Friday, January 12, 2018

"Eye of the Beholder 2", 1991.

Well OK, less than a month after I officially put this blog down for its final indefinite rest, only to be re-invoked in the occurrence of a wildly unlikely eventuality... that eventually actually came to pass.  I started documenting ads for SSI's Dungeons & Dragons games and went to the effort of sourcing the ads and transcribing them, so darned if I'm going to have done that work and not share it.  These were being metred to keep pace with the rate at which the games were covered over at the excellent specialist blog The CRPG Addict, and having opened his coverage of CRPGs from 1991 with Eye of the Beholder 1, he's closing it with EOB2.  So here I am diligently pulling slipcovers off of the blog to post one more ad until assuredly a substantially greater delay before I'll be visiting these parts again.

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER II 
Bigger... Better... Meaner Than Ever!
Yes! The exciting sequel to Eye of the Beholder is here! 
Like its awesome predecessor, EYE OF THE BEHOLDER II: THE LEGEND OF DARKMOON is a graphically based AD&D computer fantasy role-playing saga -- with stunning pictures, realistic animation and 3-D "you-are-there" point of view. EYE II gives you all this... and more -- much more!
BIGGER!
A bigger adventure includes forest, temple, catacomb and three huge towers. The bigger story gives you more people to meet, clues to learn and mysteries to unravel! BETTER! Better graphics and improved "point-and-click" interface make playing even easier. MEANER! Lots of new, smarter, meaner monsters! 
Transfer your characters and items from Eye of the Beholder, or create your own experienced group of characters. Either way, you're in for more of the best fantasy role-playing experience! 

[screenshot]
3-D View!
[screenshot]
Brave the haunting forest on the way to the dread Temple Darkmoon
[screenshot]
One slip -- in combat or in conversation -- can bring the whole force of the enemy against you!
The CRPG Addict can put this into context better than I ever could: a few years after this style of game (tile-movement, reflex action gameplay) was pioneered by FTL with Dungeon Master, it reaches its apex here with the genuine D&D license and the unbeatable Westwood production values -- with Ultima Underworld and a full, not-conventionally-mappable 3D play environment around the corner. Even Westwood will jump ship before EOB reaches its 3rd and final chapter, and from there the genre will go into a permanent slump punctuated only by the nostalgic revisitation of the Legend of Grimrock in 2012.

But hey, I'm putting the cart before the horse here a bit, aren't I? This game was lots of fun! Now let's unpack some of the claims in the often-meaningless ad copy! Was its predecessor awesome? Indeed it was: I still can vividly remember the first occasion on which I was exposed to its multimedia introductory sequence. "Saga" is a bit rich, but certainly it seems no less applicable here than Candy Crush. All that yammer about the pictures and the animation is just gloss for "Westwood developed it", and as for its POV... yep, it sure has one. Bigger? Sure. Better? Well, why not? Meaner? Sure, it hews even closer to the average than episodes 1 or 3! Some of the sub-claims warrant a little unpacking... would I necessarily enjoy a game featuring three huge towers more than one featuring only two of them? If memory suggests, the story, clues and mysteries contained in these games are all pants, a question of which rock do I stuff into a crack in which wall to unlock a teleporter? Better graphics... really? Are they not simply just more of the same? And ditto for the "improved" interface... is it not identical to that of its predecessor? (I dig the 1991 quotes around "point and click", don't want to confuse the MS-DOS users.) Smarter, meaner monsters? Well, monsters of higher level...

It all rings a bit hollow. At this point, the economy of selling the contents of boxed computer games on store shelves is well oriented toward the pivotal factor of "pretty screenshots on the back of the box" -- whatever half-baked hype is cooked up to be printed on the back of the box becomes increasingly irrelevant as a selling point. Ad copy is just an extension of that. You won't be making any new converts with your breathless prose -- the best approach you could possibly take is to say "You liked the last one, so here, we've made more of it, trying to mess with its winning formula as little as possible." Done. But instead, you have to pretend that you've taken something that's already perfect, and have improved on every aspect of it. I don't care if it's improved, I just don't want it to be diminished. But I guess marketing believes that's its job: you didn't see games sold under the "Buckley's cough syrup: it tastes bad and it works" premise since Infocom slammed hi-rez graphics.

