SILENT HUNTER II
INTEROPERABILITY PROGRESS REPORT – FEBRUARY 2001
by Neal Stevens, SUBSIM
They said it couldn’t be done. Two different games, one multiplayer battlefield. Universal appeal. The most exciting moment in naval and submarine simulation history is approaching. GAME Studios and Ultimation are preparing to release two new sims this spring, one a surface ship sim and the other a subsim: Destroyer Command and Silent Hunter II. The setting is the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and US east coast in 1941-45. This summer the web will be buzzing with data as speedy destroyer players try to herd big, lumbering merchants across the virtual ocean and U-boat players plot intercept positions and launch their eels.
SUBSIM Review was invited to go online against the GAME Studios reps and try out the first run interop beta of these two sims. Both games are nearing the finish line and interoperability is now the focus. Making a simulation with 3D graphics and good, responsive AI is a task in itself but joining two different sims in online play is a Task with a capital ‘T’. Obstacles and difficulties have been met and one development team has prevailed–Ultimation. The Digital Battlefield is set to become much more than a marketing slogan.
Silent Hunter II and Destroyer Command multiplay will have several options to help players tailor the game to their taste. Some ideas being considered are:
- Enabling/disabling the radar – This can be used to disable the radar sets on all player ships, forcing them to use lookouts and their own eyes to find the enemy.
- Class override – This allows the host to specify a different ship class for the players involved. If there are teams, this can be done on a team basis.
- HF/DF. HF/DF (Huff-duff) allows destroyers to sense U-boats when they are communicating with each other, including chat messages.
- Realistic U-boat chat. With this turned on, U-boat players will not be able to chat while submerged, but must surface to communicate with the other players. With HF/DF enabled for the destroyers, this can make life even more difficult for the U-boat players.
- Fast reloads. This mainly affects torpedoes, which take a long time to reload. With fast reloads on, a torpedo mount can be reloaded in two minutes. It’s likely that some players will like games where they can fight it out in an hour.
Ultimation is considering a wider array of multiplay scenarios than I had imagined. The dev team realizes there is a lot of tactical potential in naval scenarios and they are extensively investigating every opportunity. The number of players supported seems to be around fourteen. Fourteen contestants will make a lively battlefield. Currently the potential list of scenario types includes:
- Destroyer Scenarios – melee, cooperative team play against AI ships, and base defense. Destroyer Command players will face a host of adversaries, from battleships, U-boats, other destroyers, and merchants to raid. Oh, yeah, don’t forget thekamikazes!
- Destroyer vs U-boat Scenarios – the Holy Grail of subsims! Scenarios will include convoy battles, base attacks/defense, interdiction in littoral waters, running the Channel and Gibraltar Strait, prize ships, and a few others in the planning stage. Night battles, foggy harbors, and aircraft reconnaissance will bolster the battlefield.
- U-boat Scenarios – That’s right, the dev team is seriously working to include support for SH2-only multiplay battles. U-boat captains will be able to wolfpack against AI enemy convoys, battlegroups, and even each other!
Destroyer Command – Greyhound of the Seas
Note: The in-game graphics look much better than these compressed screenshots.
The first battle began with a call from California. Shawn Storc, Silent Hunter II producer, outlined the connection procedure. First up, I chose to helm the Destroyer Command sim. I’ve had an ample amount of time with the Silent Hunter II betas and I wanted to see for myself how well the companion sim stacked up. I cinched my life preserver on tight and fired it up. I navigated through the menus–there is was–Multiplayer! A destroyer game that would allow me to meet a human U-boat player in combat. Almost like standing before an open door at Fort Knox. I was told to host and very soon Shawn joined me in the waiting room. I selected the Gibraltar Strait Jacket mission. The description read:
This is a Destroyer vs. U-Boat Scenario for up to six players on each side.
Your mission is to navigate at least one of your ships to the objective point
on the Mediterranean side of the Straits of Gibraltar. When a U-Boat reaches this
point, you win the game.
Your mission is to prevent the U-Boats from reaching the objective point.
You must sink all U-boats in order to win the game.
The Blue team consists of up to six Bagley-class destroyers.
The Red team consists of up to six Type VIIC/41 U-boats.
U-boat avoids a ramming destroyer
A classic objective-based mission. It would seem the U-boats have the advantage–only one needed to make it through the Strait to achieve a victory for the Axis side. As the destroyer captain, I knew I would need to make contact fast or the U-boat could slip by me on the surface and it would be a game of catch-up. Once contact was established, I would merely need to force the German submarine under whereupon he would be running on batteries at a crawl. I would track any contacts eastward and hope for a kill before my quarry made it through the narrow straits.
