Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"The Eidolon", 1986.

Another LucasArts eulogy for a game that the rest of the mourners will overlook. Mostly, we knew and loved them due to their graphical adventure games. A few of us were taken by their pioneering work with cinematic flight simulators. Somewhere out there is one wag who never quite got over Pipe Mania (quite rightly, a puzzle template for the ages, as Jim Munroe recently demonstrated aptly.)
And then there are all the Star Wars fans, whose demands will likely be aptly satisfied by Disney.
But before Lucasarts hit on the adventure game, they had to stretch out in a few directions, figure out what was what and what they wanted to do in this new frontier before settling on devastating Sierra at their own genre. This game, with its head-scratching title (which actually is a real word), was part of that early experimentation -- trying to mount a beefier frame on the general skeleton of Rescue on Fractalus!, both proto-FPS games employing fractals to generate landscapes. Before, it was mountains; now, it's cave interiors. (And the rest of us would learn about fractals in '90 when Michael Crichton namedropped chaos theory in Jurassic Park.) Their fractal technology would be trotted out once more, for Koronis Rift.
I didn't have one good scan for this game among my ad archives, so instead I have stolen two, one from my prior source, the excellent World 1-1, and then another from the outstanding Vintage Computing site.
Discover the secrets of The Eidolon, a mysterious 19th century machine powered by the forces of magic. If you can control the powerful energies of this ancient apparatus, an unseen world is yours to explore. The Eidolon lets you teleport and transform enchanted creatures- Greps, Biter Birds and Bottlenecks. And challenge the "intelligent" Guardian Dragons. You can create and capture magic fireballs... perhaps even alter the flow of time itself!
'...outstanding graphics and gameplay' Zzap! 64
Scientific curiosity or passport to a magical dimension?
Workmanlike, a reproduction of box art and back-of-box copy, plus an obligatory plug by a localized trusted review source. Some people imagine that the trademarking of the enemy names indicated an in-house perception of sequel potential. I dig the way the goofy minor enemies are flying out of the frame; all the same, they speak deeply to me of a game that isn't sure quite what tone it hopes to adopt.


You've just discovered the Eidolon— a curious 19th century machine whose inventor vanished without a trace. Only his journals and sketches remain.
They tell of an incredible magical realm -— a maze of caverns populated by strange creatures noted as Greps, Biter Birds and Bottlenecks. And "intelligent" Guardian Dragons -— who hurl colored fireballs of energy?
The machine itself belies its quaint Victorian charm. For the Eidolon glows with the power of enchanted energy. It awaits, pristine and gleaming -— perfectly preserved for over a hundred years by the powerful forces that propelled it and its pilot to another dimension.
With the fascinating first-person point of view, you can climb into the pilot's chair and fly this mysterious magical machine. And the haunting fractal graphics take you deeper into an endless maze of mystical caverns.
An adventure so real, it'll make you wonder: What ever happened to the Eidolon's mysterious inventor? Only the adventurous of spirit will know his fate. The Eidolon -- scientific curiosity, or passport to a magical dimension?
This is also box copy, but you can tell that they hired someone who could write to crank it out, reaching the hallowed game ad writing metric of: better than it strictly speaking needs to be. Epyx had a hunch that a good way to sell Lucasfilm to Americans would be to evoke Star Wars' opening title credits, and they were probably right. Is this the invention of the "mysterious machinery of disappeared genius" trope in games? Mostly I like this second ad due to the way the colours really pop, though that probably has as much to do with the scanner used and the paper stock printed on as anything else. Epyx's logo and slogan are really something too, however. Someday I should do an "Epyx week" here, but that's a long way away. Next up -- more Lucasarts, but actual scans I made myself. (You can tell by the ridiculously high resolution. Basically, after I scan an ad, no one ever has any need to re-scan it to clarify details ever again.)

Monday, April 29, 2013

"Rescue on Fractalus", 1985.

