Task Force Admiral [Upcoming PC Wargame] – Will It Be Any Good?

Note: I’m not receiving any money or compensation from the developer of this game. My promotion of it is purely personal and based on what I currently know about it.

Visit the developer website at Drydock Dream Games

Here’s something I don’t do very often which is follow the development of video games. However, this game is an exception. I’m going to give some initial thoughts on this game in its current state and see how it develops (assuming it doesn’t get cancelled, that is). Bear in mind that the game is still a work-in-progress, so I can only comment on what information is currently available. Undoubtedly, I’ll be making a number of comparisons between this game and Command: Modern Operations. With any luck, I’m hoping that this game will develop into a good (and fun) WWII supplement for Command: Modern Operations in my War Games Series.

Abstraction in Simulators

When it comes to naval simulators, there’s plenty of tactical simulators, such as Dangerous Waters, Cold Waters, Janes 688(I) Hunter/Killer, and the Silent Hunter series. There’s also many strategic/operational simulators like Command: Modern Operations, Rule the Waves, Carriers at War, Pacific War, and the Great Naval Battles series. However, some of these games are fairly old, being products of the 90s and early-2000s. Generally, it seems like gaming trends for naval simulations have gone more towards the abstract. The details and depth of gameplay are there, but the simplistic graphics kill any immersion factor. To be clear, I’m talking about in-depth simulators, not action-style games, like World of Warships.

One of the things about simulators is that they’re very good at simulating tactical or strategic environments. The problem is that most simulators have very abstract mechanics when it comes to simulating command and control. They treat player decision-making as one person giving simple orders or as a near-omniscient game master moving figures around on the game map. It’s too narrow-focused on the tactical level and too abstract on the operational and strategic levels.

Another problem I have, particularly with naval simulations, is that they don’t make me feel like I’m part of a crew. Again, there’s a lack of immersion. This is what I refer to as the “crew/army of one” problem. It’s where the player does an assortment of tasks that realistically would be divided up among many people. This is prevalent in naval action games like World of Warships or the Battlestations series, even though they’re not true simulators. They have the player do everything from conning the ship, to working the fire directors, to firing the guns and torpedoes. Realistically, that just isn’t how a ship is crewed. To me, a ship is a massive assortment of systems (sensors, weapons, propulsion, fire control, etc.) that need to be managed, and a large crew that needs to be led. Even destroyers have crews of a hundred, or more, people. A single person can’t do it alone. The best naval simulators make the player feel like they’re but one part of this machine.

The closest I’ve come to that immersive feeling of commanding a ship and a crew was when playing the Silent Hunter series. Even though the player performed many tasks that would be realistically delegated to other crew members, those games featured crew management mechanics where the Non-Player Characters (NPCs) gained experience over time and were necessary for the effective operation of the submarine. In short, they were immersive and made the player feel like they weren’t alone on these submarines.

Of course, the problem is that it’s difficult for game developers to realistically simulate complex interpersonal dynamics in conjunction with the operation of complex systems. However, I’m not asking for developers to recreate an entire warship down to the compartments and rivets with all the thousands of crew members accurately modeled. Rather, I just want a naval simulator where it doesn’t feel like the rest of the crew has been abstracted.

With regard to simulators like Command: Modern Operations, there’s still a level of abstraction within that game since it functions more as an operations simulator (i.e. getting assets from point A to point B). Furthermore, Command: Modern Operations has to cover a huge time period from 1950 to the near future, with a massive variety of units, so the focus isn’t on WWII. Subsequently, the naval/air tactics are fairly abstracted, as well.

What I would like is a naval simulator with a more immersive experience on the operational level with a specific focus on WWII. People who follow this blog also know that much of my research focuses on the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Pacific Theater of WWII. Since I’m no game developer and I don’t really know the first thing about programming or gaming artificial intelligence, I need to leave it to the people who do know what they’re doing.

This brings us to the (upcoming) game, Task Force Admiral.

Command Simulation

Task Force Admiral Volume 1: American Carrier Battles is an upcoming 3D naval combat simulator where the player assumes the role of the admiral of a WWII carrier task force. The game is being designed to be released in volumes. Volume 1 is stated to take place from December 1941 to January 1943, from the perspective of a U.S. Navy carrier task force, and cover the Central and South Pacific Areas.

