It's that time of the week again, that time when Shermans and StuGs stop squabbling, Albatrosses and Camels play football together in no-man's-land, and rust-streaked U-boats sidle up to exhausted Victory Ships and start nuzzling them like thirsty calves. The Flare Path has been lit, and today its flickering rectangular finger points towards an important flight sim demo, some classified campaign intel, a festival of formation flying, and a sim studio not too proud to beg.
Combat Mission Compromised
You know that long, straight road between the village of St. Monty and Lousy-Avec-Krauts? I was walking down it the other day, when I happened upon a strafed German staff car. On the back seat was a dead Generalfeldmarschall clutching the following blood-stained document...
Combat Mission: Battle For Normandy: Commonwealth Forces Campaign Plans
“There will be 2 campaigns in this module, one played from the Allied side and one from the German. They are both semi-historical, in the sense that they are close to real events and use real formations found in the area at the time. However some liberties were taken to make them more interesting and varied.
The British campaign - 'The Scottish Corridor' (working title) - will focus on the actions of the 9th Cameronians and the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (ASH) during Operation Epsom. It will feature around 15 missions, depending on results.
One of the ideas behind this campaign was to include as much of the Commonwealth kit as possible so that the player could fight hugely diverse missions and get a taste of everything the module contains. With this in mind, the Cameronian outings are more combined arms and feature the heavies, Churchills and Sherman Fireflies, while the ASH missions are much lighter, infantry-centric affairs involving lighter AFVs like armoured cars and Bren Gun carriers.
The German campaign will feature the 2nd Panzer Division in the Falaise Pocket, and is semi-historical. The Falaise Pocket was chosen because it provides some unique opportunities for an exciting campaign with mixed German unit types. The player begins with a company-sized Kampfgruppe for his core force. This Kampfgruppe has a little bit of everything within it; it's a self-contained and self-sufficient battle unit cobbled together from shattered remains of battalions within the regiment. As the player progresses, he gets the opportunity to add unique forces - a section of engineers, a Lynx, a pair of King Tigers etc.
Opposition will be diverse. The player can expect to encounter the US 90th Infantry Division, and Canadian and Polish forces. Battles will have a focus on mobility. Even defensive scenarios will require deft movement - a fighting withdrawal under crushing attack, defending a sector with too few troops, and the like.
In addition to the campaigns there will also be more than 20 stand alone missions using all the forces in the module in many different situations. We also p[the remaining text was obscured by blood]”
The Show Must Go On
It will be interesting to see whether the ersatz Red Arrows performing tonight in the7th Virtual Festival of Aerobatic Teams incorporate a tribute to Jon Egging and Sean Cunningham in their routine. Frankly, I'd be surprised if they didn't. You can't spend weeks training for one of flight simulation's most demanding tasks – multiplayer formation flying - without gaining deep respect for the people that do it for real.
The line-up this year is impressive. Teams are jetting in from every corner of Simulatia. As usual, LOMAC and IL-2 are the preferred engines, and live coverage of the thrills and spills can be accessed through www.virtual-airshows.com. Flights commence this evening at 17.00 GMT and continue through the weekend.
I could watch
flocks flights charms exaltations of synchronised Hawks and Falcons all day, but if Flare Path ever organised a fake flight show, the jet displays would be interspersed with cruder entertainments.
Flare Path Simkhana 2012 (preliminary schedule)
- 12.00 - Barnstorming demo (FS2004)
- 12.30 - Helo topiary with Sergey Privetov (Black Shark 2)
- 12.55 - Bahn-storming demo (IL-2)
- 13.15 - Flypast by 100 wingsuitists (B.A.S.E.)
- 13.30 - The Nathan Zachary & Jonathan 'Genghis' Kahn Showcase (Crimson Skies)
- 14.00 - Doodlebug tipping demo (IL-2)
- 14.25 - Flypast by NASA 747 with piggyback Space Shuttle (X-Plane 10)
- 14.40 - MH-6 spec-ops insertion (Arma 2)
- 15.15 - Flypast by 200 Tufted Ducks (Bird Hunter 2003)
- 15. 35 - Grand Finale - Nuclear Strike (F-22 Lightning III)
Hmm. Mr Brunton, my old geography teacher, was right - I am an incorrigible wastrel. I'd set aside three hours for a thorough X-ploration of the X-Plane 10 demo and, somehow, have managed to spend most of that time arsing around with the NASA Jumbo over downtown Seattle. My undoing was inventing 'Needle The Shuttle'. To play this emergent timewaster you take-off from SeaTac (the demo scenery is confined to Washington State), fly north, releasing your outsized pillion passenger so that it glides towards a crash-landing as close as possible to the base of the Space Needle.