Our farewell to Lucasarts (or just "Game Division" as it began) continues here in slow motion with this, their second title.
Rescue on Fractalus!
Activision's 1st release from Lucasfilm

Hear what Jeff Minter says:
"One of my all-time favorites... Stunning, solid 3-D visuals. The most amazing impression of flight through mountainous terrain. Look out for this one. I think it's ace." ZZAP 64
For starters, I must disclaim -- this isn't one of my scans, but is lifted from the excellent game-ad blog series FROM THE PAGES OF THE PAST! ADS OF YESTERYEAR over at World 1-1. '85 is a bit early for most of my comic or magazine collecting.

Early Lucasarts publishing is somewhat haphazard; they aimed to begin publishing through Atari with Ballblazer, but that deal sunk after the assorted weirdos there managed to leak the complete game to all the pirate BBSes well before it hit store shelves. So on to Atari's homegrown competition, Activision, who began publishing Lucasarts games in Europe at least (I believe Epyx had the honours in North America. We'll see this more clearly when we get to The Eidolon.)

This must be prototypal of the "rave reviews" ad where the publisher doesn't provide copy describing the ad, but poaches gushing from a reviewer. Well, you could do much worse than these glowing words from the man known as The YaK of Llamasoft, UK game absurdist who's become known for extreme excellence in trippy game visuals. Here he is praising this game's visuals to a UK audience! A perfect endorsement from a perfect spokesperson. And that's about all the ad copy gives me to work with.

It's hard to know ultimately how influential this game was -- no sequels, and fractal landscape-generation (hence the name) techniques so far ahead of their time the machines couldn't actually do much with them. (Well, they enjoyed influence inasmuch as the techniques were re-used in The Eidolon next, but you can't be your own influence, can you?) But it gets a prize for early use of the climactic shocker: upon landing to rescue a downed pilot (scene depicted in the in-ad box art) there was a chance you'd actually be rescuing an evil alien disguised as a pilot, who would then turn around and begin smashing in your cockpit window. I can't think of many other games where the "getting warmer" of approaching a goal ticks over to "zero degrees cold" quite so quickly.

Probably it would have enjoyed some success as a port to an 8-bit home console, a market in which Lucasarts dipped its toes to distinctly mixed success.

There aren't a ton of these, so we'll see if I can't clear the rest off my slate in fairly short order and get back to unthemed posts.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"The LucasArts Archives Vol. III", 1997.

In our last post, I was somewhat belatedly mourning LucasArts' dissolution beneath their new Disney overlords. I don't have a lot of ads for Lucasfilm games, but since branching out from strict comic book sources (and sampling a bit from peer bloggers) I was able to throw together a few. Ah, but now that's totally yesterday's news! Three weeks ago my nostalgia for the adventure games of 20 years ago was finally timely, but now the zeitgeist has picked up and moved on for good.

But what am I gonna do, not post this stuff?


The LucasArts Archives Vol. III
Just a ton of award-winning games.
(Without spending a ton of money.)
On this beat you see a lot of "here's two unrelated games we're publishing separately, together in the same ad!" Less often is the anthologization of games, since that phenomenon's emergence dates to a later point in the industry -- some time was needed for the defunct genres to lie fallow before people could start wondering "gee whiz, I wonder why they don't make great games like (x) anymore?" and the long-tail parent companies could start cashing in.

This is a bit of a grab bag. The ad is the box art plus a caption of nominal wit. The box art depicts the games being liberated from a vault with a cutting torch (the likes of which Ben from Full Throttle might use tuning up his hog, perhaps? In fact there he is holding it on the cover, heating the logo to red-hotness.) Mostly these games are two years old (Afterlife only one year old!), plus the Monkey Island Madness bundle. One thing they liked to stress with early anthologies is how enormously much there was inside. What would it be, the equivalent of 20, 30, 50 floppy diskettes? Probably they would all fit on one or two CDs, but instead each game would get its own platter for reasons I don't entirely understand. (Working with existing unsold merchandise?) Anyhow, that many floppies would weigh, well, not a lot, but because the CDs are so FILLED TO THE BRIM with WEIGHTY entertainment and HEAVY gameplay, the ad is basically a disclaimer that EVEN THOUGH CDs are flimsy and nigh-weightless, you might hurt yourself picking it up. (Did we ever see 16-in-one carts marketed this way?)

