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688 I Hunter/Killer
by Leonard (Viking1) Hjalmarson

PERISCOPE
The Periscope Station on 688I

688i is a WIN95 ONLY sim. Recommended system is a P90 with 16 meg of RAM running WIN95, a 4x CD, and DirectX compatible sound and video boards. However, the AI is so demanding and the number of calculations being run during an engagement so high that the preferred system will be a P133 with 32 meg of EDO Ram.

Minimum install is 12 MB, typical is 35, and full install is 95 MB. For the smallest pauses while loading voice overlays and switching between screens, the 95 meg install is best.

In 1996 Janes won awards for their AH64D Longbow, including best simulation of the year. Janes is poised to take more awards this year with 688(I) Hunter Killer.

Simply put, this simulation will ASTONISH you. Longbow and the Flash Point add-on simulated avionics to a depth almost unparalleled (the possible exception being B2B), and put it together in a compelling package of interaction that pushed the envelope for "suspension of disbelief." But with 688(I), those boundaries are pushed to the limit.

The Team

underwater life

If you are beginning to get excited, you should be! Much has been written by simulation pundits with regard to the growing merger between civilian and military resources in simulation design. In 688(I) this cooperation reaches new depths (no pun intended) and goes "where no man has gone before." Ok, here it is straight: this sim crosses over the line. It feels like a simulation designed for and by the military, and really, thats closer to the truth than you would think.

If Longbow dripped realism, 688(I) is positively brimming over with it. Put Paul Grace, a lover of the blue deeps, Sonalyst's Incorporated, under the guidance of Captain Terry Jones (USN, Retired), and the resources of Janes, the best known and most informed source for information on fighting ships in the world in the same room for months of work and you have to know something good is going to happen! Jones himself has experience as captain in both SSN and SSBN submarines. Sonalysts has been doing defense contract work for the military and industry since 1973. Are you getting the picture?

Make It So

Lets face it: these days in order to have a commercially successful simulation, you have to appeal to everyone. How do you make a sim light enough that the weekend fan won't get lost, and complex enough that the addict and submarine afficionado won't be jilted?

Its probably not as tough as you would think. Its simple enough to add some difficulty sliders and cheats that will allow the weekend OOD (thats "Officer of the Deck" to the uninitiated) to feel like he is performing in a real undersea stealth war, and then the serious submariners can explore all the depth of gameplay they like! 688i has cheats like "double the enemy detectability" and "cut my own detectability in half." In fact, this system works marvellously well when executed properly, because the light sim fan can really grow with the sim. And if he (or she!) prefers to keep the cheats active, he will still be surrounded by an environment of realism unknown in previous efforts in the genre.

After all, Seawolf was fun, but it made no pretense to serious simulation. It was about 10% sim and 90% game. 688(I) reverses that ratio: try 90% simulation and 10% game!

JANES

I know, you want the real skinny! Let me hark back to my first foray into the sim. Two things impressed me: the easy intuitiveness of the interface, and the challenge and complexity of the simulation itself. Personally, I think this balance makes for a KILLER simulation.

As above, you have the resources of Janes on-line at your fingertips. But the HELP files are just as detailed. You want to land that SEAL team, and its your first outing? No problem, call up the Ops Manual, PAUSE the sim (another concession to reality and the learning curve), read up on the procedure, and away you go.

Take the TMA station, for example. Here is where the discerning crewman performs Target Motion Analysis (assuming you are NOT using the CHEAT. One of the first cheats, or "assists" most of us will access is the ability to go on any cruise with expert assistance in the key areas of sonar, targetting, and radar). Get ready to invest some time in learning technique! On the other hand, notice the layout of the right hand panel as below:

You will see this standardization in eight or nine stations throughout the sim. Sometimes some of the elements will appear in different places, as on the nav station. Other elements, like the General Information Panel, will always appear on the right side of the station. See below:

This station is divided into two parts: the top section is the Maneuver Shortcut panel, and the lower section with all the religious symbols is the Station Icons panel. The Maneuver Shortcuts allow you to change your course, speed and depth without having to return to the Ship Control screen. The Station Icons take you to the various control stations throughout the ship, including the CO's cabin where you can save the game and adjust various options including cheats, difficulty and graphics. The third boxes up above the PAUSE button get you to the Ships Ops books and Janes on-line, respectively.