I don't, in the end, have all that much to say about this ad. I still think it's funny how SSI put an image of their game's box in the corner of the ad featuring the box art writ large, and I still have no memory of any scenario in the game remotely resembling this illustration (granted, I remember virtually nothing about playing this game beyond its opening in a wolf-plagued forest), but picking apart marketing nothing-speak leaves me filled with nothing, and I remember that on some level, this blog began as an excuse for me to post advertisement scans with their transcriptions alongside so as to have some public resource to point to when submitting the Ad Blurb transcripts to Mobygames. All the interpretation and context was gravy. Here's your freakin' gravy, I've satisfied the conditions of making one more post here. There are more D&D games coming up in the CRPG Addict's 1992 -- I count five of them, though he might well skip over Order of the Griffon on the Turbografx-16 and Warriors of the Eternal Sun for the Genesis, he still should be eventually covering the last gasps of the Gold Box engine with Dark Queen of Krynn and Treasures of the Savage Frontier along with the locally-produced Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace... but I don't expect he'll be reaching them anytime soon. Still, I have been surprised before -- as I was here! -- so who knows when next we'll be crossing paths here. Now, if you don't mind, I have an incredible backlog of work to wrap up over at Pixel Pompeii 8)

Monday, December 18, 2017

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 14, 1982.

Here we are, friends, the end of TSR's series of comic book ads (in form and in context) for Dungeons & Dragons and with it the end of my active business with this blog, all the "regular" posts (heh, though 2017 has not been a great year for it) having long since migrated over to Pixel Pompeii. I will return if I encounter a game ad I absolutely cannot resist annotating, and I will keep pace with the CRPG Addict as he plays through D&D CRPG conversions -- but due to no fault of his own (he keeps chugging along at a very admirable pace) the further he progresses through the timeline, both the longer games take to document and the more games there are to cover as the CRPG field burgeoned commercially. So what I'm saying is... it may be a while.

That said, let's end on a bang and go out with this exciting print ad:

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
ADVENTURES
"Quest Through The Savage Country"

RORY GALLAN, THE RANGER AND SHADRAK, THE GNOME THIEF HAVE BEEN HIRED TO HELP A BEAUTIFUL SORCERESS CROSS THE SAVAGE COUNTRY!

R: WELL WE'RE ON TIME BUT WHERE IS THE GIRL, AND THE HORSES SHE PROMISED US?!

S: SHE'LL BE HERE PATHFINDER. YOU'VE GOT TO LEARN TO TRUST PEOPLE!

R: WHAT'S THAT SHADOW CROSSIN' OVERHEA...?

BEAUTIFUL SORCERESS: GOOD MORNING MSSR GALLAN, MSSR SHADRAK. ARE YOU READY TO GO? INCIDENTALLY MY DEAR GENTLEMEN, I NEVER PROMISED TO PROVIDE YOU WITH HORSES; SIMPLY THAT I WOULD PROVIDE THE MEANS OF TRANSPORT. THIS ENCHANTED BOAT OF MY MASTER'S IS THAT TRANSPORT!

R: A F, FLYING BOAT!!?

S: M'LADY... WITH ALL RESPECT, THERE IS NO WAY I'M GOING UP IN THAT THING!!

A RELUCTANT GNOME IS PERSUADED TO BOARD AND THE MAGIC BOAT LIFTS OFF, SAILING THE SKY MORE GRACEFULLY THAN ANY SHIP HAS EVER SAILED THE SEA!

THE PEACEFUL FLIGHT TURNS ROUGH HOWEVER, AS THE WIND BLOWS STRONGER AND STORM CLOUDS GATHER!

S: ( IF GNOMES WERE MEANT TO FLY... )

R: Oh my... LOOK! WHAT IS THAT?!

S: IT'S A STORM GIANT!!

