Behind the LInes #8

By Scott Parrino 28 Jun 2003 0

Golly, I come back from a few days of vacation in Missouri and find that computer gaming charged along without me. Buckling down, I'll try to catch up with what's been going on.

Neat Sites

Although technically surpassed by the great Il-2 Sturmovik series, European Air War will always have a warm spot in every World War II flight simer's heart. Where else can one wrestle a Hurricane into position to hit the Heinkels before they clobber the airfields? The Me-109 pilot whose heart doesn't jump to his throat as he sees those tremendous streams of B-17s has no heart to begin with. Yes, European Air War is a classic and, fortunately, has received the fan attention it deserves.

As one would expect, the number of fan sites for European Air War is legion. Every possible mod, plane skin, sound file, gun sight variation, terrain clarification and general utility is out there. A gamer could literally spend days surfing the Net to check out and download everything out there - given the quality available, he probably should. Fortunately, Mike Norris' Sandbagger's EAW Links site serves the community much as a frontier trading post did in the Old West. This site would be a fine site in and of itself, containing news, archives, many downloadable skins and maps as well as hints.

What really sets this site apart is the completeness, organization and reliability of the links. Mike updates his entire page frequently to insure any new sites are included and that broken links are either repaired or removed. He organizes these links into categories such as skin finder, add-on finder, general and ace of aces as well as listing all the web pages. The "finder" pages have nice instructions for how to search for a specific item. Each item is described thoroughly and links to the pertinent site always work. The listings for the web pages are alphabetical and contain a very comprehensive description of each site's content. The most interesting category of all is the "Ace of Aces" division. Here, skins of the aircraft of World War II aces are portrayed along with a short comment on the ace and the link to the downloadable skin. Mike Norris' site will open up many new worlds for European Air War players, be they veterans or beginners.

Rumors of War (games)

HPS and John Tiller have a tight-lipped policy about future games. Actually, this policy is nice because it allows gamers to do one of the things they enjoy most: speculate. We've heard that Tiller and his team are working on a new Panzer Campaigns game and a new Modern Campaigns game. Let's analyze the situation.

Trends are apparent in the production of earlier Panzer Campaigns games. They tend to alternate between the East and West Fronts while dealing with hitherto neglected battles. The latest entry was Sicily '43 so the East Front is the likeliest candidate. Although Tiller has yet to do the obligatory Stalingrad, he may chose to do Operations Uranus or Mars. The northern front around Leningrad would also be a juicy topic. For all this, gamers may be thrown a curve with another West Front game. Tiller hasn't done Operation Market-Garden but that fiasco has been done more often than the noodles in my building's cafeteria. The battles in North Africa during 1942 would yield a very nice mix of units and situations. Italy remains strangely untouched by developers as is the 1940 campaigns. The Cobra breakout would seem to fit Tiller's engine well. The options are plentiful but my money's on Operations Uranus and Mars, combining Zhukov's masterstroke with his biggest embarrassment.

If many options are available for the Panzer Campaigns series, then the Modern Campaigns game is wide open. To date, this series has only Middle East '67 and Fulda Gap '85 to its credit. No pattern has been set and even the word "modern" is wide open to interpretation. The natural choice would be one or both of the Iraq/US conflicts but that may be too obvious. Assuming a trustworthy set of order of battles exist, the Iran/Iraq War would be an interesting choice. Would the fight to overthrow the Tailban in Afghanistan qualify as a campaign or would Bosnia? Maybe. An interesting and relevant topic would be the Indo-Pak Wars. Outside of some The Operational Art of War scenarios, nothing has been done on the fascinating topic. Another game "ripped from today's headlines" would be a hypothetical conflict in Korea. If World War III is to be fought in Europe after all, why not see how the British Army of the Rhine and the Bundeswehr would have handled a Soviet attack across the North German Plain. This theater was as crucial as the one around Frankfurt. With the Seven Days' War done, a Yom Kippur War follow-up would be logical. If a strong naval and air component could be featured, the Falklands War could be interesting, although that conflict would seem more amenable to a Squad Battles game. Anyway, all bets are off on this one.