Ship Stations include these:

  • Ship Control
  • Radar
  • Target Motion Analysis
  • Periscope
  • Ships Books
  • Navigation
  • 3-D Control Room
  • Sonar
  • Radio
  • Fire Control
  • Sound Speed Profile
  • CO Stateroom
  • Janes Manual
  • Object Viewer(well, a cheat view of the action)
And, of course, the ubiquitous pause button and time compression feature.

The Platform

The sub of choice is a late model Los Angeles class boat equipped with four torpedo tubes and twelve vertical launch tubes. You will have access to Mk 48 ADCAP torpedos as well as Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles. Actually using these advanced weapons will be fairly complicated, but there is a sophisticated and multi-level system of AI built in, so the crew can be relied upon for assistance.

As in other simulations of this type, any station not manned by yourself will be handled by a well trained crew. However, the crew is also relatively green, and their capabilities will pass through four levels of learning as the simulation progresses. An interesting variation on this growth curve is that if you find yourself doing very well with one station yourself, at the end of each tour you can trade in the crew member who would normally man that station for a crewman who is a whiz at something you aren't very good at. Enemy AI is likewise very sophisticated, and will improve in response to your own abilities.

CON

Being There

I confess to being a bit surprised by my enjoyment of this sim. After all, its not as pretty as EF2000. But the sense of immersion is powerful; there is just SO MUCH to this simulation.

Oh, you want examples? Ok... the sounds. The hum of the air conditioning; the muffled roar of shafts and heavily compressed water slipping along the hull when you run at half speed or better. The sound of water flowing into tubes when the hatch is opened. The blowing of compressed air into launch tubes to force the water out again. The sounds of a HARPOON launch, the roar of the rocket engine quickly receding as the missile makes its escape. The MULTIPLE explosions, things breaking, and the cries of the crew when you take a hit.. (gulp), and the echoes of the explosion and the rumble that continues underwater for quite some time. The ping of the sonar and the echo sound as it makes a contact...

But thats not all: the LIMITLESS voice overlays and feedback from your crew. I'm not certain about this, but I THINK I had a different voice for my sonar man on my second cruise... Better still, if you issue commands quickly when things are tense, the responses overlap just as they would in real life. (I wish more air combat sims would do this!) Video news footage prior to your mission (again, a la Longbow) and video mission briefings and debriefings from the Admiral are great. Screw up, and it will be WORSE than in Longbow! ( I hate being yelled at...)

And then there are the views. No, you won't have a bridge view in 688(I), at least it isn't planned and isn't in the beta, but you do have a cheat 3D view where you can view any object in the theatre. You can also select independent objects that originated on your boat, ie. the Harpoon you just launched! I clicked on the Krivak that I hit with my second Harpoon and watched it sink beneath the waves, heading slowly for the ocean floor. I clicked on an Akula class sub I had hit with two ADCAP torpedos and watched as multiple explosions rocked the ship. Then, as it began a nose dive for the bottom, suddenly it burst open and disappeared, shattered by the force of the explosion. As an indicator of realism, ships that sink to the bottom will still show up on your active sonar. After all, they are rather large radio reflectors! You will also see them on your 3d view screen if you pass near their location, broken in pieces on the ocean floor.

An interesting variation of the AI growth curve is that if you find yourself doing very well with one station yourself, at the end of each tour you can trade in the crew member who would normally man that station for a crewman who is a whiz at something you aren't very good at. Even more, you can also upgrade equipment based on credits earned in relation to successful cruises. Enemy AI is likewise very sophisticated, and will improve in response to your own abilities. Like I said, this sim is complex.

Command and Control

SONAR
The central sonar console...

Control is the name of the game, and if you thought SeaWolf was a good sim but not realisic enough, get ready for REALISM! In this new simulation, you don't even get to LOOK at fire control unless you remember to polish the brass first. Lets look at sonar in particular, and then I will tell you a bit about targetting weapons and the mission planner.

