Best of 2005 SimHQ Readers and Staff Pick the Winners

Comments and Analysis by Chunx

 

SimHQ's Best of 2005Well 2005 sure was an interesting year for the sim crowd: Sure it was a tad sparser on new commercial titles than some past years, but on the plus side there seemed to be a higher overall quality to the titles released. Like this year’s crop of major motion pictures, we saw some game titles from the past resurrected and updated into new products, with some varied levels of success. We also saw some new ground covered in terms of how game software were marketed and distributed, and as we alluded to in our E3 series of articles, we saw the advance of small, devoted developers in the genre that we all love.

Finally, we saw a plethora of new mods for many of our favorite titles, in fact the number of mods were too many to count or remember (as our readers were quick to point out!). The question we’ll answer today is the most important: Which new games were “the best of the best” in the eyes of our sim community? This year, the staff at SimHQ decided to let you, the SimHQ member, tell us what titles were your favorites, and the mechanism to do that was to take a poll — thus leveraging the power of the modern internet. Pure genius, eh?

Creating this year’s un-scientific poll was the subject of much discussion, yelling, personal attacks and recrimination in the halls and offices of the SimHQ staff. Picture the scene: It was sometime near the end of the SimHQ New Year’s Eve office party: WKlink had just convinced Cat to stop marching around the office while woozily demanding “Drink ‘wodkah’ width me, you capitalist basstarts!” Magnum was forced to use his Taser to take the lampshade off 20mm’s head (note to 20mm: Magnum says that if you yell “WOOT!” in his ear one more time — ever — he’ll use his sidearm instead!). And Beach finally won his first “carrier landing” competition on the conference room table (shhh — don’t tell the boss. He’s a stickler for not scratching up that mahogany table).

It wasn’t until nearly 3 AM when guod, using a value-sized bag of potato chips and a bowl of onion dip, finally coaxed everyone away from the margarita machine and into his office to lay out the framework for this year’s poll. How many categories? How many titles? How many Mods? Which ones? Who took all the limes and salt? So many questions.

Because we didn’t want members to confuse filling out the SimHQ poll with taking the SAT, we decided to “truncate” or limit the list of titles to a select few that we thought were particularly noteworthy in their respective niches within the genre. We knew the list was a compromise, that it wouldn’t/couldn’t satisfy everyone, and was far from scientific (although it seemed quite complicated at the time) but we felt it covered the bases adequately and besides, we were all more than a little sleepy when the margarita machine finally ran dry. So we called the Poll’s list a ‘wrap’ and set off to crawl underneath our desks to sleep it off.

One thing that came up immediately when we initially posted the “test poll” was that you had to vote in every single category in order to complete the poll. Since some folks don’t play racing sims, and some others aren’t all that interested in naval combat, we felt that forcing folks to vote in all categories would incorrectly skew the results. So we added a “no opinion” option, which opened up yet another Pandora’s Box of questions and analysis from those who took the poll. We’ll discuss what we think the “no opinion” results mean later on, but suffice it to say that this option was the lesser of two evils.

Finally, just for fun the staff ran a “staff only” poll early on in this process, just to see how our own opinions would match up to the rank and file members of the site. Now, let’s go to the polls and see how each category did.

And the winners are….

 

 

 

Best Aviation Sim:
Winner: Falcon 4: Allied Force
Runner Up: Lock On: Flaming Cliffs

Staff Poll:
Winner: Falcon 4: Allied Force
Runner Up: Battle of Britain II

Comments: No giant surprise here. Modern jet sims represent the genesis of the computer simulation game, and Falcon 4 is the ultimate simulation title of it’s genre. The Allied Force iteration cleaned up many of the bugs of the original title and brought the graphics up to code for the 21st century. Kudos to Graphsim and Lead Pursuit for bringing this superb title back to life, and we hope it helps cultivate the next generation of simulation enthusiasts.

Since LOMAC was to be the successor to the modern jet sim throne, it’s also no surprise that the superb Flaming Cliffs mod also made the list as runner up. What is interesting is that the staff picked BOB II instead of Flaming Cliffs. Read below for some analysis of this outcome.

