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Silent Hunter III Dynamic Campaign
By God, the Romanians did it!

The feature you've waited ten years for has returned, and then some!

Two words probably generate the most intense feelings in a subsim player: Dynamic Campaign. The aspect that defines a great career feature. By most definitions, a dynamic career campaign must include some key components.

  • starting a series of patrols where you and your crew leave port

  • sailing through the waves on the way to your assigned patrol grid

  • getting radio reports from BdU and other U-boats on ship and convoy sightings

  • using the stop-and-listen technique with your hydrophones to locate nearby convoys

  • not having the mission end until you return to port, low on fuel and torpedoes

But most importantly, a dynamic campaign must offer random encounters with ships, planes, subs, and convoys. As you sail along, not knowing what lies just over the horizon is a major gameplay factor. If the game relies on scripted (or canned, as some like to say) missions where the same ships and planes are always present in the same locations, sailing the same courses--it is not a dynamic campaign. Most players would contend a scripted campaign is not a career campaign at all, merely a series of single missions strung together. No replay value, except for players with short-term memory problems.

When Subsim visited Ubisoft's Silent Hunter III exhibit at E3 in May 2004, our first questions concerned the dynamic campaign. The developers were not reluctant to talk about it; in fact, their campaign system seemed to take on some of the important parts of a good dynamic campaign, especially the chance encounters. They demonstrated that the career campaign would begin with a Kriegsmarine chart and a line that represented the course of the player's U-boat as he sailed from port to the patrol grid. To be sure, in a dynamic campaign such as Aces of the Deep or Silent Hunter 1, the player passes the time in the chart screen while his boat zooms around at 1024x time compression, waiting for radio contacts to chase or for the game to drop the time compression to 1x when a chance encounter occurred. I had to acknowledge that the SH3 campaign was better than SH2...but, when Tiberius asked if the players would accept it, a weak, "yeah, probably,...most of them" was as close to an endorsement as I could get.

To make matters less attractive, Ubisoft was planning a branching campaign, which is essentially a series of scripted missions, although the order would vary. And the player would not be able to interrupt the map travel at any point except when contact occurred.

Once the Subsim E3 report hit the web, the players were dismayed. "After all the turmoil and dissatisfaction of the SH2 episode--they are still going to use a scripted campaign?" No one doubted that SH3 was the greatest looking subsim ever (by a wide margin); that it inaugurated a virtual crew and included crew management features and a return to a 3D control room. But another scripted campaign?

At the time I remember thinking, "SH3 looks great and appears to have it all but I'm staying out of the dynamic campaign argument". Well, the subsim community rose to the challenge. In a constant but reasonable tone the players posted appeal after appeal for the dev team to implement more random elements in the campaign structure; to let the player decide the exact route to the patrol grid; and to give the player a port to leave and return to, not a cruel "Mission Ended" screen.

Well, 2004 turned out to be the year of miracles. NASA landed not one, but two rovers on Mars, the Red Sox swept the World Series, and our friends at Ubisoft huddled and pulled out the ol' "SH3 delayed to include ports and dynamic campaign" play. Well, that's what they said, but one man's dynamic campaign is another man's...uh, well... another man's not-so-dynamic campaign. Would SH3 have a dynamic campaign akin to Aces?

Let's end the suspense right now. From what I've seen so far, the Dynamic Campaign in Silent Hunter III is virtually identical to the career mode in Aces.  I started a career, was able to make the kind of equipment changes a captain is authorized to make to his boat, and manned the bridge from inside the U-boat pen. I read my orders, gave my navigator course instructions, set the watch on the bridge, and made way from Kiel to Bergen. No load screens, no transitions, just a seamless journey from port to patrol zone. Along the way I encountered several friendlies, a few neutrals, and an enemy contact.