The developer, Drydock Dream Games, notes that this is a “command simulation.” They write that “you are not just a pair of eyes floating above a map. You are there, in your flag plot, using the tools of the trade with the limited field of view and scarce amount of knowledge one could expect in the mist of battle. This time Command is not abstracted, it is simulated.

This isn’t the first game to deal with carrier operations in WWII. The developers reference a number of other simulations that have influenced them, such as Task Force 1942, Carrier Strike, Aces of the Pacific, Command Ops, Scourge of War, etc.

Presumably, the core gameplay will revolve around receiving information, making decisions off of it, and issuing orders. I don’t know how much actual “trigger pulling” the player will be doing, or if that will even be an option.

With regards to the graphics the developers do note that “many if not most wargames appeared stuck in a technology loop inherited from their golden days, doing little to take advantage of the newer, more powerful hardware available.” What this tells me is that the use of 3D ship/aircraft models, environments, and weather effects points to the fact that this will be more than just a real-time strategy game with the player merely staring at blips moving across a map. A lot of work is going into creating 3D models, realistic weather, and environments to immerse the player into the game world.

I certainly don’t expect this game to solve all of my aforementioned issues related to the lack of immersion in naval simulators, however, it does seem to be a step in the right direction. As with anything that is in-development, I’m cautiously optimistic. History is filled with all kinds of products that promised a lot, but delivered little (or of promising things that ultimately got cancelled). Therefore, I’ll keep my expectations open and evaluate this game (when it’s released) fairly. I’ll analyze the good, the bad, and the mediocre. No doubt, there will be things that I’ll enjoy and things that I’ll find irritating with the final product.

Let’s get into some of the things that have me excited:

What Excites Me & Gets Me Thinking

Game Mechanics

A simulation of command-and-control

The developer website notes that the player will:

Interact directly with your staff, go over their reports, answer their requests and their doubts, communicate with your headquarters and other allied forces, debrief aircrews… It is not a game simply about moving lifeless counters around a map. Your staff is made of human beings, they make mistakes, they exaggerate claims, they get tired. You are not an omniscient ship accountant, pushing papers and spreadsheets: it is not a game of pure numbers and statistics, it is first and foremost a game of guts and bets.

This also includes models of more than 30 historical figures. In an interview on Rockpapershotgun.com, lead developer, Amiral Crapaud, describes “the basic game” as a model of decision-making based on inaccurate or incomplete information. He gives the example of launching a scout plane which radios back a sighting report, but the player has no idea about how accurate the coordinates are and whether or not communications problems factored in. Sure, you could launch a strike based on this sighting information, but perhaps the report is faulty and you’d just end up sending valuable aircraft out to the middle of nowhere with no enemy ships in sight (Stone, 2020, paras. 40 – 44). Crapaud goes on to say that:

You might never know what really happened before you head to the after-action replay mode and become your own Samuel Eliot Morison. Deactivate, say, “friendly fog of war”, and you will be updated about the position of your plane in real time, like in every other game. Deactivate “inaccurate reports” and you will have a clear picture the moment the scout comes in visual range. Deactivate “realistic IFF” and you will know immediately who is a friend and who is a foe. Deactivate “limited comms”, and you can order your scout to head for the enemy target simply by clicking on it!

(Stone, 2020, para. 44)

Additionally, the developers are working on how to implement other human factors which will affect crew readiness (Stone, 2020, paras. 24 – 33). Since this simulated C3I (Command, Control, Communications, & Intelligence) is to be the bread and butter of the game, I’m very interested to see how it will be implemented since the “soft, human factors” are notoriously difficult for simulations to model without them feeling artificial. Crapaud seems to be hinting at a degree of uncertainty built into the game engine regarding what information it provides the player. Obviously, these settings will be configurable for those who want more hardcore or casual gameplay. I can only conjecture that this “degree of uncertainty” will be probabilistic and determined by a number of factors such as weather, time of day, crew skill, etc.

Accurate depiction of WWII USN carrier air operations

The developer website notes that the player will “manage the task force air ops, schedule the launching and recovering sequences, set up the patrols and search patterns, assign the Combat Air Patrol, your flight’s waypoints, loadouts and doctrine.”

