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DRAGON Magazine 127

Page history last edited by meersan 15 years, 8 months ago

excerpt from DRAGON Magazine #127

November 1987

The Role of Computers

(C) 1987 by Hartley and Patricia Lesser

A stunning series of software entertain-

ments is on its way to your computer --

centered on the ADVANCED DUNGEONS

& DRAGONS(R) game. Based on a licensing

agreement between TSR, Inc. and Strate-

gic Simulations, Inc., signed in May of this

year, AD&D(R) games will grace the Com-

modore 64/128 machines, IBM PCs and

compatibles, and members of the Apple II

computer family sometime during the

spring of 1988. Releases for the Atari ST

and Commodore Amiga will follow.

This is an exciting event -- one that

many other computer software developers

would have dearly loved to have obtained.

To be the only company to actually offer

TSR's AD&D game in computer form is

quite a coup for SSI. We intend to keep

you fully informed of progress on the

initial series of games, as well as offering

"sneak peeks" at the games in development

when we can. After meeting with Joel

Billings (president of SSI), Chuck Kroegel

(vice president of Research and Develop-

ment), Keith Brors (programming project

leader), and Victor Penman (game devel-

oper), we think the AD&D game offerings

could be the reason many gamers pur-

chase their first computers next year.

There was fierce competition for the

AD&D game license rights between 10

companies. Joel Billings indicated that SSI

first contacted TSR over a year ago to see

if it was interested in selling the licensing

rights to the AD&D game. "At that time,

they weren't," Billings said. "They kept us

in mind, so when they -- almost overnight

-- decided to sell the license, we went and

saw them. This was around April of this

year. We received the license, I believe,

because of our R&D capability. That was

really the bottom line -- an R&D staff that

knows AD&D games, plays AD&D games,

and enjoys AD&D games. A lot of the

other companies didn't have the capabili-

ties in-house for this kind of project. We

were able to show them that we at SSI

would really champion the product. The

people here really feel honored to be

doing computer AD&D games. If you're

doing fantasy games, the AD&D game is

the one to do.

"We took six computers to TSR and

showed them everything we've done on

every computer, and we basically showed

them six or eight fantasy games that we've

worked on. We showed them all different

kinds of games. We tried to say: 'Look,

we've done more different kinds of fanta'

sy games than anybody else. Other com-

panies may be stereotyped into a

particular style of game. We aren't.'

only thing we had to sell them on was the

fact we would add that extra polish --

graphics -- to this game, which our pre-

vious games haven't had. We also devel-

oped some routines just for this project, so

when we went to TSR, we showed them

what we had done in the last month. We

didn't even have the contract when we did

this. This will be the number-one fantasy

product in the marketplace.

According to vice president Kroegel: "I

believe TSR chose SSI because we showed

that we would have more focus on their

product, that we wanted this project more

than the other companies, and that their

project wouldn't be lost in another firm's

huge product line. We showed TSR how

well they could work with our own R&D

department. We have the resources and

graphics capability and game development

to complete this project well. I think TSR

was afraid that someone would only com-

plete this project halfway and not do the

project justice."

Exactly what area of the AD&D game

environment will SSI's products encom-

pass? "At this point, we're working on one

part at a time," said Keith Brors. "This is an

enormous project, especially when you

consider the other adventure games on

the market today. Their scale is quite

large. We want to put the feel of [the

AD&D game system] in the game, and to

have it large enough for people to adven-

ture in, so that it will be something differ-

ent than what has been played or was on

the market before."

"The computer game that Keith is work-

ing on will take place in the Forgotten

Realms," added Chuck. "This is the new

world that TSR has produced. In fact, TSR

has even carved out a space where our

games will take place on the [FORGOTTEN

REALMS(TM) setting] map [for the] first

adventure. . . . The TSR staff is actually

designing the first scenario for us. They

going to be making paper modules of that

same adventure as well. There might even

be a novel -- a true multimedia approach."

The SSI involvement goes far beyond

just a single game, however. According to

Victor Penman: "We are actually doing

three major project groups under this

license. One is an arcade-style game that is

being done under contract by another

company. The second is a computer-

assisted AD&D game (CAADD), and that is

one that will be primarily done by outside

programmers and artists. The intention of

this offering is to provide Dungeon Mas-

ters with computer assists to take care of

the bookkeeping that is attendant to play-

ing AD&D games. Encounter generation

and map functions will be handled by the

computer, allowing the DM more time for

creativity. The third project is the one that

Keith is doing the programming on, where

the computer will, in fact, act as the DM.

Players will have the option of purchasing

modules from SSI to run with Keith's

program, and I think the plans also

include programs that people can use at

home to make their own AD&D game


The flagship of the TSR licensing

arrangement will revolve around the

stand-alone, computerized fantasy role-

playing game. This is the first program

that will be released.

