Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Hillsfar", 1989.

Now we're talking! I don't believe I ever played this game, but looking at the ad, I regret missing out on it! Hillsfar is a real dark horse outsider product: a collection of mini-games used to train the parties from other AD&D games before re-exporting them. The locale is a black box of sorts, near the milieu of the other Forgotten Realms computer games at this time but hermetically insulated from them, with the exception of regular strategic mention of the location in the other games, like a kind of optional in-app purchase NPCs mention on a regular basis in one of today's AAA casual games. It is in the Forgotten Realms but at the same time apart from them. Westwood was the developer behind this one, still developing its reputation behind the scenes while polishing their portfolio with practice games published under the Infocom, SSI and later Virgin Games labels, before becoming a big enough fish to be swallowed up, digested and excreted by Electronic Arts. I don't believe this game was an especial success, though whether that is due to any deficiency on its part or just the internally competing Gold Box system being the right format for the time being up for debate. Westwood would return to shake up SSI's AD&D games with their trademark classy production values in Eye of the Beholder, but I'll say more about that one when it comes.
NO PAIN, NO GAIN. The Forgotten Realms is no place for wimps.

To survive our AD&D computer role-playing games, you need characters that are smart, strong, fast and experienced. These kind of heroes don't just grow on trees.

You get them by having your characters go through some serious training.

Send them to HILLSFAR, a magical city in the FORGOTTEN REALMS game world.

Transfer any character from POOL OF RADIANCE into HILLSFAR (or create one from scratch), and play a game that's one vigorous workout.

Each time you play HILLSFAR, your character will stumble upon a quest. To fulfill this mission, your hero must engage in different exercises, but nothing quite as simple as weight-lifting.

For honing combat skills, there's fighting in the arena against ill-tempered minotaurs like the one you see above (which incidentally is an actual IBM screen display). Other activities include maze-running, lock-picking, archery, and horseback-riding.

Every game inside HILLSFAR is a different experience: The quest and options available will change each time to suit your character's specialty (thief, mage, cleric or fighter).

When you're done with HILLSFAR, your character will emerge with more potent skills and a wealth of experience that will serve you in good stead in our AD&D computer role-playing games.

HILLSFAR. The training grounds for all FORGOTTEN REALMS heroes.

Lots of ad copy, but not much to say about it. Is 1989 about the last time we talked about "wimps"? When did Bush Sr. take office again? They tabulate a list of mini-game types ("Other activities include...") but I bet that that's actually a complete enumeration of everything the umbrella game has to offer. "Our ice cream parlour offers diverse flavours including chocolate, vanilla and strawberry." "Oh really, what other flavours do you have?" "Oh, just the choc, vanilla and strawb" -- a real stretch of what "include" is intended to indicate.

In a perfect world, these games could all be plugged together allowing players to go from Pool in and out of Hillsfar and thence to Curse seamlessly, all mere modules in a wider system. Practically I appreciate that such decisions pin developers down to lowest common denominators and interfere with their ability to learn and grow; in some way that it's hard for me to articulate at this moment, being locked into such a system would be like iD Software's chafing beneath Softdisk and its stipulation that all its diskmag games have a CGA graphics mode. If you absolutely have to support CGA, Catacomb 3-D is as close as you're going to get to DooM. And, I suppose, if you absolutely need to be backwards-compatible with Pool of Radiance on the Apple 2 in 1988, you're never going to get to Eye of the Beholder on the Amiga in 1991. Hold up here, I'm saying something profound, I'm just unable to articulate it as my post-composing time is currently 5:53 am. Maybe further glimpses of my brilliant thoughts will shine through in subsequent posts.