Friday, July 6, 2018

"Citadel: Adventure of the CRYSTAL KEEP", Macintosh, 1989.

I know, I've said many times that this blog is retired, and yet I somehow keep stopping in here and quietly adding to it. (Why retired? I will write pages around this video game ad scan and eventually rack up some 20 views, then someone will post the same image on Tumblr, sourced from my blog but without any of the qualifying text, and get 170 big ups. And I will bemoan my folly. Then I will post the scan to my own Tumblr and get 2 views, and feel even more foolish. Then I will abandon this blog for another eight to ten months.) I gave myself two escape clauses to return and continue rearranging the furniture -- I could post the vintage Dungeons & Dragons comic book ads, which I seem to have gotten to the very definitively end of, and I would pop back in to write up covers of games I had on file when the CRPG Addict gets to them in his exhaustive, systematic campaign of CRPG history. Well, he has arrived at Citadel: Adventure of the Crystal Keep.
You've played Wizardry

Adventure of the CRYSTAL KEEP

Fantasy role playing climbs to new heights of challenge and excitement as you descend into the depths of the CITADEL. Your quest is to free the Lady Synd, cruelly imprisoned by the evil Wizard Nequilar. You must rely on your skill and cunning to merely SURVIVE.

• Create your own heros using the complete, heritage oriented, character generation system including character image customizing.
• Select from over 200 weapons and items.
• Over 60 spells/scrolls at your command.
• Most graphically realistic, three dimensional maze exploration ever created.
• Hundreds of rooms on multiple levels.
• A constant challenge is provided from over 60 animated monsters that must be overcome.
• The sound and animation will take you to the edge of your seat!

Now available for Macintosh Plus or greater and Atari ST.
Soon available for IBM and Amiga.

Contact your nearest dealer or call:
POSTCRAFT International Inc.
(805) 257-1797
Dealer inquiries invited.

Citadel is a registered trademark of Postcraft International Inc.
All other trademarks or brand names are the property of their respective holders.

(That closing clause must be their futile attempt to legally cover their behinds over their unlicensed use of the logo for Sir-Tech's Wizardry series, of which this game is heavily derivative.)

I came out of retirement to cover this game (briefly, as I have never played it and as an early Mac game it is a true obscure rarity) because I had long known it only through these curious ads, ever wondering just what the big deal was. There are many such period ads for truly un-experienceable-today products like early MUDs on defunct pre-Web online gated communities and PBM games at least two paradigms of correspondance obsolete by now. Those I will never see someone play. In this case, on the other hand, I can peek over the CRPG Addict's shoulder. (Metaphorically, through his blog posts. Although surely someone has suggested he take up Twitch streaming by now? Blogging and vlogging seem almost to sit on opposite ends of the content spectrum. But I digress.)

The big deal seems to be a Wizardry clone (a popular approach to take in these early years) in the Mac's best (by which I mean, going to extreme dithering lengths to work around the drastic limitation) black and white graphics. That means that it looks quite a bit better than the wireframe 1st-person dungeons of Wizardry and Ultima, but quite a bit worse than, say, Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder. (Well, it's not fair to compete with Westwood for production values, they were the kings of that!)

The ad art is ... a little peculiar, but not offputtingly amateurish, an impressive achievement for a new venture in this software boomtown. Eschewing the tired cliche of "princess kidnapped by evil wizard", they have apparently overturned it with the ... functionally equivalent "Lady magically imprisoned by evil wizard". Perhaps the magic makes all the difference, though I remain skeptical.

The ad's copy doesn't give us much to work with, throwing numbers ("over 60" takes on a strange mystic potency here, as though only exactly 60 would be extremely yawnworthy -- are they casting shade on a competing game in the Wizardry field featuring merely 60 of the things?) of spells, weapons and monsters at us. You know what 200 weapons looks like? Typically it looks like Pool of Radiance's complete, redundant complement of pole arm selections. I don't know whether Citadel manages to successfully duck this "quantity over quality" issue, though they sure are trying to make it a selling point here. (Ads: they contain your selling points. Literally!)

The "heritage oriented" character generation system, as demonstrated by the CRPG Addict, is an interesting curiosity -- first you generate your parents, then you combine elements from both of them. Character image customization is welcome, but really depends on your ability to do b&w pixelart. Hundreds of rooms? Constant challenge? OK, now I'm getting a little concerned this game may not be for me...

(Though I did work my way through EOB, I have never played through a Wizardry-type game. They're not, it turns out, for me.)

It noted that the "hundreds of rooms" were on multiple levels -- is that really a selling point? Staircases or GTFO? It goes on to claim that it's the "Most graphically realistic, three dimensional maze exploration ever created", where by "three dimensional" they mean ... multiple levels? Most graphically realistic? Reality, my friends, is not black and white. ("Dog dungeon simulator, featuring 2-colour graphics and over 60 exciting smells!")

Finally: "The sound and animation will take you to the edge of your seat!" The sound will surely be standard Mac digitized sound such as you could have heard in Dark Castle (or Radical Castle for that matter), jarring swooshes and clanks at opportune moments the likes of which wouldn't infest PC games until the Sound Blaster became standard. For graphics and animation, they also mean to say "it's all black and white, so it may be good, but it'll never be great". That said, the minimalism of the Mac monochrome palette did allow for certain displays of constrained virtuosity such as was demonstrated in the early Cyan games (they're not cyan, you'd find that colour on CGA PCs!), so it's not impossible that this is a good-looking game. (But you'd never put that on an ad... though it is the kind of accidentally honest phrase I like to cap off Mistigris infofiles with.)

So. The word salad says all the nonsense that is expected of it, distinguishing it in no way but keeping up with the Joneses. It are a serious ad, selling a serious game. There are a few optimistic notes at the bottom regarding its availability for other platforms that must be contingent on the original Mac version (surely no Atari ST port ever came out?) becoming a blockbuster smash hit, which doesn't seem to have happened (... to any game, ever?) There wasn't much in terms of common development resources at this point that would allow easy porting between such disparate home computer systems.

I caught glimpses of Macs in my friends' parents offices in this period, but their world was across a vast gulf from my black-backgrounded CLI realm of MS-DOS. I only knew of this game's existence through ads in second-hand back issues of Dragon Magazine, and while looking up the blurb for this post found courtesy of the Internet Archive's (often hilariously garbled) OCR magazine transcriptions that it was also advertised to a general audience in Compute! as well as the logical home team reading MacWorld and MacUser magazines. I gather its sales did not set the author's bank account on fire, as there didn't seem to be any sequel or follow-up. And now one boring mystery is ... a little less mysterious. (Any less boring, though?)

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