May 2, 2001           Under the Ice--At Last!
by Frank Kulick


It has been four years since Electronic Art/Sonalysts debuted Jane's 688(I). Considered the best nuke subsim by virtually everyone, 688(I) has remained the subsim of choice.  That is about to change. EA and Sonalysts are vying to top their own work with the triple-threat Sub Command. SSR fast attack expert Frank "Torpex" Kulick  visited Sonalysts to bring you the scoop on the upcoming blockbuster. 

Note: Artwork depicted here may be unfinished or works in progress. Ice pack environments are partial shots for demonstration purposes.

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Breaching the ice cap

Monday evening, I had the unique opportunity to speak and spend some time with Kim Castro, Mike Kolar and the Dev team at Sonalysts Studios in Waterford, Connecticut. The topic and tour surrounded Sub Command, their latest project (published by Electronic Arts). This new undertaking looks to be the benchmark for future modern submarine warfare simulations. The questions I asked were straightforward and the answers I received from these gentlemen were equally thorough and generous. Sub Command will break new ground with an "under-ice" environment and a broader scope of missions. I was intrigued by the new tactical elements it will bring to subsim warfare.

Once in the room where the dev team was hard at work, Mike Kolar showed me Sub Command. He went through the different stations, external views of some of the units contained in the sim, and a demonstration of how the sim performed. No bias here, the screens and workings I saw of Sub Command looked breath taking and solid! The models used are absolutely top of the line. Old and new players will not be disappointed.

Arctic combat

The Sub Commander player will have a unique experience. Navigation through the frozen maze of keels and icebergs with HF sonar alone will make your hair stand on end. Your sub will have the ability to surface through the ice--but where will you find a stretch of ice thin enough to push through? Just use your upward looking external camera and the thinner ice will appear brighter from the daylight above. You now have found ice your boat can penetrate. Just as in 688(I), Sub Command allows you to create scenarios anywhere in the world. The ice coverage will be modeled in the Arctic and Antarctic regions and will have seasonal elements in some areas making the month you choose to set your mission a key factor to consider.

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Lurking beneath the pole

The polar battlefront looks to be a real treat and a challenge in many ways for those with an appetite for adventure. Hiding your boat from an opponent in an ice pocket (a sort of acoustic "black-hole") and launching weapons in cramped conditions will be a challenge for even the seasoned sub captain. Currently, there are no plans to include ice floe noises or ice grinding in the arctic environment, a decision based on time proven facts and real world experience. Having personally been under the ice in a 688(I) some years ago, I had to agree with them and their decision. The mode of looking out the periscope to detect targets while underwater was deemed unrealistic and is not planned, either. I did not see this as detracting from the quality of the sim in any way. Locating polynyas will involve the use of HF sonar and the upward looking camera to determine size and shape. The arctic combat zones will present many unusual and interesting challenges and it’s up to you to utilize them to their full potential.

Deep ocean challenges

In the open ocean the Sub Commander will have a truly dynamic sonar environment to deal with. Thermal layers, bottom bounce, sound propagation loss, and a narrow band which will require time, patience and skill to accurately determine who is out there. Classification will be a true challenge from now on--no easy ID’s any more! The user interface in narrow band has been improved, making classification more user-friendly. The simulation will allow you or your AI sonar man to make incorrect classifications, a situation that could cause you to sink the wrong guy and overlook a threat. For instance, say you decide that the contact at 13k yds is an enemy frigate and you order the launch of tactical weapons at him. Minutes after the launch, your torpedo--or worse yet--anti ship missile, is halfway to the target. Suddenly, narrowband picks up another signature line revealing it is a cruise ship or merchant You better hope you still have a wire for that fish! If you went with the missile, ugh…. prepare for a desk job.

Losing contact with or contact blackout with the target due to environmental conditions is another factor to deal with. The environment will play a huge part in your tactics, more that 688(I) ever presented. The 3D viewer has two modes. One is the "truth" mode revealing all as it really is. The other mode will only reveal what you the player has determined is out there from your sensors. The host controls the 3D viewer settings in multiplayer. There is also a limited viewing distance under water. Remember in 688(I) how your view underwater was better in some cases than your sonar—you could see literally for thousands of yards? That environmental condition is no more. Underwater view is now more realistically limited.

