‘Cold Waters’: Striving to Be a Good Sub Skipper!

(C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Hi, Constant Reader! It’s morning here in my little corner of Florida on Wednesday, July 8, 2020; it’s the middle of the regular work week, and so far it looks like it’s going to be a hot and even rainy day. Right now it’s hot outside; the official temperature is 89˚F (32˚C), but the heat index is 102˚F (39˚C). That is the forecast high for the day, too; it’s going to be mostly cloudy and humid out there.

I have been practicing some more with Killerfish Games’ Cold Waters this morning; over the past few days I have been doing most of the Training tutorials (I still haven’t done the Navigation and the Tactics & Damage missions, although I already figured out the basics of those concepts). In addition, I’ve already fought quite a few Quick Battles, which are single engagements that you can generate by choosing the region (North Atlantic or South China Sea), time of year, scenario (NATO vs. Soviets, U.S. vs. China) time of day, weather and sea conditions, and number of enemy ships and their “aggressiveness.”

(C) 2017 Killerfish Games

It’s a good thing that Cold Waters is a spiritual descendant of Red Storm Rising; the user interface is different, and the game graphics are vastly superior – nearly 30 years of developments in game design and computing power will do that – but the basic idea is the same. The hardest thing to unlearn from the 1988 game is that the mouse, not the keyboard, is king in Cold Waters, thus firing weapons and issuing helm – or diving – orders require mental retraining.

(C) 2017 Killerfish Games

But so far I have acquitted myself well. Today I destroyed a Soviet invasion force off the coast of Norway, even though by the time I finished the mission I had no Mk. 48 torpedoes and only two Harpoon missiles, and my sub had some minor hull damage from RBU-6000 anti-sub rockets.

Pity that Cold Waters doesn’t award medals for Quick Missions; that was a nice feature that Red Storm Rising had, and I liked that. Still, I have some awesome screenshots!

Retro Review: ‘Silent Service II’ by MicroProse

Depth charges! This was one of the stock in-game animations in Silent Service II. (C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label.

In 1987, sometime after my uncle Sixto Diaz-Granados – my dad’s older brother – bought me my first home computer, I bought my first submarine simulation game, MicroProse Software’s Silent Service. This was a game designed by the legendary Sid Meier, who had (along with Lt. Col. William “Wild Bill” Stealey) co-founded MicroProse in 1982 and is best known for creating Sid Meier’s Civilization and Sid Meier’s Pirates!.

The Apple IIe version’s title image. (C) 1985 MicroProse Software

Silent Service was a simulation of submarine warfare in World War II’s Pacific Theater that put players in command of a U.S. Navy fleet “boat” and sent them on do-or-die missions against Imperial Japan’s merchant fleet and its Imperial Navy escorts. Like many games designed in the early to mid-1980s for IBM, Amiga, Commodore 64, and Apple II personal computers, Silent Service had good “modeling” as far as the in-game physics of ship and sub speeds, torpedo and deck gun shell ranges, and the artificial intelligence (AI) controlled enemy’s tactics were concerned, but it was limited by the computing power available to PCs with 64K RAM and the CPUs of the era. As a result, Silent Service only allowed you to command boats from a few classes that saw service in the Pacific from 1941 to 1945, and players could only attack generic Japanese merchant vessels such as tankers and freighters, and no warship larger than a destroyer.

This is as good as the graphics were on Silent Service. (C) 1985 MicroProse Software. Renewed (C) 2015 by Tommo/Retroism

Silent Service had three basic game modes:

  • Torpedo and Deck Gun Training, in which you practiced your torpedo firing procedures – including the use of the boat’s Torpedo Data Computer (TDC) and your two visual devices: the periscope and your target-bearing transmitter (TBT) binoculars – and aiming and firing your deck gun. In  this mode, you had to sink four near-stationary hulks at a gunnery range near Midway Island
  • Historical Missions, which were single engagements based on real World War II battles waged by famous submariners in the Pacific Theater. There were six or seven of these missions (I can’t recall now how many exactly), and they were sequentially arranged so that players could start with a relatively easy mission involving two or three ships with a light escort and then pick progressively harder missions.
  • War Patrols: Here, players would see a transit map of the Pacific Theater, then they’d pick a home port in either the Central or Southwest Pacific and choose an operational patrol area based on their base’s location and the boat’s 60-days-at-sea fuel limit. Then, using the computer’s joystick, players moved to their war patrol area in accelerated time and hit Japanese shipping lanes (which they could “guesstimate” by looking at a reference map on the game manual). If they ran into an enemy convoy, players could choose to engage (or not). Of course, most of the time it was a good idea to accept combat, although every so often you encountered Japanese anti-sub task groups
Photo Credit: Moby Games

The game manual listed several different sources, including Clay Blair, Jr.’s Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan, for Silent Service’s historical background and the technical/tactical principles used by Meier and the various platform-specific teams in designing and programming the simulation, and even allowing for the rudimentary graphics and other limitations (you could, for instance, fire only four torpedoes or cannon shells within x amount of minutes because the processors of the time could not cope with all the internal calculations involved in the game’s internal workings. There wasn’t much of a color palette in Silent Service, just a mix of green, pink, black, and white to represent the ocean, the sky, ships, the interior of the sub and its gauges, and the tactical/strategic maps. Still, for the modest-performance – compared to today’s computers – PCs of the day, Silent Service was one of the best sub simulations available, and it sold enough copies (and earned enough good reviews) that MicroProse decided to design and release a sequel for the more powerful PCs of 1990.

Box art for Silent Service II.

Silent Service II

In 1990, even as Silent Service’s original designer, Sid Meier, was working on what was to be his best-known game (Civilization), MicroProse’s in-house development division MPS Labs completed work on the sequel, Silent Service II. Coming on the heels of 1988’s Red Storm Rising, Silent Service II’s project leader, Arnold Hendrick, was intent on honoring the legacy of Meier’s original WWII-set simulator while at the same time giving players something worth plunking down $39.99 for.

(C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label

The 1990 MS-DOS version for IBM PCs and compatibles  – which is the one I originally owned back in the 1990s – was published first, and boy, was it ever an enhanced version. In Silent Service II, players still had the basic options of Training, Single Battle, and War Patrol from the older edition, but now they also had the War Career option, which allowed them to fight the entire Pacific War from December 7, 1941 to August 15, 1945 (although, if so desired, one could select a later starting date as long as it fell between those two dates).

To take advantage of such new developments in hardware as Intel’s 386 chips, VGA graphics cards, bigger-capacity hard drives, and better sound cards and programs such as Sound Blaster, MicroProse revamped the game, giving it a new look that included a 256-colors palette, improved sound effects, and even limited use of digitized voices to give players a more immersive and believable experience. The team behind the graphics (led by Ken Legace) digitized photos of 14 different classes of Japanese ships (nine warship classes, five merchant or auxiliary vessel types) for the new views of enemy ships.

And if that wasn’t enough to make a grognard happy, Silent Service II now offered prospective captains nine classes of U.S. Navy boats that were in service between Pearl Harbor Day and V-J Day, starting with the “old S-Class” and continuing all the way to the last fleet boats built in wartime, the Tench class.

Each class had its strengths and weaknesses, and their performance in combat depended on their speed, armament, and maximum endurance. The old S-class boats were faster underwater than either the Gatos or Tenches, but they only had five torpedo tubes (four forward and one aft) and could only dive to a maximum depth of 200 feet; you’d have to be foolhardy to try and command one of those throughout the entire Pacific War. Later classes, obviously, were a tad slower underwater but had longer ranges – they began war patrols with 60 days’ worth of fuel in their tanks – and were far better equipped to fight the enemy and dive deeper; the Gato class had a test depth of 350 feet but could tolerate depths of 400 feet in extreme emergencies but only for brief periods.

Your Career

(C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label

As in most of MicroProse’s military-themed simulations, players would start a game by selecting the type of mission they wanted to try and create a “character” name for themselves. This was important not just for scorekeeping records and the Hall of Fame screen, but also for realism’s sake. The game included a logbook in which the results of battles were recorded, and the player received orders, commendations, or rebukes from an unseen superior officer whose written remarks would appear as “letters” at either the start or end of a single battle or a war patrol. You could, of course, simply type Player at the prompt when setting up your game, or even your initials, but frankly, that never looked cool in gameplay or on the Hall of Fame.

After that, you would choose either Training – in which you practiced using torpedoes and your deck gun against four nearly-stationary target hulks – Single Engagements,  or War Patrols.

Here’s the list of single historical missions available in Silent Service II:

  1. Whales and Duds
  2. Mush on the Loose
  3. Flasher’s Tankers I
  4. Flasher’s Tankers II
  5. “Killer” O’Kane
  6. Sink the Yamato!
  7. Death of the Shinano
  8. An Embarrassment of Riches
  9. Random Encounter

War Patrols consisted of cruising your boat to a specific geographical zone in enemy-controlled areas of the Asia-Pacific Theater and searching for enemy shipping. Ideally, your primary targets were the tankers and cargo ships of Japan’s merchant fleet. If you found any fleet units and were in an optimal position to attack, say, an aircraft carrier or a battleship, then by all means, you could (and should) attack it. But usually fleet units are faster and better armed than your sub, so those were not usually recommended targets as a rule.  

Also, in keeping with U.S. Navy command structures of the time, you started the game as a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR). After each mission or war patrol, the game would award you points based on the types of Japanese ships you sank or damaged, whether you achieved or failed the mission in your orders, or if you failed to engage the enemy at all. In War Patrols and War Careers, fuel management was considered. If, for instance, you successfully accomplished a war patrol in Japanese waters but had to be towed into Pearl Harbor (or any other U.S. sub base), you would get a letter letting you know that your commanding officer was not thrilled with you at the moment. If you performed well during the war and your record didn’t reflect any screwups, you could expect a promotion to full Commander, especially if you sank a juicy target (an aircraft carrier, say) and earned a medal higher than a Silver Star, such as the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, or the Medal of Honor. At war’s end, depending on your war record and list of decorations,  you could earn promotion to either Captain (CAPT) or even Rear Admiral (RADM).

(C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label.

If your career were a mixed bag of successes, failures, and a bunch of reprimands along with letters of commendation, you could serve “for the duration” as a LCDR and end the war as a full Commander.

In brief, the War Career is a series of War Patrols that begin on Pearl Harbor Day with the player’s sub assigned either to the Pacific Fleet (based in Hawaii) or the Asiatic Fleet (initially based in Manila). Throughout the War Career, the player commands either one sub (from any of the classes available at the start of the game) throughout the war or, if one doesn’t get killed along the way, transfer to a more modern vessel at the end of a war patrol.

The view from the periscope as a Japanese ship drifts and burns after being hit by a torpedo. (C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label.

Again, a boat skipper is evaluated after each War Patrol upon return to base. Successful patrols earn players letters of commendation and medals. Unsuccessful missions and unproductive war patrols have negative outcomes, ranging from letters of reprimand to removal from command of a boat and assignment to a desk job. Really unlucky skippers in battle get their boat sunk with all hands and earn only a floating wreath on the waters.

(C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label.

Like MicroProse’s other submarine simulations, Silent Service II requires the player to run a boat by looking at various screens that represent the most relevant game-related areas of a submarine. Each of these (Chart, Bridge, Periscope View, TBT (Target Bearing Transmitter), Main Status/”Christmas Tree,” Damage Control, War Log, etc.) is activated by an F- (Functions) button and gives a skipper vital information needed in order to fight – and survive – an engagement with the enemy and operate the boat. Learning how to view and use these views to play the game well is essential and takes some time (and practice). However, after a while, players shift from screen to screen easily – it simply becomes second nature, especially if one plays Silent Service II often.

