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The Flare Path: This and That

Sim and wargaming wordage

The mighty Tirpitz spent most of her short life skulking in Norwegian fjords. Fuel shortages and Kriegsmarine caution meant she never braved the Denmark Strait or traded shells with a truly worthy opponent. To get a feel for what the Bismarck's sister ship might have achieved had she been employed more aggressively, you need a game like Command of the Sea.


A work-in-progress WW2 warship sim of startling scale and ambition, CotS aims to combine first-person ship control with vast venues, dynamic weather, and realistic gunnery. Two years into the project, the devs are now in a position to announce, with confidence, that their dreams are technically realisable:

“We’ve built a small (~100 000 km²) digital copy of the world, covering Spitsbergen, Norway, Germany, Italy, parts of Africa and Antarctica. We’ve created a reproduction of Sun, Moon & Star movements between 1939 and 1945, we’ve created a playable & walkable Ship (Tirpitz), we’ve created primitive, self-navigating AI Ships and a visual sensor for AI Players and we have a primitive weather & ocean system.  So we’re confident now that this project is doable if we get enough support from you and our community.”


The next step is gathering, via Patreon, the funds necessary to build a Bismarck-focussed tech demo with complete North Sea coastlines and bathymetry, and the odd RN vessel to vie with. Later, a pre-alpha will further extend the map, increase the variety of AI ships, and introduce aircraft and basic NPC crewmen. One day, if all goes well, CotS should allow us to prowl the Pacific, and swap naval behemoths for smaller, nippier, or stealthier craft...

"In short, we’d like to cover the whole earth as a stage for naval warfare, we’d like to have playable Battleships, Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers, Submarines, Torpedo Boats and as opponents a smart AI that commands fleets, convoys & reconnaissance."


Although words are cheap and anyone can dream Bismarck-big, the fact that the sim already boasts a recognisable Tirpitz able to move and molest...

..means Command of the Sea should be safe from the saddle charges and Tallboys of doubters for the time being.


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Last Friday night I found myself on the two-tone air horns of a devilish dilemma.

Option A) Spend the weekend riding and watching trains at a real heritage railway diesel gala.

Option B) Spend the weekend driving and watching trains at a simulated heritage railway diesel gala.

Although Option A was almost twice as costly as Option B, the lure of summer sunshine and the chance to see and 'bash' exotica like a far-from-home Class 26 proved irresistible in the end. The latest Train Sim World DLC lost out to the Watercress Line's annual celebration of mellifluous diesel-electrics.

After a weekend of sublime Sulzer-skylark duets, West Somerset Railway is, I suspect, going to sound pretty disappointing when I finally get round to trying it. While Dovetail's loco and landscape shapers look to have done a reasonably good job with the add-on's 20-mile route and two driveables (Class 47 and 09) nothing I've read in community forums thus far, suggests the Chathamites have upped their game significantly in the audio, physics or quality control departments. For every contented customer on the forums, there's one grumbling about feeble sound effects and obvious bugs.


Their patience worn thin by a year of painfully slow progress in crucial areas like modability and throttle behaviour, it's hardly surprising some long-suffering Train Sim World users reacted grumpily when, last Friday, the TSW 'Big Reveal' Dovetail had been teasing via Twitter turned out to be a massively underwhelming announcement about console plans rather than exciting news of editors, steam locos, physics improvement, or multiplayer.

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Three expansions plumper that it was at launch, Byzantine Games' deliciously febrile Field of Glory II still relies on slightly limp linear battle sequences for its long game. Released yesterday, the game's third add-on, Age of Belisarius, has a feature list that promises more novelty than it delivers.


One extremely close-run victory into a Frankish campaign (Clovis, my biggest wig, ended the scrap ringed by enemy units) I'm already hankering for a cellular strat map... a less monotone AI... the odd orc... something to ruffle FoGII's entertaining but now rather familiar rhythms.

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Like today's Flare Path, the recently Steam-catapulted DCS: F/A-18C Hornet is “the culmination of more than 40 man years of intense research [and] technology development”. Unlike today's FP, it costs £60, should provide months of entertainment, and comes with a pdf manual that makes The Gulag Archipelago look like The Tiger Who Came to Tea.


In development for longer than its McDonnell Douglas-made maquette, the DCS World 2.5 Hornet still has a way to go before it's complete. Yet-to-be-coded sensors and weapons leave the current 'Open Beta' aircraft seriously compromised in the BVR department - something that doesn't seem to be a huge concern for users currently getting to grips with carrier ops...

cold start procedures...

and co-op combat over the simultaneously released and similarly well-received Persian Gulf map...

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If you liked the idea of Overlordy but found its pace too hectic, its premise somewhat implausible, and its opposition criminally short of guile, keep an eye on the GrogHeads forums in the coming weeks. Jim Owczarski, the site's resident Napoleonics expert, is contemplating commencing another PBEM 'Kriegsspiel' marathon. Reliant on a labour-intensive board game for its rules, and thirteen human players for its shape and momentum, the last game spent over eighteen 21st Century months simulating nine days of 19th Century action.

Jim's dalek-dotted AAR vids tell the story of those nine days with real panache.

