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Silent Hunter V
After months of silent running, Ubisoft cracks the hatch on the latest U-boat sim
Jan. 19, 2010 by Neal Stevens

Part 1: A much more important personal side

Subsim: I'm speaking with Dan Dimitrescu, Lead Design on Silent Hunter 5, aka Mr. Silent Hunter, and Alex Gris, Producer. I've met with Dan in San Francisco, Houston, and Copenhagen, we are well acquainted. He was the game designer for SH3 and , lead game designer for SH4 and SH5. So, Alex, let me get some history on you, what's your background in games?

Alex: I started in Ubisoft in 2004. I was a programmer for HAWX, and then I moved to Silent Hunter 4, also as a programmer. Since Silent Hunter 4, I worked for the Silent Hunter series ever since. After Silent Hunter 4 was finished, I was lead programmer for the Silent Hunter 4 add-on, and right now I'm working on Silent Hunter 5 as producer since last year.

Subsim: With any game, people are always saying 'I think they should add this, it should be pretty easy, it shouldn't take much time' and as a programmer, you probably look at that and laugh don't you, because you know it's probably a lot harder than it looks?

Alex: Yes, it totally is, and even with our expectations, you think 'it's hard', but again it usually proves to be harder.

Subsim: And you have seen Das Boot?

Alex: Yes, of course.

Subsim: Okay. we can talk.


Subsim: First of all, what's the status on the game? Is it still on track to be released in March?

Dan: In March, yes, not sure the exact date. First part of March.

Subsim: I think there was an announcement from Ubisoft that some of their games will be delayed, I wasn't sure if Silent Hunter 5 was one of those games or not.

Dan: Nope, Silent Hunter is not delayed.

Subsim: This is the fifth game in this franchise, what would you say is the overall theme, the philosophy driving the development of this game, compared to the previous Silent Hunter sims?

Dan: Well, you know how we see the campaign as being one of the main features of the game, generally speaking, so if you want to talk about the philosophy of Silent Hunter V, it's that the campaign is both dynamic and put into context. I mean, we're using the campaign to teach the player why certain events happened in the world, they're no longer just happening, they're happening because of some actions the player took or didn't take, or some result that the player achieved. If you study history and philosophy you may understand that certain famous battles were not just stuff of luck, or didn't happen just because events are happening in the same place at the same time, it just because one side or the other side tried to achieve a certain strategic goal. and this led to that development. So, this is what our campaign and what our game tries to portray.

AI Bot running SUBSIM, what could go wrong?!

On the other hand, of course, the philosophy is that the game takes a more personal approach, it puts the player in the center of events, in the captain's shoes, in among the crew, inside the submarine which we have fully modeled as you have seen at the Subsim meet in Copenhagen. You are able to interact with your crew, they have some storyline, a personal side so you can see how the war actually affects them and how they viewed the world thru their own eyes. So, there's also a much more important personal side to the game, not just the war, not just the mechanical side, which doesn't lose its importance to us, but there's also the personal side to the war, and to the game.

Subsim: So, this game is going to have more role-playing elements, based on that personal approach?

Dan: Yeah, it's kind of like U-boat missions, it's not identical, but we have these kind of features in the add-on. It's something that we've always wanted to do with Silent Hunter, we always experimented with various approaches to the crew. And we think that the RPG-like elements are one way of portraying various aspects which you can actually read about in history books.

Subsim: In addition to playing the game, the player gets a more of a learning experience back from the game, more as compared to previous Silent Hunter games?

Dan: Yes. We also think that the game becomes deeper, with more ability to it.

Alex: Neal, you know, you mentioned Das Boot, it was about the submarine but also about the crew inside the submarine, and we wanted to take this game a little bit closer to what Das Boot did, so this is why we picked the crew's development a little bit further than it was in Silent Hunter 3 and 4, and also design the first person perspective and the full interior of the U-boat.

Subsim: I suppose it goes without saying we've already had U-boat subs with Silent Hunter 2 and 3, so to make another Silent Hunter 3 over again...that would be covering the same ground?

Dan: Yes, Silent Hunter 5 is about U-boats again but of course it's not the same story line. It's a different portrayal than Silent Hunter 3, I'd say and definitely Silent Hunter 2, which was a string of missions that the player wasn't able to keep or adapt to according to his actions. So ,Silent Hunter 5 is a dynamic campaign, it's the story line presented in a way that may be a little different than Silent Hunter 3, mainly because it's more dynamic, the events in history are portrayed better this time, and the player's actions mean a lot more. So, you might actually affect a little bit of history, as it would have been possible. Actions happen one way or the other in history, we are using one version of history and maybe if somebody would shoot a torpedo a little differently, or take a different patrol route, they would create another version of history. Not necessarily significantly altered, but different anyway.

Alex: Basically there were two theaters of operations for submarines in the world, and they were Pacific and the Atlantic. And these two theaters of operation can host an immense pool of events and resources for creating a great game.