(C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label.

Although Silent Service II can be played with a joystick, it’s not a required peripheral device. The game can be played by just using a PC’s keyboard; the original game package included a technical supplement that listed the key commands, as well as a keyboard overlay. (Note: The version that is available from Tommo’s Retroism brand on Steam allows you to see the game manual as a PDF file, but one must look online for the Technical Supplement or scanned images of the overlay.)

My Take

(C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label

I originally purchased Silent Service II in the fall of 1990. At the time, most IBM-compatible computers ran on DOS, and Silent Service II came in two 3.5-inch floppy disks, and I had the whole enchilada of supplements: the game manual, the technical supplement, and the overlay, plus a map of the Pacific Theater, with the major U.S. and Japanese ports indicated.  It took me a few hours to learn; it was more complicated and detailed than my Apple II version of Silent Service, and the AI-controlled Japanese ships were cannier and deadlier, especially in the Ultimate difficulty level setting.  

I loved this game, even though by the early 2000s its sprite-based graphics were no longer state-of-the-art in video game terms. Since Silent Service II is not a large game in terms of required hard-drive space and memory, I was able to install it in various PCs between 1993 and 2001 because they came with floppy drives. As a result, I played Silent Service II until 2004, when a lightning strike hit near my house fried my last floppy-equipped computer; I bought a replacement PC, of course, but by then computer manufacturers had switched over to CD-ROM drives and omitted floppies from new-build machines.

The Pacific Theater Map. (C) 1990 MicroProse Software, renewed in 2015 by Tommo’s Retroism label.

I remember that MicroProse released a CD-ROM version of Silent Service II for Windows in the late 1990s, but by the time I thought about getting a copy, the original iteration of the company had closed down and those CD-ROMs were hard to find and pricey, to boot. (MicroProse recently restarted as a new entity and is creating new military-themed games.) Eventually, the game joined Red Storm Rising and F-15 Strike Eagle III in my brain’s storehouse of fondly-remembered things from the Land of Ago, never to be played again.

Luckily, California-based Tommo bought the rights to many of MicroProse’s classic games, including Silent Service and Silent Service II; its Retroism label sells both games (and others) through various online sellers, including Steam. (You can read the game manual in the Steam site, but to get the technical supplement, you’ll need to look online for downloadable copies.)

I’m a fan of Silent Service II. It is historically accurate, but it’s not one of those computer games that requires either a Ph.D. in Computer Science or a naval officer’s commission to play. Its design is user friendly and the gaming experience is still a good one, especially if you are willing to overlook the dated sprite-based graphics and tinny digitized speech option.

As I told a friend a couple of years ago, “Silent Service II was the best World War II sub sim I ever played.”

It still is, I think.

Diving Deep Into ‘Cold Waters’: First Combat Missions!

Actual screenshot of the Soviet light cruiser (gun-armed) Sverdlov at sea in Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

As I continue to explore the many features of Cold Waters, the 2017 submarine simulation developed by the Australian game developer Killerfish Games, I have finally gone beyond Training and moved on to Single Mission combat mode. After three days of trying out most of the tutorial missions in the game – which its designers tout as “the spiritual successor” to MicroProse Software’s Red Storm Rising – I decided to test my mettle as a submariner and fought several Quick Mission engagements.

Quick Missions are, quite simply, short battles that players can create by choosing the eponymous option whilst in the Single Mission window in Cold Waters. Here, you can create your own battles in different eras – 1968, 1984, and 2000 – and scenarios – NATO vs. Soviets in the North Atlantic or Red China/Russia vs. the U.S. in the Western Pacific. You can even play as either side if you want.

Because I’m still new at the game, I chose to create scenarios that posed some real danger but were not so difficult that I’d lose my boat[1] within the first five minutes of the engagement.

For my first Quick Mission, I chose to pit a Los Angeles-class (SSN-688) fast attack sub against a small Soviet amphibious group composed of the following:

  • A Sverdlov-class light cruiser
  • A Kiev-class aircraft carrier
  • Two Krivak I-class escorts
  • One Ropucha-class landing ship, tank (LST)
  • One Alligator-class landing ship, tank (LST)
  • Two Andizhan transport ships
  • Two Partizan-class cargo ships
  • One Grisha III frigate
  • One Boris Chilikin-class oiler
The Quick Mission setup screen before I customized my mission. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

I then chose a section of the Baltic Sea near the northern coast of Poland, a late-evening starting time on March 5, 1984, with overcast skies and rough seas to make the game less easy to win. (The rougher the weather, the harder It is for a sub’s sonar to pick up surface targets easily due to the sea state.)

A screenshot of Kiev taken in another session of Cold Waters. Different scenario, but similar time-of-day and sea state conditions. (Here, I commanded a Seawolf-class boat in the South China Sea. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games.

Like in Cold Waters’ spiritual ancestor, Red Storm Rising, the game gives you a chance to check on the status of your boat before you go into battle, so I checked my weapons loadout and made sure my four tubes were loaded like so:

  1. Mk. 48 torpedo
  2. Mk. 48 torpedo
  3. UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile (ASM)
  4. Mk. 48 torpedo

Now, I’m not going to write a long dissertation with a blow-by-blow description of the Battle of the Baltic. Suffice it to say, however, that I applied the lessons that I learned during the Training Scenarios  – including how to do a proper target motion analysis (TMA) during the pre-attack approach on a Soviet amphibious group, how to use my sensors properly, how to maneuver my boat whilst avoiding Soviet torpedoes, and how to prioritize damage control parties in the middle of a battle.

The Sverdlov goes “Ka-BOOM.” (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

My plan was to destroy the invasion task group’s escorts first, then pick off the amphibious landing ships and support vessels at my leisure. This might seem like the common-sense thing to do, because once you eliminate the heavily-armed and aggressive warships you don’t have to worry about having to worry about being detected and destroyed before you even scratch the paint on a Ropucha or Alligator LST.

So, yeah…first I made a stealthy approach to the enemy task force. At a distance of 15,000 yards, I took my boat to periscope depth, raised my ESM and radar masts briefly to get a look at the Soviet convoy, then lowered the masts (they get damaged if you don’t) and dove back to 150 feet. I then fired torpedoes at the most dangerous escorts – the Kiev and the frigates (they’re armed with anti-submarine warfare stuff) – and saved the Sverdlov for “dessert” with the Harpoon missile. (the 14 Sverdlov-class – or Project 68bis, as they were known in the Red Navy – were built as the last all-gun cruisers of the Soviet fleet and thus aren’t too dangerous to attack subs, unlike the Kirov-class battle cruisers, which have deadly ASW missiles).

Dosvidanya, Rodina!” A Soviet support ship sinks in the Battle of the Baltic, March 5, 1984. (Note that my submarine’s hull integrity is at 73%. Ivan didn’t go gently into that good night; my boat was struck twice by Russian torpedoes before the tide of battle turned in my favor.) (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

My plan worked; I sank all of the escorts, but not before the Kiev and a Krivak managed to damage my boat with two torpedo hits that damaged one torpedo tube and forced me to focus on damage control for a while. That didn’t do the Soviet invasion force much good, though. I finished off the warships with torpedoes, then used my Harpoons to annihilate the convoy before it could reach its destination somewhere on the northern coast of West Germany.

A Russian transport attempts to flee from the area; a UGM-84 Harpoon soon put a stop to that, though. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games.

I used to employ the same tactics when I played Red Storm Rising, which had graphics that looked pokey in comparison to Cold Waters’ but had many of the same basic tactical concepts, and many of the warships simulated in the 1988 game appear here as well, although they are depicted more realistically in Cold Waters.

A Ropucha-class landing ship under Harpoon attack in Red Storm Rising; the designers of Cold Waters loved that game just as I did back in the day, and there are many in-game nods to it in its 2017 successor. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Obviously, Cold Waters’ user interface is radically different from Red Storm Rising’s, and the enemy AI is far more cunning and deadlier than in the older game. So even though I did well in my first Quick Mission, I do not think I’m quite ready for the Killerfish Games-scripted battles just yet.

You can run, but you can’t hide from a Harpoon ASM. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

[1] In United States naval parlance, submarines are never referred to as “ships.” The proper term is “boats.”

Retro Review: ‘Red Storm Rising’ by MicroProse

Title screen from Red Storm Rising. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

If you’re a regular visitor to A Certain Point of View, Too, you might have read my posts about a new computer game that I’ve been playing over the past few days. It’s called Cold Waters, a game that puts you in command of a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered fast attack sub during a hypothetical Third World War. Published three years ago by the Australian game studio Killerfish Games (Atlantic Fleet), Cold Waters boasts state-of-the-art graphics, immersive sound effects, and intense submarine combat action that pits you against either Soviet or Chinese Communist enemies in an alternate history where the Cold War turns hot and the Navy calls on its nuclear boats to keep the Allied sea lines of communication open and destroy the enemy’s naval forces.

Actual gameplay screenshot from a Training mission in Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

One of the main reasons that I bought Cold Waters from Steam is that the game’s developers were clearly influenced by one of my favorite PC-based games from the late 1980s, Red Storm Rising.

This isn’t just my personal opinion; Killerfish Games’ own product description for Cold Waters says it outright:

Inspired by the 1988 classic “Red Storm Rising”, command a nuclear submarine in a desperate attempt to prevent “mutually assured destruction” when the Cold War gets hot and WWIII begins.

This is the packaging design for MicroProse’s Red Storm Rising computer game. This specific edition was for the Commodore Amiga; I had the DOS version for IBM-compatible PCs. Photo Credit: “Mr. Giggles” for mobygames,com (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Based on the late Tom Clancy’s second novel (published in 1986 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons), Red Storm Rising is a game that blends the tension of a sub simulation with the suspense and action of Clancy’s hypothetical near-future Third World War.

(C) 1986 G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Personally designed by MicroProse’s legendary co-founder Sid Meier, Red Storm Rising kept the basic concept of the novel: Some time in the late 1980s, the USSR’s oil supplies are drastically cut when Islamic terrorists destroy an oil refinery in Siberia. Faced with a failing economy and crippling fuel shortages, the Communist Party leadership in the Kremlin decides to seize the oil fields of the Persian Gulf region. Knowing that the U.S. will not stand idly by while Red Army forces invade Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, the Soviets decide to neutralize NATO by invading West Germany. Once the West has been defeated soundly, then the Soviets can simply grab the oil-rich Arab and Persian nations and save the Rodina from economic and military ruin.

Clancy’s novel describes battles that take place on land – mostly in West Germany and on the North Atlantic nation of Iceland – and in the air, but he and co-author Larry Bond focus much of Red Storm Rising’s narrative on the crucial naval battles in the North Atlantic and the Norwegian Sea, especially – but not exclusively – the experiences of the Los Angeles-class fast attack sub USS Chicago (SSN-721).

Mission Orders screen. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Meier, who is perhaps best-known for his 1991 simulation of world history Sid Meier’s Civilization, and various teams of programmers at MicroProse’s Hunt Valley (MD) studios opened up the game somewhat so that players were not “locked” into playing as the skipper of a specific boat.

