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 Battle Academy 3?
Judging by this video, Headquarters: World War II, an upcoming TBT from Ukrainian studio Starni Games, has a lot in common with 2014 crowd-pleaser Battlefield Academy 2. As Slitherine are overseeing the project, and no Slith title has a better Steam review ratio than the beginner-friendly BA2 (93% positive) the similarities probably aren’t coincidental.
C is for Conquer Cuba
If you’re the kind of grog who’s drawn to neglected conflicts and big asks, Strategic Command: American Civil War’s first expansion pack should entice. Due next Thursday, Wars in the Americas, explores four genuine 19th Century conflicts and one fictional one. Utilising a map that stitches together five far-flung theatres (The Caribbean, California, the Philippines, Spain, and the Canary Islands) and teems with independence-hungry partisans, the Spanish-American War campaign looks particularly interesting.
D is for Desert driving
Don’t watch this vid if a superannuated PC or a withered wallet means you’re still getting your soft-body physics vehicular thrills from Rigs of Rods. Having recently spent a pleasant hour arsing about in this RoR whirlybird, I have no wish to disparage BeamNG.drive’s recently updated progenitor, but the fact is almost everything RoR can do, its sequel can do better.
E is for Easter Island Easter egg
As Sky on Fire dev, ISNI, has gone to the trouble of modelling all of Dover’s railway tunnels, I thought it would be rude of me not to attempt to traverse each of them in the closest thing the free sim has to a barnstormer. Imagine my surprise when I quite literally ran into six Char B1 tanks and an Easter Island moai (ISNI’s logo) at the end of a brick-lined burrow beneath Dover Castle.
F is for Fortress filled
“Pick a strategy that will cripple the German war effort as quickly as possible.”… “Redeployment of fighters to crucial areas means that there won’t be any easy gains”… “You can control the bombsight”… “Intricate German economy”… “Ongoing German research”… The words on this Steam page are arguably more eyecatching than the screenshots. If Silent S Studios’ ability and resolve matches their vision then Bomber Command players are in for a treat.
G is for Genuinely groundbreaking
Ambitious Game-Labs are determined Ultimate General: American Revolution won’t go down in history as ‘Ultimate General: Civil War in a tricorn hat’. Featuring an innovative dual-layer turnless campaign engine in which the strat map isn’t simply a battle map selector in disguise, UGAR will spawn scraps that can be orchestrated either on a zoomed-in, up-detailed version of the strat map clash location, or in a simplified form on the strat map itself.
H is for Horrendous butcher’s bill
If the deadlier a conflict, the more computer wargames it whelped, we’d be tripping over Taiping Rebellion titles. The 19th Century Chinese civil war at the heart of the released-yesterday SGS Taipings claimed around twenty-five times more lives than the contemporaneous American Civil War. Reflecting its subject matter’s duration, venue, and complexity, SGS’s £18 standalone offering features the largest map, longest scenario, and fattest event deck yet seen in the series.
I is for Itty-bitty interview…
…with Scott Goffman of Panic Ensues Software.
THC: What is your happiest memory from your twelve years at Blizzard?
Scott: For roughly the first ten years I spent at Blizzard, I was creating and leading their In-Game Cinematics team. That was a lot of fun (and extremely challenging for a while), but eventually I started to really miss working directly on games. Which motivated me to make the first Crash Dive as a side project… but rather than “scratching the itch”, it just made me want to get back into game development full-time. So when the opportunity came along to join the Overwatch team, I jumped at it. It was a small team (well, “small” for Blizzard) working on a game that was right up my alley, so those two years leading up to shipping the game were a blast.
Scott: Definitely! I started on the Apple II, then the Amiga when it came out; there are so many games I really loved on those platforms that just don’t have modern-day equivalents. That was the origin of Xenoform: I had played the Amiga game Virus for hours, learning how to master its brutally unforgiving controls and flight mechanics, and wanted a modern-day version of it. When I couldn’t find anything that delivered the experience I was looking for, I decided to make it for myself.
Of course, once it was released I quickly learned that modern gamers have no interest in learning to fly a hyper-sensitive, barely-stable jump-jet. But at least I still enjoy playing it, so technically I fulfilled my goal!
THC: Which aspects of solo game development do you most relish, and which feel like chores?
Scott: Programming. Especially writing fundamental “systems” that can be reused, repurposed, and easily expanded down the road as I continue to develop the game (including post-shipping). For pretty much my entire career I worked on art in one form or another, so the software engineering side of game dev is a refreshing change for me. For the same reason, 3D modeling feels like a chore, just because I’ve done way too much of it over the past 30 years.
But my most hated task (and one I’m particularly bad at) is marketing. These days marketing a game requires diving deep into social media, something that I truly detest. I’m sure I could sell a ton more copies if I could get past that, but it seems that I can always find an excuse to work on a new game feature instead of spreading the word about an upcoming release.
THC: Is the next game from Panic Ensues Software likely to appeal to Tally-Ho Corner readers?
