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Harpoon

Harpoon is a naval strategy software simulation adapted from Larry Bond’s paper-based tactical miniatures game. Bond, a navy veteran, was exposed to the classified Naval Tactical Game (NAVTAG) while serving aboard the destroyer, U.S.S. McKean. But Bond was frustrated by NAVTAG’s vague rules. He contacted NAVTAG’s designer, Neil Byrne, and learned the unclear rules were purposeful, so players could improvise. Bond decided he could make a better all-purpose air, surface, and submarine simulation accessible to the general public. Using two unclassified sources, Combat Fleets of the World and Jane’s All the World’s Ships, Bond developed his own rules and calculations for Harpoon. Bond drafted the initial game in a week, and he and his crewmates tested the game over the final two years of his duty aboard the McKean. Once a private citizen, Bond contacted Adventure Games, Inc., and they printed 2,000 copies of Harpoon in April 1981. Bond updated the ruleset for Harpoon II in 1983. Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) published the Harpoon Third Edition in 1987. Harpoon was updated again when Class of Arms Games published Harpoon 4 in 1996, then Bond and co-designer Chris Carlson formed Admiralty Trilogy Group and released Harpoon V in 2020.

I remember coming home from my local Egghead Software store excited by the eye-catching artwork on the front of the Harpoon box. I had recently read The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising, and I was facinated by modern naval warfare.

I spent many hours playing long campaigns. The combination of meticulous planning, boring stretchs traversing the sea, then the chaos of fast battles was somehow mentally satisfying. It was like playing chess, but with complex ships, subs, and jets.

Bond’s tabletop game is played with miniature ships or cardboard counters and ten-sided and six-sided dice.  The players use specialized booklets to keep up with the action. The game comes with a rule book and reference tables with data on naval vessels, aircraft, submarines, and associated sensors and weapons.  Despite its complexity, Harpoon made modern naval warfare approachable.  Insurance agent turned author, Tom Clancy, used Harpoon as a primary source for his first book, The Hunt for Red October, published in 1984.  Tom Clancy and Larry Bond became friends, and Bond’s iteration of a macro-wargame concept became the basis for the naval action in Clancy’s second book Red Storm Rising, published in 1986.  Clancy was so thankful for Bond’s contribution he referred to him as the book’s co-author.  Soon after, Bond became an author too, producing around two dozen military thrillers and non-fiction books between 1991 and 2018.  

Bond was eager to turn Harpoon into a computer-based simulation.  In 1982, he talked with Muse Software, but they decided the game would be too demanding for the current Apple II or Commodore 64 computers.  Computer Harpoon would have to wait for technology to catch up to its complexity.

Along with Clancy, another early fan of Bond’s Harpoon was Don Gilman.  In 1984, Gilman graduated from Texas A&M University and formed a small technology company with Gordon Walton named Applied Computing Services, Inc. (ACSI).  Walton was an Army veteran who graduated from Texas A&M a few years before Gilman.  In February 1987, Gilman turned his interest in Harpoon into a business when he acquired the computer rights from Game Designer’s Workshop.  It is reported ACSI first approached Spectrum Holobyte (Sphere, Inc.) to publish the software version of Harpoon; however, in June 1987, Gilman reached an agreement with Three-Sixty Pacific

Gilman and Walton had split their responsibilities, with Gilman heading ACSI and Walton leading a new game design studio, Digital Illusions.  Digital Illusions had successfully ported popular games and developed Sub Battle Simulator (released by Epyx in 1987) and PT-109 (released by Spectrum Holobyte in 1988).  Walton and his team were fans of the Macintosh interface, and they specialized in mouse-based games. 

Computer Harpoon

Gilman and Bond started working on the computer version of Harpoon, envisioning the overall rules and architecture, graphical interface, platform database, and initial scenarios.  The simulation model was based on the third edition of Bond’s ruleset.  The computer version of Harpoon could expand the scope of the game beyond the limited means available in the paper-based format. Now, fleets could engage one another, with the computer handling the myriad of computations required to keep the game flowing. As development progressed, Gilman struggled with the software, so he approached Walton for help.  Due to a sudden cash crunch prompted by Epyx’s bankruptcy and a canceled deal with Activision, Walton and Three-Sixty’s president, Tom Frisina, worked out a deal to fold Digital Illusions into Three-Sixty Pacific to work on Harpoon.

