Harpoon Bugs and Design Factors

by Mark Gellis mgellis@kettering.edu

This text file discusses bugs and design factors that affect play and scenario design for Harpoon Classics and Harpoon Classics '97. The most recent update to this file was May 26, 1999.

HARPOON CLASSIC OR HARPOON '97? One of the central questions to be considered is which of the three "generations" of Harpoon Classic should be used when creating a scenario. There are relatively few situations where the first four battlesets are preferable, as they include fewer platforms than the others. The second generation, the HDS battlesets, offer far more options, but lack some of the most advanced platforms (e.g., the Horizon-class frigate) and other options (such as using mines and airborne troops). The main advantage of the second generation HDS battlesets is that they offer a far larger number of platforms from smaller navies like Bulgaria and Indonesia. The principle advantages offered by Harpoon '97 (the third "generation") is increased options for air operations (e.g., tankers, long range bombers like the B-2 Spirit, etc.), new surface platforms and submarines, mines, and amphibious operations. The principle disadvantages I have found with Harpoon '97 are a number of annoying errors, particularly with the ranges and loadouts for aircraft, and the elimination of a number of smaller navies, bases, etc. that could have easily been included in the battleset databases.

What this means is that the original Harpoon battlesets are probably most useful for historical scenarios set during the 1970s or 1980s. Older platforms that do not appear elsewhere may be found here.

The HDS battlesets (the second "generation") are probably most useful when the designer does not need to include the additional platforms like the EF-2000, but does wish to include navies or bases that are not included in the Harpoon '97 EC2000 battlesets (like Indonesia). An example would be an Israeli and Turkish alliance being attacked by Syria--Turkish bases are not available in Blue in Harpoon '97 and would have to be simulated with other bases; most of Syria's bases are not available at all in Harpoon '97 and at least one type of ship used by the Syrian navy (the Osa gunboat) is not provided in the EC2000 MEDC battleset. One could simulate the Turkish and Syrian bases, and use other gunboats or light frigates to simulate the Syrian ships, but unless the designer needs one of the special features of Harpoon '97 (Syria has mined an Israeli harbor, etc.) in many cases it would probably be easier to simply use the HDS battlesets.

The HDS battlesets are also quite useful when designers wish to create scenarios involving Bulgaria, Romania, Algeria, Morocco, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Sweden, Finland, Poland, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Yemen, Malaysia, or Myanmar, as the bases and/or navies for these nations seem to be missing from the EC2000 battlesets.

In some cases, it may even be preferable to substitute certain platforms or actions to allow the use of the HDS battlesets. For example, while amphibious operations are not possible using the HDS battlesets, they can (and have been) simulated quite easily simply by requiring the amphibious units to stay on station for a certain period of time under initially hostile conditions. In some cases, there are no good matches for specific platforms (like the Horizon-class frigate) but in other cases, reasonable substitutions (the F-22 for the EF-2000, a C-141 for Air Force One, etc.) can be made.

Despite their annoying limitations, the EC2000 battlesets (the third "generation") offer a remarkable range of options for scenario designers. Almost any scenario that pits one or more nations with a substantial navy and air force (France, Canada, India, etc.) against another nation of similar capabilities can rely on the EC2000 battlesets very effectively. While several minor nations and bases included in the HDS battlesets have been removed from the EC2000 battlesets, a large number of secondary players and land-based assets remain. In addition, in many cases, the battlesets themselves provide designers and players with options for circumventing their own limitations. These will be discussed in fuller detail later in this document.

ORDERS AND SAVED SCENARIOS. One thing I have noticed about Harpoon '97 is that when you save an original scenario, shut down the game, and start it up again at a later time, it is sometimes impossible to access the orders file. I found that one solution is to save the game with its original prefix (e.g., marines1) and the saved file suffix (e.g., marines1.hpk) rather than using the default autosave file (e.g., autosave.hpk). This can be done by using the "Save As" command instead of the "Save" command; the latter will automatically save a file as "autosave."

BIZARRO SCENARIOS. By accident, I discovered that if you take a scenario from one battleset and save it as a scenario from another battleset (for example, take a .sci scenario and save it as a .sc6 scenario), it will open with entirely different ships and aircraft than in the original version. When one is creating a new scenario, one can move through several battlesets this way, saving the scenario each time new ships or submarines are added, and then finally saving it in the original battleset to create scenarios with additional ships and submarines that do not appear in the battleset database. For example, I once created a scenario with three Munich-class nuclear carriers. Munich uber alles, anyone?

STARTING SPEEDS. For some reason, the game does not always initiate starting speeds (or depths, in the case of submarines) for groups that are controlled by the player. Computer-controlled groups do not seem to have this problem. The problem does not appear to be affected by whether one plays Blue or Red. Fortunately, this problem is solved by simply checking to see if your groups are moving--if they do not start moving automatically, all one needs to do is manually enter a starting speed.

