Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 9, 1982.

Another day, another instalment of the D&D comic book advertisement series:
FORBIDDEN BY THE PEOPLE OF THE LOWLANDS, AURIC, TIRRA AND THE WIZARD, KHELLEK... TIRRA: THERE'S MAGIC BREWING DOWN HERE... I CAN ALMOST TASTE IT! ENTER THE RUINED DUNGEONS OF ROAKIRE ABANDONED CENTURIES AGO BY A MYSTERIOUS RACE. AURIC ADVANCES AHEAD WHEN SUDDENLY FROM OUT OF THE DARKNESS... AURIC: SOMETHING BEHIND ME! A JACKALWERE! THE HUNGRY LYCANTHROP MONSTER LUNGES FOR KELLEK [sp] WITH SHARP FANGS AND CLAWS! JACKALWERE: RRRRAARRGGHH! A: DON'T LOOK AT ITS EYES OR YOU'LL SLEEP FOREVER! I've got to say, the Dimension Door the party travelled through at the end of part 8 seems to have wrought some profound changes on their composition, altering their number, appearance and even their names. Or perhaps, for big picture reasons we are never to fully know, upstairs at TSR dictated that the action at this time was to shift to a secondary party, perhaps to someday reunite with the initial party for a grand finale. Go figure.

Monday, September 19, 2016

"Pools of Darkness", 1991.

Here we are: The CRPG Addict is coming out of his long moving-induced torpor, and has plunged into the final title in SSI's Increasingly Inaccurately Named Tyranthraxus Trilogy, 1991's Pools of Darkness. It picks up where 1990's Secret of the Silver Blades left off. I wrote about that title some two and a half years ago, while Pools of Darkness came out one year later than SSB did... meaning that it has taken me longer to get around to writing about the sequel... than it took SSI to make it! Here follows the ad blurb text:
POOLS OF DARKNESS

The Final Chapter in the greatest AD&D computer fantasy role-playing series ever! First there was POOL OF RADIANCE. Next came CURSE OF THE AZURE BONDS. Then followed SECRET OF THE SILVER BLADES. Together these incredible games have sold more than 600,000 copies so far!

Now, the epic comes full circle -- Pools of Darkness takes you back to the Moonsea area to fight the final battle against the ultimate enemy.

Prepare yourself for the biggest adventure yet! Pools of Darkness propels you into alternate dimensions on an enormous quest. And it boasts a fully evolved version of the award-winning game system used throughout this series.

Transfer your characters from SECRET OF THE SILVER BLADES intact, or create new ones! Either way, you're in for some high-level action! Battle monsters never before encountered. Cast powerful new spells. Achieve character levels well above the 25TH level!

As if this weren't enough, state-of-the-art graphics and crisp digitized sound make this a true masterpiece of the fantasy role-playing art!

The hook, in summary: a) This is the end of the series. b) You may recall the names of the previous games in this series. You know that we sold a pile of them. Here, look at their boxes to refresh your memory. c) The well has run dry, we are revisiting locations. d) This is a larger game than its predecessors. e) "Alternate dimensions"? What we said about revisiting locations -- scratch that. f) "Fully evolved version of the award-winning game system" -- I'm guessing what they mean is that they've removed the crippleware limitations on character levels and high-level abilities that go with them. Certainly they're not implying that the previous games in the series are vestigial and only half-baked... are they? g) Like all previous games in the series, you can import characters. Or create new ones, only a feature to Wizardry players. h) Did we mention that this game is for high-level characters? i) We have removed familiar monsters, boosted their stats and reskinned them. j) We're not skimping on the high-level play. We probably had to write new code for some spell efffects. k) As it is now 1991, we're no longer trying to impress you with the sound and visual quality present at the beginning of this series in 1988, three years prior. Everything has been improved incrementally!

Also: l) There are most likely drow babes in this game. The screenshots suggest that there is also at least one Dragon (Dungeon and Dragon just doesn't sound as impressive... just a gloss for the ZX Spectrum's 3D Monster Maze) and what looks like the body of defeated god of decay Moander. Their copy writers seem a little out of gas -- if all you're allowed to do is compare it to earlier entries, it naturally follows that new products will be a bit better (if not, you're in trouble) ... but to make the comparison without ever being able to acknowledge the predecessors as lacking leaves the breathless prose without a normalized calibration. This game... it's good! It has a sequel now... it's great! The sequel got a sequel now -- it's amazing! And so forth.

I never played this game, though I did read hints for it in the letters section of The Lessers' computer game column in Dragon Magazine. By the time we organized access to this high-level tactical-combat CRPG, we no longer had enough free time at our disposal in which to play it. There's something to be said for adventure games that can be whipped through in a single afternoon if you know what you're doing!

