AFTER ENCOUNTERING A SHAMBLING MOUND, GRIMSLADE, INDEL, AND VALERIUS FIND A ROOM FILLED WITH GREEN SLIME...You must admit, when Indel went looking for secret doors... he found one! He's in the running for the "fool of a Took" role in this party. I do like the follow-up to his cry of agony -- "It's eating my sword!" Priorities, Valerius.
I: LOOK OUT! IT'S DRIPPING!
V: IT'S EATING MY SWORD!
G: FORGET THE SWORD, VALERIUS, WE'VE GOT TO SAVE INDEL!
V: I'LL DRAG HIM FROM THE ROOM!
G: THIS WILL TAKE CARE OF THE SLIME!
SUDDENLY, A FIGURE STEPS OUT FROM THE SHADOWS...
S: NO QUESTIONS NOW... HOW'S INDEL?
V: IT'S GREEN SLIME, YOU'RE A CLERIC! CAN YOU HELP HIM?
S: I'LL DO MY BEST!
THE CLERIC'S POWERS RESTORE INDEL TO HEALTH. IN THE ROOM THEY FIND...
V: A MAGIC SWORD! IT'LL REPLACE MY RUINED ONE!
G: INDEL, LOOK FOR SECRET DOORS.
-- A TRAP DOOR OPENS BENEATH INDEL'S FEET!
S: HE'S GONE!
G: THAT MEANS WE'LL HAVE TO GO EVEN DEEPER INTO THE DUNGEON, TO RESCUE HIM!
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
THIS NEW INTELLIVISION VIDEO GAME HAS 4539 TUNNELS, 256 DUNGEONS, 1 HIDDEN TREASURE AND NO ROOM FOR ERROR.Basically, this ad contains everything that was in the previous one, plus much besides: I see our skeleton friend, a grim spectre, a snake and a dragon. But here also we have a dour assembly of torch-bearing simian demihumans, a devilish Efreet, a second variety of revenant (wielding a head-scratching torch-with-chain), plus a Morlock with a harpoon. We're clearly in a dungeon rather than a cave, but that just seems to mean more room for prisoners. Just as well there's more here -- the previous ad boasted the over 50 enemies as this one does as well, but like some prepubescent Rain Man, it also tabulates the tunnels and dungeons for an encore. (Maybe it's just me, but that rings to me probably a few tunnels more than I want to play my way through. But of course I am merely mortal.) 4539 seems arbitrary, like a certain pile of leaves in Zork, while 256 is disconcertingly expected. Do you think Warren Robinett's Adventure on the 2600 would have sold more if it were billed as containing a hidden treasure?
TREASURE OF TARMIN cartridge is the newest video game challenge in the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS series for Intellivision. But beware, it is no game for mere mortals.
You must be more than clever. You must master the skills of mystic weaponry and sorcery. Or suffer destruction by over fifty different types of hideous creatures. And once you begin your quest for the treasure, there's no turning back.
So if you dare take on this video game, remember, you've been warned. These dungeons are going to give you the creeps. Getting rid of them is your problem.
This is from an era where I don't imagine the games expected players to be "clever" at all; cleverness helps you to bypass hard work, and hard work at this time is what masqueraded as gameplay. Playing a game "cleverly" would be like using the "Win Game" hotkey in The Secret of Monkey Island. Do I really have to master both the skills of mystic weaponry and sorcery? Can't I just master one? What about conventional weaponry? Does this mean that my player is a dual-classed fighter/mage? Are there even dual-classing rules in AD&D at this time? "Or suffer destruction by over fifty different types of hideous creatures". Or one knockout gorgeous one? Surely we would only be destroyed by one type at a time, unless they came to some (SPOILER ALERT) Murder on the Orient Express type arrangement, everyone taking one bite out of me.
Once I begin my quest for treasure, there's no turning back? What does that even mean? Does the game come with a little panel you glue over your Intellivision's power switch, preventing it from being turned off? Is it saying that my character can't retire from adventuring and return to farming mid-game? Frankly I would be surprised if he could. If I dare take on this video game... you know what, guys, you've nearly dissuaded me. I'm inadequately hardcore. I have not yet achieved a high enough level. I may have to give it a pass. Do you have a Basic Dungeons & Dragons Intellivision cartridge? PS, those over 50 hideous creatures you've set up as formidable opponents? You just dispersed all that juicy forboding by making a dumb joke refering to them as "creeps". That snake-headed spirit erupting from the lava pits is not "creeping", which denotes a certain intention for stealth. No, it's announcing that the Undead Pride Parade is here, and it's the Grand Marshal.
That screen shot looks familiar, but far more authentic here. Maybe this glossy Dragon Magazine paper stock allowed for a more high-fidelity print job, while for the loose comic art of the previous ad they just hired a kid to trace the screenshot to suggest, if not actually indicate, the gameplay's appearance.
Dig that small print: "This cartridge is approved by TSR, Inc., the publisher of the "Fantasy Role-Playing Games" sold under the trademark ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS." Yes, we will pay you money to use your brand, but we also want to buy with it the right to buy your endorsement of what we do with it. It reads a bit like the clumsy affirmations film companies used to suggest came out of the mouth of Alan Moore when they adapted his comic books into terrible films. Now that there's two of these games they seem really keen to refer to it as a "series", but we never got any more of them. (Or, who knows, maybe they made more of them but just quietly disengaged from the brand after licensing it became more of a liability than an asset. But more likely Mattel just got out of the video game biz when it crashed, and pen & paper gaming looked like it might be a more stable long-term investment... well, for the next five years they were not proven wrong. But then things started getting interesting again, and people began putting a little skin back in the game... but I am getting ahead of myself.)
Monday, January 6, 2014
Volume 1, the CLOUDY MOUNTAIN cartridge was only the beginning of the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS video game series for Intellivision. Now comes Volume 2, the TREASURE OF TARMIN cartridge. You want the treasure. And over 50 different creatures want you!Any speculation as to whether it was just the video game industry crash and the plug pulled on Intellivision that kept this AD&D game series from becoming a longer-running phenomenon? One sequel already is unlikely; would additional ones have been any more unlikely? I like the list of trademarks at the bottom of the ad: ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is to be assumed, but they actually did their due diligence and trademarked TREASURE OF TARMIN and CLOUDY MOUNTAIN -- do you think those are phrases that ever again appeared in any TSR product? (You never know, maybe they will still turn up as the names of Magic: the Gathering cards someday.)
It looks like the screenshot is genuine, not reproduced-by-hand. (I like to believe that a drawing would have tried a little harder, though even as it is the 1st-person perspective must have been a pretty exciting development for players, however chunky.) Forget the screenshot art, though, because check out that wild ad art! Our intrepid hero remains a bow-wielding ranger (well, who knows if Gygax had written the ranger rules for his son yet) being menaced by a dragon (this one off-screen but conveniently posing before some light source to cast an almost-perfect profile silhouette on the ground.) Also on the scene are a transparent ghost, a pack of snakes, and the skeletal remains of a shackled prisoner, at least two of the over 50 different opponents -- and an instant evocation of a more multi-monster-filled fracas in the game environment. Also in evidence: whimsical half-cave, half-city architecture. We can further note that on the heels of the last ad, the AD&D logo has gelled to something quite familiar (I always felt that the dragonsbreath ampersand was somewhat of a stroke of genius) looking much as it would now for years to come: a logo for the future, vs. Mattel Electronics' logo which was instantly dated at least a decade past its best before date on the very first day it was unveiled. (The Intellivision logo occupies an uneasy retrofuturist position -- the only context I can envision that typeface being used again is on a console in Star Trek: The Next Generation.) They even got "video game" written with the same letter-shapes -- note the bottom openings in the lower-case "d"s and "a"s.
You might think that we've extracted all the superficial analysis there is to mine from this marginal product, and you may be correct -- but it has a second, considerably lusher print ad which we'll be looking at tomorrow.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
elsewhere in this blog. Maybe Gygax would have remained at the helm of his creation instead of getting distracted with the D&D cartoon, the Gord the Rogue novels, Dangerous Journeys and, well, other distractions from his core business. But it's pointless to speculate.) [Note: I was wrong. Wikipedia says 1971 Chainmail, 1973 TSR, 1974 Dungeons & Dragons.] Maybe they didn't realise that D&D would remain their enduring cash cow, buoyed with a few bestselling paperbacks. (Certainly they never imagined that collectible card games would be so profitable that the makers of Magic: the Gathering would end up buying TSR wholesale from the Dille family. That was, to understate, somewhat of a surprise.)
