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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
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Posted Thu Aug 06, 2020 6:18 pm

My brother sent me a really cool game for my birthday I'll be notching later this month: Wizard's Crown by SSI (1985 for DOS, 1986 for C64). To put it into context, this game came out for C64 one year after Bard's Tale and Ultima IV, 2 years before Pool of Radiance (PoR) hit C64 in 1988, and 4 years before PoR made it to Amiga in 1990.

In other words, Wizard's Crown is pretty ancient and hits that sweet spot of 8-bit RPG grand-daddy sweetness and the timeframe of the birth of Amiga.
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"Now put him down, nice and slow... hey you! Nice and slow!! OK he doesn't understand me. Hey - anyone speak Cyclops??"


But its influence on SSI was stronger than I ever knew until getting the game and reading about it this week. From a historical perspective it is absolutely fascinating as it offers what the Gold Box games are often heralded as being legendary for: a very deep tactical combat system in a fantasy setting.

Tenured professor of English and retro-gaming YouTuber Matt Barton describes Wizard's Crown as "probably the most hardcore RPG of its time" and "one of the most sophisticated tactical CRPGs ever designed."
IMG_8703.jpg
OK that key looks kinda painful.


In fact, the tactical combat system created in Wizard's Crown seems to be fairly similar to the future Gold Box incarnations by SSI that would follow in later years. But due to the complexity of the system in Wizard's Crown (some single encounters could take up to 40 minutes to complete!) things were streamlined for the future Gold Box adventures. I do look forward to seeing what those differences contain. A 40-minute tactical combat for a single battle sounds... cool yet daunting. But you know what? There were times when I was a wee lad playing D&D with my brother where encounters could take ages, too: shuffling through character sheets, rolling dice, completely missing and having to wait for other party members to decide (after painfully long minutes of scanning their own sheets and skills and spells and stats and inventories) before another choice was made, and all around the room.

You've seen the first season of Stranger Things; that shit was real, yo. ;)

As such, Wizard's Crown also offers a "Quick Combat" option, so you don't have to spend all summer playing the game.

Also, during the character creation process you can pick the icon that represents your character in the game. Sound familiar, Gold Box friends?
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These manuals even look like Gold Box manuals. Same colors, fonts - what a trip!

From what I've read, the game sounds hard and confusing at times. But it does sound pretty cool and worth playing if not completely finishing just to see where some of these ideas we're all so used to originated from.

In fact, this game was so popular back in the day it was SSI's second best-selling Commodore game as of late 1987. As such it even spawned a sequel called Eternal Dagger (which I'm also looking for now...).

User avatar
McTrinsic

Posted Thu Aug 06, 2020 10:16 pm

Interesting find. If you ever seriously consider playing it, it should be highly recommended to read about that game here.

From nowadays perspective my impression is that it only has a certain museum-esque value. It shows how on the early days of gaming - and cRPGs in particular - the programmers were experimenting with lots of ideas on one hand and constraints on the other one. Really, they were more programmers than e.g. designers.

SSI comes from strategic *simulations* inc - and that’s what this game appears to be. A battle simulator based on numbers with some backstory. Youngsters been warned. ;)

Eventually the things the programmers learned enabled them to create a well balanced actual game: pool of radiance. In hindsight, as usual, the path is clear and seems natural. Back then it wasn’t. Personally, I have considered it a great step stone towards games that deliver fun. For myself I came to the conclusion that this is a creation too early in the experimental phase to have fun with as it’s too numbers-driven.

Prove me wrong! 😉

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Fri Aug 07, 2020 7:46 am

@McTrinsic

You may very well be right. Someone on Reddit who played it as a kid had this to say:
That game was a marathon. I remember playing it over the course of a long weekend in the summer with a buddy of mine. All nighters all weekend. Some of the fights lasted an hour, and I think the final battle was still going when my parents were waking up in the morning to go to work on Tuesday.

Crazy detail and control in the battles though.
It's hard for me to say as I haven't played it. It did sell extremely well for the times at least. But yeah - your points are well-taken.

FWIW I linked to the same article on CRPG you did, but I pointed to a different page. I very much enjoy "Chester Bolingbroke's" site.

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rpiguy9907

Posted Fri Aug 07, 2020 2:08 pm

Wizard's Crown is an amazing game for its time! Great find!

I have a boxed copy of The Eternal Dagger and two boxed copies of The Wizard's Crown, but they are very beat up and one day will be replaced with quality examples. One copy is for the Atari ST, which got a surprising number of RPG ports from 8-bits that I was unaware of.

My recent pride and joy are the two, simplified offshoot games Shard of Spring (1986) and The Demon's Winter (1988).

