AGSI ceases development of computer Harpoon

November 7, 2013 · Posted in Harpoon 1 (Classic), Harpoon 2, Harpoon 3 · Comment 

According to AGSI’s president Don Gilman, the company has stopped any development on any of its Harpoon titles:

Advanced Gaming Systems Inc (AGSI) has suspended further enhancement of the commercial version of the Harpoon software products after more than two decades.  The commercial licensing rights have been returned to Mr. Bond and Mr. Carlson.

Mr. Gilman has provided more details on his personal blog:

We made the decision over 25 years ago to focus on simulation accuracy, precision, and utility as our graphics were state of the art at that time. Today, the market’s taste has changed and we were not successful in building a business case to develop The Next Generation Harpoon.

When most of us started on this journey we were young, single, childless, and the Internet didn’t bring trolls into our faces.  The market wasn’t filled with competing “I don’t want to think” products, phones only had buttons, music came on cassettes.  Facebook, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and those pesky Birds didn’t exist either to compete for the time and minds of the world.

The WarfareSims site will continue to host Harpoon scenarios & databases until further notice, while devoting our development resources to Command.

Matrix to release combined ANW/HCE pack

June 18, 2010 · Posted in Harpoon 1 (Classic), Harpoon 3 · 10 Comments 

As announced yesterday at the Matrix forums by Erik Rutins:

Harpoon: Ultimate Edition and Our Philosophy

There has been a great deal of discussion, debate and argument over the past, present and future path of the Harpoon simulations on the computer. Here at AGSI and Matrix, we’ve listened to what has been said. Thought long and hard about the issues raised, and made some decisions regarding Harpoon’s future that will hopefully make all fans of the series happy, both those who have played it in the past and those who still play it. We hope that explaining the philosophy behind our decisions will help clear the air and remove some of the confusion and misinformation that has been part of the complex history of these games. The new "Harpoon: Ultimate Edition" which is due to be released this summer will be the realization of these decisions and this philosophy and we hope that it will serve the existing community well, and continue to attract new naval warfare fans to Harpoon.
We will be releasing a great deal more information on Harpoon: Ultimate Edition over the next month, but here are the highlights. Harpoon: Ultimate Edition will include both a new version of Harpoon 3 Advanced Naval Warfare and a new version of Harpoon: Commander’s Edition. These will be together in one package at a price below the current combined price of both games. In addition, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Harpoon and to give fans who still enjoy playing the older versions a great archival edition, we will be including every previous version of Harpoon that we have access to in this package. That means over 20 classic versions of Harpoon, including Harpoon 3 (v3.6.3) and many previous versions of Harpoon Commander’s Edition / Harpoon Classic. This will allow players who have databases or scenarios tied to these older versions to continue to enjoy them for years to come, and it will also allow new players who purchase the Ultimate Edition access to this rich older content. We believe this comprehensive bundle, unlike any that has previously been released for Harpoon on the computer, represents a digital history and "Collector’s Edition" of Harpoon that every Harpoon gamer will want to have on their shelf for years to come.

As far as our philosophy, AGSI’s and Matrix’s position on the Harpoon simulations is simple. They are computer implementations of the Bond/Carlson Harpoon system models (aka the Admiralty Trilogy models). Bond and Carlson also have tabletop miniatures implementations of their models. When Harpoon was first coded in 1987-1989 AGSI tried to follow the 3rd Edition of those rules as faithfully as 8088 CPU’s and 640k of RAM would allow. Many of the missing pieces have been added over the twenty years since then and the Harpoon Commander’s Edition actually includes elements of the 4th edition models.

Harpoon 3 was born of Harpoon II written in 1994-1995 by a previous team of very skilled programmers. However, they didn’t have a lot of former Naval Officers on their team and they didn’t ask Bond or Carlson a whole lot of questions. Since regaining control of the property in 2000, AGSI has been steadily correcting course and bringing the Harpoon 3 product closer and closer to the 4th and now 5th edition of models. We believe that we are uniquely positioned among all naval simulations in this regard by having official access to the Bond/Carlson modeling concepts and experience, which means that we are able to bring you the state of the art in naval warfare simulations at the unclassified level.

There are some people in the Harpoon community who don’t like change; they are content with what they have and they want to hold onto their contributions. That’s their privilege and in fact by releasing the Ultimate Edition, we are making it easier than ever to play the version of Harpoon that you prefer. But, we want to make it clear that we aren’t going to sit still when the state of the art is advancing. Harpoon 3’s primacy is in the modeling and that is only true because it is the Bond/Carlson models. This is why military professionals around the world have used the product for training, education and analysis.

We believe that continuing to improve the fidelity of the simulation and continuing to advance the state of the art for computer Harpoon is the best way to serve our customers. Harpoon on the computer should always look forward and continue to improve along with the latest improvements and updates from the system models, rather than look back. We give credit to Harpoon’s past on the computer, but its future is not in backwards compatibility, but rather in continuing to improve along with the authoritative state of the art models from Bond and Carlson that are simply not available anywhere else.

Given this philosophy, we will still place a high value on feedback, and we always appreciate valid defect reports (aka bugs). However, because of Harpoon’s complex history there are many issues that are specific to older databases or scenarios not of AGSI’s or Matrix’s making that haven’t kept up with the modeling changes. We are responsible for the official databases and scenarios, and for informing the public regarding what changes each update entails. Third party designers are responsible for their own scenarios in this regard. If we have to choose between improving the simulation or maintaining backwards compatibility with third party data and scenarios, we will choose the former. We realize some fans of Harpoon may prefer to stay with older versions for whatever personal reasons, which is part of why we decided with the Ultimate Edition to include as many of the older Harpoon versions as we could fit into a single release. This allows us to meet the needs of both parts of the community – those that want the simulation to advance and those that want compatibility with older databases and scenarios.

It’s also worth noting that in the past, we have heard a great deal from people who have never been to sea, who have never been trained as naval (or air) professionals, have never programmed or created a full database, with strongly worded opinions on how our simulation is supposed to behave. While constructive feedback from our customers is always welcome, we believe that the work by Bond and Carlson should be our guide in terms of how the simulation should work. As many Harpoon fans are aware, this community has seen some very unfortunate events in its history that have given rise to online flame wars, personal attacks and questions of intellectual property; both between community members and in terms of some copyrighted materials. We hope to see the end of this with the steps we are taking for the Ultimate Edition release and for the future of Harpoon. We want to make it clear that we will not accept non-constructive feedback on our official forums in the future. However well intended or misguided, this has caused harm to the game and the community and we will not allow that to continue.

As far as the User Interface goes and overall game functionality – we really do want useful feedback and ideas. We want databases, scenarios, and artwork. Our new encryption feature will help protect an author’s investment in their database work, so that there should be no future concerns about data being stolen or "borrowed". We can also add scenario encryption if need be (ditto for original artwork).

Now as far as defects are concerned, there is a right way and a wrong way to report these. First, due to our limited resources and the seemingly endless permutations of data and game engines once third party databases and scenarios are added to the mix, we will automatically reject any claimed defects on our sites if they are not reproduced in the ANWDB or the HUD3 databases. We will take responsibility for correcting those defects that can be reproduced in one of the two aforementioned databases with the latest official release. We reserve the right to reclassify defects into bugs (something we’ll prioritize for fixing), feature requests (stuff that folks want but the game doesn’t currently have), user knowledge (i.e. user doesn’t understand how the model works) and unsupported functionality (a user who does something with the game or scenario editor that we hadn’t thought of and thus hadn’t tested).

Secondly, to report a defect, we kindly request that you use this template. If you are consistent in the quality of your reporting we will set you up with direct access to our web based bug tracker "Mantis".
1. Database name and version
2. Scenario name
3. Screen shot(s)
4. Expected behavior
5. Witnessed behavior
6. Desired behavior
7. Notes
8. Any saved games, scenario files, and logs zipped up and emailed to us can only help.

Generally speaking, the operating system or computer configuration has nothing to do with how the simulation runs, so these are not crucial details for our purposes.

Allow us to explain how this works. First, we have very limited resources due to the very small audience of bright people who really understand modern air/naval warfare and buy a Harpoon product every few years. As a consequence, our underpaid programmer(s) really don’t enjoy hunting through 15-year-old C++ code originally written by a previous development team on a death march without a clear report to guide them. They would rather be adding new features and functionality. So, the clearer the report, the easier it is to reproduce the defect, the more likely it is that it will be found and fixed. At the end of the day we only have so much time.

This also goes for our forums. As we explained above, we will no longer be accepting lists of bugs related to third party unofficial databases or scenarios. If you find an issue, please duplicate it with an official database and scenario before reporting it and please report it as noted above. Otherwise, you’ll have to seek out the owner of that third party product for assistance.

We want to provide the best possible simulation given the resource limitations. If you want to help, work with us, not against us. We have a long history of volunteers making a positive difference, politely and professionally. Our volunteers have received written credit, some swag, bragging rights, and a few even made some beer money for their efforts. We need scenario authors, database editors/authors, artists, testers and maybe some day, investors. Part of our philosophy and the policy stated above is to give credit to, and work with the members of our community who have put in their time to support Harpoon and who are willing to work with us as we continue to improve.
Thank you for reading this long post and we hope that you at least understand the basis for our decisions. And for those who agree that we are on the right track, there is still plenty of work to do. We believe the new features and content in the upcoming Harpoon: Ultimate Edition, which we will be providing much more detail on in the next few weeks, will open up new avenues in your air/naval simulation experience.

On Wing Commander, the Hand of God and Internet hecklers

October 19, 2009 · Posted in Copycats, Harpoon 3 · Comment 

Wc3boxart[1] Remember Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger? If you were into PC gaming in the mid-90s, chances are that you do, with font memories.

Chris Roberts’ third major iteration of the WC saga was a remarkable game for several reasons (hell, just teaming up Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davis *and* Ginger Lynn Allen together is worthy of eternal respect – but I digress), chief among them being the complex campaign storyline; one that actually branched at several decision points during the game. Most of the story branches re-united at times in order to accommodate some crucial “unavoidable” plot point or another, but it was a unique experience for its time nevertheless.

One of these obligatory plot points, near the end of the campaign, was where you had to escort this gargantuan super-laser battleship called (aptly so) the Behemoth, all the way to the Kilrathi homeworld, and ride shotgun while this Death Star-wannabe uberweapon blasted Kilrah to smithereens (total war with the XXL-sized kitties, remember?). You were warned, of course, that the Kilrathi will make a last-ditch attempt to stop the Behemoth with their remaining spacecraft but hey, you’ve racked up enough  kills getting to this point, so nothing you can’t handle – right?

WC3_Behemoth_TransmissionSo you go out and guess what, half the Kilrathi bomber fleet is out for blood, gunning for the battlewagon. Okay, so it gets toasted real fast the first couple attempts. Let’s go at it again. And again. No joy. Let’s tone down the difficulty to “Please just let me win”, if only just for this mission. Nope, you’re tearing through the Paktahn squadrons like a buzzsaw and still the Behemoth gets blown up. Okay, let’s bring up the heavy guns (a.k.a. cheat codes) and load up with infinite afterburner fuel, infinite gun recharge & infinite missiles. Not enough? Bring on the cheat code that insta-vaporizes every enemy vessel on the arena. WTH?!? They’re still getting through???

Yessir. Even if you brought instant death to any non-allied vessel in the vicinity, somehow you still had to watch the Behemoth get spectacularly blown to bits:

Turns out there was a purpose behind this frustrating experience; it was one of the unavoidable plot points, see, and you absolutely had to fail this mission so that you could then watch Prince Thrakath gloat about how he literally gutted your ex-lover, and Tolwyn/McDowell walk around furious because he lost his ubertoy. And then of course down the line you got some sweet payback by literally nuking Kilrah with an earthquake bomb, but that’s another tale.

The point here being, the author deliberately used a “Hand of God” device to conjure up a situation (in this case, the destruction of the Behemoth) that the player was completely powerless to stop/prevent. It was very much a Kobayashi Maru scenario: You’re not supposed to win, but to manage the loss. And it worked, and nobody complained about it.

So why bring this up, you surely ask.

jester[1] It so happens that the Harpoon community’s resident copycat, pest and all-around clown has decided once more to attack a scenario author and his scenario techniques:

You wouldn’t believe how one guy tried to ‘simulate’ this in his scenario.  A lot of guys have written different interpretations about the Exocet attack on the Sheffield, but this scenario authors was one of the most ‘innovative’.

The Etendards would appear and I (and most everyone else) would shoot them down.  A little while later, the Sheffield would just *Blow UP*. The player would be energetically searching the radar screen for the cause, but could never find one.  Upon later examination after the game with the Scenario Editor, the player would find out that the scenario author had created a special invisible unit to blow up  the Sheffield in case the Exocet attack failed.  That way, it would not matter how well you executed a defence or what you did in that scenario.  The result would always be the same.

At that point, most players just said “Screw it” with this guy and his ridiculous scenarios since the result was pre-ordained.  It didn’t matter what you did, you were going to end up with the same result.

Let’s look at this a bit closer, shall we?

Apart from writing top-notch stand-alone scenarios for Harpoon 2/3, the scenario author occasionally ventured into storyline-driven campaigns, the most prominent of them being the Falklands War 1982 battleset and the World War III 1985 set. There is hardly any need to praise them any further; anyone who has gone through them knows already the exhaustive attention to detail, realism & playability that are the hallmarks of pretty much every scenario by the scenario author.

HMS-Sheffield-MoD-2-S[1]Being story-driven, the scenarios in these campaigns hinged on a few events happening irreversibly and unavoidably: In WW3, some of the NATO carriers were sunk at some point or another. In the Falklands, the Sheffield had to be sunk at some point no matter how brilliant the player handled the war, or else the entire plot would fly off the historical rails.

Scenario authors typically handle such “obligatory losses” by inserting them just after the last mission/scenario the player played through, and just prior to the next one: “Despite your excellent prior performance, the Sheffield nevertheless was ambushed and sunk by a sneak missile attack. So here’s what you must do now”. But the scenario author, like Roberts, wanted these events to happen mid-game, to literally shock the player into handling the aftermath of a very serious loss. For Roberts, that was easy enough: script the mission so that the Behemoth goes boom even if not a single Kilrathi torp gets through. But Harpoon didn’t have a “Kill this unit” scripted action that could be programmed into the scenario editor. What to do? What to do?

Absent a “Hand of God”, the scenario author created the next-best thing: special AI-only undetectable & invincible units whose sole purpose was to attack any desired target with virtual certainty of destruction. These ranged from invisible submarines to mini-Scud launchers to pseudo-“balloon” units (frequently mocked by a certain someone who, naturally, still has to come up with a scenario 1/100th as good as the scenario author’s worst) armed with weaponry representative of the emulated threat.

sinking_oriskany_1[1]The “Hand of God” trick turned out to work pretty well; the special units targeted only the specified assets and the “holy cr@p!” effect towards the player was achieved. Of course this capability had to be used sparingly and carefully: If a scenario turned unwinnable because of a “Hand of God” action the players would soon lose interest. For this reason, the loss of the “morituri” units, while making the scenario harder, did not make it impossible: In the Falklands scenario, you can still win after the Sheffield blows up. Likewise, in the WW3 classic “Clash of the Titans”, you can still win the epic battle even after unavoidably losing two of your four supercarriers (the preservation of the carriers is not part of the victory conditions).

Both these campaigns proved immensely popular with the Harpoon community, judging from feedback on the forums, and regularly topped the download charts. How Mr. Hum can claim that “At that point, most players just said ‘Just screw it with this guy’” when he himself and one of his patrons are the only two (2) identifiable persons who have railed against this plot device, is beyond us. Perhaps it’s another one of his delusions of grandeur that leads him to assume that his opinion is automatically that of the wider Harpoon community. Or maybe he simply has no clue of what he’s talking about.

heckler[1] In conclusion: Chris Roberts, you’re damn lucky that Wing Commander was released in the 1990s. Had you waited just a decade more to realize your epic vision, you would be dogged time after time in Internet forums and newsgroups by heckling members of the peanut gallery who, perhaps because they realize that they’ll never reach up to your level, try instead to bring you down to their own – and once there, beat you by experience.

Such are the times we live in.

UPDATE: In Call of Duty – Modern Warfare, there is a sequence in which you do your best to get your player character out of a warzone, only to (unavoidably) die by the after-effects of a nearby nuclear detonation. No doubt, the devs of that game will earn their own share of forum idiots criticizing the “futility” of the whole sequence and the “pre-ordained” result.

Wasn’t it Schiller who said that, in the face of human stupidity, even gods fight in vain?