The Harpoon software engine contained over 115,000 lines of code, with most written in the C programming language and the remainder in Assembly.  The original program was 426K and supported (through separate graphics files) CGA, Tandy, and EGA video formats.  When launched a year later, the Macintosh version worked with System 6.0.2 or above and used monochrome graphics; however, a 16-color Macintosh version was available as a $15 upgrade. The database, compiled by Larry Bond, contained information on over 800 platforms, sensors, and weapons systems.

Harpoon PC 5.25-inch Release (Box and Contents)
Harpoon PC 3.5-inch HD Release (Box and Contents)
Harpoon Macintosh 1993 Release (Box and Contents)

After 30-months of development, and at the cost of over $300,000, the computer game was released for IBM PCs on December 17, 1989.  Harpoon’s computer design team consisted of Larry Bond, Becky McGuire, Don Gilman, Mike Jones, Leslie Hill, and Gordon Walton.  The game’s programmers included Hill, Walton, McGuire, Jones, Rob Brannon, and Scott Cronce.  Art was provided by Dale and Jimmie Homburg of Electric Paintbrush.  Frisina dubbed Walton the team’s crisis manager, as he led the effort during the final nine months of development. 

Larry Bond and Tom Clancy were actively involved with computer Harpoon.  Of course, Bond’s ruleset was the basis for the simulation, but he also provided considerable personal, professional, and financial support to the project.  Clancy was a financial backer too, and he wrote the forward to the manual.  In the forward, Clancy described Bond’s original Harpoon as “almost certainly the best naval simulation available to the public.  The only games more detailed are classified, which does not necessarily mean better.”

Sales were strong, especially for a complicated game lacking arcade-style action.  In Harpoon, the user becomes a naval mastermind, preparing elaborate battleplans and adapting to unfolding conditions.  Reviewers accurately noted it was more simulation than game, with some relishing in the complexity while others found playability suffered.  The density of information and overall graphic design were impressive for the time.  It received high marks and was named “Wargame of the Year” by the editors of Computer Gaming World magazine, “Best Strategy/Wargame of 1990” from PC Games magazine, and Game Players awarded it “Best PC Wargame.”  Three-Sixty’s promotional material boasted, “In the few short months since it hit the street, Harpoon has become the number one, best-selling wargame simulation in America.”

Harpoon Screenshot

The Three-Sixty team ported Harpoon to the Macintosh and Amiga in December 1990.  The Japanese-based PC-98 received a port in 1993.  Harpoon came with the first “battleset” (a phrase trademarked by Gilman).  Titled Showdown in the North Atlantic, but commonly known as GIUK, it focused on the waters between Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom.  A second battleset was released in 1990.  North Atlantic Convoy (NACV), designed by Les Hill, Don Gilman, and Larry Bond. It added sixteen scenarios and a range of military platforms.  In December 1990, a third battleset, The Mediterranean Conflict (MEDC), was designed by Don Gilman and Larry Bond.  The fourth battleset, Indian Ocean / Persian Gulf (IOPG), designed by Tim Jacobs and Darrel Dearing, was released in 1991. Also in 1991, a custom battleset was created by the US Naval Institute building from the GIUK battleset, but providing five new scenarios.

All expansion battlesets required Harpoon version 1.1 to operate.  If the player had an early version 1.0, they could call Three-Sixty Pacific, and a free upgrade would arrive in the mail.  Sometime in 1990, Three-Sixty began shipping version 1.2 with new purchases. 

Speaking of expandability, the Harpoon team released the Harpoon Scenario Editor, a packaged version of the in-house tool used to develop the battleset missions.  Becky Jones designed the software, and players used it to modify existing battlesets or create unique missions.  The Scenario Editor was released for IBM PCs in 1990, with the Macintosh and Amiga versions accompanying Harpoon’s release on their platforms in December.

Harpoon with Expansions

In 1991, Three-Sixty Pacific shipped compilation packages that included the game and a combination of add-ons. The Harpoon Challenger Pak: Limited Edition included the NACV battleset, the Scenario Editor, and James DeGoey’s Harpoon Battle Book strategy guide (with the forward written by Tom Clancy). The Challenger Pak: Signature Edition, sporting the signatures of Tom Clancy and Larry Bond on the cover, included all three expansion battlesets and the Scenario Editor but lacked the strategy guide. Both paks came with Harpoon 1.3. This upgrade did not change the interface or functionality, but it did make significant changes to Harpoon’s simulation engine. The changes increased the realism while eliminating flaws in the way Harpoon modeled some tactical situations. Version 1.3 was the last significant upgrade to the game. By 1991, work on Harpoon II was getting started.

