What I’ve Been Up To Lately

It’s been a while between drinks, this is true.

So what’s been keeping me busy lately? Well, everything from driving double decker buses, to flying a Spitfire Mk1a it would seem…

Did you just say…bus?

OK, so this ‘part’ post will predominately focus on the ‘bus’ bit of what I’ve been doing. I will cover the Spitfire and other planes I’ve recently had the pleasure of flying in sim land soon, however. I promise!

Anyway, back to the buses…since discovering ‘OMSI – The Omni Bus Simulator’, I have become quite addicted. This is definitely not your ordinary run of the mill ‘game’, no sir. OMSI brings with it unparallelled realism, physics-wise, audio-wise, and hey, the visuals aren’t that bad either. I don’t think you will find another bus simulator this detailed out there right now.

I have several YouTube videos already uploaded to the Harman Motor Works Blog channel that serve to do this sim more justice than just a few paragraphs of text, and I will link to a few of those videos at the end of this post. In the meantime however, here’s a quick rundown of just what to look forward to with OMSI…

Buses? You’re funny, man

Sure, you might think I’m a bit ‘daft’ for driving these things, but I’ve had a secret fondness for buses for a long time and since I was young, I remember riding the various double-decker dinosaurs during school excursions and the like. There is something quite special in driving something so large, with so many people aboard, on ordinary streets, without incident (hopefully). OMSI gives me a chance to (almost) live out that desire to drive these behemoths. All that is missing is the smell of diesel…hmm…

Next stop…Melrose…I think…

One of the great things about OMSI is that you actually have the chance to pickup, drop off and generally transport passengers about in a virtual environment, with variable environments, traffic levels and with a variety of buses. What’s more…you are also given the chance to sell tickets to passengers as they board. I joked early on that this sim could almost be considered to be a fun ‘maths game’ with the amount of ticket sales you are sometimes called on to perform. Not only do you need to select the correct ticket to offer the passengers, but you are frequently called on to deal with calculating and giving back the correct change; some passengers will complain if you get it wrong, others, if you have accidentally given too much change, will gladly accept the ‘tip’. Bastids. :o

What’s under the hood?

As mentioned briefly above, OMSI is blessed with an ultra-realistic physics model. Your buses tyres will scrub kerbs, (climb them if you’re especially careless, lazy, green, or all of the above), exhibit realistic movement physics and each bus also has realistic systems modelling such as air brakes, transmissions, and engine power. Think you’ve mastered the art of driving an old-school MAN SD77? Try driving it at night during a snow storm. It’s whole different ball game.

The cockpits in these old buses are loaded with switches, all clickable in the sim, which offer everything from cab lighting, heating, to hydraulic drivetrain braking. Incidentally, it is quite funny to go picking up passengers during a night bus run, and having forgotten to turn on the interior lights, hear the passengers complain about the darkness.

Which brings me onto another point: passengers won’t say much if your driving well and getting things right (or at least right-ish), but mess something up, and boy will you hear about it! :D Climb a kerb, run late, drive during the freezing months without the interior heating running, and be prepared for the tirade of complaints which will surely eminate from the rear of the bus. Really foul up though (hit another car, stationary object, etc) and most passengers will complain even louder and signal to leave the bus immediately. Fun times.

I would go as far as suggesting that if you should decide to try this sim out (and you definitely should), to avoid picking up any passengers until you at least get the hang of driving these behemoths in the first place. You will quickly learn that there is a certain art to taking corners in tight quarters with cars and pedestrians surrounding you, and you will learn to judge distances down to the last inch as you squeeze past heavy traffic. If this sim has taught me one thing, it’s: ‘when you think you’re close, you can get closer…until you hit something’. Hah.

I should mention that the native language for the game is German and the included maps are somewhat based on real-world German locales, so voices are naturally all German as is the writing on the tickets (which makes selecting the correct ticket a challenge sometimes), street names, destinations, towns, and well, pretty much everything else. However the sim is easily moddable and there are English sound packs and the like out there, not to mention a flurry of add-on third party buses, of which the quality is varying. I have also personally created an English ticket mod which I may well release on the Harman Motor Works official website soon.

Tickets please…

In closing I would recommend this sim to anyone remotely interested in buses, simulations or driving in general. I am glad I found this sim, I stumbled across it back around February whilst perusing real-world buses for sale on eBay. Fancy that.

Having had a Logitech G27 in my possession for over 2 years now, I’m glad to have finally found a great use for it. Being that most buses in the sim are also automatic, I was especially glad to have recently downloaded an add-on bus that offered a manual transmission which fully utilised the G27’s gear shift gate and clutch. Double wow! It should go without saying that all the buses in OMSI support the G27’s excellent 900-degree steering wheel rotation which offers superb steering fidelity and realism.

Below I’ve included a brief gallery of screenshots as well as links to some of my YouTube videos as well as a direct link to the official OMSI homepage.

Enjoy, and get on that bus!!

YouTube video #1: OMSI Familiarisation – Quick Run Around Bad Kinzau

YouTube video #2: OMSI – Bad Kinzau to Saasdorf – Snow Day

YouTube video #3: OMSI – Bad Kinzau – Ikarus 260 – Driving Stick

Official OMSI website: http://www.omnibussimulator.de/english.htm

Out with the old, in with the…old?

Bring out your prophecies!

2012 is here. Happy New Year everyone! Whatever your beliefs for how this year will pan out (*cue eery music*), there’s no doubting it will be an exciting one. Even more so for me, as I bid farewell to an old friend, the B17G “Joker”, which proved a very handy B17 Flying Fort’ to cut my flying teeth on in Flight Simulator X.

