What’s a Sim? – Redux

Or, Ignore It… Maybe It’ll Go Away

by Charles “PFunk” Bellows

 

Our new Console Simulations Editor talks about what you will and won’t see at SimHQ. Today “PFunk” reprises the discussion first addressed here.

Last April, I became so intrigued by Microsoft’s entry into the next-gen console horse race, I went and did something my wife still kicks herself for letting me do. I bought one, with my eyes on upcoming simulation-grade titles for this new console.

Since that time, I’ve been surprised, enthused, and disappointed with some of my experiences with this new technological advance in gaming. Hardcore simulations are a demanding mistress, sometimes I want to go through six menus of AI wingman commands. My first simulator title was Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat, and I can still hear ol’ Chuck informing me of what a moron I was for augering in, getting my butt shot off, etc.

But, occasionally, I want to simply spin up a simulation and play.

Why Consoles?

Sometimes we want steaks at Ruth’s Chris. Sometimes we want a Whataburger Taquito at three in morning after drinking at least three pitchers of cheap beer and losing a car payment shooting pool. Never happened to me, by the way.

We’re going to see new members in this new field. Console fans comprise a large audience, an audience that already includes a number of our own members. This hasn’t come without concerns, for example: have you seen some of the sites frequented by console fans? Have you seen their command of the English language? Do they own an iron or know a decent barber? Good grief, those people are coming here?! Man the gates! Prepare the boiling oil!

I sympathize. I considered console gaming to firmly be the bailiwick of teenagers with the attention span of a ferret on crack. I saw them every day as a teacher in American classrooms, so the idea of identifying with some of them wasn’t all that appealing. I began to notice a trend, however.

When shopping for the latest PC simulations, I began to see more and more young men my age, well-dressed, clean-cut fellows who obviously held gainful employment, doing their shopping for entertainment in…the console aisle? Like most of my fellow members, I didn’t understand why this was when so many decent PC-based sim titles were gathering dust on the shelves at Best Buy.

My curiosity piqued, I made the fateful decision to buy an Xbox 360.

I wasn’t alone. Many of the members of this site have also elected to purchase a next-generation console and are quickly finding out the same thing I am. There’s a lot of titles out there that aren’t any good, but there are some that really shine in their own right. We’ve learned a valuable and important lesson: PCs and consoles can each successfully run a simulation, tactical, aviation, naval, or otherwise. Console-based simulations exist, and can commercially purchased right now. The idea of a simulation on a console is not longer the subject of our Community Hall bull sessions.

Forza Motorsport and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter are examples of two console titles that belong right next to their PC brethren. In both examples, the experience is as good or better than many PC efforts. Over G Fighters brought real-world aircraft with accurate loadouts to the console, a feat by anyone’s measure. What keeps the aviation genre from taking off, so to speak, is the lack of a decent flight controller. Good steering wheels are already on retail shelves, so motorsports has a head-start. There’s no good reason to race on a console anymore without a wheel. Even the Microsoft Wireless Wheel will mount on a desk for us ‘desktop’ users.

What To Expect From SimHQ

My roots in simulation run deep. As Console Simulations Editor, I am under the premise that only titles whose concept includes the simulation of a real-world experience will apply and possibly be featured here. When reviewing a title, I will be doing serious, thorough research of the title itself and contacting the development house whenever possible to ascertain the level of fidelity the title will offer.

We intend to offer reviews of simulation-grade titles only as this is our charter and our primary mission. For example, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter for the Xbox 360 would have been a title that deserved a full-fledged review on SimHQ because it modeled real-world infantry tactics and used weapons systems that are either in use now or on the drawing board. It also modeled the use of support (both armor and aviation) and UAV reconnaissance, tools our ground forces are currently using in the War on Terror and in previous conflicts.

Tactical sims that are up for review would also include Rainbow Six: Vegas, Rogue Warrior, and Battlefield: Bad Company. In each case, early intel on these titles suggest a certain amount of squad control that takes it from being a simple first-person shooter to a tactical simulation. The developer behind Rogue Warrior is Zombie Studios, the people behind one of the first tactical shooters ever for the PC,Spec Ops: Rangers Lead The Way, so this actually should give tactical simulation fans some encouragement.

Can the console handle an air combat simulation with the fidelity of a LOMAC or Falcon 4.0: Allied Force? It would seem so as Ubisoft has already seen fit to send up Over G Fighters for simulation fans. While panned by most critics, it really did offer a lot more than anything that’s ever come before on a console. Using legitimate loadouts and simulation-level flight models (and an arcade flight-model for the beginning jet jockey), this title deserved a review on SimHQ and unfortunately it didn’t happen.