Sorry for the disjointed remarks; I have well fallen out of practice where writing here is concerned. (But you can still find me at Pixel Pompeii often enough, describing textmode art renditions of various topics, more often than not!) Cheers and crawl on! (Dungeon crawl, that is.)

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 8, 1982.

The brief window of circumstances needed for my updating this blog with a couple of posts has opened, so I will further the Dungeons & Dragons comic book advertisement adventure story a couple of episodes while keeping pace with The CRPG Addict's renewed progress through gaming history. This here is part 8 of the advertisement series from 1982 -- when last we saw our heroic party, they were ambushed by werewolves. The calamities continue in today's instalment:
OUR STORY: ATTEMPTING TO RESCUE THEIR MENTOR, OUR HEROES ARE CAUGHT BY A SUDDEN AVALANCHE!
GRIMSLADE: EVIL FORCES ARE AT WORK HERE!

VALERIUS: SAREN HAS BEEN HURT! WE MUST ACT QUICKLY!

G: THIS MAGIC SCROLL MAY PROVIDE US WITH AN ESCAPE!
G: DIMENSION DOOR!!
WOOOSH!
THE SPELL CARRIES OUR HEROES

... TO AN ANCIENT CASTLE!
COULD THE END OF THE QUEST LIE HERE?

The panels really speak for themselves. All I can say is: evil forces? Well, if not... probably there wouldn't be much of an adventure. (Is snow and avalanche always motivated by evil forces? Can heroes not be imperilled by normal weather patterns?) No surprise Saren is hurt: by being underdressed in a winter climate! Reading random scrolls in hopes of salvation? What is this, NetHack?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 7, 1982.

We've got a long way to go if I want to finish clearing this series of early-'80s comic-strip comic book advertisements for TSR's tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, so maybe I should just continue quietly squeaking out the scans and transcriptions. I've been using the CRPG Addict as an excuse to keep pace, but as his already-slow pace has recently turned glacial (he has good excuses, not least among which are his incredible rigor) I do run the very real risk of growing old and dying before posting these all. So here, how about I just pick up from where I left off back in March?
ANSWERING A TELEPATHIC PLEA FOR HELP FROM THEIR FRIEND GRINDAL, OUR ADVENTURERS ARE AMBUSHED IN THE DARK FOREST!! ...
RRRROOOOWL!

... BY THE POWERFUL OAKTHORN AND HIS WEREWOLF COMPANION!
S: A SIMPLE SPELL WILL PARALYSE THIS ONE!!

THE WEREWOLF IS DEFEATED! INDEL LUNGES AT OAKTHORN BUT...
I: HE TURNED HIMSELF INTO A RAVEN!

UNABLE TO CATCH THE FLEEING BIRD, OUR HEROS CONTINUE THEIR QUEST...

THROUGH THE BLACK SWAMP OF LOBELLA!

...EVER CLOSER TO THEIR FINAL GOAL!
G: BEHOLD! THE MOUNTAINS OF ASH!
WILL GRINDAL BE ON THE OTHER SIDE?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 6, 1982.

OK, while I'm pulling this blog out of retirement for one D&D-related post, why not do another? As a sub-project under the "print ads for D&D computer games" spree, I also had the "share the serial D&D comic strip ads" campaign going in parallel. My most recent installment blogging a page from the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure was a bit over two years ago... all sitting transcribed and ready to go. Ahh... the sweet stink of unfinished business! Well, without further further ado, here's part 6 (of, yikes, 13!):
OUR STORY:
INDEL, SAREN, VALERIUS AND GRIMSLADE SET OUT FROM GAVIN'S INN TO RESCUE THEIR FRIEND AND MENTOR, GRINDAL.

G: WE'VE WALKED A LONG WAY.
V: YES. THE MOON WILL BE UP SOON.
S: THERE IS SOMETHING STRANGE ABOUT THESE WOODS

I: NAH! IT'S JUST YOUR IMAGINA...
sprong!
I: ULP!

O: WHO DARES TO TRESSPASS IN THE WOODS OF OAKTHORN?!
S: SIR, WE HAD NOT INTENDED TO DISTURB ANYONE.

O: ENOUGH! THEY MUST...
... NOT LEAVE...
... THE FOREST!

GRRROOWL!
I: UH... COULDN'T WE TALK ABOUT THIS FIRST?!
TO BE CONTINUED.

There's no real reason to analyse these -- their contents are pretty self-explanatory. I just wanted to get them all up online in one place with full transcriptions. Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Gateway to the Savage Frontier", 1991.