Realistically, by themselves, the operations and intelligence staffs for a carrier task force would consist of a considerable amount of people (I’m not even talking about the Admiral’s staff). Individual squadrons would also handle some of the specifics about attacking a target, but these kinds of things are integral to carrier and naval strike operations, so it’s understandable that they would be included as gameplay mechanics.

In addition, weather modeling will influence operations:

You will learn to take into account the direction of the wind during air operations, as your carriers will be required to sail into the wind to launch and recover their planes. Jump from a rain squall to another so that clouds might hide you in plain sight during an enemy air attack – but watch out, the AI will use cloud cover to its full advantage too!

I like this! Even Command: Modern Operations doesn’t really model that level of tactical detail in its carrier air operations. It’s very accurate as to operational details like aircraft sortie rates, but it’s not a tactical simulator. As for Task Force Admiral, I look forward to experiencing the brutal night battles around Guadalcanal. Some of these (like the 1st Naval Battle of Guadalcanal) turned into naval brawls in the pitch dark!

Realistic damage control

We will model this by allowing scenario designers to assign a variable level of damage control efficiency to ships in the editor. It will reflect national factors, but also the increasing proficiency of US Navy damage control as months went by. Damage control parties will work according to doctrine on the most crippling damage (particularly boilers, generators and uncontained flooding), although their action might be hampered by further damage.

Naturally, the other main factor is how the ships are built. Although some abstraction is needed in this area (especially in regard to module damage) we hope to avoid hit points as much as possible. Ships losing their center of gravity will end up capsizing, but a ship burning to its very guts will still float as long as its hull integrity is not compromised (If this happens to one of your vessels, don’t expect the blackened hulk to magically disappear beneath the waves. You will have to issue a scuttle order). We want damage to feel real, and be conveyed to the commanding officer in a natural way too. Anyone who thinks officers of the time had any way of telling when hull integrity or structural damage had reached 50%, must be mistaking CV-6 for NCC-1701!

(Stone, 2020, para. 17 – 18)

Thank, God! I’m tired of the World of Warships-style hit point bars and critical damage point shots. It seems like some physics modeling is at work here in designing the game’s damage control programming. Who knows?

Reasonably realistic surface combat mechanics

The developers note that:

As the Task Force admiral, you are also in charge of the escorting forces screening your carriers. Feel free to order them around and seek surface engagement when needed, while enjoying the most accurate depiction of realistic 3D WW2 surface combat on computer to date. Advanced ballistics, damage control, communications, tactics and anti-submarine operations all feature in this detailed recreation of naval warfare.

Regarding the simulation of naval gunfire, the developers write that “individual ship modules, individual shell ballistics, starshells, searchlights and other night fighting shenanigans, advanced armor and penetration mechanics… It will all be there – or to be more accurate, some of it is here already!”

Nice! This tells me that it’ll be more than just carrier operations. Historically, entire doctrines were developed concerning the composition and cruising formation of escorts to meet various threats (air, ASW, etc.).

A video of the ballistics penetration engine also seems to indicate that they’re using Nathan Okun’s armor penetration calculator. Or, at least they’re comparing their ballistics model with Okun’s work.

What’s “T/D (okun)?” Something to do with Nathan Okun’s armor penetration calculator, perhaps?

(For those who don’t know, Nathan Okun worked as an engineer on U.S. Navy fire control systems for guided missile systems from the 1970s to the 2010s. In his spare time, he’s studied armor and naval projectile designs. He’s probably forgotten more about naval gunfire and fire control than you and I will ever know.)

That being said, they also note that:

Some aspects will be simplified. You will not be allowed to raise the admiral’s flag on a surface combatant for now. Surface radar management will be simplified, so will damage and fire control. However, we can promise an experience at least as entertaining as the one you had in dedicated surface-action tactical wargames in the past, which we humbly deem to be much better than nothing!

That’s understandable. At least they’re taking the time to implement it to some degree. Perhaps future volumes can add more features to surface combat.

Game Design, & Development Decisions

When will it be out?

