Sunday, July 10, 2022

"Eye of the Beholder 3", 1993.

Yes, yes, this blog is absolutely firmly entrenched in its retirement.  That said, just as it poked its head out four years ago (!) to post, transcribe and comment on the print ad for SSI's Eye of the Beholder 2 when The CRPGAddict got around to blogging it, so has he just reached its sequel, EOTB3.  So what am I supposed to do, not blog its advertisement?

Old Video Game Ads Tumblr.  One factor that led to my sunsetting this blog was finding my scans reposted on Tumblr, and now look at me!

OK, let's vent the full text of that ad (what its marketing department might describe as its "copy"):

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons



If you thought it would be impossible to top the first two "Eye of the Beholder" adventures, you're in for a deadly surprise in EYE OF THE BEHOLDER III: ASSAULT ON MYTH DRANNOR. Behold Eye III, with the hottest graphics, a devilishly deep plot, and more cinematics than ever.

This time you're transported to the ruined city of Myth Drannor in the FORGOTTEN REALMS(r) world, where you must wrest an artifact of divine power from the dread lich Acwellan. A massive monster bestiary awaits your journey through the forest, mausoleum, temple, and guilds.

The never-ending complexity with more character action, plots and subplots requires you to think on your feet or perish.

The streamlined interface with the new ALL ATTACK button gives you the smoother moves you'll need to survive in combat.

Eye III is an assault on your senses, with three times more cinematic intermissions and five fully-scored music pieces. Plus the ability to import your favorite characters from Eye II, along with weapons, treasure and experience levels.

The way the developers of Eye III see it, if you're going to go out, you might as well go out in style. Who knows, 40-100 hours later, you might just see the light at the end of Eye III. Then again, you might not.




TO ORDER: Visit your retailer, or call 1-800-245-4525 with Visa / MasterCard orders (USA and Canada only).

There's something a little odd about the text in that ad, which is that if it were a college essay, the professor would bust the student's cribbing of the text on the back of the game's box.  (Or perhaps the ad came first?  They are clearly closely related to each other, as you can see below.)  (I never do this, but this time I did.  Possibly all the ads have followed this trend all along and I have simply never noticed it before!)

Box back from Mobygames


The Grand Finale of the Meanest 3-D Graphic Adventure Series - Ever!

Behold Eye III, with the hottest graphics, a devilishly deep plot, more colors and more cinematics than ever.

Prepare to be transported to the ruined city of Myth Drannor in the FORGOTTEN REALMS(r) world, where you must wrest an artifact of divine power from the dread lich Acwellan. Journey through the forest, mausoleum, temple, and guilds, each filled with its own intricate puzzles and traps.

The streamlined interface plays an important role in your survival - allowing smoother moves in combat thanks to the new ALL ATTACK.

After 40-100 hours later, you might see the light at the end of Eye III. Then again, you might not.

3-D View!


  • Massive monster bestiary.
  • All-new monster allies include: sprites, were-tigers and lizard-like humanoids known as Saurials.
  • Over 30 portrait and letterboxed still shots.
  • Three times more cinematic intermissions.
  • Five fully-scored music pieces.
  • Over 70 digitized sound effects.
  • Import your favorite characters from Eye II - with weapons, treasure and experience levels.

OK, so what can we learn from these ads? Let's evaluate the claims made in the prose:

Two games in a row now, they've made a point in the header of describing the games as "mean".  (We don't play them because they're kind and gentle.)  Also, they're really riding hard on the presumed malevolence of the rather benevolent "third eye" concept from Hindu mysticism, the ajna chakra.  Clueless or racist?

It's a little weird to abbreviate the game as "Eye III".  "EOTB" is only one more letter!  "Hottest graphics" -- you know, you have to be pretty hot to surpass Westwood, the developers of EOTBs 1 and 2 and undisputed champions of production values, and while SSI seem to possibly meet that level here, I wouldn't presume to claim that they surpass it.  If by "devilishly deep" they mean "involves many dungeon levels accessed through downward staircases, some populated by demonic monsters", I'll allow it.  More cinematics?  "Three times more"?  I really don't recall the previous two games having much in the sense of cinematics besides their introductions and conclusions, so are the ad writers really boasting of the game's featuring somewhere between three and six cinematic sequences?  I guess any increase is an improvement, but not every improvement is a persuasive selling point.  (The game box goes on to boast that this one features "more colours" also, but ... I mean, VGA is VGA, right?  If the previous games didn't exploit the entire potential palette, I'm sure it was for reasons of art design.  But this time we found a way to cram in hot pink!)

The box felt that the dread lich Acwellan was badass enough to warrant italicizing the words, but the ad layout proofer ixnayed that one.

"Never-ending complexity"?  The game does have an ending.  Most comments I see about the ALL ATTACK button involve it seeming like something you'd want, that actually makes gameplay worse.  So by "smoother moves" you may in fact mean it in the sense my father did when he would say "smooth move, Ex-Lax."