Greetings all, from this retired and surely shuttered blog! In a case of peculiar synchronicity, The CRPG Addict has just begun playing Gateway to the Savage Frontier concurrently with the Digital Antiquarian exploring the history of SSI through its archive at the Strong Museum of Play. This blog is still on indefinite hiatus (with regular posts moved on over to Pixel Pompeii) but the conjunction was too great, I had this ad languishing indefinitely on the back burner (sourced from a rigorous post over at Extra Lives at World 1-1 ) back from my abortive attempt to do a spree of ads for all the D&D games... and couldn't resist nipping back in to air it in honour of the occasion, throwing my two cents atop their dollars and pounds.
BEGIN A FANTASTIC NEW QUEST!

GATEWAY
TO THE SAVAGE FRONTIER:
Volume 1
in a completely new AD&D computer fantasy role-playing epic!

A grand adventure is unfolding in the mysterious Savage Frontier! Enter the foreboding lands of an area never before explored in a computer fantasy role-playing game: the Savage Frontier! Sail the Trackless Sea, conquer the heights of the Lost Peaks, brave the ruins of Ascore, guardian of the Great Desert, visit magical Silverymoon and much more! Your quest: halt the murderous conspiracy of dark invaders from afar. Success will be yours only if you can uncover ancient mystical items of power to destroy the malignant invasion!

Based on an enhanced version of the award-winning game system used in POOL OF RADIANCE, CURSE OF THE AZURE BONDS and SECRET OF THE SILVER BLADES, GATEWAY TO THE SAVAGE FRONTIER gives you the freedom to make the story happen the way you want it to! Plus, an all-new wilderness style adds new exploration and excitement to all of your outdoor adventure!

How can you resist?

The Savage Frontier awaits!

OK, the old knee-jerk hot takes: Sex! They hadn't put a fantasy cheesecake babe on the front of a box since Curse of the Azure Bonds back in 1989 and perhaps the lack had been felt in the sales numbers. (They would make up for that by babe-ing up three releases this year: this one, plus Pools of Darkness (drow spider babes!) and the AOL MMORPG Neverwinter Nights the first.)

The list of other games using "the award-winning game system" conspicuously notes only the Forgotten Realms Gold Box games, leaving out Champions of Krynn and Death Knights of Krynn. (Pools of Darkness came out in the same year, but I guess that this one came out first!) That lower screenshot is conspicuously Bard's Tale-ish, but not terribly representative of what you might see playing one of these games... an attempt to breed a little brand confusion? "[A]n area never before explored in a computer fantasy role-playing game", but of course visited in great depth in a science-fiction side-scrolling platform game, right? Something's not quite grammatically "on" with "brave the ruins of Ascore, guardian of the Great Desert" -- first it sounds like Ascore is a place with ruins, but then it sounds like an entity. Or is/was it a living city? And how well could it guard the Great Desert (and why exactly does a desert rate guarding? Typically people give them a wide berth) if it allowed itself to wear down into ruins? All these questions and more... answerable only by someone who has actually played the game.

The system claims to be enhanced! That doesn't just mean VGA graphics at long last (it was about time, though these games were still hobbled by being designed to meet the lowest common denominator of the C64) but also the vaunted "wilderness style". As I, again, haven't played this one, I'm not quite sure how the wilderness style here differs from wilderness adventuring in eg. Curse of the Azure Bonds -- I gather it involves use of an overland map and some random outdoor combat maps, but who knows for sure.

A closing gambit: I like how they put the box art front and centre in the ad, and then put a little version of the same consarned art on a simulated box in the corner.

OK, we now return you to your regularly scheduled radio silence!

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Eye of the Beholder 1", 1991.

Sometime last Spring, I was blogging promotional artwork (or otherwise put: magazine ads) for all of the Dungeons & Dragons computer and video game adaptations, in chronological order, as part of the overall celebration of D&D's anniversary. That fell by the wayside as I discovered that blogging about video game-themed ANSI art attracted far more eyeballs, but all the same it left me with a pile of unpublished blog posts-in-progress gathering dust. I'm in the mood to squeeze out a quick post for the heck of it, despite this particular blog being more or less retired, and as the CRPG Addict has just reached this game on his own far more rigorous chronological list, I thought that would make for a good excuse to briefly duck out of retirement (also, the defunct blog's persistently high traffic is highly tempting to invoke once more) and share one more icecube from the iceberg -- this image sourced from the virtually-impossible-to-Google "Extra Lives" at "World 1-1".
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
Explore AD&D Computer Fantasy Role-Playing Like Never Before!

