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The Flare Path: Must Tri Harder

Simulation & wargame blather

When a Flare Path Friday falls on November 29, the 333rd day of the year, it's traditional for all the stories to have a topical tripartite slant. Back in 2002 that meant detailed scrutiny of a just released Fokker Dr.I add-on for MSFS, coverage of Bronze Tide, a WIP Battle of Arginusae wargame, and an interview with Trilobyte Interactive, the makers of Lucy Lyme, a Spelunky precursor inspired by the activities of Victorian fossil hunter Mary Anning. Today it means words on Prepar3D, N3V's plans, and IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad's early access LaGG-3.

333 + 777

The flush fliers that pre-ordered the $90 premium edition of IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad are currently waggling the wingtips of handsome LaGG-3s and Bf-109s at the paupers that didn't.

Though gunless and confined to a 50km x 50km test map at present, the two mounts have been drawing a steady stream of forum compliments from their pilots since they were made available. Ground handling and flight models have garnered particularly high praise, and videos like the ones stacked below reveal some rather impressive cockpit lighting and exhaust pyrotechnics too.

Can 777 deliver AI and battlespaces of a similar calibre? I touched on these and other sensitive subjects during a recent email exchange with producer Albert Zhiltsov.

RPS: Are we likely to see AI pilots making mistakes in BoS?

Albert: I hope so, we’re working on it. Problem is, it’s very difficult to teach a robot to make mistakes because it’s infallible by nature. To address this, we invented a matrix of various behavior algorithms. I think they will make AI behavior much more variable, but, you know, players don’t always like such things. When we made AI more human in previous games, this disturbed and agitated players. AI started to escape from difficult engagements or avoid dangerous targets and players thought these are game bugs. After decades of traditional AI we’re all accustomed to the idea of a dumb and fearless AI. It’s very difficult to break such stereotypes, it takes many explanations which modern players don’t like to read at all.

RPS: One criticism that's sometimes levelled at Rise of Flight is that the randomly generated campaign sorties don't offer many opportunities for freelancing. Will those who enjoy roaming battlefields in search of targets of opportunity find BoS a happier hunting ground?

Albert: Sure, we have made many changes, but we must keep in mind the hardware limits. Not all players of our community have very powerful PCs, so maps will contain as many objects as a minimal requirements system can handle. There will be plenty of objects, but ROF had many of them as well.

RPS: The IL-2: BoS single-player campaign, like the RoF one, will require an internet connection. Why is 777 so keen on this approach?

Albert: This makes many things easier for us. For example, it helps us to avoid agents while working with customers, provide comprehensive statistics which is essential. Some technical solutions won’t work otherwise. We work quickly, for example ROF has more than 30 add-ons. Sometimes it is more than one version per month. It becomes very difficult without a convenient system of working with users. The traffic is so low, that everyday spam in your mail will bring you a lot more trouble. Furthermore, we plan a lot of interesting things, such as the system of regiments, global events or online battles, all these features are not possible without such base. We understand that users always want to maintain some privacy in the games, and we promise to respect this.

RPS In your opinion, when it comes to combat flight simulations, how much realism is too much realism?

Albert: If you return home from work and find yourself doing more work, it is too much. Flight simulations as a whole and IL-2 in particular are skill based games, where everything depends on player skills, knowledge and experience. We don’t want to make a game where what you need to do is mainly follow pre-flight instructions, we all have more than enough instructions to follow in real life. We concentrate on dogfighting, the aspect you are very unlikely to try in real life. We want a player to experience strong emotions... the exhilaration of aerial confrontation.

RPS: Is coding WW2-era air combat more difficult than coding the WWI variety?

Albert: There is no definite answer to this question – some things are actually easier while others are more difficult. Aircraft systems and equipment are more advanced but plane form is simpler. Flight dynamics modelling starts to be more advanced when you approach trans-sonic speeds, but at the same time it’s easier to acquire any historical data you want. When we worked on WW1-era planes, data mining took as much as half of the whole work time and was impossible without visiting museums. This project is different and we are obsessed with it now. It’s great to work on WWII era aircraft after spending so much time on WWI planes; we get to see how the art of the engineer has evolved.

RPS: Female fighter pilots like Lydia Litvyak fought in the skies over Stalingrad. Do you plan to acknowledge this in any way?