"An assault on your senses"?  No, thanks!  Fortunately, I'm reasonably confident it doesn't deliver.  It's cute that they think I might be more inclined to buy their game if I learn that it contains a total of five, five, "FIVE fully-scored music pieces".  If I want an album, SSI, I know where the music store is.  (The box back goes on to also entreat us with the prospect of 70 digitized sound effects.  Dude, I can get those on a single foley CD!)  The ability to import is good but already standard for the series, nothing new.  (And any import that failed to include weapons, treasure and experience levels surely wouldn't be any import worthy of the name!)

Spending 40-100 hours playing this game sounds to me like a game that has likely overstayed its welcome.  A Dungeon Master clone only has so many tricks up its sleeve to offer.  Just think, you could be listening to each of the five fully-scored music pieces for up to 20 hours each!  

The box goes on to boast a large quantity of potential enemies, as well as NPCs from hitherto untapped species -- the kinds your DM usually didn't allow you to play.  Saurials, eh?  Say hi to Dragonbait for me!

"Over 30 portrait and letterboxed still shots".  What are you telling us, SSI, that you have 24 character portraits and precisely 7 letterboxed still images in the game?  It seems a wild kind of desperate flailing around: our software product contains assets!  Here are some tallies of the specific quantities of specific varieties of assets we offer!

I will never forget seeing EOB1 for the first time, but I don't think I ever played the third one for longer than 10 minutes.  All the same, I'm looking forward to the CRPG Addict's playthrough.

Have fun out there, everyone!  This blog now resumes its gradual but inevitable descent into complete torpor!

Thursday, December 2, 2021

ILLUMINATI Play-By-Mail game, 1984

before they do unto you!

Congress is controlled by the Mafia...
South American Nazis are plotting the Final Reich...
the Cattle Mutilators are trying to take over Hollywood!


  1. Complete anonymity for back-stabbing, probing, infiltrating, and take-overs is now available because you can now play ILLUMINATI by mail!
  2. Featuring new ILLUMINATI groups, new control groups, and an expanded method of controlling, neutralizing, or destroying other groups!
  3. Probe groups you want to control, infiltrate them with your agents; then take control of their leaders - but beware, some of your trusted recruits may be infiltrators planted by other Illuminati!
  4. Up to 32 actions per turn!
  5. Operate in total secrecy or ... make (and break) alliances.
NO EXTRA $$ — No Beacon Fees — No Colonies — No Special Charges

PLUS: No turn deadlines! 24-hour turn-around! Professional management! Extensive playtesting (over 1,000 playtest turns already processed)!


Set-Up Fee: $15.00 (Covers set-up, rulebook, and first 3 turns)
Turn Fee: $4.00/turn after third turn

[A]dventure Systems, Dept. of Mayhem and Disorder
1669-D South Voss, Suite FF, Houston, TX 77057

ILLUMINATI and the all-seeing pyramid are trademarks of Steve Jackson Games. ILLUMINATI Play-By-Mail is a licensed version of SJ Games' ILLUMINATI boardgame. All rights reserved. Fnord.

The illustration is straightforward: the all-seeing eye-in-the-pyramid of the Illuminati, the ultimate secret society, has arrived in a simple country mailbox. Steve Jackson Games' ILLUMINATI game has literally hit the scene in a play-by-mail edition. I expect that this ad ran somewhere in the vicinity of Dragon Magazine, Vol. IX, No. 3, August 1984. (I didn't log it at the time, but I found raw text matches for that issue in the Internet Archive's collection.)

(Not that this ever stops me, but) I can't speak too much to the subject, never having played the game in question or read Robert Anton Wilson's books that inspired it, but always being acutely aware of their existence. The book figured large among the Beat volumes on the shelves of the Granville Book Company during my adolescence (well, many of its fellow traveller books were locked in the front display cabinet -- traditionally some of the most-shoplifted items... looks like this book wants to go On The Road also!) and SJG products always jumped out in the comic store basements where pen and paper tabletop gaming commerce was conducted (too many good ideas and, I gather, inadequate company support: the Steve Jackson Games story. GURPS probably took the air away from Car Wars, then INWO (the CCG version of ILLUMINATI) took the air away from GURPS, then Munchkin basically starved out the rest of the company. That's my understaning. But I seriously digress!) The shared "meta-conspiracy" premise of the book and the game, tying in all of the wingnut groups on the periphery of society, was a fun idea.