YOU ARE THERE...

Introducing EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, volume 1 of the first graphically based AD&D computer fantasy role-playing saga --The LEGEND SERIES!

Stunning 3-D graphics and explosive sound deliver mesmerizing face-to-face combat and encounters!

Easy "point-and-click" commands and 3-D point of view create a "you are there" feeling throughout your entire adventure. Everything you experience, including movement, spell-casting and combat, is from your point of view!

AD&D computer fantasy role-playing has never been like this!

"Legend has it there's a criminal conspiracy hiding in the Waterdeep sewers. Is this true? Well, if someone is hiding down there, we're going to find them... and destroy them!"

So sure: EOTB (we abbreviated it EOB back in the day, I don't know what else it was in conflict with) got a free ride off of the innovations of Dungeon Master, and was just a vestigial prototype of the Lands of Lore yet to come. But for whatever reason -- the right game with the right license (seemingly light-years ahead of the by-now aged and decrepit Gold Box engine, a coup that must have made SSI weep hot tears of pure joy) on the right platform at the right time -- this is the one that popped in a way not seen again until its spiritual inheritor, 2012's Legend of Grimrock, hit the scene. But I get ahead of myself.

After years dicking around in monochrome with text-based BBS door games or shareware platform games only accessible courtesy of SIMCGA, one fateful night -- an evening I will never forget -- a friend and myself visited his friend-around-the-corner (later to be an authorized MUD-code "dealer") and experienced his modern gaming rig: VGA colour and Sound Blaster audio. He blew our minds with Dr. SBAITSO, rattled the house's windows with Star Control 1, and expanded our horizons with the tres stylish introduction sequence to Eye of the Beholder. Westwood (this their second take on AD&D after the bizarre but pretty Hillsfar) always punched above its weight class, and with this title it was aiming to raise the bar for the entire industry. Definitely after this point there was no returning to Monuments of Mars.

I don't have that much criticism or debunking of the ad copy to stir up: "the first graphically based AD&D computer FRP saga" -- it's not like the Gold Box games were text adventures. (Actually, they probably would have made the same "graphically based" claims for Pool of Radiance when it first came out, flashy EGA bitmap graphics blasting away the early Ultimas' weird vector doodles in the dungeons and Wizardry's wireframes. Of course, Pool had a similarly unflattering 1st-person grid-navigation system -- competitive in the company of those early peers, but instantly obsolete in the wake of EOB's arrival... which didn't prevent SSI from publishing six or seven further Gold Box-style games (the Savage Frontier series, wrapping up their Dragonlance series, Unlimited Adventures and of course the original Neverwinter Nights... too bad there was never a FRUA for EOB-style dungeons! Dungeon Hack would be as close as we got...) following EOB's release.)

"AD&D computer fantasy role-playing has never been like this!" == "We, having been exclusive possessors of the license to produce AD&D CRPGs for several years now, have failed to deliver a product such as this until our sub-contractors at Westwood have finally delivered such an experience we ourselves were unable to provide."

I'm weak on the game's plot... is there ultimately a criminal conspiracy? There is an evil wizard who is also (24 YEAR OVERDUE SPOILER WARNING, ALSO IT'S IN THE NAME OF THE GAME ITSELF) a beholder who maintains a dungeon in the Underdark beneath Waterdeep (c'mon -- who doesn't have a few levels tucked away down there?), but does {activity of evil magic-user} automatically equate to {criminal conspiracy}? That suggests a somewhat more developed legal framework than most fantasy kingdoms appear to boast: the party is composed of adventurers, not investigators, and they're not coming to serve papers to the wizard, they're summarily acting as judge, jury and executioner without having been duly deputized by the local constabulary! I think that a fantasy-kingdom crime procedural would be a fascinating mash-up, but this game simply ain't it. Anyhow, despite Khelben Blackstaff's reservations in the game's intro, we never have any indication of any wider criminal plot beyond triggering one incident of sewer drain collapse, whose suspicious circumstances the players have no proof of! (I see that drawing on supporting literature regarding the campaign setting, the titular beholder Xanathar is the head of the Thieves' Guild in Skullport, the monstrous city beneath Waterdeep, situating him in a more criminal context. I never assume straight out that a Thieves' Guild is necessarily a criminal conspiracy in a fantasy kingdom, where it can often be a codified, regulated reflection of a fact of life, controlled and taxed like any other industry.)

And with the train of thought delivering us to that bizarre destination, I must bid you adieu indefinitely... until I return to these abandoned halls once more to share another old video game ad with you. Don't hold your breath!