Category Archives: SSI

Menzoberranzan, PC

An RPG with a funny name, based on the AD&D Forgotten Realms campaign setting, Menzoberranzan is a 1994, first-person, party-based adventure game developed by DreamForge Intertainment for Strategic Simulations Inc.

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Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession, PC

Released in 1994, Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession was developed by DreamForge Intertainment for Strategic Simulations Inc. and was distributed by US Gold in the UK.

I remember it well because I reviewed it for PC Player magazine back in the day.

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Eye of the Beholder III: Assault On Myth Drannor, PC

The third episode in the classic Eye of the Beholder series was not developed by Westwood Studios – as the other two games were – but by publisher Strategic Simulations, Inc. itself, and as a result it doesn’t quite hit the same mark as parts one and two.

First released in 1993, Eye of the Beholder III: Assault On Myth Drannor is another involving and enjoyable, first-person, party-based RPG. While not quite as good as Eye of the Beholder II, it does have a few new features that make it interesting, like the expanded text descriptions (which scroll at the bottom of the screen); the “All Attack” button (which makes all your selected characters attack at the same time, rather than having to click for each individual character); multiple choice conversations; and – most interestingly – the ability to use ‘polearms’ to attack from the second ranks.

SSI used the AESOP Engine for this game – the same engine that was developed for the classic Dungeon Hack – and it shows. The menus, and fonts, all look identical to those seen in Dungeon Hack.

Graphically, EoB 3 doesn’t have the same Westwood ‘panache’ with cut scenes, or the in-game graphics themselves, but that’s not to say that it’s bad – it isn’t. It’s actually pretty good overall. Arguably a little rough around the edges in places, but still worthy of this great series.

Eye of the Beholder III wasn’t particularly well received, at least critically, when it was first reviewed. It does have some faults. For starters: the sound effects are ridiculous. The sound of distant monsters creeping around became a standard when the mighty Dungeon Master made it so. In this, though, loud, ear-splitting sound effects happen constantly, making it almost impossible to figure out where they are coming from. On the plus side: hearing nothing at least lets you know there are no monsters around, but overall the sound effects in EoB 3 are unsubtle at best and grating at worst (you can turn them off, but doing so will disadvantage you by removing this early warning system).

Secondly, the process of resting is much more frustrating in this game. In previous EoB games you could rest pretty much straight away, which allowed you to memorise and pray for spells immediately. In this, resting straight away isn’t possible, because you start the game in a graveyard, surrounded by ghosts (and you can’t rest with monsters nearby). So the first part of the game is a bit of a panic as you run around trying to find a safe place to rest. The key is to hack a path into the trees and find a place to rest away from the ghosts. It’s not a great start to the game, though, because – initially at least – you can’t generate any magic spells, which puts you at a disadvantage.

Finally, Eye of the Beholder III is also held back by a sprinkling of other pointless ‘features’, like having to tell the game you want to enter the mausoleum (or any major location) every time you enter it, or a key press cancelling resting, or food becoming pointless if you’ve got a Cleric who can generate it magically. On the plus side: being able to manipulate your inventory while in ‘rest’ mode is a welcome new addition.

Overall, though, Eye of the Beholder III: Assault On Myth Drannor is a decent RPG. It’s certainly a heck of a challenge – maybe even moreso than the second game – but completing the harder sections is very rewarding.

Note: just like in EoB 2, you need a Thief in your party to get past certain points in the game. A puzzle early on in EoB 3 requires a Thief to complete it. If you don’t have one (and can’t get access to one), then you’ll have no choice but to restart your game, which is very annoying.

More: Eye of the Beholder III on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Eye of the Beholder trilogy on GOG.com

Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon, PC

Released the same year as the game that preceded it (1991), Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Darkmoon is another excellent first-person, party-based, TSR AD&D-licensed Role-Playing Game with atmospheric, level-grinding gameplay.

The interface, inventories, items – not to mention the basic gameplay – are all very similar to the first game, but are obviously different in this sequel, because it’s a brand new game. There are more cut scenes, which is no bad thing because they are beautifully-drawn and help drive the story along; more NPCs; more monsters; more puzzles – more of everything, really.

Eye of the Beholder II is also much more complex, and much more difficult, than the previous game. Even relatively early levels require some grinding to beat. Take, for example, the underground dungeon, level 2. There’s a key you need inside a dead-end room that constantly re-spawns angry skeletons. Running away to rest and rebuild your spells is a required tactic, but if you back off too much you’ll struggle to reach the key. Completing the task requires prudent use of saves (thankfully there are five save slots in this sequel), and also careful timing – not to mention a little bravery. Time it wrong and you’ll end up surrounded by skeletons, hacking away at you. It took me a few hours just to beat this one room. And not long after that it gets even harder, when you go down into the cursed levels and resting becomes impossible (at least until you’ve escape the cursed sections). Playing this game is enough to give you nightmares…

In spite of the difficulty, Eye of the Beholder II is a brilliant game; a great challenge, and a totally absorbing adventure. From me it comes highly recommended.