The Joker (not to mention old-time military training videos such as this and this) certainly taught me a lot regarding how-to (and how not-to) fly and maintain a B17 in virtual sim-land ; I never managed to actually crash so that could be considered a feat in itself, but if I had a dollar for all the blown oleo struts, spark plugs with “signs of detonation”, burnt-out generators, bent cowl-flaps, frozen landing gear motors and engines on fire (deliberate, mind you) I experienced, well, let’s just say I’d probably very nearly have enough cash for a real B17 (not really, but one can dream).

Alas, the Joker has now been decommissioned, but it was certainly a wild ride while it lasted.

Onward and upward…

So what will replace the old Joker? Well, another A2A Accu-sim B17! I’ve always enjoyed the colour silver, but somehow I could never get into flying a silver B17 Flying Fort’, for whatever reason; I always leaned towards the Olive Drab colour schemes. Not this time though…for here I present the Silver Queen…(apologies it’s raining in some of these shots…the weather was a bit haphazard at the Boeing field when I took these). These pictures hardly do justice to the excellent paint scheme on this aircraft, but here’s a taste anyway…

New-old stock

Ahhh, but what’s the difference between this plane and your old Joker I hear you say? And what caused you suddenly taking a liking to a new, silver, B17? Well, for one thing, the paint job on this aircraft is simply something that has to be seen to be believed. And for another thing, I am starting off with a ‘clean slate’ with this aircraft. For all intents and purposes, this is a plane that could be considered ‘new-old’ stock…a once pristine silver airplane which has unfortunately (or fortunately) sat weathering in the elements, its once-gleaming silver now tarnished and discoloured somewhat…only to be enjoyed now. Almost like a fine wine which has sat gathering dust and cobwebs in an attic or basement for years…never drank from, but well seasoned all the same.

That’s right, there’s 0.0 hours on this ‘craft right now as far as the Accu-sim hangar is concerned, and right now each one of those 36 cylinder walls in those four engines are likely gleaming in all their cross-hatch glory (virtually, of course). I intend to continue my flying career in FSX by seeing just how frugally I can fly this plane, without breaking anything; nice and easy will be the order of the day. What random niggles, anomalies (or dare I say, failures) will this fine wine have in-store for me I wonder?

In any case, to my benefit will be all the experience I have gained from flying the previous Fort’ (the Joker, of course). The Silver Queen has been delivered to Boeing Field with 100-odd gallons of 100-octane Av-gas in each of her four fuel tanks. There she sits, until I conjure up the courage to fly her on her maiden voyage (perhaps wait until it stops raining…).

Hang on there Cap’, you forgot your logbook…

To keep track of the maintenance to be performed on this aircraft, I have developed an Excel spreadsheet which details all the consumable and repair-replace items. Fuel is also included as a consumable item. As things break or need renewing in sim-land, I will record these down with dates as to when I performed the work…the next obvious step from here would be to locate the real-world $$ figures (or close enough to) for each part, then I could have simulated almost everything there is to simulate…aside from banging my head on a low frame upon entry into the cockpit (though I’m sure that too can be arranged for…).

Blue yonder anyone?

Watch this space as I provide updates on how my time with the old Silver Queen goes. It should definitely be an interesting journey…

Credits

I can’t close without giving credit to the very talented artists and developers behind all of this…I know I’ve given credit to these guys before, but it’s the new year, so why not give them around round of applause…

Of course, Microsoft for their Flight Simulator X, but also A2A Simulations for their B17G Flying Fortress with the astounding ‘Accu-sim’ add-on which ensures that not only are flight dynamics and physics modelled, but also the myriad of aircraft systems (electrics, hydraulics) as well as random failures, engine and accessory wear and tear, the list goes on….

And last but definitely not least, is ‘Warbirds’ from the A2A Simulations forum, who developed the excellent ‘Silver Queen’ repaint you see here, as well as the beautifully weathered and worn cockpit (version 2) repaint, also on display.

Note: the Silver Queen skin is currently in development and should be released by Warbirds very soon. Stay tuned to the A2A B17 forums for more news on this (link no. 3 below). Otherwise, the worn cockpit can be had at link no.4 below. Enjoy! And thanks again to Warbirds for creating these excellent repaints!

Some handy links:

1.  http://www.microsoft.com/games/flightsimulatorx/

2. http://www.a2asimulations.com/

3. http://a2asimulations.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=29

4. http://a2asimulations.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=26975

Welcome to Alaska

Why in the world…

I read recently on an online forum about the adventures several flight-simmers have been having flying their A2A Simulations B17G Flying Forts’ up in the cold, cold north in FSX. I thought to myself, why not? I had, until this time been flying in sunny USA, hopping from airport to airport, mostly from the mid-west, through to the west coast; flights lasting no more than maybe 1-2 hours at most.

So one day, I found myself based up at Prince Rupert airport, in the wonderful British Columbia. Up ’til this point, my ‘Fort had been running well, save for a few oil leaks on two of its engines, and the odd minor repairs here and there, landing gear, tyres, etc, etc. My plane was mostly running well and so it should be, with less than 50 hours on the frame.

Those oil leaks have, in the past, snuck up on me; on one of my previous flights, I found at least one of those affected engines running out of oil so I’d shut it down and fly her on three, or even two. OK I’ll be completely honest, I had just overhauled number one due to crankshaft failure. So consequently, I decided for this flight up to Alaska, I’d make sure all my engines were in tip-top condition to keep ol’ Murphy and his law at bay. With all the nagging oil leaks fixed, and fluid levels topped off, I decided it was time.

