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Battle Royale 2: M9 vs P320

Let’s compare the US Army’s old M9 to their new P320s1. I’ve got a P320F Tacops2 and Fishbreath has an M9, so we’re going to do a comparison.

We’ll start with the M9. The M9 is alloy framed, and has a double action trigger. In double action mode, the trigger has a pull weight of about 11 lbs, and in single action mode it has a pull weight of about 6 lbs. It has a frame mounted safety/decocker, a fixed forward sight, and an adjustable rear sight. The fixed front sight cannot be easily replaced with a tritium sight or a fiber optic sight.3 It does not have an underbarrel accessory rail. Side grip panels can be changed, though the grip is pretty fat.4 Small-handed users may find the safety/decocker or the trigger (in double action) hard to reach. Standard magazines come in 15 round capacity.

The P320 is polymer framed, and has a striker fired trigger. Its trigger pull is rather short and somewhat heavy at about 7.5 lbs when compared to other striker fired pistols. It is modular, and can be converted to the subcompact or compact models by swapping frame, slide, and barrel. Front and rear sights are both dovetailed, and are therefore easy to change out. There are three sizes of grip available for a given frame length, so small-handed users can find something that will work for them.

On to the direct comparison!

How do they shoot: Trigger?
This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. The P320 trigger is almost like a heavy SAO trigger. It’s short. About 7.5 lbs. The M9 has that double action trigger. The P320’s will be easier to shoot well, for some given definition of “well”5. The M9 will be more resistant to negligent discharges from poor handling habits. Your preference will determine which you prefer. I have not yet met a striker fired trigger or a double action trigger that will convert those who dislike the system.

How do they shoot: Recoil?
Both are full sized guns. The M9 is heavier, so it will absorb recoil better. Not that the 9 mm is some kind of superhot round.

How do the ergonomics compare?
P320 gets the nod here. It’s newer. It’s got interchangeable frames, which you can replace for about $40. So it’s very easy to get one stippled or reshaped, or try to do so yourself. Plus, there are three sizes available (note that only the medium sized one comes in the box). The aluminum structure of the M9 frame restricts grip size somewhat. You can get thinner grip panels, but that’s about it. People with normal sized hands or larger will not have trouble with either gun. People with small hands will have an easier time getting the P320 to a place that works for them. Also, the M9’s mag release is quite low, and trickier to reach. It requires a good bit of grip shifting. Aftermarket options are available to remedy this. The P320 has a nicely sized mag release that is easy to press as it comes from the factory.

How does the aftermarket compare?
It’s a pretty mixed bag. You can find cheap mags for the M9, if you don’t mind 15 rounders. MecGar makes 18 rounders which are quite good. SIG makes 17 round (standard) and 22 round extended magazines for the P320F. There are a reasonable number of sight options available for the P320. M9 front sight work requires a drill press. Wilson Combat makes a good number of aftermarket M9 parts to improve the trigger. Only Grey Guns does P320 trigger work, and they’re annoyingly closed about such things. Only now are they starting to release parts for DIY trigger work. Overall, I think the M9 wins by a little bit, but not by much. The P320 should get better given the US Military contract. Emphasis on should. Neither is looking to give Glock a run for its money in the customization department anytime soon.

And now, it’s time for the Main Event of the Evening!

Which should you buy?
Unlike my first Battle Royale, this one is a lot harder to call. It comes down to this: Which trigger do you prefer? If you like double action triggers, buy an M9 like Fishbreath, and drive on. If you prefer striker fired triggers, buy a P320 and call it a day.

  1. At the time of writing, P320s aren’t available to the general public with thumb safeties, so mine lacks this feature. Also, I don’t like it on striker fired pistols, so I wouldn’t get one if it was available. 
  2. Comes with 22 round extended magazines, TFX front sight, and Siglite rear sights. Otherwise it’s a regular P320F. 
  3. This problem is corrected on the M9A3, which has a front sight dovetail, and sights can be changed by the user. This isn’t what the Army has though, so it’s only of interest if you’re buying one. The M9A3 is also a lot more expensive. 
  4. Also corrected in the M9A3, which uses the Vertec-type grip. 
  5. Fishbreath disagrees, providing the following remark: “Striker-fired triggers are better than a DA pistol’s double action trigger and much worse than a DA pistol’s single-action trigger.” 

Movie (and Firearms) Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Do you like action movies, dear reader?

If so, then you are in for a treat. You will like John Wick: Chapter 2. You will also like John Wick, a quiet hit from 2014, but the sequel is out now so that’s what we’ll talk about. Like a good sequel, most of what I say here also applies to the original. It is pure, cask-strength, unfiltered, undiluted action movie. There is just enough plot to justify the delightful orgy of violence and action that follows. There is a bit of worldbuilding to spice up the movie world and make it a little unique. It is its own movie, not a rehash of, say, Death Wish. And then, as they say, “Lights, camera, action!” There is nothing to get in the way. Nothing to dilute what you came to see. No sadness. No angst1. No romance. No self pity.

It is refreshing, don’t you think?

I also love the fact that John Wick: Chapter 2 is made by a group of former Second Unit cameramen. They’re used to filming fights and stunts, because that’s what the Second Camera Unit is used for. Further, they eschew that stupid “jason bourne movie” style of fight cinematography:2 they don’t zoom in on little bits of the actors clothes, or the spot the stuntman missed shaving this morning, and they don’t use lots of rapid cuts to hide the fact that none of these idiots knows how to fight. The camera is stabilized, as it should be, and it’s set back like the camera at a UFC event: out of the way of the fighters and positioned so that you can enjoy the brawl. This is why you’re here. Don’t ruin it with lame camera work.

The fight action is solid for a movie. Keanu Reeves is pretty athletic, and does a good job of selling the fight sequences. He also enjoys 3-gun, and trained with Taran Butler, shootist extraordinaire. His weapon handling was first rate, except for a bit too much of the weird Center Axis Relock thing. But so much of this movie is fun that I’m not going to nitpick. It is Hollywood, after all. They got so much right, I’ll cut them a little slack. Of course, he takes an obscene amount of damage, but he’s the protagonist. He’s supposed to never say die. This isn’t a training video, so realism has been thrown out the window.

