A2Z

A is for Alphabetised wargame, sim, and site news. Once a month, assuming I can persuade Austerity’s Blackburn Cirrus Bombardier engine to perform the miracle of internal combustion, I spend a day or two scouring Simulatia and Grognardia for stories with the potential to fascinate, startle, cheer, dismay or amuse. Those stories are then dehydrated, alphabetised and delivered, via articles like this one, to people who’ve got better things to do than plough through puff and platitudes.

B is for Bulky battlers

The days when Grand Tactician’s soldiers could be used as bookmarks or slid under doors to catch dislodged keys, are over. Out of the blue (and gray) Oliver Keppelmüller has replaced his creation’s sprite soldiery with polygonal warriors. Potentially more significant than the extra dimension are the animation benefits concomitant with the graphics change. Apparently formations ambulate much more fluidly now.

C is for Competitive cats

Stefano Casillo turned his back on tarmac and tyres in Feb 2020. The bloke behind Kunos Simulazioni hits such as Assetto Corsa is currently working on Hydrofoil Generation with his partner Chax. As Jaxx Vane Studio was, for a time, a floating concern and Stefano is known for fine physics coding, the chances of HG’s catamarans handling just like the real thing are high.

D is for Danubian doggedness

“By modelling corps commanders as self-reliant semi-independent entities, and orders as slow-to-disseminate interceptable missives, creator Frank Hunter delivers a diversion that’s as evocative and forward-looking as it is easy to learn and play.” said I of currently-half-price WeGo one-off Campaigns on the Danube in a 2015 Flare Path. Impressively, considering the game is seventeen years old, it’s still receiving attention from its creator. Frank is working on both an Elbe-themed sequel and a CotD update. ‘3.10’ will bring AI tweaks and (for those who want them) randomly generated leaders. This forum AAR gives a taste of what’s in store.

E is for Early Access expense

No-one’s talking about PIAT reload times or StuG rear armour thickness in the The Troop Steam forum at the moment. Most of the posts relate to the new release’s Early Access price-tag. Is the TBT currently worth £31? I’ll endeavour to answer that question via a THC review before the end of January.

F is for French, fetching, and flipping fast

By next summer DCS World will boast two flyable incarnations of the Mirage not one. While scenario smiths will have a job recreating the versatile F1’s earliest adventures, with help from the Persian Gulf and Nevada maps, its time as a Phantom killer in the 1980s, and its current role as a make-believe MiG should be eminently sim-able.

G is for Great framerates guaranteed

Talking of F-4s, here’s one in action in Tiny Combat Arena, one of two nostalgic texture-free flight sims coming to PC in 2022. Early Access TCA should be purchasable/playable by the end of Feb. David Walters’ as-yet-unnamed “helicopter game from 1992”…

…is further off.

H is for High drama

Just because your printer is on the blink or you’re too brassic to replace its empty ink sacs doesn’t mean you have to miss out on free analogue flight sim Bomber Boys. Thanks to the graft and craft of a modder with a penchant for solitaire board wargames, Steven Aramini’s highly-rated B17QotS-like is now playable in Tabletop Simulator.

I is for Island invasion

Without assistance from scenario designers, the silicon adversaries in Wars Across The World and the SGS titles, can struggle. In £7 standalone SGS Operation Hawaii, a simulation’ of a 1941 invasion that never happened, careful balancing and VP distribution seem to give the AI a fighting chance. Although my first attempt at conquering Oahu ended in success, my victory was, by WatW/SGS standards, far from convincing.

J is for JPEGs from my first Teardown session

^ This is the point ten minutes in when I almost uninstalled. I was hoping the game’s architecture would raze a little more realistically than this.

^ And this is me twenty minutes later messing around with the modder-made Tiger tank that singlehandedly rekindled my interest.

I look forward to the day when a serious AFV sim lets me shell and bulldoze brickwork as naturalistically as Teardown does.

K is for Key information withheld

If the MORSE-adjacent Radiotelegraphist had arrived a few weeks earlier I’d have mentioned it in my tutorial article as a perfect example of how not to handle tuition. Newcomers materialise at a poorly lit desk with baffling text instructions hovering in front of them. After fumbling for a light switch for several minutes without success I threw in the towel.