Fuel in the tanks, air in the tyres

And so the fateful evening finally arrived. It was about 5.30pm on a calm day in FSX when I fired up the old Joker after having just completely checked her over for the last time. She was loaded with around 10,000 pounds of 91 octane, and the crew was rearing to go.

We set off just as the sun was setting over the horizon, transforming the skies into a golden spectacle of beauty and awe. The higher we climbed, the longer that sun appeared to just float on the horizon, never seeming to disappear completely. Oh, but eventually that sun did vanish, and I was left with the just the dull droning of 36 cylinders of raw horsepower (well, 35 maybe, as one cylinder on engine three has no compression!) drumming their beat through the metal airframe of the aircraft.

The flight through the night was a fairly uneventful one. The ‘Fort flew flawlessly, never missing a beat, for the 4+ hour flight, with me making extensive use of the excellent C-1 autopilot to hold correct course, using the various VORs to guide me along the way. My eventual destination was Nome, in Alaska, but seeing as that was well over six hours away, I decided I’d make a stop-over in Cordova-Smith first, and take things further from there.

Are we there yet?

A good three-and-a-half hours or so later, we were in sight of Cordova-Smith! When I say “in sight”, I mean, there was the usual pitch black landscape, with a faint dot of runway lights in the distance on the horizon. I was clearly in uncharted territory. It was well and truly night by now, and I was flying on instruments. Thankfully, I had the assistance of the air traffic control to guide me towards the airport, and in the darkness I could faintly pick out the ominous shape of the mountainous Alaskan landscape. Thankfully, the runway was dead ahead, and the mountains seemed mostly scattered safely to my 3-o’clock. With just 100 gallons of refined Texas tea left in each tank, I flew on towards my final approach…

Trouble!

Just as I obtained final clearance from the tower to land, and with the runway lights filling up my canopy glass, all four engines suddenly decided to quit! In a panic, I didn’t have time to check just what the trouble was, and I didn’t feel like trashing a 4+ hour flight and starting over either. Deciding I could make it, I took the plunge (pun intended) and glided the heavy bomber in for a triumphant landing while all the engines coughed and spluttered away, providing no real power. With the flaps fully dropped, I concluded the glide at around 100mph as the wheels finally came down on the tarmac, a little harder than normal (granted, I was panicked). But apart from the groan from the crew, things were no worse for wear. I braked the plane to a stop and took time to check out just what had gone wrong: the mixture controls had saw fit to move themselves into ‘Idle Cutoff’ and wouldn’t budge no matter what I did with my hardware mixture controls. I put it down to a glitch in FSX, but no matter, I was home and dry (and my heart was pounding). I’d made it to Alaska! :)

It’s freezing…

Welcome to Alaska! So what’s it like up here? Well,  the weather stays at 0C all day, unless you’re lucky enough for it to be raining, in which case you’re blessed with a few more degrees on the temp gauge, but generally, it’s COLD. Being an old WW2 four-radial-engined bomber, the B17 doesn’t do too badly in the extremely cold temps, thanks to its built-in engine oil dilution system. Diluting the oil is a must after every joy flight up here, and you’ll soon learn why. Without the oil diluted, it’s almost impossible to get those huge 9-cylinder radial engines started. I could switch to a thinner oil, but things seem to be going OK on the “all weather” 1100 grade oil.

I have included a video (below) of a typical start-up in the cold weather. You will see just how difficult is can be to get this old bomber going when it’s -5C outside…

A2A B17 Accusim – Cold Weather Startup (FSX)

Where to from here?

From here I want to continue flying the cold weather environs of Alaska until I reach Nome, (in Alaska); still several hours flying away, mind you. Then I’m outta here. Uh huh, you heard right folks; I’ve had enough of this cold weather! :D

Below are some screenshots of the adventure; mostly of the plane as it sits now at Cordova-Smith airport in Alaska, but there’s also a few action shots of the mountainous beauty that is Alaska. The cockpit with UV gauges all lit up during my night-flight en route was a sight to behold (at least for me).

Happy flying!

The Joker and the Thief of the Night

Ever since I discovered the excellent payware Flight Simulator X (FSX) add-on company known as A2A Simulations just over a month or so ago, I’ve been spell-bound by their add-on aircraft; namely the B17 Flying Fortress and also the B377 Stratocruiser. This blog post will detail their B17 offering for FSX…

Where to begin?

There’s so much to say about this add-on by A2A Simulations, it’s hard to pick where to begin; for one thing, this add-on comes with a feature known as “Accusim” which basically means this is as real as it gets. Virtually every system and feature present on the real-life B17 Flying Fortress appears to have been modelled in this add-on. Sure, there are limits imposed by Microsoft’s Flight Simulator engine itself, but those are few compared to what’s on offer here.

Full-real

So what’s this “Accusim” all about then? Well, for the first time (that I’m aware of anyway), we have here a truly ‘persistent’ aircraft modelled in a simulation. Damage, wear and tear, airframe and engine hours, it’s all here. When I first heard about this feature, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning…literally. Here we have an simulated aircraft that is more than just a 3d model with pretty textures and realistic sound effects; this thing is virtually a living and breathing system of components and things can (and do) go wrong if proper procedures and precautions are not taken. Maintenance items such as air and oil filters, spark plugs and the like are all modelled…even down to every last cylinder in each engine, you have damage and wear and tear that is all modelled as realistically as possible. And being a persistent model, this means that the plane is yours to live with (until you decide to delete the .dat file and start over perhaps).