The review of John Wick: Chapter 2 is very easy to write. A review’s job is to tell you whether or not you will enjoy a film, and thus whether or not you should go see it. If you like action movies, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s just that simple.

Of course, that’s a rather short article. Let’s talk about the guns that John Wick uses.

John Wick kits himself out with a full set of guns that have been worked over by Taran Butler’s gunsmithing company, Taran Tactical innovations (TTI). There’s a Glock 34 Combat Master, a Glock 26 Combat Master, a TR-1 AR-15 build, and a Benelli M4 that’s been worked over. In preparation for a massive gunfight as he escapes a hit, he stashes the TR-1 and the modified Benelli with a belt of shotgun shell caddies to aid his fighting escape.

The Glock 34 Combat Master package has a lightened, refinished slide, a steel guide rod, Taran’s sights, a reduced-power recoil spring, a trigger job, a magwell, and a stippled frame. The idea behind the heavy guide rod and the lightened slide is that you can reduce recoil by making the parts of the gun that move lighter and the parts that don’t move heavier. Competitive shooters have been doing this for years. The reduced-power recoil spring is designed to maximize reliability with the lightened slide. The TTI Combat Master package is a little more expensive than buying the individual components/services yourself from various other smithing services, but part of buying a package like this is that it’s a tested set, so you don’t have a bunch of tweaking to do. It’s a competitively priced package when compared to other packages. That said, sourcing the individual parts and services can work if you don’t mind some spring fiddling and have something particular in mind as for looks.

I don’t have time with a TTI Combat Master Glock (yet), but it is well reviewed among competition shooters. All of the theory is right, and Taran and his gunsmiths have likely taken the time to tune it right, or else he wouldn’t put his name on it.

He’s also got Glock magazines with the TTI basepads, which give capacity of 23 rounds per magazine.

I was really happy to see John Wick take a tricked out Glock 26 as a backup gun. It’s similar to the Combat Master Glock 34, but without the window cuts and magwell. Backup guns are often neglected by movie gunfighters. Big thumbs up from me there. See above; it’s a similar package of modifications. I will note that John Wick deploys his backup gun too early in the fight: in a hand-to-hand engagement, that is everybody’s gun until one achieves a dominant position. Gain position, then go for the gun.

The TR-1 is a solid looking AR-15. It’s got an 11.5″ barrel, BCM KMR handguard, compensator, Hiperfire trigger, BCM Gunfighter stock, ionbond-coated bolt carrier group, and a Trijicon Accupoint 1-6x scope. All solid choices. I love the KMR for light and lightish builds. The hiperfire trigger is a really good trigger choice. I’m thinking of getting one to try. I also really like the BCM gunfighter stock. It’s really cool that my parts list lined up with that of another serious builder. Anyway, it’s a great parts list.

The Accupoint optic is a solid choice. It wouldn’t be mine, but Taran seems to like and do well with them. Plus, the lack of holdover options isn’t a huge handicap at the ranges we’re talking about here or in most 3-gun competitions.

We might also note that John Wick goes for a gun with a compensator, not a suppressor. This is going to abuse everyone’s hearing in confined spaces. But his cover is blown if he’s going for the rifle, so stealth won’t help him much. Plus, the compensator will keep the muzzle on target better, so he’ll get faster follow up shots and transitions. As ever, a trade-off. I’m cool with this choice, especially since he knows what he’s doing as far as weapons handling goes.

Also note that John Wick used a pair of coupled magazines before transitioning to what he had on his belt. Coupled magazines add weight, but give you a really fast first reload. This one I don’t have enough experience with to comment on. They add weight, but if you train with them, there are gains to be had there in terms of reloads, and they’re more reliable individually than the big 60 round magazine options.

Finally, the shotgun. Shotgun handling and reloading is the hardest part of running one, but Keanu did a great job of keeping it fed, quad loading like a pro. He also had a pair of shell carriers near the ejection port, to quickly get one round in when you’re caught needing to reload. The TTI-customized M4 had an opened up loading port to make reloads easy. I’m sure the recoil system and trigger tuning are present here too. The bolt is lightened and refinished in ionbond.

Note also that the Glocks and the Benelli have some milling and refinishing done. These are the kind of things that are better outsourced unless you’re well equipped and know what you are doing or else it will look awful.

As far as arsenals go, this set gets a huge thumbs up from me. I might make a few minor preference changes, but it’s a set I’d be extremely happy with.

There are a few other weapons of note that I should comment on, aside from incidental combat pickups.

John Wick starts Chapter 2 using the same pistol he used as his primary in the first movie: the HK P30 with a compensator. This compensator is really more of a frame weight, and doesn’t have a ton of baffles or porting. It does work though. Not a lot of mods, because the P30 is a relatively new gun that’s not very popular in competitions, so it’s not going to be modded to hell and back by guys looking for an edge. It’s a great pistol though; BORTAC really likes theirs.

Late in the movie, Wick is given a Kimber 1911 (in .45) with a single seven-round magazine. And yes, he comments on only having seven bullets. I am unable to ascertain which Kimber 1911 model is used here, though it looks like a Kimber Warrior. Kimber has had some poor QC for awhile in the early 2000s. As far as I can tell from actual reports, this has gotten better recently. QC issue reports tend to be old, or hearsay of old issues. Not that this isn’t something to be aware of, but their current body of work is good. Price is in line with the rest of the 1911 market. Also, their service is very good.

Plus, while we’re talking hearsay examples with small sample sizes, one of the guys in pistol 2 had a Kimber 1911 in .45 and it ran great. He also shot really well with it.

  1. Thank God. 
  2. Again, thank God. I always hated that modern “ghetto documentary” style of camerawork, especially when there’s fighting to be done. I want to see it. Of course, the reason for shakycams zoomed in to the limit is to hide the fact that they have a bunch of men who can’t fight trying to sell me on a punch. 

