Bits From my Personal Collection – U-Boat Command, U-6502 and early World War II submarine titles

Robert Clardy’s success with his computer roleplaying adventure games, Dungeon and Wilderness Campaign, in the late ’70s, made him leave his secure job at Boeing Aerospace and together with his wife Ann found Synergistic Software. In the coming years, the two took the small company from a bedroom operation to a full-fledged professional business. Clardy’s own cover artwork was being replaced by art by professional artists and productivity and third-party developed titles were quickly being added to the company’s portfolio. Among those titles were Charles Fleishman’s 1982 title U-Boat Command.
I’ve earlier written an article on the early years of Synergistic Software here.

In 1965, Japanese Nakamura Manufacturing Co. (what later would become Namco) released the first Submarine entertainment game with its electronic-mechanical arcade shooting game, Torpedo Launcher. In 1966 the game was redesigned by Sega Enterprises, Ltd. and re-released in Japan, as the three-player game Periscope, one of Sega’s very first produced arcade games. In 1968 a single-player version was released becoming a surprise success in the U.S. and helped popularize the quarter-cost-per-play which would become the standard for arcades in the coming decades. Periscope is often referred to as a turning point in the coin-operated industry as it proved to perform extremely well in malls and department stores places that not normally hosted coin-operated machines at the time, reaching a much larger and different potential customer pool than dedicated arcades would.

In 1981 Wolfgang Petersen’s submarine film Das Boot opened in what would be the widest West German theatrical release ever and grossed a record-breaking $5 million in its first two weeks. The same year Strategic Simulations Inc. published John Lyon’s turn-based Torpedo Fire, one of the first if not the first submarine action-strategy title. While it was very accurate it was also very advanced and the implementation and execution were really not for the average computer user. Like most of SSI’s titles, it played much like a board game, with the complexity that followed.

John Lyon’s Torpedo Fire, one of the first if not the first Submarine strategic action titles for the personal computer. It was published by Strategic Simulations Inc. for the Apple II in 1981. The package also included pens and graph paper, very much in the style of the tabletop game that inspired most of the earliest SSI titles

In the early spring of 1982, Das Boot opened in U.S. theatres and facilitated a growing interest in World War II submarine warfare. The same year, home computer owners had the chance to enjoy commanding their own World War II submarine, when Fathom’s 40 by Datasoft, and U-Boat Command by Synergistic Software, both for the Apple II, were released.

Command an advanced German diesel-electric type XXI submarine in the last days of World War II with Datasoft’s Fathom’s 40, released in 1982 for the Apple II

In 1980 professional Lawyer and hobby programmer Charles Fleishman had worked with Clardy on The Linquist, a program that was capable of displaying and translating between English and a bunch of different languages. The Linquist was published for the Apple II in 1980 alongside a long list of other productivity and utility software titles. In 1981 Fleishman ported Highland Computer Service’s 1980 Apple II adventure title Oldorf’s Revenge to the Atari 8-bit as Warlock’s Revenge, published by Synergistic Software. A year later Fleishman returned with something totally different and quite elaborate, the World War II submarine strategic arcade game, U-Boat Command. Clardy helped Fleishman with the production and the graphics effects and the game was released in 1982 for the Apple II.

U-Boat Command is first and foremost an arcade game but you have to strategize your use of fuel, air and torpedoes, map out your route and try and hunt down the enemy aircraft carrier and sink it before it escapes. Enemy ships can be sunk with torpedoes and planes shot down with the deck gun. Dive to evade enemies but watch out for depth charges and your remaining air. Surfacing let you recharge your air tanks but torpedoes and fuel have to be topped up by your supply ship. Damage to your sub includes the killing of personnel, and damage to air and fuel tanks, sonar etc.
The game was somewhat randomly generated every time you would play giving some replay value, also you had the ability to change the difficulty level before each game.
U-Boat Command featured many of the same aspects of gameplay later and much more popular titles would encompass.

U-Boat Command was published in 1982 for the Apple II. The outstanding cover artwork was done by artist and illustrator Dean Waite, who created covers for a handful of Synergistic titles.
Look closely at the conning tower, U-6502, referring to the MOS Technology 6502 processor used in the Apple II (and nearly every other 8-bit machine of the time)

U-Boat Command was quite impressive. With the map, you were able to observe the position of the enemy aircraft carrier (the cross) and her headings alongside your own position (the square). Running into enemy ships you would switch to periscope view and with the paddles or joystick try and lock onto the target before firing your torpedoes. You also had the ability to dive and try and escape incoming vessels… maybe even do an oil spill from below to fool the enemy

While neither Fathom’s 40 nor U-Boat Commander solidified the submarine genre, the genre did slowly gain traction up through the ’80s. In 1984 Spectrum Holobyte’s GATO took submarine warfare to the IBM/PC and in the latter part of the ’80s Sid Meier’s Silent Service alongside Electronic Arts’ 688 Attack Sub heralded the genre into the mainstream.

Sources: Brian Wiser & Bill Martens’ two books on Synergistic Software, Wikipedia, Infoworld, Softtalk

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