SSI & TSR

SSI & TSR


The SSI--TSR relationship filled many SSI fans with dread.  Hadn't TSR, after all, gutted SPI after its purchase?  What would happen to SSI's legendary wargames?  In the end, the number of SSI wargames declined, but their overall quality did reach new heights.  That would have happened anyway.  Personally, we found many of the TSR-licensed games to be great fun.  Let's take a look at the fruits of the lengthy TSR-SSI collaboration.

Early Announcements

********************

SSI AND TSR, INC. 

SIGN CONTRACT FOR

OFFICIAL COMPUTER

VERSION OF

ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS

*********************

    At the recent Consumer Electronic Show in Chicago, Strategic Simulations, Inc. and TSR, Inc. signed a contract for SSI to produce the official computer version of the fantasy role-playing game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

    Three different AD&D software line are currently planned.  The first product line will consist of a series of role-playing adventure games using AD&D rules.  State-of-the-art graphics will be incorporated into this product line, including 3-D and "birds-eye" view perspectives.

    The second product line will consist of multi-player action/arcade games.  These games will focus on special aspects of AD&D, such as sword play, spell casting, and dungeon and wilderness exploration.

    The third product line will be composed of dungeonmaster/player aid disks to be used with the traditional version of AD&D.  These disks will allow characters to be generated, characteristics to be printed out, monster encounters to be created, combat to be executed, etc.

    All three product lines will be available for Apple II, IBM and compatibles, Commodore 64/128, Atari ST, and Amiga computers.  Possible other versions may be produced for Apple IIGS, Macintosh, and Atari 8-bit computers.  Suggested retail prices are unknown at this time.

    We will keep you posted as to the status of these products.

    While the TSR deal is good news for fantasy gamers, it is definitely not bad news for war gamers.  In fact, the enhancements being made to our fantasy line will also carry over to the historical gaming line.  Graphics will be upgraded in both areas.  Several wargames are also in the works including several from the guys that produced Gettysburg: The Turning Point and Battle of Antietam.  (See the article on the next page).  In addition, Gary Grigsby is working on a platoon level World War II game, and a game on the conflict in Afghanistan is in the works.

                                                                                                        --Inside SSI, Summer 1987

(Note: The new wargames from "the guys" ended up being Shiloh: Grant's Trial in the West, Sons of Liberty, and Battles of Napoleon.  The Grigsby game was Panzer Strike!  The Afghanistan game was cancelled--without reason being given--one of the only games (as opposed to conversion) to be declared "Zombieware" by SSI.)

 

AD&D™ Computer Products Update

    Work is progressing on several different products in the AD&D computer products line.  We will first release products for the Commodore 64/128, Apple II, and IBM/compatible systems.  Amiga and Atari ST versions will follow.

    The AD&D computer products are our most ambitious projects ever.  The game design and development crew has recently returned from the GenCon game fair, the national game convention sponsored by TSR, Inc., where they held seminars, interviewed game players, and conducted a survey to determine what game players are looking for in computer games.

    We're working on three main AD&D computer product lines:  a series of role-playing games where the computer acts as Dungeon Master, and action/joystick-style game, and a series of Dungeon Master's Assistant programs which will generate encounters, NPC's, treasure, and more.

    TSR is designing the scenario for the first product.  It will be a computer-controlled role-playing adventure set in TSR's FORGOTTEN REALMS game world.  Players will be allowed to transfer parties from game to game and enter characters from conventional games.  We plan to have the computer adventure game available by early summer 1988.

    TSR plans to release the adventure as a paper module by late 1988.  This module will also act as a clue book for the computer game.

                                                                                                --Inside SSI, Winter 1987

AD&D Computer Products March Toward Release

    1988 will be the big year for SSI's line of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons computer products, produced in conjunction with our licensing agreement with TSR, Inc.  Five different AD&D games and support products will debut this summer, fall, and winter.

    The first five AD&D computer products include:  Pool of Radiance, the first AD&D computer epic, which will debut this summer as a huge multi-disk adventure for a party of characters.  Heroes of the Lance, an action game set in the DragonLance game universe, will also begin shipping this summer.  The first product in the Dungeon Masters Assistant series, the monster database and encounter generator, will ship in late summer.  A wargame based on the War of the Lance depicted in the first three DragonLance novels will appear in the fall/winter.  An "interactive movie" style game to be used as training ground for Pool of Radiance characters will appear in the winter.

