maneuvers for selection for the Ju87 and Defiant. The following are BOBII’s complex maneuvers (each maneuver is a significant program for completing the assigned maneuver):
He goes on to describe how the experience and skill level of an AI airman influences both the choice of manoeuvre and the likelihood of making a mistake while flying the manoeuvre, and explains how the random numbers that add uncertainty to manoeuvre directions and durations, make testing bally tricky.
Clinical insights like these risk stripping the magic and mystery from a sim. It's a testament to BoB2's quality, Rowan's ambition, and Buddye's patience and skill, that I emerged from the thread not disenchanted but determined to spend more time with the finest Finest Hour sim around.
The exchange also illustrates why the words 'good' and 'AI' should never sit side-by-side in a piece of sim or wargame analysis. There's a world of difference between a 'good' (challenging) AI and a 'good' (plausible) AI, and the more often the two get carelessly conflated in reviews and forum comments, the easier it is for devs to palm us off with efficient enemies rather than evocative ones.
The Flare Path Foxer
There are 9
birds planes in the Flare Path aviary hangar today. Which one is the oldest? Which is the lightest? Which has the largest wingspan? Which served its country longest? Which one has four legs? And which one badgered the Bismark?
*Last week's unidentified loco? 'Aeolus', a rather handsome Chicago Burlington & Quincy streamlined 4-6-4. The clue image was a picture of the ESA Aeolus weather satellite.