Yeah, that'll do. In panel 1 it looks almost as though they're waiting in a desert wasteland, staging a fantasy production of Waiting for Godot, but then in panel 2 the lights of the city are very nearby. I guess they're just standing on the beach at low tide right next to the boardwalk, the "camera" looking out from the town. (Also curious: in all the other upper panels, the sky is clear and a daytime blue, but in the central "flying boat reveal" panel, it's a dusky orange. Perhaps the town supports some early industrial activity that generates very localized air pollution?) The interjections in the boat reveal panel suggest a patter of word bubble give and take, but their placement indicates the dull thud of a wall of text followed by extraneous JRPG-style obligatory dialogue response.

When you are flying a flag on top of a sailboat, in which direction does the flag fly? Behind, trailing the boat, or before, indicating the same breeze pushing the vessel? I remember hearing that in a hot-air balloon, one never feels breezes because one moves in them; if the wind picks up it doesn't blow past you, it just blows you along with it!

Final panel observations: I think those may be the only lower-case letters penned in this whole series. (Also: shades of Takei... the appropriate response to the giant's magnificent physique? "Oh myyy...") That is a real Monster Manual calibre spot illustration, and the Storm Giant's lightning-gripping gesture is totally metal. \m/

Unanswerable closing thoughts (category: "a boring mystery"): "Quest Through the Savage Country" -- if you pass over a territory completely, does it really count as travelling through it? Flyover states: does one quest through them in an airplane? These considerations digress from the unvisited plot being telegraphed, that being that the trip will not continue being an airborne one following the cloud giant encounter. (What is the equivalent of a "drydock" in which a flying boat is repaired? No, don't answer that.)

OK, and that's a wrap! Composing these dopey response statements remains a lot of fun, but there's a lot of higher-priority business going on in my life than when I started this blog. Perhaps I'll return to it once my kids are embarrassed to be seen in public with me. (A self fulfilling prophecy? Does he blog game ads because his kids are ashamed or are his kids ashamed because he blogs game ads?) Until such a time... Excelsior!

Monday, November 27, 2017

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 13, 1982.

The year: 1982. The product: Dungeons & Dragons. The advertising medium: comic books. TSR began illustrating the accounts of one party's campaign, then abruptly cut it off and began recounting a second. Not satisfied with their work, they also pulled the plug on the second and here we see them set the scene for a third and final comic book advertising campaign:
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
ADVENTURES
"Quest Through The Savage Country"

SCENE: DEAD JACKAL INN

BEAUTIFUL SORCERESS: ARE YOU SURE THE ONE WE SEEK WILL BE HERE?

SHADRAK: TRUST ME.

S: "THERE HE IS! RORY GALLAN."

S: "HE'S THE BEST PATHFINDER THAT YOUR MONEY CAN BUY!"

RORY: THERE YOU ARE YOU THIEVING GNOME!!

R: SO SHADRAK MY LITTLE FRIEND. I TRUST YOU ARE HERE TO PAY ME BACK THE COINS YOU ... BORROWED?!

S: WELL.. UM... NOT EXACTLY RANGER GALLAN. BUT EVEN BETTER THAN THAT I'VE LOCATED A JOB FOR YOU! THIS LADY HERE IS THE APPRENTICE OF THE FAMED WIZARD KHELLEK. SHE WANTS TO HIRE YOU TO TAKE HER ACROSS THE SAVAGE COUNTRY! I TOLD HER THAT NO ONE LIVING KNOWS THOSE LANDS LIKE YOU DO... OLD FRIEND.

B: IT IS TRUE THAT I WISH TO HIRE THE RANGER GALLAN. BUT I SPECIFICALLY REQUESTED TWO SWORDS. HAVE YOU ANOTHER IN MIND, LITTLE ONE?

S: I SURE DO M'LADY... ME!

R: YOU!?

S: QUIET GALLAN! HERE FINISH YOUR DRINK.

S: M'LADY, I COULD NEVER HAVE BECOME THE COUNTRY'S GREATEST THIEF IF I COULDN'T HANDLE WEAPONS AS WELL AS ANY FIGHTER!

