Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cover to Cover: SSI Summer 1986 Catalog (pp. 8-9)

Strategic Simulations Inc. was a major computer game publisher in the 1980s, even before the company acquired the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons license and launched the popular "Gold Box" series of RPGs.  In this Cover to Cover series, we're looking through the Summer 1986 SSI catalog, a time capsule of the company and the game industry at the time.

Page 8 is the last of five full pages of wargames published by SSI:

'NAM might have been too soon, and I'm not sure if it sold well, but the Vietnamese conflict was certainly suitable for the war game format from a gameplay perspective; note that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces were strictly computer-controlled, perhaps to avoid putting players in an uncomfortable or controversial position.

Colonial Conquest appears to have been another Risk-style game, Eagles a turn-based air combat simulation with nary an arcade action sequence in sight, and Fortress a boardgame strategy contest with some striking box art.  50 Mission Crush was billed as a role-playing game, and the screenshot implies that the airplane's status was the key "character development" area as the player progressed through 50 challenging bombing runs.  And I remember Tigers in the Snow from magazine reviews -- I never got a chance to play it back in the day, but the hex-based wargaming style looked intriguing and unique to one not well-versed in the genre.

Page 9 begins SSI's lineup of fantasy role-playing and science fiction games, with a couple of memorable series on hand, as well as evidence of shifting presentation standards as home computer technology improved:

The Warp Factor is a science-fiction themed battle game with rudimentary graphics, and what now seems like an archaic command-line-based interface; the Star Wars-inspired box art and Star Trek-inspired name give a considerably more dramatic impression than the screenshot does.  The same can be said for The Cosmic Balance, also heavily text and stats-menu based, a style that had its merits for detailed simulation but was already fading out of marketplace relevance when this catalog was published.  Imperium Galacticum is an interplanetary conquest game, again with a dated text-heavy interface that captures the strategy nicely, but would soon have a hard time competing as the 16-bit computers made audiovisuals a bigger part of the gaming experience; having to move a cursor around a complex board with the keyboard also makes this pre-mouse-era game look primitive from a 2011 perspective.

Gemstone Warrior was an early action/RPG, and popular enough to merit a sequel later on.  Questron was a popular game in its day, with turn-based, command-key-driven exploration and fighting, and Phantasie II continued Doug Wood's popular RPG series with overhead maps and a detailed combat model.  Rings of Zilfin is presented like an action game, with an emphasis on graphics, but is still fundamentally command-key driven.  Most of these games were inspired by Ultima to some degree, and/or Dungeons & Dragons, and SSI's acquisition of the official AD&D license a few years later would make these fantasy RPGs the company's bread and butter.

What's next?  Tune in tomorrow...

1 comment:

  1. "The Warp Factor is a science-fiction themed battle game with... Star Wars-inspired box art and Star Trek-inspired name..."

    Looking at some other box art and ship reference sheets for this game, it was heavily influenced by Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica alike: