Sunday 29 October 2023

Keep on Eurotruckin' : Finland

Just to be clear. I'm not a very enthusiastic Eurotruck Simulator 2 player. But I have to admit for a while it's been fun to try to handle a truck instead of all the racing cars games usually have on offer.

As a typical Finn, I was mostly curious about how Finland is represented. For this I needed the Beyond the Baltic Sea DLC, and even then it only has southern Finland. You can visit for example Helsinki, Tampere, Turku, Pori, Kouvola and Kotka.

Being a simulation, you have to follow various laws, such as observing the speed limit, left-side/right-side traffic and whether lights need to be on in this country or not.

More technically, cruise control, windshield wiper, high beams and signaling adds complexity to the controls, although not everything really needs to be performed. Reversing a truck and a trailer can be really counterintuitive at times, which makes for a fun challenge.

Driving a truck does seem a stressful job, even in this simplified universe where you get to bump into things without repercussions, and no-one bothers your parking.

The Finnish experience

As the game mostly takes you from one industrial setup to another, you don't get to see that many sights in the cities. The portion of Helsinki on display does give a funny déjà vu, what with the local police cars, traffic signs and the green trams, but it's not a particularly accurate depiction.

I especially appreciate the first thing I see are areas under construction, because that's what Helsinki these days seems to be. Ha, ha. But it's really Jätkäsaari, under construction, an area that's been finished for a while.

Arriving in Helsinki West Harbor. Jätkäsaari is being built.

My first gig is from Helsinki to Turku, and although I don't know Turku, the Helsinki exit road from west is familiar terrain. Very vaguely I get the impression of leaving Helsinki over Lauttasaari, viewing perhaps Otaniemi coasts on the right, but I also have to say the scenery is a little weird there.

Arriving to Helsinki from the west, it looks more familiar. These should be Wärtsilä, Stora Enso, maybe even Cable Factory looming at the right side of the road.

Nearing the terminus of road 51.

The skyline is lacking the smokestacks. I guess most of the buildings are created from generic elements, and there's probably not that much unique geometry in the Finnish cities.

Then, at the left, it must be the Orthodox cemetery at Lapinniemi viewed from Porkkalankatu.


What follows must be the road that leads to the West Harbor, and it does look kind of familiar. 

It's just that the Jätkäsaari area has now been built full of highrise, and the DLC doesn't quite reflect these newer developments.


Outside Helsinki, the scenery between cities does give a nice impression of the usual Finnish motorway, the surroundings forests, fields and the occasional old shed.

Coming from Tampere to Helsinki did spark some recognition, Riihimäki is somewhat represented (though not named) and the Linnatuuli station complex is there by name of "Linna Tuuli" but the structure over the motorway has not been replicated.

The usual Finnish road.

For a moment I get some Martinlaakso vibes before entering Helsinki, but I'm redirected to the Ring Road again so I don't get to see the actual beginning of Mannerheimintie.

This could be virtual counterpart of the long-standing Lahnus Shell station, facing southeast, even if the surroundings are not that similar and the road that leads to it from Helsinki turns somewhat sketchy. But the south side of the station has a (non-driveable) road leading north(east), corresponding with the topology. Change my mind.

Lahnus Shell

Thursday 12 October 2023

Carrier Command 2

The titular Carrier

The original Carrier Command from 1988 ran on Amiga and Atari ST. This was the pinnacle of 16-bit home computer gaming: a technical tour de force of solid 3D graphics, multi-vehicle control and a complex mouse/icon-driven interface. 

It's like a demo of what would not be possible on the 8-bits. And then it was converted to ZX Spectrum too.

The technicality and multi-screen play covered a fairly simple strategy game focusing on the control of a handful units, made more tricky by the real-time aspect and the delightfully cluttered interface.

Carrier Command on the Amiga

Yet Carrier Command remains a cult game and many have probably wondered if the concept could be updated for more recent computers.

As the Microprose brand returned, I had my eyes on their future offerings for a while. Then, crucially, Carrier Command 2 (2021) was released and I only found about it a year later, thought it was little weird as the original was published by Rainbird. Another year passed before I bought the game from Steam.

It's not the first time the theme has been resuscitated. There's also a Carrier Command: Gaea Mission (2012), but that Bohemia Interactive interpretation has some Halo knock-off fps elements which put me off. Perhaps some day.