In closing, even though the sum of the games would be "a ton", consumers receive a steep discount for having waited one or two years to play these ("award-winning" -- I'm curious, what awards did The Dig and Afterlife win?) games, so the amount of money they spend on it is not "a ton".

These are not LucasArts' A-list games, exhausted in a 1992 compilation of "Classic Adventures", and by and large their profitable (esp. now for Disney!) side-line of Star Wars games were cloistered into compilations by themselves (though curiously, here we have Dark Forces). The theme of this game pack is, essentially, "games we were working on recently". This is why on MobyGames, the term "compilation" is used synonymously with "Shovelware".

Anyhow, this material can now go into the vault with "Song of the South" until Disney can figure out what to do with it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Loom", 1992.

So, Disney bought Lucasfilm, and I joked about this great opportunity to re-introduce the intersections of these companies and their co-held properties (eg. Muppets, Marvel). Meaning: more Star Tours & Captain EO, a sequel to the Howard the Duck movie and Labyrinth, etc. A feature-film version of the Maniac Mansion TV show? The Monkey Island / Pirates of the Caribbean crossover we always so desperately needed? Ha ha ha. Instead, because Disney already has software developers, they shuttered Lucasarts. Ha ha ha. (Ironically, as I note, almost certainly with big bucks they garnered from their partnership with Pixar [thanks to which, rumour has it, Steve Jobs was the largest single shareholder in the Disney company] -- the computer animation division spun off from, you guessed it, Lucasfilm, back in 1986, when they couldn't figure out how to turn a profit selling 3D imaging equipment to hospitals. Ha ha ha. Aww, phooie.) So after a decade in the sticks and recent baby steps toward at least acknowledgement of Lucasfilm's innovative adventure game legacy, we see the gates close shut one final time. Maybe some of these characters will reappear in a future installment of Epic Mickey or Kingdom Hearts (which now has free rein to mash up all sorts of unprecedented realms.) In the meantime, well, we have our memories. Also, we have copies of SCUMMVM installed.

Anyhow, I thought it was too bad I didn't have any ads for Lucasarts games to commemorate this event on my blog, but it turns out I do have a few related pieces in the archives. Just your luck!

The game is fantasy. The interface is magic.
Alone on a craggy hilltop, high above an island shrouded in perpetual mist, your quest begins. But tread gingerly, because while the world of Loom is breathakingly beautiful, unspeakable danger awaits the unsuspecting.
Trepidation soon gives way to bravado as you peek inside abandoned tents in the village. Stumbling over a discarded weaver's distaff, you watch in wonder as it gradually glows and resonates with a sequence of musical notes. Tentatively at first, you point the staff and repeat the notes. After considerable experimentation, you may discover the power to see in the dark. Or weave straw into gold. And eventually find the means to leave the island itself.
A fantastic odyssey ensues, as menacing waterspouts, merciless dragons and exotic cities draw you deeper and deeper into the fantasy. Armed with the distaff's magic power, you stride fearlessly across vast, cinematic landscapes. Seeking the arcane knowledge possessed by the Great Guilds, accumulated and refined since the dawn of time.
Typing is banished from this kingdom.
Loom is more than a masterpiece of fantasy storytelling. With Loom, Lucasfilm Games literally redefines the fantasy computer game experience. Simple point n' click actions move your character, select objects, and perform magic. No cumbersome keystrokes, text parsing, maze mapping, or inventory management intrude to break the spell.
We even transport you to the Age of the Great Guilds before you turn on the computer. With a lavishly produced, 30-minute drama on Dolby Stereo audio cassette that's included with the game. Recorded by Lucasfilm's Academy Award-winning Sprocket System, it introduces the characters and sets the scene for the impending, epic struggle against imposing odds.
Then it's full immersion into Loom's 3-Dimensional, scrolling panoramic landscape. Where detailed animation, high definition graphics, startling special effects and stirring musical score combine to create a total environment. Captivating you from the opening scene to the final climax.
And your quest for a truly magical fantasy adventure is finally realized.
This game was pretty much unique. Moriarty (now, hilariously, Professor Moriarty) always had some interesting ideas about game design and, well, here in this environment he got a chance to experiment with a glittering bejeweled petri dish -- accounts have it that the game-brains at Lucasarts weren't under standard industry pressure to move mega units, but rather to get all the big brains in the room and see what comes out, like the first MMORPG, Habitat, for the C64 in 1986. But I digress. Everything the ad boasts is pretty much true, but there are So Many Sentence Fragments! Describing the weaver's distaff as "discarded" might be a little misleading. And then, this game does have a couple of relatively simple mazes; I'm not convinced that at this early date point-and-clicking would have been a naturally more-intuitive interface to anyone. (Admittedly, this game does take it to extremes. No inventory management with no inventory! I do remember controlling the distaff with keyboard letters, however.) A whole paragraph devoted to the audio drama included on tape, which most people found hilariously over-the-top... sometimes, production values work against you!

