Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cover to Cover: SSI Summer 1986 Catalog (pp. 2-3)

We're paging through the Summer 1986 Strategic Simulations Inc. catalog, with another page of new/converted wargame, RPG and simulation titles on page 2:

Battle of Antietam is another Civil War military wargame, with an improved battle system that was further refined in Battle of Gettysburg (on page 1, see yesterday's post), and was making its debut on the IBM PC, a gaming platform that was just starting to get off the ground, handicapped as it was by the limited CGA graphics standard.  Computer Baseball shows us what detailed baseball strategy games looked like before interactive, animated ballgame visuals became standard; it must have been popular, as it seems to have been converted to most of the extant platforms.  Field of Fire is another wargame, which from the screenshot shown, appears to have originated on the Atari computers and was now coming to the Apple II.  And Wizard's Crown was another party-based RPG inspired by Dungeons & Dragons; an official license would become SSI's bread and butter a few years later.

Page 3 takes a brief break from the computer games to announce some games in development, and push posters and Computer Gaming World magazine:

Today, developers keep their upcoming titles quiet until they're getting closer to market, but SSI was eager to talk about some upcoming products, some of which apparently never saw release.  Of the new games, we can guess that the hinted-at "in the works" games included Gemstone Healer (1986), sequel to Gemstone Warrior.  I can't see that the promised Shiloh wargame was ever released, though SSI had already released a game in 1981 called Battle of Shiloh so perhaps it morphed into another product or was simply abandoned.  1986's Warship was probably the "tactical simulation of World War II surface naval combat in the Pacific" referred to here; the "monster of a game" seems not to have come out, and perhaps one game about the Pacific conflict was enough for this round.

The conversions likely saw release, as it was good business to port established hits to other platforms.  And I wonder how many people bought the posters -- they are likely rare today, if not particularly valuable.

It was not uncommon to see cross-promotion like the CGW ad at the time -- the industry was still growing, and it behooved every publisher to do its best to bring more people into the market, and SSI was just promoting the publication without taking a cut as a middleman here.  (I trust Computer Gaming World's reviewers had also been generally kind to SSI's products!)

To be continued next weekend, if all goes as planned, with more games...


  1. Shiloh was released in 1987 under that name. I don't think the Mac got any of those releases. The Amiga did not get Wizard's Crown nor would it get Phantasie II. The ST did get all four games. SSI was bigger on the ST first then switched over to the Amiga. This is just from memory, I would have to look up the rest.

  2. Thanks very much for the info! I played SSI's Phantasie on the Atari ST, which is probably why I have this catalog in the collection; I was always intrigued by wargaming but never really got into it until I played Military Madness on the TurboGrafx-16 and Panzer General on the Playstation. It always amazes me how quickly this recent history is fading -- if all we have to go on are the artifacts, like this, the picture is almost by definition incomplete.

  3. Wizard's Crown was a complex CRPG. When combat ensued, character actions were taken on a tactical map of the surrounding area. It would become tedious, plotting individual actions for your eight characters and waiting for each enemy character to act. It wouldn't have been so bad except for the clumsy control interface and plodding AI. There was a lot of depth to the game systems.

    Wizard's Crown was followed by a sequel: The Eternal Dagger.

  4. The full name of the Shiloh game was Shiloh: Grant's Trial in the West.

    Computer Gaming World was a highly objective, intelligently written magazine. At the time, it served as something of a trade magazine as well, so it's not surprising there were close ties. Their reviews, however, were well crafted and, well, brilliant.

    SSI's first AD&D RPG, Pool of Radiance, was heavily based on Wizard's Crown. Critics (including some in Computer Gaming World) complained that PoR was far too combat heavy and played more like a wargame than an RPG.

  5. The monster Pacific game did come out: Gary Grigsby's Pacific War. It was buggy, immensely complex (in the mold of GG's Russian Front and the like), poorly documented, but massive and involving all the same. The game's been remade for new computers by Matrix.