BASES AND VICTORY CONDITIONS. For some reason, when it comes to counting damaged or destroyed bases for determining Victory conditions, the game has a little problem at times. I often find that the game will claim victory for the computer or the player when only half the required bases (assuming that destroying a number of bases is necessary for victory) have been destroyed. This does not appear to be a problem with vessels or aircraft. The solution may be to fiddle with the number of bases listed in a scenario's victory conditions, depending on how your system reacts to scenarios developed on your own or someone else's scenario editor.

In addition, selecting specific bases (one can do this by using Class instead of Type in the victory conditions menu) in a series of linked victory conditions (use AND instead of OR in the victory conditions menu) seems to resolve the problem.

Another way to solve this problem is to design scenarios where the victory conditions depend on the number of aircraft or helicopters, rather than the number of bases, that have been destroyed. These appear to be counted accurately up to 255 aircraft and 255 helicopters.

THE 255 BUG. Harpoon has trouble counting above 255 for some reason. This may create problems in large scenarios where hundreds of aircraft are involved (the only one I know of is that the game stops counting aircraft at 255, so one cannot set a victory condition involving killing a larger number of them). It can also create a problem when using very large numbers of missiles; the game appears to count missiles up to 255 and then roll over to zero and start counting again. In other words, if you launch 288 missiles at a target (which you can do if you are using 12 B-1 Lancers), the game may only count 32 missiles when it determines damage. The solution is simply to divide attacks (for example, use three waves of 96 missiles instead of one wave of 288 missiles) so that no single attack involves more than 255 missiles.

THOSE FLIPPIN' AIRCRAFT RANGES. One of the big complaints I heard about Harpoon '97 was that the ranges for aircraft were all wrong. I am not sure exactly how bad this problem is (I looked at various reference works and they did not always agree, so perhaps erring on the side of caution may not be such a terrible sin). One possible explanation is that since aircraft in Harpoon are able to get a good fix on their targets almost immediately, as compared to real life where little things like weather and watching out for SAM batteries might require a pilot to spend a little more time scouting out the target area, the ranges might be based on estimates of performance under combat conditions as opposed to performance, even fully loaded, under controlled peacetime conditions. Whatever the reason, I am also not sure it is as big a problem as it might first seem.

Adding a tanker to any flight increases the range by roughly 50%. In addition, if one is careful, it is not difficult to effectively double the listed range for any aircraft: adding a tanker to the initial flight and placing another tanker along their homeward route to meet the returning aircraft (and then making sure you join the two groups) usually does the trick.

The number of tankers does not appear to be important. One tanker seems to provide as much additional range to a flight of ten aircraft as ten tankers. This can be handled in two different ways, I think. First, one can assume that the tanker version of aircraft not normally designed as tankers (like the F-14) can provide air-to-air refueling for one other aircraft, while dedicated tankers (like the KC-135R) can refuel several aircraft. This would be the "realistic" approach to using tankers.

The other method is to simply add one tanker version of an aircraft to each attack group (e.g., one tanker F-18 and five ASuW F-18, if you wanted to divide the squadron into two six-aircraft attack groups). In situations where the scenario designer believes an erroneously low range has been given for the aircraft in question, this would alleviate the problem without having to dedicate half of the aircraft in the squadron to the tanker role.

Of course, when one uses tankers within a group for the entire flight, it is important to use tankers that are the same kind of aircraft as the rest of the group. Otherwise the group will use fuel inefficiently, greatly reducing its range.

If one needs to ferry aircraft from one base to another, and a tanker loadout is available for that aircraft, groups of aircraft that have all been loaded as tankers appear to have nearly twice the range of a lone tanker.

In some cases, of course, aircraft are not able to refuel from tankers. When this is combined with a short range (e.g., the MiG-27, which appears to have an erroneously short range), it does limit the value of the aircraft.

The 600-mile range for the MiG-31 is probably a typo in the database. (Another explanation would be that since the MiG-31 is used for air defense, the range is low to prevent the aircraft from being used for long range interception.) Since there is nothing that can be done about this, and since Flankers can carry the long range missiles, I recommend just using the Flankers for long range missions and keeping the MiG-31s in the defensive role.

Another bug with Russian aircraft is the Su-32FN. (There is confusion about this aircraft since there seem to be two aircraft--one is a maritime bomber version of the Su-34 and the other is an experimental trainer--with the same designation.) The ASuW loadout does not appear to work; the game does not seem to recognize the missiles and, when you find a target, will tell you that the aircraft does not have weapons for an ASuW attack. The solution is to use the SEAD loadout--the missiles have the same range and destructive power as the ASuW loadout; they will hit both land and sea targets.

