Jane's 688(I) Hunter/Killer
Kim Castro is Vice-President of Sonalysts and Producer of Jane's 688(I)
Early in 1995, I was working with a marketer, Rob Batchelder, here at Sonalysts to try and break into the commercial software development world. Most of our efforts were concentrated on the commercial training/corporate marketing CD-ROM arena. Rob made a cold call to Paul Grace and arranged to meet with Paul at upcoming E3 in LA. At the time, Paul was the VP in charge of EA’s Jane’s Combat Simulation division. Although we had no commercial gaming experience, Paul found Sonalysts interesting because of our many years of supporting the U.S. Navy as a defense contractor. Luckily for us, Paul had been thinking about updating the sub games they had done a few years earlier – 688 Attack Sub and Seawolf. I’m not sure Paul’s interest in Sonalysts would have gone anywhere, if we hadn’t arranged for Paul and some of his folks to go out on a 688 Class sub for a day. Paul was eager to go on the sub ride, so he had to come visit us. I forget what sub they went on, but I remember Paul brought a Playstation console and a bunch of games with them as a gift to the ship. That first meeting occurred in March of 1995, and we signed a contract to develop a script for a submarine simulation game in July of that year, and went into full development in about the October time frame. Initially, we told EA how we were going to improve and update 688 Attack Sub, but Paul told us to "…start new and to make the most realistic submarine game ever." He later amended his statement to add the phrase "… that’s fun to play."
At the time, I was working as a Sonalysts contractor full-time at a Navy R&D lab in New London, CT, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC). I formed the team of programmers from the group of young guys we had hired to work for Sonalysts at the lab – Tod Swain, Mel Davey, Dave Capizzano, and Rob Costello. Shortly after we started, I raided another group here at Sonalysts working at a Navy lab in Newport, RI to bring Mike Kolar onto the team. The programming team was rounded out with the addition of the final programmer, stolen from yet another group here at Sonalysts, Scott Martin. Scott left shortly after 688(I) went gold to join Ion Storm and Warren Specter to make Deus Ex. Although there were lots of overlapping areas, the primary division of responsibilities for the programmers was:
Tod – user-interface design/multiplayer
Mel – 3D
Dave – user interface
Rob – mission editor, tools & widgets
Mike – Sim/AI
Scott – world databases, audio
Our in-house media department did all the art and audio; primarily Gates Councilor, Kattie Konno-Leonffu, and Curt Ramm. Sue McConnell was added to the team to work on the databases, Jane’s browser, manuals, and localization – besides, she was my boss’s wife. Sue’s husband Bill and Terry Jones, both former submariners, were the primary subject matter experts/scenario developers.
Early in this process, SSI’s Fast Attack was released. We thought it was a really good game, and realized we had our work cut out for us. Then about half-way through development Red Storm released Clancy’s SSN. We were really bummed – how could we compete against Tom Clancy? Luckily for us, although it was a good game, SSN wasn’t the hi-fidelity sub sim we were trying to make.
One of our favorites development stories was when Bill McGonegal, another Sonalysts partner and ex-submarine captain, stood behind Mel during an early technology demo. Bill had stop by the lab for another reason, but before much time had passed, he started telling Mel what screen to go to and what to do. It was quickly apparent to those watching that Bill missed the captain's seat as he immersed himself into the game and got more and more disturbed as Mel couldn't keep up with his orders. I can't remember if there was a torpedo in the water or what the exact situation was in the game, but we all found it very amusing. I think that’s the point at which we realized that we might be doing something right. Up to that point, with no game development history, we really weren’t sure if anyone was going to enjoy the game.
It’s extremely gratifying that 688(I) is still being played, and purchased. Regardless of how many other games we’ll be fortunate enough to make, our first game will always be special to us.
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