Instead, Red Storm Rising allows you to choose your command from several classes of U.S. Navy submarines. Depending on which starting year you choose (1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996), the availability of those classes varied, but these were the choices:

Screenshot from Classic Reload’s online “abandonware” version of Red Storm Rising, which can be played from a browser. Credit: ClassicReload.com (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
  • Permit-class boats, which entered Navy service in the early 1960s and were still in active duty in the early 1980s
  • Sturgeon-class boats, which were based on the Permits and entered service in the late Sixties. In the early and mid-1980s, these boats were still the workhorses of the submarine fleet
  • Los Angeles-class (or 688 class, after the lead boat’s hull number) Block I boats, introduced in 1976 and the original design for the Navy’s largest class of submarines (in number of boats)
  • Improved Los Angeles-class (or 688i) boats, redesigned and upgraded subs that entered service in the mid-1980s; USS Chicago (SSN-721) is an example of the enhanced 688i class; it is first available in the 1988 timeline, which is also the novel’s (unstated) setting
  • Seawolf-class boats, the smallest (in number of boats) class of U.S. Navy subs, and the most expensive. This class is not available in-game in timelines prior to 1996
The various game options a player has in Red Storm Rising. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Red Storm Rising was divided into three sections: Training, Battle Simulations, and Red Storm Rising: World War III in the Atlantic. Players could, when playing the game, get acquainted with the basics of the game in the two training missions, one which pitted the player’s sub against an elderly Soviet nuclear sub of the November class, the other was an engagement with a Kashin-class destroyer.

Once you read the manual and mastered the training scenarios, you moved on to the Battle Simulations. You would start with a relatively easy one vs. one sub mission called a Duel, then you’d gradually test your mettle as the commander of a U.S. Navy warship by choosing progressively difficult missions that included attacks on Soviet convoys, underwater battles with two or more Red Fleet subs, or attempt to intercept heavily escorted amphibious landing forces or carrier task forces.

Your final test before attempting Red Storm Rising’s campaign was the Chance Engagement, which was a randomly generated scenario based on one of the missions on the Missions menu.

Then, it was on to the Main Event: Red Storm Rising: World War III in the Atlantic. Here, your task was to command your boat, based in Holy Loch, Scotland, and take on a series of missions designed to deny the Soviet Navy command of the North and Norwegian Seas. Every so often, you’d receive orders from Commander, Submarine Force, Atlantic (COMSUBLANT), tasking you with missions intended to destroy Soviet naval assets and frustrate the enemy’s strategic plans against NATO.

One day, for instance, you’d be tasked to intercept Red Navy cruise missile subs before they reached the North Atlantic shipping lanes between the U.S. and Western Europe; if you succeeded and still had enough weapons in your inventory, you’d be asked to destroy an invasion fleet off the coast of Norway, or sink a diesel sub carrying Spetsnaz (the Soviet SEALs) operatives trying to land in NATO territory.

The Strategic Transit Map. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

The most important element of the campaign game – other than the player and his sub – was the Strategic Transit Map. This was an animated map that allowed the player to move his boat in compressed time by using the joystick to make the transit from his base in Scotland to the various OPAREAS in the campaign. On the map, players could see the effects of their efforts on the war by watching the advances of Soviet forces (marked in red) across NATO territory (marked in green).

The Strategic Transit Map, in addition to allowing players to avoid the tedium of playing the game in real time during the “transit” phases and keep tab on NATO’s current situation, also showed the status of NATO’s underwater surveillance net, known as SOSUS, the paths of Soviet recon satellites and antisubmarine patrol aircraft, and the positions of enemy surface and sub groups.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
The game kept players informed of their successes (or failures) either through official Navy comm messages (top) or news broadcasts (bottom) .Here, the war clearly is going in favor of NATO by Day Eight. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Like most MicroProse war-themed simulations, Red Storm Rising struck a good balance between giving players a small and sanitized glimpse at military hardware, strategies, and tech and a fun, entertaining game-playing experience. The simulated subs, their weapons, sensors, and propulsion systems were all based on unclassified data provided by the Navy and other sources, but their in-game depiction was, of course, simplified so that players could play Red Storm Rising without having to attend the Naval Academy and train for years to be selected for a submarine skipper’s assignment.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
(C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
Some of the various displays that players use to fight battles on Red Storm Rising. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

Because all combat in submarine warfare is carried out primarily in a nuclear boat’s control room (or “conn”), players have to depend on various display screens, which are activated by hitting the “function keys” (F1-F10), that represent the various battle stations: weapons, torpedo defenses, sonar and other sensors, and damage control. Here, the player uses all the tools at hand – active and passive sensors, wire-guided torpedoes, Harpoon and Tomahawk anti-ship missiles, and even weapons that were planned for 1990s-era subs (like the Sealance Mk. 50 rocket-launched anti-sub torpedo) but were canceled when the Cold War ended in 1991.

A Los Angeles-class (SSN-688) sub after firing a missile (seen just above the horizon line at top right). (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.
If you did well in battle and survived to return to base to refit and rearm, you would be given a summary of your accomplishments, awards, and an officer’s efficiency rating (ER). The higher your ER, the better chances you had of being promoted to either Captain or Rear Admiral. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

When Red Storm Rising was released in December of 1988, it was considered to be among the best games in the submarine simulation genre. Though saddled with graphics that were great in ’88 but were already outclassed by those in newer games (such as MicroProse’s Silent Service II, which was released only two years later), Red Storm Rising was popular among gamers all over the world and is still considered by many submarine war game fans – including the designers of Cold Waters – as a pulse-pounding, spine-chilling adaptation of Tom Clancy’s best-selling novel, and a true classic in its category within the war game genre.

Red Storm Rising was a game that I played frequently in the early 1990s. I even bought my first MS-DOS based PC in 1992 just so I could play it and other MicroProse Software games which my original – and still-operational – Apple IIe could not play because there weren’t any versions published for that computer. It was compatible with at least two PCs that I owned between 1992 and 1995, but I had to stop playing Red Storm Rising sometime after that because newer operating systems, such as Windows 98, simply were not compatible with a game written for MS-DOS.

A Mk. 48 torpedo heads toward a Soviet destroyer. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises, Ltd.

It was, without a doubt, a truly great game.

‘Cold Waters’: First Impressions

© 2017 Killerfish Games

This is not a review. It is. as the title suggests, a first impressions blog post based on my limited experience with Cold Waters and contrasted with my more comprehensive one with its indirect “ancestor,” Red Storm Rising.

Recently, I bought a copy of Killerfish Games’ Cold Waters, a 2017 submarine simulation that puts you in command of a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine during a hypothetical Cold War-gone hot conflict at sea. Created by the Adelaide (Australia) game studio behind Atlantic Fleet and the upcoming WWII-in-the-Pacific game War at Sea, Cold Waters is a 21st Century tip-of-the-hat to the Sid Meier-designed Red Storm Rising, a popular late ’80s game based on the 1986 WWIII novel by the late Tom Clancy.

Although it looks like a promo photo or a main title animation, this is an actual gameplay screenshot from the game. © 2017 Killerfish Games

As Cold Waters’ manual – which I just downloaded from Steam – says:

From 1947 until 1991 the world was gripped in the Cold War, an era of geopolitical tension accompanied by massive military expenditure and build up by the two major superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union. Thankfully the war failed to materialise, despite several close incidents, but what if it had?


Cold Waters puts you in that very situation as the commander of a nuclear submarine when the Cold War goes hot. Rather than focus on specific operational details of a submarine, Cold Waters puts you in the Commander’s chair where your tactical decisions will determine mission outcome and whether you and your crew return home. (Cold Waters manual, page 4)

“Conn, Sonar: New Contact, Bearing 0-4-0!”

“Conn, Sonar: Lost contact Sierra 3 bearing 5. Contact breaking up.” Mk.48 ADCAP torpedo hits a Soviet Don-class sub tender in the “Wire-Guided Torpedoes” training exercise. © 2017 Killerfish Games

I’ve only owned Cold Waters for two days, and I’ve just recently downloaded the manual from Steam, so I am not prepared to tackle anything beyond the Training missions or a Single Battle. I’ve learned a few of the basics, such as how to fire two types of torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, but I still need to take the tutorials for Navigation, Sensors and Masts, and Tactics and Damage before “really” going to war.

The Training options menu. The Training options menu.© 2017 Killerfish Games

Although Cold Waters boasts sophisticated graphics and an immersive sound design that blends music, sound effects, and voice acting that is light-years beyond anything that Sid Meier and his design team at the old MicroProse could achieve in the late 1980s, there is a lot of Red Storm Rising in its cyber-DNA. They both put you in command of fast attack boats in a Third World War that can take place in different time settings. They are designed in such a way that you go from Training to Single Battle to Campaign in incremental levels of difficulty and complexity. Lastly, both Cold Waters and Red Storm Rising try to strike a balance between realism and playability.

In 1988, this was state-of-the-art PC gaming. Don’t judge!

Obviously, Red Storm Rising‘s graphics and sound effects are primitive by early 21st Century standards. If Sid Meier, Arnold Hendricks, Ken Lagace, and the rest of the MicroProse Red Storm Rising team had had the tools available to Killerfish Games, their PC game based on the best-selling novel of the 1980s would have stood the test of time. For a 1988-era game, its now-pokey VGA graphics and 16-bit sound were state of the art, and I could suspend my disbelief while I was in my role as a submarine skipper, doing battle with the Soviet Navy in the Norwegian Sea.

Cold Waters‘ designers are fans of Red Storm Rising and even cite the game as a precursor to their own creation:

Inspired by the 1988 classic “Red Storm Rising”, command a nuclear submarine in a desperate attempt to prevent “mutually assured destruction” when the Cold War gets hot and WWIII begins.

Killerfish Games’ Cold Water product page
A Soviet ship explodes internally as it sinks. © 2017 Killerfish Games

So far, I’ve noticed that even though the look of the game and much of the game play itself are different, there have been many times in the 10 hours or so that I’ve devoted to Cold Waters where I see the influence of Red Storm Rising on the screen.

© 1988 MicroProse Software and Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd.

Remember the “newscasts” in Red Storm Rising that kept players updated on the Third World War and put them in the heat of Clancy’s fictional war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO?

Here’s the Cold Waters version of the news updates. © 2017 Killerfish Games
And the weapons control display has icons that look a lot like the ones in Red Storm Rising. ©2017 Killerfish Games.

As I recall, when I bought Red Storm Rising in the late 1980s, it took me about a week-and-a-half to learn how to play the game. Of course, this was during the years when you bought computer games either at a brick-and-mortar store or ordered it by mail, so you not only got the installation and game discs in a box, but also you were provided with a manual. I usually spent time reading the instructions on game play plus the technical data about my boats and their Soviet enemies, then I’d gradually play through Red Storm Rising by going through the two training scenarios (sub vs. sub and sub vs. surface warship), then playing each Single Engagement, and eventually undergoing the entire Campaign.

© 2017 Killerfish Games

Here, I’ve done things a bit differently; I started playing Cold Waters without the benefit of the manual, although the game is not so real-life complex that I’d actually need to join the U.S. Navy and earn a commission before playing it! The gameplay is – like most modern games – heavily reliant on the mouse (Red Storm Rising was a mostly-keyboard controlled game) and tends to be more cinematic than a real-world “see inside the subs” affair.

There are quite a few keyboard commands that players have to learn, especially when it comes to “camera viewpoints,” helm, depth, and weapons controls, and the boat’s status.

Here is where having the manual is helpful, especially if you don’t know how to give basic helm or speed orders to your crew.

