Silent Hunter VAfter months of silent
running, Ubisoft cracks the hatch on the latest U-boat sim
|Jan. 19, 2010
by Neal Stevens
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.
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
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
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
Dan: Yes. We also think that the game becomes deeper, with more ability to
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
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.
------ 2 ------
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?
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?
Dan: 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?
Subsim: And the submarine won't dive if the player does not go down in the
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.
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