Wikipedia describes how the PBM version arose after the designer of an unrelated game, Draper Kauffman, noticed that he kept running up against problems in his own game design which he observed could be fixed by doing what the designers of the regular, not-by-mail version of ILLUMINATI had done, ultimately doing what inertia so demonstrably wanted him to do and simply adapting that game for PBM play instead. Eventually administration of the PBM version of this game was taken over by the venerable great-granddaddy of North American PBM, Flying Buffalo. Yikes, they have a new website that represents a tiny step forward and a big step back, as it seems to have thrown out all of the information about all of their products... but may, eventually, offer a streamlined modern e-storefront. Here, their old website talked about running PBM ILLUMINATI there as recently as May of last year, I have pulled it up via the Wayback Machine. Maybe Rick Loomis's force of will was the only thing keeping the company in business (I guess that's more of an "almost certainly" than a "maybe"), it's just hard to see how a business can stay in operation when you replace everything on the shelves with "under construction" signs. I hope that this new website returns to form -- it can't be more than a day's worth of cutting and pasting -- but I have my reservations that my hope is misplaced. But look, I continue to digress and digress further! In conclusion, I really appreciate the way this ad casually wraps. Fnord.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

"Crasimoff's World" Play-by-mail game, 1984

Apologies for another terrible scan... I understand that a complete run of early Dragon Magazines is up on the Internet Archive, so if anyone is interested enough to go spelunking for a clearner specimen, they're out there. (This seems to be one!)  At the time I wasn't aspiring to catch anything more than the name of the game, little realising that someday I'd wind up documenting advertisements for play-by-mail games from my toddlerhood. But here we are, this one has an intriguing name and it spitch contains more selling points than some of the other PBM games whose ads I've transcribed here. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Crasimoff's World!
Almost every D&D* game player wants to play in a limitless campaign game of great adventure.  Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find a gamemaster who can devote the time to create a complete fantasy world.  Fantasy gamers now have an alternative to the years of hard work needed to create a campaign. The game is Crasimoff's World and it has taken several years to design, develop, and test.  It is completely original and contains over a thousand detailed descriptions of everything you can see, encounter, and acquire -- from detailed descriptions of every town to the workings of a spell.  Our staff has created a world of 160,000 [hexes?] for your band of adventurers to explore and conquer. Why so large? To allow over a thousand parties of adventurers to play the game all at the same time!
Such a game could only have been created in a play-by-mail format and moderated by an experienced play-by-mail moderator.  Play-by-mail allows tremendous flexability, interactiveness, and that most important sense of wonder and mystery that you demand in your fantasy campaign.
Explore the fantastically detailed world that comes alive!
Lead your band of daring adventurers into the wilderness filled with magic and danger. Mounted on trusty steeds and armed with razor sharp swords, your band of young and eager adventurers will venture forth into the unknown.  Perhaps you will cross the Creeping Mountains, exploring the strange caves. Or maybe ride a river boat to the edge of the Deaf Forest. Your fighters will handle hostile encounters with enthusiasm, with your mages and priests casting spells at opportune moments. Treasures and artifacts lie secreted, to be unearthed only by those with the skill to find them. Mysterious wanderers may offer to teach your mage or priest a spell, or possibly you will encounter the remains of the legendary Astoffs?
Some Featurers of Crasimoff's World include: 
-- Choose your own destiny! Perhaps you will be a brigand when you begin play and ambush the first travelers you encounter.  Later on you may decide that being a river merchant is more your style. Eventually a town may ask you to be the Town Protector, or perhaps you will find the courage to lead a great caravan across the plains of Azoose.
-- Naming not only your band of adventurers. but each individual character. Each character has his or her own equipment, characteristics, and growth potential. 
-- Over a thousand "blurbs" of information can be obtained, including ones detailing artifacts. magic. creatures, songs, drugs, herbs, spells. legends, towns, treasures, cults, towers, temples, dungeons and mysterious buildings. 
-- The game is human-moderated to allow greater flexibility. 
-- The game is forever expanding and improving, moderated in the Beyond the Stellar Empire style (with lots of heart and soul) -- recognized by many as the best style around. 
-- If you have played correspondence fantasy campaigns that were structured as chapters of a novel and found that your instructions only occasionally had any effect on the outcome of your turn you probably weren't too happy with the game.  Crasimoffs World is different! In Crasimoff's World all of  your instructions are considered before your own individual turn results are created. Plus you can interact with hundreds of players and your actions not only affect other players but the very world itself! 
-- You receive a hex map each turn depicting the area your party explored.
Adventures By Mail has processed over 50.000 play-by-mail game turns since our start in July 1981.  The readers of the Space Gamer magazine chose us as the top play-by-mail game publisher in both 1982 and 1983.  In the same surveys, Beyond the Stellar Empire, our science-fiction PBM game, was chosen as the top role-playing PBM game.  Additionally. it was the only PBM game chosen as one of the top 100 games of the year by the editors of GAMES magazine.  Our reputation for fast turnaround and professionalism are second to none. 
A game such as this doesn't come around very often.  Crasimoffs World is just beginning -- first turns will be processed in August of 1984.  Enter now to get in at the beginning.  Participate in the Adventures By Mail Gaming Experience. 
The international game for the modern thinking mind. 
*D&D is a registered trademark of TSR, Inc. 
ADVENTURES BY MAIL, PO Box 436, Cohoes NY 12047 
* Enclosed is $3.00 for the Crasimoff's World Rules Package. 
* Enclosed is $15.00 for the Crasimoff's World Starter Package. 
* Send me information on your other PBM games. 
Please make checks and money orders payable to Adventures By Mail
If you are dissatisfied with the Rules Package you may return it for a complete refund.