Fishbreath Flies: DCS AJS 37 Viggen Review

Leatherneck Simulations is at it again: a 1970s aircraft modeled in loving detail. Once more, we get a plane which has virtues beyond accuracy. Leatherneck’s DCS Viggen has heart.

I’ve written about the Viggen’s history already, so if your first thought is, “Why should I care?”, there’s your answer. With that out of the way, we can move onto the plane itself.

Digital Combat Simulator made huge strides on this front with the release of its new rendering engine in 2015; Leatherneck has proven itself well above average at the graphical side of DCS module development. The MiG-21 was a work of art, and the Viggen is perhaps even more so. The external model is well done, and seems perfectly realistic to me1. The real artistry comes inside the cockpit, though. Flip on the battery and the low pressure fuel pump, and the master warning lights (labeled HUVUDSVARNING, because Swedish) come on, bathing the cockpit in a luminous flashing red. Turn them off and get through the rest of the startup checklist, then turn the radar on. The CRT casts its eerie green CRT glow over everything, and seems to glow with the inner light all displays of its type do.

Beyond the superb lighting effects, the cockpit also has the weathered feel you would expect from twenty-year-old airframes. (Remember, the AJ 37 Viggen is a 1970 plane; the AJS 37 Viggen is the 1990s update). It isn’t dingy, but it does look and feel as though it’s been used, and that adds tremendously to the plane’s character.

We come now to perhaps the best part of the Viggen: its sound design. Although the DCS engine may not do very well at exterior sounds for any plane, Leatherneck has still managed to make the flyby sound meaty, especially in afterburner. In-cockpit, the state of things is much better. Turn on the AC power, and the computer’s fans spin up with a sound that reminds me of my childhood machines. The master warning alarm has the same warmth to it as the light does. Later, the insistent chirp of the radar warning receiver gives way to the thunder of the afterburner, growing deeper by stages as the throttle clicks past its detents through the three afterburner power bands.

Sound is an important and underrated component to immersion in sims. The Viggen gets it spot-on. It’s good as any sim I’ve played to date.

Systems and weapons
The Viggen flies a mission profile rather out of favor in today’s world: interdiction. That is, it’s designed to fly at ludicrously high speeds and ludicrously low altitudes, carrying a wingload of bombs, rockets, or rudimentary guided weapons. It gets to its target, pops up at the last minute to aim its weapons, makes one pass, and heads home.

This is reflected in its design: the canarded double delta makes quite a bit of low-speed lift, but it does so inefficiently. The Viggen is happiest in its native habitat: Mach numbers greater than 0.6, altitudes lower than 500 meters above the ground. It does not fit into the low-intensity COIN world of DCS nearly so well as (say) the A-10C, the Ka-50, or even the Su-25. The weapons fit requires you to know where your target is, and even the air pressure at the target’s location. All of this (except for the air pressure) must be programmed into the computer ahead of time, or using the wee six-digit input display while flying.

So, don’t expect to do much loitering, waiting for JTAC, and dropping bombs precisely. Even if it was more straightforward, the Viggen has very little facility for dropping quantities of its weapons smaller than ‘all’. Only guided missiles fire one at a time.

Having introduced this section with an extended ramble, let me get back on point for a paragraph. The systems modeling feels right to me. I’m not an expert on Swedish systems of the 1970s and 1990s, but everything feels plausible enough, modulo some early-access issues Leatherneck is working through in weekly patches. Notable fun items include the overwhelmingly programmable RB-15 anti-ship missile, the BK-90 totally-not-a-low-altitude-cluster-JDAM, and the RB-05A manually-guided missile (easier to use than it sounds). The air-to-ground mapping radar works as expected; that is to say, it’s very cool, albeit with the confusing wrinkle that green means no radar return and black means return.

There are some ongoing issues with rearming, as well as some others involving weapons and multiplayer, but I’m confident Leatherneck will be able to get those squared away.

On to the most subjective point! Is it fun?

Yes. Yes it is.

The design of the HUD, with few numbers and lots of indicator lines, makes you feel like you’re flying a Swedish X-Wing, and the rest of the cockpit supports that impression. As the treetops zip by at four hundred knots, and the waypoint distance line on the HUD shrinks to indicate you’re closing in on your target, you can just picture yourself hurtling down the Death Star trench.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the Viggen’s mission profile makes for a certain sense of rising anticipation as you speed toward your target. Do you know that stereotypical scene from adventure movies, the one where the sun inches toward a bejeweled staff placed just so, or the one where some narrator is speaking while an orrery clicks toward planetary alignment? Everything is building toward a single moment, and then, bam—the payoff. The sun sparkles off the jewel and lights up the model of the city below, the orrery’s planets align. That’s the feel of a Viggen mission done correctly. Your range-to-target dial—and it is a dial; the Viggen may be computerized, but it isn’t that computerized—ticks down toward zero. You pull up, catching a glimpse of your target as you do. You roll onto it, lining up the sighting mark in the HUD, and then, bam. You pull the trigger and your weapons strike home. There’s the payoff.

It’s tremendously exciting.

I recommend the Viggen wholeheartedly, based on its production values and on the sheer thrill I get out of flying it. I offer the following two caveats, though. First, it’s an early access product; more importantly, it’s an early access DCS product. There are still plenty of gremlins. Second, if you’re a multiplayer-primary player, be warned that there are several bugs and several usability issues to contend with. Even with those caveats, though, it’s an excellent aircraft, and I very much doubt you’ll be disappointed with your purchase.

  1. I don’t count rivets, though. 

Review: ETS 22-round Glock magazines

For a while I didn’t understand the point of aftermarket Glock magazines. Factory Glock magazines are really cheap. Factory Glock magazines are reliable. Saving a couple bucks on some other brand’s magazine didn’t make sense to me. And that was before I read a ton of unfavorable reviews about crappy Korean-made aftermarket mags and others that don’t work.

