Monday, May 25, 2015

"Eye of the Beholder 1", 1991.

Sometime last Spring, I was blogging promotional artwork (or otherwise put: magazine ads) for all of the Dungeons & Dragons computer and video game adaptations, in chronological order, as part of the overall celebration of D&D's anniversary. That fell by the wayside as I discovered that blogging about video game-themed ANSI art attracted far more eyeballs, but all the same it left me with a pile of unpublished blog posts-in-progress gathering dust. I'm in the mood to squeeze out a quick post for the heck of it, despite this particular blog being more or less retired, and as the CRPG Addict has just reached this game on his own far more rigorous chronological list, I thought that would make for a good excuse to briefly duck out of retirement (also, the defunct blog's persistently high traffic is highly tempting to invoke once more) and share one more icecube from the iceberg -- this image sourced from the virtually-impossible-to-Google "Extra Lives" at "World 1-1".
Explore AD&D Computer Fantasy Role-Playing Like Never Before!


Introducing EYE OF THE BEHOLDER, volume 1 of the first graphically based AD&D computer fantasy role-playing saga --The LEGEND SERIES!

Stunning 3-D graphics and explosive sound deliver mesmerizing face-to-face combat and encounters!

Easy "point-and-click" commands and 3-D point of view create a "you are there" feeling throughout your entire adventure. Everything you experience, including movement, spell-casting and combat, is from your point of view!

AD&D computer fantasy role-playing has never been like this!

"Legend has it there's a criminal conspiracy hiding in the Waterdeep sewers. Is this true? Well, if someone is hiding down there, we're going to find them... and destroy them!"

So sure: EOTB (we abbreviated it EOB back in the day, I don't know what else it was in conflict with) got a free ride off of the innovations of Dungeon Master, and was just a vestigial prototype of the Lands of Lore yet to come. But for whatever reason -- the right game with the right license (seemingly light-years ahead of the by-now aged and decrepit Gold Box engine, a coup that must have made SSI weep hot tears of pure joy) on the right platform at the right time -- this is the one that popped in a way not seen again until its spiritual inheritor, 2012's Legend of Grimrock, hit the scene. But I get ahead of myself.

After years dicking around in monochrome with text-based BBS door games or shareware platform games only accessible courtesy of SIMCGA, one fateful night -- an evening I will never forget -- a friend and myself visited his friend-around-the-corner (later to be an authorized MUD-code "dealer") and experienced his modern gaming rig: VGA colour and Sound Blaster audio. He blew our minds with Dr. SBAITSO, rattled the house's windows with Star Control 1, and expanded our horizons with the tres stylish introduction sequence to Eye of the Beholder. Westwood (this their second take on AD&D after the bizarre but pretty Hillsfar) always punched above its weight class, and with this title it was aiming to raise the bar for the entire industry. Definitely after this point there was no returning to Monuments of Mars.

I don't have that much criticism or debunking of the ad copy to stir up: "the first graphically based AD&D computer FRP saga" -- it's not like the Gold Box games were text adventures. (Actually, they probably would have made the same "graphically based" claims for Pool of Radiance when it first came out, flashy EGA bitmap graphics blasting away the early Ultimas' weird vector doodles in the dungeons and Wizardry's wireframes. Of course, Pool had a similarly unflattering 1st-person grid-navigation system -- competitive in the company of those early peers, but instantly obsolete in the wake of EOB's arrival... which didn't prevent SSI from publishing six or seven further Gold Box-style games (the Savage Frontier series, wrapping up their Dragonlance series, Unlimited Adventures and of course the original Neverwinter Nights... too bad there was never a FRUA for EOB-style dungeons! Dungeon Hack would be as close as we got...) following EOB's release.)

"AD&D computer fantasy role-playing has never been like this!" == "We, having been exclusive possessors of the license to produce AD&D CRPGs for several years now, have failed to deliver a product such as this until our sub-contractors at Westwood have finally delivered such an experience we ourselves were unable to provide."