Just what kind of name is Crasimoff, anyway?  Google thinks: one that the creators of this game made up.  This ad is interesting because it's hyping you up for a service that doesn't exist yet -- it's a pre-launch ad, imviting players to be in on the ground floor.  This promotional schedule would soon become standard for the gaming industry, but this early, there's always a hint of concern that the promoters may simply be testing the waters and determining if there is sufficient interest to build a real product out of their vaporware promotion.  The situation in this case is a little more nuanced than I suggest -- not only had Kevin Cropper's worldbuilding already been done, for the benefit of his regular pen and paper gaming group, but Crasimoff's World (documented pretty well there at Wikipedia) had already been running for years at this point -- in the UK.  What this ad is launching is the American syndication of it through Adventures By Mail, because overseas postage just put too big a drag factor on the already costly hobby of PBM gaming.

I really enjoy the way that the fifth line item keeps on building on itself : "The game is forever expanding and improving," (well, that's good!), "moderated in the Beyond the Stellar Empire style" (yes, but what does that mean?) "(with lots of heart and soul)" (ah, fairly appraised by a neutral third party!)" -- recognized by many as the best style around."  (Well, we don't want to settle for anything less than the best now, do we?

Apparently by the end of the '80s it had transitioned over to a computer-moderated incarnation, "Crasiworld", which kept on keeping on for another decade and a half, before finally wrapping it up in 2004... meaning that it's now been off the scene as long as it was here.  It seems that the company formed by Crasimoff's World's founder is still with us in some kind of nominal presence, but I suspect that's one industry pivot that there may be no recovery from.  (Putting me in mind of Simutronics, who started making MUDs for GEnie and were last seen making tower defense and endless runner games for mobile devices... slowly and gradually winding down.  But I digress.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

"Silverdawn" Play-By-Mail game, Entertainment Concepts, Inc.

Sorry about the muddy quality of the scan! I think that at the time I rated these as low-priority and didn't make the effort to get clean, clear takes on the subjects. (Granted, I waited nearly a decade to do anything with the scans, so argably I was right.)
* by Entertainment Concepts, Inc.

SILVERDAWN is a brilliant excursion into fantasy fuelled by the healthy fire of the moderator's imagination ... Recommended for everyone! (PBM Universal gave SILVERDAWN a Four Star Rating!!!)
Bob McLain
PBM Universal

SILVERDAWN is the best game I have EVER PLAYED, Play by Mail or otherwise. Let me congratulate you on having created a fantastic game!
Roger Leroux

I have heard only good things about this game!
Michael Gray, Dragon Magazine

SILVERDAWN is probably the best of the narrative games! W.G. Armintrout, The Fantasy Gamer

I just wanted to tell you what a good job you are doing with SILVERDAWN... I am really impressed with it!
Mike Kimba

I prefer: Fighter ____ Mage ____ Thief ____
Spy ____ Merchant ____ Minstrel ____
Cleric ____ Ranger ____ Engineer ____
Name: __________ Age __
Address: ____________
State: __ Zip: __

I would like to run ____ characters in the land of SILVERDAWN. Enclosed is $7 for the first and $3 for each additional character.
__ In addition, please enter me in the $5,000 SILVERDAWN Quest Tournament. An additional $3 is enclosed to cover the cost of this entry.
Mail to: ENTERTAINMENT CONCEPTS, 6923 Pleasant Drive, Charlotte, NC 28211

Now you can enter the richest tournament in the history of Correspondence Gaming!! The SILVERDAWN Quest Tournament will offer a $5,000 first prize, a $500 second prize, a $50 third prize. A fabulously interesting and exciting adventure has been prepared ... replete with all the dangers, challenges, and puzzles that you could wish for. And the first player to complete this Quest will win FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!
SILVERDAWN is the ultimate play by mail fantasy campaign. Having already received an enthusiastic response from players who enjoy having total freedom of creative decision, SILVERDAWN lets you guide heroic characters thru[sic] fantastic adventures.
Each move allows you to detail up to 3 pages of actions and contingencies. Every move will be promptly responded to. Every month you will receive a copy of SILVERQUEST, the newsletter that tells the stories of the greatest heroes in SILVERDAWN. Each issue will also contain contest announcements, with the winners receiving cash prizes!
Entry is $7 for the rules and first move. Each move thereafter is $3.

So this was a natural successor to the previous post, seeing as the game is made by the same company, Entertainment Concepts, Inc. (which means likely the same individual -- who has an account on RPGGeek, if I really wanted to know the answer to questions I had, I suppose I could just look him up and fire away, but in a sense the asking out loud is more fun than the "settling the matter"), as the last PBM game whose ad was featured here. If I had processed these scans in a scholarly fashion and retained context, I'd have more information about the sequence in which these games elapsed -- but let's assume that Silverdawn (pardon me, SILVERDAWN) was the foundation on which the AD&D PBM game was built rather than the other way around.

