by Neal Stevens

       When I was 10 and in my prime as an active kid, reading about the Battle of the Atlantic and dreaming about the new nuclear Nautilus, I constructed a submarine game to fill my need for submarine action. It consisted of two sheets of heavy cardboard, 20 inches wide by three feet. The surface of each sheet was marked off in a grid, each grid identified by a letter/number system. One sheet of cardboard had three panels that served as legs, and it stood astride the other creating a two-dimensional playing field. Two players, one a sub skipper and the other an escort commander, competed against each other for oceanic dominance. The game used surface ship and submarine tokens stolen 688(I) Hunter/Killer from my Battleship game. Played in turns, this early analog subsim was very dependant on rules. There were eight sheets of "Turn Outcomes" to follow. Using six dice and two decks of cards as the "computer", the surface player would roll first one dice to determine how many squares to move, and then the rest to determine how many ships would move.

       Although I built this "subsim," labeled and hand drew the card suits on the outcome sheets, and devised a set of equitable rules, it didn't see very much gameplay. No one in my household shared my enthusiasm for battlesea warfare, and my friends complained the rules were way too complex and hard to follow. Fair gameplay relied too heavily on the honor system ("I said I dropped charges at 200 feet! What depth were you at?" "Uh ... 300 feet!") to be functional. The point of this stagger through memory lane? Subsims evolve. They are recreated by new companies for new gamers. And they get better each season. My dinosim depended on dice, imagination, and honesty. Now the computer functions as the impartial referee, the random outcome generator, and throws out real time graphics and sounds to boot. And to any speculation that the current bunch of submarine simulations may be the last, I say: study the trend.

        By now one should detect a visible trend evident in the field of computer simulations. Since the advent of the personal computer a scant decade ago, inspired companies and individuals have endeavored to reproduce the experience of undersea warfare, whether of the World War II Fast Attack era, Cold War nuclear age, or future battleseas. The early efforts were sound and competent for the technology and coding of their day. But the trend shows us that as each year passes, computers grow faster and more powerful and new simulations are created to harness the new technology. Simulations that provide more visuals, more variety, and more historical accuracy. The current crop of subsims (Silent Hunter Gold and 688(I) Hunter/Killer) represent the state of the art. But despite their graphic and gameplay brilliance, there's no reason to believe they will be the last of their kind. Indeed, the trend indicates that new subsims will emerge over the horizon with time. And what sims they will be, with the power of 500 MHz computers and 64-bit 3D accelerator graphics cards driving them.

        New CPUs with faster clock speeds coupled with better graphics cards will return better pictures with more detail. One advantage subsims have over flight sims is there isn't as much continuous object motion required. A destroyer steaming in the periscope view doesn't require as much computing power as six FY-22s, all twisting and turning across the screen. This frees up the computer to handle other chores, such as crew voice responses, engine sounds, and accurate graphics redrawing at a high frame rate. Therefore, a subsim's graphic performance shouldn't drop to a crawl when the action gets thick. As new subsims are coded to take advantage of the increased technology, more details can be addressed. With the coming of DVD (Digital Video Disk), future subsims should have a greater level of reality. Perhaps someday we'll have a submarine bridge view where half the screen doesn't consist of the conning tower wall. The cyberskipper should be able to scan the sky for planes and ships, using the hat switch. Wouldn't it be nice to see seagulls from the bridge when sneaking into a Japanese harbor? How about observing the crew of a torpedoed merchant ship going pell-mell for the life boats? The more detail, the more a simulation approaches reality. And isn't that the objective of a sim?

       After putting in the hours I have playing these sims, many improvements and enhancements for future sims come to mind. Among these are: