What is ‘Harpoon’?

Computer Harpoon

IMPORTANT NOTE: All further work on the commercial versions of computer Harpoon was suspended in mid-2013 after more than two decades. The guys behind HarpoonHQ (now WarfareSims) saw the signs of Computer Harpoon’s collapse as early as 2006 and started developing our own simulator named Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations which was released in September 2013. Since the owners of WarfareSims have been avid Harpoon fans since the late 1980s / early 1990s, we decided (on popular demand) to keep some of the Harpoon material on our new site even though we’ve now scratch-built our own product that is not related with the Harpoon franchise. The material is provided as-is and is no longer supported. WarfareSims’ time and energy is now devoted to continued development & enhancement of Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations which has similar focus as Harpoon but with a much more pronounced balance between air and naval operations.
 

Harpoon Classic

Harpoon Classic was the first computer Harpoon game and probably the world’s best naval game when it shipped from Three-Sixty back in December 1989. Three-Sixty continued selling and updating the product until early 1994 when the rights reverted back to Applied Computing Services Inc., the original developer and rights holder. Alliance Interactive licensed the code and rights from ACSI in mid 1994 and developed Harpoon Classic for Windows 3.1. In 1996, Alliance licensed Harpoon Classic ’97 to Interactive Magic, which developed the game further to Windows 95.

Harpoon Classic screenshots. Click on any of the thumbnails for a full picture:

 

Harpoon Classic 2002 Gold and Harpoon Commanders Edition (HCE)

Work commenced upgrading Harpoon Classic 97 to Harpoon Classic 2002 Gold in the early 2000s thanks to Byron Audler, Don Gilman and the orginal HCE Team. Many new and exciting features were incorporated into the game laying the basis for what was to come. After work was completed and Harpoon Classic Gold shipped, Anthony Eischens and the rest of his team at HarpGamer took the reigns evolving the game into its current form, Harpoon Commander’s Edition (HCE) which is published by Matrix Games. If you are a fan of the original Harpoon Classic game you will enjoy this upgraded version.
 

Harpoon II & Harpoon 3

When released, the Harpoon 2 and 3 simulations were the most complex, realistic and accurate strategy-simulation of air and naval operations available to non-military users.

Harpoon II was the MS/DOS version of the simulator. It was first released in 1994 on six 3.5 inch floppy disks and contained the battleset Global Conflicts One. The Global Conflicts Two and Three, Cold War, Westpac, and Regional Conflicts One battlesets were later released as add-ons. The next version, Harpoon II Deluxe Multimedia Edition, an improved version released on CD-ROM, contained the three battlesets Global Conflicts One, Two and Three as well as many new video and audio clips. It also included a printed manual and a scenario editor which allowed you to build your own scenarios. The final version was Harpoon II Admiral’s Edition. This had all six previous battlesets plus a new one, Regional Conflicts Two. However, being a MS/DOS application, Harpoon II suffered from severe stability problems on Windows 95, 98, ME platforms and would not run at all in pure 32-bit operating systems like NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Because of these shortcomings, Harpoon II was ported to Windows and renamed Harpoon 3.

Harpoon 3.6 was the vastly improved Windows (Windows 95, 98, ME, NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows XP) and Mac (OS and OSX) version of Harpoon II. Harpoon 3 for PC was released in February 2002 while Harpoon 3 for Macintosh was released back in 2001. The simulator contained a myriad of new features and bug fixes, too numerous to mention all. Many people consider 3.6 the definitive version of Harpoon3, and was the last version of the game that the HarpoonHQ (now WarfareSims) supported. Harpoon 3.6 is still sold by Matrix Games and is bundled with ‘Larry Bond’s Harpoon – Ultimate Edition’.

The HarpoonHQ’s (now WarfareSims’) DB2000 database and scenario project was started in late 1996 and produced the most accurate, detailed and realistic dataset available for any commercial naval / air simulator of its time. The database contained more than 5000 ships, submarines, aircraft and land facilities plus about 1900 weapons. In other words, the complete 1980-2015 Order of Battle for more than 60 countries. For example, the US Navy F/A-18C has a separate database entry for use after 1988, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010. The F-16 is represented by 149 database entries to cover all operators, main versions, subversions and progressive weapon upgrades, while the Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruiser has 79 entries that cover all major batches, upgrades and weapon / sensor configurations from 1983 to 2010.

In 2007 the HarpoonHQ changed name to WarfareSims and the DB2000 database for Harpoon3 was completely rebuilt for the Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations simulator. The vastly improved database is known as the DB3000 and is far more detailed than its predecessor to support the new simulator’s advanced models. The DB3000 for Command v1.04 contains just over 9000 ships, submarines, aircraft, land facilities and satellites, and more than 2850 weapons.