Harpoon Challenger Pak: Limited Edition (Box and Contents)
Harpoon Challenger Pak: Signature Edition (Box and Contents)

Three-Sixty Pacific’s last additions to the original Harpoon series were the Harpoon Designers’ Series I: Battleset Enhancer in 1992 and the Harpoon Designers’ Series II: Post-Graduate Naval Operations and Tactics in 1993. Each provided twelve new missions for each of the four battlesets (48 in total). They also included updated platform databases. The Designers’ Series provided curated and challenging scenarios for veteran Harpoon players (or “Harpooners” as they were known by this time). To further enhance the experience, Series II included The Tactical Guide book to help players master the game. Series I came with a version 1.3 software upgrade, and Series II came with version 1.32—the last patch released for the original game.

Harpoon Designers’ Series 1 (Box and Contents)

In 1994, PC Gamer magazine ranked Harpoon the 36th best computer game ever; and Computer Gaming World listed Harpoon within its “Hall of Fame.”  Unfortunately, that same year, Three-Sixty Pacific hit hard times.  It had invested heavily in an unsuccessful graphic-intensive and innovative strategy game, Theatre of War, and the company’s money was gone.  IntraCorp stepped in and purchased the assets of Three-Sixty Pacific.  While the rights to Harpoon reverted to Gilman and ACSI, IntraCorp retained the rights to develop Harpoon II, which was based on a different codebase.  Larry Bond and Don Gilman hoped to retain control of all elements of Harpoon, but the product would split, with IntraCorp releasing Harpoon II and Gilman’s ACSI executing a new license with Alliance Interactive to continue working on the original Harpoon software. 

Harpoon Classic

Alliance Interactive was a rebirth of Digital Illusions, headed by Gordon Walton.  Walton had left Three-Sixty around 1991, working at firms such as Konami and GameTek, but in 1994, he formed Alliance Interactive.  Gilman and Walton quickly worked out a licensing deal, and IntraCorp agreed Walton could continue development for what came to be known as Harpoon Classic

Don Gilman helped steer Harpoon Classic’s development, and Dale and Jimmie Homburg returned to work on the art. Walton and Rob Brannon took charge of the MS-DOS and Macintosh software, while John Keene prepared Harpoon for Windows 3.1.

Harpoon Classic Screenshot

In 1994, Alliance released Harpoon Classic for the Macintosh and DOS/Windows PCs.  Harpoon Classic moved the game software to version 1.5, and it was distributed on a CD for the first time.  The package included the Scenario Editor, the original battlesets, and the Harpoon Designers’ Series I and II scenarios.  B.I. Hutchinson developed the new Harpoon Designers’ Series III, with new scenarios that took advantage of Harpoon Classic’s improvements.  Also, an advertisement for Harpoon Online accompanied the software.

Harpoon Classic (Box and Contents)

Alliance Interactive continued refining Harpoon Classic, developing a 16-bit Windows version known as WinHarp (version 1.62). This version came with new EC2000 battlesets developed by B.I. Hutchison of Advanced Scenario Design Workshop. However, Alliance Interactive ran into financial troubles. While Walton’s earlier Digital Illusions was a game studio, Interactive Alliance aspired to be a full-service software publisher. Unfortunately, Alliance closed its doors when one of its largest distributors refused to pay for shipped software, and Walton lacked the funds for a legal fight.

Harpoon Classic 1.62b “WinHarp” (courtesy of Tony Eischens)

After Alliance’s demise, Gilman transferred Harpoon’s license to Interactive Magic.  Interactive updated the game engine to run as a 32-bit protected mode Windows 95 application.  In November 1996, Interactive released Harpoon Classic 97 (software version 1.63).  Brent Smith and Jim Harler managed the update, but the programming was handled by John Keene and Gordon Walton.  Classic 97 also included software for accessing Harpoon Online.  Fans complained the updated database focused on larger navies at the expense of smaller countries, and the new version 1.6 software was reportedly more error-prone than its predecessor.  Regardless, sales remained relatively strong for what had become a discount title.