MSSR. GALLAN, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. MY MASTER'S OTHER PUPIL HAS TURNED EVIL AND ESCAPED WITH MYSTIC OBJECTS OF GREAT POWER! IF HE IS TO BE STOPPED, IT MUST BE SOON! YOU ARE WELL KNOWN BY YOUR HEROIC DEEDS. IF YOU AGREE, THEN THE GNOME WILL BE MY SECOND SWORD. YOUR TASK IS TO GUIDE ME SAFELY ACROSS THE SAVAGE COUNTRY WHERE WICKED MORGAN HAS FLED!!

S: WHAT DO YOU SAY RORY? MY SHARE OF THE PAY WILL NICELY COVER WHAT I OWE YOU.

NEXT: FEAR OF FLYING!

Mostly I am just posting these for completeness' sakes, to see the story through, such as it is, and be the only one to provide search-engine-findable transcripts of the inane word bubbles. What do we learn here? Not much of interest: this is the first of the three stories to begin in the heart of that fantasy cliche, assembling the party at a tavern. When the name Khellek comes up, our ears perk up, as he was the wizard in the previous advertisement's party -- building a narrative bridge between otherwise seemingly unrelated ads. Most of the previous advertisement comics have focused on fearsome monsters and amazing magic, while this one is primarily concerned with a thief's bluff. (Equal time for the different player classes? Conspicuously, not only have none of the comic-ads focused on clerics, none of the parties have even contained one! Adventure strategy: plan to never be injured or encounter undead.) This ad ends explicitly on a to-be-continued, so stay tuned, long-tail readers: there's only one more installment in this series, then this blog will most likely enter a period of long, yea indefinite, silence!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 12, 1982.

Through comic book pages of 1982, sometimes the main attraction was interrupted by alternate comic strips, selling the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game by telling the kind of stories, briefly, that such gameplay sessions were concerned by. This is the last in a set of four, to be succeeded by one final micro story arc. Transcript follows:
THE WIZARD KHELLEK'S MAGICAL POWERS HAVE DISINTEGRATED THE MONSTROUS PURPLE WORM! THE TREASURE ROOM OF ROAKIRE IS REVEALED TO THEM. AURIC LEADS OUR ADVENTURERS IN THEIR TREACHEROUS CLIMB TO THE SURFACE!

AURIC: "DAYLIGHT! WE'VE MADE IT!!"

KHELLEK EXAMINES THE ANCIENT SCROLLS TAKEN FROM THE ROAKIRE TREASURE ROOM.

KHELLEK: "THE SEARCH IS OVER MY FRIENDS! BUT MY WORK IS JUST BEGINNING. THESE SPELLS WILL AID IN DEFEATING THE EVIL THAT LAYS SIEGE TO MY LORD'S CASTLE!"

K: "THE SUCCESS IS NOT AS SWEET WITH OUR PARTING."

TIRRA: "PARTING KHELLEK? YOU'LL BE NEEDING TWO GOOD SWORDS..."

A: "... WITH YOUR HOMELAND UNDER SIEGE!"

THE END

Odyssey aside, it is extraordinary to present the emergency from the dungeon -- the voyage home -- as a perilous and arduous undertaking. You have cleared out the mobs, there's nothing interfering with your return! But it looks like they're taking some species of short cut. Pity we never get to see the disintegrate spell in action, but I guess that's how they guarantee the most dazzling presentation of magic: the reader's brain provides the VFX.

Auric? Would some player really name their avaricious character after gold? Every chapter of these comics needs to present some nasties for lurid appeal, only here they merely represent what lies ahead for the party, not anything they actually encountering. Really this is much ado about an irrelevant plot twist (the party break up? why, are they not a regular party? no canon has been brought up to suggest otherwise...) turning the first "The End" of the ad series into a "To Be Continued?" (SPOILER WARNING: it is not continued. The castle of Khellek's Lord never is relieved from its evil siege.)

That is all. Enjoy, only a couple of these remain -- and then, perhaps, this blog can enjoy its final, well-earned rest 8)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 11, 1982.

