One of the things I miss about buying computer games with physical media (CD-ROMs or DVD-ROMs in particular) is getting a printed manual in the same box as the game and – in some instances – keyboard overlays.
For those of us who cut our gaming teeth in the 1980s and early 1990s, most computer games came with a manual. They varied in size and page-count depending on the game’s genre, complexity, and setting: some manuals were only a few pages long and focused on gameplay functions and playing tips, while others, such as the ones for Silent Service II (a World War II submarine simulator) and Red Storm Rising (a World War III submarine simulator based on Tom Clancy’s eponymous 1986 novel) were veritable books, with real-life tactical data, recognition images of enemy vessels, tips on strategy, and tips for first-time players.
I usually perused manuals – or at least skimmed through them – either before I installed a game (instructions for installs were also in manuals) or before playing for the first time. Not always, of course, but most of the time, since most of the manuals usually included a step-by-step tutorial on how to play a game and learn its basic features.
Since I moved to New Hometown in the spring of 2016 – almost half a decade ago as I write this – I have bought around 32 games on Steam, an online retailer that distributes games as downloads rather than as “physical media.” Some of those games are reissues of games I owned when my computers ran on MS-DOS (like Silent Service II and F-14: Fleet Defender), while still others, such as Strategic Command WWII: World at War and Cold Waters were “new-to-me” when I purchased them in 2018 and 2020 (respectively).
All of these Steam-purchased games come with PDF editions of manuals, so it’s not that game manufacturers don’t bother to write or publish those handy bits of documentation. But to this old gamer, digital manuals just add another dimension of difficulty when it comes to gameplay.
For instance, take Cold Waters.
The game comes with a PDF manual. It’s in the same folder as the game files. I’ve even skimmed through it a few times in the eight months that I’ve owned and played Cold Waters to clarify a few points. But, like many gamers these days, I’ve never read the entire document.
Until a few days ago, I’ve played Cold Waters assuming that there are only eight missions in the Single Mission menu, starting with #1 The Duel and ending with #8 Junks on Parade.
Then, while I was watching a YouTube gamer (TortugaPower) this weekend, I was surprised when I saw him playing a Single Mission titled Stalking the Red Bear, a scenario set in Cold Waters’ North Atlantic 1984 timeline in which the player, commanding a Los Angeles-class sub, must find and sink a Typhoon-class ballistic missile boat (the same basic boat on which Tom Clancy’s Red October is based) and her fast-attack sub escorts under the Arctic icepack.
What? I thought as I watched TortugaPower’s YouTube video – in which he enthusiastically called the Typhoon the “Red October” throughout the playthrough. I’ve never seen that Single Mission!
At first I thought TortugaPower was playing an early version of Cold Waters; some of the little details, such as the look of the Weapons Load tab, were subtly different from the version of the game that I own. Not radically different, mind you, but just enough that someone who plays Cold Waters often would notice. (Many game developers – especially those who are responsive to players’ comments on playability issues and “quality of life” details – tweak their products often, adding a new feature here or removing a clunky feature there.)
Then it dawned on me that maybe I had not bothered to read the manual or “scrolled” down on the Single Mission menu section. Duh, dude. That’s what manuals are for, I chided myself.
I didn’t go into my PC’s folders to check out the manual; however, I did boot up the game and, once it was running, I clicked on Single Mission, then, with my mouse, scrolled down.
That’s when I saw that Cold Waters doesn’t have eight Single Missions; it has 17!
The first 11 missions – eight of which I have played or, at the very least, attempted to play, put you in command of U.S. subs. Three, Junks on Parade, Strike from the Sea, and High Noon, are set in the same timeline and theater of operations as South China Sea 2000, while Stalking the Red Bear (as I noted earlier) is set in North Atlantic 1984.
The other six missions?
These missions are set in the three different timelines as well but puts players in the control rooms of either Soviet or Chinese submarines against U.S. subs, surface ships, and aircraft.
And all this time I thought I had completed the entire slate of Single Missions in Cold Waters.
The biggest takeaway I got from this?
Read the manual, dude. Or at least use the scroll function in game menus!
© 2021 Alex Diaz-Granados