I’m old enough to remember the days of pong, and the video games that sprang up around it. Nowadays, video games are visually exciting, but as other experts in the industry have commented, gameplay has lagged behind technological mastery. Those old games looked like etch-a-sketch doodles, but crumbs, you could get some game play out of those simple ideas. They had to be fun to play, they weren’t much to look at. Games like these needed an experience that would draw you in and engage your imagination.

One game in particular was a favorite of mine, because it always seemed to be at the Howard Johnson’s restaurant my folks stopped at, and I’ve always thought submarines were really darn cool. I’m talking about Sea Wolf. You plopped in a quarter, stood on a small stand, and looked through a periscope with a firing button. You got a limited amount of time to play, though maybe that could be extended by scoring high in a round, I don’t know.

The screen was arranged so that you had three rows of ships moving on and off in both directions, along the surface of the “water”, and below them you had a random assortment of floating mines that were obstacles. You played the part of a submarine captain firing torpedoes at the ships for points. The torpedo started at the bottom of the screen and moved to the top, where it either detonated with a target or disappeared once it reached the top. You moved the periscope left and right to adjust where the torpedo fired.

Everything was in monochrome blue, and the graphics were not pong-style blocky, but reasonably recognizable as ships and mines. The sound effects included the familiar “sonar” pinging as a background soundtrack, with satisfying booms and whisking noises for the torpedoes. But the sound effect to beat was that of the annoying PT boat. The smallest ship, and the fastest, it was worth the most points if you could get it. It always announced itself with a kind of grating, high-pitched, whirring duck-call. Just enough to totally throw you off your game and leap greedily for the big bonus with a big fat miss.

The thing was, the PT Boat sound effect was the only sound effect you could hear when you were not playing the game. You’d be sitting at your table eating dinner, and the video game would make the duck-call and you couldn’t ignore it. At least, not at my age at the time. Devious, huh? That ding-dang-darn PT Boat was just daring you to take a shot at it. Go ahead; knock that battery off that shoulder. Give it your best shot, punk. Mom, dad, gimmie quarter! I have to shut up the PT Boat! Can’t you hear it?

Despite the simplicity, the game is actually pretty challenging. The mines, the mix between larger (less valuable points-wise) ships and smaller ships, and the need to time your shots combine into a really exciting game. You shoot for the easy ship, but hit the mine instead, or you go for the hard shot, and the PT Boat appears to throw you off for a fraction of a second and you miss completely. For 60 seconds of fun, its pretty basic brain stimulation, but I got a kick out of it.

I guess you could call Sea Wolf my first video game crush. Before Pac Man fever, there was Sea Wolf puppy love. That was the seventies for you.