Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific Q&A - First Details
We get the first details on the next game in the classic submarine simulation series.
While games of this sort are few and far between these days, every so often we'll have a sighting of a true-blue war machine simulation, like the Silent Hunter combat simulation series. The game has made a name for itself among fans by offering highly realistic military submarine simulation gameplay, and the series is all set to make its next voyage with Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific. We had the opportunity to get the first details on the game from lead game designer Dan Dimitrescu on behalf of the Silent Hunter 4 team.
GameSpot: Silent Hunter III covered the Atlantic theater of World War II, and we know that Silent Hunter 4 will cover the Pacific theater. But what are the major new improvements in this upcoming chapter of the series?
Dan Dimitrescu: The most important improvements we feel will come to the campaign game and the crew management mechanisms:
Crew management work will be simplified, requiring much less babysitting of your men, while deepening the development of the individual characters that make up the crew.
As for the campaign, our intention is to build on the excellent dynamic campaign we had with SH3 and make each patrol unique and exciting for the player. Much better interaction with the commanders and more diverse mission objectives serve to do just that.
GS: Will you be able to play from both the American and Japanese perspectives in the single-player campaign mode, or is that restricted only to the multiplayer mode? And will we see submarines and ships from the other navies involved in the Pacific, like the British and the Dutch?
DD: Including Japanese submarines as playable would at least double the amount of research, design, and graphic work required, and unfortunately our time frame doesn't allow for it.
Specifically in relation to multiplayer, I'd say that submarine-versus-submarine combat wouldn't make for great gameplay. World War II-era technology made it very difficult to achieve a kill on an enemy submarine, especially when the target was aware that you were in the area.
However, our adversarial multiplayer mode will let one player control enemy surface forces--more specifically the escorts--and present a bigger and more-interesting challenge to the players' wolf pack preying on his ships.
It's not clear at this time whether we'll be able to include enemy or even friendly submarines in the game. But ships from other navies--the Commonwealth nations for sure--will make an appearance where appropriate.
GS: Specifically, how is the dynamic campaign of Silent Hunter III being improved? Will there be more of a "living" world, where other submarines and ships are operating independently around you? Will you be able to cruise all over the Pacific, or will you be restricted to a certain area of operations again?
DD: As in Silent Hunter III, you are free to roam wherever you choose. Of course, as in any military organization, there are objectives to be completed and targets to be achieved. If players disregard commander's orders and go hunt somewhere else, they'd better bring back results. Otherwise--in historically accurate fashion--COMSUBPAC may decide that the patrol was "unsuccessful" and relieve them of command.
The game campaign world exists whether the player likes it or not, so other ships are always going by their business as they did some 60 years ago. There are subtle improvements on how it works, but what everyone will notice is the way objectives are dynamically generated during the patrol.
Players may intend to drop supplies to a forward allied base, in addition to patrolling a certain area that is presumed to be on the route of Japanese ships. On the way, however, players may be sent a new message, ordering them to intercept a highly valuable transport that happened to pass at high speed nearby.
GS: How many and which types of submarines will be available to pilot in the game? Will we see multiple variants of each class, to reflect the improvements that were made throughout the war? And what about surface ships (or "targets" in submariner speak)?
DD: Silent Hunter IV aims to give an accurate representation of the US submarine campaign against Japan. Taking both this, and our own development schedule, into consideration, we chose the most representative US fleet boat classes: P-class, Tambor, Salmon, and Gato. Of course, each of them will come with several development variations.
As for ships, the game will also bring around 50 new classes, which we feel will serve to bring a pretty good portrayal of the Pacific environment.
Full Speed Ahead
GS: American torpedoes were notorious in the early part of the war for having flawed detonators, which meant that they had a devil of a time sinking Japanese ships. Will players have to worry about that in Silent Hunter 4? Just how accurate will the simulation get?
DD: Players that choose to have the realism settings maxed out will indeed have lots of trouble with their torpedoes in the first half of the war. Torpedo duds are not handled as a statistic, though; it's not just luck that chooses if you get a detonation or not. Instead, the angle at which the torpedo hits the ship's geometry is taken into account and put into historical context to get a probability.
For example, with early war US torpedoes (Mk.XIVs with Mk.6 detonator) the worst probability is met when you get a perpendicular impact on the target surface--this, in theory, being the best shot you can achieve. Work with this factor in mind, judge every shot, and keep the torpedo room crews efficient, and you'll get a nice boom every time.
GS: Are there going to be any improvements that will make the game easier to play for newcomers? Will the game offer an arcade-style difficulty setting, or something very forgiving to rookies, for instance?
DD: As always with Silent Hunter, players looking for less of a challenge can adjust the complexity of the simulation to suit their preferences. Torpedo shooting, for example, can be a simple "point periscope/shoot torpedoes" process. Some players would argue that this is all that the captain needed to do in person anyway.
But, those who are looking for the ultimate technical realism in WWII submarine sims will also get their medicine here. You can do all the target data gathering manually and use the American Torpedo Data Computer like it was done in the war.
In addition, there are mechanisms built into our campaign engine that will help new players find their way around. It's easy to feel lost when you see the huge ocean that waits to be explored, but with a little direction from your commander, you'll be sinking ships in no time.
GS: Tell us a bit about the multiplayer. How many players will the game support, and are there any specific improvements planned on this front?
DD: Silent Hunter IV will support four players over the Internet and eight over a local connection. The most visible improvement will be the addition of the escorts commander player--coordinating AI-controlled destroyers that work against the other players--which will boost the challenge level and replay value immensely.
GS: Will Silent Hunter 4 feature new technology, or will it improve on the existing game engine used in Silent Hunter III? What sort of new technical features will we see in the game?
DD: SHIV uses an improved version of the GDS engine that was used for the previous game. Like with SH3 and other simulation titles published by Ubisoft, we're aiming for lifelike graphics on par with the latest generation. Graphical improvements have touched water rendering, weather display, and even the terrain in order to have the luxuriant Pacific landscapes shown onscreen.
Under the hood of the game, the mechanics have been boosted too. Missions will have shorter loading times, and generally speaking, the game will give better performance. This, in turn, let us have larger numbers of more-detailed ships with no apparent hit in frame rate.
GS: Finally, what other lessons did you learn from Silent Hunter III that are being carried over to develop this game? For instance, a lot of fans remember that Silent Hunter III was great once it was patched, so will there be a larger focus on getting the game done right out of the box this time around?
DD: Our team always aims to deliver the goods the first time around. This was true for Silent Hunter III, too.
When looking at Silent Hunter III, we learn what worked from an interface point of view and understand where improvement is due. Also, there is no question anymore in anyone's head on whether a dynamic campaign is the right way to go.
GS: Thanks, Dan.