It's an interesting ad, blasting out of the gate with a series of testimonials which might hold more weight if we recognized the names. (I know, you think "W.G. Armintrout" is an alias? Think again!) I especially like how Michael Gray comes across as not actually having ever played the game (but he's heard only good things), while WG spikes his endorsement with what Wikipedia likes to call "weasel words" -- probably the best of the narrative games. Except for the better ones that I haven't played yet, or can't remember at this moment.

The list of possible player classes is pretty standard, but mixes it up Nethack-style with a few unorthodox "prestige class" offerings -- presumably Minstrel glosses to Bard, Spy to ... Assassin? I've never played an RPG in which engineers were a class before, but when the party needs to build a bridge with which to cross a gap or calculate where the weak spot in the door to aim the battering ram at is, who else are you going to call?

It's conspicuous how little this ad dwells on the actual content of the SILVERDAWN game, and what makes it different and unique from the othre PBM games out there. Certainly the illustration is consummately generic, in a workmanlike way. Based on the picture, I don't see a lot of work for the engineer in this scenario. The tail wagging the dog is, instead, the contest. I know, I was too young at the time (only a few months old!), but I read Quest for the Golden Hare and know all about Kit Williams' Masquerade, so I am aware of the frenzy to burden games with contests that was plaguing the ludic zeitgeist at the time, from Eureka! to Swordquest, to Pimania... etc., there's a list of them here. While the idea of a payout was compelling to players, I don't know if the competition ever actually enhanced the gameplay in any way. Here where you can see players are shelling out real money for the privilege of playing at all (555 player-turns need to be bought in order to cover the value of all the prizes), the prospect of a grand prize rings a little more like a gambler pumping coins into the one-armed bandit, hoping for a chance to win back some of the money they have already spent on the pastime. Especially with the absence of weight on the game's content, the ad rings a little like a sideshow carnival barker: step right up, step right up and try your luck! Another sucker's born every minute!

Apparently there was quite a bit of lore cooked up for this game, however, enough to fill several independently-published Silverdawn sourcebooks, refigured from PBM origin and intended for use in pen & paper group tabletop role-playing, all published around 1982 -- which gives us a ballpark for when the PBM game may have been happening. Perhaps the contest failed to recoup its costs (even after the prizes, now it has to generate enough revenue to also cover the cost of a print ad in Dragon Magazine!) and retooling the material for a new market helped to make it pay for itself. (Or perhaps the contest was unimaginably lucrative, and ECI was just greedily double-dipping, who knows.)

That's all I can glean from just an ad, folks! I'll post another one down the line, I have a pile of them lined up.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

"Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" Play-By-Mail game, Entertainment Concepts, Inc., 1985.

I said that I had several advertisements for PBM games in my archives, mostly sourced from scanning old copies of Dragon Magazine, and I wasn't lying -- Monster Island was only the beginning! This one appears first in the directory for alphabetical reasons, but since I have no easy way of assessnig the importance of each of these games so many years after the fact, that sequence seems as valid as any other to visit these topics!

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
a product of Entertainment Concepts, Inc.

Do you dream of adventure and glory? Do you thirst for dangers to thwart? Do you love the challenges of a mystery? Do you hunger to explore the unknown, and prove to the world that you have the stuff heroes are made of? Yes??

Then an exciting world of quests, myths, treasures, villains, mysteries, and magic is waiting just for you!! You can go beyond mere reading of adventure, you can now Create it! Experience it! Master it! Your skill, your wits, your wisdom, can make your hero the stuff of legend! You'll experience the full mystery and excitement of the fabulous ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS adventure game by taking the role of a Hero, or of a Fellowship of four young adventurers!

ENTER TODAY!! Tomorrow you'll be creating your own legends!!!

Send AD&D Play by Mail Game entries to: ECI, 6923 Pleasant Dr., Charlotte, NC 28211


Enclosed is $10 for the first position and $5 for each additional Position. Each move is $4 of adventure, mystery, and ancient lore'

Please send me _ Hero Positions and _ Fellowship Positions.

ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a trademark owned by and used under license from TSR, Inc. © 1985 TSR, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There it is, a dragon in the illustration, resting in some treasure-filled cavern or ... dungeon. The bland copy doesn't give much to work with, but the whole arrangement does raise the question of why bothering to go and cook up your own campaign setting when you can just license one -- which yields further questions: ECI gives money to Dragon Magazine to run the ad, which raises money from players, which yields money to send home to the mother ship. Did ECI just devise a system allowing them to work pro bono for TSR? Was getting advertising in the house organ a perk of purchasing use of the license? One imagines they must have had some prior success in the PBM genre for TSR to allow the licensing deal to take place, but what? (And, of course -- why not simply run a PBM branch in-house, as Flying Buffalo did?)

