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An Interview with Paul Grace: VP and Executive Producer for 688(I) and Janes Combat Simulations

Shots from 688(I) Hunter/Killer.. Click for a larger image.

Somewhere around 1987 688 Attack Sub surfaced in demo form in boxes of Sony 3.5" diskettes. There was no internet at that time, so we couldn't very well download the thing, could we? Besides, modems were clipping along at an awesome 1200 bps or so, if you happened to own such exotic equipment....

But the sim was fun. It was a small step for a man, and a new beginning for Paul Grace and EA.

Not so very long after, Electronic Arts released a much more advanced simulation: Sea Wolf. Not only had the level of challenge and complexity increased, this sim was also connectable! Many of us had our first experience with head to head model play on this sim, and it was--literally-- a blast! With decoy ability and substantial stealth characteristics, trying to locate and knock off another nuclear submarine could be quite entertaining!

Here we are in 1997, about ten years since Paul Grace first foray in this arena, and he and Janes Combat Simulations are breaking new ground. In a simulation so realistic that the Pentagon already asked for some detail to be left OUT of the help files, the Los Angeles class submarine is about to make simulation history once again, achieving new depths! Lets scope it out, shall we?

CSim: You have quite a history with undersea sims. How did you become interested in this area?

Paul: Nuclear subs have always been the most secret of the large military projects, probably mostly because the *could* be kept secret, so I was always interested in reading about their capabilities. They are also used in a very different manner from other weapons, and that was interesting. I always thought they represented the best multiplayer type of combat, because they emphasize stealth and strategy over fast trigger fingers. The original 688 was my first modem game (and EA's second), and I thought that was important to carry through in the subsequent products.

CSim: When did you begin thinking seriously about a sim like 688(I)?

Paul: When I met Sonalysts. After we shipped Seawolf, Sonalysts approached me because they were putting together a broadcast TV program, and wanted a game to go with it. As they identified their core skills, I just began shaking I was so enthusiastic. We arranged to visit their offices and saw their Navy simulators, their sound stages, their talent--everything was perfect from my perspective. I knew at that point we could make the most realistic simulation the market has ever seen, about something that has never been done nearly as authentically.

Csim: What were some of your initial design goals for 688(I)?

Paul: First, to make a game that every submariner would say "Wow. That's not quite everything, but if it were, I'd have to shoot you." We also had to make it playable by real people, people that don't want to invest a month of study to have a good time. We needed "crewmen" to which a player could offload tasks. At it's simplest settings it is about as difficult as the original 688.

Csim: How has Jane's contributed to the making of this new simulation?

Paul: As always, Jane's has been extremely helpful, turning over access to their vast unpublished library of data and brought in their connections. They review the game for accuracy as well. We passed.


Csim: How many other companies contribute to the development of a sim of this scope?

Paul: 688(I) was created by Sonalysts, EA, and Jane's primarily. The high resolution digital map of the world and it's oceans was provided by the US Government, and the 3D rendering package is Renderware v. 2. Manufacturers, the Navy and a few others helped on photo reference.

Csim: The involvement with the Pentagon must have been interesting. Were you involved directly in those meetings and what were they like?

Paul: I was not. Sonalysts has very close ties with the Navy, as well as active projects. They submitted the game for Naval approval. The Navy wanted to pull out some information, which we did.

Csim: How much of the sim was altered by military necessities?

Paul: A complete read of the on-line Submarine overview is a little lighter. The Navy probably didn't want everyone to know just exactly how every piece of operations fits together. Theoretically it could jeopardize Submarines in battle.

Csim: 688(I) is a WIN95 product only. Why is this?

Paul: DOS is dead. Please don't send Email. :-) And no, I'm not hustling on that Mac version either ;->

Csim: It strikes me that there is something completely different about 688(I). It feels like we have crossed the line into new territory in realism. What is that difference, and will it be reflected in future Jane's products?

