Saturday 25 August 2012

Friday 24 August 2012

Vaporware: Hero Quest aka Swords and Sorcery II (1986, ZX Spectrum)

Heroquest, Sinclair User issue 55 p 39

I wasn't sure that a Swords and Sorcery sequel was ever officially advertised but today I found the answer to my dilemma. Heroquest (aka Swords and Sorcery II) was announced in the 1986 with a new and improved Midas System but then never released. 

Thursday 23 August 2012

Gemstone Warrior, Advertisement (1984)

Gemstone Warrior Ad 00 1984

Really impressive advertisement done by SSI to promote Gemstone Warrior back in the 1994. All the elements look well balanced and either illustration and copy really are really evocative. This is really a good example of how a CRPG/Fantasy game advertisement can be evocative and informative at the same time. 

Positive Elements
  • All the elements are distinct and placed with rational thinking
  • Font style appropriate and readable
  • Product name, category and detail follow the right hierarchy
  • Superb and evocative illustration

Negative elements
  • Game screenshots a bit to intrusive on the main visual
  • Top red band too heavy

Monday 20 August 2012

Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) C64 Games Complete List.

I finally managed to find a complete list of all the games published by Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) for Commodore 64. I have many of SSI catalogues but I never had the time scan them all to create an actual chronological/historical releases list. 

This morning I stumbled into an old geocities page hosted somewhere else with this list, which, as far as I know, was compiled by author of this site here. I don't want to be credited for this and I just thought that such important summary should be shared with you all. 

The slightly rearranged file has been placed here and it can be downloaded at your convenience. 

Saturday 18 August 2012

Archeoshot #006: Upper Reaches of Apshai (Commodore 64,1983)

Front Box
Front Box, Bottom close up
Front Box, Top close up
Back Box
Back Box, Bottom close up
Back Box, Top close up
Side End
Manual, Close up
Faulty Cassettes Notice 
Loading Instructions Sheet
Warranty Registration Postcard Front
 Warranty Registration Postcard Back 
Tapes, Close up

Friday 17 August 2012

Treasure of Tarmin, Advertising (Dragon Magazine, 1983)

This is a Treasure of Tarmin advertising published on Dragon Magazine #80. Although I think it's visually really catching and there some very nice elements, from a communication point of view there are some elements that are not really working for me. Here's a list of quick thoughts.

Positive elements

      • Superb & catching illustration;
      • Clever headline;
      • Overall look & feel very well fitted for the target.

Negative elements

      • Product category difficult to spot (it's a videogame?);
      • Product name recessive;
      • Completely inconsistent from the original artwork.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Archeoshot #005: Temple of Apshai (Commodore 64, 1983)

Front Box
Front Box, Bottom close up
Front Box, Top close up
Back Box
Back Box, Bottom close up
Back Box, Top close up
Side end
Manual Cover, Close up
Manual Internal Spread, Illustration
Loading Instructions Sheet
Faulty Cassettes Notice 
Reference Sheet
Tapes, Close up

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Maze Master (1983, Commodore 64): a case of unimaginative artwork.

Maze Master is an archetypical dungeon crawling CRPG published for the Commodore 64 in the 1983 by HesWare. Aside from its historical relevancy, Maze Master is also known for being the Bards' Tale predecessor since its creator Michael Cranford produced the first chapter of the successful Bard's Tale Saga in 1986. 

Anyway, one of aspects that grabbed my attention is more related about its own aesthetics rather than the game itself. Even if the overall visual aspect of the artwork adopted by HesWare has some interesting elements, Maze Master is the classic example of a fantasy CRPG artwork developed by a company without a proper RPG/CRPG background. 

Maze Master, Front Box Cover
The cover itself has some archetypical fantasy elements which are mainly condensed in the full colour illustration representing, in a dungeon environment, a giant snake in the attempt to attack a warrior and wizard. Moving away from the illustration, the two elements that deprive the artwork from being more fantasy oriented, are the fonts (1) used on the heading and product descriptor and rainbow gradient used on the top part. However, looking at other Hesware releases, it's easy to note that for consistency reasons, they usually applied the same template to all their production and so they did with this one.

From a visual point of view, anyway, what is really inappropriate is the clinical layout which doesn't show any connection whatsoever with the game genre and concept. 

Maze Master, Cover Manual
A linear grid with a green background, although it's typographically clean and balanced, looks like more a utility software manual than an actual CRPG. 

Maze Master, Manual, p 5

Maze Master, Manual, p 7
The two pages above are just part of the manual which actually doesn't contain any illustration, any additional tint or symbol. Only text, black on white. 

Compared to other productions published in the early eighties, Maze Master looks visually much more professional than products like the Aardvark's Dungeons of Death and Dungeons of Magdarr. But because I really believe that the visual aspect of a CRPG represents a big part of the game impact and honestly Maze Master really lacks of what I call "imaginative visual impact", which is first experience you have with a CRPG. Maze Master is exactly in a visual limbo, between top class Epyx & Origin products and the primitive and fascinating underground productions. 

In the end, MM is a quite interesting and advanced game that probably never got that popular due to the strong Epyx and Origin presence on the markets. A game like that, with such a weak artwork, lack of visual inspiration and a so limited distribution (produced only for C64 actually) had probably to struggle to get a bit of attention from its potential target.

(1)  Arial rounded and Helvetica. 

Thursday 9 August 2012

Wishlist: Write your own Fantasy Games for your Microcomputer (1984, Usborne)

This is definitely something I would love to have. Unfortunately I never had the chance to see the actual book and now I'm really determined to see this little gem with all the rest of my personal collection. Wish me good luck.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Sorcerer of Siva (Apple II, 1981), III: The Magic System.

On Monday morning I had a little bit more time to play Sorcerer of Siva and get a bit more used to the Magic System. If you are wondering why I'm dedicating one full post to a CRPG Magic System, the answer is because I believe that every single fantasy CRPG has to consider a magic system no matter its complexity.

The Sorcerer of Siva, due its sorcerer vs sorcerer nature, has an interesting magic system considering its  old age and simplicity. Unfortunately some of its peculiarities, in my opinion, tend to make game to hard to play.

Apart from my personal considerations, we can roughly say that Sorcerer of Siva has a magic points system, which traditionally it's the most common for non-D&D and AD&D based games.

Your value magic points derive directly from your level of Aura, which is the emanation of your mental and magical power:
Your aura is a measure of the mental or mystical energy needed to cast a spell. Performing any magical act temporarily depletes or weakens your aura (that is, shifts it toward the red end of the spectrum), although some spells cause it to fade more than others. Although the computer keeps precise track of your mystical energy, AURA will be displayed as one of only six colors: BLUE (best), GREEN, YELLOW, ORANGE, RED, or BLACK. (On some computers, this state will be represented by a printed word on the side of the screen; on others, the color change will show up on the figure itself.) An ORANGE or, especially, RED AURA may prevent you from casting any of the more difficult spells, and if your AURA is BLACK, you will be unable to cast spells of any kind. Unless you are EXHAUSTED, doing anything except casting spells will strengthen or refresh your aura (shift it back toward the blue end of the spectrum). The less physically tired you are, the faster your aura will be enhanced.
Source: Sorcerer of Siva, Manual, p 17

A fair amount of Aura will allow you to cast spells during the game and even if the list is limited to seven only, a wise use of them will probably establish your victory over the maze master*. 

Here's the list of available castings:
Teleportation (most powerful)
Bolt of Lightning
Locating a Staircase
Opening Sealed Doors (less powerful)

Casting a Lighting Bolt will cost you a nonspecific cost of Aura.

Each spell has a nonspecific cost which it's detracted from your Aura. The lack of statistics about the magic point costs makes the management of your magic reservoirs quite chaotic. Another interesting aspect is that even if the system is not based on Vancian Magic, spells are in some way forgettable.
Regardless of your aura, you can't cast a spell you have forgotten. This unfortunate circumstance can come about in either of two ways. Whenever the sorcerer appears on the screen, he may cast a spell of forgetfulness, causing you to forget the most powerful spell you have left. Also, the higher the skill level you select at the beginning of the game, the
more spells you have forgotten and the fewer spells you have available initially. (This is presumed to be the result of previous attacks by the sorcerer.)
Source: Sorcerer of Siva, Manual, p 18 

Spells might be forgotten so, but if are your lucky to find one of the touchstones inside the mines, you can regain what is "lost":
The only way to remember spells you have forgotten (including those you lacked at the beginning of the game, if any) is to find touchstones inside the mines.  Whenever you find a touchstone, you will recall one spell—the lowest-numbered spell you don't know. If you knew (remembered) five spells, a touchstone would bring to mind Spell #6 (Bolt of Lightning). 
Source: Sorcerer of Siva, Manual, p 18 

Again, here:
If you find a touchstone, it will immediately release a mystical energy that will break the mental block caused by the sorcerer's spell of forgetting. That is, the touchstone will immediately restore to you the lowest-numbered spell you have forgotten. 
Source: Sorcerer of Siva, Manual, p 21 

It's interesting to see the choice of words of this last part of the manual where a mental block substitutes the actual memory loss mentioned before. According to this part, your character doesn't really forget the spell, he is not just able to use it because the magical mental block. It's a detail I know, but they all together build up the flavour of every single aspect of a CRPG.

In the end, this magic system is quite simple and easy to use and it suits with the game concept. However the frustration grows when you realize that the level of your Aura goes down really quickly due to the high frequency of the encounters. Thus after few minutes you can find yourself completely drained and unable to cast any spell and, trust me, it is really frustrating.

The high difficult level reminded me the earlier tendency to create really challenging and complicated CRPGs because the main marketing target was intended be the small and demanding niche of computer academics, wargamers and role playing gamers. In this case, anyway, we can't really talk about a complex system, but an excess of difficulty in the gameplay.

*If there is anyone around who managed to finish the game, please contact me.

Friday 3 August 2012

Temple of Apshai, Advertising (1983)

This an official full page ad of the Temple of Apshai published in the 1983. It's curious to see that even if all the Epyx's artworks (manuals and covers) were influenced by the earliest fantasy artists, this one is visually more conceptual and based on a simple and almost photographical effect. My opinion is that this ad has been probably produced by an actual advertising agency. My assumption is based on the use of the font (futura condensed, quite popular in advertising back in the eighties) and the tone of voice which sounds a little bit different from all the rest of the video game related advertising production in the early eighties.