While I’m out there hustling (well, as much as hustling is possible at 1/3 speed) through the middle of Bay of Biscay, let’s talk some terminology. Things like crash dives, ballast blowing, silent running and torpedo impact. All of these things are part of your Silent Hunter III experience, but let me tell you about the most fascinating part of the game that you will get to know intimately: your navigational chart.
After the jump, who knew charts could talk?
You start out a patrol with literally a blank slate of empty map grids and vague land outlines. But when you come back, that humble chart tells the story of your patrol as assuredly as if it had a voice. That stately line of Xs along the British coast, going from southeast to northwest and terminating in a red broken ship silhouette? That was a long range report of a vague sighting followed by an emergency speed rush to the interception area ending with a textbook sinking with a small spread of forward torpedoes, of course. That cluster of concentric circles and mess of hash marks inside going every which way? A failed ambush followed by a frantic series of evasive maneuvers and a slow, slow slinking away while hungry destroyers strain to hear the faintest sound from below. By the end of a fruitful (or even not) patrol your chart will become an old friend, littered with failed interception plots, successful evasion patterns, sunken wrecks and lots and lots of ranging circles. When you return to the game after a break, no matter how long, you will be able to read your chart as a sort of “story so far” summation of events. Add to that the current torpedo and diesel reserves and you now know everything about the state of your patrol.
Patrols in Silent Hunter III are fairly simple things — your orders are invariably to go to a grid that’s historically assigned to the Flotilla you’re in. You can transfer between Flotillas to change the shape of your patrol, but generally it is up to you and the game’s dynamic traffic generator to create stories. After 24 hours spent patrolling the grid assigned to you by Befehlshaber der U-Boote (BdU, the commander in chief of submarine forces) you can range freely towards your nearest shipping lanes. This part may not be historically accurate (you wouldn’t want to range into another U-Boot’s hunting area) but as SH3’s oceans are devoid of allied subs, you’re safe from friendly fire. So in our case, once we fulfill the obligatory 24 hours in good old DJ18, we shall see what our fuel store looks like and go seeking out trouble wherever it may be.
Several of these variables like fuel reserves or other restrictions can be set in the game’s comprehensive “realism” menu; you can change this prior to every mission which gives it nice flexibility if you’re starting to feel over — or underwhelmed by the opposition. I tend to play at 65%, which gives me realistic almost everything including dud torpedoes, realistic reload time, and ship sinking time (which affects how long you get to stick around a slowly sinking target, thus risking exposure). But I draw the line at manual targeting. There’s just too much to do for one person there.
With all of that behind us, we can get on with business and just in time. We get a sighting report (typically just a note on the map received from a friendly unit nearby) and a radio report from HQ. The former is a single merchant, but HQ has news of a convoy at medium speed. If this was later in my patrol I might hesitate on target selection, but as I have a full load of torpedoes and ample maneuvering fuel, there’s no choice at all: convoy it is.
I plot a quick intercept course based on the convoy’s estimated speed and direction. Would you like to know how to plot an intercept course? Of course you would! Well, it involves two vectors (one for your speed and one for target estimate) — vector is a fancy word for a line of a certain length — one circle, and two angles. I leave the rest up to you while I make my chart a little more busy.
This whole patrol has been very sunny and calm. While great for sunbathers, this climate is terrible for the business of underwater skulking as any non-standard sea feature (such as a periscope) tends to stand out quite a bit, and anything shiny (like the lens of said periscope) glinting in the wrong direction will catch the eye very quick. I determine to submerge farther out than usual when we drop out of warp. Er, that is 1024x time acceleration for covering the intervening 200km.
It is nearly four thousand miles into our journey and we dive for the first time into the clear shining blue waters between Spain and Morocco, 350km off of Gibraltar. In theory we’re ahead of schedule, and now the tension starts to mount. Are we too early as we thought, or did they accelerate as they were coming closer to home? My interception chart looks right, but so much is unknown. My estimate means that they should be here in no more than an hour, and so we wait. Making things worse is another contact report over the wireless with a second convoy moving slow north of us. If we go now, we might make it — but I have to see this one through.
The problem with this part of the sea appears to be twofold. One, it’s always great weather. I guess several million British can’t be wrong about their chosen vacation spot. And two, it’s big. Distances and maneuvers that cover an entire nation’s coast in the North Sea seem like no movement at all, here. Somewhere out there in the several thousand square kilometers that I can’t cover that convoy sails blithely on. It was probably going to Casablanca or Gibraltar; either case puts it far north of me at this point. I change course and charge at flank speed north to see if I can intercept the other, and damn the fuel consumption. Our odds of ever making it to DJ18 drop even lower.
Tomorrow: Do you actually get to sink anything in this game?
Click here for the previous Silent Hunter III entry.
Marcin Manek has been playing games since Pong and BASIC programs from the back of magazines on the ZX Spectrum. He now codes, reads, plays games and explores Oregon with his wife and 1 year old.