Scott: Given my track record, it seems likely! It will probably be more quick-action than sim next time, since I like to alternate between those (e.g. Crash Dive -> Tail Gun Charlie). I can almost guarantee that it will be in either a sci-fi or WWII setting.
That said, I do have a soft spot for puzzle games, and if I can come up with a new/clever twist on one, I might have to chase it down…
(Side note: Does anyone else remember Bolo on the Apple II? I’ve got a craving to play that on modern hardware…)
THC: Name a game, either released or upcoming, that you think deserves more attention.
Scott: While I never much enjoyed the competitive RTS scene (probably because I suck at it), I really enjoyed the single player campaigns of games like Command & Conquer and Starcraft. Some friends of mine left Blizzard to start up Frost Giant Studios, and they’re making a “next generation” RTS that I think is going to be fantastic. But full disclosure: I might be biased, as I did some consulting work there when they were creating a prototype for the game.
THC: Thank you for your time.
J is for January job opportunities
(Crown Copyright. Photographer: SAC Charlotte Hopkins, JIAG)
Britain’s Combat Mission-partial Defence Science and Technology Lab is looking to fill ten wargaming-related vacancies at its Fareham campus. If you hail from the land of Shakespeare, Short Sunderlands, and shepherd’s pie and fancy earning a living as a state-funded ‘Computer-assisted Wargamer’, ‘Strategic Gamer’, or ‘Senior Wargamer’ you’ll need to get a wiggle on. Applications must be in by 29th January.
K is for Knocked by few
The fact that SimRail boasts no US, British, or German content and doesn’t allow mid-journey saving yet, doesn’t appear to have led to many scarlet Steam reviews. Most early adopters seem too enamoured with the Polish newcomer’s high quality physics and sounds, long lines, and excellent multiplayer facilities, to gripe.
L is for Let me freelance
Since Monday, Tiny Combat Arena owners have been able to select AI airframes such as the Phantom and Fishbed as steeds, and test a three-sortie campaign prototype incorporating prescribed objectives. Hopefully Why485 will provide a completely unfettered ‘Arena Mode’ in addition to linear win-to-progress campaigns. Too few sims let me intervene in an unscripted war wherever and whenever I choose.
M is for Mixed metaphor warning
Slitherine’s WEGO dogfighting title is delayed not dead according to a recent forum post. Realising that something was a bit off, last year the dev team – presumably still led by ex Big Robot coder James Carey – bit the bullet and went back to the drawing board. The rethink means it’s going to be a while until we find out whether Scramble: Battle of Britain does for WW2 air warfare what Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord did for the earthbound variety.
N is for Nit worth picking
Talking of CM, the realism analysis you see in the official Combat Mission forum is often of an extremely high calibre. For example, in this thought-provoking thread, aptly named Danish player, Bulletpoint, doesn’t just muse on the vulnerability of AFV weapon mounts in CM, they provide a remarkably pertinent/persuasive real-life example to reinforce their argument.
O is for Oceania on the way
Quite how Advanced Tactics managed to get no votes in THC’s Top 50 Wargames poll is a bit of a mystery. I can’t think of many15-year-old wargames that are still being modded and updated as vigorously. A team of volunteers does most of the engine tweaking these days, as designer Victor Reijkersz is busy on Shadow Empire’s first expansion pack. Undergoing beta testing at present, Oceania will allow Shadow Imperialists to island hop on seriously wet worlds and use contractable AI-controlled Maritime Trade Houses to carry out tasks such as exploration, transportation, and port construction.
P is for Pointless provocation
If, after my bruising departure from RPS in 2020, I had decided to start work on a “cathartic” retro FPS about gunning down dogmatic ‘trans allies’, I hope someone – a friend, colleague, or family member – would have taken me to one side and said “Tim, WTF are you doing?”. Unfortunately, no-one seems to have urged Norwegian coder Sandra Moen to think again. If they had perhaps the nasty Terfenstein 3D wouldn’t have made it onto Steam.
Q is for Quick tea card
Card no.21 from Wings Across The World, a 24-card set issued by Lyons Tea in 1961, shows a Tupolev Tu-114. The passenger-carrying variant of the long-lived Tu-95 strategic bomber, these big swept-wing turboprop airliners went like stink (top speed was circa 540 mph), could cover huge distances (6800 miles), and had an enviable safety record. Thirty-two plied the skies for Aeroflot and Japan Airlines between 1962 and 1976.
R is for R.I.P.
and Ken Block.
S is for Second Front review imminent
Don’t miss next Friday’s feature. As MicroProse and HexDraw have been kind enough to supply me with Second Front code well ahead of the title’s Jan 31st release date, the first part of my multi-part review will appear this time next week. In the incredibly unlikely event I rattle through all forty-eight of SF’s single scenarios, and all four of its campaigns during the next seven days, then there’s always user-made scenarios to fall back on. SF will launch with at least fifty-five extra battles ready and waiting in the Steam workshop.
