Computer Game #10: “Bomber” (1989)
One of the first success stories for the Mac was a little thing called Hypercard. It was a database program that allowed you to embed images and sound, and one very clever programmer named Rene Vidmer used it to build a series of best-selling games set in WWII. Using only a few dozen static images, very simple animation, and stereo sound, he created simulations of the Battle of Britain, U-boat raids in the Atlantic, and tank battles in Europe. The best of these (and the only one we played) was called
Putting you in the captain’s seat of a B-17 bomber, you picked your plane, picked your crew and plotted your path over war-torn Europe. You had to watch your elevation, watch your formation, and watch very carefully where you were over the target.
It was effective because, frequently, very little would happen in a game. The drone of engines in your earphones would lull you into relaxed state when suddenly one of your crew would shout out “Bandits! 3 O’clock!” You’d have to remember that was the starboard gunner and click on him to fend off the German fighter planes attack you from the right.
A game was 25 missions long, and each run became longer and more difficult (just as in WWII). As compelling a historical simulation as Bomber was, the only way to lose was to fly too high and black out from lack of oxygen. If you crashed or were shot down, you and most of your crew would somehow make it back to the airfield and continue the fight.
So to make it more accurate and interesting — to myself and my office mates — we decided that a game was over if you were shot down over enemy territory. Since you spent much of your time in the air over enemy lines, this immediately made the game much harder. And to up the stakes, I named every crew member after a close friend. Now it wasn’t Lt. Able getting shot, it was Lt. Rusty or Sgt. Allen.
It turned Bomber into one of the most intense gaming experience I ever had.