    Pool of Radiance is the most ambitious game project SSI has ever undertaken.  Several normal games worth of programming, art, and development has gone in to make an adventure game that faithfully re-creates the scope of playing an AD&D game.  The multi-disk storyline, set in TSR's Forgotten Realms game world, has been designed specifically for the computer game, and will also appear from TSR as a module and cluebook entitles Ruins of Adventure.  Pool of Radiance will be available this summer for Commodore 64/128, IBM/compatibles, Apple II series and other computers.

    Heroes of the Lance is a joystick controlled state-of-the-art animated action game where the player controls up to eight characters in a realtime quest into the depths of city of Xak Tsaroth.  Eight favorite characters from the DragonLance novels are included, or you can input your own characters.  Heroes of the Lance will be available this summer for Commodore 64/128, IBM/compatibles, Atari ST, and Amiga computers.

    The Dungeon Masters Assistant - Volume 1, Encounters will contain every monster in both of TSR's Monster Manuals and more.  Dungeon Masters will be able to create instant encounters on screen, on disk, or on paper using the monsters included or ones of their own creation.  The Assistant program will automatically calculate all necessary information including treasure, combat statistics, and experience.  Volyme 1 will be available in late summer for Commodore 64/128, IBM/compatibles, and Apple II series computers.

    The strategic wargame based on the War of the Lance from the DragonLance sagas will include both the armies and the main characters involved in the campaign.  Players will be able to command dragon armies and human forces as well as famous wizards and fighters from the novels.  The game will available this fall/winter for Commodore 64/128, IBM/compatibles, and Apple II series computers.

    An "interactive movie" style training grounds game for new characters and characters from the computer adventure games is based in TSR's Forgotten Realms game world.  The city of Hillsfar, across the Moonsea from the location of the Pool of Radiance, is dedicated to training characters in their specific abilities.  Mysteries, logic puzzles, arcade and strategy games will all be a part of a character's training.  As a bonus, the experience and levels earned in Hillsfar will be transferable into other AD&D computer adventure games.  The training grounds game will be available in the winter for Commodore 64/128, IBM/compatibles and other computers.

    Pool of Radiance, Heroes of the Lance, and the training grounds game are also being produced for a number of computers in Japan.  By Spring 1989, look for versions of these games for Japanese home computers and Nintendo gaming systems.

    Since it is still early in the development of each of these products, suggested retail prices and computer version availability are still being determined.  Please watch future versions of Inside SSI as well as our catalogs for more details on each product line.

                                                                                                    --Inside SSI, Spring 1988

 

The First Releases

Pool of Radiance:    Amiga, Apple II, Commodore 64, IBM, Mac, (Atari), (Atari ST), (Apple IIGS)

The first RPG fruit, Pool (set in the Forgotten Realms world) used a modified Wizard's Crown engine and had a heavy combat emphasis, leading to some mixed reviews.  In the end, though, sales boomed.  Pool went on to sell over 250,000 copies.  SSI's previous sales record was 50,000 for Wargame Construction Set.  This is the title that gave birth to the "Gold Box" legacy, since all pure AD&D RPGs were sold in gold boxes.

Heroes of the Lance: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, IBM, Spectrum (U.K. only)

An action game from Britain's US Gold, Heroes featured the companions from Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman's popular Chronicles series.  A silver box was used to signify the game's action emphasis.

Dungeon Masters Assistant, Volume I: Encounters: Amiga, Apple II, Commodore 64, IBM

A utility program to assist in playing non-computer AD&D campaigns.

Hillsfar: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, IBM, (Mac)

This action-adventure from Westwood (yes, that Westwood) featured great graphics and fun, simple gameplay.  Despite selling over 100,000 copies, it never managed to spawn a sequel.  That's a shame, for this marble-boxed game was one of the finest results of the TSR license.

 

The Gold Box Saga

Forgotten Realms

Curse of the Azure Bonds: Amiga, Apple II, (Apple IIGS), Atari ST, Commodore 64, IBM, Mac

Based in part on the book by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb, Curse cut back (a little) on the combat and was a stronger game than Pool.  It went on to sell over 150,000 copies.

