I have loved computer games ever since my father’s brother Sixto gave me my first personal computer – an Apple IIe with a color monitor and an Imagewriter printer – in 1987. At the time, I was still studying journalism at what was then called Miami-Dade Community College, and I badly needed a home computer for writing and working on class assignments, so it was mostly a “for school” thing. Nevertheless, I also wanted a few computer games to play in my leisure hour; back then I was socially awkward and shy around women, so I didn’t have much of a dating life and spent much of my off-campus time at home.
The first game I ever owned was Destroyer by Epyx, a software company known better for its sports-oriented game lineup that included such titles as Summer Games and Street Soccer. Originally published for the Commodore 64 in 1986, it was eventually “ported over” to other platforms, including IBM PCs, Amiga, and – of course, the Apple II.
Set in the Pacific Theater during World War II, Destroyer was a part-strategy game, part-arcade game that put you in command of a Fletcher-class destroyer. It had different screens that you had to use to command and “fight” your ship from:
Bridge – A series of switches used to alert stations of status or turn on certain automated functions, such as pursuit or evasive action.
Navigation – A map of the sea where the ship was, with the ability to chart specific courses.
Observation Deck – A 360-degree view of the ocean around the ship.
Radar – A sweeping radar screen indicating the presence of enemy planes.
Sonar – A sonar screen indicating the presence of enemy submarines.
Guns Forward/Guns Aft – Two separate locations on opposite ends of the ship, each with a set of long-range guns for firing on enemy ships and island locations.
Anti-Aircraft Guns Port/Starboard – Two separate locations on opposite sides of the ship, each with a set of anti-aircraft guns for firing on enemy planes.
Torpedoes Port/Starboard – Two separate locations on opposite sides of the ship, each with a set of torpedoes for firing on enemy ships.
Depth Charges – A location for dropping explosive charges to attack enemy submarines.
Damage Control – An overview of the ship to see what sections had been damaged by enemy attacks and to what extent the damage affected them.
For several months in 1987, Destroyer was the only game I owned, and although I liked it, it eventually became monotonous. So I started going to computer software stores – which wasn’t easy because there weren’t that many close to my Miami home – to get different games.
In those last pre-Internet days I had no way of reading computer game reviews, and I didn’t have any friends that “gamed,” so among my early purchases I had a mix of good and bad computer games. Most of my first games were military-themed simulations. Some, like Avalon Hill’s computer adaptation of the board game Gulf Strike were “meh” at best, and some, like Spectrum Holobyte’s submarine simulation Gato, were just plain awful.
Then, of course, I started buying games from the original MicroProse Software, a game developer/publisher co-founded by Sid Meier and Lt. Col. William “Wild Bill” Stealey, USAF (Ret.) in 1982.
My All-Time Faves
MicroProse is perhaps best known now for starting the Sid Meier’s Civilization franchise in 1991, but for the longest time it was the software company that was my go-to source of both vehicle simulations and strategy games back when I gamed on a regular basis.
I mention this because even though I bought games from other companies (including Epyx and Lucasfilm Games, which was later known as LucasArts Games), most of my favorite sims of all time were published or developed by MicroProse.
I’m not going to bore you with a long dissertation of when and how I bought most of my games back then; suffice it to say that after buying the Apple II version of the company’s F-15 Strike Eagle game at a Miami store, I acquired most of my MicroProse games by mail. Most of its boxed games came with printed catalogs, so whenever I registered a game with MicroProse, I often ordered titles that caught my attention.
So, without further ado, here are my favorite games of all time:
- Crusade in Europe (MicroProse)
Although it’s not the most visually-striking of MicroProse’s slate of games, Sid Meier and Ed Bever’s Crusade in Europe was, and still is, one of my favorite strategy simulations of all time. It was historically accurate, easy to play, and it gave me many insights about the principles of 20th Century warfare, including the strengths and weaknesses of the different types of units Allied and German commanders had at their disposal in 1944, the effects of weather and terrain for attackers and defenders, and logistics. To this day I have yet to find a computer game that allows players to refight the campaigns in Northwest Europe from, as the game’s blurb says, “D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge” without having to have a PhD in computer science or an officer’s commission in the U.S. Army.
2. Red Storm Rising (MicroProse)
If you’ve heard me sing Killerfish Games’ Cold Waters’ praises on A Certain Point of View, Too as of late, blame my affinity for MicroProse’s 1988 submarine warfare sim based on Tom Clancy’s 1986 best-selling novel. If there are any DOS titles that I wish Steam could legally revive, this one would be among my top choices.
3. F-15 Strike Eagle III (MicroProse)
The third and final installment in MicroProse’s F-15 Strike Eagle series, this was, bar none, my favorite flight simulator of all time. It had its weaknesses, such as its one-plane against everyone else lack of support aircraft except when playing the game via modem or Local Access Network (LAN) with a second player, who could choose to fly another F-15E as a wingman. (The other two-player options included head-to-head “aggressor” training or the front seat/back seat pilot/Weapons Systems Operator mode.) By 21st Century standards, the graphics are dodgy, but back then they were pretty darn good.
I only played this game for a couple of years; it worked well on my first PC with a 386 CPU, even though it needed a “boot disk” to, well, boot it up. When I finally moved ip to a PC with a Pentium chip, F-15 Strike Eagle III was not compatible with it. But I must have logged several hundred hours’ worth of flight time on this before that happened.
4. Strike Fleet (Lucasfilm Games/Electronic Arts)
Created in 1988 by Noah Falstein and Lawrence Holland, this was probably the most graphically sophisticated game I owned for my Apple IIe. Compared to Cold Waters or even Red Storm Rising, the graphics are not that great, but for the poky Apple II they were impressive. Strike Fleet allowed players to command task forces made up of U.S. Navy or Royal Navy surface warships of different types and classes (frigates, destroyers, and cruisers) in three different conflicts (the Falklands/Malvinas War, the Persian Gulf against Iran, or World War III in the Atlantic).
Because my Apple functioned for well over a decade – its monitor died on me circa 1998 – I was actually still playing this game well after I could no longer play later games such as F-15 Strike Eagle III or Red Storm Rising.
5. Silent Service II (MicroProse)
Thanks to this game’s reputation as one of the classic sub simulations and the fact that Tommo (through its Retroism label) owned the licensing rights to many of MicroProse’s titles, Silent Service II is the only one of my all-time faves that I can play without having to play it from a browser on sites that specialize in “abandonware.” I first bought it in 1990 at a software store in Miami even before I owned a DOS-based PC (I played it at my friend Raci DeArmas’ house until I finally bought a MS-DOS based computer to supplement my Apple II), and because it ran well on computers with floppy drives that could operate older DOS programs, I played it until 2002 or so. I now have the compatible-for-Windows 10 edition available in Steam.
Silent Service II is the sequel to Sid Meier’s 1985 game Silent Service, and it allows you to command “boats” from all of the U.S. Navy’s submarine classes that were in service between Dec. 7, 1941 and August 15, 1945. It was designed by Meier’s colleague Arnold Hendrick and was structured roughly like Red Storm Rising in that players could start learning the game in Torpedo/Gunnery Training, move on to Single Battles, then on to War Patrols and, finally, command a sub or series of subs throughout the entire Pacific War from Pearl Harbor to Japan’s surrender.
Well, those are my five all-time favorite computer games, most of them being from the late Eighties and early Nineties. This is not, of course, a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination, so expect to see another batch of titles in future installments of Old Gamers Never Die.