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Silent Hunter Online
An exciting new way of fighting the U-boat war surfaces
July 28, 2012 by Neal Stevens

I visited Ubisoft/Blue Byteís studio in Dusseldorf, Germany at the end of June to see Silent Hunter Online. After a quick tour of the studio and introductions to many of the developers, managers, support team, and staff*, I was given a detailed briefing of the game and the vision they have for bringing a new Silent Hunter experience to hardcore subsim players and introducing the genre to new and casual gamers alike.

As you know from Ubisoft's press, Silent Hunter Online is a browser-based U-boat game, free to play (F2P), where a player can sign up an account and play from any PC. There are some strategic layers to the game that set it apart from any of the previous Silent Hunters. You have some BdU functions such as outfitting and directing more than one U-boat. That's very exciting to me.

Being that SHO is an online game, you will find the social network aspect compelling as well. I don't know how many of you remember Iron Wolves: it was a small but popular game that was great fun to play. The interface and combat model was simplified but it was definitely a treat to log in every night and shoot the breeze with 1baddude, Von Krieg, Ratterly, and the other guys I knew in the game. Silent Hunter Online seems geared to take that experience and amplify it several times over.

The dev team, Ubisoft Blue Byte, have another browser-based game underway, The Settlers Online. The gameís Facebook page has over 22,000 Likes and the level of activity is impressive. I was introduced to Settlers 7 by Silent Hunter developer Dan Dimitrescu a couple years ago and found it very challenging and fun (82 hours player). If the Settlers Online is anything like the SO7 version, I can see where it will find a place in a lot of peopleís gaming schedules.

Throughout the day, the team was very friendly and courteous. Of course, they are trying to make a favorable impression, but I can tell that they are simply very professional and thoughtful guys. During the course of our conversations, they always showed a lot of respect for the players and community. They love what they do and bring a lot of enthusiasm to the game. They see SHO as a service more than a product and the scope of the game includes continual development from the feedback they get.

SHO is not a pure simulation, and itís very important to note that it is not designed to be. To achieve the right balance between action and gameplay, some compromises must be made. Very few subsim players will commit 6 hours to a wolfpack attack on a convoy in real time. The team is looking to strike the right balance between online playability and tactical simulation gameplay. They are very committed to tweaking that balance after the game launches to achieve the optimum mix of online gameplay and simulation.

The game does not have to download a large executable to your computer, and minimum specs are very generous. You can play quite deep into the game without any monetary investment, but should you prefer to speed up certain areas of development, you can accomplish this with micro-purchases. Upgrades will speed up tech development but not give advantages to players over others. If you find yourself playing the game routinely and enjoying it, itís likely you will support it with some kind of payments. People tell me that it is very common to try a game out for free and then pay for it if they determine it is of value to them. In this case, thatís legal and ethical. You like the game, you support it, and it continues to grow. The world of Silent Hunter Online could be the biggest subsim ever. The game has many interesting features, some still being developed. It builds on the SH3/SH4 experience in many ways. Keep an eye on this one.

AI Bot running SUBSIM, what could go wrong?!

*PS: Did I mention I got to meet Teut Weidemann? Hell yeah I did!


Interview with Bastian Wendzinski (Junior Producer)

Subsim: Go ahead and introduce yourself and your role with Silent Hunter Online.

Bastian:  Iím Bastian Wendzinski , Iím the Junior Producer of Silent Hunter Online and basically Iíve been working on the project since February 2011, when we started off the whole project.


Subsim: Give me a little background of how Silent Hunter Online was conceived.   

Every game has to start somewhere. But, seriously?
Stefan Aluttis - Live Producer
Veith Hellmich - Worldwide Active Game Manager

Bastian:  After the success of The Settlers Online, our first browser-based MMO, we were thinking of new projects and new ideas. This process, however, did not take too long. We always loved the Silent Hunter series and were big fans!  So it was clear to us that we really wanted to make that game and luckily we got the chance to do so. We also thought that this was a very interesting project for an MMO since there no real comparable game out there. In order to realize the game, we teamed up with Sproing, our development partner from Vienna.  We quickly started to work on a first draft on how an online version of Silent Hunter could look like and came up with a lot of different ideas. Since then, we are developing Slient Hunter Online in close cooperation with our partners Sproing. As for now, we feel we created an interesting and innovative game play experience for the browser.


Subsim: And, like you said, you have a joint development effort with Sproing in Vienna and Blue Byte here.

Bastian: Thatís trueóso Blue Byte is core developer of the game, but we are collaborating very closely with them to create a great Silent Hunter experience.

Historical Research guru Matthias Siedlaczek explains the concept of overdue
library books to Junior Producer Bastian Wendzinski.

Subsim: So the set up for the model for the game, itís free to play online, and players can log in and play and at some point if they enjoy the game enough then there will be options that they can actually buy with micropayments?

Bastian: Thatís true. So basically you can, as a player, experience the whole content of the game. There are no constraints for you in terms of content. But there are, of course, bonuses for you if you would like to spend some money.  Itís not that you would have huge advantages in comparison to other players, but it may take you less time to advance through the game.


Subsim: And then when you log out of the game, the world keeps going and your U-boat is basically saved in place? It wonít be affected by any other events?

