Stolen Sabbath

Due to a cock-up at Greenwich last Sunday, residents of Bramley End – the village I call home – lost a day this week rather than an hour. The government is offering each adult resident £50 in compensation – a frankly insulting sum bearing in mind the amount of rambling, reading, cider drinking, red kite feeding, triffid training, Archers omnibus listening, computer gaming, foxer setting, and Friday Feature prep, that can be crammed into an average Sabbath.

If I hadn’t been swindled out of March 27th, 2022, I probably would have spent a portion of it swindling 18th Century French toffs.

The Card Shark demo is a delight. If you’ve not tried it yet, you really ought to. You play a mute, illiterate, epileptic potboy who falls in with the Comte de Saint-Germain, a professional cardsharp. A likeable chap, your companion teaches you the tricks of his trade during travels around Southern France in search of gullible gamblers. The tutelage isn’t entirely altruistic. The Comte has a vacancy for a stooge, someone to help him execute a range of card-based cons.

Wonderful art, music, and writing contribute to Card Shark’s charm and freshness, but what I admire most about the game is the way it ludologises its core activity, cheating at cards. A less talented dev might have relied on stats, levelling, and spell-like special abilities to communicate the hero’s increasing prowess in this nefarious art. Nerial, however, handle things far more naturalistically.

Mastering the various mouse gesture deck manipulations and signal systems the Comte and another character, The Magician, demonstrate, takes actual practice, dexterity, and focus. The more you use them, the better you get, and the longer you can play without prompting suspicion and risking discovery. You feel like you’re slowly acquiring a manual skill or learning a language, which is apt.

If the relatively short demo can deliver such a palpable sense of progress, one wonders what the full Monte – due later this year – will be able to achieve. If my Tipped Ten was a rolling format rather than a fixed thing, and wasn’t restricted to sims and wargames, Card Shark would, at this precise moment, be sliding into the slot recently vacated (by dint of its release) by Tiny Combat Arena.

* * *

Another game likely to have seen action on that stolen Sunday, is OpenBVE. Reinstalled after a second attempt to bond with pedantic Train Crew Prologue failed, this atmospheric freebie is my rail sim of choice at the moment.

The metals I’ve shined most often of late are North London ones. Thanks to a solidly simmed Seventies EMU, a line teeming with stations and protoytpical quirks, and lashings of authentic audio, crossing the British capital using this add-on never seems to get old.

Back in 2004-2006 (the ‘Metrolink’ era depicted by the add-on makers) a 75-minute run from Richmond in West London to Woolwich North in the East was a pretty demanding turn for a Class 313 driver. In addition to stopping tidily and punctually at 28 stations and obeying myriad signals and speed limit signs, cab occupants had to remember to alter their electricity acquisition methods at various points on the journey. Unusually, the route includes both third-rail DC and overhead AC sections, so periodic pantograph management is necessary.

Further complicating things are neutral sections on the overhead wires (coast through these signed stretches or risk troublesome power surges) and the 313’s profusion of safety devices. Keen to perturb you with alarms and bring you to a grinding halt at the slightest provocation are approximations of TPWS, AWS, and DRA accident prevention systems.

Intimidated? Don’t be. The pitfalls of route and rolling stock are explained in the manual, and the reward for learning to skirt them, is friendship with an exceptionally absorbing hunk of rail sim. Free train games don’t come much better than OpenBVE + North London Lines.

* * *

My first ride on the Train to Sachsenhausen was delayed by a day due to ‘Skipped Sunday’ – hardly a major inconvenience considering the brevity of the journey.

Czech outfit Charles Games have followed the brave Svoboda 1945 with a free short inspired by events at the other end of the war. A tale of post-invasion protest, repression, and incarceration, TtS isn’t, thanks largely to Mr Putin, short of contemporary relevance.

When the game displays maps of Czechoslovakia shrivelled by the loss of the Sudetenland, it’s hard not to think of Ukraine sans the DPR, the LNR, and Crimea. When you’re given the opportunity to participate in protests in Prague against the German occupation, there’s a good chance recent scenes in Kherson and Russia will spring to mind.

TtS asks the question ‘Would you be willing to march and placard-wave if it jeopardised your future?’. It’s also intelligent and honest enough to admit that sometimes lives are irrevocably changed by much smaller moral decisions, not to mention luck and equivocation. At the end of my first playthrough, Antonin Nedela, the medical student main character, was safe and sound in England. At the end of the second, conducted with (I thought) greater thought and care, well, let’s just say he wasn’t.

