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The Flare Path: Things to Come (Part 2)

Pithy previews of approaching sims

Like that chap just to the left of the lady in the big hat in every Victorian crowd photo ever taken, the world of simulation refuses to stand perfectly still. During the next eleven and a half months a constant stream of the Globemasters that have served as the genre's storks since sector deregulation in 2003, will be touching down at Simulatia International eager to disgorge their cargoes of new titles, add-ons, upgrades, and patches. Read on for précis of some of the more noteworthy items due for delivery in 2017.

Wings Over the Reich

Old Brown Dog have spent the last twelve years tightening rigging wires and doping canvas. It looks like the next twelve may well be spent tuning Merlins and polishing perspex. Wings Over The Reich, a WW2-era sequel to the uncommonly dynamic, exceptionally evocative Wings Over Flanders Fields is in the works and could be ready as early as Q4 2017. Utilizing the same updated CFS3 code core as its forerunner, WOTR will tackle the 1939-45 Western Front air war in chunks, modules focused on the Battles of France and Britain paving the way for releases devoted to the Allies' day and night bombing offensives. WOFF owners can look forward to flyable fighters and bombers with higher polygon counts, sharper skins and improved damage models, and solo campaign odysseys every bit as rich and unpredictable as the ones they're accustomed to. Unscripted sorties will take place above a continent riven by shifting frontlines and dotted with cities that become increasingly ruined as VE Day approaches.

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Train Sim World

The FP crystal ball is in an optimistic mood this morning. It tells me the TSW launch in February will go like clockwork and that by midsummer users will be in a position to augment the original content – the Sand Patch Grade plus a driveable SD40-2 - with a high-quality British loco and route. Worries about unrealistic physics and dawdling framerates generated by the pre-Christmas public beta will prove unfounded. Fears that collectable hard hats and posters are the thin end of a frivolous wedge will have been quickly forgotten by players busy admiring scenery and weather effects, and enjoying themselves with new cold start complexities and the scenario-mocking power of the OMSI-style timetable mode.

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LOTUS Simulator

The five letters that make up 'LOTUS' stand for the five different forms of transport that will eventually co-exist in this potential OMSI replacement. Trams (T) and buses (O) are scheduled for the initial release, a release without an ETA at present, but one that, with nothing to go on except blind hope and the evidence of a couple of early videos, I'm going to predict will occur in late, very late, 2017. Empowered by a new engine, the teeming Berlin roads and swaying Berlin steeds that dominate the newcomer at launch shouldn't traffic-jam CPUs the way their OMSI equivalents could. The tech switch will also mean much friendlier modding and a true first/third-person mode for atmospheric vehicle changes and urban rambling. The interplay of superb physics and rich sounds was a key element in OMSI's magic. If LOTUS isn't as bewitching in these departments I'll be massively disappointed.

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Cold Waters

Through spray-flecked binoculars the due-in-July Cold Waters looks a lot like the Cold War sequel to Atlantic Fleet, a likeable dual-layer wargame with action elements that I first encountered last Feb. In fact Killerfish are striving for something far simmier this time out. There'll be no turns and no vehicle hopping in the Red Storm Rising-inspired CW. Although individual submarine stations (with the exception of the periscope) won't be modelled, rigorously simulated sensors and weaponry combined with real-time play should make for a decidedly simmy experience. In the past sonar models that acknowledge...

“thermal layers, surface ducts, shadow zones, convergence zones, propagation and transmission loss, ambient noise (based on sea state, rain, shallows and ice), bottom bounce, active sonar target aspect, flow noise, baffles, target masking, cavitation and transients. In addition, we model the various active, passive, towed array, dipping and sonobuoy equipment of the era with differing levels of sensitivity and thus detection ranges.”

...have come with screens and screens of confusing instrumentation attached. If things go according to plan, CW will be different, delivering realism without the attendant knob-twiddling and headaches. Baffles without bafflement? I can't wait.