I will let the video in this post do most of the talking, but it’s safe to say that most of the cockpit systems and functions you carry out in the course of flying this aircraft are 99% consistent with what the real pilots of the day had to perform as well. I have access to actual pilot’s and mechanic’s manuals for the B17 Flying Fortress as well as B&W training videos from back in the day and I can pretty much fly this plane exactly how to the real-world procedures and directives that were prescribed. Not only that, but the failures and issues that the real planes experienced are also modelled with this FSX add-on…things such as run-away turbos, landing gear failures, oil leaks, hydraulic failures, and battery deterioration – just to name a few.

The sheer depth of detail present in this add-on is nothing short of amazing – details such as battery-inverter whine, to the radial vibrations each engine experiences (a sign of which can sometimes mean things aren’t looking good for that engine), right down to brake squeal that is unique for each brake drum in the main wheels and authentic sound effects throughout the cockpit.

The Joker

The title of this blog post comes partly from the name of the B17 which I am currently flying in FSX (“Joker”), as well as the many waking hours it has stolen from me as I’ve flown it. Granted, I have only put around 25 airframe and engine hours on the aircraft so far, so things are going well and I haven’t suffered any major failures yet – perhaps a testament to my extra-awesome flying skills at least in part? Of course, running the plane and its engines properly and keeping up with maintenance always helps keep things ticking over smoothly. So far the only major issues I’ve had is with blowing landing gear motors (these seem to happen fairly randomly at times) and this is no biggie as there is always to manual-wind option to extend and retract the landing gear. A few flights back, I  experienced a run-away turbo on engine #3 just after take off and using the real-world prescribed procedures for dealing with this issue (coincidentally, which I only just watched the night before in a Boeing instructional video from the 1940s), I was able to save the engine from ripping itself to pieces due to its over-zealous turbocharger. I shut that engine down for the remainder of the flight and once on the ground again at my destination, ordered the mechanic to repair the turbo waste-gate.

In the hangar…

One thing A2A have done really well with this add-on is model a hangar and maintenance system for the B17. It’s probably early days for me to be complaining about having to do any major repairs on this bird, but I’d say that as the hours build up, more and more things will start to go wrong, and one will really get a sense of what it’s like to live with these machines day in and day out. No more will you be able to “reload” your plane and start with a brand new machine each time you want to fly – Accusim ensures that you’ll be living with the damage and the wear and tear you caused to the plane the last time you flew it. Get things slightly wrong, and you might suffer a premature oil leak or minor system failure, such as dead batteries if you forgot to turn on your engine generators. But really foul things up, (such as push too much boost through those radial engines or run them hard and fast for extended periods of time) and you might just find yourself with an engine (or engines!) on fire or suffer a total systems failure. Thankfully the B17 was known for its outright robustness and had a reputation for bringing crews back home even as it was riddled with bullet holes from the enemy and with multiple engines knocked out; so I guess you could say that if you had to ditch one of these things, something really must have gone amiss (or perhaps you were just really unlucky).

Along with the maintenance hangar, there is also a fully-featured fuel and payload manager provided (also manages things such as engine and hydraulic oil levels, fuel and oil grades, etc), along with several overlay interfaces in-game which help you give commands to your co-pilot and instruct your crew to perform certain other tasks as needed. It’s all integrated very well.

Smooth air

Once you get to grips with flying this machine, a lot of the procedures and processes for getting the thing prepared pre-flight, to takeoff, and then landing and shutting down, almost come as second nature. It’s true what they said in those old-time pilot training videos for the B17…that once you get to know this machine, it really becomes a lot ‘smaller’…and you almost forget that you have four massive turbo-supercharged 9-cylinder radial engines surrounding your cockpit and pushing you forth into the great blue yonder. The aircraft itself is very forgiving and easy to fly and if you treat her with respect, you will hardly go wrong; stalls are a piece of cake and there’s pretty much no surprises in-store when you do push the envelope…provided you’re not attempting to set a new world record for performing barrel rolls at 1,000 feet.

A2A have really put some nice touches into this add-on aircraft, and you will experience things such as radio broadcasts coming in and out of range as you fly about, and should you forget to set the cabin heat properly at 25,000 feet, your crew will definitely let you know about it! Similarly, if you leave the windows buttoned up on the tarmac with no cabin ventilation and the conditions are right, you’ll end up with fogged-in windows…quite embarrassing if you need to take off right now but find you can’t because you can’t see out of the windscreen!

Conclusion

There’s just too many things to say about this add-on from A2A Simulations, and its all fantastic stuff. If you’re into flight simulations or just want to experience what it’s like to fly an old-time warbird like the B17 in one of the most realistic ways available (short of jumping aboard the real thing and going for a fly), then I’d definitely recommend Flight Simulator X accompanied with this add-on from A2A. With credit where due to Microsoft for creating the excellent foundation that is Flight Simulator X, it’s still fairly safe to say that I probably won’t ever fly another FSX default airplane again after experiencing all that is Accusim. Microsoft, I hope you’re taking notes!

I’m going to close here as my ‘Joker’ is in the hangar and patiently waiting for me to take her up again. I will leave you with a video showing a typical start-up procedure for the plane and several screenshots (all unaltered). Enjoy (and check out the links at the bottom of this post for more info). Note: sky and weather effects courtesy of Real Environment Xtreme 2.

A2A Simulations – B17 Flying Fortress with Accusim (video)

 Links

http://www.a2asimulations.com/

http://www.realenvironmentxtreme.com/

http://www.microsoft.com/games/flightsimulatorx/

Flying the Fortress

Just recently I loaded-up Microprose B17II – The Mighty 8th PC simulation on my computer again and almost forgot how enjoyable this World War 2 bomber sim was.