Then I found these ETS magazines. They’ve gotten generally positive reviews, and have a lot of things going for them. They seem to actually work for people. And they come in more sizes than the Glock standard 17 round and 33 round massively large magazine for full size pistols. I bought a few 22-round (9mm) magazines to see for myself what they were like.

On the ETS website, you will notice that they not only makes the 33-round “Happy Sticks” and the standard magazine sizes (17 rounds for full size, 15 for compact, 10 for subcompact, various reduced-load variants for evil communist hippie states), but they also make magazines targeted at competitive shooters. If you shoot Limited division in USPSA or Practical division in 3-gun nation, your pistol magazines must have a height less than 141.25 mm (colloquially referred to as “140 mm magazines”). USPSA Open division shooters are limited to mags that are less than 171.25 mm tall (colloquially referred to as “170 mm magazines”). Happily, ETS highlights in the product name their 140 mm and 170 mm compliant offerings. For the record, their 140 mm magazines hold 22 rounds of 9 mm, and their 170 mm magazines hold 27 rounds of 9 mm.1

The magazines themselves are made out of transparent, smoke-colored plastic. There’s no metal liner like on factory Glock mags. The ETS mags seem durable enough to me, but I haven’t driven over them or used them for many years yet. Transparent is nice because it lets you see and count your bullets, no matter how you pull the mag out of the gun. Also, they look really cool. In terms of guts, they take the same followers and the same sort of springs as standard Glock magazines. Clearly these are longer, so you’d want longer springs. But if you wanted to replace them with Wolff extra power Glock magazine springs, no problem. Also, the floorplates are the same design as factory Glock magazine floorplates. So if you want more weight to help them drop free better, you can add any existing aftermarket metal “+0” floorplate for Glock magazines.

I experienced no problems in my use of these magazines. I could load 22 rounds, as advertised. I had no trouble inserting fully loaded magazines, or getting empty magazines to drop free. The slide locked back appropriately on an empty magazine. There were no feeding problems to report.

I did not “stress test” these magazines by stomping them in mud or driving over them. I did drop them onto concrete a couple times fully loaded, and they didn’t explode. I’d expect them to be more durable than factory mags with extenders, because they don’t have to deal with a join in the middle of the body.

I’ve also had a bit of time with Magpul’s Glock magazines. I experienced no reliability problems with those in class (though they belonged to another shooter so I did not use them for the whole class). I cannot speak to the long-term durability of either. However, the Magpul magazines don’t have any of the little convenience features that endeared me to the ETS magazines. They are opaque, and have many fewer witness holes than stock Glock magazines. They do not clearly confirm the height of their magazines on their website. They also use a different floorplate design. The price difference isn’t really anything significant, so I’d take the ETS magazines over the Magpul ones.

ETS extended magazines are a great choice for competitive shooters and those looking for more bullets in the magazine. They are longer than stock magazines2, but if you want to conceal them, feel free to try to figure out a way to make that work. They’re a hell of a lot cheaper than a factory mag and an aftermarket extender, and provide about as many bullets, with none of the breaking on drop issues.

  1. I shoot 9 mm because I’m a “tactical timmy” and I like more bullets. Plus 9 mm is cheap, and just as effective with good defensive ammo. If you take your pistol competition more seriously than I, you probably are interested in the .40 versions, since it’s a lot easier to make Major power factor with .40. The 140 mm ETS magazines hold 19 rounds of .40, and the 170 mm ETS magazines hold 24 rounds of .40. 
  2. DUH. 

Book (Series) Review: The U.S. Army in World War II — European Theater of Operations

I have a number of these volumes. They are published by the Whitman Publishing Company, though the originals were published by the US Army’s Military History Department. They are a staff-officer level view of the war. They provide an excellent battalion-and-above level perspective. Discussion of command decisions, command reasoning, politics, and large scale maneuvers is handled well. The author, Martin Blumenson, is also good at covering logistical matters, which is a very important side of war that few bother with.

As fitting a staff level account, the maps in the text are first rate. They are very clear and carefully reproduced. These are not crude, cheaply printed duplicates. However, the maps within chapters are somewhat sparse. We might expect more within the text, but the back of the book has something better: color gatefold maps.

That’s not a delusion or an ungodly typo. I’ll write it again.


I’ve never seen any other book do this. Each volume in the set has approximately twenty (20! That’s Two-Zero!) full-color, fold-out maps at the back for your analytical pleasure. Now you feel like you’re sitting in a warmer, nicer version of SHAEF. You can see terrain features and force depositions like never before. It’s spectacular. And yes, the text has inline references to the maps, which are numbered for your convenience. This is the best way to get a great mental image of the campaigns of the European Theater of Operations.

All that said, these are very much in the old-school of history writing. Unless someone gets a mention in dispatches, individual soldiers on the front line do not get called out. And we do not get the perspective of individual soldiers at the front lines. That is not the objective of these works. As I mentioned before, they’re oriented to the staff level, and they do not deviate from that.

The series comes highly recommended, whether they are list price or on sale.

Fishbreath Plays Total War: Warhammer

I fear we are too late.

Under the High King’s banner, we drove the grobi scum out of the halls of our ancestors. We chased them through the badlands and put them to the az, and now they will never trouble us again. Our diplomats traveled the whole of the world, drawing together the karaks and reforging the alliances of old. We stood side by side with men for the first time in a thousand years.

But while we looked south, Chaos fell on the world from the north. Kislev fell. Nordland teeters on the brink. Men fought men in the Empire’s heartland, and now tendrils of darkness reach the very gates of Altdorf.

The High King looks north now. Umgi and dawi alike are united under his command. So we march to the lands of men, az in hand, to face those who would bring about the end of all things—servants and champions of the dark gods.

The Empire is a shadow of its old self. The Wood Elves still make war on all who stand for order. Their stubbornness may yet doom us all. We are the world’s last hope.

– Elmador Oathforged

Warhammer is an excellent setting for storytelling.