Secret of the Silver Blades: Amiga, (Atari ST?), Commodore 64, IBM, Mac

The best Forgotten Realms Gold Box game (IMHO), Secret just managed to sell over 100,000 copies.  It was set almost exclusively in dungeons with no overland treks at all.

Pools of Darkness: Amiga, IBM, Mac

Many players were disappointed with this anti-climactic end to the series. 

DragonLance

Champions of Krynn: Amiga, Apple II, Commodore 64, IBM

IMHO the best Gold Box game of all.  It reflected the rich tapestry that is DragonLance.  Also, the Amiga version (converted by Norm Koger) allowed for in-game loading of saved games.  Yay!  Champions sold over 125,000 copies.

Death Knights of Krynn: Amiga, Commodore 64, IBM

A somewhat disappointing, combat-heavy follow-up.

The Dark Queen of Krynn: Amiga, IBM

Much as with Pools of Darkness, TDQK was difficult and prompted yawns from gamers; the engine was nearly five years old.

Forgotten Realms: Sword Coast

Gateway to the Savage Frontier: Amiga, Commodore 64, IBM

This was supposed to be more of a true RPG with a fine-tuned Gold Box engine.  It had its moments, but a horrid Amiga conversion squelched by enjoyment of it.  (The Amiga version included an insert warning gamers to save every 30 minutes due to crashes.  The same card informed us that the game could not be installed on a hard drive "due to its size and complexity."  Huh?)  Some of the NPC ideas (actual interaction) were good and praised in reviews, but, in general, the engine was too little changed to get a lot of attention.

Treasures of the Savage Frontier: Amiga, Commodore 64, IBM

The last Gold Box game released.  Actually, not bad.

Neverwinter Nights  IBM/AOL

The first MMRPG, at least with graphics.  Currently being updated by Interplay, although Stormfront, the company behind NWN and the two Savage Frontier titles is, ironically enough, the place doing the new Pool of Radiance for SSI.  Basically, NWN was an on-line Gold Box games, and it still draws sentimental remembrances from players years after it was (controversially) taken down.

Miscellaneous

A Line in the Sand: IBM

TSR's Desert Storm wargame brought to the computer.

Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace: (Amiga), IBM

Failed attempt to modify the Gold Box engine to the Spelljammer science fantasy world.  Hurt in part, perhaps, due to apathy about the game world as well.

 

Buck Rogers Games

The Gold Box engine proved adept at transfer to science fiction settings.

Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday: Amiga, Commodore 64, IBM

A fun science-fiction RPG.

Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed: (Amiga), IBM

Harmed by bugs.

Personally, we enjoyed these products most of all those released during the SSI-TSR years.

 

The Other Mid-Period Games

Dragons of Flame: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, IBM, Spectrum (U.K. only)

A sequel to Heroes of the Lance.

Dungeon Masters Assistant, Volume II: Characters & Treasure: Amiga, Apple II, Commodore 64, IBM

More help for table-top RPGs.

DragonStrike: Amiga, Commodore 64, IBM

An innovative idea: a flight sim using dragonflight.

War of the Lance: Apple II, Commodore 64, IBM

A fantasy wargame set in the Forgotten Realms game world.  Never found an audience due, perhaps, to the Gold Box games heavy tactical combat.  This played a lot like one without any role-playing elements.

 

Legend Series

Eye of the Beholder: Amiga, IBM

This first entry in the "Black Box" series was a first-person RPG (think Dungeon Master).  The graphics were brilliant for the day and the "paper doll" inventory system has been imitated ever since. 

Eye of the Beholder II: Amiga, IBM

More of the same.

Eye of the Beholder III: IBM

Again.

 

The Construction Sets

Unlimited Adventures: Mac, IBM

Once the cash cow that was the "Gold Box" series dried up, SSI released the engine in construction set form. 

Dungeon Hack: IBM

A construction set and randomized dungeon generator based largely on the Eye of the Beholder engine.  Hack and slash, but fun.

 

Later Games: Strategy Hybrids

Stronghold:  IBM

Forgotten Realms meets SimCity.