Above is the central sonar console, one of five interactive screens dedicated to sorting out the vector, speed, heading, depth, and id of a particular target. Yes, Virginia, this can keep you busy for a while!

The five sonar stations are: broadband, pictured above, narrowband, pictured below, the demon (demodulation) station, the active intercept station, and the active sonar station. Each has a particular function within the detection system, and you will normally use three stations to identify a particular target.

The broadband station will instantly confirm for you the targets true bearing. From this screen you can switch between different sensing devices: towed array and spherical (nose) array, for example. In order to properly id many targets, you will have to move to the narrowband console and find a match for the particular signature. In the midst of this you will also use the TMA (Target Motion Analysis) console, but that is another story...

The Narrow Band Sonar Console..

The DEMON is a filter used to determine contact speed. This information is derived by listening to the rotation of the contact's propeller shaft. If you know the rate at which the propeller is turning, and the speed that results from a certain number of rotations, you can determine the overall speed of the contact.

First, then, you must ID your target. You can then go to the online Janes manual to find out the number of turns per knot for, say, a Victor II class submarine. You input this information at the DEMON screen, and then a series of vertical lines appear on the display. The shaft rotation speed is indicated by the first line to the left. One left clicks on the display and PRESTO... target speed.

From here one moves back to the TMA and inputs the target speed. One can now accurately determine target range and course using the TMA board. But accuracy will depend on a lot of practice! The first couple of times I used the TMA I had my target heading off by about 90 degrees! This makes for problematic firing solutions!


The Target Motion Analysis Station.

Bang on Target

Speaking of which, what about those firing solutions? Unlike Seawolf, you will not be simply clicking on a target and clicking on a fire button to send your enemies to their watery graves. Check out this cutout portion of the Weapons Launch Station...

First off you determine the appropriate weapon for the job. Will you use a Harpoon or Tomahawk missile? A submarine launched mobile mine (SLMM)? An ADCAP torpedo? In this case we'll talk about the ADCAP procedure.

Nothing happens instantly, although a good crew can load and launch a weapon in about thirty seconds. However, sitting two km in front of an approaching submerged target is NOT a good time to be loading and flooding tubes. There is a certain amount of noise generated by compressed air and mechanical movement of heavy doors. Lets assume the weapon is loaded and go from there.

The TMA solution for the target (course, speed, and range) must be refined to the point that the weapon will be placed close enough so that the target is within the acquisition range of the torpedo. Following launch, the torpedo steers san intercept course until it is close enough to detect the target and begin homing.

The Weapons Control Officer oversees the prep of the torpedo and advises the Commanding Officer concerning the capabilities of the weapon and its placement. The Fire Control Coordinator (usually the Exec) oversees the refinement of the firing solution until it is good enough to place the weapon within acquisition range. The Approach Officer has the final approval of the firing solution and the settings that are sent to the torpedo prior to launch.

Refer to the image above. Clicking on the SELECT TARGET arrow at the top provides a list of current contacts for which there are solutions in the TMA system. One of these is selected with the mouse. The system solution will then be displayed in the TARGET DISPLAY area on the left of the screen (a nav overlay map which I have cut out in the image above.) Next a firing tube is assigned by clicking on the tube number. In the image above, tubes three and four are selected.

Next one selects the weapon presets by clicking on "P". A new window pops up and one chooses from the options provided, including DEPTH (estimate of target depth), CEILING (to provide protection for surface vessels or for the operators sub), FLOOR (to provide protection for the operators sub or to keep the weapon from grounding), ACOUSTICS (choice of acoustic modes of homing), RUN TO ENABLE (sets the distance the weapon will travel prior to beginning its search) and SPEED (selects the torpedo speed until it begins homing on the target).

AT this point one can order the selected tube flooded and equalized with sea pressure. However, presets may still be changed, so that one is free to have tubes flooded and doors open prior to engaging an enemy.

