Apr 28th, 2010 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I’ll admit I had my doubts when I started to play a spirited round of ATC-SIM: The Web-Based Air Traffic Control Sim. I had doubts because I am a highly-functional retarded person who is is quite aware of his own limits, to where I know better than to play an ATC game in case some Ender’s Game shit is going on and I kill thousands of people and some Americans.

Then Pinback told me that there’s such a thing as “Ted Stevens Airport” up in Anchorage, and frankly, anyone who is allowed to fly on planes when convicted felons can get airports named after them deserves what they get from that industry. There’s two people who could MAYBE get stuff named after them in Alaska: Curt Schilling and Will Riker, and every word that’s come out of Schilling’s mouth since the bloody sock game has been intolerable objectivist horse shit.

And Riker is a fictional character. (crosses arms)

“Fine,” I said to Pinback, “I’ll try to land ONE plane.” After all, Pinback has done me a fine solid over the years, playing such dear games to my heart like Knight Orc and Front Page Sports Football. Well, he didn’t vote for their page deletion in the Wikipedia, and that’s close enough.

I went to the ATC-SIM website and picked “Heathrow” because it was the one available airport I’ve been to for more than thirty minutes that didn’t make me want to drown myself in the Captain’s Club toilets. The first time I was at Heathrow, there was an announcement to not crowd the plane that was going to take me and 40 students to Edinburgh. As the oldest person on the flight and lone American, I instantly felt responsible in ensuring everyone followed the disembodied voice’s orders. However, the students crowded the plane door without any regard to order or instruction. I was shocked, nothing had at all prepared me for this, this… this Anarchy in the U.K.! Nothing! It was unheard of.

The instructions to ATC-SIM aren’t on the actual page you play the game on. You might think this meant that I had to use either notepad.exe or my own nootropic-fueled memory to play, but I did neither of those things. I asked Benjamin ‘Pinback’ Parrish for instructions in real-time, as he alt-tabbed away from his OWN game to help me. After figuring out the controls, my long experience as a gurgling text gamer came into play: I got ONE plane down onto the runway. Hooray! I am being absolutely serious when I say that landing the plane in ATC-SIM is a fun experience that actually made me happy. Like, I’m not doing schtick for a second: it was fuckin’ cool.

By this point I had a terrific backlog of departures. There were three planes that had the abbreviation “DET” next to them. I assume those three planes were going to Detroit. Why were three planeloads of questionable Britons headed to Detroit at the same time? Was Australia full or something? I’ve read my history, gents, I know the intent. I never let those planes depart Heathrow. They’re STILL there – go dump your human garbage on Mars, Lady Byng!

Anyway, in the time it took me to beg Pinback for simple instructions, he had a terrible disaster in his own game. He was kind enough to take a screenshot. Remember when he said you couldn’t crash the planes? Well…

Pinback: I cleared two planes to 2000 feet, sent them to the same fix.
Pinback: Once then got there, they both started circling it.
Pinback: Meanwhile I was yapping at you.
Ice Cream Jonsey: Hahahah!
Pinback: They ended up circling right into each other. I have a screen cap.
(screencap is sent)
Pinback: Your fault.

Bwa-hahahahaha!!!! Move over Osama, it’s time for something meatier!

“These blast points are too accurate for Sand People.” — Ben Kenobi

Anyway, there are now exactly THREE Flash games that are not only good, but great: Nanaca Crash, and ATC-SIM. Four stars and, so far, the best game I’ve played in 2010.

Inglourious Basterds Review + DIRECTOR FIGHT
Dec 30th, 2009 by Pinback

Inglourious Basterds begins in brilliant Tarantino style, with a long, drawn out, very quiet scene where the dialogue carries the show, the tension building throughout, until you can’t barely take it anymore, and it explodes in a blast of horrific violence. At this point, I’m giving it four (****) stars.

But then the movie does a weird thing, for a Tarantino movie: It does the same thing, over and over again. For two and a half hours.

Each individual scene, if it had started the movie, would be golden. Always, a scene of implied danger and paranoia, and always, the witty (largely subtitled) banter continues, and the danger piles up with every word, and the tension mounts and mounts, until WHAMMO!