We do not want to deliver a half-baked, half-way, half-whatever job to the players. There is a reason why we are defining a specific frame for Volume 1: we want to keep it under control, and doing so we want to make the basics and foundations strong and durable.

YES!! I like their development philosophy! I’m so tired of half-baked games that are full of bugs so as to make them practically unplayable. I’m tired of the endless downloads of bug fixes just to make a game run as it should and the poorly implemented game mechanics that break the experience. I’m tired of the “pay-to-win” micro-transactions of so many games that only provide the bare minimum of gameplay before they hound you to death with requests for more money.

Of course, every game has bugs, and I don’t expect everything to perfect right out of the gates. However, I do expect that the basic game mechanics work well. A good, and well-programmed, foundation allows for further expansion.

Historical accuracy

We went to great lengths in order to recreate the era and the player’s environment with a maximum amount of flavor and authenticity. Dozens of books, hundreds of pages of actual archives and logs were read and digested in order to provide the player with a convincing experience like no other. Our game will feature an extensive bibliography and a companion manual that will make good use of this knowledge amassed over years of careful reading.

I hope this is more than just marketing promises. I’m sure the developers know that any Pacific War history buff will be nitpicking the details. I just hope they don’t take the Battlestations: Midway/Pacific route and present some shallow and simplified version of history. At the same time, the player doesn’t want to be locked into following a historical script word-for-word. The anticipated addition of a mission editor/scenario builder should also allow for many hypothetical battles.

In his interview, Crapaud references the research the development team has done with history books. A photo of a bookshelf reveals titles such as The First Team and Black Shoe Carrier Admiral by John Lundstrom; Kaigun and Sunburst by David Evans and Mark Peattie; Fire in the Sky by Eric Bergerud; A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy by Paul Dull; Shattered Sword by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully; and At Dawn We Slept by Gordon Prange (Stone, 2020, paras. 60 – 63) That’s just a few. It’s pretty clear that we have the same bookshelf! However, they have more titles related to naval aviation. Still, it’s reassuring to see that the developers have put in the time to do their homework and remember the value of a good history book.

Cinematic camera views

Amiral Crapaud says:

Our camera will be fully mobile and flexible. It will allow all the angles you’d expect in a wargame or flight simulation. At the lower realism settings, you will be able to roam freely around the battlefield by jumping between units or clicking a point on the map.

(Stone, 2020, para. 35)

YES!! While I favor accuracy over drama, I do feel that staring at dots on a map for the entire game becomes very boring. The ability for the player to move the camera around (or at least change views) and see the battle from a different perspective adds greatly to the immersion.

To be clear, I don’t expect this to be a first-person flight simulator where you can jump into the cockpit of a SBD Dauntless and lead the attack on the IJN carriers at Midway (a la Wade McClusky and Dick Best). There’s plenty of tactical flight simulators out there already. However, the ability to see the results of your decisions, in a cinematic way, would be cool.

Indeed, simulators like Command: Modern Operations have the ability to integrate a 3D TacView, but more often than not, I find that TacView doesn’t add much immersion to that game. Since TacView’s graphics are very abstract, it’s just a simple 3D representation of the action and better suited for understanding the geometry and geography of a situation.

Crapaud goes on to say that:

If you choose to go for the highest level of realism, there will be restrictions. You’ll be limited to a first person point of view in the flag plot and on the platforms of your flagship – a flag officer, after all, isn’t omniscient. Witnessing a sortie launch or an attack on your ship in this mode is pretty special, and, thanks to after-action replays, you can always catch distant dramas later.

(Stone, 2020, para. 36)

YES!! Standing on an observation platform on the island of your carrier and seeing enemy dive bombers and torpedo bombers make their attack runs while the ship’s AA gunners blast away really adds to the “pucker factor.” Additionally, it would be cool to jump to another unit, like a cruiser, battleship, or a friendly/enemy aircraft, and witness the action from their point-of-view.

I’m glad they’re taking the time to implement a decent camera system. After all, why would the developers go through all the trouble to make 3D models and a nice graphics engine if they’re not going to use it. I’m reminded of my time playing the Silent Hunter submarine games. I enjoyed the challenge of setting up a torpedo attack, but once the torpedoes were in the water, I’d press F11 and go to the external view where I could move the camera around freely to get a more cinematic view of the torpedoes hitting my target. Hopefully, Task Force Admiral will include some camera features along those lines.

