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The Flare Path: Perpetually Monitoring

Simulation & wargame blather

Close Combat was PC wargaming's Hirō Onoda. Years after his comrades emerged from the jungle with hands raised, the turn-spurning CC engine was still busy patrolling... scouting... soldiering. People like me would periodically point our bullhorns at the undergrowth and urge the old fool campaigner to "Jack it in!", or at the very least learn some new tactics. Usually he'd reply with wild rifle shots or deluded AI improvement boasts.

Now, thank goodness, the decade-long farce is finally over. Last year Slitherine/Matrix announced that they were retiring Atomic's ancient code tangle and commencing work on Close Combat: The Bloody First, a new 3D-engined-but-still-top-down successor. There's been no news of that project since, but, in an intriguing development this week, another developer announced that they too intended to take up the CC torch.


On Wednesday, over at www.close.combat.org, Shaun 'CSO_Sulla' Wallace, one of the oldest and most respected names in the CC community, pulled the pine branches from 'The Tactical Art of Combat'. There's nothing to see yet except words, but those words make this old Close Combatant rather excited.

Shaun and co. are intent on building the 'proper and complete successor to the original CC games, that should have arrived years ago'. The 'decently funded', Slitherine-free TAOC will feature overhead and (optional) isometric battle cams. There will be a strategy layer that "reflects reality, supply, and logistics, and follows your progress". There will be an entirely new AI. Finance and a publisher appear to be already in place, but the first theatre is yet to be decided. Anyone that knows and loves the CCs is welcome to offer feature suggestions via the CSO forums.

My suggestions post will include the following I'd Like to Sees:

Random maps

Coders like Sean O'Connor have proven that's it's not impossible to provide randomly generated battlefields in a Close Combat-style game. Sure, such spaces are never going to be as characterful or evocative as hand-crafted real-estate, but a little loss in flavour is a price well worth paying in return for an endless variety of field mosaics, forest patchworks and village layouts.

An AI that knows how to deploy

No more Pak 40s plonked in the centre of ploughed fields, please. No more infantry squads starting games sprawling in town squares.

An AI that knows how to assault

Give me an enemy that doesn't bunch his men, bee-line for every VL, use smoke like the World's most reckless apiarist, and use suppressive fire like he's paying for every round out of his own pocket, and I'll be a very happy CO.

Multi-level buildings with toggleable storeys

CCs treatment of multi-storey structures was fudgier than a West Country gift shop. TAOC must make sizeable strides in this area.

A dash of politics in the strat layer

Acknowledgement of command-chain politics during campaigning would be splendid. Lots of military games let me hopscotch across a cellular map. Very very few represent subordinates as anything but silent opinionless pawns, bosses as anything but largely irrelevant laissez-faire briefing providers.

An unusual setting in the launch title

Conventional commercial wisdom will no doubt nudge the devs towards hackneyed WW2 operations like Overlord, Market Garden, and Wacht am Rhein. I'd love to see a gutsier deployment first time out. Something fresh - Monte Cassino? Anzio? Kohima? Hue?.. - would emphasise the freshness of the new tech and help put clear blue water between TAOC and the dozens of other tactical wargames already available.


Talking of clear blue water, I spent yesterday evening mousing American Civil War warships around the Gulf of Mexico. Ironclads 2 is Totem Games' latest attempt to turn pre-dreadnought naval warfare into riveting real-time entertainment. I've not seen quite enough yet to say whether they've succeeded this time, but I can say that the new campaign mechanism is definitely a step in the right direction.

Where the earlier Ironclads titles scampered from skirmish to skirmish like belaying pin-threatened rats, this more ambitious sequel unrolls a strat chart between battles. It invites you to commission and repair vessels, blockade and capture ports, and turnpike trade routes with your fleets.

Arriving weather-beaten and wowed from the magnificent Rule the Waves, the strategic options aren't exactly dazzling, however there are certainly interesting choices to be made. Do you concentrate on constructing cash-earning merchantmen or harbour-plugging warships? Do you focus on seizing the smaller less well-defended enemy ports first, or combine squadrons and head straight for battery-lined bear-pits like New Orleans and Mobile (I'm playing as the Union in my first campaign)? My Confederate opponent seems unwilling to put to sea at the moment, but has seen off a couple of rash harbour assaults. It will be interesting to see whether his boldness increases as time passes and the balance of power shifts.

I regret to say I've yet to see any evidence of improvements at the tactical level. The rudimentary damage models, and limited control opportunities of the 'Victorian Admirals' games are back, meaning no formation changes, no coastlines, no spectacular magazine explosions, no felled masts, no sly, convention-flouting opponents. Though there's satisfaction to be gained from overcoming a larger, better armed squadron, it's hard to shake the feeling that TalonSoft's Age of Sail was offering more engaging naval engagements twenty years ago.

During the coming week I plan to complete a campaign or two, and scour Totem's nautical tussles for redeeming nuances. Expect an ironclad Ironclads 2 verdict in next Friday's column.




The Flare Path Foxer

Last week's puzzle theme got stuck in F-for-Foxer's flare chute and despite energetic prodding from bomb aimer Stugle (who spotted a surfeit of record-breakers in the collage) and wireless operator Electricfox (who noticed a profusion of 'H's) couldn't be worked loose.

(Theme: Buns)

a Hamburger bun (Electricfox)
b Bath bun (Matchstick)
c Currant bun (Harrington)
d Kitchener bun (Gothnak)
e Sticky bun (Electricfox)
f Belgian bun (Matchstick)
g Cinnamon bun (Matchstick)
h Chelsea bun (Stugle)
i Boston bun (Stugle, Matchstick)


When the great Moravian foxer setter Klara Adler died in 1998, her Brno apartment was found to contain just nine objects:

A dead wasp
An apricot stone
A bent toasting fork
A straightened fish hook
A photograph of Fatty Arbuckle
A copy of Karel Čapek's 'War with the Newts'
A 1:1000 scale model of the MS St. Louis
A playing card (king of diamonds)
A sunflower seed with the word 'TAM' painted on it

All answers in one thread, please.

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Tim Stone