I'm weak on the game's plot... is there ultimately a criminal conspiracy? There is an evil wizard who is also (24 YEAR OVERDUE SPOILER WARNING, ALSO IT'S IN THE NAME OF THE GAME ITSELF) a beholder who maintains a dungeon in the Underdark beneath Waterdeep (c'mon -- who doesn't have a few levels tucked away down there?), but does {activity of evil magic-user} automatically equate to {criminal conspiracy}? That suggests a somewhat more developed legal framework than most fantasy kingdoms appear to boast: the party is composed of adventurers, not investigators, and they're not coming to serve papers to the wizard, they're summarily acting as judge, jury and executioner without having been duly deputized by the local constabulary! I think that a fantasy-kingdom crime procedural would be a fascinating mash-up, but this game simply ain't it. Anyhow, despite Khelben Blackstaff's reservations in the game's intro, we never have any indication of any wider criminal plot beyond triggering one incident of sewer drain collapse, whose suspicious circumstances the players have no proof of! (I see that drawing on supporting literature regarding the campaign setting, the titular beholder Xanathar is the head of the Thieves' Guild in Skullport, the monstrous city beneath Waterdeep, situating him in a more criminal context. I never assume straight out that a Thieves' Guild is necessarily a criminal conspiracy in a fantasy kingdom, where it can often be a codified, regulated reflection of a fact of life, controlled and taxed like any other industry.)

And with the train of thought delivering us to that bizarre destination, I must bid you adieu indefinitely... until I return to these abandoned halls once more to share another old video game ad with you. Don't hold your breath!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Rocket Knight Adventures", Genesis, 1993.

Indeed, folks, after I made the stink about hitting 40K viewers it looks like I threw in the towel with this blog. That's not entirely the case (and even if it was, it continues chugging along just fine without me, now at 41K views and climbing) -- what has actually happened is that I've spun off the extras to a new blog, Pixel Pompeii, leaving this one for posts of its extremely sporadic core constituency: those hallowed old video game ads scanned from comic books. I don't do them very often these days, but then again, PP isn't seeing that much activity either -- they're just busy times out there in the real world!

But I do still have a pile of great ads to share, and when I remember and have the spare moments needed to do so, I'll continue eking them out here. Today's ad features a great mascot who slipped between the cracks, deserving a much bigger slice of greatness than he ultimately achieved. And no, it's not roadkill -- it's a fake-out lead-in, making for one of relatively few 3-page ads. Single-pagers are a dime a dozen, double-page spreads quite common. This strays from the path.


It's Sparkster(tm) the Rocket Knight, the most amazing opossum ever to rocket to stardom! He's the star of Rocket Knight Adventures(tm) for Sega(tm) Genesis(tm). And he's got pumped up personality, warp speed and quick wits.

Blast off into 7 epic stages of adventure and go hog wild against the hugest, strangest pig creatures imaginable. They're after the mysterious Key to the Seal once handed down by the brave founder of Zebulous. In the wrong hands it will unleash total destruction. Through every stage Sparkster moves, flies and rides in new directions to escape opossum punishment. Will he hang tough? You bet, 'cause his talented tail can get a grip on all kinds of hairy situations.

You're the thrust-miester[sic] controlling our hero's jet pack and his assault sword. And you better kick some pork butt because Sparkster's animal magnetism attracts mechanized pig mutants like the Giant Pigbot and the Drill of a Lifetime. You'll go gonzo over spectacular new graphic techniques like the mirrored lava pools, the rotating gravity room, and Axle Gear's massive laser blaster.

That's only some of what awaits Sparkster the Rocket Knight. So rustle up some courage and launch into the most animalistic action this side of Zebulous.

So maybe 1993 didn't need any more extreme animal mascots in platform games, but if one deserved a shot at 3D, it was Sparkster, not Bubsy. (He eventually got his chance in 2010, but the trail seemingly runs cold there.)

