SimHQ's Naval game of the year 2007
 

This is the story of how it was made...

In new window Diary 1 on YouTube

In new window Diary 2 on YouTube

In new window Diary 3 on YouTube

In new window Interview with Producer Emil Gheorge on YouTube

In new window Documentary trailer on YouTube

StateGraph Editor for crew AI In new window

Silent Hunter 4 – Interface

Silent Hunter is a special type of game, in which the player makes great use of the 2D interface by using the mouse and the keyboard. You just can’t play Silent Hunter with a joystick. This means we had to work heavily on the game interface.

New additions

The interface is very scalable and can run in any resolution greater than 1024*768. Basically, the available screen resolutions reported by DirectX are only a restriction to the game. This means the game can run at any aspect ratio, on any monitor: 4:3, 5:4, 16:9, 16:10 etc. So, go ahead and buy the HD monitor you want, Silent Hunter 4 will make full use of it. We tested the game and looks great on 37" HD monitors.

The 2D menu engine now has integrated animations that allows for auto hiding (in the HUD, museum and periscope). The player can now configure the interface by hiding the unnecessary items:


The resizing of items (for the dials in the HUD) is used to provide more information to the player when is needed. When changing the submarine’s course, the dial increases in size to clearly see the bearings written on it. This is even more useful when playing in HD resolutions:

More complex, in game windows-like controls

The new interface makes use of lists that can contain any 2D object, including combo boxes that each one has a new list of its own. The designers can create HTML like mission descriptions displayed directly in the game, containing texts and images that can be scrolled. You can’t see this in many games. These features allow the designers to imagine interfaces not possible before and eliminate cluttered screens that damage the gameplay.

Customizable interface

Parts of the interface are created at runtime, based on text files that can be easily modified by designers (and by the players, to create MODS):

 

What can I say? From my point of view, the AI rocks!

Intro:

We have started developing the new AI features for SH4 based on the rock solid AI from SH3. Our task was to improve even more on the existing code and add enhancements like planes firing torpedoes, the adversarial mode, tuning the enemy tactics according to the battle of Pacific, etc. Together with the guys from the design team, we have established a list of "must have" features that would enhance the game play and the overall game experience. We have focused on adding the realities of the Pacific WW2 into the game together with making the game more appealing on the network-game side.

How did we do it?

Planning was done in a series of meeting (more or less formal) between the design and the development teams. The outcome of these meetings was a better understanding of the requirements for both sides and a series of specifications on which to write the code. These meetings were extended during the whole AI dev time to ensure that the new stuff is correctly understood and implemented and that each of the enhancements successfully improves the game experience as desired. During these meetings, the design team provided great feedback so that we could accomplish all the milestones we have set, according to our quality and time requirements.

The first days were rather difficult. We had to take ownership of the existing code, which was quite a lot. Luckily, Cristi Mihalache, the previous "AI-master" from SH3, provided great help and assistance to smoothly pass through this transition phase. I have to thank Cristi for patiently answer all my questions! The next step was to make some architectural changes and refactorings to ensure that we could easily add the new features. This was quite tricky since we had to make sure that we don't break the code in the process. Then, the new features came one by one, as desired and as planned. Continuous feedback and reviews ensured that we could surpass each challenge that we faced in the process.

The first impression is one of success, as everything appears to work fine; the first tests show it :)

What is the game providing?

The Multiplayer system is very important as it allow the players to experience another dimension of the game.

Silent Hunter 4 allows the players to hunt together (Wolfpack mode) in a LAN or Online game or even to play against each other (Adversarial mode).

The wolfpack mode is similar to the one from Silent Hunter 3, where the players go together to sink the enemy ships around them.

The new Adversarial mode allows the player playing on the Server machine to issue commands to the enemy fleet; the mission of the other players will be to sink as many ships as possible while the mission of the Server will be to prevent the others from achieving their objective.

How is our multiplayer system built?

In every existing game the multiplayer allows the synchronization of elements (like ships, planes, cars, etc.) between different computers in a network or over the Internet (of course, we’re talking about games that HAVE multiplayerJ). But in Silent Hunter 4 this system is used for some other things also. We are using it to implement the Save, Load and Replay features of the game, so it is a system that functions event when not playing a multiplayer game (Single Mission, Career Mission).

Every time an object in our world (by object we understand any ship, plane, weapon on a ship, etc.) does something on your computer it sends a message to all the other computers so that the same object will do the same thing everywhere.

This information is also saved in files on the local disk. Depending on the game type and length these files can have sizes between a few KB to a few hundred MB.

The messages stored in these files are used to implement the Save, Load and Replay.

What else is the game providing?

You will be able to view a replay of what you have played in a single, career or multiplayer game.

When viewing a replay, the game will load the initial map (the map when starting the game) in its initial conditions. The game will be put in multiplayer mode, but you are actually alone there. Then multiplayer messages will be taken from the files previously saved and pumped into the game. So, when viewing a replay is like playing a multiplayer game, except that the network input is not coming from the actual network but from the files on your hard disk.

You will be able to increase/decrease speed, jump to the future and so on. You will even be able, by just pressing a button, to stop the data streaming from the files, switch back to single player game and just take control of your Sub! So, if you have done something that you don’t like you will just have to start a replay, go to the bad decision point and do something else! And all that through the multiplayer module :)!

