may well boast the longest start to finish development of
any game title developed for the PC by the time it finally
reaches the market. If it reaches the market, that is. The
game's history is long and tortuous by this point. The latest
twist came on April 23rd 2003 when Ubi Soft announced that
Harpoon4 development was to be transferred to an internal
transpires upon further inspection that Ultimation, the developer
that had up until then been working on the code, folded leaving
Harpoon4 unfinished and without a home. There are many in
the community who concluded that this might be the final nail
in the coffin for a title that has already used up more lives
than the proverbial cat.
the preceeding months, Ultimation staffers had provided somewhat
encouraging updates and snippets of information that might
have led you to conclude that Harpoon4 was finally going to
be finished. There was even talk that the game had entered
the internal testing phase. A release date was set but then
that date was knocked back a couple of times. While this is
rarely a good sign, no one seemed prepared for Ultimation's
quite abrupt departure from the scene.
It is against this backdrop that we
sent a set of questions to Ubi Soft to ask about progress
of Harpoon4 development work since the events of April this
year. Half expecting to hear that Harpoon4 was indeed finally
going to be cancelled, we were pleasantly surprised to get
answers to our questions in relatively short order.
For this particular title it
would seem premature to say that we will in fact see a finished
game until the CD's actually roll off the production line.
However, judging by the responses below, there's still a fighting
chance that Harpoon4 will be sailing into gamers' hands this
year. Let's hope the positive energy translates to success
for the new development team and a worthy game to take on
the mantle as the newest member of the Harpoon franchise.
SimHQ: Where is the new team
located and what recent projects have they been working on
that we might recognize?
Ubi Soft: The team taking over
the development of Harpoon 4 is a Ubi Soft internal studio
located in Romania. They recently launched Chessmaster for
the PS2 and are responsible for future development of the
entire Chessmaster franchise. They have also taken on the
support of the Silent Hunter franchise. A large percent of
the Romanian team are hardcore simulation gamers and they
were thrilled to get the Harpoon project into their group.
There was some talk from Ultimation
staffers that Harpoon4 had already entered testing. What
work does the new team have left to do in completing the game
you can understand, Harpoon4 is incredibly complex under the
hood. There is a great deal of optimization taking place to
make the simulation run smoothly. Any changes at this point
require the input of testers to make sure that no additional
problems are introduced.
Picking up development work on someone
elses code can be very difficult to accomplish smoothly.
To what extent has the new team been able to get consulting
help or documentation from the Ultimation team to assist in
the transfer of the work?
While its true that taking over
the completion of another teams code can be a challenge,
the Ultimation team has been very helpful in their hand off
and its gone very smoothly. As questions have arisen,
the Ultimation team has made themselves available for consultation.
How would you characterize the mission
of the new team working on Harpoon4 would it be simply
to finish up any loose ends left by the former developer or
perhaps ground-up reexamination of the game, its design
goals and implementation?
Their only task right now is bringing
the project to completion; they do however have some great
ideas on how to make the game even better.
will be the latest in a long and storied franchise of computer
games. What features and capabilities in the new game
will differentiate it from previous generations of DOS and
This edition of Harpoon 4 includes
a number of major editions to the franchise. For example,
for the first time youll be able to use the 3D environment
to view the action as it unfolds. The game will include a
powerful and flexible scenario editor and customizable map
displays. Two highlights will be the exclusive High Tide campaign
written by Larry Bond and head to head multiplayer, a first
for the Harpoon series.
was released in paper rules format several years ago and many
readers will be familiar with the game. What are the
principal differences that a player familiar with the paper
rules will find when they play Harpoon4 on the computer?
The decision as to whether to use
the paper rules or a less abstracted process were made based
on whether the time invested in creating, implementing and
testing the less abstract model was justified by the increased
For example, ESM, Infrared Sensors,
Radar and Sonar do not use the paper rules. Specifically,
all these systems work somewhat similarly; all units have
a signature, expressed as a dB (decibel) value. This represents
gain in reflected signals for active sensors (Radar, Active
Sonar), or the amount of energy emitted by the unit for passive
All sensors have a sensitivity value,
in dB, that represents receiver gain and signal processing
capability. Active sensors also have a source level, in dB,
which represents the power of the signal generator and transmitter
These values, along with such variables
as range and environmental effects, are plugged into an equation
specific to the type of sensor to determine the signal-to-noise
ratio (SNR) at the signal processor. The SNR is then plugged
into a formula which provides a percentage chance to detect.
Visual detection, on the other hand
does, use the paper rules.
There are two other groups actively
developing variants of Harpoon today, one based around the
Harpoon II/3 game and one based around the Harpoon Classic
lineage. Both offer extensive opportunities for the community
to help develop the game and/or the all-important database. Which
parts of the Harpoon4 game architecture will be open in ways
that allow this sort of community participation?
longevity of a game relies in a great extent on the user community.
Harpoon has always had an enthusiastic and active community
and this was kept in mind during the initiation and design
of Harpoon4. We are planning on providing the same tools used
to create the scenarios as well as edit the database so that
the community can continue the tradition.
There is a community project underway
to provide common datasets and platform consistency between
versions of Harpoon, the United Database Project. In
what way will Harpoon4 benefit from the massive community
efforts around greater accuracy and coverage in databases
for both computer and paper rules Harpoon versions?
The development effort is on a very
tight schedule right now, so the potential benefits of this
project will most likely be realized through the efforts of
the community in modifying the game once it becomes available
Air operations are one of the hardest
things to manage well in earlier versions of Harpoon though
they are of course vital to CVBG operations. In most cases
players find it more productive to micro-manage aircraft rather
than assign them to AI controlled mission plans
as the latter are inflexible and not very realistic in their
execution. What tools will Harpoon4 include to provide
more robust AI controlled air operations? For example will
AI air strike missions still use straight lines and single
speed/altitude profiles when an attack is ordered?
As with any tool designed to conduct
a variety of complex actions such as planning air strikes,
there are always going to be elements that the user will be
more comfortable managing directly. Harpoon4 includes tools
that allow the user to send units on patrol and define their
behaviors in the event that they encounter a hostile unit.
Submarine control is also somewhat arbitrary
at higher levels of difficulty in the older versions of Harpoon. What
level of control will a player hove over submerged submarines
(other than if you are driving that sub as your flagship)
and will you be able to get them fresh orders on a more flexible
basis than once-every-so-many-waypoints?
In the current state, control of submerged
submarines is rather loose but of course there is going to
be a certain amount of adjusting as we proceed.
test is usually a good indication of a game nearing completion. Are
you planning for an external beta test and if so which quarter
of 2003 are you planning to have that testing begin? If
there is to be no external beta (Ultimation apparently wasnt
planning for that to happen at all), which quarter of 2003
should fans expect to be able to buy their own copy of Harpoon4?
As with most of Ubi Softs PC
titles, public beta testing will not be available. However,
extensive beta testing is already underway internally. We
are currently targeting fall of 2003 for the products
release. However due to the depth, detail and balanced gameplay
that wed like to achieve, we can only be sure the game
will ship when its been completely tested and polished.
At least one of the user development
communities around Harpoon has focused on developing ever
more vicious and sneaky AI. How will H4 shape up in the AI
department? For example, is the AI capable of mounting multi-axis
coordinated attacks to exploit opportunities that arise during
AI is always one of the most difficult
elements to get right, particularly in a product such as Harpoon
that deals with real world tactics and hardware. Right now
the AI does not have the capability to mount multi-axis coordinated
attacks on the fly but the possibility is definitely on the
table and is one of the top issues to work into the schedule.
Thanks guys! We appreciate your time
as do our readers.
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