SPEED
Use Q and Z to adjust speed.
Your submarine’s speed can be adjusted in the following increments:

  • Back Emergency
  • All Stop
  • Ahead 1/3
  • Ahead 2/3
  • Ahead Standard
  • Ahead Full
  • Ahead Flank

And if you want to use a wire-guided torpedo, here are some of the steps you need to follow, per the manual:

Torpedoes on a wire have additional commands available:
Cut Wire: Use Shift 4 to cut the wire on this tube.
Activate Torpedo: Use 4 to set the torpedo into enabled mode, just as if it had reached its waypoint.
Edit Waypoint: LEFT CLICK (M) waypoint on either the Tactical Map or Mini-Map and RIGHT CLICK (N) to place it at the current mouse position. Only torpedoes on a wire that have not yet reached their waypoint and become activated can have their waypoint changed.
Steer Torpedo: Use Keypad 4 (Control A) and Keypad 6 (Control D) to manually change torpedo course.
Torpedo Depth: Use Keypad 5 (Control W) and Keypad 8 (Control S) to manually change torpedo depth.

In some ways, having experience in simulated sub warfare via Red Storm Rising has been helpful; many of the older game’s basic concepts are present in Cold Waters, The icons on the subs’ heads-up display look similar to those on Red Storm Rising control display window, especially those that show a target’s bearing, course, and speed.

Top: The Weapon Control screen from Red Storm Rising. Bottom: The Map Screen from Cold Waters. Note that the Cold Waters screen is more versatile, as it gives a commander more data visually. Note that Tube 1 is being reloaded with a UGM-84 Harpoon missile (in white).

So far, I’m enjoying Cold Waters. While it is not a total remake of the 1988 Red Storm Rising game, its designers were fans and incorporated a lot of callbacks to it in their 2017 underwater warfare game. It’s not insanely difficult like Gary Grigsby’s War in the West (a strategy game set in World War II that is so detail-obsessive that it almost requires a West Point education), but it’s still tough enough to master that you will need to at least download the manual and scan through it before attempting to go beyond the Training scenarios.

KA-BOOM! A Chinese cargo vessel explodes spectacularly after being hit by a torpedo fired from a Seawolf-class attack sub. (The three-boat Seawolf class has eight torpedo tubes, whereas older classes have only four. © 2017 Killerfish Games

I love the graphics; they are so cinematic and real-looking that you can almost smell the salty tang of the sea air in those exterior shots that show your missiles in flight or exploding, burning, and sinking enemy vessels on the cold waters. I’ve never had a sub simulation game that boasted the kind of graphics Killerfish Games’ programmers and artists have created for Cold Waters.

I also like the sound design; in Red Storm Rising you had only a few sound effects to enhance the somewhat cartoony graphics – engine noises, the “pings” of active sonars, the “toilet flush” sound of deployed noisemakers, and the nerve-racking womp-womp-womp-womp sound of hovering Soviet ASW helos (usually Ka-25 Hormones or Ka-27 Helixes) overhead, but no voices. (Silent Service II, MicroProse’s next sub game, featured a few digitized voices, but I would not own that game until 1992 or so.)

© 2017 Killerfish Games

Here, you don’t see your crew, not even in cutscenes, but you do hear them. The crewman you hear most often is the sonar operator; he’s the guy that says “Conn, Sonar: New contact bearing 0-1-0. Designating contact as Sierra One…” and whatnot. The Weapons officer and Chief Engineer are also heard, especially when torpedoes and missiles are in use or if your boat is hit and damaged by the Russian or Chinese enemies in Cold Waters. Each member of the crew is played by a different voice actor, so even though their tones are usually clipped and controlled, their voices are distinct enough so you can tell who is speaking. (Although, to be fair, the game also has a “log” of the messages in text, which often have more info than the aural prompts from your crew.)

© 2017 Killerfish Games

Cold Waters so far seems to be a fun and immersive submarine game that lives up to its designers’ concept of being the “spiritual successor to the MicroProse classic Red Storm Rising. It is visually striking, and even though it takes liberties with many aspects of modern submarine warfare, such as the pace of a submarine battle or the processes involved in acquiring, identifying, and engaging the enemy, in order to give players an approximation of naval tactics while still making the game, well, playable. I’ve enjoyed trying it out and learning how to play Cold Waters, and I look forward to giving my readers a more complete review soon.

Old Gamers Never Die: From ‘Red Storm Rising’ to ‘Cold Waters’

Screenshot from a session of Cold Waters. Here we see a Sturgeon-class boat at periscope depth. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games.

Back in the 1990s, when I first bought my first MS-DOS-based personal computer, I used to play many military-themed simulations and strategy games. Most of them were designed and published by MicroProse Software of Hunt Valley, MD, which was founded by Sid Meier and William “Wild Bill” Stealey in 1982.

Although Sid Meier’s Civilization is perhaps MicroProse’s best-known game – it spawned a still-ongoing franchise that includes the latest entry in the series, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI – the company’s original focus was on military simulation games such as Hellcat Ace, Spitfire Ace, the F-15 Strike Eagle trilogy, the F-19/F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter duology, M-1 Tank Platoon,the World War II submarines Silent Service duology, and Gunship.

(C) 1988 MicroProse Software

One of my favorite MicroProse games was 1988’s Red Storm Rising, a game based on Tom Clancy’s eponymous novel about a conventional World War III in which the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact invade West Germany some time in the (then) near-future.

At its core, Clancy’s novel was a look at what a Third Battle of the Atlantic would be like in an era of missile-armed ships, planes, and subs, and how such a naval struggle would affect the battles on the ground and in the air in Central Europe and on Iceland.

Accordingly, MicroProse’s Red Storm Rising was a simulation of nuclear submarine warfare that allowed players to take command of an American boat – one could choose one from various classes, ranging from the Permit class that first entered service during the Kennedy Administration to the Seawolf class, which had not yet been introduced to the fleet when the game was published – and fight a campaign in the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic.

Screenshots from Red Storm Rising. Note the late-1980s graphics style and the “status bar” showing the war’s progress on Day Six of World War III. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software.

Although versions for specific PC types (such as IBM PCs, Commodore 64, and Amiga) were programmed by different personnel, the basic game was designed by Sid Meier, the company’s co-founder and the designer of Silent Service. As a result, Red Storm Rising gave players different options to play the game, including Training Scenarios to familiarize new “skippers” with their boats and how to play the game, and Single Battles that depicted different scenarios, such as a one-on-one duel with a Soviet sub, a sub attack on a Red Fleet aircraft carrier, or an interception of a Soviet amphibious group made up of transports, landing ships, and escorting warships.

The capstone of Red Storm Rising was the Campaign. Here, the player took command of a sub (the classes available varied depending on what year was chosen as the setting; one could choose 1984, 1988, 1992, or 1996) and played through Tom Clancy’s World War III from start to end.

Glub. Glub. Glub. (C) 1988 MicroProse Software

For obvious reasons, the game is only loosely based on the novel, but it allowed players to try to influence the outcome of the war by carrying out various missions in a nuclear attack sub. If the player’s sub completed a mission successfully and survived encounters with the enemy, the news reports and status maps would reflect the battles’ outcomes. Conversely, if the player failed to achieve several missions and lost too many boats in battle, then the war ended in a Warsaw Pact victory.

Red Storm Rising was one of my favorite games back in the day, so when I could no longer play it because its MS-DOS programming was no longer compatible with newer Windows-based operating systems, I was not happy.

Sure, the graphics were already looking a bit dated by the time I bought my first DOS-based PC (I owned an Apple IIe before that, and Red Storm Rising did not have a version published for it, which was a factor in my decision to go DOS), but it was still a great game and I missed playing it.

The closest game to Red Storm Rising that I played for a few years was Simon & Schuster Interactive/Virtus Corp./Clancy Interactive Entertainment’s Tom Clancy’s SSN. Published for Windows 1995 in 1996, SSN was more of an arcade-like game than a simulation and traded in Soviet Union adversaries for ones from the People’s Republic of China. To win, you played through a series of 15 linked missions in a “closed” script that centered on a Chinese takeover of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

I didn’t like SSN as much as I did Red Storm Rising, but I still enjoyed its use of simulated news reports and cool “seen from outside the sub” graphics. I played it for only about a year or so; when I upgraded my PC sometime in 1998 so I could have a computer with a DVD-ROM drive, I had to buy a computer with Windows 98, an operating system that was not compatible with SSN.

For the longest time, I did not have any modern counterpart to Red Storm Rising in my modest collection of computer games. I have Silent Service II back, thanks to Tommo’s Retroism brand, which owns the licenses to many of MicroProse’s classic games; I bought it last year from Steam, so at least I have a World War II sub sim that I was already familiar with.

Screenshot of the main title scene from Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

Earlier this week, I received an email from Steam letting me know that several titles on my Wishlist were on sale. One, Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation, was selling for $1.37 (ironic, because I purchased the GOLD edition in 1995 for $40 but could never get it to run, even though I had a PC with the required amount of RAM and the proper software). I bought it, even though the graphics are nowhere as good as any 21st Century flight sim’s.

Another title which was at a low price was Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3-D, a game for which I have the manual, so I bought it, too, just to have an arcade-like Star Wars game in my collection.

(C) 2017 Killerfish Games

The third game that was included in the sale was pricier ($19.99), but that’s because it’s a newer (2017) game. I had been keeping an eye on it for about a year or so, but I didn’t want to shell out $39.99 for a game that I’ll only play when I’m not writing. I am, after all, a writer first and a gamer second, and sub simulations do require some investment of time and commitment if you’re going to play them at all.

Here’s the sales pitch, from the Killerfish Games website, that drew me to Cold Waters:

After tracking a Soviet landing force bound for Iceland it is time to plan your attack. Do you silently close in to torpedo the landing ships and escape during the resulting chaos? Or strike with long-range missiles but risk counterattack from the enemy escorts? Have you detected them all, could another submarine be out there listening for you? Has the hunter become the hunted? Will you survive the Cold Waters?

Inspired by the 1988 classic “Red Storm Rising”, command a nuclear submarine in a desperate attempt to prevent “mutually assured destruction” when the Cold War gets hot and WWIII begins.

You will be tasked with intercepting convoys, amphibious landings, insertion missions and battling it out with enemy warships, submarines and aircraft. Thankfully, an arsenal of wire-guided torpedoes, anti-ship and cruise missiles and the occasional SEAL team are on board to keep the Iron Curtain at bay.

This is not a promotional cut scene or a main title shot. This is a periscope view screenshot that I captured while playing a training mission (Basic Torpedoes) in Cold Waters. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

So far I have only completed a couple of training missions, but I am impressed by what I’ve seen of Cold Waters so far. The graphics are stunning and realistic, and I like that it has voice actors that portray your unseen but ever-present command crew.

A screenshot taken at the end of Wire-Guided Torpedoes,where you see three hit-and-sunk Soviet fleet auxiliary vessels and a Mk.48 torpedo in the map display. (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

It’s not as easy to learn as Red Storm Rising; the thing that I miss most about buying games that come in boxes and physical data storage is the manuals and Quick Reference Cards. Instead, the game has Training Missions with pop-up “cards” and prompts that help new players learn how to operate – and fight – their boats.

Dosvidanya, Rodina! (C) 2017 Killerfish Games

So far, I’ve completed three training missions (Basic Torpedoes, Wire-Guided Torpedoes, and Missiles), although I still have a long way to go before I feel comfortable to take on a Combat Mission. There are several other skills I need to master, such as Navigation, Target Motion Analysis, Sensors & Masts and Tactics & Damage.

Still, this looks like an exciting and fun sub simulation and a worthy heir to the classic Red Storm Rising.

Random Thoughts & Musings for July 2, 2020, or: Finding Bits of Bliss in Troubled Times

The box cover art of Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation. (C) 1994 Microprose Software.