This is not a Linux game originally, but as usual, Proton to the rescue. I didn't experience any in-game crashes with Proton 7.0-6.

All aboard the Carrier

Carrier Command 2 is surprisingly almost the same game concept as the Amiga original, and this is what piqued my interest.

You are in control of a retro-futuristic carrier, with the goal of conquering an archipelago of small islands, or the destruction of the enemy carrier. The enemy carrier is wandering about with a similar purpose.

Most of the screens at one glance.

The first impressions were very good. The prologue brings the player down from the orbit on to the surface of an alien world, and on board the carrier. 

There is only a minimal amount of story content and the game is not split into on-rails episodes or smaller portions.

The campaign is a complete simulation of the war on the archipelago, and one run can take tens of hours. Bad choices early on can result in a game over that only becomes apparent much later.

Indie-esque art directorial choices and budgetary constraints are evident, but the creators have focused in the essentials and still managed to make a nice looking game.

The captain's holodisplay, neat but rather useless in single-player mode.

The Carrier and the weapon systems are imaginary sci-fi equipment in an imaginary world. The alien feel is heightened as no-one else is around except you. 

The simple step-by-step tutorial at the beginning shows how to switch on power, move about, how to use the Carrier main gun and how to deploy vehicles.

Rather than clicking various icons over different screens, the player has to walk about and man different stations, and use the screens from there.

Many buttons, switches and levers can be activated in the "physical" space too. Much of the added detail and complexity relates to the on/off and brightness adjustment buttons connected to every screen. It's also possible to wander off to the sparsely modeled Carrier interiors, but this serves no real purpose.

Weather changes and the day cycle add to the atmosphere

The approach makes sense considering CC2 has a multiplayer mode where a complete crew can man the bridge stations and do different things in parallel, also using virtual headsets. I doubt I will ever test that.

Playing solo involves hopping between stations to do actions that in principle could have been done from a single screen. It is difficult to handle multiple vehicles and the Carrier attack/defense systems in the heat of a battle.

But the original game also showcased similar type of thinking and the game might lose its essence if there was an effective keyboard shortcut for every action.

There's no overall "God's eye" camera of the surroundings, you only see what "you" see, mediated through cameras or not.

The tactical display, where the various assets are controlled

Actions take time. Deploying some of the vehicles is especially slow, and firing main guns does not happen instantly. In the Amiga original, you could at least fire the deck laser gun in frustration, here you need to designate targets and wait for the gun to fire.

It does make me wonder though why I cannot delay the last "fire" order until after the gun is ready?

After deploying amphibious surface vehicles, helicopters and planes, these can be controlled using waypoints on a map.

It is also possible to enter the camera view of each and guide them directly. Taking manual control at a crucial moment can be useful, as the vehicles can sometimes be painfully passive.

Enemies can be visually eyeballed from far away, but unless they are scanned through a specific kind of camera, they won't identify permanently on the map. Further scan is required to identify the weapon systems, after which the enemy weapons reach become visible as circles.

An Albatross being deployed.

Install this gimbal camera to an Albatross or a Petrel and you can "paint" enemy targets and activate Carrier main weapons from above via in-flight screen. Not always the easiest approach.

In any case, a tiniest mistake in the approach can lose your precious vehicle(s). There's a way to make more, though.

The scale of the game is far bigger than the tiny islets in the Amiga version, which means the islands span multiple kilometers. On one hand this makes the situations more complex and realistic, but on the other hand there's a lot more waiting and flushing out of enemy units. This choice really highlights how abstract the original was.

Conquering the islands is (as far as I see) achieved by dumping virus bots near the command center of the island. This can be tricky, if there are enemies around they will most certainly shoot the virus bots first and the attack will be repelled. This can easily happen even in the "tutorial".

SEALs carrying Virus Bombs, viewed from another SEAL.

At the beginning, nudging between waypoint and hands-on mode was essential to gain an edge over the opposition who has similar equipment and the player can't afford to lose anything.

Sometimes a huge number of enemy tracks becomes stuck at the same position, and one cruise missile or a volley from the Carrier main gun can get rid of them all. Knowing this made some of the approaches more manageable.

