Pinback’s World o’ Subs
Feb 10th, 2009 by Pinback

It all began with this thread in which a commitment was made to find a sub game, and to play it. Why a sub game? I don’t know. I think the idea has always appealed to me because it combines so many things that I enjoy. The open water. Piloting things. Hiding from those who seek to do me harm until such time that it’s possible to sneak up on them and destroy them. These are things which I definitely think define “Ben Pinback Parrish”, and why the idea of a sub game had always struck my fancy. But many years had passed since I last played one, and even then I’m certain I didn’t “delve too deeply”. That’s a sub pun! Yaaay! 

Anyway, Steam had Silent Hunter IV available, and that seemed to be the latest, greatest sub sim everyone was playing, so I downloaded it and fired it up. Long story short, since then I’ve become a submarine FIEND, and have done little else in my spare time than play submarine games, read books — both fictional and non — about submarines, and cook dinner for Robb. All three of these things have been very rewarding, but since this is the thread about subs, I will only cover two of them. 

And now, some mini-reviews about the various sub games and books that I have experienced in just the three short weeks since this craziness began! I will do it in chronological order of that I experienced them: 

NAME: Silent Hunter IV: Wolves of the Pacific 
TIME SPENT WITH IT: Hours and hours 

This was the perfect place to start. It was just what I needed to really light the spark which would eventually end up in this stupid thread. More than anything else in this list, SHIV really makes you feel like you’re there. The creaking of the ship as you descend into the depths. Trying to sneak a peek through a periscope as waves crash over the lens. The satisfying sound of distant explosions and metal grinding as you hide in the depths, listening to your latest victim sink into the sea. It’s what it’s all about, man. Of course, when I say you feel like you’re there, I guess I mean you feel like an actual sailor in wartime, put on a submarine, but without having been trained or given any sort of education about what it is you are there for or are supposed to do. Never has a 100 page manual been quite so useless. If they had replaced the entire thing with a post-it note that said “just check the internet to find out how to play”, it would have been better, because then you could have saved the time it took you to realize that the only way to figure out how to play it is to look online in user forums. A shameful display on the part of the publishers, made worse by the fact that the game had a history of being notoriously buggy. Even in the latest (likely last) patch, while everything “pretty much” works, there’s just enough little idiosyncrasies and weird things going on that the whole product, while overall excellent, seems a bit held together with duct tape. However, if you put the time in to figure out how to play, and overlook some of the rough edges, this is as compelling a sub game as you’ll find today. 

RATING: Three and a Half Stars 

It was compelling enough that it actually made me want to read a book about the subject, which leads us to: 


NAME: Take Her Deep 
AUTHOR: Admiral I. J. Galantin 

It may be the best compliment you can pay to SHIV that this book, a real-life account of the story of an American WWII sub in the Pacific, serves as a pretty decent manual to SHIV. A story more exciting than any fiction could muster, told expertly and effortlessly by the captain himself, it is the definition of “page turner”. Mixing all the humor, boredom, jubilation and terror that must have been a part of being a submariner in WWII, the book educates as much as it titillates, and every night after reading, I would go into SHIV and try out some of the tactics that the captain of the Halibut tried in the book. My success rate increased remarkably. A flawless, wonderful book! 

RATING: Four Stars 


NAME: Shells of Fury 
TIME SPENT WITH IT: A couple hours 

This is a bargain-priced WWI sub simulator, with bargain-level features. The graphics are kinda weak. The sound is pretty weak. Absolutely nothing about it will wow you. But it is the only WWI sub simulator available, so if you’re interested in the topic, you get to play Shells of Fury. Take it or leave it. After reading generally bad reviews of it, though, I was surprised to find what really isn’t a bad little game, as long as you’re not expecting Silent Hunter-like production values. And the manual, though 1/3 the size of SHIV’s, is much better. The tactical highlight of this game for me is the fact that sonar hadn’t been invented, so when you’re underwater, you’re really hidden! It adds an interesting dynamic to the whole cat-and-mouse dynamic which sub games tend to excel at. Ah well, if it wasn’t a bargain title, I’d be less forgiving, but it is, and it ain’t that bad. 

