Saturday, June 20, 2015

All Hands on Deck

First there were airplanes, then there were tanks, and now finally this Russian multiplayer online game developer is arriving at the warships aspect of their World War 2 era trilogy of combat sims.  For me, this is were things get really exciting.  Sure, I love dogfights and tank battles, but my real passion is naval warfare from Tsushima to Ten-Go.  Interestingly enough World of Warships reminds me a lot of something I played long, long ago...

One of the first games I ever played was on my cousins Intellivision.  It bore the rather self-explanatory title, Sea Battle.  This might sound a bit silly but as far as second generation consoles go, the game was surprisingly deep.  Two players face off against each other among a chain of islands in an unnamed ocean.  Thirteen ships are available for deployment from each player's respective harbor.  Up to four squadrons (consisting of up to three different vessels) can be formed and while the number and position of all active ships is clear from the strategic map, the composition of each squadron is something that each player decides in secret via the the controller inputs. When two rival squadrons get close either player can choose to start an engagement at which point the map zooms in and combat begins. Ships are true to their class in that battleships are tough, PT boats are maneuverable, and submarines use torpedoes instead of guns. Additionally, torpedoes go in a set direction hitting the first thing in their way, while guns, on the other hand, have a target zone that can shoot over land or even other vessels. Sinking happens when a ship takes too much damage from either enemy fire or do to running aground. Players can choose to disengage, but must survive 15 more seconds of combat after opting to withdraw.  Otherwise, the battle ends once one side has been completely annihilated.  

Damaged ships can be repaired and squadrons reorganized at their home port (up to a total of three time per side).  Special minelayer ships can spread up to four invisible minefields that damage or destroy enemy vessels should they pass through the area.  That is, unless the other player has a minesweeper in their squadron.  Total victory is achieved by one side maneuvering either their carrier or troop transport into their opponents harbor.  In this way it's theoretically possible to win without ever engaging the enemy fleet.  Obviously if one side looses both of these strategically important vessels, victory seems impossible.  However, it's actually still a possibility.  When both the carrier and troop transport on each team has been destroyed, the game enters a "sudden death" mode whereby the first player to sail any of their surviving ships into the opposing harbor wins the game.

There's also a number of subtle touches like the speed of squadrons being affected by the slowest ship.  Minesweepers, in particular, move at a snail's pace on the strategic map while clearing out mines.  Hence, it's possible to make educated guesses as to the composition of enemy squadrons.  Weapons have different range and damage ratings depending on the ships class, and even have little details like acceleration ratings.  As you can probably guess, battleships hit hard and have a lot of range, but aren't exactly agile.  Then again some of the other aforementioned vessels are generally weak in combat, but have valuable roles when it comes to the strategic part of the game.

I can only hope that Wargaming and Gaijin Entertainment take some of the lessons of this old game to heart.  Granted, Sea Battle had certain limitations necessitated by the hardware.  Still, I think that this old game really shined at a conceptual level.  At the very least I'd like to see submarines and auxiliary ships introduced to World of Warships.  I know submariners tend to think of themselves as the "silent service," but that doesn't mean they play a less important part than other aspects of naval warfare.  Besides, if video games had combined fleets that included submarines 25 years ago, I don't think it's too much to ask for them now.  

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