But they’re not all the first scene. They all come in a row. And at some point, even though you’re enjoying the scene, you realize you’ve been watching people build tension through dialogue for nigh-on two hours now, and is anything ever really gonna happen?

It does, finally, in a great climactic scene, and overall, I have to say I was entertained and intrigued throughout, but damn, it just didn’t quitesnap for me, as a whole. I’d call this movie Tarantino’s “Benjamin Button” — As with Fincher, even when he missteps, it’s interesting. But yeah. Can’t… can’t give this one full marks quite yet.


Now, it’s time for DIRECTOR FIGHT.

Tarantino himself has said that Paul Thomas Anderson is his biggest filmmaking bud, and they sort of have an implied competition between them to outdo the other. Each now has made five films (I’m combining the Kill Bills, as God intended). Let’s see WHO IS WINNING:

Tarantino: Reservoir Dogs
Anderson: Hard Eight/Sydney

Hard Eight was great, a quiet first step into the director’s Hall of Fame for PTA. But Dogs was a bombastic, hilarious, super-cool, awesome launch into it, and I watched it a million times, and is an all-time classic.


Tarantino: Pulp Fiction
Anderson: Boogie Nights

Both came into their own with these sophomore efforts, and although Pulp Fiction got more cred for getting the Oscar nomination, both have become classics to the same extent. To pick one is to be unfair to the other.


Tarantino: Jackie Brown
Anderson: Magnolia

I liked Jackie Brown. You don’t hear much about Jackie Brown, though. Of course, you don’t hear much about Magnolia either, except for me constantly trying to explain to you that it’s the greatest movie ever made.


Tarantino: Kill Bill
Anderson: Punch-Drunk Love

Here’s where I have to try really hard to keep my personal bias from coming into the picture. I think PDL is an unbelievably, perfect, awesome movie. I think Kill Bill is less perfect, but also unbelievably awesome, and huge, and entertaining from the first frame to the last. So while I know if I could only get to see one of them for the rest of my life, I’d go PDL, I can tell which way the wind blows.


Tarantino: Inglourious Basterds
Anderson: There Will Be Blood

I was rooting for another neck-and-neck contest, but at about the 1 hour 45 mark of Basterds, I would have killed for Daniel Plainview to have rumbled onscreen and beat Hitler to death with a fucking bowling pin.



This is a fun battle, I do hope it continues for years and years.


It’s been pointed out to me that I forgot about Death Proof, which doesn’t totally count I think, in the same way the Kick the Can part of Twilight Zone The Movie doesn’t really count towards Spielberg’s score.

But okay, let’s be complete here:

Tarantino: Death Proof
Anderson: …

Alright, here we’ve got a decision to make. What else do we have from PTA’s ouevre to put up against Death Proof?

The natural choice would be A Prairie Home Companion, which technically is a Robert Altman film, but Altman was dying while he was making the fucking thing, so he brought in PTA, his protege, to man the director’s chair while he was busy kicking the goddamn bucket. So APHC is almost sorta half of a PTA movie, which would be fitting, since Death Proof was originally half of what you paid to see if you went to Grindhouse.

That seems fitting.

But no. Fuck it.

Tarantino: Death Proof

Jonsey thinks Death Proof is the worst movie of all time. Jonsey would likely say that the Mattress Man commercial is NOT the worst movie of all time, so on the Jonsey scale, this is an easy call. However, things are a little more complicated in Pinback Land. On the one hand, you have Kurt Russell skating through about fifteen different film styles, including one really boring one where those bitches sit around and talk about nothing for a half hour. On the other hand, you have Hoffman bouncing onto the fucking pavement.

I can’t decide.


My 10 Favorite Albums of Whatever This Decade Is Called
Nov 17th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Unlike the video game thread, I’m not going to confuse “favorite” with “best.” Although, reading most all-time lists for video games, they seem thrown together by stupid retards, so I felt totally justified at writing the authoritative list there. It’s likely that nobody will listen to a single quarter note from the albums listed below, but I don’t care.  (For our purposes here, the decade goes from from 2000 to 2009. I know there was no year “zero,” but there was, strictly speaking, no year “one” either, while people were living it. With bulletproof logic like that, I’m sure men of science and passion everywhere can’t wait to expand this entry and get with the shitty pop tunes.)