Do not consider this to be an exhaustive evaluation of the SH3 dynamic campaign. That will only come with the release version of the sim in a Subsim.com SH3 review (look for it in two weeks). At that time, we can also nail down exactly what realism settings are available, how well the AI simulates real and anticipated enemy actions, and all the other fun stuff. This preview springs from a recent build I've sampled. It is not meant to be conclusive but I would be lying if I said that what I've seen so far greatly puts my mind at ease. Turns out "dynamic campaign" must mean the same thing in Romanian, English, and French (oh, and of course, Spanish!). To determine the extent of the campaign's randomness will require quite a few sessions with the career. We haven't crossed that bridge yet.

But we are a whole lot closer, captain!

by Neal Stevens

Destination Norway: Sept 1939

Dynamic career campaign means you begin--where else?--in port. It doesn't get any more in port than this. This part by itself drives the final stake into Aces of the Deep.

Lookouts are stationed, diesels roar to life. The war has begun.

Ahead full? Yes, I'm in a bit of a hurry to meet this bloke,  name's Tommy....

How many remember the subsim Grey Wolf? Remember the tiny cutscene that showed your U-boat motoring out of the pen and out to sea? Ah, yes, those were the days....

Just five minutes into this campaign and I'm so darned happy I let the crew have ice cream! Dutch chocolate, of course.
I open my orders: AF87, west coast of Norway. But, will I meet any ships along the way?
Navigator! Set a course for Norway. And don't run my Type II aground, either.
Yes, all the way to Norway.
Soon after leaving Kiel, the bridge lookouts sight a ship. It appears to be a friendly (the icon is blue, which pretty much gives it away). Later I find that neutrals are green and enemies are red. The game autoIDs the contacts for you? Let's hope the realism settings on the game will fix this.
Meanwhile, I'm a new commander with a green crew, I figure a little target approach practice is in order.
Who fired that torpedo? I said "Target approach practice"!

Oh? The Red Triangle did it, eh?

I don't know anything about this!


Ahhh, life at sea. Moderate swells but decent weather. Every time the bow crashes into a wave, the most incredible and realistic sound accompanies it.
Another first: the spray actually hits you in the face! Will someone pass me a towel?
Ok, how about this? Here I am chasing down a radio contact. For target approach practice, right? I am about 25 miles away from the last reported position. The blue icon, right? Yeah, that's where we think he is....but we cannot find him.
Being an old hand at this now, I order the Chief to take us to periscope depth and reduce speed. And we listen.
 Sure enough, Funker picks up a contact! He's off the stern quarter. Now, how is that for an Aces-moment?

PS: Encountering a contact drops time compression to 8x automatically.

Since this one was one of ours, we didn't get close enough to let Red Triangle get his hooks in him. When you dive, you can distinctly hear the diesels shut off and after a pause, the electric motors hum to life. Very cool.
Dear Mona: days come and days go. Still no sight of the enemy. Weather has been rather rough lately. I fear my feet will never dry out. I no longer get seasick, which is a relief. Well, I am going on duty soon, best to Father.

Signed: Red Triangle, U-37
PS: What am I talking about? I ain't got no feet!

At last! Enemy sighted!
Say hello to our little friend Red Triangle.... now you see him,
,,,now you don't! Pappa Red Triangle is gonna be pi**ed.
Using Expert targeting, getting all the info....torpedo, los!
(ignore the crew messages "Torpedo missed, sir"; I think they were overly pessimistic).
Yes. Okay, now  I missed! It doesn't help when your crew doesn't show faith in you.

Get another eel ready!

Gaah! Where is that Red Triangle when you need him?
So, you see, boys and girls. This is what happens sometimes when you choose expert targeting. And when you forget to reset the angle on the bow and range between shots.

But it's a helluva lot more fun this way!

No mention of that unfortunate incident with the German trawler, eh? I knew those butt-kissing sessions would come in handy someday!
Ok, the end for now. This game rocks!

Fuel level indicator

Battery charge meter

Note: screenshots here are compressed for the web, actual game graphics are far superior.

01/29/2009 09:06:38 PM -0600

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