The future of underwater games
In the last six months, the disappearance of the sims has been pronounced in abundance. Sims print magazines and web magazines have been telling you that sims are being canceled left and right Jane’s A-10: Canceled. Wolfpack II: canceled. Silent Steel II: MIA. M1Tank Platoon 3: canceled. Fighting Steel Deluxe: canceled. Jane’s Attack Squad: MIA. Thunder over Europe: MIA. The list goes on.
We all know this is a downhill cycle for sims and we think there’s hope that in a couple of years things will change and sims will be back in vogue. Hey, I remember 1973 when the EPA and OPEC strangled life from the muscle car scene. I had a 1970 Cobra Torino that had 450 hp and ran fourth at 13 highs. In less than three years, every car leaving Detroit was a gas-saving bullet that controlled smog. They even started to make them as ugly as they were slow! It was heartbreaking.
But over time, things change. Now you can get a high performance machine that drives and has luxuries like front / rear air conditioning. My 99 Riviera has a supercharged V-6 that would make my old Torino proud.
So keep the faith. Things will get better, even if no one knows when. Silent Hunter II and Destroyer Command show signs of life. Harpoon 4 is still in development. There are commotions from the field of Sonalysts.
When a new subsim hits shore, try to remember that the game’s developers and producers are our friends. They make the kind of games we like because they like them too. Why would they work on armor thickness charts, ship model physics, and torpedo trajectories for a niche market? I know a few developers and they all love the genre.
Try to keep your criticism balanced. Should you attack a sim that you had trouble with or didn’t enjoy all the invective and animosity you would normally reserve for someone who stole your car or used your toothbrush? One producer told me that senior executives frequently ask him about negative posts in newsgroups and forums. The industry sees us as demanding, unappreciative, and impossible to satisfy. It is much easier and more lucrative to launch the Deer Hunter and Barbie games and their users rarely set the game company on fire.
I work with a CPA accountant who likes computer games and is pretty good at them. He can play a mean warrior from Age of Empires. I tried to interest him in learning Jane’s 688 (I) for a set of various. He glanced at the heavy manual and rejected it. He assumed that he would need to learn all the material to play competitively. The blessing and curse of a good sim is its complexity. Want to command a battle fleet or TMA on a Los Angeles-class submarine? You need to learn skills and study. And this restricts the popularity of the simulation. Mass market games generally don’t have the steep learning curve that a simulator has. So while we the hardest gamers in the simulation revel in the minutiae of seven different stations and all their controls, casual gamers are bypassing the simulation by a 20-to-1 ratio. The Sims are truly a market niche.
Niche market games have limited budgets. This means that a small number of programmers and artists must focus on the basics. Don’t expect to see everything you want and imagine in a simulation. Oh yeah I’m with you, I wish a subsim could have full motion gear and other fun stuff. But as one producer told me, “We don’t have the money to design and integrate these features into the product. I wish we could too.”
We should be finding out the status of Silent Hunter II soon. Either Mattel Interactive will hire someone to complete it or it will be canned. I went through the “we’re planning to do this” stage with the legendary Jane’s Ice Pack add-on for 688 (I), Akula: Red Hunter, Silent Steel 2 from Crusader Studios, and interoperability between Jane’s Fleet Command and 688 (I). I’m not judging here, I’m just saying that when the momentum dies, so does the target. For whatever reasons, the product champions behind those simulators were unable to secure funding to get started. To get a better idea of the whole process, read my friend John Sponauer’s analysis of the life and death of a simulator, M1 Tank Platoon 2, from its initial development as an update to the last couple of weeks.
Despite my previous experiences with other simulation companies, I am optimistic that Carl Norman and Rick Martinez mean what they say and SSI will continue to raise the Digital Combat Series flag as Jane’s, NovaLogics and Microproses around them fall as unlucky. lead soldiers. This is not to say that SH2 is a done deal; that moment will come when you hold the box in your hand. We consider the next rumored subsim to be our best hope for advanced submarine warfare. All we can do is stay positive, supportive and, if it’s decent, buy four copies when it comes out.