Well, here we are on July 2, 2020, a few short days before the Fourth of July weekend and the fifth – or is it sixth?- month of the global pandemic caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. And because we live in a troubled and extremely divisive period exacerbated by Donald Trump’s woeful Presidency, I find it difficult to feel in any way like celebrating my country’s 243rd birthday.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown, once and for all, the high price that all Americans, no matter what their beliefs – political, religious, or cultural – may be, are paying for the dark aftermath of the Vietnam/Watergate years. The conservative drift to the far right that began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 (which itself was a reaction to the way that Richard Nixon was forced to resign as a result of the Watergate scandal) has led us to the brink of a precipice, Trump and his enablers in and out of Congress are taking the nation into a path that will lead to a right-wing dictatorship where freedom of the press is stifled, opposition voices will be shouted down by the so-called “deplorables” who seem intent in creating a Christian theocracy straight out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and don’t care if Vladimir Putin’s favorite puppet installs a one-party regime that benefits only Russia and the misbegotten Trump family.

Consider, for instance, the fact that the wearing of masks and following “social distancing” measures that are intended to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus have become a politically divisive issue rather than being universally embraced in order to flatten the curve.

While millions of Americans conscientiously buy or make their own masks and wear them whenever they go out to buy groceries and run essential errands, there are those (mostly conservative and totally idiotic) individuals who flat-out refuse to take prophylactic measures to stem the spread of the dangerous and contagious virus-borne disease.

In my home state of Florida, we are seeing a surge of new cases of COVID-19, most of them caused by (a) Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ refusal to issue statewide “mandatory mask use” orders and “reopening” the state in the middle of what is only the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and (b) selfish, thoughtless, and reckless fools who will not wear masks or stop their pre-pandemic behaviors.

Many Floridians (mostly liberals like me) have criticized DeSantis, Trump, and Republicans in general for their mishandling of one of the worst public health crises in world history, but ordinary citizens who are only interested in themselves are contributing to the spikes in COVID-19 cases.

As I wrote in a comment on an NBC News story about the sudden (but not unexpected) upsurge in new coronavirus cases in Florida and elsewhere:

 We’re also in this because many – not all, but enough – Americans are acting like irresponsible children who think that the virus is not as dangerous as it is and put their own selfish desires ahead of the general welfare. It’s “Oh, I don’t care about other people’s health/safety. I want to get a haircut/see a movie/have drinks at a bar/go around without a face mask.” No,…the governors are NOT causing the worst economic crisis in the history of the planet. People besotted by the notion that “this is a free country and I’ll do as I please” are.

Does this look like COVID-19 is going away any time soon? (Screenshot of the Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Dashboard)

But the pandemic will continue to have a negative effect on the United States so long as there are “COVID-19 Minimizers” who say idiotic things like “It’s no different then the flu- if your [sic] worried stay home, I’m going to continue living my life like the majority of people I know and see everyday.  I’m not living in fear. It’s a virus and viruses spread. We are going to continue living just like before. My dad is 70 and works everything, my mother is 68 retired and working part-time at dollar tree. Her part-time went from 3 days to 6 because there’s people who don’t want to work. My sisters, my kids, my nieces and nephews, ect. We are all out living our lives, and not stressing out. People should turn off their tv and love their neighbors, things would be much better then I’m sure. We don’t hide in the house or close the country for the flu so why now? I could understand at first because we didn’t have that much information but now we have the numbers and it’s a 98% per recovery rate and I’m sorry but I don’t feel the need to panic over that.”

Gaming Keeps Me Sane in an Insane World

MicroProse’s 1994 Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation

So, yeah. in these weird and scary times, you have to find ways to stay sane and relatively content. Otherwise….

Although I prefer to be productive and write on a daily basis, I also like to relieve stress by playing computer games, especially those with aviation or military themes. (I do have a couple of Star Wars games, but I don’t play those as much.)

Today I saw that Steam had a sale for some games that I’d added to my Wishlist last year. I didn’t buy them then because one (Cold Waters) was still too “new” and – at $39.99 – too pricey for my taste, and the other one – Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation – is a flight sim that might be a bit more complex than the ones I’m used to. (Well, that, and the fact that even though Tommo’s Retroism brand has made it compatible with Windows 10, the graphics are dated by today’s standards.) Well, the prices dropped just enough to justify the expense of using my credit card, so I ordered three games:

(C) 2017 Killerfish Games
  • 2017’s Cold Waters, Killerfish Games’ spiritual heir to MicroProse’s 1989 nuclear submarine warfare sim Red Storm Rising.
  • 1994’s Fleet Defender: The F-14 Tomcat Simulation
  • 1998’s Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3-D

As I’ve explained before, I can’t be online during the day unless the other people who live here don’t have to study or work remotely from home (which is why my weekday posts are usually published after 5 PM my time). So if I’m not in the mood to read books or listen to music on my Amazon Music app, I game. Not every day or even every week, but I do enjoy this pastime.

(C) 1994 MicroProse Software

Oddly enough, Fleet Defender is one of the last games I bought in the 1990s at the Babbage’s store in the Miami International Mall. It was also a game that I never got to play; the two times that I tried installing it into my compatible MS-DOS-based PCs, it never worked. I followed all of the instructions in the manual’s section on installation and system requirements, but it just never booted up.

I have not tried flying a mission yet because I need to read the manual. But at least I set up my pilot in the VF-14 squadron roster.

Maybe it was the memory of that frustration that kept me from buying it when it was priced at $6.99 – I originally paid $39.99 for the GOLD edition back in 1995 – but when I saw it was available for $1.97 I finally caved in and ordered it from Steam.

I used to have all my manuals to my MS-DOS and Windows-based games, but I threw most of them away after my last move. I thought I would not need them again; most of the installation disks were the 3.5 floppy diskettes, including the ones for Fleet Defender, and because I don’t have a PC with floppy drives, they just took up valuable shelfspace.

(Oddly enough, the one game that I kept the manual for is Rogue Squadron 3-D, which was a factor in my decision to get it. I also still have the CD-ROM for that game, which I received as a parting gift many years ago when my friend and former neighbor Geno left Miami for a new life in New York City.)

A screenshot from Rogue Squadron 3D.

I’m not going to play with those games today; I have to read the manuals to at least learn how to play them before I attempt to command a nuclear sub, fly an F-14 Tomcat, and tangle with Imperial TIE Fighters and probe droids with my fellow Rogue Squadron pilots. But I now have something else to distract me on those rare days when writing alone does not suffice to maintain my sanity.

Music Album Review: ‘Superman: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’

(C) 1978, 2000 Warner Bros. Records & Rhino Entertainment Company

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hi, there, Constant Reader!

Well, here we are on the first day of July 2020, and in my corner of Florida all is tranquil at home on a hot early summer afternoon. Presently, the temperature outside is a sizzling 94˚F; with humidity at 56% and a westerly breeze of 11 mph, the heat index is 107˚F. That’s hot, so I’m glad that I don’t have to be traipsing out there on this partly sunny afternoon.

So, yeah. Right now I’m just chilling here at my desk and listening to the digital edition of Superman: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack on my Amazon Music app, which I purchased late last year so I don’t have to play my Superman The Movie: 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition CDs too often.

(C) 2000 Warner Bros. Records and Rhino Entertainment Company

This album was released as a 2-CD set on February 15, 2000 by Warner Bros. Records and Rhino Entertainment under the Warner Archives label. Produced by the late Nick Redman and soundtrack restoration maven Michael Matessino, this incarnation of Superman: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was the first commercial release of composer John Williams’ complete score for the 1978 feature film based on the iconic DC Comics character.

Digitally remastered in “RhinoPhonic Authentic Sound” and carefully restored for this album, Superman: The Movie: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack features John Williams’ complete score performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, rearranged to match the chronology of Richard Donner’s film.

Furthermore, producers Matessino and Redman include alternate versions of various cues, including the more familiar concert hall arrangement of Main Title March (Theme From “Superman”), an unused version of The Planet Krypton, and several different takes on Can You Read My Mind, including the track The Flying Sequence/Can You Read My Mind (the LSO/Margot Kidder vocal) as heard in the ’78 album and a 1970s-style instrumental/voiceover mix which was recorded but not used in the finished version of Superman: The Movie.

The reverse side of the album’s slipcover. (C) 2000 Warner Bros. Records & Rhino Entertainment Company.

Track List

Disc One

(C) 2000 Warner Bros. Records & Rhino Entertainment Company

No. Title      Length
1. “Prelude and Main Title March**” 5:30
2. “The Planet Krypton**” 6:40
3. “Destruction of Krypton**” 7:52
4. “Star Ship Escapes*” 2:21
5. “The Trip to Earth” 2:29
6. “Growing Up**” 2:35
7. “Death of Jonathan Kent*” 3:24
8. “Leaving Home” 4:52
9. “The Fortress of Solitude**” 9:18
10. “Welcome to Metropolis*” 2:12
11. “Lex Luthor’s Lair**” 4:48
12. “The Big Rescue*” 5:55
13. “Super Crime Fighter**” 3:20
14. “Super Rescues**” 2:14
15. “Luthor’s Luau (Source)*” 2:48
16. “The Planet Krypton (Alternate)**” 4:25
17. “Main Title March (Alternate)”

Disc Two
No. Title Length
1. “Superman March (Alternate)**” 3:49
2. “The March of the Villains” 3:36
3. “The Terrace*” 1:34
4. “The Flying Sequence” 8:14
5. “Lois and Clark*” 0:50
6. “Crime of the Century*” 3:24
7. “Sonic Greeting*” 2:22
8. “Misguided Missiles and Kryptonite*” 3:27
9. “Chasing Rockets**” 4:55
10. “Superfeats**” 4:53
11. “Super Dam and Finding Lois**” 5:11
12. “Turning Back the World” 2:07
13. “Finale and End Title March**” 5:42
14. “Love Theme from Superman” 5:06
15. “Can You Read My Mind (Alternate)*” 2:58
16. “The Flying Sequence / Can You Read My Mind” 8:10
17. “Can You Read My Mind (Alternate Instrumental)*” 2:57
18. “Theme from Superman (Concert Version)” 4:24
* Previously unreleased selection
** Contains previously unreleased material

Even though it seems inevitable that John Williams would compose the score to the first (and best) of the modern era’s Superman films, he wasn’t director Richard Donner’s first choice for the gig. Originally, Academy Award-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith was hired – he had worked with Donner in 1976’s The Omen.

However, Goldsmith ran into scheduling problems, so Alexander and Ilya Salkind approached Williams, who had just won his third Best Score Oscar for Star Wars to compose the music for their film. After reading the screenplay and noticing that the movie was full of tongue-in-cheek humor and comic book-style heroics, he agreed to serve as his friend Goldsmith’s replacement.

Because Superman was made in Shepperton Studios in London, Maestro Williams teamed up again with the London Symphony Orchestra, the same ensemble with which he had recorded the Star Wars score a year and a half earlier. Inspired by the then-40-year-old Superman character’s iconography and the need to give the film a score that matched the epic scale that the Salkinds and director Richard Donner were aiming for, Williams composed some of his best-known (and most popular!) film themes, including:

  • Prelude and Main Title March
  • The Planet Krypton
  • The Trip to Earth
  • Growing Up
  • Leaving Home
  • The Big Rescue
  • The Flying Sequence
  • The March of the Villains
  • Love Theme from “Superman”
  • Chasing Rockets
  • Finale and End Title March

For nearly 20 years, this was my favorite version of the Superman score as composed and conducted by Maestro Williams. Until I bought the 3-CD Superman The Movie: 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition set, I considered this to be the ultimate recording of one of my most listened to non-Star Wars film scores composed by the man that many consider the Dean of Modern Film Music.