Harpoon II screenshots. Click on any of the thumbnails for a full picture:

 
Harpoon 3 screenshots. Click on any of the thumbnails for a full picture:

 

Harpoon 3 ANW (3.7-3.X)

Harpoon 3.7 Advanced Naval Warfare (ANW) was the next version of Harpoon 3 which added Multiplayer and many significant changes to the simulation. This version was still under development when all further work was suspended in 2013.

We believe the release of H3.7 aka ANW was controversial as it encompassed both positive and negative elements. On the positive side, multiplayer (a longstanding desire of the community) was finally implemented, and a few bugs present in v3.6 were fixed and some UI enhancements were added. On the downside the new version also presented significant problems. Hundreds of new bugs surfaced, many of them show-stoppers in severity and affecting the vast majority of community scenarios and databases. Worse, the development team failed to communicate the numerous code changes to third-party developers with enough time and information for the necessary adjustments to be made.

Unfortunately, after a series of incremental patches, this situation had not improved substantially. In fact some people believed that six years of ANW development had done nothing but severely worsen the overall quality of the software, and when development ended in 2013 the game still had a large buglist. Some of the problems were obvious, e.g. game crashes or units performing outright stupid actions. Other flaws were more subtle; for example both friendly and enemy AI would behave significantly different than what it had been instructed to.

Third-party content painstakingly crafted over the years (and working fine in pre-ANW versions like v3.6) had been rendered semi-inoperable. Much of this was due to bugs or features that were never articulated completely to the user base. While we understand the developers have a right to make changes to their game it probably would have been in the best interest of all to let everybody know, particularly if part of your advertising strategy is pointing at the quality of third party HarpoonHQ (now WarfareSims) content.

Many of the game models were reverted to the models used by the paper rules system. While we understand the designers right and desire for more parallels between the paper and electronic versions we think the processing power of a computer should have been taken advantage of. In our opinion, reverting to a rule set designed for the human processor to efficiently solve at the gaming table was not a step forward for computer Harpoon from a modeling/simulation viewpoint.

Additionally, AGSI and Matrix never capitalized on the chief improvement of ANW, multiplayer. No MP server was offered by either company, more than 5 years after ANW’s official release and more than 10 years(!) after MP beta testing commenced. This effectively left MP at ad-hoc community servers and showed a profound lack of trust to the game by its very own creators. Had they felt good about this feature they would have clearly invested time and resources into its success.

This situation, and the lack of evidence of real progress in the game, forced the majority of the community (including the content creators at HarpoonHQ) to concentrate on supporting pre-ANW versions like v3.6, and eventully inspired us to launch the development of our own simulator Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations.
 

Harpoon 4

Harpoon 4 was supposed to be the next installment in the Harpoon legacy. The game was under development for nearly seven years (!) until it was finally killed off on 26 November 2003. This is the Press Release from the Admiralty, 3 December 2003:

Larry Bond and Chris Carlson, the originators of the Harpoon4 wargame, and Don Gilman of Advanced Gaming Systems Inc., also a participant in the Harpoon4 project, are disappointed by Ubisoft’s decision to cancel Harpoon4, but respect Ubisoft’s judgment, their desire to sell quality games, and their need to make a profit while they do so.

The just-ended [Harpoon4] project has been underway since 1997, when we signed an agreement with Strategic Simulations International to create a computer adaptation of the Harpoon4 miniatures wargame. Unfortunately, the development effort became hampered by a series of corporate buyouts, each one causing delays and simultaneously reducing the size of the development budget. While each successive publisher has made their best effort, each buyout (and there were four) reduced the chance of a successful product reaching the store shelf.

Our intention is to start a new development effort that will produce a computerized version of Harpoon4 at the earliest opportunity. Ubisoft has graciously offered to transfer the partially-completed code to a third party for further development. We will examine the code to see if that is feasible, and if appropriate, will transfer of the code to a third party. Since the code contains copyrighted material, that third party would have to enter into a contract with the rights holders, just as SSI did six years ago.

And that is only one approach to producing a new Harpoon4 game. Others options include starting development fresh with a new publisher, or upgrading existing programs to H4 standard. None of these will produce a game quickly, and even choosing which option to follow will take several months. It is important to acknowledge not only the patience and support of the computer Harpoon community, but also the efforts of the many developers who have worked on the commercial product, and the beta testers who did their best to make it a quality game. They all made substantial contributions to Harpoon, and we will work hard to make sure that they have not labored in vain.

Don Gilman, P.E.
Advanced Gaming Systems
Publishers of the Harpoon Classic and Harpoon 3 Naval Wargames