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March 14, 2012 / jwaxo

Silent Service (Realism)

I could choose this, the interior of a submarine, or a map for this screenshot.

The thing about being new to a form of entertainment is that you have no idea of genre, because your vision of the art isn’t wide enough to encompass such nuances. The first books you read were just about random animals doing silly things, growing up to minor adventures and investigations that you later realize were specific subgenres of fantasy and mystery. In the same way, our first games weren’t particular genres, they were just known by their names. It’s why Adventure of Link was accepted as a sequel to Zelda, despite them ostensibly being completely different genres: it was similar-looking and had the same name. It was also why my brother completely balked at our first encounter of an RPG with Final Fantasy VII: we had never played a game similar to it, so how would we know about this genre?

It’s this simple blindness that allows kids to play around with things that aren’t really toys, and find fun where adults wouldn’t expect it. If you don’t know what you’re not supposed to have fun with, then you try having fun with everything.

I can only assume that this was why we played Silent Service for any great period of time. Well, that, and the fact that it came with our used NES, and so was one of the three games we owned for a while. Limited selection can cause that kind of thing.

Should we watch Newsies again, or A Goofy Movie?

Why I bring up genre is that Silent Service was in a genre that I have never, ever really been able to get into, which might explain why I was so horribly bored by it. I am talking about the simulation game, usually shortened to “sim” when that doesn’t let it easily be mistaken for certain other sim games.

The most famous of simulation games is probably Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, seen across the world as one of the best flightsims available to the everyday man, for the simple reason of its accuracy. Gauges, gears, levers, switches, and buttons fill the screen on the “professional” modes, requiring a textbook understanding of how to actually fly a plane in order to fly the virtual one that inhabits your computer. It’s such a realistic training sim that, for a while, the fear that terrorists were using it for training was pervading the news, and it’s not that strange of a theory.

Silent Service was a submarine sim game, set during WWII. In it, you take the role of a captain of a US sub tasked with taking down Japanese ships in the Pacific. And, while it may not have been as accurate as Flight Simulator, it was boring and complicated enough to completely turn me off. In fact, the only person who seemed to think it was an interesting game at all was my brother.

My brother: the original hipster.

See, here’s the thing about piloting a submarine: it’s boring. Really boring. There’s a lot of waiting around, and hiding underneath the surface of the water, and switching between full engines and half, and sighting down the scope in the hopes of finding a ship. And then you fire a few torpedoes and wait to see if you hit and if you miss you try again and maybe get shot and start all over again.

And the thing is, that’s a pretty accurate portrayal of being in a submarine. I mean, I’m sure there are other things to do while on the ship, but that’s the important stuff in terms of “firing against the enemies.” And with planes, it’s the same thing: a lot of excitement to get off of the ground, then you’re up. And, if it interests you, you can then fly around a bit. But man, that doesn’t interest maybe 99% of the population.

So the lesson learned here is that there is a fine line between “realistic enough to suspend disbelief” and “unrealistic enough to still be interesting.” If Silent Service had been played purely from the top-down perspective, steering a sub around reefs and such while trying to secretly get close to a carrier and sink it, heck, that would probably be a lot more fun. Just less realistic.

Problem is that everyone has different opinions on what level of realism is necessary to have fun.

Nobody wants to have to get their character’s hair cut. Except for me.

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