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DCS World

Although DCS World's default map is set to get substantially prettier this year thanks to the coming 2.5 engine upgrade, rival attractions mean some series fans could end up spending very little time over the Caucasus. By April, the sim's Bf 109 K-4, Fw 190 D-9, P-51D Mustang and recently-made-available-in-beta-form Spitfire LF Mk. IX...

Cover image for YouTube video

...should have an appropriate soar space at long last. What the 'Normandy 1944' map and its attendant AFVs, trucks, trains etc, will do to framerates remains to be seen, but the latest batch of screenshots suggest dogfighting above the Allied bridgehead is going to be a breathtaking business.

The sim's under-nourished WW2 side will also benefit from damage modelling improvements on the cards for 2017, added precision making it much easier to reproduce the havoc wrought by relatively small projectiles like MG bullets.

And, naturally, the DCS jet set have stuff to look forward too. Stuff like a third-party AJS-37 Viggen and Harrier, the Early Access release of an F/A-18C Hornet, a Strait of Hormuz map, and various campaign DLCs.

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IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Kuban

While Krasnodar Krai and the Black Sea coast represent the past for DCS fliers, it represents the future for IL-2 Sturmovik ones. Before embarking for the Pacific the team behind IL-2 Sturmovik : Battle of Stalingrad, and Battle of Moscow, will assemble one more Eastern Front offering, Battle of Kuban. Due in December 2017 (though pre-purchasers will get their hands on much of the content far sooner) BoK will boast a mountain-sprinkled 165,000 square km map, a Rise of Flight-reminiscent career mode spanning seven months and three seasons of 1943, new forms of MP, and ten flyables including the A-20B and the Hs 129 - the Luftwaffe's equivalent of the Il-2.

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IL-2 Sturmovik: Shores of Cyrenaica

Apologies in advance. Having mentally christened Team Fusion's 'currently nameless Desert War mod' for IL-2: Cliffs of Dover 'Shores of Cyrenaica', I plan to continue using my title until the official one is announced and proves itself superior. Not that Team Fusion's currently nameless Desert War mod is a mod any longer. A few weeks ago the amateur tinkerers who have been skilfully realising CloDs untapped potential for the past five years, announced they had gained access to the source code through a partnership with IP-owners 1C.

Cover image for YouTube video

Reborn as Team Fusion Simulations, the collaboration means TF's patches will become an integral part of every CloD install, the sim will benefit from a DirectX 11 upgrade similar to the one that has recently boosted framerates in BoS/BoM, and 'Shores of Cyrenaica', beefed up with extra content like a flyable P-40, will appear sometime in late 2017 as project-sustaining payware rather than a free update.

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Steel Beasts Pro Personal Edition

Bumps. Lumps. Mounds. Trenches. Ditches. Furrows. Foxholes. Craters. Ruts. Scrapes. Knollettes. All things well-stocked contemporary armour sim SBPPE struggles to reproduce accurately at present. Last year's 4.0 engine upgrade was meant to introduce support for much finer terrain mesh, but performance issues meant the improvements were temporarily shelved. The changes are now scheduled for March and though they won't transform maps overnight (the cost of purchasing LIDAR-scan data for the game's reality-based sceneries is prohibitive) will help roads navigate slopes and buildings more naturalistically, and open the door for natty developments like procedurally generated elevation 'noise' and drainage ditches.

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When you hadn't heard from a WW2 sub for two months it was natural to fear the worst. With WIP WW2 sub sims unexpected silence doesn't always signify disaster. According to project director Neal Stevens pessimists shouldn't interpret the lack of recent dev updates at www.wolfpackgame.com as a sign that Skvader's genre-stretching co-op U-boat sim has been sent to the bottom by a diligent destroyer or lucky Liberator. Earlier this week Neal assured me that “Work is progressing, albeit slowly. Oscar has been designing the netcode for the Steam interface and lobby, and estimates internal testing next month. Once we get a few weeks at that stage, we can estimate our early release target.”

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This way to the foxer