And even though I do think that the 2019 Limited Edition 40th Anniversary album from La La Land Records is the best edition I own, the Warner Archives/Rhino Records album from 2000 is the one I listen to regularly, especially when I’m at my PC and can listen to it on my Amazon Music app without having to play my 20-year-old CDs or break out the newer La La Land Records set.

This version of Superman: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is, incidentally, easier to buy and less expensive than the newer version, plus it’s still available on Amazon Music as a digital album. So if you are in the mood to hear the soaring and thrilling themes that made 1978 audiences believe a man could fly, check it out. Maybe you, like me, will say the music is super, man.

Home Media Comparison: ‘A Bridge Too Far’ DVD vs. Blu-ray

Theatrical release poster for A Bridge Too Far. (C) 1977 United Artists (now MGM/United Artists)

A Bridge Too Far on Home Media

A fan-made trailer for A Bridge Too Far.

When producer Joseph E. Levine’s $25 million adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s non-fiction book A Bridge Too Far landed in theaters on June 15, 1977, home media as we know it today was in its infancy. Videocassette recorders existed, of course, but they were still mostly used by the television industry or by wealthy individuals. Prices of VCRs were beginning to drop, but even then most people did not own one. Thus, when A Bridge Too Far’s theatrical run ended in late July of 1977, the only way that the movie’s fans could hope to see it was on broadcast television – NBC aired it over two nights in 1979 – or on premium pay-TV channels such as HBO.

I don’t recall when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists (MGM-UA) finally released A Bridge Too Far on VHS videotape. I do remember I bought the two-tape set sometime in the early 1990s; it was one of the first home videos I owned that presented a theatrical release in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio (or close to it) instead of the horrid pan-and-scan “fullscreen” format that was the standard for analog television sets in the 1980s and early 1990s.  

MGM-UA Home Video’s VHS edition of A Bridge Too Far allowed me to relive the experience of going to the theater (twice!) to watch director Richard Attenborough’s nearly three-hour-long recreation of Operation Market-Garden, the star-crossed attempt by the Allies to outflank Nazi Germany’s Westwall defensive line by using paratroopers and elements of the British Second Army to seize a series of bridges – “with thunderclap surprise” – in German-occupied Holland and gain a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River (Neder Rijn in Dutch).

Of course, the TV I had in my bedroom wasn’t large – if I recall correctly, it was a 17” portable color set which Mom gave me as a high school graduation present in June of 1983, but at least I could watch A Bridge Too Far at my leisure rather than wait for a cable channel such as Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to broadcast it. And for the most part, I was happy with it, even though it had several issues that bothered me.

The first problem was that when MGM-UA Home Video transferred the 176-minute film to videotape, the people responsible for the job deleted the “place identifier” tags superimposed on screen to help the viewer know where in the large Market-Garden battlefield the action took place. I remembered those superimposed titles from my previous three viewings of A Bridge Too Far, so even though I had the book and was quite familiar with the battle, I hated the deletion of those informative “objects.”

The other thing that bugged me to no end with the VHS set was this: During one of the film’s set-up “pointer scenes,” the German high command in the West is mulling over the Allies’ possible next moves in that theater. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (Wolfgang Preiss) turns to Army Group B commander Field Marshal Walther Model (Walter Kohut) and asks, “Who do you think is going to lead the attack? Montgomery? Or Patton?”  Model replies, “Patton. He is their best.” Von Rundstedt chuckles and says “I agree. I would prefer Montgomery, but even Eisenhower isn’t that stupid.”

I don’t remember in which of those lines the name Patton appeared as Patten. But it did, and it bothered me not only as a former copy editor but also as a World War II buff. (I mean, seriously. George S. Patton, Jr. is one of America’s most famous generals, and a large corporate entity such as MGM can’t spell the man’s name right? The mistake recurred in the 1998 DVD, but apparently not in the 2005 Collector’s Edition reissue.)

But, on the whole, that VHS set, which presented A Bridge Too Far in two tapes due to the storage limits of the magnetic tape format, served me well until my VCR gave up the ghost some time before I bought my first DVD player in February of 2000.

(C) 1998 MGM Home Entertainment

The 2005 “Collector’s Edition” DVD

In the 2000s, I replaced my collection of movies on VHS tape – around 125 in all – with DVD versions on 1:1 basis. As part of this project, I bought the 1998 DVD edition of A Bridge Too Far early on, even though it was one of those double-sided discs that present a movie in two formats: full screen and widescreen.

This first version of A Bridge Too Far was decent but not spectacular; it had better sound and video quality than the 1990s-era VHS tape did, but the only “extra feature” it offered was the 1977 theatrical trailer. In the packaging, MGM included a booklet with a few behind-the-scenes factoids and a photo still delineating the difference between widescreen and full screen. But other than that, it was a barebones release, with no audio commentary track or a “making-of” featurette, which are extras that I, as both screenwriter and reviewer, always appreciate.

It’s been a decade since I have seen that particular DVD; when I saw the 2005 2-DVD Collector’s Edition was available at Amazon, I ordered it right away and gave the older one to my older half-sister Victoria.  

The cover art for the 2005 Collector”s Edition 2-DVD set. (C) 2005 MGM and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Released on October 25, 2005, the Collector’s Edition of A Bridge Too Far is a two-disc set that comes in a slipcover/standard DVD case with new cover art and – yes – extra features not found in the 1998 DVD,

This version of A Bridge Too Far is an improvement over its 1998 precursor. The first disc not only presents the 1977 in its original “as seen in theaters” version, with the documentary-style “location” names superimposed where they originally appeared, but Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which partnered with the financially-troubled MGM, added several extra features not present in the ’98 DVD. These are:

  • Audio commentary with screenwriter William Goldman and key crew members
  • A feature-length trivia track

Disc Two contains the supplementary material that a movie like this deserves:

  • A Bridge Too Far: Heroes from the Sky, a documentary originally produced for the History channel
  • A Distant Battle: Memories of Operation Market-Garden, a 60th Anniversary featurette. One of the old veterans is William “Bill” Guarnere, whose story was part of the dramatization of Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers
  • Richard Attenborough: A Filmmaker Remembers, another featurette about the making of A Bridge Too Far

Here are the A/V technical specs for the 2005 Collector’s Edition:

Video

  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • Encoding format: 16:9
  • Resolution: 480i (NTSC)
  • Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Audio

  • English: Dolby Digital 2.0
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles

English, French

Discs

  • DVD
  • Two-disc set (2 DVD)

Playback

  • Region 1

The 2008 Blu-ray

(C) 2008 MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

On June 3, 2008, MGM and its new distribution partner 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released A Bridge Too Far on the then-new high definition Blu-ray format. It is a one-disc set that presents the film in 1080p high definition, which gives viewers a sharper video image, more subtitle options (English, Spanish, Cantonese, and Korean), but not much else.

In the disc’s onscreen menu, there’s an “Extra Features” option, but the only extra is the promotional trailer for A Bridge Too Far.  That’s it. No making-of featurettes, no trivia track, no audio commentary.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a “Trailers” option for three trailers, specifically the ones for Platoon, Flyboys, and Windtalkers.  

The Blu-ray’s smart menu has a loop of scenes from the film with bits of John Addison’s Theme from A Bridge Too Far as underscore. Other than that, nothing to write home about, to be honest.

Here are the specs for the 2008 single Blu-ray release of A Bridge Too Far:

Video

  • Codec: MPEG-2 (24.78 Mbps)
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 2.34:1
  • Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Audio

  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • English: Dolby Digital 4.0
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles

  • English, English SDH, Spanish, Cantonese, Korean

Discs

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Single disc (1 BD-50)

Playback

  • Region A

My Take

I was surprised, to say the least, when I bought my Blu-ray copy of A Bridge Too Far several years ago and saw that – at least as far as supplementary material went, anyway – the 2005 Collector’s Edition DVD is superior to the 2008 Blu-ray release.

The official trailer to A Bridge Too Far

Certainly, A Bridge Too Far itself looks great in high definition, and its 5.1 DTS HD audio track clearly outclasses the DVD’s Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, so in that regard, the 2008 Blu-ray outshines its standard definition sibling,

But I can’t understand why MGM, which has been saddled with financial issues for years, couldn’t be bothered to port the extra features from the DVD onto the Blu-ray. Most of MGM’s competitors, including 20th Century Fox – before its sale to the Walt Disney Company in 2019 – and Paramount Pictures, either create new “extras” or port existing ones from one format to another.

Granted, A Bridge Too Far was never a huge hit in the United States. Most of its fans seem to be Cornelius Ryan fans or World War II buffs, but it’s not as well-known as The Longest Day, which is also based on a book by Ryan. It’s more popular in the United Kingdom, where the Battle of Arnhem is almost as legendary as the Alamo is to Texans. And for obvious reasons, A Bridge Too Far has many Dutch fans.

Still, just because A Bridge Too Far was not a big hit when it was released, it is still a good movie and deserved a better suite of extras for its Blu-ray version.

Movie Review: ‘A Bridge Too Far’

A still image from A Bridge Too Far, with (from left to right) Gene Hackman, Edward Fox, Dirk Bogarde, Ryan O’Neal, and Michael Caine. Photo Credit and (C) 1977: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

 

Lt. Gen. Horrocks: [briefing his XXX Corps officers on Operation Market Garden] Gentlemen, this is a story that you shall tell your grandchildren, and mightily bored they’ll be. [the officers laugh] The plan is called “Operation Market Garden”. “Market” is the airborne element, and “Garden”, the ground forces. That’s us. [points to a map behind him of Holland, showing the positions of the Allied forces, and the path the Corps will take] Now, this is our position on the Belgian border, here. Tomorrow, three airborne divisions will begin landing in Holland. 35,000 men taking off from 24 airfields in troop-carrying planes or towed in gliders. The American 101st, here, around Eindhoven, the American 82nd, here, south of Nijmegen, and our own 1st Airborne boys, and a Polish brigade, here, at Arnhem, 64 miles behind enemy lines. Now, their job is to take and hold all the bridges in these three areas. Our job is to punch a hole through the German front line, here, and then drive like hell up this road, linking up with each airborne division on the way. Speed is the vital factor. The plan is to reach Eindhoven in two to three hours, and Arnhem in two to three days. That, gentlemen, is the prize – the bridge over the Rhine, the last bridge between us and Germany. Kickoff will be at 1435 hours tomorrow afternoon. The Irish Guards under the command of Colonel Vandeleur, will take the lead.

A screenshot from the prologue of A Bridge Too Far. This is a U.S. M-3 Stuart light tank advancing through France in the summer of 1944.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Directed by: Richard Attenborough

Written by: William Goldman, based on the book by Cornelius Ryan

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford, Maximillian Schell, Liv Ullmann

“I’ve always thought we tried to go a bridge too far….”

On June 15, 1977, United Artists released A Bridge Too Far, an epic recreation of 1944’s Operation Market-Garden, the ill-fated attempt by Allied forces to capture a bridgehead over the Lower Rhine River in Nazi-occupied Holland in a bid to end the war by Christmas of 1944. Based on Cornelius Ryan’s eponymous book (his last), A Bridge Too Far was adapted for the screen by  the Academy Award-winning writer William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) and directed by actor-director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi, Chaplin).

Producer Joseph E. Levine purchased the film rights to Ryan’s book before its publication in the summer of 1974; the best-selling author was dying from cancer and agreed to let Levine and his brother Richard to adapt A Bridge Too Far as an unofficial sequel to 1962’s The Longest Day, which was also based on a Cornelius Ryan book. Levine, who was determined to have the film open close to the 33rd anniversary of D-Day, spent $25 million ($105,773,102 in today’s dollars) on the film, which featured an all-star international cast, on-location shoots in the Netherlands and in England, and the use of real military vehicles and aircraft, some of which were of authentic WWII vintage.