I’ll try to link to a Youtube vid of my favorite song from each disc. I know that record companies are shutting down loads of vids, but still – I’m choosing Youtube because, of the ten or twelve bit-rotten ways to link to music over the Internet, this way actually seems to be less likely to give us a situation where it turns out that we all built this geocity on rock n’ roll. Additionally, trying to get two straight blank lines in WordPress makes me want to shoot my computer with a chaingun. So, sorry about that.  Here we go!

Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 23rd, 2009 by Pinback

I would like to shortcut this review to say that in actuality, it is the greatest movie ever made, due to the fact that one of the pivotal characters is named “Capt. Pinbacker”. Case closed. FIVE STARS.

But were this an actual review, it would go something like:

Every review you will read of this movie says “the first two thirds are wonderful and beautiful, and then it takes a horrible misstep and fumbled into stupidity and incomprehensibility.” This will likely be your, the reader’s, opinion. There are two alternate arguments which you might make, which would be:

B. The first two thirds are wonderful and beautiful, and then it takes an intriguing turn into mystery and symbolicism.

C. The first two thirds are wonderful and beautiful, and then it gets stupid and incomprehensible, but by that point I didn’t care cuz it was still way cool.

I would probably put myself in the “C” category, though there’s surely plenty to discuss about what actually, you know, “happens” in the last act. It’s hard to make a case for anything that sounds coherent, but whatever.

The running theme, though, is that regardless of what you think of the ending, the first two thirds ARE wonderful and beautiful. What else they are is essentially a remake of every science fiction movie ever made. Let’s see, without giving any real spoilers away:

– 2001: Spaceship run by a computer which talks, and whose voice gets low when you unplug it.

– Event Horizon: Spooky ship travels long way to discover ghastly secrets.

– Alien: Ship with a bunch of goofballs on it, and cool-looking interiors.

– Dark Star: There is no WAY that this movie is not a direct homage to Dark Star. The movie is about a ship whose job it is to drop a bomb on a star (the Sun, in this case) to stabilize it. Which is exactly the premise of Dark Star, AND as previously mentioned, one of the characters is named “PINBACKER”. Alright?

– 2010: Ship finds the abandoned remains of a previous excursion, hilarity ensues.

– Every other science fiction movie ever made: Like I said.

When I reviewed Event Horizon, I made mention of the fact that regardless how much the movie sucked (which it did, very much) I was going to like it because I dig movies about big weird spaceships venturing out into the unknown. Nothing about that has changed in the ten years that have passed hence. When I saw the trailer for Sunshine, I said, “it looks like it’s trying to be a GOOD version of Event Horizon.”

So that’s basically my review. It’s a good (very good) version of Event Horizon. Actually, it’s a good version of all of the movies mentioned above, which it copies gives artistic nods to.

So, that’s fine. If the last part pisses you off, then just forget about it. It’s still a fine, fine movie, and the best of its type we’ve seen in a long, LONG while.


I am curious, though, if we’ll ever see a movie set in outer space on spaceships which doesn’t make a single mention (or set piece) out of an airlock.

(…that wasn’t set in a galaxy far far away.)

Jun 6th, 2009 by Pinback

An earlier time, call it 1988. A young Pinback gets his first real computer programming job in a real office (the US Treasury Department building in downtown DC). 21 years ago. So many memories.

Well, no, fuck that. A few hazy recollections of eating lunch at the goddamn food court across the street and nearly getting fired several times for coming in at 10:30, a practice now generally accepted throughout the IT world. A trailblazer to the core, this one.

The one lasting, vivid memory, though, was when I first discovered something which would stay with me from that day, to the very present:

Holy shit, you can play games at work instead of working.

Again, trailblazer, since I don’t think any IT shop in the world anymore actually does any work. But back in ’88, there was only one guy in the Treasury building not getting anything done, and that was your boy, Pinner.