If speculation about a game that most certainly will see the light of day is fun, speculation about a game's probable demise is bittersweet. Harpoon 4 no longer has a release date. The development of this game has been one long string of slips, changes and postponements. The last independent developer, Ulimation went bankrupt, leaving publisher Ubi Soft holding the bag. Ubi Soft gave the game to an in-house team and the word on the street was that the hand-off went well and the game would be released this October. However, the latest word from Ubi Soft mentioned no release date. Harpoon is a complicated game. How smooth could any transition be? Ubi Soft's last two naval games, Silent Hunter II and Destroyer Command, met with less than resounding applause and have been saved through independent efforts. What kind of signals does this send to Ubi Soft? Two independent make-overs of previous Harpoon games, Harpoon 3 and HC2002, are being well-received by the Harpoon community. Does Ubi Soft feel its product can stand comparison to these games? My take on this issue is that Harpoon 4 is dead, sunk and will be inaccessible even to Robert Ballard. If anybody takes exception to this, fine, but please bring some facts and certainties to the table and check outraged puffery at the door.

Most everyone knows that BreakAway Games is doing the next expansion pack for Civilization III but what wasn't reported was what exactly BreakAway is doing. Charlie Kibler gave me a few insights. The editor will be enhanced and refined so that we can expect the flood of excellent user scenarios we saw with Civilization II. More importantly, a number of professionally designed scenarios will be there. For instance, Bob Waters is doing "Mesoamerica", which will feature slave trade and ritual sacrifice while Mile Fetterman's "Sengoku - Sword of the Samurai" will finally see the light of day. Evidently, many of the scenarios will be linked somehow so that players can begin in ancient Mesopotamia and end in the Pacific during World War II, with sidetrips to Rome, the Middle Ages and the New World. Several different new races, complete with unique units, will be developed along with new terrain and structures. BreakAway is also working on several other projects but they are in the "Black Ops" stage and cannot be discussed yet. Stay tuned for details as I get out my bamboo splinters and truth serum to go after more details.

Rumors and bon mots abound about the name of Frank Hunter's World War I game. The original name, Trench, was judged misleading as the game is strategic, not tactical. Contenders for the title include The Road to Mons and Back to Mons or Europe Gone Mad. Things are getting a bit out of hand over there. The War to End All Wars would seem to be nice.

Battlefront and Hubert Cater's sleeper hit, Strategic Command, will naturally generate a sequel initially called Strategic Command 2. However, Mr. Cater is keeping mum about its nature. Now that the v1.07 patch has been completed, the original game is frozen. Things like Russian winter movement won't be implemented. Assuming matters such as that will be taken up in the sequel, the new game will probably remain World War II European theater but with a very different engine. As he still works alone, Mr. Cater warns us to not hold our breath for the release.

Not all rumors are speculative or bad. Consider these tidbits:

Tesseraction may have found North American and Australian publishers for Enigma: Rising Tide. Anybody who has played the European version can attest to this game's innovative and entertainment value. The release may be as soon as early July.

Naval Warfare Simulations keeps on moving Warship Combat - World War 2 along. Versions 2.3 and 2.4 introduced larger ship images and tweaked the interface. Team leader Christopher Dean promises major changes in version 2.5. Such changes could include grouping and commanding ships by division. These guys are taking a good concept to the limit.

Major Holdridge is planning a new TacOps release. The fifth version will include changes from the ANZAC version along with changes being done for the USMC.

Developer Brad Wardell gave me some insights into what we can expect for the free Galactic Civilizations expansion kit. Rally points will help with fleet management and hyperlinks will give information for any ship or entity at a touch. A Tech navigator will yield insight into future techs and the graphics will be improved greatly. I have the feeling these are only the tip of the iceberg. Brad is truly committed to an already great game.

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