Harpoon Classic 97 (Box and Contents)
Harpoon Classic 97 Screenshot

Harpoon Online

Harpoon was a trailblazing tabletop game, a one-of-a-kind computer game, and it was also a pioneering online game.  In 1991, Gilman’s ACSI signed an agreement with Kesmai Corporation to develop an online version of Harpoon.  The World Wide Web had yet to ignite the internet, but dial-up subscription services were increasingly popular.  In 1993, Kesmai began testing Harpoon Online on GEnie, and by the mid-90s, it was available on other online services such as Delphi, CompuServe, and AOL. 

Harpoon Online Advertisement

When Alliance Interactive shut down, Gordon Walton moved to Kesmai. He did so shortly after News Corp acquired the firm and dial-up services were taking off. He helped grow Kesmai’s business, supporting such titles as Harpoon Online, Air Warrior, Legends of Kesmai, and others.

At the time, subscription services charged users by the hour, and Kesmia received a share of the hourly charge when users played their games. Marketing materials proclaimed that Harpoon Online provided “real enemies, in real battles, in real-time.” Players could, “Go head-to-head. Or fight or ally with up to thirty other players in full-scale battle.” In December 1996, Kesmia’s business model suffered when AOL began offering unlimited access for a flat monthly fee; however, Harpoon Online survived until 2000, when Electronics Arts acquired Kesmai.

Harpoon II

After the demise of Three-Sixity Pacific in 1994, IntraCorp continued developing Harpoon II. Unlike its contemporary Harpoon Classic, Harpoon II had a completely new codebase. Carl C. Norman and Michael Steele led the project. Norman started working at Three Sixity Pacific back in December 1992, eventually becoming its Customer Support Manager. For Harpoon, he had worked on the MEDC battleset and produced the Designers’ Series I. When Three-Sixty folded, Norman set up shop as Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) and worked under contract with IntraCorp on Harpoon II. Norman was the founder of the Harpoon Users Group, and he was a Marine Corp veteran who had previously worked in the defense industry developing training devices and simulations. Steele was an experienced programmer, working on the Designers’ Series II, among other projects.

The Harpoon II team concentrated on the game’s engine and interface. Like the original, they wanted an accurate simulation rather than arcade-style action. Their goal was to recreate life within a modern naval Combat Information Center (CIC). Harpoon II provided some multimedia flourishes and sported impressive maps and a detailed platform database. Unlike the original Harpoon (and Harpoon Classic), Harpoon II’s platform database was separated from the game’s main software engine. Also, each battleset and scenario used the same database. This made the software expandable and customizable from the beginning.

Harpoon II (Box and Contents)
Harpoon 2 Screenshot

Like Harpoon Classic, it was released in 1994.  Unfortunately, Harpoon II quickly gained a reputation as a buggy game with poor artificial intelligence directing the opponent’s actions.  Despite the ambitions of the design team, Harpoon fans complained the game was not as realistic as the original.  The team resolved many of the initial technical problems in a string of patches, but it was too late to make the game a commercial success. 

A series of tutorial missions, and the first battleset, Global Conflict 1, came with the game.  Global Conflict 2 and Global Conflict 3 were added later (providing 45 Global Conflict scenarios).  As with the original, a scenario editor was created.  In 1995, the scenario editor and the Global Conflict battlesets were packaged into the Harpoon II Deluxe Multimedia Edition (distributed on a CD).

Harpoon II Dexluex Multimedia Edition (Box and Contents)

Ed Dille and Tom Basham co-wrote the Harpoon II Official Strategy Guide in 1994.  IntraCorp also produced three standalone expansion battlesets: WestPac, Coldwar, and Regional Conflicts 1

Harpoon II WestPac and Cold War Battlesets and Official Strategy Guide

In 1996, Frank M. Hale Jr. took the lead in creating Harpoon II: Admiral’s Edition, providing the most stable version of the software, the six existing battlesets, an exclusive Regional Conflict 2 battleset, the scenario editor, and a database Editor.  The Admiral’s Edition was the best and final version of Harpoon II.  IntraCorp filed for bankruptcy shortly after its release in 1996.