It's interesting what marketing has dubbed 3-Dimensional over the years. 1980's Battlezone FPS wireframe tank combat? Zaxxon's isometric projection in 1982? Moon Patrol's parallax scrolling in 1983? King Quest 1's walk-around landscape features of the same year? Regardless, we all knew it when we saw it in Wolf3D, and up until then blind gropings toward 3-dimensionality were the holy grail everyone was striving toward in different ways. (Then, once it was achieved, that one way was enshrined and refined to the point where all other genres became irrelevant. But... I digress.)

The detailed animation, high-def graphics (and sorry, just how do startling special effects differ from those? the game's entire display is special effects!) and stirring musical score are all indeed quite impressive to this day, though I recall this game falling in a kind of gap between its floppy diskette release and its CD-ROM one, with the former actually containing more dialogue lines and character portraits, with the latter having beefier presentation but lacking enough space to do everyone justice.

And, well, Loom. I can probably talk about it for longer than it would take you to play through it. Just go play it. I believe it's back being sold through Steam. No excuses! Probably a failure, but a very interesting one.

PS -- Thanks for 8000 views!

Friday, April 5, 2013

"Make Your Own Music Video", Sega CD, 1992.

Everyone who ever saw this ad will remember it forever. First and foremost, before even "is it a game?" (it's definitely "entertainment software", but that doesn't necessarily mean it's any fun) is ... "could they have chosen two flashier-in-the-pan also-rans?" There are plenty of popular bands from the early '90s who are still, in their own way, keepin' on keepin' on, but I don't know if either of these ones were still going concerns as late as 1993 8)
Your Own"
If you think you have what it takes to edit, mix and create your own explosive, high-impact, incredibly cool, absolutely new music videos for mega rap act Kris Kross and global super group C+C Music Factory...
...What are you waiting for?
Just lock and load one of our revolutionary new compact discs into your Sega CD. Strap yourself in. And get ready to experience a massive rush of intense wall-to-wall sound, digitized live-action video and in-your-face challenges by real artists or a celebrity veejay. All you need to make your own head bangin' videos is awesome talent and lightning-fast reflexes. You control it all as you select, edit, slice and dice. You're working with hundreds of clips from real music videos, movies and never-before-seen video footage -- all in synch with dizzying special effects and the hottest, freshest music ever. Wrap it up and get your grade, straight from the veejay or the artists themselves. Kris Kross and C+C Music Factory -- two revolutionary interactive music videos from Sony Imagesoft for Sega CD.
All right, how are we going to market this stuff? It's bleeding-edge, interactive multimedia! I don't know -- go have a look at an issue of Wired magazine! (anachronism: this ad was published the year before Wired's first issue. The actual relationship must be inversed: this is the inspiration of Wired!)

"[E]xplosive, high-impact..." I think the word they're looking for here is eXtreme, though I don't know if that glorious '90s guiding principle had been coined yet or if we were still just blindly groping toward it with the "[x] or die" phenomenon. In any case, still a bit of a mismatch -- Public Enemy was explosive! Kris Kross was... fortunate. "Mega rap act Kris Kross and global supergroup C+C Music Factory" -- We, the people making this ad, have never heard either act, but need to come up with descriptors for them. To be fair, I don't know that we ever achieved consensus on just what genre C+C Music Factory were. Gormless techno? I-just-bought-an-Amiga-and-don't-know-what-to-do-with-it-core?

So much to work with here.