The game I was playing, the only game I was playing, was called “Begin”. The worst- or best-named game in history, depending on your appreciation of irony. The full name was “Begin: A Tactical Starship Simulation”. The colon separates a noun and a verb which have absolutely nothing to do with each other. I think that’s what first attracted me to it, its completely inappropriate name. It still kinda makes me chuckle.


The version I grew up on was Begin 1.65, and in its time, it was the best starship simulator of its time.

Oh, the times we had. It was totally an 80s game — all text, and you controlled your starship by typing commands. A particularly ambitious coder could probably turn it into a zcode or Hugo game. I played it to death, but at some point you have to grow up, and I did, and forgot about it.

Then a couple weeks ago I saw the new Star Trek film, and liked it a lot, and then got all nerdy and started looking for a Trek video game. The only recent one I could find was Star Trek: Legacy for the Xbox 360, which had two things working against it: 1) the reviews were not altogether glowing, and 2) nobody has it.

Then the memory banks finally offered me a withdrawal, and I remembered Begin, and did a Google search.

The weirdest fucking thing that’s ever happened on the internet was seeing that “Begin 3.0” had been released… in 2009.

Fucking game hadn’t had an update since 1993 (when “Begin 2.0” had been released haphazardly after the authors apparently just abandoned the project and put out what they had.) And then here it was, my past coming back to life.

Begin 3. Holy shit.

Just to give you a sense of what 25 years of technological advances can bring, Begin 1.65 looked like this:

Flash forward to present day, and watch how Begin magically becomes transformed into the multimedia extravaganza which is Begin 3:

Finally, Begin has graphics befitting a game that was released in the decade that it was originally released in.

And look again:

21 years after I first found it (and 25 years after it was first released), it is still the best starship tactical simulator available on any gaming platform.

There is no point and click. You still have to type the commands. The Windows port is a bit clunky, as the massive graphics update actually makes the interface slower and less responsive.

It is essentially the same game it was in 1984, but the shit works. It has everything it should. Power management, system management, multi-armed tactics, team tactics, tension, and various Star Trek requisites like boarding parties, transporters, tractor beams, and all that. The only game I know that ever came close to this was Starfleet Command, in the late 90s/early 00s, but countless bugs and an atrocious interface doomed that one.

As insane as it sounds, and as wrong as it should be, Begin still fucking rules. And the new, state of the art, cutting edge Begin 3 just makes it better than ever.

Here are some links:

The Begin Wiki
Ben Hallert’s Begin page, the fansite which ended up lighting a fire under the original author to keep Begin alive.
Tom Nelson — author of Begin 3 and co-author of 1.65 and 2 — started this site along with the release of Begin 3.
Begin Yahoo group, surprisingly active.

And now look once more:

Micro Foundry BBS Archive

This is the BBS where the authors and fans of the game would hang out and discuss stuff. This archive spans the years 1988 to 1990.

Right around page 5, you can see an 18-year-old Pinback come in and start taking over.

Misty, watercolored memories!

Don’t Look Back
Mar 25th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I wrote a review (spoilers, sorry) of a game called Don’t Look Back over on Caltrops.

Pinback’s World o’ Subs II
Mar 12th, 2009 by Pinback

ICJ’s note: the year is 2009, and Pinback has taken to finding everything he can on submarine games. Why?I think the idea has always appealed to him because it combines so many things that he enjoys. The open water. Piloting things. Hiding from those who seek to do him harm until such time that it’s possible to sneak up on them and destroy them. These are things which I definitely think define Benjamin ‘Pinback’ Parrish, and why theideaof a sub game had always struck his fancy.

ICJ’s note II: GOD it’s annoying to hear people talking like they are British all of a sudden.

NAME:The Ice Diaries
AUTHOR:William R. Anderson

This book is the true story of one of, if not the coolest things that have ever happened. In 1958, Captain Anderson tookNautilus, the world’s first NUCLEAR FUCKING SUBMARINE, and sailed THROUGH THE FUCKING ARCTIC OCEAN, right underneath the FUCKING NORTH POLE. Nothingevercould be as cool as that! The coolness factor of that eclipses by far the coolness of everything else that has ever happened! So, I have to give the book a positive review, just for telling this story, and for spelling all the words right and not making any truly offensive grammatical mistakes.