Modeling A.I. tactics & Different A.I. profiles

Early test footage shows U.S. fighters performing a Thach Weave against a Japanese Zero. Regarding technology and tactics being implemented, Crapaud notes:

In terms of tactics and procedures, yes, certain innovations – Jimmy Thach’s famed beam manoeuvre, for example – did alter things, but in most areas shifts were slight. American carrier strike coordination, for instance, was still something of a mess in October. In that regard, change only really happened in the course of 1943, when lessons from a year prior were duly learned and digested, allowing the US Navy carrier arm to evolve into the fearsome, decisive force projection tool it ultimately became.

(Stone, 2020, para. 10)

I suppose Crapaud is right about the gradual evolution of tactics. Hopefully, some accurate tactics will be implemented in the A.I. More generally, Crapaud says:

We plan on making a few strategic and tactical AI “profiles” for the scenario designer to choose from. …the ability to customise a commander profile for each tactical unit (aka Task Group, or even Division) would certainly result in some interesting variety and unpredictability. Some admirals might retire after a certain loss ratio. Others will persevere and hunt you down.”

(Stone, 2020, para. 45)

Very cool! Of course, even the best wargames have limits to their artificial intelligence. Human players can gradually adapt and overcome the limits of computer programming through metagaming (i.e. being able to understand the limits of a computer program and using that knowledge to their advantage).

To be clear, I’m not expecting the A.I. to be some state-of-the-art piece of programming that outsmarts the player at every turn, learns from it’s mistakes, becomes self-aware, and then takes over the world, a la Skynet. However, (since the game takes place in the Pacific Theater) an A.I. that follows the historical tactics used by the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy would be appreciated. For example, Japanese ships would break formation and maneuver independently when under air attack, whereas the American task forces would maneuver together to benefit from mutual anti-aircraft support. The destroyer and cruiser duels in the Solomons also demonstrated the Japanese skill at night fighting. The Japanese withheld firing their guns and used the long range of their Type 93 torpedoes to their advantage. Conversely, the Americans were unaware of the capabilities of the Type 93 and believed surface combat would be settled by gunfire. Furthermore, the constant turnover in U.S. commanders in the Solomons meant that the Navy had difficulty developing any institutional memory in those battles with regards to “lessons learned.” The implementation of radar (and some forward-thinking by commanders, like Arleigh Burke, who managed to stay around long enough to put ideas into action) eventually gave the Americans the advantage.

Arguably, a major problem is designing flexible A.I. that effectively utilizes the game’s mechanics in such a way so as to present a challenge to the player, but not to the extent of feeling like it’s cheating. The developers are very much aware of this and note that real life commanders (on both sides) frequently made really dumb decisions that, with the benefit of hindsight, we would see as obvious.

We’ve all seen game A.I. that’s apparently omniscient and knows everything, as well as A.I. that’s as dumb as a box of rocks. Both extremes of A.I. feel very artificial. Anyone who’s played any of the ARMA games knows about the notoriously bad A.I. which represents both ends of the artificial spectrum. Against the player, A.I. units are unerringly deadly, but against each other, they’re woefully incompetent.

A full-fledged and configurable simulator

The developers write that:

The experience is fully customizable in the settings like any simulation worth its salt since the days of Red Baron, and there will be no design choice made in order to make a complicated matter go away through simplified mechanics or shortcuts. At the end of the day, you will be allowed to play that game the way you fancy it, whether as the most demanding Grognard or, on the opposite, someone who simply wants a break and recreate an experience closer to Battlestations.

Furthermore, regarding the fear that the game will be “dumbed-down” to appeal to arcade-style gamers who play World of Warships, Battlestations, or War Thunder, the developers note that:

We do not reject them, nor see them as a threat to the genre – quite the opposite actually. In many regards, they helped making WW2 naval combat/air combat/tank combat as a hobby more mainstream than it ever was. We do acknowledge the great deal of historical work that went into their making, and it is still apparent from the events and contents these companies come up with. More than anything, they have kept the fire going while our wargaming and sim community slowly fell out of the gaming spotlight it occupied until the mid-2000s. We are thankful for what they did for the next generation of historical gamers. Task Force Admiral is not made with the idea that some should be excluded from our hobby a premise to enjoyment, but quite the opposite.