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Identifying a contact

The operations you decide to conduct will have an impact on the stealthiness of your sub. You are the measure of stealth in Sub Command, there is no "Rig for patrol quiet" button. So if you raise and lower your masts, cycle doors, flood tubes, or load weapons while you are trying to be covert, you have just defeated your own cause and probably will get counter-detected. Sub Command represents numerous refinements over Sonalsts initial subsim, 688(I). In the latter, your torpedoes would go after a sunken ship a couple of thousand feet away on occasion. That issue has been resolve by improving the modeling of the forward cone of the torp’s active sonar-azimuth. This should help in those littoral water situations.

I inquired about "knuckles" and if they would be modeled. I received the answer from my own experience I had truly expected. They would not but simply because their impact would be negligible to nil in a torpedo evasion. I felt assured that the countermeasures would be more effective and judging from the variety on the CM screen in the SEAWOLF, be assured it will. Regarding the rumored "stinger mast" and the "sea-lance", these will not be included, either. Another decision based in fact that I can attest to. However, remember in 688(I) those three torpedoes that could be launched at you from the enemy AI? Get ready, there are more, a lot more weapons out there. I witnessed the Soviet anti-ship missile version of the SS-N-27 and the SS-N-16 Stallion and their devastating effects and let me tell you, they look and perform great! The ADCAP continues to be a looker and steady performer as well.

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Conn, Sonar: We have a new contact at 120.

In Jane’s 688(I), enemy submarines often gave away their presence rather carelessly by not exercising stealth tactics and surface ships always emitted radar emissions making ESM detection a snap. Almost all enemy AI was hostile. This is no longer the case and will be a real treat--and possible nightmare! The artificial intelligence in Sub Command has an IQ that will present a significant surprise and challenge for the current subsim commanders. Cooperative support between enemy AI units will create situations of limitless potential and surprise for the player. That little Kilo just might be at PD calling for help from some shore based air units if you rattle his cage enough.

The commander will have the ability in the mission generator to "set" the political tone and the "combat tone" (EMPCON). In other words, if you decide to send a Victor sub after the carrier, and only the carrier, it will avoid confrontation with all other units to accomplish its mission. In the real world, it is not desirous of all missions submarines are tasked to carry out to engage and attack the enemy. Indeed, many are just the opposite—surveillance that demand total stealth. If a mission is to conduct surveillance of a harbor, you will not be fired upon if it’s "peace time". A counter-detection will cost you the mission, but you won’t have ordnance dropped on you. Surface units will not be detectable by ESM until hostilities are present, adding to the immersion and uncertainty factor.



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Akula sonar display

This powerful vessel will feature the "Squal torpedo" and appears to be a delightful challenge to operate. The screens and stations are unique and definitely should give the operator a real "flavor" for the Soviet submariner’s conditions and operational capabilities. When operating your AKULA, you will need to learn about her and her ways. She is nothing short of fabulous. The virtual fleets will have a real prize in their possession with this vessel. All the data Sonalysts’ acquired for the AKULA was through honest hard work and dedicated persistent research, and for those curious, the game does not jeopardize classified information on any sub contained in the sim. Still, you can take comfort in the knowledge that Sonalysts knows their stuff.



The ultimate submarine. Having personally toured the SSN-21 and the Connecticut, I believe the screens and control panels are tops and in-line with this class’s touch screen technology. Her capability? What more needs to be said, she is the SEAWOLF! Expect the best and that’s what Sonalysts delivers.


The 688(I).

Her panels and controls will be familiar to those experienced in Jane’s 688(I). But do not expect the exact same external graphics or capabilities. The internal workings have been improved and refined. And it will be a shame not to use 3D mode to just watch your own sub. The team puts serious quality in the graphics of this sim.

For those players concerned about the possibility of a savvy sub skipper "tweaking" his boat’s capabilities and cheating in multi-player games, fret no more. File checkers and detection procedures will ensure honesty in multi-player action.

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Akula Type 971:
Russian shark

This team has surpassed anything I could have asked for. From the SEAWOLF’s pump-jet propulsor with the inner blades rotating, the bowplanes on the 688(I) tilting, right down to the AKULA’s multi-bladed bronze screw spinning perfectly. (The towed arrays extend from the correct location, too). I was in awe at how good everything looked and performed. The impression I gathered is that Sub Command, without a doubt, satisfy most everyone’s appetite, including mine.

The subsim community has a real treat coming their way. The 688(I) is going beneath the ice at last, and it has company. Start putting your dollars and coins in a jar, this baby is going to be worth it.



Projected release window: Summer  2001
Release dates and features always subject to change 


Links for Sub Command


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