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The Flare Path: Vertigo, Volo, Memo

Simulation & wargame news

Looking for the latest gen on brutal Peruvian insurgency games? You're in the wrong place. My Shining Path column appears on a Tuesday. The Flare Path concerns itself with gentler, less Maoist matters. In two of the splendidly singular creations word-sketched beyond the jump, the only person you can murder is yourself, and in the other one it's plastic tanks and army men that get it in the neck.

Sneak Peak

Thirty years of flying simulated aircraft and driving simulated horseless carriages can do funny things to a man. You find yourself looking longingly at canal boats, traction engines, and aerosani. You smile like a pixie when a sim as alpine-fresh as Vertigo comes along.

This indie rock-climbing game was one of my tips for 2010. What I didn't know then, was that developer Mark Judd would get distracted by Real Life concerns and the unexpected success of Detonate, and stick the project on the backburner for 18 months. Happily, it's now on the frontburner again, and giving off a lovely aroma of warm ginger and golden syrup. Mark reckons interested parties will be hauling themselves up knobbly granite cliffs while muttering "Don'tlookdownDon'tlookdownDon'tlookdown..." by early November.

The planned price tag seems to have been inspired by the shape of that mountaineering staple, the carabiner. Vertigo will sell for the very reasonable sum of 0 British pounds. The idea is we'll all enjoy scaling the base-game's pair of included rock faces (one indoor, one outdoor) so much, we'll gladly shell-out for additional venues. It's a bold strategy. I hope it works out.

Talking of boldness, climbing without ropes is going to be an option. Those looking for extra challenge will also be able to set the strength of their clamberer before an ascent. I'm picturing a slider with 'pro-mountaineer' at one end and 'malarial plane-crash survivor' at the other.

Ooooh, now I'm picturing alternative climber models as DLC...

Sweaty pith-helmeted explorer: £1.50

Sweaty gold-burdened Conquistador: £2

Sweaty Amazonian eagle-hunter: £2.50

Cover image for YouTube video

The video illustrates the game's novel reliance on ragdoll physics pretty well. What it doesn't show is that weariness is tracked on a per-limb basis. Dangle from a single handhold for too long and you're going to find yourself plunging and praying (I wonder if pitons or climbing nuts ever come adrift?). Particularly spectacular plummets can be gasped at from different angles and saved for later viewing thanks to a fancy replay system.

Whether ropeless drops will end in bone-splintering agony, is still to be decided. Having watched his children joyfully torment the poor ragdoll, Mark is currently toying with the idea of implementing realistic injuries. Personally, I'm all for plausible wounds. After all, without them it's going to be very hard to implement credible pterosaur attacks (DLC #14. 'The Lost World').


Why Swifts Smile

If ever two games deserved to be spliced together in a freak teleportation accident it's Vertigo and Volo Airsport. After a nailbiting scramble to the top of a cloud-capped plateau, what could be better than peeling off your tattered safari suit to reveal the Paisley-print Victorian wingsuit beneath, then running to the cliff-edge and swandiving back into the abyss. Imagine the look of shocked fury on the faces of the pterosaurs as you sped past their guano-streaked nest sites, middle-finger extended.

Since we last had a shufti at Volo, it has acquired something all wingsuit games need: trs. Trs are like trees except they move much faster. While trees stand around in parks rustling, trs whip past your fingertips in a hiss of agitated needles and wafted chlorophyll. They remind you that you're just one arm twitch or torso flex away from oblivion.

Cover image for YouTube video

Volo has also acquired rather fetching grss and blders, and some huge streamed landscapes. According to Martijn Zandvliet's last blog post it almost got a new X-Plane-style flight model too, but that proved a little too punishing on processors:

"a typical aircraft has a mostly static shape, whereas a wingsuit flyer’s shape continuously changes in profound ways. The aerodynamic properties of someone curled up in a ball are completely different from someone flying in normal position. Doing this kind of analysis in real-time, say on a deforming cloth mesh and animated character would be very costly in terms of performance."

Though the game is now apparently 'agonizingly close' there's still stuff to be done. By the time of release, we should be able to wander around levels on foot, perform flips, and roll-up into a ball in mid air.

I assume the latter manoeuvre will be our primary means of attacking marauding pterosaurs.


Cardboard Chilblains

Hello youse. Shut up and sit down. Today I want to tell you about a game that wins you over with lovely free calvados and cuddles, then, a couple of weeks down the line, turns up at your bunker all cold and officious and slides a price list through your gun slit. It's Memoir '44 Online.

Apparently, some wargamers like to be able to see and smell their opponents, and orchestrate battles that don't take days to complete or linguistic philosophy degrees to understand. Many of these folk swear by a sleek Richard Borg board game called Memoir '44. Involving dice, card-activated forces and an ingenious board mechanism (battlefields are split into three sections: centre, left flank, right flank) engagements are usually resolved within an hour. I'd always snobbishly assumed the flipside of this pace and accessibility, was rather flavourless gaming. Now that I've got a few sessions of the digital version under my belt, I realise I was wrong.

While there are definitely times when the game's generic armour and infantry units seem almost interchangeable, and the card activation system horribly irrational (Why can't I move all my units this turn? WHY?!) Memoir '44's Online's streamlined approach seldom comes at the price of character. I've just played a Stalingrad scenario and a Pacific one back-to-back, and - thanks to a handful of special rules, victory conditions, and units - both felt quite different and pleasingly redolent.

In the snowy Eastern Front face-off, I found myself snarling at the clever commissar rule that forced me to choose my tactics card a turn before playing it, and nodding approvingly when my sniper claimed a scalp or my ruin-ensconced Ivans resisted an attack that would, in another context, have triggered a retreat. Amongst the overgrown undergrowth of Guam, playing as the Japanese meant balancing a desire to exploit assault advantages with an urge to avoid confrontation and scurry for exit hexes.

There are 45 scenarios in the free-to-download Steam package, and you'll be able to play about 16 of those against live or (surprisingly capable) AI opposition before your crate of gratis gold ingots is empty. Then it's crunch time.

Do you slap down $8, knowing it will buy you roughly another 60 skirmishes, or spend more in order to get access to an as-yet-unavailable scenario editor? I'm usually pretty leery of the pay-to-play model, but with other decent populist, MP-friendly wargames such as Panzer Corps priced around the £33 mark, Memoir '44 does start to look tempting.

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About the Author

Tim Stone