T is for Trenchy Total War
Petroglyph are convinced they can turn the misery machine that was the WWI Western Front into an engaging, evocative RTS. If the glimpses of game play in the above video are any guide, their confidence is well-founded.
U is for U-50 undone
Two strikes by Brighton & Hove Albion’s Solly March left the Das Football Boot wolfpack reeling last Saturday. U-50 (Liverpool), the U-boat that famously sunk seven ships in a single encounter, and led the DFB tonnage table for over four months, won’t be returning to Brest. Potentially (Sunk players are welcome to restart with a new sub), the loss means no more of cederic’s splendid sitreps. This one was from Dec 31st:
“U-50 (Liverpool) – Undamaged – Fuel 32 – Torpedoes 14 – Outbound (PA-5) – Caution 2 – 58300 tons sunk — Heavily relaxed and finally sober the crew of the U-50 are back in the fray. Heiligabend saw a number of silly hats introduced to the boat, which now has a new standing order that they must be worn to all breakfasts until this patrol is complete — That meant some comedy headwear was involved in a brief affray with a British destroyer. We saw it first, and were under the surface before the first of its shells arrived, and long gone before the depth charges hit the water — We got our revenge by ambushing a pair of British fishing boats. They were allowed to sail home, but fresh fish and a new radio set are keeping the crew happy as we progress towards Patrol Area 5.”
V is for Virtually done?
The latest video from Green Tree Games provides some tantalising glimpses of Burden of Command’s hexy battlefields and excellent writing. It also hints that Luke Hughes & Co. are close-ish to the end of their developmental marathon. How close-ish? Yesterday Luke gave me a rundown of the tasks still outstanding:
“We need to finish playtesting Germany and the tutorials, and finalise armor and weapon data, the main screen and the between-scenarios GUI. Then we’ll have something close to a full alpha and we can bring in a second wave of playtesters. Also we need to focus on balance, a lite RPG skill tree (“Mindsets”) and a limited list of QOL tools that playtesting has revealed a need for (e.g. a LOS tool). Once we feel good about balance, stability, etc we will start thinking about a release date.”
W is for Why sail when you could foil?
Hydrofoil Generation, a breeze-reliant race sim from Assetto Corsa designer Stefano “kunos” Casillo, could well be Early Accessible by the time the next A2Z drops. Equipped with both catamarans and monohulls, it will let its users cleave brine at speeds of up to 50 knots off Hong Kong, Bermuda, and – one of my favourite Sail Simulator venues – Den Haag.
X is for Xplore, xpand, xploit, and xterminate xpeditiously
The much-deeper-than-it-looks PocketCiv may well appear in the next 3×3. A port of a free board game that some adore and others find too capricious, it condenses Meier and Shelley’s classic 4X in a most ingenious manner. A deck of event cards that unleashes cataclysms such as epidemics, volcanic eruptions, and civil wars is the source of much of the game’s Marmite.
Y is for Year well spent
When will DCS World fliers finally be able to lose themselves in Falcon 4.0-style dynamic campaigns? Search me, but a statement issued by Eagle Dynamics on December 30 confirms that the EDDCE was on the front burner last year:
“After having completed the global structure of the Dynamic Campaign Engine in 2021, 2022 saw substantial fine-tuning of the system’s individual components. For example, our general scheme of ATOs was built starting from defensive combat air patrol operations along borders, through all subsequent stages, including SEAD suppression of enemy air defenses, air superiority, CAS close air support, interdiction and deep strike. Ground equipment and operations also received a lot of attention. In addition to the actual movement of units to perform their assigned mission, a mechanism was created for correctly tasking vehicles in a group based fashion depending on their tactical situation: attack, defense, or transit.
To increase the number of units in the campaign without over-tasking the CPU, only units that are ‘visible’ to the player or that ‘see’ the player (eyesight and sensor range based) are fully calculated. For the remaining units, lighter algorithms are used which are based on pre-calculated data sets. It is good to note that when preparing such data, separate mechanisms are used in EDDCE to easily process all upcoming equipment and weapons which will be added to DCS. To ensure that unit calculations do not negatively affect gameplay, seamless transitions between the lighter and the fully-fledged calculation models have been implemented. This will allow the player to see all the units in their correct place, performing their tasks while moving across the entire map. When interacting with the player, all units use the normal DCS algorithms.
Another important task that received attention this year is the ‘front-line’ system. A new model of multiple front-lines has been implemented that allows for a more illustrative picture of breakthrough and encircling maneuvers. During 2022, the main engine elements were tuned, allowing campaign management to be more automated, based on the dynamic situations as they evolve in the campaign.”
Z is for Zero frills
A version of ascetic hex wargame Pelagium Origins with sounds, a random skirmish generator, and slightly sharpened AI could garner quite a following I reckon. Even without these luxuries, eludi’s elegant design occupies mind and mouse hand pretty efficiently.