Best Aviation Freeware Mod:
Winner: Over Flanders Fields (CFS3)
Runner Up: EEAH/EECH ver 162W (EEAH/EECH)

Staff Poll:
Winner: Over Flanders Fields (CFS3)
Runner Up: EEAH/EECH ver 162W (EEAH/EECH)

Comments: We were all bummed out when all the WW I titles dropped of the scope in 2005, and there’s clearly an itch that needed scratching in the sim world for a historic title from the dawn of air combat. OFF has certainly scratched that itch for us all, as well as breathing new life into Microsoft’s CFS 3.

EEAH and EECH are probably some of the most well-balanced helo sim titles out there, and with a strong following of core modders, the games continue to age well, like a fine wine.

Best Land Combat:
Winner: SWAT 4

Staff Poll:
Winner: SWAT 4

Comments: Not a lot of choices in 2005 for Tac Sim fans, but this one was VERY well done. Except for the advertisements, as Magnum has pointed out.

Best “Run & Gun” Game:
Winner: Battlefield 2
Runner Up: Call of Duty 2

Staff Poll:
Winner Tie: Battlefield 2 & Call of Duty 2

Comments: We could tell what a fun and exciting casual combat title BF2 would be when we saw it at E3. And it is. But the historical sim fans on the staff also liked the style and flow of COD 2, so much so that it turned out to be a tie.

 

 

Best Land Combat Freeware/Mod:
Winner: America’s Army: Special Forces

Staff Poll:
Winner: America’s Army: Special Forces

Comments: Well, I guess when you have a superb, complete game title that cost millions of dollars to create, but is distributed for free, you’ve got a sure-fire winner in the Free-ware categories. No other mod even came close, the best registering only a 5% share.

Best Naval Combat:
Winner: Silent Hunter III

Staff Poll:
Winner: Silent Hunter III

Comments: The Naval Combat genre isn’t a large one, but despite its StarForce woes SH III was a solid title that has with its high quality graphics, innovative features and game play have set a very high standard for naval simulations.

Best Freeware Mod For SCS Dangerous Waters:
Winner: LuftWolf and Amizaur’s Weapons and Sensors Realism mod

Staff Poll:
Winner: Crazy Ivan’s Russian Voices

Comments: With such a high level of realism out of the box, game enhancement mods are predominant over the realism mods. However as with all naval sims realism is the most sought after item. It is especially pleasing to see the high quality of mods being produced by the community.

Best Freeware Mod For Silent Hunter III:
Winner: Real U-Boat Mod

Staff Poll:
Winner: Real U-Boat Mod

Comments: RUB has gone from strength to strength on the back of the community’s desire for greater realism. Hopefully Ubisoft will take this on board for Silent Hunter IV.

Best Motorsports:
Winner: GT Legends
Runner Up: GT Racing (GTR)

Staff Poll:
Winner: GT Racing (GTR)
Runner Up: rFactor

Comments: SimBin really came through for the motorsports crowd this year, with two great titles. Yes there were support problems for GTR, and there was that StarForce thing (again), but overall these are two great titles, lovingly crafted by a team that loves racing sims as much as we do. Of all the games listed as winners or runners up, it’s noteworthy to see that ISI’s game engines power every one of them – not that there’s a lot of options in this year’s motorsports sim marketplace.

 

 

Best Freeware Motorsports Mod:
Winner: 1969 F1 Mod (GPL)
Runner Up: No other mod came close to being called a “runner up”

Staff Poll:
Winner: 1969 F1 Mod (GPL)
Runner Up: Porsche Carrera Cup (rFactor)

Comments: GPL is still the benchmark by which all other racing sims are measured. And the mods made for it, so far, have re-affirmed the title’s dominance and longevity in the racing sim world.

Best Technology Item:
Winner: Natural Point Track IR 4
Runner Up: AMD Athlon 64 X2

Staff Poll:
Winner: Natural Point Track IR 4
Runner Up: AMD Athlon 64 X2

Comments: It looks like the Track IR system has done for simulations what the mouse did for general computing. It’s made itself an indispensable tool in the sim fan’s combat arsenal. Congrats to the vision and foresight of Natural Point for this superbly innovative new product.

Faster is always better when it comes to CPU intensive titles like simulations, and the AMD 64 X2 delivers gaming speed by the truckload.

This category was almost a tie between the AMD 64 X2 and the TIR 4, which is no surprise when one considers just how important quality peripherals and fast processors are to the simulation genre.