Albert: I agree these are heroic stories. It will be great to tell them in the game sometime. Right now, though this is not possible.

RPS: Will work on IL-2: BoS have any spin-off benefits for Rise of Flight?

Albert: Parachutes, and totally new graphics. But it's only plans. We are still a small studio that works now on a large project. And we must first cope with the task that we are doing now. But we will never forget about our other projects, whether ROF or IL-2: 1946, and will look for the ways to make them even better. Unfortunately I can’t say anything specific for now.

RPS: Thank you for your time.


Forbidden Fun

Most games produce stony-faced indifference by accident; I know of only one that insists on it in its EULA.

For licensing reasons, Prepar3D, Microsoft Flight Simulator's disowned and disenfranchised sprog, can't be sold, marketed or used for personal/consumer entertainment. Buyers of the $60 'Academic' version that aren't using their purchase for serious training purposes are in clear contravention of the user agreement and, presumably risk legal action and crippling guilt pangs.

It's a ludicrous situation. For the tens of thousands of MSFS users left high and dry by Microsoft's surprise exit in 2009, Prepar3D is a lifeline - the promise of significant engine development coupled with the reassurance of backwards compatibility. The inheritors, Lockheed Martin, have just added a DirectX11 rendering engine capable of self-shadowing, ruffled oceans, volumetric water vapour, and smoother framerates. They've persuaded well-regarded MSFS add-on studios like Carenado and IRIS to provide a fresh fleet of default flyables (most MSFS add-ons should work with P3D). All they can't do right now, is actively court the users that care most about these things.

Fezziwig Flintwinch, the RPS lawyer, says it's fine to watch the following vids as long as you're careful not to derive any pleasure from them.


Coinz Meanz Trainz

Trainz iz twelve yearz old thiz y3ar. Being young, vigorous, and a huge fan of >insertnameofcoolcontemporarybandhere< I definitely didn't review the original version for British mag PC Format, and definitely haven't spent the past decade-and-a-bit periodically praising the friendly route building tools, robust AI, and unique interactive industries, and pillorying the thin physics, frustrating content distribution system, and painfully slow rate of change.

If I was (and I think we've established I'm not) the kind of fossil that had followed the 15-instalment series since its inception, I might have greeted the recent announcement of a Next Gen version with a Werthers Original-garbled 'Fiwally!'.

Assuming Kickstarters supply a further $38,000 in the next 18 days, N3V Games will be delivering T2 around this time next year. Going by the glimpses in the pitch video it looks like there'll be plenty of Graphics. Heat hazes, volumetric smoke and fog, shadows that pivot, stretch and drape themselves over nearby objects... the Brisbanites are clearly attempting to make their arch rival, Train Simulator look a bit Barry Scrapyard.

Whether T2 can compete with TS2014/15 on the physics and 'feel' front, may depend on the preferences of 'Engineer'-level backers. Though one of the updates talks encouragingly of bouncing bogies and coupling slack, slightly worryingly, features like rainproof tunnels, cab sway, super-elevated track, and plausibly rendered points could end up as stretch goals if a backer vote goes the 'wrong' way.

Personally, I've always been a little surprised N3V never made more of Trainz's endearing ability to mimic makeshift model railways. With a proven track laying system and so much competition in the train sim sector, a My First Trainz Set with better physics, more props and venues, and some Tricky Truck/Bridge Construction Set-style puzzles could have been a genre-vaulting joy. Picture it... the challenge of getting that cold beer and ham sandwich to Dad in the back garden without feline interceptions, spillages or serious warming, the satisfaction of conquering that Chat Moss of a bean-bag and that towering Snowden of a snoring aunt.


The Flare Path Foxer

Last week's Top Trumps slide ruler was the always-match-fit Matchstick. He correctly aggregated the wingspans of a BV 222 and Vickers Wellington, the engine output of an Hs 123, the gun calibre of a Pz.Kpfw. IV, the weight of a TOG II, and the type numbers of a DB electric loco and an Austrian shunter. Sublime sumping!

No arithmetical skill required today, just plain-old transport knowledge and lateral agility. Identify as many collage components as poss then try to work out the reason why those components are sharing the same png. Previous hidden themes have included Sherlock Holmes, palindromes, Shakespeare, and woodworking.

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