You should need no further convincing, but in the event you do, let me elaborate. From its rather humble beginnings as a miniatures wargame, Warhammer Fantasy Battles1 developed a world full of timeless themes for war stories: dramatic final stands against insurmountable odds, the evil horde sweeping through the world to eradicate all that is good and right, brave men standing athwart the tide.

Total War games are story generators. Perhaps they aren’t as effective in that role as Crusader Kings 2, but they nevertheless make interesting alternate histories. Note I say ‘interesting’, as in, ‘huh, that’s interesting’, and not ‘compelling’, as in, ‘I cannot wait to see where this goes next’. Previous Total War games were interesting, but not compelling. Factions aren’t all that different, generals are more or less interchangeable, your enemies are the ones next to you, and your territory is whatever you can take.

Not so much in Total War: Warhammer. Factions are very different—some depend on siege weapons, some depend on strong infantry, some depend on movement and trickiness, and all feel almost like different games. Generals have a deep skill tree, and that helps to turn them from collections of bits into characters. (I didn’t even have to start the game to look up General Oathforged’s name.) Your enemies may be across the world. Chaos, remember, comes out of the north, and the dwarfs start in the south. You can’t take territory willy-nilly, either. Most factions have some territorial restrictions. Dwarfs, for instance, can only occupy territory which was originally dwarfen: the settlements in the central plains are right out, but old dwarfen settlements occupied by the greenskins are fair game.

Ultimately, though, the thing Total War: Warhammer has over previous Total War games is its setting. It probably isn’t quite correct to say that everyone knows Warhammer, but a lot of people know Warhammer. There are more people familiar with Warhammer, I would say, than the 18th-century history of the Netherlands2. Even if the numbers were equal, the Warhammer setting is a fictional setting. By their very nature, fictional settings generate stories more easily than historical ones. This isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting stories out of the Netherlands’ exploits in the 1800s—just that they aren’t as memorable or as frequent as the stories out of the dawi’s fight against the grobi, or the Empire’s strife with its neighbors, or the coming together of all the civilized peoples to stand against Chaos.

So, when compared to other Total War games, Total War: Warhammer has much deeper emotional impact because of its setting. Game systems reinforce this: I’m not just fighting a war of conquest, I’m fighting wars of conquest to rebuild the Karaz Ankor and reclaim what was lost to dwarfkind thousands of years ago. Or, I’m not just beating up on my neighbors to take their stuff, I’m beating up on my neighbors because they are to the south, they won’t stop fighting me until they’re defeated, Chaos is to the North, and the Empire is the first and best line of defense against the Ruinous Powers. Or, I’m not just swarming up out of the badlands because I’m looking for a scrap—well, okay. Maybe the greenskins aren’t the best example, but even if they do fight just for the sake of fighting, they have a reason for it. It’s what they do: beat up on anyone small enough to take a beating, then find the next biggest thing, rinse, and repeat.

That, in my opinion, is what previous Total War games were missing, and what Total War: Warhammer has in spades: context.

To hit on a few final, technical notes, battles play quickly, moreso than even the relatively quick games in recent Total War history, but the factions are varied, tactics are interesting, and the AI has a great sense for cavalry flanking maneuvers. The Creative Assembly finally got to cut loose and have some fun, and it shows here. Presentation is generally superb all around; the writers nailed the Warhammer feel, and the art design follows along. There are some spectacular battle maps, too.

Really, it’s the perfect union of theme and mechanics. I’m glad it took this long to happen, because they got it very right. Ordinarily, when I’m looking forward to a game, I build up a picture in my head of what it’ll be like. That picture is usually not altogether accurate, so when the game finally comes out, there’s a time of adjustment. The game may not be bad, but it isn’t what I’m expecting, and so in a sense, I’m disappointed. I never had that feeling with Total War: Warhammer: it is everything I had hoped it would be. If you like games that generate stories, the Total War formula, or Warhammer, you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl.

  1. May it ride eternal, shiny and chrome!
  2. Fun fact: your author’s next favorite Total War game is Empire, because he likes to be contradictory.

Fishbreath Plays: Train Simulator vs. American Truck Simulator

If you caught the most recent episode of The Crossbox Podcast, you may recall that I cited these two games as examples of a genre I don’t quite understand. (I’ve come to call it the Podcast Screensaver genre1.) At the same time, said I kind of understood the appeal of Train Simulator. Namely, driving a train is at least a little unusual. Driving a truck on a highway is a little too similar to my daily commute.

Predictably—inevitably—further experience has made me change my tune.

What makes a good entry in the Podcast Screensaver genre? It needs to take a little attention, but not so much that you can’t follow the thread of the podcast. It should present occasional challenges—if it doesn’t, it ceases to be a game in the Podcast Screensaver genre, and you might as well just watch a screensaver. Ideally, it should be immersive. Most importantly, it should be pleasing to look at.

Let’s go down the list.

Takes a little attention
American Truck Simulator fits the definition more or less perfectly. If you drive a car, you know this. Driving isn’t difficulty, but it does take a constant minimum expenditure of brainpower.

Train Simulator, on the other hand, is a little harder to defend. Driving a train, though it is more exotic than driving a truck, takes basically no attention at all. You have to watch out for signals every mile or two, and if one of them is red, you have to fiddle with some brakes. Things get more complicated if you’re running a steam engine, but not dramatically more complicated.

The distribution of required attention is different, too. A driving game requires a relatively constant amount, whereas a train simulator takes extra thought when you’re coming up to a signal: you have to squint through the window to see the thing, decide whether or not to brake, and then carry out the action of braking to stop where you want to stop. This is not conducive to paying attention to a second thing. (At least, not for me.) The human mind (or my human mind) is much better at handling two constant cognitive loads (such as driving and listening) than it is at handling one constant load and one highly variable load (such as listening and train driving).

Points, then, to the truck simulator.