The game setup was simple and within seconds the game loaded and I was on the bridge of a Bagley-class destroyer, the DD390 Ralph Talbot to be exact. The ocean lapped at the sides of my ship, conveying a calm scene. I pulled up the nav bar and ordered “Flank Speed!” Shawn suggested we rendezvous to observe how the vessels looked and behaved. While my ship made its way to the meeting point, I had a look around. The calendar and log book are accessed in the captain’s cabin. There are individual stations for the surface search radar, air search radar, depth charge station, torpedo station, sonar, damage control, radio, boiler room, and the main batteries, AA, and machine gun stations. This sim gives the player a lot of places to be and a variety of duties. Each station had a uniform look of quality; the artwork is good. I switched on the surface search radar, set the range to maximum, and then moved to the sonar station and activated it. A graceful “ping” line danced across the orange screen.
I was playing around with the machine guns when I saw a plume of water sprout next to my ship, followed by a concussion. Did I do that? Shawn informed me that he has me sighted and took a potshot at me. I quickly moved to the radar room. Sure enough, his U-boat has been detected by my AI crew and a firm contact on the chart has him at 9000 meters away. To the bridge! I scan the horizon. A red target triangle from the radar contact indicates the bearing but I can’t see a thing. Switching to binoculars, I sweep the horizon. Nothing but a red triangle. “Can you see me?” I ask. “I sure can,” Shawn replies. “I can see your masts and rigging.” Well, with a low profile, a U-boat certainly is tough to pick out. I make a course change and head for the radar contact.
After a few minutes, I can make out a black speck in the waves. I can see him, but only just barely. “How do I look to you now?” I ask. “Big, coming right at me,” Shawn says. I move to the depth charge station to perform a last minute check. I can smell blood already.
“I want to circle you and we can get a look at the ships,” Shawn says. Sure, come a little closer, I think. I watch as his black U-boat becomes visible. I switch to the binoculars. Yes, there he is! Bobbing through the waves. The Type VII cuts a nice figure with only a touch of multiplay shimmer. Getting closer, closer, really close. The U-boat speeds by my port side. “Now I’m going to dive to periscope depth,” he announces. I drop to All Slow and watch with fascination as the U-boat’s bow slips under the waves. Soon nothing is visible but a trace of wake.
The Battle Joined
“Okay,” I said, “let me see if I can track you on sonar”. I executed a sharp turn to port and slowed to One-third. I let the sonar sweep on automatic for a while with no results. This was harder than it looked in the movies. I flipped the switch to manual and directed the sweep to where I knew the U-boat was believed to be. The darting orange line flicked from left to right, resonating the familiar ping. After a couple pings, I was rewarded with a contact–the line arched up dramatically. I adjusted my course to bring my destroyer on his track. In the depth charge station, a red sub icon with a gray uncertainty zone showed up on the plot to indicate my findings.
“You don’t mind if I sink you, do you?” I asked.”Go ahead. Try.”
“Okay, get the battle lamps out.”
The pinging was coming at shorter intervals now. I adjusted the range to the shortest setting, 500 meters (or yards, I’m not sure which). I was right on top of him. I quickly moved to the depth charge station. There are several settings there to mess with too but I was in a big hurry. I dialed in 100 feet and started dropping depth charges off the stern of my ship. In the plot they were marked as small, white dots. If my sonar plot was correct, I was laying them in just right.
I switched to the external view to watch the water foam over the explosions. After a minute, I inquired as to the well-being of my opponent.
“Did I get you?”
“Nah, wasn’t even close,” Shawn replied. I could tell he wasn’t too impressed. Several runs later did nothing to improve my aim. I began to wonder if the depth charge code was working. It couldn’t be me, could it?
“Show me some scope,” I beckoned. He brought the U-boat to periscope depth and I scanned the sea. There! A slender metal stalk spying from beneath the waves.
“I see your scope”, I said. I brought the DD around and tried to lay in some more DCs but the indicator lights were dim. I must have unloaded the ship’s full allotment on the last run! I’ll be doing KP duty tonight.
“Well, I’m out of ammo.”
“Let’s switch,” he suggested. Sounds good to me. I had more time in as a sub skipper anyway.
We called it quits and returned to the multiplay waiting room. I shut down Destroyer Command and fired up Silent Hunter II. Once the game started, I was immediately aware of how shallow the water was in the Strait. Barely enough room to dive. By moving the mouse cursor around the ocean, I could see the depth readout. There was deeper water to the south side of the strait. I set a course and rang up flank speed.
“Let’s go straight to battle this time,” I said. “I’m going to try to get past you, you try to stop me.” Shawn agreed. I knew I would be within his radar range soon so the longer I stayed on the surface, the better the odds were that he would get an initial fix on my position. I wanted to dive but I was still 4 nautical miles from deeper water. The diesels roared with vigor. Come on, baby, come on.
