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The Flare Path: Wharf Fortress

Simulation & wargame blather

An MH-6 tells me you've got seven minutes to spare and are willing to spend those seven minutes reading about irradiated Soviet submariners and irresistible race sim eclecticism. As the MH-6 in question lives inside my subwoofer, is made entirely from rose petals, and every year recommends I bet on Durham in The Boat Race, I generally ignore him. On this occasion however, I'm rather hoping he's right.

The work-in-progress Submarine Commander is a free, Mistral-fresh Cold War sub game that splices the hectic top-down captaincy of FTL with the simmy systems shepherding of Dangerous Waters. Its generic block-bulkheaded SSNs were once super-efficient underwater predators. Now they're temperamental deathtraps bally fond of drowning, asphyxiating, igniting and contaminating their own crews.

Every session starts with the generation of a random home port and a random objective. You might find yourself in Leningrad or Vladivostok with an order to reconnoitre Belfast or Barcelona. You might materialise in Murmansk or Arkhangelsk with instructions to sink a specific enemy vessel in the North Atlantic or South Pacific.

If Poseidon is in an unusually good mood, a whole day of trouble-free cruising may pass before the inevitable flickering warning lights and muffled bangs send your fingers skittering across the keyboard like panicking pondskaters.

Submarine Commander submarine commanders rely totally on keyboards for order issuing and panel navigation. The lack of mouse support together with relatively complex aquionics (Creator Geoff Ayre has attempted to simulate everything from nuclear reactors, steam turbines, and diesel generators to bilge pumps, fire suppression equipment and ventilators) mean early jaunts are likely to be as baffling as they are brief. Klaxons wail, flames spread, water rises, and blue crew dots turn crimson, as you blunder about flicking switches and wringing your hands/trousers.

Persevere however, and slowly the kopeks start dropping. Pretty soon you realise that canny captains commence each mission by sending their most capable firefighters/repairmen to the equipment store to collect appropriate tools. You begin to understand the importance of the various colour-coded consoles in the command centre (Keep an especially close eye on the green 'Misc Systems' panel - your primary fault information tool). The folly of neglecting open air vents during a radiation leak, or fiddling with the main induction valve while underwater... it all eventually becomes clear.

Compared to the drama of the onboard crises, combat itself can be rather anticlimactic. Manage to dodge enemy surface vessels and ASW aircraft with the help of your radar/sonar interface, and the game's ambient temperature- and current-influenced thermal layer, and you eventually find yourself in 'periscope view' (a top-down disc of ocean with your sub at the centre) watching as an automatically guided torpedo dash steers towards a locked contact blip.

Hopefully, Geoff will, in a future update, enrich eel slinging in the same thoughtful manner he's enriched the global map (now patrolled by dozens of authentic ship types and dotted with friendly ports) and sub system modelling in recent months. With SLBMs on the cards, who knows, perhaps one day Sub Commander subs will unnerve their adversaries as adeptly as they unnerve their own crews.


Civic Pride

Watching as hull plates buckle, torpedoes toast, and Seaman Shortstrorov's Absorbed Radiation Dose steadily climbs into the danger zone, can be stressful. This week, to unwind I've been following the advice of RAVSim's Jon Denton and reader HariSeldon, and sampling the two-stroke stroke-of-genius that is rFactor 2's newish kart mode.

The consequent death-toll in daisies, marshals, and trackside tyres has been high, but I think I now understand why ISI's darting delinquents have been received so warmly by race sim connoisseurs.

Whether rF2's experimental quad bikes will eventually enjoy the same popularity as the karts, is hard to predict. Added to the sim's official content selection over Easter along with 'Lost Valley', a canyon-cradled track, at present engine limitations mean you don't see rubber biting into soft earth, or furrows deepening as races progress.

There's fun to be had careering over crests and crabbing through corners, but until community track builders get busy with their virtual JCBs, and surfaces start feeling a little looser, the quads look set to remain a thought-provoking novelty.

If you haven't inspected the constantly evolving rFactor 2 for a while I'd recommend a dalliance with the latest demo. A couple of weeks ago ISI unveiled a new free tempter featuring a 2013 Honda Civic Touring Car and Silverstone International in place of the old Corvette C6.R/Lime Rock Park combo.

Would they have turned more heads with a trial based on their evocative 1966 Monaco track and its period habitues? Probably, but yes, I suppose it is theoretically possible for someone to prefer bland Buckinghamshire right-angles to iconic Riviera hairpins, and the styling of a shoe-like contemporary hatchback to that of a svelte Sixties Brabham.



The Flare Path Foxer

Last Friday at precisely 16.30, the Foxine Chapel chimney belched a cloud of russet-coloured smoke. Roman & co. were acknowledging the fact that Rorschach617, with assistance from Palindrome, Spinoza, Smion, Sleeping_Wolf and Imposter, had Catholicked a tough Vatican City-themed foxer.

a. Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King
b. Saltpeter
c. SIG SG 550
d. MiG -17 'Fresco'
e. Radio Ethiopia by the Patti Smith Group
f. Cardinal route map
g. 2nd Infantry division slouch hat
h. Bristol Belvedere

Saltpeter = St.Peter? Unforgivable. If this week's puzzle contains clues that tenuous then rest assured, heads, barrels, and Eskimos will roll.

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