Subsim: Does Silent Hunter 5 use the same game engine as Silent Hunter 4 and Silent Hunter 3. Does it build on it or is it more of a new game engine and code structure?

Alex: As a game programmer, I can answer that (laughs). Silent Hunter 4 which was based on mostly of Silent Hunter 3, and we started Silent Hunter 5 as a normal evolution from Silent Hunter 4 because there was already already a wealth of elements there. However, in order to improve the game, we need to make some architectural changes, needed to change a lot of the engine, so we end up with quite a different architecture and game but still holding some key elements from the previous titles.

Dan: If you'd say Silent Hunter 4 was basically Silent Hunter 3 adapted for US fleet boats, I'd say Silent Hunter 5 is the next evolutionary step in the series. It's the one that actually brings a lot of value, there are changes not just into the way the game looks and the fact that we have a fully modeled submarine for the first time, or the crew is much more important right now but in the technological side, and we think the engine is much more powerful now.

Alex: Yes, that allows us to put many more ships in the dynamic campaign because we optimized the engine, we re-engineered it in most places, and even the graphics look much better. It's a big step, and of course, the complete submarine--the first person (perspective) was not at all present in previous title and we had to development it from scratch.


V is for VII

Subsim: So, this is a new kind of FPS, a first person submarine; which submarines will the player be able to take command of? Type VII , Type IX, Type II?

Dan: It's a Type VII submarine. We think that we have modeled all the significant versions, meaning Type VIIA, which we didn't have before, Type VIIB, C, and C41. We think this time we went much deeper with the Type VII than we did before. For example, the Type VIIA didn't have reloadable torpedoes in the back, so with just one shot and you'd have to come back home to reload, and this is now done in the game and we corrected other little defects with the class.

Subsim: So, this is going to be more narrow in scope for the player but the submarine itself will have more access and accuracy in how it's modeled?

Dan: Yes.

Subsim: The crew morale, I've been reading some of the questions about it, there are ways to improve the morale, like success out in the battlefield, long patrols can harder on the crew--can the crew morale force the captain to end the patrol before all the torpedoes expended? Usually in these games, the player plays until they run out of torpedoes, or fuel, but usually torpedoes, then he returns to base. Can crew morale have that impact?

Dan: Not that drastic, but you would definitely feel a problem if you stay at sea too much, and when you don't have success. So yeah, the idea is for you to do your objective and keep doing so to keep your crew happy and if you stay too much at sea, the crew will not be performing so well because of the morale. So you can tell if your crew is not serving you so well even though they will do their job. They are a military crew, they will always do their job, it's not a question if whether the submarine operate or not. But in order for your crew to excel, they will need that morale to be high, and the longer you stay at sea, the lower the morale will be.

Subsim: Dan, will the capacity for more crew morale grow over several patrols? Usually these games have what they call the green crew, the veteran crew, the elite crew, and if you're successful over several patrols, will the crews morale improve at a higher level?

: Yes, it will.

Subsim: What about the crew animations, I guess when the submarine is on the surface you'll have the crew on the bridge, When you actually give the command to dive, instead of just 'popping' off the bridge, they actually go down the hatch?

Dan: At the moment no, they don't actually go down, they just take the first step, then they will disappear into the sub.

Subsim: What about the captain, the player, he's gonna be in first person mode on bridge of the U-boat, will he have to go down the hatch?

Dan: Yes

Subsim: And the submarine won't dive if the player does not go down in the hatch?

Dan: The submarine won't be able to dive if the player is left there, what we are trying to do is take some usability steps to help the player. For example, if you are looking at the map, the map is fullscreen, and if you order a dive, then the game will take the player into the submarine.

Subsim: Is that similar to Silent Hunter 3 and 4, then? If you're on the bridge and you press the 'P' key --

Dan: That's just an example, there are no other shortcuts. It's not possible for the player to be in the command room and press the keyboard for UZO and jump to that station. In order to use the UZO, you'll have to go to the deck and just click on it. In order to use the observation periscope, you go to the command room and click on the observation periscope. It's just for the dive, when you are ordering the dive and maybe you are using time compression, in those cases the game moves the player into the command room.

Subsim: So, you're saying there are no shortcut keys to change screens, that you have to manually do it?

Dan: You know we were thinking, maybe a lot of folks might say, "Oh my god", it might be a problem, so let's put something in and see how much of problem it is. Given, as you know, as the captain you stay in the command room, normally you stay there, all the stations are kind of close to you, so that's not much of a problem.

Subsim: The damage control, in this game, there will actually be graphic representation of flooding?

Dan: Yes, there will be, you'll be able to see flooding in the submarine, you won't be able to drown in 3D or swim around like that, but there will be a graphic representation definitely.


 >>Click here to continue on to Part 2  

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See also:

     The 2009 Best of Subsim Awards
     What kind of subsim skipper are you? Sub skipper Quiz
     The 2009 SUBSIM Werewolf Hunt
     SUBSIM Article Library



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