We weren’t especially rich growing up, which in a way was a blessing — my parents taught us how to be frugal and wise with our money, and they made us get jobs to earn what we wanted. But as a gaming geek, it was frustrating at times to be stuck with an Atari 2600 when all my friends had a NES, or to be plugging away at our ancient 1983-era IBM PC when the 386s were all the rage. By 1990, it got insanely hard to even find games that would run on a computer with no hard drive (yes, computers back in the early 80’s didn’t come with this luxury — you had to start the computer up with the operating systems disk just to load other programs).
So I mooched a lot from other people with better game systems, such as experiencing Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis while I housesit for someone with a sweet machine. One such moochee was a single guy who lived across the street and would let me use his 386 to game from time to time. In exchange, I helped him build and stain his deck.
He was really into simulators, which was a huge market back in the early 90’s. Everyone was gobbling simulators up: tank, plane, ship, etc. While I loved playing A-10 Warthog, Chuck Yeager’s Flight Simulator and F-15 Strike Eagle on his computer, mostly I couldn’t resist taking on the role of a WWII submarine captain in Silent Service II.
SS2 was perfect for the era — it was a slower, more tactical combat experience and not terribly taxing on computers. It was this slower pace of battles that actually made it so addictive. You’d choose a submarine, torpedo type, and area of the Pacific to patrol, then head out and wander in circles until you made contact with a Japanese ship (or fleet). The enemy ships ranged from lightly-armed merchant vessels to extremely deadly super-battleships. Then, your mission was simple: blow ’em up real good.
The catch was the same as it was for actual WWII subs — compared to these ships, your boat was extremely fragile, and only through stealth and surprise could you hope to win the day. If the enemy spotted you, they could flee (and depending on their top speed, easily get out of range), fire at you, or charge you and attempt to either ram or drop depth charges. Death came swiftly in most of these cases, so you wanted to make every torpedo launch count. You also had a deck gun for smaller enemy ships if you wanted to conserve your torps.
I spent many afternoons patiently hunting down the Japanese fleet, and I ended up learning a whole bunch about WWII submarine warfare in the process. Simulator games back then were big into the educational aspect, particularly in their manuals, and I ended up absorbing a lot of knowledge about boat types, famous accounts of the war, and so on.
Dive! Dive! Dive!