Best Multiplayer Experience:
Winner: IL-2 Series
2005 Release Winner/Runner Up: Battlefield 2
Third: Falcon 4.0: Allied Force

Staff Poll:
Winner: IL-2 Series
2005 Release Winner/Runner Up: rFactor
Third: Battlefield 2

Comments: I for one didn’t understand why we had the IL-2 series in a “Best Of 2005” poll. Don’t get me wrong – the game series is fantastic. But, it isn’t a 2005 title. I mean, I play F1C and GPL online from time to time, but you don’t see them in this poll. Hence, I am showing the third place game here, just so we can see where things played out.
So, what’s it all mean, Chunx? Unlike other polls, we make no claim to scientific accuracy of any kind. Heck, we’re not even scientists! One reader even likened the poll to nothing more than “mental masturbation.” I know that’s not true. Heck, we don’t even have time to…. ah, never mind. Regardless, even with an un-scientific, auto-erotic poll such as this, some of the trends we see in the numbers are worth a thought and a few comments.

First off, the sample size wasn’t that large. SimHQ has a membership list in the thousands, but less than 500 folks participated in the survey. Hopefully we’ll get greater participation in future polls.
By and large the staff’s opinions matched up fairly well with the members, particularly in the technology, land combat, and the mainstay areas of simulations genre – aviation. That’s a good thing, and not entirely unexpected since we’re all simulation fans just like you. There were some noteworthy differences, however.

In aviation, BOB II was the staff’s runner up, narrowly nudging out Flaming Cliffs. In the reader’s poll, it was just the opposite.

BOB II was very popular with The SimHQ team and we were very excited to see BOB II on display at E3 this year. Having already drank in the graphical “tender loving care” that had been spent to beautify Empire’s already deep and immersive historical sim-strategy title was no doubt what put it above Flaming Cliffs in the staff’s minds – and back on their hard drives. In addition, the SimHQ staff contains more than a few fans of historical flight sim titles, and like MiG Alley before it, BOB remains one of the best sim strategy concepts in the genre. Note to Shockwave: Please make us a MiG Alley II.

In motorsports, the staff differed quite a bit from the members in our opinions. Members liked GT Legends, no doubt because of it’s graphical beauty, nostalgic era, and superb G-Motor 2 game engine. On the staff, issues with the controversial heavy handed, arcade-style unlock system, and lack of worldwide release knocked this superb game down a peg to GTR. Despite GTR’s support issues, SimBin is to be commended on squeezing every last ounce of goodness out of ISI’s older game engine, and the sounds of the cars are simply fantastic.

I have to admit that I voted for GTR for the reasons mentioned above, but there is another 2005 motorsports title that has the potential to become THE racing sim of all time, due in large part to it’s mod-ability, superb physics, and rock-solid multiplayer. But judging from our poll results, it seems that ISI’s
rFactor was one of the best-kept secrets of the 2005. Perhaps because it’s available only online via download from ISI’s web site or because the game only ships with fictitious cars and tracks (it’s a purpose-built framework in which to hang mods). What the staff seems to know that many of our members do not is that rFactor offers very stable and fun multiplay, outstanding AI and physics, and that the mods that are being made for it are simply a joy to play (such as the GSMF’s Porsche Carrera Cup mod, LO’s F3 mod, or D3’s upcoming 1966 Can Am mod).

Speaking of multiplayer; note that in the staff poll, rFactor was runner-up in that category. That’s certainly a noteworthy tidbit for our readers to consider.

Note to motorsports fans: Check out rFactor. It’s online distribution format is the wave of the future for game titles, and the physics model is very robust and rewarding. The mods that go with it will continue to multiply, and they are very, very good.

“‘No Opinion’: Ominous or Interesting?” One of the larger discussions in the forums and among the staff didn’t center on a particular title or category, but on the ominous “no opinion” option. Some felt that it showed how fragmented our sim community is. I don’t know about the “fragmented” part. I think that if you like flight sims, then that’s no indication, and there’s certainly no requirement, that you should like naval sims. Really they’re two genres within a niche. You know, like an enigma, wrapped in a mystery…
? (Name this movie quote in our Article Feedback forum, and guod might give you a prize! Maybe).
Category “No Opinion” %/#

Aviation Sim: 18% / (82/460)
Aviation Mod: 38% / (173/460)

Land Combat: 62% / (286/460)
“Run ‘n Gun”: 33% (154/460)
Land Mod: 58% (266/460)

Naval Sim: 32% / (147/460)
SCS Mod: 89% / (410/460)
SH III Mod: 75% / (347/460)