Above is a cut portion from the firing station (in this case HARPOON had been selected). The buttons at lower right toggle between the main station as seen above and the fire control panel. Clicking on the "F" key floods the selected tube. One hears the charge of compressed air and the button flashes red until the operation is complete, and then it remains solid. Next one clicks on the "E" to equalize with sea pressure. Finally, one clicks on the "M" to open the muzzle door. Steps one and two may be done at any time. The final step is not as noisy and is not normally done until launch is imminent.

At this point the "I" indicator should turn red, indicating that all conditions for launch are met and the firing interlocks are closed. One may then double check that operational conditions for launch are adequate: the ship is near horizontal, depth, speed and course are appropriate. The torpedo is then launched by clicking twice on the FIRE button. The first click raises the safety shield. The tube content indicator then turns dark.

The Mission Editor

The simulation also includes a mission editor! No mere knock off, this editor includes a NOAA topography database of every ocean in the world to allow you to create missions in that arena. Ground, sea and air units may be selected for each mission to provide any degree of challenge and complexity the player desires.

The first thing one does on entering the planner is to choose an encounter area from a map of the WORLD... Yep, got that right! Next one chooses from a variety of objects by clicking on one of the five buttons on top right. Choices include Underwater objects, Surface objects, Aircraft, Mine objects and Building objects. In the screen above I had chosen a submarine. I could have chosen allied, neutral, or threat. One then selects the type from a list of about eighteen. Then one chooses the speed, heading, depth, and start time, and then the tactic for the given object. Tactics are quite sophisticated, and include:

  • Waypoints
  • Barrier
  • Expanding Box
  • Ladder Box
  • Perimeter
  • Random Box
  • Transit
  • Transit Search

If you select a ladder box tactic you then place your mouse over the area you wish to assign and drag to draw a box, like in a paint program. Each tactic includes specific behaviors. For example, selecting a ladder box tactic for an akula submarine means that the boat will patrol the area you assign in a zigzag patter within the perimeter of the box. Assigning an expanding box means that the object will patrol in an outward expanding spiral pattern. There are additional tactical objects available for aircraft. Surface vessels have a similar tactical list.

After placing an object on the map you right click on it for a drop down menu. For your own ship you can only edit position. For other objects you must select a goal, either NO GOAL, MUST BE KILLED or MUST SURVIVE.

If one places Aircraft one must choose from Cobra, F15, Helix, II-38 May and P3-C. Building choices include Airport, Armory, Dock, Piers, Oil Rig, and eight others. One may then write a briefing and a mission update for transmission on arrival at station, and also set Environmental factors. These include sea state, bottom type and time of day. Drooling yet? I would judge from the variety of tactical objectives possible that the AI in these missions will be second to none, and that sharing of custom built missions for the purpose of network engagements will be VERY popular! In fact I created a simple scenario in five minutes and saved it. Without writing a briefing the scenario took up 2 K.

Speaking of multiplayer, it seems that JANES have some surprises for us, but what those are remain unclear, perhaps to be revealed at E3. The standard suite of connection options will be present, including two to eight players over a network using SPX/TCP settings. In order to use a custom built mission for multiplayer engagements, all players must have a copy of the mission in order to play. I have a feeling that a number of web sites will be collecting custom missions for 688(I)!


A screen from the tactical planner. Click for a larger image..

More? You want more? How about a multi-level debrief feature. When you pull into the dock later, or when you are thinking about your mission from beyond the pearly gates, you can check out the debrief. The debrief has a log and multiple levels including an insider perspective (as if intelligence from both sides was available) that constitutes a CHEAT feature. Nicely done!

Naturally, there are ten training missions to complete, and these come with a detailed guide to shepherd you on to competency. As for game structure, single missions may be selected by the player and the simulation will feature FOURTEEN campaign scenarios, beginning in the Caribbean. The second tour is in the Mediterranean/Adriatic, where you will patrol off of Bosnia and Libya. From here you will move to the coast of Iran. Finally, you will find yourself in the North Pacific, facing the most difficult campaign against an aggressive Russian navy.

Other features include an on-line Janes manual and Ships Information Books. These books contain detailed information on standard operating procedures, ships systems, and casualty procedures.

For information from the producers' perspective, go to the Paul Grace interview.

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Last Updated August 30th, 1997

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