Mad Tuesday, or Dolle Dinstag as depicted in A Bridge Too Far.

Despite the formidable creative forces and good intentions behind A Bridge Too Far, the film earned mixed reviews from critics and indifference from moviegoers. The film opened just two years after the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War, and by the time of its release, American audiences were not interested in war epics, much less one that recreated a defeat for the Allies during the last months of World War II. It was a box office flop in the United States[1], earning only $50 million worldwide ($211,546,204.62).

“It’s all a question of bridges….”

A Bridge Too Far opens with a prologue that consists of a voiceover by actress Liv Ullmann, who plays Kate Ter Horst in the film, and documentary footage intended to set the stage for the main narrative. In a slickly edited montage created by Antony Gibbs, late 1970s-era audiences saw and heard this:

[Film opens with montage footage of a World War II-era bomber dropping ordinances. Suddenly, the footage freezes, and we hear a woman speaking]

Kate Ter Horst: It’s hard to remember now, but Europe was like this in 1944.

[The video resumes, showing footage of the fighting while the narrator continues on with the introduction]

Kate Ter Horst: The Second World War was in its fifth year and still going Hitler’s way.[2] German troops controlled most of Europe. D-Day changed all that.

[The archive footage cuts to the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Paris]

Kate Ter Horst: D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces, under their commander, General Eisenhower, landed on the northern coast of France. By July, they were able to begin their own offensive. By August, Paris was liberated. Everywhere the Germans retreated.

[We then see archive footage showing the Allied advance through northern France]

Kate Ter Horst: But with the Allied victories came problems. Supplies still had to be driven from Normandy, over 400 miles away and became dangerously short. The Allied advance began to come to a halt.

[The archive footage then goes to video of General Eisenhower, General Patton, and Field Marshal Montgomery]

Kate Ter Horst: Another problem facing Eisenhower was this. His two most famous generals – Patton, who was in the south, and Montgomery in the north – disliked each other intensely. Their long-standing rivalry had never been more fierce. There simply were not enough supplies for both armies. Each wanted to be the one to defeat the Germans. Each wanted to beat the other to Berlin.

[We now see footage of the planning stages of “Operation Market-Garden” as well as hear background music as the woman continues with the introduction]

Kate Ter Horst: In September 1944, Montgomery devised a new and spectacular plan code-named “Market-Garden”. Eisenhower, under great pressure from his superiors, finally sided with Montgomery, and “Operation Market-Garden” became a reality. The plan, like so many plans in so many wars before it, was meant to end the fighting by Christmas and bring the boys back home.

[We see the archive footage freeze, and watch it zoom in on General Eisenhower before fading to black]

 The film’s main narrative resumes after a main title sequence that features a list of the major cast members and a deceptively optimistic score by composer John Addison. In a montage of scenes reminiscent of Darryl F. Zanuck’s The Longest Day, we see vignettes of occupied Holland in the days shortly before Market-Garden’s D-Day (September 17, 1944), starting with the panicked exodus of German troops – some of them accompanied by their Dutch girlfriends and other collaborationists – on starting on Tuesday, September 4, a date known in the Netherlands as Dolle Dinsdag – Mad Tuesday – and the days leading up to the operation.

A Bridge Too Far’s first act switches back and forth between the England-based headquarters of  Lt. Gen. Frederick “Boy” Browning (Dirk Bogarde), Holland, and the German Army’s Western Front HQ in western Germany. As in The Longest Day, this expository section of the film serves to introduce some of the characters (most of them historical figures, although some are composite characters or, in the case of Brian Urquhart, a real person given a fictitious name – “Major Fuller” – to prevent confusion or simplify the story’s narrative) and summarize the grand strategies from both the Allied and German perspectives.

Even early on in A Bridge Too Far, Goldman and Attenborough foreshadow the film’s not-too-happy ending by giving viewers hints that all’s not as rosy as Field Marshal Montgomery – an off-screen character whose overconfidence is reflected by “Boy” Browning’s own – thinks.

In one of A Bridge Too Far’s several “pointer scenes,” Browning makes it seem as though Market-Garden’s success is inevitable. His tone throughout the “meeting of the generals” sequence is cocky and airily dismissive of any possible doubts from his subordinates.

Anthony Hopkins (right) plays Lt. Col. John Frost in A Bridge Too Far. Photo Credit: MGM/United Artists. (C) 1977 MGM-UA.

After he has given the various division commanders their assignments and explained that “it’s all a question of bridges” that have to be taken “with thunderclap surprise,” Browning is confronted by Polish Major General Stanislaw Sosabowski (Gene Hackman):

Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning: Only the weather can stop us now.

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: Weather! Christus! General Browning, what of the Germans? Don’t you think that if we know Arnhem is so critical to their safety that they might know it too?

Lt. General Frederick Browning: Now, look here. The few troops in the area are second class. They’re not frontline caliber, not at all, do you understand? I think you ought to have a little more faith in Montgomery’s intelligence reports, you know. He’s done pretty well for us in last three or four years.

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: I will tell you the extent of my faith. I am thinking of asking for a letter from you stating that I was forced to act under your orders in case my men are massacred.

Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning: I see… I do see. Do you wish such a letter?

Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Sosabowski: No… No, of course not. In the case of massacre, what difference will it make?

C-47s in “invasion” paint scheme from 1944.

And although the young new commander of the American 82nd Airborne Division, Brig. Gen. James Gavin (Ryan O’Neal) is more confident than the worried Polish general, he, too, points out the complexities of Market-Garden:

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Why the emergency meeting?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Just keeping me abreast of the little changes.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: How big are the little changes?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: I’ll answer with typical British understatement: gigantic. For example, they can’t get us all in at once. Too many men, too much equipment, not enough planes. It’s gonna take three days to get the men into Arnhem, Poles and the British.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Well, what about us?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: We’ll be all right. Aside from the fact that we’re parachuting in daylight, we have nothing to worry about.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: Daylight? Has it ever been tried before?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Not in a major drop.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: You think there might be a reason for that?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Let’s hope not.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: What do you think?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: It’ll be all right. It’s a no-moon period anyway. We have to go in daylight. It doesn’t matter. Just so they get us over the target area. Half a mile away, three quarters of a mile, I’ll settle for that–

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: I don’t want to hear anything else. Is there anything else?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Well, you’re my Dutch adviser, Harry.

Capt. Arie D. “Harry” Bestebreurtje: I forgot to tell you something?

Brig. Gen. Gavin: Only that the Germans first tried to take Nijmegen bridge themselves back in 1940 and got slaughtered.

There are other hints that the largest airborne operation ever mounted will run into unexpected problems, including a pointer scene – this time on the German side – showing the impromptu decision by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (Wolfgang Priess) to move a SS Panzer force – the II SS Panzer Corps[3] from the front lines to a “quiet sector” near Arnhem.

But grand strategy isn’t the focus of either Ryan’s book or Goldman’s screenplay; it’s the story of the rank-and-file junior officers and enlisted men that capture their attention. Thus, there are many scenes that showcase the soldiers at the “pointy end of the spear” of Market-Garden.

Early in the movie, we are introduced to Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan)[4] and Capt. Glass,[5] Dohun’s young company commander, who tries to cope with his fear of dying by drinking too much whiskey on the eve of the operation:

Capt. Glass: My problem is, I’m not totally crazy about the prospect of dying.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: So don’t die. Drinking that garbage isn’t gonna keep you alive, is it?

Capt. Glass: What is?

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: What is? Well, not gettin’ shot.

Capt. Glass: What can guarantee that?

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: Nothing, for sure.

Capt. Glass: You will.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: I will what?

Capt. Glass: You tell me, Eddie. You tell me I won’t die.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: Alright, you won’t die.

Capt. Glass: No, no. Guarantee me. I want you to guarantee me I won’t die.

SSgt. Eddie Dohun: [seriously] I guarantee you.

“Flatten Arnhem….”

The second act of A Bridge Too Far opens with a spectacular set-piece sequence that recreates the first “lift” of airborne and glider troops from England to their drop zones in German-occupied Holland. Here, viewers will see that producer Joseph E. Levine spared no expense to re-enact the massive airlift and parachute drops of Sunday, September 17, 1944.  Every available C-47 Skytrain/Dakota plane that could be wrangled was repainted in wartime U.S. Army Air Force or Royal Air Force colors, and several mockups of Horsa gliders – none had survived the war – were also built to portray the glider force.  

And even though editor Antony Gibbs and production designer had to use movie trickery to make it look as though there were thousands of planes in the airborne armada, the movie pulls off the illusion that the audience is witnessing Operation Market-Garden by using actual military parachutists in a mass jump and filming it with cameras mounted on a plane and by parachute cameraman John Partington-Smith.

In this portion of the film, we see Operation Market-Garden’s chances of success start to diminish, even though the Allies have the advantage of tactical surprise. Even Field Marshal Walther Model (Walter Kohut) is caught by surprise when paratroopers from the 1st British Airborne Division land three miles away from his Army Group B headquarters in Oosterbeek:

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Field Marshal, pardon me for interrupting, but … British paratroops have apparently landed … three kilometres from here.

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: Why should they do that? There is nothing valuable here. … Me! I am valuable here. They have all come just to capture me. [stands from his lunch and moves to the door] Get my driver and car.

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Yes, Herr Marshal!

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: Evacuate my headquarters!

Generalfeldmarschall Model’s aide: Yes, sir!

Generalfeldmarschall Walther Model: [pops back in and shouts] And don’t forget my cigars!

But as the day goes on, Model and the forces under his command find ways to stymie the Allied bid to capture the bridges in the target zone for Market-Garden. In the American sector, German engineers blow up the bridge over a canal near Son, while Jim Gavin’s 82nd Airborne fails to capture the Nijmegen bridge on the first day of the operation.

And at Arnhem, Major General Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery) is frustrated in his efforts to capture the bridge over the Lower Rhine by the loss of gliders with jeeps that were supposed to dash from the drop zones – which, at eight miles’ distance, were too far away from Arnhem – to the main bridge over the Neder Rijn, bad radios, and a shortage of troops with which to carry out his mission. Only one battalion led by Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins) reaches the northern end of the bridge, but fails to capture the heavily defended southern half:

Corp. Hancock: Sir

[Offers mug of tea]

Maj. Gen. Urquhart: Hancock. I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?

Corp. Hancock: Couldn’t hurt, sir.

[Urquhart accepts his mug of tea]

As in Ryan’s book, screenwriter Goldman and director Attenborough lay out a tragic scenario of American and British soldiers striving desperately to make Operation Market-Garden work against all odds. There are plenty of moments when it looks as the mission – which was planned and mounted in haste – might just work,  but it’s all an illusion.

For instance, after the Paras under Frost’s command repulse a German reconnaissance unit’s reckless attempt to retake the “British” end of Arnhem bridge – another brilliant set-piece scene shot by Geoffrey Unsworth, who would later be known for his work on Superman: The Movie –Obergruppenführer Bittrich (Maximillian Schell) brings in heavy panzers and SS troops to eradicate the stubborn “Red Devils” from their perimeter. But – perhaps knowing that Germany might win this battle but still lose the war – Bittrich tries to avoid a showdown by asking the British to surrender.

Maximillian Schell as Obergruppenführer Bittrich. Photo Credit: MGM. (C) 1977 MGM/United Artists.