Harpoon II Admiral’s Edition (Box and Contents)

As the Harpoon community grew, several volunteer third-party projects popped up to support the game. In 1998, Saul Jacobs created the Harpoon Users Database (HUD) to improve realism, correct errors, and expand the platforms, weapons, and sensors. In 1999, Darren Buckley developed the Harpoon Users Database II (or HUD2), and soon many new scenarios were built using HUD2 data. Working in support of these efforts was Tom Wenck’s PfEdit database editor. Wenck’s software was easier to use than the Database Editor packaged with Harpoon II, and it became an important tool for customizing Harpoon II and creating user-contributed scenarios. Unknown to those involved at the time, the proliferation of customized community databases and scenarios would create friction down the road.

Licensing Consolidation

With the demise of IntraCorp, it was possible to consolidate Harpoon’s licensing. In 1997, a new agreement was executed, leaving Larry Bond and Chris Carlson in charge of Harpoon’s copyrights and trademarks (including Gilman’s copyright for computer Harpoon). Bond and Carlson then licensed the computer game’s rights back to Gilman’s new company, Advanced Gaming Systems, Inc. (AGSI). Gilman and AGSI now had the rights to all Harpoon software: Harpoon, Harpoon Classic, Harpoon II, Harpoon Online, and any potential military products yet to be developed.

Gilman took this opportunity to plan the next generation of Harpoon software.  He signed an agreement with Carl Norman’s Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) to produce Harpoon 4Harpoon 4 would align computer Harpoon with Bond and Carlson’s recently released Harpoon 4 tabletop ruleset.

Harpoon 4

SSI, in partnership with AGSI, was eager to begin the next generation of Harpoon.  Gilman, Norman, Bond, and Carlson believed Harpoon 4 would reignite the franchise.  Yet, in 1998, problems buffeted SSI.  First, SSI had staffing problems, which resulted in the loss of the initial development team.  Then SSI’s parent company, Mindscape, was purchased by The Learning Company.  Soon after, Mattel bought The Learning Company.  Mattel then initiated a significant restructuring.  In the restructure, SSI was moved to a holding company and ultimately sold to Ubisoft.  During this turmoil, Harpoon 4 lingered. 

Harpoon 4 Box Concept

Despite the challenges, in 1999, SSI provided a public peek at Harpoon 4.  The preview showed impressive screenshots with 3D-accelerated graphics.  While Ubisoft claimed Harpoon 4 would be released in the summer or fall of 2000, it remained stalled.  In 2001, Ubisoft canceled Harpoon 4, but they backtracked and restarted the project a few months later.  After significant online clamor, Bond wrote an open letter in February 2002 explaining the current status of the long-delayed game.  He attempted to deflect hostility away from SSI and explained that the design was finished and programming was underway again.  In June 2003, UbiSoft shared that Ultimation, the development studio working on Harpoon 4, had folded; however, they transferred the project to an in-house team working in Romania.  Unfortunately, in November 2003 (the day before Thanksgiving), Ubisoft permanently canceled Harpoon 4

Tony Kee, UbiSoft’s VP of Marketing, said, “Ubisoft is committed to making the best military simulation games possible, and unfortunately, the Harpoon IV project wasn’t meeting this goal. In our judgment, the product quality could never reach a level that meets or exceeds consumer expectations.”  He hinted that discussions were underway to license the source code to a third-party group within the Harpoon community, but nothing materialized.

Harpoon Classic 2002 & Commander’s Edition

In 2001, with Harpoon 4 was stuck in development, AGSI allowed the HarpoonHQ website to sell Harpoon II Admiral’s Edition and Harpoon Classic 97 with a few modest updates. The discounted titles were priced at $20 each or $25 for both. The simmering interest in Harpoon bolstered AGSI’s confidence while Ubisoft plodded along.

Selling legacy software was just the start of a growing online community effort to keep Harpoon alive. Connected through various forums and email lists, “Harpooners” were eager to update the game’s database and address perceived simulation shortfalls. For example, long-term players noticed the “blue” (NATO) forces not only had superior technology but the AI played more aggressively when controlling blue forces than the “red” (Soviet) adversaries.

Eventually, AGSI blessed a request by Byron Audler, a moderator of Ed Ladner’s Harpoon User’s Leagues List (HULL), to update and optimize the Harpoon Classic software. Don Gilman gave Audler and his team the Harpoon Classic 97 source code, and Bret McKee took the lead improving the code–supported by Tony Eischens and Frank Moody. The new code ran faster, GUI elements were refined, and the AI was overhauled to improve submarine and aerial warfare. Brad Leyte and Saul Jacobs updated the database system, rewriting it for better expandability. The game came with over 200 scenarios, with much more available to download online.