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Next year's Communal Combat Mission turn reports may well include moving images, and there's a good chance those moving images will feature either Bradleys or Brazilians. As Battlefront.com's Steve Grammont explains in the following short Q&A, the studio is about to release a revamped version of CM: Shock Force and a Fortress Italy module boasting, amongst other things, representatives of the other BEF.


RPS: What are Battlefront's priorities at present?

Steve: Our immediate priority is to get CMSF2 out the door to waiting customers. We’re very close and, in fact, should be opening up preorders very soon with our heavily discounted CMSF1 Upgrades available upon release. The process of bringing CMSF1 up to current Game Engine 4 standards reminded us why we didn’t do it before now. But we’re very, very happy with how it’s turned out.


After that, we need to get back to finishing CMFI Rome to Victory (R2V), which was put on hold while we concentrated on CMSF2. It’s very far along so I expect it will be out late summer.


Next up is the first Module for CM Red Thunder, which has been under active development for quite a while already.


RPS: I wasn't expecting to see Brazilian forces in Rome to Victory. What persuaded you to model the BEF?

Steve: The various Allied nations that operated in Italy were largely based on standard formations which we already have. This lowered the barrier for entry, so to speak. However, once we got into it we found that each nation had more quirks than we expected and they were significant enough to upset our concept of duplicate existing stuff and tweak it into shape. In hindsight it would have been quicker and less painful to have created each nation from scratch right from the start. Though if we had foreseen that we probably wouldn’t have included all the forces we did.  So Brazilians are in mostly because we goofed!


RPS: I understand the NZ Army had been assessing CM: Black Sea as a potential PME tool. Did those trials lead anywhere and have any other militaries shown an interest in CM recently?

Steve: Yes and yes! We have a small contract with them for a customized version of Black Sea. It’s already in their hands, though we have to do the training scenarios for them as soon as CMSF2 is out the door. At present there are no plans to make this commercially available.


RPS: Are commission charges the primary reason the post-CMBO Combat Missions still aren't available through Steam, GOG.com, etc?

Steve: Ah, the Steam thing. I’ve had dozens of debates with hardcore Steam fans over the years and I can lay out all rational and evidence based arguments against us being on Steam and in the end, despite no counter factual arguments, we get called “stupid” or “backwards”. At best some Steam fans admit that we might have a point but we should risk everything and give it a try anyway, despite me just having argued that we could go out of business doing that. If the people arguing so strongly in favor of Steam had any experience in the game industry other than buying games they’d probably see things differently.


The primary Steam fan argument is based on the premise that being exposed to Steam’s huge customer base assures us we’d sell at least 50% more games (that’s what is required to break even on Steam’s cut of the action). However, this is not a sure thing. First of all because the vast bulk of the Steam customer base hates games like ours, which means the bulk of what Steam has to offer us (tons of customers) has zero practical value to us. Of those who might like to buy Combat Mission, in order to do so they have to first find out about it, which is extremely difficult given how Steam is structured. Steam had 7,600 new game added last year alone, many of which are listed in the same categories we fall under even though they are vastly different games. Therefore, to get noticed we’d have to hire someone to manage and market our games within Steam, which means we have to sell even more games just to break even. I know of one wargame company that has 6 people dedicated to managing their Steam presence and they still struggle with it. Anybody who says moving to Steam is a “no brainer” clearly isn’t well informed.


Now, having said that we do want to be on Steam. Aside from the real risk of it killing us, what’s there not to like about it? As soon as we figure out how to stack the risk/reward equation more in favor of reward than risk, you’ll see Combat Mission on Steam. Not before.


RPS: Putting together the Overlordy scenario required a little lateral thinking as CMBO doesn't include beach terrain. Were there philosophical reasons for that absence of sand or was it purely a practical decision?

Steve: Both practical and philosophical. Practical because putting in beaches would create expectations for D-Day landing scenarios. A very reasonable expectation, I should say!  From the practical side it would have required a lot of effort to make beach landings realistic and fulfilling.  With all the things we had competing for our development time, beach landings weren’t at the top of our list. The primary reason for that is philosophical. In our view a limited range of units fighting over an extremely small strip of monotonous terrain over and over again is something we feel most players would grow bored of fairly quickly. And that’s even if we did everything “right”! Or philosophy has always been, and will always be, to not divert our limited resources into things which offer a low return on investment in the eyes of our customers. Similar to why we don’t have airborne drops.


RPS: One Overlordy reader took exception to me calling the Jagdpanzer 38 a 'Hetzer'. Where do you stand on the issue and has unit nomenclature ever caused you headaches?

Steve: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody question the use of “Hetzer” in our games. There’s plenty of other nomenclature that people take issue with, especially the names associated with US tank destroyers. King Tiger, of course, is another big bone of contention with some people. In the end it really doesn’t matter what we call this or that because customers will think of it the way they are used to. Distancing ourselves from well established, long accepted terms doesn’t do anybody any favors even if we can claim some sort of Grog moral high ground. That said, I’m happy “Schmeisser” has seemingly gone out of fashion! That one truly bugged me!

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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Tim Stone