L is for Logic gates

Do you understand – truly understand – the brutalist pixie high-rise murmuring under your desk? You will once you’ve completed Turing Complete, a computer-demystifying puzzle game currently basking in the cobalt glow of an Overwhelmingly Positive user rating on Steam.

M is for Miniature interview…

…with Amiral Crapaud of Drydock Dreams Games

THC: Which aspects of Task Force Admiral are consuming the most developmental man hours at present?

Amiral Crapaud: The formation system and the maneuvering AI that goes along with it has consumed a big chunk of our development power over the last two months. I think it’s a cardinal sin that in 2021 most naval games still have AI ships bumping into each other on a regular basis. I do understand that these things happen, but it shouldn’t be such a common occurrence when it’s broad daylight, everybody is in view, and nobody is actually being engaged. The men manning these ships were drilled for a reason, and drilled well. Collisions shall remain mostly a combat-induced occurrence or I will simply not deem the game to be functional. If my robot vacuum can avoid a chair in real life, my pixel boats should be able to find their way on the open seas!

Getting this stuff right requires sweat and tears. We had to experiment and reject so many designs, I think I have lost count, and our programmer might have lost some of his mind! We wanted to come up with a new system able to properly represent fleet tactics of the time, and especially the different configurations for what the US Navy calls “cruise dispositions”. These include the emblematic variations of the “circular” or “ring” formations often seen in the materials, but rarely witnessed in games due to their inherent complexity. See, the US Navy does have some sort of readily available recipe to face all kinds of threats, depending on the preference of the Flag officer and the threat at hand. A few examples of note:

Ring formations with a mixed screen of cruisers and destroyers will be great at giving the carriers and battleships some space for evasive action against dive bombers, but are unreliable against a submarine threat due to the ASW holes created by the cruisers.

Double rings with cruisers in a closer inner ring and destroyers in the outer ring are ideal to submit bombers and torpedo bombers to a hail of fire, but increased AA firepower is attained at the expense of maneuvering room at the center against enemy bombs and torpedoes. Not to mention that you’d better have all the destroyers you need, or you might very well only offer token protection with gaping avenues to enemy submarine-launched torpedoes – the sort of situation which befell CV-7 on the day of her loss.

Anti-submarine formations with a forward screen – whether it is an arc, a bent line or a horseshoe-shaped vanguard – are great to minimize underwater threats, but whenever you have to turn into the wind for air operations, any radical change of course will either force the formation to execute a lengthy “turn of front”, or you will have to give up completely on the protection offered during the time needed to launch your planes.

And all of this is looks swell on a sheet of paper, but then you have to teach your AI about not looking dumb when maneuvering, and then it is up to the magic fingers of our programmer JB. He’s pretty happy with what he has achieved, and knowing his standards the way I do, that’s good news.

THC: Design-wise, what was your most significant decision of 2021?

Amiral Crapaud: One of our biggest design leaps of this year was probably the decision to get rid of the traditional 2D map visualization for tactical action. We wanted to be more efficient, more innovative in our approach in this area.

We are not giving up on the standards of our genre, as we do have a map interface already readily available for strategic moves and actions, but we needed something more easily relatable to the 3D world for hands-on moments such as air attacks or surface engagements. We ended up going for a system not unlike that in the Homeworld series with the so-called “sensors view”: a 3D tactical view which can be instantly summoned with a key stroke. So far trials have been going pretty well. It allows players to visualize altitude and distance more easily, it can be readily turned into a 2D-like view for traditionalists, and it provides the necessary background to use our cool smaller miniatures, which will make the in-game tactical map look like your average Fletcher Pratt-inspired living room.

The result is cute and functional, and as a player I like it. As a resource-minded project manager I like it all the more because it means that there will always be only one 3D instance on screen, as you swap from one view to another. Whenever calculation power is taken from the clutches of gameplay functions with no harm done, that’s a small victory in the unceasing performance war.

