There's a lot of news to pack into this week's Flare Path and 80% of it has wings. If you want to make yourself useful, start loading those crates marked FlightGear. Stack them neatly and there should be room for the sacks of Rise of Flight on top. I've got these boxes of X-Plane to stow, then I really need to get those barrels of Cliffs of Dover in out of the sun and lashed down. God knows where we're going to put the Achtung Panzer.
While rail sim marketers play tug-o-war with the abandoned Train Simulator name, the makers of civilian flight sims seem far less interested in cagily commandeering the Flight Simulator one. Austin Meyer is obviously keen to attract MSFS refugees, but he's resisted the temptation to burden the tenth iteration of X-Plane with superfluous/suggestive subtitles.
According to a recent Laminar Research announcement, X-Plane 10 should be lifting off around the time Donner, Blitzen & friends make their next hypersonic circumnavigation. If you've been following updates at www.x-plane.com you won't need telling that it's going to come with some impressive default aircraft, vastly improved lighting, and rather natty autogen towns.
Will angular mountain ranges and barren, crudely textured countryside let the side down? Will we finally get to fly skies busy with AI traffic? Will all the graphical advances turn your modest i5 rig into a carpet-scorching slide projector? At present I have absolutely no way of knowing, so won't do anything as irresponsible as predicting "A little", "Yes", and "At times"
Wind Tunnel Vision
One thing certain about the X-Plane release, is it will provoke a fresh round of X-Plane vs. MSFS flight modelling debates. Famously, X-Plane uses blade element theory to determine how its aluminium angels behave. Instead of relying on a mass of carefully researched aerodynamic data, the basic flight characteristics of X-Plane aircraft are determined by the actual shape of the 3D model. I'd always assumed this approach was unique, but returning to the newly revamped FlightGear - an open-source alternative to MSFS and X-Plane - I realise I was wrong.
Install FlightGear v2.4 and you don't only get access to a globe's worth of streamable scenery and a cavernous hangar of add-on aircraft, you get to choose between two very different flight simulation philosophies. The majority of FlightGear flyables utilise the default JSBSim FDM - a traditional data-driven dynamics engine also present in projects like the promising Outerra.
Some aircraft however, exploit YASim, a geometry-based X-Plane-esque approach. Which system produces the most realistic aircraft - the most believable aviation - is a very hot topic in FG circles. If you fancy forming your own opinion then I recommend testflights over western Brittany. While the majority of FG scenery will look primitive to FSX-accustomed eyes, Brest (LFRB/LFRJ/LFRL) and its surroundings, boast pleasing aerial image-based ground textures.
After my recent experiences with OMSI I'm more convinced than ever that simulations need strong sound more than they need strong visuals. If there is such a thing as aural visualisation (auralisation?) then my capacity for it is extremely limited. Luthier's latest development update on the official Cliffs of Dover forum, therefore made for happy reading/listening.
Due any minute now is a CloD beta patch featuring a massively improved sound engine. In addition to the kind of fly-by melodies that generally send me sprinting towards the garden, we're also getting another Me-109 variant, less strident landscape colours, and 'numerous fixes and improvements'. Hopefully one or two two of those improvements relate to AI and framerates. Despite coming a long way since its troubled launch, CloD is still a sim with issues.
Just who's to blame for those issues? If you believe the comments posted by 777 Studios' Jason Williams in a lively article reaction thread over at SimHQ, it's not current project lead Ilya 'Luthier' Shevchenko.
"Luthier is a long-time friend of mine and you are smearing him with no proof or knowledge of what really happened that caused the less than stellar release of CLoD. Oleg didn't hand Luthier anything. Luthier was asked by 1C to try to finish the project after Oleg was, depending who you talk to, relieved of duty by 1C or he quit 1C. You make the call. Luthier is making the best of a bad situation and he is a good guy and from what I can tell a good manager. My point is you can't blame him for the release or bad decisions that were forced upon him by others. He was given 12 months to correct 6 years of bad decisions made by others"
I tried to prise the true story of CloD's development from various 1C personnel during a press event in June. Beyond a tacit admission that feature creep and postponements had been a problem, a problem that ultimately Ubisoft called time on, my informants gave very little away. Asked why the project hadn't been self-published, they pointed out there were contractual ties with Ubisoft stretching back to Il-2 days (contractual ties that seem to include future add-ons). What did emerge from the conversation, was 1C's determination to turn CloD into the sim it was always meant to be.
Join the Circus
When he's not defending his pals on forums, Jason Williams is usually to be found overseeing the expansion and improvement of ace WWI air combat recreation Rise of Flight. Since I last clambered into this breezy masterpiece, it has been embellished in numerous tempting ways. For starters, the core sim is now priced at a very reasonable £0.0s.0d. There are hulking multi-crewble bombers amongst the constantly growing payware fleet too. Best-of all we SP diehards get to lose ourselves in a proper Red Baron 3D-style career mode.
Typical of the regular improvements is this week's patch. The new SPAD 7 must be purchased, but the bevy of extra historical squadrons in career mode, the hundreds of new skins, and host of other additions are yours for nowt. Expect more detailed RoF coverage over the coming months. I've neglected this gem for far too long.
Molotovs & Matildas
This was going to be an exclusively aerial Flare Path, but Graviteam have put paid to that by releasing a wargame demo that's as generous as it is delectable.
Weather the potentially confusing tutorial mode (stealthily locking GUI buttons is seldom a good idea) and an early dimly-lit skirmish or two (the demo op begins just before dawn) and this trial-sized chunk of Achtung Panzer: Operation Star begins to twinkle in a most enchanting fashion. The spacious snow-shrouded battlefields, inspired strat layer, and fastidious ballistics will be familiar to players of the original AP. Novelty for us veterans comes in the shape of the overhauled interface, the venue switch, and the clutch of new units.
During the last few hours I've fought some wonderfully fluid engagements, none of which owed their shape to scenario designers. I've been caught off-guard by strat map surprises. I've lost scurrying Bren Gun Carriers in forest ambushes. Hearing the rumble of approaching Panzers I've quaked on behalf of my depleted AT gun crews. If you download one wargame demo this year, it probably should be this one.