“Oh yes, somebody is remaking Harpoon!”
That was pretty much the reaction we received from the honoured guests at the Paradox Convention in New York this past January. We were there for the official announcement of Naval War: Arctic Circle, due for release a whopping full year into the future. Although we had a “playable” hidden away on our laptops that was showed off only to those who begged, bribed, or asked nicely, it left a few things to be desired. We mostly showed off unit model renders and a few scenic clips of warships at sunset (a modern take on the Norwegian kitsch classic “Moose in sunset”).
In game marketing, assets are king, and showing actual gameplay is the king of kings. Two dudes chatting away are unlikely to get a lot of attention amidst all the shiny medieval knights and zany wizards. Yet Naval War did excite a lot of people, and we received quite a bit of attention.
Because controlling aircraft carriers, blowing up massive warships, and launching armadas of mighty warplanes is the shit.
And, since the revered Harpoon and the not-so-revered Fleet Command, modern naval combat has not exactly overcrowded the field of strategy games in recent years.
In developing the game, we are in the process of finding out why. All those challenges that probably made many other developers scrap their plans and instead create yet another original take on the zombie apocalypse are ones that we have to confront head-on.
First, there is the size of the darned thing. That is, the planet we are living on, a significant chunk of which is going to be your play area in Naval War. The playable area is 35 million square kilometres. By comparison, the 2007 real-time strategy (RTS) game Supreme Commander had maps spanning, as GameSpot put it, “a whopping 81 km-by-81 km,” which is roughly 6,500 square kilometres. So, obviously, the usual game mechanic for large maps - fast zoom in and out - will simply not work. If you don’t believe me, try zooming in to minimum elevation in Google Earth, back out to world view again, pan to a different location, and zoom in to see the ground details in the new place. It will simply not be a good solution when you’re under heavy fire in an RTS.
Game producer Fredrik Sundt Breien discussing user interface design with project AD Øyvind Lien.
We are currently doing a complete redesign of our first user interface. We know that the main map is going to be the default play interface no matter what, given the nature of the game, so we are concentrating on making it beautiful, practical, and informative, though not necessarily in that order. “But,” I hear you say, “we want to watch things being blown up!” No worries. Things will be blown up in spectacular, colourful 3D. You (and we!) just have to wait and see.
Second, there is realism. A major draw of Naval War is the fact that you will play with real ships, submarines, and aircraft. Naturally, this means we have to research and implement the cruise speed of the yet-unfinished F-35 fighter, the number of CIWS Gatling guns on a Kirov class battlecruiser (lots!), the range of the Raduga KH-22M 'AS-4 Kitchen' missile, and the detection ranges of the MGK-540 Flank Array Sonar (we can only guess).
Game programmer Andreas Johansen working on the network code.
Some players will demand excessive realism, which would be fun to make and fun to play - for roughly two dozen people. For example, in real life, aircraft carriers have to manoeuvre into the wind to launch aircraft. That is simply not a very fun exercise in a game, we think. So in Naval War, you can launch aircraft at maximum take-off weight with tailwind. Totally unrealistic, but we don’t care.
When we see a conflict between realism and gameplay, gameplay will win every time.
Luckily, these conflicts are not very frequent. Real, modern naval combat actually lends itself very well to an RTS. Yes, the weapons have ridiculous range and power. Yes, when things start happening, they happen extremely fast. One moment you are looking at a map showing your forces in complete control of the battlespace; the next, you are on the receiving end of a game-ending volley of fast sea-skimming missiles and desperately trying to scramble your remaining aircraft.
What’s not to love?