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The Flare Path: Considers Going Rogue

Simulation & wargame blather

Ever fallen out of love with one of gaming's Big Themes? As a youngster sci-fi was my soylent green. I watched it, read it, and played it avidly. Sometime towards the end of the Eighties, however, something changed. History books and less fantastical forms of fiction began muscling out the Asimov and the Aldiss, the Bradbury and the Sheckley. Dust layers deepened on stacks of Starblazers and 2000ADs. Progress on my Blake's Seven RPG/wargame slowed then halted. I stopped fantasising about Jenny Agutter in Logan's Run.

Okay, maybe I didn't stop fantasising about Jenny Agutter in Logan's Run (I suspect that particular fantasy is with me for life) but the world of disruptor pistols and droids, dropships and death stars did lose much of its sparkle. Today, to be honest I'd much rather be loosing electric torpedoes than photon ones, and dogfighting Starfighters than star fighters. Given a choice between a tank that defies gravity and one that emphasises it, I'll take the caterpillared trundler every time.

It takes a very special sort of game to make this self-imposed sci-fi exile feel nostalgic. Fleet and flavoursome FTL was probably the last title that managed it. Might Rogue System be the next?

On paper Digits Crossed Interactive's early accessible space sim looks like the button-nosed bastard child of Falcon 4 and I-War 2. Lone creator Michael Juliano is aiming to weld the deep systems realism of an aeronautical study sim to the rigorous Newtonian physics and far-future flavour of an unusually serious space combat game. Few can be in a better position to undertake such a task. Michael's CV includes spells in the game industry (Atomic Games, Acclaim Studios Austin, ISI...) and time in the USAF. When you've spent eight years tinkering with the cockpit vitals of B-1 Lancer bombers daydreams about complex futuristic warbird simulations must be almost inevitable.

Eventually Rogue System's mod-amenable $30 'core module' will offer three ships: a nimble interceptor/escort, a beefier strike vessel, and a craft designed for search and rescue, ship recovery, and mine and satellite deployment. Hidden beneath the hull plates of this trio will be a tangle of plausible systems you'll need a tablecloth-sized schematic and a physics degree to fully understand, and several spare minutes to manually cold-start.

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Lasers, torps and energy bolts won't pluck at integrity variables in RogSys, they'll cause control issues and plasma leaks; they'll leave you scrambling for extinguisher switches and shutdown buttons. Damage control, even with the capable Ship Onboard Intelligence assisting, promises to be as exciting and challenging as damage dealing.

Hopefully, Michael won't be so busy ensuring his craft function and malfunction believably that he forgets to build in a few naturalistic quirks. One of the reasons I think I prefer bimbling about the blue in simulated WWI or WW2 warbirds than bimbling about the black in simulated WW9 or WW38 ones, is that the former, when modelled well, can be cantankerous beasts. Most real historical combat aircraft have their fair share of flaws. Whether it's the Spitfire's gravity-fed carb the Bf 109's narrow undercarriage, or the Greif's wing-mounted arsonists, there's always something there to remind you that designing flying machines, particularly fighty ones, is a tricky business. Without idiosyncratic shortcomings, to me at least, a sci-fi aerodyne will always feel somewhat synthetic.

I think I'm also drawn to historical flight sims because their stiff-winged stars have such rich and interesting lore attached to them. A Lancaster isn't just a robust, heavily armed HE delivery system with an unusually capacious bomb bay, it's the machine that developed from the decidedly disappointing Manchester, breached the Möhne and Edersee Dams, and slew the Tirpitz. The plane comes with mountains of historical baggage and the more familiar you are with that baggage, the more rewarding the virtual version is to operate. Fingers-crossed DCI have plans - even modest ones - in this area. When I strap myself into a RogSys vessel for the first time it would be nice to know whether that vessel is cutting edge or past its prime, an unknown quantity or an old campaigner. What are its nicknames? How do my fellow pilots feel about flying it? What does it smell of? Help me believe, please.

In terms of campaign structure it sounds like DCI's sim has little to learn from its airy contemporaries. The military sortie sequence at the centre of the core module will combine randomly generated missions with scripted story-propelling jaunts. Results from the former will determine the selection of the latter. In theory we get the unpredictability of a simple dynamic campaign together with the narrative arc of something more rigid. Between outings there will be the chance to float? stroll? around an Orbital Station base interacting with squadron mates, overseeing repairs, and digesting briefings and debriefings. Bases will remain oases of calm until the second of three $15 expansion packs arrives, bringing with it breaching and FPS combat (Modules introducing open-ended entrepreneurial play and multiplayer are also on the cards).

For a simmer more familiar with wing warping than warp drives, one of the most eye-catching sections of the RogSys feature list is the section devoted to AI. Can Michael really deliver opponents that fly with the same FMs as the player, experiment with manoeuvres, run when things look bleak, and remember acts of bravery (fight gallantly one mission, and later an enemy pilot that was present may spare your life)? Having heard other devs discuss similar delights in the past, I think it would be sensible to leave the excitement switch cover in place for the present.

An impressive prototype ship, a clutch of tutorials, and a sheaf of tantalising plans... there isn't a great deal to Rogue System at the moment. Purchasing the early access build is an act of faith. If DCI fail to secure the funding necessary to build a bigger team then - and they're quite open about this - long delays or a 'Plan B' feature set may be the result. If the prospect of an austerity Rogue System fills you with horror, then you know what to do.



The Flare Path Foxer

The 'quick' version of last week's foxer (only available to members of the FP Platinum Club) included a snap of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, plus a pic of the flag of Liechtenstein. The standard version, partially defoxed by Matchstick, AFKAMC, billy_bunter, Rorschach617, zabzonk, phlebas and Arglebarf, incorporated a..

(Theme: Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein)

a Napier Sabre engine
b Royal Airlines aircraft (ICAO: ROY)
c Magna Carta seal
d POP rivet
e R.E.8 ('Harry Tate')
f The Rocket
g SM-64 Navaho
h Men of War: Condemned Heroes shortcut
i Lichtenstein radar antenna pattern diagram


Roman returned from his latest Grand Tour with a suitcase full of souvenirs and a gut full of Campylobacter. Though he's spent most of this week locked in the office water closet, he did find the time to turn nine of his holiday snaps into the following quiz. Your task today is to identify the pictured locations all of which feature a place, landmark or structure named after one of my Chief Foxer Setter's personal heroes.

All answers in one thread, please.

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