Ok, some cursory Googling addresses some of these questions and, I'm sure, raises new ones. It wasn't a setting ECI was licensing, but (presumably) the system and rules and of course the valuable, lucrative brand. Indeed, this game was run in ECI president Jim Dutton's homebrewed game world "Talaran, Land of Challenge", which, in a sense, puts this setting on a par with Greyhawk, Blackmoor and Mystara -- an individual's labour of love, enshrined in some weird way by a company. (The informational packet sent out to new players makes it look a lot like an official TSR product.) As for how internally-integrated the licensing-promoting of this fellow traveller venture was... it's pointed out that Dutton wrote three articles about it published in Dragon Magazine -- "Blueprint for a big game" (issue 97), "Detailing a Campaign World" (issue 98), and "Creating a cast of NPCs" (issue 102) -- seemingly in keeping with that august and earnest publication's strong bent toward the advertorial.

How prestigious Jim Dutton was remains to be determined -- he had a few various and sundry worldbooks up for sale via TSR and through other publishers. ECI turns up as having offered a few other PBM games, eg "Power" and "Power+" ... were they even RPGs, comparable in any way or is this an apples to oranges comparison? Hard to determine from here. Finally, it's interesting (certainly streamlines some elements, but presumably removes all interactive and social aspects with other players) that this game allows players to guide entire parties full of Heroes and Fellows. The mental picture I get from this is just a kind of neverending Gold Box-style tactical combat session, with party members gradually crawling down an endless hallway and making strategic combat decisions to overcome whichever opponents arrive to menace them in a given turn. Would parties of up to 4 fellows have an advantage over a Hero playing solo, or was difficulty scaled to the size of the party? Many boring questions, no boring answers, yielding: a boring permanent state of lack of resolution. Ah well.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Monster Island, 1989

Greetings from my defunct blog! (I made it three years this time, I think I've definitely shaken the habit!)

When I was poring over my stacks of old comics and nerd magazines, all to depart my custody in anticipation of the arrival of a baby, my agreement with my wife was that I would scan the ads first, so that I could continue my amateur scholarship into gaming history through these primary (but poorly-sourced -- I didn't keep notes of which publications, issues or pages scans came from, making them useless for scholarly application!) documents. I jumped ship quickly scanning ads in my huge and sadly, long-departed stack of Nintendo Power mags -- the entire thing it turns out was ads in a house organ. The comics had a nice representative sampling, especially in the late '70s and early '80s where you can see the emergence of the video game advertisement as a distinct artform!

But it was in the early issues of Dragon Magazine that the most tantalizing fruit were to be found, ads for long-shuttered MUDs available exclusively on dimly-remembered online services and ads that took some wrapping your head around to understand them as computer games: "Play By Mail" games that were "computer-moderated", played by ... filling out a card with instructions regarding which activities you'd like your character / army / nation to perform this turn, mailing it in, where it is fed into a supercomputer, then finding out how successful your attempts were after it printed out the results of your instructions and had them mailed back to you. They were computer games wrapped in a hard-copy package! (There's an odd resonance with many of the BBS door games I played in my youth, with the "log back in tomorrow to see whether your orders succeeded" dynamic in place there without needing to mess with postage or pay a per-turn fee.)

I never got around to posting or doing anything with these ads, because there was no clear application for them. I couldn't document them as computer games without further (but unobtainable) details about the hardware and software backend that made the magic happen, so they remained gathering dust in a subdirectory of a subdirectory. But then yesterday I found that the distinguished Aaron Reed had made one of them the subject of a recent post to his (eminently worthwhile) "50 Years of Text Games" blog series. Finally the wool was being lifted from my eyes, and indeed, the focal game in his article was one I'd scanned an ad for! I went to talk up the article to the folks on the MobyGames Discord, where I discovered that... unlike when I made these scans eight years ago, the PBM games beat was now pretty well documented on Wikipedia and on BoardGameGeeks. So I'll just set the stage, provide the scan and transcription, and allow them to do the rest of the heavy lifting. If all goes well, I'll exhaust my little pool of these scans over the next couple of weeks before this blog returns to its terminal torpor, satisfied that the exclusive data is out there and people are putting the puzzle pieces together. So without further ado: Monster Island! (W, BGG)

You've just washed ashore — your favorite sword lost on the ocean floor...there's a 12-foot Octopaw staring at you. He'd like to eat your eyeballs for lunch. Welcome to...

Monster Island

A huge Fantasy Role-Playing campaign of Exploration, Survival, Magic, and High Adventure.
This state-of-the-art Play-By-Mail game is unlike any you've ever seen.

We've been moderating Play-By-Mail games for 10 years. In all of that time we've never received so much praise about a game from our players, including It's a Crime!, the most successful PBM game ever created. Here's what they have to say...