I suppose that’s true. If anything, those arcade-style games have kept the naval game genre from dying out completely. Still, to make a simulator that’s extremely configurable, so as to meet the needs of both those wanting an arcade-style naval action game versus those wanting a hardcore simulator, is a tall order.

I’m not sure if this game will be quite as configurable as a simulator like Command: Modern Operations, but I like that they’re giving us the option. Sometimes you just want something a bit more simplistic, and sometimes you want more realism with some concessions.

Quick battle generator, mission editor, & replay features

The developer website claims that players will be able to create custom, semi-random, single-battle experiences with a quick battle generator. In addition, the game will also have a full-fledged mission/scenario editor, with all the tools that developers used, to create their own battles. This includes the ability to program events and add narration.

Quick battle generators are certainly nice to test out simple scenarios and dive into instant action. What gets me more excited is the mission/scenario editor. This is something that adds tremendous replayability to any game, in my opinion. The player can use any unit in the game and create their own scenario. What’s even better is that the developers are making it a robust feature to allow the player to change many of the game’s variables. In other words, it won’t be a dumbed-down editor where you simply place a bunch of units, add a few waypoints, and then hit play (that’s what the quick battle generator is for, essentially).

You want to pit the Enterprise, Yorktown, and Hornet against the Yamato and Musashi battleships in a fictional 1942 scenario? What if Admiral Nagumo hadn’t vacillated between rearming his planes, or what if the Yorktown hadn’t been sunk at Midway and participated in later battles? Maybe you want to see what would happen if the South Dakota hadn’t lost power to her fire control systems during the 2nd Naval Battle of Guadalcanal? Let’s do it! Inevitably, our imaginations can create far more interesting scenarios than any piece of entertainment. I love the ability to test out fictional/hypothetical scenario.

In addition, there’s also going to a replay function. The question is: What sort of features will this replay function have? Obviously, the player will be able to review what happened during the engagement, and presumably, they’ll be able to freely jump between different units to observe the action from another perspective during the replay. I’m hoping that this replay function (or some other feature in the game) will include some data analysis, as well. This way the player can do a debrief or after-action report on their performance. When did the scouts locate the enemy? How many bombs were dropped, shells/bullets fired, units lost, etc.? Simple statistical breakdowns like this allow the player to analyze and evaluate the game from a more data-centered point of view. Command: Modern Operations generates post-scenario data and a message log that can be reviewed which shows every event in the game and how the game calculated the probability of those events occurring. Similarly, DCS players will be familiar with using TacView to do debriefs. I wonder if the replay feature will have similar functionality.

Volume 1’s lack of campaign, multiplayer, and only playable as the U.S.

Crapaud says:

Opting for a tight focus wasn’t an easy choice, but it’s a necessary evil. We are a very small team with a single guy doing all the programming, and a good but finite budget, so we had to give ourselves clear, realistic objectives. At the end of the day, I would rather have people not happy about our ambition but playing a good, complete and enjoyable game than the opposite. We are already on our way to simulating carrier combat at a scale and with an amount of detail never before seen, and surface combat to a standard at the very least equal to that of Fighting Steel. We’re aiming to deliver an innovative combat narration system that brings historical battles and the men who fought them to life, 30+ scenarios, a replay function and a full scenario editor…

(Stone, 2020, para. 15)

Their justification for not including a campaign, multiplayer, and limiting the playable sides to the U.S. seems reasonable. Honestly, I would prefer a game that has solid, working mechanics from which to expand off of.

Questions I have

Will more units (like the U.S. Standard-type battleships) be added in future volumes?

The developer website provides a list of current units that will be included in the game. However, Standard-type U.S. battleships aren’t modeled, presumably because the game takes place after 7 December 1941, and the Pacific Fleet that was bombed at Pearl Harbor is still in the process of being salvaged and repaired. Furthermore, I noticed that there are very few Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Navy units. There appear to be no Royal Navy units. So, it doesn’t look like we’ll be simulating the Japanese attack on Force Z (the sinking of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse). I assume that more units will be added in the future as further volumes are developed. Remember, it’s a small development team and they can’t reasonably be expected to include every single naval and air unit ever created in WWII.

