The results of Subsim's summer survey indicate, among other things, that players of submarine simulations cherish realism above historical accuracy (2 to 1), modern graphics and sounds (3 to 1), and multi-play capability (4.8 to 1). While the difference between realism and historical accuracy may seem small categorically, the overwhelming majority of players who participated in the survey made a distinction between the two.
Realism is essentially what a simulation strives to reproduce. A program such as Silent Hunter or Longbow 2 may incorporate historical settings for many of its campaigns and missions, but the amount of realism it can simulate is the core ingredient that allows the player to suspend reality for a brief period and immerse himself in the game. Realism can be found in the details of a game; the control panels that mirror the real thing, the tactical limitations imposed on the player by the simulated design parameters of his boat, the sounds and ambiance that subtlety reinforce his belief he is inside a 350 foot steel tube under the sea. Realism is present in the scripting of the program itself. How the enemy vessels react to the presence of a submarine, their capabilities and zeal, their impact on the player's strategy. Realism is the elusive yet vital force in a subsim that makes the player wonder: "Does that destroyer see me? Has he picked me up on radar? How accurate are his guns at this range?" If one considers that the "destroyer" is nothing more than a small bitmapped image reacting to a set of program instructions, there isnít much drama involved. But if the game designers and code programmers, the artists and musicians and producers have done their jobs with skill and talent, you can believe that your boat is about to be menaced by an aggressive enemy. You can experience tension and anxiety while playing the subsim. You produce contingency plans and map out possible escape routes. This is the product of realism in a simulation.
Some noteworthy examples of realism in the most commonly played subsims:
- The rolling waves in Aces of the Deep. No other naval/subsim has come close to replicating the fluid motion of the ocean as did Aces. The scope and bridge rise and fall in perfect accompaniment. In heavy seas, whitecaps and seaspray look almost magical. They are real enough to force you to keep a barf bag at arm's reach.
- The coastal cities and ports illustrated in Silent Hunter. Although without visible activity, they are not lacking in detail. Buildings, factories, docks, and a multitude of structures inhabit the shores. Even more striking are the lighthouses and lighted buoys in the harbors.
- The background sounds and noises in Fast Attack. Somehow the programmers hit upon a rich assortment of voices and sonic props that give the right atmosphere for a deadly underwater struggle.
- The basic premise of Silent Steel, where the player interacts with real characters in a high-stakes struggle, compels the player to feel the pressure and responsibility of command.
- The various sonar displays in 688(I) Hunter/Killer. Tracking and classifying targets using these life-like stations demonstrates the level of skill and training these technicians must acquire to give their crew a fighting chance.
- The tenacity of the enemy AI in Seawolf SSN-21. Your computer opponents appear keyed up and ready to fight. Launch a surface-breaching missile and you can certainly expect some attention in a big hurry.
Historical accuracy and clever coding, combined with good graphics and sounds are prerequisite elements in the quest for realism in a simulation. But itís the blend, the combination of these factors, that determines the effectiveness of a sim and its realism factor. As so many of you indicated, realism is the most important feature of any subsim.
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©1998 SUBSIM Review
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