Someone on a retro gaming Facebook group I follow recently posted about an Amiga game called Conflict: Europe. A screenshot illustrates that it is your typical WW3 grand strategy type game:
There’s an interesting war room aesthetic going on there, as well. Anyway, what caught my eye was the fact that the poster mentioned that the game actually made you call a phone number in order to get launch codes for nuclear weapons. This is something I had to investigate.
It turns out that Conflict: Europe was released in 1989, and came out on multiple platforms. You can find the manual here, and on page 4 it indicates that there were versions for PC, Amiga, and Atari ST. This was an interesting time in the history of computer gaming, in that there were still a variety of viable platforms for commercial releases, but 16-bit architectures were beginning to assert their dominance. This progress was paralleled in the console market with the release of the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive system. Still, 8-bit players like the Commodore 64 were still hanging in there. Simcity, Maxis’ landmark original title, came out in 1989 and supported the C64, along with the newer platforms. Getting back to the 16-bit machines, at this point it might still not have seemed certain that PC machines would ultimately win out over the other platforms, though the increasing visibility of “clone” machines might have pointed the way.
It’s worth having a look at the cover of the manual, for its sheer incongruity with the rest of the game:
It’s hard to figure out why they’d show a close-up of a soldier in a grand strategy game that plays out on a map. I suppose it does a decent job of portraying the apocalyptic battlefields of a theoretical WW3, but hopefully nobody bought this game based on the picture thinking it was an action-oriented title (they used the same image on the game box, in full colour!)
Anyway, there doesn’t appear to be anything in the manual indicating a phone number you have to call to get the nuclear codes. In fact, the codes you do need are given in the middle of page 12. Strange. However, I can confirm that the phone line did exist based on this academic article from what it called “The International Journal of Baudrillard Studies” (want to know who Baudrillard is? Check him out here.)
Here is the quote from the article that confirms the phone number:
“In a fascinating exposition of multimedia convergence, the player of Theatre Europe asks the ‘Warcomp’ (war computer) to instigate a nuclear attack. At this point, the game asks the player to call a telephone number, based in Coventry, a city itself carpet bombed during World War II, to ascertain the launch code, which must be done within 30 seconds of the request.”
The game itself is interesting as a war game, in that it tries to portray a realistic combat scenario in which nuclear weapons could play a role. But they also appear to be deeply troubled by the scenarios they envisage. This is a screenshot of a page from near the end of the manual, and is well worth reading:
Pretty dark stuff. And little did the authors know that within a couple of year, the “two armed camps” scenario would dissolve. I’m not sure if we’re any smarter these days, though. But at least nuclear annihilation isn’t quite the threat it once was. At least for now.