There may also be an error with the P-3 Orion. In the ASuW loadout, the aircraft is listed as carrying four Harpoons and eight torpedoes. The P-3 is listed in my reference works as having only ten hardpoints, so this may be an error. For anti-surface operations, however, one can use the Patrol loadout (2 Harpoons and 8 torpedoes).

I do wish the designers had kept a few of the older aircraft, like the Hawk, MiG-19, etc. It would be nice to do a full range of historical scenarios with all the additional options provided by Harpoon '97.

GETTING SUBMARINES TO ATTACK. I have found that getting submarines controlled by the computer to attack player surface groups can be quite difficult. The problem appears to be that submarines are not detecting the surface groups. Setting very specific victory conditions that identify targets by class (such as "FF/Floreal") instead of general types like "ships," setting up patrols from AEW or other patrol aircraft or helicopters, and setting player surface group courses and/or computer submarine courses so the player's groups will travel directly over the computer's submarines are all methods that can produce positive results.

The easiest way to get a computer-controlled submarine or mine to attack is to place it at periscope depth. While this is not the most stealthy method, and often results in detection and destruction, the submarine or mine will often get a chance to fire on the player's group before it is destroyed. In addition, it is stealthy enough that the player may not spot the mine or submarine until after the computer has spotted his or her surface group and fired on it. A variation that may be more realistic is to combine groups of mines at periscope depth and groups of submarines at intermediate or shallow depth.

Another solution that works well is to use the formation editor to initiate a patrol. By setting a patrol in multiple zones in the formation editor grid, the submarine will change position, even if its group does not move from its station. This seems to allow submarines to detect enemy forces more easily.

Finally, one solution that produces very good results (of course, in this case, "good" is a relative term) is to combine search or AEW aircraft, barges, and submarines in the same surface group. By using the formation editor to place the submarines about 100 miles away from the patrolling aircraft, one creates a situation where ships will be spotted by aircraft while they are still too far away to shoot them down with anti-aircraft missiles but can be attacked by the submarines (which know where they are because they are part of the same group as the aircraft). The barge should, of course, be placed even further away, out of harm's way. The enemy group cannot retreat or advance into missile range because one of its components is a barge, which cannot move. Submarines seem to be able to attack whether they are patrolling one or multiple zones (as set up in the formation editor), although one must sometimes play around with the size of the zones to make sure that the computer's submarines will be close enough to the player's ships to attack. It looks as if the player must move ships through the zone being patrolled by the submarine to get the submarine to attack when using this method, although it does not look as if the ships have to pass directly over the sub; they seem willing to attack anything that comes into range. However, the computer does not seem to be willing to send submarines beyond their patrol zones to attack ships outside of them. It should be noted that this is technically "cheating," since it employs a somewhat unrealistic tactic that depends on a quirk of the game engine to achieve its results.

Although getting submarines to attack player surface groups is difficult, it is not difficult to get them to attack land assets. Stopping them from doing so can be the background for many challenging ASW scenarios. Other ASW scenarios can be based on the need to stop enemy submarines from getting through a picket line. One can assume that if they do, they will wreck havoc on merchant shipping.

GENERIC SHIPS. One interesting feature of Harpoon Classics '97 is that a number of unnamed vessels are provided for many platforms. These include a number of missile boats and patrol boats, most Russian and German submarines, and also some British Type 23 (and Type 21 in the IOPG battleset), German Brandenburg, French Lafayette, Spanish Santa Maria (in some battlesets), and European Horizon frigates. A number of American and Russian platforms, such as the Arleigh Burke and Modified Udoloy destroyers, and the Krivak III and Neustrashimyy frigates, also include some unnamed vessels. This means that players who wish to construct new navies for countries not normally available in Harpoon Classics '97, but who do not wish to use ships with names that obviously identify them as belonging to some other nation, have resources sufficient to create substantial generic surface action groups.

OLDER PLATFORMS. While Harpoon Classics '97 is missing some older platforms, it does include many platforms that were only recently removed from service. This provides two options for scenario designers. The first is that one can create a large number of historical scenarios ("Battle Ocean 1990: The Cold War Gets Hot"). The second is that the older platforms may be used in current or future scenarios, working on the assumption that other nations have a license to produce domestic versions of these platforms (for example, an Israeli version of the Sturgeon SSN) or are illegally producing their own versions without a license (or with a license but in violation of some treaty). The latter options could even be the foundation for some scenarios, with one side seeking to destroy "outlaw" versions of these platforms.