Just as the depth under my keel began to grow from 22 meters to 120 meters, he announced he had me on radar. Verdammen! I ordered a crash dive at once–Alaaarm! If the sea gods were merciful, perhaps I could get below before Shawn had in idea of my course. That would still force him to search a wide swath of sea.
Never Trust a Ship That Was Not Designed To Sink
Down the Type VII boat dove. I switched to the external view. The screws churned the dark, blue water. I turned on the sound set and listened for his approach. Within a few minutes, the unmistakable sound of high speed screws grew louder. He was running down my bearing like a pro.
“You think you know where I am?” I asked.
“I’m taking a guess,” Shawn said. A few seconds later the pinging began only this time I was on the receiving end. Eerie feeling! I was crawling along at a whopping 4 knots. Did he find me? Yes, he did. He claimed he let loose with a load of depth charges but I registered no concussion or sound. Hmmm….. Maybe the dev team hasn’t coded that part in yet. Fine, time for me to try the torpedoes. After his screws passed over me I instructed the chief to bring the boat to periscope depth (fancy talk for ‘I clicked the P key’. I really get into a good subsim). I made a guess as to which direction he would turn and changed course 40 º to starboard.
I guessed correctly. As my U-boat clawed its way to the 13 meter mark, I raised my scope to the highest position and waited for the lens to break the surface. A quick check on the sound set showed him to be at bearing 165 coming up my starboard side. The view in the scope confirmed I was turning to meet him. I pulled up the torpedo panel. Bearing: 35º. Range: 450 meters. Speed: 15 knots. I fired three eels with 5º offset on number one and three. A good spread for this range.
I watched as he turned in for my periscope. Then a shroud of water blossomed on his port bow. A hit! Followed by a second. I had done it, I had scored the first virtual kill by a U-boat against a surface ship online outside of the Ultimation engineering labs. Yes!
“Did I hit you?” I asked modestly.
“Yeah, you did. I’m sinking,” Shawn said. “Good shot. I was getting ready to come back around for you.”
Oh man, that was fun! “Let’s go for another round,” I said.
Shawn agreed so after he met me back in the multiplay waiting room, we set out to sea. Maybe I was getting cocky but this time I stayed on the surface in broad daylight, racing for the deep water. He informed me that he was picking me up on radar but I was unfazed. He closed to 5000 meters and I brazenly taunted him with shots from my deck gun. I actually got a hit.
At 4000 meters I flooded the ballast tanks and took her down. I stayed at periscope depth to watch the destroyer approach. His sharp bow raced right at me. With 160 meters beneath my keel, I had plenty of room to maneuver. I began concocting my next attack strategy.
Once again the familiar pinging was back. I changed course as he closed to throw him off. It didn’t work this time. Now I learned that the depth charge code was indeed working. My damage gauge dropped to 65%. On the next run it slipped to 45%. Things were looking bad. Where did I leave that medicinal Schnapps!
I switched to the external view just in time to witness my demise. Shawn’s DD cruised directly overhead. I couldn’t actually see the depth charges but before I could write a last note to Gretchen, my U-boat was done fighting for the Fatherland. Payback, as they say in the Reich, can be a real Weibchen!
Overall, the experience was quite satisfying. The action generated a surprising amount of tension. I could see from playing the current build of Silent Hunter II that a lot of progress had been made since the November build. There were a host of refinements, such as a more lifelike wake being generated at the bow and more consistency with the torpedo selector mechanism. And there’s nothing like a 3D bridge with rolling waves to make you feel as if your are really at sea. Silent Hunter II still isn’t finished but it is reassuring to see how far it has come.
Destroyer Command rates a hearty well-done! With so many stations to choose from, it’s almost more than one player can handle. You won’t get bored. And the wave action is equally impressive. When viewing out of the gun ports, the pitch and yaw of the ship is marvelous. As the ship rolls in normal swells the horizon beyond the window rises and dips. Play it long enough and you might catch yourself trying to compensate in your chair.
The saga of Silent Hunter II and Destroyer Command has had many twists and turns but it looks like the home stretch lies ahead. Ultimation has a few more months to refine the multiplay code, tweak the AI, and polish the scenarios. Then, for thousands of player around the globe, it will be war.
Anticipated release date: SHII: Nov 2001; DC: Jan 2001.
Release dates subject to change at any time. Features
mentioned are likely to be included but nothing is 100%.
|Links for Destroyer Command &
Silent Hunter II
- Silent Hunter II website
- Ultimation – Developer
- GAME Studios/SSI – Producer
- Wolfpack League– International Silent Hunter II fleet
- Eagle League – International Destroyer Command fleet
- Forum – for SH2, Destroyer Command
& other naval sims
Join the Eagle League and hunt U-boats on the Web!
©2001 SUBSIM Review