Behind the LInes #6

By Scott Parrino 01 Jun 2003 0

Like the weather around here lately, this column will seem a bit "soggy". Things have been jumping on the naval computer game scene and many things need to be said so much of this piece will be nautical.

Neat Sites

Take2's Stronghold and Stronghold Crusader deserve more attention than they get. A rational and intuitive system, the detail in them is delightful. Fortunately, a strong if small community of devotees to these games exists. One site, Lord Wibbles Stronghold Links, serves as a portal to many fine Stronghold sites. Picking one was difficult but that's part of my job here. With a strong nod toward the Sword and Pistol Tavern, I chose HeavenGames Stronghold Heaven. Granted, HeavenGames is a professional outfit that creates fan site and should be able to create a superior site. Professionalism is a good thing, though, and the site throbs with enthusiasm for the games. The main page separates information on the two games clearly. Such clarity is needed because the amount of information is huge. Three FAQs cover most questions imaginable while the Game Info section lays out those details the manual missed in a highly accessible manner. Stuck on a mission. A strategy section gives good overall hints and, for the desperate, walkthroughs for most scenarios are available. Tutorials on the always-arcane task of map and scenario make take the edge off this sometimes-bewildering task. As usual, the cream of a good site is its community. The forums here are active and helpful. More importantly, players have uploaded an amazing number of historic castles, freebuild castles and every kind of scenario. The site maintains a "Ten Best" list and prominently the latest uploads. If players ever need more challenges, here they are. A utility section, interesting history articles and a multi-lingual links list round out a fine site. 

Keeping the Bubble Level

Electronic Arts and Sonanalysts Sub Command was actually a pretty good game when it came out. Dedicated modern submariners will not settle for "pretty good; they want "as accurate as possible." With the help of Sonalysts, a group of modders started the SCX project and have come out with the latest version. SCX II adds 100 new models to the database, adjusts torpedo performance and load out, changes sonar profiles and towed arrays, improves AI evasion and doctrine, and adds SOSUS sensors, SCUDs, SLAMs and SAMs. More importantly, the designer notes indicate that playability is still foremost in the minds of the design team. They realize that a simulation can be improved to the point where it's no longer fun to play.

Getting a Solid Return - The Harpoon Community

Few games have spawned the devotion Harpoon, a modern naval wargame, has. The count of retail versions stands at four (Harpoon, Harpoon II, Harpoon3 and Harpoon 97 Classic) with another (Harpoon IV) on the way - with luck.  To this list can be added products based on the two basic styles that can be bought on-line. This proliferation has created a very large community that generates large amounts of chatter and, inevitably, confusion. I'm not sure I understand all the ins-and-outs but I'll give an explanation a shot for the benefits of newcomers to the game. I'm sure veterans will correct me.

Retail Games:

Harpoon 97 Classic is an update of Harpoon Classic, a Windows version of the original. This game has set windows and is pretty austere when it comes to graphics and sound.

Harpoon II is a jazzed-up up sequel. The interface includes sizeable windows and a variety of keyboard and mouse combinations. The game sports much-improved graphics and sound.

Harpoon 3 was originally the Mac version of Harpoon II.

Games Available Only On-line

PC Harpoon 3 - Designer and proud new pappa Jesse Spears has continues to refine the Mac version and has expanded the system to the PC platform available on CD. The base Harpoon II game has been improved and expanded far beyond the original. The game now can use an ever-growing database to keep pace with events.

Harpoon Classic 2002 - This expansion and re-working of the original system is still only available as a download and requires Harpoon Classic 97 to be installed. However, as soon as beta testing of a platform editor is complete, the game will be available as a stand-alone CD. Matters may be confusing, though. The design team looked at a calendar and saw that 2002 was just soooo 2002 that a new name is needed. A "Name That Game" contest was started. I'm sure my entry. Harpoon: Queeg-Queeg on Steroids, will be a finalist.

Web Sites

Harpoon3 - This site is the portal to Jesse Spears and is the place to get the latest updates to Harpoon 3.

