Skip to main content

The Flare Path: Tomcats, Tigers, & Treason

Simulation & wargame news

Tomorrow morning at daybreak, the Flare Path is being executed for treason. His nosey neighbour, Mr Geoff Himmler, spotted him placing 2p coins on the railway line at the bottom of the garden, and informed the authorities. The next thing FP knew, he was sat in a dingy cell in the Tower of London with nothing but a laptop, a tin of alphabetti spaghetti, and a Dangerous Waters manual for company. After reading the alphabetti spaghetti and eating the Dangerous Waters manual, the condemned man has decided to spend his final hours sharing Achtung Panzer tips and disseminating news of upcoming train, bus, and jet sims.

There are six steam locomotives in the Flare Path sidings. Name the locos to win FP points made from Sir Nigel Gresley's kidney stones.

Bear Baiting

According to a recent forum post over at, Tsuyoshi Kawahito is currently working 140-hour weeks. The chap behind combat flightsim greats such as European Air War and combat flight sim OKs such as Strike Fighters and First Eagles, is afterburnering the candle at both ends, in a desperate attempt to get you - Mr. I-Love-Jet-Sims-But-Find-Falcon-4.0-and-DCS:A-10C-too-labour-intensive - a new aerial diversion set Somewhere Near Iceland in the late Seventies and early Eighties.

I was hoping to wring some hard Strike Fighters 2: North Atlantic facts out of TK for this post, but the man appears wring-proof, so it looks like I'll have to speculate instead. Going on past experience of Third Wire creations and the images galleried here, SF2NA will be as pretty as it is personable. If you want the thrills of post-WW2 sky duels, but don't fancy the hours of pdf poring that go with an ED product, or the compromises and codswallop that go with a Ubisoft one, then this is a sim you might want to padlock.

The last time I flew a Strike Fighters campaign (Wings Over Vietnam, I think it was) I remember enjoying the unpredictability that came with randomly generated sorties and shifting frontlines, but finding the presentation and ambience a little desiccated. Like a lot of contemporary sim-smiths TK seems more interested in fabricating airframes and capturing the drama of dogfighting and mudmoving, than fiddling with the sort of inter-sortie fluff that makes a pilot feel like he's part of a living, breathing squadron.

The depiction of soil and sea, another of the series' weaker areas, certainly seems to have improved of late. Watching mortally wounded Badgers and Bears plummet towards those fetching snow-capped Icelandic peaks, and Kirov battlecruisers sink below that nicely ruffled Atlantic, will be a pleasure.

As usual, it looks like the targets will all be Soviet-made. Third Wire's reluctance to provide flyable MiG's and Sukhois, means SF2NA will be the latest of their creations to ship with a unilateral campaign. True, such limitations are offset by the series' famous modability, but I for one would appreciate the chance to fly for Brezhnev as well as Reagan. Doing the bidding of Thatcher might be interesting too. Here's hoping for Fleet Air Arm or RAF-themed DLC.


Public Transport Prospects

Geoff Himmler is FP's neighbour-on-the-right. His neighbour-on-the-left, Rebecca Teacakes, is a much pleasanter individual. She regularly leans overs the rickety fence between the two properties, with armfuls of garden produce and sim-related gossip. Just yesterday she told FP that Run 8, fabricators of numerous well-regarded Microsoft Train Simulator add-ons, were working on their own standalone train sim. There's not a lot to see at the moment, but that detailed cab and moody Mojave vista suggests Train Simulator 2012 may have a little companionship/competition by the end of the year.

Rebecca also pointed FP towards this thread in the Deutsche section of the OMSI forum. OMSI with its profoundly tactile doubledeckers, and improbably atmospheric Spandau streets, was one of 2011's very best sims, and the news that one of its two creators - Marcel Kuhnt - is working on a new vehicle type, is more than a little exciting.

The public servant in question is an articulated MAN NG272. Bendy buses have featured in other sims, but it's a fairly safe bet that an official OMSI version will make those treatments feel, look, sound and (probably) smell like outrageous frauds. M-R-Software are as serious about capturing the souls of their subjects as A2A, eSim, or Eagle Dynamics.


Panzer Primer

Like a SdKfz 232 armoured car with the jackboot of a dead driver jammed on its accelerator pedal, dawn is fast approaching. If I don't get a move on, I'll be hung, drawn, and quartered (the standard punishment for deliberately damaging a likeness of Her Majesty's head) before I've had the chance to enthuse about Graviteam's exemplary after-sales service.

Since I Wot I Thinked the wunderbar Achtung Panzer: Operation Star, the Eastern Front lovely has had its loveliness bolstered in numerous ways. Thanks to a series of patches and updates, we now have a new maps to fight over, light vehicles are now much less likely to tangle tragically with timber, the Germans are better dressed, and - this one's a biggy - the game's gloriously fluid operations now involve up to 250% more war machines and warriors.

Yesterday I witnessed a night-time battle that almost defies description. I was attacking Russian positions along a mile-long front and within ten minutes of the start almost the entire length of that front was aglow with criss-crossing tracer and flaming vehicles. Where-ever you looked something extraordinary was happening. Men bundling out of halftracks and skirmishing their way through burning hamlets. Men cowering in slit trenches as artillery barrages smashed AT guns and flipped armoured cars. Panzers desperately attempting to extricate themselves from unexpected encounter with T-34s. In terms of spectacle, it was one of the most breathtaking things I've seen in 30 years of PC wargaming. More importantly, thanks to the spaciousness of the venue, and the unpredictability of the dynamic AI, it was also tactically fascinating - a furious (but plausible/pausable) cataract of hard choices and on-the-hoof re-plans. If your inner Doubting Tomas is still preventing you from taking the plunge with APOPSTAR, I'm more than happy to come round and hold a Tokarev to his head.

The arrival of decent English-language documentation has ensured the game's powerful yet idiosyncratic interface is a lot easier to get to grips with. That said, there's still plenty of snow-filled rabbit holes waiting to turn the ankles of the unsuspecting. Hence my...

Stuff That I Wish I'd Known During My First Week With Achtung Panzer: Operation Star

1. My tank has a mind of its own. It never seems to go where I send it!

Vehicular disobedience is usually a consequence of using the line formation. If you want your armoured asset to go exactly where you click be sure to use 'column' or 'free formation'.

2. When my line of infantry reaches its destination it refuses to orientate itself in the direction I click-dragged.

Unfortunately, click-dragging in APOPSTAR doesn't work the way it does in Total War. It seems to have been included primarily to allow lines of troops to move to a destination in echelon fashion. To encourage a squad to line up along a fence or tree-line, slap down a preliminary waypoint (shift + right-click) perpendicular to the terrain feature. As the alignment of a squad at a destination is determined by the angle between the last two waypoints in its route, this extra point should leave them nicely positioned.

To encourage troops to enter buildings or trenches at a destination move them with the defend order.

3. My troops are in position, but they all seem to be looking the wrong way.

This one's in the tactics manual but it's worth reiterating. To change the direction of a static vehicle or shift an infantry squad's focus, use the sector button. An arc under 15 degrees functions as a turn command rather than an 'only engage stuff in this sector' command.

4. Why isn't that AT gun firing?

Bushes and fences can blind and blinker ambushers so sometimes it pays to send a vehicle or gun forward to push down down potential obstructions.

5. The binoculars seem awfully unwieldy.

The trick with the binoculars is to hold down the Tab key rather than simply pressing it. This allows you to move a green focussing rectangle onto the area of the screen you'd like to examine in detail.

Read this next