Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TLAM’s, Torpedoes, and All That

I’m a peace loving old guy who enjoys a good war simulation once in a while. There, I said it. In the mid- to late nineties I was obsessed with military flight sims like Falcon 3.0, Jane's F-15, Jane's F/A-18, Total Air War, and Falcon 4.0 (with the occasional WWII air combat sim thrown in for good measure – European Air War and Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator 2 were my faves). I also dabbled in civilian flight sims (Microsoft Flight Simulator and a few others), but I never really got into those weaponless sims until I started taking real flying lessons and could use MFS to practice navigation and other skills I needed in the real airplane. I always preferred the more realistic "study sims," and while I enjoyed the technical and procedural complexity, I have to admit I also enjoyed blowing stuff up. What can I say?  I wasn’t exactly a skilled virtual fighter pilot, but I didn't mind a long learning curve and I could handle the acronym-rich environment (BVR, HOTAS, AMRAAM, BFM, SAM, HUD, TFR, SA, MFD, etc.). Once I got my private pilot license in 2001, I pretty much lost interest in flight sims until 2005 when I discovered the Orbiter space flight simulator (we’ll call this a flight sim too).

The only other “video game” category I ever spent time with was naval warfare simulations – first Harpoon (a naval war game) and later a few different submarine sims, especially Jane's 688(i) Hunter/Killer. Unlike air combat, submarine warfare is a game of stealth, evasion, and patience where in real life an engagement can extend over days or even longer. Sub sims shorten this with time acceleration and other compromises while retaining a certain degree of realism in sensors, ocean acoustics, weapons, etc., but sub sim sessions can still last for hours. Save your game!

Now for a limited time (until I lose interest and/or patience), sub sims are back with an impulse buy of Sonalyst’sDangerous Waters.” This 2005 game comes from the team that developed Jane’s 688(i) but it’s more advanced in various ways, and allows you to control additional “platforms” for ASW (antisubmarine warfare), a surface ship and two aircraft (a helicopter and a fixed-wing patrol plane). You can also control some Russian subs. It’s an awful lot to learn and relearn, so I’m concentrating on the somewhat familiar 688(i) Los Angeles class of submarine

I’ve gotten my feet wet (so to speak) with a couple of training missions from the web. There’s a lot to worry about so I’m relying on a number of automated assistants to help me with sonar and weapons. I’ve been working with the different sonar modes, learning again to hide under “the layer” to avoid detection, launching a few TLAM’s (Tomahawk Land Attack Missile), and waiting for the inevitable “torpedo in the water” messages from my “crew.” So far I haven’t done too well even with all this help, but it’s fun. I’m not really sure why studying a complex piece of software that simulates underwater warfare is “fun,” but somehow it is.

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