Bastian: Yeah, right, so once youíre offline, the world continues, but you wonít experience any harm to your U-boats. Your in-game property is basically safe, because we thought, ďOkay, this might be less realistic, but itís unfair to playersĒ. For example, youíre offline for two days because you just canít play, and one of your submarines is attacked, but you canít do anything about it. We thought, since itís a persistent ongoing world, it would be better to have it the other way around. So, still everything is moving in the world of Silent Hunter Online, convoys reaching their destination and submarines tailing convoys or go back to base, but you will never lose anything while being offline. So thereís nothing forcing you to play the game.

Game designer Piero Cioni. He was the only guy
happy with the EuroCup Semi-Final Thursday night.

Subsim: We talked earlier about the role of Silent Hunter Online in comparison to games like Silent Hunter 3 and Silent Hunter 4; their goal was to be a pure simulation, generally a one person game, not an online game thatís easily accessible. Sum up some of the aspects of Silent Hunter Online: the roles it plays, what kind of game it is, and any tradeoffs you think you have to make as far as the pure simulation versus an online game that has a more social aspect.

Bastian: The idea behind Silent Hunter Online is to keep the core game play of the Silent Hunter series which is, of course, a simulation, but also add a strategic layer as well as fleet management features as game play pillars. Because you control not one submarine, but several submarines, it will take more coordination effort from players to command his flotilla and being engaged in the dynamic campaign. Therefore we believe itís best to keep the core simulation mechanics and at the same time make the game accessible and manageable for players. So the combat is designed as a light sim, but it was very important to us to keep the seriesí simulation character. Also, and this is particularly exciting for us, we managed to integrate the multiplayer as core game play element. Wolfpacks are really a feature we want to build upon in the future. 

In terms of technical accessibility, there are some advantages to have Silent Hunter Online designed to be a browser-based game: you can play it from anywhere, anytime with anyone. You donít need to install a client or own a high-tech computer. We tried to capture the whole submarine atmosphere and bring it to the browser, while also enriching the game play in new ways. This is also what makes it different from former Silent Hunter games.


Subsim: Do you believe this will be more successful to gamers who probably didnít get into submarine games before.

Bastian: Yes, we would like to introduce more players to submarine games, especially the world of Silent Hunter. We think that accessibility, enabling players to understand and play a game, is one of the most important factors for successful games. If you have a game which is not as accessible to players, no one will keep playing your game. They really need to understand what they are doing and at the same time be challenged by well-designed game play mechanics. For Silent Hunter Online, we felt the game should be easy to learn and hard to master. Otherwise they will just get lost and maybe frustrated, and just stop playing your game.


Subsim: And go back to Farmville or something?

Bastian: Yeah, maybeÖ although I think the normal Farmville player will not be the Silent Hunter Online player (laughs).


Subsim: Give me an overview concerning time compression and the game speed; how do you make these tradeoffs between a game that in real life, stalking a convoy can be a very slow, tedious process, but in the game world you want to make that compromise where new things are happening enough to keep the player interested.

Bastian: Basically, youíre totally right - following and hunting down convoys is slow and tedious when being played in real time.  Of course, we also give players the opportunity to speed up time. But because the game is an online game, which is persistent and ongoing, game play will be a little different compared to previous Silent Hunter games, where you could save your progress. In Silent Hunter Online planning your missions and your fleet deployment ahead of time is a fix part of the game loop. You do your planning, log off, and are free to do something else.  Then the next time you log in, you can continue playing according to your planning. But besides that, we also added the possibility for instant action. This allows players to dive right to combat, because they might have missed good opportunities while being offline. Also, there will be time compression available during combat similar to former Silent Hunter games.

Germans are nice guys, they talk slow enough even
for a Texan to keep up.

Subsim: Tell me about game support after release, adding new features , and talk about your team, tell me about the guys that you have who are going to be supporting the game.

Bastian: Currently we are planning the conduction of our Closed Beta phase. This is where we grant the first external players access to the servers, where they can play a not yet finished version and give us feedback. Once this is done and we feel the quality of the game is good enough to really go live and full scale, we will open the servers to everybody. This is basically the moment when the game is live and starts. And this is where the real fun part begins when you are developing an online game. The further development of the game doesnít stop as it would, for example, with some boxed games Ė except for DLCs. In our opinion, an online game is not simply a product, but rather a constant service to players. Players can go online any time they like while the game is constantly evolving in terms of new features and improvements. As a developer, this also is a very good way of maintaining a close connection to your player base.  You see what they actually like and you also get suggestions and proposals about how to improve the game in the future.  From these suggestions, we will deduct new features and also a new road map.  Itís very important for us to know what the players are saying and what they want from the game. When there is a great proposal, which also fits the gameís context and design, we will try to implement it to the gameís feature repertoire.

All those guys we mentioned above plus the guy who
made sure I had a place to sleep: to my left, David Meuter,
Community Manager/Worldwide Lead Support Specialist

To learn more, Silent Hunter Online on FaceBook


View Who's OnlineCare to add something or discuss Silent Hunter Online? Los!


See also:

Battle Fleet: Naval Strategy comes to the iPad/Mac
What kind of subsim skipper are you? Sub skipper Quiz
The LolBoot Thread

Yeehah! Err, I mean, Achtung!



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