The popular PfEdit database editor for Harpoon II was a simple 16-bit application limited to 640KB of conventional memory. Beginning in the mid-1990s, Jonathon Reimer developed a new Platform Editor using Microsoft Access and Visual Basic. Now, for the first time, the Harpoon Classic system had a flexible platform editing tool, and it would be indispensable as Harpooners created new scenarios with updated platforms. (In 2005, AGSI obtained the rights to Reimer’s editor. AGSI named it H3RE and included it with Harpoon 3 ANW.)

In August 2002, the volunteer effort culminated in Harpoon Classic 2002—sold as an upgrade to Harpoon Classic 97.  In October 2003, Harpoon Classic 2002 Gold was released as a standalone product.  Among other improvements, Classic 2002 Gold added new EC2003 battlesets.  A utility was included for converting Harpoon Classic 97’s EC2000 battlesets to the EC2003 format.

Harpoon Classic 2002 Gold

A few years later, in 2005, Tony Eischens and Bret McKee were at it again, programming a new update entitled Harpoon Classic 2005 Gold. However, after the collapse of Harpoon 4, AGSI renamed this effort Harpoon Commander’s Edition (CE), Matrix Games published the title in November 2007. This update retained many third-party improvements from Classic 2002 but incorporated some of Bond and Carlson’s model changes from the Harpoon 4 tabletop ruleset. Don Gilman was the project manager, with Fletcher Comstock serving as the primary programmer. The Commander’s Edition included a revamped radar and electronic countermeasures model, and Brad Leyte created a new HCDB database. (Years later, in 2016, Leyte released a new HCDB2 database for the game.) Harpoon Commander’s Edition would be the final version of Harpoon Classic.

Harpoon 3

Back in 1998, Jesse Spears, the programmer for the Macintosh version of Harpoon II, began thinking about reviving the Macintosh software, updating it for PowerPC systems. In May 1999, Spears worked out an agreement with AGSI to update the code and sell this new version as Harpoon 3. Soon after, AGSI agreed to let the HarpoonHQ community update the Harpoon Classic code. These separate development efforts perpetuated a split in the Harpoon franchise with Spears working from Harpoon II and Audler, McKee, Eischens, etc. building off of Harpoon Classic. While this seems unusual in hindsight, at the time AGSI believed Harpoon 4 was the future of Harpoon, making such fan-driven projects temporary.

Over the next three years, Spears made many improvements to the Macintosh version, moving it from version 3.0 to 3.4. In February 2002, Spears also released Harpoon 3 for the PC (at version 3.4). The original Harpoon II was a DOS application, and it ran poorly on Windows 95, 98, or ME. Furthermore, it would not run on 32-bit operating systems such as Windows NT, Windows 2000, or Windows XP. Harpoon 3 was supposed to be a placeholder until Harpoon 4 arrived, and as such, it was not sold in retail channels. Those interested could purchase the game from the Naval Warfare Simulations website. By the summer of 2002, both the Mac and Windows software was upgraded to version 3.5.

Essentially an impressive update and patch operation, Spears and a small group of supporters did not have much military experience, nor were they connected to Larry Bond or Chris Carlson, but they made it possible for the Harpoon II platform to continue running on updated computers.

With Harpoon 3 receiving steady patches and updates throughout the early 2000s, it became the basis for Harpoon 3 Pro (or H3 MilSim). This military-specific product was developed by AGSI, but was not available to the public. To support specialized training needs, it added recording, logging, and umpire capabilities. It also had a Monte Carlo analysis feature, customized geographical information system (GIS) layers, and export functionality. The U.S. Navy used the system, along with Northrop-Grumman and the RAND Corporation. Military customers in Japan, Canada, Sweden, Mexico, and Australia also used the software. Several of the improvements from Harpoon 3 Pro would be incorporated into future commercial versions of Harpoon.

Upon the final cancelation of Harpoon 4 in November 2003, Harpoon 3 garnered more attention. Like with the earlier HUD2 community database, the HarpoonHQ website took on a significant database rewrite. Led by Ragnar Emsoy, the new DB2000 platform database contained more than 5,000 military ships, subs, and aircraft, and many third-party scenarios were based on this database. Over time, DB2000 and related improvements were incorporated into Harpoon 3.