"What Keith is doing is equivalent to

producing the Players Handbook, the

Dungeon Masters Guide,  and the  Monster

Manual  in one program, and also allowing

users to create their own modules. The

core set of rules and adventuring proce-

dures that allow it all to happen are in this

first program," added Victor.

Keith indicated the programming is

being done in assembly language, which

makes the program run very quickly as

this is the native "tongue" of any computer

system. Two other programmers work

with Keith on the computerized AD&D

game project. The initial releases will be

for the Commodore 64/128 computer

system and IBM micros and compatibles.

These will be followed by the Apple II

version. Of interest is the fact that SSI uses

the Apple II computer as the development

machine for their Commodore 64/128

product lines. The IBM version will also

offer an Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA)

option of play for those systems possessing

EGA boards and Enhanced Displays. Pric-

ing has not yet been set, although Chuck

indicated the program pricing would be

competitive with current market offerings.

SSI has already received all of the basic

information on the FORGOTTEN REALMS

setting, and TSR is well into the creation

of the first scenario, with the Creative

Services team headed by Jim Ward. Chuck

expects delivery of the first scenario by

January 1988.

We asked Keith exactly how he was

going to incorporate the Dungeon Masters

Guide, Players Handbook, and a scenario

all in one package for the Commodore

machine without slow operation and mul-

tiple disk-loads because of memory con-


"Most of the core system will be loaded

immediately into the computer's memory.

There will be a lot of core routines, like

the magic items and the characters, loaded

into the machine. Every so often, a new

block of data will be loaded in as you

move overland -- a small section of map at

a time, a 16-by-16 area. When you move

off that area, another 16-by-16 area is

accessed via disk-load. It's such a small

amount of data, it only takes a second to

do it, so there will be no delay in the


As the IBM micro has more memory, we

asked if the IBM version would have

improved performance over other versions.

"You might well see such improvement,"

said Keith. "The drives are much faster,

and there's more memory. And with the

ST and Amiga versions, the graphics will

be improved as well, as you have so much

more memory to work with."

According to Victor, the first SSI package

will include the core program and a mod-

ule you can play with it. "Periodically, we'll

be releasing more modules to be played

with that first core package," Victor said.

"It'll be a lot like buying your AD&D game

books and the modules that go with them.

The core package is the Handler program,

and the modules are then played with it.

We anticipate a variety of locations for

these adventures at different levels of

difficulty, [and] the modules can go in a

number of different directions. I expect

we are going to work on whatever the

public wants. TSR, beyond working on

this first scenario, may also work on sev-

eral other modules as well."

According to the group, one of the inter-

esting aspects to the Handler program is

that a lot of the second-edition AD&D

game rules are incorporated into the offer-

ing. These will be the same rules that are

going to be published by TSR in paper

form. . . . Chuck also believes additional

modules could become available every

four to six months from SSI, after the

Handler and first module releases.

The SSI release will look far better than

games currently on the market -- at least,

that's what these three SSI experts indi-

cated in our conversation. Some of the

ideas and distinctive elements will be

based on another of SSI's current fantasy

adventure games, The Wizard's Crown

(reviewed in DRAGON* issue #114). But

the big difference is the new emphasis SSI

is putting into the game's graphics.

"In the past, when SSI was primarily a

wargames company, graphics were not as

important as game play," said Victor. "Now

the graphics will be better, making this

product more of an improvement than any

other. We're committed to carrying out

state-of-the-art graphics all the way down

the line, so we're dedicated to game

sophistication and a new level of graphics

more so than anything we've done


"We currently have a new 3-D system

that is better than anything else out there

right now," said Chuck. "It's better than

The Bard's Tale II by a considerable


"That includes a lot of new ideas," Keith

added, "such as an overhead projection so

you can self-map. You can keep your own

maps if you get lost or something. Also,

you'll be able to see the objects and mon-

sters that you are about to confront, even

when they're not in the same square as

you. I don't know why no one eles has

done this yet."

"The 3-D system is one of the things that

impressed TSR," indicated Victor. "We gave

them a demonstration of it, with the types

of developments we are coming through

with now, and demonstrated the graphics

capability we're going to be showing in the

game. That's why it's difficult to compare

our system with what's on the market

today. Much of the stuff we're using for

the AD&D game hasn't been released yet."

The graphics system won't see release as

a stand-alone, commercial product by SSI,

according to Kroegel. "It's like a good cook.

Other chefs have available to them the

same ingredients as we have; it's just a

matter of how they're put to use. Three-D

perspective is one ingredient a lot of com-

panies use, but we're also adding other

ingredients that will make this game far

superior to anything out there. What we

have is available to anyone else out there

who wants to dig into the technology."