    "...I'm having a blast-and-a-half playing Monster Island. I've only played one other PBM game before, but this is just the kind of PBM game I would wish for...The Knowledge Blurbs and battle scenes are excellent..." - John Perry

    "I also wish to express my complete and enthusiastic satisfaction with your service. Monster Island is a complete joy! The game itself is great fun, but it's the professional way you handle it that impresses me most. When there was a problem with the results, you were right there to handle it, and sent along a revision quickly; when I've made an invalid entry, it's nice to get a personal note explain-ing where I went wrong." - Mark Berman

    "First let me thank you for a wonderful game! Simply...beastly. You did a super job in writing and running the game; even if it is 100% computer moderated..." - Brian Leach

    "I have enjoyed playing Monster Island; it is truly a fine piece of game design and program-ming. I am a game designer/programmer myself..." - Brian Booker

    "Monster Island is a great game, much better than It's a Crime! There are more things to do each turn with a wider range of results. For and away this is the best role-playing PBM I have ever played." - Alan Santa "Overall, Monster Island is an original, humorous and exciting PBM game. Its strong points include clearly written rules, simple order format, detailed descriptions of creatures and actions, and a sense of never feel like the entire game is just a collection of numbers or a giant equation." - Gail Chotoff, American Gamer

    "Keep up the great work! I'm on turn 42 and they keep getting better and better. I showed my last few turns to the guy I started with back in '89 - he really wishes he'd kept in the game. Can't wait for newsletter #3." - Steve Lindemann "This is an iceberg of a game. It shows...only a tenth of its detail above the water: As you play you get not just new equipment but new orders and whole new game modules rolling open before your eyes...the early turns really are very good fun and worth the money." - Dr. Nicholas Palmer, Flagship

It's the game players rave about!

YOU, Stalwart Adventurer, will:

  • Interact with hundreds of players on an island that's more than three times the size of Australia!
  • Explore bat-infested caves and other dark, dangerous places...where you never know what cave denizen (or treasure?) is lurking around the next bend.
  • Kowtow to strange Gods. Serve them well and you'll be able to cast dozens of spells.
  • Loot and vandalize ancient graveyards. Watch out for the Cemetery Creepers!
  • Harvest Somanda Dust, Purple Lotus Leaves, etc., and use them to make all sorts of Voodoo concoctions.
  • With friends, rebuild exotic ruins and sanctify them to your God.
  • Hack Knolltir into hamburger meat with one of your fine weapons, such as a Spiked Club or Tooth Sabre.
  • Battle horrible creatures including Ghoul Buzzards, Xanxu Cave Spiders, Sand Thugs, and Tomb Leeches. Some guard exotic treasures, such as Dragon Ikor.
FREE Rulebook. FREE Entry Results.
(Examine the game for free. No obligation to continue.)

Inexpensive! Continue play at L1.75 or S4 per turn, 3 times per month.

Same-day turnaround. All results are Laser-printed.

In Europe: KJC Games
Ref: MI1 Freepost Cleveleys Blackpool Lancs. FY5 3BR U.K. Phone (0253) 866345 Fax (0253) 869960

Write, Phone, or Fax us your name and address.
In North America: Adventures By Mail POB 436-D1 Cohoes, NY 12047 Phone (518) 237-4870 Fax (518) 237-6245

Not a ton to say about the ad. Clearly it's written for the benefit of people who are already well-acquainted with the genre, with comparisons to other leading PBM games. The tiny landscape tiles are so cute, and I appreciate the "it's 1989 and we have a brand new Mac to do desktop publishing with" aesthetic -- they make a big deal of the fact that output is LASER PRINTED rather than spat out of a dot matrix printer, the difference is subtle but profound.

OK, that's all for now! See you next ad!

Friday, July 6, 2018

"Citadel: Adventure of the CRYSTAL KEEP", Macintosh, 1989.

I know, I've said many times that this blog is retired, and yet I somehow keep stopping in here and quietly adding to it. (Why retired? I will write pages around this video game ad scan and eventually rack up some 20 views, then someone will post the same image on Tumblr, sourced from my blog but without any of the qualifying text, and get 170 big ups. And I will bemoan my folly. Then I will post the scan to my own Tumblr and get 2 views, and feel even more foolish. Then I will abandon this blog for another eight to ten months.) I gave myself two escape clauses to return and continue rearranging the furniture -- I could post the vintage Dungeons & Dragons comic book ads, which I seem to have gotten to the very definitively end of, and I would pop back in to write up covers of games I had on file when the CRPG Addict gets to them in his exhaustive, systematic campaign of CRPG history. Well, he has arrived at Citadel: Adventure of the Crystal Keep.
You've played Wizardry

Adventure of the CRYSTAL KEEP

Fantasy role playing climbs to new heights of challenge and excitement as you descend into the depths of the CITADEL. Your quest is to free the Lady Synd, cruelly imprisoned by the evil Wizard Nequilar. You must rely on your skill and cunning to merely SURVIVE.

• Create your own heros using the complete, heritage oriented, character generation system including character image customizing.
• Select from over 200 weapons and items.
• Over 60 spells/scrolls at your command.
• Most graphically realistic, three dimensional maze exploration ever created.
• Hundreds of rooms on multiple levels.
• A constant challenge is provided from over 60 animated monsters that must be overcome.
• The sound and animation will take you to the edge of your seat!

