First Look - Wolfpack

By James Cobb 24 Nov 2016 2

“Immersion” means different things to different players. Turn-based and RTS players identify so much with their units that they feel they are members of the force. Simulation and FPS players have even more visceral connections: they are virtually on the spot, spewing bullets and doing Split-Ss. Submarine simulations tend to combine both styles. The main position is the captain’s positions in the command center where he can pick targets by the periscope. He can also click on dials to control speed, course and depth. Some simulations can send players to specific compartments like engineering, fire control, sonar/radar, radio, even crew quarters via clicks on icons. Still, the player is in control with no real change in perspective. Skvader Studios’ – aided by Subsim.com -- Wolfpack gives a whole new dimension to submarine sims.

Levers, Switches and Dials

The platform for the game is a type VII U-boat, oddly named HMS Marulken. Using the mouse, players can run the dark but superbly textured length of the boat and stop at the three stations: control room, radio room and engineering. The control room’s main attraction is the periscope. When a target is found, the captain uses a prism-driven stadimeter to impose a ghost image over the vessel to measure distance with the help of slide rule, a ship identification book and a formula. Speed is measured by how long the target takes to sail its length; a crewman times the movement. All this data is entered into a Torpedo Data Computer, setting torpedo course. Firing is done with a click. Dials here repeats the sub’s speed and heading. Ladders from this room lead to the bridge and the top-side binocular-like UZO. Access to the deck and AA guns are also from this room. The captain and all other crew members can access a 2D map that contains functions to measure routes.

wolf parascope position

Where the enemy is spotted.

The radio room houses the radio, direction finder, radar and hydrophone. Radio frequencies can be selected with a dial and the antennae on the bridge can be rotated to find the direction of the signal. Messages can be sent and received if the right frequency is used. Messages can be encrypted and decrypted using an ENIGMA-like machine if both parties use the same code. The radar uses two displays: one for the bearing of a contact relative to the boat and one for distance. The hydrophone picks up contacts’ noise. The strength of the contact can be changed by widening or narrowing the “gain”. Both the radar and hydrophones receivers can be rotated.

The engine room is the nexus for speed, course, depth, battery level and recharging, and fuel consumption. The engineer must spin the steering wheel, pull and push levers to control speed and depth all the while watching the corresponding dials and meters – not to mention listening for the captain’s commands. Charging the batteries or directing their energy directly to the engines requires pushing at least three buttons in the right sequence. Little wonder why the chief engineer was key to the boat.

wolf radio room Enigma machine with incoming message

A shot of the coding machine and the frequency dial.

The Sweat is Real!

Sounds difficult? So it is. Oh, some players may want to make simulated runs back and forth the length of the sub to handle everything and the developers are considering making a solitaire version but this game’s charm is teamwork. In October, I was invited by Subsim.com maestro Neal Stevens to play one of his merry crew’s tests of the Alpha version. I accepted gleefully. I had to do homework first. First, I had to get the PC downloads here http://www.wolfpackgame.com/downloads.php (a Virtual Reality demo is available if players have the hardware). I ran through all four tutorials a few times to get the feel of the game and decided to be the engineer because the functions seemed the simplest. I then installed the free TeamTalk 5 app, http://bearware.dk/?page_id=353 , to allow hands-free communication with my mates. After the usual input of IP address, port and password, we set sail.

I was fortunate to join a group of “old hands” as engineer. My crew-mates were:

Captain: Ben
Navigator: Curtis
Radio Room: Matthew ( A Marine in real life)
Utility Man: Neal

As more than one crew member can be at a station, having a utility man is good to help with the many tasks and to keep a rookie from being too embarrassing.

wolf engine room

The engine room is no place for mistakes.

My incompetence came to light soon after Ben gave a new course. Not realizing how realistic the physics of the game are, I made the mistake of “chasing the needle” with the steering wheel. I kept the helm over hard, overshooting the compass point. In correcting, I overcompensated and missed the other way. I finally realized that I should start putting the helm amidships a bit before I reached the correct heading. Controlling speed and ballast also requires a light touch and feel for where the boat is and where it needs to go.

Meanwhile, Mathew picked up a contact and Ben ordered a new course to check it out. I managed to get close to the right course as Ben, Curtis and Mathew worked to set up a shot. Listening to them speak about, speed, angles and “gain” not only showed me how much work goes into a torpedo attack but how alone and cut off crewman in the back of the boat must have felt as other men took them into danger. I felt quite tense despite doing little.

Suddenly, somebody saw an attacker and Ben ordered a dive. Very tense now, I pulled the wrong lever and surfaced. The screen-shaking, booming climax was inevitable and we sank. The nice thing about simulations is that we can start again.

wolf torpedo controls

Data must be entered into the Torpedo Data Computer.

Our second cruise was more successful. With Neal keeping an eye on me, I steered better and was able to recharge the batteries when necessary as well as answer Ben’s questions on battery levels. I was fascinated by the crew’s chatter about submarining while we searched in a bay for targets. We found one on the surface and, since I was slow to come about and dive, one of the crew manned the deck gun and sank a ship. Finally, a contact was made at periscope depth and, after I got the boat out of reverse, the rest of the crew went through the painstaking process of a good torpedo hit. By this time, the excitement and tension had drained this old body dry so I bade my patient and generous mates farewell.

Wolfpack is still very much a work in progress. Regular updates describing the striving for accuracy and detail can be found on Subsim.com. When the finished product is available, players who want to feel some of the work, camaraderie, tension and horror of World War II undersea combat will have a splendid opportunity to do so.

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