"We're going to add a few new twists

that we haven't seen in the market," con-

tinued Chuck. "It will have state-of-the-art

animation that is used as a reward for

having done something, having achieved

something, in the program. You can basi-

cally eat up all of your memory by having

animation. We wish to use animation

appropriately in our game, in areas where

it will make a real difference. We have put

more of our time, energy, and resources

into this product than any other project in

our history. We've been working on this

project for three months, and we have

three or four programmers at work on the

game full-time."

"And this doesn't take into account the

time that TSR has already put into the

scenario," added Victor.

"That's the other ingredient that other

companies just don't have," continued

Kroegel. "Anybody can say they've got

a fantasy role-playing game, but SSI is

going to be the only company to have the

AD&D game. Anything else is a rip-off. We

have the original! And that is why we

encouraged TSR to at least do the first

module. We felt that these are the people

who keep up with this environment -- the

people who founded it, continued it, and

made it successful. TSR knows something,

and we wanted our first module to have

that something that only TSR can offer."

According to the game's project leader,

the game suits anyone who has played the

D&D? or AD&D games, and the transition

into computerized gaming will be very

smooth. Those who have played other

fantasy games on the market will also find

game participation easy. The novice player,

one who hasn't played AD&D games or

hasn't used a computer, can use this, too,

and enjoy the program immediately. Even

experienced AD&D game players will find

the introductory module a worthwhile

experience. The aim of SSI is to offer

modules that are challenging to a variety

of experiences, with different modules

offering different levels of challenge,

much as an AD&D game paper module

aims at specific-level characters.

"Really," said Chuck," the crux of the

game, in the role-playing of it, is: What are

you trying to accomplish? Do you have the

role-playing elements you're looking for?

Do you have room for character develop-

ment? Does everyone have different abili-

ties, and a chance to use those abilities? I

feel that even the advanced AD&D game

player will enjoy this game. There are a

few options we're considering putting in

the game at some point, to allow you to

input your favorite paper-module charac-

ter. The long-range plan is allow the char-

acters from a continuing AD&D game to

be input into this product."

After the flagship Handler program and

the first module are released, the Assist

program -- the Dungeon Master utility

program -- will debut. "We see the Com-

puter Assist program as addressing the

second part of the market," said Victor

Penman. "The Handler program is a mass

market [program]; anyone can use it. It

game that everyone will enjoy very much.

The CA is aimed at people who are run-

ning AD&D game campaigns, or who want

to run AD&D game campaigns. All of the

work that this entails for the DM, includ-

ing the reading of the rules and implemen-

tation of the rules, will now be managed

by the computer. We're taking [some of]

the work out of being a DM. We're freeing

the DM up to do more creative stuff.

There are screens for the DM, piles of

paper and rules that he or she has to

constantly reference, and we intend to

incorporate these materials in the CA

program. The DM will be able to call up a

character, call up encounters, allow the

computer to generate characters, manage

combat, handle encounters, even create

dungeons on demand anytime.

"We'll also enable the DM, if he or she

wants, to call up an illustration of a mon-

ster on the computer screen to show it to

the adventure party. The computer will

also know if the party has seen this partic-

ular monster before; it will tell the DM

that, and if the party hasn't seen [the

monster], it'll just present the picture on

the screen without identifying it. Well, that

may or may not help the party. The

program will also do a lot of preparatory

work for the DM. It'll also print out lists

and any character information, and tell

you exactly what the stats are.

"Also, it'll be able ot individualize the

encounters. With a lot of other computer

fantasy games, all of the monsters you run

into are the same. With the CA program,

this doesn't have to be. You can have indi-

vidual personalities and individual abilities

for a wider range of monsters. You can

have one wimpy orc and one great orc, for

example, but the party doesn't know

which one is which until they actually

start the combat. So there will be a lot

more detail that would be practical to put

into a game. Typically, I think, there is a

trade-off between detail and playability.

Detail has a tendency, when relying on a

human to find records and do maps, to

slow down games. We're putting the detail

and the maps into the computer; it

dle it, and the detail will be there without

slowing down the game, with the com-

puter handling the boring work."

With the CA program, the DM will set up

basic configurations before running the

game. How does he want experience points

to work? How does he want alignment to

work? These matters will be under the DM

control from the beginning.

Victor added that he wants to hear from

anyone who might have ideas for these

game modules, as well as from readers

who have done programming and might

be able to offer insights into the develop-

ment of this series. Write to: Strategic

Simulations, Inc., 1046 North Rengstorff

Avenue, Mountain View CA 94043-1716.

This is an extremely exciting project,

with the finished product resulting in an

element that the role-playing industry has

needed for some time. Once these games

make their entry into the marketplace,

they will make role-playing games a far

more practical exercise in entertainment.

The computer will manage activities it can

best deal with, while the people manage

what they do best: the creativity aspect of

role-playing games. We'll keep you

appraised of the progress of the project.

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