But what this really is, is a love letter from Anderson, to… well, seemingly to everyone who has ever existed who had anything to do with theNautilus, submarines, the Navy, water, or anything else consisting of molecules composed of hydrogen and oxygen. His lavish buttkissing knows no bounds, and nobody escapes from its radius in this book, from President Eisenhower all the way down to the lowliest, blackest ship’s cook. A sample passage which I will now make up, but which summarizes perfectly the tone of the book, goes:

After meeting with the exec in the officer’s mess, we headed aft to check on the periscope repairs. While making our way there, we passed our new torpedoman, Geoffrey J. Blarghsman, who I could tell had something to say to me, but was perhaps too intimidated to voice unprovoked. “What is it, son?” “Sir, you… you have a little bit of mustard right… right there on your cheek, sir.”

I will never forget his remarkable display of courage and professionalism on that day, and feel proud and honored to have served with Blarghsman, who went on to retire a three-star Admiral.”

And it’s all very nice, and heartfelt, and I’m sure all the people involved with Nautilus (who according to the book were the bestest, most flawless, wonderful people ever to live) will smile broadly while reading it.

But the dude sailed a FUCKING SUBMARINE underneath the FUCKING ARCTIC, for fuck’s sake! Let’s get to that! Let’s get to the nitty gritty!! What’s it like to be submerged for days on end, 400 feet below a 100-foot layer of ice!! Let me taste the fear! Let me lick up the sweat of excitement that permeated every second of the voyage!

Well, there’s some of that, but you have to hunt for it in between hearing about how everything and everyone in the whole Navy is totally the best, most perfect gift from Lord Baby Jesus that has ever been.

So, you know. Great story. Okay book. It has some good pictures, too. SPOILER: Anderson dies at the end, right before the book is published.

RATING:Two and Three-Quarters Stars

AUTHOR:J.T. McDaniel

This is a fictional account of the boat “Bacalao”, from its construction before the war started to the end of the war. You can tell this book was written by a sub historian, because more than any of the books I’d read previously, this one is dense with exacting descriptions of the construction and operation of a WW2 sub, down to seemingly every dial, wire, valve, pump, or tank on the thing. If you are looking for a breezy novel you can just zip through, surfing through page after page of non-stop, dumbed-down action, this is not it. If you are a sub junkie, though, and want to get as far down into the nuts and bolts as possible, give it a go.

The book takes less pains with its human protagonists, though I was pleased to note that this is the first sub novel I’ve read where none of the characters are ridiculously idiotic, obnoxious, 2-dimensional, or irritating. While they’re basically only in the book to move the story about the subs and ships along, they all act like reasonable people and did not detract from the enjoyment of seeing how the sub was really operated.

One surprise is that, up until the rather anticlimactic finale, Bacalao — unlike boats in lots of other sub books/movies — actually does pretty well, despite page upon page devoted to getting across how much their torpedoes sucked. A novel approach, but one which lessens some of the dramatic tension. You keep waiting for something horrible to happen, or for them to endure an impossible counterattack by Japanese destroyers, but… in general, they just float around kicking ass (when the torpedoes work). I didn’t mind this too much, as the descriptions ofhowthey kicked ass were fascinating, and made me want to fire up SHIV again and try some of those tactics.

A fine book!

RATING:Three and a Quarter Stars

NAME:Real Fleet Boat
TYPE:Silent Hunter IV mod

So once you really get into SHIV, you’re introduced to the Modding Community. Apparently there are many many SHIV mods, done mostly by people who had earlier versions and wanted the damn thing to work right. But another group of hardcore historians set out to make mods which would make the simulation as perfectly realistic as possible, given the limits of the gaming engine.

One of the most popular “supermods” is called Reel Fleet Boat, and is a compilation of seemingly hundreds of individual mods, all coming together to transform SHIV into a completely new, and terriblyrealisticWWII sub simulator.