A REALISTIC LOOK AT
AFFORDABLE GAMES FOR
REALISM SO AFFORDABLE.
Next time you visit your favorite computer software store, check the price of the three new computer games from TSR Hobbies. Then look at our graphics. Play the games. See for Yourself.
TSR computer games are designed for use with the APPLE II and APPLE II+ with DOS 3.3 and 48K.
This ad promotes three games, all for the Apple 2. So they got in there early -- the market wasn't yet clogged with Commodores, Ataris and TI machines (or PCs for that matter); virtually the only other platform they might have reasonably aspired to at this early (1981) date was the TRS-80, but that was a shrinking early-adopter market which had been losing ground to the brainchild of the Steves Jobs and Wozniak. (Remember that Apple was in the hardware business back when Microsoft was primarily a business that licensed BASIC language implementations for 8-bit microprocessor operating environments.)
The ad talks up three different games, one of which will be somewhat familiar to TSR fans and the other two of which were pretty much random flashes in the pan: a computer version of TSR's Dungeon! board game (probably the software product which prevented Infocom's Zork from being published under the planned name "Dungeon"), a sci-fi game entitled Dawn Patrol, and a Greek mythology-themed 1st-person maze simulator called Theseus and the Minotaur, a grand old public domain theme unrelated to the subsequent genre of puzzle games taking their name from the same mythological theme (and hence, sorry TSR, pretty much an un-ownable trademark. Now ask me about the time they claimed registry over the word NAZI(tm).) I have only played (and documented) that latter; the other two are blanks to me, but conspicuously the ad talks up three elements: realism, affordability, and the games' graphics. We know in retrospect that the Apple 2 was only capable of just about as much realism as ELIZA was (which did, admittedly, trick people into giving it a pass for the Turing test) -- it was the C64 that endures today with showboating demo dazzling, while the Apple 2 was built with just enough multimedia capabilities to allow Woz to re-implement his work on Atari's Breakout cabinet -- and conspicuously again the failure of the ad to actually name any prices leads me to believe that the games may have had a little sticker shock. As for the graphics? We'll just say that they weren't quite up to the level of the images seen emerging from the Apple monitor (heh, humorously, perhaps subconsciously-relevant typo: minotor). It doesn't matter: whatever the best-looking game of 1981 was, it was still probably pretty ugly. Graphics were, at this moment, still a losing proposition.
I do, however, dig the illustrated faux-screenshots, with the Charlie Brown adult wah-wahing through the on-screen text, save for occasionally-resolving proper names like SETH and TIMOTHY. (Name of the ad's artist?) We see a compass rose on the left, presumably a control screen from Dawn Patrol (and darned if I know what the A and S controls are for); Theseus' minotaur is plainly apparent in the centre ring and off to the right duelling wizards, presumably from Dungeon!, seem to be taking turns frying each other's faces off. (Thank goodness for the old asbestos beard trick!)
The bottom left suggests that the games come with floppy diskettes (phew, will save some typing) and some kind of booklet -- a manual? Behind the book is a display of starry pixels, though what they are intended to represent remains unclear.
I don't know if I would have bought TSR's video games, had I owned an Apple and, y'know, not been a 2-year-old. They're known for one thing, and this is kind of related, but kind of very different at the same time. It's like if McDonalds began selling chewing gum. Likely the rest of the market had similar reservations, since as best as I can tell, these were their only forays into software publishing for the home computer.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
VALERIUS, the Fighter, GRIMSLADE, the magic user, and INDEL, the elf find a secret door in the ruins of ZENOPUS castle...Apparently these are versions of characters and locations found in very early D&D reference materials. The artist of this first strip is, for the time being, unknown, though his interpretation of the "elf" racial class as a Keebler Elf of sorts has been a source of great amusement to later generations of wags. We'll be seeing more of these ads, but next: back to the video game ads!