Buckle into your seat while I give you the brief on how this is all going so far…

Pre-flight check

From the moment you step into this “game”, you’ll realise that it’s not one for the light-hearted casual gamers who are after instant gratification. That being said, it can be played that way to a degree, but to really get to the core of this title, you need to be willing to learn the intricacies of starting, taking off, and flying a WW2 heavy bomber. You’ll need to endure long periods of nothingness as your four engines roar and propel you and your crew through the skies and your formation flies ever forwards towards an enemy target several hundred miles away; you will encounter enemy flak concentrations so thick and terrifying you’ll wonder if your plane will hold up to the abuse and then there’s the enemy fighter planes attacking you mercilessly…

And that’s only the start of it all…you still have to get you, your crew, and ultimately your formation back home and dry and once (if?) you do manage to land back in friendly territory, you better hope your bombs hit the mark, otherwise tomorrow is another day and you can bet that your squadron commander will be sending you right back into the fray again.

Yes, this is definitely not your run-of-the-mill simulation, and I remember spending hours flying missions, experiencing the excitement and high of returning back to base after a successful mission, and also experiencing the despair felt as you just realise that now two of your four engines have been turned into nothing more than flaming hulks of steel and the outlook is grim. Other times, an (un)lucky enemy shell might just puncture one of your fuel tanks and make things all the more challenging for you as you try to keep flying economically enough to make it home.

Preparing for a go-around…

So after all this time (11 years since release!), I’ve dug this game up from my collection and I intend to give it a good run over the coming months. I haven’t yet started any of the bombing campaigns, but I have setup the game to my liking (custom skins, joystick and keyboard configurations, etc) so I should be ready to go. I intend on starting a Squadron Commander campaign, and so that way I will be able to choose my targets for missions and perform other in-depth planning and recon operations in-between missions.

Joy flight

Having installed the game again and set it up to my liking, I’ve recorded a few gameplay videos for your pleasure and I’ve included these at the end of this post. You will notice that the sim is quite detailed in nature, and aside from the technical aspect of operating a heavy bomber, you are also in-charge of maintaining the health and relative happiness of your crew as you complete missions. In the heat of battle, you could be literally putting out fires one minute, then assisting a wounded crew member the next. Come bombing-run time, you can take yourself to the nose of the bomber and perform the bombing run yourself using the accurately-modelled Norden bombsight and do what you can to put your squadron’s payload on the target square and true. Coming back to base and on the landing run, you might find your landing gear hydraulics have quite literally been shot-up into pieces so you’d better be quick on that crank handle when you start manually winding down the landing gear ready for the plane to land.

Now that I have suitably pumped myself up for this title, time to finish with a few of the videos which I’ve recorded recently. Once I start flying missions, I hope record footage from these and compile them into “episodes” of my exploits as I fly towards the enemy and bomb them (hopefully) to smithereens. The following are some quick screenshots from the game, with the game-play videos below that. You will also find a link to a Wikipedia article.

B17II – The Mighty 8th – Startup Procedure

B17 II – The Mighty 8th – Takeoff

B17 II – The Mighty 8th – Feather and Restart Engine

Wikipedia article

Stay tuned to this frequency

I hope to post more on this game as I fly more campaigns and get a few missions under my belt. Hopefully my bombing career won’t be fraught with failure!

L.A. Noire’s New Recruit

It’s been 10 days since I picked up my very own copy of L.A. Noire for the PS3 and this post will serve to give you the rundown on how I went spending my time with it and my thoughts now that I’ve “finished” the game (well, the main story at least). Note that I won’t be posting any spoilers so you can rest easy if you haven’t yet completed it.

Get yourself a suit, get it pressed…

From the moment you put the disc into the PS3 and start up this title, it’s pretty clear that you’re going to be in for a fairly unique and special experience. If you’re a fan of post-war World War 2 film-noir and just the 1940s era in general, you’ll probably be wetting yourself with excitement (almost). It’s true that there really haven’t been many (if not any) games made like this in the past, and this is certainly a new experience.

The intro video to L.A. Noire does a great job of setting the scene for the game and providing a glimpse into how the storyline might play out via a steely narrative as well as  some pretty nice views of the city itself. You’re introduced to Cole Phelps, the main character in the game which you’ll be playing as, and also get to see his wife (the only time you actually see her during the whole game as it turns out) and one or two of the game’s prominent character’s which you’ll get to see more of later in-game. Enough about the intro video though, let’s move onto how this game actually plays…

First day on the beat

The first few missions in L.A. Noire serve as a kind of “tutorial” to get you accustomed to the game play mechanics which you’ll be using throughout your time with this title. L.A. Noire’s “missions” and storyline are categorised into “desks”, each more dark and macabre than the last, and with each desk comprising a handful of “cases”. There are 5 desks in L.A. Noire (listed in order of which you’ll experience them): Patrol, Traffic, Homicide, Vice and Arson. All up, there are 21 cases across all the desks.

The Patrol desk serves as your first stint in police work and the type of cases you’ll undertake on this desk can be seen as something that a “rookie” L.A.P.D officer might do when they first start with the department.

For example, the first case on the Patrol desk sees you investigating a crime scene at which a shooting has occurred, only your not expected to be looking over any corpses or making any ‘cluey’ connections just yet (the victim’s body is swiftly carried away in the coroner’s car when you first arrive on-scene): you’re only there to find any evidence and report back to the department. So off you go! Flick on your torch-light and go hunting around the dark and dank back alleys while making small talk with your partner. It’s during these first few cases that you’re given a chance to get to grips with the game play and also with your handy in-game notebook which serves to note down all the clues and evidence you may find, as well as the colourful characters and locations that you’ll get to experience.