In addition to letting you loft orbiters at landmarks, the 3GB trial allows you to see, hear, and feel what Laminar Research have been up to for the last four years. Most eye-catching of the improvements is the new autogen scenery. The orthophoto-despising Mr Meyer promised a while back that..
“We will build every city UP FROM THE FIRST BLADES OF GRASS.
We will start off with grass or field textures for THE ENTIRE WORLD, INCLUDING THE CITIES, and then build up from THAT. We will take each individual parking lot and place it on top of the grass. We will place each building on the parking lot, in 3-D. At no point will the PAINTING of the ROOF of a building appear on the ground. This will NEVER happen. EVERY building will be a real 3-D building, planted by an algorithm in a location that is at least physically possible. Do we know where every building on earth is? Of course not. But, we DO have incredibly detailed road databases, and we have the algorithms to place parking lots, sidewalks, buildings, etc all alongside these countless roads. This means that our artificially-intelligent city-planning algorithm will build PLAUSIBLE cities. Cities where you would fly over them at 5 miles per hour, 10 feet above the ground, in a helicopter, and NEVER see anything that looks 'impossible'. Everything will be completely 3-D. Every city built from the first blade of grass. There will be no discoloration, blurriness, satellite mis-alignment or 2-D Escher-illusions… all of the cities will be completely plausible.”
He appears to have been as good as his word and, give or take the odd electricity pylon cluster, the results are rather snazzy. Compared to another representation of Seattle I've spent a lot of time peering down at recently, there's a more regimented feel and far fewer trees and bespoke structures, but low down you do see the benefits in terms of credible highway and rail spaghetti and clean blur-free textures. If you're an aviator that likes to stay close to the deck and navigate with the help of a road atlas, X-Plane 10 looks like just the thing.
Of course, a pure autogen system depends heavily on the quality of its base textures, the regional sensitivity of its building models, and the sophistication of its land-use data. As a resident of a nation that always manages to look unrecognisable in vanilla MSFS, it will be interesting to see how X-Plane 10 copes with Britain's haphazard towns and higgledy-piggledy countryside.
The demo deactivates your joystick and places a nag message on the screen after ten minutes, but save, shut down, restart then reload and you're back in business.
Ooh, I've just thought of another demo diversion! Seattle Sky Sprint. Starting on the ground at SeaTac, you must try to put as much distance as possible between yourself and your start point before the curtain falls. I suspect the SR-71 Blackbird or the FA-22 Raptor is the plane to use for that one.
As usual with X-Plane, there's a good number of aircraft to try, but not all are finished to quite the same standard. At one end of the quality spectrum you've got old-timers like the 777 with its FS98-style silhouette and missing virtual cockpits, at the other you've got lookers like the new 747 with its switchtastic flightdeck and nightmare-seeding WC denizen.
What else did I notice while hurling reusable spacecraft at hyperdermic tourist attractions? Ah yes. Over my radio I could hear the halting instructions of an interactive air-traffic controller guiding other fliers. Thanks to a new AI and ATC system, users can now near-miss up to 20 computer-controlled aircraft. That's not a busy firmament by FSX standards, but X-Plane 10's NPCs (non-player crates) use the same super-high fidelity flight modelling as your own steed so more planes would mean a potentially significant framerate hit.
Regular readers of this column (and by 'this column' I mean Flare Path in general, not just today's selection of stories) will know that the only thing in this World I hate more than circumlocution is long-windedness. If a thing can be said in three words then, by God, Harry, and St. George, let it be said in three words, not four, six, eight, eleven, thirteen, nineteen, or twelve .
Fellow campaigners for concision will understand the wave of horror né dismay né horror that washed over me on reading the following rambling, not to say downright discursive begging letter from 777 Studios - the developer responsible for the World War One aerial combat simulation verbal economists such as myself usually refer to as Rise o' Flight.