This system is also used for loading. Actually, the loading of a game means that a replay is executed with fast forward speed (of course, in order to meet performance needs only the most important messages are taken from files in this case, all the others will be discarded).

Around the world:

In SH3 the world was kind of flat and the ships were very stubborn in not crossing the line when reaching the end of the map by turning 180 degrees. The Pacific Ocean was split in two beyond recognition. The first thing to do was to put everything on a cylinder so that the map scrolls, fish from both sides of the Pacific are reunited, the first AI trip around the world is actually possible and second if we have time, to fix all the tools and game maps.

At some point the cylinder was spinning but something looked kind of wrong, same blue map and boring land. The look and feel of SH3 map was a compromise then, but now things could get much better with the new minimum requirements of the game. Pixel Shader 2.0 was going to solve the blue and sad map in which most of you spent days and years in time compression, probably turning your face blue J (except for the night watch, but probably you already have red light in your room if you’re reading this).

The first game map design proposal looked good but there were lots of things to do to get there. First we’ve introduced the location editing system to put on map the 3D locations much easily and also to put 2D images and notes and started tuning things up. In short time the 2D aspect of the map was a great leap forward. The game designers were quite happy … which is kind of unusual because most of the time they like to torture me with all kinds of game feature requests that frightened some other programmers too :).

The game had a lot of old code that had to be sand blasted, repaired and repainted. The map scaling on multiple resolutions forced us to compromise for speed. In other places like the editor the situation looked much better and now one can edit easier than before and with new features included: the campaign, missions, map aspect and mission logic.I hope that the new capabilities will allow you to put in the game everything that we forgot or didn’t have a priority for it.

ARBORS & CITIES

Having a whole planet at your disposal is not always a good thing. Especially when you need to built cities and harbors to populate this planet.

The majority want to see something “uber”, mega, hipper cool looking city… you have a radius of visibility of 20 km and you are alone. Scary, isn’t it!

If we think on Earth as it is in Silent Hunter IV to add harbors and cities to all that landmass it could became a pain if you need to do it traditionally like… take that tree put it there, take that building put it there. You may start to have nightmares and convulsions during the night and an old looking in the morning.

I’ve tried such a way in SH III and I indeed had nightmares… and… an old … looking… yeah!

Plus that you can’t have tons of polygons to make houses to look as it should look. When I think on cities I need to build in Silent Hunter IV I’m feeling like a cave man. A modern one!

In the 1st day - I’ve started with building a generic city and a generic forest. Combined this two and obtained a city surrounded by forest. I put those two things on the land and it looked good.

In the 2nd day - I’ve changed the vegetation with a winter one… and was looking good too. Still don’t have the courage to start a more offensive operation at a macro level. I was quite safe in my cave!

In the 3rd day – I’ve made kits for winter, summer, tropical, autumn… etc. All looks good at a first glance.

In the 4th day – I talk with programmers to not force me to put all by hand on that land mass. They said that it will be ok but I was still afraid.

In the 5th day – Programmers thinking!

In the 6th day – I’ve discussed with the thinking programmers … cause they always find a way to forgot what you asked them (I can understand them cause sometime are too crowded by “taskforces”)… and we found a solution… the city and forest where spread automatically all over the landmass and the city tiles had a controllers of urbanism level on them that allowed to show/hide some buildings according with a RAW data file for urbanism and a controller in the editor. The result was good. And all was happy.

In the 7th day – The Managers came and they said that the landscape look like …

In the 8th day – All where depressed…

In the 9th day – Still depressed…

In the 10th day – We made some changes on textures – just for quays. All the rest had remain the same. And we also made some new tiles with small improvements. We stay in the face of fate with pride.

In the 11th day – The mangers came! They saw the new look and they “fell in love” with it… with a small comment: They want it too look more Far Cry like. And we all fall in depression… again.

In the 12th day - We adjusted the vegetation and other stuff and we add a nice platform to the city tiles to not place it directly on ground and to look like a sky scraper in a farm courtyard. Was an acceptable compromise!

In the 13th day – The Mangers came and we don’t let them to say nothing cause we understand that the whole cities look like Greece, because of that platform but, because of the slope of the terrain and the huge amount of cities that we should have, we prefer to look like Greece even in Japan than to look like a skyscraper on a farm’s courtyard or to look like .

In the 14th day – I was thinking on how GOD could create the whole Universe in 7 day. I had conclusion that I was scared of. That day I was afraid to go outside to not be hit by a lightning.

Now I have nightmares with the number 7 and 14… and I hear voices. But the result on cities is quite OK… yeah, even if they look like Greece! Now I need to go over another task: How I can make people on the coning tower, Control room and … other people wherever they are… to look alive… GOD, this is so scary!

 

Here are some screenshots, click the name to show/hide. Some screenshots are from the debug version.


















In new window Subsim: 87/100

In new window IGN: 8.8/10

In new window Gamespy: 3/5

In new window Computer Games.ro: 85/100

In new window SimHQ: Naval game of the year 2007

In new window Subsim - The great guys in the community

In new window Silent Hunter III Official web site

In new window Silent Hunter III at IGN

In new window Silent Hunter IV Official web site

In new window Silent Hunter IV at IGN

This page is "work in progress"... Came back again to see more...