INDEL USES INFRAVISION TO PEEK DOWN THE SECRET PASSAGEWAY.
THE PASSAGE IS EMPTY...
V: SEE ANYTHING?
I: I'LL GO ON AHEAD. IT MAY BE A BOOBY TRAP...
THE ADVENTURERS PROCEED CAUTIOUSLY THROUGH NARROW, TWISTING CORRIDORS.
THEY COME TO A CORNER AND...
"LOOK! A SHADOW!"
G: WHAT DO YOU HEAR, INDEL?
V: QUICK! A TORCH!
THEY HEAR SLOSHING NOISES, SMELL ROTTED VEGETATION; THEY SEE A SHAMBLING MOUND.
G: MAYBE A HOLD-MONSTER CHARM WILL SAVE US!
V: WE NEED A CHARM, QUICKLY!
G: ~~. .~ ~ ~ ~ ~..
THE LIGHT CAST BY THE WIZARD'S CHARM REVEALS A SHINY GREEN-COLORED SUBSTANCE ON THE CASTLE WALLS.
V: GREEN SLIME!
V: DON'T TOUCH IT! IT IS CERTAIN DEATH!
I: LOOK OUT! IT'S DRIPPING!
Friday, January 3, 2014
The video game where danger lurks around every bend in your quest for the Golden Crown!This was the first. It... well, in all likelihood it ain't the greatest, but it's a start. The journey of a thousand miles and all that. Recently over on Mobygames we've been conducting the annual "what is an RPG?" debate (with profane opinions being shared such as that Zelda should be categorized as one but Bloodlines not so. And despite our best efforts, soccer team management simulators keep working their way into genre eligibility. One consensus opinion is that just because a video or computer game licenses a pen 'n paper RPG's brand doesn't necessarily make the licensor's game an RPG by association. Well... that should be obvious, but... as the soccer manager case indicates, nothing is obvious in the wild west of video game genre definition.
Anyhow, I'm told that the game isn't strongly tied to its license, and that this title's existence owes more to Mattel's (the parent company of the Intellivision home video game console) strategy of tracking down authorities and licensing their brand for real-life games as diverse as Bowling (PBA), Chess (USCF) and Backgammon (ABPA). Companies like Electronic Arts in their nearby Burnaby-based EA Sports campus would ultimately rake in a pile of cash licensing similar brands representing sports that people actually care about (cf. NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) but that was simply a fine-tuning of Mattel's original strategy. TSR had some peculiar proclivities of its own, not wanting anyone to confuse any spin-off product (like the text adventure "Dungeon", eventually rolled back to its original working title of "Zork") with the genuine article -- hence the official inclusion of "cartridge" in this game's name.
The CRPG Addict covered the gameplay comprehensively, and there's no need for me to reproduce his authoritative ruling (that being -- this is not really an RPG. He could save us a lot of time at Mobygames by descending from the clouds and making similar rulings.) To summarize:
There is honestly not the slightest reason to play this game today, especially if you first played it when you were four years old and remember it as the greatest game ever. Like trying to watch Knight Rider or Three's Company today, it will spoil your memories.I don't have a great deal to add. The little blurb in the ad ("danger lurks around every bend") could just as easily apply to Pac-Man if he ate crowns instead of power pellets, and the CRPG Addict opens with a comparison to Pac-Man also. (Pretty much, in 1982 games had to really apply themselves to escape design influence from Pac-Man.) What I do have to note here however is that the ad artwork for the game is in a very short-lived situation of being superior to the actual pen and paper game's art resources -- in this brief moment in their long and storied history, TSR was less in a position to commission cool fantasy artwork than Mattel was. That's a pretty non-standard rendering of a Dragon, but striking and unmistakable for what it is! The logo is also pretty groovy -- this artist had a long career ahead of them making band t-shirts for heavy metal bands. (I'm making that part up, but it's the kind of fiction used to illustrate cosmic truths.) This cartridge was ret-conned as "Cloud Mountain" after another licensed campaign was made using the same engine, Treasure of Tarmin, but we'll be seeing that next.