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The Flare Path: Mustangled Up In Blue

Simulation & Wargame News

You can tell a lot about a person from their favourite WW2 fighter. Hawker Hurricane admirers are hardworking, realistic, and loyal. Bf 109 fans are contrary and meticulous. Fiat Freccia fiends are Italian. Westland Whirlwind worshippers are prone to melancholy, and often smell faintly of aniseed. Mustang devotees are bold, impatient and have a very low tolerance for silly Flare Path introductions that claim you can tell a lot about a person from their favourite WW2 fighter.

I'm a Fairey Fulmar man myself. We're shy and stoical. We know deep down that our preferred plane was probably better suited to tomato cultivation than aerial warfare, and are willing to accept that flight sim fabricators will never pander to us in the same extraordinary way they're currently pandering towards the P-51 crowd.

Lucky Mustangophiles have just got their hands on the first of 2012's bumper crop of high-fidelity P-51s. The Eagle Dynamics P-51D, made available to pre-orderers in beta form on Sunday, has ruffled the feathers of a few studio loyalists, but with its (relatively) simple instrumentation and heavy-duty flight and damage modelling, looks certain to charm those too old, too busy, or too exhausted to learn another modern jet or helo cockpit.

I've yet to apply the FP hammer to the FP piggy bank (actually it's more of a Brewster Buffalo bank than a piggy bank). Perusal of the impressive 180-page manual suggests I'm unlikely to be disappointed when I do. I can't remember the last time sim documentation made flying with a full tank sound so scary...

Or encouraged me to deal with an undercarriage malfunction like this...

And it's ages since my control stick was last nibbled.

True, my hammer hand might have been harder to restrain, had ED provided a few CPU-controlled butcher-birds to tangle with, or the odd Sd.Kfz. 251 or Opel Blitz to strafe. As it stands, though dogfights with AI Mustangs are possible, I think I'm right in saying all bombs and rockets must be hurled at contemporary targets. Unless you're possessed of a particularly active imagination, persuading yourself a T-72 is actually a Tiger could prove almost as difficult as pretending modern-day Georgia is 1944 Normandy or 1945 Bavaria.

The Eagle Dynamics P-51D's main rival for Mustang supremacy - the deep-into-closed-beta A2A Simulations P-51D - will require even more mental squinting from the combat-curious. Dependence on FSX means no danger of death by Flakvierling, Fw 190 or exploding ammo train. If you come a cropper it will be as a result of hamfistedness or lax maintenance habits. As with all Accu-Sim craft, the condition of numerous components and systems will be persistently tracked. The harder you push your steed - the more you abuse it - the greater the chance of failures and performance degradation. Unless you stop by the hangar regularly, it won't be long before you find yourself hobbling around the sky in a lame Mustang.

Scott Gentile's crew also have another P-51 project underway. Built with the help of an ongoing restoration project, their version of the lightweight 'H' Mustang, won't bear the Accu-Sim brand so won't boast quite the forensic level of detail of its stablemate, however, knowing A2A, it's still likely to do a damn fine job of persuading us our desks are 37ft long, and skinned with aluminium rather than veneer.


Hipper Than It Looks

Many British towns and cities have a Trafalgar Road or a Nelson Close. Very few have a Coronel Avenue or a Troubridge Crescent. It seems only naval historians and wargame devs are interested in commemorating crushing RN defeats and disgraced RN admirals.

Both the Battle of Coronel and the incident that led to the attempted court-martial of poor old 'Windy' Troubridge feature in the recently released Steam and Iron demo. A WWI naval wargame with rudimentary graphics and no campaign, but lashings of realism, a vast ship database, and a very flexible skirmish generator, SAI has been creating quite a buzz in the smokier corners of the grognard snug of late. You don't have to spend long with the trial to understand the warm reception.

Though the visuals scream out for some Positech-style top-down gratuitousness, and tight demo time limits mean some of the seven supplied scenarios are over almost as soon as they've begun, there's plenty of reasons to stick around. Where the last Jutland-era wargame to tie up at the RPS quay tested patience with its idiosyncratic camera and controls, this one is pleasingly conventional in the GUI department. Languorous bedroom Beattys can direct engagements simply by issuing course changes to flagships (other ships will do their best to maintain station). The more energetic may fuss with formation shapes, speed, targeting and the roles (scout, screen, support, etc.) of subordinate divisions.

Naval wargames often sink or swim on the quality of their damage models, so it's nice to be able to report that SAI's projectiles cause all kinds of mischief. Jammed turrets, buggered rudders, corspe-strewn bridges... there's no anaemic hitpoint whittling here. Fire and flooding are the big killers, of course, but during my time with the improbably tiny (2.3MB!) trial I've also seen vessels die in incandescent instants, the victims of fluke magazine hits.

Shell accuracy algorithms incorporate all the obvious stuff - crew quality, range, target movement etc. -  but there's also a clutch of more unexpected modifiers at work. The fact that your gun layers are having to peer through your own funnel smoke and into the glare of a setting or  rising sun might just explain why they're struggling to put shell on steel.


Bibulous In The Bibliothèque

Did you attend the grand opening of the Flare Path Reading Room? It was quite a do. Antony Beevor cut the ribbon with wirecutters that once belonged to Siegfried Sassoon. Eric Hobsbawm got totally rat-arsed and punched David Starkey. Max Hastings spewed on Antonia Fraser's shoes. Good times!

Many thanks to all those who contributed suggestions and continue to do so. If your volume has yet to appear on the shelves, that's probably because the librarians have had problems placing it (It's not simply good reads we're after, it's books spookily relevant to specific wargames and sims). Educated guesses have been made here and there, but a direct gaming link explained in a sentence or two would make Alison and Hereward's job much easier.


The Flare Path Foxer

The catastrophic explosion of HMS Monmouth during FP's last Steam and Iron session dislodged nine islands from the game's globe. FP has found a tube of Arkwright's Extra-Strong Archipelago Adhesive in his shed, but is uncertain where the islands should go. Can you help him?


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