What kept Over G Fighters from really taking off (so to speak) was the lack of a proper flight controller. Up to this point, only one flight stick has ever been made for a console, the Logitech Flight Force stick and it was meant and intended for only one title, a sub-par Playstation 2 entry called Air Force Delta Strike that almost no one bought and certainly weren’t going to also buy a $60 peripheral to go along with it. This is an obstacle that must be overcome if flight simulations are to be featured on a console with any success.

Naval simulation fans are even going to be thrown the proverbial soup bone. Battlestations: Midway, a RTS/naval sim, is still on target for January of next year. If the screenshots I’ve seen so far are any indication, it will be a fairly comprehensive title, fit for the bathtub admiral in your family. Eidos’ work on this title offers not just a strategic campaign, but the ability to take command of up to 60 different kinds of ships and planes in the engagement. Not a bad achievement considering how much horsepower is needed to run one of these titles.

Motorsport fans clearly are going to get the lion’s share of simulation titles. Racing-themed offerings have long been a part of consoles and if there’s going to be inroads made, motorsports will lead the way as their pedigree is lengthy and distinguished.

If you’ve never gotten a chance to play Forza Motorsport for the Xbox, you’re missing out. It’s sequel is still on track for next year, and while I can’t say much, what I’ve seen so far has led me to believe that Dan Greenawalt and the rest of the staff at Turn 10 Studios will be bringing racing simulation fans something really worth your money and time. A long time ago, it was posited by someone that the reason that Forza wasn’t as visually attractive as its contemporaries was that the developers wanted to dedicate as much processing power that the original Xbox console had into the physics engine and AI as possible. Now that Turn 10 has a much more powerful piece of hardware to work with, it would seem that now they can address the visceral as well as the visual.

Also soon to be released for the 360 is Simbin’s GTR, the soup to nuts of racing simulation. Nothing more needs to be said for racing sim fans.

Not to be outdone, Polyphony Digital is returning with Gran Turismo HD for the Sony Playstation 3, the next-gen version of its older brother, Gran Turismo 4GT4 had every bit of the same appeal to realism fanatics that Forza did, but with one glaring omission, the complete lack of a damage model. This made GT4 little better than an arcade racer with unusually good physics, which encouraged sloppy driving with no penalty for mistakes. Early reports appear to indicate that this won’t change with GTHD, but it’s still way too early to tell with the game being pushed back to late next year.

One interesting title for you open-wheel racing fans is Formula One Championship Edition, which even promises to let you use the Sony PSP as a separate wing mirror. A PS3-only title, the visuals look pretty impressive although very little is known about the sim, except that finally an F1-themed racer will — at long last — be released in the United States.

What You Won’t See at SimHQ

Certain games are just that, games. They do not simulate anything that even remotely resembles anything tangible that we can point toright now. You will not see Snoopy and The Red Baron passed off as an aviation simulation. My scope is narrow, readers, my task made harder by the limits placed upon me by my friend and supervisor and my own good sense.

Games like the SOCOM series on the PS2 will be passed over along with, I’d wager, the vast majority of titles coming out for the console.

Wide is the gate for titles that do not bring us anything that can be attributed to our real world.

Narrow is the gate, narrow is the way for those few titles out there that will feature aspects of real-world experiences that we want to vicariously live out. Since we are not now contesting (nor have we ever) with an alien invasion, Gears of War, Half-Life 2, and Resistance: Fall of Man will, similarly, be eschewed in favor of titles that we can actually point to and say, “that’s real, that exists…” These are no doubt great games…and loads of fun…and not simulations.

But… Why?

For those concerned about a relaxing of the definition of a true simulation, don’t be. We are, as a community, expanding to meet the demands of hobbyists and enthusiasts alike. We believe that consoles are an area of potential growth for simulations. SimHQ is evolving. It’s the reason retrievers have webbed toes. Just because it likes to swim doesn’t mean it’s a fish. SimHQ will not, under anycircumstances, feature titles that do not offer us an acceptable degree of real-world fidelity. Expect to see the best that the genre can offer here and you’ll know whether or not to spend your hard-earned shekels on it. We will continue to concentrate on the genre we know best — simulations.

You will be getting reviews of titles from a reviewer who has been simming since 1993 and still actively drives and flies simulators now. Go somewhere else, and you get a review from someone who might have played around with a simulation for a few hours last March.

We will to continue to provide the highest level of service to the membership of SimHQ that we can, and now, we’re going to offer more.

There’s room under this tent for everyone… so long as the admission ticket says “Simulations Only” on it.

 


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