THC: Name a game, ether upcoming or released, that you think deserves more attention.

Amiral Crapaud: The first one that comes to mind is a fellow Microprose title. Name’s Regiments. You might have covered it in the past, but I can tell you, it deserves some love. Much like Highfleet another title you would probably find to your taste, it is the work of one of those one-man-army types who can do it all.

I have a soft spot for Mikhail’s 1989 Cold War-gone-hot game, because, although it pays homage to greats like Wargame, World in Conflict, and Ground Control, its distinctive gameplay and aesthetics, and challenging AI set it apart from its inspirations. I have heard that a public playtest, which includes the beta of the campaign mode, is going live within a few days (possibly today!) on Steam, so if you fancy following your Christmas turkey with a spot of T-80 trashing you know where to go!

THC: Thank you for your time

N is for Nam

Campaign Series: Vietnam less than a month away, Lock ‘n Load Tactical Digital swollen by a new Aussie-infused Vietnam War battlepack a few weeks ago, and Vietnam ’65 and Radio Commander both cheaper than a cup of coffee on Steam right now? Times are good for wargamers who like their LZs hot and their grass elephantine.

O is for Outstanding overview

Most of John Tiller Software’s Wargame Design Studio’s hexy history paeans are 25% cheaper than usual until Jan 3. While I haven’t played enough of them to provide useful overviews, others have. Be sure to watching the above primer before plumping for your first Napoleonic Battles title.

P is for Prediction

By this time next year many of us are going to know far more about the Chinese Civil War and its causes than we do today. The first stage in our education – Rise of the White Sun’s Shanghai-focused demo – is now less than two months from release. “Cool game mechanics like province management, diplomacy and military expeditions” won’t feature, but developer Maestro Cinetik is confident that what is on offer – uprising planning – will be sufficiently interesting in isolation to give the taster tang.

Q is for Quick kiss under the mistletoe

R is for Relatively close, reassuringly WeGo

Unscripted AI together with a simultaneous order execution option* mean there’s no danger due-in-the-Spring Attack at Dawn: North Africa will go down in history as hidebound hexiana.

* Turnless play is also possible.

S is is for Scrooge-friendly snips

Running until Jan 5, the GOG winter sale includes a slew of THC favourites. Tank Warfare: Tunisia 1943 ($4.10), Sengoku Jidai Gold ($8.21), Outlaws ($2.09) and the original Combat Missions ($3.59 each) and Close Combats ($2.99 each) for instance.

T is for Turnbased first-person flight sim

A genre that should exist but mysteriously doesn’t. Just about the closest thing we have to an example is Blue Max: Aces of the Great War, a DOS fossil now available through Steam and GOG. Blue Maximilian’s only truly memorable feature was a split-screen WeGo multiplayer mode in which players plotted moves on a hex grid.

U is for Unexpected partnership

I’d have put money on “next generation naval combat simulator” Modern Naval Warfare ending up in the MicroProse stable. I’d love to know how it wound up wearing the green lizard logo instead. Perhaps it was Slitherine’s military connections that persuaded the Maslas Bros to sign on the dotted line. With its realism aspirations, and multiplayer-friendly, VR-compatible 3D CICs, MNW looks like it will make a great training tool.

V is for Vulpine snappers sought

Cornerites who also happen to be theHunter: Call of the Wild players, I have a request. If you find yourself at a loose end over Christmas and are willing to undertake a tricky, rewardless task, I’d love a striking close-range screengrab of one of the sim’s foxes to use as a ‘solo foxer‘ illustration.

W is for Where the hell are they?

Eight of Door Kickers 2‘s maps were plunged into darkness on Wednesday by an update that introduced meaningful night-time ops. During nocturnal jaunts lit areas are dangerous areas, nightvision goggles are invaluable, and muzzle flashes are bullet magnets. Stick to the shadows and you can now get so close to some sentries that take-downs resemble executions.