RATING: Two and a Half Stars 


NAME: Final Run 
AUTHOR: David E. Meadows 

This may be the worst book of all time! My first choice for sub fiction was a poor one. Even if you can overlook the grade-school level writing, even if you can overlook the story, in which not much happens for the first 95% of the book, and even if you overlook some of the most ridiculous, over-the-top, obnoxious, dislikeable characters ever put in print, it is the sloppiest book I’ve ever read. And I can’t overlook any of those things. But, still… I’m no history major, but I am pretty sure that 1956 was not “twenty-one years after WWII ended”, as one character muses. And later in the book, a fire breaks out in the aft torpedo room of one of the subs. Wait, I mean the forward torpedo room. Wait, I mean the aft one — the book changes which end of the sub the fire is on just about every page. It gets so bad at the end that the word “AFT” is eventually put in caps, as if the author was trying to remind himself where that damned fire was. Did anyone read this pile of shit before shoving it out the door? Inexcusable. But like I said, even if you clean up all the many, many mistakes, you’d be left with a really, REALLY bad book. Worst sub book ever! And I’ve read three of them already! 

RATING: Zero Stars 

Anxious to get that bad taste out of my mouth, but afraid that all sub fiction was this bad, I gave it one more chance: 


NAME: Voyage of the Gray Wolves 
AUTHOR: Steven Wilson 

Whew! Five pages in, I was relieved to discover that not all subfic was as atrocious as Final Run. Here is a book about WWII subs, from the German perspective, that is written well, that has enjoyable, interesting characters with depth, and that moves along from beginning to end. Still nowhere near as riveting as the nonfiction variety, but a fine read, when you just gotta have your sub fix. And I gotta have my sub fix!! 

RATING: Three Stars 

But man cannot live on WWII alone. It’s time to get MODERN! 


The following three titles come bundled together: 

NAME: Jane’s 688(I) Hunter/Killer 

I fired this nuclear sub simulator up, played through the tutorial, and then realized that Sub Command, which it came packaged with, was its sequel, and included the 688(I), as well as two other types of subs, an updated graphics/sound. 

NAME: Sub Command 

I spent about a week reading the 200+ page PDF manual for this game, before finally firing it up and trying to get through a scenario. That’s when I realized that Dangerous Waters, which it came packaged with, was its sequel, and included not only these three boats, but more subs and even surface and air units. 

NAME: Dangerous Waters 

I actually haven’t done much with this other than fiddling around and looking at a couple of the screens. First thing I did, though, was to make sure that there wasn’t any sequel to this hiding out there. Second thing I noticed was that the 688(I) sub part of the game looked/sounded identical to Sub Command, so I think this is really just Sub Command, spruced up with a couple more platforms and a wider-ranging campaign game. 

It’s manual is 600 pages long, and it’s a long 600 pages. I can’t stand reading PDFs, so I shelled out the extra $20 to get the printed manual mailed to me. Should be here in a couple days. In the meantime, here are my impressions: 

This is the hardest of the hardest core sub simulation available. The various electronic doohickies seem to be modeled in excruciatingly exacting detail. You will learn things you never thought existed in the world to be learned about, just going through the tutorials. 

With only functional graphics and sound, this game will not make you “feel like you’re there”, unless by “there” you mean a laboratory or an accounting office. Make no mistake, you will be spending most if not all your time looking at things like this: 


Dangerous Waters wrote:


…instead of things like this: 


SHIV wrote:


And yet, underneath all the gadgetry and blinking lights and obscure acronyms, the thrill of the chase is still there, and it is awfully satisfying when all those blinking lights come together to betray your enemy’s location and you shove a torpedo up they butt, all from the safety of the silent ocean and pages and pages full of lines and numbers and weird circles and stuff. It also has the benefit of loading up in a couple seconds, as opposed to games like SHIV, which I’m still waiting for it to load. It’s definitely the most comprehensive sub simulator ever made available to the public, but your affinity for it depends on how patient you are to learn it all. 

RATING: Depends on how HARDCORE you are 


But we’re just getting started here at Pinback’s World O’ Subs! Why, a bunch of new books just showed up from Amazon in the last half hour, and surely as a result of this thread, sub simulations will once again become financially viable to develop, and the gaming landscape — or seascape (that’s another sub pun! Yaaay! <3 <3 <3) — will be completely revolutionized! 

The Golden Age of Subs begins now!! 

Yaaaay!!! <3 <3

The Adventures of the Dreamcast and Vectrex
Feb 9th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

(Please click for full image.)

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