Will later volumes take place in other theaters?

Obviously, the first couple of volumes will be covering the Pacific Theater, but will later additions move to the Atlantic or Mediterranean? I see a lot of potential for further expansion.

Will there be additional game mechanics added in future volumes?

Volume 1 focuses on getting the core gameplay mechanics locked in with campaigns and multiplayer being planned for future volumes. If future volumes are to continue chronologically, will some mechanics be added or altered to reflect changes in tactics and technology? For example, will Japanese pilots be able to kamikaze themselves into ships later in the war? Will the U.S. get the VT fuze and better radars?

How detailed will control of the escorts and their movements be?

Will vessels be able to maneuver as a formation and/or break formation? Can they be assigned to specific formations? How is the A.I. pathfinding? Will vessels collide with each other or take evasive action to avoid things like other ships, land, bombs, torpedoes, etc.? In real life, maneuvering in formation (station-keeping) isn’t exactly easy. Even though we tend to think of the ocean as a vast expanse of open water, (therefore, how could possibly hit anything) you’d be surprised how many vessels ground themselves or collide with other vessels every year. Even in WWII, there were several incidents of vessels either ramming enemy vessels or colliding with friendly vessels. Case in point: look up USS Washington‘s collision with USS Indiana. There wasn’t much left of her bow.

How large will the environments/game maps be?

We know that volume 1 will have no campaign and just scenarios, so I’m guessing that the game map will be constrained to certain areas and not a procedurally-generated map of the entire Pacific Ocean and all the islands in it. I’m also guessing that certain regions of the Pacific will be modeled. For example, the Solomons, the Marianas, New Guinea, etc. I don’t know, but I doubt you’ll be able to sail all the way from San Diego to Honolulu to Tokyo in a single scenario. Since this is focusing on carrier battles, presumably, the game maps will have to cover a vast area in order to make locating the enemy a challenging process. The question is: how big (in terms of square miles) will the maps be?

Will surface warfare tactics and maneuvers be modeled?

Some level of surface warfare will be modeled, as is seen with the ballistics and damage simulation. We know that the escorts can be ordered around and perhaps assigned to prosecute different threats (air, surface, or submarine contacts). Yet, will surface vessels maneuver tactically in battle lines or formations? Will they to try to cross the T or use such tactics? Is the accuracy of surface ship gunfire affected by the sea state and weather?

Will it be possible to simulate non-carrier battles?

Since the developers mention that you can’t yet transfer your flag to another vessel, yet surface warfare elements are being modeled, will it be possible to create scenarios in the mission editor that don’t involve aircraft carriers at all? Will the player being able to exercise command over vessels in a pure surface action? I’ve already mentioned that it would be cool to recreate the Naval Battles of Guadalcanal which were slug fests in the dead of night. Other examples would be the Battle of the Java Sea (although there are no Dutch warships in the game, yet), Savo Island, Cape Esperance, and Tassafaronga.

Are surface ships capable of firing their torpedoes?

Of course, there are torpedo bombers and submarines in the game, and early tech demo footage shows torpedo physics. However, will surface ships, such as destroyers and cruisers also use surface-fired torpedoes? It would seem like a big oversight if they didn’t because the Japanese made extremely good use of their famous Type 93 torpedo.

How is intelligence and information inaccuracy modeled?

Does it work on a random number generator? Is it probabilistic? Will certain details of the message or the entire message itself be accurate/inaccurate? My only experience is with Command: Modern Operations, which functions on a probabilistic model where the computer does a 100-sided dice roll after calculating various factors.

How is the admiral’s staff modeled?

The developers make a big deal about you receiving reports and interacting with characters (historical or otherwise). Will you have to manage the staff? Do they gain experience and get better at their jobs as time goes on? Can they be relieved of duty if they seriously screw up?

How will logistics be modeled?

Is underway replenishment modeled? How about damaged aircraft? Fuel? Ordnance? Will aircraft take time to be repaired if they limp back to the carrier damaged? Is fuel limited and are aircraft fuel consumption rates accurate? Does the carrier have a limited amount of fuel and ordnance in its bunkers and magazines? (Command: Modern Operations models all of these things well, except that carriers and airbases have unlimited fuel supplies for aircraft, destroying the fuel tanks does nothing).

