The Flare Path: Tomorrow's Chip Wrappers
Simulation & wargame news
In pre-RPS days The Flare Path came in leaflet form and was distributed by a fleet of low-flying Whitley bombers. It was a horribly wasteful and expensive business. It could be dangerous too. Several planes were lost in accidents and on one dreadful occasion in 1939 a Cornish district nurse went over a cliff edge on her bike after being blinded by a sheet of windblown sim and wargame news. Spare a thought for the unfortunate Miss Ivy Tregowan as you sit safe and sound perusing this week's selection of winged and warry stories. Beyond the jump: Black Shark 2 disquiet, a new simulation periodical, and a quick shufti at one of the finest free tactics titles around.
My marmalade-smothered breakfast toast usually travels from plate to mouth without stopping, passing Go, or collecting £200. This Thursday morn however, it stalled mid-journey. The unscheduled halt was prompted by unexpected news from Eagle Dynamics. Flight sim's premier
reviewer flummoxers avionics artisans announced the release of something called Black Shark 2.
A stealthily developed sequel to 2008's super-faithful Russian chopper sim? Really?
No. Despite what it says on the front of the UK box, Black Shark 2 isn't "an all-new combat flight simulation from the makers of Lock On". It's actually "a divisive payware update for Black Shark from the makers of Lock On". For $20 you get a new Georgian sortie sequence (Jane Austen and JDAMs together at last!) plus many of the engine improvements introduced in DCS: A-10C. Oh, you can also fly your Shark in the same sky as a mate's Hog.
On the sharkmouthed face of it, it doesn't seem too bad a deal, but many loyal fans don't see it that way. Narked at having to pay for a) engine advances they feel they've already purchased, and b) MP compatibility that was always meant to be at the heart of the DCS vision, unhappy punters are milling mutinously. It's an object lesson in how not to manage a sim franchise.
ED's back catalogue is a mess of overlapping and inter-operable sims. Instead of pursuing a logical Rise of Flight-style approach - funding development purely through optional DLC and retail bundles - they've muddied the waters by insisting loyal customers pay to synchronise the content they already own. Hopefully the furore will encourage a rethink or at the very least a clear statement of intent from ED. While I struggled with their last offering, the studio are one of the pillars of sim development, and it hurts to watch them making life difficult for themselves.
Here in Britain we have a wonderful institution called WHSmith. Established in 1825 by pioneering philanthropist Phil Anthropist (the current name was adopted after a takeover in 1932) branches of WHSmith allow people to read magazines at no cost in pleasantly cool/warm surroundings. Waiting for the bank to open? Kill time flicking through the current issue of Vintage Gasmask Monthly. Pursued by a particularly persistent chugger? Seek refuge among the glossy racks of Practical Organ Donor, Badger Baiting Today, and What Collander.
In a week or two's time WHSmith haunters should have a new publication to finger. The inaugural issue of World of Simulations is incoming and aimed squarely at folk that...
"love simulations - be it farming a field, flying a fast jet, driving a huge locomotive, diving in search of the Titanic, flying into space, parking a lorry, demolishing a building, performing surgery, working on the London Underground, competing in a Speedway Grand Prix, drilling for oil, delivering packages, driving a bus, digging, creating a nice garden, preventing traffic congestion, running a trucking company, keeping your streets clean, running a Police force, collecting garbage, offloading ships..."
Hopefully the mag won't be written by the same person that penned the press release. Hopefully it won't restrict itself to those suspiciously specific subjects either. That list is worryingly similar to Excalibur Publishing's current range. Given Excalibur are the power behind the publication, cynics could be forgiven for thinking that World of Simulations is just a camouflaged advertising tool for the UK's most enthusiastic Euro-sim evangelists.
If WoS is to be taken seriously by savvy simmers like me, you, and that bloke over there in the SimSig t-shirt, it must attempt to cover the full gamut of sims. If, a few issues in, there's been no mention of genre gems like OMSI and OpenBVE, then readers are going to be slinking off in droves in search of more even-handed coverage.
The writers of WoS could do worse than use the flight-sim mags as templates. It's a while since I picked up a copy of Computer Pilot (the latest issue of which is currently available as a free pdf) but PC Pilot with its mix of detailed reviews, instructional content, and illuminating input from real fliers, is always worth a read. Have Excalibur got the guts to print a Tube driver's take on World of Subways 3 or a six-page comparison of Bus & Cable Car Simulator and OMSI? We shall see.
Every Thursday evening, the Flare Path UAV does a couple of circuits over Armored Brigade HQ in the hope of spotting signs of a campaign system, a WW2 mod, or a multiplayer mode. This free top-down wargame serves up cracking Cold War skirmishes but at present all the scraps are self-contained Eighties affairs against AI opposition.
Finnish creator Juha Kellokoski is far from idle though. Since I last pushed platoons of T-72s towards worryingly quiet hamlets, and watched wedges of trundling M113s get turned into echelons of trundling M113s by hovering Hinds, he's allowed users to add knobbly Terragen-generated landscapes to the game. He's also tweaked the random battlefield generator to ensure richer and more resonant real-estate.
In the current beta build (0.7113) you can find yourself leapfrogging platoons from shelterbelt to shelterbelt, and scurrying vulnerable AFVs towards field-edge tree lines when the Saggers start flying. Tweaked nightvision code and accuracy algorithms mean close assault and low-visibility engagements feel more convincing. Returning after a long absence, I find I'm still blown away by the power and the simplicity of the GUI (thankfully closer to Close Combat than CMBN) and mesmerised by the sight of tiddly AT missiles bimbling towards distant targets. Equipped with a scenario editor and MP, I suspect Armored Brigade could whip any wargame in its class.