Presents occasional challenges
It may perhaps be a result of Train Simulator’s demographic2, or perhaps it is a result of the inherent ease of driving trains3, but Train Simulator is easy. Nor is it only easy because trains are easy. Even the scenarios labeled ‘difficult’ (for example, using a tiny British tank engine to haul a rack of passenger cars up a hill, or using an enormous American gas turbine locomotive to haul a bunch of hopper cars up a different hill, and taking a steam locomotive low on water4 to its next stop) are straightforward. I’ve seen some people on forums complain about the difficulty of these precise scenarios, while I—a train neophyte if ever there was one—had no trouble whatsoever.

American Truck Simulator is also not all that difficult, provided you’ve driven a vehicle with a trailer before. That said, there are some places where it is honestly hard, mostly relating to maneuvering trailers in tight spaces, whether they be right-angle corners or narrow loading docks.

Again, points to the truck simulator.

Is immersive
Immersion is, of course, subjective, and I can see how it might go either way. For the particular games I’ve played (American Truck Simulator and Train Simulator with 2016 and 2017 routes), it comes to a coin toss.

I’ve done a little bit of driving in the American Southwest, and ATS gets that right on a reliable basis. Sunrise and sunset are also super-pretty, and the sound design is excellent. That said, Train Simulator’s Sherman Hill route also has things to recommend it, and in fact, the scenario I played there obscures one of Train Simulator’s biggest flaws.

Is pretty
This, unfortunately, is where Train Simulator falls down a bit. In terms of graphics and audio design, it lags far behind American Truck Simulator5. For a game in the Podcast Screensaver genre, visual and aural beauty are non-negotiable. The whole idea is that, while your brain is mostly focused on listening to something, you have a pleasant background scene to enjoy. If the background scene is ugly, then it all falls apart.

As I mentioned, there are moments where Train Simulator looks and sounds good. I was hauling a load of empty hopper cars up Sherman Hill at sunset. A rainstorm was overhead, but it didn’t reach the horizon, and as the sun went down, it lit the scene in a perfect gloomy orange. The sounds for the turbine locomotive I was driving were also excellent, lovely whirring, a bell which rang as clear as itself, and an air horn in the finest tradition of train air horns. Moment to moment, though, I give this one to the truck simulator.

As scored above, the final tally goes to American Truck Simulator, 3-0, with one tie. I should note that the difference is not quite so vast as I make it seem. For instance, the Unreal Engine 4-based Train Sim World, the next in Dovetail Games’ series, is extremely good-looking, and the sound design is just superb. That would pretty handily tip the balance in the ‘pretty’ and ‘immersive’ categories, and suddenly the score is 2-2.

Or is it? If you’ve looked at American Truck Simulator and Train Simulator on Steam, you’ll have noticed a certain crucial difference: price.

American Truck Simulator has a list price of $20. At press time, it’s on sale for $14. Going by European Truck Simulator 2, we might expect DLC prices in the $10-$20 range. Those DLCs massively expand the road network—ETS2 has DLCs for regions like France and Scandinavia—along with new cargo types, which are at least graphically interesting.

Train Simulator, on the other hand, seems bound and determined to extract as much money from its captive audience as possible. A small route runs $20 or $30, and I mean small. That’s about sixty miles of track, generally without any branches off the main line besides sidings. (Some routes, however, do give you a little more for your money. Sherman Hill has two routes over the hill.) You get one to three locomotives and a few types of rolling stock, and that’s it.

In this genre, repetition is bad. The world ought to be big enough so that by the time you see scenery again, you’ve forgotten what it looks like. If the world is small, it should be cheap to expand. Train Simulator has neither quality. American Truck Simulator has both. Buy the latter.

  1. There are evidently two classes of people unlike me: those who can simply sit and listen to a piece of audio-only content, and those who can multitask effectively enough that they need not focus primarily on a piece of audio-only content. If you’re one of those sorts of people, and you still like transport games, please drop me a line as to why.
  2. Let’s face it. On aggregate, train simulator fans are, well, old.
  3. The only major challenge is learning braking distances. Working out how to keep steam up in a steam locomotive is an additional challenge. Otherwise, it’s a vehicle which travels in one dimension, and navigation is done for you at the switching office.
  4. Well, not so low that you can’t make it if you don’t know how to use the water troughs the scenario tells you to use. Which I didn’t. (Neither knew how nor did use.)
  5. At press time, the next iteration in Dovetail Games’ train sim series, Train Sim World, is in preview-beta. Built on Unreal Engine 4, it appears to be quite a lot prettier, and a lot more sonically pleasing, than Train Simulator 2017, which is built on an eight-year-old engine.

F125 Class Frigate

Historically, Germany has made some well designed ships in insufficient numbers. Bismarck and Tirpitz were both well designed and well regarded. Bismarck was formidable enough that the Royal Navy issued orders to avoid one-on-one engagements with her.

In general, modern German Frigates1 are high capability ships. I’m quite fond of the Sachsen class, which are excellent ships with a fine SAM suite. Unsurprisingly given the feature set and the small production run, they’re quite expensive. They may or may not be the right choice for you depending on your budget, priorities, and the other ships in your Navy.

But all things must come to an end. And the long chain of well-designed German ships came to an end with the F125 class.

I do not understand the F125 class at all. They’re the biggest “Frigates” in the world, with a displacement of 7,200 tonnes. They are also massively expensive. I am not opposed to large frigates or expensive ships. But I want something for my money. The FREMMs that Fishbreath is fond of and the Sachsens I alluded to earlier are both high capability ships. They’re suitable for any standard mission you might expect from a modern maid-of-all-work from air defense to antisubmarine warfare to land attack to antiship work. The F125s aren’t.

Looking at the F125, it is clear something is missing. And that something is the VLS. The VLS is where you put your surface to air missiles. And, if you’re smart like the Germans, you’ve got a VLS like the Mark 41 that can also take cruise missiles. So the VLS gives your ship the ability to defend itself from incoming antiship missiles and to strike targets over 1,000 miles away. Without it, the F125 is like a clawless, toothless tiger.