Another month, another D&D comic book ad in the sequence whose meagre contents I transcribe for the benefit of posterity. (Huh, turns out I wasn't the only person blogging this series, but I am the only to provide transcripts. Incidentally, three episodes in, I've figured out what the difference is between this party and the previous, the answer staring me plainly in the face: this party is playing ADVANCED Dungeons & Dragons!) Last time, the sequence was monsters, then treasure, this time inverted. Now, here we go:
A DUNGEONS & DRAGONS(r) ADVENTURE

THE THREE ADVENTURERS ARE IN THE TREASURE VAULTS OF THE DUNGEON ROAKIRE. AURIC THE FIGHTER HAS FOUND A SUIT OF ENCHANTED ARMOR, TIRRA A MAGIC CLOAK WHILE THE WIZARD KHELLEK INVESTIGATES SEVERAL SCROLLS AND ARCANE ITEMS.

A: (... FITS LIKE IT WAS MADE FOR ME!)
T: THAT'S ODD... ... THERE IS A LOW RUMBLING NOISE COMING THROUGH THE WALLS AND THE FLOOR!
K: THE WHOLE ROOM IS SHAKING!

T: THERE'S SOMETHING COMING RIGHT UP THROUGH THE FLOOR!
ARRAUUUGGHH!
A: A PURPLE WORM! IT'S ENORMOUS!
K: STAND BACK! ONLY MY MAGIC CAN STOP IT!

EXPLORE EXCITING WORLDS OF FUN FANTASY & ADVENTURE WITH DUNGEONS & DRAGONS AND ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS ADVENTURE GAMES. SEND IN YOUR COUPON TODAY FOR YOUR FREE CATALOG OF GAMES & ACCESSORIES. SEND TO: TSR HOBBIES, INC, POB 756 DEPT. 170-77E, LAKE GENEVA, WI 53147.

IN THE UK SEND TO: TSR HOBBIES (UK) LTD, THE MILL, RATHMORE RD., CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND CB1 4AD.

From a Beholder last time to a Purple Worm here, there's really not much room for progression remaining. What's next, a tarrasque?

Monday, October 30, 2017

"A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure" part 10, 1982.

Oh, wow, looks like it's been over a year since I last touched this sunset project! And yet... I still have several D&D comic book ads yet to post! I blame the slowdown of the CRPG Addict, who I was once trying to keep pace with. (It's not his fault, his task is just a bit of an Achilles and the Tortoise unwinnable race.) Well here, let's proceed at least one step onwards with this transcription of the 10th Dungeons & Dragons Adventure advertisement:
SYNOPSIS: AURIC, TIRRA AND THE WIZARD KHELLEK ENTERED THE DUNGEONS OF RAKIRE ONLY TO FIND THE ENTRANCE GUARDED BY AN EVIL JACKALWERE! THE SPELLS OF KHELLEK AND THE COLD IRON OF THE TWO SWORDS JOIN TO DEFEAT THE SHAPESHIFTER...

EVER DEEPER INTO THE SUBTERRANEAN PASSAGES THEY GO...

FIGHTING THEIR WAY THROUGH EVIL HOARDS [sic...?] OF DUNGEON DWELLING HUMANOIDS...

...ENCOUNTERING BIZARRE CREATURES THAT SHOULDN'T EXIST OUTSIDE OF NIGHTMARES...

... AND BYPASSING NAMELESS, INHUMAN, ABOMINATIONS...

AURIC THE FIGHTER: THE JACKALWERE IS FINALLY SLAIN!

TIRRA THE ELF: SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

THE WIZARD, KHELLEK: NOW? NOW WE DELVE DEEPER INTO THE DUNGEON!

... TO THE DEEPEST DUNGEON VAULTS WHERE LIE THE TREASURES OF ROAKIRE: GOLD, SILVER, PRICELESS GEMS AND ITEMS OF ARCANE MAGIC!

Not much plot advancement or character development here! I don't recognize the humanoids, but the beholder proved irresistible for the artist, who could not pass it up. What I'm wondering is what is the nameless, inhuman abomination that follows a beholder? Jubilex? Well, huh, perhaps further ads will paint that picture.

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.

PS -- I love the way the heroes are holding the official TSR rulebooks! What does it mean, the semantic mise en abyme that even characters in a D&D game play D&D?