How was “Sea Battle” born? / Hebrew
Many older millennials, not to mention older generations, were first introduced to games on a screen or on a dedicated device or via
“Well, wait!” and other “Electronics” devices
or on arcade slot machines. Already in the 90s, they went down in history everywhere, but for Soviet children of the 70s and especially the 80s, they were well-known, popular, and sometimes even cult entertainment. Let’s remember what Soviet slot machines were like, and now we’ll figure out where they came from.
Photo from the Moscow Museum of Soviet Slot Machines
As in the case of the pocket “Well, hang on!”, it all started in Japan. By the end of the 1960s, the Land of the Rising Sun was gripped by a veritable mania for electromechanical slot machines. Such modern monsters of the computer game industry as Nintendo and Sega had a hand in this. And the process was started by the largely forgotten company Taito, founded in Japan by an emigrant from Odesa, Mykhailo Kogan – however, we have a separate article about him and the rise of three early whales of Japanese game development. Here, it is important for us that the boom of arcade slot machines in the late 60s spread to their homeland, the USA, where they experienced a second wave of popularity – already under the influence of the Japanese.
It was from this time that arcade gaming machines became an important part of the nascent English-speaking geek culture.
This did not go unnoticed by the Soviet officials responsible for the entertainment of the working people of the USSR. The turn of the 1960s and 1970s was generally a time of “detente”: the two superpowers tired of the tensions of the Cold War confrontation, engaged in limiting the arms race, and took all kinds of mutual steps toward rapprochement. This opened the door, including for growing interest in each other, and, therefore, cultural exchange. Borrowing the positive and ideologically harmless achievements of the capitalist world became an actual trend in the USSR.
In the early 1970s, it seemed that the Cold War was coming to an end, and Brezhnev and Nixon managed to practically become friends after many meetings.
In August 1971, the international exhibition “Attraction-71”, organized by the Soviet Ministry of Culture and the All-Union Chamber of Commerce, opened in Moscow’s Izmailovsky and Gorky parks. In addition to large devices such as “roller coasters”, about 100 foreign gaming machines, including Japanese and American ones, were presented there. They turned out to be a real sensation for Soviet citizens, and especially for schoolchildren and young people. During the first ten days of operation, the exhibition was visited by about 2.5 million Muscovites and guests of the capital — and while some rode on roller coasters and mini cars, others besieged slot machines.
Exhibition “Attraction-71” in Gorky Park, photo by I.H. Avdeeva
The success of the attractions also impressed the Ministry of Culture of the USSR, which was looking for new ways of entertainment for Soviet citizens, in addition to the increasingly popular television – and held an exhibition, including in order to assess the interest of Soviet citizens in this form of entertainment. On the day of the opening of the exhibition at a press conference, Deputy Minister of Culture of the USSR Mykola Mokhov said: “The rapid development of science and technology is displacing forms of passive recreation, and those forms of leisure when a person manifests himself actively, and does not act as a passive observer, are gaining the right to live more ” — so the course for the creation of Soviet slot machines was quite purposeful and official.
At the entrance to the exhibition in Gorky Park
Many of the machines presented at the exhibition were purchased from manufacturers to study and create their own samples based on them — and the All-Union Production Association “Soyuzatraction” appeared in the structure of the Ministry of Culture. His task was the development of Soviet slot machines, after which orders for their production went to industrial enterprises.
The Soyuzatraction logo on a Soviet slot machine
Many Japanese and American slot machines were clearly related to the military and weapons: they were electronic shooters, including hunting simulators, games about controlling tanks and planes, shooting torpedoes from a submarine. Probably, it was in the format of “usefulness for the military and sports training of the younger generation, not just entertainment” that it was possible to sell an unexpected format of cooperation: all orders of “Soyuzatraction” for slot machines were fulfilled by enterprises not of the civilian industry, but of the military industry.
Children playing “Torpedo Attack”, a late version of “Sea Battle”, the work of photo artist Pavel Sukharev
For example, the most iconic and popular Soviet game “Sea Battle” was produced by the Serpukhov Radio Engineering Plant, which mainly specialized in fire control systems for ship artillery and anti-aircraft missiles. What’s more: on the largest Soviet nuclear submarines, crew members were supplied with a special version of the game without the need to pay for it. It was produced in a stricter design and under the official military index ET-10M: “electronic simulator for 10 modernized shots.”
ET-10M in the recreation and relaxation area of the strategic heavy missile submarine cruiser “Arkhangelsk” of project 941 “Shark”, photo by Oleg Kuleshov
Actually, we will start with the “Sea Battle”. The prototype of this machine was the American arcades Sea Raider and Sea Devil from Midway.
Promotional booklet and view of the playing field in Sea Raider, 1969
Actually, these two games differed from each other and from the Soviet “descendant” quite weakly, simulating the actions of a submarine captain conducting a torpedo attack on an enemy ship. Sea Raider 1969 was about conventional modernity and had a design for the central post of a submarine with flashing instruments – and even figures of crew members in the background.