The F125 does have the RIM-116 point defense missile system. This is presently the best CIWS in the world. But it is no substitute for proper SAM capability. The CIWS is only able to protect against a small scale attack. It is not capable of contributing to the anti-air umbrella of a task force or providing protection to nearby ships. This might be fine for a small corvette or patrol craft, but the F125 is expensive and important. To put it plainly, the F125 will require escorts, like an aircraft carrier does.

Of course, an aircraft carrier carries aircraft. There’s a reason it has no space for missiles. But the F125 isn’t an aircraft carrier. There are no squadrons of Sea Typhoons ready to scramble from a flight deck. The F125 has one 127mm gun, some smaller remotely operated guns, four RHIBs, a submarine ROV and a pair of helicopters. It has a mere eight Harpoon launchers, and a small crew of only 110. I don’t know what happened to the space. I wish I could tell you.

Such a simple ship should be cheap, but it isn’t. In the tradition of other recent German projects, every gold-plated technological innovation has been thrown at it. The radars are split between the two superstructure islands. Command and control has been split as well. Plus, the ships have plenty of fancy modern stealth shaping. All wasted on a useless hull.

The F125 is optimized for the not very difficult mission of antipiracy hunts off the Horn of Africa. What a spectacular waste of Reichsmarks er, Euros.

1.) Fishbreath would probably quibble about the use of the term Frigate here. Most German frigates follow the European standard of being a destroyer in all but name.

Parvusimperator Reviews Trijicon HD Sights

I decided I should replace the stock sights on my PPQ. The PPQ is a really great gun out of the box, but it comes with crappy plastic three dot sights. I don’t like the three dot sight picture, so let’s see what’s on the market.

I could have gone with a black rear and fiber optic front from Dawson, like I did on my VP9, but I wanted something different. Plus, Dawson’s manufacturing tolerances annoy me. The VP9 is made by just one company, HK. With just one set of specs and tolerances. This ain’t no 1911, where dovetail dimensions differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. I understand that adjustment is going to be needed on a 1911. But this is the age of computer aided design and CNC machines. I should not have to spend a large amount of time with files fitting sights to my modern pistol. To hell with that.

Instead, I went with the Trijicon HD Sights. These are an attempt to get sights that work in both high and low light conditions. They have a plain black rear with two tritium lamps, but no white rings around the tritium, so as not to provide distractions. The rear sight also has a wide, U-shaped notch. The front sight has a tritium lamp surrounded by a high-visibility thick plastic ring, in orange or yellow. That ring is made of traditional glow in the dark stuff that gets “charged” with light. As a result of the ring, this is a wide post for the front sight. That’s really been my only hesitation with these. I like narrower fiber optic posts. But, given that the rear sight is commensurately wider, I still get nice broad light bars on either side.

The tritium makes the Trijicon HDs expensive. But Trijicon is at least nice enough to make them for just about everything. In addition to the common guns, namely Glocks and M&Ps, Trijicon makes HDs for SiGs, the PPQ and other Walthers, the VP9 and other HKs, and even Fishbreath’s PX4. Dawson doesn’t even make sights for the PX4.

A quick aside. Mounting sights on the PPQ was super easy. The factory front sight is held on by a small screw that holds two plastic wings apart. To remove, just take out the screw and squeeze the wings with some needle-nose pliers. Done. The replacement front sight is affixed with a screw, like a Glock. I know this is supposed to be less sturdy than a dovetail, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to install.

The rear sight is kind of interesting. There’s a reverse-threaded screw with a square head on the right side of the sight. There’s a spring-loaded detent in the frame that has a slot cut in it to lock in with the screw, and it presses the sight into the square-cut slot. I’m not aware of anyone else who’s done this, and I have no idea how sturdy it is. But since I don’t use my rear sights as a hammer, I’m not too worried. Again, it was super easy to swap out the sights.

Then, I took it to the range to compare it with the aforementioned Dawson sights on the VP9. Both the VP9 and the PPQ have excellent ergonomics and triggers, so I figured this was as good a test as any.

The result was pretty much as I expected. For quick stuff in close-ish, the Trijicon HDs were competitive with the fiber optic for speedy sight acquisition. At range, it was a little harder to focus on the top edge of the sight on the HDs, since the bright dot is quite a bit bigger. Also, the wide front post covers more of a smaller target at range.

I’m a firm believer that for whatever sights you have on your gun, there exists some lighting condition and shooting problem to screw you over. In this case, you get pretty quick acquisition and good low-light capabilities, but make the long distance problems more difficult. It’s a pretty reasonable trade. I really like these as general purpose pistol sights.

Of course, if you aren’t sold on needing/wanting tritium, you can get nice, high visibility sights for a lot less money. This comes down to what are you comfortable with. Which optical conditions do you want to screw you over? Or, you could put a U-Boat1 on your carry gun, and always be ready to illuminate the living daylights out of an obscure target. But then there’s extra weight and bulk to play with.

Unfortunately, the best way to know if sights are right for you is to try them. Happily, some of the nicer gun stores have a set in a countertop display, which is pretty neat. If you want tritium, I don’t know of another commercially available solution to also get high visibility built in, short of having someone custom build them. They’re way better than any other tritium sight I’ve tried.

1.) Surefire X300U

Retro Review: Parvusimperator Looks at the M16A2

Let’s have some fun with an old review. I’m a huge fan of the M16, as you well know. There was a pretty comprehensive set of changes put in from the M16A1 of my father’s Vietnam-era generation to my generation’s M16A2 (and M16A4, though that’s mostly an M16A2 with a picatinny-rail equipped flattop upper). Let’s look at them one by one, and I’ll tell you what I think. We’re starting from the muzzle end, of course.

Muzzle Device Changes
This is the later “birdcage” flash suppressor with the bottom ports not cut. Meh. I could take these or leave these. I suppose it’s a little better, because it’ll blow less dirt back in the face of the shooter when prone, but that’s hardly a big deal on the M16A1. I guess I’m okay with this, but I’m going to be looking at the price very closely. This isn’t worth a lot to me.