Harpoon HQ -  This place is fine starting point for all version of the series. Patches, scenarios, articles and links abound and is the home of the DB2000 database.

Harpoon Classic 2002 Upgrade -  A fine entry point into the world of Harpoon Classic 2002, this site contains information on what this upgrade really is and how to get it.

Lists:

Harpoon Users League List - The granddaddy of all Harpoon, this group covers the waterfront of not only the games but all things naval. The Iraq war reports here were almost as good as CNN.

Harpoon3 - This list seems more tightly focused and concentrates on bug, feature and database issues.

Harpoint - This list falls between the first two lists. Although it doesn't limit itself to Harpoon 3, the tendency is to stick with game issues.

A Serious Game Gets Even Better

So-called grognards are a strange lot. They complain about inaccuracy in historical games but either ignore or keep silent about games that are accurate in not glitzy. A case in point is Shrapnel Games' Combat Command series. Developed by my friend and first editor, David Erickson, these games model the nitty-gritty of World War II battalion combat. The graphics aren't splashy but the system and scenarios are so accurate that they inspire historical research. For instance, why did the Americans stall at the Huertgen Forest? The scenarios in this game provide guides into where to start looking for the answer to that ugly question. I applaud Shrapnel's decision to publish Combat Command: Danger Forward Gold Edition. This product has spruced up graphics and new scenarios from all parts of the European Theater of Operations.

Also laudable is Battlefront's retail version of Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord. Veterans of this series who have downloaded all the mods and scenarios might want to give this a miss but, like Panzer Elite Gold, newcomers will be able to enjoy a mature version of this groundbreaking series.

But This Is Just a Single Seater!

World War I flight enthusiasts go from feast to famine. Years ago, Red Baron 3D and Flying Corps hit the market at about the same time and caused a flurry of debate. Then, nothing serious is done for years. Now, suddenly, we have two, perhaps three, contenders for the bi-plane crown. CITY Interactive announced Wings of Honor due out on Q3 2003 while Aspect Simulations is producing Knights over Europe in 2004. Hovering around is the mysterious Birds of Prey by Wings with Wire. Wings of Honor is the closest to completion but information as to the exact timeframe it will cover and a list of aircraft is scant. The Knights over Europe page is equally quiet. Both games promise enhanced 3D graphics, many mission types and accurate flight models but their screen shots only show 1916-1918 aircraft, leaving off the fascinating early years, Birds of Prey has morphed into Dawn of Fighters, a less-ambitious version of the original concept aimed at a multi-player audience. Screenshots indicate earlier aircraft so I can still have my Fokker Eindecker.

Everything Old is New Again - Except Me

Old timers like me spent hours and survived verbal and written reprimands while playing Empire in all of its variations. Mark Kinkead and Killer Bee Software has given us our youth back with Empire Deluxe Internet Edition. Reasonably prices at $27.50, this game has all the addictive appeal and flexibility of Empire Deluxe with some multi-play enhancements. The real good news is that Mark will be releasing The Perfect General Internet Edition this summer followed by an enhancement pack to Empire. Young folks have something to look forward to; you can have fun without the glitter.

How to Blitz Without Really Trying

Bill Macon pointed out the incredibly detailed strategy guide for Strategic Command. Comprehensive and illustrated, this Adobe document is a nice accessory to a fine game.

Say It Ain't So - June 2003

Infogrames changed its name to Atari. I'm not surprised that a change was made; I always thought that "r" was a typo they didn't see until after the papers had been signed. However, raising a name linked with an old genre is weird. Is this company just going to do arcade and consoles? Does it think "Atari" has nostalgia value? Very confusing.

Patches (and Upgrades) on Parade (June 2003)

Due to The Wargamer's excellent collaboration with The Patches Scrolls, I no longer have to tediously key the intricate links into my descriptions of noteworthy patches; I'll just name them and explain them. I've used The Patches Scroll for years and can attest to the quality of their service.

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