For my April one game a month challenge I “finished” my submarine game. Finished is in quotes because there are still things I want to improve but it’s playable. It’s unlike other submarine games in the sense that there are no battle tactics, only conversational tactics. And unlike the last post on this game, it now has a title: Scapa Flow.
Scapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland which served as a base for the British Grand Fleet during both World Wars. The base closed in 1956 with only three known u-boat incursions. The title of the game alludes to the frustrations on both sides of the war: the English feared u-boat infiltration and the Germans knew that successfully attacking Scapa Flow was a pipe dream.
I have previously written about some of the design rationale. This post is about the current state of the game.
If you want to play the game please contact me as it’s in private beta right now.
Scapa Flow Gameplay
The player takes on the role of commanding a German U-boat during the First World War. They navigate open waters near a coast with relatively heavy shipping and protection from the British Royal Navy. The goal is to sink British ships while not getting caught, you can be caught by engaging with a civilian ship giving away your location or a British ship finding you.
Scapa Flow is set before February 1915 when the Germans announced that they were engaging in unrestricted submarine warfare. Which means that the player needs to discern which is an enemy combatant ship and which isn’t. There is only one clear way of doing this in the game as some civilian-looking ships are actually Royal Navy ships. The way to figure out foe from anyone else is to use radio.
The use of radio in the Great War was amateur at best because of the newness of the technology and a lack of training on how to use it. In the game, I made it so the only use of radio is for conversations with nearby ships. This may be a bit of a stretch but it gives the player agency beyond guessing. If you’re interested in learning more about radio at this time you can read Wireless Waves in the World’s War.
There is no clear way to win the game and that is on purpose. In Scapa Flow game, even if you “win” by sinking enemy ships you’re not rewarded for it. The only thing that permits the player to keep playing is to not bring the Declaration of Paris – which is harder than you think!
The goal of the game is to point out the rules of engagement that were used in the early stages of the Great War. When talking about the early land war I often find people reference cavalry charges against tanks (which is a myth and not even during WW1); however, there is truth to the claim that generals were having to relearn how to fight. New technology and powerful weapons literally change the shape of the battlefield. Having to adjust to new techniques was not isolated to just land battles – it extended to sea battles too.
At the start of the war the British and French destroyed German surface shipping. Britain had the largest navy at the time and the Germans were considered quite weak. So, the Germans were essentially blockaded – except for their u-boats. Now the tides had turned and the weaker naval force could cause considerable damage.
The Germans were able to sink Royal Navy ships but they also wanted to stop war material shipping. This posed a problem of whether or not naval warfare ought to follow the ‘old’ rules of the sea. That means military ships should only attack other military ships and not attack civilians – as that would be considered piracy. At first, the Germans followed the anti-piracy rules known as the Declaration of Paris.
Captains were supposed to message merchant ships, let them know you’re searching their ship. Then, if something is found, let the crew evacuate the ship. Thus leaving the ship to be scuttled or taken as a prize. The problem with all of this, is that u-boats need to surface to do so.
A surfaced submarine is vulnerable. The British (knowing that the Germans were following the prize rules) started putting hidden guns on merchant ships so when a u-boat surfaced near a merchant ship the u-boat was vulnerable and could be attacked.
The Germans were told that if they used their u-boats to target merchants that the USA would enter the war. America entering the war so early would increase the probability that the Germans would lose the war and lose access to the material the Americans were selling to both sides.
All this time, the French and British submarines were sitting essentially idle at dock with nothing to shoot at.
Nobody wins in the Great War, one side just lost less.
Designing the game:
Like other months, I create some design goals or challenges for myself. As always, there are technical limits (or new tools) I place on myself and thematic tasks too. This time around I had two technically related choices set out for myself:
On the thematic side, I wanted to explore making a serious game that had a short gameplay experience which could encourage a class discussion. This worked out quite well for a game built starting at a jam as the scope wasn’t insane.
As you can gather from the above description of the game play I likely went too far in scope. At the same time, it’s a short and simple game. It took some time to get back up to speed on some Unity things but once I did, everything started to progress at an OK rate.
Using Unity was a good decision, and most of the games I make for the rest of the year will be in Unity (That being said, my next game uses GameSalad).
I should have been able to do all of this in C#, instead I decided to use PlayMaker and I’m not sure it made things easier.
Playmaker is a visual editing tool that is designed for people who aren’t familiar with programming. At first I was pretty impressed by it as it’s obvious that one can build an entire game using PlayMaker. By the end of working on Scapa Flow I found it frustrating. The reason for this is less PlayMaker than it is me starting to learn C#.
If you are planing on making a game using PlayMaker I suggest that you use only PlayMaker and to not try to integrate text-based scripting with it. Another thing to keep an eye on is how you use the scripting on game objects in Unity. I decided to create a camera controller script separate from the conversations players have with ships and this ended up being more trouble than it was worth. If I was to do this again, I would structure the game objects in a more logical way for PlayMaker whereas the structure I used makes sense for non-visual scripting.
To be honest, there are still some bugs in the game which I’m squashing as I work on May’s game. Keeping up with getting a game a month completed is harder than I predicted (no shock there) and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back on pace soon. Still, some progress is better than no progress.
Regardless, I may need to decrease my scope for the rest of the year’s projects.
Here’s a rundown of what I want to do with the game before making a big release:
- More play testing
- Finish accompanying lesson plan
- Fix minor game bugs
- Add more conversation branches
- Get it working on tablets (maybe)
Once those are complete I’ll put the final game out in the wild.
As with many recent projects, I must thank Ali for a whole bunch of help.