Note: you need a Thief in your party to progress through certain parts of the game, which is a pain if you reach those parts and don’t have one!

More: Eye of the Beholder II on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Eye of the Beholder trilogy on GOG.com

Eye of the Beholder, PC

Westwood StudiosEye of the Beholder is a bold attempt to replicate the thrills of Dungeon Master, with real time, first-person exploration and combat.

And it is a very good game overall. EoB (as it is affectionately known) is quite tough from early on in the game – from level four onwards, when the spiders become opponents, and getting poisoned by them becomes a real problem. Until you find some antivenom potions, or a spell that cures poison, being poisoned by spider bites can be a real game-ender. Thankfully, saving the game regularly, and re-loading if you get poisoned, is the best way around this, although there is only one saved game slot so you have to be careful not to save when poisoned. Getting to level five is a real challenge because of this.

Eye of the Beholder is worth persevering with, though, because it is a beautifully put-together game, with nice graphics and intuitive controls. In my opinion it is not quite at the same level of greatness as the peerless Dungeon Master, but it is certainly better than many DM clones out there, so is definitely worth experiencing past the first few levels.

Eye of the Beholder was initially published by Strategic Simulations, Inc. in 1991 and is still buyable today, thanks to websites such as GOG.com.

Note: one great thing about the Eye of the Beholder series is that you can create a party of characters in this first game and use the same party of four throughout games two and three. I believe that you have to complete each game to do that, though. Upon completion the game will create a new file, called “FINAL”, which you can use to import your characters into the next game. A neat feature. Anyone who has taken the same party through all three games deserves a medal!

More: Eye of the Beholder on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Eye of the Beholder trilogy on GOG.com

Dungeon Hack, PC

SSI‘s Dungeon Hack is an RPG that generates random dungeons, or custom dungeons, and is one big realtime battle through a Forgotten Realms world, in the style of Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder. It’s a never-ending dungeon crawl that gets progressively harder, and even has its own high score table!

In some ways Dungeon Hack is a first-person version of the classic Rogue, where every game is different and random events plague your every step. But it’s much more complicated than Rogue

You can tweak pretty much every aspect of your prospective dungeon – its depth, the number of monsters, the frequency of keys, monster difficulty, poison strength, whether enemies can use spells – all kinds of things. And when you’ve generated your dungeon you then have to fight as far into it as you can, for points, which are all detailed in the aforementioned high score table.

Dungeon Hack is great fun if you love level-grinders. It’s not really about solving puzzles (like it is in Dungeon Master) – it’s more about the combat; both warrior-style and magic-based, and the mapping. The character generation side of Dungeon Hack is also highly detailed, so allows for a wide range of classes – enough to satisfy most players.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeon_Hack

Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse, PC

I remember playing and reviewing this PC MS-DOS game when it first came out in 1994.

Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse is a more ‘action-oriented’ TSR role-playing game, compared to many of the other ‘Gold Box’ TSR RPGs of the time (and there were lots – courtesy of SSI and US Gold). ‘RPG Lite’ you could call it.

For starters: character generation is kept to a minimum. You choose a name and: you’re off… No long-winded menus to negotiate, as is the norm in these games. Stats are predetermined and you can’t change them. The player cannot upgrade weapons or armour, but experience points are gained which unlock new powers as you progress.

Control of the main character (a Corsair) is via mouse or joystick, and the controls are kept simple. You can move, talk and shoot, in real time, and do other things depending on the context icon. Combat is real time as well, and the Corsair can wield two weapons simultaneously – and power them both up – which makes things different and interesting.

Getting a foothold in the game means passing an assault course at the beginning of the game, then holding onto an island swarming with monsters. It takes a while and some nimble swordplay to make way. Thankfully the game has easy saving, so you can pick up anywhere outside of a conversation.

Actually, the dialogue in Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse is pretty good too. Better than something out of a pantomime. Which makes this game all the more worth playing… still. If you fancy a classic TSR RPG with a setting that isn’t trolls and goblins.

More: Al Qadim: The Genie’s Curse on Wikipedia
GOG.com: Al Qadim: The Genie’s Curse on GOG.com

Field of Fire, Commodore 64

Field of Fire is my favourite of the ancient SSI turn-based strategy games on the Commodore 64 because it is so easy to get up and running and playing, and commanding a platoon.

The scenarios are mostly Normandy campaign occupied France, with small towns and cities and bocage, but there is also an Omaha beach assault, an Ardennes mission, a Roehr crossing, and others.

Field of Fire is enjoyable old school strategy gaming at its best. I guess you could call me The King of Dull Grabs