Fantasy Empires: IBM

Strategy meet fantasy.  Web sites still exist for it.

 

Dark Sun

Dark Sun: Shattered Lands: Mac, IBM, (Amiga)

The beginning of the end.  Massive delays in development caused this title to come out two years after the momentum was there.

Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager: IBM

More of the same.

 

Later Games: RPGs

This was the era when SSI met DreamForge Intertainment (Event Horizon, back then).  Sadly, most of the games played the same.  They featured first-person views and lots of hack 'n slash.

Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession: IBM

The fantasy-horror milieu of the Dark Sun world lent itself to this 1st person RPG.

Ravenloft: Stone Prophet: IBM

More of the same.

Al Qadim: The Genie's Curse: IBM

Actually a not-bad action/adventure, but the Al Qadim world's child/teen/newbie-focused turned off harder core computer gamers.

Menzoberranzan: IBM

Mouths watered over the possibilities of an adaptation of the dark Drow world popularized by R.A. Salvatore.  The final product was anti-climactic.

 

Last Gasps: Bad Action Games

Deathkeep: IBM, 3DO

Slayer: PlayStation, 3DO

Horrible action games often held up by TSR as proof that SSI was no longer the right choice for them.  These were released during that tumultuous time when SSI and Mindscape were beginning to blend together.

 

The Split & The Impact

    TSR decided to farm out licenses to various companies rather than have one handle all of them.  Sierra and Acclaim are notable for producing some memorably bad ones.  So did Interplay until Baldur's Gate made us all blessedly forget Descent to Undermountain.  TSR blamed the lapse in quality of SSI's final (until 2000) licensed games as reason for pulling the license.  However, SSI defenders--including a few insiders--complained that quality was hard to maintain with TSR having to approve everything.  At the time, especially, TSR was very finicky about game portrayals.  Rule changes (like Baldur's Gate real-time combat) would not have been approved.

    SSI milked Gold Box dry.  Although many today have fond memories of the series as a whole, five years ago the final releases were greeted with cries of "it's about time."  Similarly, the Eye of the Beholder trilogy never progressed beyond the gameplay of the first game.  Other series were left unfulfilled.  Hillsfar sold over 100,000 copies--fine sales for the time--and garnered more respect than either Pool of Radiance or Heroes of the Lance (neither game got stellar reviews: CGW treated Pool as a controversial game, with AD&D players coming down on both sides of it, while Quest Busters loathed the Gold Box series as far too combat heavy).  In a sense, SSI's release of gluts of More-Of-The-Same products serves as a lesson to publishers today.

    AD&D also effectively killed future science fiction/fantasy games from SSI.  Virtually none were introduced during the era of the TSR license and when it ended the attempt to recapture RPG magic with Thunderscape fell very flat on its face.  One wonders if SSI had supported its established series--Phantasie, Questron, Roadwar--along with the TSR games if those series might not have prospered and still be with us today.

    The impact on wargames is harder to judge.  SSI did release far fewer wargames, but they may well have done so anyway.  Many of the wargames that were released, though, were far more detailed and longer lasting than earlier efforts.  Truly disappointing was SSI's lack of vision in accessing TSR's wargames catalog, releasing merely the blase' A Line in the Sand and War of the Lance, which was effectively a Gold Box game stripped of RPG elements.  However, some of the final strategy efforts--Fantasy Empires and Stronghold--had vision and, even today, have stalwart fans.

    For us, the saddest ramifications of the TSR-SSI split have been the loss of licenses.  As far as we know, no one today holds rights to DragonLance or Buck Rogers games (or Dark Sun or Ravenloft...).  The focus today is entirely on Forgotten Realms with Interplay and SSI releasing competing products.  The future of AD&D licenses in general is up in the air with Hasbro's purchase of TSR owner Wizards of the Coast a little while ago.  We are unaware of any pulled licenses so far, but future games from SSI and Interplay may be in jeopardy.  Of course, Hasbro may be more content to churn out slapdash conversions of board and coin-op games rather than invest resources into RPG development.

Addendum: The Last Last Gasp

The release of the new Pool of Radiance was an unmitigated disaster.  Not only were reviews poor--the game (as is now normal) was released in a bug-ridden state--but the game could actually destroy hard drives.  Sigh.


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