As a quick side-note: L.A Noire includes some handy hint mechanisms such as controller vibration when you near a clue, and musical cues which stop playing when you’ve found all the clues there are to find on a given case. Myself, being one for utter realism, turned these features OFF before starting this game. I think it definitely plays better without these aids but your mileage may vary (and there was admittedly one instance where I was racking my brain trying to find that all-important clue on a case).

The first few cases of L.A. Noire may lead you believe (as I might have done) that L.A. Noire is going to be a rather simplistic game but thinking that way is a mistake: the cases you’ll encounter later in the game are definitely going to get you using your brain and perhaps even pulling out a “real” notepad of your own to note down nuggets of information for later review (as I did). This is especially so as soon as you make the Homicide desk and the bodies (and lies) start piling up.

Honey, I’m home!

After perhaps half a dozen (or so) cases into the game, you’ll come to notice a pattern (routine?) in the game play. Cases generally start out with a brief cut scene showing the misdeed taking place which is then followed by a cut scene of you and your partner in the L.A.P.D briefing room being….briefed…by the police captain. It’s from here, that you’re given control as you navigate your way through the ‘cop shop’ with your partner, downstairs to your car waiting outside. One handy feature is that you can make your partner drive the vehicle once you’re kerb-side – all you need to do is tell him (via your note pad) which destination you’ll be heading to. This is just as well, as I’ve found that the vehicle physics in L.A. Noire do leave some room for improvement (I’ll detail this further down below).

Once at the crime scene, you’re given a chance to go clue-finding and then question any witnesses or suspects afterwards. You are given the freedom to actually question characters first and go hunting for clues later, but I’ve found that gathering up all the clues first actually helps your cause when it comes time to ask questions. Clue-finding can be an interesting (and somewhat macabre) process, especially for the cases on the Homicide desk, which will see you bending over dead female corpses and examining their various body parts in gruesome detail. Nudity is present in the game, but it is all executed in a very mature and “adult” way.

And this leads onto the process of questioning: this is pretty much the “meat” of L.A. Noire and the part which will ultimately tire out your brain the most (!). The MotionScan facial technology touted by Rockstar’s marketing department is really all that it’s made out to be: simply awesome. You’re able to see suspects and villains shift their eyes uneasily, crimp their facial muscles and much more. In other words, you’re given a great opportunity to actually “read” your subjects just by carefully observing them during the questioning process.

The actual process of questioning sees you selecting pre-defined questions from your note pad (the quantity and quality of which will vary depending on just how good you were at finding clues at the crime scene) and then judging the subject’s responses. After each of their responses, you’re given the chance to select either Truth, Doubt or Lie. These pretty much speak for themselves, but it sounds a lot easier than it actually is. Sometimes I found myself going too easy on a suspect (by selecting ‘Truth’) and going along with their lies and half-truths, only to find that I missed out on some really important information by not being more forceful in my questioning. At other times, the reverse was true. One thing is for certain, do not accuse a suspect of lying, unless you have the evidence to back it up, otherwise you will fail miserably.

There are certain aids to use while doing case work, and these are the “Intuition Points” which you can gain by “doing well” throughout the game. These intuition points can then be used to unlock clues on a given case, or remove incorrect Truth/Doubt/Responses when questioning a subject to help narrow down the correct answer. There are also ways to redeem these points too (which I won’t go into here).

In conclusion, the cases which play out in L.A. Noire all have a fairly “familiar” feel of routine to them, and this will definitely be felt as you progress through the game. Some of you may like it, some may grow tired of it, but I think Rockstar and Team Bondi did a great job of keeping the flow of the storyline “fresh” as you progress, given the somewhat routine job that police work can be.

One thing is for sure though: the cases you’ll encounter later on in the game are LONG…at least an hours-worth each, so don’t plunge yourself into them unless you have some free time on your hands. I’ve found that playing out each case in one full sitting to be the most effective and rewarding, otherwise reloading mid-way through at a later stage can be somewhat confusing as you try to remember just what happened at the start..

I think I know you from somewhere…

Character development in L.A Noire is quite solid, and there are “flashbacks” to Cole Phelp’s past which are shown virtually after each case you complete, which serve to build the main story as well. In addition to this, there are newspapers which you can find on crime scenes and other locales in each case that given even further depth to the storyline.

Perhaps one of the best features of this game is the in-game partners which accompany you on each case. Each desk sees you “buddy up” with a different partner and as funny as it may sound, I actually found myself missing some of my past partners as I progressed through the game to the different desks. More than just the small talk they provide, your partners functionally serve to provide hints and tips to you on cases (if you need it) and can also provide directions while out on the road (there is no GPS in 1947 L.A!) that is unless you actually command them to drive in the first place, which I found myself doing a lot of. Your partners will at-times help you pursue suspects who choose to flee on-foot (always fun) and will pull their weapons and become welcome wing-men during fire fights too.

One of the things lacking in the character development side of things however, was that of Cole’s wife (let alone children). Given the decisions that Cole makes as the storyline progresses, you can’t help but actually feel like you might even hate the guy. I won’t say too much more here, but there certainly some times when I thought, “I don’t think I like Cole as much as I used to!”.

Foot to the floor…

I went into this game not really knowing what to expect when it came to in-game car physics. Unfortunately, if you’re used to the car physics in games such as Mafia 2, you might become a little disappointed with L.A. Noire. I will say that the cars in L.A. Noire generally feel too light and even a little “life less” for want of a better term. Most of the vehicles you commandeer in the game feel too “arcadey” for my liking and you won’t find any realistic handling here let alone tyre sidewall-flex which was a pretty cool feature in Mafia 2.