Will it be possible to mod the game?

To be clear, before we even get to considering mods, I just want the core game mechanics to be well-ironed out. Even at that, I’m not expecting modularity on par with games like ARMA, and I certainly wouldn’t want that, either. To be honest, my experience with ARMA has made me fairly lukewarm on mods because of the philosophy the developer, Bohemia Interactive, seems to have regarding the integration of mods with the base game. While I’m all for user-developed mods and the freedom to mod a game, the problem I have with a game like ARMA is that the base game needs to me modded in order to get a certain functionality out of it. In many ways, ARMA‘s core game mechanics are so generic and buggy, that you practically needed mods to make it interesting and more user friendly. When playing ARMA, I often wondered, “why isn’t ____ mechanic already a feature in the base game to begin with? It seems like it should be!” While many mods are great and add a tremendous amount of functionality to ARMA, others seem very half-assed and just there for window dressing. However, I’m curious as to whether or not Task Force Admiral will be modifiable.

Perhaps the ultimate question I have for this game is:

How detailed will it be as a simulator?

Based on the available development information, we know that it’s specifically a WWII simulator and meant to simulate the following:

  • command, control, and intelligence
  • U.S. Navy carrier air operations
  • carrier task force doctrine and air tactics (air combat maneuvering, air-to-surface attacks, etc.)
  • surface warfare (armor penetration, gunfire, ballistics, etc.)
  • ship damage (fire and flooding) and damage control
  • weather and its effects on operations
  • historical & hypothetical scenarios

The question boils down to whether or not the game will do all of these things realistically (and with historical accuracy), or will some elements be simplified? They claim it’s meant to be highly configurable to suit either arcade-style gameplay or die-hard wargaming simulation. In a way, it all seems too good to be true. Realistically, no simulation is perfect and no game can check off all the boxes. Undoubtedly there will be deficiencies and bugs with this game, as well as parts of it that I’ll find to be very artificial. The difference can be made up as long as a developer acknowledges the problems and works to fix the major issues. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Final Thoughts…so far

There’s a lot more to discuss about this game, and improvements and changes will likely be made as development proceeds. I left out discussing things like the ship models and the graphics engine because those are still a work-in-progress and aesthetic things like that are relatively simple fixes. I’m more concerned about the game’s mechanics, right now. Inevitably, I’ll be comparing Task Force Admiral a lot with Command: Modern Operations. However, I always want to keep in mind the fact that they’re not the same thing and were designed to simulate different eras of warfare. The main difference, of course, is that Task Force Admiral is specifically being designed to simulate WWII naval combat in the Pacific from the perspective of a carrier task force. In contrast, Command: Modern Operations has a far broader scope to simulate in terms of operations and time period (1950s onward). One thing I’ve noticed is that Command: Modern Operations somewhat stumbles at simulating WWII combat due to the fact that it’s programmed to simulate such a vast assortment of platforms, weapons, sensors, and militaries over such a large time frame. Consequently, while it can simulate WWII-style engagements, it’s engine isn’t designed to do so to a high level of historical detail (not to mention that it has a limited number of WWII-era units in it, apart from those that survived the war). It feels more “generic” and less immersive in its simulation, and it’s definitely better suited for Cold War-era missile/guided-weapon engagements and beyond. Sort of a “jack of all trades” type of simulator. I don’t mean to imply that I think one will be better than the other, but I think Task Force Admiral, if properly developed, will be wise in maintaining its narrow focus on WWII. This will allow the developers to really dive deep into the history and make sure many of the details are accurate.

All in all, I’m excited to see how things will develop and it’s looking good so far. Again, I’m being cautiously optimistic. For all we know, this could turn into a real development disaster and join the ranks of other games that failed to live up to the hype. However, I’m just hoping the game doesn’t get cancelled and that Drydock Dream Games can deliver a solid product.

References

Stone, T. (2020, February 14). The Flare Path talks Task Force Admiral. RockPaperShotgun. https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2020/02/14/the-flare-path-talks-task-force-admiral/.

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