After the tutorial is over, the player is left alone with the manual and the humongous carrier and all its sub-systems. Frankly, the in-game manual isn't that helpful or even very readable, and it might have been helpful if there was another tutorial explaining the archipelago logistics even a little. Fortunately, there is more information online.

Barging in

The important tidbit: Unless you conquer an island that can produce fuel, your Carrier will run out of it rather soon. 

To refuel the carrier, you need to master the rather poorly documented topic of Barge ships. Barges can replenish the lost resources of the Carrier, if the materials are available on your conquered islands.
The Barge is bringing me more missiles, Albatrosses and Razorbills.

To start production in an island, you go to the logistics screen and activate the island's icon from there, forming an production order queue.

Only the barges can bring you materials, it doesn't help at all if your Carrier is sitting next to a fuel-producing island.

You first need to place an "order" for the equipment you need, otherwise the barges don't know what to carry. After this has been done, the barge waypoints (logistic screen again) are dragged to the source of production (island icon) and then the carrier.

The barge waypoints cannot be set from the tactical screens, where the deployed vehicle waypoints are set. Go figure.

The second barge is unloading fuel to the Carrier.

The Barge appears to be at least as fast as the Carrier, but it does take time waiting and it is better to try to anticipate needs and do parallel tasks rather than do things in sequence.

However, just as you get fuel logistics rolling, you'll soon find out the ammunition is running out from the main gun, you need replacement vehicles, missiles etc. and each of these categories require different factories.

You eventually need to build more barges to maintain logistics across your widening grip over the archipelago.

Taking the barges too far from the map can slow them down to a halt without warning, just so you know.

In my opinion the barges sometimes refuse to start loading the ordered materials without any kind of explanatory message, and this can be a little frustrating.

Part of the Archipelago islands and their resources on the Logistics screen.

End Note

Carrier Command 2 is an unashamedly long-winded simulation game. After about 24 hours of game time I can say it has been a rather interesting experience and I'm far from understanding it all.

Much like the original Amiga Carrier Command, I will remain mostly perplexed about how to go about playing it, and will probably not even try to complete it. I can see the game is able to keep up excitement, as new things become unlocked and discovered. The game has far more variety of equipment than the original had. 

My first campaign proceeded slowly, trying to figure out the barge logistics and how each weapon subsystem works, nudging each island assault carefully with the scant resources. All while the enemy struck a rapid and fearsome division into the archipelago.

I tried encountering the enemy Carrier once, with glorious fireworks both over the sea and over the nearby turret-infested island. I did not prevail.

The first encounter with the enemy Carrier, with obvious results.

I find myself reverting to saves quite often when things go wrong, which is another sign of an old style gaming. Possibly the package could have benefited from having a few more piecemeal missions and a "tiny campaign" after a tutorial, with saves only between operations.

But it is fascinating in many ways. There's a serene and watchful atmosphere. The carrier chugs along, closing in on an enemy island (there's no accelerated time). The waves on the alien world grow high, forcing the ship into impossible angles. The rain subsides, evening darkens and I spot flickering lights in the distance of an island buried in fog...

One of my biggest gripes has to do with what is really a small detail. The trees. I can bash the island with the biggest guns on the Carrier, resulting in impressive fireballs that light the sky and the surroundings. However, the trees do care not at all, not even a single pine needle or snowflake falls off from their branches.

Raining destruction on the enemy tracks

I wish the starting point for the island modeling had been the fact that it will be pounded by missiles and guns. The terrain ought to blacken, trees and small buildings blown to smithereens.

Based on this new game, I still think there's life left in the old Carrier Command concept. If only Midwinter (1989) was remade with similar sensibility. I'm having an eye on Microprose's Tiny Combat Arena, which is in early access.

Edit 20.10.2023: Completed!

I did complete the game after all. It took 46 hours. The cracks and flaws in the single-player campaign begun to emerge, and I felt the destruction of the enemy carrier was a result of combining some tactical insight and very nearly using "exploits".

After depleting the enemy carrier fleet and its resources, its destruction wasn't that difficult and perhaps even a little anti-climactic, considering my earlier encounters with it tended to result in sudden death.

Perhaps I will come back to this in more detail. But it does seem that if you manage to take over more than 10 islands your global energy budget is so high, the islands can be covered with defensive turrets, and the warehouse can produce almost constant feed of Needlefish ships.