I am of-course nitpicking here and you’d be forgiven for wandering what I’m on about, but the fact of the matter is that I felt that having my partner drive to locales while on cases was the best way to overcome to seemingly arcade-like feel that the cars had. That said, it was interesting to note that the heavier and more unruly vehicles in the game (such as the trucks) handled a lot more realistically. I would have also liked to have seen a speedometer displayed on-screen, if not an in-car “dashboard” view.

I should say that AI traffic (both in the cases and in free roam) behaves in a mostly believable manner, and the run-of-the-mill traffic lights and intersections all seem to work as expected.

Free roam

Yes I chose to give this section of my review a seperate heading as there’s quite a bit I can say on this subject…

I was excited to find there was an actual option to “free roam” in L.A. Noire (yes I’m looking at you Mafia 2), but checking it out, I found there really wasn’t much to do while roaming about the city. Sure, there are the 40 scripted side-missions which you can respond to whilst driving about town, but I would have liked a little more detail.

It’s also not possible to pull your weapon at any time you wish. What I would have liked to see was more freedom in this regard. For example, it would have been nice to be able to apprehend speeding motorists, or go on car-chases, or (dare I say it), issue parking infringements (perhaps while playing free roam from the ‘Traffic’ desk?), and perhaps catch prowlers and burglars and have these events randomly “spawn” similar to the way that Red Dead Redemption did with its randomised events which occurred as you rode your horsey around. As it is now, you are given 40 scripted side-missions to play out, and perhaps some film reels and badges to collect across the city.

Perhaps Rockstar are saving it all for the DLCs (one can only hope) as I’d hate to see the large and detailed city portrayed in L.A. Noire go to waste. But so far, you won’t find many things you can interact with, aside from the few diners which you can enter and walk around in (and not do much else) and the huge city which you can, well, drive around in.

Conclusion

As you can probably imagine, there’s a lot more I could say about this game (mostly excellent stuff, very little negative), but I’m going to close here with a bit of a conclusion and let you make up your mind…

L.A. Noire is easily a “AAA” title, and you can’t go past the quality and polish that has gone into this game. If you enjoyed Heavy Rain, 2010’s premier PS3 crime/detective game, you will definitely enjoy this game. If you’re expecting Grand Theft Auto 5, then look elsewhere.

L.A. Noire offers up a very mature and cerebral experience from start to finish, and there are times when you’ll find the constant onslaught of cases even draining on your mind. This is a great feeling to get from a game as it shows that you actually need to think, if you want to finish up with better than a one-star rating for each case you complete.

The free roam feature is there in L.A. Noire, but it’s a little bit bare (so far). A few DLCs might fix this, or maybe not. There is no going past the fact though, that the city, it’s people and the localities are all portrayed beautifully. You’ll see period-era sign posts and bill-boards and the overall environmental immersion is there in bucket loads.

Character development, storyline and plot, it’s all here with L.A. Noire as well and you won’t find a better portrayal of the societal issues that post World War 2 L.A. encountered, mostly caused by the war itself, and certainly not helped by the rich (and corrupt). I won’t say too much here to spoil it, but given all the undertones and undercurrents that the city and its people endured, there is definitely some time for reflection as you watch the ending credits roll up and you can’t help but feel more than a little sorry for Cole Phelps either…

There is some replayability here, but I’m not sure how much. Games like Red Dead Redemption held (and still hold) reason to go back and enjoy a good time riding around and shooting things up, and helping out people in the western frontier…whether L.A. Noire will still hold the same amount of magnetic appeal in 12 months time, remains to be seen.

Still, I found myself lapping this up with a grin of my face, not knowing what I could expect as I delved deeper into 1940s L.A…and in the end, I wasn’t disappointed. If nothing else, this game should be enjoyed for the experience.

Screenshots courtesy of Rockstar Games (www.rockstargames.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

More L.A. Noire Stuff

Here’s the latest video released by Rockstar Games concerning their upcoming hit L.A. Noire: L.A. Noire Gameplay Series: Rising Through The Ranks

And here’s a pretty good write-up/interview by IGN with one of the Rockstar Devs detailing the mechanics of the gameplay and how the cases and such will work:

http://au.ps3.ign.com/articles/116/1162011p1.html

A 2,200 page story script sounds promising, and Rockstar appear to be spending a lot of time and effort on ensuring the storyline stays solid no matter what outcomes and decisions the player makes (defusing the so-called “logic bombs”). My initial doubts about how much re playability this title will possess have been somewhat quashed when I read that the player’s actions will dictate just how much content they experience. It was quite funny to read that a player who performs poorly might just end up experiencing more content in the cases as their characters goes fumbling from one clue to the next. I think this one is definitely worth two play-throughs at least.

So…my pre-order is now in. Roll on May 20th!

Forecast: Heavy Rain

So the postman finally arrived with my copy of Heavy Rain: Move Edition in the mail about a week ago. I promptly picked up the package on Saturday morning and here’s the wrap on how it went…

Now the rain is falling…

Some of you may be familiar with the whole concept of storytelling where you get to “choose your own way” as it were. Basically you, as the viewer/reader/player, are in control somewhat as to the way the story plays out, through your actions. Well, this is probably the best way to describe Heavy Rain in a nutshell.

The basic premise of the game’s story is that you play as four different characters who are desperately tracking down a serial child killer who murders his victims using rain water. Each victim seemingly has a limited amount of time to live once they’re abducted as the constant rainfall eventually kills them (I won’t go into the details of the mechanics behind that).

Reading some of the reviews out there, you may have noticed people reporting that the game starts pretty slowly, and gradually builds steam as you go. After completing the game myself, I can confirm that the early beginnings of Heavy Rain don’t do too much to draw you in, but at the same time I felt that I was making good progress.