Could they moderate the extreme-ness a little bit, maybe? "Pumped up personality" is actually the opposite of a selling point. "Will he hang tough?" You're not increasing your street cred by paraphrasing the New Kids on the Block, here. "Go gonzo"? I figure more Muppet Show and less Hunter S. Thompson. Mostly, the rest of the copy weaves in references to the fact that he fights porcine enemies: hog wild, kick some pork butt... then there is a current of unintended innuendo: thrust-meister, drill of a lifetime, "Axel Gear's massive laser blaster", and animalistic action. Also a little highlight re: "spectacular new graphic techniques" which are always better seen than read about.

The ad artwork, at least, is appealing (and the fake-out possum is an adorably nasty critter!), and the game is solid. Konami shouldn't forget they have Sparkster in their IP vault, ageing like a fine wine.

Two closing notes here, folks -- my next retro game party has its date set for April 11, so mark it on your calendar. And don't forget I'm still experimenting with game giveaways here -- it's been over a month so far and no one has yet claimed my first offering, a Steam code for the Dreamcast Collection. This could be your chance, just signal to me that you want it and we can work out the brass tacks! Cheers and play on!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Mad Maze, Prodigy, 1989

Welcome back, everybody! On Jan 31st I noticed I was approaching a milestone in regards to this site's traffic, and encouraged visitors to stop by to push me over 40,000 views for the New Year. By midnight we were about 30 short, but as of 11 pm tonight on January 1st I can see our views have totalled 40K + 1, which is good enough for me. Greetings, Google Images visitors! You will never see any of these words. Why, it's almost enough to inspire me to watermark my images! Well, no.

As last year wound up, a onetime epilepsy sufferer communicated to me that they always hated the name of this blog. I thought, yes, well, the incident inspiring it was certainly a regrettable one, but the conversation progressed to the point of inspiring me to take up a new, somewhat less self-deprecating name for the blog, better pointing to where I expect it might go in the future. (Sadly, our increasingly irrelevant URL is static, but I suppose I could always pack up and resume elsewhere if needed.) I said that we'd have a new name as of January 1st, but... despite frantic hivemind crowdsourcing over on Facebook, the hunt continues. Soon, soon we'll have a new name here.

Today's entry is not about an advertisement for a game, but for a gallery of beautiful old art from an old game that by all rights ought to have ended up un-viewable to a modern audience. MadMaze was a phenomenon on the '90s online service Prodigy (the first online game to hit a million plays?), and boasted striking NAPLPS vector graphics. It ran from '89 to '99, and typically that's all she wrote. MadMaze author Greg Costikyan even slammed it in an essay entitled Why Online Games Suck.

Somehow, it was ported, or re-implemented in some way, in 2001, and through a series of loopholes could be made to be played online again under very restrictive circumstances (only in Internet Explorer, and only certain versions of it.) Benj Edwards of Vintage Computing and Gaming hyped it up, and ultimately I believe ended up hosting it after the apparent death of the convertor. I played a pile of it in a marathon sitting, gathering screen shots in hopes to document this coelacanth before it disappeared once more into the fossil record. I did get an entry together for it up at MobyGames, but I had accumulated rather more shots than they need or want. What was I to do, throw out the other shots? Hell no, I could get a good blog post out of them here! If you want to see it in "action", you can enjoy this "Let's Play" video someone has put together of the MadMaze experience, but after that, please enjoy my dump of piles of shots enshrining the splendid and strange hirez graphics of the onetime online game, also including a good deal of the game's pseudo-Arthurian linking story segments. I'm going to go full Tumblr-style here, eschewing my house style of painstakingly telling you what you're looking at. Instead you have this umbrella context, and hopefully the individual screens can tell you the rest themselves.

One note -- virtually the whole game looks like the below shot. Levels consist of maddening mazes each containing three or four special squares where some interesting illustrated plot or puzzle elapses, and the whole rest of the map is just samey-crossroads such as you see. If one shot was kept to show you what typical gameplay was like this would be that shot. But I liked all the extraordinary ones, so you get a heap of those, too.
Thanks for stopping by, and have a great 2015! Come again soon!