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The Flare Path: UNITA Play This

Simulation & wargame blather

last year I gave up commas for lent this year ive decided to go the whole hog apologies in advance if this makes following the following difficult following a reluctant name change achtung panzer is now graviteam tactics rather than sulk the dispossessed devs have chosen to embrace the timelessness of their new moniker by releasing an add on set in eighties angola after a brief beat around the bush war i scamper off to waylay russell davis a man who is to atc simulation what jonas savimbi was to guerilla warfare

hmm i can see this punctuation fast fast becoming annoying as its one of gods busiest days of the year I doubt hell notice if i take a couple of hours off.

Deploying that full stop felt good. Almost as good as smashing an Olifant-heavy UNITA/SADF assault with a perfectly timed T-55 counter-thrust.

Achtung Panzer is dead, long live Graviteam Tactics! Displaying characteristic pluck and quirk, the folk behind a wargame series that conveys the swirling uncertainties of 20th Century battle better than any other I know, have just packed their pride-and-joy off to southern Africa. If you've played Steel Armor: Blaze of War or happen to be an Angolan, Cuban, Russian or South African veteran Operation Hooper's vast Cuito Cuanavale map may ring bells. For most, however, the scrubby stage and the scurrying war-ants upon it are likely to seem decidedly strange.

This is not a T-34.

This is not a Puma.

This is not a Pak 40.

This is not Stalingrad.

This is a wargame developer crediting us with a little curiosity... daring us to leave a foxhole fetid and familiar from long occupation. This is a dev delving into domestic history (The Soviet Union sent thousands of 'advisors' to Angola.) and enthusiastically exploiting personal connections (Graviteam CEO Vladimir Zayarniy's military past means he almost certainly knows men that served in Angola).

The longest of the trio of included operations runs for 15 turns (Graviteam Tactics' real-time battles are triggered by turn-based manoeuvres on an operational map. Several scraps can be generated per turn). All three ops focus on a pivotal few days in the defence of Cuito Cuanavale. Demoralised government troops with their backs to the twining Tumpo river, are facing annihilation at the hands of advancing UNITA/SADF forces. Can the timely arrival of Fidel's finest stop the rot? £10 and some seriously sweaty soldier stewarding sessions will furnish an answer.

Cold War tech like Sagger missiles and night vision devices transforms AT warfare and nocturnal skirmishes, but it's the 10x12km map itself that is the real revelation. Operation Hooper's greenery-festooned plains and potentially treacherous ditches hide movement and fray LoS far more efficiently than Operation Star's bare hills and clustered thickets. My early forays suggest infantry are living longer and infiltrating better. Front lines are fuzzier, advances tenser. Blizzard-blasted Taranovka feels an awfully long way away.


Controlling Interest

Air travel in Florida is about to get riskier. The FAA are planning to close 14 control towers in the state, and Russell B. Davis, the godfather of ATC simming, is on the verge of letting anyone with a PC and a passing interest in pushing tin try their hand at marshalling the metal birds flying in and out of Sarasota Bradenton International.

Russell's previous sims, ATCsimulator and ATCsimulator2, were heavy on realism but short on sunlight. You spent all your time glued to a glowing ARTS-IIIa radar display. In Tower Cab, his current project, controllers can - weather, distance, and volcanic ash clouds permitting - actually see the aircraft they're addressing.

Intrigued by the vector change, the extensive feature list and promising WIP images, I thought it was about time two flare path fashioners chewed the fat.

RPS: What influences and events turned you into a career ATC sim creator?

Russell: I was an air traffic student in 1987. But a family crisis disrupted my training, and I was not successful. I left the program with a deep connection and respect for the occupation; I fell in love with air traffic control.

Since my background was in computer programming, I decided to use that skill to create an atc simulation. My original vision for ATCsimulator came about in 1988 after returning to conventional employment. (As a side note, I used the name "Aerosoft" as my company name in 1988, long before Aerosoft GmbH existed. I derived the name as a combination of "Aerocenter"; the name of the airspace used in training, and "Microsoft"). I then went on to work for McDonnell Douglas, Boeing and the FAA as a programmer. In the mid-1990s, after realizing the FAA was spending as much as $250,000 per year on a cheesy TRACON sim, I decided I could "build a better mousetrap" for a lot less. That is when I got serious about creating a new air traffic simulator. I first pitched the idea to the FAA to replace the costly sim they were using. They turned down my idea. So, I pursued it on my own. The time span between my first real idea for a simulator in 1988, and the actual release was 13 years. It's now been 25 years since I started down this road. I have spent the majority of my working career in programming, in pursuit of this goal.

RPS: Did you consider using FSX as the basis for Tower Cab?

Russell: Early on I had considered using it; but my two choices were the FSUIPC SDK and/or the FS-SDK, I do not really like either. My skillset is in Visual Basic. I do not use C#, C++ or OOP for that matter. The SDK's for FS are aimed at C-languages; languages I don't care to learn. Most professional programmers consider VB just a "hobby" language. Well, I am here to challenge that myth. I am trying to build my own brand of tower sim that can stand on its own. IMHO, since Bill Gates left Microsoft, they have truly lost the vision for Flight Simulator, and I don't want to build an app dependant on a product that has reached the end of its development. I'm sure FSX will live on for a long time, but I wanted to start with clean slate and do this my way.

RPS: Will Tower Cab be realistic enough to cross-over into the training arena?

Russell: I would think so. My other product, ATCsimulator2, is used in numerous universities across the US in FAA approved training programs. In creating KRSQ, I am utilizing as much material to create the airport such as SIDS/STARS, the FAA's 7110.65x air traffic manual, captured historical flight data, etc. I even took 300+ photos of the airport for visual reference in recreating the buildings in the scenery. The ground image is a satellite photo of the airport location. I am making this as accurate as I can with whatever I can get my hands on. But I have no interest in becoming a supplier to any established commercial training venture in air traffic control. Once I do that, they dictate the direction of the product. This product is purely for entertainment, but complex enough to be used in that arena, if there will be interest for that.

RPS: I'm guessing Sarasota Bradenton International won't be familiar to most potential buyers. Why is it your default airport?

Russell: For a couple of reasons. 1. KSRQ has a mix of both commercial aircraft (domestic and international), business jets, and GA aircraft. It's not extremely busy, but enough to make it interesting. 2. Sarasota is a favorite vacation spot for my wife and I. It is also the location where I completed writing the manual for ATCsimulator just before its release in January of 2001. So it holds a special meaning for me on a personal level.

RPS: The potential for airport add-ons, both user-made and commercial, seems huge. Are expansions part of your plans?

Russell: Oh yes, add-on airports will definitely be next. But Tower Cab will not be designed in a manner where users can create their own airports. They will be able to modify certain aspects of the game, but not create an addon in its entirety.

RPS: Thank you for your time.


The Flare Path Foxer off hunting Easter wabbits. Sorry. Back next week.

Keen-eyed Kelron, sweep all those Meissen figures, Fabergé eggs, and plastic darts trophies off your mantelpiece. The finely-crafted Flare Path flair point you scooped for locating last week's elusive elk first (hard luck guygodbois00 and JabbleWok) deserves a surface all to itself.

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