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that blogging about video game-themed ANSI art attracted far more eyeballs, but all the same it left me with a pile of unpublished blog posts-in-progress gathering dust.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".
Explore AD&D Computer Fantasy Role-Playing Like Never Before!


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!