Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Mines of Titan", 1988.

In a very exciting development, my favorite new blog of 2013, The CRPG Addict, has now moved on to playing through a game I have an ad for: Westwood's 1988 "Mines of Titan", aka "Mars Saga".
How do you lose a city?
Stranded on the frozen wastes of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, you find yourself trapped in a dying colony filled with dangerous characters and you are faced with an ever mounting mystery. Who or what has caused a city to disappear? Find out for yourself in the first-rate Science Fiction RPG!
It's an updated re-release of sorts, transplanted from Mars to Titan with extra quests following an initial publication under EA as "Mars Saga". Vestiges of its Martian origins remain in the final product, as plot-related characters are apparently saddled with names derived from author Philip K. Dick's story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (later adapted -- twice! -- into the sci-fi action movie Total Recall.)

The ad artwork is essentially the same as the back of the game's box. The big, off-point INFOCOM logo is added to the lunar landscape with monster footprints, and the file folder spills a few pages of screenshots. The ad is a bit weak by the legendary standards of Infocom, and I imagine that's a consequence of their new antagonistic owners at Activision / Mediagenic following their bailout in 1987 (after the public was less than enthusiastic about buying the Cornerstone spreadsheet application from a games company.) Acquisition terms not only forced them to terminate their successful promotional, packaging and "feelie" relationship with Giardini/Russell (and work with Activision's in-house services) but also demanded they release more games per year on a smaller budget. In short, a recipe for failure. Could that explain why this game is being made by Westwood for Activision under the Infocom imprint? Yes, it is confusing.

Westwood is still hiding out in the shadows here, building a portfolio of great work published by SSI (starting with Questron 2, Hillsfar, Roadwar 2000, Nightmare on Elm Street and culminating in the first two Eye of the Beholder games) and the shambling Infocom/Activision walking dead company (including BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks' Revenge called out on the package (misleadingly suggesting they, and not FASA of Shadowrun fame, are responsible for the property) and the later Circuit's Edge, which seems to share a lot in common with this game technologically.) As SSI lost its groove (read: lost exclusive use of the D&D license) Westwood managed to swing a sweet deal with Virgin and all their practice polishing up production values doing grunt work for bosses like Disney began paying off in Lands of Lore, Dune 2, the Legend of Kyrandia, and Command & Conquer (Young Merlin we have already seen) ... which meant that suddenly they were substantial enough competition to EA that, in a boring and regretful story heard too many times in the '90s, they had to be purchased, liquidated, and shuttered, as with Bullfrog, Origin, Kesmai and Maxis. Stand aside, boys, there are annual sports games to be made here.

Westwood Associates really warrant a retrospective series of their own, and maybe sometime soon I'll re-hash some of this territory with ads for their other games. In the meantime, please pardon the disruption -- I do still have ads for a couple more cyberpunk-ish games and I do intend to get them all out of my system before starting another series of posts here. This was just a matter of timing. Fittingly, the next post actually is for another Westwood game, also inspired by Philip K. Dick.