X is Xcised because Xmas comes but once a year

Y is for Your tile requests, please

On bitter winter nights Tally-Ho Corner’s proprietor, pets, and parasites kip together atop a giant Russian stove decorated with subscriber tiles. If you’re an airlifter and have yet to be entiled, suggest a subject or two in the comments section below, and I’ll get to work. Assuming my handiwork passes muster (some things are bally hard to render recognisably in 32 x 32 pixel black and white), the design will become part of the site’s pixelated header and ceramic mattress.

Z is for Zen > ZPMs

The makers of Hard West are crafting a sci-fi Commandos-like. Unfortunately, because their publisher, Slitherine, doesn’t own the perfect licence, players won’t get to pick locks with grumbling Villa, dislodge heavy boulders with stoical Gan, or hack security systems with acerbic Avon.

21 Comments

    • Indeed. Merry Christmas Tim, and thank you so much for maintaining this happy little corner of the internet.

      • +3 Merry Christmas Tim!

        Still reading this blog weekly, an A2Z was just the ticket to pass the random gaps in my day between eating Christmas ham and wrangling kids at the family Christmas lunch, cheers!

        PS: Animals are great subjects for things like tiles: Bears, wolves, lions – also I think a falcon with a falconry hood (just the head) would look cool. Not sure if you’ve covered these subjects already…

    • Merry Christmas !

      I will try to take a picture of a fox in TheHunter, but those little ones are usually hard to find

  1. Perhaps Modern Naval Warfare didn’t end up with Microprose because they’re already engaged in Sea Power: Naval Combat in the Missile Age which appears to be basically the same thing. Or it might be because it’s an offshot of something already published by Matrix/Sliterine.

    • These things are always more complicated than they seem and I will not dwell too deep in the details of the story as I know it 🙂
      But at the very least allow me to clarify that Sea Power (SP) & Modern Naval Warfare (MNW) are absolutely different affairs. The only thing they have in common is their thematic reliance on H2O as a background and nuclear reactors as your average mode of propulsion to tell a story. They do not cover the same eras, nor do they let you command the units at the same level. One is a hardcore submarine simulation not unlike the PoV you’d have in Dangerous Waters, the other one is a comprehensive tactical naval strategy game not unlike what you had in Fleet Command.
      And although FC & DW were both products made by Sonalysts, you’ll certainly agree that they were hardly the same creature gameplay-wise 😉
      My 2 cts…
      Cheers (and Merry Christmas to you too!)

  2. Amiral, that new 3D tactical view looks fabulous. Really slick. I wish more games would take notes from Homeworld.

  3. Excellent and interesting article as usual Tim.

    To cash in my tile, would a steam engine backhead be too much? Perhaps in the spirit of the screenshot you posted of the ZX Spectrum’s Southern Belle not too long ago. Possibly the view out the engineer’s window with a partial back head.

    If not, in the railroad theme: there is a distinct lack of North American railroading represented! A nose shot of the iconic SD40-2, similar to this but squared off, chevrons up to you of course 😉

    https://www.american-rails.com/images/4i06334809798hji0708.jpg

    Failing that, tanks seem to be photogenic and I’ve always had a soft spot for the M3 Stuart.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. Delighted to see Regiments getting another playtest opportunity. The last one blew by too fast for me to get comfortable with the controls, let alone get a feel for the game.

    Also new to me this week is the existence of WARNO, a new cold war offering from Eugen that promises to leverage the Army General mechanics of Steel Division 2. That sounds like an ideal blend to me, but I’m curious to see what the actual results are like.

    Merry Christmas lads.

    • Splendid! Thank you, cederic.

      If anyone else spots a fotogenic fox in a game they are playing and manages to snap it, Roman and I would appreciate a copy of the image.

  5. Hello Tim, I’m a bit late to this article but having just subscribed, I’d like to make my own tile request – in honor of the 2.0 release of the excellent mod for DCS (and because the Scooter is a favorite of mine), do you think you’d be able to manage an A-4 Skyhawk?

    • Thanks for joining the airlift. Version 1 of your A-4 looked more like a Phantom. Version 2 resembled a Scimitar. Version 3 I’m reasonably happy with and now adorns the masthead between the yacht and High Level Bridge.

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