Mainly what I noticed at first was that the sun graphic was nicer. But I had two weeks of otherwise uneventful Pacific transit before anything interesting happened, so I had a lot of time to stare at the sun graphic, which is not nearly as painful — in my experience, anyway — as staring into the real one.

Other noticeable nods to realism were that the sounds are upgraded, the voices say things more in line with what I’ve read in books (see rest of thread), and other nice little touches like additional key commands and restructuring of the toolbar menus to make the game easier to operate.

I completed my mission and then set about patrolling the area, to give the new combat system a workout — a system which was more closely supposed to reflect the actual conditions on an American WWII sub off the coast of Japan in late 1941, including raising torpedo unreliability to a realistic level. And if I’ve learned anything by reading books about the period, I’ve learned that until about 1943, the torpedoes completely blew chunks.

Anyway, in the dark of night, I get a sound reading — a lone merchant (rare sight in these waters), bearing 290, about 4500 yards ahead. It’s the middle of the night, and he has no escorts, so there’s really no reason to submerge. I put engines full ahead and maneuver around for an ideal targeting situation.

SHIV offers manual targeting, which is the only “real” way to play — figuring out firing solutions and angles is much of the bulk of the challenge of the game, and letting the computer do it all for you turns it into little more than a very slowly paced arcade game. I admit I am not the best at it yet. My first salvo of three torpedoes, set for a 10-degree spread, missed wildly ahead of the target. I had underestimated the target’s height, and overestimated its speed.

With one more torpedo left in the forward hatch, I line up again, set the values to more accurate levels, and let the fish go. I switch into external viewing mode, just for the joy of seeing the torpedo draw it’s perfectly angled wake through the water, right abeam the target’s bridge. As it ran directly into the target’s port fairwater, I braced for the joyous cacaphony of impact. And then… nothing. “Torpedo is a dud, sir!”

Alright, I guess that’s realistic.

I swing about quickly to bring my two stern tubes to bear on the lucky-ass merch. A quick bearing reading and angle-on-bow estimate, and off they went!

And off they went, right past the ship. I must learn how to do that better. Nuts!

The fore torpedo tubes are still reloading, so I while away the time pummelling the ship with my deck gun. I have no real hope that the artillery will sink her, but it’s satisfying nonetheless.

With tubes 1 and 2 reloaded, I swing around and prepare for another run. I won’t be so careless this time.

I let the first fish go from tube 1 and switch to external mode again. This is a work of art. It streamed directly on course to hit at the exact midpoint of the ship on its starboard side. Once again I braced…

And once again… “The torpedo is a dud, sir!”

Now this is getting a littletoorealistic. Pissed off, I snap off #2. I’m only 300 yards from the target now, so when this one fails to explode, I’m not as pissed, since even in the stock game, you have to give the torpedoes about 500 yards to run before they arm themselves. I was desperate, though.

More artillery, while I wait for the stern tubes to reload for one last, desperate try.

They load, and I swing around, putting the Luckiest Man Alive directly astern. Now he’s zigging and zagging, about 1500 yards away, so with one last burst of hate, I try to anticipate his next zig, and snap off the two stern fish, manually setting them to turn about 10 degrees left of where they were aimed, assuming he was going to turn into them.

The second fish was going to miss wildly to port, but the first one was destined for greatness. If everything held up, it was going to smack right into the port-side bow of the retreating vessel, surely enough to put down the artillery-ridden hulk.

I once again went to external view to savor the torpedo’s last couple hundred yards. It was going to hit. The merch’s luck couldn’t hold out any longer. There it goes…

“Torpedo is a dud, sir!”



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

It all began withthis threadin 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 theideaof 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’rethere. 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 apoorone. 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, wasitssequel, 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 is600 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 — orseascape(that’s another sub pun! Yaaay! <3 <3 <3) — will be completely revolutionized!

The Golden Age of Subs begins now!!

Yaaaay!!! <3 <3

Pinback Reviews Various Indie Games & Demos
Jan 26th, 2009 by Pinback

Over the past week or two, I’ve played quite a few indie games and demos. I will now give you some thoughts on these indie games and demos.