Now available for Macintosh Plus or greater and Atari ST.
Soon available for IBM and Amiga.

Contact your nearest dealer or call:
POSTCRAFT International Inc.
(805) 257-1797
Dealer inquiries invited.

Citadel is a registered trademark of Postcraft International Inc.
All other trademarks or brand names are the property of their respective holders.

(That closing clause must be their futile attempt to legally cover their behinds over their unlicensed use of the logo for Sir-Tech's Wizardry series, of which this game is heavily derivative.)

I came out of retirement to cover this game (briefly, as I have never played it and as an early Mac game it is a true obscure rarity) because I had long known it only through these curious ads, ever wondering just what the big deal was. There are many such period ads for truly un-experienceable-today products like early MUDs on defunct pre-Web online gated communities and PBM games at least two paradigms of correspondance obsolete by now. Those I will never see someone play. In this case, on the other hand, I can peek over the CRPG Addict's shoulder. (Metaphorically, through his blog posts. Although surely someone has suggested he take up Twitch streaming by now? Blogging and vlogging seem almost to sit on opposite ends of the content spectrum. But I digress.)

The big deal seems to be a Wizardry clone (a popular approach to take in these early years) in the Mac's best (by which I mean, going to extreme dithering lengths to work around the drastic limitation) black and white graphics. That means that it looks quite a bit better than the wireframe 1st-person dungeons of Wizardry and Ultima, but quite a bit worse than, say, Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder. (Well, it's not fair to compete with Westwood for production values, they were the kings of that!)

The ad art is ... a little peculiar, but not offputtingly amateurish, an impressive achievement for a new venture in this software boomtown. Eschewing the tired cliche of "princess kidnapped by evil wizard", they have apparently overturned it with the ... functionally equivalent "Lady magically imprisoned by evil wizard". Perhaps the magic makes all the difference, though I remain skeptical.

The ad's copy doesn't give us much to work with, throwing numbers ("over 60" takes on a strange mystic potency here, as though only exactly 60 would be extremely yawnworthy -- are they casting shade on a competing game in the Wizardry field featuring merely 60 of the things?) of spells, weapons and monsters at us. You know what 200 weapons looks like? Typically it looks like Pool of Radiance's complete, redundant complement of pole arm selections. I don't know whether Citadel manages to successfully duck this "quantity over quality" issue, though they sure are trying to make it a selling point here. (Ads: they contain your selling points. Literally!)

The "heritage oriented" character generation system, as demonstrated by the CRPG Addict, is an interesting curiosity -- first you generate your parents, then you combine elements from both of them. Character image customization is welcome, but really depends on your ability to do b&w pixelart. Hundreds of rooms? Constant challenge? OK, now I'm getting a little concerned this game may not be for me...

(Though I did work my way through EOB, I have never played through a Wizardry-type game. They're not, it turns out, for me.)

It noted that the "hundreds of rooms" were on multiple levels -- is that really a selling point? Staircases or GTFO? It goes on to claim that it's the "Most graphically realistic, three dimensional maze exploration ever created", where by "three dimensional" they mean ... multiple levels? Most graphically realistic? Reality, my friends, is not black and white. ("Dog dungeon simulator, featuring 2-colour graphics and over 60 exciting smells!")

Finally: "The sound and animation will take you to the edge of your seat!" The sound will surely be standard Mac digitized sound such as you could have heard in Dark Castle (or Radical Castle for that matter), jarring swooshes and clanks at opportune moments the likes of which wouldn't infest PC games until the Sound Blaster became standard. For graphics and animation, they also mean to say "it's all black and white, so it may be good, but it'll never be great". That said, the minimalism of the Mac monochrome palette did allow for certain displays of constrained virtuosity such as was demonstrated in the early Cyan games (they're not cyan, you'd find that colour on CGA PCs!), so it's not impossible that this is a good-looking game. (But you'd never put that on an ad... though it is the kind of accidentally honest phrase I like to cap off Mistigris infofiles with.)

So. The word salad says all the nonsense that is expected of it, distinguishing it in no way but keeping up with the Joneses. It are a serious ad, selling a serious game. There are a few optimistic notes at the bottom regarding its availability for other platforms that must be contingent on the original Mac version (surely no Atari ST port ever came out?) becoming a blockbuster smash hit, which doesn't seem to have happened (... to any game, ever?) There wasn't much in terms of common development resources at this point that would allow easy porting between such disparate home computer systems.

I caught glimpses of Macs in my friends' parents offices in this period, but their world was across a vast gulf from my black-backgrounded CLI realm of MS-DOS. I only knew of this game's existence through ads in second-hand back issues of Dragon Magazine, and while looking up the blurb for this post found courtesy of the Internet Archive's (often hilariously garbled) OCR magazine transcriptions that it was also advertised to a general audience in Compute! as well as the logical home team reading MacWorld and MacUser magazines. I gather its sales did not set the author's bank account on fire, as there didn't seem to be any sequel or follow-up. And now one boring mystery is ... a little less mysterious. (Any less boring, though?)