Front sight Changes
This one is really subtle. There were five detents for the M16A1 front sight as you adjust it for elevation. There are four on the M16A2. Because…better? Something about glare and flat faces, I don’t know. I don’t think this one matters.

Barrel Changes
That profile. It’s now fatter…in front of the gas block. The rest of the barrel is unchanged. There is literally no good reason for this. It’s beyond stupid. There were some dumb soldiers using their M16A1 as a prybar. Apparently this was the fix, not discipline. Is there any wonder we’re in such a sorry state now?

There were also some questions of barrel flex, especially under prolonged fire. Well, all that flex is going to happen between the chamber and the gas block. But that part of the barrel was left alone so they didn’t have to make new M203 brackets. A thicker muzzle end won’t do shit besides balance stupid. If this was an actual concern (and I strongly doubt it, but I’m not staring at the data) then they should have added notches or made new M203 brackets.1

There’s also the subtle matter of new barrel twist. The M16A2 was designed to work with the new SS109/M855 round. The NATO standard 5.56 mm. The Belgians, who developed that round, called for a 1 in 7 twist. Some experts think a 1 in 9 twist would work better. But the Belgians also wanted to make the barrel stabilize the associated tracer round, which was quite a bit longer. So they called for 1 in 7. I can’t blame anyone involved in the M16A2 design for choosing the manufacturer-specified twist rate for the new round.

New Handguards
Okay, these I like. I like these a lot. Way better than the old triangular-type ones. They’re more comfortable. They don’t have those “teeth” things at the top that break. There’s only one kind of part to stock in the inventory instead of two. And they’re better ventilated. Fun for the whole family.

Delta Ring
Colt angled the ring holding the handguards on. The new slip ring (now called the “Delta ring”) was designed to be easier to grab and pull down to remove or replace the handguards. A small change, but a good one.

Brass Deflector
I guess if you shoot rifles wrong-handed, you probably oughtn’t get brass in the face for your trouble. Pretty small change, doesn’t actually impact anything.

Range adjustable sights
Another feature I hate. Unlike the barrel profile, I understand the reasoning. It’s just wrong. These were added because the USMC has a focus on long range rifle marksmanship on known-distance ranges, and also because they wanted something that would do well in high power matches. The sight is better for this. However, the two apertures aren’t very well designed (the big one is too small for its intended use, and the small one is too big for its intended use). Further, I categorically disagree with the train of thought here. Range estimation is hard. Range estimation when you’re getting shot at is very, very hard. Studies have shown that soldiers are really, really bad at range estimation. And the whole point of SCHV rounds is that you have a large point-blank zone. So for the most part, put the sights on target, pull the trigger2, and the error should be small enough not to matter. Remember, these are iron sights, and Ivan or Charlie or Haji isn’t going to obligingly stand still at 500 yards and wait for you to shoot him. The original -A1 type sights were better.

Various Lower Receiver Reinforcements
The lower receiver got beefed up a bit in some critical areas. Apparently they were breaking. Anyway, I’m all for stronger, but soldiers can break anything. So I’d really like to see some data on this, in terms of breaking strength and what standard abuse modes will do to it.

New Pistol Grip
You were so close, Colt. So very close. The shape and size are the same as the old grip. But this one is made from a tougher plastic and it has more texture. I like textured grips, and yay tougher. What went wrong? The nub on the front. This is why finger grooves suck. If they fit your hand, they feel good. If they don’t, you’re gonna have a bad time. Because my hands aren’t like the dude that called for the nub, it doesn’t fit my hand right. I’d grind it off, except there are even better grips on the aftermarket. The best of breed are currently the TangoDown Battlegrips.

Burst trigger
I hate hate hate hate hate the burst trigger. Hate it. I hate the conceit that soldiers are too dumb to be trained to use autofire correctly. I hate the conceit that three is the only correct burst size. I hate the notion that the psychological aspect of carrying your own fully automatic rifle in your hands to respond to the enemy’s in kind isn’t worth having. I hate that it means you get three super crappy trigger pulls instead of one mediocre trigger pull. I hate that you never know how many rounds are going to come out, because it doesn’t reset. So, if you have one round in the magazine, the gun will fire the chambered round, plus the one in the mag. You reload. You pull the trigger again. Only one bullet comes out, because the system “remembers” where it left off. You want suppression? Do you need to break contact right fucking now? Automatic fire. Accept no substitutes. I’m so glad this “feature” is dying a much deserved death these days. Probably the worst feature on the gun.

New Stock
I’m split on this. On the one hand, yay tougher. On the other, it’s longer. It’s a great length for prone shooting on a known distance range, slung up with your rifle. It’s less good in combat when you’re using all kinds of positions. Especially if you’re not tall.

Overall, meh. Honestly, the best thing here are the new handguards, and you could easily put those on an M16A1. Also of note is the Diemaco/Colt Canada C7 rifle. Which is an M16A2, but with A1 sights, a safe/semi/auto trigger, and various spacers to adjust the stocks. That’s pretty good. Way better than the M16A2. Sigh.

Now, of course, just buy an M4. Duh. Or M4A1 if you want a barrel that’s in a heavier but sensibly-cut profile. Both are available with a proper safe/semi/auto trigger. The M4 has always been available this way in the catalog. It’s not Colt’s fault some stupid colonels didn’t buy the right triggers.

1.) This issue was finally fixed in the newest M4A1 builds, which use a nice, medium-profile barrel. It’s thicker under the handguards, and there are notches cut in the sides to accommodate the M203 mounting brackets. And, to the surprise of exactly no one, this barrel actually works as intended, holding up to lots of full auto better. There’s a separate question of whether or not this is needed for general issue…
2.) This is why red dot sights work so well on the AR-15 and other SCHV rifles. Modern technology has fixed this issue. Now, everybody uses an optic, whether an Aimpoint or an ACOG. Which is a separate discussion, but any optic will beat good irons, let alone stupid ones like these.