“Honey, you aren’t Harrison Ford.”
Or so I was recently informed by my wife of twenty plus years. This is the kind of thing that could easily be taken as an insult were it not so completely and obviously true. I am well aware that I am not ruggedly handsome, extremely talented with a leather whip, or worth millions of dollars. It was the latter fact that prompted her germane observation. Through a complex series of events that included completing the building of a new airplane prior to managing to sell the old one, we found ourselves uncharacteristically impecunious to the degree that she felt that we would not be able to spend money on an annual vacation. Mr. Ford who, as you can imagine, would be far more surprised to find himself fiscally embarrassed than I was, easily manages the financial challenges incumbent in the ownership of multiple aircraft.
I am not Harrison Ford.
It is for that reason I found myself hoping against hope that I would receive an invitation to the annual summer TractionPR (‘Traction Public Relations’ is the actual name - I just shorten it for my convenience) junket out on the west coast. Last year’s event, in which I got to race head-to-head on an Xbox with a real, live professional IndyCar driver, was still fresh in my mind and I think I could be forgiven for anxiously awaiting an invite to another fun junket arranged by Mr. Tractenberg.
And suddenly, there it was! The long awaited email was sitting in my inbox!
The TractionPR events follow something of a template. They typically have a theme matching the nature of the product(s) to be announced, they are well catered, there are scantily-clad and very attractive models wandering around chatting with the attendees, there are fun little gift bags, and last by not least: cupcakes! There are always cupcakes! This year’s event would be focused on a couple of titles set to be released by 1C Publishing which just happens to be a Russian company. In light of the Russian-ness of the group, the event was to be held in the hangar deck of the decommissioned United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet, currently located in Alameda, California.
No, I didn’t see the logic of that pairing either. But.... CUPCAKES!
After arriving at the event and finding some libations I sat down for the presentation from the team at 1C. The first game to be announced was called Nuclear Union. The description was as follows (read it in a Russian accent for full effect):
“The USSR vs. USA faceoff known as the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved by force in 1962 as the entire planet became involved in a nuclear war. With half of the Earth’s population dead, almost the entire planet surface became unfit for living due to radioactive contamination. However the Soviet Union was ready for such an outcome. The military machine had mobilized and was operating at full throttle sometime prior to the world catastrophe. The country underwent a full evacuation of the citizens, industrial facilities and companies of the utmost importance to a pre-built network of specially equipped bunkers.
50 years later. 2012… The fragments of the socialist empire that were hastily brought underground have gradually become a real state with its own capital, a city called Pobedograd. The key goals of the Nuclear Union used to be, and still are, the survival of the population and the restoration of an industrial base against the background of the aggressive environment. The powerful Soviet empire even survived the end of days. Survived and continued to develop in an absolutely new and vulnerable world. This unusual story of unusual people starts here, underground, in Pobedograd. The protagonist of Nuclear Union is a Soviet officer pilot who participated in the nuclear war between USSR and USA. This past of his is nothing compared to what he is about to live through in this new dangerous world, bathed in the rays of merciless radiation.
It is common knowledge that anyone who’s about to face danger should always be holding a weapon in their hands. Experts of firearms will love the range of weaponry to fight enemies included in Nuclear Union. The arsenal of those who survived the nuclear apocalypse, and the decimation of the military complex, led to the best Soviet firearms that never went into mass production being preserved in the Nuclear Union as operational prototypes. For instance, a three-barreled submachine gun TKB-059, AO-46 (aka “Soviet UZI”) for 5.45 mm bullets, and the TKB-022PM bullpup assault rifle.”
It was further pointed out that this post-apocalyptic world would be populated by mutated monsters, and that the protagonist had somehow time-travelled from 1967 to 2012. Oh goody, post-apocalyptic, monsters, and time travel: 3 out 3 of the things I hate most in games. That said, it looked really, really good in the in-game footage of the trailer. If you’ve got to have a post-apocalyptic world, at least make it a good looking one!
Also announced was the impending release of Men of War: Assault Squad 2, an update of Men of War: Assault Squad to address requests from devoted players of the original. Improvements to the original game include new multiplayer maps sized for smaller skirmishes, along with much larger maps for those that favor the complexity of having more players on the battlefield.
The new Assault Squad release reportedly also brings improvements to both the graphics and the graphics engine itself. The performance enhancements will include items such as advanced multi-core support, advanced shader technology, interface and AI improvements, as well as added camouflage depending on the season and map selected.
Multiplayer will also have Steam support for finding other players.
No specific release date was provided, but they expect to have it done no later than the end of 2014.
It was the final announcement that made the trip worthwhile for me. You need to know that IL-2 Sturmovik is not only one of the best combat flight simulators ever made, it is also one of the top 25 video games ever! It was, however, released in 2001 which is the dinosaur age in terms of PC-based flight sims. It has been kept alive by a devoted cadre of modders and dedicated players, but it definitely shows its age. This is not to say that it hasn’t aged well; it remains one of the most sophisticated general-purpose combat flight sims available. It is renowned for its realistic flight physics and the highly granular control of engines and weapons.
To say that I was pleased to hear about the new release, IL-2 Sturmovik: Battle of Stalingrad, is a vast understatement. The slide presentation was incredible: a gigantic area to fly and fight over, flight physics based on recently declassified test flight data, aircraft models comprised of a large number of separate items (which should allow for an amazing damage model), and a new dynamic campaign generator for the single-player mode all contributed to an almost visceral desire to get my hands on a joystick and try it out.
Which, five minutes later, I did! I found a nice three monitor setup and a comfy chair, all supporting the new flight sim and just waiting for me to take control. It wasn’t long before I found myself on the tail of a Messerschmitt trying to get enough hot lead pushed through him to knock him out of the shy. Unfortunately, I ran out of ammo before managing to complete the kill, but not before deciding that I have to have this game!
It was getting late and I had not yet toured the aircraft carrier, so I reluctantly relinquished the controller to another player. The first stop was at a huge helicopter of the type that he had flown from the decks of this very carrier way back when. The second stop was at a pair of airplanes, an F-14 and an A-4, that he pointed out as the type of airplanes we would have seen in the movie Top Gun. As an impromptu quiz, he asked us what the most fictional part of the movie had been.
I knew that one!
“Tom Cruise as a heterosexual!”
Sadly, that was only the second most fictional aspect of Top Gun. The first most fictional part, he informed us, was the part where they had to sing “You’ve lost that luvin’ feelin’” to win over the sexy female. He went on to tell us that there was absolutely no need to sing anything at all; no, the women would fairly throw themselves at naval aviators. I didn’t even have to look over at my very attractive non-date - I could practically hear her rolling her eyes.
At the next stop, someone was trying to take a picture of an airplane but our docent was standing in the way. Now I don’t know if it was the casual, almost royal way that she was waving her hand to gesture for him to move out of her way, or if it was my resentment that he had planted that insipid song in my head where it would plague me for three days, or if it was the effects of half a dozen Cuba Libres, but I walked over to him and in a loud stage whisper told him, “So, that luvin’ feelin’? You’ve lost it.”
I have to hand it to him. He took it in the joking spirit intended and we continued on with the tour.
And then it was time for the gift bags, and they did not disappoint: big, fuzzy, Russian hats. I can’t honestly say that I look very good in mine.
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