THOUGHTS: I would describe this as a mix of Galcon, Phyta, and the Little Prince. Artsy, abstract minimalist presentation features “asteroids” (circles) which you have to conquer with your “seedlings” (little mosquito-lookin’ guys that grow off trees on your asteroids). This is all set to a serene, new-age background score. It all makes for a somewhat hypnotic experience, and it’s artful presentation makes you forget at first that this is really just straight-ahead 4X, almost like Galcon in slow-mo. The lack of depth and languorous pacing hurt its replayability, but it’s definitely a new aesthetic take on 4X, and worth a look if you are a fan of the genre. TWO AND A HALF (**1/2) STARS

INDIE DEMO: Defense Grid: The Awakening

THOUGHTS: I am a veteran of the tower defense genre, in the sense that I have played almost all of the demos ever made for these games. I’ve never purchased one, or completed one, simply because by the end of the demo, I’ve pretty much had enough of it. I doubt that will change with Defense Grid: The Awakening, but if I was going to buy one, this would probably be the one. Nice graphics, good interface, and some actual quality, humorous voiceover work, which is unusual in the indie scene. But past that, you know what you’re getting. Set up towers. Kill baddies. Set up more towers. Kill more baddies. Upgrade towers. Wash, rinse, repeat. A “pleasant diversion”. THREE (***) STARS

INDIE GAME: Crayon Physics Deluxe

THOUGHTS: I saw the pre-release demo of this which gave you a little taste, and the taste I had made me think this would be the most amazing puzzle game I’d ever seen. Now the full version is out, and I’m not sure it isn’t. The goal is to get a ball to a star. Everything is drawn in crayon. And the way to get the ball to the star is to draw whatever you want in crayon, and everything you draw will behave according to Newtonion physics. You can draw a car, and it will roll down hills. Though there may not be limitless solutions to each puzzle, it sure as hell feels like there could be. You can draw anything you want! You don’t have to pick from a palette of doohickies, or pre-built mechanisms. If you can think up some contraption which will help get the ball to the star, you can just draw it, and it will behave like it should. This game might not be “in your face”, but this quiet little gem may just in fact be the most amazing puzzle game you’ll ever see. FOUR (****) STARS

INDIE GAME: Buccaneer: The Pursuit of Infamy

THOUGHTS: Let’s get this straight, I only got this because Pirates! stopped working on my machine. To call this “Pirates! Light” is getting close to it. It is Pirates!, minus the dancing and the swordplay, minus the few nods to realism that Pirates! gave you, and with the addition of some of the most obnoxious, ridiculous voice work you’ll ever hear. In the recording studio, I just imagine the producer yelling “NOT PIRATEY ENOUGH!” after every take, so the final product is so over the top and embarrassing that you just feel bad for everyone involved. And about that realism. At least Sid Meier put in things like wind, and different types of ammo, and stuff like that. None of this is on offer in Buccaneer, where you sail your ship like you’d drive a car. Including “reverse”. So it’s all very silly, and yet I’ve spent more time with this one that everything else on this list combined. I attribute this to the fact that I am just a sucker for this kind of gameplay, and Buccaneer manages to not quite be awful enough for me to not play. TWO (**) STARS FOR MOST, THREE AND A HALF (***1/2) STARS FOR ME.

My Top Five Favorite Games of 2008
Jan 23rd, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Here are my five favorite games from 2008. I’m throwing Crayon Physics into the 2009 category, since you couldn’t buy the full version last year. I should also state that I did not have the time to play any text games released in 2008. Nor were there any Vectrex games released in 2008 that I purchased, and those are two genres/platforms I usually enjoy.

5. Space Giraffe (PC)

Space Giraffe is that it is the only video game I’ve ever played that tries to take the visual element, the frigging graphics, out of the game… and get you playing on a different level of consciousness. Looking at it, it’s clearly a mess – you can’t perceive any sense after the first few boards. But the idea is that you’re both picking up clues on where danger is through sound (and to that end, I always turn the music down and the effects up) as well as the part of your brain that tends to only speak up when you are “in the zone” with a pleasurable activity.