Paul: I agree, 688 is establishing new territory. The difference is realism. 688 is a game, primarily designed and written by engineers that primarily design and write training aids for the Navy. Everything you learn about 688 will point you to something new you didn't know before--The chain-link physics model for the towed array will point out the accuracy of the advance and transfer of the submarine's motion physics model. The broadband sonar will show you why Sound Profiles are important. When that 15Khz terminal guidance pinging *stops* you have to wonder--Is it facing away, or am I screwed? You'll learn to hate helicopters, let me tell you.

This ultra-realism will be reflected in future Jane's products, but not in all of them. There are many styles of simulations that I like, and I'm hardly the only decision maker. We hope our games will cover a broad range of user tastes, from ATF, through Longbow 2, through 688(I). I hope Jane's stands not for difficulty, but for quality, and everything that means.

Csim: There appears to be an enormous amount going on in the processing background while running 688(I). Just how complex is the AI?

Paul: I honestly don't know. The AI is one of Sonalysts areas of special expertise, they developed it for the purpose of training, and tracking the progress of trainees. The AI is awfully good, if you don't believe it, play Against All Odds. (My favorite mission) I still haven't beaten it, but I get SO close every time.

Csim: How does the AI built into 688(I) compare to the AI in an actual military simulation?

Paul: It's the *same code*. As I recall Sonalysts had to remove some tactics that the Navy doesn't want everyone to know about, but it is the same code, done by the same engineer.

Csim: The mission builder does allow great flexibility. How much randomness is built in to the AI?

Paul: Among other settings, there is a setting to allow platforms to start in a user-defined box, at a random position inside that box. The AI is not scripted however, so missions do not behave the same from play to play, even IF the starting points were identical.

Csim: 688(I) has no dynamic campaign, which is a disappointment for many simmers. Can you say what led to this decision and if there is a dynamic campaign in the works for the future?

Paul: I feel the multiplayer and the mission editor fill that void. I personally think dynamic campaigns are never as well tuned mission by mission, I prefer the fine art of game balance. 688 probably won't have a dynamic campaign outside of on-line. I think we will have persistent campaigns on-line though.

Csim: In a previous conversation you mentioned future interfacing with "inter-operable naval sims." Can you tell us more about this?

Paul: Sonalysts will be making additional Naval sims that make sense in the context of 688(I), and you will be able to play on other platforms against players on 688(I)s.

Csim: What will be the first sim to interface with 688(I) and is it already underway? When might we see it?

Paul: No details, but think about what you'd like to see teamed up with, or fighting against, a 688(I)..

Csim: How will you deal with changing technology through the design process? It strikes me that hardware will have evolved greatly by the time the next sim in the module hits the streets.

Paul: I spend a lot of time thinking about that. I don't spend a lot of time talking about it. :-)

Csim: In the naval surface simulator will you allow more than one person to man one ship, as say a sonar officer or weapons officer?

Paul: Really? EVERYONE asks for this, and I CAN'T believe that it's fun. We thought about it for 688(I) and the discussion went like this--"Okay, you can play on my ship, but *I* get to be captain. When I tell you to load that Mk48 in tube 3, you'd better damn load a Mk48 in 3!" I understand the realism, and the teamwork, but I feel it makes a game into a job.

Technically it's not very hard, I just don't think it's fun. Seawolf had that feature, and no one used it, except to jump over to someone else's boat and flush the tubes. Boy *that* was no fun.

Csim: Can you say how some of the new technologies might impact this series? WIN97 dual monitor support, Force Feedback, VR headsets?

Paul: Headsets don't have the low cost/high resolution we require. Force feedback seems pretty cool, but not in a sub game. Dual monitors are pretty cool, but I'm never thrilled by tons more pixels to move.

Csim: Will there eventually be a cross over in this series to interface with Jane's flight sims?

Paul: I hope so. That IS technically hard. We're heading that way where it makes sense. (It is too hard relative to the benefit in some cases.)

Csim: Thanks, Paul, and good luck with 688I!!

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Last Updated June 6th, 1997

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