As the end of 2011 approaches we want to send a sincere message to all of our friends and supporters and give you a candid and honest update on where we stand and what we want to accomplish in the future for Rise of Flight and 777 Studios. First, we want to say THANK YOU to all who have supported us with your kind words of encouragement, your hard work, your amazing content contributions and important monetary support in 2011. It’s a simple fact; we could not have made it this far without you. The current state of our product is a direct reflection of your dedication to the flight-sim hobby and your love for Rise of Flight. Again, to all of our supporters out there in the flight-sim community, thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts!
As you know, ROF is a labor of love from a devoted team of developers. We wake up every day with one simple goal in mind – to make ROF better! The past two and a half years since its release has been a challenging journey for all of us and we are proud of what we have accomplished so far. We never ever stopped working to improve ROF even in the toughest of times. ROF has evolved into an epic flight-sim despite her critics and persistent cynics. We’ve endured changes in ownership, gone months without pay, been let down by big name investors, mistreated by distributors and dismissed by major retailers. We have been and still are the underdog in this crazy, niche industry. If it weren’t for our steadfast supporters and some special help in the gaming media, we would be long gone and ROF would be another incomplete flight-sim failure. However, even though we have accomplished a lot, the war, the battle for survival is far from over and we STILL need your help.
We’ve tried to think outside the box, to do things differently in the flight-sim industry, to give us a real chance to make ROF something special. Overall, this approach has worked pretty well to keep us moving forward, had we not tried a new approach we would have been done two years ago. Fortunately, the ROF community has responded positively to our way of doing things and we are thankful to God for it. However, for us to make sure we can be here next autumn talking about more new features for ROF we need your continued help and support. We send you this message, not out of desperation or frustration, but out of DETERMINATION to make ROF the best sim possible and beat the odds. We’re simply not done yet and more unique features are in development. Pilot scarves, streamers and pilot pistols are currently in development along with other announced features such as searchlights, improved AI and even more fascinating aircraft for you to fly plus a new stats system and many other fixes and improvements.
However, as with any product, sales fluctuate, some customers lose interest and other gaming products compete for your time. This is to be expected and is part of business, but for a special, niche product like ROF this can spell disaster. We have never had a big budget and we operate a very modest studio. What we lack is the capital to make certain long term development commitments and investments so we can tell you with high confidence that we can accomplish difficult development goals for you. What we need is more time. Every dollar you send our way, buys us more time to develop new features or fix lingering issues. For instance, we’d love to disconnect the Career from the online requirement, develop a Multiplayer chat lobby and research more cool technologies, but these efforts take valuable time and in many cases special hardware and resources. Efforts like correcting old flight models and tweaking the Career mode also takes a lot of time, resources and manpower from our small team. It’s a never ending battle for perfection, but we love doing it and we love it when we see how pleased our customers become after a successful result. We read the forums, your PMs and your emails, we know what you want and we want to be able to give it to you.
That brings us to our special request for this Christmas season. Our current customer base has the power to propel us well into 2012 and beyond. For example, if 70% of all ROF users made a purchase of just $7 this Q4’ we would have enough money to fund development for an entire year! Our wish for this Christmas season is for all ROF fans to help buy us more time to make ROF even better. We know times are tough right now, the world economy stinks, but if you have the means and love ROF, please consider a purchase from our store this Christmas season. We know many of you make regular purchases and support us every single month. Your purchases do not go unnoticed and are always appreciated. Some of you go above and beyond the call and buy Gifts for your friends. It’s amazing to watch this generosity unfold, but the hard reality is that we need your continued support this Christmas season. As always, in return for your continued support we will work to improve ROF for you every single day rain, snow or shine. That is our promise to you.
In appreciation of our awesome community and in the spirit of the Christmas season, we are running a special contest for the next 30 days. Each day from Nov. 25th to Dec. 25th we will randomly select two winners from our user database. One daily winner will be a Free2Play/Demo user who has not upgraded his or her copy yet and we will award them a free ROF:ICE Demo Upgrade! The other daily winner will be drawn from our database of users who have already purchased a retail copy, bought an upgrade or an airplane from our store. These winners will be given a credit of $30 to be used in the ROF Store! We hope this contest brings some holiday flight-sim cheer to you the ROF community.
Again, we want to say THANK YOU to ALL of you who have supported us and helped us make ROF better and better in this long, busy year. We look forward to continuing the journey with you.
Warmest Regards this Holiday Season,
Lads, for future reference all you really needed to say was: