Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cover to Cover: SSI Summer 1986 Catalog (cover - page 1)

We're starting a new cover-to-cover series this weekend, with a look at the Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) product catalog from the summer of 1986.  This was published a few years before SSI obtained the official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons license which defined much of its 1990s product line, and it provides an interesting look at the Western simulation and RPG industry circa the mid-80s.

The cover features beautiful box art paintings from several SSI products, and an early commercial use of the term "gamer" to describe our hobby:

The inside cover sums up the SSI story in progress, indicating that the Amiga and Atari ST platforms were now being supported, with (as was often the case at the time) conversions of existing games to the new 16-bit machines.  The lineup, like the hex/board games that preceded the computer era, is clearly divided into science-fiction, fantasy and realistic military products, categorized according to difficulty, an important factor in the pre-graphical user interface era.  (Apologies for the scan quality, the page got a bit distorted in the process.)

The usual pre-Internet facts about mail order are covered here, along with a 14-day money back guarantee.  And we see what might be taken as foreshadowing of the PC game industry's slow but steady movement toward downloadable distribution -- some of SSI's clearance titles for the aging Apple II and Atari computers were being sold in zip-locked baggies, the old-fashioned way, to avoid the cost of printing new boxes.  Also note that gamers were being asked to ante up prices comparable to today's retail game costs, with half-price games still running $17.48-$29.98 -- another factor favoring digital distribution, especially with 25 years of inflation taken into account.  Games have much larger development budgets today, but can still be sold to consumers for reasonable prices as the industry's user base has grown.

Page 1 (the first numbered page) begins the actual product lineup, with three "all new" games and one new conversion; remember that this was an era before cross-compiling and asset scaling allowed basically the same source code and data to be released for PCs and consoles alike, so each of these versions was unique to a degree:

Note that, despite newfangled conversions of Phantasie for the Atari ST and Apple Macintosh, this page features Apple II screenshots exclusively.  Phantasie looked a lot better on the Atari ST, but SSI knew where its core market was gaming at the time (or, alternatively, the new version wasn't quite ready for prime time when this catalog went to press.)  Also note that Shard of Spring looks like a forerunner of the AD&D "Gold Box" games that SSI would develop and publish a few years later.  Roadwar 2000 was a major hit for SSI, and Battle of Gettysburg continued to push the state of the art for military simulations, with computer-enhanced statistics and effect calculations that would have been cumbersome for pencil and paper wargaming.

Next time, more games!

1 comment:

  1. Good choice. SSI was one of my favorite game companies back in my teenage years with my Atari 800XL computer.

    I played through all of Phantasie I and II several times. You created a party of six characters for some Ultima-esque RPG adventuring. The standard fantasy races were available (elf, dwarf, etc.) but you also had the option for a "random" race. This would give you a monster, such as a troll, ogre, goblin, or minotaur. What they were lacking in brains and personality they made up for in strength and toughness.