The various Leander frigates (whose classical names make them less obviously British) provide a good generic standard of older warships that have made their way to various Third World navies. Finally, the World Navies Today web page (http://www.uss-salem.org/worldnav/) provides information on which navies have received older American warships such as the Knox frigates.

TOMAHAWKS, TORPEDOES, AND SHIPS. One odd "bug" is that it is often impossible to fire Tomahawk missiles from surface vessels against other surface vessels at long range. One must close to the range at which Harpoon missiles would be fired before one can target the Tomahawks. Ship-launched Tomahawk missiles can target against surface vessels, however, if the battle group has TLAM-AR Tomahawks. These must be kept in their launchers. Once you use them, a bug in the program prevents you from using other Tomahawks against ships at long range. This seems to apply whether the missiles are launched from submarines or surface vessels. Be aware that the Harpoon AI usually selects the TLAM-AR missiles first, so one must be ready to deallocate these missiles and allocate other Tomahawks.

This is similar to the bug that only lets patrol boats use torpedoes against other ships if they also have some kind of missile weapon. One way to take advantage of this bug, by the way, is to attach patrol boats armed with torpedoes to a group with missile boats. Use the formation editor to place the torpedo boats in front of the missile boats (or larger vessels with missiles). When an enemy vessel is spotted, it will probably attack the torpedo boats first, since they will be closer. Most of these boats will probably be sunk, but some may get a chance to use their torpedoes, and the enemy vessels will both reveal their positions and use up a lot of their missiles while your missile boats remain unscathed.

STANDOFF CHOPPERS AND AIRCRAFT. For some reason, the designers of Harpoon '97 decided to eliminate a few aircraft and a few loadouts that probably should have been left in. For example, there do not appear to be any aircraft in Harpoon '97 that are capable of firing the Israeli Gabriel anti-ship missile. The Dauphin helicopter is also missing, but the Seahawk SH-60B is a good match (the Penguin missile it carries has roughly the same range and damage points as the Gabriel). The export version of the F-16A carries the Penguin, too, and if one needs Falcons dedicated to the anti-shipping role, these will suffice. The Israeli F-16 does carry Mavericks, which can be used against ships, but these have less range than the air-lauched Gabriel or Penguin.

RED BASES ONLY FOR SOME COUNTRIES. Another "bug" in Harpoon '97 is that the EC2000 battlesets have some very odd choices about bases (for example, no Blue French or Egyptian bases in the MEDC battleset). Fortunately, many of the bases have no country listed and (except for obvious ones like "Algiers" where people are not going to be able to suspend their disbelief if you locate it in Bulgaria) these can simply be moved around the map as necessary. Naturally, any base can be moved using the Change Group Position command in the scenario editor, but using bases without country names listed may facilitate the suspension of disbelief when placing the base in a different country.

Nations without Blue bases can still be Blue players even without "faking" a base for them; the only requirement is that some allied nation allows them to fly aircraft out of one or more of their bases (e.g., Germany flying aircraft out of a Greek base). The same is true for players without the option of being Red (for example, if Israel was allied with Egypt or Turkey against some common enemy).

WHERE THE HECK ARE ALL THE OTHER COUNTRIES? For reasons known only to the gods, the designers of the EC2000 databases have eliminated the navies of several nations that were previously included in Harpoon: Australia, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Syria, etc.

In some cases, the platforms used by these countries can be simulated without too much difficulty. For example, Australia's navy includes a number of American platforms like Adams-class destroyers and Perry-class frigates. Australia can, in fact, be represented in all four battlesets in this way. Greece, Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico, and Pakistan can also be included in all eight EC2000 and HDS battlesets in the same manner, since all of these nations employ some ships (mostly older British and American ones) that appear in all eight battleset databases. Even Singapore can be included in EC2000 scenarios because their navy has purchased Sjoormen submarines from Sweden. The only drawback is that in most cases the new names for these vessels are not available. Details on various navies can be found at http://www.uss-salem.org/worldnav/ (the World Navies Today web page).

Other absent nations (e.g., Thailand and Romania) are difficult to simulate in the EC2000 battlesets, although the aircraft they use are usually available. The only way to include surface vessels from these nations in Harpoon '97 is to assume that new vessels have been purchased from other nations (the Type 23, Lafayette, and Horizon frigates, and a variety of Russian vessels, are all options here).

DESIGN NOTES. In all cases, where substitutions are made, I believe it is helpful to provide a "Design Notes" section in the orders files that explains what has been done and why.


Last Update - February 2, 2008 10:13 PM

Copyright - HarpoonPages.com

Harpoon (and all game variations), Staff Assistant and Battle Set are Registered Trademarks of Larry Bond and Chris Carlson - licensed to AGSI.

All versions of Computer Harpoon (C) 2003 AGSI.