For me, the first few minutes of play are totally wasted, and I can’t have any distractions while playing it. I would not want them all to be like this, of course, but this is a marvelous experiment.

4. Left4Dead (PC)

I enjoyed this game at the following ratio:

10% of the enjoyment came from the gameplay, level design, art direction and general sense of hopeless doom.

90% of the enjoyment came from the hilarious people I played with, thanks to the voice chat.

I’m not saying that, if I played with voice off, that the game would get a 1/10 or anything – but what I am saying is that my friends are incredibly witty, and I was giggling throughout. L4D is just as cheesy as it needs to be. I am willing to give Left 4 Dead credit for this, because two of the developers ran a website that caused me to meet my fellow players in the first place. This is some serious New Games Journalism shit right here.

3. Persona 4 (PS2)

It’s 2:02 AM. I want to play a little of this game before I go to bed. I was optimistically hoping I could get ten minutes in and call it a night.

Well, we find the mirror image of Yosuke. And I’ll give the game credit: at 2:20 in the morning, mirror-Yosuke with the fucked-up eyes was a neat little effect. Leading up to it, where the girl he is sweet on does the “pain in the ass” routine — that was actually a good scene with okay writing in a video game, which is pretty rare these days. The fight drags on, and now it’s almost three and I really want to get to sleep.

Everybody finishes up, I kill the enemies JRPG-style, and the girl-next-door of our party, Chie, gets pissed and runs away. This is not an uncommon experience for me, with females and particularly late evenings. At any rate, it looks like I am going to be able to save.

But then, boom, out of nowhere, the pretty brunette student drops in and makes an appearance with (back of hand to forehead) howhorribleher life is. ALL I WANT TO DO IS GO TO BED and there’s that gal finally deigning to talk to my character when I really had to go. But, of course,she had been the most difficult character to get to know because she’s not around all the time. Forget save checkpoints – I kept playing because I wanted to know more about her. One constant in my life is that I seem to be attracted to women that are emotionally, physically or otherwise figuratively unavailable to me in some sense, and here is a fucking video game, thirty-years after the most complex one in the world involved shooting line-drawn rocks in space, making a subtle gambit for my soul, casually and en passant, like it was no big deal. This frigging game played upon the qualities of my empathy, playing melike a violin in the process.

It was the realistic experience I’ve ever had in a video game. I’m nowhere near finished with Persona 4, but it seems to be a great game. However, from here on out I’m treating it like a mogwai, there’s no way I’m fucking around with it after midnight. And yet, it plays sooooo good at night.

2. Gravitron 2 (PC)

I love arcade games, but they don’t make them much any more. This is a PC game, but it would fit perfectly in a wooden cabinet taking tokens. I wrote more about it here. The only other thing I’d add is that it’s a perfect game for playing in an airport.

1. Fallout 3 (PC)

There are games you might feel all right talking about with non-gamers. Fallout 3 is not one of these games. It’s a dork and nerd’s paradise ofshibboleths. I feel like a moron for bringing it up with people who like games, but simply haven’t played this one. Fallout 3 gives us one of the best-developed virtual worlds, and does the best job of any game in the world at letting us deal with the consequences of whatever random decisions we feel like making.

It’s a beautiful game, of course. My video card doesn’t do it justice, but even with the settings low it’s a serene backdrop for brutality and violence. The new gameplay elements like VATS and the Mysterious Stranger perk are two things I’m going to wish all subsequent games had. There’s just so much… content in the game – it really is impossible to get bored. I just love little touches like suddenly wandering around a unique enemy called “The Torcher” who has a flamethrower, since it is a microcosm of the care and craft that this game was built with. The cherry on top is that it returns to its Wasteland-of-1986 roots, offering the ability to walk around in a nuclear-ravaged world that we couldn’t do in 1986, thanks to the limitations of the hardware at the time. This is one of the ten best games I’ve ever played.

Fallout 3 is far from being that magical “game in your head” that all gamers would like to create. But it’s probably the closest representation of that free-form ideal I’ve played so far.

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