In March 2004, a few months after the final cancellation of Harpoon 4, Harpoon 3.6 was released. Considered by many the definitive edition of Harpoon 3, the game was a fan favorite. In April 2005, rebounding from Ubisoft’s decision, AGSI signed an agreement with Matrix Games to publish the upcoming commercial release of Harpoon 3 Advanced Naval Warfare (ANW) and Harpoon Commander’s Edition. The first was the evolution of Harpoon II and the latter was the evolution of Harpoon Classic.

Harpoon 3 Screenshot

In June 2006, Harpoon 3 ANW (software version 3.7) was released.  It came with the “Harpoon 3 Standard Database,” otherwise known as the ANW DB.  Despite professional polish, this version introduced a range of bugs and incompatibilities when using the growing number of third-party scenarios and database additions.  Just as he did with Harpoon Classic, Darren Buckley created a Harpoon Users Database 3 (HUD3) for this version of Harpoon.  After Buckley died in 2011, François Guérin continued the work with a HUD4 database.  Harpoon 3 ANW received yearly updates from 3.7 in 2006 to 3.10 by 2010. 

Harpoon survived thanks to a die-hard group of online supporters. Software updates that strengthened the community were welcomed, but changes that caught them by surprise or impacted third-party innovations were not. While several of the changes to Harpoon 3 ANW were intended to better align the software with Bond and Carlson’s 4th and 5th editions of the gaming models, computer Harpoon had grown in complexity, and some felt it should stretch beyond the limits of Bond and Carlson’s paper-based system.

In 2010, Matrix would publish Larry Bond’s Harpoon – Ultimate Edition, providing fans more than twenty prior versions of Harpoon from 1989 to 2006 (essentially everything except IntraCorp’s Harpoon II).  It shipped with the HUD3 database dated November 2010 and an ANW DB.  The Ultimate Edition was intended to be compatible with many third-party enhancements.  At the time, it was released as a peace offering so future versions of Harpoon could abandon backward compatibility.

Command

By 2006, an influential group within the HarpoonHQ community had grown frustrated with the direction of Harpoon. There were heated arguments involving plagiarism among user-contributed databases, triggered by Herman Hum’s popular PlayersDB project. Also, Harpoon 3 ANW’s compatibility issues were viewed as a snub to community contributors.

In January 2007, Larry Bond wrote another open letter reaffirming that he and Chris Carlson are the original creators of Harpoon. They work through Don Gilman and his company, AGSI, for all official computer Harpoon issues.  Bond acknowledged some struggles with Harpoon 3 ANW, but he asked for the community’s patience.  He also chastised anyone who attempted to distribute or profit from original or modified code without authorization.  Don Gilman followed up, suggesting a path forward with a new Content Creators Channel for those wishing to improve the platform.  A special committee would authorize access to the channel, and those admitted would be designated “Team Harpoon Content Providers.”  In 2009, AGSI was teasing “The Next Harpoon,” faithfully following Bond and Carlson’s Harpoon V ruleset.  Gilman hoped to name the software Harpoon 5, but it never appeared.

Soon after this announcement, online community members decided to take matters into their own hands. HarpoonHQ changed its name to WarfareSims, and a team began working on a new database; only this new version was intended for a new product not tied to the Harpoon franchise. The community at WarfareSims was working on a new game, code named Red Pill. By April 2011, the name changed to Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations (CMANO). In August 2012, a formal company, WarfareSims LTD, was created in the United Kingdom, though the development team worked across the globe. Dimitris Dranidis was the firm’s general director and software architect. In December 2012, WarfareSims and Matrix Games announced a partnership to bring the Command air and naval warfare simulation and strategy game to customers.

By mid-2013, essentially all community-driven Harpoon 3 database and scenario work had ended; however, there was some ongoing contributions for the Harpoon Classic / Commander’s Edition platform. CMANO was released on September 24, 2013. It was a modern software package allowing for easy updating and even playable through the Steam gaming service. The game map was dynamic, and the screen was filled with information. The games’ overall styling was straightforward, and its voluminous platform database was its strongest feature. In short order, hundreds of scenarios were created, spanning the globe and military operations from the 1950s to today.