Motorsports: 63% / (288/460)
Motorsports Mod: 82% / (376/460)

Technology: 24% / (111/460)
Multiplayer: 35% / (159/460)

A lot of people pick up on the simulation hobby because of the challenge, but also because the sim often represents something they would have liked to do, had life’s cards played out differently. In a small way, you can live a vicarious life through a challenging sim title. Perhaps the most striking example of this are guys like Robert Coulter of Adrenaline PCs, who is part of such a huge MSFS online flying fan base that they have their own human ATC, and all fly in the same cyberspace on commercial air routes. But just because Robert has a desire to fly planes doesn’t mean he’s also got a hidden desire to be a U-Boat commander in WW II.

This is the area where our hobby diverges from game titles as pure entertainment. At the movie theater, I may go see movies covering a wide variety of movie genres and subject matter. The same holds true for most game titles, such as The Sims, Empire IV, Half Life 2, F.E.A.R, KOTOR II, Doom 3 or Black & White – they’re entertainment. But sims are frequently a bit more than that, because while they are very entertaining to us they also “scratch our itch” to do some challenging task that interests us, or that we could have done in real life.

I know that’s how it is for me with motorsports. When I entered the PC world in 1998, I was immediately attracted to modern jet sims because “I could relate.” My learning curve was lower because I already had the basic training on the subject. But quickly I got that “been here, done that” feeling because I do flying for a living. I noticed that my tastes were shifting into two distinct paths: historical flight sims and motorsports sims. Not coincidentally, these are my two primary interests outside of aviation, and two things I can’t readily do, because a) I don’t have a time machine to go back and fight in WW II or Korea, and b) I am not a millionaire groomed to be professional race car driver. But I can get a taste of both of those things through the wonder of the modern PC.

But I have no interest in naval sims, for example. I never dreamed of driving a ship when I was a kid, and my time in the Navy re-enforced my distaste for that line of work. ? So it should be no surprise that I don’t follow those titles, and don’t buy them. But that doesn’t make me guilty of fragmenting the community.

I think the ‘no opinion’ lines shows us that folks have specific tastes in the sim community, because they have a very specific ‘itch’ that needs to be scratched. And because of that, we have seen very limited sales w/in our community. Other game genres don’t have this problem, because as pure entertainment they can reach a wider audience. Imagine how movie sales would be if some folks only were interested in seeing comedies about veterinarians, or dramas about bankers, or mysteries about IT professionals.

How I read the “no opinion” tea leaves:
1. The members of this site are primarily devoted aviation sim fans.

2. We occasionally dabble in more mainstream forms of electronic entertainment, because it’s entertaining, fun and escapist.

3. Most of us aren’t “mod maniacs”. We may have a few favorite mods, but in general we play a relatively ‘stock’ version of our titles.

4. We have a great deal of loyalty to titles that we already enjoy, and in large part find that titles we enjoy are very ‘deep’ titles that have a high degree of replayability (IL-2, F4 and GPL come to mind).

5. We cross-niche within the sim genre, but not too much. For the majority of our members, all simulation subjects are not equally interesting.

Of course, SimHQ serves as a “one stop shop” for simmers of all flavors, covering a wide range and variety of simulation subject matter, and we think that many of the members of this site are likewise willing and interested to try some other aspect of the sim genre, which only serves to expand the community. But the fact remains that most simmers don’t have equal enthusiasm for all simulation subject matter. For example, we might find flight and racing sims interesting, but not naval sims or land combat.

6. Because our games are hardware-intensive, we are very savvy about the technology of PCs.

7. The members of this site in general enjoy complex task titles (modern jet avionics, ship handling) over pure hand/eye action (motorsports, shooters).

Well, that’s it for 2005’s SimHQ Awards. When thinking about the poll and the results, don’t forget to take the time to look back on all the entertainment value you got from this years titles, and especially the superb freeware mods. Thank you all for participating, and we look forward to your gaming inputs and comments in the coming year. The staff enjoyed comparing notes with the members and looking at the trend data that can be extracted from the results – we hope you enjoyed it, too.

And to the devoted developers and dedicated mod teams out there: Your efforts are often (at best) thankless, and so we here at SimHQ would just like to say THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR HARD WORK, THE ENTERTAINMENT YOU’VE PROVIDED US OVER THE YEAR, AND FOR HELPING TO KEEP OUR SMALL BUT REWARDING HOBBY ALIVE.

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