The Demon's Winter is even in its shrink wrap, which I love. I was never able to play this one because my only source of expensive boxed games (my generous to a fault grandmother) would not buy me anything that looked so satanic :-)

Both feature a simplified version of the tactical combat in The Wizards Crown (in fact the engine may be completely different, but written to a similar spec).
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McTrinsic

Posted Fri Aug 07, 2020 2:13 pm

I guess my original comment could be reduced to ‚this didn’t age well‘. 😆

The simplification you mention basically make the two later games more enjoyable.

My opinion. Maybe I‘m just spoiled 😉

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Fri Aug 07, 2020 2:16 pm

@rpiguy
That's awesome! I remember looking for Shard of Spring before but could never find it below $100! That's a very pristine looking example, too. Congrats!

Interesting about Demon's Winter, as it looks to have been ported to the Amiga, too.

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BloodyCactus
Lexington VA
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Posted Fri Aug 07, 2020 5:15 pm

I love demons winter I wrote cheats and mapped the thing. it does go off the rails tho. the start is great. the game is quite bugged on the pc. there is a 1 pixel impossible dungeon (if you get there, you'll know and I can explain ;). SoS + DW are great but suffer enormous bloat, but DW was the first CRPG where I remember actually having to use items like in an adventure game to solve puzzles.. but its maps are vast expanses of nothing... it needed tighter design. its quite amazing when the world freezes and all villages + shops disappear... oh I could wax on about DW :)

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rpiguy9907

Posted Fri Aug 07, 2020 9:08 pm

BloodyCactus wrote:
Fri Aug 07, 2020 5:15 pm
I love demons winter I wrote cheats and mapped the thing. it does go off the rails tho. the start is great. the game is quite bugged on the pc. there is a 1 pixel impossible dungeon (if you get there, you'll know and I can explain ;). SoS + DW are great but suffer enormous bloat, but DW was the first CRPG where I remember actually having to use items like in an adventure game to solve puzzles.. but its maps are vast expanses of nothing... it needed tighter design. its quite amazing when the world freezes and all villages + shops disappear... oh I could wax on about DW :)
Hey man don’t tempt me to break the shrink wrap on my copy 😀😀

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BloodyCactus
Lexington VA
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Posted Fri Aug 07, 2020 9:16 pm

rpiguy9907 wrote:
Fri Aug 07, 2020 9:08 pm
BloodyCactus wrote:
Fri Aug 07, 2020 5:15 pm
I love demons winter I wrote cheats and mapped the thing. it does go off the rails tho. the start is great. the game is quite bugged on the pc. there is a 1 pixel impossible dungeon (if you get there, you'll know and I can explain ;). SoS + DW are great but suffer enormous bloat, but DW was the first CRPG where I remember actually having to use items like in an adventure game to solve puzzles.. but its maps are vast expanses of nothing... it needed tighter design. its quite amazing when the world freezes and all villages + shops disappear... oh I could wax on about DW :)
Hey man don’t tempt me to break the shrink wrap on my copy 😀😀
its not worth it, here look at the overworld map and tell me how exciting all that empty space is

its so not well designed :)

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Sat Aug 08, 2020 6:02 pm

Hey guys,

After reading this thread and studying some of rpiguy's photos, I kind of went off on an adventure of my own to see if I could hunt down the artist who painted the cover art for Shard of Spring. I could see on Ebay down in the bottom right-corner a tiny, blurry little signature; the one up above is actually covered over by a C64 sticker.

I took that photo and started searching online for an even larger version. Once I found the biggest one I could I took that into Photoshop and zoomed in. This is what I found:
chiodo1.png

I wasn't sure, but to me it looked like "CHIODO", so I started there. I ran across the website of an artist named Joe Chiodo based in San Diego, California. I wasn't sure if this was the same guy, but after browsing around I thought it certainly might be.

Looking at some of his archive, I was stunned to see a painting I vividly remember from my teen years although I'm not entirely sure where I saw it first. Was it OMNI magazine? Some other comic/sci-fi magazine? I can't remember but I know I've seen this before. Maybe even cut out of something and pinned to one of my brother's bedroom walls.

Anyway... I contacted the artist. I wanted to know if he was the same guy who painted Shard of Spring.

It turns out, he did. There's no record of it on his site, but he's the guy!

I asked if he still had it in his possession, and if not if he sold art prints of it.

Joe Chiodo:
Unfortunately I sold that painting years ago ...
Let me know if you find anything.
'

So I kept looking. And, I actually found a photograph of the original painting. Check it out - the colors are far more highly psychedelic and saturated than the cover art.
shardofspring-painting.jpg
Anyway, I sent the photo of the original painting back to him.

Joe responded:
[H]aven't seen it in years, funny when I see a painting I've done many years ago i think about where I was in my life and the people I was with at the time. (Some of them I know posed for the painting. Thanks for sharing!

I was, like, Joe - you were one very lucky man. Hah!

Anyway I thought you all might find this info and exchange interesting.





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