Silent Hunter II Innerview
by Neal Stevens                    January 22, 2000

It's been four years since the quiet release of Aeon/Mindscape's Silent Hunter pulled us into the submarine conflict of the Pacific. Silent Hunter followed the critically acclaimed Aces of the Deep and surpassed it. Better artwork and graphics, more consistent sound files, two add-on disks--sales exceeding 300,000 copies--Silent Hunter left big footprints for the next WWII subsim.

Here we are, four years later, and the next WWII subsim is going to be the sequel, Silent Hunter II. This time around the battlefield is the Atlantic. And this time the sim playing community is anxiously awaiting the sim. Expectations are high and only equaled by the hard work and talent of the design team. SUBSIM Review asked for a few minutes with Senior Producer Rick Martinez to learn the current status of the sim.

Silent Hunter II Innerview: with Rick Martinez, Senior Producer

Part I: The timing issue


SUBSIM Review: I’m sure you’ve heard the questions—when will Silent Hunter II be ready, when will it hit the shelf, why is it being pushed back.

Rick Martinez: First I’d like to clear the air about why the game is delayed. It took appreciably longer than we estimated to build the team. We needed qualified people to keep the standard that Bill and Kim (Bill Becker, programmer, Kim Biscoe, artist ) set with Silent Hunter I. Because of the superior quality of their work, Silent Hunter stayed on the shelves a long time and its success led directly to the development of Silent Hunter II. Aeon has now assembled a talented team, and the look of the game is outstanding, but it took about three times as long as we thought to get the right people in the right places, especially in regards to the 3-D world.

sh2u026.jpg (41119 bytes) SSR: I know players are impatient but I’ve read a lot of posts on bulletin boards and newsgroups, like Paul Powell, for example, who’ll say, "I just want to see it done right, I can wait".

RM: Please believe me when I say that the development team is working very hard to insure SHII is a truly superior game and that without the extra time, it would not be possible to deliver the game we all envisioned when we started the project. (Silent Hunter I was also a project that took more development time to build than we had estimated, but for different reasons).

SSR: It has to be a labor of love—you need to be interested in making that sim.

RM: Yes, we realize that the upside to Silent Hunter II is not going to be on a sales level with games like Starcraft, etc., but we feel there is a place for the sim in the market. If money alone were the issue, Silent Hunter I would never have been undertaken. We really have an interest in making a sim that will be seen as a quality product, on a fascinating subject.


SSR: How well did Silent Hunter I sell?

RM: Silent Hunter I has sold over 300,000 copies worldwide. It outsold its main competition, the excellent Aces of the Deep, on approximately a two-to-one scale. The fact that Silent Hunter I sold so well over the years made for a convincing argument to make Silent Hunter II, especially since most would agree that the U-boat war is a real favorite among aficionados and known to many others who are not hardcore enthusiasts. We can say, "Hey, look, Silent Hunter II should do very well if we keep the quality standard set by SHI." The look and feel of Silent Hunter I allowed it to have a very long shelf life and it continued to sell long after Windows 95 became the predominant OS. People found a way to make it work on their desktop. We hope to have the same long life for Silent Hunter II.


What we’re trying to do is take a good product and make a better one. That in itself is a bigger challenge than most people not involved in making games know.


SSR: So, the new version of Silent Hunter will follow in the footsteps of the original, set in the Atlantic.

RM: Yeah, you will get the Atlantic and more; you will be able to prowl almost anywhere a U-boat could go. But what you’re going to find with the new sim, in a nutshell, is that we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. I know that may upset some people, who want to have 3-D crewmen running fore and aft, etc. We know all about that. The developer has faithfully copied down all the different "wish" lists. Obviously we will not be able to put all the features in that people wish for. What we’re trying to do is take a good product and make a better one. We also have a 3-D world now, which is a whole separate issue in itself. We want to make what was excellent even better. That in itself is a bigger challenge than most people not involved in making games know.


SSR: This is going to be a Windows environment game, correct?

RM: Of course, yes.

Target off the port bow (barely!)

Target off the port bow

SSR: That’s a big step in itself. There are a lot of players, newer computer users, who have no DOS background, who aren’t familiar with boot disks and don’t want to mess around with their config.sys files. A Windows based version of Silent Hunter II will be a boon for many players who will be able to play it, whereas with a DOS version they can’t.