Some Train to Sachsenhausen passengers will appreciate the spare, documentary style and structural simplicity – essentially you’re asked to make a series of binary narrative choices. Others may find themselves wondering whether this little-known-outside-of-CZ story could have been explored and communicated with a dash more flair and imagination. I won’t spoil the game’s most playful moment but will say it’s inspired by the protagonist’s studies and might, if developed into something more all-pervading, have rendered a memorable creation unforgettable.

* * *

If David Walters and Why485 are serious about resurrecting early-to-mid-90s combat flight simulation visuals, they need to pay attention to incidental 2D graphics as well as 3D views. This thought struck me during a recent, BST-balls-up interrupted, attempt to get Stormovik: SU-25 Soviet Attack Fighter running on DOSBox.

I suspect it was images of Su-25s operating over Ukraine that reminded me that the Ilyushin Il-2 wasn’t the first Soviet ground-attack aircraft to get a standalone sim to itself. In 1990 Electronic Arts built a game around the tough-as-old-boots Frogfoot.

A mediocre flight model, a primitive linear campaign, and a seriously daft back story, did Stormovik no favours. Launched at a time when the far-superior Red Baron was quickening pulses and topping charts, the Paul Grace design swiftly disappeared from view.

If it wasn’t for the sim’s splendid incidental art and entertaining debriefings there’d be almost no reason to ‘mount c c:\su25’ today.

Cynthia Hamilton and Connie Braat’s glorious bitmaps make ejections…

…and fatal prangs…

…much more bearable than they might otherwise have been.

11 Comments

  1. I greatly enjoyed the Metrolink in OpenBVE indeed, bringing back some now very old memories of mis-spent Saturdays. Some of the period graffiti on the signage was particularly amusing. Squinting into the distance to spot the incoming speed restriction for said sign to be annotated with “ARSE” gave me a laugh.

    In other news, SU-25 Stormovik was a game I bought with my hard earned pocket stash back in the early 90’s having agonised for a fairly long-Dad enraging-time in the shop between Falcon 3.0, Gunship 2000 or the Frogfoot. Suffice to say history taught me I had bought the wrong one, and not long after I started to read reviews before buying things. Absolutely loved the opening music though.

  2. The first thing the internet spouted out when I looked for Bramley End was a 1942 propaganda movie `Went the day well?` starring some german paratroopers in disguise taking over a southern england village. Considering the date I would assume this was intentional.

    • There’s a propaganda element to “Went the day well?” (“In the event of a German invasion we expect British men, women, and children to behave like this…”) but it has many other facets. I think it’s one of the best movies made in the UK during WW2. Up there with This Happy Breed, In Which We Serve, and Millions Like Us.

      • Haven´t seen it yet, but I looked for a site to watch it without registration or some dubious software. (Internet Archive) I´ll admit seeing the introduction boldly announcing the movie´s certification by the British Board of Film Censors made me smile.

  3. I lost most of Sunday 27th, but that was due to Saturday 26th being a university reunion. Six hours of the Sunday was consequently spent in an old haunt drinking Old Rosy to nurse the hangover and a la recherche du temps perdu. The rest of said Sunday was best described as lost…

    • Got to say that the Card Shark demo is a brilliant little thing. The controls are slightly unwieldy with m&k, but the concept and story telling is first rate. And it’s more like a small Indy game than the demo of a much larger one – definitely give it a try!

  4. I loved Stormovik and played it a ton (and Red Baron, and Gunship 2000). Being only about 12 at the time, I didn’t notice any of the shortcomings mentioned above.

    What stood out for me was that it actually had a story (which didn’t seem daft at all compared to movies I enjoyed at the time like Firefox or Iron Eagle), and several of the missions were filled with scripted events that you could watch with the external camera, such as a helicopter rescuing a downed pilot. It was also the first flight sim (and the only one that comes to mind) where you could attack and be attacked by people armed with AK-47s and shoulder-launched missiles. Also 110% the theme music! That game was like the TIE Fighter of flight sims.

    I too have been inspired by current events to revisit the Su-25. However I cannot decide whether to get this old game running, or just take the DCS version for a spin.

    • Go for the DCS version, a veteran of flight such as yourself will surely be airborne and causing havoc in no time.

      Unlike me, who can spend several hours trying to work out how to start the engine.

      • The DCS SU-25 is not a “full fidelity” aircraft in the sim, no clickable cockpit and limited modelling. It is free though, and the campaign with it is fun.

    • On reflection, perhaps I was a tad hard on Stormovik. Your comment about modelled MANPADS (as you say, very unusual in 1990) has got me picturing/planning a ‘Flight Sim Firsts’ feature.

Leave a Reply