CMANO was named Best Simulation of 2013 by Eurogamer, and it received many favorable reviews.  U.S. Naval Institute said CMANO was, “A worthy heir to the Harpoon series of games, Command will find a following not only among civilian gamers but might have value among military, government, and policy circles as a simulator of modern warfare.”  The reviewer at Wargamer.com said, “This is probably the most important wargame to come out since I started in the hobby back in 1979.  It’s pretty much what we all dreamed about having back then, and to now have something this professional-grade available for home use is just nothing short of amazing.”

Command: Modern Air / Naval Operations Screenshot

After the launch of CMANO in November 2013, Don Gilman, president of AGSI, announced that all work on the commercial version of Harpoon had ceased.  The licensing rights were returned to Larry Bond and Don Carlson.  He elaborated, “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 tastes have changed, and we were not successful in building a business case to develop the next generation of Harpoon.”  He continued, “When most of us started on this journey, we were young, single, childless, and the internet didn’t bring trolls into our faces.”

In May 2015, a professional edition of CMANO was released.  Like Harpoon 3 Pro, it provided complete database editing, umpire capabilities, Monte Carlo analysis, import and export options, etc.  It was marketed to the defense industry and military think tanks.

CMANO was updated to Command: Modern Operations (CMO) in November 2019.  The updated software has a new engine (one reviewer estimated a 25% performance boost), detailed satellite maps, an improved user interface, and the option for realistic submarine communications.  The new system also modeled terrain impacts for ground forces and a link to Tacview (purchased separately) for viewing 3-D representations of CMO’s ships and planes in action.  All of this was backed by an updated DB3000 database.  CMO is backward compatible with CMANO’s campaign DLCs and scenarios, and new DLCs and scenarios are being created regularly.

In October 2020, CMO was awarded the Charles S. Roberts 2019 award for “Best Modern Era Computer Wargame.”

YearProduct
1989Harpoon (PC)
1990Harpoon (PC v1.1)
1990Harpoon Battleset #2 – NAVC (PC, Mac & Amiga)
1990Harpoon Scenario Editor (PC, Mac & Amiga)
1990Harpoon Battleset #3 – MEDC (PC, Mac & Amiga)
1990Harpoon 1 (PC v1.2)
1990Harpoon 1 (Mac & Amiga v.1.2)
1991Harpoon Battleset #4 – IOPG (PC, Mac & Amiga)
1991Harpoon (PC v1.3)
1991Harpoon Challenger Pak – Limited Edition (PC)
1991Harpoon Challenger Pak – Signature Edition (PC & Mac)
1992Harpoon Designer’s Series I: Battleset Enhancer (PC & Mac)
1993Harpoon Designers’ Series II: Post-Graduate Naval Ops & Tactics (PC)
1993Harpoon (PC-98)
1993Harpoon Online
1994Harpoon Classic (v1.5) (PC & Mac)
1994Harpoon II (PC & Mac)
1994Harpoon II Battleset #2 – WestPac (PC & Mac)
1994Harpoon II Battleset #3 – Cold War (PC & Mac)
1995Harpoon II Deluxe Multimedia Edition (PC)
1996Harpoon II Admiral’s Edition (PC)
1996Harpoon Classic (16-bit Windows v1.62)
1996Harpoon Classic 97 (32-bit Windows v1.63)
1999Harpoon 3 (Mac v3.0)
2000Harpoon 3 (Mac v3.1)
2000Harpoon 3 (Mac v3.2)
2000Harpoon 3 (Mac v3.3)
2002Harpoon 3.4 (PC & Mac)
2002Harpoon 3.5 (PC & Mac)
2002Harpoon Classic 2002 (PC)
2002Harpoon 3 Pro (PC)
2003Harpoon Classic 2002 Gold (PC)
2004Harpoon 3.6 (PC & Mac)
2006Larry Bond’s Harpoon 3: Advanced Naval Warfare (PC v3.7)
2007Larry Bond’s Harpoon 3: Advanced Naval Warfare (PC v3.8)
2007Larry Bond’s Harpoon: Commander’s Edition (PC)
2008Larry Bond’s Harpoon: Advanced Naval Warfare (PC v3.9)
2009Larry Bond’s Harpoon: Advanced Naval Warfare (PC v3.10)
2010Larry Bond’s Harpoon: Ultimate Edition (PC)

Categories: Software

Tagged as:

RetroViator

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