[an SS officer is approaching under a white flag]

Maj. Harry Carlyle: Rather interesting development, sir. [to the German] That’s far enough! We can hear you from there!

SS Panzer Officer: My general says there is no point in continuing this fighting! He is willing to discuss a surrender!

[Short pause; the German waits for an answer, Frost thinks]

Lt. Col. John Frost: Tell him to go to hell.

Maj. Harry Carlyle: We haven’t the proper facilities to take you all prisoner! Sorry!

SS Panzer Officer: [confused] What?

Maj. Harry Carlyle: We’d like to, but we can’t accept your surrender! Was there anything else?

[German officer walks off silently]

Lt. Col. John Frost: Right.

[the officer returns to Obergruppenführer Bittrich – they converse in German]

SS Panzer Officer: They rejected our surrender offer. What are your orders, Herr General?

Obergruppenführer Bittrich: Flatten Arnhem.

My Take

Another poster promoting A Bridge Too Far. (C) 1977 MGM/United Artists

I saw A Bridge Too Far not long after it hit theaters in my hometown of Miami in June of 1977. I’d read parts of Cornelius Ryan’s book when they were featured in the “Book” section of Reader’s Digest in 1974, so I was eager to see a movie version. School was out for summer vacation, so I asked my mother to take me and a friend from my neighborhood, Patrick Blanchard, to see it.

(C) 1974 Simon & Schuster.

Mom did not want to watch A Bridge Too Far – she had other plans that day[6] and wasn’t in the mood to  see a nearly three-hour war movie – but she drove Patrick and me to the Dadeland Twin Theatres, which was the closest venue to our house in Westchester.  

I was expecting long lines to get in to see A Bridge Too Far, but to my surprise, there weren’t. There was a huge one for the other movie being shown in the other screening room, a space fantasy film called Star Wars. I’d watched the TV promo for it the night before and, frankly, I wasn’t impressed. My friend Patrick had probably heard of it and might have mentioned it to me on the car ride to the theater, but he also wanted to see A Bridge Too Far, so he never said anything like “Hey, forget A Bridge Too Far, let’s go see Star Wars instead!” [7]

As a World War II buff from an early age and a fan of The Longest Day, I was impressed by A Bridge Too Far. Oddly for me, I remember feeling extremely sad when Patrick and I exited the screening room after the end credits had finished rolling on the movie screen. First, I’d forgotten how the book ended – I’d only read the excerpts from Ryan’s best-seller in Reader’s Digest three years earlier and, as a kid, had a lot of other stuff on my mind, including the end of the relationship with my first girlfriend, school-related activities (including singing in our elementary school’s first choir), and my grandfather’s recent death. Second, I had not yet read the complete book.

Blu-ray artwork for the 2008 BD release. (C) 2008 MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The most impressive scenes in the film, both then and now, are the ones that depict the airborne jump on September 17, 1944, the building of the Bailey bridge over the Son canal 36 hours later, and the daring attempt by Major Julian Cook (Robert Redford) and two companies of paratroopers to cross the Waal River on collapsible canvas sided boats to capture the Nijmegen Bridge from both ends,

Brig. Gen. Gavin: What’s the best way to take a bridge?

Maj. Julian Cook: Both ends at once.

Brig. Gen. Gavin: I’m sending two companies across the river by boat. I need a man with very special qualities to lead.

Maj. Julian Cook: Go on, sir.

Brig. Gen. Gavin: He’s got to be tough enough to do it and he’s got to be experienced enough to do it. Plus one more thing. He’s got to be dumb enough to do it… Start getting ready.

U.S. captain: What was all that about, Major?

Maj. Julian Cook: Well, someone’s come up with a real nightmare. Real nightmare.

 I was also impressed by how accurate everything looked in the film, even though now I know that the realism is more illusory than I was aware as a young boy in 1977. Much of the equipment shown in A Bridge Too Far Is really vintage stuff from World War II or reasonably well-done mock-ups; some of the M-4 Shermans seen on screen are actually fiberglass shells placed atop smaller vehicles to augment the small numbers of real tanks in the film.  However, the parachutes and jump boots used by the paratroopers in the film were from the 1960s, as there were only a few usable 1944 vintage chutes and no WWII jump boots were available for the filmmakers to use or replicate.

On the whole, William Goldman did a decent job of adapting Cornelius Ryan’s non-fiction book to the screen. Some contemporary reviewers hated A Bridge Too Far for being too repetitive or being an expensive movie with strong visuals but too long, boring, and non-epic, but I think much of that is just a sign of the post-Vietnam War cynicism that permeated the culture in 1977. It’s not, like The Longest Day, a war film about a victory. Goldman is on record[8]as saying, “This was our chance to say, ‘War sucks.’”

I am a big fan of movie scores, and John Addison’s music for A Bridge Too Far is definitely among my Top 10 Favorite Scores Not Composed by John Williams. That was one of the elements that grabbed me the most the two times that I saw it in theaters, and when I saw a CD edition of it at a Camelot Music store in the Miami International Mall back in September 1999, I bought it. Its classic Overture (aka “A Bridge Too Far March”) is a brilliant composition in that it’s a jaunty march that represents the optimism felt by the Allies – at every level of command – shortly before Operation Market-Garden. Its almost triumphal tones provide a tragically ironic undertone to the film’s beginning.

Of course, as the film progresses, Addison’s score grows more ominous and somber. His Arnhem theme – which recurs in different sequences in various shadings and variations – underscores the courage and the suffering of the Dutch civilians caught in the crossfire of Market-Garden. Another cue, March of the Paratroopers, is presented in a jaunty, almost comical style as the 101st Airborne paratroopers led by Col. Bobby Stout[9] rush to the Son canal bridge – then gets more tense as the Germans blow that span up right in front of their faces.

Is A Bridge Too Far a perfect World War II movie? No, it has unavoidable anachronisms that show up on screen despite the filmmakers’ best efforts to avoid them. In a few shots, you can see 1970s era cars in the background, and the German tanks – all of which were 1970s era Leopard tanks altered visually to resemble their WWII-era Panther ancestors – are painted gray and have the wrong markings on hulls and turrets. Some of the actors who portray officers either wear their insignia incorrectly or – like actor Robert Redford – wear their hair longer than 1944 Army regulations would have allowed.

And, as in most movies that are complex and involve so many people but have to be made by a certain deadline, there are quite a few continuity and geographical errors. For instance, the Son Canal is depicted as being wide and in open countryside, whilst the real one is near Son, has buildings on both sides, and is relatively narrow. In another scene, you can see the pyrotechnic device on a German antitank gun on screen before it “fires.”

Still, Joseph E. Levine’s heart and $25 million were in the right place, even if 1977 America was not ready for his movie about one of the great military blunders of World War II. The script is nicely balanced between moments of gallantry and stupidity, humor and tragedy, and, as the old promo for ABC’s Wide World of Sports famously said, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.

Attenborough, who served in World War II with the British armed forces, chose his international cast well. A Bridge Too Far is full of 1970s-era A-list actors from different countries, including Britain’s Dirk Bogarde (a veteran of Market-Garden in real life), Denholm Elliott,  Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Lawrence Olivier, and Edward Fox.

Hollywood stars who had noticeable roles include Robert Redford, James Caan, Elliott Gould, Ryan O’Neal,  Gene Hackman (who unfortunately hammed it up as a Polish general). Nicholas Campbell, and future Cheers co-star John Ratzenberger.

[Stout and Vanderleur are discussing how to get the Bailey bridge through town]

Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: When you refer to Bailey crap I take it you mean that glorious, precision-made, British-built bridge which is the envy of the civilized world?

[looks at the crowd of Dutch civilians]

Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: I don’t know how you’re going to get it through this crowd.

Col. Robert Stout: No sweat. I got a back way staked out that will avoid all this. American ingenuity.

Lt. Colonel. J.O.E. Vanderleur: Really?

Col. Robert Stout: Actually, I was born in Yugoslavia, but what the hell.

(C) 1977 MGM-United Artists

Dutch, German, and Scandinavian actors in A Bridge Too Far include Siem Vroom, Marlies van Alcmaer, Eric van’t Wout, Josephine Peeper, Wolfgang Preiss[10], Hardy Kruger, Maximillian Schell, and Liv Ullmann (a favorite muse of director Ingmar Bergman).  As an ensemble movie,  the performances are similar to those in The Longest Day in that not one actor carries the entire story. The actors all have their small vignettes, most of them based on events in Ryan’s book, although Goldman clearly invented a few scenes for dramatic effect or to add a bit of humor here and there. The performances are good, though, and the European cast members add authenticity to the film by speaking in German and Dutch (with English subtitles), thus giving A Bridge Too Far a semi-documentary feel.

At nearly three hours in length, A Bridge Too Far is longer than the average feature film. However, it is tightly written, well-paced, and is riveting enough so that it doesn’t drag or seem boring. Attenborough has good directorial instincts and as an actor himself, he had a good rapport with the cast. (The only exception, sadly, was with Dirk Bogarde, whose overconfident and even arrogant portrayal of Market-Garden’s overall commander was criticized by friends and relatives of the real “Boy” Browning. The flak Bogarde received from those critics caused a rift between Attenborough and himself.)  It’s a movie worth watching, even though it is about a battle that could not be won.


[1] Unsurprisingly, A Bridge Too Far was more successful in Great Britain and the Netherlands, the nations that are more attuned to the history of Operation Market-Garden. It did well enough in British and Dutch theaters that Joseph E. Levine Productions earned its original $25 million investment back.

[2] Actually, William Goldman gets his history wrong here. By 1944, the war was not going “Hitler’s way.” The German Navy had lost the Battle of the Atlantic, the Axis had been driven out of North Africa, and although the Mediterranean was by then a sideshow, Allied armies had invaded Italy and knocked her out of the war. On the Eastern front, Hitler had lost several important battles – Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk – and his armies were  decimated by the Red Army. And in the air, the Third Reich was being bombed “around the clock,” with American bombers striking targets in German-occupied territory by day, and British bombers by night.

[3] The II SS Panzer Corps is misidentified onscreen as the II SS Panzer Division. The corps actually consisted of elements of two SS Panzer divisions – the 9 SS Panzer and the 10th SS Panzer. Though badly mauled in Normandy and nowhere near their full strength, these two German armored units were at the right place at the right time to intervene in Operation Market-Garden.

[4] In real life, Caan’s character was named Charles Dohun.

[5] Real name: Captain LeGrand “Legs” Johnson

[6] I don’t recall exactly what my mother’s plans were, but just by the date alone I can safely speculate that it was an errand regarding the upcoming sale of our Westchester house. My grandmother, who we all called Tata, was in Miami at the time in an attempt to cope with the grief over my grandfather’s recent death. It was Tata who had convinced Mom to go look at a new condominium community called East Wind Lake Village, which was under construction as a part of the larger Fontainebleau Park development. I’d been told only a few days before going to see A Bridge Too Far that we might move to a new house before school started; I was hoping that it wasn’t true, as I liked the house in Westchester and my neighborhood and had no desire to move.  

[7] And if he did say that I don’t remember.

[8] In the “making of” featurette and in the audio commentary of the 2004 Collector’s Editon DVD set from MGM-UA Home Entertainment.

[9] Yet another fictitious character, Bobby Stout is clearly based on Robert F. Sink, the commanding officer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Interestingly, Sink was portrayed under his real name by actor Dale Dye in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.

[10] Wolfgang Preiss and Sean Connery also had parts in The Longest Day; in that film, Preiss played Maj. Gen. Max Pemsel, the German Seventh Army’s chief of staff, while Connery played the too-comical Irish soldier Private Flanagan.