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The Flare Path: This One's For Dobbs

Simulation & wargame news

October 18, 1923. While watching sycamore keys twirl from trees in a Kiev park, a young engineer called Igor Sikorsky has an extraordinary idea. What if rotary motion could be used to dry damp laundry. That evening over beer and mushroom broth in a local hostelry, Igor describes his idea to hard-of-hearing colleague Wolfgang Helicopter. The rest is history.

This week is whirlybird week here on Flare Path. Beyond yonder text-horizon there's talk of two work-in-progress helo sims plus a video guide to stealing the soul of a P-51.

A Video Guide to Stealing the Soul of a P-51

Reviews of A2A Simulations' 'Accu-Sim' FSX add-ons have become increasingly pointless in recent years. This glimpse into the company's staggeringly forensic research approach illustrates why.

Watch on YouTube

Seeing all that passion and professionalism in action, it pains me to remember that A2A abandoned their plan to refurbish Rowan's MiG Alley and Microprose's B17: The Mighty 8th. Picture that P-51 chasing Focke-Wulfs through skies aglitter with Flying Fortresses. Imagine it rocket-laden and grimy, hunting T-34s by the Yalu River. After the disappointment that was Cliffs of Dover, the idea of revamping classic combat sims rather than building new ones from scratch, seems so so sensible.

On The Take

I finally got round to taking on the Take On Helicopters community preview yesterday, and despite the fact it features just one helo - the Hughes MD 500 - and no new real estate (you'll need Operation Arrowhead installed to use it) the dang thing stole most of my afternoon and evening.

The token test sortie - a low-level dash down some dusty Central Asian valleys - was quickly discarded. What kept me clamped to my stick was some surprisingly sophisticated flight modelling and a handful of self-made missions fashioned in the Factory of Fun that is the OA editor.

You have to hand it to BIS. They've done a very bold thing in a) venturing deep into traditional MSFS/X-Plane territory, and b) laying their WIP wares before knowledgeable chaps like Rubix and NightSta1ker. The Czechs are plainly keen to do the helo thing right. This is the ninth iteration of the community code. The readme reveals a string of feedback-inspired improvements covering everything from start-up procedures and gauge graphics to blade stall simulation and ground handling. I'm struggling to remember the last time a flight sim dev consulted so enthusiastically prior to a launch.

Though the taster doesn't provide answers to important questions like "Will a glimpse of downtown Seattle send framerates tumbling on average rigs? and "Are the NPCs going to be as charmless as the usual ARMA cast?" it does - to me at least - prove that the Real Virtuality engine and delicately modelled helicopters are a splendid combination. Simmers have, of course, had the chance to fly plausible choppers before. What we haven't had is the opportunity to fly them so close to such detailed terrain. When you find yourself checking an LZ for wandering chickens and fly-tipped washing machines, you know you're in new territory.

Most of my homebrew sorties involved collecting snipers from flat rooftops and cramped yards. Landing on these small rectangles of mud or tile without toppling into streets or tangling with street lamps, involved just enough challenge to keep the brow of this moderately experienced helo simmer beaded. As Rubix points out in his forum comments, details like ground effect are very nicely modelled. Cross a roof threshold and you find yourself needing to lower your collective as all that downforced air comes surging back up.

Hopefully, future community builds will show progress in two currently weak areas: damage modelling and audio. Right now the Hughes has a very small repertoire of engine notes and airframe creaks, and heavy impacts cause ARMA-style screen red-outs rather than buckled skids, cracked canopies, and distorted airframes.

Apache: Not Quite an Anagram of Panache

My own helo sim (Apache: NQAAOP) has been in the works for five years now, and all of that period has been spent coming up with the title. Three-man team Tricubic Studios have, happily, approached their own AH-64D project with a tad more professionalism.

Judging by the words and images on the dev blog and game site Combat-Helo won't be quite as pretty at low altitude as gaming's last AH- 64 offering but will piddle all over it in terms of realism and campaign freedom

When Richard 'Flexman' Hawley & co aren't arsing around bolting cameras to rotor blades...

Watch on YouTube

or being sidetracked by the construction of a flyable CH-47D...

"The Chinook is looking like it will be way more detailed and use more textures than the Apache. It could quite possibly be the single worst helicopter we could have chosen in terms of detail and technical difficulty"

...they are doing serious stuff like grappling with the complexities of radar, MFD and IHADSS modelling. While DCS: A-10C or Black Shark levels of arcanery are not on the cards, those left frustrated by Apache Air Assault's lack of heft - those that remember the glory days of Gunship! and Longbow 2 - should find plenty of avionic gristle to get their teeth into.

One thing Tricubic aren't busy with at present, is hand-crafting heaps of go-here-kill-that missions. Demonstrating admirable imagination and ambition, they've opted to go the tricky dynamic campaign route. Whether you choose to fly the Afghanistan-based counter-insurgency campaign, or the Iran-based tank-heavy one, every playthrough should be totally unique. Peruse the following description of the Afghan Campaign and tell me it doesn't sound like one of the most tantalising prospects in solo simming in years:

"In the COIN (counter-insurgency) campaign you're tasked with improving the local security situation and increasing popular support for the Afghan government. This is a faction driven scenario akin to a strategy game in which you play the role of a pilot. A simulated native population divided into local groups, using real-world statistics, insurgent activities in proportion to regional security levels are generated. Local security forces may be tasked, or ambushed, or just need escort. As an attack helicopter pilot you and your crew will be constantly tasked to provide support where needed. Your every action can potentially influence the balance of power and security."

There's no release date yet, and, as I understand it, the team are still weighing-up different distribution and product structure options (there's a possibility that new birds like the Chinook will arrive as Strike Fighters-style DLC). Whatever approach they settle on, I reckon Combat-Helo is going to kick-up plenty of dust when it finally touches down. A lot of the sim development old-guard will tell you that delivering realism and dynamic campaigns isn't economical. Three chaps with an AH-64D-shaped dream may be about to prove those killjoys wrong.

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Tim Stone