What is funny, in the context of the subsequent Soviet biography of the game, on the hull of the Sea Raider as the target of the submarine player, in addition to the dry cargo of the conditional sea convoy, the known outlines of the Soviet helicopter-carrying cruiser of project 1123 and the destroyer of project 56 were depicted
Sea Devil of 1970 looked simpler: it was proposed to sink various conventional ships and vessels, up to sailboats, against the background of gloomy green clouds. The machine depicted a torpedo attack on a certain conventional cruiser or battleship, vaguely resembling a strange hybrid of the German “pocket battleship” Deutschland and the battleship Bismarck of World War II.
From a military point of view, the picture looks desperate, but rather stupid
However, American torpedo attack slots were themselves variations on an early Japanese development theme: Sega’s Periscope arcade. This game went into series in 1966 and quickly gained popularity first in Japan and then in the USA. The basic mechanics of the game were the same as in “Naval Battle”, simulating a torpedo attack by sequentially lighting rows of light bulbs. However, what was happening was reflected not inside the mechanism, but on the marine inclined field. Only aiming took place through the periscope, and even launching a torpedo by pressing a button on the handle.
However, there are still disputes about who invented it. According to Sega, it was born from the idea of one of the founders of the company, the American David Rosen, and the project was implemented by a Japanese employee of the company named Shikonosuke Oti. However, Masaya Nakamura of Nakamura Manufacturing Co. (Later Namco) claims to have come up with and released prototypes under the name Torpedo Launcher as early as 1965, and Sega was just using his ideas and work (perhaps quite legally though, by buying the patent). Be that as it may, the game gained global popularity precisely in the Sega version – and it is this game that is considered the first Japanese electromechanical arcade machine.
Periscope promotional booklet by Sega, 1966
Despite the high price of the game by the standards of the time, 30 yen in Japan or 25 cents in the US, the game turned out to be extremely popular and profitable. It was written about as the most successful commercial slot machine in the last half century. It is not surprising that other companies began to use the same game mechanics in their arcade machines – this is how variants of this game appeared at the American company Midway, which became the basis for the Soviet “Naval Battle”. In general, if “Well, hang on!” Soviet children were, in general, obliged to Nintendo, so “Sea Battle” directly inherits the products of Sega.
“Sea Battle” from the website of the Museum of Soviet Gaming Machines
Let’s go back to the USSR. In 1972, work was raging at Soyuzatraction on the creation of a Soviet analogue of the Sea Raider, which was probably the most liked by the Soviet children at the exhibition – and it went well with Japanese, American and European children. It was crowned with success: in 1973, the first prototypes of the slot machine appeared, and from 1974 they went into series production. The first ones appeared in the Moscow parks of culture and recreation, then they began to spread through PCiO throughout the country — and, as the nomenclature of arcade machines increased, special pavilions began to be built for them.
Modern museums of Soviet slot machines look roughly like these pavilions inside in the 70s and 80s.
“Sea Battle” became the first Soviet electromechanical gaming machine – like its “grandfather” Periscope became a pioneer of these devices in Japan a few years earlier. Its appearance resembled both Sea Raider and Sea Devil: the upper panel depicted a Soviet submarine of the “Pike” type from the time of the Great Patriotic War, moving in a surface position against the background of a torpedo of an enemy ship, which is split by an explosion.
A submarine attacked an enemy fighter from the air
The player, as in previous games, aimed through a periscope — surrounded by a rubber casing with a very pronounced and characteristic smell. I think that everyone who played “Sea Battle” remembers it well. In order for the effectiveness of the shooting to be visible to others, for example, to the player’s friends, there were special windows on both sides of the “battlefield”. The periscope was surrounded by “devices” with illumination, and below it was a conditional map of the area of hostilities – it most resembled a mirrored fragment of the White and Barents Seas with the Kanin Peninsula and the Czech Bay.
The Soviet game, unlike Sea Raider, clearly focused on images of the Second World War and Soviet submarines hunting German shipping in the northern seas.
You can read a more detailed analysis of the device and mechanics of the “Sea Battle” slot machine in this analysis on our blog. We will limit ourselves to the main points. One game cost 15 Soviet kopecks: it gave the right to ten torpedo launches against the enemy’s sliding ships against the background of snow-covered northern mountains. Since there were only 8 tracks of 10 light bulbs each, depicting different versions of the torpedo’s trajectory, accurate aiming by ships was not immediately available to many.
The game screen of “Sea Battle” in a modern emulator of the game
If the player hit the targets with all ten torpedoes, he was given a prize game, three more launches. It was not easy to achieve this. And this combination of intuitive ease of learning with the difficulty of achieving mastery, the formula of many successful computer games, literally impressed the Soviet youth audience. The very first gaming arcade in the USSR became the most popular.
“Torpedo Attack”, a variant of “Sea Battle” for two players
During the heyday of Soviet arcade games in the 80s, they were placed in many places and outside special pavilions in recreation parks: they could be found in large stores, cinemas, airports, and so on. They were placed even in some, especially prosperous pioneer camps. But before the “Sea Battle” and its later variants, “Sea Duel” and “Torpedo Attack”, the queue of game-hungry children and teenagers was always and everywhere the largest. Sometimes there were fights and intervention of adults.
At the beginning of the 90s, Soviet arcades were still the center of attraction for a young audience – and “Sea Battle” continued to dominate their other variants.
But in addition to the great “Sea Battle” there were other versions of Soviet arcades: their total number reached a hundred, with varying degrees of success, popularity and prevalence. We will talk about them in the next part.
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