  • "Lock and load" What? We're talking video games here, not chambered ammunition... though we might have used it in a psy-op to flush Manuel Noriega out of his compound.
  • "one of our revolutionary new compact discs" -- you mean a CD-ROM?
  • "intense wall-to-wall sound" (depending on your TV set's subwoofers)
  • "in-your-face challenges" (it was the '90s, everything was in your face. Subtle, passive-aggressive challenges would have to wait for a more subdued era.)
  • "a celebrity veejay" -- please, you're embarrassing both of us. Would VJ have been too jargony? How famous is this celebrity if they're not named?
  • "head bangin' videos" - no one in recorded history has ever banged their head to Kris Kross.
  • "slice and dice" - editing tape media often was done with razor blades and scotch tape, but presumably these digital whiz-kids have something a little more sophisticated in mind. This isn't the "intermedia drudgery" simulator.
  • "never-before-seen video footage" -- never-before-seen because it justly ended up on the cutting room floor, perhaps?
  • "two revolutionary interactive music videos from Sony Imagesoft" -- for quite some time, I harboured a pet theory that Imagesoft was actually a troll development house, deliberately polluting consoles' good names by gumming them up with inept games, sewing salt in preparation for the PlayStation 1's arrival. This product doesn't substantially challenge this hypothesis in any way.
  • Just imagine if this had taken off (instead of, er, becoming a target of universal derision), we could have enjoyed the Guitar Hero phenomenon (software wrapper for endless pop music products) a decade earlier.

    Monday, April 1, 2013

    Parker Bros. Video Hotline, 1984.

    Graffiti and bathrooms turn up in games in a kind of highly stylized fashion: you never see a stall door in Marc Ecko's Getting Up or Jet Grind Radio, while the stalls in eg. Duke Nukem 3D serve only as an opportunity to demonstrate the Build Engine's flushable props, and perhaps a chance to frag a Pig-Cop with his pants down. Historically, this activity and location are most closely tied together, but games have ennobled the art of putting words on a wall. Back in the early '80s, it was still seen as quite a transgressive activity, which is why it's surprising to see the scenario cast as the setting for a video game ad. (But of course, to juvenile delinquents such as my blog's name calls out, this would be their agora, their community bulletin board. The setting is perhaps more canny than it realises. Of course, in real life there would be more obscene scrawls of Olive Oyl's tree-branch-like anatomy.) (There's probably more to be said about graffiti's depiction in video games, but 11:30 pm while shaking down a post about this particular ad probably isn't the place to do it.) (And bathrooms! Don't get me started! Just one reference: Zenobi's Behind Closed Doors, progenitor of the "escape-the-room" genre.)
    Spider-Man Was Here
    Roses are Red
    Violets Are Blue
    And This Place Is Too!
    I'm not wimpy -- I play Popeye!

    150,000 ON Q-BERT

    Consumer Cost 50¢ Per Call.
    That's all cute enough. A couple of stock pieces of immature scribbling, obvious gags, then the rest is weird boasting about gaming prowess. Is this the bathroom of an arcade? The ad, I think, overstates the hold games had on the popular consciousness. It would have been awesome if they had indeed enjoyed this degree of cultural penetration, but I don't think it ever got there.

    Despite its departure from their core business, Parker Brothers had a good run during the first video game boom, from the looks of things with at least one solid hit to every two also-rans. Makes you wonder why they got out of the biz (until their stumbling attempts to sell Sega Master Systems) but perhaps it's for the best that they got to go out with their dignity.

    The real question is: what is this ad promoting? Not just the games, but a hotline -- one with the weirdly Skype-y title of a "Video Hotline", presumably short for "video game hotline". You could call it and, 50 cents later, it would tell you which new games were coming out? Here, Parker Brothers, I have a better idea: I go to the store, and see which games are on the shelves -- for free! Then, I buy one that I like the looks of. "But wait," says the automated Parker Bros. voice on the other end of the line (or, embarrassingly, a live operator) -- "in 1983 Strawberry Shortcake Musical Match-Ups is coming!" Nuh uh. You don't spend money on the ad convincing us to spend money on the next ad. And, well, perhaps that is why they got out of that business. Not enough calls to the hotline.