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The Flare Path: One Of Life's Stragglers

Simulation & wargame news

FP has never been afraid of asking difficult questions. What's the capital of Belize? At what temperature does fluid helium I transition to superfluid helium II? How long is a piece of string? If a question needs asking, rest assured we'll ask it. We've spent most of this week doggedly doorstepping wargame developers in an attempt to find out why, in 30-odd years of endeavour none of them have had the wit or wisdom to produce an FTL-style B-17 or Lancaster game.

Battlefront set their slavering German Shepherds on us (some of whom showed up with slavering Alsations). Matrix Games recommended we talk to Slitherine. Slitherine recommended we talk to Matrix Games. Graviteam politely suggested we get off our fat arses and make the thing ourselves. They plainly have no idea just how busy the average sim/wargame news-gathering cell is these days.



Train Triptych

September has been an unusually hectic/splendid month for those of us that use the 'A' and 'D' keys for tasks other than strafing. Run 8 had barely snaked onto the passing loop, when Train Simulator 2013 thundered into view. Last year's free RailWorks/Train Simulator upgrade inserted bees into several bonnets by denting FPS figures and causing add-on issues in some quarters. This time the revamp has gone far more smoothly.

Though there are no big physics or signalling improvements, it's hard not to be impressed by the substantial framerate gains, camera enhancements, and brighter, sharper visuals, the new version brings. The switch to the OpenAL audio engine is similarly welcome. Sounds now seem to overlap better, the aural consequences of lowering a window or entering a tunnel feel more natural.

Unexpectedly, I'm also rather taken with the new Quick Drive options. One button dab sets up a completely random run - route, rolling stock, time of day, weather, all dice-derived. For those that sometimes find the myriad choices offered by super-expandable sims like TS a little overwhelming, it's nice to be able to let the CPU take the selection strain occasionally. Faintly improbable combination of train and track? Press the button again, or treat it as an interesting back-story concoction challenge. I'm driving a 100-year-old steam shunter from contemporary Paddington to Oxford because...

One of the few mild disappointments is the continued lack of true multiplayer. TS2013 introduces something called Relay Play, but this is a pretty poor substitute relying as it does on the passing on of partially completed challenges to willing Steam friends. Improbably, Train Simulator's ancient ancestor Microsoft Train Simulator has ended up getting MP before its replacement.

Thanks to the long-awaited version of Open Rails released this week, those still loyal to MSTS now don't have to roam steel roads alone. As the video below explains, the new build's accomplishments also include tunnelier tunnels, fixed signalling, and an enhanced GUI. You may still encounter problems getting a favourite add-on to function, but the Open Rails dream - a free evolving train sim compatible with MSTS add-ons but unfettered by MSTS limitations - seems closer than ever. You still need an MSTS install to use OR but the day when the sim becomes standalone, relying wholly on bundled community-made routes and rolling stock, is surely not far away.

Watch on YouTube


Floods Of Tears

I'm the sort of person that keeps a roll of hazard tape in the back of his car just in case. If I ever rounded a corner and found a windblown tree, jack-knifed lorry, or cracked nuclear-waste flask blocking the road, I'd have hopped out and sealed off the area before you could say “Thank goodness wonderful, socially-minded people like that exist. We'd nominate him for some sort of civil bravery award if we didn't suspect his incredible modesty, catalogue of outstanding parking fines, and vitriolic hatred of authority figures would prevent him from accepting it”.

In theory I should be slap-bang in the middle of the Disaster Response Unit (aka THW Simulator) demographic. This German sim simulates seeks to simulate the activities of a worthy voluntary organisation called the THW. When these admirable lads and lasses aren't building refugee camps in Africa, assisting in earthquake rescues in Asia, or plucking scared kitties from window ledges in Düsseldorf they are usually to be found (and I'm speculating here) weeping into their wheat-beers because the game devoted to them has turned out a bit Scheiße.

To be fair, the above assessment is based on my experience of DRU's first mission and training area only. After an hour of cone placing, log bulldozing, and physics voodoo, I'd had more than enough.

The training yard is completely enclosed by stout brick walls and an unopenable steel gate but that didn't stop me accidentally escaping its confines on two occasions. My unauthorised excursions taught me a very valuable lesson:

No amount of hi-vis clothing and hydraulic lifting gear will save you if you decide to drive off The Edge of the World.

The volatile look-at-me-funny-and-I'll-hurl-you-over-that-haus physics might have been easier to overlook had there been a degree of problem-solving involved in the disaster scenarios. Instead, the game fusses terribly, insisting certain vehicles are parked in certain spots, and jobs are tackled in a specific order. Unless DRU II offers a lot more tactical freedom and a lot less vehicle acrobatics, in future I'll be leaving the flood defence building and the puss plucking to others.

Watch on YouTube


The Flare Path Foxer

An almost invisible cobweb filament of logic connects the seven aeroplanes in this image. One FP Flair Point to the person that identifies the thread; seven more to the namers of the entangled machines.

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