RM: Yes, it’s frustrating, they can’t launch it from the desktop, it’s tough. We really do hope that the accessibility of Windows allows more people to gravitate to the game who have a general interest, but maybe aren’t "Hardcore Sim" guys. Plus, compared to most new simulations SHII will be reasonable in its system requirements. And before the U-boat Aces out there begin to worry, be reassured that if they want to play "hardcore" the realism settings will be much more extensive than in Silent Hunter I. If Silent Hunter II is played at full realism it will offer quite a challenge. But by the same token, our "Novice" settings should be just the thing for someone wanting more simplicity and fun and less difficulty in surviving.


SSR: You have mentioned making a good game better, can you talk a little about that?

RM: Well, as you know, in the original, we had multimedia that for the time was pretty good, the interviews and sub tour. For Silent Hunter II we went to Lou Reda Productions. They do a lot of the military documentaries on The History Channel and A&E, hour-long specials (Lou Reda Productions has produced more than 200 specials for network and cable television, including the CBS miniseries The Blue and the Gray; A&E biographies of Norman Rockwell, George Patton, and Milton Hershey; and The Doomsday Flu: Killer Epidemic of 1918. – ed) They have been doing this successfully for years on television and we are very excited about having their people on Silent Hunter II’s multimedia module.

Konteradmiral  Erich Topp (34 ships sank for 185,434 tons, is our main consultant. I addition, we will have pieces featuring a wide variety of U-boat subject matter and interviews with one or two other U-boat commanders plus a variety of crewmembers.

The sub tour is already done, and is very different from the one in Silent Hunter I. You now have the ability to jump down the hatch and use the mouse to view the interior of the U-boat in first person. You can look around and zoom in and out, moving fore and aft at will.

In researching Silent Hunter II, we toured every restored U-boat in existence. In Germany, the Type VII and Type XXI, then the Type IX in Chicago, cataloging and examining the equipment and layout of each boat. During the summer of 1999 we visited Germany for a U-boat crew reunion and talked to individual crewmen and their families about their experiences.

One of the things that we think will especially excite the enthusiasts out there is the individual 3-D model U-boats; when you stand on watch and look around, you will see that particular boat and not a generic representation.


With Silent Hunter II we are going to give them more, to make the gameplay as simplified or as realistic as they can stand.


SSR: Describe the way you have crafted the interiors of the U-boats in Silent Hunter II.

RM: We have been true to the look and feel of the gauges, etc., but remember that the interface is focused in "tight" to the equipment, so there will be a consistent look.


SSR: I sat in on an Internet chat   you hosted last year. I listened to the questions the players hit you with, all the wish list items such as crewmen manning stations, merchant ships carrying lumber that would resist sinking, men overboard situations, weather effects, etc.—pretty much everything needs to be done to make everyone happy—and that can’t be done.

RM: Yes, a lot of people seem to think it’s magic—and there is an element of magic in it. It’s magic to play if it's done well but putting it together is hard work. And you have to understand that we can’t do everything or we’ll have nothing.

It’s funny. The head of Aeon has taken down every one of these wish lists and he has got a large number of things players have asked for in the game already. One of the things he can’t do is create DOOM inside the sub, for instance, or make sure that every ship has a unique performance based on what its cargo is… It gets crazy! Fortunately, there are now people online countering these ideas with common sense observations, which we really appreciate.

When Silent Hunter I came out we gave players a lot of choices regarding detail settings. As I mentioned earlier, Silent Hunter II is going to give them more, to make the game as  simplified or as detailed as they can stand.

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Attention to detail: you are there

As an example, in Silent Hunter I you could set the TDC to auto to calculate torpedo firing solutions, or you could switch to manual and calculate the mast height from the ID book and Stadimeter, angle on the bow, all that stuff. The new Silent Hunter will still allow to you to go nuts and try to do everything manually if you want or let the computer handle it. In Silent Hunter II you can control the set-up and flooding of the tubes. You can select from the different torpedo types as before, you can load them, flood the tubes, open the outer doors, etc. All those little steps can be done automatically or you can do them yourself.

People have also asked about different kinds of missions and yes, we’re going to have many different kinds of missions. We will limit the specialized types of missions so that they don’t happen too often. We have been asked about minelaying patrols for instance and they may or may not make it into the game. We haven’t seen very many people who are passionate about minelaying.

SSR: Personally, that would not seem like a U-boat Commander’s favorite assignment. He should get in the middle of a convoy.

RM: And that’s what we’re trying to do with the sim, to make you a U-boat commander. You won’t be worrying about if Wolfgang is upset with his sweetheart—you’re supposed to be the Man.


Next: Multiplay and Destroyer Command
Will be posted January 26, 2000
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