Move me

Unfortunately I’m not yet the owner of a the PS3 Move controller, so I can’t report on my experience in that regard, but I should say that Heavy Rain’s gameplay mechanics were definitely new and refreshing to me. A lot of the events of the game focus around you performing movements with the PS3’s right joystick to make characters on the screen perform an action. The action could be something as mundane as opening a car door to get out of their car after parking it, all the way to giving someone a hard right hook to their jaw during a tense fight. This leads me onto the action-sequences of Heavy Rain…once they start, you find yourself transfixed to the TV screen watching and waiting for that next Quick Time Event (QTE) to be displayed so you can react to it. For example, during a fight, you may be called upon to press “X” on the controller as soon as prompted by the game, followed by the square, circle and almost any other button on the controller. Depending on your chosen difficulty level, these prompts will appear faster or slower. Get the responses right and you’ll be treated to the cut scene of your characters actions being played out in your favour; get some button presses wrong however (or just late), and you’ll see your adversary start to get the upper hand on you in that cutscene. Early in the game, getting some of the QTE responses wrong saw the game treat me fairly leniently and gave me a chance to “up” my game. Towards the final fight/action scenes however, get even one QTE wrong, and that could spell disaster for the characters concerned. It was quite a harrowing experience at times.

My side of the story

The storyline in Heavy Rain I felt was quite well told, and I won’t spoil any of it here, but the ending can be thought of as a bit of a twist. Initially you start off playing a father who loses one of his two sons in a tragic accident and then goes through a rather rough patch in his life. Soon after, his second son is abducted, seemingly by the serial “origami killer” that this game centres on. This is where the story takes off and you find yourself on the trail of the killer. The game then switches you between the other three characters alternatively as story unfolds, revealing a series of events that you control with your skills and abilities (to a degree). There are several different endings to the game, and any of the four characters can die during various set points in the story, thus affecting the outcome.

The developers really went all out with the story elements of the game; while at the beginning you may find yourself doing mundane things such as using your PS3 controller to direct a character to drink orange juice from a fridge, or say, take a shower (and there IS some nudity in the game btw), the middle and end parts of the game are generally filled with action and suspense. You’ll be shaking your controller in sheer suspense on cue to ensure your hero escapes from a burning wreckage of an overturned car, beating off burglars who have entered your house and doing a whole myriad of other events to ensure your characters’ survival. There are also other points in the story such as visiting night clubs to find important clues to progress the story and visiting other points of interest.

So far I’ve only played through the story once, but I must say it was a good, suspenseful eight hours worth of gameplay. My only gripe with the game is that it’s quite short. Sure, there is replay value there in the different ending possibilities, but some parts of the story are fixed no matter what you do, and I felt that it played out more like an “interactive suspense thriller movie” that you were partly in control of. Considering I only paid $40 for it (including postage from the Hong Kong eBay seller), I guess I shouldn’t really complain.

Paint a picture

If there’s any one thing that’s a standout in Heavy Rain, it’s the graphics. Being a PS3 exclusive, it really shines through in the rendering and texture quality of the characters. Some parts of the environment such as props like remote controls and the like can be a little lacking in detail, but for the most part, the environments and characters are vivid and rich in detail and this certainly helps portray the whole “movie-like” feel of the game. I should also add that the sheer graphical quality didn’t help me calm my nerves for those particularly squeamish scenes, some of which managed to remind me of the series of movies called “Saw”. *shudders*  :o

Extra stuff

The Move Edition of the game not only includes (as the name suggests) Playstation Move controller support, but also a bunch of other additional content; things like dynamic themes for the PS3 main interface, making-of videos, and also an additional playable scene in the “Heavy Rain Chronicles”.

Weather report

In closing, I must also say that the game, at least for me, really explored the bond between father and son and how this bond can be affected by the choices and experiences that both father and son make during their times together. Without saying too much more, in a way, I couldn’t help but actually feel sorry for the origami killer when I found out his real identity and the events he was forced to experience when he was still a child. Very chilling indeed.

For anyone who hasn’t tried this title yet, I highly recommend it. Most stores are selling it locally for around $50, but you can generally find it online through eBay for cheaper (plus postage). This was one of 2010’s gaming highlights, and I can’t believe I missed it, but I’m glad I got to enjoy it all the same.

Now, time to park myself in front of the big screen TV once again with this title and see what else I can discover…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heavy Rain Official Trailer

An Investigation into L.A. Noire’s Gameplay

Further evidence of L.A. Noire’s gameplay is gradually coming to light as we draw ever nearer to its release date of May this year.

It will be interesting to see how Rockstar Games pulls off this title, being that it won’t be as much of a “sandbox” title as its predecessors such as Red Dead Redemption and the long-running Grand Theft Auto franchise. Re-playability is obviously a big part of any game and so it will be interesting to see how well the game holds up on a second (or even third?) play-through.

P.S. I’ve recently “discovered” Heavy Rain for PS3 and I can’t believe I missed this one when it first came out! I originally dismissed it back in early 2010 when it was released, but after playing a demo downloaded from PSN the other night, I promptly placed an order for it on eBay. Stay tuned for an in-depth post/review soon!

L.A. Noire Trailer #2!!

Quick post about L.A. Noire which I blogged about a few days earlier; at the time I mentioned the second video trailer was on the way. Well, here it is! And the good news is the whole video is comprised of actual game play!

I’ve heard that we’re looking at a story line that will play out at around the 20 hour mark which will make this a massive game. I just hope that the vehicle physics are on-par with Mafia 2. If Mafia 2 could get anything right, it was the way the cars handled and slid about.

Release date has been set at May 20th. Only a bit of a shame that we won’t be getting a PC version.

Anyway, this looks ridiculously impressive already. Can’t wait!